Stepfan Taylor

CFT Preseason Top 25: three in a row, Roll Tide Roll

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I have some good news and bad news for you, Tide Nation.

The good? In the 2011 edition of CFT’s preseason Top 25, I predicted the Tide would rise again and claim its second BCS title under Nick Saban; five months later, Alabama did just that. The bad? More times than not, my preseason prognostications are historically and prodigiously horrendous… and that doesn’t even begin to do it justice.

In 2009, 2010 and 2012, Oklahoma, Florida and USC, respectively, ranked as CFT’s preseason No. 1. Five losses later for the Sooners and Gators, and six for the Trojans, none of those three finished the season ranked in either the final Associated Press or coaches’ poll. The eventual BCS champions those seasons — Alabama (2012), Auburn (2010) and Alabama again (2009) — were ranked No. 3, No. 15 and No. 19 by CFT in the preseason.

So, will 2013 be CFT’s Nostradumbass norm for the Tide, or will the 2011 exception take hold? Or, will the Tide fall somewhere in between? More than anyone else, and based on my track record, I don’t have a clue; that’s why they play the games, as the saying goes.

And that’s why, for better or worse and for posterity’s sake, the complete 2013 edition of CFT’s fifth-annual preseason Top 25 appears after the jump.  By conference, you’ll find six teams from the SEC — all in the Top 12 — five from the Big 12, four each from the Big Ten and Pac-12, three from the ACC and one apiece from the AAC, MWC and Independents.

I’d ask y’all to be some semblance of kind and/or gentle in the comments section, but there’s really no point…

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RB Tyler Gaffney returning to Stanford following short MLB stint

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In July of last year, Stanford running back Tyler Gaffney announced that he would be leaving the Cardinal football team early to pursue a chance at playing professional baseball. Gaffney, a two-sport athlete at Stanford, was selected by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 24th round.

Seven months later, however, Gaffney is back on The Farm. Per a release from the university, Gaffney will rejoin the program on April 1.

“This is the ideal time for me to return to the Farm and complete the work toward my degree from Stanford University,” said Gaffney in a statement. “As a freshman at Stanford in 2009, I had three goals: play Football and Baseball at Stanford and receive my degree. Two of the three have been accomplished; I eagerly look forward to completing the third.

“Additionally, I intend to rejoin my Cardinal football family and play my senior year of college eligibility. As I have grown and matured over the past year, I have come to realize how much I missed my football family at Stanford and how much I missed the game of football.”

Gaffney will have one year of eligibility remaining, but could compete for a starting job with the departure of Stepfan Taylor. Gaffney was a solid No. 2 back behind Taylor, so his addition is a huge plus for the Cardinal’s running game.

“I’m very proud of Tyler Gaffney making the decision to come back and finish his degree, while also rejoining the football team,” said coach David Shaw. “Tyler’s first three years at Stanford, he contributed to a lot of big games and a lot of big wins. He will join a talented and diverse group of running backs, which as a unit we believe is as good as any in the nation.”

In 35 career games, Gaffney has totaled 815 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Predictions 101 — Rose Bowl

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No. 8 Stanford vs. Wisconsin
Tues., Jan. 1 – 5 p.m. ET, ABC
Pasadena, Calif. – Rose Bowl

Stanford and Wisconsin players will feel like they’re looking at themselves during film review sessions and when they hit the field on New Year’s Day.

This has less to do with the fact that both teams share the same cardinal and white color scheme and more that they play the same way.

The Cardinal would feel right at home in the Big Ten, where the Badgers are part of the old guard, sticking to traditional ways while others get sucked into this business of speeding up and spreading out.

Yup, the 99th edition of the Granddaddy of Them All will be your father’s football game and we love it.

Both teams have their heavy duty hammers.

Playing in its third consecutive Rose Bowl — but without coach Bret Bielema (Woo pig sooie!) who will be replaced by AD/interim coach Barry Alvarez — Wisconsin (8-5) will swing away with senior tailback Montee Ball, who has carried the football 900 times in his career for 5,040 yards and 76 rushing touchdowns. Yowza.

Pac-12 champion Stanford (11-2) has a similar senior weapon in Stepfan Taylor, who has 823 career carries for 4,212 yards and 39 scores.

The other key part of the backfields present differing stories.

Badger quarterback Curt Phillips is mainly under center to take snaps and hand off. The senior threw just eight passes in Wisconsin’s 70-31 thrashing of Nebraska in the Big Ten title game. Phillips did complete six of those attempts, but who’s really counting those things when your team rushes for 539 yards?

Cardinal quarterback Kevin Hogan, who got inserted into the lineup in the middle of the season, is just a freshman, but plays like a grizzled vet. He has led Stanford to five consecutive wins, including a monumental 17-14 overtime victory at Oregon and back-to-back victories over UCLA with division and conference titles on the line. This upcoming occasion doesn’t figure to be too big for the youngster.

Wisconsin ranks 12th nationally in rushing offense and 111th in passing. This plays right into the hands of Stanford, which owns the country’s third best rushing defense, allowing just 87.7 yards per game on the ground.

Ball will get his yards and maybe a score or two, but it won’t be enough to overtake the Cardinal, especially if it’s a close game.

Seven of Stanford’s 11 victories have been by seven points or less and it won two of its three overtime games (the only loss was that questionable one in South Bend).

All five of Wisconsin’s losses were by a touchdown or less (four by three points) and the Badgers dropped a trio of overtime games down the stretch.

Opening point spread: Stanford by 6 1/2

The pick: Stanford 24-17

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.

Players from non-AQ schools sweep Camp honors

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Every Sunday throughout the season, the Walter Camp Foundation honors two players, one offensive and one defensive, for their performances from the previous day.  Through 12 weeks, just three players from non-automatic qualifying conferences had been so honored, and none since Week 4.

This Sunday, the “lesser” conferences nearly matched that season-long total.

In its weekly press release, the fine folks at the Camp Foundation announced that Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr and San Jose State defensive back Bené Benwikere were named as the award’s National Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week, respectively.

It’s the second time this season that non-AQ schools have swept the weekly honors.

Carr, the brother of former NFL overall No. 1 draft pick David Carr, set a school record for highest completion percentage in a game, completing 28-of-32 passes (.875) for 452 yards and four touchdowns and no interceptions as the Bulldogs defeated Air Force, 48-15.  The win clinched a share of the Mountain West title for the Bulldogs.

Benwikere tied a school record with three interceptions – including two in the fourth quarter – and was credited with eight tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass break-up as the Spartans beat Louisiana Tech, 52-43.

Below is the year-to-date list of weekly 2012 Camp honorees:

Week 1: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner
Week 2: Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Kolton Browning, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
Week 3
: Stanford running back Stepfan Taylor, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o
Week 4
: Nevada running back Stefphon Jefferson, Western Michigan linebacker Desmond Bozeman
Week 5
: West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti
Week 6
: Florida running back Mike Gillislee, Oregon State cornerback Jordan Poyer
Week 7
: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, Rutgers linebacker Khaseem Greene
Week 8
: Kansas State quarterback Collin Klein, LSU linebacker Kevin Minter
Week 9
: Arizona quarterback Matt Scott, Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones
Week 10
: Oregon running back Kenjon Barner, Kansas State cornerback Allen Chapman
Week 11
: Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, South Carolina safety D.J. Swearinger
Week 12
: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd, Stanford linebacker Shayne Skov
Week 13
: Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, San Jose State defensive back Bené Benwikere

Stanford wins Pac-12 North, will meet UCLA again in conference title

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Oh, Oregon. If only you had defeated Stanford at home last weekend. Then your path to the BCS national championship would be clear. Instead, the Ducks needed to rely on a series of unfortunate events (for others) to even think about jumping up to the top two in the BCS. But thanks to wins by Alabama, Georgia and Florida, that path just got much more difficult for Oregon.

And now, with No. 11 Stanford’s 35-17 win over No. 15 UCLA, the Ducks’ hopes to reach the Pac-12 championship game for the second straight game are done as well. Instead, Stanford and UCLA will meet again in one week for conference title.

Stepfan Taylor rushed for 142 yards and a pair of scores and the Cardinal’s No. 2 rush defense held the Bruins to just 73 yards on the ground and forced two turnovers.

The Bruins and the Cardinal have both exceeded national expectations this year. As an unintended consequence, the Pac-12 championship game may not draw the eyeballs of, say, an Oregon-USC matchup.