CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 9 Baylor

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 8-1 in Big 12 (1st in conference)
2013 postseason: Fiesta Bowl vs. UCF (52-42 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 13/No. 13
Head coach: Art Briles (78-60 overall; 44-32 in six years at Baylor)
Offensive coordinator: Philip Montgomery (6th season at Baylor)
2013 offensive rankings: 13th rushing offense (259.7 ypg); 5th passing offense (359.1 ypg); 1st total offense (618.8 ypg); 1st scoring offense (52.4 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: six
Defensive coordinator: Phil Bennett (3rd season at Baylor)
2013 defensive rankings: 38th rushing defense (145.4 ypg); 34th passing defense (214.9 ypg);  28th total defense (360.3 ypg); 36th scoring defense (23.5 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: four
Location: Waco, Texas
Stadium: McLane Stadium (45,000; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The Baylor Bears are the Lamborghini of college football offenses. Last season, the Bears’ offense was ranked No. 1 overall and averaged 618.8 yards per game. To put that number in perspective, the Oregon Ducks finished 2nd overall in total offense and they averaged 53.8 less yards per contest. That is truly an astonishing number. It’s possible the Bears’ offense will be better in 2014. Quarterback Bryce Petty enters his second year as a starter. Five of the team’s top six receivers also return. Three offensive linemen are back, with a near 400-pound monster replacing one of the departing starters. And running back Shock Linwood was nearly as good as Lache Seastrunk when given the opportunity to carry the load. In the two games Linwood carried the ball more than 20 times, he rushed for at least 182 yards. To top it all off, the Bears added a pair of four-star recruits at wide receiver with K.D. Cannon and Davion Hall. The Bears’ offense is simply a well-oiled machine that will be nearly impossible to slow down this season.

THE BAD
When a team’s offense throws the ball all over the yard while operating at a breakneck pace, opponents will try to keep pace. Baylor took a big step in the right direction on defense last season, but the lasting impression of that unit will be sacrificing 556 yards to the UCF Knights during a 52-42 loss in the Fiesta Bowl. Each time Baylor made a comeback, the defense let them down. And the team now has to replace all but two starters from that game, four of which are currently on NFL rosters. Maybe a complete overhaul was needed. But there is always something to say about continuity within one unit of a football team. Baylor isn’t starting from scratch. They’re talented up front with both starting defensive tackles back for another season and the enigma known as Shawn Oakman at defensive end. Two key players, middle linebacker Bryce Hager and defensive end Jamal Palmer, will be asked to assume leadership roles as the rest of the defense continues to grow and improve around them.

THE UNKNOWN
With strength of schedule once again being an emphasis for determining the top teams in college football, the Bears fall short. Baylor suffers from a weak non-conference schedule. The Buffalo Bulls, which finished 8-5 and second in the MAC East last year, is the best non-conference opponent on the Bears’ schedule. Even when the Big 12 conference schedule is factored into the equation, the Bears only face two teams ranked in the preseason polls. A single loss could spell doom for the Bears. An undefeated run through conference play may be Baylor’s only chance to be named one of college football’s final four in the first College Football Playoff. Would that even be enough for the committee to vote the Bears into the tournament over a one-loss SEC or Pac-12 team?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Oklahoma
Baylor is still the new kid on the block with the shiny new toys. Whereas Oklahoma remains the Big 12’s neighborhood bully. As the two teams enter the season, the Sooners are considered national title contenders, while the Bears are still scratching and clawing to prove they can be an elite program over the long haul. This particular game is crucial for Baylor. The Bears have beaten the Sooners two of the last three years. The Sooners, however, enter the season as the favorites to win the Big 12 and ranked in the Top 5 of both the AP and Coaches’ Polls. A victory in Norman will clearly establish Baylor as the team to beat in the Big 12 this year and moving forward.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Bryce Petty
The thought of Baylor ever truly replacing quarterback Robert Griffin III was unimaginable. Yet, Petty quickly escaped RG3’s shadow and continues to build a legacy of his own. When RG3 won the Heisman Trophy in 2011, he threw for 4,293 yards, 36 touchdowns and only six interceptions. In 2013, Petty’s numbers were quite similar. The current Baylor quarterback passed for 4,200 yards, 32 and a microscopic three interceptions. While RG3 had decided advantages in overall accuracy and rushing yardage, Petty led Baylor to a better overall record (11-2) and a higher average per completion (16.8 yards). Due to the success of these two quarterbacks, Baylor is now considered a national contender. And in Briles’ explosive offense, the Bears’ starting quarterback has a chance to be in the Heisman conversation.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

The last time the Georgia Bulldogs won the national championship…

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It’s been a long time since the Georgia Bulldogs have won a national championship, but Kirby Smart has the program on a level where one can be expected any year now in Athens. Georgia’s biggest problems over the years may have been having really good teams that were blocked by some truly great teams standing in the way. The closest Georgia has come tow inning a national championship since their last title in 1980 was two seasons ago when the Bulldogs were unable to hold on to a fourth-quarter lead and lost in overtime to SEC foe Alabama in the College Football Playoff national championship game.

Vince Dooley had been coaching the Bulldogs since 1964, and Georgia certainly had some great seasons to that point under his leadership. But things finally fell into place for Georgia in 1980 when Georgia opened the season ranked No. 16 in the AP poll and turned in the first undefeated season for the program since 1946. One of the reasons for Georgia’s success was the play of freshman running back Herschel Walker, who took no time at all to introduce himself to the college football world with authority. In the season opener against Tennessee, Walker powered his way through Bill Bates in an iconic moment.

Georgia’s undefeated run included victories over No. 14 South Carolina and No. 20 Florida, back-to-back shutouts of Kentucky and Vanderbilt, and a regular season finale victory over rival Georgia Tech to setup a showdown with No. 7 Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl. No. 2 Florida State was going to play No. 4 Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl, while No. 3 Pitt lined up against No. 18 South Carolina in the Gator Bowl. No. 5 Michigan was sent to the Rose Bowl as the Big Ten champion. All the top-ranked Bulldogs had to do was beta the Irish and the polls would fall in their favor, although the Sooners clipping the Seminoles by a point certainly helped cement the case for the national title.

Here’s a snapshot of what was going on in 1980 when Georgia ruled the college football landscape.

Last National Title Season: 1980: 39 years and counting)

Who was President?

Although Jimmy Carter was in office when Georgia was running through their schedule, the Democratic incumbent was defeated by Ronald Reagan in a landslide of epic proportions in November. It would be Reagan who welcomed the Bulldogs to the White Hosue to be honored as national champions.

In 1980, current President Donald J. Trump identified as a Democrat and was married to his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková.

What was on TV?

It was the end of an era on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” with the final episodes for the Not Ready for Primetime Players, but that would lead to the introduction of Eddie Murphy in the new cast later in the year. David Letterman also made his debut as host of “The David Letterman Show,” a morning show that did not pan out very well. Surely this would be the end of Letterman’s television career…

The first episode of “The Young and the Restless” aired on CBS, and the season finale of “Dallas” aired leaving many to wonder who shot J.R.

Respected news anchor Walter Cronkite also announced his retirement. 1980 also saw the launch of cable networks CNN, Cinemax, and BET. Also on cable networks, a network called ESPN aired the NFL Draft for the first time in television history.

What movies were hot?

One of the biggest reveals in cinematic history occurred in 1980 when James Earl Jones delivered one of his most iconic lines to a young Mark Hamil. Yes, Darth Vader was, in fact, Luke’s father, as we all learned in The Empire Strikes Back. Not surprisingly, the sequel to the original Star Wars led the way at the box office in 1980. Hopefully, it wasn’t spoiled for some of you standing in line to see the movie for yourself for the first time.

If thrillers were your thing, then The Shining had you covered with Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous roles to date. Other popular movies in 1980 included 9 to 5, Stir Crazy, and Airplane!. A sequel to Smokey and the Bandit was released to less fanfare, and The Blues Brothers became a cult favorite for some.

Hollywood paid their respects to the passing of Alfred Hitchcock, who passed away in April. Robert De Niro took home the Oscar for Best actor for his role in Raging Bull.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Nobody, of course. Not only didn’t the video game franchise exist at the time, but the company that developed the game (Electronic Arts) wasn’t founded for another two years. The polygons needed for a quality video game were still not available anyway. At the time, Pac-Man was just becoming a national icon following his first arcade game in May, while other games taking over the arcade scene included Missile Command and the Atari 2600 and Intellivision were making its way into homes before the video game market would crash in a few short years.

What else happened in 1980?

“Do you believe in miracles?” Al Michaels, who currently calls the action for Sunday Night Football on NBC, delivered his signature call as the United States men’s hockey team was seconds away from upsetting the Soviet Union’s hockey team in the Olympics.

The Philadelphia Phillies won their first World Series title by topping the Kansas City Royals in six games. The Phillies had taken out the Houston Astros in one of the best NLCS to this day. It wasn’t all great for the Philadelphia sports scene in 1980, however. The 76ers were taken out by the Los Angeles Lakers as rookie point guard Magic Johnson took over the series in place of an injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The New York Islanders also defeated the Flyers with an overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, and the Eagles would go on to lose to John Madden and his Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl at the end of the 1980 season.

Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Conference champions in college football included UNC (ACC), Oklahoma (Big 8), Michigan (Big Ten), Washington (Pac-10), Baylor (Southwest Conference), and BYU (WAC). George Rogers of South Carolina won the Heisman Trophy. BYU’s Jim McMahon led the nation in pass completions and passing yards and touchdowns. USC’s Marcus Allen led the nation in rushing attempts.

Current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart was five years old. Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive backs coach for Ohio State.

Will this be the year for Georgia?

Smart has certainly invigorated the Bulldogs to thinking like a national championship contender once again. While Georgia had been one of the more consistently good programs for years under Mark Richt, they just could not get over the hump and a string of better national title contenders just happened to be playing at the same time during the BCS glory days of the SEC and into the College Football Playoff. But Smart has raised the bar for Georgia, and it would not be shocking to see Georgia making consistent pushes for playoff consideration and getting a shot at a long-awaited national title very soon.

Report: Vanderbilt lands Florida transfer in Malik Langham

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Former Florida defensive end Malik Langham has found his new college football home, and it resides in the SEC. Langham is heading to Vanderbilt, according to a report from 247 Sports earlier today.

Vanderbilt has not officially announced the addition of Langham at this time, and there is no direct confirmation offered by Langham on his social media profiles. However, Vanderbilt was one of the school s Langham originally evaluated during his recruiting process out of high school and the Commodores remained a potential landing spot for his latest transfer recruitment as well.

Langham was a four-star member of Florida’s Class of 2018, which was the first recruiting class signed by current Gators head coach Dan Mullen. The Huntsville, Alabama native committed to Florida just days after taking an official visit Auburn as his recruiting process came down the final stretch in the Class of 2018. Alabama had previously been considered a favorite to land his recruitment in the weeks leading up to signing day in 2018.  With plenty of offers to consider, Langham also made an official visit to Notre Dame in addition to unofficial visits to Vanderbilt, Kentucky, Louisville, Ole Miss and more.

Langham appeared in two games for Florida in 2018, in which he recorded one assist on a tackle as a backup option for the Gators. Under the NCAA’s revised redshirt rules implemented last fall, Langham is able to preserve a year of eligibility because he did not appear in more than four games last season. That will give Langham four years to still play, although he will have to sacrifice one year of eligibility for the 2019 season due to NCAA transfer rules.

Peyton Manning and David Cutcliffe inducted to Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame

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Former Tennessee quarterback, NFL Pro Bowler, and Super Bowl champion Peyton Manning was formally inducted to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. Perhaps it was fitting that he was inducted alongside his position coach and offensive coordinator, and current Duke head coach, David Cutcliffe. The two were added to the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame over the weekend.

“Coach Cutcliffe –  he’s such a mentor for me,” Manning said of his former quarterback coach in Knoxville. “He’s my coach; he’s my friend. He kind of remained my coach when I was in the NFL. To be in with Coach Cutcliffe, it’s very special and I’m very proud.”

Manning and Cutcliffe have remained close years after Manning left Tennessee for the NFL. Manning has relied on Cutcliffe in offseasons to prepare and rehab when needed with Cutcliffe nearby to offer his insight and expertise in helping Manning remain one of the top passers in the NFL. Manning has spent a few seasons in retirement form the NFL now and is heading to the ultimate hall of fame soon enough in Canton, Ohio. Manning has already been inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame, fittingly enough along with former antagonist, Florida head coach Steve Spurrier.

Joining Manning and Cutcliffe were former Tennessee student-athletes Charles Davis (currently a broadcaster for FOX’s NFL coverage) and Kara Lawson. Davis is a former defensive back for the Vols program and was a part of Tennessee’s 1985 SEC championship team. He spent years broadcasting college football games before being given a job covering the NFL instead. Lawson is a former women’s basketball player for the storied Tennessee basketball program. Like Davis, Lawson has been in the broadcasting game covering basketball.

Dad of former Northwestern QB donated a real, stuffed wildcat to ‘Cats new facility

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Northwestern’s state-of-the-art football facility, literally on the shore of Lake Michigan, is now fully operational, at a low, low cost of $260 million.

The facility has everything — including an actual wild cat.

 

According to a story by Yahoo‘s Eric Edholm, a stuffed cat was donated to the program by Walter Siemian, the father of former Wildcat quarterback Trevor Siemian. The plan was to originally sell it and use the proceeds to benefit the program, but apparently Pat Fitzgerald saw the cat and fell in love.

Walter Siemian took down the predator — legally, of course — last November, sent the cat of prey in question to a taxidermist and then donated it to the program.

The initial understanding was that it would be sold, with the proceeds benefitting the program. After all, these things draw some serious coin. (One current listing here for a mountain lion, which this mammal appears to be, is going for more than $12,000.) But once Fitzgerald saw it, the story goes, there was no way he was letting it leave.

The cat was staying put. That’s also easy to see why. And it’s now the first thing you see when you enter the coaches’ meeting rooms.

The hope with facilities like these is that the enhanced investment into football will lead to the Northwestern coaching staff singing a different class of recruit, which will in turn allow the program to pair their stuffed mascot with some Big Ten championship trophies.

That’s the hope, at least.