CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Top 25

24 Comments

Yes, I know — another meaningless preseason poll tossed atop the overflowing pile of myriad other meaningless preseason polls. Hey, but at least this one isn’t SEC-heavy, so we have that going for us, which is nice.

OK, technically it’s not as SEC-heavy as others as this one contains “just” six teams from that conference and just two in the Top 10, the same number that comes from the Pac-12 for the former and one less than that league’s three in the latter.  For comparison’s sake, the preseason coaches’ poll included eight teams from the SEC (three in the Top 10), while the FWAA Super 16 poll saw five teams man those 16 spots (three Top 10 as well).

The Big 12 and Big Ten are also well-represented here, with four teams apiece making the cut.  The ACC brought up the Power Five rear with three teams included.

Rounding up the Top 25 conference-wise was one from the football independents (guess who!) and just one, Boise State, from the Group of Five.

Below is the entire Top 25, which was a consensus of polls cobbled together by myself, Kevin McGuire and three other individuals who would prefer to remain nameless.  Below that is where you may complain and/or whine and/or moan about how disrespected your team and/or your conference is.

Enjoy.  And complain/whine/moan.

1. Ohio State
With all due respect to those who think otherwise, how could any other be team be slotted in this spot? Not only are they the defending national champions who topped the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country to end the season — not to mention putting a 59-0 Big Ten title game pasting on a Wisconsin team that finished the season ranked 13th — but the Buckeyes return 15 starters from that squad. And then there’s the schedule. After a season-opening road trip to Blacksburg to take on Virginia Tech, the only team to leave a blemish on last year’s 14-1 mark, OSU will be double-digit favorites in every game leading up to the Nov. 21 home game against Michigan State. A repeat is far from a given, but given the combination of returning talent and schedule, it’s a given the Buckeyes will have a realistic shot at going back-to-back.

2. TCU
With Trevone Boykin back leading the offense as a Heisman Trophy favorite, you know the Horned Frogs should have plenty of sizzle on offense. TCU returns 10 starters on offense, and Gary Patterson should manage to keep the defense up to par to live up to Big 12 favorite hype. TCU could very well run the table this season, assuring the Big 12 of not being left out of the playoff this season.

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznpwu4ntgznjrlzde2ndvmzdaxndvhmmy1nwrlywu3ymq13. Auburn
As detailed in the Six-Pack of Storylines, the SEC’s hope for a return to Title Land could very well hinge on the Tigers.  And the Tigers return to prominence could very well hinge on Will Muschamp, the fired Florida head coach who was brought in by Gus Malzahn to revamp and rebuild an AU defense that spewed water and oil all over the field in 2014.  The run-heavy spread offense should be in capable hands, even with new triggerman Jeremy Johnson under center; how the defense fares with Muschamp as its general will determine just how far Malzahn’s troops will go in 2015.

4. Oregon
The Ducks may still be the team to beat in the Pac-12, but the gap could be closing between Oregon and other Pac-12 contenders. Gone is Marcus Mariota but the offense should continue to pile up big numbers with FCS transfer Vernon Adams likely stepping in. There could be a bit of an adjustment, and an early road contest at Michigan State could be trouble, but Oregon should still manage to be among the best out west.

5. Michigan State
The Spartans have one of the best quarterbacks in the country in Connor Cook, a stout offensive line and, despite the loss of coordinator Pat Narduzzi and all four “No Fly Zone” starters in the secondary, one of the top defensive in the Big Ten, but could still find themselves anywhere from a one-loss team to one with three or more.  Why the latter projection?  One, they have to replace their top two running backs.  Two, their schedule includes road trips to Ohio State, in-state rival Michigan and Nebraska, as well as a home game against an Oregon team in Week 2 that will be a consensus Top-Five squad.

6. Arizona State
In a conference with plenty of quarterback talent, Arizona State’s Mike Bercovici could be one of the best. With a sturdy offensive line in front of him, Bercovici will still have to build some new chemistry with his receivers, but D.J. Foster is back and he can provide some options in Todd Graham’s offense. Defensively the Sun Devils bring back seven starters and should be one of the more stable defensive units outside of Utah and Stanford.

7. Alabama
Year-in and year-out, the Tide rolls out a defense that, regardless of how many key pieces need replaced, is one of the top units in the country; this year should be no different, especially as they return seven of 11 starters from a defense that finished sixth in the country in points allowed.  Like so many others, though, the Tide will need to replace their starting quarterback from the year before.  Making matters worse for the first-time starter, the Tide’s normally loaded backfield is lacking in running back depth.  Nick Saban‘s charges should still be one of the top teams in the country, but it could be a tougher struggle to get there than in past years.

Shawn Oakman
Shawn Oakman

8. Baylor
Baylor returns a loaded team in terms of starting experience with 17 back from last season’s co-Big 12 champions. The schedule, however, could be an obstacle for the Bears with road games at Oklahoma State and TCU coming in consecutive weeks in late November, immediately following a home game against Oklahoma. Shawn Oakman leads a feisty and underrated Baylor defense, but will the Bears be able to make enough big stops when needed the most?

9. USC
The Trojans are on the right path to the top of the Pac-12 mountain, but the preseason media poll may be a tad premature. USC may not even make it out of the Pac-12 South with how tough the division might be. Cody Kessler can put up Heisman numbers but must be more consistent to guide the Trojans to the conference title game. USC is getting there, but they are not quite there just yet.

10. Georgia Tech
Paul Johnson’s Yellow Jackets have become a bit of a trendy pick this offseason. Finishing the season with a win at Georgia, a close call against Florida State and a victory over Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl gives Georgia Tech momentum not seen in years. The formula for success will remain the same; grind yards out on the ground, mix in a surprise pass here and there and have the defense force some turnovers. Don’t expect much to be different this season.

11. Georgia
You’d be hard-pressed not to label the Bulldogs as the most complete team in the SEC East and the class of the division — even as Missouri has one the last two titles in that part of the conference.  Can, though, UGA — finally — take that step up to the next level and not only actually win a conference title but be a contender on the national stage?  One thing’s for certain: if they don’t, the fan base no longer has Mike Bobo to blame for whatever woes befall the program.

Everett Golson
Everett Golson

12. Florida State
The Seminoles lose a ton of starting experience from last year’s team, but Jimbo Fisher has built Florida State to the point where it can focus more on reloading rather than rebuilding. The talent pool can run that deep. The biggest addition to the program will come from Notre Dame transfer quarterback Everett Golson, who could step right into the starting role behind a new-look offensive line. The status of Dalvin Cook is a bit of a wild card entering the 2015 season.

13. Notre Dame
The conversation about Notre Dame begins with Malik Zaire, the redshirt sophomore quarterback who was officially handed the keys to Brian Kelly‘s offense when Everett Golson transferred over the summer. Zaire is a read-option whiz who should guide the Irish into running the ball more, as they did 51 times in an upset of LSU in the Music City Bowl last December. Zaire shouldn’t turn the ball over 22 times — as Golson did last year — which will be a boost for an offense returning one of the nation’s best offensive linemen (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) as well as its entire receiving corps. Notre Dame only has to replace two regular starters from its 2014 defense in nose guard Jarron Jones (injured) and cornerback Cody Riggs (graduated), though 26-game starter KeiVarae Russell returns to his cornerback perch following last year’s academic suspension. If the Irish defense can overcome some thin defensive line depth, guys like Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt, Russell and Max Redfield should help lead what could be one of the nation’s better back seven groups. The Irish face tough road games at Clemson and Stanford and draw Georgia Tech and USC at home, and how they fare in those four games will determine if Kelly’s sixth year in South Bend is a success or a disappointment.

14. Clemson
The Tigers were named the preseason favorite in the ACC, despite having just six returning starters in 2015. But the starters that do return are special, including quarterback Deshaun Watson. Many peg Watson as a strong Heisman contender. Fortunately, Dabo Swinney and company have recruited well over the years to give the Tigers some good depth this season that should grow as the season progresses. An early road trip to Louisville could be a litmus test for whether this team is worthy of the preseason hype or not.

15. Wisconsin
The biggest thing first-year head coach Paul Chryst has going for him is arguably UW’s placement in the weaker of the two divisions in the Big Ten.  Or perhaps that they, again, avoid having to face East powerhouses Ohio State and Michigan State.  While Corey Clement will help make it a near-seamless transition, the answer to the question of can Joel Stave be an adequate triggerman in a Badger offense expected to pass the ball more under Chryst could very well determine where in the college football pecking order UW falls.

Samaje Perine
Samaje Perine

16. Oklahoma
Oklahoma entered the 2014 season as a somewhat trendy pick, thanks in large part to dismantling Alabama in the Sugar Bowl the previous postseason. But injuries and inconsistent play proved too much to handle as the Sooners lost to every ranked opponent on its schedule last fall. That said, Samaje Perine emerged as a solid running threat and the Sooners look top open things up offensively with Lincoln Riley taking over as offensive coordinator. If Baker Mayfield can step right in and provide some stability at quarterback, Oklahoma could make some things happen in the Big 12.

17. Stanford
Defense has been the fuel to Stanford’s success in recent years, but this year just four starters are back. There could be some adjustments to make as a result, which means the offense may have to avoid a slow start that hurt the Cardinal last fall. An experienced offensive line should help Kevin Hogan get in a groove and getting Oregon at home could be pivotal in the Pac-12 North.

18. Arkansas
Even before the significant injury suffered by Jonathan Williams, I was suspect about all of the hype surrounding the Hogs entering 2015 and didn’t have them ranked in my personal Top 25.  Getting Alabama, Ole Miss, LSU and an improved Tennessee on the road doesn’t portend well for the wild expectations for 2015 success.  The Razorbacks did, though, lose four of their 2014 SEC games by a total of 22 points, with two of those coming on the road and one in overtime.

19. UCLA
Last year’s sexy pick has lost a bit of sizzle, but Jim Mora has the Bruins thinking big in 2015. In a wide open Pac-12 South, the Bruins must solve a quarterback question in an otherwise solid offense. The addition of Tom Bradley as defensive coordinator should work well with eight returning starters, including Myles Jack at inside linebacker and Eddie Vanderdoes at defensive tackle.

Les Miles
Les Miles

20. LSU
The Tigers are loaded with talent at the skill positions… loaded with talent along the offensive line… loaded with talent in all three defensive units.  So why the low Top-25 ranking?  As has been the case seemingly throughout Les Miles‘ entire tenure in Baton Rouge, it’s the quarterback, stupid.  If they can get even average play at the position, the Tigers will challenge for a spot at the playoff table.  If they don’t, the temperature on The Hat’s hot seat will continue to be ratcheted up.

21. Boise State
The lone Group of Five program represented in our Top 25, Bryan Harsin‘s Broncos are poised to make a run at an unbeaten season that would earn themselves a New Year’s Six bowl bid and a spot on the periphery of the playoff discussion.  The first two weeks of the season will show whether Boise is a contender or pretender: A home date against Washington and former BSU head coach Chris Petersen, followed by a road trip to BYU the following weekend.  Win both of those, and the table is set for a potentially magical system.

22. Ole Miss
Like many other of the top teams in the SEC in general and the West specifically, the Rebels are looking to replace their starting quarterback.  The fact that Ole Miss will bring a very talented defense to the table will help transition to a new player under center, although games at Alabama, Auburn and Mississippi State will (again) show just how far the Rebels still need to go to become an elite program.

23. Arizona
This division is stacked with talent. Arizona has one of the top defensive players in Scooby Wright and one of the more exciting quarterbacks in Anu Solomon. Running back Nick Washington is coming off a season with over 1,300 yards and 16 touchdowns too. Rich Rodriguez has a good group of Wildcats to work with, although the schedule does them few favors in conference play.

24. Nebraska
Transitioning from the volatile Bo Pelini to the laid-back Mike Riley could prove to be a culture shock for the players and athletic department and fans.  The offense under Riley could prove to be the same as the Cornhuskers are expected to be much more reliant in the passing game than under the previous regime, which will place an onus squarely on a quarterback, Tommie Armstrong, who completed just 53.3 percent of his passes last season in his first year as a starter.  September games against BYU and at Miami should show just where the ‘Huskers stand in the first year under Riley.

25. Oklahoma State
If you want a sleeper pick in the Big 12, Oklahoma State feels like a good option. Mike Gundy’s squad returns seven starters on each side of the football and sees Mason Rudolph take over as starting quarterback. Emmanuel Ogbah has become a force to reckon with on the defensive line and the Cowboys get Baylor and Oklahoma at home to close out the season. That could be huge.

Clemson will not release finding from banned substance probe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dexter LawrenceBraden Galloway and Zach Giella did not take part in Clemson’s run through the College Football Playoff, because the three were found to have taken the NCAA-banned substance ostarine. Lawrence has since moved on to the NFL, but Galloway and Giella remain suspended for the entirety of the 2019 season.

That’s a big deal in and of itself, but it’s made even bigger by the fact that Clemson, at least publicly, has no idea how the trio came across ostarine, leaving open the possibility they could have mistakenly been given the substance by a Clemson employee. And if a Clemson staffer accidentally gave it to Lawrence, Galloway and Giella, well, can you imagine if those doses had actually gone to Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne instead of a backup tight end and a backup center?

The athletics department is conducting an internal investigation, but the school has announced it will not publicly reveal the findings, whatever they may be.

“That (NCAA) appeal was led by the student-athletes’ representative. Any investigation into the source of ostarine contamination is a part of that appeal and is, therefore, a student record subject to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” a Clemson spokesperson told the Charleston Post & Courier.

However, while the FERPA does prevent Clemson from releasing private medical information relating specifically to Lawrence, Galloway and Giella, there’s nothing stopping the department from releasing non-player-specific, team-wide findings.

Clemson says it has administered 329 PED tests since 2014 and only three have come back negative; but, without any way to independently verify those numbers, there’s no way to know if the school is telling the truth.

“It is true that FERPA protects the education records of students,” South Carolina Press Association attorney Taylor M. Smith IV told the paper. “But it is also true that the use of any exemption in the S.C. Freedom of Information Act is not mandatory. In this case, it seems the players involved (and perhaps other players not mentioned) would provide consent to the school to release those records, protected under FERPA, so the public can be made aware of how these tests were failed.”

Gary Pinkel undergoing non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma for a second time

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Missouri and Toledo head coach Gary Pinkel revealed in a TV interview on Sunday night that he is once again undergoing treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“I’m doing good. I had to get treatment again for the first time in four years. My cancer came out of remission, and so I had treatment last month. I’m doing fine,” Pinkel told KMIZ. “With my type of lymphoma, you’ll never be healed. But that’s kind of why I retired when I did – I just wanted to not go back and regret working 85 hours a week, 35 weeks out of the year when I could be doing other things with my family and my eight grandkids.”

Pinkel was originally diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in May of 2015 and stepped down after that season. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma is a cancer that begins in the lymph nodes and then spreads throughout the body.

“You keep battling it. I’m going to battle it, Pinkel said. “I’ve got a very positive approach to it, and I’m around a lot of good people that are helping me. There’s a lot of people out there with a lot worse cancers than Gary Pinkel has, and so prayers to all of them.”

Since retiring, Pinkel has used his time as a fundraiser for Missouri and also running the GP M.A.D.E. Foundation, which supports children with cancer and also provides mentoring for at-need kids.

Pinkel, 63, was 191-110-3 as a head coach at two schools over 25 seasons.

 

Former Bengals offensive coordinator reportedly joining Florida support staff

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Former Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is joining Florida’s staff as an analyst, according to Sports Illustrated‘s Andy Benoit.

Zampese spent the 2016-17 seasons as the Bengals’ offensive coordinator after serving 13 seasons as Marvin Lewis‘s quarterbacks coach. Cincinnati went 13-18-1 in Zampese’s two seasons running the offense, which is why he spent 2018 as the Cleveland Browns’ quarterbacks coach and the first part of 2019 as the offensive coordinator for the AAF’s Atlanta Legends.

He is the son of former Chargers, Rams, Cowboys and Patriots offensive coordinator Ernie Zampese.

It is not immediately known what the younger Zampese’s role will be with the Gators, but his experience indicates he’ll work with Dan Mullen and coordinators John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales to develop Florida’s offensive plan and help Brian Johnson tutor the quarterbacks, or perhaps use his coordinator experience to self-scout Florida’s offense and scout Florida’s future opponents.

Arizona launched hostile workplace probe following sexual harassment claims against Wildcat football players

Getty Images
2 Comments

Arizona launched a hostile workplace investigation into its football program following multiple claims of sexual assault and sexual harassment made by multiple female equipment managers against multiple former Wildcat football players, the program confirmed to the Tucson Daily Star.

Lawyers representing the university did not say when the probe took place, but did say it was sparked by two complaints made by female equipment mangers. From the paper:

In 2014, two UA students who worked as equipment managers separately reported incidents involving nonconsensual sex with football players. In August of that year, police were told that a 21-year-old woman working for the athletic department had sex at least twice with three UA football players while the she was heavily intoxicated. One of the players recorded at least one of the encounters and showed it to other students, the report said.

The woman told police that she lost her job after the recording was released, according to the report.

….

While investigating the woman’s claim, UA’s Title IX office approached former manager Jacquelyn Hinek, who had quit her job months before, citing pervasive sexual harassment. After speaking to UA investigators, Hinek told Tucson police that she had been sexually assaulted in April 2013 by several men associated with the football team while at an off-campus party. She said the incident was recorded on a cell phone and later shown to other students. 

“The Office of Institutional Equity conducted a thorough review of the football equipment manager program and there were no findings of sex discrimination as a result of that investigation,” UA spokesman Chris Sigurdson told the paper via email.

The probe was one of three major investigations into the football program.

Arizona is currently being sued for Title IX violations by an alleged victim of former Wildcats running back Orlando Bradford, whom the victim says hit, choked and imprisoned her over a 2-day period in September 2016. Bradford is currently serving a 5-year prison sentence, but the Title IX suit seeks to depose a number of key figures within the football program, including former head coach Rich Rodriguez, who himself was the subject of a hostile workplace investigation in 2017. Allegations of sexual harassment made by his former assistant led to his dismissal last January. Rodriguez has denied any sexual harassment claims, arguing instead they were an extortion attempt against him.

In total, Arizona said it investigated 27 athletes or athletic department employees for sexual harassment, sexual assault or domestic violence from 2012 through ’17 (the period coinciding with Rodriguez’s hiring and firing), eight of them involving the football program.