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)

Florida State OL Landon Dickerson reportedly enters transfer portal… a second time

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The NCAA Transfer Portal is one of the offseason’s more fascinating developments and it should probably surprise nobody who follows the topsy-turvy nature of recruiting nowadays that we now have a track record of players entering the portal more than once.

Via SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic, Florida State offensive lineman Landon Dickerson is looking to transfer out of Tallahassee for the second time in four months:

Dickerson was expected to be a starter for the Seminoles had he returned to the team in 2019 and is one of the most experienced linemen on the roster. Health has been an issue for the former four-star recruit however, as he redshirted last year with an injury after starting the opener and suffered season-ending lower leg injuries in both 2017 and 2016.

The (likely) loss of Dickerson further increases the difficulty ahead for an FSU offense that has struggled up front — to put it mildly — the past several years. Randy Clements was recently hired as the team’s new line coach as part of Kendal Briles taking over as offensive coordinator so there will be big changes in store either way and a veteran could have certainly helped manage the transition as the ‘Noles try to climb back to national relevance after such a disappointing campaign last year.

Either way, Dickerson pioneering the double-transfer portal entry is probably an outcome that was entirely predictable for those who follow college football closely and bound to be much more common going forward.

Division III MIAC conference kicks out St. Thomas for being TOO good

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Here’s a story one doesn’t see everyday. Or hardly ever. A Division III athletic conference is actually kicking out a school for being too good.

Yep.

Being too good has resulted in St. Thomas athletics getting booted from the MIAC after the 2020-21 season, as both confirmed on Wednesday in a surprising bit of news out of Minnesota.

“After extensive membership discussions, the University of St. Thomas will be involuntarily removed from membership in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). The MIAC Presidents’ Council cites athletic competitive parity in the conference as a primary concern. St. Thomas will begin a multi-year transition immediately and meanwhile is eligible to compete as a full member of the MIAC through the end of spring 2021,” the league said in a statement. “St. Thomas is one of seven founding members of the MIAC and will leave the conference in good standing with a long and appreciated history of academic and athletic success.”

‘Competitive parity’ is the key phrase in the above release and goes to the heart of the matter. St. Thomas has ruled the league in football (among other sports) in recent years and are an impressive 78-10 record with six of the past nine conference titles under head coach Glenn Caruso. The Tommies have also won the MIAC All-Sports Trophy every single season on both the men’s and women’s sides since 2008, which speaks to their overall dominance of the conference across the board. St. Thomas is also the biggest school in terms of enrollment in the league as well and that size advantage is reportedly another factor in the Tommies having to find a new home.

Based on the school’s statement, they seemed to be handling the disappointing news as best they can but will no doubt be scrambling to find a new home in short order. If there is any silver lining from all this, St. Thomas did expressly say they would try to continue to play fellow MIAC rival St. John’s in football (in one of the great D3 rivalries on the gridiron) for as long as they can.

While it feels like such an action could never be undertaken at the FBS level at this point, the MIAC’s actions have to at least plant the seeds of exploration in doing the same by at least one or two SEC and ACC schools who have to play Alabama or Clemson every season. Well, at least it could with a few rival fans after seeing this puzzling news emerge out of the lower levels of NCAA athletics.

Southern Miss and Miami add non-conference game at Hard Rock Stadium for 2022

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Miami continues to fill out its non-conference schedule as the Hurricanes try to play a little catch up when it comes to filling out dates far off into the future like their ACC peers.

The latest addition to the slate comes in the form of Southern Miss, which confirmed a game at Hard Rock Stadium in the Miami area for Sept. 10, 2022.

“We are excited to announce these future games for our football program,” said Southern Miss Director of Athletics Jeremy McClain in a release. “Our scheduling philosophy moving forward will continue to include regionally based opponents that provide great opportunities for fans to enjoy Golden Eagle football.”

The meeting of ‘The U’ and USM will be the programs first ever meeting on the football field. The announcement comes a week after Miami inked a 2-for-1 series with in-state rival USF starting in 2025.

Both the Golden Eagles and the Hurricanes still have work left to do in 2022 to complete their non-conference schedule. Miami will play at Texas A&M during the same season and have two more openings while Southern Miss compliments the trip to South Beach with games against Liberty and Tulane.

Pitt announces addition of Florida grad transfer LB Kylan Johnson

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Pitt is adding some SEC speed to their defense this offseason.

The addition comes in the form of graduate transfer linebacker Kylan Johnson, who arrives in the Steel City after spending the past three years at Florida.

“Kylan is a really smart player with a great nose for the football,” head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a school release. “He can play either outside linebacker position and is a great fit for our scheme. Kylan’s experience and athleticism will be immediate assets for our linebacker group.”

After arriving in Gainesville as part of the class of 2016, Johnson wound up making nine starts for the Gators over a total of 33 games and recorded a total 83 tackles and a sack.

Johnson has a single season of eligibility remaining with the Panthers and arrives to help out a linebacking corps that is probably thinner than Narduzzi would like heading into 2019. Middle linebacker Elias Reynolds is the only returning starter at Pitt and the defending ACC Coastal champs also have to replace several other key contributors in the front seven for the upcoming campaign.

Pitt opens the season at home against conference rival Virginia on August 31.