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)

Chip Kelly completes first UCLA coaching staff

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Nearly two months to the day he was hired, Chip Kelly has put the finishing touches on his first college coaching staff in six years.

Tuesday afternoon, the Bruins confirmed the hiring of three new assistant coaches: Dana Bible (quarterbacks coach), Roy Manning (outside linebackers, special teams coordinator) and Vince Oghobaase (defensive line).

Bible’s last job in the coaching profession came as an offensive assistant for Kelly with the San Francisco 49ers; he last spent time at the collegiate level as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State from 2007-12.  The first four years with the Wolfpack, he was also quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, while he dropped the receivers coach role his last season with the ACC program.

Manning spent the past three seasons at Washington State, with Oghobaase working the last two seasons with the 49ers.  One of those years, obviously, was spent with Kelly.

Kelly retained four of Jim Mora’s former assistants: wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, running backs coach DeShaun Foster, offensive line coach Hank Fraley and Angus McClure, who returns to coaching the tight end position.  The program had previously announced the hirings of Jerry Azzinaro as the defensive coordinator, Don Pellum as inside linebackers coach and Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach.

With Tua Tagovailoa lurking, Bryce Love is Bovada’s way-too-early 2018 Heisman favorite

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The 2018 season doesn’t kick off for another seven-plus months, but it’s never too early for a little wagering action.

Two weeks after the 2017 regular season ended, Bovada.lv released its first set of odds as to who will win the 2018 Heisman Trophy.  Not surprisingly, running back Bryce Love, who stunned most observers by returning to Stanford for another season, has been listed by the sportsbook as a slight 7/1 favorite.  Love is the only returning finalist for the 2017 award, and he finished a distant second to winner Baker Mayfield.

Two other players who finished in the Top 10 in the 2017 Heisman voting, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (6th) and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (8th), are listed in Bovada‘s initial set of odds — Taylor right behind Love at 8/1 and Milton at 18/1.

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who could greatly benefit from the hiring of Kevin Sumlin as head coach, is at 9/1.  National championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa, who has never started a game at the collegiate level, is at 10/1, with the Alabama quarterback ahead of the likes of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins (12/1), Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (12/1), Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (15/1) and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (18/1).

West Virginia’s David Sills (45/1) is the only wide receiver listed.  There are also two defensive linemen on the board — Houston’s Ed Oliver (55/1) and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa (75/1).

And, for those who are curious, here are the top four in the odds Bovada released for the 2017 Heisman exactly one year ago today: Mayfield (11/2), Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (6/1), Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (7/1) and USC quarterback Sam Darnold (9/1).  The Oklahoma quarterback won the award, of course, while Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, was one of three finalists.  The other two didn’t crack the Top 10 in votes.

Below are the complete set of odds for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

Bryce Love (RB Stanford) 7/1
Johnathan Taylor (RB Wisconsin) 8/1
Khalil Tate (QB Arizona) 9/1
Tua Tagovailoa (QB Alabama) 10/1
J.K. Dobbins (RB Ohio State) 12/1
Jake Fromm (QB Georgia) 12/1
Jarrett Stidham (QB Auburn) 12/1
Will Grier (QB West Virginia) 12/1
Justin Herbert (QB Oregon) 15/1
Kelly Bryant (QB Clemson) 15/1
McKenzie Milton (QB UCF) 18/1
Trace McSorley (QB Penn State) 18/1
Cam Akers (RB Florida State) 22/1
Jake Browning (QB Washington) 22/1
Rodney Anderson (RB Oklahoma) 25/1
Ryan Finley (QB NC State) 25/1
Brandon Winbush (QB Notre Dame) 35/1
D'Andre Swift (RB Georgia) 35/1
Nick Fitzgerald (QB Mississippi State) 35/1
Travis Etienne (RB Clemson) 35/1
David Sills (WR West Virginia) 45/1
Ed Oliver (DL Houston) 55/1
Nick Bosa (DL Ohio State) 75/1

Michigan QB Alex Malzone moves on to the MAC Miami

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Nearly two months after leaving Michigan, Alex Malzone has found himself a new college football home.

Taking to his social media accounts Monday evening, Malzone announced that he will be enrolling at Miami (Ohio) and will continue his playing career with the RedHawks. “Beyond pumped to join Coach [Chuck] Martin and this team,” the quarterback wrote.

Because he’s leaving U-M as a graduate transfer, he can play immediately this season for the MAC school.  Even better for Martin, 2018 will be the first of two seasons of eligibility Malzone has remaining.

A four-star member of the Wolverines’ 2015 recruiting class, Malzone was rated as the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Michigan.  While he played in three games — one in each of the past three seasons — during his brief time in Ann Arbor, the 6-2, 224-pound signal-caller didn’t attempt a pass.

Kirk Ferentz adds Derrick Foster as 10th Iowa assistant

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As head coaches across the country continue to take advantage of the new 10th assistant rule, Kirk Ferentz is the latest to bolster the size of his staff.

Derrick Foster, the football program announced Tuesday, has been hired by Ferentz. While the school didn’t specify what position or positions for which Foster would be responsible, it did state that the hiring would allow tight ends coach/special teams coordinator LeVar Woods to concentrate on special teams.

That would seem to indicate Foster will be in charge of tight ends, which would mark his first on-field job at the FBS level.

“Derrick is an outstanding person and has built an impressive resume with experience at multiple levels of college football,” said Ferentz in a statement. “He has an impressive record of success on the recruiting trail that will strengthen and expand our existing efforts.”

Foster has spent the past two seasons as the running backs coach and running-game coordinator at FCS Stamford.  Prior to that, he was the running backs coach (2013) and wide receivers coach (2014-15) at Northwestern State.

“My wife, Bianca, and I are excited to be afforded this wonderful opportunity to become a part of the Iowa family as well as the Iowa City community,” said Foster. “Our journey is continuing, as this provides us with the opportunity to be part of a great staff and a University that is committed to excellence. I have a lot of respect for the stability and commitment of coach Ferentz and his longevity with the program. I feel fortunate and look forward to working with coach Ferentz and his dedicated staff.”