Marcus Mariota

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Oregon

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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)

Bowling Green WR Gehrig Dieter transferring to Alabama

Bowling Green wide receiver Gehrig Dieter makes a reception for a touchdown against Georgia Southern during the first half of the GoDaddy Bowl NCAA college football game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Mobile, Ala. (Mike Kittrell/AL.com via AP)
Mike Kittrell/AL.com via AP
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Alabama will be adding a 1,000-yard wide receiver by way of a graduate transfer from the MAC. Gehrig Dieter will transfer from Bowling Green to Alabama in 2016, and he will be available to play right away. Dieter announced the news of his transfer to Alabama on his Twitter account Saturday afternoon.

Dieter is scheduled to graduate from Bowling Green in May, which means he will be a graduate transfer. This makes him eligible to play right away next fall at any other FBS program with a spot available. That FBS program just so happens to be the defending national champions. With freshman Calvin Ridley breaking out for the Crimson Tide in 2015 en route to a national championship, it looks as though Alabama will have quite a 1-2 punch at the wide receiver position.

Dieter was Bowling Green’s second-leading receiver in 015 with 1,033 yards and 10 touchdowns. Together with Roger Lewis (1,544 yards, 16 touchdowns), and quarterback Matt Johnson (4,946 yards, 46 touchdowns), Bowling Green had a dynamic offense that now faces a bit of an uphill battle heading into the spring. With Dieter transferring and Johnson graduating to the NFL and head coach Dino Babers taking a job at Syracuse, Bowling Green could be set to take a step back next fall.

Johnny Lattner, Notre Dame Heisman Trophy winner and College Football Hall of Famer, dies at 83

GPHR 45/1638:  Football player John Lattner, posed action diving in uniform inside the Stadium for Football Guide, May 1952.
Notre Dame Athletics
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The Notre Dame football family lost a legend today. Johnny Lattner, winner of the 1953 Heisman Trophy, passed away at the age of 83 after battling lung cancer.

In addition to winning the Heisman Trophy in 1953, becoming Notre Dame’s fourth in program history, Lattner also received the Maxwell award in both the 1952 and 1953 seasons. He was also named a consensus All-American in 1952 and 1953. The Chicago native played halfback for the Fighting Irish under Frank Leahy from 1950 through 1953. The “bread and butter ball carrier” went on to be a first-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers, but a knee injury suffered during a two-year stint in the United States Air Force cut his pro career short. Lattner went on to dabble in some coaching at the high school level as well as at the University of Denver. He remained the head coach at Denver until the school shut down the football program in 1961.

Lattner was inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

FCS may rebrand its championship game as a bowl game

Members of the North Dakota State football team hold the championship trophy following their FCS Championship NCAA college football game against Illinois State, Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, in Frisco, Texas. North Dakota State won the game 29-27 for their fourth straight national championship.  (AP Photo/Tim Sharp)
AP Photo/Tim Sharp
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As if there were not enough bowl game sin college football, we could be on our way to adding one more. Well, at least in name.

The Football Championship Subdivision national championship game could be rebranded as a bowl game in an attempt to spark more interest from the casual college football fans. Inspired by the relative success of the inaugural Celebration Bowl, played between the champions of the MEAC and SWAC, the Missouri Valley Conference is reportedly leading the charge to rename the FCS national championship game in a marketing ploy to generate more buzz with the help of the NCAA and television partner ESPN, which broadcast the national championship game in addition to providing coverage for additional playoff game sin the FCS postseason.

“The public understands playoffs, so we benefit from that for the first rounds of the championship,” said Patty Viverito, commissioner of  the Missouri Valley Football Conference and the Pioneer League (just imagine if Jim Delany was the commissioner of the Big Ten and the MAC). “But then when it comes time for the championship game, because it’s in the mix of what is the bowl frenzy, it gets lost. So we think we can have the best of both worlds by having the playoffs leading up to the ‘Football Championship Bowl’ – however it is branded, but with the name ‘bowl’ so that we become part of the bowl lineup.”

This past season’s FCS national championship game was played on January 9, 2016. The championship game moved to January starting during the 2010 season. Previously the game had been played in mid-December. The move to push the championship game back closer to the BCS Championship Game was a strategic move to draw more attention to its national title game. This occurred a year after the game relocated to Frisco, Texas from Chattanooga, Tennessee.

“To be in the same space, if you will, as the FBS bowls was absolutely tremendous,” MEAC commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas said, referring to the Celebration Bowl, which preceded the New Mexico Bowl and its official kickoff to the FBS bowl season. “We were the first game on ABC to start the bowl season. It was branded that way, it was marketed that way, it was promoted that way.”

Changing the championship game’s name to a bowl could have a downfall attached to it. While bowls certainly spark interest for some, it could also lead the game to fall under the radar amid a full slate of bowl games during bowl season. Having the game defined in title as being a national championship game could have a more positive effect on how the game is viewed by the casual fan.

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

James Conner
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.