Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 1 Florida State


2013 Record: 14-0, 9-0 in ACC (ACC, BCS National champions)
2013 postseason: BCS Championship (34-31 win against Auburn)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 1/No. 1
Head coach: Jimbo Fisher (45-10 overall, 45-10 in four years at Florida State)
Co-Offensive coordinators: Lawrence Dawsey (8th year at Florida State), Randy Sanders (2nd year at Florida State)
2013 offensive rankings: 28th rushing offense (203.14 ypg), 14th passing offense (315.9 ypg), 6th total offense (519.1 ypg), 2nd scoring offense (51.6 ppg
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Charles Kelly (2nd year at Florida State)
2013 defensive rankings: 18th rushing defense (124.79 ypg), 1st passing defense (156.6 ypg), 3rd total defense (281.4 ypg), 1st scoring defense (12.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 8
Location: Tallahassee, Florida
Stadium: Doak Campbell Stadium (82,300; Grass)
Last conference title: 2013

To say Florida State is loaded all across the field in 2014 might be an understatement. Head coach Jimbo Fisher has signed a top ten recruiting class each year he has been head coach, which has done well to increase the amount of quality depth all over the roster in Tallahassee. Not only is Florida State built to be a machine in ACC play, but the Seminoles also have the ingredients to be prepared to defend their reign as national champions in the new era of college football. This goes beyond having the reigning Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jamies Winston, a sophomore who is as unnerved as he is confident. Winston is joined in the backfield by one fo the top running backs in the ACC, Karlos Williams, and he is able to rely on a pair of targets in receiver Rashad Greene and tight end Nick O’Leary, tow of the best at their positions in the ACC. The offensive line weighs in at 1,256 pounds, and an average of 314 pounds. Oh, and Florida State can play defense as well. Mario Edwards will bring pressure off the end, Terrance Smith anchor things in the middle of the field and PJ Williams will do his best to shut down opposing receivers. Like the offense, the Florida State defense is deep in athletic skill and talent and shutdown opposing offenses with frequency last season. Florida State should be favored in every game they play this season, and that could carry into the postseason no matter where they fall in the playoff. Florida State is the clear favorite in the ACC. They can run the table once again without breaking much of a sweat before the postseason.

When the biggest concern about Florida State is the punting game, life is pretty good. The only concern for Florida State on paper appears to be the punting game, which is downright silly. Cason Beatty struggled most to pin opponents deep on their end of the field, but Florida State was able to overcome that thanks to the superior talent on defense. Punting likely will not cost Florida State a game at any point in the regular season, but you never know when one bad punt sequence can turn a game around. If Florida State does happen to lose a game along the way though, the question about the strength of schedule faced in 2014 could come into fair question when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to choose the playoff participants. The ACC is extremely top heavy, or so it seems for now, so it might be fair to wonder how a one-loss Florida State team would stack up with strength of schedule comparisons to a one-loss champion from the Pac-12, Big Ten or Big 12 (or SEC).

How will Florida State manage to keep focus? This is not to suggest the Seminoles will get lazy at any point, but for the first time in a long time this program is entering the season ranked on top of the college football world, a new experience since the height of the Bobby Bowden. Florida State seems to have a certain swagger about them, which is good. They are confident, a little bit cocky, and they back it up on the field. The BCS Championship Game was the first time we saw Florida State challenged in some time, and they responded well. Now they have to run the gauntlet from start to finish. They are equipped to do it, but even the best teams in college football history are thrown a monkey wrench at one point or another.

You never know what a Thursday night is going to offer. The night has been known to showcase some good upsets over the years, and that includes Florida State. In 2010 the No. 16 Seminoles were tripped up on the road at North Carolina State. The disappointment carried over a week in a game against North Carolina. If there is one game on the schedule this season that could present a decent obstacle in conference play, it may be the Thursday night road game at Louisville on October 30. The Seminoles do have a week off to prepare for the game after a home game against Notre Dame, and this year’s Louisville team may not be quite as good as it was a season ago wit Teddy Bridgewater, but Florida State cannot afford to take this one lightly. Florida State can probably afford a close loss in the regular season without disrupting playoff plans, but the Seminoles will still have a road game at Miami and a home game against Florida to get through as well. As the season winds down, the margin for error will continue to shrink.

Let’s concede for a moment that there is a historical trend that plays against quarterback Jameis Winston here. There has only been one two-time Heisman Trophy winner, so it would seem that history is against Winston in 2014. Because of that, we will eliminate him from the conversation for now. Instead, let’s look at his teammate in the backfield, running back Karlos Williams. Williams rushed for 748 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while spending the bulk of the year backing up Devonta Freeman. Williams is expected to take on the bulk of the running game this season, and he should prove worthy of the job. A 1,000-yard season should easily be within reach.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.