CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn

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2013 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (1st in West division)
2013 postseason: BCS title game vs. Florida State (34-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 2/No. 2
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (21-5 overall; 12-2 in one year at Auburn)
Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee (second season); Dameyune Craig (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 1st rushing offense (328.3 ypg); 106th passing offense (173 ypg); 11th total offense (501.3 ypg); 12th scoring offense (39.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson (second season); Charlie Harbison (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 62nd rushing defense (162.1 ypg); 100th passing defense (258.6 ypg); 86th total defense (420.7 ypg); 48th scoring defense (24.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
No one was able to control the Tigers’ powerful rushing attack and, even with the departure of its leading rusher, that’s expected to continue on into 2014 and the second season in Gus Malzahn‘s fast-paced, relentless offense.  Having Nick Marshall, expected to be much improved in the passing-game aspect, in his second season as a starter should help soften the blow that was running back Tre Mason‘s departure for the NFL.  As AU goes from the hunter to the hunted, it’ll be incumbent on Marshall to take that next step, one his head coach feels he’s ready to do.

THE BAD
When you have as magical ride as AU did last season there’s not a whole heck of a lot of bad going on, but the defense was, at the very least, suspect during that run to Pasadena.  They were in the bottom half of the country in yards allowed per game, although they were in the top half in the most important stat: points allowed.  That, though, was only good for eighth in the SEC.  In fairness, it was the Tigers’ first season under coordinator Ellis Johnson, so the expectation is that just based on familiarity with the scheme the defense will improve.  The good news is that there’s really nowhere for that group to go but up, especially as it relates to the rest of the SEC.  There’s also the little matter of the schedule as AU has conference road games scheduled for Mississippi State (Oct. 11), Ole Miss (Nov. 1), Georgia (Nov. 15) and Alabama (Nov. 29) to go along with a non-conference tilt at underrated Kansas State.  AU won’t sneak up on anyone this season, so they will get every team’s best, most concentrated shot, especially on the road.

THE UNKNOWN
(Writer’s note: pardon me while I repeat myself)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014 — did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question mostly moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Alabama Nov. 29
As Auburn and Alabama are expected to be the class of the SEC West, it only makes sense to put the season-ending Iron Bowl in this slot.  Last year’s dramatic, last-second win over the Tide that propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game was one of the most exhilarating and improbable in the storied history of the rivalry.  UA will have revenge on its mind as the Tide looks to get back on the national championship stage after its one-year sabbatical in 2013.  More than likely, the winner of this game will claim the West’s spot in the SEC championship game and, perhaps, a spot in the four-team playoff.  So, yes, this will be one of the more anticipated games of the year — provided both teams can make it to the game unscathed, of course.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Nick Marshall
Marshall’s first season as a starter wasn’t statistically overwhelming — less than 2,000 yards passing, just 14 touchdown passes — but it was deadly in its efficiency. Marijuana citation aside, Marshall is said to have had a very good offseason, improving his throwing mechanics and becoming more and more comfortable in Gus Malzahn‘s offense. If true, and if the passing aspect of his game improves — as evidenced by his 1,068 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, he’ll continue to get his on the ground — that could prove to be bad news for the SEC in general and the West specifically. Thanks to the departure of their leading rusher, the Tigers will likely lean even more heavily on both Marshall’s arm and legs; as far as his Heisman chances go, that’s certainly good news.  Hell, one teammate has even already called his stiff-armed shot for Marshall, so he’s got that going for him.  Which is nice.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Western Kentucky gets Brian Brohm’s coaching career started

Winnipeg Blue Bombers' quarterback Brian Brohm runs in a touchdown during second half CFL football action in against the Saskatchewan Roughriders in Regina, Saskatchewan on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press via AP
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Louisville legend Brian Brohm is heading back to Kentucky. Western Kentucky has added the former Cardinals quarterback to the coaching staff, the school announced Monday. Brohm will take on the role of quarterbacks coach with the Hilltoppers, his first coaching job. Of course, WKU head coach Jeff Brohm is the older brother to the new assistant coach. WKU Director of Football Operations Greg Brohm is also one of Brian Brohm’s older brothers.

Brian Brohm is now one of three former college quarterbacks on the staff for Western Kentucky. Both Brohm brothers on the coaching staff have quarterback experience, as does Bryan Ellis, who is being moved from coaching running backs to wide receivers.

Brohm was a former Conference USA Player of the Year in 2005 and Orange Bowl MVP in 2007 with Louisville. He later was a second-round NFL draft pick of the Green Bay Packers but the Packers had Aaron Rodger in place, so Brohm ended up on the practice squad. The Buffalo Bills signed Brohm in 2009 and he entered free agency at the end of the season. That took Brohm to the one-year experiment that was the United Football League with the Las Vegas Locomotives. Brohm then spent the past three seasons in the CFL with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Before getting to Louisville, Brohm was a three-time state champion at Trinity High School in Louisville, earning MVP honors in all three games. It goes without saying Brohm is a big name in the state of Louisville.

Perhaps returning home to his roots will be refreshing.

Steve Spurrier takes on role of ambassador with Gamecocks

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier gestures during a news conference Friday, Dec. 26, 2014, in Shreveport, La. The Gamecocks face Miami in the Independence Bowl NCAA college football game on Saturday. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
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You just knew it was going to be tough for Steve Spurrier to step away entirely from college football. Though he may no longer be calling the shots on the sideline with his signature visor, Spurrier will continue to be a face of South Carolina as he takes on an ambassador role.

Spurrier will be a special assistant for South Carolina president Harris Pastides and athletic director Ray Tanner, but his responsibilities in assisting the school’s leaders will extend far beyond simply getting coffee and making a quick run to Staples for office supplies. Spurrier will be used as a resource for his opinions when needed and he will continue to spread the word about South Carolina at any opportunity that presents itself. If that means playing a round of golf with some potential big donors, you know Spurrier will oblige to fulfill his duties.

Spurrier retired from coaching in early October 2015. Spurrier’s contract had a clause that allowed him to take on an ambassador’s role with the university if he chose to take advantage of it. Spurrier did not immediately jump on that option but is now reportedly settling in.

Virginia and Old Dominion set for future 3-game set

Virginia fans cheer on the Cavaliers after they scored a fourth quarter touchdown against Georgia State in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, at Scott Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. (AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Ryan M. Kelly)
AP Photo/The Daily Progress, Ryan M. Kelly
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Old Dominion’s push to add nearby ACC programs to its schedule continues with the addition of a three-game set with Virginia. The two schools announced a three-game scheduling agreement that will see Virginia get two home games and play one game at Old Dominion.

Virginia will host Conference USA’s Old Dominion on November 17, 2018 and again on September 17, 2022. Old Dominion will welcome Virginia to Norfolk on November 21, 2020. According to The Virginian Pilot, Virginia will pay Old Dominion $400,000 per home game (Old Dominion will not pay Virginia for its home game).

Old Dominion has done a solid job of locking up contracts with multiple ACC opponents for years to come. The Monarchs visit NC State this fall in the second half of a home-and-home deal. Old Dominion has a home-and-home deal with North Carolina kicking off in 2017 and concluding in 2020. In between is a home-and-home deal with Virginia Tech as part of a long-term scheduling agreement. Wake Forest is also added for a home-and-home series in 2019 and 2020 (which means three ACC opponents for Old Dominion in 2020).

Old Dominion has tried sticking to straight home-and-home deals but the financial strain that leads to inevitably took a toll and influenced the decision to concede a home game against Virginia. Part of that appears to be the expected reduction in television revenue coming for Conference USA. Per The Virginian Pilot;

Conference USA officials recently learned that new TV contracts that go into effect in July will reduce the league’s revenue by about $500,000 per school per year. In addition, ODU is set to begin paying athletes stipends in August that are part of the so-called full cost of attendance. The stipends, which pay for cell phones, entertainment and travel not included in scholarships, will cost ODU about $800,000 per year.

With that in mind, it might not be a shock to see Old Dominion’s next scheduling agreement with a power conference opponent come with an extra road game as well.

Temple trustees vote to pursue new on-campus football stadium

Students, such as Casey Dougherty, rally outside a meeting of Temple University's Finance Committee on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015, in Philadelphia. Temple University is pumping the brakes on plans to study building a $100 million football stadium on its north Philadelphia campus. (Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP)  PHIX OUT; TV OUT; MAGS OUT; NEWARK OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Charles Fox/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
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With a loud protest taking place just outside, Temple’s board of trustees voted unanimously in favor of pursuing a new football stadium for the Owls program. A study to review potential stadium options could cost the school up to, but not exceeding, $1 million.

The latest plans for a new football stadium would have a proposed 35,000-seat stadium costing up to $126 million placed on Temple’s campus, thus eliminating the need to rent out space in Lincoln Financial Field. Temple’s football program has called The Linc home since the doors opened in 2003. Temple has not played its home games on its campus since leaving Temple Stadium in 1977, at which point it moved its home games to Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia’s sports complex. The vote to pursue a new stadium today is a giant step forward for Temple and the football program and perhaps a long time coming, but it is not one without its share of controversy.

The talks of a new football stadium at Temple have gone on for years, but are now finally seeming to take some steps forward despite a vocal objection from many around Temple’s campus and the Philadelphia community. Protests and demonstrations were planned as the board reviewed the next steps in a new stadium, which is still not a certainty for the university at this point. Among those voicing their opinions on Monday afternoon were students, Philadelphia citizens and more concerned about what a stadium dropped in the middle of North Philadelphia might mean for the community. Given the lackluster impact and results seen at similar campuses, there is legitimate reason for some concern at Temple, which is just now experiencing a new high in football success.

This is just one step out of many that needs to happen in order for Temple to construct a new football stadium. Approval from the city to build such a facility would have to be given, and that is no guarantee.