CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8
Head coach: Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama)
Offensive coordinator: Lane Kiffin (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (seventh season)
2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Four
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.

THE BAD
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still.  Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball.  Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury.  There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced.  Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally.  In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring.  The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4.  Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.

THE UNKNOWN
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season.  With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback.  Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns.  Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa.  Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39.  Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one.  Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year.  The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played.  After last year?  This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide.  Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size.  He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Georgia Tech’s No. 2 QB tweets he underwent surgery, very likely ending his season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 18 Georgia Tech at Duke
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It appears Georgia Tech will have to turn to option No. 3 for its No. 2 quarterback.

Earlier this week, Paul Johnson indicated that Lucas Johnson would meet with the team’s medical staff to determine whether or not he would have to undergo season-ending surgery for an unspecified injury to his lower right leg. While there’s been no official word yet from the team, Johnson posted on Twitter Thursday afternoon that “[s]urgery went well!!”

The assumption now is that the redshirt sophomore quarterback will be sidelined for the entire 2018 season.

Johnson suffered the injury during a scrimmage this past Saturday.

“It’s frustrating,” head coach Paul Johnson said Wednesday. “That’s the second time in three years that we’ve lost a quarterback to a non-contact injury.”

A three-star 2016 signee, Johnson served as the primary backup to starter TaQuon Marshall in 2017, although he didn’t attempt a pass and ran the ball just once for one yard. Throughout spring practice and then on into summer camp, Johnson had been running with the Yellow Jackets’ second-team offense.

With Johnson’s injury, Tobias Oliver will now serve as Marshall’s backup. Oliver, a three-star 2017 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

Broken leg to sideline Mizzou WR Richaud Floyd for 4-6 weeks

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The injury bug has claimed yet another victim shortly before the start of the 2018 season.

According to Rivals.com, Richaud Floyd broke a bone in his right leg during Missouri’s practice Wednesday. As a result, the wide receiver is expected to be sidelined for a period of 4-6 weeks.

At the short end of that timeline, Floyd would miss the opener against FCS Tennessee-Martin Sept. 1 as well as the Wyoming game in Week 2. At the long end, he’d be sidelined for the first road game of the year (at Purdue Sept. 15) as well as the SEC opener against Georgia in Columbia Sept. 22. At least at the moment, it appears that, at the latest, Floyd would be able to return for the Oct. 6 game against South Carolina.

Last season as a redshirt sophomore, Floyd caught 14 passes for 170 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also returned two punts for touchdowns — on just 11 attempts — which tied him for second at the FBS level with seven other players. The punt return scores went for 74 and 85 yards, playing a huge role in his 19.8 yards per return that would’ve been second nationally if he had enough returns to qualify.

UCLA’s Octavius Spencer granted release to transfer from Bruins with no restrictions

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For roughly the dozenth time since Chip Kelly took over in Westwood, a player has left his UCLA football program.

Wednesday evening, 247Sports.com reported that Octavius Spencer “has been let go by the program due to a violation of team rules.” Wednesday night, Spencer wrote on his personal Twitter account that “it’s time to move on to another chapter and I will now be looking for a new place to call home.”

In the same tweet, the defensive back posted a letter, signed by athletic director Dan Guerrero, that indicates the university “hereby provides permission for you to discuss a possible transfer in the sport of football with any university.”

Spencer was a three-star member of the Bruins’ 2015 recruiting class. The fourth-year senior played in 35 games the past three years, including 13 last season. All three of his career starts came during what turned out to be his final go-around at UCLA.

The Los Angeles Daily News provided a rundown of all of the players, in addition to Spencer, who have left the team since Kelly took the reins:

… defensive linemen Greg Rogers and Ainuu Taua, defensive back Denzel Fisher, offensive linemen Alex Akingbulu, Paco Perez, Stephan Zabie and Sean Seawards, punter Austin Kent, and linebackers Brandon Burton and DeChaun Holiday. Additional players, including tight end Jimmy Jaggers and offensive lineman Jax Wacaser, announced medical retirements due to concussions.

Manning Award features 30 QBs on its preseason watch list

AllState Sugar Bowl - Clemson v Alabama
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Don’t quote me on it, but I do believe we have come to the final preseason watch list of the 2018 offseason. Maybe?

Thursday, the Manning Award released its initial list of the top 30 quarterbacks in the country to watch for the upcoming season, although a player not on this initial list is not necessarily precluded from winning the award. This is the only major award, it should be noted, that is handed out after the bowls, and is named in honor of the quarterbacking triumvirate of Archie, Peyton and Eli Manning.

Highlighting this latest watch list are four of the finalists for the 2017 award claimed by Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield — Penn State’s Trace McSorely, UCF’s McKenzie Milton, Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham and Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

All 10 FBS conferences are represented, led by the SEC’s five and four each from the ACC and Big Ten. The Pac-12 is next with three, while the remaining leagues — the AAC, Big 12, Conference USA, MAC Mountain West and Sun Belt — come in with two apiece. A pair of football independents, Notre Dame and UMass, are also represented.

Of the 30 watch listers, 17 are seniors and 12 are juniors. The lone sophomore is Virginia Tech’s Josh Jackson.

Below is the complete 2018 Manning Award preseason watch list:

Jake Bentley, Jr., South Carolina
Jake Browning, Sr., Washington
A.J. Erdely, Sr., UAB
Caleb Evans, Jr. UL-Monroe
Mason Fine, Jr., North Texas
Ryan Finley, Sr., N.C. State
Nick Fitzgerald, Sr., Mississippi State
Andrew Ford, Sr., Massachusetts
Ty Gangi, Sr., Nevada
Will Grier, Sr., West Virginia
Justice Hansen, Sr., Arkansas State
Ben Hicks, Jr., SMU
Alex Hornibrook, Jr., Wisconsin
Josh Jackson, Soph., Virginia Tech
Daniel Jones, Jr., Duke
Kyle Kempt, Sr., Iowa State
Brian Lewerke, Jr., Michigan State
Drew Lock, Sr., Missouri
Trace McSorley, Sr., Penn State
McKenzie Milton, Jr., Central Florida
Gus Ragland, Sr., Miami (Ohio)
Malik Rosier, Sr., Miami
Nathan Rourke, Jr., Ohio
Brett Rypien, Sr., Boise State
Kyle Shurmur, Sr., Vanderbilt
Nathan Stanley, Jr., Iowa
Jarrett Stidham, Sr., Auburn
Khalil Tate, Jr., Arizona
Manny Wilkins, Sr., Arizona State
Brandon Wimbush, Jr., Notre Dame