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Week 8, Statistically Speaking

stats word on a lptop computer

A numerical snapshot of the week that was in college football…

0 — Rushing yards for Tennessee as it was tripped up by Ole Miss in Oxford.  Three different Vols had negative yards rushing, led by quarterback Justin Worley‘s minus-41.

0 — Through seven games, the number of interceptions Wyoming has, the only team in the country to not yet pick off a pass this season.

1 — True road games each played by Ohio State, Texas and Wisconsin through eight weeks, the lowest total at the FBS level. The Badgers don’t play on the road again until Nov. 1 (Rutgers), while the Buckeyes and Longhorns will travel to Penn State and Kansas State, respectively, next weekend.

1-2 — Oklahoma’s record since Katy Perry propositioned quarterback Trevor Knight on ESPN‘s GameDay show prior to the loss to TCU.  Knight has thrown a pick-six in both losses, including the “upset” at the hands of Kansas State.

2 — Number of wins shy Ohio State’s current 18-game Big Ten winning streak is from tying the Buckeyes’ conference record of 20 straight set in 2005-07.

2 — FBS quarterbacks who have attempted at least 100 passes without an interception this season, with both coming from the Pac-12: Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (188) and Utah’s Travis Wilson (111).

4 — Non-offensive touchdowns (punt return, kick return, interception return, fumble return) in Missouri’s 42-13 pasting of Florida that could very well mark the end of the Will Muschamp error era.

4-3 — South Carolina’s record in 2014, its worst to start a season since 2005. That year also happened to be Steve Spurrier‘s first season with the Gamecocks.

5 — Since 1944, the number of times Duke has started a season 6-1 or better: 7-0 in 1994, 6-1 in 2014, 1960, 1953 and 1952.

7 — School-record touchdown passes Cody Kessler tossed in USC’s blowout win over Colorado.  Kessler threw those seven touchdowns in just 27 attempts.

8 — Consecutive games in which Clint Trickett has thrown for 300-plus yards, including 322 in West Virginia’s upset of Baylor in Morgantown in Week 8.  That extends Trickett’s school record he set earlier this season.

8.8 — Yards per carry average on 15 attempts by Indiana’s Tevin Coleman, the nation’s leading rusher, in the loss to Michigan State.  MSU came into the game giving up 2.8 yards per carry, good for ninth in the country.

9 — Boise State players who caught passes in Friday night’s win over Fresno State, none of whom totaled more than 43 yards receiving.

13 — Nation’s longest current home winning streak by Alabama, Auburn and Baylor. Marshall, at 11 in a row, has the longest of the Group of Five schools.

14 — Fewest number of 100-yard rushers allowed since 2005, by Alabama. Following the Tide are Ohio State (19) and Boston College (21).

29 — Unanswered points scored by Nevada to overcome a 28-13 halftime deficit in beating BYU 42-35.

30 — Number of consecutive opponents Stanford has held under 30 points, the longest such streak in the country. Louisville and Ole Miss are tied for second at 14 straight.

35 — Points in the second quarter of Alabama’s woodshedding of Texas A&M, the most in a quarter in program history (records dating from 1945 to present). The previous high was 34 at Ole Miss on Oct. 7, 1989. The 56-point win was the Tide’s largest margin of victory since downing Vanderbilt 66-3 on Sept. 29, 1979 and the largest shutout win since beating Tulane 62-0 on Oct. 12, 1991.

37.9Jeff Driskel‘s quarterback rating in Florida’s embarrassing loss to Missouri.  The NCAA’s official stats website lists 114 quarterbacks in its passing efficiency ratings; Driskel is dead last at 95.5.

38-3 — Record of Urban Meyer-coached teams coming off bye weeks, which Ohio State defines as “season openers, games after an ‘off’ or open week, and bowl games.” Meyer went 5-1 at Bowling Green, 7-0 at Utah, 19-1 at Florida and is 7-1 at Ohio State. The three losses were to Miami of Ohio while at BGSU in 2001; to Michigan in the Capital One Bowl following the 2007 season; and to Clemson in the Orange Bowl following the 2013 season.

39 — Total number of points SMU has scored this season in six games. There are 13 teams averaging more points per game than the Mustangs have put on the scoreboard in 2014.

39 — Marshall’s Rakeem Cato consecutive game streak of throwing a touchdown pass, breaking his tie of 38 straight he had held for a week along with Russell Wilson. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota (33 straight) can surpass Wilson’s old mark this season as well. Mariota, incidentally, has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game in which he’s played the past two-plus seasons, while Cato didn’t throw one in three of the first seven games of his Herd career (2011) but has thrown one in every game since.

43 — Kansas State has won that many games in a row when leading at halftime, including Saturday’s road win against Oklahoma.  That’s the best current streak in the nation and three behind tying OU’s all-time record of 46 straight.

53 — Unranked opponents in a row beaten by Alabama, tops in the nation. The Tide’s last loss to a non-Top-25 team was in 2007 to Louisiana-Monroe. Clemson is a distant second with (23) in a row.

100 — Wins for Div. III Wisconsin Whitewater’s Larry Leipold in his first 106 games, making him the fastest head coach to reach the century mark in college football history.  Michigan’s Fielding Yost had held the all-division record at 108 for over a century, with Yost’s 100th win coming during the 1908 season.

150 — Receiving yards running back Jahad Thomas had on three receptions during Temple’s loss to Houston Friday night.  Two of Thomas’ receptions went for 74 and 72 yards, although neither resulted in a touchdown.  The sophomore came into the contest with 66 receiving yards in his career.

194 — David Cobb‘s rushing total in Minnesota’s 39-38 win over Purdue that pushed the Gophers to 3-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1990 and made them bowl-eligible for the third year in a row as well.

197 — Receiving yards for Oklahoma’s Sterling Shepard, on 15 receptions, in the loss to Kansas State.  The junior’s topped 100 yards receiving in five of seven games this season, including efforts of 215 and 177.

202 — In his second game replacing Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb‘s rushing yards in Georgia’s easy win over Arkansas in Little Rock.  Along with Herschel Walker and Rodney Hampton, Chubb is one of three UGA freshmen to rush for 200-plus yards in a single game.

216 — Career-high receiving yards for Carlos Harris in North Texas’ loss to Southern Miss.  His previous career high was 120 set two weeks ago.

Josh Doctson

Josh Doctson

225 — Receiving yards for TCU’s Josh Doctson in the win over Oklahoma State, one shy of the school record 226 by Jimmy Young against Wyoming in October of 2008.

250 — Mississippi State and Ohio State are both averaging more than that number per game in both rushing and passing yards, the only two teams coming out of Week 8 that can make that claim.

287 — Combined rushing yards for Nick Hill and Jeremy Langford in Michigan State’s thumping of Indiana.  Hill, incidentally, averaged 11.1 yards on his 16 carries.

313 — Combined rushing yards for Drew Hare and Cameron Stingily in Northern Illinois’ win over Miami of Ohio.

314 — After 272 in Week 8, number of yards Oregon State quarterback Sean Mannion needs to surpass USC’s Matt Barkley (12,327, 2009-12) as the Pac-12’s career leader in passing yards.  This week, Mannion passed another former USC quarterback, Carson Palmer (11,818, 1998-2202), for No. 2 on the conference’s all-time list.

 323 – Career victories by Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks, tying him with Alabama legend Bear Bryant for sixth on the NCAA’s career list.

333-104 — Cumulative score of the USC-Colorado series, with the Trojans owning a 9-0 all-time advantage.

351 — Penalties yards for both teams in West Virginia’s win over Baylor.  The Bears had 213 of those yards, eclipsing the Big 12 record of 183 set by Texas Tech in 2007.  The FBS record for one team, incidentally, is 238 (Arizona State vs. UTEP 1961), while the Div. I record for two teams is 421 (Grambling vs. Texas Southern 1977).

360 — Career-high in passing yards for Colin Reardon in Kent State’s win over Army.

364 — Days between Texas Tech’s last Big 12 win (37-27 over West Virginia Oct. 19, 2013) and its most recent (34-21 over Kansas Oct. 18, 2014).

408 — Passing yards for BYU’s Christian Stewart in a losing effort to Nevada.

416 — Yards of total offense (321 passing, 95 rushing) for Tyrone Swoopes in Texas’ win over Iowa State.

424 — Yards of total offense (330 passing, 94 rushing) for Brett Hundley in UCLA’s win over Cal.

441 — Rushing yards for Appalachian State in its 53-14 blowout of Troy.  The Mountaineers averaged 8.2 yards on their 54 carries.

463 — Yards of total offense (390 passing, 73 rushing) for Marquise Williams in North Carolina’s win over Georgia Tech, the second-highest total in Tar Heels history.  Williams also set school records for completions in a game (38) and a half (23).

489 — Games, out of 490, in which BYU has scored in since 1975, the lone exception being a 3-0 loss to Utah in 2003.

551 — Yards in receptions for Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins the last three games, including 187 in the three-point win over Utah State.

563 — Yards Utah’s Devontae Booker has gained the last three games after rushing for just 179 the first three. 229 of those yards came in the double-overtime win over Oregon State Thursday night.

1,000 — With 1,024 yards this season, Ameer Abdullah becomes the first player in the storied history of Nebraska football to rush for 1,000-plus yards in three straight seasons.

1,065 — Days since Michael Dyer‘s last 100-yard rushing game.  The running back rushed for 173 yards in Louisville’s win over North Carolina State, his first 100-plus rushing effort since a 157-yard performance against Samford Nov. 19, 2011, when he was a member of the Auburn Tigers.

1940 — Until Saturday, the last year Notre Dame had lost its seventh game of the year after starting a season 6-0. The loss to Florida State snapped a 15-game winning streak in such contests.

1990 — Last year Minnesota had started its season 3-0 in Big Ten play before it moved to that mark with the one-point win over Purdue.

106,795 — Attendance at Ohio Stadium Saturday, the largest crowd to witness a Rutgers football game in its 145-year history

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 8 Rewind

Notre Dame at Florida State AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

FSU IN SEEDING DRIVER’S SEAT
Entering Week 8, seven weekends of the 2014 college football season were already in the books. Seven more after this weekend await. That means Week 8 served as the official midway point of the regular season… and again reminded us of the chaos awaiting us at season’s end.

Thanks to losses by Baylor and Notre Dame, there are just three undefeated teams left at the Power Five level: Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Florida State.  The first two will square off in what could be an epic Egg Bowl at season’s end, meaning there will be, at most, two undefeated teams at season’s end — and that’s provided either the Bulldogs and the Rebels make it through the SEC West meat grinder unscathed leading into the rivalry game.

At least on paper, however, FSU looks like a shoe-in to make it out of the regular season unblemished.  The five remaining teams on the Seminoles’ schedule — Louisville, Virginia, Miami, Boston College, Florida — are a combined 21-14. The road trips the remainder of the season consist of visits to the Cardinals and the Hurricanes.  Should FSU run that no-so-daunting gauntlet sans a loss, the defending BCS champions will cement a seat at the first College Football Playoff table, and likely either a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.

The chaos of the last couple of weeks, though, is ensuring that a gaggle of one-loss teams remain very much a significant part of the discussion — and that a two-loss team could be part of it as well.

Counting the three remaining undefeated teams, there are more than a baker’s dozen squads, with seven weeks left in the regular season, who could make a valid argument that they should be a serious part of the playoff discussion: Baylor, Kansas State, TCU, Michigan State, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Oregon, Georgia, Alabama and Auburn.  And that’s without even mentioning teams like 5-1 Arizona, 5-1 Arizona State, 6-1 Nebraska or 7-0 Marshall, the only Group of Five member still unbeaten.

And what of a team like a two-loss LSU?  Down the stretch, they have games remaining against No. 3 Ole Miss, No. 7 Alabama and No. 21 Texas A&M.  If they were to run the table, what kind of case could the Tigers make, especially if all hell continues to break loose at or near the top of the polls?

In that same vein, a number of those one-loss teams mentioned above could possible absorb one more loss and potentially remain in the mix.

Any way you slice it, we’re in for one hell of  stretch run in college football.  And for all of the doom and gloomers when it comes to the new system for determining a national champion?  We’ll let Dan “Death to the BCS” Wetzel handle that part of the equation.

As has been evidenced the past couple of weeks, what was always a straw man’s argument that “a playoff would devalue the regular season” has been further exposed for what it was: a scare tactic by those too narrow-minded to realize that the exact opposite would happen with a bigger postseason field.

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Week 7, Statistically Speaking

stats word on a lptop computer

A numerical snapshot of the week that was in college football…

-26 — Washington State’s rushing total against Stanford Friday night, the first time the Cardinal has allowed negative rushing yards in a game since Nov. 3, 2012, at Colorado (-21). It was Wazzu’s lowest rushing total since Oct. 10, 2009, at Arizona State (-54).

.676 — Winning percentage of both Urban Meyer (25-12) and Bob Stoops (50-24) in their head-coaching careers vs. Associated Press Top 25 teams, currently the best at the FBS level. Stoops’ wins all came at Oklahoma, while Meyer spread his out over tenures at Utah, Florida and Ohio State. Nick Saban, incidentally, is third in this category at .581 (50-36 during his time at Michigan State, LSU and Alabama).

0 — Times Georgia had shut out a ranked opponent in a true road-game victory prior to its 34-0 whitewashing of No. 23 Missouri in Columbia Saturday afternoon.

4 — Through six games, the combined number of interceptions (zero) and sacks (four) for which the Wyoming defense has been credited.  The Cowboys are the only team in the country without a pick, and their eight turnovers, all fumble recoveries, are tied for 83rd in the nation.

4 — Iowa’s offense and defense officially touched the ball that many times in a span of just under four minutes late in the first quarter against Illinois; the Hawkeyes scored a touchdown on all four of those touches — Jake Rudock 12-yard pass to Jake Duzey; Desmond King 35-yard interception return; Rudock 72-yard pass to Damond Powell; and a Jonathan Parker 60-yard run.

Shaq Thompson, Darius Allensworth

Shaq Thompson, Darius Allensworth

5 — Number of touchdowns Washington linebacker Shaq Thompson has scored this season.  Thompson has returned three fumbles for scores, including a school-record 99-yarder in the win over Cal, along with one interception return and one rushing touchdown.

5 — Number of touchdowns Justin Worley accounted for (three passing, two rushing) in Tennessee’s 45-10 win over Chattanooga.

7 — Number of teams that, through Week 6, had fewer passing yards for the entire season than Washington State’s Connor Halliday had in a single game in Week 6 (FBS-record 734). Those teams were Navy (595), Georgia Tech (663), Boston College (666), Air Force (683), UTEP (702), North Texas (705) and UCF (714). Halliday’s record-setting performance was very near the season total for USF (740), Georgia Southern (748) and Wisconsin (749) as well.  Speaking of Halliday, the senior was held to under 300 yards passing (292) in the loss to Stanford Friday night for the first time this season and the first time since the regular-season finale against Washington (282), a streak of seven straight games.

7 — Including this year, the number of times Kentucky has started a season 5-1 since 1950, with the others being 1950, 1976, 1977, 1983, 1984, 2007.

7.1 — Average yards per touch for Buck Allen in USC’s upset of previously-unbeaten Arizona Saturday night.  The running back carried the ball 26 times for 205 yards (7.9 yards per carry) and totaled four receptions for 28 yards (7.0 yards per catch) for good measure.

9 — Teams remaining that have either won all of its games or lost all of them.  There are still six of the former — Baylor, Florida State, Marshall, Mississippi State, Notre Dame, Ole Miss.  There were 10 entering Week 7, with Arizona, Auburn, Georgia Tech and TCU falling from the ranks of the unbeatens.  The three remaining winless teams are Idaho, Kent State and SMU.  UMass, against Kent State, picked up its first win of the year Saturday.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 7 Rewind

Auburn v Mississippi State Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

NO. 1 A MOVING, FLUID TARGET
There wasn’t the historic Week 6 shakeup in Week 7, but there’s certainly going to be some tweaking in the Top 10 of the new Top 25 polls.  And, perhaps, even at the very top.

Florida State came into the weekend ranked No. 1 by both the Associated Press and the coaches, although the Seminoles have seen their lead in the former poll decrease every week since the final preseason Top 25 and just reclaimed the top spot in the latter poll after Alabama’s Week 6 loss.  Depending on voter preference, there could be a seismic shift as Mississippi State has certainly proven its poll mettle over the past three games against ranked teams.

Then again, so has Ole Miss the past two weeks.  Either of the Mississippi Power Five teams could rightly stake their respective claims to the top spot over FSU — and in what kind of bizarro world are we living in when such a scenario involving that state is even possible in the game of college football?

Some in Big 12 country would point to Baylor as a potential No. 1, as would some Midwesterners when it comes to Notre Dame; neither of those teams has the résumé that the other three have, although both should sit comfortably in the Top Five Sunday afternoon.  Then again, FSU’s résumé, like BU’s and ND’s, contains only one win over a team that was ranked at the time the game was played, although the Seminoles can add Oklahoma State (unranked in the opener, No.16 after Week 6) to its portfolio to justify a spot ahead of those two.

Adding to the upper-echelon murkiness?  Florida State plays Notre Dame next weekend, while Mississippi State and Ole Miss will square off in the regular-season finale, further guaranteeing additional upheaval in and around the top of the rankings moving forward.

Yes, it’s virtually meaningless which team is No. 1 at what’s almost the midway point of the 2014 regular season; hell, the first meaningful rankings won’t be released for another 16 days.  The positioning for seeding in the first-ever College Football Playoff — and a potentially favorable locale for a semifinal game —  has begun in earnest, however, and that’s something that will shape the storyline in the sport for the remaining eight weekends left on the regular-season calendar.

SATURDAY RESET
Below is a list of links out to a handful of the gamers posted by the CFT crew, placed in one handy and convenient space for you, our beloved and dear readers.

  • For the third-straight game, Mississippi State dropped a Top-10-ranked SEC West team to remain unbeaten and firmly stated its case for the top spot in the rankings.  Auburn, meanwhile, suffered its first loss of the season and will likely fall into the bottom half of the Top 10.
  • Wait a minute… or did Ole Miss stake its claim as the top team in the country with a dominating win over Texas A&M?
  • Bonkers on the Brazos indeed: Baylor overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to stun TCU 61-58 in what was the dictionary definition of an old WAC shootout.
  • If there were ever a case of a team letting another off the hook, it was Arkansas’ loss to a suddenly bumbling, stumbling and disorganized Alabama.  Or, to paraphrase an old tongue-twister, how much throat could a Sabanchuck choke if a Sabanchuck could choke throat.
  • Oklahoma lagged behind Texas in nearly every major statistical category except the one that matters most: the scoreboard.
  • Oregon’s time out of the national spotlight lasted all of one week as the Ducks’ scored a bounce-back win over UCLA.
  • Arizona was a missed 36-yard field goal away from improving to 6-0; instead, UA kicked away a 28-26 decision to USC that dropped the Wildcats to a half-game behind the Trojans and into a tie with Arizona State in the Pac-12 South.
  • Georgia’s shutout of Missouri shows once again why it is the Beast of the SEC East.
  • Previously unbeaten Georgia Tech’s loss to Duke ensures that the ACC Coastal is still literally anyones for the taking.
  • The ACC Atlantic, meanwhile, continues to be Florida State’s personal playground as the Seminoles extended its winning streak to a nation’s best 22 straight after dropping overmatched Syracuse.
  • Driskel is as Driskel does: Florida quarterback coughs up late pick, game to LSU.
  • Clemson’s six-point win over Louisville could’ve come with a very significant personnel loss.
  • The ugly win over Penn State may have lowered the hot seat temperature for Michigan’s Brady Hoke a bit — a very, very, very wee bit.

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The Fifth Quarter: Historic Week 6 Rewind

MISSISSIPPI ALABAMA AP

SATURDAY RESET
Below is a list of links out to gamers posted by the CFT crew, placed in one handy and convenient space for you, our beloved and dear readers.

  • In what was arguably the biggest upset in an upset-laden weekend, TCU stunned Oklahoma 37-33 on an interception return for a score early in the fourth quarter.  All of the sudden, the Horned Frogs are one of four unbeaten Big 12 teams in conference play, joining Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State.  That number will be trimmed by at least one in Week 7 as TCU travels to Waco to take on Baylor.
  • Dak Prescott and his five total touchdowns dove headfirst onto the Heisman radar in leading No. 12 Mississippi State to a 48-31 beating of No. 6 Texas A&M that wasn’t even remotely as close as the score suggests.  Based on how the Bulldogs looked, they should be in or very near the Top Five when the new polls are released Sunday afternoon.  Or the Aggies were vastly overrated.  One of the two.
  • Putting a bow on a perfect and historic day of football for the state of Mississippi was Ole Miss, which stunned Alabama a few hours after ESPN had put the wraps on the first-ever GameDay show in The Grove.  The Rebels can’t bask in the glow of arguably the biggest win in the program’s history for too long, however, as they host Auburn next Saturday.
  • Auburn and Nick Marshall (four total touchdowns) had little problem dispatching LSU.  There’s a fairly decent chance that, given the top of the rankings getting knocked on its ass, the Tigers will not only move up to No. 2 but, perhaps, even into the top slot.
  • If the Big Ten was secretly rooting for undefeated Nebraska to knock off one-loss Michigan State, it was sorely disappointed as the Spartans hung on for dear life in beating the Cornhuskers.  And, courtesy of all of the Week 6 tumult and despite the one loss, Sparty could very well find itself in or near the Top Five Sunday afternoon.
  • It may have been a win only a football mother could’ve loved, but it was still a win for Notre Dame over nationally-ranked Stanford.  After what should be a breather against North Carolina next weekend, ND will be set to face top-ranked Florida State in Tallahassee.
  • Baylor was off offensively, but still found a way to easily put away an overmatched Texas squad in a 21-point win.  And if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about the state of UT football, when a BU squad can play less-than-stellar and still walk away with a double-digit win, then I don’t know what to tell you.
  • After an extended afternoon nap, Oklahoma State woke up and put away Iowa State 37-21 in Ames, a place that was a house of horrors for the Cowboys recently.  Tyreek Hill‘s 97-yard kickoff return to start the second half set the tone for OSU.
  • Ohio State stepped on Maryland’s throat in the first half, and didn’t step off it in the second half as the Buckeyes cruised to a 52-24 win over the Terrapins in College Park.  The game marked the Terps’ first-ever conference home game in the Big Ten and its first sellout since 2008.  It also marked yet another sign that OSU quarterback J.T. Barrett should, one, at least be on the fringe of the Heisman conversation and, two, Braxton Miller should at least be mildly concerned about retaining his job next year.
  • HAIL YES!!! Arizona State perhaps saved its season with a last-second Hail Mary prayer that was answered, stunning a USC team that was still likely licking its wounds from a Boston College loss a couple of weeks ago.  The fact that the Sun Devils did it with their backup quarterback and kept their Pac-12 South hopes alive served as the cherries on top of the sundae.
  • Will Muschamp was school girl-level giddy over (barely) dropping Tennessee in Neyland Stadium.  Why he was that giddy when his squad is an absolute mess is another question for another day.
Oklahoma v TCU

Oklahoma v TCU

HISTORIC WEEK OF CHAOS
For those who were looking for utter chaos and a massive shakeup in the polls, Week 6 was Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Flag Day all rolled into one uproarious ball of “Holy $*&!”.

During this glorious weekend of football, including Thursday night, the Nos. 2 (Oregon), 3 (Alabama), 4 (Oklahoma) and 6 (Texas A&M) teams in last week’s Associated Press poll all lost.  It’s the first time since November of 1990 (No. 1 Virginia, No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 Auburn, No. 5 Illinois) and only the second time since 1936 that four of the top six teams in the country had gone down to defeat the same weekend.  Three of those losses featured the higher-ranked team on the road — and came by a combined 12 points — with the lone home loss being the Ducks losing by seven in Eugene.

Add in No. 8 UCLA’s upset loss to unranked Utah at home, and it’s the first time in the history of college football — EVER — that five of the top eight teams have been knocked off in a single week.  Let that sink in for a minute.  The first-ever college football game was played in 1869… the AP poll debuted in 1934… and today, Oct. 4, 2014, was the first time that has happened in this great game.

Amazing.

That said, and by default, Florida State will likely remain No. 1 in the eyes of the AP voters, while Auburn will likely slide into the No. 2 hole.  Or those two could be flip-flopped.  After that?

You could state a case for both No. 12 Mississippi State and No. 11 Ole Miss, after the greatest day of football in that state’s history, to leap into the Top Five, especially the former on the strength of back-to-back wins over Top -10 teams. Any combination of No. 7 Baylor, No. 8 UCLA and No. 9 Notre Dame could find themselves in that rarefied ranking air as well.  And what of No. 25 TCU’s dispatching of No. 4 Oklahoma?  Rocketing up 20 or more spots into the Top Five certainly may be asking a little too much of the voters, but perhaps it shouldn’t.

One thing that is fairly certain amidst all of the chaos is that this is likely far from being the last upsetting weekend ahead of what should be an epic first year of the College Football Playoff.  Speaking of which, godspeed to the 13-person CFP selection committee; based on the way this weekend played out, you’re going to need it.  And earmuffs.  Lots and lots of big, bulky earmuffs.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

Jameis Winston, Kentavius Street AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Exorcising the Raleigh ghosts
When it comes Raleigh, NC, that college town has served as Florida State’s kryptonite over the past couple of decades.  Six times since 1998 a ranked FSU squad lost to North Carolina State, the most recent coming in 2012.  The Wolfpack were looking to continue that rather bizarre run of success, jumping out to a 24-7 first-quarter lead and holding a 10-point lead with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The reigning Heisman winner and one of his backfield sidekicks, however, weren’t having any of that.

In his first game since a one-game suspension, Winston tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to give the ‘Noles their first lead of the game at 42-38.  A Karlos Williams one-yard touchdown run three minutes into the fourth quarter essentially put the game away — Winston’s inexplicable interception, which had Jimbo Fisher downright irate, notwithstanding — while Williams’ 12-yard scamper with just over two minutes remaining put the exclamation point on the closer-than-it-looked 56-41 win.  Winston wound up completing 26-of-38 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns while Williams added 126 yards and three touchdowns to stave off the upset bid.

The win kept FSU’s winning streak alive, extending its school record to 20 straight.  However, the Seminoles have already seen its stranglehold on the top spot in the Top 25 rankings loosened over the past couple of weeks; it’s highly likely that support will weaken yet again when the polls are released Sunday afternoon.  Will it be enough to knock them off the perch?  Probably not this week, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if a team like Oklahoma or Alabama leapfrogged the defending BCS champions.

Good gawd Gurley
You would have to do a pretty damn good job to convince me that Todd Gurley is not the best football player in the country this year.  In Georgia’s nail-biting  35-32 win over Tennessee Between the Hedges, the junior running back rushed for a career-high 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns; 129 of those yards came in the pivotal fourth quarter.  One of the scores was a 51-yard thing of beauty that put the back’s exceptional vision and cutting ability on full display.   On his next run after that, he hurdled a Vols defender on his way to a 26-yard gain midway through the fourth quarter.  Provided he stays healthy the remainder of the season, there’s simply no way Gurley won’t at least receive a mid-December invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.  If Mark Richt & Company continues to feed the beast, that is.

Elementary, my dear Watson
Against North Carolina Saturday, Deshaun Watson became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Clemson in 20 years (Nealon Greene, 1994 vs. South Carolina). Watson’s debut as a starter was a monster one as the five-star 2014 signee completed 27-of-36 passes for 434 yards and six touchdowns.  The scoring tosses are a school record for a freshman, or for any other class for that matter, as well as an ACC record for a frosh. According to a note from the school, the Tigers are now 5-12 all-time in games started by first-year freshman quarterbacks; three of those five wins have come at the expense of the Tar Heels.  Based on Watson’s play in his first outing, it appears likely he’ll get the opportunity to add to that overall win total as, barring injury, there’s little doubt it’s his job moving forward.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 3 Rewind

Steve Spurrier

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

(Writer’s note: I’m “playing” very severely under the weather this weekend, so I apologize in advance for any errors and/or typos you may come across.  Well any more than normal I should say.  Thanks in advance.)

THUMBS UP

Turn that Top Dozen upside down
Heading into Week 3, the schedule wasn’t looking too promising on paper.  Exiting it? To steal from the imitable Ron Burgandy, boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast — especially in the Top 12 of the rankings. Two teams in that rarefied air lost outright — No. 6 Georgia, to South Carolina; No. 9 USC, to Boston College — while No. 12 UCLA barely escaped against a fair-to-middlin’ Texas team and looked unimpressive for a third straight game.  The first two will certainly tumble out of the Top 10, while the Bruins could slip a bit as well despite the win.  So, which teams will replace UGA and USC?  No. 11 Notre Dame is a mortal lock.  The second is murky as No. 12 is, of course, UCLA while No. 13 is one-loss Michigan State.  My guess would be No. 14 Ole Miss slides into the Top 10, just ahead of the Spartans.

Livin’ the hug life
Instead of another one of the bigger stories in Week 3 appearing above the cyber fold, how about we toss in a really cool example of sportsmanship*?  Yeah, didn’t think you’d mind.  UMass, 2-27 since early November of 2011, jumped out to a quick 14-o lead on Vanderbilt in Nashville and took a 31-20 lead into the fourth quarter.  Two Commodore touchdowns, however, gave them the lead with just over a minute to play.  The Minutemen would roar back, driving into position to kick a game-tying field goal and send the non-conference contest into overtime.  As time expired, though, UMass kicker Blake Lucas missed the chippy 22-yard attempt.  Then, this happened.

 

Yes, that would be Vandy defensive lineman Adam Butler giving Lucas a brief hug — and pat on the back — after the really bad miss.  Bravo, young man, for your short but welcome show of sportsmanship.

Loss puts UGA in SEC East driver’s seat?
If those in and around the Georgia football program aren’t nearly as upset and distraught over a divisional loss as you think they should be, don’t worry.  There’s a method to the apparent madness.  Yes, UGA was out-physicaled in its loss to South Carolina.  Yes, USC and UGA are now tied atop the SEC East at 1-1, with the former holding the head-to-head tiebreaker.  However, based on recent precedent, the Bulldogs have the rest of the division right where they want ‘em.  You see, the last two times UGA has qualified for the SEC championship game as the East’s winner (2011 and 2012), the Bulldogs lost to the Gamecocks the first month of the season. Yep, the Dawgs have ‘em right where they want ‘em.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 2 Rewind

Florida Atlantc v Alabama Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Catchin’ With Mr. Cooper
Midway through the first quarter of Alabama’s blowout win over FAU, Amari Cooper already had four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown.  The wide receiver ended up with six catches for 97 yards in the opening quarter, and finished with 13 catches for 189 yards and a 52-yard touchdown reception, with the receptions matching a single-game school record.  This season, Cooper has 25 receptions for 319 yards; the Tide’s single-season marks are 78 (Julio Jones, 2010) and 1,133 (Jones, 2010), so Cooper is well on his way to not only eclipsing but shattering both of those standards.  For his career, Cooper now has 129 receptions for 2,055 yards, and, as a true junior, could this season surpass DJ Hall‘s career marks of 194 and 2,923 set from 2004-07.  Based on his early play, Cooper could also find himself in the Heisman mix as the season progresses.

Badger McBounce-back
Putting it mildly, Tanner McEvoy had a horrendous performance in the season-opening loss to LSU.  With a statline that consisted of 8-of-22 passing for 50 yards , no touchdowns and two interceptions, the Wisconsin quarterback had nowhere to go but up.  On Saturday, up McEvoy went there as, following a very slow start, he completed 23-of-28 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns.  At one point, the converted safety completed 17 passes in a row. “I thought Tanner came on and, obviously, he caught some mojo there with 17 in a row,” head coach Gary Andersen said.  Sure, the game was against an FCS-level opponent, but, from a confidence standpoint, it was a critical and much-needed performance for McEvoy specifically and the offense in general — especially if Melvin Gordon‘s struggles over the past six-ish quarters bleed deeper into the season (see below).

Brutally efficient Hogs
In the first two quarters of Arkansas’ blowout win over Nicholls State, the Razorbacks’ offense had run 20 plays… and scored eight touchdowns.  Amazingly, five of those drives consisted of just a single play; even more amazingly, four of those drives were 33 yards or more — 90, 82, 50 and 33.  In that first half, UA outgained its FCS foe 425-55.  They averaged 21.7 yards per carry and 19.8 yards per pass completion.  That efficiency continued on into the second half as UA’s offense drove 48 yards in two plays to push the lead to 63-0 after just :52 had ticked off the third-quarter clock.  The Hogs took their hooves off the Colonels’ necks the rest of the game, though, as the final score was 73-7.

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The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

Oklahoma State v Florida State Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Shaky title defense begins
Last year, Florida State rolled over, through and around its regular season opponents by an average score of 53-10, with their “closest” call being a 48-34 win over Boston College on the road in Week 5.  They did not score less than 41 points in any game, and allowed more than 17 points just once.  Based on the opener, the Seminoles won’t be steamrolling through its 2014 slate.  At first it looked as if it would be lather, rinse and repeat as the Seminoles jumped out to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.  Then  reigning Heisman winner Jameis Winston began misfiring — two interceptions, just over 60-percent completion percentage — and the Cowboys outscored the ‘Noles 31-20 the rest of the way.  It wasn’t enough to dig out of that big early hole, however, as FSU extended its winning streak to a nation’s best 17 straight while Winston threw for 370 yards on an “off” night.  It did, though, offer some teachable moments for a coach looking to ensure his team doesn’t suffer through a post-title malaise as the ‘Noles go from being the hunter to the hunted.

Super Mario
Marcus Mariota has already been recognized as one of the best, if not the best, quarterbacks in Oregon history.  Now, the record books officially backup that stance.  In the Ducks’ season-opening romp over South Dakota, Mariota passed for 267 yards and three touchdowns, running for one other score — and setting or tying two school career standards and getting closer to a third in the process.  Mariota now has 82 career touchdowns (66 passing, 15 rushing, one receiving), breaking the tie he had been in with Joey Harrington. He’s also now tied with Darron Thomas for career passing touchdowns (66) and is within 22 yards (8,140 to 8,119) of breaking Bill Musgrave‘s record for total offense.  Suffice to say, Mariota, one of the preseason Heisman favorites, will break both those latter marks at some point during the Ducks’ highly-anticipated showdown with Michigan State next Saturday.

This one’s for you, bro
Early last November, Carl Pelini “resigned” as FAU’s head coach amidst drug allegations that were later recanted.  Nine months later, Pelini’s younger brother gave birth to a little bit of payback.  Saturday in Lincoln, Bo Pelini‘s Nebraska Cornhuskers pummeled FAU by the score of 55-7.  NU totaled a Big Ten-record 779 yards of offense — the most for the ‘Huskers since 1991 — and included 493 on the ground.  Ameer Abdullah ran for 227 of those yards, a career-high performance, while Tommie Armstrong passed for a personal-best 271 yards.  It won’t get the elder Pelini his job back with the Owls, but his former team’s evisceration could provide him with a little satisfaction.

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CFT 2014 Preseason Top 25: ‘Noles look to go back-to-back

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston AP

Over seven months ago, Florida State staked its claim to the last-ever Bowl Championship Series Trophy. The question now is, can the Seminoles win the first-ever College Football Playoff trophy?

At least as far as the CFT writers are concerned, the answer was a resounding “hell yes!!!” as all three of us — Brent Sobleski, Kevin McGuire and I — placed FSU at No. 1 in our preseason Top 25 rankings.

In somewhat of a surprise, Oregon was next up at No. 2, followed by Alabama, No. 2 in the Associated Press and coaches’ poll, at No. 3, Ohio State at No. 4 and Oklahoma at No. 5. Were the poll to be conducted today, there’s a very good chance the Buckeyes would slip to the bottom of the Top 10 — or even out of it — on the strength of Braxton Miller‘s season-ending injury.

As for the remainder of the Top 10, UCLA checks in at No. 6, followed by, in order from Nos. 7-10, South Carolina, Auburn, Baylor and Stanford.

The only Non-Power Five conference team to make the preseason cut was the Mountain West’s Boise State at No. 24.

Conference-wise, the SEC leads all leagues with six in the Top 25, the lowest of which is Ole Miss at No. 17. The Big Ten and Pac-12 have five teams each, with the ACC (four) and Big 12 (three) bringing up the Power-Five rear.

For comparison, the AP poll had eight SEC teams in the Top 25 and six from the Pac-12. The coaches’ poll also had six from the Pac-12, while only seven from the SEC.

Below are the complete set of CFT preseason top 25 rankings. And, for a repository on all of our 2014 preseason previews, click HERE.

No. 1 Florida State
No. 2 Oregon
No. 3 Alabama
No. 4 Ohio State
No. 5 Oklahoma
No. 6 UCLA
No. 7 South Carolina
No. 8 Auburn
No. 9 Baylor
No. 10 Stanford
No. 11 Michigan State
No. 12 Georgia
No. 13 LSU
No. 14 USC
No. 15 Notre Dame
No. 16 Clemson
No. 17 Ole Miss
No. 18 Wisconsin
No. 19 Duke
No. 20 Texas
No. 21 Nebraska
No. 22 Arizona State
No. 23 North Carolina
No. 24 Boise State
No. 25 Iowa

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 1 Florida State

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

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

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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).

THE UNKNOWN
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.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Louisville
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.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Karlos Williams
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)

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Playoff Darkhorses

College Football Playoff Logo

The term “BCS busters” should be collectively erased from everyone’s memories.

It’s now time to figure out which teams have a glimmer of hope to rise from obscurity and claim a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

The Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oregon Ducks are overwhelming favorites to participate in the inaugural playoff structure. But college football never quite works out like everyone expects.

Each team in the country is striving to be among the best. Only four will achieve this goal. Some have better odds than others. We here at CFT like to root for the underdog. As such, we’ll attempt to identify a team from each of the Power Five conference and one from the rest of the leagues that have an outside shot of playing with the big boys this season.

We advise not to bet on any of these teams, but they each have something that gives them a chance, albeit a slight one, to be a part of college football’s elite…

ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
Any team that comes out of the ACC that isn’t the Florida State Seminoles should be considered a playoff darkhorse. The reasons the Hokies are primed to improve greatly from their 8-5 record last season are they are particularly talented and experienced along the offensive line and secondary. The enter left side of the Hokies’ offensive line, including center, is comprised of seniors. And right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin was named  second-team freshman All-American by College Football News. The Hokies’ ability to win in the trenches will improve the team’s running game from last year, particularly with sophomore running back Trey Edmunds ready to become the team’s workhorse. Plus, solid play from the offensive line will help Michael Brewer‘s transition after he transferred from Texas Tech. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies may have lost Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL, but both of last year’s starting cornerbacks struggled with injuries. Sophomores Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller proved more than capable of stepping in and becoming play makers. Everyone will quickly learn whether or not the Hokies are a legitimate contender when they face a Braxton Miller-less Ohio State Buckeyes squad during the second week of the season. If Virginia Tech can go into the Horshoe and claim a major victory against the Buckeyes, the rest of the schedule is manageable, especially since it won’t face the Seminoles in regular season play.

Big 12 Conference: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kliff Kingbury
‘s first season as Texas Tech’s head coach developed into a perfect example of style over substance. The excitement of a 7-0 start faded into five straight losses to end the regular season. Despite being as highly ranked as 10th overall, the Red Raiders couldn’t match up physically against the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners, Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns. As Kingsbury continues to build the program in Year 2, the Red Raiders should be far more consistent. It starts at the quarterback position in the team’s Air Raid offense. Davis Webb started six of the team’s final eight games, and he was awarded the starting job during spring practice. Kingsbury played three different quarterbacks last and never found any consistency. Webb’s growth as a player during his sophomore season will only help the offense become more successful. Each of the linemen in front of Webb is experienced, and the receivers are expected to produce. The defense will continue to be a concern, but Texas Tech will enter each game under the assumption they can outscore any opponent. If the Red Raiders can navigate the Big 12 Conference, they’re toughest non-conference opponent is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished 3-9 last season. The opportunity is there for Texas Tech to take the next step as a program and potentially enter the national conversation.

Big Ten Conference: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will enjoy and possibly benefit greatly from playing in the Big Ten Conference’s new western division. Overall, the Big Ten Conference is wide open after the Ohio State Buckeyes lost Miller for the season. But that won’t matter for Iowa since they’re not scheduled to play the Buckeyes this season. Iowa not only avoids Ohio State, it won’t play the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans or Penn State Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes cross-divisional opponents this season are the Indiana Hoosiers and Maryland Terrapins. And the team’s toughest non-conference opponent is the Pittsburgh Panthers. If the Hawkeyes don’t trip up during a game they’re expected to win — like we’ve seen previously in Kirk Ferentz‘s tenure — Iowa could cruise into the final two games against the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers with an undefeated record. The Hawkeyes are then capable and possess enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat the primary opposition in their division. The Hawkeyes will do what they always do; they’ll run the football behind arguably the best offensive linemen in college football, Brandon Scherff, and they’ll play fundamentally sound football on defense. Their style of play leaves very little margin for error, but the season sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes to have a little more wiggle room than they usually do.

Pac-12 Conference: Oregon State Beavers
Good quarterback play will grant a team the benefit of the doubt. Sean Mannion may not be an interesting as Florida State’s Jameis Winston or as dynamic as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Mannion doesn’t even draw as much attention as UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Yet, Mannion is the country’s leading returning passer. Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. The quarterback also has pieces around him. Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks, is now in the NFL, but the team still has a massive target at tight end in Connor Hamlett and its top two rushers, Terron Ward and Storm Woods, return. Another overlooked aspect of the Beavers is how experienced they are on defense. Nine of the team’s defensive starters are seniors. The final two starters are juniors. Some of those upperclassmen will be starting for the first time, but the ability to be in the system over a period of time learning the scheme gives them an advantage. The Beavers even benefit slightly from their schedule. The team’s non-conference schedule should be a cakewalk. Oregon State hosts the Oregon Ducks in this year’s “Civil War.” Trips to USC and Stanford are the biggest obstacles in front of the Beavers in their attempt to go to their first major bowl game since they defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl 13 years ago.

SEC: Ole Miss Rebels
The Florida Gators are a popular choice to be the surprise team emerging out of the SEC. However, the Rebels should be able to reap the benefits from head coach Hugh Freeze‘s ability to stockpile talent during the upcoming season. The Rebels will have to survive the SEC West, of course, which is no easy feat. The Rebels finished 2-4 in the division last season, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers remain the teams to beat. Ole Miss, however, is littered with top talents primed to make a leap as a group. Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Ndemkiche enters his second season in the program. He’s surrounded by senior edge rushers C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson and just nose tackle Isaac Gross. Sophomore Tony Conner quickly established himself as an intimidating presence in the secondary during his freshman campaign. On offense, sophomore Laremy Tunsil is one of the most physically talented left tackles in the SEC. Laquon Treadwell was an elite wide receiver recruit and made an instant impact as a true freshman. And senior quarterback Bo Wallace will lead the way. As the talent on this team continues to mature, the gap between the Rebels and the rest of the SEC West is quickly closing. If that same talent takes a major leap in their play this year, the Rebels could go from pretender to legitimate contender.

Best of the rest: Marshall Thundering Herd
One thing established during the BCS era was an undefeated team from the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Conference USA or MAC can work themselves into the national conversation. This year’s most likely candidate is Marshall. There are two reasons why the Thundering Herd can crash this year’s party. First, the team’s schedule is among the easiest in college football. The team should cruise to a 13-0 finish. Second, people love to see explosive offenses and elite quarterback play. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has quietly built one of the most explosive offenses in college football.  The Thurndering Herd operates at a breakneck pace. Last season the team’s offense finished 12th in the country with an average of 500.4 yards per contest. And quarterback Rakeem Cato is absolutely electric. Over the past two seasons, Cato has thrown for 8,117 yards, 76 touchdowns. The combination of an undefeated record, explosive offense and a talented quarterback may be enough to insert Marshall into one of the playoff slots (even though it’s still highly unlikely).

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 2 Oregon

Marcus Mariota

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)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

Nick Saban Getty Images

2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8
Head coach: Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama)
Offensive coordinator: Lane Kiffin (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (seventh season)
2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Four
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.

THE BAD
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still.  Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball.  Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury.  There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced.  Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally.  In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring.  The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4.  Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.

THE UNKNOWN
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season.  With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback.  Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns.  Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa.  Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39.  Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one.  Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year.  The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played.  After last year?  This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide.  Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size.  He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 4 Ohio State

Urban Meyer

(It should be noted this preseason ranking was determined before news of Braxton Miller being lost for the season.)

2013 Record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Big Ten (lost to Michigan State in championship game)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl (40-35 loss to Clemson)
2013 final AP/coaches ranking: No. 12/No. 10
Head coach: Urban Meyer (128-25 overall, 24-2 in two years at Ohio State)
Offensive coordinator: Tom Herman (3rd year at Ohio State), Ed Warinner (3rd year at Ohio State)
2013 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (308.64 ypg), 90th passing offense (203.3 ypg), 7th total offense (511.9 ypg), 3rd scoring offense (45.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4*
Co-defensive coordinators: Luke Fickell (13th year at Ohio State), Chris Ash (first year at Ohio State)
2013 defensive rankings: 9th rushing defense (109.43 ypg), 112th passing defense (268.0 ypg), 47th total defense (377.4 ypg), 28th scoring defense (22.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Columbus, Ohio
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (104,944; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2010 (2009, outright)

THE GOOD
In a season that once appeared to be all about making the playoff or bust, the Buckeyes still look to have a very good shot at making a run at a Big Ten title despite losing starting quarterback Braxton Miller for the season. Losing Miller cannot be understated for the fortunes of this season, but more on that in a moment. What Ohio State does have is a roster that has been built by landing the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten each of the past four seasons, so the talent on the roster is not much of a concern for the Buckeyes as far as the Big Ten is concerned. One fo the downfalls of Ohio State last season was the defense not being strong enough to hold off a balanced opponent like Michigan State or slow down a potent offense like the one owned by Clemson. When push came to shove, Ohio State’s defensive line was the one being shoved in the clutch. That should change some this season with a focus on toughening up the defense. New defensive line coach Larry Johnson (from Penn State) will have an impact with the play of the defensive line, which could be the best in the Big Ten, with Michael Bennett and Joey Bosa up front and Noah Spence scheduled to return following a multi-game suspension. Ohio State’s opening games may be more difficult now, without Miller, but the Buckeyes should still be able to remain one of the favorites in the Big Ten’s East division.

THE BAD
The loss of Miller is without a doubt a major blow for Ohio State. Miller was Ohio State’s, and the Big Ten’s, best player when healthy and his contributions to the Ohio State offense will not be easy to make up. Miller was not only looking to improve with his passing abilities, but he was also the team’s leading rusher returning this season (1,283 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns in 2013). Ohio State should still be able to run the football this fall, but the loss of Miller has the potential to make Ohio State’s running game much less of a threat to opposing defenses. That is, until we see just how redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett adapts to his new responsibilities under center.

THE UNKNOWN
Ohio State has plenty of talent, but now head coach Urban Meyer is challenged to find a way to make everything come together in a different way than he may have been spending all summer doing. Meyer is a really good coach — one of the best in the country — but can he manage to keep Ohio State among the favorites for a playoff spot at the end of the year after losing Miller and lead running back Carlos Hyde (NFL) with a lack of significant experience in the backfield? Throwing an extra challenge into the equation this season is Ohio State does not have as easy a non-conference schedule to allow these things to be sorted out without concern. Ohio State faces a decent Navy team in the season opener in Baltimore, and then hosts a Virgina Tech team that should be improved this fall. A home game against Cincinnati could present a challenge to before getting into Big Ten play.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Penn State
The road game at Michigan State is still the highlight of the 2014 Ohio State schedule, and the non-conference slate should help show just what Ohio State will be this season. A road game at Penn State, in primetime, could be the first real challenge for the Buckeyes though, despite the Nittany Lions being a thin team when it comes to depth and Ohio State blasting their neighbors from the east 63-14 last fall. If Penn State stays healthy, they could pose a threat to Ohio State at home in a revenge situation. New head coach James Franklin has sparked the program a bit, and playing in front of 100,000 fans not cheering for you could be a challenge for a young quarterback like Barrett. Win this game, and Ohio State will prove to remain a top threat in the East.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Devin Smith
Braxton Miller would have been the easy pick here, but with the quarterback ut of commission this fall the next best offensive player may end up being wide receiver Devin Smith. Smith should be one of the top receivers for the Buckeyes this fall as Ohio State’s leading returning receiver with 660 yards and eight touchdowns last fall.

* Not counting injured quarterback Braxton Miller

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