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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Playoff Darkhorses

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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)

Hurricanes land another Gator transfer punter

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 07:  Miami Hurricanes mascot Sebastian takes the field during a game against the Virginia Cavaliers at Sun Life Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In 2014, punter Justin Vogel transferred from Florida to Miami.  Two years later, another player at the same position is following a similar path.

On Twitter Wednesday, Jack Spicer announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Gators football program.  Not only that, but Spicer announced that he will be joining Vogel by transferring into the Hurricanes program.

Spicer, who didn’t try punting until the summer before his senior season in high school, was a true freshman with the Gators last season who didn’t see the field.

While Spicer will ostensibly compete with Vogel to be the Hurricanes’ punter, the former is likely looking at the future as the latter is a senior with a solid track record. Last season, Vogel’s 42.5 yards per punt average was sixth in the ACC.

Leading returning tackler among three dismissed by Texas Tech

ARLINGTON, TX - OCTOBER 03:  Shock Linwood #32 of the Baylor Bears runs the ball against Dakota Allen #40 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Not long after wrapping up spring practice, Texas Tech’s defense has a significant body blow.

In a press release, Tech announced that three football players, sophomore offensive lineman Robert Castaneda, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Trace Ellison and sophomore linebacker Dakota Allen, have been dismissed from the football program by head coach Kliff Kingsbury.  The dismissals are “due to a failure to uphold student-athlete expectations.”

The most noteworthy — and damaging — of the trio of dismissals is Allen.

Last season, Allen was the Red Raiders’ second-leading tackler with 87.  With Micah Awe (126 tackles) departed, Allen would’ve been Tech’s leading returning tackler.

Allen, who had six tackles for loss and two interceptions for good measure, started five of the 12 games in which he played last season.

Castaneda played in 13 games last season as a reserve lineman, while Ellison took a redshirt as a true freshman.

A&M assistant throws hissy fit after five-star QB decommits

LONDON - DECEMBER 09:  In this photo illustration a baby suckles a dummy whilst resting in her cot on December 09, 2005 in London, England. A recent US study has shown that cot deaths can be reduced by 90 percent if a baby sleeps with a dummy.  (Photo illustration by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)
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Somebody needs a nap.  Or his binky.  Or both.

Quite the imbroglio was kicked up on the recruiting trail late Wednesday night when five-star 2017 quarterback Tate Martell announced that he had decided to decommit from Texas A&M and reopen his recruitment.  Martell, who had once committed to Washington as an eighth grader, made the decision after a recent trip to Ohio State, although he has yet to commit to the Buckeyes or anyone else for that matter.

While big news for A&M and its next recruiting class, Martell’s decommitment likely would’ve been given its 15 minutes of fame and then everyone would’ve moved on… and then Aaron Moorehead happened.

Moorehead is A&M’s wide receivers coach who apparently didn’t appreciate Martell’s “disloyalty” as, six minutes after the quarterback posted his tweet, the assistant threw a Twitter hissy fit.

“Scared for this next group of kids. There is no accountability and no sense of positivity when it comes to adversity. #selfish #allaboutme,” the coach wrote in a tweet that has since been deleted. Moorehead then attempted to cram the toothpaste back into the tube, but stepped even further into it with a subsequent tweet.

“People talk about leadership and this generation flip flops like its nothing. That’s a real issue. My dad would have whipped my ass,” another deleted tweet read.

Loyalty and flip-flop talk from a coach who abruptly left Virginia Tech for the same job at A&M? That’s rich.

They say you reap what you sow, though, and…

That would be Mannie Netherly, a four-star wide receiver who had been committed to the Aggies, with the key word there being “had” as the Texas high school recruit decommitted as well. But wait, there’s more.

“I would like to say thank you to TAMU & fans but due to some tweets subtweeted towards my brother, I will no longer be looking at A&M,” Tyjon Lindsey wrote in a tweet that, yes, has since been deleted. Lindsey is a five-star receiver who had been considering A&M, with the key word there being “had.”  Again.

Reaping and sowing, y’all.  Reaping and sowing.

UPDATED 11:31 p.m. ET: Right around the time I was hitting “publish” on this post, Moorehead posted an apology on his Twitter account.

Last night, I made some impromptu comments on social media out of frustration and out of a true love for Texas A&M Football.  I want to apologize to all of the young men in high school who work so hard to achieve their dreams of playing college football & I wish them all well wherever they end up.  I would also like to apologize to Coach Sumlin and the Aggie Family for not representing our university the right way.  I need to do better & I will.

Former K-State S Kaleb Prewett appears headed to Mizzou

MANHATTAN, KS - NOVEMBER 05:  Wide receiver Jay Lee #4 of the Baylor Bears catches a pass as defensive back Kaleb Prewett #4 of the Kansas State Wildcats defends during the game at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In early February, Bill Snyder confirmed that Kaleb Prewett was no longer a member of the Kansas State football team.  Fastforward three months, and it appears the former Big 12 defensive back has found himself a new home at a former former Big 12 school.

While the school has yet to announce it, Prewett’s Twitter profile now indicates that he is a member of the Missouri Tigers. “Former Kansas State safety. Current Mizzou safety,” the bio now reads.

A couple of tweets from the former Missouri high school player seemed to hint at the development as well.

Prewett started eight of the first nine games at free safety, with the only game he missed being due to a concussion. He lost his job for the final three games, however, and then was kept away from K-State’s bowl game because of an alcohol-related arrest.

Prewett, a three-star 2014 recruit, played in six games as a true freshman.

Barring the unforeseen, Prewett will be forced to sit out the 2016 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. The defensive back would then have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.