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)

Louisville to wear glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats against N.C. State

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 14:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Duke Blue Devils at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 14, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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We’ve seem some pretty crazy uniform combinations over the years but it seems adidas is looking to raise everybody’s game a little this weekend.

The school and apparel company tweeted on Friday afternoon that Louisville — just in time for Halloween — would be debuting some glow-in-the-dark gloves and cleats with a skeleton design for their homecoming game against N.C. State.

Yes the Wolfpack and Cardinals play at noon ET and not in primetime so the effect of the glow-in-the-dark cleats is probably a bit muted but it’s still a pretty cool idea.

It’s a little unclear as to if N.C. State will also don some glow-in-the-dark gear (they are also an adidas school) but it should make for a slick look on Saturday at Papa John’s Stadium either way.

Maryland announces DB Will Likely will miss rest of the season with torn ACL

IOWA CITY, IA - OCTOBER 31: Runningback William Likely #4 of the Maryland Terrapins runs a kickoff back for a touchdown in front of fullback Macon Plewa #42 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the second half on October 31, 2015 at Kinnick Stadium, in Iowa City, Iowa. (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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It’s been a rough few years for Maryland football but one of the bright spots for the Terrapins has been the stellar play of cornerback/receiver/return man Will Likely.

Unfortunately that time has come to an end as the school announced on Friday that the senior suffered a torn ACL in last week’s game against Minnesota and would miss the rest of the season.

“In the short time I’ve been here at Maryland, I understand and have a great appreciation for the significant impact Will Likely has had on our football program,” head coach D.J. Durkin said in a statement. “Will was one of the first people I met with when I accepted the job and it was quickly apparent how much he meant to his teammates and Maryland football. He will continue to play a vital role in our program as we lean on him for his leadership and experience. I am confident Will has the work ethic, drive and focus to overcome this injury and continue his football career at the next level.”

Likely was an All-Big Ten selection the past two seasons and contributed all over the board for the Terps. He was primarily the team’s lockdown corner but he was one of the best return men in the country with his combination of speed and quickness.

Likely stuck around College Park for his final season despite the coaching change last year and was one of the veteran leaders in a new defensive scheme under Durkin, ranking first on the team in pass breakups and third in tackles prior to his injury.

Sophomore RaVon Davis is expected to take his spot in the secondary while D.J. Moore is likely the next man up on kick and punt returns.

It’s a tough blow to lose any player halfway through a season but it sure seems like Maryland is going to be losing a lot more than a starter with Likely gone the rest of the year.

Arizona State fires final shot at Washington State’s Mike Leach over sign-stealing comments

BOULDER, CO - OCTOBER 15:  Arizona State Sun Devils head coach Todd Graham coaches on the sideline during a game against the Colorado Buffaloes at Folsom Field on October 15, 2016 in Boulder, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 announced on Thursday that the conference would be issuing a public reprimand and fining Washington State head coach Mike Leach $10,000 as the result of his earlier comments accusing Arizona State of stealing signs.


While that surprising decision from the league office to step in may have been enough for some schools, it appears the Sun Devils wanted to make sure they would be getting in one final parting shot at the Cougars.

“I fully support the Pacific-12 Conference Office and Commissioner Larry Scott’s decision on this matter,” athletics director Ray Anderson said in a statement on Friday. “Our professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.  We are pleased with the outcome and for us the matter is closed.”

Leach accused ASU of stealing signs both last season and earlier in the week at his Monday press conference. Todd Graham defended his program and responded directly to the comments the next day and it appears that the Pac-12 decided to step in and put an end to the war of words going back-and-forth between the two coaches. It’s rare for one athletic director to call another coach in the league “irresponsible,” but you can understand why they would want to be defensive over such a touchy subject.

While Anderson says he considers the matter closed, something says this issue will be brought up again when the two teams meet on Saturday night in Tempe and both coaches square off from opposite sidelines.

Restraining orders will keep three more Gophers from playing Saturday

Minnesota defensive back KiAnte Hardin (3) intercepts a pass intended for Iowa wide receiver Jerminic Smith (9) during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs)
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An ongoing situation at Minnesota has ensnared three more Gopher football players.

Thursday, a report surfaced that two Gopher players, freshman defensive end Tamarion Johnson and sophomore running back Carlton Djam, had a temporary restraining order filed against them by a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted back in September.  Friday, the attorney for those two, Lee Hutton, confirmed to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that three other clients, cornerbacks KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford and safety Dior Johnson, have been served the same restraining order in connection to the same allegations.

Because the woman who received the order is a student who works at TCF Bank Stadium on football game days, none of the five players will be permitted to play in Saturday’s homecoming game against Rutgers or even be in the stadium. The Star Tribune writes that the stadium’s “address is listed as one of two restricted addresses in the restraining orders.”

In mid-September, Hardin, Buford and both Johnsons were suspended in the midst of an investigation into an alleged sexual assault earlier in the month.  Citing insufficient evidence in the case, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced in early October that no charges would be filed and the players were reinstated.

Djam’s connection to the alleged incident is unknown.

According to Hutton, there is a hearing scheduled for next Tuesday morning in which he hopes to have all five orders overturned.

“What we are going to do is aggressively defend this action,” Hutton told the paper. “We are going to go on the offensive to show she only used the courts to destroy my clients’ lives.”

“It would not be appropriate for the University to comment on this matter to the extent it relates to University students,” a Thursday statement from the school on the restraining orders began. “The University reaffirms, however, that it will honor and comply with court orders.”

Hardin, a true sophomore, played in 13 games last season.  This season, he started the opener and, after sitting three games because of the suspension, had started the last two.  He’s also listed as the team’s starting kick returner.

None of the other four players are listed on the team’s most recent two-deep chart.

Buford has played in two games this season after taking a redshirt for his true freshman season last year.  The sophomore Djam has run for 33 yards on nine carries this season. A freshman, Tamarion Johnson was a likely candidate for a redshirt.