CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Playoff Darkhorses

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The term “BCS busters” should be collectively erased from everyone’s memories.

It’s now time to figure out which teams have a glimmer of hope to rise from obscurity and claim a spot in the first College Football Playoff.

The Florida State Seminoles, Alabama Crimson Tide and Oregon Ducks are overwhelming favorites to participate in the inaugural playoff structure. But college football never quite works out like everyone expects.

Each team in the country is striving to be among the best. Only four will achieve this goal. Some have better odds than others. We here at CFT like to root for the underdog. As such, we’ll attempt to identify a team from each of the Power Five conference and one from the rest of the leagues that have an outside shot of playing with the big boys this season.

We advise not to bet on any of these teams, but they each have something that gives them a chance, albeit a slight one, to be a part of college football’s elite…

ACC: Virginia Tech Hokies
Any team that comes out of the ACC that isn’t the Florida State Seminoles should be considered a playoff darkhorse. The reasons the Hokies are primed to improve greatly from their 8-5 record last season are they are particularly talented and experienced along the offensive line and secondary. The enter left side of the Hokies’ offensive line, including center, is comprised of seniors. And right tackle Jonathan McLaughlin was named  second-team freshman All-American by College Football News. The Hokies’ ability to win in the trenches will improve the team’s running game from last year, particularly with sophomore running back Trey Edmunds ready to become the team’s workhorse. Plus, solid play from the offensive line will help Michael Brewer‘s transition after he transferred from Texas Tech. On the defensive side of the ball, the Hokies may have lost Kyle Fuller and Antone Exum to the NFL, but both of last year’s starting cornerbacks struggled with injuries. Sophomores Brandon Facyson and Kendall Fuller proved more than capable of stepping in and becoming play makers. Everyone will quickly learn whether or not the Hokies are a legitimate contender when they face a Braxton Miller-less Ohio State Buckeyes squad during the second week of the season. If Virginia Tech can go into the Horshoe and claim a major victory against the Buckeyes, the rest of the schedule is manageable, especially since it won’t face the Seminoles in regular season play.

Big 12 Conference: Texas Tech Red Raiders
Kliff Kingbury
‘s first season as Texas Tech’s head coach developed into a perfect example of style over substance. The excitement of a 7-0 start faded into five straight losses to end the regular season. Despite being as highly ranked as 10th overall, the Red Raiders couldn’t match up physically against the likes of the Oklahoma Sooners, Baylor Bears and Texas Longhorns. As Kingsbury continues to build the program in Year 2, the Red Raiders should be far more consistent. It starts at the quarterback position in the team’s Air Raid offense. Davis Webb started six of the team’s final eight games, and he was awarded the starting job during spring practice. Kingsbury played three different quarterbacks last and never found any consistency. Webb’s growth as a player during his sophomore season will only help the offense become more successful. Each of the linemen in front of Webb is experienced, and the receivers are expected to produce. The defense will continue to be a concern, but Texas Tech will enter each game under the assumption they can outscore any opponent. If the Red Raiders can navigate the Big 12 Conference, they’re toughest non-conference opponent is the Arkansas Razorbacks, who finished 3-9 last season. The opportunity is there for Texas Tech to take the next step as a program and potentially enter the national conversation.

Big Ten Conference: Iowa Hawkeyes
The Hawkeyes will enjoy and possibly benefit greatly from playing in the Big Ten Conference’s new western division. Overall, the Big Ten Conference is wide open after the Ohio State Buckeyes lost Miller for the season. But that won’t matter for Iowa since they’re not scheduled to play the Buckeyes this season. Iowa not only avoids Ohio State, it won’t play the Michigan Wolverines, Michigan State Spartans or Penn State Nittany Lions. The Hawkeyes cross-divisional opponents this season are the Indiana Hoosiers and Maryland Terrapins. And the team’s toughest non-conference opponent is the Pittsburgh Panthers. If the Hawkeyes don’t trip up during a game they’re expected to win — like we’ve seen previously in Kirk Ferentz‘s tenure — Iowa could cruise into the final two games against the Wisconsin Badgers and Nebraska Cornhuskers with an undefeated record. The Hawkeyes are then capable and possess enough talent on both sides of the ball to beat the primary opposition in their division. The Hawkeyes will do what they always do; they’ll run the football behind arguably the best offensive linemen in college football, Brandon Scherff, and they’ll play fundamentally sound football on defense. Their style of play leaves very little margin for error, but the season sets up perfectly for the Hawkeyes to have a little more wiggle room than they usually do.

Pac-12 Conference: Oregon State Beavers
Good quarterback play will grant a team the benefit of the doubt. Sean Mannion may not be an interesting as Florida State’s Jameis Winston or as dynamic as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota. Mannion doesn’t even draw as much attention as UCLA’s Brett Hundley. Yet, Mannion is the country’s leading returning passer. Mannion threw for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns as a junior. The quarterback also has pieces around him. Last year’s Biletnikoff Award winner, Brandin Cooks, is now in the NFL, but the team still has a massive target at tight end in Connor Hamlett and its top two rushers, Terron Ward and Storm Woods, return. Another overlooked aspect of the Beavers is how experienced they are on defense. Nine of the team’s defensive starters are seniors. The final two starters are juniors. Some of those upperclassmen will be starting for the first time, but the ability to be in the system over a period of time learning the scheme gives them an advantage. The Beavers even benefit slightly from their schedule. The team’s non-conference schedule should be a cakewalk. Oregon State hosts the Oregon Ducks in this year’s “Civil War.” Trips to USC and Stanford are the biggest obstacles in front of the Beavers in their attempt to go to their first major bowl game since they defeated the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the Fiesta Bowl 13 years ago.

SEC: Ole Miss Rebels
The Florida Gators are a popular choice to be the surprise team emerging out of the SEC. However, the Rebels should be able to reap the benefits from head coach Hugh Freeze‘s ability to stockpile talent during the upcoming season. The Rebels will have to survive the SEC West, of course, which is no easy feat. The Rebels finished 2-4 in the division last season, and the Alabama Crimson Tide and LSU Tigers remain the teams to beat. Ole Miss, however, is littered with top talents primed to make a leap as a group. Former No. 1 overall recruit Robert Ndemkiche enters his second season in the program. He’s surrounded by senior edge rushers C.J. Johnson and Carlos Thompson and just nose tackle Isaac Gross. Sophomore Tony Conner quickly established himself as an intimidating presence in the secondary during his freshman campaign. On offense, sophomore Laremy Tunsil is one of the most physically talented left tackles in the SEC. Laquon Treadwell was an elite wide receiver recruit and made an instant impact as a true freshman. And senior quarterback Bo Wallace will lead the way. As the talent on this team continues to mature, the gap between the Rebels and the rest of the SEC West is quickly closing. If that same talent takes a major leap in their play this year, the Rebels could go from pretender to legitimate contender.

Best of the rest: Marshall Thundering Herd
One thing established during the BCS era was an undefeated team from the American Athletic Conference, Mountain West Conference, Conference USA or MAC can work themselves into the national conversation. This year’s most likely candidate is Marshall. There are two reasons why the Thundering Herd can crash this year’s party. First, the team’s schedule is among the easiest in college football. The team should cruise to a 13-0 finish. Second, people love to see explosive offenses and elite quarterback play. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has quietly built one of the most explosive offenses in college football.  The Thurndering Herd operates at a breakneck pace. Last season the team’s offense finished 12th in the country with an average of 500.4 yards per contest. And quarterback Rakeem Cato is absolutely electric. Over the past two seasons, Cato has thrown for 8,117 yards, 76 touchdowns. The combination of an undefeated record, explosive offense and a talented quarterback may be enough to insert Marshall into one of the playoff slots (even though it’s still highly unlikely).

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Troy adds former Southland Conference rival Nicholls State to 2025 slate

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The scheduling tear for Troy football continues.

Troy and UAB announced a future home-and-home football series in early May.  Then another earlier this month.  In between, future games versus Missouri (HERE), Iowa (HERE) and Army (HERE) were added as well.  Late last week, Troy was at it again as the football program confirmed yet another home-and-home, this one with UMass.

Friday, Troy announced yet another future matchup.  According to a release, the Sun Belt Conference school will square off with Nicholls State Aug. 30 of 2025.  The matchup with the FCS opponent will be played at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Troy.

The two programs, former conference rivals, are very familiar with one another.  From the school’s release on the renewal:

Troy and Nicholls State have a long history dating back to 1973 and continuing through Troy’s years as a member of the Southland Conference. The Trojans have enjoyed the upper hand with a 20-6-1 advantage in the series including four straight victories before the series halted in 2001.

After winning 10-plus games in three straight seasons from 2016-18, Troy tumbled to a 5-7 record in 2019.  That was the Trojans’ first season under Chip Lindsey.  Lindsey replaced Neal Brown, who left to take the head job at West Virginia.

Highest-rated signee in Georgia State’s 2017 recruiting class enters transfer portal

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After landing a couple early on in the offseason, Georgia State football finds itself on the wrong side of the portal this go ’round.

According to 247Sports.com, offensive tackle Connor Robbins has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  While he didn’t confirm it on his personal Twitter account, the Georgia State football player did retweet the report.

The 6-9, 310-pound lineman will be leaving the Panthers as a graduate transfer.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Robbins was a three-star member of the Georgia State football Class of 2017.  He was the highest-rated signee for the Panthers that cycle.

Robbins took a redshirt as a true freshman.  The past two seasons, the Florida native played in 15 games.  Most of that action, though, came on the point-after and field goal units.

In the third season under Shawn Elliott, GSU went 7-6 this past year. It was a five-win improvement from the 2-10 record the year before. In Elliott’s first season, the Panthers went 7-5. The seven wins are the best-ever for the Georgia State football program since moving to the FBS level in 2013.

Tulane confirms signing of Georgia Tech transfer Ajani Kerr

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The Power Five transfer train has officially made yet another stop at the Tulane football program.

In late MarchAjani Kerr entered his name into the NCAA transfer database.  Three months later, Tulane confirmed in a release that the Georgia Tech defensive back has officially signed and been added to the football roster.

Kerr comes to the Green Wave as a graduate transfer.  This coming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Kerr was a two-star member of Tech’s 2016 recruiting class coming out of high school in Georgia.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Kerr played in 29 games the past three seasons.  Five of those appearances came in 2019.

In that action, Kerr had been credited with 66 tackles (55 solo, 11 assisted) and one fumble recovery.

Kerr is one of four Power Five transfers to join Tulane football this offseason.

Jan. 24, Tulane football officially welcomed Oklahoma State transfer linebacker Kevin Henry. Four days later, former Oklahoma wide receiver Mykel Jones was formally added to the roster as well. In late January, Florida State cornerback Kyle Meyers tweeted his move to the Green Wave.  Last month, Tulane confirmed the signing of Duke transfer offensive lineman Jaylen Miller.

Additionally, running back Corey Dauphine was granted a sixth season of eligibility in March.  Dauphine has been the Green Wave’s second-leading rusher each of the past two seasons.

Both Clemson, Georgia will receive at least $4 million each for 2021 opener

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Not surprisingly, it will pay handsomely for Clemson and Georgia to open up next season’s slate.

In February of this year, both Clemson and Georgia announced that the two football programs will kick off the 2021 season against each other.  The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Sept. 4.

According to information obtained by the Athens Banner-Herald, “[e]ach school will receive the greater of $4 million or 45 percent of the event’s net revenue” for the non-conference, neutral-site affair.  The Banner-Herald added that “[p]art of the event’s revenue is expected to be generated by media rights, ticket sales and sponsorships.”

The fact that each school will receive at least $4 million will help to offset the cost of getting this game on the schedule.  To make room for the non-conference matchup, Clemson canceled a previously-scheduled tilt with Wyoming while Georgia did the same with one against San Jose State.  Because of the cancellation, Clemson will pay Wyoming $1.1 million and Georgia will cut San Jose State a $1.8 million check.

That said, it’s the cost of putting on such a quality matchup.  One that has been and will continue to be must-see TV for the foreseeable future.

Along with the addition of a new home-and-home announced in April of last year, the Tigers and Bulldogs are now scheduled to face each other six times between 2021 and 2033, including the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.  There’s also a previously announced home-and-home series scheduled for 2029 (in Clemson) and 2030 (in Georgia).

The two football programs have met 64 times previously, the first in 1897 and the most recent in 2014.  UGA leads the all-time series 42-18-4.