CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 13 LSU

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 5-3 in SEC (third in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Outback Bowl vs. Iowa (21-14 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 14/14
Head coach: Les Miles (123-45 overall; 95-24 in nine years at LSU)
Offensive coordinator: Cam Cameron (second season)
2013 offensive rankings: 29th rushing offense (202.3 ypg); 44th passing offense (251 ypg); 35th total offense (453.3 ypg); 23rd scoring offense (35.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: John Chavis (sixth season)
2013 defensive rankings: 35th rushing defense (143.2 ypg); 13th passing defense (197.5 ypg);  15th total defense (340.7 ypg); 21st scoring defense (22 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Baton Rouge, La.
Stadium: Tiger Stadium (102,321; grass)
Last conference title: 2011

THE GOOD
The good when it comes to the LSU Tigers is usually the following: powerful running game and dominating defense.  2014 is not expected to be any different.  Sure, the Tigers lost their leading and No. 3 rushers, but Nos. 2 and 4 — Terrence Magee and Kenny Hilliard — return.  Oh, and there’s the addition of one of the most touted running back prospects in a decade or more, 2014 five-star signee Leonard Fournette — he could immediately make anyone and everyone say “Jeremy Hill who?” given the immense talent he possesses.  Among the returning starters are four offensive linemen, three of them seniors, which bodes well for both the revamped running game and whoever the new starter under center will be.  The defense returns seven starters from a group that finished inside the Top 20 in total defense and just outside the Top 20 in the most important statistical category: scoring defense.  LSU has won 10 or more games in seven of Miles’ nine years in Baton Rouge, including each of the last four seasons; given the amount of returning talent and the deep recruiting classes brought in year after year — all but two of those classes in the Top 10, none outside the Top 18 — don’t expect that win total to dip below double-digits in 2014.

THE BAD
As is ofttimes the case with the Tigers, it’s the departures, early and otherwise, that constitute a negative.  On offense, LSU lost its starting quarterback, top two wide receivers and nearly 1,800 rushing yards.  Defensively, the Tigers must replace its top two defensive tackles, although they grow athletic, dominant tackles on trees down on the bayou.  All of the departures, especially offensively, could make for choppy, uneven play early on; fortunately, after the opener against Wisconsin in Houston, LSU has a four-game stretch that consists of three games — Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe, New Mexico State — that are essentially scrimmages that actually count.  The first conference tilt comes in the fourth game against Mississippi State (Sept.20); the first true conference test comes two weeks later against Auburn, which gives Les Miles and his coaching staff what they hope will be plenty of time to work out the kinks.

THE UNKNOWN
As is the case up and down the SEC, the quarterback position is a big unknown.  With Zach Mettenberger‘s departure, Anthony Jennings and Brandon Harris — not necessarily in that order — will battle to take over as the starter.  While Jennings has the edge in experience — he served as Mettenberger’s primary backup in 2013 —  Harris came out of spring practice looking as the slight leader in the eyes of some observers.  Regardless of which player wins the job, LSU will, as it always does, rely heavily on a force-of-nature running game and ask its quarterback to be a mistake-free(ish) game manager.  Can either, though, come up big in the passing game when the need inevitably arises?  That question can’t and won’t be answered for several weeks on down the road.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Auburn, Oct. 4
Given how the series has played out over the last few years — and how important it’s been in both the conference race and national chase — I was extremely tempted to go with the Alabama game Nov. 8.  Instead, I’ll go with the road trip to Jordan-Hare a month earlier.  After all, The Plains Tigers are the defending SEC champions and BCS runner-ups, making them the first measuring stick (sorry, Badgers) for just where the Bayou Bengals are as a team.  With the two Tiger teams and the Tide all coming off a season in which they won 10 or more games — and with Texas A&M expected to dip a bit given the offensive departures and defensive attrition — most expect the SEC West to come down to, essentially, a three-team round-robin tournament.  The first of the three all-important games is LSU-AU; how that game plays out could go a long way in determining the division’s rep in the SEC title game.  Then again, Auburn lost to LSU last year and still stood atop the league at season’s end, so…

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Leonard Fournette
The past two Heismans were won by a redshirt freshman for the first two times in the history of the award.  Could a true freshman ever break through that stiff-armed ceiling?  It seems doubtful, but Fournette certainly looks the part.  Fournette is a highly-touted five-star member of LSU’s most recent recruiting class, rated as the top running back in that class; the No. 1 player in the state of Louisiana; and the No. 4 player at any position in the country.  He’s a mountain of a man-child already at 6-1, 230 pounds, yet he’s one of the fastest players on the Tigers team.  His ability is off the charts; whether that ability translates into immediate on-field results is unknown, but don’t be surprised if he’s not at least on the periphery of the Heisman discussion at some point this season.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

No. 7 Utah thumping UCLA in all phases at halftime of Pac-12 South showdown

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In the past month or so of Pac-12 play, no team has been quite as dominant as No. 7 Utah has been. In the same span, no team has looked more improved than UCLA.

The two clashed on Saturday night in Salt Lake City and staged a rather interesting battle for the top of the Pac-12 South standings, with the Utes jumping out to a 28-3 halftime lead over the pesky Bruins in what is shaping up to be a defining game for both sides the rest of the month.

UCLA had their chances to make this far more interesting than the score would have indicated, having blown several opportunities inside their opponent’s 35 yard line (grand total of three points on four trips). Worst of all QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson fumbled while taking a sack, which Mika Taufa picked off the turf and rumbled 68 yards the other way. That turned a close game into a bit of a runaway in the final minutes of the second quarter and spoiled a solid initial effort for the Bruins offense that had nearly doubled (62 yards) the amount of yards rushing that the Utes normally allow for an entire game.

It took awhile for Utah’s offense to get warmed up just like their counterparts on the other side of the ball but when things started clicking, it was all coming downhill for the home squad. Tyler Huntley threw for 145 yards on just 11 attempts and scrambled for a touchdown run before the midway mark while tailback Zach Moss was already up 116 yards and two trips into the end zone on a robust 9.7 yards per carry (he also chipped in with two catches for 65 yards too).

This is a huge game for both sides and it will be interesting to see how each responds coming out of the locker room given how both are typically second half teams. UCLA is still fighting to get to a bowl game this season but will have their hands full trying to pull of another miraculous road rally in a chilly environment as Utah hopes to impress the CFP Selection Committee some more and tighten their grip on the division standings at the same time.

Appalachian State scores 28 straight points to lead Georgia State at halftime

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Looking for a game or two to keep on your Group of 5 radar this evening? No. 25 Appalachian State is leading Georgia State 35-21 in Atlanta as the Mountaineers hope to remain in the running for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup at the end of the year.

Georgia State got the scoring started after the defense came up tall with two consecutive three-and-outs. After being forced to punt after a three-and-out, Appalachian State recovered a Georgia State fumble on the punt return by Quavian White. But the Panthers forced a second straight three-and-out to force another punt. Dan Ellington completed a short touchdown pass to Devin Gentry at the end of an 84-yard drive for the 7-0 lead.

Appalachian State answered with Zac Thomas completing a 12-yard touchdown pass to Corey Sutton, but big plays by the Panthers later in the first quarter would see Georgia State build a 21-7 lead. A 67-yard run by Destin Coates gave Georgia State the lead right back, and a Chris Bacon interception return for a touchdown off Thomas had the Panthers up two touchdowns. Thomas shrugged off the mistake and led the Mountaineers on a touchdown drive once they stepped back on the field. Another pass to Sutton was good for a touchdown to cut the deficit to 21-14 before the end of the first quarter.

The Mountaineers came back to tie things up at 21-21 with a Thomas touchdown run midway through the second quarter, and the defense gave the Mountaineers their first lead of the game when Shaun Jolley picked off a pass by Ellington and ran 30 yards the other way for the go-ahead touchdown.

We’ll see if Appalachian State can avoid taking its second loss of the season and remain in the driver’s seat for a spot in the first Sun Belt Conference championship game at the end of the year.

No. 13 Baylor takes huge lead over No. 10 Oklahoma to locker room

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Charlie Brewer has out Jalen Hurts-ed Jalen Hurts, making plays with his arm and his feet, while Hurts has committed two turnovers that led to two Baylor touchdowns. As a result, No. 13 Baylor holds a stunning 31-10 lead over No. 10 Oklahoma at the half in Waco.

Oklahoma forced a Baylor punt to open the game and, taking over at their own 47, quickly moved into the red zone, but Jalen Hurts was sacked on a 3rd-and-5 and the Sooners settled for a 39-yard Gabe Brkic field goal.

Charlie Brewer had Denzel Mims streaking wide open for what would have been a 78-yard touchdown on the first play of the ensuing drive, but skipped the ball to him. It didn’t matter. He hit Mims for 11 yards on the next snap, kicking off a 78-yard touchdown drive that Brewer himself capped with a 2-yard keeper.

After forcing one of the rarer sights in college football — an Oklahoma three-and-out — Baylor went up 14-3 on a 30-yard connection that missed earlier, as Mims got about as open as a receiver can get on a 30-yard fade route.

Facing an uncharacteristic 14-3 deficit, Oklahoma added to its own misery with a pair of Hurts turnovers. The first came deep in his own territory, when the quarterback placed the ball on the ground in an attempt to steady himself and simply lost the ball, which Terrel Bernard recovered for Baylor at the OU 27. Brewer kept for 23 yards on the final play of the first quarter, then added the final four on the first snap of the second.

On Oklahoma’s next possession, the Sooners reached the Baylor 36 when Grayland Arnold stepped in front of a Hurts pass and returned it 71 yards to the OU 9, where he was finally tackled by Hurts himself. A second Brewer-to-Mims scoring strike put Baylor up 28-3 at the 11:02 mark of the second quarter, and putting the Sooners on the wrong end of a 48-3 run dating back to the fourth quarter of the Iowa State game.

Oklahoma finally stopped the bleeding with an un-OU like 14-play, 75-yard, near 6-minute drive, one that was extended when a 4th-and-5 incompletion at the Bears’ 33 was wiped away due to defensive holding by Baylor’s Jameson Houston. Hurts’ 5-yard pass to Austin Stogner made the score 28-10 with 5:06 left in the first half. He closed the half 8-of-14 for 80 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing 12 times for 26 yards with a fumble.

Baylor answered the Sooners’ prolonged drive with one of its own, moving 61 yards in 13 plays, but stalling at the the OU 11 as the Bears settled for a 28-yard John Mayers field goal with three seconds left before halftime.

Brewer finished the half 13-of-18 for 140 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 14 times for a game-high 77 yards and two more scores.

OU will receive to open the second half.

New Mexico State, Rice win; Akron now lone remaining winless FBS team

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And then there was one.

Heading into Week 12, New Mexico State and Rice were two of three winless teams at the FBS level.  Playing FCS Incarnate Word at home, NMSU cruised to a 41-28ricericrice win to secure its first “W” of the season; heading east to Murfreesboro, Rice hung 31 points on Middle Tennessee State in the first half and then hung on in the second for a tight 31-28 win.

The Aggies’ win snapped an 11-game losing streak — they have still lost 14 straight to FBS teams — while the Owls, who came in as 14-point underdogs, had lost nine in a row prior to today.

So, with those twin wins, it leaves Akron as the lone FBS that has yet to win a game this season — and, based on past performance and future opponents, there’s no win in sight.

Akron has played 10 games this season, and, obviously, lost them all.  The closest they’ve come to a non-defeat?  An eight-point loss to a UMass team that’s 1-10 on the season.  The other nine games, they’ve lost by a combined score of 326-77.

For Week 13, Akron has drawn Miami (OH), which is one win away from winning the MAC East.  The following week, they get a 4-6 Ohio team that has beaten them 10 of the last 11 times they’ve played.

So, yeah, good luck Zips.