CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 22 Arizona State

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in South division)
2013 postseason: Holiday Bowl vs. Texas Tech, (37-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 21/No. 20
Head coach: Todd Graham (67-38 overall; 18-9 in two years at Arizona State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Norvell (3rd year at Arizona State)
2013 offensive rankings: 40th rushing offense (191.4 ypg); 32nd passing offense (265.9 ypg); 32nd total offense (457.3 ypg); 10th scoring offense (39.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Co-defensive coordinators: Keith Patterson (1st year) and Chris Ball (3rd year)
2013 defensive rankings: 26th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 71st passing defense (234.7 ypg);  42nd total defense (372.4 ypg); tied for 63rd in scoring defense (26.6 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: two
Location: Tempe, Arizona
Stadium: Sun Devil Stadium (71,706; grass)
Last conference title: 2007

THE GOOD
When the game is on the line, it’s always beneficial to have one of the best players in the country at his position on the field and ready to make a play. Arizona State has one of those players in wide receiver Jaelen Strong. Strong, who is an early candidate to be a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, led the team last season with 1,122 receiving yards, which also makes him the leading-returning receiver in the Pac-12. At 6-3 and 212 pounds with some of the strongest hands in the nation, Strong is nearly impossible to cover. Opposing defenses will have to build their gameplans around stopping Strong. Once they do, senior quarterback Taylor Kelly can start to exploit mismatches elsewhere on the field. And Strong’s presence will open up the field for junior running back D.J. Foster, who finished third on the team in rushing yards and second with 63 receptions. Defenses will have to pick their poison when they scheme against the Sun Devils’ up-tempo offense.

THE BAD
The team’s front seven was obliterated by graduation. Gone are two-time Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Will Sutton, disruptive defensive end Carl Bradford, fellow pass rusher Gannon Conway, productive defensive lineman Devon Coleman and linebacker Chris Young, the team’s leading tackler. Those four players combined to make 317 tackles, 24 sacks and 72 tackles for loss. The onus will now fall on junior defensive tackle Jaxon Hood.  Hood is one of two returning starters on defense and the only one in the front seven. Defensive lineman Marcus Hardison will also be expected to step up and produce after playing in 13 games last year. The linebackers, meanwhile, will be led by Salamon Fiso, who played in 14 games last season and finished third on the team with 71 tackles.

THE UNKNOWN
If Arizona State plans on remaining one of the most aggressive defenses in the country, Graham will need help rebuilding the unit and devising game plans. Help is coming from Patterson, who was named the team’s new co-defensive coordinator in the offseason. Patterson will become Graham’s sounding board this season. Patterson wants to be the x-factor that helps an inexperienced defense gel this season.

“(I just want) to be the bond that pulls it all together,” Patterson told the Arizona Republic. “I look at that defensive staff, and that’s what has me excited, working with the caliber of coaches that we have here. I just want to slide into my role and try to add another perspective on things and hopefully be able to be a positive asset.”

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
If the Sun Devils are going to get over the hump in the Pac-12, they need to get past the Stanford Cardinal. Last season, the Sun Devils lost to the Cardinal twice by a combined score of 80-42. One of those losses came in the Pac-12 Championship Game and cost Arizona State an appearance in the Rose Bowl. This year’s meeting takes place Oct. 18 at Sun Devil Stadium, and it comes at the end of a brutal three-game stretch for Arizona State. Prior to Stanford, the Sun Devils face UCLA and USC. How Arizona State performs against Stanford at the end of the team’s toughest part of the schedule will determine expectations for the second half of Pac-12 play.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Taylor Kelly
The Pac-12 is littered with talented quarterbacks. Oregon’s Marcus Mariota is considered a favorite to win the Heisman Trophy this season. UCLA’s Brett Hundley is projected to be a top pick in the 2015 NFL draft. Oregon State’s Sean Mannion is the nation’s leading returning passer. Yet, Kelly has been as productive and efficient as any quarterback in the Pac-12 the past two years. Since becoming the team’s starter in 2012, Kelly has completed 64.4 percent of his passes for 6.674 yards, 57 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. Kelly is also a viable dual-threat quarterback. He’s rushed for over 500 yards each of the past two seasons. Another improbable run to the Pac-12 Championship Game could easily place Kelly in Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Central Michigan loses one of its highest-rated 2018 signees to the transfer portal

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One of the highest-rated signees for Central Michigan football a couple of years ago is leaving the MAC program.  Or, at least, he is exploring the option of doing as much.

According to 247Sports.com, George Pearson is listed in the NCAA transfer database.  That would be the first step in the redshirt sophomore quarterback’s potential departure from the Central Michigan football team.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Pearson was a three-star member of the Central Michigan football Class of 2018.  Only one offensive signee in that cycle for CMU, wide receiver Keonta Nixon, was rated higher than the New Jersey product.  As a true freshman, Pearson completed 12 of his 24 passes for 94 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Pearson didn’t play a down for the Chips in 2019.

In 2018, Central Michigan lost a school-record 11 games.  In Jim McElwain‘s first season in 2019, CMU won went 8-6.  Included in the losses was a New Mexico Bowl beatdown at the hands of San Diego State.

Ole Miss pulls in second transfer from a university in Canada

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From Oh Canada to Ole Miss football?  I’m thinking one recruit might be in for a little culture shock.  Actually, make that two.

Last month, a Canadian college football player, the University of Guelph’s Tavius Robinson, committed to Ole Miss football.  On Twitter Wednesday, Deane Leonard did the same. The cornerback comes to the SEC school from the University of Calgary.

“First off I’d like to thank my friends, family, and coaches that have supported me through this process,” Leonard wrote. “I can’t thank each and every one of you enough for all that you’ve done for me over the years. Love you guys!

“With the cancellation of the USports season I’ve decided it’s in my best interest to look at my options down south.

“With that being said, I’ll be transferring to Ole Miss to complete my collegiate career.”

During his time at That Country Up North, Leonard appeared in 23 games.  In that action, the defensive back was credited with 47 tackles, 19 passes defensed, six interceptions, two forced fumbles, one tackle for loss, one sack and one block.  He also returned five kicks for 124 yards (24.8 average) and 19 punts for 195 yards (10.3 avg.).  One of those punts was returned for a touchdown.

Both Leonard and Robinson are expected to be immediately eligible for new head coach Lane Kiffin and the Rebels.

SEC commish issues statement in wake of Big Ten’s seismic announcement

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It didn’t take long for the most powerful man in SEC football country to respond to what the B1G wrought.

As you may have heard, the Big Ten confirmed Thursday afternoon that it will be going with a conference-only football schedule for the 2020 season.  That was the first significant Power Five domino to tip, but it certainly won’t be the last.  In the coming days, or perhaps next week, the ACC and Pac-12 are expected to make a similar announcement.  The Big 12 and SEC, though, are widely expected to kick that football scheduling can down the road a bit longer, perhaps as late as the end of July.

Not long after the B1G announcement, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement addressing just where his conference is at decison-wise.

The Southeastern Conference will continue to meet regularly with our campus leaders in the coming weeks, guided by medical advisors, to make the important decisions necessary to determine the best path forward related to SE Fall sports.  We recognize the challenges ahead and know the well-being of our student-athletes, coaches, staff and fans must remain at the forefront of those decisions.

Again, it’s expected that the SEC will make a decision on the football path it will take later this month.  Barring unforeseen circumstances pushing up that timeline, of course.

Big Ten commish, Ohio State AD decidedly pessimistic on B1G having a 2020 college football season

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The Big Ten toppled the first significant domino earlier in the day.  Now, two of the most powerful men in the conference are expounding on the development.  And, if you’re a fan of the sport, you might want to close your eyes when reading the next few paragraphs.  Or take several shots of an adult beverage before proceeding.

Thursday afternoon, the Big Ten confirmed reports that it will be going with a conference-only football schedule for the 2020 season.  All other fall sports are impacted in the same way.

In television appearances following the announcement, the B1G’s commissioner didn’t put a positive spin on football’s immediate future.

“One thing we have to realize is that this is not a fait accompli that we’re going to have sports in the fall,” Kevin Warren flatly stated. “We may not have sports in the fall, we may not have a college football season in the Big Ten. …

“We made a vow early on that, first and foremost, we would put the health, the safety and the wellness of our student-athletes at the center of all of our decisions.

Gene Smith was equally pessimistic.

“I can’t reiterate enough the fact that we might not play,” the Ohio State athletic director said in discussing football in 2020. “We just might not, and I think people need to understand that.”

It’s expected that other Power Five conferences will follow the lead of the Big Ten.  In the coming days, both the ACC and Pac-12 will most likely announce a conference-only football schedule.  The lone exception will be the ACC including Notre Dame, which already has six games against the conference on its 2020 slate, in any revamped schedule.

The Big 12 and SEC are widely expected to kick the scheduling can down the road a bit longer, perhaps as late as the end of July.  In the end, however, both of those Power Fives are likely to come to the same scheduling conclusion.