CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Oregon

5 Comments

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 Conference (2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Alamo Bowl vs. Texas (30-7 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 9/No. 9
Head coach: Mark Helfrich (11-2 overall; 11-2 in one year at Oregon)
Offensive coordinator: Scott Frost (5th year at Oregon)
2013 offensive rankings: 9th rushing offense (273.5 ypg); 21st passing offense (291.5 ypg); 2nd total offense (565 ypg); 4th scoring offense (45.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: eight
Defensive coordinator: Don Pellum (22nd year at Oregon)
2013 defensive rankings: 66th rushing defense (165.5 ypg); 21st passing defense (204.5 ypg);  37th total defense (370.1 ypg); 13th scoring defense (20.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: five
Location: Eugene, Oregon
Stadium: Autzen Stadium (58,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2011

THE GOOD
The most underrated aspect of Oregon’s football program is the commitment found within its coaching staff. It’s not to say there hasn’t been turnover in the program. Head coach Chip Kelly left the Ducks prior to last season. Defensive coordinator Nick Allioti retired during the offseason after spending 24 seasons with the program. Instead of rushing out to hire the hottest coach available on the market, the program simply promotes from within. Mark Helfrich is now entering his second season as the team’s head coach after serving as the Ducks’ offensive coordinator the previous four seasons. The team’s new defensive coordinator, Don Pellum, spent 22 years as a full-time assistant. During the last 16 years, Pellum was tasked with coaching the linebackers. While each promotion brings slight tweaks to the system, the influences of Rich Brooks and Mike Bellotti during their tenures as head coach remains a part of the program. The Ducks have continued to build from the day Brooks was hired as their head coach in 1977  to today. As a result of the continuity built within program, Oregon has developed into one of the premier programs in the nation. A program that has the talent to win a national championship this season.

THE BAD
The tempo at which the Ducks operate on offense is always a double-edged sword. While the offense can be impossible to stop at times, the defense can also be gashed by opponents. When the Ducks went to the BCS National Championship Game in Jan. 2011, they surrendered 346 yards per game and the offensive’s time of possession was 27:54 minutes per game. During each of the past three seasons, the Ducks have given up more yards per game and operated at a faster pace. It’s not a good combination. The Ducks have had talent on the defensive side of the football during those years, but they simply didn’t play to the same level that finally led them to the title game. This season isn’t any different. Senior cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu is arguably the best cornerback in college football. Defensive lineman Arik Armstead is a considered an early-round prospect for the 2015 NFL draft. Defensive end Tony Washington returns after leading the team with seven sacks last season. The team’s leading tackler, Derrick Malone, is also back in the middle of the defense. There is talent at all three levels of the Ducks defense. Oregon is more than just a flashy offense. The team’s defense has to play at a high level for the Ducks to be a part of the first College Football Playoff.

THE UNKNOWN
Kelly’s approach to offensive line play was there wasn’t much difference between playing guard and tackle in his system. The system hasn’t changed under Helfrich, but the importance of the tackle position is far more pertinent this season. The team’s senior left tackle, Tyler Johnstone, re-tore his ACL at the start of fall camp. It caused Helfrich to reshuffle his offensive line. Junior Andre Yruretagoyena will replace Johnstone on the blindside. There are two issues any time there are major changes along the offensive line. The first is building continuity within the unit to operate at a high level. Due to the team’s heavy zone-blocking scheme and its tempo on offense, this can be especially difficult to establish. The Ducks also lost the leadership and experience Johnstone brought to the lineup after starting 26 straight games. Furthermore, Yruretagoyena will be protecting the blindside of the one of the nations’ top quarterbacks, Marcus Mariota. The No. 1 goal for the Oregon’s offensive line this season is keep Mariota healthy. And that proposition may be a little more difficult with the veteran at left tackle.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
There is no other choice here. The Cardinal dashed the Ducks’ national championship aspirations the past two seasons. The two games were evenly matched with Stanford’s win margin at only nine points. But Stanford is as much a mental obstacle for Oregon as it is a physical one. Very few teams have slowed Oregon’s explosive offense in recent years. Yet, Stanford has seemed to find the secret recipe with their physical 3-4 defense. The Ducks simply haven’t been able to gash the Cardinal for big plays. And most of that has to do with a defensive front that consistently plays in the backfield. The Ducks averaged as least 537 yards per game the last two seasons. Stanford has held Oregon at least 120 yards below its average in each contest. Oregon simply hasn’t been able to get on track against Stanford. The Ducks can’t fail against Stanford again this year, or their season will be a major disappointment.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Marcus Mariota
Let’s compare Mariota’s resume last season to Jameis Winston‘s, shall we? Mariota threw for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Mariota also ran for 715 yards and nine touchdowns. Winston, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, threw for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He added 219 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. While Winston was the clear favorite to win the Heisman last season, Mariota wasn’t far behind the redshirt freshman. When last year’s play is considered and  two factors are added into the equation, Mariota could be the favorite to win the trophy this season. There are two reasons why Mariota’s numbers weren’t quite as spectacular as Winston’s in 2013. The Oregon quarterback suffered a slight knee injury during the second half of the season which limited his play, and he played one less game than Winston. A fully healthy Mariota is arguably the best NFL prospect in the entire country. While professional potential doesn’t translate to college football awards, it does exclude Mariota from any excuses if he doesn’t make a national title run with the Ducks this season and capture the school’s first Heisman Trophy.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Wisconsin breaking out the plaid in battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe against Minnesota

Getty Images
Leave a comment

No. 5 Wisconsin continues to play for an undefeated record and hold out hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff this week but the Badgers are also chasing something pretty important too when they take on Minnesota on Saturday: Paul Bunyan’s Axe. One of the best rivalry trophies in the sport has resided in Madison for the past 13 years but might carry on bigger implications given what’s at stake for the visitors when they arrive in Minneapolis, especially facing off against a Gophers team hoping to make it to a bowl game with another win.

Paul Chryst and company aren’t just treating this as any other Big Ten game however and teaming up with Under Armour to go well beyond ludicrous… and all the way to plaid. Well, “lumberjack plaid” to be precise, as the accents on their uniforms, gloves and shoes will all have a different spin on their normal colors.

While it’s a subtle difference, it is a pretty slick look for the Badgers as they take on their rivals. No word yet on what P.J. Fleck and the home team will break out in response but hopefully they rise to the occasion that the Axe commands.

No. 9 Ohio State to wear Terry Glenn helmet sticker vs. No. 24 Michigan

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The helmet sticker is a key piece of every Ohio State player’s uniform, and on Saturday every Buckeye will have one sticker more important than the rest.

Former Ohio State wide receiver Terry Glenn died Monday in a car accident in Irving, Texas, leaving behind his fiancee and six children, ranging in ages from 20 years to six months old, at just 43 years old. Glenn played for the Buckeyes from 1993-95, a former walk-on that eventually became an All-American. After catching a total of 15 passes in his first two seasons, Glenn exploded in ’95, hauling in 64 passes for 1,411 yards and 17 touchdowns, numbers that led Division I-A in touchdown grabs and yards per reception, according to College Football Reference. He won that season’s Biletnikoff Award as the top wideout in college football before leaving school to become the seventh overall pick by the New England Patriots in the 1996 NFL Draft.

On Thursday, Glenn’s son Terry Glenn, Jr., posted to his Twitter account a photo of the helmet stickers Ohio State will don on Saturday, honoring Glenn and promoting his foundation, the 83 Kids Foundation, which supports children in foster care.

The No. 9 Buckeyes head to Ann Arbor looking to extend their 5-game winning streak over No. 24 Michigan (noon ET, FOX). Ohio State has won 14 of the last 16 in the series, including a 6-2 record in Ann Arbor.

Glenn went 1-2 against Michigan, winning as a sophomore in Columbus but losing both visits to Ann Arbor; his three years as a Buckeye came amid a 12-4-1 stretch in the series for the Wolverines.

Report: Lane Kiffin would like to be Tennessee’s head coach again

Getty Images
5 Comments

Lane Kiffin says he’s happy at Florida Atlantic, but everyone suspects that happiness has an expiration date. A coach with his talents and pedigree — and remember, Kiffin is just 42 — is destined to return to the big time at some point.

And according to a reporter at ESPN, Kiffin would like “some point” to be “right now.” Chris Low spent a week in Boca Raton shadowing Kiffin, and came away believing Kiffin would be open to a reunion with Tennessee.

“Lane is definitely on board if Tennessee gives him a call,” Low told the Orange and White Report radio show in Knoxville. “That’s not going to happen, but as he told me, ‘People break up all the time and get back together.’”

As we know, Kiffin spent one 7-6 season as Tennessee’s head coach in 2009 before darting off in the middle of the night to return to USC, and Kiffin was persona non grata in Knoxville for years afterwards.

But it seems feelings have softened toward him sense then. Kiffin has made a habit of trolling Vols fans on Twitter, but he trolls because he loves. “I don’t really think before I tweet,” Kiffin told AL.com last week. “I like to get a reaction. I like to make people laugh.”

While the idea of Kiffin returning to Knoxville may be a bridge too far for Vols AD John Currie, he does fit the mold of someone Tennessee should consider. A 42-year-old coach that lived and learned through two Power 5 head coaching jobs, is fresh off an ultra-successful run as an SEC coordinator and is now on the verge of winning Conference USA in his first season?

Perhaps Kiffin and Currie can negotiate over Twitter direct messages.

Update: Kiffin has denied the report.

Arkansas to host Ole Miss in Little Rock in 2018

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ole Miss will put the finishing touches on its 2017 season with the annual Egg Bowl Thanksgiving night, but there’s a bit of 2018 scheduling news involving the Rebels to touch on first.

Wednesday, Arkansas announced that its 2018 game against Ole Miss will be played at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock instead of their on-campus home in Fayetteville. Next season will mark the 70th anniversary of the opening of War Memorial Stadium.

“We look forward to our return to Central Arkansas to take on Ole Miss at War Memorial Stadium in October 2018,” interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples said in a statement. “I know Razorback fans will be excited and ready to cheer on our team in a key Southeastern Conference Western Division matchup.

“Arkansas and Ole Miss first met on the football field more than a century ago and we look forward to the next chapter in this rivalry, in a venue that has hosted so many important games in this series.”

In fact, the game next season will mark the 110th anniversary of the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.

The Razorbacks and Rebels last played in Little Rock in 2012. Their only other matchup at War Memorial Stadium as conference foes came in 1992.