CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 5 Oklahoma

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-2 in Big 12 Conference (tied 2nd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Alabama (45-31 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/No. 6
Head coach: Bob Stoops (160-39 overall; 160-39 in 15 years at Oklahoma)
Co-offensive coordinators: Josh Heupel (9th year at Oklahoma) and Jay Norvell (6th year)
2013 offensive rankings: 18th rushing offense (223.9 ypg); 90th passing offense (199.1 ypg); 52nd total offense (423 ypg); 40th scoring offense (32.8 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Mike Stoops (eight years at Oklahoma)
2013 defensive rankings: 25th rushing defense (137.6 ypg); 30th passing defense (212.5 ypg);  20th total defense (350.2 ypg); 22nd scoring defense (22.1 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: nine
Location: Norman, Oklahoma
Stadium: Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium (82,112; grass)
Last conference title: 2012 (co-champions with Kansas State)

THE GOOD
The Sooners lay claim to the best defense in the Big 12 conference. The unit finished 20th overall in total defense last season, which is an impressive feat considering the wide-open offenses seen during conference play. The defense is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker. Striker is one of the most intimidating defenders in the country. Not only is the linebacker one of the most explosive edge rushers in college football, but the Sooners move him around throughout the game to keep offenses on their heels. It’s nearly impossible for an offense to key on a specific defender and set their blocking schemes if they don’t know where he’s going to be lined up on a down-by-down basis. The team’s linebackers as a whole are very talented. Leading tackler Frank Shannon won’t play this season due to suspension, but senior Geneo Grissom showed how dangerous he can be opposite Striker with 2.5 sacks against Alabama in the Sugar Bowl. And inside linebacker Dominique Alexander was named the 2013 Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year. Both starting cornerbacks return as does strong safety Quentin Hayes. The defense will also get a boost when the massive (6-6, 334) Jordan Phillips returns to the lineup as the starting nose tackle after missing the final 10 weeks of the season due to a back injury. The Sooners defense is talented, aggressive and experienced. Even if Oklahoma’s offense struggles during stretches, the defense is good enough to win games for them this season.

THE BAD
If the Sooners are going to be earn a spot in the first College Football Playoff, the team absolutely has to be more consistent at the quarterback position. Expectations are sky high for Trevor Knight (see: below) after his surprising and dominant performance against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. Knight has to prove it wasn’t an one-game aberration. The most damning evidence against Oklahoma’s quarterbacks last year was finishing ninth (out of 10 teams) in the Big 12 in passing offense. The ability to stretch the field vertically opens up the rest of the offense, but Oklahoma was never able to do so last year until the bowl game. And for a quarterback to be able to open up the offense, he has to have reliable receivers. Junior wide receiver Sterling Shephard will have to develop into a No. 1 target after finishing second on the team last season with 51 receptions for 603 yards. The Sooners’ other projected starters at wide receiver, Durron Neal and Derrick Woods, combined to make 15 receptions for 205 yards. Consistency at quarterback and wide receiver will be the primary indicator of how successful the Sooners are in 2014.

THE UNKNOWN
The University of Oklahoma suspended two of the team’s most talented players in Shannon and running back Joe Mixon prior to the start of the season for the entirety of 2014 campaign. Plus, the team hoped Missouri transfer Dorial Green-Beckham would be eligible to play this season. The NCAA denied Green-Beckam’s transfer waiver, and the wide receiver will have to wait until next year to make a mark with the Sooners…if he does at all. These are three very talented players that would have contributed plenty to the Sooners this season. Shannon was the team’s leading tackler in 2013. Sophomore Jordan Evans, who played in eight games last season as a true freshman, will take over for Shannon. The Sooners’ passing game will have to rely heavily on Shepard due to the lack of experience with the rest of the team’s wide receivers. Keith Ford and Alex Ross will split reps without the explosive Mixon being a part of the running back stable. Of the three, the junior linebacker’s suspension could prove to be the most problematic this season, while the team will simply have to wait another year to receive contributions from Mixon and Green-Beckham.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Tennessee
The scheduling within the Big 12 Conference is so underwhelming an one-loss Sooners’ squad might be the team on the outside looking in during the inaugural College Football Player. It’s quite possible Oklahoma will slip up at least once during Big 12 play. The reason the Tennessee game is so important is due to it being the team’s only non-conference game against a Power Five opponent. The Volunteers may have been 5-7 last season, but their affiliation with the SEC holds plenty of water. The game will be a test to see how Oklahoma stacks up against the best conference in college football. A resounding victory by Oklahoma will show the Sooners are superior to the SEC’s middle class. And it will leave a positive impression in the playoff committee’s collective mind as the Sooners attempt to navigate their treacherous conference schedule.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: QB Trevor Knight
Knight made it look easy against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the Sugar Bowl. The ball effortlessly flew out of the quarterback’s hand as he broke a Sugar Bowl record with 32 completions for 348 yards and four touchdowns. Knight’s performance in the bowl game leaves a lasting impression on Heisman voters and provides momentum as he enters his first season as a full-time starter. The reality, though, is Knight didn’t play well during the regular season. Knight won the starting job in fall camp last year only to hand the spot back to Blake Bell. Knight’s highest output in a single game before his explosion against Alabama was 171 passing yards. In fact, Knight only passed for 471 yards and five touchdowns during his previous eight appearances. But Knight’s Heisman candidacy is based purely on potential. If Knight can play at the same level seen against Alabama throughout the 2014 campaign, the Sooners will be one of the best teams in college football and the quarterback will be sitting in New York City waiting to hear his name called as the latest Heisman Trophy winner.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Tennessee officially announces addition of USC transfer WR Velus Jones

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The newest member of the Tennessee Vols football team is officially onboard.

Earlier this month, Velus Jones announced on social media that he would be transferring from USC to Tennessee. Two weeks later, the Tennessee Vols football program confirmed the wide receiver’s addition to the roster.

The move continues what’s been a winding, twisting collegiate journey for Jones.

Originally committed to Alabama, Jones flipped to USC… then to Oklahoma… then back to USC before ultimately signing with the Trojans in 2016. In March of 2019, Jones placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. Three months later, however, Jones reversed course and remained with the Trojans.

Jones, a three-star 2016 signee coming out of high school in Alabama, was fourth on the Trojans in receptions (24) and receiving yards (266) as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. He also led the team with a 22.7 yards per kick return average. A year later, though, that production dropped to just 35 yards on six receptions.

For his career thus far, Jones has totaled 347 yards and a touchdown on his 36 catches.  He also scored a rushing touchdown in 2018.  On 82 kick returns spread out over three seasons, he averaged 23.7 per.

As a graduate transfer, Jones will be eligible to play for the Vols in 2020.  The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Auburn announces new three-year deal for DC Kevin Steele

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When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Auburn Tigers football program has ensured some continued coaching continuity.  At least for now.

Earlier Wednesday, Auburn announced that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has agreed to a new three-year contract.  The new deal would keep Steele on The Plains through the 2022 season.

The financial particulars of the new pact have not yet been released.  In 2019, the 61-year-old Steele took in $1.9 million in total pay according to USA Today‘s coaching salary database.  That figure placed him third in the SEC and fourth nationally.

“Kevin has done a fantastic job with our defense the last four years making it one of the best in the country,” Auburn Tigers football head coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. “This will provide great stability and leadership for our defense in the future. I’m appreciative of Kevin’s hard work.”

In December of 2015, Steele was hired as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.  Prior to that, he held the same job at LSU.

From the school’s release:

During Steele’s tenure as defensive coordinator the last four years, Auburn’s defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense. Auburn is one of only five FBS programs to hold opponents under 20 points per game in each of the last four seasons.

This past season, Auburn was sixth in the SEC and 17th nationally in giving up 19.5 points per game.  In total defense, the Tigers were seventh in the conference and 28th in the country as they allowed 337 yards per game.

Five Virginia Tech players, including three WRs, enter transfer portal in one day

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When it comes to the portal world, the Virginia Tech football program won the day.  Congrats?

As of this posting, three Virginia Tech football players announced on Twitter Wednesday that they have entered the NCAA transfer database.  Two of those entries are wide receivers — redshirt junior Hezekiah Grimsley (HERE) and true freshman Jacoby Pinckney (HERE) — to go along with running back Caleb Steward (HERE).

On top of that social-media attrition, it has been confirmed that yet another receiver, redshirt junior Phil Patterson, is in the portal.  As is defensive back Khalil Ladler, bringing the one-day total of Virginia Tech football players considering a transfer to five.

Five.  In one day.  The same day the program began winter workouts, it should be noted.

The trio of receivers in the portal actually pushes that group to four overall.  Earlier this month, Damon Hazelton signaled his intention to leave Blacksburg as well.

As for the recently-departed receiving corps particulars:

  • Grimsley — 53 career catches for 691 yards, three touchdowns. Stat line of 10-170-2 in 2019.
  • Patterson — 27 career catches for 269 yards, two touchdowns. Sta line of 6-72-1 in 2019.
  • Pinckney — Four-star 2019 signee who took a redshirt as a true freshman.  He was the No. 3 player regardless of position in the state of South Carolina.

As a redshirt freshman this past season, Steward ran for 85 yards on 19 carries.  Coming out of high school, Steward was a three-star 2018 signee.  He was rated as the No. 74 running back in the country and the No. 196 player at any position in the state of Florida.

A redshirt junior, Ladler played in 13 games each of the past three seasons.  During his time with the Hokies, the Georgia native was credited with 96 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, five pass breakups, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

Boise State, Mountain West release joint statement

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The developing situation between Boise State and the Mountain West Conference has taken yet another twist.

Earlier this month, the MWC announced a new six-year television deal that would significantly increase the annual revenue for league members.  The only problem?  MWC commissioner Craig Thompson stated earlier this month that Boise State’s sweetheart arrangement that allowed it to receive broadcast revenue above and beyond what other league members receive — originally part of a deal to remain in the conference after briefly going to the Big East during realignment’s heyday — would be coming to an end when this new deal expired.

That was apparently news to Boise State, which stated Tuesday that the university was “weighing our options to move forward.” One of those options, apparently, was the legal one as it was reported earlier Wednesday that Boise State filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the MWC.

Two hours or so after those reports emerged, a “joint statement” from Boise State and the Mountain West addressed the latest development.

Last week, Boise State filed a complaint regarding media rights against the Mountain West Conference; however, that action alone does not formally begin a lawsuit. The University and the Mountain West are currently in discussions in hopes of bringing this matter to a resolution without litigation.

In the agreement that allowed Boise State to return to the MWC after the Big East flirtation, the university was to receive an additional $2 million in conference revenue annually.