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CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Top 25

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Ready for yet another meaningless and useless preseason poll? Too bad, you’re getting one anyway.

As we have done each and every season around this time of the year, CFT has compiled its annual preseason Top 25 rankings. And, as has been the case each and every time, we’ve used the same tried and true formula: collect individual Top 25s from each of our esteemed staffers — this year it’s Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, Kevin McGuire and myself — as well as a couple of other individuals who prefer to remain anonymous and mash them all together to form an initial Top 25, at which point I manipulate the numbers to ensure that I piss off as many fan bases as humanly possible.

Last year at this time, Ohio State sat at No. 1, followed by No. 2 USC, No. 3 Florida State, No. 4 Alabama and No. 5 Penn State.  Just one of those teams, the 2017 national champion Crimson Tide, qualified for the playoffs, while the others in our Top Five, the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions, Trojans and Seminoles, finished fifth, eighth, 12th and unranked, respectively.  And the other three teams that actually qualified for the playoffs?  National runner-up Georgia was No. 14 in our 2017 preseason Top 25, while Clemson was No. 9 and Oklahoma was right behind them at No. 10.

In 2016, we had Oklahoma as our preseason No. 1; the Sooners went on to finish 11-2 and third in the country, although they ended the regular season just shy of another berth in the College Football Playoff.  The four teams that did earn playoff berths, national champion Clemson, national runner-up Alabama and semifinalists Ohio State and Washington, began the 2016 season ranked fourth, second, 11th and seventh, respectively, in our preseason Top 25 two years ago.

The year before that, we had Ohio State, TCU, Oregon, Auburn and Michigan State Nos. 1-5; only playoff semifinalist MSU finished the regular season in the Top Five. 2015 national champion Alabama was No. 7 in our preseason rankings — just behind Arizona State, incidentally — while the team the Crimson Tide beat for the title, Clemson, was 14th. Oklahoma, the other of the four College Football Playoff semifinalists in 2015, came in at No. 16 in our friendly neighborhood poll.

All that said, below is CFT’s 2018 preseason poll.  Below that is a poll in which you can vote as to which team you feel should start the season No. 1 — or if there should even be a preseason No. 1. Below that is where you may complain and/or whine and/or moan and/or bitch about how disrespected your team and/or conference is.

Enjoy. And complain/whine/moan/bitch away at your leisure.

NO. 1 CLEMSON
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 4

You could put Clemson or Alabama in the top spot and wouldn’t get a real argument from the vast majority of the country, or at least you shouldn’t.  The nod (barely) goes to the Tigers as not only do they return their starting quarterback — Kelly Bryant will have to hold off heralded five-star 2018 signee Trevor Lawrence — their top two running backs and a bevy of talent in the receiving corps, but also a defensive line that, at least on paper, could go down as one of the most dominant in the history of the sport.  While the schedule could prove at least a little worrisome — at Texas A&M, at rival Florida State and at an improved Boston College — Clemson seems very likely ticketed for a fourth straight College Football Playoff appearance at season’s end.

NO. 2 ALABAMA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-1/NO. 1

The defending national champions return just two starters from a defense that finished in the Top Five in nearly every major statistical category.  Nick Saban, take it away. “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,” the head coach said earlier this month when it comes to replacing players on the defensive side of the ball.  The thing is, with the top-ranked recruiting class seven of the last eight years, and a player pool that has included 41 five-star recruits and another 146 who were four-stars in that span, Saban can indeed s**t talented players at his leisure.  The Crimson Tide, as has become an annual thing, will be national players all season long because of said talent, although whether it’s two-year starter Jalen Hurts or title game hero Tua Tagovailoa directing the offense remains the biggest unanswered question for Saban & Company.

NO. 3 GEORGIA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-2/NO. 2

In his second season in Athens, Kirby Smart guided Georgia to its first SEC championship since 2005 and its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance.  While the defense, which was arguably second to Alabama’s in the SEC, brings back just four starters of its own, that inexperience could be balanced by the expected second-year jump from true sophomore quarterback Jake Fromm as well as a schedule — toughest road game: at LSU in mid-October — that is seemingly set up for a second straight run to the conference championship game.  A mid-November date with Auburn Between the Hedges, too, could determine UGA’s league fate in the weaker of the two SEC divisions.

NO. 4 OHIO STATE
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 5

The obvious, overriding question facing Ohio State is how the Buckeyes, winners of 11 or more games each of the last six seasons, handle the tempest that was the Urban Meyer imbroglio, one that dominated headlines throughout the summer.  With Meyer suspended for the first three games this season, OSU will have to navigate a schedule that includes Oregon State, Rutgers and nationally-ranked TCU as their sideline leader serves out his punishment.  Almost forgotten amidst the Meyer mess is the fact that the Buckeyes will be replacing record-setting quarterback J.T. BarrettDwayne Haskins will be tasked with filling Barrett’s shoes, although Haskins’ insertion into the lineup should automatically upgrade OSU’s passing attack.  A defense that includes a line with talent just a notch below Clemson’s will help headline a Buckeye squad that, even with all of the off-field coaching drama, will be expected to make a playoff push yet again.

NO. 5 WISCONSIN
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 13-1/NO. 7

If someone outside of Ohio State in the Big Ten is positioned for a legitimate run at a playoff berth, it’s Wisconsin.  The offense is absolutely loaded, from returning its starting quarterback in Alex Hornibrook to a running back who ran for nearly 2,000 yards as a true freshman in Jonathan Taylor to its entire offensive line.  One negative, and a relatively big one, is that their wide receiving corps took a significant hit, with one starter, Quintez Cephus, out on an extended leave of absence and another, Danny Davis, suspended for the first two games.  Defensively, experience could be an issue as UW returns just four starters on that side of the ball.  And then there’s this: road trips to Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern and Penn State.  It won’t be easy, but the Badgers have the look of a team that will be a part of the playoff conversation throughout the season.

NO. 6 WASHINGTON
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 16

Washington will get a good feel for the type of team they’ll field in 2018 as the Pac-12 favorites open the season with what’s essentially a home game for Associated Press No. 9 Auburn in Atlanta.  The schedule doesn’t get much easier from there as they have road games at Utah, UCLA, Oregon and Washington State as well as a home date with Stanford to navigate.  Jake Browning will conclude his illustrious career as UW’s leader in nearly every major statistical passing category, while Myles Gaskin will, very early on, become the Huskies’ all-time leading rusher.  While they lost the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year in Vita Vea, they still return nine starters from a defense that was fifth in the country in points allowed.  Add it all up, and just like he did in 2016, Chris Petersen is seemingly poised to take the Huskies back to the playoffs

NO. 7 MIAMI
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 13

Turnover Chain Mania swept through South Florida last season, and Mark Richt hopes to continue riding that wave on into the 2018 season.  The waters got a little choppy for the Hurricanes at the end of last year, however, as, after starting 2017 10-0, they stumbled to three straight losses.  Included in that skein was a 35-point beatdown at the hands of Clemson in The U’s first-ever ACC championship game appearance.  They return seven starters on each side of the ball, and the schedule appears to set up well — they get rival Florida State at home, but do have to travel to Blacksburg to face Virginia Tech in mid-November — for a run at a second consecutive conference title game appearance.

NO. 8 OKLAHOMA
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 12-2/NO. 3

Kyler Murray might have the most difficult job in college football.  Not only is he a one-and-done this year before heading off to commence a career in professional baseball, and whatever distraction that future brings, but he also has to at least attempt to fill the shoes of three-year starter and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield.  The bad news for OU is that Mayfield wasn’t the only significant personnel loss as the Sooners are eighth in the Big 12 and 98th nationally in returning experience according to Phil Steele‘s formula.  The good news?  OU’s schedule is only the 47th toughest according to the same preview magazine guru.  The Nov. 23 matchup with West Virginia in Morgantown could very well prove to be a play-in game for a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

NO. 9 MICHIGAN STATE
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 10-3/NO. 15

Michigan State has won 10 or more games eight times in its history, with six of those coming during Mark Dantonio‘s time in East Lansing.  One of those six came in 2017 as the Spartans bounced back from a three-win 2016 season to go 10-3 last year.  Even better, they return 19 starters — 10 on offense, nine on defense — which is the most of any team in the Big Ten.  That experienced team will also get to play host to two of its biggest hurdles in the Big Ten East — Michigan on Oct. 20, Ohio State Nov. 10.  A trip to Penn State in mid-October, however, looms large for a Spartans team that has won two of its last three games in Happy Valley.

NO. 10 STANFORD
2017 RECORD/FINAL AP RANKING: 9-5/NO. 20

Bryce Love, he of the 2,000-yard rushing season last year, surprised most observers by eschewing early entry into the 2018 NFL draft and returning to The Farm instead, setting the stage for a potential return to the Pac-12 championship game.   Of the five losses the Cardinal suffered last season, four were dropped by a combined total of 11 points.  Stanford returns the third-most experience in the Pac-12.  The first?  Preseason favorite Washington, which will play host to the Cardinal in an early November matchup that could very well determine the Pac-12 North champion.  Stanford will also have to travel Oregon, another squad that could be in the mix for a division title.

NO. 11: Penn State — Replacing Saquon Barkley could mean more reliance on the right arm of one of the preseason Heisman Trophy favorites, Trace McSorely.
NO. 12: Auburn — The last three times the Tigers began a year in the AP Top 10, they finished unranked (2015), 19th (2014) and unranked (2008). They head into 2018 ranked ninth.
NO. 13: West Virginia — Here you go, Mr. Jefferson Gregory.  Don’t say I never did anything for you, even as the Mountaineers’ defense frightens me — and not in a good way.
NO. 14: Michigan — Is this the year Jim Harbaugh gets out of the B1G East mid-pack rut the Wolverines have been mired in since he came back to Ann Arbor three seasons ago?
NO. 15: Notre Dame — The last five times the Irish had a chance for back-to-back 10-win seasons, they won four (2016), nine (2013), three (2007), five (2003) and six (1994) games.
NO. 16: Boise State — The highest-ranked Group of Five program could actually finish even higher by season’s end as the odds-on favorite to land the G5’s New Year’s Six bid.
NO. 17: TCU — A Week 3 date with Ohio State in Arlington could offer a glimpse as to how much of a threat the Horned Frogs are to the Sooners in the Big 12.
NO. 18: USC — Replacing Sam Darnold won’t be easy, but the Trojans have a defense that can help the school get through some offensive rough patches early on.
NO. 19: Oregon — With Justin Herbert healthy last season, the Ducks averaged nearly 50 points per game and went 6-2.  Without him, they barely averaged 15 ppg in going 1-4.
NO. 20: UCF — Coming off an undefeated season, the Knights’ 2018 fate will be determined by how fast first-year coach Josh Heupel assimilates Scott Frost‘s players into his system.
NO. 21: Mississippi State — The esteemed Phil Steele has MSU returning the second-most experienced team in the SEC behind Florida. That’s huge for first-year coach Joe Moorhead.
NO. 22: Texas — I have this sneaking suspicion that, when reviewing the 2018 season, we’re going to regret having the Longhorns starting out this low.
NO. 23: Utah — Per Mr. Steele yet again, the Utes’ 2018 schedule is the second-toughest in the Pac-12 (behind UCLA) and 10th in the nation overall.
NO. 24: Boston College — With their defense and running game, the Eagles could join the Longhorns as teams that should’ve started 2018 higher in the polls.
NO. 25: Virginia Tech — The Hokies’ schedule is the 103rd-hardest (out of 130 schools) in the country, and the easiest any ACC team will face heading into the new season.

Kliff Kingsbury admitted to doing something at Texas Tech a number of coaches in college football probably do

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Former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, now the head coach of the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals, recently admitted to using fake social media accounts as a way to monitor what his players were doing in social media. The NFL world is reacting to the story now as Kingsbury prepares for his first season as an NFL head coach, with Pro Football Talk‘s Mike Florio noting Kingsbury will likely be asked about his social media conduct when he addresses the media for the first time since the story broke in the Arizona Republic at training camp.

The question college football people are probably wondering is “so what?”

The act of using fake social media profiles to keep tabs on others can be a risky move. Not only can it come off as deceiving because, well, it is, but improper use of fake social media accounts can lead to more trouble than it is worth sometimes. But was Kingsbury doing anything he should not have been doing with regard to his players at Texas Tech?

More and more often, college football coaches and staff members are stressing the importance of players keep their noses clean when it comes to social media habits. The problem is there are some difficult ways to constantly monitor and act on any player’s personal account, which is why going under the radar with a fake account seems to make sense. If a player is more likely to respond or react to another online profile they think is not their coach, they may be more open to expressing themselves more naturally. And that may be exactly the point for Kingsbury or any other coach who chooses to check in on players through a fake account.

We may never know for sure, but there could potentially be hundreds of college football or athletics staffers who are tasked with chatting with players through a fake account. And if anything fishy or questionable comes up, the staff can act on it accordingly as they best see fit. Coaches and staff members are there not only to win games but also pave a solid path for their players for life beyond the football field. In today’s world, having a good sense of how to appropriately handle social media can never be stressed enough.

Every coach and staff has a different way to handle social media, of course. Some programs force players to log out of their social media accounts during the season. Others don’t set any limits on social media screen time. There may not be a perfect solution, but with players getting more chances to express themselves directly, it is increasingly more important to have staffers logged in and tuned in to what is going on in the world of social media to ensure their program and university, and the player, will not cross any lines that don’t need to be crossed.

In light of this Kingsbury story, I fully expect one of the many anonymous coaches polls at conference media days to ask whether or not they or another staff member monitor players with fake accounts. And I’d wager a hefty sum the majority of them would confirm it.

Kingsbury was fired by Texas Tech last season. He then was named offensive coordinator at USC and eventually left the Trojans to become the next head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

The last time the Washington Huskies won the national championship…

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The top playoff contender from the Pac-12 in recent seasons has been Washington. The Huskies have risen to the top of the conference under head coach Chris Petersen with two Pac-12 titles and one appearance in the College Football Playoff, but the quest to win the school’s first national championship in football since earning a split title in 1991 continues as we approach the 2019 season.

Washington took home the coaches poll’s top spot for the 1991 season after polishing off a 12-0 record with a victory over No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl. The run to the split national championship was the first for head coach Don James, who won multiple coaching awards for the success of the 1991 season to pave his path to the College Football Hall of Fame. The Huskies also featured All-Americans Steve Emtman (who also won the Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy), Mario Bailey, Dave Hoffman and Lincoln Kennedy. Washington’s defense remains one of the best college football has seen in the modern era.

Expectations were high for Washington in 1991 after coming off a 10-2 season the year before. Washington solidified their hype as a national title contender with a second-half rally on the road against No. 9 Nebraska and three straight blowouts before a big road win at No. 7 California in mid-October. Aside from a defensive battle on the road against USC in November, there was little standing in the way of Washington and a national championship claim. Even Big Ten champion Michigan was little match for the Huskies, who took the Rose Bowl with a 34-14 victory.

Washington fans continue to dream of seeing their Huskies experience similar feats as the program looks to defend their Pac-12 crown this fall. Let’s take a snapshot of the last time Washington won the national title, nearly three decades ago.

Last National Title Season: 1991 (28 years and counting)

Who was President?

George H. Bush was in the second half of his presidency when Washington was winning it all in 1991. The elder Bush was in the White House when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. Dan Quayle was still a year away from making his “Murphy Brown” speech, and we didn’t know he was unaware how “potato” is spelled.

In related news, current President Donald Trump filed for the first of his six bankruptcy cases in 1991 with the Trump Taj Mahal.

What was on TV?

The top-rated TV programs of 1991 included NBC’s “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” and “Wings.” Other shows people were tuning into at the time included “Roseanne,” “Murphy Brown,” and newcomer “Home Improvement.”

Perhaps one of the more notable developments in television in 1991 was the return of Seinfeld to NBC. After five initial trial episodes from 1989 through 1990, Seinfeld became a mainstay in the NBC lineup beginning in 1991 with a 12-episode order.

What movies were hot?

There were some true masterpieces released at the box office in 1991, including the animated Disney adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.” But nobody could overtake Arnold Schwarzenegger with the blockbuster release of “Terminator 2: Judgement Day.” It may be the movie that really first alerted us to the dangers of technology thinking for itself and the term “liquid metal.”

How many more Terminator movies to come before Washington wins it all again?

We should also note that we were first introduced to the legendary Rufio in 1991 as well.

Who was on the cover of NCAA Football?

Nobody, because it didn’t exist yet.

Washington’s last national title claim was staked two years before the introduction of “Bill Walsh College Football,” which eventually evolved to be the “NCAA Football” franchise of games from EA Sports. Even the long-running Madden NFL franchise was still very early in its beginnings in 1991, with the release of John Madden Football II on the PC and John Madden Football ’92 on the SEGA Genesis.

There was, however, “All-American College Football,” a DOS college football simulator.

A blue hedgehog also became the mascot for the SEGA Genesis in 1991. Sonic the Hedgehog got a jump on the competition but Nintendo released the Super NES just before the 1991 college football season started, with Super Mario World included.

What else happened in 1991?

One of the greatest World Series came to a wild ending with the Minnesota Twins topping the Atlanta Braves with a 1-0 victory in Game 7. The Twins won Games 6 and 7 at home in extra innings to capture their most recent World Series championship.

Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls topped Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers in the summer of 1991, bringing an end to the Showtime Lakers era and ushering in the Jordan Reign in the NBA. The summer after Washington’s national championship run would see Jordan and Johnson team up at the Olympics as members of the United States’s Dream Team.

At the end of the 1991 NFL season, the Buffalo Bills lost their second straight Super Bowl with a loss to the Washington Redskins (also the most recent title won by that Washington).

Washington defeated him in the Rose Bowl, but Michigan’s Desmond Howard won the Heisman Trophy in the 1991 season.

The 1991 season was also the first season the Big East sponsored football, although official standings would begin a year later. Inaugural conference members included Boston College, Miami, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, Syracuse, Temple, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia. Nebraska won the Big Eight. Texas A&M won the Southwest Conference. The Pac-12 was still the Pac-10.

A lot has changed in college football since 1991, although Clemson did win the ACC!

As for current head coach Petersen, he was a wide receivers coach at UC Davis. Alabama head coach Nick Saban was in his first year as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns (coached by Bill Belichick!), and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was suiting up to play wide receiver for Alabama.

Washington remains the Pac-12’s most recent College Football Playoff team

There have been just two teams from the Pac-12 to reach the College Football Playoff. Oregon reached the national championship game in the inaugural season of the playoff format, but only Washington has been able to manage a single invitation to the playoff since. The Huskies were overpowered by Alabama in the Peach Bowl in 2016, with the Crimson Tide later being defeated by Clemson in the national championship game. Like the Big Ten, the Pac-12 has struggled to get its champion into the playoff at the end of the year largely due to the conference beating itself up at the worst possible times.

Washington’s bid for a possible playoff spot last year were given a hard speed bump right out of the gates with a neutral site loss to Auburn. Although the Huskies went on to win the Pac-12, a trip to the Rose Bowl was all that was ever in the cards for the Huskies, who were taken down by Big Ten champion Ohio State last January. Coming into the 2019 season, Washington figures to face some stiff competition once again from within the division as Oregon is being viewed as a team on the rise and the Huskies have some roster turnover in place.

Ex-Texas Tech RB Da’Leon Ward announces transfer to FCS program

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Former Texas Tech running back Da’Leon Ward is about to jump out of the transfer portal, ready to suit up for a brand new program. Ward announced on Twitter this week he is committed to Stephen F. Austin University, allowing him to stay in the state of Texas and remain eligible for the upcoming college football season.

Last season with Texas Tech, Ward was the second-leading rusher on the team with 341 yards and three touchdowns. Ward was out of the mix for the bulk of the spring practices under new Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells, although the reasoning behind that was never explained. ward was charged with a felony theft charge, although that case was dismissed.

Ward has two years of eligibility remaining, which he will begin using again this fall with his new program. Ward announced his decision to enter the transfer portal earlier this month.

Sadly, the Mike Leach home assistant device is not real

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Just as there is a seemingly endless supply of streaming services and battle royale-style video games, the home assistant device market continues to be flooded with options tailored for your preferences. Amazon has Alexa. Google has Google Home. Apple has a device. Now, Washington State has the Mike Leach Mini.

In a new season ticket promo, Washington State head coach Mike Leach is the inspiration for a fictional (yes, unfortunately, this is NOT a real device) home device that will answer any and all questions asked of it. “They say it knows everything, just like the real Mike Leach.”

If you have ever had a mystery question of life, the artificial intelligence version of the Cougars’ head coach delivers the charm expected of Leach with a dose of awe and blunt honesty.

Imagine getting to use a Mike Leach device to add items to your shopping lists, check the weather, check your email, or anything else that falls into your daily routine? I’m sure a digital Leach would offer a unique and introspective take on your daily chores and reminders.

It really would be the perfect addition to anyone’s home, or at least it would be if Washington State ever decides to make such a device available to the masses. Hey, Washington State. I would add this to my desk in the office. Just saying.