CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 17 Ole Miss

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 3-5 in SEC (T-5th in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Music City Bowl vs. Georgia Tech (25-17 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked
Head coach: Hugh Freeze (45-18 overall; 15-11 in two years at Ole Miss)
Offensive coordinator: Matt Luke (third season); Dan Werner (third season)
2013 offensive rankings: 42nd rushing offense (109 ypg); 23rd passing offense (283.3 ypg); 21st total offense (473.3 ypg); 57th scoring offense (30 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Five
Defensive coordinator: Dave Wommack (third season); Jason Jones (second season)
2013 defensive rankings: 51st rushing defense (154.9 ypg); 36th passing defense (215.5 ypg); 38th total defense (370.5 ypg); 37th scoring defense (23.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Nine
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (60,580; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 1963

THE GOOD
Unbelievably, with Bo Wallace under center, Ole Miss will enter the 2014 season with the most experienced quarterback in the conference.  While that might give some cause for pause, Wallace was actually, quietly, a very solid quarterback in 2013.  While the Rebels lost its leading receiver yardage-wise in Donte Moncrief, they have a handful of talented players who can help replace the lost production.  The running game is a productive two-headed creature, while the defense returns nine starters from what was one of the more solid defenses in the defensive-minded SEC.  The schedule sets up somewhat favorably as well, with two of the four road games consisting of trips to Vanderbilt (9-4, but with a new head coach) and Arkansas (3-9 overall, 0-8 in SEC play).  But, then again…

THE BAD
Believe it or not, there’s not a whole heck of a lot bad going on down in Oxford.  Freeze has the Rebels rounding into a very nice football program, one capable of peeling off eight or nine wins a year and one that looks, based on recruiting, capable of reeling in the ofttimes elusive sustainability.  The offense will be one of the best in the SEC year-in and year-out, while the defense is vastly underrated.  The biggest bad for Ole Miss?  The division in which they reside, over which they have no control.  At the moment, they simply can’t consistently compete with West compatriots Alabama, Auburn and LSU.  Texas A&M, despite the attrition they’ve suffered in the offseason, are in this for the long haul as evidenced by the money they’re pouring into the football program, so there’s that College Station hurdle as well.  Since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  Ole Miss has a tough row to hoe if they’re looking to climb to elite status; if they’re just looking for eight-ish wins a year plus a nice bowl bid, then they’re set.

THE UNKNOWN
While nine starters on the defensive side of ball return, just five do so on offense.  Included in the attrition are three starters along the offensive line along with, as previously mentioned, one of the most productive receivers in school history.  With a neutral-site game against a very good Boise State team with what should prove to be an improved — and disruptive defense — leading off the 2014 schedule, it’s imperative that Freeze and his offensive coaching staff quickly identify the line replacements and give them plenty of work as a unit in summer camp.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Texas A&M, Oct. 11
There’s a fairly decent chance that, heading into this game, the Rebels will be 4-1, with the lone loss coming the week before against powerhouse Alabama.  This could be viewed as a swing game for Ole Miss, with A&M serving as the second game of a gauntlet that goes Alabama/Texas A&M/LSU/Auburn in a span of five weeks.  If the Rebels can come out of that meat grinder 1-3 at worst, they’re set up for a perhaps a nine-win season that would likely launch them into one of the better bowl games to which the SEC is attached.  If they can somehow manage that beast of a four-game stretch at 2-2?   The Rebels could be staring their first 10-win season since 2003 square in the face.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Bo Wallace
This is one of those no-brainer kind of things.  And, as jarring as it may be, Wallace possesses the most impressive pedigree of all the returning quarterbacks in the SEC.  The stats, though, show Wallace has quietly put together a nice career.  Last season, he completed nearly 65 percent of his passes for over 3,300 yards and 18 touchdowns.  He added six touchdowns on the ground for good measure.  The 10 interceptions might be a bit of a cause for concern, but considering they came in the midst of 437 pass attempts the concern it’s somewhat mitigated.  Any off-the-radar Heisman candidacy that hopes to get on the radar will be determined by how Wallace — and his team — performs in that brutal four-game midseason stretch.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Two-game suspensions for Louisiana Tech’s starting QB, star WR

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Suffice to say, Louisiana Tech’s offense will be at less than full strength when it takes the field in Week 12 later on today.

Thursday night, the Tech football program announced that three players, junior wide receiver Adrian Hardy, senior outside linebacker James Jackson and quarterback J’Mar Smith, have been suspended for Friday night’s game against Marshall.  Hardy and Smith will also be suspended for next Saturday’s road game against UAB.

Per the school, all three players were slapped with their respective suspensions because of violations of unspecified athletic department policies.

“This matter is being handled internally,” the program said in a statement. “Neither [head football coach Skip] Holtz nor athletic department officials will address this further.”

Smith is in his third season as Tech’s starting quarterback and has thrown for 2,483 yards, 14 touchdowns and four interceptions in 2019.  Smith will be replaced in the starting lineup by Aaron Allen, who has thrown nine passes this year and will be making the first start of his collegiate career.

Hardy leads the Bulldogs in receiving yards with 482 and is second in receptions with 39.

Tech is in the midst of an eight-game winning streak that has them sitting atop the West Division of Conference USA at a perfect 5-0.  Their only loss came in the season opener against No. 19 Texas.

Report: Florida State no longer considers Bob Stoops a candidate

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It appears you can put this particular piece of drama to bed.

In the days after Willie Taggart was fired as Florida State’s head coach, Bob Stoops‘ name was connected to the opening through various levels of speculation.  At one point, FSU’s athletic director, David Coburn, publicly stated that the current head coach and general manager of the XFL’s Dallas franchise is a candidate for the job; Stoops subsequently stated that “the rumors/reports of him being a candidate for the Florida State job opening are not accurate.”

Nearly two weeks later, and citing two sources familiar with the search, the Tallahassee Democrat is reporting that “Florida State has been in contact with representatives of former Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops and does not consider him a candidate for its vacant football coach position.”

With the former Oklahoma coach out of the running — if he was even in the running in the first place — FSU could turn its attention to current FBS head coaches such as Memphis’ Mike Norvell, Penn State’s James Franklin and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell.  Interim head coach Odell Haggins is also drawing support from current Seminole football players to take over the job permanently.

Coburn has long maintained that the university is on track to have a replacement in place before the end of November.

Nick Saban says he suspended unnamed Alabama player for Miss. St. game for not going to class

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Let the sleuthing and/or Internet message-board speculating commence in earnest.

Thursday night on his weekly radio show, Nick Saban revealed that he had suspended one of his Alabama football players for this Saturday’s game against Mississippi State in Starkville.  The head coach even gave a specific reason for the suspension — the player didn’t go to class.

What Saban didn’t do?  Divulge the name of the player who has been suspended.

Alabama will be looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season last weekend against a Mississippi State squad that the Crimson Tide has beaten the last 11 times they have played, with the Bulldogs’ last win coming in 2007.  That, of course, was Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

Robert Mathis, Erik Williams part of the Black College Football Hall of Fame Class of 2020

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A handful of the greatest Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) players — and an administrator and coach as well — are set to be honored for their collegiate gridiron exploits.

The Black College Football Hall of Fame on Thursday revealed six individuals who will be a part of its Class of 2020. Four of the inductees are former players — Earl “Air” Harvey (North Carolina Central), James Hunter (Grambling State), Robert Mathis (Alabama A&M) and Erik Williams (Central State).

Joe Taylor, a former coach at FAMU, Hampton, Howard and Virginia Union,  ex-MEAC commissioner Dennis Thomas will be officially inducted next February.

“On behalf of the Board of Trustees, we congratulate the Class of 2020,” said BCFHOF Co-Founder and 2011 Inductee Doug Williams. “Everyone that has vote to determine the next class understands how difficult it is to only choose six. The Class of 2020 is a great representation of the talent that has come from Historically Black Colleges & Universities.”

Williams, a third-round pick in the 1991 NFL Draft, spent most of his professional career with the Dallas Cowboys, earning first-team All-Pro honors three times as an offensive tackle as well as being a part of three Super Bowl-winning teams.

The year after setting an FCS record with 20 sacks, Mathis was selected in the fifth round of the 2003 NFL Draft by the Indianapolis Colts. In his 14 seasons with the Colts, Mathis was named to the Pro Bowl five teams and owns a Super Bowl ring as well.