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CFT predicts: Mountain West 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 Mountain West:

Ben’s take
The Mountain West thought that it would be inching closer to becoming a newly-minted member of the BCS’s automatic qualifying conferences by adding WAC powerhouse Boise State.

Then TCU announced it is leaving for the Big East after this season, Utah bolted for the Pac-12 and BYU pursued football independence.

Oops.

But regardless of the MWC’s place among college football’s best conferences, the Broncos are expected to make an immediate impact as first-year members. Boise State loses a talented receiving duo in Titus Young and Austin Pettis to the NFL, but at this point I’m convinced Kellen Moore (he’s so dreamy) could make my grandmother a 1,000-yard receiver. Running back Doug Martin returns from a 1,200-yard junior season and should be able to take some of the pressure off Moore. The Broncos also get TCU and Air Force at home this year (they just won’t be able to wear all blue uniforms).

I have Air Force at the No. 2 spot not so much because of what the Falcons have, but what TCU doesn’t. I’ll never underestimate Gary Patterson’s recruiting tactics and ability to plug guys into his system, but the Horned Frogs have some serious hurdles to jump over in 2011. Replacing quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver Jeremy Kerley — both have gone on to the NFL — won’t be easy, and TCU has road games at Boise State, San Diego State and Air Force.

Rocky Long inherits an elevated, senior-laden program in San Diego State from Brady Hoke, so the Aztecs will do pretty well in 2011.

Colorado State, Wyoming, UNLV and New Mexico all have work to do to improve in the win/loss column.

John Taylor’s take
In with the new, out with the old, which will be a wash-rinse-repeat cycle next year at this time as well. Such is the storyline for the Mountain West in 2011. Not so unexpectedly, both the new and the soon-to-be-old schools will likely be the ones staking a claim to conference bragging rights — and another potential BcS bid — at the end of the year.

Even as it will be its first year in the MWC, Boise State will be the prohibitive favorites, based in part on Broncos’ past success in the WAC and in large part to returning 14 starters from last year’s 12-1 squad, including one of the likely Heisman frontrunners in Moore. The Horned Frogs, on the other hand, return just eight offensive/defensive starters, the second-lowest total in the country, just ahead of defending national champion Auburn.

The biggest loss for TCU will be Dalton, one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the school’s history whose leadership may be missed even more than his on-field production. Obviously, the Nov. 12 showdown in Boise — originally scheduled as a home game for TCU — will very likely determine the conference champion.

Both Air Force and San Diego State should be improved, but not to the point where either is ready to challenge the conference heavyweights.

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

CFT’s preseason Top 25

Texas HS coaches reportedly favored Major Applewhite over Lane Kiffin at Houston

HOUSTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Offensive Cooridator Major Applewhite of the Houston Cougars looks on during warm ups before the game against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles on September 5, 2015 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
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Texas high school coaches are a powerful lot. Tom Herman has one on his staff, Charlie Strong had one on his, and new Baylor head coach Matt Rhule‘s first hire in Waco was the president of the Texas high school coaches’ association.

Lone Star high school coaches’ power stretches even beyond simply getting on college staffs, however. They have the power to scuttle prospective coaching tenures before they happen.

That’s according to Houston board chairman/Cougars booster Tilman Fertitta. Speaking to KILT-AM in Houston on Friday night, Fertitta said high school coaches’ push for Major Applewhite is what put the Coogs’ offensive coordinator over the top of Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin.

“The Texas high school football coaches bombarded our athletic director (Hunter Yurachek) and said: We want our kids to play for Major Applewhite,” Fertitta said, via ESPN. “Here’s a guy that’s been on the big stage, he was the quarterback at the University of Texas, he has a great relationship with the coaches and high school football in Texas. Lane does not. That was an ‘X’ against Lane compared to Major.

“Continuity in the program, the kids, the recruits today playing wanted Major Applewhite. They let it be known. It was just one thing after another that had steamrolled to Major.”

Judging by Applewhite’s Twitter feed, it was hard to argue against that logic. The new Houston head coach tweeted support from two key Cougars recruits and a current Houston player who, incidentally, were rumored targets of Herman at Texas.

“I’ll be 100 percent honest with you. When this started, I thought that we needed to go out and get a name-brand coach, because, to me, it’s all about brands,” Fertitta said. “Nobody understands that better than me. And I wanted the University of Houston to stay relevant, OK? I think Les Miles is a fine coach and he’s going to be a great coach for somebody, and I think the same thing of Lane Kiffin. I was very impressed. But when I looked at the whole picture and totality, I truly think in my heart — and so did everybody else on the committee think — that Major Applewhite was the right fit.”

Pitt RB James Conner declares for NFL Draft

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 17 : Running back James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is pursued by linebacker Devante Averette #40 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys September 17, 2016 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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James Conner is taking his inspirational story and frightening running back skills to the NFL.

The Pittsburgh running back made the announcement Saturday afternoon through his Twitter account.

The Panthers immediately released a statement blessing the move.

Conner burst on the scene as a freshman, leading the Panthers with 799 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He exploded as a sophomore for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns before missing his junior season due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He returned to the field this fall with a body free of cancer and promptly returned to form, carrying a team-leading 208 times for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Conner was named the winner of the Disney Spirit Award on Thursday night.

The Pitt running back will join a growing list of running back early entrants, including D'Onta ForemanLeonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.

Cincinnati formally announces Luke Fickell as new head coach

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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The worst-kept secret in college football is no longer a secret. Luke Fickell is Cincinnati’s new head coach.

The school made the announcement Saturday afternoon after word had begun trickling in the Buckeye State since last night.

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Fickell is a true son of Ohio State. Born in Columbus, he graduated from high school there, attended and met his wife at Ohio State, began his coaching career there and spent all but two seasons as a Buckeye — and those two seasons were at Akron.

Now he’ll move down state to a program that has placed Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Brian Kelly at Notre Dame and Butch Jones at Tennessee.

The current occupier of the job Fickell surely wants announced his blessing of the move shortly after it went official.

As Tom Herman and Kirby Smart did before him, Fickell will remain with the Buckeyes through their College Football Playoff run.

“It’s with much pride and humility that I accept the awesome honor of becoming the head coach at the University of Cincinnati,” Fickell said in a statement. This city, this school and my family are all Ohio. It’s a tough blue-collar state with hard-working, blue-collar people that respect an honest and complete effort. That’s what they will get from me personally and what they should expect from this football program. This team belongs to this city and we will make you proud.”

Reports: Lane Kiffin to FAU hits stumbling block

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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As of last night, there was a deal in place for Lane Kiffin to become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

As of Saturday morning, it appears the deal is off.

FootballScoop, who broke the news of the two sides’ talking, reported Saturday morning that the talks hit a “stumbling block.” (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit corroborated that report on SportsCenter.

Herbstreit went as far as saying Kiffin, back in Tuscaloosa, was back on the market pursuing offensive coordinator jobs. That would be good news for LSU, who has placed him as their top target to serve as Ed Orgeron‘s offensive coordinator.