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)

Western Kentucky’s leading tackler taking grad transfer to Purdue

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A significant loss for Western Kentucky’s defense could prove to be a boon for Purdue on that side of the ball.

In an email to the West Lafayette Journal & Courier, Ben Holt confirmed that he has decided to transfer from Western Kentucky to Purdue and continue his collegiate playing career with the Boilermakers.  As he is expected to graduate from WKU in May, the linebacker will be eligible to play immediately in 2019 for the Big Ten school.

Holt is the son of Nick Holt, who has spent the past two seasons as the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach at Purdue.  Ben Holt’s head coach his first two seasons with the Hilltoppers was Jeff Brohm, who is entering his third year in the same job with the Boilermakers.

This past season, Holt started all 12 games for the Hilltoppers.  He led the team in tackles with 116, tackles for losses with 11½ and quarterback hurries with nine.  His five pass breakups were good for third on the squad in 2018.

All told, Holt played in 38 games his past three seasons in Bowling Green.

Holt becomes the third former Hilltopper to transfer to the Boilermakers since Brohm came to West Lafayette.  Starting linebacker T.J. McCollum followed the coach in February of 2017, with starting offensive lineman Dennis Edwards following McCollum a year later.

Alabama LB Chris Allen undergoes surgery, per report

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The near-complete revamping of Nick Saban‘s coaching staff wasn’t the only football news coming out of Tuscaloosa late this past week.

According to al.com, outside linebacker Chris Allen underwent what was described as a minor surgical procedure on his knee Thursday.  The specific nature of the injury wasn’t detailed.

Allen, who missed the entire 2018 season after tearing an ACL, is expected to be healthy enough to participate in spring practice, which kicks off next month.

A four-star member of the Crimson Tide’s 2017 recruiting class, Allen was rated as the No. 4 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Alabama.  As a true freshman, the Baton Rouge native played in seven games.

As noted by the website, Allen is set to be one of the Tide’s top backup linebackers on the outside this coming season.

Minnesota dismisses TE who allegedly punched cop in the face

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Yeah, that’ll do it.

According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Minnesota tight end Max Janes is facing felony charges after allegedly assaulting a police officer very early in the morning of Feb. 8.  It’s alleged that an intoxicated Janes was in the process of breaking into a post office when police officers responded, with the football player ultimately turning violent and allegedly punching one of the cops in the face.

From the Star Tribune‘s report:

According to the criminal complaint: Officers were dispatched to a welfare check on reports of an individual improperly dressed for the cold weather loitering outside the post office. They located Janes just as he gained unlawful entry into the building’s loading dock. Officers placed Janes in their squad car, but opened the rear door after he informed them that he needed to vomit.

Instead, Janes got out and punched an officer — causing demonstrable bodily harm, the complaint says. He was eventually restrained and booked at Hennepin County jail, where he was charged with fourth-degree assault of a peace officer and obstructing the legal process.

As a result of the off-field incident, Janes was dismissed from the football team.

“We have extremely high standards for members of our team and when those standards are not met there are consequences,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “Law enforcement officers speak to our team and educate them multiple times a year, and we greatly appreciate those who protect and serve us on a daily basis.”

A preferred walk-on, Janes played in 13 games as a true freshman this past season.  The vast majority of his action came on special teams.

Wyoming’s OL coach shuffle continues with hiring of Ohio assistant

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Maybe the third time will be a charm?

Following the end of the 2018 season, Craig Bohl parted ways with his long-time offensive line coach Scott Fuchs and embarked on a search for a replacement. That search ended with Wyoming’s hiring of Klayton Adams; less than a month later, another search for a line coach was launched as Adams took a job as the assistant offensive line coach for the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts.

A little over a week later, and while there’s nothing official yet from the Cowboys, Frank Solich confirmed to the Athens Messenger this past week that Ohio’s offensive line coach, Bart Miller, has taken the same job at Wyoming.

“Our coaches loved working with him, our players loved working with him. We appreciate what he was all about and how he helped our team be what it was last year,” the head coach told the Messenger.

Last season was Miller’s first with the Bobcats. As the newspaper noted, this will mark Miller’s fourth different school in as many years as he was on the coaching staffs at Minnesota and Air Force in 2016 and 2017, respectively.