Marcus Mariota

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)

Boise State survives five turnovers to beat rival BYU and remain undefeated

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 20: Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi #90 of the Brigham Young Cougars gets a piece of a field goal attempt during first half action against the Boise State Broncos on October 20, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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Boise State did just about everything they could to give the game away. BYU did their best to take it too.

In the end the Broncos survived a whopping five turnovers and blocked a last second field goal to escape with a 28-27 win over their regional rivals.

Tailback Jeremy McNichols scored on the third play of the game on his way to a 140 yard, one touchdown night on the ground to go along with an impressive 109 yards and a touchdown through the air. Wideout Thomas Sperbeck had 109 yards and a score as well and became the school’s all-time leading receiver while doing so.

Quarterback Brett Rypien put up some big numbers with 442 yards passing and three touchdowns but did throw two pick-sixes as part of a wild second quarter that kept BYU in the game.

That stretch also included a potentially disastrous fake punt from the Cougars own end zone on 4th-and-19. The attempt was stuffed at the goal line but the defense held Boise State to a field goal attempt that was eventually shanked to cause no harm on the scoreboard.

BYU was without the services of tailback Jamaal Williams, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher last week against Mississippi State but was held out with an ankle injury he aggravated during warmups. In his place, Squally Canada ran for 88 yards on 21 carries.

Quarterback Taysom Hill had a rough night passing (21-of-42 for just 187 yards) but nearly rallied his team for a game-winning score with under two minutes left.

The win keeps Boise State undefeated and in the driver’s seat for the lucrative Group of Five bid to a major bowl game at the end of the season. While a loss would not have completely derailed their chances at making to the New Year’s Six, it would have made things interesting given the number of other candidates for the spot.

After a turnover-filled outing and nearly blowing a second half lead for the second week in a row, you can bet that the Broncos will look to regroup over the coming days and get back on track ahead of their trip to Wyoming.

Pac-12 fines, reprimands Washington State coach Mike Leach for comments about Arizona State

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 27: Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach protests a call during the first half of a football game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 has reprimanded and fined Washington State coach Mike Leach a whopping $10,000 for his comments this week about Arizona State stealing signs.

“Conference rules prohibit Pac-12 member institutions from disparaging each other and discrediting other institutions,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Information or accusations relative to rule violations must be handled by institutions filing those concerns with the Conference office through a formal process, and institutions must refrain from discussing those concerns publicly.”

Leach accused the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham of stealing signs last season and brought the subject up again at his Monday press conference ahead of the Cougars trip to Tempe this weekend.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on it. That’s certainly the reputation. And I think they have a certain amount of technology and expertise on the subject which if they ever go to a different conference or something I’d certainly like them to share it with us,” Leach said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it because they’ll steal signs and they’re pretty clever about it. And it’s like breaking the enigma code with them… I think they ought to do a full on investigation to see how they’re doing it and make sure it’s within the rules.”

The Pac-12 noted that it is not against NCAA rules to observe an opponent’s signals but a school cannot use any audio or video equipment to record them.

Graham defended his program earlier in the week from the accusations and denied that they used any equipment to record signals.

This isn’t the first time this subject has come up so you can bet that the pre-game talk — and post-game handshake — between the two head coaches might be a little chilly on Saturday given all the words flying back-and-forth between the two.

Boise State survives wild second quarter to take halftime lead over BYU

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 20:  Boise State marching band member Nick Lopez howling during a pregame performance prior to the start of the game between the Brigham Young Cougars and the Boise State Broncos on October 20, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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A late night game involving regional rivals BYU and Boise State on the blue turf figured to get weird.

That it did early — and often.

The Broncos quickly got out to a two score lead and saw the Cougars storm back in the second quarter on a series of fluke plays. Eventually the home team found some late magic just to hold on and take a 21-17  lead into the locker room at halftime.

Under the radar Heisman Trophy candidate Jeremy McNichols jump-started the scoring in the first minute of the game when he raced past a BYU linebacker to score from 76 yards out on a nifty catch and run. Quarterback Brett Rypien followed that up with a quick strike to Thomas Sperbeck on the ensuing drive in a game that looked like they were going to turn into a blowout.

That’s when the wheels started to fall off for Boise State however.

After entering the red zone and threatening to score another touchdown, the Broncos opted to kick a field goal, which was blocked by Dayan Lake and returned by Kai Nacua to midfield. That setup the Cougars’ first score on a field goal and seemed to flip momentum.

On the very next snap for Boise State, Rypien was picked off by BYU safety Fred Warner. He then returned it for a touchdown in one of the most incredible pick-sixes of the season as he tight-roped along the sideline for 59 yards.

Bizarrely, BYU followed that up by running a fake punt on the next possession from their own end zone — on 4th and 19 — and got crushed just steps away from the goal line. Luckily they came away unscathed after Boise State drew a personal foul to back them up 15 yards and then missed an ensuing field goal attempt.

As if that wasn’t enough, Lake then recorded the second pick-six of the ball game off of Rypien on the ensuing drive to give BYU an improbable lead.

Eventually the Broncos offense regrouped (and held onto the ball) as they drove 69 yards in 66 seconds to head to the locker room with a four point lead thanks to long touchdown pass. It was the only positive drive of the second half for the team and might have been something to build on going forward.

Makes you wonder what both teams have in store for the second half though given how many swings of momentum there was in the first.

Stingy defense and fullback Sam Rogers help Virginia Tech top Miami

BLACKSBURG, VA - OCTOBER 20: Running back Joseph Yearby #2 of the Miami Hurricanes is wrapped up by defensive back Chuck Clark #19 and defensive end Houshun Gaines #11 of the Virginia Tech Hokies in the first half at Lane Stadium on October 20, 2016 in Blacksburg, Virginia. (Photo by Michael Shroyer/Getty Images)
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Virginia Tech turned up the pressure on defense and made an underutilized offensive weapon into the star of the show on Thursday night as they blasted Miami 37-16 to keep pace in the ACC Coastal race.

Fullback Sam Rogers had a huge game from out of nowhere to get the Hokies’ offense going with several big plays. His first came halfway through the second quarter when he snuck out of the backfield and rumbled 52 yards just short of the goal line to set up the first touchdown of the night.

He saved his best for the second half however as he actually threw a touchdown to all but seal the victory on a bit of trickeration, rolling right before finding fellow fullback Steven Peoples on a wheel route.

Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 259 yards and two scores while rushing for 98 and a touchdown on the ground as well. Sophomore tailback Travon McMillian also chipped in 131 yards on the night for a lofty 7.3 yards a carry.

The story of the night for Miami was just how under siege the offense was as Bud Foster’s defense pressured quarterback Brad Kaaya on nearly every dropback and wound up with eight sacks. The Hurricanes signal-caller did throw for over 300 yards and two scores while tossing a few NFL-caliber passes but it just wasn’t enough with the game resting squarely on his shoulders. The ground game never got going as they rushed for under two yards a carry.

The win allows Virginia Tech to keep pace in the ACC Coastal as they pull even with North Carolina at 3-1 in the conference but take first place in the division on account of their head-to-head win. The Hokies remain in the driver’s seat for an ACC title game berth as they take on Pitt next week.

For Miami, the loss was their third straight on the year after dropping a heartbreaker to Florida State earlier in the month. The Hurricanes continue to deal with injures and lost several more players on Thursday as they head back to South Florida looking to regroup after a rough outing against the Hokies.