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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Playoff Darkhorses


The term “BCS busters” should be collectively erased from everyone’s memories.

It’s now time to figure out which teams have a glimmer of hope to rise from obscurity and claim a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

The Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oregon Ducks are overwhelming favorites to participate in the inaugural playoff structure. But college football never quite works out like everyone expects.

Each team in the country is striving to be among the best. Only four will achieve this goal. Some have better odds than others. We here at CFT like to root for the underdog. As such, we’ll attempt to identify a team from each of the Power Five conference and one from the rest of the leagues that have an outside shot of playing with the big boys this season.

We advise not to bet on any of these teams, but they each have something that gives them a chance, albeit a slight one, to be a part of college football’s elite…

ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
Any team that comes out of the ACC that isn’t the Florida State Seminoles should be considered a playoff darkhorse. The reasons the Hokies are primed to improve greatly from their 8-5 record last season are they are particularly talented and experienced along the offensive line and secondary. The enter left side of the Hokies’ offensive line, including center, is comprised of seniors. And right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin was named  second-team freshman All-American by College Football News. The Hokies’ ability to win in the trenches will improve the team’s running game from last year, particularly with sophomore running back Trey Edmunds ready to become the team’s workhorse. Plus, solid play from the offensive line will help Michael Brewer‘s transition after he transferred from Texas Tech. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies may have lost Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL, but both of last year’s starting cornerbacks struggled with injuries. Sophomores Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller proved more than capable of stepping in and becoming play makers. Everyone will quickly learn whether or not the Hokies are a legitimate contender when they face a Braxton Miller-less Ohio State Buckeyes squad during the second week of the season. If Virginia Tech can go into the Horshoe and claim a major victory against the Buckeyes, the rest of the schedule is manageable, especially since it won’t face the Seminoles in regular season play.

Big 12 Conference: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kliff Kingbury
‘s first season as Texas Tech’s head coach developed into a perfect example of style over substance. The excitement of a 7-0 start faded into five straight losses to end the regular season. Despite being as highly ranked as 10th overall, the Red Raiders couldn’t match up physically against the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners, Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns. As Kingsbury continues to build the program in Year 2, the Red Raiders should be far more consistent. It starts at the quarterback position in the team’s Air Raid offense. Davis Webb started six of the team’s final eight games, and he was awarded the starting job during spring practice. Kingsbury played three different quarterbacks last and never found any consistency. Webb’s growth as a player during his sophomore season will only help the offense become more successful. Each of the linemen in front of Webb is experienced, and the receivers are expected to produce. The defense will continue to be a concern, but Texas Tech will enter each game under the assumption they can outscore any opponent. If the Red Raiders can navigate the Big 12 Conference, they’re toughest non-conference opponent is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished 3-9 last season. The opportunity is there for Texas Tech to take the next step as a program and potentially enter the national conversation.

Big Ten Conference: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will enjoy and possibly benefit greatly from playing in the Big Ten Conference’s new western division. Overall, the Big Ten Conference is wide open after the Ohio State Buckeyes lost Miller for the season. But that won’t matter for Iowa since they’re not scheduled to play the Buckeyes this season. Iowa not only avoids Ohio State, it won’t play the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans or Penn State Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes cross-divisional opponents this season are the Indiana Hoosiers and Maryland Terrapins. And the team’s toughest non-conference opponent is the Pittsburgh Panthers. If the Hawkeyes don’t trip up during a game they’re expected to win — like we’ve seen previously in Kirk Ferentz‘s tenure — Iowa could cruise into the final two games against the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers with an undefeated record. The Hawkeyes are then capable and possess enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat the primary opposition in their division. The Hawkeyes will do what they always do; they’ll run the football behind arguably the best offensive linemen in college football, Brandon Scherff, and they’ll play fundamentally sound football on defense. Their style of play leaves very little margin for error, but the season sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes to have a little more wiggle room than they usually do.

Pac-12 Conference: Oregon State Beavers
Good quarterback play will grant a team the benefit of the doubt. Sean Mannion may not be an interesting as Florida State’s Jameis Winston or as dynamic as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Mannion doesn’t even draw as much attention as UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Yet, Mannion is the country’s leading returning passer. Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. The quarterback also has pieces around him. Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks, is now in the NFL, but the team still has a massive target at tight end in Connor Hamlett and its top two rushers, Terron Ward and Storm Woods, return. Another overlooked aspect of the Beavers is how experienced they are on defense. Nine of the team’s defensive starters are seniors. The final two starters are juniors. Some of those upperclassmen will be starting for the first time, but the ability to be in the system over a period of time learning the scheme gives them an advantage. The Beavers even benefit slightly from their schedule. The team’s non-conference schedule should be a cakewalk. Oregon State hosts the Oregon Ducks in this year’s “Civil War.” Trips to USC and Stanford are the biggest obstacles in front of the Beavers in their attempt to go to their first major bowl game since they defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl 13 years ago.

SEC: Ole Miss Rebels
The Florida Gators are a popular choice to be the surprise team emerging out of the SEC. However, the Rebels should be able to reap the benefits from head coach Hugh Freeze‘s ability to stockpile talent during the upcoming season. The Rebels will have to survive the SEC West, of course, which is no easy feat. The Rebels finished 2-4 in the division last season, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers remain the teams to beat. Ole Miss, however, is littered with top talents primed to make a leap as a group. Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Ndemkiche enters his second season in the program. He’s surrounded by senior edge rushers C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson and just nose tackle Isaac Gross. Sophomore Tony Conner quickly established himself as an intimidating presence in the secondary during his freshman campaign. On offense, sophomore Laremy Tunsil is one of the most physically talented left tackles in the SEC. Laquon Treadwell was an elite wide receiver recruit and made an instant impact as a true freshman. And senior quarterback Bo Wallace will lead the way. As the talent on this team continues to mature, the gap between the Rebels and the rest of the SEC West is quickly closing. If that same talent takes a major leap in their play this year, the Rebels could go from pretender to legitimate contender.

Best of the rest: Marshall Thundering Herd
One thing established during the BCS era was an undefeated team from the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Conference USA or MAC can work themselves into the national conversation. This year’s most likely candidate is Marshall. There are two reasons why the Thundering Herd can crash this year’s party. First, the team’s schedule is among the easiest in college football. The team should cruise to a 13-0 finish. Second, people love to see explosive offenses and elite quarterback play. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has quietly built one of the most explosive offenses in college football.  The Thurndering Herd operates at a breakneck pace. Last season the team’s offense finished 12th in the country with an average of 500.4 yards per contest. And quarterback Rakeem Cato is absolutely electric. Over the past two seasons, Cato has thrown for 8,117 yards, 76 touchdowns. The combination of an undefeated record, explosive offense and a talented quarterback may be enough to insert Marshall into one of the playoff slots (even though it’s still highly unlikely).

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Police broke up riot of as many as 10,000 people following Penn State’s win over Ohio State

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Penn State students rush the field after the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21 on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Penn State beat then-No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night to capture the biggest win for the program in recent memory.

Naturally, Happy Valley was euphoric at the victory and the massive crowd that took part in a White-Out at Beaver Stadium took the celebration onto the field to and beyond. After jumping over barriers and rushing the field though, the festivities appeared to spill over onto the streets of State College.

That’s where things got a bit dicey as notes that local police said a crowd of some 5-10,000 people (mostly college-aged men and women, not surprisingly) started to form a small “riot” and damaged street lights, signs and set several small fires.

A police statement confirmed that a vehicle was damaged in the process and at least one person was injured when he was struck in the head with a bottle. The Daily Collegian further reported damage to property in the area and that tear gas was used by local and state police to break things up over the course of two hours.

It’s not at all surprising to see a bunch of young, emotional, college-aged kids get a little too excited about Penn State’s big upset. Given what has happened in the town in the past however, it’s a little disappointing to see it escalate into a full-scale riot that needed police to break things up.

AP Top 25: Washington moves into the top four, Penn State enters for first time since 2011

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Penn State students rush the field after the Penn State Nittany Lions defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes 24-21 on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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Ohio State’s loss to Penn State on Saturday night and a handful of other upsets around college football have naturally caused a few reverberations in the latest AP Top 25 poll.

As was the case last week though, Alabama received all but one first-place vote (60, in total) from voters across the country after thrashing a top 10 team at home in now-No. 9 Texas A&M. Jim Harbaugh and Michigan had the other first-place vote.

Clemson and Washington rounded out the rest of the top four, with the Huskies matching their best ranking since 2000 and setting up a big trip to Salt Lake City and No. 17 Utah this week. The Buckeyes did drop to No. 6 overall, just behind fellow one-loss team Louisville, but remained in the top 10 despite the close loss to the Nittany Lions (who entered the poll for the first time since 2011 at No. 24).

Big risers included West Virginia, which entered the top 10 after beating TCU to join fellow Big 12 undefeated Baylor at No. 8. In the SEC, both LSU and Auburn rose six spots from last week, to No. 19 and No. 15 respectively.

In addition to Penn State entering the poll, Colorado and Virginia Tech both returned to the top 25. Houston, Ole Miss and Arkansas all fell out after losses.

AP Top 25 By Conference:

  • ACC – 5
  • American – 1
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Big Ten – 5
  • MAC – 1
  • Mountain West – 1
  • Pac-12 – 3
  • SEC – 6

Here is this week’s updated AP Top 25, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (60)
  2. Michigan (1)
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Louisville
  6. Ohio State
  7. Nebraska
  8. Baylor
  9. Texas A&M
  10. West Virginia
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Florida State
  13. Boise State
  14. Florida
  15. Auburn
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Utah
  18. Tennessee
  19. LSU
  20. Western Michigan
  21. North Carolina
  22. Navy
  23. Colorado
  24. Penn State
  25. Virginia Tech

Group of Five Power Ranking: So long, Houston

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 22:  Greg Ward Jr. #1 of the Houston Cougars is sacked by Demerick Gary #10 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs and Mason Gentry #93 of the Southern Methodist Mustangs in the first half at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to pay our respects to the New Years Six hopes of the Houston Cougars. A year after representing the American Athletic Conference in the Peach Bowl by defeating Florida State, the 2016 Cougars have gone from playoff hopeful to New Years Six hopeful to fourth place in their own division. Houston is now out of the running for a big bowl game at the end of the season.

SMU dealt the knockout blow to their rivals Saturday night with a 38-16 victory that took many by surprise. SMU jumped al over Houston early on and never allowed the defending AAC champs to get too close. As a result, Houston falls out of contention for a New Years Six bid in all likelihood unless pure chaos unfolds.

What was bad news for Houston was extra good news for programs like Boise State and Western Michigan, but the AAC still has some valid contenders in the running as well. So does the MAC and Mountain West Conference.

The highest-ranked conference champion from the American Atletic Conference, Conference USA MAC, Mountian West Conference or Sun Belt Conference as determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee will be given an automatic spot in the New Years Six line-up. Here’s how the contenders rank according to me.

1. Boise State (7-0)

The Broncos scored a solid win against BYU on Thursday night to remain undefeated and atop the New Years Six power ranking. Boise State still probably needs to run the table to stay ahead of the curve. One loss could leave Boise State behind some other worthy contenders.

2. Navy (5-1)

Navy scored a big win against Memphis to remain the AAC’s most likely New YearsSix representative heading into the final weekend of October. The Midshipmen have a big conference game this weekend at USF, followed by a game against Notre Dame the following weekend in Jacksonville. The state of Florida could make or break Navy’s chances.

3. Western Michigan (8-0)

Keep rowing those boats! Western Michigan got a good fight from in-state rival Eastern Michigan but he Broncos managed to stay ahead on the scoreboard to keep their perfect record in play. Western Michigan has some very favorable games coming up, and it is starting to get hard to not look ahead to the regular season finale with Toledo.

4. San Diego State (6-1)

Not t be forgotten in the Mountain West Conference, San Diego State continues to win games. The Aztecs should still be a solid threat to win the MWC behind Boise State, and appear as able as Boise State to make a run in the conference. The only thing holding San Diego State back right now is a road loss at South Alabama.

5. Toledo (6-1)

It’s been a weird year for the MAC with Northern Illinois and Bowling GReen struggling, but Toledo is letting everyone know this conference has more to offer than just Western Michigan. The Rockets continue to impress and are also undefeated in MAC play.

On the Radar: Temple, Wyoming, Toledo, Memphis, Tulsa, USF

Tim DeRuyter out as Fresno State head coach

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 10:  Head coach Tim DeRuyter of the Fresno State Bulldogs watches his players warm up before their game against the UNLV Rebels at Sam Boyd Stadium on October 10, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 30-27 in overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Another one bites the dust.

In a move that isn’t at all surprising, Fresno State let head coach Tim DeRuyter go on Sunday afternoon after the Bulldogs fell to 1-7.

“Tim DeRuyter is a man of high character — a class individual who is a leader of men,” athletics director Jim Bartko said in a statement. “Over the time I’ve been here, the football program has shown it has the ability to be a product the Red Wave can be excited about, but the results have not been to the standard we anticipated and expect.”

DeRuyter was a solid hire initially for the program as they replaced longtime head coach Pat Hill. He jumped out to a 20-6 record in his first two seasons, including an 11-2 year in 2013 and a wave of national publicity with Derek Carr at quarterback.

That was the team’s peak however and it’s been downhill ever since for the former Mountain West power. DeRuyter went 6-8 in 2014, 3-9 in 2015 and began 2016 with a just one win (over an FCS team) in seven tries.

DeRuyter likely won’t be out of a job for long considering he has a good reputation as a defensive coordinator. What might more interesting is where the school turns after this, as alum and current Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has been a name many have connected to the opening. Former head coach Jeff Tedford has also been mentioned as a candidate as well.

Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau was named the interim head coach and will lead the team the remaining of the season. Fresno State plays Air Force on Friday.