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A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2017 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Raymond James Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2016 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2017 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Clemson, No. 5 LSU, No. 6 Notre Dame (ouch), No. 7 Washington (yeah us!), No. 8 TCU, No. 9 Michigan State (whoops) and No. 10 Tennessee. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants were in our Top 10; the fourth, Ohio State, was just outside at No. 11. While not No. 1, Oklahoma came into the postseason ranked seventh in the College Football Playoff Top 25, and will likely move up thanks to the 16-point Sugar Bowl win over No. 14 Auburn (not in our preseason Top 25). Florida State (No. 11), LSU (No. 20) and Tennessee (No. 21) were all ranked at least eight spots lower when the postseason began, but all three won their respective bowl games.

On the flip side, TCU, at 6-6, earned a bowl bid… and subsequently lost to finish under .500. And then there was Notre Dame and Michigan State, which combined to win a total of seven games so let’s just forget about that and move on.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-to-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.

NO. 1 USC
WHY? As a redshirt freshman, Sam Darnold emerged as one of the most electrifying playmakers at the quarterback position in college football, and should, to the chagrin of opponents, get even better with a full offseason as the man at the position.  Winning nine straight to close out the season doesn’t hurt either.
WHY NOT? There’s always at least one team that’s way overhyped — hello 2016 Notre Dame — and the hoopla and attention proves to be too much for the young Trojans to bear.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  It’s not going to happen, of course, but that’s about the only thing that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — well, that and a Tiger named Deshaun.

Clemson v Florida StateNO. 3 FLORIDA STATE
WHY? The Seminoles are once again loaded with top-flight talent on both sides of the ball and at every positional unit, with Deondre Francois showing flashes in his first season as the starter of being one of the best young quarterbacks in the sport.
WHY NOT? They face Alabama on a (ahem) neutral field to open the season, then travel to Gainesville to face Florida in the regular-season finale.  In between, there’s a trip to Death Valley for their annual ACC Atlantic grudge match with Clemson.

NO. 4 OKLAHOMA
WHY? With Baker Mayfield returning, and the rest of the conference still trying to play catch-up, the Sooners are clearly the cream of the Big 12 crop.
WHY NOT? The twin backfield loses of Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine can’t be overcome and Mayfield has to shoulder too much of the offensive burden. Plus, the road trips to Ohio State, Baylor and Oklahoma State for Bedlam.

NO. 5 WASHINGTON
WHY? They have a talented arm in quarterback Jake Browning, a very staunch defense and a schedule that’s very favorable, with the toughest road game being the trip to Stanford.
WHY NOT? They are losing a significant amount of talent that helped get them to the College Football Playoffs.

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Ohio State v ClemsonNO. 6 OHIO STATE
WHY? Given the personnel losses after the 2015 season, 2016 was thought to be a rebuilding year but turned into another playoff appearance.  The target was always the 2017 season for this young Buckeyes team, and a squad loaded with this much talent will be a factor throughout.
WHY NOT? J.T Barrett continues to regress as a quarterback despite Urban Meyer shaking up the top of his offensive coaching staff, and none of the other young quarterbacks are quite ready for prime time.

NO. 7 CLEMSON
WHY? Despite losing a couple of pieces, Brent Venables‘ defense will once again be one of the best in the nation.  The Tigers won 10 or more games in each of the three seasons prior to Deshaun Watson‘s arrival, so it’s far from a one-man show that Dabo Swinney has built.
WHY NOT? Losing Watson, a three-year starter at quarterback, proves to be too much as his replacement simply can’t handle the burden.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN
WHY? For all of his well-publicized off-field antics, Jim Harbaugh is simply one of the best head coaches in the sport and will settle for nothing less than getting his beloved Wolverines back into the national title discussion on an annual basis.  Wilton Speight was a breakout star in 2016 and should flourish despite the loss of his quarterbacks coach, while Don Brown continues to be one of the best defensive minds in the game.
WHY NOT? Too much talent was lost to the NFL, and Harbaugh simply hasn’t gotten the requisite time to completely restock the cupboard in Ann Arbor to compete with the Ohio States of the college football world.

Oklahoma State v BaylorNO. 9 OKLAHOMA STATE
WHY? One of the best quarterback-wide receiver tandems in the country, Mason Rudolph and James Washington, eschewed an early shot at the NFL and returned for one more season in Stillwater.
WHY NOT? A defense that was 53rd in scoring as it was loses nearly half its starters, plus OSU will have to play at Pittsburgh, Texas and West Virginia.

NO. 10 PENN STATE
WHY? They return a bunch of talent from their Big Ten-winning squad, including Heisman contenders in quarterback Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley, and get Michigan, Nebraska and Pittsburgh in Happy Valley.
WHY NOT? They lost a very talented wide receiver in Chris Godwin and have to play at Iowa, Michigan State and Ohio State.

NO. 11 STANFORD
NO. 12 AUBURN
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 LSU
NO. 15 WISCONSIN
NO. 16 LOUISVILLE
NO. 17 GEORGIA
NO. 18 WEST VIRGINIA
NO. 19 SOUTH FLORIDA
NO. 20 FLORIDA
NO. 21 KANSAS STATE
NO. 22 COLORADO
NO. 23 WASHINGTON STATE
NO. 24 SAN DIEGO STATE
NO. 25 OREGON

Alamo Bowl blowout sees No. 12 Oklahoma State dominate No. 10 Colorado

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The Alamo Bowl saw a 31-point lead evaporate last season, but there would be no meltdown this year. No. 12 Oklahoma State (10-3) steamrolled No. 10 Colorado in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, 38-8.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns and caught a 24-yard pass from Chris Carson, and James Washington was on the receiving end of 171 yards and one touchdown from Rudolph. For a good stretch, Washington equaled Colorado’s total offensive production in the game in the second half. Colorado was just unable to get anything going on offense, with an injury to Sefo Liufau keeping the Buffs QB out of the mix for a stretch. Colorado did manage to avoid a shutout with a fourth quarter touchdown and two-point conversion. Phillip Lindsay ran for a six-yard score and Liufau completed a pass to Lindsay for a two-point conversion. At that point, however, it was more about pride than anything else, because Oklahoma State had the game all but locked down.

Cowboys running back Justice Hill hit the century mark with a late 37-yard touchdown run up the middle of the Colorado defense. Oklahoma State ended the night with over 500 yards of offense and zero turnovers.

Oklahoma State held a 31-0 lead until 5:28 remaining in the fourth quarter, preventing the Cowboys from recording their first shutout victory over a ranked opponent since 1958. The last time Oklahoma State pitched a shutout in a postseason bowl game was in the 1944 Cotton Bowl, against TCU. Oklahoma State beat their future conference foes, 34-0.

Looking Ahead

Oklahoma State will have plenty of reason to feel confident about what they can do in the Big 12 next season with Mason Rudolph and James Washington saying they will be back for one more season in Stillwater. Barring any changes on that front, the Cowboys will have one of the most potent combos in the Big 12, which is really all you need sometimes in the conference, right? Oklahoma State and Oklahoma look to be situated well to be heavy preseason favorites in Big 12 play, and each could start the year in the top 10 of the preseason polls (which are even more meaningless than the bowl games). The 2017 season begins with a Group of Five team to watch in 2017, Tulsa. The Cowboys host Tulsa on Sept. 2, 2017 in Stillwater before playing back-to-back road games at South Alabama and Pittsburgh. Big 12 play opens with a home game against TCU on Sept. 23, 2017.

What will we make of Colorado? The Buffs have a hire to make at defensive coordinator (Bob Diaco would be a good addition), and Sefo Liufau will be moving on. The Buffs will certainly have a bit of a new look next season, but the big question is how much can this program rebound in the offseason after seeing an otherwise dream season end with the thud it did in postseason play (Pac-12 championship game and Alamo Bowl)? That is not easy to predict, but the bar has been raised for Colorado and there is a renewed sense of optimism for the program to utilize to its advantage. The 2017 season opens in Denver against Colorado State and two home games against Texas State and Northern Colorado. Getting into Pac-12 play with a winning record is certainly to be expected, and anything less than a 3-0 mark should be considered a disappointment. Colorado will also get home game sin conference play against both USC and Washington, which could be interesting if Colorado continues to improve rather than take too many steps back.

Colorado QB Sefo Liufau injured in first half of Alamo Bowl

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Oklahoma State leads Colorado 17-0 at halftime in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio. Digging out of s 17-0 deficit is certainly not unheard of today (see: Arkansas, Belk Bowl), but the Buffs from the Pac-12 may have to climb back without a healthy Sefo Liufau at quarterback. Liufau was knocked out of the game in the first half and had his ankle attended to on the sideline.

Oklahoma State took the game’s opening drive down for a field goal to get the scoring going. The Cowboys entered the end zone for the first time with a 10-yard touchdown run by Chris Carson, who had caught a 24-yard pass from Mason Rudolph on the previous play. Oklahoma State scored once more on their next offensive series after a quick three-and-out by Colorado on the ensuing possession. Rudolph connected on a five-yard touchdown to James Washington, who had dropped a deep pass right in his hands earlier in the half. Rudolph and Washington hooked up on a 42-yard pass on the drive to get things moving.

Oklahoma State did a solid job of forcing Liufau to stay slightly out of rhythm. Liufau, who was injured in the Pac-12 championship game against Washington, has completed six of 10 passes for just 53 yards. He was seen getting his ankle taped by trainers on the Colorado sideline as well, and freshman quarterback Steven Montez has taken over on offense in his absence.

Biletnikoff, Mackey Award semifinalists announced

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The semifinalists for the Biletnikoff and Mackey Awards, given annually to college football’s best pass-catcher (regardless of position, though only receivers have won it) and tight end, respectfully, were announced Monday morning as awards season (sort of) gears up in earnest.

Your Biletnikoff Award semifinalists:

Austin Carr, Northwestern (75 REC, 1,102 yards, 12 TDs)
Corey Davis, Western Michigan (62 REC, 1,029 yards, 14 TDs)
Amba Etta-Tawo, Syracuse (79 REC, 1,246 yards, 8 TDs)
Carlos Henderson, La. Tech (61 REC, 1,179 yards, 16 TDs*)
Zay Jones, East Carolina (139 REC*, 1,473 yards*, 6 TDs)
John Ross, Washington (52 REC, 896 yards, 15 TDs)
Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky (77 REC, 1,340 yards, 13 TDs)
Trent Taylor, La. Tech (103 REC, 1,343 yards, 10 TDs)
James Washington, Oklahoma State (56 REC, 1,132 yards, 9 TDs)
Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma (68 REC, 1,254 yards, 14 TDs)

*= leads FBS

And for the Mackey Award:

Adam Breneman, UMass (58 REC, 699 yards, 7 TDs)
Jake Butt, Michigan (38 REC, 460 yards, 4 TDs)
Evan Engram, Ole Miss (59 REC, 824 yards, 7 TDs)
Gerald Everett, South Alabama (41 REC, 637 yards, 4 TDs)
Cole Hikutini, Louisville (38 REC, 526 yards, 6 TDs)
Bucky Hodges, Virginia Tech (36 REC, 514 yards, 5 TDs)
O.J. Howard, Alabama (29 REC, 352 yards, 2 TDs)
Jordan Leggett, Clemson (28 REC, 480 yards, 4 TDs)

The Biletnikoff will announce its three finalists Nov. 21, while Mackey Award finalists will be announced Nov. 22. Winners of both the awards will be announcedDec. 8 on ESPNU.

 

Oklahoma State tops No. 22 Texas in Stillwater for first time since 1997

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Oklahoma State (3-2, 101 Big 12) had the look of a Big 12 contender Saturday afternoon against No. 22 Texas (2-2, 0-1 Big 12). It also looked like Texas still has a long way to go to play up to the level Charlie Strong would prefer in Austin. Oklahoma State and Texas played  a wild second half with four lead exchanges, but it was the Cowboys who took control of the Big 12 contest in the second half en route to a 49-31 victory.

Mason Rudolph passed for 392 yards and three touchdowns without an interception for Oklahoma State. Jalen McCleskey was on the receiving end for 109 of those yards and two of the touchdowns and Justice Hill led the Oklahoma State ground game with 137 yards and a touchdown. Barry Sanders Jr. also contributed a touchdown on the ground. As a team, Oklahoma State rolled up 557 yards of offense and converted seven of 15 third down plays against Texas. The Longhorns have looked shabby on defense this season, and this was just the latest example of how far off Strong’s defense is from where he would like to see it.

Oklahoma State’s defense gave up some big plays and yards as well. Texas actually out-gained Oklahoma State with 568 yards, including an astounding 329 on the ground. But the Longhorns had the one turnover of the game and could not find a way to stop Oklahoma State every time it looked as though Texas could seize momentum.

Texas running back D'Onta Foreman was forced to leave the game with an injury in the third quarter. He went down without contact after taking a handoff, clutching his right rib and going down voluntarily before being touched by an Oklahoma State defender. Before his awkward exit, Foreman had rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns. Oklahoma State’s James Washington was also knocked out of the game following a big hit, but Gundy said after the game he expects Washington will be available next week.

This was Oklahoma State’s first home win against Texas since 1997. The Longhorns had won eight straight meetings in Stillwater. All but one of those wins had come by a double-digit margin. Oklahoma State will look to keep the good vibes going next week with another home game. This time, Iowa State comes to town after suffering a gut-wrenching loss at home this afternoon against Baylor. Iowa State blew a 14-point lead and lost on a game-winning field goal by the Bears.

It will not get easier next week for Texas as the Red River Shootout Rivalry gets fired up in Cotton Bowl Stadium next week at the state fair in Dallas. Texas shocked Oklahoma last year, seemingly boosting Strong’s job security at least a little bit. Will he need some magic once again this season to defeat the Sooners?