CFT predicts: Sun Belt 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 the Sun Belt:

Ben’s take
Florida International coach Mario Cristobal has transformed the Golden Panthers from the Sun Belt’s doormat, which is about as low as you can get in Division 1-A (FBS), to a conference contender. With a thrilling bowl victory over Toledo to end 2010, FIU enters 2011 with a lot of momentum.

But Troy has been the class of the Sun Belt for the past five years, and it’s hard to imagine the Trojans not being in contention for their sixth straight conference title, shared or outright. Also, keep an eye out for Louisiana-Monroe, which returns a whopping 20 starters.

Beyond the top three, the Sun Belt evens out. Middle Tennessee loses productive quarterback Dwight Dasher (who will now have to deal with money problems on his own), and both Arkansas State and North Texas will be breaking in new coaches this year. And, amazingly, Florida Atlantic’s Howard Schnellenberger could be on the way out if he doesn’t turn the Owls around quickly.

John Taylor’s take
The easy thing to do would be to slot Troy into the No. 1 slot once again and be done with it. As was the case in conference play last year, though, it won’t be that easy for the Alabama school in 2011 either.

FIU tied for the top spot in the Sun Belt last year with Troy, but received the conference’s automatic berth in the Little Caesars Bowl thanks to its 52-35 win — on the road — over the Trojans. This year, Troy will be forced to travel to Miami for a game that could once again decide the conference’s automatic bowl berth.

That’s no guarantee, however, as Arkansas State and possibly Louisiana-Monroe could find their way into the fight for the top spot, particularly the former as the Red Wolves get both FIU and Troy at home this season. Ironically, all four of those schools mentioned return their starting quarterback from a year ago, which is likely a big reason they’re all being projected to be in the hunt come November.

In the end, however, look for a repeat of last season, only this time FIU will get it done in outright fashion.

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

CFT’s preseason Top 25

Michigan RB declares Wolverines actually beat Ohio State last year

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No. 9 Ohio State heads to No. 24 Michigan on Saturday (noon ET, FOX) looking to protect its 5-game winning streak against That Team Up North. According to Michigan running back Karan Higdon, though, it’s Michigan that’s looking to protect its claim over the scoreboard.

Higdon surely remembers last year’s game well. He was there, after all, carrying three times for five yards. However, it was actually Ohio State who won the game, 30-27 in double overtime. The game was incredibly close, as the score indicates. Michigan would have won if not for a pair of Wilton Speight disasters at the goal line, the first an interception that Malik Hooker returned for a touchdown to give Ohio State a 7-3 lead and the second a goal line fumble that ruined Michigan’s chance to take a 17-7 lead.

As we know, Ohio State fought back to win by this much. How much? Jim Harbaugh shows us below.

Higdon figures to have a much greater impact on this year’s game. He’s the Wolverines leading rusher 874 yards and 10 touchdowns, and ran for 200 yards and two touchdowns on just 16 carries in Michigan’s most recent home game, a 33-10 win over Minnesota.

Here’s hoping, for his sake, that he can have an impact on an actual Michigan victory this time around.

Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.

Joey Jones steps down as South Alabama head coach

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There’s never a good time to lose a football game 52-0, but even by that scale it’s an especially bad thing to lose 52-0 in a game you had to win to keep your bowl hopes alive to a team so disgusted by its own season that it fired its head coach a month ago.

That’s what South Alabama did on Saturday in dropping a 52-0 decision to Georgia Southern, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.

And on Monday, South Alabama announced head coach Joey Jones will resign following the Jaguars’ Dec. 2 finale at New Mexico State.

“There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change.  For this program that I love so much, that time is now,” Jones said in a statement.  “One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama.  Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones is the only head coach South Alabama has ever known, hired Feb. 15, 2008. He led the Jags for three seasons as an FCS Independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2012, taking the club to bowl games in 2014 and 2016.

The loss Saturday dropped the program to 4-7 this season, ending hopes of returning to a bowl game for the first time in the program’s short history.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program.  He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said AD Dr. Joel Erdmann.  “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate.  His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”