Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Pair of reserve O-linemen reportedly leaving Vols

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Tennessee has become the latest FBS program to see players leave in search of greener playing-time grass, with a pair of offensive linemen reportedly set to make their exits from Knoxville.

According to a pair of tweets from UT radio network sideline reporter John Brice, Vols linemen Dontavius Blair (pictured) and Ray Raulerson have decided to leave Butch Jones‘ football program.  According to 247Sports.com‘s Wes Rucker, “multiple program sources have indicated in the past week to GoVols247 that Blair and Raulerson were indeed looking to leave the program in hopes of having better chances to play.”

Both are expected to transfer to FCS programs to either continue their playing careers or, in the case of Blair, finish it.

Blair played in nine games last season, Blair in five. Neither player started a contest as a Vol.

When it came to the 2016 season, neither player was expected to be a significant part of any line rotation.

Ex-Florida DB J.C. Jackson won’t head to South Carolina after all

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 29: A football helmet on the field for the South Carolina Gamecocks against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 29, 2012 in Lexington, Kentucky.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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It appears Will Muschamp‘s Columbia reunion with one of his former Florida players won’t come to fruition as first thought.

Last months, reports surfaced that J.C. Jackson could be headed to South Carolina to join Muschamp’s first-year Gamecocks football program.  However, 247Sports.com is now reporting that Jackson will not enroll at USC.

“Sources indicate Jackson is not eligible to transfer to the Gamecocks in a ruling that’s beyond South Carolina’s control,” the site wrote.

Instead, sources indicated to the recruiting website that Jackson will likely end up at Maryland.  The Terps’ first-year coach, D.J. Durkin, was Muschamp’s defensive coordinator with the Gators when Jackson was a defensive back with the team.

Facing three felony charges in connection to an armed home invasion robbery, Jackson “transferred” from UF in May of last year.  He was ultimately acquitted on all of those charges, and is currently enrolled at a California junior college.

A four-star member of the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class, Jackson was rated as the No. 21 corner in the country; the No. 37 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 243 recruit overall by Rivals.com.  He played in the 2014 opener, but missed the remainder of the season with a shoulder injury.  Exiting the spring, Jackson was expected to take a starting job into summer camp in 2015 prior to the legal issues arising.

If Jackson lands at Maryland, or any other FBS program for that matter, he would be eligible to play immediately in 2016.  The redshirt sophomore would then have three seasons of eligibility at his disposal.

Carson Lydon expected to leave Virginia Tech, transfer elsewhere

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to leave his original home and look elsewhere.

The latest to be hit with attrition via a transfer is Virginia Tech, with the Hokies confirming speculation that Carson Lydon is no longer with the team and intends to transfer to an undetermined location.  No reason was given for the linebacker parting ways with the program.

Should Lydon decide to move on to another FBS program, he’d likely have to sit out the 2016 season, leaving him with three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning with the following season.

Lydon was a three-star member of the Hokies’ 2015 recruiting class coming out of high school in Florida.  In addition to Tech, Lydon held offers from, among others, Boston College, Cincinnati, Duke, North Carolina State, Rutgers and Syracuse.

As a true freshman last season, Lydon played in 11 games.

Miami suspends LB Juwon Young amidst luxury vehicle questions

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 14:  T.J. Logan #8 of the North Carolina Tar Heels dives into the end zone for a touchdown as Juwon Young #51 of the Miami Hurricanes defends during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina won 59-21.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Earlier in the day, reports coming out of South Florida indicated that Juwon Young‘s time as a member of the Miami Hurricanes could be coming to an end.  While it’s not at that point yet, there has been one confirmed development on that front.

Early Friday afternoon, UM announced that Young has been indefinitely suspended from the football program.  The only stated reason was the vague “violation of department rules.”

According to a report, the suspension seemingly stems from the university’s investigation into a potential NCAA violation.  From the Miami Herald:

Multiple people inside the UM football program do not expect Young to be on the team this season. One source cautioned that he’s in limbo and it’s still possible he could return but he’s not in a good position.

The matter, according to a source, involved Young gaining use of a luxury vehicle from a car agency. It’s unclear if Young paid for the vehicle or if he intends to.

As for additional specifics for the suspension itself?

The Herald‘s report went on to note that star defensive end Al-Quadin Muhammad is being investigated for his involvement with the same agency; as of now, Muhammad remains an active member of the program.

As UM’s NCAA probation doesn’t end for another four months, the university is looking to get as far ahead of this situation as possible.

Young appeared in 14 games the past two seasons, including 10 in 2015.

Muhammad, a redshirt junior, played in 12 games in 2015, leading the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (five).  He underwent a minor surgical procedure in late April to repair an issue in one of his knees.