CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Boise State

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West (2nd in Mountain division/tied 3rd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl vs. Oregon State Beavers  (38-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Bryan Harsin (7-5 overall; first season at Boise State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sanford (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 33rd rushing offense (198.3 ypg); 27th passing offense (277.7 ypg); 20th total offense (476 ypg); 19th scoring offense (37.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Marcel Yates (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (164.2 ypg); 88th passing defense (249.2 ypg);  75th total defense (413.4 ypg); 50th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Boise, Idaho
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
The Broncos’ skill positions are talented and athletic. Quarterback Grant Hedrick returns at the team’s starting quarterback. Hedrick played in all 13 games last year and threw 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Hedrick is rejoined in the backfield by running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished second in the Mountain West Conference last year with 1,425 rushing yards. And the team’s top two receivers from last season, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, are also back. Miller finished last year strong with 540 receiving yards in the final four games, including a 206-yard effort against the Oregon State Beavers in the Hawai’i Bowl. The Broncos had to reshuffle their offensive line in the off season, but if they can keep Hendrick upright the Broncos will be able to score plenty of points.

THE BAD
During Chris Petersen’s eight-year tenure as head coach, last season’s defense was by far the worst unit statistically. On top of that, the unit lost a dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence to the NFL. And key pieces such as Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, Kharyee Marshall and Tyler Gray left after exhausting their eligibility. Last year’s group had to grow after returning four starters from the 2012 campaign. The silver lining to last year’s defensive struggles is this year’s unit is far more experienced entering the season. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has eight returning starters. Yates returns to Boise State after a two-year stint as Texas A&M’s co-defensive coordinator. The Aggies finished 109th in total defense last season.

THE UNKNOWN
Boise State has a new football coach for the first time since 2006. Now that Petersen finally accepted one of the rumored jobs he was so often linked to — in this case, the Unversity of Washington — the school turned toward one of its prodigal sons, Bryan Harsin. Harsin, a graduate of Boise State, served on the Broncos’ staff from 2001-10 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at the University Texas. Harsin used Texas as a stepping stone to get his first head coaching gig at Arkansas State. Harsin spent one year leading the Red Wolves, and the team finished 7-5. Harsin is a young coach that hasn’t had much time to establish himself or an identity, and Boise State took a chance in hiring him. If Harsin blossoms like Petersen did when given the opportunity, the Broncos will continue to be successful. Otherwise, a step back will take the program out of the national spotlight.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ole Miss, Aug. 28
The Broncos built their reputation over the past decade by stepping up big in spotlight games. For most teams, the first game of the season usually isn’t considered a “must win” contest. Most teams aren’t in the Broncos’ situation. For the Broncos to return to national prominence, they’ll need to prove they can beat a talented SEC squad during a national televised game to start the season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Jay Ajayi
It’s been five years since a running back won the Heisman Trophy, and only two workhorses have been handed the hardware since the turn of the century. In a sport that is consistently more about spreading defenses and throwing the football, elite running backs tend to get overlooked. Ajayi, however, is a dark horse candidate to win the award due to a nose for the end zone and punishing running style. The 216-pound back is the nation’s fifth-leading returning rusher with 1,425 yards in 2013. Ajayi is also tied for first among returning backs with 18 rushing touchdowns. Boise State has multiple games slotted in prime time. If Ajayi shines in the spotlight and the Broncos make another run toward a major bowl appearance, Ajayi could work his way into legitimate Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Texas approves two-year contract extension for Tom Herman

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With Texas being back (?), the football program’s sideline boss is being rewarded for getting the Longhorns there.

Amidst speculation that surfaced earlier this month, the university confirmed Thursday that a two-year contract extension for Tom Herman has been approved.  The head coach is now signed through the 2023 season, the same season, incidentally, a home-and-home with Alabama will finish up.

According to the Associated Press, the two-year extension is worth a total of $13.25 million.  This past year, Herman’s $5.5 million in compensation was ninth nationally and tops among all Big 12 coaches.

“I’m so grateful for President [Greg] Fenves, [athletic director] Chris Del Conte and the UT Board of Regents, and for all the support they provide me, my family and our football program,” Herman said in a statement. “I truly love being the head football coach at Texas. I’m enjoying every minute of it, am so fortunate to have a tremendous staff, and the players in our program are just awesome to work with.

“We’ve done some good things, but have so much more we are preparing to accomplish. I’m excited for the future.”

After a 7-6 first season in Austin, Herman guided UT to a 10-4 record in 2018, which included a Sugar Bowl win over fifth-ranked Georgia.  The 10 wins marked the first time the Longhorns hit double-digits since going 13-1 in 2009 under Mack Brown.

K-State’s leading receiver last two years to transfer

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The latest addition to the portal is a rather significant one.

In somewhat of a surprising development, a Kansas State official confirmed to CFT that Isaiah Zuber is now listed in the NCAA transfer database.  The official made sure to note that Zuber could return to K-State by pulling his name from the database; conversely, CFT will make sure to note that K-State has the option to pull the wide receiver’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered the portal.

As a graduate transfer, Zuber will be allowed to use his final season of eligibility immediately at his next stop.  As a highly-productive player, Zuber should be a highly sought after player in college football’s version of the free agent market.

Zuber led the Wildcats in receptions each of the past two seasons — 52 in 2018, 51 in 2017.  During his time in Little Manhattan, Zuber totaled 1,321 yards and 11 touchdowns on 127 receptions.

P.J. Fleck doesn’t practice what he preaches when it comes to commitment

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P.J. Fleck thinks there’s a problem in this country, and he doesn’t have a clue how correct he is.

As you may or may not have noticed, the NCAA transfer database is wide open and has been doing a significant amount of business.  There’s not a day goes by where there aren’t multiple posts on CFT about Player X entering — or reentering, as the case may be — his name into the portal. And then there are high school prospects committing to one school while (gasp!) still taking visits to others.

The personnel movement both before and after entering the collegiate ranks has caused significant angst within the coaching profession, not the least of whom is the current Minnesota head coach.  From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

I have a rule: You commit to me, you can’t go see another place,” Fleck said. “Not because I’m insecure. But if you want to be committed, you’re going to be committed. Too many people teach young people to be committed but also one foot in and one foot out. … You’ve got to be all in.”

Or as Fleck termed it: “We have a problem in our society. We don’t have a problem in our program.

The problem with that?

In December of 2014, Fleck signed a six-year contract extension as the head football coach at Western Michigan.  Less than two years later, speculation was running rampant that he was the frontrunner for the Minnesota job; in January of 2017, Fleck was named the head coach of the Golden Gophers.

It’s easy to talk about loyalty and commitment when it’s somebody else’s, right coach?  Coaches are free to move above the country at their leisure, while the vast majority of the very same profession will do anything and everything to restrict a player’s movement to a situation the student-athlete feels is better for his future.

Fleck is right about there being a problem in the sport, but it sure as hell isn’t limited to player movement.

(Tip O’ the Cap: @CFAAEliteClips)

Outback Steakhouse to continue sponsorship of Tampa bowl game

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For those fans of Team Bloomin’ Onions or Team Coconut Shrimp, you’re in luck when it comes to your annual foodie freebies.

In a press release, “Outback Bowl officials announced… that long-time Title Sponsor Outback Steakhouse has agreed to extend its contract with the New Year’s Day Bowl for six additional years through the January 2026 game.” The Tampa-based game, sponsored by a Tampa-based company, has been played annually since 1986; this new agreement ensures that Outback Steakhouse will continue as the longest-running title sponsor in college bowl game history.

Perhaps most importantly, Outback officials also announced that, over the next seven postseason games, the Outback Bowl will contribute $45 million to universities and donate at least $3.5 million to charities through its Charitable Giving Initiative

“We are proud to announce the continuation of our long-term relationship with Outback Steakhouse,” said Outback Bowl president/CEO Jim McVay in a statement. “With Outback Steakhouse’s continued commitment, the Outback Bowl will be able to grow the more than $1 billion economic impact it has generated to date, allow us to continue to positively showcase the Tampa Bay region both nationally and internationally, add to the almost $150 million generated for universities and expand our Charitable Giving Initiative program which has already benefited over ninety non-profits.”

The first iteration of what would ultimately become the Outback Bowl — at the time it was called the Hall of Fame Bowl — was played on Dec. 23, 1986, a 27-24 win for Boston College over 17th-ranked Georgia.  The steakhouse became the title sponsor in 1995, with Penn State beating Auburn 43-14 in the first game known as the Outback Bowl.

This past season, Iowa upset No. 18 Mississippi State 27-22 in the most recent iteration of the Outback Bowl that’s now played annually between members of the Big Ten and SEC.