CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 6 UCLA

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Pac-12 Conference (2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech (42-12 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 16/No. 16
Head coach: Jim Mora (19-8 overall; 19-8 in three years at UCLA)
Offensive coordinator: Noel Mazzone (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 offensive rankings: 35th rushing offense (196.6 ypg); 43rd passing offense (251.8 ypg); 38th total offense (448.5 ypg); 2oth scoring offense (36.9 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: nine
Defensive coordinator: Jeff Ulbrich (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (169.5 ypg); 40th passing defense (217.6 ypg);  54th total defense (387.1 ypg); 35th scoring defense (23.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Rose Bowl (92,542; grass)
Last conference title: 1998

THE GOOD
The talent on UCLA’s roster makes the Bruins contenders in the Pac-12 Conference. The play of quarterback Brett Hundley can place the team in national title contention. Hundley is among the Top 3 quarterbacks in college football along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Like Mariota, Hundley would have a first-round pick in May’s NFL draft if he decided to declare early. But he decided to stay in Westwood. The Bruins will gladly continue to build around their talented quarterback. Hundley is an impressive athlete at 6-3 and 226 pounds. Last season. Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also led the team with 748 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. One of the reasons Hundley returned to UCLA for his redshirt junior campaign is to become a better overall quarterback. Hundley did improve his decision making through the final six games of last season. He only threw one of his nine interceptions after Oct. 26. As Hundley continues to develop his overall game, the Bruins will be the biggest beneficiary. And top-notch quarterback play is a key ingredient for any program ready to make the jump from being good to great.

THE BAD
UCLA head coach Jim Mora is a defensive coach by nature. It had to drive him crazy to see the Bruins play as poorly on defense as they did last seson. The Bruins actually finished fifth overall in the Pac-12 in total defense, but that is more an indictment of the overall defensive play around the league. The country’s 71st overall rushing defense simply isn’t good enough. UCLA wants to be able to compete with any team in the country. And it has to be better on defense. The team relied heavily on two talented freshmen, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark, along the defensive line last season. Both should naturally improve during their sophomore campaigns. While the team’s starting front is talented, the depth is questionable beyond Ellis McCarthy. Players such as junior Kevin McReynolds, need to provide quality reps as part of the team’s defensive line rotation for them to improve significantly against the run. Isaako Savaiinaea will also be inserted into the starting lineup to replace Jordan Zumwalt at inside linebacker. UCLA knows what to expect of senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, but Savaiinaea’s play could prove to be the difference in the Bruins’ defense as a whole. The Bruins’ progression on the defensive side of the football should be the primary indicator how far the team can go this season.

THE UNKNOWN
UCLA’s offense line was in constant flux in 2013. The team used four different offensive line combinations throughout the season. The team actually changed its starting lineup in six of its last seven games. A lack of continuity up front will have a drastic effect throughout the rest of the offense. While this shouldn’t be a concern which lingers between seasons, the Bruins have already started off on the wrong foot with at least one significant injury along this year’s offensive line. Left tackle Simon Goines will miss at least the first two games of the season after he had bone spurs removed in his ankle Aug. 9. Malcolm Bunche, a Miami transfer, has 13 career starts at left tackle, and he is expected to slide into the spot vacated by Goines. Once Goines returns, the coaching staff will have shuffle the starting lineup. How many times will they have to do so this season? Will Bunche slide inside to guard once Goines is healthy or he remain on the blindside? The fact of the matter is UCLA won’t have their top offensive line on the field until week three of the season with very little practice time as an entire unit. Goines is expected to return just in time for one of the Bruins’ biggest games of the season against Texas. However, he won’t have much time to build a rapport with the rest of the unit. The only ones who will suffer if the offensive can’t gel quickly are Hundley and the rest of UCLA’s skill positions.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
It’s been six years since UCLA defeated Stanford. To put that time frame into context, the 2008 season was Rick Neuheisel’s first at UCLA. It was Jim Harbaugh‘s second with the Cardinal. Stanford has gone on to become one of the most successful and intimidating teams in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins, meanwhile, have searched for an identity and found one under Mora. This game will be Mora’s opportunity to truly put his stamp on the program. It’s the last game of the regular season. Both UCLA and Stanford are expected to be battling for an appearance in the Pac-12 championship game. Since the game falls on a Friday, both teams will have short practice weeks. The Bruins want to prove they’re among the Pac-12’s elite and a potential national championship contender. Stanford is as tough a team as the Bruins will face all season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: linebacker/running back Myles Jack
Hundley is the obvious choice here. There is, however, a natural curiosity that will draw college football fans and Heisman voters to Jack. On one hand, Jack is one of the best young linebackers in college football. On the other, he is a dynamic runner when the Bruins decide to hand him the football. Last season, Jack was third on the Bruins’ defense with 49 tackles. He also added seven tackles for loss and 13 deflected passes while dropping in coverage. On offense, Jack led the team with an average of 7.0 yards per carry. He only ran the ball 38 times, yet he was second on the team with seven rushing touchdowns. And Jack accomplished these numbers as a true freshman. The “runningbacker” simply brings a completely different dynamic to both sides of the football. He’ll be expected to make the big play on defense in crucial parts of the game. And the team clearly favors him when they’re around the goal line on offense. The novelty of Jack playing both ways will draw interest from fans around the country. It’s his talent and ability to play at a high level on both sides of the football that will make him a legitimate Heisman contender.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Nobody placed a bid on Harbaugh’s autographed khakis

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Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh has certainly made a name for himself over the years with his affinity for a simple pair of khakis. It is not uncommon for clothes worn by coaches to be auctioned off for a charitable reason, but any hope of bringing in big money over a pair of khakis signed by the head coach of the Wolverines came up empty in a recent auction, according to Land of 10.

The U of M Club of Detroit hoped a pair of signed khakis would be a great auction item, but the one-of-a-kind auction item had nobody biting. Perhaps it was the starting bid of $900 that kept potential bidders away. Or maybe a signed pair of pants is just not at all the kind of piece even the most devoted Michigan collector wants to add to their collection?

This is not all that unheard of given the style of the auction. Because it was a silent auction, there was never a chance to see the bidding go back-and-forth between potential suitors. HAd the pants been auctioned off in a standard auction format, the odds are the item may have been able to be sold to one lucky high bidder. The risk, however, would be not fetching the desired goal for the item. If the starting bid was lower in a regular auction, there is no guarantee it would have reached the desired $900 goal.

For now, the pants will likely stay in storage awaiting the next silent auction, so all is not lost. The khakis will just have to wait for another day to be won by one lucky Michigan fan or devoted khaki enthusiast.

TCU WR Isaiah Graham announces transfer from Horned Frogs

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Sophomore wide receiver Isaiah Graham is leaving TCU behind in search of a new opportunity. Graham announced his intention to seek a new place to call home with a statement on his Twitter account. In it, Graham thanked TCU head coach Gary Patterson and the coaching staff for bringing him into the football program in Fort Worth.

As a freshman, Graham played in nine games, in which he caught six passes for 68 yards. This season, Graham appeared in 10 games and caught two passes for 16 yards. The sophomore was buried on the depth chart and his chances to get on the field had largely been in nothing more than a reserve role the past two seasons. With that outlook not looking to drastically change in 2018, Graham will look for a place where he might have the chance to play more of a contributing role in an offense.

Graham will have to sit out the 2018 season if the former three-star recruit (according to Rivals) lands at another FBS program. He will have two years of eligibility after sitting out the 2018 season. He has yet to use a redshirt season.The Louisiana native chose TCU over offers from a number of programs including Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Nebraska, SMU, Tennessee, and more. Whether any of those programs remain in play for Graham now remains unknown.

Nebraska loads up on FCS cupcakes in future scheduling

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The future of Nebraska football is beginning to look a bit more optimistic with the recent hiring of Scott Frost. Time will tell just how many wins Nebraska will start racking up in Big Ten play under Frost, but Nebraska has made some moves to secure some likely wins in future seasons.

In a scheduling announcement on Wednesday, Nebraska has announced future games against two FCS opponents — South Dakota State and North Dakota — and Georgia Southern of the Sun Belt Conference. Nebraska will host South Dakota State in 2020, 2024, and 2028. North Dakota (NOT North Dakota State) will head to Lincoln in 2022 and 2026. Georgia Southern will occupy a spot on the non-conference schedule in 2022. Per Nebraska;

  • South Dakota State—Sept 12, 2020; Aug. 31, 2024; Sept. 9, 2028
  • North Dakota—Sept. 3, 2022; Sept. 19, 2026
  • Georgia Southern—Sept. 10, 2022

It is important to note Nebraska’s addition of South Dakota State and North Dakota no longer violates the Big Ten’s scheduling initiative to ban FCS opponents. That policy was revised to allow for the addition of these teams in years Big Ten teams only have four conference games scheduled at home (and five road games in conference play). Big Ten teams are still required to schedule a game against another power conference opponent or an approved opponent to satisfy the requirement, however. Nebraska is currently scheduled to play old Big 12 (and Big 8) rivals Oklahoma in 2021 and 2022 and Colorado in 2023 and 2024.Nebraska has also met the power conference scheduling requirement for 2026 (Tennessee) and 2028 (Arizona). Both games are part of home-and-home arrangements.

The 2022 season is an exception for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are scheduled to host South Dakota State, Central Michigan, and Cincinnati. The Big Ten has ruled Cincinnati to be an exception to the power conference scheduling for Nebraska. Nebraska originally scheduled a series with Cincinnati in 2013, prior to the Big Ten adopting its scheduling philosophy to increase the overall quality of strength of schedule across the conference.

Heisman winner Baker Mayfield among 14 to earn unanimous All-American honors

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In order to be considered a unanimous All-American by the NCAA, a college football player needs to earn first-team needs from all five of the following organizations: the Associated Press, the American Football Coaches Association, the Football Writers Association of America, the Sporting News, and the Walter Camp Football Foundation.  With the release of the AFCA team Wednesday, a total of 14 players have been accorded unanimous All-American honors for the 2017 season.

Heading that pack, unsurprisingly, is Oklahoma quarterback and 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.  Since those five organizations were established as the criteria in 2002, Mayfield becomes the sixth quarterback to earn that honor, joining Louisville’s Lamar Jackson (2016), Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (2014), Texas’ Colt McCoy (2009), Ohio State’s Troy Smith (2006) and Oklahoma’s Jason White (2003).   Prior to White, the last quarterback named a unanimous All-American was Charlie Ward of Florida State in 1993.

Of the 14 unanimous All-Americans this season — there were the same number in 2016 — exactly half came from Oklahoma (three), Iowa (two) and Texas (two).

Below are the remaining baker’s dozen (no pun intended) unanimous All-Americans:

  • Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews
  • Oklahoma offensive lineman Orlando Brown Jr.
  • North Carolina State defensive lineman Bradley Chubb
  • Texas punter Michael Dickson
  • Texas defensive back DeShon Elliott
  • Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick
  • Iowa defensive back Josh Jackson
  • Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell
  • Stanford running back Bryce Love
  • Notre Dame offensive lineman Quenton Nelson
  • Ohio State offensive lineman Billy Price
  • Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith
  • Oklahoma State wide receiver James Washington