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)

Former Michigan, Notre Dame WR Freddy Canteen lands at Tulane

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Maybe the third time will be the charm for Freddy Canteen?

Canteen spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons at Michigan before transferring to Notre Dame.  After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons at Notre Dame, the wide receiver announced on Twitter last month that he would be transferring from the Fighting Irish as well.

Wednesday, Tulane confirmed in a press release that Canteen has been added to its 2018 football roster.  As a graduate transfer, Canteen will be eligible to play for the Green Wave immediately in 2018.  In fact, the upcoming season could be the first of the receiver’s two years of eligibility he’ll have available, although that has yet to be confirmed.

Canteen was a four-star member of U-M’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 45 receiver in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Maryland.

In the span of 15 games and three starts in two seasons with the Wolverines, Canteen caught six passes for 22 yards.  After sitting out the 2016 season, Canteen played in just three games for the Fighting Irish this past year — one catch for seven yards — before suffering what turned out to be a season-ending shoulder injury.

Oregon State officially loses Mike Riley to spring football league

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With summer camp set to kickoff in less than two months, Jonathan Smith officially has a hole to fill on his Oregon State coaching staff.

Wednesday, it was reported that Mike Riley was expected to be named as the first head coach of the Alliance of American Football’s San Antonio franchise.  Thursday afternoon, it was confirmed by the spring pro football league that Riley had indeed been hired to guide the fledgling team.

“There already is tremendous interest from coaches around the country to join our team,” the Beavers head coach said in a statement. “We will hire the right coach who will help us build on the significant momentum we have underway in recruiting and student-athlete development.

“I want to thank Coach Riley for his contribution to our program and wish him best in his new challenge.”

Riley, who spent two stints totaling 14 years as OSU’s head coach, returned to Corvallis in December of last year, two weeks after he was fired as the head coach at Nebraska.  He was hired to serve as the Beavers’ assistant head coach and tight ends coach, for which he would be paid the princely sum of $50,000.

Former five-star WR Demetris Robertson tweets transfer from Cal

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One of the top players in the Class of 2016 is on the move.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday afternoon, Demetris Robertson announced that he has “decided not to continue my education and football career at UC Berkeley.” The Cal wide receiver said he made his decision to leave the football program because of unspecified personal matters.

Robertson will have to sit out the 2018 season if/when he transfers to another FBS program.  He would then have two years of eligibility at his disposal beginning with the 2019 season.

A five-star member of the Golden Bears’ 2016 recruiting class, Robertson was rated as the No. 1 receiver in the country; the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Georgia; and the No. 13 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Robertson’s initial recruitment was an unusual one as he didn’t sign until May 1, nearly three months after National Signing Day, and then stunned the college football recruiting world by picking Cal over Notre Dame and home-state Georgia.

Given the fact that he’s from the state and described “personal matters” as his reason for leaving the Golden Bears, the Bulldogs will likely be viewed as the initial favorite to land one of the fastest players in college football.

At Cal, Robertson, at least initially, lived up to the recruiting hype as he was second on the team as a true freshman with 50 receptions for 767 yards and seven touchdowns.  His 15.3 yards per catch were tops on the team.  After catching seven passes for 70 yards the first two games of the 2017 season, however, he was sidelined for the remainder of the year by what turned out to be a season-ending lower-body injury.

Lane Kiffin pushed back against wearing bulletproof vest in return to Tennessee as Alabama OC

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College football, y’all.

Suffice to say, Lane Kiffin‘s departure from Rocky Top after one season as head coach at Tennessee for the same job at USC left a bad taste in the mouth of many members of Vols Nation.  How bad of a taste?  From ESPN.com in January of 2010:

But the real trick for Kiffin was figuring out a way to leave the Neyland-Thompson Sports Center late Tuesday night in one piece.

Groups of angry students and fans began surrounding the football complex after the news leaked that Kiffin had taken the USC job. Eventually, it evolved into a mob-like scene, with police moving in and barricading Johnny Majors Drive in front of the football complex.

Every time a car moved anywhere in the vicinity of the complex, the mob ran in that direction, shouting and chanting, “F— you Kiffin!

Fast-forward nearly five years, and Kiffin made his return — a triumphant, winning return as it turned out — to Neyland Stadium as the offensive coordinator at rival Alabama in October of 2014.  Ahead of that return, security was fearful for Kiffin’s life.  So fearful, in fact, that they wanted the former Volunteers head coach to wear a bulletproof vest into the famed stadium.

At least that’s what the current Florida Atlantic head coach claimed on Marty Smith‘s podcast, by way of 247Sports.com:

It’s crazy. They were literally talking about like — from the bus in — a bulletproof vest. I’m like, ‘Come on, guys. This is football.’ They said, ‘No, really.’ They had security with me the whole way, even walking on the field and stuff like that,” Kiffin said. “I’m just like ‘I’m not wearing a vest, guys. All right?’ That’s a little bit over the top. It was all in fun. There was a lot of mean words said — four-letter words. That speaks of Tennessee’s fans, just how passionate they are. I think Phillip Fulmer said it the other day, ‘We have the most passionate fans in the country.

Of course, all that angst and anger had waned by the time UT’s next search for a head coach kicked off as a small but very vocal portion of the fanbase actually wanted the one-time Knoxville pariah to replace Butch Jones late last year.  Hell, it was even reported that, in the midst of what was a circus of a search, “Lane is definitely on board if Tennessee gives him a call” about returning as head coach.

Ah, what could’ve been…