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)

WATCH: trailer for Joe Paterno movie starring Al Pacino released

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If you’re wondering what a legendary college football head coach who fell from grace looks like (very briefly) through the prism of Hollywood, you’re in luck.

It was confirmed in the summer of last year that Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino was set to star as former Penn State coach Joe Paterno in an HBO-produced film, with the movie focusing on the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal that erupted in November of 2011 and Paterno’s subsequent dismissal nearly two weeks later.  “Paterno,” directed by Barry Levinson and also starring Emmy Award-winning actress Kathy Baker, is set to premiere at some point this spring.

Ahead of that, a trailer for the highly-anticipated flick was released Friday.

The film is expected to center on how much Paterno, the unquestioned king of Happy Valley during his half-century reign, knew about Sandusky’s crimes, when he learned about them and whether he did enough with the information he had.

“He did act upon it,” Pacino said by way of pennlive.com. “He did say he thought someone should look into this. But a guy like Paterno, he’s like an emperor, he’s like a king. He didn’t take up with it because it was out of his control, and I think this is a character who’s used to control.”

“The film lays out the elements of the story and leaves you to make your own judgment,” said Levinson. “There are times when you may feel one way, and times when you may feel a totally different way, and I think that’s what makes the piece so compelling.”

Gus Malzahn’s new contract includes over $24 million in guaranteed money, increased buyout for Auburn

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzhan is a rich man. He’s set to become even richer.

It’s no secret that the Tigers’ head coach agreed to a new deal back in December that was worth a reported seven years at roughly $7 million a season. While the overall value of that would work out to around $49 million if Malzahn stays on the Plains until 2025, that’s not quite the amount that the school is committing to the coach if they decided to make a change down the road.

Speaking at a news conference for new athletic director Allen Greene on Friday, Auburn president Steven Leath told the Montgomery Advertiser that just over half of the money in the deal is fully guaranteed (so roughly $24.5 million) and that while there is an increased buyout on the Tigers side, it is not close to the reported $49 million mark that some thought it would be when figures were flying around at the end of 2017.

“I’m still a trust guy,” Leath told the paper. “Gus and I are functioning well together. We know the basic tenets, we’ve drawn things up and sent it to his attorney. So we’ll get that cleaned up pretty soon.”

He also confirmed the deal has not been signed by either side.

While Malzahn does seem like he’s on solid footing after guiding the team to an Iron Bowl victory, a SEC West title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth last season, he’s certainly no stranger to the hot seat given the fan base he works with and the sky-high expectations for the school. Either way, he’ll enter 2018 as one of the highest paid coaches in the country and a very rich man going forward, even if it wasn’t quite the security that some thought he was getting after a rumored flirtation with Arkansas several weeks ago.

Auburn checks in at No. 16 in CFT’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season.

Wisconsin renews Paul Chryst’s contract again, keeps him in Madison until 2023

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It’s becoming a regular occurrence around Madison this time of year but Wisconsin has renewed head coach Paul Chryst’s contract once again.

The UW Athletic Board approved the deal on Friday and keeps Chryst around with a five-year contract that runs through January 31, 2023. Other terms of the contract were not announced but this is pretty standard operating procedure for the school after the board did the same back in 2017 and 2016 to keep the coach on what amounts to a rolling five-year deal.

Based on his upgraded deal that agreed to last winter, Chryst is set to set make $3.3 million in 2018 with additional annual raises of $100,000 each year through 2023.

Chryst is 34–7 at his alma mater (53-26 overall as a head coach) and is coming off the team’s best season several years after going 13-1 in 2017 and capping things off with a victory over Miami in the Orange Bowl. The Badgers could be even better in 2018 given what returns to the starting lineup and were slotted in at No. 5 in CFT’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season as a result.

Colorado State officially announces hire of John Jancek as Rams’ new defensive coordinator

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Mike Bobo finally has his defensive coordinator as Colorado State announced on Friday that long time coaching veteran John Jancek was hired to run the Rams’ defense.

“I’ve had the opportunity to coach on the same staff with John at Georgia, and I’ve coordinated offenses that have gone up against his defenses,” Bobo said in a statement. “He has a great deal of experience coaching and winning at the highest levels of college football, and I’m very excited he is part of the Ram Family.”

The hire of Jancek comes a little over a week after the program nearly brought in former Alabama assistant Derrick Ansleywho was set to head to Fort Collins to take the DC job before getting hired by the Oakland Raiders and their new coach Jon Gruden. The team had an opening at the position after Marty English retired following the 2017 season.

Jancek most recently was a defensive consultant at Kentucky this past season but spent the three years prior as the coordinator at SEC rival Tennessee. All told, this is his fifth stop as a defensive coordinator at the FBS level — including a stint at Georgia that overlapped with Bobo’s tenure in Athens from 2005-2009. He also spent one season as the safeties coach at South Florida in 2016 in his last full-time on the field role as a coach.

Jancek’s move west caps off a busy week for Colorado State’s staff after Dave Johnson was hired as run game coordinator and offensive line coach on Tuesday.