CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Louisville

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 5-2 in Big East (1st-tie)

2011 postseason: Belk Bowl (31-24 loss to North Carolina State)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Charlie Strong (14-13 overall, 14-12 in two seasons at Louisville)

Offensive coordinator: Shawn Watson (second season at Louisville, second as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 93rd rushing offense (121.5 ypg); 74th passing offense (211.5 ypg); 103rd total offense (333 ypg); 98th scoring offense (21.9 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Vance Bedford (third season at Louisville, third as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 10th rushing defense (100.5 ypg); 68th passing defense (227.4 ypg); 23rd total defense (327.9 ypg); 17th scoring defense (20.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Louisville, Ky.

Stadium: Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (55,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011 (co-champs with Cincinnati and West Virginia)

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Every year I have a feeling that I’m rating a team way too low — see Auburn, 2010 — and this year the Cardinals are the team I simply, for whatever reason, couldn’t pull the trigger on a higher ranking and will likely regret it at season’s end. With 14 starters returning from a very youthful squad and West Virginia leaving for the Big 12, the ‘Ville is clearly the class of the Big East in 2012. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who started as a true freshman last season, is a superstar in training and in possession of a ceiling as high as any player at his position in the country. A defense that was well above average is expected to see nothing but improvement with seven returning starters.

The Bad
Two of the first three games of the new season are home contests against Kentucky and North Carolina, while road trips to defending Conference USA champ Southern Miss and Big East rival (for now) Pittsburgh as well as a home game against USF await in late September/mid-October. For a team as young as the Cardinals will be yet again, it could be a rough start to the season — or just the seasoning the squad needs to go back-to-back in the Big East.

The Unknown
Last season, West Virginia was the clear preseason front-runner in the Big East. This year, it’s Louisville. How that status as the hunted instead of the hunter is handled will be a fascinating dynamic to watch play out, especially, again, given the baby-faced makeup of the roster.

Make-or-break game: vs. USF, Oct. 20
I agree with the esteemed Phil Steele: USF should be the surprise team in the Big East and may loom as the Cardinals’ biggest obstacle to a conference title. The ‘Ville traveled to the Bulls and came out with a 10-point win in the regular-season finale that helped land the Cardinals a co-Big East title. Another win, this one at home, over the experienced Bulls would go a long ways toward securing another title.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Teddy Bridgewater
While 14 touchdowns vs. 12 interceptions doesn’t exactly scream Heisman candidate, there’s no denying the talent Bridgewater possesses and how much potential the sophomore has still yet to tap into.  Charlie Strong and his coaching staff did a masterful job easing the true freshman into his role as a first-year starter, never allowing Bridgewater to throw more than 30 passes in a single game until the Belk Bowl loss to North Carolina State that saw the ball in the air 43 times. This year, however, expect to see more — much more? — of the offensive load to shift to Bridgewater’s right arm, which as a result should lead to a vast statistical improvement.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

Big East preview, vote

UCF’s 25-game winning streak now longest in all of college football

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When we say a streak, a stat, a side of the ball is the best in college football, typically it’s implied such a statement applies only to FBS. The game’s highest division gobbles up 99.9 percent of the attention, and with good reason — that’s where 99.9 percent of the best players live.

But when we say UCF’s 25-game winning streak is now the longest in college football, it’s actually true now.

Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) knocked off Mount Union (Ohio) 24-16 in the Division III National Championship on Friday night, in the process ending the Purple Raiders’ 29-game winning streak and handing UCF the crown.

According to a CFT study, half of the nation’s 10 longest winning streaks reside in the FBS, and with good reason. While the other divisions funnel all their best teams into one bracket in order to find the very best team, FBS puts only four teams in its tournament, allowing UCF to put together two straight unbeaten seasons (minus one game) without competing for the national championship.

Top 10 College Football Winning Streaks
1. UCF — 25 games
2. North Dakota State (FCS) — 20
3(t). Alabama — 15
3(t). Mary Hardin-Baylor (Division III) — 15
3(t). Morningside (NAIA) — 15
3(t). Valdosta State (Division II) — 15
7(t). Clemson — 13
7(t). Notre Dame — 13
9. Princeton (FCS) — 10
10. Army — 8

Certainly the Knights would trade their 25-game winning streak for a shot at Alabama, Clemson and the like, but their consolation prize is the longest winning streak in all of college football — for as long as they keep winning.

Oregon lands commitment from nation’s No. 2 player

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Mario Cristobal got the biggest win of his Oregon head coaching tenure on Saturday, the Ducks don’t play again until New Year’s Eve.

Oregon landed the commitment of 5-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on Saturday, a 6-foot-4, 239-pound defensive end out of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thibodeaux announced his pledge on ESPN during halftime of Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl drubbing of North Texas.

Thibodeaux is rated the No. 1 player in ESPN’s rankings and No. 10 by Rivals and 247Sports. Those rankings put him at No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, trailing only IMG Academy defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit.

Oregon beat out Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Thibodeaux’s services.

“There were a lot of reasons why I chose Oregon,” Thibodeaux said, via 247Sports. “I have a great comfort level with the coaching staff and I know I can go in there and get developed. I’ve known coach (Keith) Heyward since I was just a freshman and I really like coach Joe (Salave’a, DL coach) a lot. He’s a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country and I can’t wait to learn from him.

Thibodeaux will be only the third 247Sports Composite top-2 player to sign with a Pac-12 school in the past decade, following USC’s Matt Barkley in 2009 and UCLA’s Jalean Phillips in 2017. As a cautionary tale for all in Eugene, neither player really lived up to his respective billing. Barkely did not lead USC back to the elite of college football and has thrown just 174 passes as a mid-round NFL draft pick, while Phillips is reportedly leaving the team after two seasons at UCLA.

With Thibodeaux now in the fold, Oregon’s 2019 class now ranks No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, a 20-man class that includes 11 4-stars and now a 12th blue chip player in Thibodeaux.

Morningside College claims first NAIA national title

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A 16-yard touchdown pass from Trent Solsma to Connor Niles with 1:29 remaining handed Morningside College its first NAIA national championship on Saturday, capping a 35-28 win over Benedictine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Morningside College is located Sioux City, Iowa, while Benedictine College is in Atchison, Kan.

The Solsma-to-Niles connection was massive for Morningside. Solsma completed 19-of-36 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions, with the bulk of the damage going to Niles, who caught seven passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.

The game started with a Shaefer Schuetz 26-yard touchdown pass for Benedictine, as the Ravens held leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 20-14 — all in the first half. But the Morningside defense stepped up in the second half, allowing the Mustangs to take control of the game with two Solsma touchdown passes, the first an 80-yarder to Niles, then a 19-yard score to Reid Jurgensmeier, putting Morningside in front 28-20 at the 9:53 mark of the third quarter.

Benedictine forged the game’s third tie with a 1-yard Frank Trent rush with 5:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, then had a chance to take the lead again after forcing a Morningside punt, but a holding call killed the Ravens’ drive and then disaster struck when a botched punt snap handed Morningside the ball at the Benedictine 18-yard line with two minutes remaining. On a 3rd-and-8 from the 16, Solsma found Niles for the winning score.

“It was going to him no matter what,” Solsma said. “He’s made big plays his entire career. This was no different.”

Niles’ catch, the last of his career, saw him finish with 6,175 career receiving yards, the most in NAIA history.

“I just remember catching it and then going to my knees,” Niles said. “After that, it was all cameras and teammates mobbing me. This is absolutely amazing.”

Morningside had been on the cusp of their first national title for the majority of the decade; the Mustangs lost the NAIA title game in 2012 and then fell in the NAIA semifinals in four of the past five seasons. The semifinal round saw Morningside avenge its 2016 and ’17 playoff losses to the University of Saint Francis — who would go on to win those seasons’ national titles — in a 34-28 overtime thriller.

“I’ve been motivated to not let this season end,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “The toughest part for me was that, at the end of the night, the year would be over. I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished. It ended the way we were hoping … I’m ecstatic.”

Report: Former No. 1 recruit Jaelan Phillips leaves team at UCLA

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UCLA linebacker Jaelan Phillips has left the team and is unlikely to return, according to a report from BruinReportOnline.

Phillips, a Redlands, Calif., native, was the No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. He enrolled in January of that year but has yet to make an impact one would expect of the top overall player in his class. He started his first game as a Bruin as well as three more in 2017 and finished the year with 21 tackles, seven TFLs and 3.5 sacks.

He appeared in just four games as a sophomore, posting 20 tackles with one sack, while battling a number of injuries.

According to the report, Phillips is considering quitting football altogether, but if he does transfer and play elsewhere — he would have two years of eligibility remaining — it would be at a school that offers a music production/technology degree, which UCLA does not.