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)

WVU wideout Dillon Spalding transfers to James Madison, will play against old team in Week 1

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In the NFL, you’ll often see teams sign a player who was just cut off another team the week or two before they wind up playing that opponent. We could sort of have a college football version of that scenario in the case of wide receiver Dillon Spalding.

The former West Virginia redshirt freshman announced on Twitter that he had committed to James Madison and would be transferring to join the team in 2019. The team’s opponent in Week 1? None other than the Mountaineers in Morgantown.

Of course any knowledge Spalding might bring with him is limited given that both JMU and WVU have new coaching staffs in place this year. The former three-star recruit is moving a little closer to his Lorton, Va. hometown and will have all four years of eligibility remaining between redshirting last season due to an injury and the drop down to the FCS level.

The Dukes have added a solid amount of FBS talent recently for new coach Curt Cignetti. In addition to Spalding, former Penn State wide receiver Brandon Polk joined the program this offseason and both will catch passes from ex-Pitt QB Ben DiNucci.

Wildcats see attendance spike after allowing beer and wine sales at Arizona Stadium in 2018

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Arizona posted a disappointing 5-7 campaign in Kevin Sumlin’s first season in Tucson but Arizona fans still came out and enjoyed themselves thanks, in part, to the school allowing beer and alcohol sales for the first time.

As the Arizona Daily Star reports, attendance for the Wildcats home football games actually ticked up last year an average of 2,804 people while incidents of ejections at the stadium did the same — though were below historic averages.

“We’ve been very pleased with the rollout across the board in Arizona Stadium and McKale,” athletic director Dave Heeke said. “This was really focused around a number of things that we’ve done in the area of fan amenities and food service, and beverage selection was a key component.”

Some 43 people were kicked out of seven home games at UA, which is double the 21 from 2017 but well below the numbers the school reported for seasons when they played in-state rival Arizona State. It seems that Territorial Cup contest was the biggest indicator of above-average ejections in a year though game-by-game data was not given.

“I really haven’t noticed an increase in any type of criminal behavior due to beer and wine sales,” UAPD spokesman Sgt. Sean Shields told the paper. “Obviously from year to year the ejections and different numbers change and they fluctuate, but it’s very hard to pinpoint the reason why those happen.”

The amount of revenue generated by beer and alcohol sales wasn’t detailed by the school but Heeke noted it covered the additional costs on game days and the profit overall wasn’t hugely significant. Still, it seems the atmosphere at Arizona Stadium was still enough to lure fans into their seats despite plenty of late starts and a football team that was largely up-and-down in 2018.

Ex-FAU defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro joins Kansas staff in off-the-field role

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Not many people can say they worked for the very different styles of head coaches Lane Kiffin and Les Miles back-to-back but Tony Pecoraro certainly can.

The recently let go Florida Atlantic defensive coordinator has apparently landed a new gig in Lawrence as a senior defensive analyst, primarily serving under Jayhawks DC D.J. Eliott.

Pecoraro took over the Owls defense in 2018 after spending the previous two seasons running things on that side of the ball for Southern Miss. Things didn’t quite work out in Boca however as FAU couldn’t get off the field like they did in Kiffin’s first year and allowed 31.8 points per game.

The veteran coordinator, who has Power Five assistant experience from a stint at Florida State, was replaced at FAU by longtime Oklahoma State DC Glenn Spencer back in December.

Wisconsin unlikely to join trend of selling beer and alcohol at football games anytime soon

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Wisconsin fans are known to hold more than their own when it comes to enjoying an adult beverage or two before, during and after Badgers football games but they apparently will have to keep waiting for the opportunity to buy a cold one at Camp Randall on game days.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, a decision on whether or not to allow beer/alcohol sales in the general seating sections of the stadium rests with school chancellor Rebecca Blank and that she is not inclined to change the status quo on such prohibition anytime soon.

“The university believes that there is already an atmosphere of energy and excitement around Badger game days,” a school statement to the paper read. “The addition of alcohol to general seating areas isn’t needed to improve that experience and could detract from it for our students and fans.”

Just in the last two months, Indiana, Rutgers and Illinois have turned on the taps for football games in 2019. That will result in fully half of Big Ten schools allowing such sales in general seating areas as a result this season and it’s turned into yet another lucrative revenue stream for those that have too.

Wisconsin appears resistant to the idea however, doing so in the face of declining attendance for games too. While it is certainly too early to remark ‘never say never’ when it comes to the Badgers, it’s pretty clear this trend isn’t making its way to Madison anytime soon.