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)

Michigan RB declares Wolverines actually beat Ohio State last year

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No. 9 Ohio State heads to No. 24 Michigan on Saturday (noon ET, FOX) looking to protect its 5-game winning streak against That Team Up North. According to Michigan running back Karan Higdon, though, it’s Michigan that’s looking to protect its claim over the scoreboard.

Higdon surely remembers last year’s game well. He was there, after all, carrying three times for five yards. However, it was actually Ohio State who won the game, 30-27 in double overtime. The game was incredibly close, as the score indicates. Michigan would have won if not for a pair of Wilton Speight disasters at the goal line, the first an interception that Malik Hooker returned for a touchdown to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead and the second a goal line fumble that ruined Michigan’s chance to take a 17-7 lead.

As we know, Ohio State fought back to win by this much. How much? Jim Harbaugh shows us below.

Higdon figures to have a much greater impact on this year’s game. He’s the Wolverines leading rusher 874 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in Michigan’s most recent home game, a 33-10 win over Minnesota.

Here’s hoping, for his sake, that he can have an impact on an actual Michigan victory this time around.

Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.

Joey Jones steps down as South Alabama head coach

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There’s never a good time to lose a football game 52-0, but even by that scale it’s an especially bad thing to lose 52-0 in a game you had to win to keep your bowl hopes alive to a team so disgusted by its own season that it fired its head coach a month ago.

That’s what South Alabama did on Saturday in dropping a 52-0 decision to Georgia Southern, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.

And on Monday, South Alabama announced head coach Joey Jones will resign following the Jaguars’ Dec. 2 finale at New Mexico State.

“There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change.  For this program that I love so much, that time is now,” Jones said in a statement.  “One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama.  Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones is the only head coach South Alabama has ever known, hired Feb. 15, 2008. He led the Jags for three seasons as an FCS Independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2012, taking the club to bowl games in 2014 and 2016.

The loss Saturday dropped the program to 4-7 this season, ending hopes of returning to a bowl game for the first time in the program’s short history.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program.  He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said AD Dr. Joel Erdmann.  “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate.  His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”