CFT predicts: Conference USA 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 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 Conference USA:

Ben Kercheval’s C-USA champion: Houston
 John Taylor’s C-USA champion: UCF

Ben’s take
If you like offense, hate defense, or are content with a disproportionate amount of the former over the latter, then Conference USA is likely your conference affiliation of choice. And there promises to be plenty of offense this year with Case Keenum returning from an ACL tear for Houston, Kyle Padron starting another year in SMU’s run-and-shoot offense and Austin Davis finishing his career under center for Southern Miss. Indeed, C-USA is truly a conference of great system quarterbacks and even better offensive minds.

In the East, I like Southern Miss over Central Florida. Both teams return practically their entire offense, but the Golden Eagles have a veteran advantage over the Knights on defense. Plus, Southern Miss gets UCF at home.

In the West, Houston should bounce back from a tough, injury-plagued 5-7 2010 campaign. Kennum, who has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, will pick up where he left off on his way to breaking just about every NCAA passing record.

Regardless, the East and West divisions of Conference USA should be anywhere between a two and three-team race. And for a conference that prides itself on great offense, it should be an exciting, high-octane race at that.

John’s take
While it will hardly garner much attention as compared to Big Six BcS battles, the race for the Conference USA title could be the most fascinating and exciting one in the country, even as it will likely happen well under the radar. No less than five schools will have a legitimate shot at winning either the East or West divisional titles.

In the former division, UCF will likely be the preseason favorite according to most prognosticators, although Southern Miss is talented enough to challenge. The game of the year in the East will pit the two schools against each other Nov. 12 — in Hattiesburg, a potentially huge advantage for the Golden Eagles.

In the West, Houston will welcome the return of a healthy Keenum as it attempts to rebound from a disappointing, injury-riddled season. Standing in the Cougars’ way for a return to the conference championship game are a pair of formidable obstacles: SMU and Tulsa tied for the Western division title last season, and it appears both school are ready for another run at an overall conference crown.

We’ll see a repeat from last season, with the Oct. 28 SMU-Tulsa game — my pick is the Mustangs — deciding who will play UCF in the conference championship game.

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

CFT’s preseason Top 25

Bowling Green lands Cincinnati grad transfer John Kurtz

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Just ahead of the start of summer camp, Bowling Green has further solidified its depth and experience along its offensive line.

Appearing at the MAC football preview Wednesday, Mike Jinks confirmed that John Kurtz has been added to his Bowling Green football roster.  Kurtz comes to the Falcons as a graduate transfer, which would technically give him immediate eligibility.

“He played spring football for Cincinnati and was in the rotation for playing time on the offensive line,” Jinks said according to the Toledo Blade. “He’s a kid who has a chance to have an impact right away.

“The opportunity is there for him to play right away for us. This is a big ‘get’ for us.”

Jinks also hinted that Kurtz, who has two years of eligibility remaining, could be a redshirt candidate for the 2017 season as well.

Despite being just a two-star 2014 recruit, he was rated as the No. 12 player at any position in the state of Kentucky.  During his time with the Bearcats, Kurtz played sparingly.

After stops at TCU, Arkansas State, Cameron Echols-Luper to give WKU a try

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Maybe the third time will be a charm for Cameron Echols-Luper?

On his personal Instagram account Wednesday, Echols-Luper revealed that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at Western Kentucky.  According to the Bowling Green Daily News, the decision was made following a visit to the school earlier this week.

As a graduate transfer, the wide receiver will be eligible to play immediately in 2017 for the Hilltoppers. However, he has to finish up some schoolwork at his former school, Arkansas State, before officially moving on to WKU.

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Echols-Luper began his collegiate career at TCU in 2013, transferring to ASU in 2015. After sitting out that season, he was third on the Red Wolves in receptions (26) and receiving yards (407). His 15.7 yards per reception was second on the team.

Ex-USC DL Noah Jefferson won’t be transferring to Arizona after all

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In early March, Noah Jefferson announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from USC to Arizona.  Nearly five months later?

Never mind.

Wednesday, UA head coach Rich Rodriguez announced that Jefferson will not, as previously expected, be playing for the Wildcats this season.  No reason for the abrupt and unexpected about-face was given.

The coach did, though, intimate that a future pairing between the player and the program isn’t out of the question.

Jefferson wouldn’t have been eligible to play in 2017 for the Wildcats even if his move to the desert had come to fruition. He would’ve, though, had two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2018 at his disposal.

A four-star member of USC’s 2015 recruiting class, Jefferson played in 14 games, starting one of those, as a true freshman. After starting the season-opening loss to Alabama last season, Jefferson never played another down for USC.

Hugh Freeze makes first public comments since exiting Ole Miss in disgrace

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For the first time since his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze has spoken publicly.  Somewhat.

In what was described as a brief interview with USA Today Sports Wednesday, the former Ole Miss head coach said his family and church have helped him get through the storm of the last few days. When asked if his family was standing by him, Freeze responded, “Oh, gosh, yeah.”

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze told the website. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” the former head coach added.

The stunning news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.

Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.