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)

Utah (tersely) addresses departure of four-star 2018 QB signee

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It’s officially official that Utah has lost its highest-rated quarterback signee ever.

Wednesday, multiple reports began flowing in that Jack Tuttle had decided to transfer from the Utes. Thursday night, the university acknowledged in a press release that “Tuttle is no longer participating in team activities for reasons unrelated to academics or discipline.”

In the very brief release, the football program’s head coach also offered up an equally terse statement.

“We wish Jack the best and have no further information to add at this time,” Kyle Whittingham stated.

The California product was a four-star member of the Utes’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 8 pro-style quarterback in the country. Tuttle enrolled early and was a part of Utah’s quarterback competition beginning in the spring and continuing on into summer camp, although he entered the season as the team’s No. 3 signal-caller.

Tuttle didn’t play in any of the Utes’ first six games, even as the Deseret News noted that “he was the only freshman elected to the team’s leadership council.”

As for Tuttle’s future, 247Sports.com had previously reported that possible destinations may very well include, among others, Ohio State, Duke, Vanderbilt, Texas A&M, and West Virginia. Prior to signing with Utah, Tuttle held offers from Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State, LSU, Nebraska, USC and Wisconsin as well as others from both Power Five and Group of Five schools.

Stanford grinds out win on the road over Arizona State to remain in the Pac-12 hunt

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Stanford’s offense was stuck in quicksand out in the desert early against Arizona State.

Eventually though, the Cardinal found their way out of a tricky situation on the road to embark on a string of scoring drives that helped them capture a 20-13 win over the Sun Devils in Tempe on Thursday night and keep their Pac-12 title hopes alive in the process.

With an ailing Bryce Love (21 yards on 11 carries) re-injuring his ankle early in the second half and the team unable to mount much consistency running the ball either way, Stanford put the game in the hands of their budding quarterback K.J. Costello by utilizing a ball-control version of the Air Raid. The young signal-caller went 22-of-29 for 231 yards and a touchdown while helping spark a run of four straight scoring drives surrounding halftime that essentially won them the game on a lackluster night when it came to offense.

Lengthy wideout JJ Arcega-Whiteside managed to find the end zone for a ninth time this season (on a non-jump ball, no less) and record 91 yards while Trent Irwin was not far behind with seven catches for 79 yards. Cameron Scarlett was the primary guy after Love in the backfield with 54 yards and a touchdown with Stanford winning the time of possession battle by nearly nine minutes.

Though the final score wound up close for the home team, the Sun Devils were doomed throughout the night by something extremely uncharacteristic: turnovers. ASU game into the game with just two giveaways all season but wound up with three total and could have had one more if not for a kind replay review operator for the Pac-12. QB Manny Wilkins was responsible for two of those turnovers, fumbling in the first half on a designed run and then throwing an awful arm punt-esque interception that Sean Barton easily picked off. The signal-caller finished with 353 yards passing all told but it was quite the up-and-down performance for the offense overall with only 13 points to show for it.

Sophomore tailback Eno Benjamin had one of his least productive games of the season at the wrong time with just 81 total yards just a few weeks removed from rushing for over 300 in another conference game. While his numbers (63 yards on seven catches) managed to look okay, star receiver N'Keal Harry had a fairly quiet game and didn’t do much as a punt returner either.

The loss, while far from the worst one suffered by a team in the valley of the sun on Thursday, was the fourth this season for Herm Edwards by one score or less and dropped the team to 1-3 in conference play. With trips to USC and Oregon upcoming and a home date with Utah still on the docket, rallying to make a bowl game will be no easy task going forward as the momentum from that big win over Michigan State has all but evaporated in Tempe.

As for David Shaw’s side, Stanford remains in the hunt in the Pac-12 North with just one loss and that key tie-breaker over the Ducks. If they truly want to contend in the conference though, the offense will need to step up in terms of rushing the football with Washington State and Washington posing serious challenges in the weeks ahead.

Those are concerns for another time however as the team will certainly celebrate a win that, while ugly at times, still counts all the same in the standings.

Bryce Love, N’Keal Harry bottled up in lackluster first half between Stanford and Arizona State

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If you asked any fan on the West Coast prior to the 2018 season who two of the most explosive playmakers were in the Pac-12, they would nearly all say it was a combination of Stanford’s Bryce Love and Arizona State’s N'Keal Harry.

Naturally when those two super exciting players got together in an actual football game, neither of their respective teams managed to do much at all offensively in a rather lackluster first half in Tempe on Thursday night. The Cardinal did manage to take a 6-3 lead going into the locker room after two quarters in a pivotal conference game for both teams but it wasn’t pretty — at all — in a game that was much more bad offense than it was good defense.

Love seemed to be hit in the backfield on just about every snap as Stanford once again struggled to run the ball consistently (2.7 yds/carry), with the one-time Heisman favorite recording just 13 yards on nine carries. That put a little extra pressure on quarterback K.J. Costello, who finished 13-of-19 for 123 yards in the first half while also dealing with a hand injury that was bleeding for most of the night.

Manny Wilkins did throw for 137 yards but fumbled on a designed run that was the team’s third turnover of the season. His running mate Eno Benjamin couldn’t get much going either with 19 yards on seven carries while Harry had three catches for only 16 yards and also threw an interception on a trick play.

Hopefully the halftime break is just what both sides need to breakout of their offensive slumps and get a little #Pac12AfterDark action going. Because as it stands, neither of these two teams have much to write home about after the first half.

Baylor-Texas Tech shifting from AT&T Stadium back to campus after moving off Thanksgiving date in 2019

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After several years of spending Thanksgiving in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Texas Tech and Baylor are returning to campus for their annual conference game and doing so much earlier than normal too.

As part of the Big 12’s release of the 2019 schedule on Thursday, the conference confirmed that the annual game will not be played on Thanksgiving weekend at AT&T Stadium — the site of the game since 2009, with one exception — and has instead been shifted to October 12 next season at the Bears home field of McLane Stadium in Waco. The return game will go back to Lubbock in 2020 at a future, unreleased date.

While some fans will delight in making the trip to the banks of the Brazos or heading out to West Texas for the first time in a while, it seems both schools would have preferred to remain at JerryWorld the week of Thanksgiving but scheduling at the stadium seemed to play an issue in the site not being available when the two teams needed it to be.

AT&T Stadium is quite busy that time of year between the Dallas Cowboys’ annual Thanksgiving game, Texas high school football playoffs at the venue and the Big 12 title game taking place in early December as well. It doesn’t sound like a return is being ruled out in the future but it will be 2021 at the earliest before that happens for the Bears and Red Raiders.