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)

Texas the landing spot for second four-star 2016 Baylor signee

SAN ANTONIO, TX - DECEMBER 30:  Texas Longhorns mascot Bevo wears a harness in honor of head coach Mack Brown during the Valero Alamo Bowl against the Oregon Ducks at the Alamodome on December 30, 2013 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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In the end, Baylor’s loss will turn into Texas’ gain.  Again.

Just a couple of days after Baylor announced five 2016 signees had been granted releases from their National Letters of Intent, one of those prospects announced their new landing spot.  And, to add insult to injury, said landing spot is a fellow Big 12 member.

And the state’s flagship university for good measure.

Pictured with Texas head coach Charlie Strong, that would be offensive lineman J.P. Urquidez announcing that he will begin his collegiate playing career with the Longhorns. And the get for UT, at least when it comes to recruiting pedigree, is a huge one.

Urquidez was a four-star BU signee this past February, rated as the No. 22 offensive tackle; the No. 37 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 244 player on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

The lineman becomes the second 2016 Bears signee to join the Longhorns since the sexual assault scandal slammed headfirst into Waco. Late this past week, UT confirmed the addition of four-star wide receiver Devin Duvernay.

Reportedly transferring from Vols, Ray Raulerson confirms he’s ‘exploring options’

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Thursday, reports surfaced that two Tennessee offensive linemen would be leaving the Volunteers football program and possibly transferring to the FCS level.  Friday, one of those two confirmed he’s looking into it.

Speaking to The Knoxville News Sentinel, Ray Raulerson acknowledged that he’s “exploring options right now,” although he stopped short of confirming a transfer.  However, the redshirt sophomore center talked of his time in Knoxville in the past tense, an indication that he is prepared to move on.

“I’m exploring options right now,” Raulerson told the News Sentinel. “…I really loved it at Tennessee, but I’m going to go to a place where I have a better chance to play.”

Raulerson was a three-star member of UT’s 2014 recruiting class.  After redshirting as a true freshman, he played in five games in 2015.

It has yet to be confirmed that the other lineman, fifth-year senior tackle Dontavius Blair, is indeed transferring.  Raulerson, though, told the newspaper that his teammate is leaving as well.

Clemson tables proposal that would’ve had students paying for some football tickets

CLEMSON, SC - AUGUST 31: Clemson Tigers fans celebrate at the start of the game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Memorial Stadium on August 31, 2013 in Clemson, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Students at Clemson can rest easy; your football fix will still be free of charge this year.

In 2015, tickets for the student sections in both the lower bowl and upper bowl of Memorial Stadium came at no cost to those enrolled in classes at the university.  In April, however, athletic director Dan Radakovich proposed levying what was described as a “$225 student donation” for those wishing to sit in the lower bowl on season tickets, while the upper bowl seats would remain free.

Late this past week, tigernet.com reported, Radakovich’s proposal was tabled as the university will “continue to have good conversations with student leaders about the entire ticketing process.”

So, for the 2016 football season, tickets in both bowls will come at no cost to students.  As was the case last year, all of those tickets are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

It wasn’t all good news financially for Clemson students — or their parents — as The State news paper writes that “[t]he university’s board of trustees voted almost unanimously via teleconference Thursday to raise tuition rates for the 2016-17 year for in-state and out-of-state students.”

Separation of UCLA coach Jim Mora, wife of 30-plus years announced in a statement

PASADENA, CA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Head coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins greets players after a third quarter UCLA touchdown against the BYU Cougars at the Rose Bowl on September 19, 2015 in Pasadena, California.  UCLA won 24-23.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Unfortunately, the private life of a major college football coach has once again become laid bare for public consumption.

In a statement released Friday, the agent for UCLA head coach Jim Mora, Jimmy Sexton, released a statement confirming that his client and his wife, Shannon, have decided to separate.  The couple have been married for more than 30 years, and have four children — one daughter and three sons.

“After much thought and careful consideration, Jim and Shannon Mora have decided to separate,” the statement from Sexton began. “This was a very difficult decision and they appreciate the respect for their family’s privacy at this time.”

The 54-year-old Mora will be entering his fifth season as the head coach of the Bruins.  Earlier this month, UCLA announced that Mora, 37-16 in his first four seasons with the Bruins, had reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension with the university.

There was no specific word on whether any type of raise was involved in the new agreement, which keeps Mora signed through the 2021 season.