A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2018 Top 25

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The last bit of confetti has barely settled onto the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf and the carcass of the 2017 season isn’t even cold yet, and we’re already rolling out a way-too-early Top 25 for the 2018 season? Yep. Because that’s how we roll. Or were told by our bosses to roll.  Or something.

In our role as preseason Nostradumbass, the first 10 of CFT’s Top 25 consisted of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Washington, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Clemson and No. 10 Oklahoma. A little over 4½ months later?

Three of the four playoff participants, Alabama, Clemson and Oklahoma, were in our Top 10; the fourth, Georgia, stood at No. 14.  Ohio State (No. 5), USC (No. 8) and Penn State (No. 9) all currently sit inside of the Top 10 of the College Football Playoff rankings heading into the postseason, while Washington (No. 11), Stanford (No. 13) and Oklahoma State (No. 19) are all in the Top 25.

The biggest swing and a miss was the one that everyone whiffed on: Florida State.  After beginning the year No. 3 in the country in both major polls as well as our little Top 25 contribution, FSU tied for its worst record (7-6 in 2006, 2007, 2009) since 1976, going 5-6 in the second season under Bobby Bowden.

The point of this whole review-before-we-look-ahead exercise? Preseason polls are meaningless — but not nearly as meaningless as polls produced nearly eight months ahead of the start of a new season. With that in mind, enjoy this way-too-early Top 25 that will put the “mean” in meaningless. And the “less” in it, for that matter.

Oh, and as always, feel free to complain/whine/moan/bitch away in the comments section below.  Not that you need permission to do that, of course.

NO. 1 ALABAMA
WHY? Nick Saban + top-ranked recruiting classes year-in, year-out + a burning desire to be the greatest there ever was at this level = a permanent spot inside the Top 10 as long as The Nicktator resides in Tuscaloosa.
WHY NOT? An NFL team (finally) entices Saban to go back and finish what he started — and abruptly ended — in the big boy league of football.  Or he gets bored with winning and abruptly up and quits.  Neither of those are going to happen, of course, but those are about the only things that could derail the Crimson Tide juggernaut — unless the looming quarterback “controversy” gets away from him.

NO. 2 OHIO STATE
WHY? 12, 12, 14, 12, 11, 12.  Those are the win totals for the Buckeyes since Urban Renewal came to Columbus.  With a No. 2 recruiting class (thus far) this year added to Top Five groups each of the past four years that have added running back J.K. Dobbins, defensive end Nick Bosa and many others, OSU, like ‘Bama, is a perennial playoff contender.
WHY NOT? With eighth-year senior J.T. Barrett‘s departure, it leaves OSU inexperienced under center since Barrett’s first season as the starter back in 1986 (or 2014 if you want to get technical).  Some Buckeye fans, though, despite Barrett’s record-setting production, will view the departure as a positive.  Road trips to Michigan State, Penn State and what’s close to a home game against TCU aren’t exactly optimal.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
WHY? Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., and has taken The Process from Tuscaloosa and brought it to Athens.  Jake Fromm was in his first season as a starter and helped lead the Bulldogs to the national championship game as a true freshman.  And that upcoming schedule?  Middle Tennessee State, UMass and an FCS school along with the annual in-state rivalry game with Georgia Tech make up the nonconference slate, while they get Auburn at home as one of the two crossover conference games (travel to LSU as well).
WHY NOT? In Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, they lose running backs who have combined to rush for nearly 8,300 yards and 77 touchdowns the past four seasons, including over 2,400 yards and 31 touchdowns this season.  Losing the best defensive player in the country, linebacker Roquan Smith, to the NFL draft early won’t help either.

NO. 4 MIAMI
WHY? The Hurricanes seemed poised for a breakout 2018 campaign, then returned to the national stage ahead of projections before crashing and burning in losing its last three games.  With 2018 on the horizon, a significant amount of talent returns to a Mark Richt-led squad that played in its first-ever ACC championship game.
WHY NOT? Richt brought with him to South Beach what pushed him out of Athens: a penchant for building good teams, but teams not quite good enough to contend with the best the conference has to offer.  A neutral-field game against LSU in the opener should be a good gauge for where The U stands moving forward.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN
WHY? The Badgers are the absolute class of the Big Ten West, with no one in that division even in UW’s zip code quite yet.  Jonathan Taylor broke Adrian Peterson‘s single-season FBS freshman rushing record, and will obviously return for another run at feeding the beast that is UW’s running game.
WHY NOT? Unless Scott Frost very quickly turns around his alma mater Nebraska — and don’t count that out given his work at UCF — seemingly the only thing that can prevent the Badgers from a third straight Big Ten championship game appearance and fifth in seven years is myriad injuries.  They do, though, have to travel to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State, so there’s that as well.

NO. 6 CLEMSON
WHY? If Kirby Smart is Nick Saban Jr., Dabo Swinney is Saban’s twin brother from another mother.  In the makeup and building of Clemson into a veritable college football powerhouse, and especially defensively, Swinney’s teams are eerily reminiscent of what Saban has done in Tuscaloosa — albeit with a different offensive lean.  As long as Swinney is in Death Valley, you can go ahead and consider the Tigers a year-in, year-out Top-10 lock.
WHY NOT? Saban leaves for the NFL and Swinney takes over at his alma mater.  That’s about all that will keep Clemson from being a factor on the national stage yet again.

NO. 7 WASHINGTON
WHY? We’ve had Washington at No. 7 in each of the last two Way-Too-Early Top 25 rankings; they ended the 2016 season fourth and are currently ranked 11th.  Chris Petersen has taken a Huskies football program and turned it into one that should be a 10-win team for the foreseeable future.
WHY NOT? Jake Browning‘s mini regression bleeds into another his true senior season.  After throwing for 43 touchdowns and finishing with a 167.5 efficiency rating in 2016, those numbers tumbled to 19 and 152.1 this past season.

NO. 8 MICHIGAN STATE
WHY? The Spartans return a ton of starting talent on both sides of the ball, including quarterback Brian Lewerke, running back LJ Scott — he’s led MSU in rushing each of the past three seasons – and 4/5ths of the offensive line.  MSU also gets Ohio State and Michigan at home, and doesn’t have to face Wisconsin as a crossover divisional opponent.
WHY NOT? 2017’s 10-win season was an aberration after a three-win 2016 season.  Then again, aside from that drop-off-the-cliff record, Mark Dantonio has won 11 or more games in five of six seasons, so 2016 was likely the aberration when it’s all said and done.

NO. 9 STANFORD
WHY? Bryce Love, the 2017 Heisman Trophy runner-up, defies all odds and returns to The Farm for one more year.  After the first month of the season, the Cardinal’s schedule sets up very favorably as well.
WHY NOT? After myriad wooings over the past few years, David Shaw final succumbs and gives in to the NFL’s advances.  Aside from that, Stanford’s September schedule isn’t exactly a walk in pastry park: San Diego State (10-3), USC (11-3), at Oregon (7-6), at Notre Dame (10-3).  In early November, they’ll also have to travel to Washington.

NO. 10 WEST VIRGINIA
WHY? Baker Mayfield gone from Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph out at Oklahoma State leaves Will Grier as the top returning quarterback in the pass-happy Big 12.  Tony Gibson won’t allow a defense that finished second in the conference in total defense in 2016 but slipped to seventh in 2017 to slip again; in fact, they’ll be closer to the season before last than this past one.
WHY NOT? They get what will likely be preseason Big 12 favorite TCU at home, but have tough road tests in Iowa State, Oklahoma State and Texas.

NO. 11 UCF
NO. 12 OKLAHOMA
NO. 13 TEXAS
NO. 14 PENN STATE
NO. 15 VIRGINIA TECH
NO. 16 AUBURN
NO. 17 TCU
NO. 18 USC
NO. 19 BOISE STATE
NO. 20 MICHIGAN
NO. 21 FLORIDA STATE
NO. 22 MEMPHIS
NO. 23 OKLAHOMA STATE
NO. 24 LSU
NO. 25 OREGON

Rutgers AD takes to Twitter to support head coach Chris Ash, downplay any hot seat talk

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We’re weeks away from the 2018 season beginning and with media days underway across the country, there’s inevitably some talk of which coaches are on the hot seat and who might be a few losses away from feeling the heat.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd complies a list every year of who might be feeling some pressure and who is safer than can be around the sport. One of the coaches who he listed as ‘start improving now’ (or a 4 on a 1-5 hot seat scale) was Rutgers head coach Chris Ash. The Scarlet Knights job is one of the hardest in football given their place in the Big Ten and while there has been some progress in the rebuild, Ash is 6-18 overall and only picked up his first conference win last season.

It’s only Year 3 of Ash’s tenure though and it seems that kind of pressure isn’t quite reflecting reality from the administration as athletic director Pat Hobbs took to his Twitter account on Saturday to say that there’s no hot seat at all for the young head coach:

We’re sure that Ash appreciates the extra bit of support publicly in what he’s doing with the program but something says he’ll be asked to comment about the whole thing next week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. The Scarlet Knights certainly looked much improved in 2017 between the lines but digging out of such a big hole for the program is going to only get tougher as they try to get over the hump and make a bowl game in 2018.

Bowling Green dismisses two players for illegal use of school credit cards

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We’re just over a few weeks from fall camp starting around the country so needless to say, it’s a bad time to lose some players. Such is unfortunately the case for Mike Jinks at Bowling Green however as the program just dismissed two members of the team’s defense.

According to The Toledo Blade, redshirt sophomore linebackers Armani Posey and Dirion Hutchins were both dismissed “as a result of an investigation into the illegal use of credit/debit cards that belonged to the school.” Bowling Green later confirmed that the two players were no longer on the roster.

Posey, also a student and member of the football team, was charged June 26 with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of property. He was found guilty July 9 of unauthorized use of property, a misdemeanor, in Bowling Green Municipal Court and was given a 180-day jail term that was suspended. The terms of his probation include having no criminal offenses for the next two years, paying $2,000 restitution to the Bowling Green athletics department, and paying a $500 fine.

The charges are the result of a police investigation that began after the university discovered irregular charges on debit card accounts designated for athletic book scholarships. Investigators think the cards were used by those who had the card numbers and security codes.

Mr. Hutchins is accused of taking money off the cards and placed them in a PayPal or Squareup account, then transferred to a bank and liquidated for cash. All told, he is accused of making 27 deposits and taking $9,066 between April 23 and June 26, court documents show.

The illegal usage of school credit cards has been a growing issue in college football the past few years. Just recently, as many as eight Rutgers players were being investigated for the same kind of scheme and some nine Florida Gators were suspended last season for similar reasons.

It’s also been a trying offseason for the Falcons themselves even prior to this latest bit of news. Defensive back and part-time starter Cam Jefferies announced a graduate transfer, wideout Matthew Wilcox was picked up for his second OVI in April, fellow receiver Datin Guyton was dismissed and lost their kicker due to a bizarre eligibility case.

Now on top of all of that, BGSU loses a five-game starter in Posey and a pass-rusher in Hutchins who played in every game last season. Not exactly what you want to have go on during the offseason when you’re coming off a 2-10 year and facing a non-conference schedule with three Power Five foes. The Falcons open at Oregon on September 1st.

Oregon State handed secondary violation for sending mail to Hawaii players

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It has been a pretty slow offseason in college football overall but one of the bigger stories of the past few months had to come back in May when Hawaii head coach Nick Rolovich tweeted (and later deleted) a photo of some recruiting mail from Oregon State aimed at current Rainbow Warriors players. The minor scandal over a Pac-12 school trying to poach a few players so early into Beavers head coach Jonathan Smith‘s tenure was obviously quite the black mark and also had the added layer of several of his new assistants at one time having been coaches at Hawaii.

Now we know exactly what kind of NCAA violations the school committed and spoiler alert, it’s quite minor. Per The Oregonian, the program self-reported a secondary violation as a result of the mailings and were barred by the NCAA from “recruiting the unnamed player in question should he elect to transfer.”

“We initiated a self-report to the NCAA once we learned the inadvertent mistake was made,” Oregon State associate athletic director of communications Steve Fenk said in a statement to the paper. “We admit and understand that what we did was an unintentional violation. The punishment fits. We didn’t try to do anything covert. It was an honest mistake that we took responsibility for.”

No harm no foul all things considered but the whole incident makes that trip to Hawaii for Oregon State in 2019 a lot more interesting now.

Ole Miss hopes to hear back about NCAA appeal this fall, self-reports Level III violation for fans contacting recruits

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It was quite the week for Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke. First he faced the firing squad of media members at SEC Media Days in Atlanta and then he shuffled off to attend the school’s hearing in front of the NCAA Infraction Appeals Committee on Wednesday.

Per the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the Rebels are hoping for a decision on reducing their bowl ban and other restrictions at some point during this season:

(AD Ross) Bjork and football coach Matt Luke both said they expect the Infraction Appeals Committee to release its final decision, which will either confirm or revise the Committee on Infractions’ conclusions, sometime this fall. Bjork said Ole Miss has not been given a more specific timeline. The COI handed down penalties that included a two-year bowl ban, recruiting restrictions, financial penalties and probation for 21 allegations of violations.

But that’s not the only bit of news surrounding violations at the school this week.

Bjork confirmed to the paper that Ole Miss has self-reported a Level III violation to the SEC league office after a group of fans/boosters improperly contacted recruits through social media sometime late last year. The AD termed the behavior as “direct and deliberate,” resulting in the violation of NCAA rules limiting the contact with recruits. While that minor violation is unlikely to have any impact on the appeal, it’s notable because many of the initial major violations the school was hit for last year involved improper contact with boosters.

NCAA appeals in general are rarely successful so there’s still only a slim chance that the Rebels become eligible for a bowl game this year but until everything is exhausted in the process, Luke and the rest of the folks at Ole Miss can still hold out some hope that they might get a little relief come postseason time.