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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

ECU transfer QB Kurt Benkert moves on to Virginia

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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On April 25, East Carolina announced that Kurt Benkert had decided to transfer out of the Pirates football program.  Less than a week later, the quarterback has found himself a new football home.

On Twitter Sunday afternoon, Benkert confirmed that he will be enrolling at Virginia and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Cavaliers.  Beckert also acknowledged his decision in a text message to 247Sports.com.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Beckert said in a portion of the brief text.

As Beckert is headed to UVa. as a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play for the Hoos immediately in 2016.  Not only that, but he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Beckert was named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, but sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  In Charlottesville, Beckert will join a competition that includes returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.

Mark Richt continues to be the classiest of acts in college football

Mark Richt gestures after being introduced as the new University of Miami NCAA college football head coach, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015,  in Coral Gables, Fla.  (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
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In my seven-plus years at CFT, I’ve never been shy in expressing my absolute and utter respect for Mark Richt, whether it was for an honorable against-the-grain stance on transfers or honoring a high school football player who tragically drowned before he could become a walk-on at Georgia or myriad other things.  Sunday, Richt solidified that respect.

As you may know, Richt and UGA parted ways this offseason, with the head coach ultimately moving on to Miami to take over his alma mater’s football program.  As expected, his departure from Athens was classy.

Just as expected, one of Richt’s returns to his old stomping grounds further showed his class.

Not to be outdone, Richt’s replacement showed his class as well.

Bravo to both head coaches.  Sometimes, most times, being classy is the absolute right move — even as Richt’s successor could take some lessons from his predecessor when it comes to transfers.

Ohio State draftees to sign contracts worth in excess of $110 million

Urban Meyer
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Forget about going shirtless at a satellite camp or a sleepover or climbing up a tree or any of the like; this is what you call a recruiting pitch.

During the course of the three-day NFL draft, a dozen former Ohio State Buckeyes were drafted.  While OSU failed to break its own record for most picks in a single draft, the 12 selections in the first four rounds were the most ever.

And, not surprisingly, those players are going to get paid.

According to PennLive.com‘s David Jones, those players will sign contracts that could be worth a total of $120 million.  Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch has the number pegged slightly lower at $111,462,707.  Either way, that’s a lot of cash — and a lot dollar signs for Urban Meyer to flout in front of potential recruits.

Of course, not all of that money is guaranteed, although the guaranteed dollars involved aren’t too shabby either.  From the Dispatch:

Just the signing bonuses alone, which range from Bosa’s projected $17,017,226 to Jones’ $383,393, have an expected total of $60,526,660. Unless a player does something to cause his contract to be voided, signing bonuses are theirs to keep.

Regardless of how you spin it, former Buckeyes did quite well financially the last couple of days.  And, as Jones alludes to when it comes to James Franklin and Penn State specifically and the Big Ten in general, Meyer and the Buckeyes are in an entirely different zip code than the rest of the conference — a fact that will no doubt come up on the vast expanses of the recruiting trail.

The good news for Franklin and Penn State: They had three of those 11. The bad news for them and everyone else in the league: Urban Meyer is probably preparing a recruiting flyer right now with a 9-figure dollar amount printed in big bold numbers.

Veteran NFL assistant reportedly to fill Alabama’s coaching vacancy

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On the same day some details emerged on an Alabama assistant’s “resignation,” that assistant’s potential replacement has been identified.

Citing unnamed sources, al.com is reporting that Karl Dunbar is expected to be hired as the Tide’s new defensive line coach.  Dunbar would replace Bo Davis, who “resigned” Friday amidst allegations of potential NCAA violations.

Dunbar served as Nick Saban‘s strength & conditioning coach at LSU from 2001-02, and then returned to Baton Rouge as Les Miles‘ line coach in 2005 after spending two years (2003-04) in the same position at Oklahoma State.

Most of Dunbar’s coaching career, though, especially recently, has come at the NFL level.

From 2006-11, Dunbar was the line coach for the Minnesota Vikings, and then held the same job with the New York Jets from 2012-2014.  Hired by Rex Ryan to coach the Buffalo Bills’ line in 2015, Dunbar was fired in March of this year.

Dunbar is a former NFL defensive lineman who played for Arizona in 1994-95, when Ryan was one of his Cardinals assistant.