CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Oregon


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 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 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.

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.

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)

Temple’s on-campus stadium plans stall after city council meeting

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The dream of Temple football playing in an on-campus stadium appears as though it’s on hold after a Philadelphia city council meeting got heated once again and resulted in the pulling of support by a key local leader.

Per KYW 1060, City Council President Darrell Clarke told the radio station that he would not support the reported $125 million project at a meeting earlier this week. Though the university leadership remains focused on making the new stadium happen eventually, the dwindling support from those in the community have basically stalled the effort and puts into question where the team will play football in 2020 and beyond.

Protestors against the stadium being built already interrupted a town hall meeting on the project last week.

“We do not feel that a 35,000 seat stadium fits in a residential block,” said Reverend Bill Moore, who is part several local groups pushing to ax the project.

Temple had signed an extension on their lease with nearby Lincoln Financial Field (the home of the Philadelphia Eagles) but that agreement runs only through the 2019 season. The hope had been to get the new on-campus stadium built by the time the 2020 campaign rolled around but that is looking increasingly unlikely as local residents — and now city council members — become more and more vocal in their opposition to the project.

The university has not issued a formal statement on their next steps after this latest setback but at least the team itself is moving forward as usual with spring football already under the way in Philly.

Study says War Memorial Stadium needs millions in upgrades to remain in use for Arkansas games in Little Rock

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Just like an old house, older stadiums require tons of money to keep them up to date. Those in the state of Arkansas are very aware of that when it comes to War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that a study commissioned by the state has found that roughly $17 million worth of repairs, maintenance work and improvements are needed at War Memorial if the 70 year old venue wants to remain in operation. The timeline for such changes were listed as anywhere from three years for “critical” issues to five years for other items, which come as part of a whopping $160,000 study from Conventions Sport & Leisure International LLC.

The millions of dollars of work required is notable because the Fayetteville-based Razorbacks have annually played a game at the stadium in Little Rock dating back to 1948. The team will not only host their first spring game under new coach Chad Morris at the venue but will also play Ole Miss in Little Rock during the upcoming season. That contest is the last scheduled game for Arkansas at War Memorial however as the contract to hold games there is expiring in 2018.

It remains to be seen what the next steps are for UA football, the state and the venue are. Even prior to this most recent study being commissioned, the Razorbacks were looking to have as much as $10 million worth of work done at the stadium to meet their own requirements and those of the SEC in general for conference play.

“Discussions are continuing” Kevin Trainor, associate athletics director at Arkansas, said in an emailed statement to the paper.

Could this be the last we see of the Razorbacks in Little Rock? Given the history between the city, stadium and team it would seem doubtful but somebody’s got to pay for renovations and it may be a while before anybody ponies up the cash needed to get the venerable old building up to date.

Sean McDonough on leaving Monday Night Football: College football is more fun

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While we’re not exactly formal media critics here at CFTalk, you really don’t have to have too much experience watching television to know that ESPN’s Sean McDonough calling Monday Night Football the past two years was a bit of a round peg in a square hole. The veteran play-by-play man has called a lot of major sporting events over the years but was known to most prior to his NFL stint as one of the regular voices on the college football circuit after all.

McDonough is just now starting to open up about his departure from MNF and is perhaps not surprisingly excited at the prospect of returning to the college level, which he insists was his decision. Awful Announcing passes along an interview he did with Boston area radio program The Kirk & Callahan Show this week and let’s just say that McDonough confirms what we already know about which sport is better if you’re picking between the NFL and college football.

“I say that after a lot of reflection and mostly a lot of belief that, ultimately, what is the most important thing in life is to be happy,” McDonough said. “As much as it was a great honor to be the voice of ‘Monday Night Football’ –– and you guys know me well enough, and certainly a lot of my friends and family do –– it wasn’t a tremendous amount of fun the last two years. When I took my ego out of it, when the conversation about a reboot of MNF came up, when I took the ego part of it out, and rationalized it, I really could be fine with  not being the voice of MNF, then it became easy. I love college football. For me, it’s more fun, and that’s a personal taste.”

Amen Sean, amen.

While it is great news that CFB is getting back McDonough, the sport’s gain is tempered by the loss of fellow play-by-play man Joe Tessitore, who will be taking over in the MNF booth calling games. Something says that the esteemed JoeTess will do a great job calling NFL games every Monday night but will, like McDonough, come to miss the excitement, wild endings and colorful presentation that happens at the college level every Saturday.

North Texas finalizing new deals for head coach Seth Littrell, AD Wren Baker

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After a successful turnaround campaign in 2017, North Texas is preparing to sweeten the deal for head coach Seth Littrell.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reports that the school is in the process of finalizing a new contract for both Littrell and athletic director Wren Baker, with regents approving moving forward in the process last month. While final numbers and details have not been released, the expectation is that both will get a raise and likely have increased buyouts after the coach and athletic director were mentioned in connection to bigger jobs this offseason.

Littrell took over a program two years ago that was coming off a 1-11 record and has turned things around to the point where the team has made back-to-back bowl games in his first two seasons in Denton. The Mean Green won the CUSA West division in 2017 and wrapped up the year with nine wins for the first time since 2013 — including just the fourth winning record for UNT in 15 seasons.

The former Oklahoma running back and Mike Leach assistant was the highest paid head coach in Conference USA according to USA Today‘s salary database and he is expected to get a further raise in the new deal that should take Littrell over the $1 million mark for annual salary. Baker arrived in Denton the year after the head coach and has helped raise significant sums to upgrade facilities at North Texas during his short tenure so far.

The Mean Green have already begun spring football practices and will host their annual spring game on March 30th.