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)

Texas Tech adds two more grad transfers

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It’s been a busy last few days, both incoming and outgoing, for Texas Tech and new head football coach Matt Wells on the transfer front.

Tuesday, quarterback McLane Carter announced that he has decided to take his leave of Lubbock and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  The same day, however, Tech confirmed the addition of Penn State graduate transfer defensive back Zech McPhearson.

A day later, the roster Christmas continued for Wells as Tech announced that they have added two more graduate transfers — linebacker Evan Rambo of Cal and running back Armand Shyne of Utah.  As is the case with McPhearson, Rambo and Shyne will be eligible to play immediately in 2019.

McPhearson will have two years of eligibility remaining counting this season, Shyne one.  If Rambo’s appeal to the NCAA for a sixth season is successful — he missed all but four games in 2016 because of a season-ending injury before missing all of 2017 with an injury sustained in the spring — he’ll have two as well.

This past season, Shyne’s 513 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground were both second on the Utes.  Shyne will finish his time in Salt Lake City with 885 yards and nine touchdowns on 198 carries.

Rambo played in 22 games during his stint with the Golden Bears, starting five of those contests.

WR Brandon Benson tweets decision to transfer from SMU

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Back in January, it was reported that Brandon Benson had become one of the myriad players to place their names into the NCAA transfer database this offseason, signaling a potential move on from SMU. A couple of months later, the wide receiver has made the divorce official.

Utilizing his personal Twitter account, Benson announced in a tweet that, “after praying and talking to my family, I have decided to transfer from SMU to continue my football and academic careers.”

A three-star 2016 signee, only two members of the Mustangs’ class that year were rated higher than Benson. Despite that pedigree, Benson played in just 10 games (one start) in his three seasons with the AAC school, catching one pass for 72 yards and a touchdown. That scoring play came as a redshirt freshman in 2017 against FCS Stephen F. Austin.

Syracuse and Pitt add future home-and-home games with Western Michigan

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Any time a MAC program can land a home-and-home deal with a program from a power conference is considered a nice victory. To be able to land two is even better.

Western Michigan has done just that with the addition of two home-and-home series with ACC members Syracuse and Pittsburgh. The addition of two games with Syracuse is a continuation of a current arrangement between the two schools while the games with Pitt are new to the schedule.

Western Michigan will host Syracuse on September 26, 2020 and the Broncos will pay a visit to the Orange on September 9, 2023. Pittsburgh will host the MAC program on September 18, 2021 and the Panthers will visit Western Michigan on September 17, 2022.

As members of the ACC, both Syracuse and Pittsburgh are required to schedule at least one non-conference game against another power conference opponent. Western Michigan does not satisfy that scheduling requirement but each school has the requirement satisfied in the years with their Western Michigan games. Pitt is scheduled to play at Tennessee in 2021 and will host West Virginia and Tennessee in 2022. Syracuse is set to play at Rutgers in 2020 and will play at Purdue in 2023.

Western Michigan has plenty of power conference opponents on the future schedules in addition to the home-and-home deals with Syracuse and Pittsburgh, but the other games currently scheduled are all road games. Western Michigan will play at Michigan State this year (they also play at Syracuse in their original scheduling agreement). Future road games against power conference opponents include Notre Dame (2020), Michigan (2021), Michigan State (2022, 2025), Iowa (2023), Illinois (2025), and Wisconsin (2026).

LSU AD Joe Alleva officially stepping down

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Despite plenty of success across the entire athletics department under his watch, LSU athletics director Joe Alleva is stepping down from his position. LSU confirmed the news, which had been broken earlier in the day by multiple outlets, with an announcement Wednesday evening. Alleva will transition to a new position with LSU as the special assistant to the president for donor relations. Alleva will continue in the role of AD until a permanent replacement can be found.

“We are grateful to Joe for his years of service and dedication to LSU,” said LSU President F. King Alexander said in a released statement. “Under his leadership, LSU Athletics has become even more nationally competitive and our student-athletes have reached new levels of academic achievement.”

“The eleven years Annie and I have been here in Baton Rouge have been some of the best in our lives,” Alleva said in his statement. “We have made lifelong friends and memories in Louisiana. This is truly a special place. It’s been an honor to serve LSU, and I am proud to continue to do that in a new role.”

Alleva was named the athletics director at LSU in July 2008 after previously holding the same position at Duke. Alleva has never been one to find himself not in the spotlight for various degrees of controversy, from his handling of the rape scandal with the Duke lacrosse program to his time at LSU trying to satisfy boosters. Alleva was criticized by some boosters for being reluctant to part ways with former LSU head coach Les Miles and make a move to hire Jimbo Fisher from Florida State. Instead, Alleva ended up hiring Ed Orgeron to be the head coach of the Tigers and Fisher is now handsomely paid to be the head coach at SEC West foe Texas A&M.

Alleva has always been one of the more vocal ADs in the SEC, never shy to share an opinion he had regardless of how popular it was with LSU fans or others around the SEC. Alleva led the charge in a bizarre feud with Florida over the handling of rescheduled games due to weather-related issues in recent years, as just one example. Within the LSU community more recently, Alleva came under fire for the handling of men’s basketball coach Will Wade, who was just reinstated by the program after his suspension related to his connection to the FBI recruiting scandal investigation.

LSU will undoubtedly be able to hire a top-notch AD to replace Alleva once this potential change becomes official, although how soon LSU will have a replacement lined up remains to be seen. As for Orgeron, his job should appear to be on pretty stable ground. Any time an AD is fired it is easy to wonder what happens to the football coach. Fortunately for Orgeron, he’s coming off a victory in the Fiesta Bowl and has LSU playing some winning football. It may not be SEC championship caliber football, but it is still some good quality football producing some notable wins along the way to secure any coach’s job. Unless the 2019 season is a complete disaster in Baton Rouge, Orgeron should feel more than comfortable in his current position regardless of who becomes the next AD at LSU.