CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn


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

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.

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.

(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)

Report: Christian McCaffery back for Stanford vs. Colorado

PALO ALTO, CA - SEPTEMBER 02:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball against the Kansas State Wildcats at Stanford Stadium on September 2, 2016 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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If Stanford wants to exit Week 8 still entertaining (slim) hopes of repeating as Pac-12 North and conference champs, they’re almost certainly in must-win territory against Colorado today.  Getting their star running back back would certainly help, and it appears that’s what’s exactly going to happen.

In a tweet a short time ago, Bruce Feldman of reported that “Christian McCaffrey is expected back today” for the Buffs game.  Earlier in the week, McCaffrey’s return had been uncertain as he was extremely limited in practice.

In the third quarter of Stanford’s Week 6 loss to Washington State, McCaffrey sustained an unspecified injury that knocked him out for the remainder of the game. He was also sidelined for last Saturday’s win over Notre Dame.

A finalist for the 2015 Heisman Trophy, McCaffrey led the Cardinal in rushing (520 yards), rushing touchdowns (three), yards per carry (5.3), receptions (18), punt returns (8.0 average) and kick returns (22.8 average) prior to the injury that cost him back-to-back games.

His 188.2 all-purpose yards per game was third nationally, but he has not scored a touchdown since Week 2 and had just 84 rushing yards total the last two weeks pre-injury.

Lamar Jackson and Louisville dismantling NC State, 44-0 at halftime

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Louisville had a sluggish game last week against Duke, but the Cardinals are looking sharp this afternoon against North Carolina State, a week after the Wolfpack let an upset bid slip away at Clemson. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson has passed for 304 yards, rushed for 49 yards and scored three touchdowns in the first half as Louisville leads NC State 44-0 after one half.

This has been a mismatch from the start, with Louisville having more than a 300-yard advantage in total yards in the first half (390-52). The Wolfpack only managed two first downs in the half and turned the ball over three times as well. NC State quarterback Ryan Finley has been picked off twice. Jalan McClendon came in to replace Finley late in the first half, but McClendon’s first pass attempt was intercepted by Stacy Thomas, setting the Cardinals up at the 10-yard line. Jackson would add his third touchdown pass of the half moments later (after a holding penalty called off a Jackson touchdown run).

The way this is going, we may not see too much more of Jackson in the second half. With any luck, we’ll get a running clock in his place.

Kansas State dominating clock and Longhorns after one half

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 03:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns looks on as the Longhorns prepare to take on the TCU Horned Frogs at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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There is nothing particularly pretty about what Kansas State has done in the first half, which is typical of a team coached by Bill Snyder. Regardless, it has been more than effective enough against a Texas team that once again looks stale and lifeless. A pair of first-half touchdowns have given Kansas State a 21-7 lead at halftime against the Longhorns.

Jesse Ertz took for a 19-yard touchdown play on the opening possession fo the game for the Wildcats. Ertz accounted for both of Kansas State’s touchdowns in the half on the ground, and added a late touchdown pass for a 21-7 lead. Ertz has been given good protection and time to process what is happening on the field, which has led to a good amount of safe and efficient passing plays for Ertz and Kansas State.

Kansas State has also dominated the Longhorns in time of possession. The Wildcats have had just one possession lasting at least five minutes in the first half, not including the last offensive possession of the first half. On defense, the Wildcats are not allowing Texas to move the ball much, which has led to a small time of possession. That appeared to be playing right into Kansas State’s advantage until a late first-half possession by Texas resulted in a long touchdown. Shane Buechele uncorked an 80-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline with Devin Duvernay doing the honors with his speed most of the way. Kansas state has held the football for 23 minutes and 18 seconds, with 19 first downs.

Texas must do a better job of getting off the field on defense in the second half and start flipping the time of possession in their favor.

WMU prez talks possibility (probability?) of P.J. Fleck departing

CHAMPAIGN, IL - SEPTEMBER 17: Head coach P.J. Fleck of the Western Michigan Broncos celebrates after the game against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Champaign, Illinois. Western Michigan defeated Illinois 34-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Western Michigan will have a tough row to hoe — or boat to row, as the case may be — in retaining their outstanding young head coach, a possibility the university’s president has publicly acknowledged.

Outside of Houston’s Tom Herman, P.J. Fleck will likely be the hottest young commodity on the coaching carousel in the coming weeks — and rightly so.  WMU, at 7-0, is off to its best start since 1941, and ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in its history.

Fleck will undoubtedly have his share of suitors as the carousel picks up speed over the next month, and has already been mentioned as a possibility at Purdue.  During an interview earlier this week, WMU president John Dunn was seemingly resigned to losing the 35-year-old head coach to someone at some point in the not-too-distant future.

“Whatever ultimately happens we wish him (the best) as well as we’ll recover and move on,”  Dunn, who is set to retire in June of 2017, said according to “I think the commitments we’ve made to P.J., I think he appreciates deeply and he’ll be very thoughtful and he’ll be very fair.”

At $800,000 Fleck is already the highest-paid head coach in the MAC.  When speaking of bumping up that pay in an attempt to entice the coach to stay, Dunn responded that he’s “quite confident those conversations have occurred already.” That’s all well and good, but any Power Five program that chases Fleck would be able to triple or even quadruple what the coach is currently making or what he would be making with an enhanced package from WMU.

Dunn, then, is hoping the current situation appeals to Fleck’s non-monetary side.

“The idea that money is important, we never want to negate or argue against that, but there’s also a quality of life and a level of happiness,” said the president.

Nice try, Mr. President.  And prepare your goodbyes accordingly.