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)

Tanner Tessmann chooses pro soccer over kicking for Clemson

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This is quite the odd “loss” for Clemson football.  To say the least.

Back in December, Tanner Tessmann signed to play soccer at Clemson.  The plan was also for Tessman to kick for the Clemson football team as a scholarship player as well.

Thursday, however, FC Dallas announced that the 18-year-old Tessmann has signed a three-year contract with the Major League Soccer team.  The deal also contains club options for the 2023 and 2024 seasons.

Tessmann could begin his professional soccer career as early as Saturday.

“I’m excited to get started,” Tessmann said in a statement. “Signing a professional contract has been a goal of mine since I moved to Texas to join the Academy at 14 years old. I’ve made a lot of sacrifices to get this opportunity, so it meant a lot to have my family here with me today.”

Back in December, Dabo Swinney was very, very effusive in his praise of Tessman, who the Clemson football coach has known for the young man’s entire life.

From TigerNet.com:

(Clemson soccer coach Mike) Noonan is somewhere, having a party somewhere right now because he just signed an unbelievably talented soccer player,” Swinney said back then. “But I’ve had the inside track on this one for a long time. My best friend is PJ Tessmann, and we’re basically brothers-in-laws…so I’ve kind of been the pseudo uncle to his two kids – Tanner, and his daughter Ashley literally their whole lives and kind of been Uncle Bo and kind of like Godfather if you will.

“But I had the inside track because I’ve seen him his entire life. And he’s one of the best athletes. He could go play D1 basketball. He could probably start at receiver at Clemson. He could probably play safety at Clemson. He’s a six-foot-two phenom. He can fly. He’s as good athlete as I’ve ever seen…It was a really difficult thing but, you know, it was a very tough thing for PJ and his mom, PJ’s wife Kelly, because FC Dallas came recruiting him and his dream was to play soccer professionally and maybe in Europe and all that. And so, FC Dallas literally came and recruited him, came to their house and it was just a very challenging thing because he was going to be going off in the eighth grade to this place developing.

“And so he’s been living in Dallas, literally since the eighth grade. And it’s amazing. So, I’m the only person on the planet that knew because he could bomb it 45 to 50 yards in the eighth grade. No one really knew because he has not played football. But he comes around and gets out there and plays around and kicks the ball and this and that. I mean it’s been amazing to watch him develop.

Clemson football should be okay on the kicking front, though, as the Tigers return their primary kicker from their run to the 2019 national championship game.  As a true sophomore last season, B.T. Potter made all 79 of his point-after attempts and 13 of his 21 field-goal tries.

Both of Nebraska’s primary kickers in 2019 have now left the Cornhuskers, with one leaving to focus on… club soccer?

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It was quite the day on the kicking front for the Nebraska football program. And not in a good way.  At all.

Thursday, it was reported that Barrett Pickering was no longer a part of the Nebraska football team.  The placekicker subsequently confirmed that he was stepping away from the sport because of health concerns.  Pickering will, however, remain on scholarship as a student at the school.  The Alabama native won’t count against the 85-man scholarship limit for Nebraska football.

Not long after the news of Pickering’s decision broke, it was also confirmed that kicker Matt Waldoch will not be returning to the program as well.  The reason?  Club soccer.

The twin departures leave Nebraska football very thin at the position.  At least, experience-wise it does.

As a true freshman in 2018, Pickering served as the primary placekicker for Nebraska football.  That season, he hit on 14 of his 18 field-goal attempts (77.8 percent) and missed just one of his 41 point-after attempts. Pickering did not miss over the final six games, going 25-of-25 on extra points and 9-of-9 on field goals.

During that stretch, he accounted for all nine points (three field goals) in a 9-6 win over Michigan State.  That was the first time Nebraska football won without scoring a touchdown since 1937.

Despite that momentum, Pickering’s 2019 season was essentially a wasted year.  The Alabama native missed the first seven games last season because of an unspecified injury.  When he returned, he went 3-of-5 on field goals and was successful on all 10 extra points.

By the end of the year, though, Waldoch, an in-season tryout player off the club soccer team, had become the Cornhuskers’ primary kicker.

With Pickering exiting the program, Waldoch would’ve entered the spring as the favorite to win the job.  Waldoch didn’t miss a kick this past campaign, connecting on four field-goal and nine point-after tries.

Nebraska football will enter spring practice with three non-scholarship options at the position: redshirt freshman Gabe Heins, junior-college transfer Chase Contreraz and true freshman Tyler Crawford.  Contreraz will head into the spring as the favorite to win the job.

Highest-rated signee in Texas A&M Class of 2018, Leon O’Neal, enters transfer portal

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For nearly the dozenth time this cycle, a Texas A&M football player is looking to leave College Station.  And this one was a huge 2018 get.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday evening, Leon O’Neal announced that he has decided to leave the Aggies and continue his playing career elsewhere.  No reason for his decision to enter the NCAA transfer database was given.

“I want to thank Texas A&M for everything,” the defensive back wrote. “Every game was one I’ll never forget. Win, lose or draw The 12th Man never lost [their] spirit. I want to thank my brothers for the love and support. Our bond will last forever.”

A four-star member of the Texas A&M football Class of 2018, O’Neal was the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Texas.  He was also the No. 8 safety in the country.  Most notably, O’Neal was the highest-rated member of the Aggies’ class that year.

O’Neal was part of Jimbo Fisher‘s first recruiting class after taking over as the A&M football head coach in December of 2017.

As a true freshman, O’Neal appeared in all 13 games for Texas A&M football.  Most of that action came on special teams.  This past season, the safety started eight of the 12 games in which he played.

Boise State DB DeAndre Pierce opts to enter transfer portal

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The playing career of one injury-plagued Boise State football player has come to an end.  At least, in Idaho it has.

According to 247Sports.com, DeAndre Pierce has made the decision to move on from the Boise State football program.  A BSU football official subsequently confirmed overnight that the defensive back’s name is listed in the NCAA transfer database.

No specific reason for the parting of ways was given.

If Pierce follows through and transfers away from Boise State football, he would do so as a graduate transfer.  That would allow him to play at another FBS school immediately in 2020.  If that’s the tack he chooses, of course.

Pierce was a three-star member of the Broncos’ Class of 2016.  The California native took a redshirt as a true freshman.  In 2017, Pierce started 11 of the 14 games in which he played.  He earned honorable mention All-Mountain West Conference honors for that season.

Then, the injuries hit.

The safety started four of the first five games in 2018 before a lacerated spleen sidelined him for the rest of the season.  In 2019, Pierce started five games… but missed the other nine because of various injuries.

When healthy, Pierce was credited with 144 tackles, seven tackles for loss, six passed defensed, one sack and one interception.