CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn

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2013 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (1st in West division)
2013 postseason: BCS title game vs. Florida State (34-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 2/No. 2
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (21-5 overall; 12-2 in one year at Auburn)
Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee (second season); Dameyune Craig (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 1st rushing offense (328.3 ypg); 106th passing offense (173 ypg); 11th total offense (501.3 ypg); 12th scoring offense (39.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson (second season); Charlie Harbison (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 62nd rushing defense (162.1 ypg); 100th passing defense (258.6 ypg); 86th total defense (420.7 ypg); 48th scoring defense (24.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
No one was able to control the Tigers’ powerful rushing attack and, even with the departure of its leading rusher, that’s expected to continue on into 2014 and the second season in Gus Malzahn‘s fast-paced, relentless offense.  Having Nick Marshall, expected to be much improved in the passing-game aspect, in his second season as a starter should help soften the blow that was running back Tre Mason‘s departure for the NFL.  As AU goes from the hunter to the hunted, it’ll be incumbent on Marshall to take that next step, one his head coach feels he’s ready to do.

THE BAD
When you have as magical ride as AU did last season there’s not a whole heck of a lot of bad going on, but the defense was, at the very least, suspect during that run to Pasadena.  They were in the bottom half of the country in yards allowed per game, although they were in the top half in the most important stat: points allowed.  That, though, was only good for eighth in the SEC.  In fairness, it was the Tigers’ first season under coordinator Ellis Johnson, so the expectation is that just based on familiarity with the scheme the defense will improve.  The good news is that there’s really nowhere for that group to go but up, especially as it relates to the rest of the SEC.  There’s also the little matter of the schedule as AU has conference road games scheduled for Mississippi State (Oct. 11), Ole Miss (Nov. 1), Georgia (Nov. 15) and Alabama (Nov. 29) to go along with a non-conference tilt at underrated Kansas State.  AU won’t sneak up on anyone this season, so they will get every team’s best, most concentrated shot, especially on the road.

THE UNKNOWN
(Writer’s note: pardon me while I repeat myself)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014 — did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question mostly moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Alabama Nov. 29
As Auburn and Alabama are expected to be the class of the SEC West, it only makes sense to put the season-ending Iron Bowl in this slot.  Last year’s dramatic, last-second win over the Tide that propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game was one of the most exhilarating and improbable in the storied history of the rivalry.  UA will have revenge on its mind as the Tide looks to get back on the national championship stage after its one-year sabbatical in 2013.  More than likely, the winner of this game will claim the West’s spot in the SEC championship game and, perhaps, a spot in the four-team playoff.  So, yes, this will be one of the more anticipated games of the year — provided both teams can make it to the game unscathed, of course.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Nick Marshall
Marshall’s first season as a starter wasn’t statistically overwhelming — less than 2,000 yards passing, just 14 touchdown passes — but it was deadly in its efficiency. Marijuana citation aside, Marshall is said to have had a very good offseason, improving his throwing mechanics and becoming more and more comfortable in Gus Malzahn‘s offense. If true, and if the passing aspect of his game improves — as evidenced by his 1,068 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, he’ll continue to get his on the ground — that could prove to be bad news for the SEC in general and the West specifically. Thanks to the departure of their leading rusher, the Tigers will likely lean even more heavily on both Marshall’s arm and legs; as far as his Heisman chances go, that’s certainly good news.  Hell, one teammate has even already called his stiff-armed shot for Marshall, so he’s got that going for him.  Which is nice.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Arizona State confirms Boise State’s Zak Hill as new OC

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At the end of the regular season, Herm Edwards fired the bulk of Arizona State’s offensive staff. Nearly two weeks later, the reshaping of the assistants on that side of the ball has commenced in earnest.

Following up on speculation that had been growing in recent days, ASU on Saturday announced that Zak Hill has been hired as Edwards’ new offensive coordinator. Hill will replace Rob Likens, who was a part of the post-regular-season purge.

“Zak is very well versed in offensive football,” the head coach said in a statement. “He comes from winning programs and he played the quarterback position. I like that. He’s good at building an offense around the personnel that he has available to him. He will force the defense to adjust with multiple formations and personnel groups. His style fits the DNA of what we want on our coaching staff. He’s an excellent teacher.”

The past four seasons, Hill served as the coordinator at Boise State. Prior to that, and aside from a one-month stop at Hawaii, Hill spent seven seasons as the passing-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at FCS power Eastern Washington.

“I am really excited about this opportunity and I truly believe it is a great situation for me at ASU,” Hill said. “I appreciate Coach Edwards believing in me and having the trust to bring me on and I am thankful to Ray Anderson and the Sun Devil administration for their support in making this happen. I am really excited to get down there and I know we have some exciting weapons on offense. I look forward to putting together an explosive, fun offense that our fans will love to watch.”

“I am humbled at this opportunity. I also want to thank everyone at Boise State for a great four years and I am grateful for all the support I have received from Bronco Nation,” he added. “I would especially like to thank Coach Harsin for his leadership and my years at Boise State and the opportunity he afforded me to grow as a coach.”

In addition to Hill’s, uhhh, addition, ASU also confirmed Derek Hagan and Prentice Gill as offensive assistants. Their specific titles and responsibilities were not detailed.

Hagan, who played wide receiver for the Sun Devils and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2015, was an offensive analyst at ASU this past season. Gill served in the same role at Oregon.

Dabo Swinney lays out new responsibilities for offensive staff

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Jeff Scott spent a dozen years at Clemson, including the last five seasons as co-offensive coordinator, before taking the head job at USF earlier this month. Despite his importance to Dabo Swinney‘s success, there won’t be too much change for the defending national champions moving forward.

Friday, Swinney confirmed that he will not be filling Scott’s co-coordinator position and will instead allow Tony Elliott to serve as the sole coordinator. Elliott and Scott have shared coordinating responsibilities each of the past five seasons.

Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter will maintain his current responsibilities as well as add the title of passing-game coordinator.

Additionally, Tyler Grisham, who played for the Tigers from 2005-08, has been promoted to wide receivers coach, a responsibility previously held by Scott. Grisham had been serving as an offensive analyst for the program.

“We have a good plan for all that stuff and have a great group of people here,” the head coach said. “We’re excited about getting it all settled out.”

Swinney also reiterated that, as had previously been laid out, Scott will return to the team next Thursday and will remain through however long the Tigers’ postseason run lasts. Clemson will face Ohio State Dec. 28 in one of the two College Football Playoff semifinals.

Ohio State’s Justin Fields the way-too-early 2020 Heisman favorite

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You say the tears aren’t even dry yet from Joe Burrow‘s acceptance speech and we’re already looking ahead to 2020?  You’re damn right we are.

Saturday night, Burrow claimed the 2019 Heisman Trophy in record-smashing fashion, with the quarterback becoming just the second LSU Tiger to claim the most prestigious trophy in the sport.  Quarterback Justin Fields finished third in the voting, one of three Ohio State Buckeyes to land in the top six in the voting.

Speaking of Fields, one online sportsbook has the sophomore listed as a 5/2 favorite to win the 2020 Heisman Trophy.  Fellow sophomore Trevor Lawrence of Clemson is right behind him at 3/1.

The next closest is Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at 7/1.

A handful of the players who finished in the Top 10 in the voting — Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, Ohio State running back JK Dobbins, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — have eligibility remaining, but are expected to leave early for the NFL draft.  If any of them opt to remain in school, that would obviously change the odds moving forward.

USC transfer QB Jack Sears appears headed to San Diego State

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Jack Sears may have left USC, but it doesn’t appear he’ll end up leaving the state of California.

After finding himself fourth on the quarterbacking depth chart, Sears announced on his personal Twitter account in late August that he had decided to enter the NCAA transfer database.  A little over three months later, and after a flirtation with Oregon State, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that “Sears has committed to San Diego State as a graduate transfer who would enroll during the spring semester.”

As a graduate transfer, Sears would be eligible to play for the Aztecs in 2020.  He would also have another season of eligibility he could use in 2021 as well.

As of yet, the Mountain West Conference school hasn’t confirmed Sears’ intentions.

Sears was a four-star member of the Trojans’ 2017 recruiting class, rated as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Sears completed 20-of-28 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown the following season.