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

Illinois boots three players charged with home invasion and robbery

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.

Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.

Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.

Report: Conference USA to air at least 15 football games on Twitter in 2017

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Conference USA is in a position where it needs to think outside the box and look to stay ahead of the curve in a changing TV landscape. It appears to be ready to air games on Twitter in 2017.

A report from The Virginian-Pilot says broadcast company STADIUM will air at least 15 football games involving Conference USA teams this fall. STADIUM is the result of a recent merger between the American Sports Network, 120 Sports and Silver Chalice (which also owns Campus Insiders and the online ACC Digital Network). The ASN had owned the broadcast rights to Conference USA games through the end of the 2017-2018 sports season that will carry over to the STADIUM deal (allowing for Conference USA basketball games to be aired on Twitter as well). It was announced earlier this month STADIUM intended to broadcast Conference USA games on Twitter, but it was unknown how many games might make it to the networking service. STADIUM reportedly has an interest in continuing to air Conference USA contests beyond the next athletic season.

Conference USA still has broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS Sports in effect as well, so don’t expect the premiere matchups in the conference to be aired on Twitter. However, by sharing the games online, Conference USA is hoping to reach a wide-spread audience and have the opportunity to be a trending topic. It could work, as Twitter would make sure the game is given a steady feed to allow for a pleasant viewing experience and fan interaction in real time.

Conference USA saw TV revenue take a big hit over the last year. Last summer, Conference USA’s television revenue reportedly dropped to just $2.8 million for the entire conference following realignment changes. Finding a home on a streaming platform now would be key for the conference’s future stability.

Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt named son after former Tide linebackers Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson

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It is not at all uncommon for children born in the state of Alabama to be named after Alabama football legends, but it is not every day you see a child of an Alabama coach receives a name inspired by former Alabama football players.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt announced the birth of his new son, Flynt Anderson-Foster Pruitt, on Twitter. Alabama fans will likely already know the connection to the new child’s name, as used the last names of two former Alabama football players to create the middle name of Anderson-Foster; Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster.

Maybe this is more common than I’m aware of, but regardless of how often a coach names a child after former players, this is a testament to the relationship the Pruitt family established with both former Alabama linebackers. And now there will be a bond for years to come between the coach and his family and Anderson and Foster.

Helmet sticker to Al.com.

Wisconsin’s season tickets for 100th anniversary of Camp Randall are a thing of beauty

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The Wisconsin Badgers are gearing up for their 100th season playing home football game sin Camp Randall Stadium. As part of the season-long celebration, Wisconsin put some brilliant artistic detail into their season tickets for the 2017 season.

Each ticket to a home Wisconsin game is designed like a retro-style program. These are beautifully done and mimic the style of a program cover from decades past. I’m particularly fond of the program cover for the Purdue game, which features Wisconsin’s Bucky floating in space with a ship with the Purdue logo nearby. Is that a space train? The Band Day program for the game against Florida Atlantic also looks fantastic.

These tickets will surely be must-have collectibles for Wisconsin fans. If Wisconsin wants to make a few extra bucks, then blowing up these images and selling them as posters may be a good decision as well. And I wouldn’t put it past Wisconsin to suit up in a retro-style uniform for at least home game this season in Madison.