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

Florida’s statement on Jim McElwain’s death-threat claim is interesting, to say the least

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Maybe it’s nothing, maybe it’s something.  Regardless, it’s something that bears watching.

Losers of two in a row and off to a 3-3 start to the season,  Florida has underperformed and underwhelmed to say the least.  So much so, in fact, that head coach Jim McElwain indicated Monday that he, his family, his coaching staff and players have been subjected to death threats by unknown individuals.

The head coach went into no detail publicly regarding the nature of the threats.  Apparently, it was the same privately when discussing the situation with his employer.

OK then.

Again, it could be in the same neighborhood as naked shark humping — nothing. Bears watching, though, as one very outspoken member of the Florida media is very much already doing publicly about a situation that was apparently reported to the media before it was reported to the police or even the university.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.