CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn

3 Comments

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)

Alabama claims top spot in preseason FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Amari Cooper #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates scoring a touchdown against Southern Miss Golden Eagles with Cam Robinson #74 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

Make it a trifecta for the defending champions.

Just like the AP and Coaches’ polls, Alabama will enter the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the Super 16 poll, a joint venture between the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. (Full disclosure: both myself and CFT‘s Kevin McGuire are voters. I had Florida State at No. 1; Kevin chose LSU.)

The Super 16 poll mirrored both major polls as well by placing Clemson at No. 2, Oklahoma at No. 3 and Florida State at No. 4. The Super 16 mirrored the AP by selecting LSU over Ohio State to round out the top five.

The full poll:

  1. Alabama — 657 total points (26 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson — 628 (9)
  3. Oklahoma — 543
  4. Florida State — 542 (4)
  5. LSU — 510 (3)
  6. Ohio State — 468
  7. Michigan — 404 (1)
  8. Stanford — 343
  9. Tennessee — 330
  10. Notre Dame — 305
  11. TCU — 172
  12. Ole Miss — 171
  13. Michigan State — 168
  14. Houston — 160
  15. Washington — 111
  16. UCLA — 73

Iowa, Georgia, Oklahoma State and Oregon rounded out the leaders among the Also Receiving Votes crowd.

Oregon unveils Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks scrambles in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats during the PAC-12 Championships at Levi's Stadium on December 5, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Oregon gave a lot to Marcus Mariota. But in the end, it’ll be the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner that will give more to his alma mater.

In addition to the aforementioned stiffarm trophy, the Tennessee Titans quarterback will serve as the namesake of the facility that Oregon has turned into its latest state-of-the-art toy. The 30,000-square foot renovation, funded by Phil Knight, is complete with all the bells and whistles that focuses on making Duck athletes the healthiest in college sports.

“The goal of this project was to create one space where we could utilize the most state-of-the-art technology to improve student-athlete wellness and emphasize our commitment to the health and safety of our student-athletes,” said Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens in a statement. “Thanks to the incredible generosity of Phil and Penny Knight, we now have a world-class facility that is going to take the student-athlete experience at the University of Oregon to a level not previously seen anywhere on the collegiate level.”

And, yes, it comes with plenty of Nike branding, complete with a new equipment room that boasts 2.5 miles of shelving on 19-foot ceilings.

“Our hope was to recreate a Niketown-like atmosphere, with bright lighting and a lot of energy to showcase all of the unique features of our uniforms and other equipment,” director of equipment operations Aaron Wasson said.

Oregon representatives took fact-finding trips to NASA and Australia to research facilities which, in my favorite anecdote, includes the ability to complete up to 500 loads of laundry at once.

SEC announces coaches’ all-conference teams

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball against defensive back Quincy Wilson #6 of the Florida Gators in the first quarter during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
Getty Images
2 Comments

The SEC announced its coaches’ All-SEC selections on Thursday and, as you can imagine, these teams would be near impossible to beat on a field. Obviously, they’re stacked with the best players from college football’s most competitive conference. But they’d be extra-impossible to beat because the offense would take the field with 12 players on each side of the ball.

Some leagues name 15 or more players to their all-league teams, though, so the SEC isn’t the worst offender on the block. But, still, come on.

Anyway, here’s the first team:

First Team Offense
QB – Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
RB – Leonard Fournette, LSU
RB – Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR – Calvin Ridley, Alabama
WR – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
TE – O.J. Howard, Alabama
C – Ethan Pocic, LSU
OL – Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL – Dan Skipper, Arkansas
OL – Greg Pyke, Georgia
OL – Alex Kozan, Auburn
AP – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

First Team Defense
DL – Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DL – Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DL – Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DL – Carl Lawson, Auburn
LB – Reuben Foster, Alabama
LB – Kendell Beckwith, LSU
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
LB – Jarrad Davis, Florida
DB – Eddie Jackson, Alabama
DB – Jalen Tabor, Florida
DB – Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
DB – Tre’Davious White, LSU

Specialists
PK – Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P – J.K. Scott, Alabama
RS – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
RS – Evan Berry, Tennessee

The coaches’ selections speak to the power imbalance in the conference; 20 of the 28 first-team slots (71 percent) went to West Division players. Of the eight East players chosen, half hail from Tennessee. Alabama comprised a quarter of the team with seven selections, followed by LSU and Texas A&M matching Tennessee’s four — although A&M’s selections were really just Myles Garrett plus Christian Kirk in three separate positions.

The SEC’s season begins a week from tonight when Tennessee hosts Appalachian State (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) and South Carolina visits Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).

CFT Preseason Previews: Heisman Watch

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Dalvin Cook #4 of the Florida State Seminoles runs for a 24-yard touchdown against the South Florida Bulls in the third quarter at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. Florida State defeated South Florida 34-14. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty Images
4 Comments

The 2015 season was the Year of the Running Back in college football. Alabama’s Derrick Henry became just the second ball-carrier to claim the Stiffarm Trophy since the turn of the century, and running backs accounted for the top two and five of the top eight voting slots. Three of those five are back this season. With that in mind, will running backs continue their forward momentum and claim back-to-back Heismans, and the first non-Alabama running back Heisman, since 1998-99? Or will quarterbacks wrestle it back? Or how about a wide receiver, an offensive lineman or a defensive…. okay, let’s keep this realistic.

Leonard Fournette, LSU RB: Undoubtedly the most talented player in college football. Problem is, he knows it. The talk of him sitting out the season to devote himself to a nine-month NFL Draft prep is an odd crusade for some in football, but it’ll never happen. Still, though, Fournette is already dealing with injuries this season. He knows the pot of gold awaiting him on the other side of that rainbow. Will he dig deep, put his head down and charge for those two extra yards, or will he opt for self-preservation and do his best to simply ride this season out?

Deshaun Watson, Clemson QB: He’s got the skills, and he’s got the tools around him. Better yet, Clemson’s defense will probably take a step back this season, meaning he could stay on the field for more fourth quarters as the Tigers pile on points to put people away. So, yeah, everything is here to make a Heisman run. On the other hand, how often does the preseason favorite actually win the Heisman these days? There was Marcus Mariota in 2014, yes. Before that you may have to go back to Troy Smith all the way back in 2006.

Christian McCaffrey, Stanford RB: The quarterback is new. The wide receiving corps and offensive line are re-tooling. Everyone in the stadium knows McCaffrey is getting the ball as often as possible, and in as many ways as the Cardinal can possibly get him the ball. Should his numbers remain anywhere close to his 2015 statistics, McCaffrey could benefit from voters’ desire to choose a “throw-back” candidate.

Dalvin Cook, Florida State RB: Cook’s numbers from a year ago — 229 carries, 1,691 yards, 19 touchdowns, a ridiculous 7.38 yards per carry, a full foot-and-a-half more than the next closest runner with at least 225 attempts — were Heisman-esque, yet only good enough to get him to seventh place in last year’s voting. Do that again on a team that should seriously contend for a national championship and Cook may jump all the way to first.

Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma QB: The knock against Mayfield is that he’s a system quarterback. But if you’re going to be a system quarterback, what better system to run than one with two All-America caliber running backs, playing in a conference where 40 points a game is a baseline, and with one of college football’s strongest brand names on your helmet?

J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB: Barrett has been oddly overlooked this preseason. All he did two years ago was toss 34 touchdowns against 10 picks, hit nearly 65 percent of his throws for nine yards per attempt, finish second nationally in passing efficiency whilst rushing for nearly 1,000 yards — all as a redshirt freshman.

Quick hits on the rest of the field:

Josh Rosen, UCLA QB: Maybe the best pro-prospect in college football, but NFL scouts may like him more than Heisman voters.

Royce Freeman, Oregon RB: The overlooked running back of 2015 — 1,800 yards, 17 touchdowns. But will the Ducks’ defense hold his candidacy back?

Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech QB: The most talented in the long line of prolific Red Raider quarterbacks. But can Texas Tech get enough stops to mount him a serious campaign?

Jabrill Peppers, Michigan ATH: Could he follow another Wolverine’s path to a do-it-all Heisman win?

Myles Garrett, Texas A&M DE: If the Heisman is going to a full-time defensive player, Garrett is it. But if Suh, Clowney, et. al., couldn’t break through that glass ceiling, why would Garrett?