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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

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Nick Saban’s dad ‘would’ve kicked me out of the house’ if he quit team

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide questions two flags on the field after a punt return touchdown against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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In Nick Saban‘s official response to quarterback Blake Barnett‘s abrupt departure from Alabama, the head coach described the program as “disappointed” in the impending transfer.

Unofficially? The Nicktator appears to be somewhat agitated by not only the move itself but the overall transfer climate in the sport.

Shortly after releasing the statement on Barnett, Saban appeared on his weekly radio show. While the quarterback’s name wasn’t specifically mentioned, it wasn’t hard to crack the code Saban was using in dropping pearls of wisdom from the lessons his West Virginia-born father had taught him.

From al.com‘s transcription of the interview:

It’s one of those things where I think the culture has changed a little bit,” Saban said. “I think there’s a certain pride people have in competition. There’s certain things that I was taught growing up about not quitting and seeing things through. I think if I would have come home and told my dad that I was going to quit the team, I think he would have kicked me out of the house. I don’t think I’d have a place to stay.

“My dad used to always say ‘The grass is always greener on top of the septic tank,'” Saban said. “So it always looks better someplace else. So you think, instead of facing your fears and really overcoming adversity and making yourself better through the competition, you go someplace else thinking it will be better there. But until you face your fears, you’re always going to have some of those issues or problems.

Exactly what Saban’s father would’ve thought of his son leaving the Miami Dolphins after just two years and his first losing season as a head coach to make the move to Alabama is unknown.

No determination yet for ‘appropriate discipline’ of arrested ‘Bama LB

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 15: The flag girls of the Alabama Crimson Tide marching band perform before the game against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 15, 2008 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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An off-field incident involving one of his Alabama football players has drawn a public response from Nick Saban.

Very early Thursday morning, Tim Williams was arrested university police officers and charged with carrying a pistol without a permit. Williams and another unidentified male were sitting in the linebackers’ vehicle in a Publix parking lot when an officer who approached the vehicle smelled marijuana. A search revealed said marijuana, which the other man, who was seated in the driver’s seat, claimed; a gun was also found, which Williams claimed.

However, Williams could not produce a permit, leading to the misdemeanor charge.

In a statement, Saban said that “[t]his kind of behavior is not condoned in our program.” That said, the head coach was not ready to say one way or the other what if any punitive measures the senior may face.

“This kind of behavior is not condoned in our program,” the coach’s statement began. “We are currently in the process of reviewing all of the information. Once we have a complete understanding of the situation, we will determine what we need to do in terms of the appropriate discipline.”

Entering the 2016 season, Williams was viewed by many as a potential, or even likely, first-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft. He has just 1.5 sacks in four games this season after totaling 10.5 in 15 games in 2015.

Josh Sweat should be good to go for FSU vs. UNC

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Josh Sweat #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with a first half interception against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Derwin James is still at least a couple of weeks or so away from returning from his injury, but Florida State will likely get a talented defensive player back on the field this weekend anyway.

When asked Thursday if defensive end Josh Sweat will be available for the North Carolina game this weekend, Jimbo Fisher responded, “oh yeah.” Sweat sustained a meniscus injury in practice leading up to the Louisville game in Week 3 and, after it limited him in that contest, underwent surgery to repair the damage shortly thereafter.

At the time, the prognosis for a return was 1-2 weeks. Sweat missed the win over USF last weekend, but could see the field this weekend as he’s practiced the past couple of days.

“Healing really well, looks great” Fisher said in quotes distributed by the team. “We’ll see [Friday] morning, but [the knee] looks great.”

Sweat started nine of 13 games as a true freshman last season, and started the first two games in 2016 before the knee issue surfaced.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.