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CFT predicts: Big East standings

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As we look ahead to the 2011 college football season, we take with us the lessons we learned from seasons past. We calculate, scrutinize, dissect and digest schedules, returning starters, coaching changes, injuries, and yes, even hunches, and spew it back in the form of how we think each of the 11 Division 1 FBS conferences — and the independents — will pan out by year’s end.

Of course, these are merely our opinions. Feel free, as we know you will, to disagree. We know that’s why you really come here anyway.

Here are our predictions for the Big East:

Ben’s take:
The Mountaineers are the early favorites to win the Big East, and there are plenty of reasons to feel good about them. WVU returns quarterback Geno Smith and a talented group of receivers in new coach Dana Holgorsen’s pass-happy offense. But West Virginia is frighteningly thin at offensive line — a position they’ve struggled with the last few years — and loses eight defensive starters from a stingy 2010 defense.

The conference schedule is manageable, clearly, but if I were a Mountaineer fan, I’d be worried if Smith got hurt. Or, if Holgorsen bought a beer during a game.

I had South Florida winning the Big East at first (and I might change my mind again), but you never know what you’re quite going to get out of the Bulls, although quarterback B.J. Daniels should be improved. Syracuse is on the rise under Doug Marrone and Cincinnati should be plenty good in Butch Jones’ second year with Zach Callaros at quarterback.

Pitt is breaking in Todd Graham at coach, but the Panthers always have talent. Charlie Strong still has his work cut out for him at Louisville as they try to desperately recover from the Steve Kragthorpe era, but he’ll get the Cardinals there eventually.

As for Rutgers and defending champion UConn? I have a feeling it’s going to be a long season for both.

John Taylor’s take
If you went by the way each team in the Big East looks on paper entering the 2011 season, you would have to say there’s little doubt that West Virginia is the creme de la creme of the conference. Of course, as we all know, the game of football is not played on paper but rather… ahhh, who the hell am I kidding; the Mountaineers — on paper, on a football field, in a casino inebriated — are the class of the Big East this year, and it’s not even really close.

When you look at WVU’s schedule, the two biggest conference tests don’t come until the final two games of the season — the Backyard Brawl against Pittsburgh at home and on the road against USF — and those twin tilts won’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of, well, anyone really. In fact, WVU’s biggest hurdle could be the game before those two as a road trip to Cincinnati has the look, feel and smell of a look-ahead, trap game.

Short of WVU stubbing their own toe — and that’ll sometimes happen early in the morning when you’ve had one too many — this should be a very successful first season for Holgorsen, which would/should leave Pittsburgh, USF and Cincinnati fighting for second-place scraps. Louisville and Syracuse are probably a year away from making any type of conference noise — keep an eye on the Orange in ’11; I have a feeling they may surprise — while UConn is in line for a precipitous free fall from a BcS appearance at the end of last season.

That said, WVU, and every other member for that matter, should enjoy this year while they can as, next year, the talent level will be ratcheted up a notch or eight with the addition of TCU. From the looks of it, based on last year’s play as well as what it looks like on paper outside of the Mountaineers this year, the Horned Frogs should be able to come right in and prop up their feet, muddy or not, comfortably on the conference couch. And have the other schools serve them drinks. And make them sandwiches.

More predictions: ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, C-USA, MAC, MWC, Pac-12, SEC, Sun Belt, WAC, Independents

CFT’s preseason Top 25

Nearly 30 percent of early entrants went undrafted

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  A detail from the red carpet prior to the start of the 2016 NFL Draft on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images)
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North of 100 college football players decided earlier this year, in some form or fashion, to forego their remaining collegiate eligibility for an early shot at the NFL.  In the end, roughly seven out of every 10 of those players felt a draft.

In mid-January, the NFL announced that 96 players “have been granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft.”  Another 11 players with eligibility remaining “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements” and were eligible for the draft as well.

Add it up, there were 107 players who left collegiate eligibility on the table.  And, in the end, exactly 30 of those players were left without a seat once the draft music had stopped.

Below is the list of players who will hope to gain a foothold on an NFL club as an undrafted free agent:

Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
Dominique Alexander, LB, Oklahoma
Travis Blanks, LB, Clemson
Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn
Dariusz Bladek, OG, Bethune-Cookman
Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Trenton Coles, DB, Duquesne
Elijah Daniel, DT, Murray State
Terrell Davis, LB, British Columbia
Eric Enderson, P, Delaware
David Grinnage, TE, North Carolina State
Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona
Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas
Darius Latham, DL, Indiana
Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green
Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Brett McMakin, LB, Northern Iowa
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
Joe Powell, DB, Globe
Tyvis Powell, S, Ohio State
Alex Redmond, OL, UCLA
Aldrick Rosas, K, Southern Oregon
Tyrell Smith, OT, Massachusetts
Ron Thompson, DE, Syracuse
Corey Tindal, DB, Marshall
Quinn van Gylswyk, K, British Columbia
Cleveland Wallace III, CB, San Jose State
De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
Avery Young, OL, Auburn

Notre Dame-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl produced 19 NFL draft picks

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 01:  Defensive lineman Joey Bosa #97 of the Ohio State Buckeyes during the BattleFrog Fiesta Bowl against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 1, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.The Buckeyes defeated the Fighting Irish 44-28.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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In the run-up to the Notre Dame-Ohio State Fiesta Bowl following the 2015 regular season, many a pundit pounded the pulpit on the plethora of potential next-level players* who would litter the field that night. At least in this instance, said pundits absolutely nailed it.

As the dust has settled in Chicago and the 2016 NFL draft has been put to bed, the tally is official: a whopping 19 Buckeyes and Fighting Irish players who took part in or were on the roster for OSU’s 16-point win in the desert were selected in the seven rounds of the annual selection meeting.

The Buckeyes, who entered Day 3 with a record 10 players drafted the first two days, finished with 12 players plucked by various NFL clubs. While that total is impressive, it falls just short of the record of 14 set by… the 2004 Buckeyes.

They did, though, set one record on the day, and at their own expense.

The Irish, meanwhile — and if you can calculate at a third-grade level — saw seven players selected in the draft.  While it was a good haul, it was tied fourth, along with Alabama and Florida, behind OSU’s 12, Clemson’s nine and UCLA’s eight.

There were nine schools that had five players each drafted: Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Penn State, Stanford, TCU and West Virginia.

(*Alarmed at a little alliteration?)

Al-Quadin Muhammad, Miami’s leading sacker, takes to social media to reveal surgery

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 21: Al-Quadin Muhammad #98 of the Miami Hurricanes sacks Antonio Bostick #13 of the Savannah State Tigers on September 21, 2013 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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While Miami had not yet confirmed it, one of the most talented Hurricanes on the defensive side of the ball, Al-Quadin Muhammad (pictured, right), underwent a successful but unspecified surgical procedure recently.  And just how did we know that initially?  Because the player posted a picture of himself laying in a hospital bed and clothed in hospital garb, that’s how.

Subsequent to Muhammad’s social media revelation, the university confirmed that the lineman had undergone “a small surgical procedure… on his knee.”  Muhammad is expected to resume football activities in a couple of weeks.

The redshirt junior played in 12 games in 2015, leading the team in both tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (five). He’ll enter summer camp, provided he doesn’t suffer a setback, as arguably the Hurricanes’ top pass rusher.

Motorcycle accident claims life of Troy DB Nathan Harris

Nathan Harris
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Sadly, tragedy has hit the college football community yet again.

Troy confirmed in a press release that Trojans football player Nathan Harris has passed away due to injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident earlier Saturday.  Harris was just 19 years old.

Other than the accident occurred in Gulf Shores, Ala., no details were made available.

“This is an unthinkable tragedy and the thoughts and prayers of the Troy Athletics Department and the Troy University community are with Nathan’s family and friends,” Troy athletic director Jeremy McClain said in a statement. “It is devastating to see a young life end in such a heartbreaking way, and we will provide support and comfort for his teammates, friends and coaches as they go through the grieving process.”

“Nate was a tremendous person and a very caring young man,” a statement from Troy head coach Neal Brown said began. “While his time here at Troy University was brief, his impact was felt by many. He was loved by his teammates and had a positive effect on our team’s culture in a short time.”

Harris, who starred as a quarterback at Gulf Shores High School, joined the Troy football team as a walk-on this past semester.  During the course of spring practice, Harris had worked his way up to being the Trojans’ starting holder.  He was listed as a safety on the school’s online roster.

The sudden passing is hitting the Gulf Shores community particularly hard.

“We are struggling here,” Harris’ high school coach, Ben Blackmon, told WALA-TV, adding, “He has gone to live with God.”

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Harris’ passing.