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)

2018 College Football Bowl Projections after Week 12

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It’s the most magical time of the year. No, we’re not quite to the holiday season, but we are rapidly approaching the college football bowl season. Teams across the country are furiously trying to nab that elusive sixth win while many others are aiming much, much higher on the totem pole.

With all that in mind, CFTalk decided to peer into our crystal ball and take a look at the postseason picture — figuring out which teams wind up in certain bowl games prior to the official announcement. Running through all the scenarios, here’s how the bowl picture could play out from the final four to the very first one on December 15th:

College Football Playoff Semifinals

Bowl Teams
Orange Bowl No. 2 Clemson No. 3 Notre Dame
Cotton Bowl No. 1 Alabama No. 4 Michigan

New Year’s Six

Bowl Teams
Peach Bowl Penn State Florida
Fiesta Bowl LSU UCF
Rose Bowl Ohio State Washington State
Sugar Bowl Oklahoma Georgia

2018 FBS Bowl Games

Bowl Teams
New Mexico Bowl Nevada North Texas
Cure Bowl Appalachian State SMU
Las Vegas Bowl Arizona State Boise State
Camellia Bowl Ohio Georgia Southern
New Orleans Bowl Troy UAB
Boca Raton Bowl USF FIU
Frisco Bowl Northern Illinois Wyoming
Gasparilla Bowl Miami Cincinnati
Bahamas Bowl Toldeo MTSU
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Eastern Michigan Fresno State
Birmingham Bowl Houston Cal
Armed Forces Bowl TCU Temple
Dollar General Bowl Buffalo Arkansas State
Hawaii Bowl Hawaii FAU
First Responder Bowl Louisiana Tech BYU
Quick Lane Bowl Boston College Army
Cheez-It Bowl Texas Tech Arizona
Independence Bowl Virginia Marshall
Pinstripe Bowl Syracuse Purdue
Texas Bowl West Virginia Auburn
Music City Bowl Pitt Mississippi State
Camping World Bowl Iowa State N.C. State
Alamo Bowl Texas Utah
Belk Bowl Georgia Tech South Carolina
Arizona Bowl UL-Monroe San Diego State
Military Bowl Virginia Tech Memphis
Sun Bowl Duke Stanford
Redbox Bowl Oregon Utah State
Liberty Bowl Oklahoma State Tennessee
Holiday Bowl Washington Iowa
Gator Bowl Missouri Wisconsin
Outback Bowl Texas A&M Michigan State
Citrus Bowl Kentucky Northwestern

+ Southern Miss, Miami(OH), Tulane, Western Michigan, UL-Lafayette and Coastal Carolina also qualified for a bowl

Eight divisions remain up for grabs heading into last week of regular season, including two from Power Fives

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Not surprisingly, there’s still a helluva lot to play for as we get set to embark on the last week of the 2018 regular season.

After 12 weeks of play, 10 divisions across nine FBS conferences (the 10th, the Big 12, lacks a divisional setup) have already been settled and the winners are set to play in their respective league championship games the week after next:

AAC EAST: UCF
ACC ATLANTIC: Clemson
ACC COASTAL: Pitt
BIG TEN WEST: Northwestern
CONFERENCE USA WEST: UAB
MAC WEST: Northern Illinois
MWC WEST: Fresno State
PAC-12 SOUTH: Utah
SEC EAST: Georgia
SEC WEST: Alabama

That means that eight division titles will be settled as teams take the field throughout a Week 13 that again stretches from Tuesday on into the final Saturday of the regular season. With a couple of exceptions, most of the clinching scenarios are very straightforward and don’t take a mathematical savant to figure out.

AAC WEST: The winner of the Houston-Memphis game will face UCF in the conference championship game.

BIG TEN EAST: The winner of the Michigan-Ohio State game will face Northwestern in the conference championship game.

CONFERENCE USA EAST: The winner will be either Florida International or Middle Tennessee State, with both teams sitting at 6-1 in conference play.  FIU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over MTSU, which means all it has to do is beat Marshall at home next Saturday to face UAB in the league title game.  To earn a berth in the same game, MTSU needs to beat UAB at home AND have FIU lose to Marshall.

MAC EAST: Buffalo (6-1), Miami of Ohio (5-2) and Ohio (5-2) all remain in play for a divisional title.  First, the head-to-head.

  • Buffalo: beat Miami, lost to Ohio
  • Miami: beat Ohio, lost to Buffalo
  • Ohio: beat Buffalo, lost to Miami

Buffalo could make this easy on most everyone involved by beating three-win Bowling Green (two wins in conference play) Friday night, although there are obviously a couple of other scenarios that could play out.  A Buffalo loss AND an Ohio win over Akron AND a Miami loss to Ball State would hand the division to the Bobcats.  A Buffalo loss AND an Ohio loss AND a Miami win would leave the RedHawks as the divisional winner based on the conference’s three-way tiebreaker rules.

MWC MOUNTAIN: The winner of the Utah State-Boise State game will face Fresno State in the conference championship game.

PAC-12 NORTH: The winner of the Washington-Washington State game will face Utah in the conference championship game.

SUN BELT EAST: The winner of the Troy-Appalachian State game will face the West winner in the conference championship game.

SUN BELT WEST: Arkansas State, Louisiana and Louisiana-Monroe, all at 4-3, remain in play for a divisional title.

  • Arkansas State, which lost to Louisiana but beat Louisiana-Monroe, wins the division if it beats Texas State AND Louisiana-Monroe beats Louisiana.
  • Louisiana wins the division if it beat Louisiana-Monroe regardless of what Arkansas State does.
  • Louisiana-Monroe wins the division if it beats Louisiana AND Arkansas State loses to Texas State.

As for the division-less Big 12?  Click HERE for the three different scenarios that could play out in determining that conference’s two championship game participants.

Utah win, Arizona State loss gives Utes first-ever Pac-12 South title

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Despite a couple of injuries to significant contributors that could’ve been crippling, Utah instead traversed those obstacles and made some program history in Week 12.

At 5-3, Utah came into Saturday with a half-game lead on a pair of 4-3 Pac-12 South teams in Arizona and Arizona State.  Utah, in its last league game of the regular season, helped its own cause in the early-afternoon television window as they easily took care of Colorado in a 30-7 romp in snowy Boulder.  In the final viewing window of the weekend, Oregon jumped out to a 28-13 halftime lead en route to routing Arizona State XX-XX in Eugene.

The combination of Utah’s win and Arizona State’s loss — Arizona needed Colorado to knock off Utah to remain in contention — means that the Utes have claimed the football program’s first-ever Pac-12 South championship.  Utah will face the winner of the Apple Cup rivalry game between Washington and Washington State in the conference championship game Nov. 30 at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.

The Utes will be seeking their first conference championship of any kind since winning the second of its back-to-back Mountain West titles in 2004.

Utah also becomes the last of the six members of the South to win a division title.  UCLA won the first two in 2011 and 2012; Arizona State won in 2013; Arizona won in 2014; USC won in 2015 and then again in 2017; and Colorado won in 2016.

No. 8 Washington State destroys Arizona for 10th win, sets up Apple Cup for the Pac-12 North

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There’s Pac-12 After Dark and there’s Pac-12 gone dark. Given what No. 8 Washington State did to Arizona on Saturday night, safe to say the latter applied to one of the last games of a snoozy Saturday.

The Cougars scored a touchdown eight times in the first half as they routed the visiting Wildcats 69-28 in chilly conditions on the Palouse, setting up an Apple Cup that will once again be for all the marbles next week and perhaps clinching a trip to New York for the team’s star quarterback.

That would be Gardner Minshew, who should be no worse than third on every Heisman ballot in the country in the next few weeks. In an effortless performance, he threw for 473 yards and a school-record seven touchdowns (five in the first half). Perhaps the mustachioed maestro of the Air Raid’s best accomplishment was just how well he got everybody involved against a defense disinterested in defending, with some 11 different players catching a pass for the Cougs. Wideout Calvin Jackson caught two scores, Tay Martin had 124 yards and a score through the air, tailback Max Borghi was once again stellar out of the backfield with six catches for 65 yards and James Williams recorded 79 total yards.

It was such a dominating effort for Wazzu, that they even accomplished something rarely seen by a Mike Leach-coached team in winning the time of possession battle.

His opposite number in Kevin Sumlin did not enjoy his return to Pullman, where he first got his start in college coaching. The Wildcats were playing behind the eight-ball all night long and added to their misery time after time. They fumbled at the one-yard line for example and even allowed a muffed kick return to be recovered in the end zone for a touchdown the other way. It was one of those ‘it rains, it pours’ nights for the visitors from the desert.

That said, quarterback Khalil Tate did dazzle at times in throwing for 294 yards and four touchdowns (one INT) while rushing for another 25. JJ Taylor chipped in with another 69 on the ground and wideout Shawn Poindexter continued a streak of his last six catches all resulting in scores. If there is one silver lining for UA, it’s that the game doesn’t matter all that much in the grand scheme of things as the team can still become bowl eligible next weekend against rival Arizona State and wash away any memories of this trip to the Pacific Northwest.

Wazzu, meanwhile, can turn their attention to what is shaping up to be yet another epic Apple Cup with plenty on the line. Facing off against rival Washington, the winner of that game will clinch the Pac-12 North and a trip to the league title game. The Cougars still have an outside shot of making into the playoff if they can get a little help and run the table along the way.

Those are thoughts for another day though, as Cougars fans no doubt will revel in that thrashing of Arizona just a bit longer.