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)

Convicted of federal drug charge, former Arkansas RB Cedric Cobbs says he is dealing with CTE

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Former Arkansas running back Cedric Cobbs plead guilty to conspiracy to distribute oxycodone and other narcotics in a United States District Court on Thursday, but was granted a no-prison sentenced because Cobbs told the judge he is undergoing treatment for brain disease.

He was sentenced to three years of probation contingent upon continuing treatment for drugs and mental health counseling.

According to Eric Bolin of Arkansas News, Cobbs is a patient at The Crosby Center, an Escondido, Calif., treatment center that claims to be “recognized as one of the nation’s foremost sports treatment centers for helping athletes reclaim their lives.” Bolin writes Cobbs is battling CTE, which Boston University says may only be diagnosed posthumously.

Cobbs accumulated 3,018 rushing yards and 26 touchdowns as an Arkansas running back from 1999-03. He left school as the Hogs’ third-leading rusher and helped the club reach the 2002 SEC championship game. Cobbs won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots and played for the Denver Broncos.

In addition to his 2014 indictment, Cobbs was arrested last July on a charge of first-degree promoting prostitution, where police found two meth pipes, meth and prescription pills in his car. Cobbs was also arrested in 2013 for prescription fraud and evading arrest. He was sentenced to probation for misdemeanor fleeing and drug fraud.

Substance abuse is a known symptom of CTE.

Les Miles issues statement on wreck that claimed lives of MSU, Nebraska punters, injured LSU’s kicker

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08: Colby Delahoussaye #42 of the LSU Tigers kicks a field goal in the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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A tragedy that struck the Michigan State and Nebraska football communities has also touched LSU’s.

On their way home from a kicking camp overnight, Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident in Wisconsin this weekend.  Additionally, LSU placekicker Colby Delahoussaye was injured in the crash that claimed the players’ lives.

Delahoussaye has since been released from an area hospital after sustaining burns to his legs and lacerations that required stitches.  LSU issued a press release revealing a couple of details surrounding the accident:

The car crash occurred at 11:43 p.m. on Saturday on Beaver Lake Road. According to the Waukesha County Sheriff’s Department, the vehicle, which was driven by Sadler, lost control on a wet pavement and crashed into a tree. Foltz was sitting in the front passenger seat, while Delahoussaye was the lone passenger in the backseat.

A short time ago his football coach released a statement addressing the tragic situation.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Sam Foltz and Mike Sadler. We grieve for them,” Les Miles stated. “This isn’t supposed to happen to young people who have so much to live for.

“We are so thankful that Colby will be able to return home to his family and friends.”

In 2013 and 2014, Delahoussaye, a senior walk-on with the Tigers, converted on a combined 24-of-29 field goal attempts.  He was replaced last season by Trey Domingue, who announced earlier this month that he was transferring from LSU after his scholarship wasn’t renewed before confirming this weekend that he’ll be continuing his collegiate playing career at Texas.

Nebraska P Sam Foltz, former Michigan State P Mike Sadler killed in car accident

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Drew Brown #34 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers is congratulated by teammate Sam Foltz #27 after Brown kicked the extra point in the first half against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Nebraska punter Sam Foltz and former Michigan State punter Mike Sadler were killed in a car accident overnight in Wisconsin, both programs have confirmed. The pair were on their way home from a kicking camp, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye was also injured in the crash but is no longer under the care of Waukesha Memorial Hospital according to the Baton Rouge Advocate.

“Last night, we lost one of the best young men who I have ever had the honor to coach and who has ever worn the Nebraska uniform,” Huskers head coach Mike Riley said in a statement. “Sam was universally loved and respected by everyone he touched and on whom he had a positive influence each and every day.  His tragic loss is immeasurable to his family, his friends, his classmates, his teammates and his coaches and our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.  The young men in our football program are hurting but I know that their strength of character and resolve will bring us together and we will honor Sam every day moving forward.”

Kohl’s Kicking Camp director Jamie Kohl also released a statement on the pair’s passing.

Foltz, 22, was named the Big Ten’s punter of the year in 2015 and was named a First Team All-Big Ten performer. A three-year starter for the Huskers, Foltz earned a bachelor’s degree in agronomy in May.

Sadler, 24, occupied the Spartans’ punter position from 2011-14 and earned recognition as the first four-time Academic All-American in the history of Michigan State’s football program. A finalist for the William V. Campbell Award, college football’s highest academic honor, in 2014, Sadler ranked among the top six in Spartans history for punts, punting yardage and punting average.

Sadler announced in April he had been accepted to Stanford Law School. “So I woke up at 8 o’clock in the morning, just had nothing going on that day, so like any good nerd I started watching physics lectures online, because I had nothing else to do with my time, got through two separate ninety minute lectures um actually from Stanford on String Theory, so as soon as I was about to start the third ninety minute session, I get a call from a Palo Alto number and I’m thinking, there’s no way this has anything to do with law, this is the physics department saying get off our website ah but sure enough it was the dean of the law school telling me that I had gotten in and I was ecstatic at that point,” he told WLNS of learning his acceptance.

Nebraska has announced that it will not partake in Big Ten media days festivities this week.

Details of the crash are still oncoming from officials in Waukesha, Wisc.

Iowa DE says he was held at gunpoint while playing Pokemon Go

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs past Faith Ekakitie #56 and Cole Fisher #36 of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the 102nd Rose Bowl Game on January 1, 2016 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie (No. 56, above) nearly became a tragic combination of two of this nation’s hot button topics, according to a post on his Facebook page.

Ekakitie says he was in an Iowa City park playing Pokemon Go when officers approached him with guns drawn, suspecting him of being involved in a nearby bank robbery. Ekakitie wrote his profile — a large black man dressed in black clothes — led five Iowa City officers to approach him, but the Hawkeye defender did not hear their approach due to having headphones in his ears — which led the officers to draw their guns. Ekakitie wrote police searched him before letting him go.

“My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband,” Ekakitie wrote. “Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn’t dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me. This is what happened from my point of view.”

Sgt. Jorey Bailey confirmed Iowa City offers stopped Ekakitie, and an Iowa spokesman confirmed Ekakitie’s version of events.

“In this situation, what the media would fail to let people know is that the suspect had his headphones in the entire time the Police Officers approached him initially,” Ekakitie wrote. “The suspect had actually just pulled up to the park because he was playing a newly popular Game called Pokémon Go. The suspect didn’t realize that there were four cops behind him because his music was blaring in his ears. The suspect had reached into his pockets, for something which was his phone, but for all the cops could have known, he was reaching for a gun. The suspect could very well become another statistic on this day.

“I am not one to usually rant on Facebook or anywhere else, but with all of the crazy things that have been happening in our world these past couple of weeks it is hard to stay silent. I am thankful to be alive.”

A senior from Brampton, Ontario, Canada, Ekakitie recorded 13 tackles in 12 appearances last season.