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)

West Virginia postpones Fan Day because of mini-outbreak of hand, foot and mouth disease

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Almost Heaven, y’all!

West Virginia had been set to play host to Fan Day Sunday afternoon. However, because of five cases of hand, foot and mouth disease being diagnosed within the program recently, Fan Day has been canceled.

From the football program’s press release:

Hand, foot and mouth is a mild but highly contagious viral infection that is very common among children but can spread to adults. The virus usually goes away on its own in a period of less than a week, and there is no specific treatment, just steps to ease the symptoms.

Because it is highly contagious, it is in the best interest of the general public to postpone the event. WVU’s medical staff continues to monitor the situation, taking proper steps to control the virus and communicating with the proper campus personnel.

“I know fans who were planning on attending Fan Day will be disappointed, but this is in the best interest of all involved,” WVU athletic director Shane Lyons said in a statement. “Our medical staff is doing an excellent job of addressing the matter. However, there is no reason to put the general public at risk.”

According to the program, a new date for Fan Day will be announced when it becomes available.

Wisconsin WR Quintez Cephus taking leave of absence as he deals with pending legal issue

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Wisconsin’s passing game has taken hit, although it remains to be seen how long its effects will linger.

On his personal Twitter account Saturday night, Quintez Cephus announced that he has been “forced to take a leave of absence from the team in order to focus all of my attention on clearing my name.” In his social media statement, the wide receiver stated he was informed by his lawyers Friday afternoon that the Dane County (WI) District Attorney’s office will pursue unspecified charges against him for an incident that occurred back in April of this year.

“I have been wrongfully accused of unlawful conduct and I am innocent of any allegations associated with this consensual relationship,” Cephus wrote, adding that the pending charges are the result of a three-month investigation.

No details of what led to this situation have been divulged.

While UW has yet to publicly address the development, they are expected to release a statement on the situation in the not-too-distant future.

Last season, Cephus led the run-centric Badgers in receiving touchdowns with six and yards per catch at 16.7.  His 501 receiving yards were good for second, while his 30 receptions were third on the team.

In April of last year, Cephus’ father was murdered after being shot in the head execution-style.

Georgia’s Zamir White, nation’s No. 1 running back in 2018, suffers torn ACL

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One of the crown jewels of Georgia’s top-ranked 2018 recruiting class will have to bounce back from a significant injury yet again.

Kirby Smart confirmed Saturday that Zamir White suffered an injury to his left knee during the second scrimmage of summer camp earlier in the day. The non-contact injury occurred when the true freshman was taking part in punt coverage.

While the head coach didn’t initially know the extent of the injury, a subsequent MRI revealed that White sustained a torn ACL in the left knee. The school has not yet confirmed the Athens Banner-Herald‘s initial report.

White suffered a torn ACL last November during his North Carolina high school team’s playoff run, but had been given the all-clear medically to fully participate in practice. That ACL injury, incidentally, was in his right knee.

A consensus five-star signee, White was the No. 1 running back on 247Sports.com‘s composite board and was the No. 9 player overall. Only one member of the Bulldogs’ class this year, quarterback Justin Fields, was rated higher than White.

White had been expected to help replace the production lost with the departures of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel to the NFL.

Nick Saban on injury concerns: ‘You just think whatever happens, we just s**t another player’

NCAA FOOTBALL: SEP 05 AdvoCare Classic - Wisconsin v Alabama
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It’s still mid-August, but Nick Saban‘s already in rare form when it comes to dealing with the media.

Saturday. it was confirmed that backup linebacker Chris Allen will be lost for the entire 2018 season because of a serious knee injury. Additionally, offensive tackle Matt Womack, who underwent surgery Friday after reinjuring his foot, will miss 4-6 weeks.

Following today’s scrimmage, Saban became agitated when he was asked by a member of the media about his level of concern with the mini-spate of reserve players going down with injuries. From al.com:

I’ve been concerned all along,” Saban said. “So, I don’t even know why you’d ask the question.”

And then things really got rolling.

“Because you all don’t, you just think we just, whatever happens, we just s**t another player and everything is going to be perfect. All of our fans think that. You all think that. That’s what you write about. That’s the message you send out there.

For the record, Saban has shat quite well on the recruiting trail over the last decade:

2018: Fifth in 247Sports.com‘s composite rankings
2017: First
2016: First
2015: First
2014: First
2013: First
2012: First
2011: First
2010: Fourth
2009: Third

In that span, Saban has signed 41 five-star recruits and another 146 who were four-stars.

And the Class of 2019? Saban is getting s**t done yet again as the Crimson Tide is currently ranked No. 2 behind Georgia.