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Newcomers lead Texas A&M past No. 15 Arizona State

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A year ago, Texas A&M could not have beaten No. 15 Arizona State the way it did on Saturday. Well, the Aggies probably couldn’t have beaten Arizona State at all in 2014, but definitely not this way. Because, a year ago, Texas A&M did not have John Chavis and it did not have Christian Kirk.

The Aggies used a fast, aggressive defense and the multidimensional Kirk to upend the Sun Devils, 38-17, in the Advocare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Chavis, the high-priced defensive coordinator robbed away from LSU last December, guided a defense that ranked 97th nationally in yards per play and 111th in rushing into a strength – at least for one night. Behind All-America candidate Myles Garrett, Texas A&M forced eight sacks and two turnovers, limiting the Sun Devils to just 2.2 yards per carry and fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Bercovici to 25-of-40 passing for just 199 yards. Arizona State mounted only one sustained touchdown drive on the night – its first score came after a Kyle Allen fumble deep in Aggie territory – an eight play, 75-yard march that pulled the Devils to within 17-14 with 2:37 to go in the third quarter.

While the A&M defense did its job, freshman Christian Kirk carried the Aggies’ offense and special teams. A former five-star out of the Phoenix area, Kirk returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to put Texas A&M up 14-0 with 12:51 in the second quarter, then put the game away for good with a 66-yard grab-and-weave with 3:45 to go in the game, giving the Aggies a 31-17 lead. After Texas A&M forced a turnover on downs deep in Arizona State territory on the ensuing possession, Tra Carson added a 10-yard insurance score with 1:38 remaining.

The sophomore Allen garnered the start for the Aggies and posted decent numbers – 15-of-26 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns (he hit Carson for a 9-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter) and added a 12-yard touchdown run to put A&M up 24-14 – but committed two turnovers and was victimized by a swarming Arizona State defense. Head coach Kevin Sumlin turned to true freshman Kyler Murray for much of the night and he answered by dancing for 69 yards on six carries to go with 4-of-9 passing for 49 yards and an interception.

Arizona State successfully bottled up the Texas A&M running game for much of the evening – Carson gained 96 yards on 29 carries, and will have 29 lumps to show for it tomorrow morning – and Murray’s speed and elusiveness proved a successful antidote.

As dominant as the Arizona State front was, though, Texas A&M was even more so, limiting the Sun Devils to 92 yards on 41 carries. Overall, Texas A&M outgained Arizona State 425-291 and held the Sun Devils to 5-of-19 on third downs.

Texas A&M entered the season a dark horse to contend in the SEC West and beyond, and rewarded that faith Saturday night. And considering so many of tonight’s key pieces – Chavis, Murray, Kirk – are still feeling themselves out, here’s the scariest thought of the night: Texas A&M will probably get better from here.

Texas A&M leading No. 15 Arizona State at the half

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Put two teams that averaged north of 35 points a game a year ago together and you get… a game dominated by defense and special teams? That’s what we’ve seen so far in Houston as Texas A&M leads No. 15 Arizona State 14-7 at the break.

After Texas A&M opened the scoring with 28 seconds left in the first quarter on a nine-yard catch-and-run from sophomore Arizona native Kyle Allen to Tra Carson, the Aggies grabbed control with a 79-yard punt return by true freshman Arizona native Christian Kirk, pushing the score to 14-0.

With the Aggies threatening to break the game open, Arizona State climbed back when Christian Sam stripped Allen and J.D. Alexander recovered the ball and raced to the Aggies’ four-yard line. Mike Bercovici hit Kody Kohl one play later to put the Sun Devils on the board with 9:56 to go before the break.

Allen played the majority of the snap for the Aggies, hitting 8-of-15 passes for 87 yards and a touchdown. True freshman Kyler Murray played the final series of the half, completing two of three passes for 27 yards and totaling two rushes for one yard. Carson has rushed 12 times for 41 yards.

Bercovici has completed 12 of his 16 passes, but for just 62 yards. The destructive force that is Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett has had a lot to do with that. Demario Richard leads the Devils on the ground with 30 yards on five carries.

Arizona State will receive to open the second half.

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

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As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC), HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1. Georgia (10-3; beat Louisville in Belk Bowl)
There is one certainty when it comes to the East: UGA will not finish lower than third, a low-water benchmark for each of Mark Richt‘s 14 seasons in Athens that has included five division titles — none since 2012, though.  They return the most talent of any team in the division, although the fact that they opted for Grayson Lambert as the starting quarterback has me second-guessing my prediction.  It’s been a decade since UGA’s last SEC championship, and if they’re going to get back to that level they’ll have to do so with a schedule that includes both Alabama and Auburn as well as a road trip to Tennessee.  Still, anything less than an East title and a spot in the SEC championship game would be decidedly disappointing — and would lead to yet another offseason of “is it time to go in another direction?” speculation.

2. Tennessee (7-6; beat Iowa in Taxslayer Bowl)
Am I a year early with this lofty projection?  Possibly, especially given the team right below them.  Still, there’s no denying that Butch Jones has stuffed his talent cupboard after the barren years under his predecessor, Derek Dooley.  The Vols closed out last year on a positive note, going 4-1 down the stretch — the lone loss coming by eight to Mizzou — capping it off with an impressive 45-28 win over the Hawkeyes in the bowl game.  That final flourish coincided with Josh Dobbs‘ ascension as the starting quarterback.  With the scintillating playmaker poised to build off his first season at this level, the Vols could very well challenge both UGA and Mizzou for East supremacy.

3. Missouri (11-3; beat Minnesota in Citrus Bowl)
“Here we go again, denigrating the two-time defending East champion Tigers.” — the two Mizzou fans who frequent this site, probably.  And, actually, that’s an understandable reaction, given how the Tigers have been the class of the division the past two seasons.  They’re also one of the few teams in the conference that returns its starting quarterback.  Still, there are concerns along the defensive line — they return just five starters on that side of the ball, period — and their schedule doesn’t do them very many favors as they play at Georgia and Arkansas as well as play host to Mississippi State.  It wouldn’t shock me, though, if Mizzou made it three straight titles.  In fact, the only thing that would shock the system is if they finish outside the top three in the division.

(more…)

A&M officially names Kyle Allen as its starting QB

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Name Your Starting Quarterback Day continues, with Texas A&M becoming the first to officially anoint its top signal-caller.

The Aggies confirmed the expected Monday afternoon, announcing that Kyle Allen will start at quarterback for A&M in the opener against 15th-ranked Arizona State.  The school made the announcement via Twitter, prior to head coach Kevin Sumlin publicly discussing the decision.

Allen, a five-star member of A&M’s 2014 recruiting class, had been in a competition with true freshman Kyler Murray, a four-star member of A&M’s 2015 recruiting class, throughout the first couple of weeks of summer camp.

Allen started the last half of his true freshman year and finished his initial FBS season on a high, throwing for nearly 300 yards and accounting for five touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) in earning Offensive MVP honors in the Liberty Bowl win over West Virginia.  He tossed one interception in each of his five starts to close out the year, but mitigated those turnovers with 14 total touchdowns in that span — 13 passing, one rushing.

Despite Allen’s official coronation, Murray is still expected to see the playing field during his first season in College Station.

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Impact Freshmen

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Recruiting in college football is the lifeblood of a program’s success. While the majority of the Class of 2015 will see their time to lead and prove valuable on the field will come in the next few years, a select few special talents could end up playing a key role with their new programs starting this fall.

Unlike decades past, talented freshmen have a chance to become household names now. In recent years we have seen players like Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston dazzle from the start of their collegiate careers, each going on to win a Heisman Trophy as freshmen or redshirt freshmen. Last season may not have produced a young Heisman phenom, but it did have its share of young stars like LSU running back Leonard Fournette, Baylor wide receiver K.D. Cannon and Alabama defensive end Da’Shawn Hand.

So which freshmen could be names to watch this season? Here are a few.

JOSH ROSEN, QB, UCLA

Many suspect Josh Rosen will have a chance to step right into the starting job at UCLA as the Bruins look to replace Brett Hundley. And why wouldn’t he? One of the top quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, Rosen seems to be worthy of filling one of the few holes UCLA’s offense has this season. Rosen enrolled early to get a jump start on getting adjusted, and that should pay off.

KAHLIL MCKENZIE, DL, TENNESSEE

Tennessee head coach Butch Jones has done a tremendous job in bringing in talent since he took over the Vols program, but the addition of Kahlil McKenzie may be his best recruiting victory yet. McKenzie brings good size to the middle of Tennessee’s defensive line and should be a monster for opposing offensive linemen to block.

DERWIN JAMES, DB, FLORIDA STATE

Florida State has plenty of holes to fill, except in the defensive secondary. There should be a spot for Derwin James somewhere in the mix though. James proved to be a playmaker in the spring game after enrolling early. Look for James to be worked into the defensive game plan in certain situations this fall.

MARTEZ IVEY, OL, FLORIDA

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain had a relatively short time to recruit for the Gators, so locking in offensive lineman Martez Ivey was significant. The premium offensive lineman should have an impact in the trenches in a spot that has been weak for Florida in recent years. He won’t be making big plays happen but adding stability up front is always good.

MALIK JEFFERSON, LB, TEXAS

If there is one thing Charlie Strong knows what to do with Texas, it is improve the defense. The Longhorns welcome new linebacker Malik Jefferson to the fold this fall, and Jefferson should quickly become the centerpiece of Strong’s improving Longhorns defense. It will not take long for him to leave an impact this fall in Austin after enrolling early to be there for spring practices.

SOLOMON THOMAS, DL, STANFORD

Stanford is in the unusual position of having to refuel the defensive line. Sitting out the 2014 season with a redshirt should pay dividends for Solomon Thomas at Stanford. Thomas should waste little time giving opposing offensive linemen trouble this season, as he has a chance to move right into a starting gig sooner rather than later if healthy.

BYRON COWART, DE, AUBURN

Auburn’s defense is expected to improve simply with the addition of Will Muschamp as defensive coordinator, but the Tigers need a body to bring some pressure up front on the defensive line. Byron Cowart could have an impact off the edge by the time the season is over. Look for Cowart to move up the depth chart quickly at Auburn and excel under the guidance of Muschamp.