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)

UMass adds Florida State, Pitt, Auburn and others to future schedules beyond 2021

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It’s apparently a big week on the schedule front for FBS independents.

While UConn and Maryland announced a new home-and-home series in what is always going to be known as the Randy Edsall bowl, fellow New England independent UMass had a number of dates added to their calendar this week too.

According to the school, the Minutemen have confirmed several dates and games against Power Five opponents as well as a host of other smaller programs being added to the team’s future docket including:

  • at Pitt on Sept. 4, 2021
  • at Florida State on Oct. 23, 2021
  • at Auburn on Sept. 2, 2023

In addition, FCS foes like Merrimack (Nov. 4, 2023) and Wagner (Sept. 21, 2024) were scheduled. Two other contests were moved as well, including a game against Boston College from Sept. 2022 to Sept. 6, 2025. A game against New Mexico State was shifted up into Week 0 and is now set for Aug. 26, 2023 as well.

The moves give UMass five of their 12 games for 2021-2024 while there’s even more work left to be done beyond that.

“We’ve been hard at work over the last nine months building competitive future schedules that will allow our Independent program to grow and be challenged,” AD Ryan Bamford said in a release. “We are pleased with our scheduling progress and ability to secure agreements with a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and regional FCS opponents.”

The Minutemen host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and have notable games coming up against Army, Northwestern and BYU down the stretch in 2019.

Designs released for UAB’s future stadium in downtown Birmingham

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It’s truly been remarkable how far UAB has come since the program was shuttered just a few years ago but the next major step in the rebirth of the Blazers came on Wednesday as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex unveiled the latest plans for the upcoming $175 million football stadium that the CUSA program will soon call home.

You can check out the latest renderings here.

The 45,000 seat venue is designed to host a number of different events once completed in 2021 but the primary purpose each fall will be UAB home games. As you would expect, all the modern design elements for a stadium nowadays are incorporated, such as suites, open concourses, a large press box and a hefty number of restrooms (including nearly double the number for women than men).

The price tag for everything is set at right around $175 million for the project, with bids going out sometime later this fall and an estimated date of completion prior to the 2021 season starting in late August.

The biggest question left about the stadium now might be not whether it will actually get built but what the Blazers will be playing on in terms of the surface. The school has reportedly expressed interest in having turf but the area trying to attract major soccer matchups could mean the venue has a grass field instead.

Either way, UAB remarkable turnaround on the gridiron took another big step this week and is poised to make a giant leap come 2021.

QB Artur Sitkowski to start for Rutgers against Boston College with McLane Carter not cleared from concussion

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Boston College’s bid to avoid losing to both Kansas and Rutgers in the same season may have received a slight boost thanks to the quarterback situation this week with the Scarlet Knights.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after practice, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed that starting signal-caller Carter McLane remains in the school’s concussion protocol and will not play on Saturday against the Eagles. That means the job falls on last year’s starter in Artur Sitkowski for the Scarlet Knights.

“(Carter) is still day-to-day (and) hasn’t practiced so he won’t be cleared to play,” Ash said according to NJ.com. “I’ve got nothing but 100 percent confidence and belief in Art. We talked all through training camp about the battle between the two. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference. The biggest one was just at the moment McLane was a fifth-year player and had a little bit more experience. But Art had a tremendous training camp, and the players, the coaches, everybody has nothing but 100 percent faith and trust in him to go out and lead the team. And we’re excited for him to do that.”

Carter, a grad transfer from Texas Tech, started the opener against UMass but was knocked out of last week’s shutout loss to Iowa after a hard hit in the first half. Sitkowski replaced him the rest of the way and will now make his first start of 2019.

A former four-star out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski was handed the reigns of the team as a true freshman last season and made 11 starts at Rutgers… with things not exactly going well under center considering he threw for just over 1,100 yards with four touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He’ll have a chance for redemption on Saturday against Boston College, which leads the ACC in interceptions but did give up a number of big passing plays in their shocking loss to Kansas last week.

Interestingly enough, the move to elevate Sitkowski in the wake of McLane’s concussion means that former Eagles quarterback Johnny Langan will now be the No. 2 QB for Rutgers in the game against his old team.

Lane Kiffin thinks UCF should be in top 10: ‘They looked just like an ACC or SEC team’

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Lane Kiffin is a believer… in a newsworthy in-state rival.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the always talkative Florida Atlantic head coach threw his weight behind UCF being a top 10 team this season and even a College Football Playoff contender had they been starting veteran QB McKenzie Milton. 

“They looked just like an ACC or SEC team,” said Kiffin. “Not Alabama or Clemson, but one of the top teams in both of those conferences. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. They have skill. Normally in the Group of Five they have skill players but not the [size on] the lines, well UCF has long and good-looking linemen.”

Kiffin would know having seen the Knights up close each of the past two seasons, including a 48-14 blowout by the defending AAC champions down in Boca Raton earlier in September. A former offensive coordinator in the SEC, he also got a good look at one of this season’s elite programs too considering FAU opened the year with a 45-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.

Though Kiffin doesn’t have a vote in the weekly Coaches Poll, he did add he’d rank UCF as high as No. 5 but certainly in the top 10, blaming the name on the front of the Knights’ jersey as much as anything for why they’re not being taken seriously nationally.