CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8
Head coach: Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama)
Offensive coordinator: Lane Kiffin (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (seventh season)
2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Four
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.

THE BAD
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still.  Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball.  Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury.  There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced.  Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally.  In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring.  The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4.  Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.

THE UNKNOWN
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season.  With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback.  Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns.  Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa.  Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39.  Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one.  Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year.  The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played.  After last year?  This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide.  Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size.  He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Tom Herman pulls California QB recruit Cameron Rising away from Oklahoma

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Tom Herman has made his share of news since his late November arrival in Austin, but Saturday evening was probably the first time his Big 12 and national rivals perked up and took notice of the new Texas head coach for something that will happen on the field of play.

The Longhorns landed a commitment from Newbury Park, Calif., quarterback Cameron Rising, which would be news in and of itself. The 6-foot-3 signal caller is rated the No. 3 pro-style quarterback and No. 52 player nationally by Rivals for the class of 2018, making him the highest-rated player in Texas’s 4-man class.

But Rising’s pledge is especially notable for where he was already committed: Oklahoma. Rising had been committed to Oklahoma since August and publicly firmed up his pledge as recently as January. “I’m extremely happy (with the decision),” Rising said at the time. “The program is so good, they’re moving in the right direction. They had a slow start but then they picked it up and it was like a warm nice through butter.”

Herman’s tweet brings up an interesting point: the quarterback Oklahoma is most likely to target to replace Rising is the other Texas quarterback pledge.

Casey Thompson, hailing from Moore, Okla., became the first Texas quarterback commitment just nine days before Rising. Beyond just living in the Sooner State, Thompson is also the son of a former Sooner and the brother of another.

In fact, Oklahoma waisted no time in reaching out to Thompson. “OU hit me up already,” Thompson told Burnt Orange Nation, but Thompson indicated Herman and company told him ahead of time Texas would sign two quarterbacks.

And in a note the Texas coaches have likely reminded Thompson of in the past 24 hours, they offered Thompson before Rising. “Me and the [Texas] coaches have a very good relationship. I knew they planned to take 2 from the jump. Their current QB room is thin!”

Oklahoma may very well retaliate to Herman’s plunder with a steal of their own. But the point is Herman has arrived in the Red River Recruiting Wars, and he’s playing to win.

LSU lands Randy Moss’s son as tight end transfer

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They say these things happen in threes, so any program employing Warren Sapp‘s son better start preparing now. Days after Ray Lewis‘s son announced a transferRandy Moss‘s has done the same.

Thaddeus Moss announced his intention to leave NC State for LSU on Sunday, doing so in a post on his Twitter account.

Moss was recruited to NC State by then-Wolfpack offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Canada tried to get Moss to decommit and follow him to Pittsburgh, but that initial refusal worked out for the pair in the end.

“He had gotten fired and I had already gotten my mind made up,” Moss told The Advocate. “He had messaged me and was telling me stuff about Pitt and this stuff. It was all of this stuff. I don’t even think I messaged him back.

“That was actually the very first thing he said when he saw me. ‘Hey, you remember when I messaged you?’ It worked out for the better good.”

Ranked the No. 6 tight end in the class of 2016 by Rivals, Moss started three games last fall for NC State. He caught six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.

As an undergraduate transfer, Moss will have to sit out the 2017 season before having three seasons to compete for the Tigers.

Michigan meets with refugees as part of Italian Spring Break trip

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Michigan is in Rome for Spring Break and Jim Harbaugh determined an act of charity would be the Wolverines’ first item of business upon landing on Italian soil.

After landing in Rome at 9 a.m. local time, the Wolverines immediately headed to the Borghese Gardens, where they distributed backpacks filled with blankets, shirts and shorts to refugees.

“What an experience,” quarterback Wilton Speight told the Toledo Blade. “I saw on the itinerary that we were going to have an opportunity to meet some refugees, but I didn’t know it was going to be like this where we could dive into each other’s lives and teach each other a thing or two about our background, our culture, our favorite sport. It’s been a cool experience.”

And for those wondering, Harbaugh has not reduced his Harbaugh-ness while overseas. In fact, the dollar-to-euro conversion may have actually increased it.

Former Tennesse RB Jalen Hurd to play WR at Baylor, per report

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Tennessee running back Jalen Hurd will become Baylor wide receiver Jalen Hurd, according to a report from ESPN’s Jake Trotter.

Hurd announced on Halloween he would leave the Vols roster, seeking a change in position as well as scenery. After visits to Ohio State and Louisville, Hurd trekked to Waco for the Bears’ spring game on Saturday, where he indicated on Twitter afterward that he would become a Bear.

Trotter filed afterward, citing a source, that Hurd will indeed become the latest member of the Bears’ wide receiving corps.

Hurd is a physical freak that will excel at whatever position he plays. As a 6-foot-2 running back, he toted the rock 589 times for 2,635 yards with 20 touchdowns in his three seasons as a Vol. Now, as a 240-pound wide receiver (though it’s likely he’ll slim down now that he no longer has to prepare for a season of between-the-tackles running), he’ll display the skills that saw him catch 67 passes for 492 yards and six touchdowns.

As an undergraduate transfer, Hurd will sit out the 2017 season before joining the team in 2018. He will have one season to compete as a Bear.