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)

McKenzie Milton’s six-touchdown night powers No. 16 UCF past FAU

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The longest active winning streak in FBS was extended to 16 straight games by No. 16 UCF (3-0) Friday night in Orlando. McKenzie Milton accounted for six touchdowns as UCF topped FAU, 56-36, in a battle of the defending AAC and Conference USA champions.

UCF started off on a quick foot with two touchdowns on their first two offensive series in the game, building a 14-0 lead before FAU could find any offense to work with. After the Owls strung together 17-straight points, Milton drive UCF down the field in the final 90 seconds for a go-ahead touchdown and UCF never really had to look back from there. UCF scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to take a 42-23 lead into the fourth quarter.

Milton had himself another big game. Milton passed for 306 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 81 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. UCF piled up 546 yards of offense and converted seven of 11 third down plays for a first down.

FAU got a productive night from their offensive star, Devin Singletary. The running back rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns and was a difference-maker that provided a much-needed spark in the first half. But UCF was too much for FAU to handle over four quarters. FAU turned the football over twice, including on the game’s opening possession when Chris Robison was picked off. A second interception late in the third quarter stalled a promising looking drive as well.

Having played three games, UCF continues to look like the best Group of Five team in the race for a spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup. No Group of Five school has made back-to-back trips to the New Years Six under the College Football Playoff format, but UCF has shown no reason to suggest they are incapable of becoming the first. With Boise State losing last week and the AAC piling up some good wins as a conference (helping to out-weigh a few bad losses), the AAC looks to be putting itself in solid position to send its champion to a big bowl game at the end of the year. UCF’s biggest competition will come in conference games later on, including matchups with schools like Memphis and South Florida, but having a head-to-head win against a possible Group of Five conference champion is nice to have in the pocket later on.

FAU’s search for a win against a top 25 team will continue to drag on. With the loss, the Owls fell to 0-20 all-time against teams ranked in the AP Top 25.

UCF will stay home next week for its first and only game against a power conference opponent this season. The Knights will host the Pitt Panthers. UCF had a game against North Carolina canceled due to Hurricane Florence last week and had a game against Georgia Tech wiped out last season so the opportunity to finally play an ACC opponent will be welcomed by the Knights.

FAU will begin the quest to defend their Conference USA championship from last year next week by opening conference play on the road against Middle Tennessee State. Middle Tennessee is off this week after losing at Georgia last week. A bye week before a home game against the Owls is favorable, although FAU is still likely to be the favorite next week and in Conference USA.

UCF starts fast and wakes up from slumber to take halftime lead on FAU

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Expected to be one of the top Group of Five matchups of the season, UCF and FAU have not disappointed so far Friday night. After UCF jumped out to a 14-0 lead on the visiting Owls, Devin Singletary provided a charge to help FAU take a 17-14 lead in the final two minutes of the first half in Orlando, but McKenzie Milton drove the Knights right down the field on a late possession to re-take a 21-17 lead.

UCF opened the game on a solid foot with the defense ending FAU’s game-opening drive on an interception by linebacker Pat Jasinski. Just a few plays later, McKenzie Milton kept the ball himself and ran untouched for a touchdown to the right side.

UCF extended their lead to 14-0 with a 10-play, 92-yard drive in under three minutes on their next possession. Milton ended the drive with a touchdown strike to Dredrick Snelson. After exchanging three-and-out possessions, FAU finally got something working for them on offense after taking advantage of a well-run fake punt to keep a drive alive.

A face mask penalty on UCF helped FAU continue to move downfield a few plays later and Singletary broke off a would-be-tackler and took off up the middle 11 yards for a touchdown for FAU’s first points of the game.

FAU kept things going in their favor with another quick three-and-out against the UCF offense. Singletary then scored his second touchdown of the half to draw the game even at 14-14 with five minutes gone in the second quarter. FAU took its first lead of the night with a field goal by Vladimir Rivas in the final two minutes.

The lead lasted all of one minute and three seconds. Milton answered with a lightning-fast 78-yard touchdown drive by completing passes four of five plays, ending the drive with a touchdown pass to Marlon Williams.

UCF offensive lineman Wyatt Miller left the game with an undisclosed injury in the first half. His status is unknown, but he has not returned to the game.

Investigation details timeline of how Maryland trainers inadequately treated Jordan McNair

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The findings from an independent report into the handling of Maryland football player Jordan McNair has been released, and the report puts blame for the death of McNair on the athletic trainers who were on-hand.

“There was a failure to identify symptoms and aggressively treat it,” sports medicine consultant Dr. Rod Walters stated while addressing the report’s findings.

Although it was confirmed that doing so would have significantly improved the chances of successfully treating McNair, McNair was not placed in an ice bath while experiencing symptoms of heat stroke because an athletic trainer was concerned about his size. On top of that, there was a 34-minute delay in getting McNair off the practice field at the first sign of his symptoms and it took a total of one hour and 39 minutes before McNair was taken away in an ambulance for further medical attention.

The report details why cold water tanks were not available either, stating that the cold water tanks that were available at the time of the practice were inadequate.

Board of Regents Chair Jim Brandy denied saying whether or not this investigation was a display of negligence within the football program, but said he would like to gather more facts before saying whether or not that would be the case.

Maryland head coach DJ Durkin was confirmed to have been on the scene at the time of the heat-induced trauma, but there was no decision made on his fate on the basis of this report by the Maryland Board of Regents. However, Durkin will remain on administrative leave until the second investigation into the Maryland football program concludes. A second investigation has been ongoing regarding the accusations of being a football program with a so-called toxic culture. There is no timeline for when that investigation will wrap up, nor is there any suggestion as to when a decision on Durkin’s future with the program will ultimately be determined.

Ex-Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood’s show-cause has expired

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Anyone in the market for a former college football head coach? Kyle Flood is now officially available.

The former Rutgers head coach was slapped with a one-year show-cause penalty as part of the fallout of the scandal that led to Flood’s firing at Rutgers that also cost Julie Hermann her position as the athletic director. Flood was essentially prevented from coaching in college for a year after initially serving a three-game suspension for his conduct in contacting university professors about eligibility concerns for a football player.

Accusations of covering up drug use by players also came under scrutiny by the NCAA as well as the program’s student-ambassador program. Now that the show-cause penalty is served, Flood can now be hired by any college football program without the threat of being punished by the NCAA.

Flood has spent the past year as an offensive line coach with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. Flood was 27-24 in four seasons at Rutgers from 2012 through 2015. Former Rutgers defensive backs coach Darrell Wilson also had his show-cause expire. Whether or not he returns to college football is anyone’s guess at this point, but he is now available for hire.

Rutgers is still on probation by the NCAA for another year. The probation expires on September 21, 2019, according to NJ.com.