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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

Missouri hires former Texas coach Brick Haley as new defensive line coach

COLUMBIA, MO - SEPTEMBER 24:  Defensive end Charles Harris #91 and defensive lineman Jordan Harold #55 of the Missouri Tigers celebrate after sacking quarterback Daniel Epperson #11 of the Delaware State Hornets during the game at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Columbia, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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It took a few weeks, but Missouri head coach Barry Odom has a new defensive line coach.

The school announced the hiring of Brick Haley on Friday afternoon, a longtime veteran SEC coach who heads to Columbia after previously serving on Charlie Strong’s staff at Texas.

“I’m very pleased and really excited to be joining Coach Odom’s program,” said Haley in a release.  “We haven’t worked together, but I’m very aware of him and the reputation he has in the coaching profession.  I look at this as an unbelievable opportunity to work with someone who has such an impressive passion and work ethic.  It didn’t take me long in our conversations to know that Coach Odom is the right guy and someone you want to work with.  I believe that Mizzou is a place where the sky is the limit, and I’m looking forward to being part of the program.”

Haley has a strong reputation as a recruiter, which is helpful considering that the Tigers are in a bit of a rebuilding job right now. In addition his recent stop at Texas, he also coached at LSU, the Chicago Bears, Mississippi State, Georgia Tech, Clemson and others.

Missouri does have a strong tradition of producing first-round picks along the defensive line and it appears that, after a one year speed bump with Jackie Shipp, the program has found the next coach to help carry on that tradition.

Fourth Georgia Tech player to transfer since end of season

DUBLIN, IRELAND - SEPTEMBER 03: Christian Philpott of Georgia Tech celebrates victory over Boston College in the Aer Lingus College Football Classic Ireland 2016 at Aviva Stadium on September 3, 2016 in Dublin, Ireland.  (Photo by Patrick Bolger/Getty Images)
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Late last month, leading rusher Marcus Marshall become one of a trio of Georgia Tech football players who have announced their decisions to transfer since the end of the regular season.  Thursday, that trio became a quartet.

On his personal Twitter account last night, Christian Philpott (pictured, No. 82) announced that he will be transferring from the Yellow Jackets in January.  The wide receiver said he came to the decision after talks with family and friends, although he didn’t detail precisely why he was leaving the football program.

If Philpott decides another FBS program will be his next collegiate stop, he’d have to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws. Beginning in 2018, he’d then have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

A three-star 2015 signee, Philpott took a redshirt as a true freshman because of an injury. This season, Philpott caught one pass for nine yards in three games this season.

UNC’s Nazair Jones leaving Tar Heels early for NFL

CHAPEL HILL, NC - NOVEMBER 14:  Nazair Jones #90 and Dominquie Green #26 of the North Carolina Tar Heels tackle Mark Walton #1 of the Miami Hurricanes during their game at Kenan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Another day, another college player giving up the college football life for a professional payday.

North Carolina announced Friday that Nazair Jones has elected to forego his final season of eligibility and make himself available for the 2017 NFL draft.  The defensive tackle will play in UNC’s Sun Bowl matchup with Stanford Dec. 30 before shifting his focus to preparing for the draft.

“I’m so thankful for this amazing university,” statement from Jones began. “The University of North Carolina has changed me so much since the first day I stepped on campus. Throughout my career, I have been with a family of brothers and found people that have become my closest friends. I want to thank our amazing coaching staff, support staff and an incredible fan base. I know Tar Heel nation will always have my back!”

“It’s been a pleasure coaching Naz throughout his career at UNC and watching him grow as a person both on and off the field,” head coach Larry Fedora said. “He has overcome great physical adversity and improved tremendously since he came into the program in 2013. This season he was the leader of our defensive line and someone everyone on the team respected. I believe he has a bright future in professional football if he continues to work hard and focus on being the best he can be.”

Jones has started 21 of the 34 games in which he’s played.  The past two seasons, he was named third-team All-ACC.

Urban Meyer could lose two OSU assistants to FBS head-coaching jobs

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Head coach Luke Fickell of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches as his team takes on the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 17-7.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Thanks to a flurry of activity the past couple of days, there are just five head coach openings at the FBS level remaining.  Depending on how things play out the next 24-48 hours, it may be a couple of Ohio State assistants who fill two of those openings.

The speculation with the most traction appears to involve Luke Fickell, with the OSU co-defensive coordinator reportedly the frontrunner for the Cincinnati job.  According to one report, negotiations between Fickell and UC officials is currently underway; another says there have been talks but no negotiations.

The only certainty in this situation, it seems, is that an announcement on a new Bearcats coach won’t come today.  It could, though, come this weekend.

Losing Fickell could actually cost Urban Meyer two assistants at once to an in-state school as, the speculation goes, cornerbacks coach/special teams coordinator Kerry Coombs would potentially follow the coach to UC as defensive coordinator.

In addition to those two assistants, Buckeyes’ co-offensive coordinator Ed Warinner is in play for the head-coaching vacancy at Western Kentucky.

In addition to UC and WKU, the remaining FBS openings include Florida Atlantic, Temple South Florida. Charlie Strong is the overwhelming favorite for the USF job and an announcement of his hiring could come as early as today.