CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 4 Ohio State


(It should be noted this preseason ranking was determined before news of Braxton Miller being lost for the season.)

2013 Record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Big Ten (lost to Michigan State in championship game)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl (40-35 loss to Clemson)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 12/No. 10
Head coach: Urban Meyer (128-25 overall, 24-2 in two years at Ohio State)
Offensive coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd year at Ohio State), Ed Warinner (3rd year at Ohio State)
2013 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (308.64 ypg), 90th passing offense (203.3 ypg), 7th total offense (511.9 ypg), 3rd scoring offense (45.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4*
Co-defensive coordinators: Luke Fickell (13th year at Ohio State), Chris Ash (first year at Ohio State)
2013 defensive rankings: 9th rushing defense (109.43 ypg), 112th passing defense (268.0 ypg), 47th total defense (377.4 ypg), 28th scoring defense (22.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (104,944; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2010 (2009, outright)

In a season that once appeared to be all about making the playoff or bust, the Buckeyes still look to have a very good shot at making a run at a Big Ten title despite losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season. Losing Miller cannot be understated for the fortunes of this season, but more on that in a moment. What Ohio State does have is a roster that has been built by landing the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten each of the past four seasons, so the talent on the roster is not much of a concern for the Buckeyes as far as the Big Ten is concerned. One fo the downfalls of Ohio State last season was the defense not being strong enough to hold off a balanced opponent like Michigan State or slow down a potent offense like the one owned by Clemson. When push came to shove, Ohio State’s defensive line was the one being shoved in the clutch. That should change some this season with a focus on toughening up the defense. New defensive line coach Larry Johnson (from Penn State) will have an impact with the play of the defensive line, which could be the best in the Big Ten, with Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa up front and Noah Spence scheduled to return following a multi-game suspension. Ohio State’s opening games may be more difficult now, without Miller, but the Buckeyes should still be able to remain one of the favorites in the Big Ten’s East division.

The loss of Miller is without a doubt a major blow for Ohio State. Miller was Ohio State’s, and the Big Ten’s, best player when healthy and his contributions to the Ohio State offense will not be easy to make up. Miller was not only looking to improve with his passing abilities, but he was also the team’s leading rusher returning this season (1,283 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013). Ohio State should still be able to run the football this fall, but the loss of Miller has the potential to make Ohio State’s running game much less of a threat to opposing defenses. That is, until we see just how redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett adapts to his new responsibilities under center.

Ohio State has plenty of talent, but now head coach Urban Meyer is challenged to find a way to make everything come together in a different way than he may have been spending all summer doing. Meyer is a really good coach — one of the best in the country — but can he manage to keep Ohio State among the favorites for a playoff spot at the end of the year after losing Miller and lead running back Carlos Hyde (NFL) with a lack of significant experience in the backfield? Throwing an extra challenge into the equation this season is Ohio State does not have as easy a non-conference schedule to allow these things to be sorted out without concern. Ohio State faces a decent Navy team in the season opener in Baltimore, and then hosts a Virgina Tech team that should be improved this fall. A home game against Cincinnati could present a challenge to before getting into Big Ten play.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Penn State
The road game at Michigan State is still the highlight of the 2014 Ohio State schedule, and the non-conference slate should help show just what Ohio State will be this season. A road game at Penn State, in primetime, could be the first real challenge for the Buckeyes though, despite the Nittany Lions being a thin team when it comes to depth and Ohio State blasting their neighbors from the east 63-14 last fall. If Penn State stays healthy, they could pose a threat to Ohio State at home in a revenge situation. New head coach James Franklin has sparked the program a bit, and playing in front of 100,000 fans not cheering for you could be a challenge for a young quarterback like Barrett. Win this game, and Ohio State will prove to remain a top threat in the East.

Braxton Miller would have been the easy pick here, but with the quarterback ut of commission this fall the next best offensive player may end up being wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith should be one of the top receivers for the Buckeyes this fall as Ohio State’s leading returning receiver with 660 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.

* Not counting injured quarterback Braxton Miller

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

North Carolina formally announces hiring of ex-Tennessee RBs coach Robert Gillespie

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The latest addition to Larry Fedora‘s North Carolina coaching staff has been confirmed.

Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this month. UNC announced Wednesday that Fedora has hired Robert Gillespie. While not confirmed by the football program in the release, it’s expected Gillespie will serve as the Tar Heels running backs coach, a position he’s held for most of his coaching career.

“We are excited to welcome Robert and his family to Chapel Hill,” Fedora said in a statement. “He has a well-earned reputation as a great offensive coach and recruiter, and he has a wealth of experience working with running backs at a very high level. We are happy to have him join our staff as we get into the bulk of spring practice.”

Gillespie fills the hole created by the departure of Gunter Brewer, who left as the Tar Heels’ wide receivers coach for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. It’s expected that Luke Paschall, currently the running backs coach, will assume Brewer’s role with receivers.

Gillespie, a former Florida running back, spent the past five seasons as the running backs coach at Tennessee. He was originally retained by new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt before parting ways with the football program shortly after National Signing Day.

In addition to UT, Gillespie has spent time on coaching staffs at South Carolina (2006-08), Oklahoma State (2009-10) and West Virginia (2011-12). He was the running backs coach at each of those stops.

Report: Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa’s thumb injury ‘just a sprain’

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It appears Alabama can breathe a sigh of relief on the injury front.

Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his LEFT (throwing) hand.  It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.

While there’s been nothing official yet from the football program or head coach,, citing unnamed sources, writes that the injury “is believed to just be a sprain and he should be able to return to practice in at least a limited capacity at some point soon.”

Until then, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.

The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are engaged in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp.  That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.

John Calipari takes page out of Nick Saban’s playbook by warning of (rat) poison

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One’s a dot, two’s a line and three’s a trend as the old adage go and it appears rat poison for college players is now a burgeoning trend.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday ahead of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, Wildcats coach John Calipari took a page straight out of Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s playbook by warning his team of drinking the media “poison” the past few days.

“My challenge is making sure these kids don’t drink that poison. That poison being we have an easy road. There are no easy roads in this tournament,” said Calipari. “If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dog fight Thursday — let’s see what happens. Sometimes you wonder why they’re (the media) trying to paint that picture with my team — probably because they’re young and they know they don’t know better.”

Ok then.

At least the term Calipari is using isn’t out of thin air given that Saban infamously ranted on his team buying into the media’s discussion of being a good team as “rat poison” last season. For the record though, the rant by the basketball coach was prompted by a question that didn’t at all involve Kentucky having an easy path to the Final Four but was rather about team and individual goals.

It’s not often you think of Saban as a trendsetter but it seems he was certainly ahead of the curve when it came to labeling media talk as poison.

Harbaugh hits primetime again as Michigan announces spring game under the lights

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Jim Harbaugh is already getting a series on Amazon Prime but now the Michigan head coach is also getting the primetime treatment.

The Wolverines announced on Tuesday that the annual spring game would take place under the lights at Michigan Stadium this year and would be televised live in primetime on the Big Ten Network.

Gates will open to the game two hours prior to kickoff and the maize and blue faithful may try to do their best to get to Ann Arbor early because the school is going to screen an episode of the Amazon series  “All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines” prior to the game. This will be the second time in three years that the school will go under the lights to play their spring game at night but obviously the first time there’s a documentary series that will be screened prior to the Wolverines taking the field.

The game may be worth tuning in for to see Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson in action with his new team after arriving in the offseason. The NCAA still has not ruled on whether he will be immediately eligible in 2018 but he is expected to go through spring drills with the team either way, starting this week when practices begin on Friday.