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)

Jim Thorpe Award reveals 14 semifinalists for 2018 honor

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You know how I know we’re getting close to the end of another regular season? Award semifinalists are being announced.

The first major award to do as such is the Jim Thorpe Award, with the trophy going to the nation’s top defensive back announcing a 14-player list of semifinalists. None of this year’s group were finalists or semifinalists for an award claimed last year by Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick.

The SEC leads the way with three of the 14 semifinalists, followed by two apiece from the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12. Two Group of Five conferences, the AAC and Conference USA, have one each. Notre Dame is the lone independent to make the in-season cut.

Miami, LSU and Texas are the lone teams with two semifinalists — Michael Jackson Jr. and Jaquan Johnson for the Hurricanes; safety Grant Delpit and cornerback Greedy Williams (pictured) for the Tigers; and cornerback Kris Boyd and safety Caden Stearns for the Longhorns.

Nearly half of the announced semifinalists (six) are seniors. Another three each are juniors and sophomores, while there is one freshman — the Longhorns’ Stearns.

As far as specific positions, eight are corners and six are safeties.

Below is the entirety of the players eligible to claim the 2018 Jim Thorpe Award:

Ugochukwu Amadi, Oregon, Safety, Sr.
DeAndre Baker, Georgia, Cornerback, Sr.
Kris Boyd, Texas, Cornerback, Sr.
Nate Brooks, North Texas, Cornerback, Sr.
Grant Delpit, LSU, Safety, So.
Richie Grant, UCF, Safety, RSo.
Lavert Hill, Michigan, Cornerback, Jr.
Michael Jackson, Sr., Miami (FL), Cornerback, Sr.
Jaquan Johnson, Miami (FL), Safety, Sr.
Julian Love, Notre Dame, Cornerback, Jr.
Amani Oruwariye, Penn State, Cornerback, Sr.
Taylor Rapp, Washington, Safety, Jr.
Caden Sterns, Texas, Safety, Fr.
Greedy Williams, LSU, Cornerback, So.

Duke loses starting LT to fractured ankle

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Duke’s fairly astonishing spate of injuries to starters shows no signs of abating anytime soon.

The Blue Devils announced over the weekend that Jaylen Miller underwent surgery Sunday morning to repair a fractured right ankle. Miller suffered the injury in Saturday’s loss to Virginia.

As a result, the redshirt sophomore offensive tackle will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2018 season.

Miller had played in all seven games this season, starting each of the last three contests at left tackle. Those were the first starts of his career. Prior to this season, the 6-3, 310-pound Miller had played in just two games.

Miller’s ankle is just the latest in a long line of injuries that have hit the Blue Devils this season. From the football program’s release:

Miller becomes the 11th Blue Devil with starting experience to miss at least one game this season due to injury, joining running back Brittain Brown, cornerback Michael Carter II, defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord, cornerback Mark Gilbert, center Zach Harmon, safety Jordan Hayes, quarterback Daniel Jones, defensive end Drew Jordan, safety Jeremy McDuffie, linebacker Koby Quansah and wide receiver Aaron Young.

Report: USC starting QB JT Daniels expected to play vs. Arizona State

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Could it be much ado about nothing?

With starter JT Daniels in concussion protocol and his backup, Matt Fink, nursing three broken ribs, it was appearing somewhat likely that USC would be forced to turn the offense over to No. 3 quarterback Jack Sears. According to one report, however, the redshirt freshman may not be needed this weekend after all — at least to start with.

Obviously, the Trojans’ quarterback situation/predicament will be fluid throughout the rest of the week leading up to the Week 9 matchup with Arizona State this Saturday and possibly not decided until we get closer to kickoff.

Daniels, the true freshman who has started every game this season, suffered his head injury in the loss to Utah this past Saturday. Fink injured his ribs in the same game.

Sears, meanwhile, has not attempted a pass in his collegiate career.

Warde Manuel essentially claims ‘SCOREBOARD!’ in latest Michigan-Michigan State salvo

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The most recent public pissing match between a pair of in-state rivals shows no sign of abating anytime soon.  At all.

To recap:

In response to that statement, U-M athletic director Warde Manuel released his own statement Monday night.  In it, Manuel began by writing about a pregame conversation with his MSU counterpart, Bill Beekman, that he preferred to keep private.  To end it, Manual not-so-discreetly declared “SCOREBOARD!” on his rivals.

“It is a great rivalry between two Michigan Universities, and the focus should remain on the game, the way it’s played and,” wait for it… “the final result.”

Well played, Mr. Manuel.  Well played.

I had a conversation on the field with Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman prior to the game regarding the situation that occurred during pregame warmups. My preference is to keep that conversation and any further discussions between us. I will work with our staff and the conference to see how this situation can be prevented from happening in the future. It is a great rivalry between two Michigan Universities, and the focus should remain on the game, the way it’s played, and the final result.