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)

Virginia Tech loses leading sacker to torn ACL

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Virginia Tech’s embattled defense has taken yet another hit.

Justin Fuente confirmed Monday Houshun Gaines will miss the remainder of Virginia Tech’s 2018 season because of a knee injury.  Defensive coordinator Bud Foster had previously stated that the defensive end had suffered a torn ACL.

Gaines suffered the injury in Saturday’s blowout loss to Pitt.

“House plays extremely hard and will be missed, but he’ll be very quickly on the road to recovery and we look forward to having him out there next year,” the head coach said by way of the Roanoke Times.

The redshirt junior currently leads the Hokies in sacks with 4½, while his five tackles for loss are tied for fourth.

Maryland QB Kasim Hill suffers second torn ACL in last 14 months

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Last September, Kasim Hill‘s season came to a premature end thanks to a torn ACL in his right knee.  During Saturday’s loss to Indiana, Hill suffered what appeared to be a significant injury to his other knee.

In fact, in an Instagram post Monday, the Maryland starting quarterback intimated that it was yet another torn ACL as he alluded to  “attacking the process all over again.”

Tuesday, acting head coach Matt Canada confirmed that Hill had indeed suffered another torn ACL.  Obviously, the sophomore’s season has come to an end.

Hill had started all 10 games under center for the Terrapins this season.  He completed under 50 percent of his 170 passes for nine touchdowns and four interceptions.  His passing efficiency rating of 115.7 is 10th in the Big Ten and 100th nationally.

Sophomore Tyrrell Pigrome is expected to take over for Hill as the Terps’ starting quarterback.

Urban Meyer: Ohio State looking into legal action over report

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With its reputation battered earlier this year because of the Zach Smith imbroglio, Ohio State has come out swinging at a new report that surfaced Tuesday morning involving the former wide receivers coach.

In a story posted by college football reporter Brett McMurphy to WatchStadium.com, the father of former OSU wide receiver Trevon Grimes claimed that Smith called his son a “bitch ass [N-word]” during practice in late September of last year.  In the report, McMurphy intimated that head coach Urban Meyer attempted to cover-up the incident by flying down to Grimes’ home in Florida in October of 2017 and promising the player OSU would allow him to transfer anywhere if he didn’t go public with the allegations; conversely, OSU officials claimed that the trip was made solely to support the player and his mother, who was going through a serious health issue at the time.

Appearing on Tuesday’s Big Ten coaches’ teleconference hours after the report surfaced, Meyer described himself as “irate” when he first learned of the allegations made in the report. The head coach called the report “the most preposterous thing” he’s witnessed during his time as a college football coach.

Additionally, Meyer stated that legal action is an option he and the university are considering.

Current and former Buckeyes football players spent Tuesday morning lashing out at the report, claiming there is no racism in the OSU program.  In very strong statements, both OSU president Michael Drake and athletic director Gene Smith vehemently defended Meyer, with the former calling the allegations of racism “outrageous and false” and the latter labeling the accusations “unequivocally false.”

Colorado AD says he has made no decision on Mike MacIntyre’s future

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Given the opportunity to refute a report regarding the future of his football program, Colorado athletic director Rick George instead poured gasoline on the situation with his choice of words.

Overnight, a report surfaced that CU would part ways with head football coach Mike MacIntyre at season’s end.  In response to the report, George stated that no decision on the football program’s has been made.

We do comment on speculation or unsubstantiated rumors with anonymous sources.  Let me just say I have made no decisions regarding the future of our football program.

Based on a new deal agreed to in January of last year and approved five months later, CU would owe MacIntyre a buyout in excess of $10 million if he’s fired without cause.

In five-plus seasons with the Buffaloes, MacIntyre has posted a 30-43 record overall and 14-38 in Pac-12 play.  Coming off a 5-7 season in 2017, the Buffs won their first five games of the season and climbed to 19th in the Associated Press Top 25.  However, they’ve dropped five straight since then, with three of the five losses coming by 10 or more points.

Colorado will play its home finale this weekend against Pac-12 South leader Utah before closing out the regular season at Cal a week later.  The Buffaloes need to win at least one of those games to reach bowl eligibility.