CFT predicts: the Big East

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Now that major college football has a four-team playoff, the Big East is fighting for an opportunity to be visible enough for inclusion. Automatic qualifier status, which the Big East currently has, will be done with in 2014. Replacing it is the “contractual tie-in” game, which the Big East currently doesn’t have.

That’s due in large part because the conference doesn’t have a well-known football brand worth the TV dollars. West Virginia was the Big East’s best representative and the Mountaineers are gone to the Big 12. Now, the league hopes the likes of Boise State can pick up where WVU left off. The Broncos won’t be joining until 2013, however.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Big East should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

1. Louisville (last season: 7-6; lost Belk Bowl) 
The Charlie Strong hire has been met with praise since he arrived in Louisville three years ago. For the most part, it’s understandable. Strong has paid his dues and been around the coaching circuit more than a couple of times. But anyone can lose to Kentucky and FIU. The Cardinals need to build on the 38-35 win against West Virginia last season. Now that the Mountaineers are out of the Big East and into the Big 12, there’s no excuse not to win the conference. — not with the talent Louisville returns, not with the one-year opportunity the program has before Boise State, San Diego State, Houston and Central Florida join the mix.

2. South Florida (last season: 5-7)
More than Louisville, South Florida has run out of reasons why it can’t win a conference title. Say it with me: location, location, location. Skip Holtz is a likable guy so I want him to succeed, but 8-5 will only get a coach so far in a very winnable league. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is back for his 10th final year and he desperately needs to improve on his consistency. USF’s non-conference schedule has two tough games against Florida State and Miami, but the Bulls should be able to compete for a Big East title — which of course are famous last words.

3. Rutgers (last season: 9-4; won Pinstripe Bowl) 
Kyle Flood inherits a Rutgers program that has made significant strides under Greg Schiano. Yet, for all that Schiano’s done, the Scarlet Knights still haven’t brought home so much as a share of a conference title. Rutgers has a chance this year, but the quarterback battle between Gary Nova and Chas Dodd could be the deterrent as neither played particularly well last year.

4. Cincinnati (last season: 10-3; won Liberty Bowl)
Charlie Strong will get a lot of the attention this year because Louisville is favored to win the conference, but Butch Jones is the Big East’s best coach. Jones took the Bearcats from 4-8 in his first season to 10-3 last year and a bowl win over Vanderbilt. Will Jones have the same kind of year in 2012? It’s going to be hard without quarterback Zach Collaros and former Big East offensive player of the year, Isaiah Pead, but Jones should get enough wins though to draw the interest of a bigger program.

5. Pitt (last season: 6-7; lost BBVA Compass Bowl) 
Like B.J. Daniels at USF, it feels like Tino Sunseri‘s been at Pitt for the most of the past decade. He’ll have a new head coach — his third in as many years — in former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. The hiring of Chryst feels more natural, as opposed to Todd Graham, who was never a good fit for the Panthers. The biggest boost for Chryst is getting running back Ray Graham back from a season-ending injury. Graham racked up nearly 1,000 yards in eight games last year.

6. Syracuse (last season: 5-7) 
The highlight of Syracuse’s 2011 season was a 49-23 dismantling of West Virginia. After that, it was all downhill with five straight losses to end the year 5-7. Like other Northeastern programs, Syracuse just isn’t what it used to be and the talent in that area doesn’t support programs like it did a couple of decades ago. Doug Marrone is a good enough coach that he might be able to have some success here and there — that doesn’t change much in the ACC, either — but the Orange leaves the Big East on a low note.

7. Temple (last season: 9-4 in MAC; won New Mexico Bowl) 
It’s back to the old stomping grounds for Temple after an eight-year hiatus. The Owls re-enter the league as an improved program and not the one unceremoniously shown the door after the 2004 season. However,  Temple will struggle this year because of the turnover on the offensive coaching staff coupled with the loss of running back Bernard Pierce. 

8. UConn (last season: 5-7) 
It was an underwhelming first year for Paul Pasqualoni‘s return to the college ranks. Then again, the Huskies reached their ceiling with a Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oklahoma following the 2010 season. You can pretty much count on UConn to do one thing consistently: run the football. Lyle McCombs, at just 166 pounds, was able to churn out 1,100 yards last season. With the passing game once again a questionable area of the offense, McCombs will be counted on once again.

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Alabama announces future home-and-home with Notre Dame

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The reports have officially come to fruition.

Late last month, it was reported that Alabama was working on scheduling a home-and-home series with Notre Dame.  Nearly a month later, the Crimson Tide confirmed that it has indeed reached a scheduling agreement with their counterparts with the Fighting Irish.

The Crimson Tide will travel to South Bend Sept. 2, 2028, with the Fighting Irish heading to Tuscaloosa on Sept. 1 of the following season.

“It doesn’t get more tradition-rich than Alabama and Notre Dame when it comes to college football,” a statement from UA athletic director Greg Byrne began. “What a great opportunity this is for our program and for our fans to kick off the 2028 and 2029 seasons.”

The two storied football programs have met seven times previously, with the last coming in the 2012 championship game.  The Tide won that last matchup, but trail in the series 5-2.  Including the BCS title game, three of the meetings have come in the postseason, with the other two being the 1973 Sugar Bowl and the Orange Bowl following the 1974 season.

The 2029 game will mark the Fighting Irish’s first-ever appearance at Bryant-Denny Stadium as their two previous regular-season games against the Crimson Tide were played at Legion Field in Birmingham (1980, 1986).  Alabama has played Notre Dame in South Bend twice (1976, 1987).

“We are excited to be able to add a home-and-home series with a team like Notre Dame,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “Alabama and Notre Dame represent two of the most storied programs in college football history. What a great opportunity for our team and our fans to be able to witness these teams play in two of the sport’s most iconic venues in Tuscaloosa and South Bend.”

Tennessee announces four-year deal for AD Phillip Fulmer

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Earlier this month, it was reported that Tennessee and Phillip Fulmer were closing in on a long-term deal.  Two weeks later, those reports have come to fruition.

Thursday morning, UT announced that it has reached an agreement on a four-year contract with Fulmer to continue in his role as athletic director.  Fulmer was named as acting athletic director on Dec. 1, not long after John Currie was fired from the post.  His first big move came less than a week after being tabbed for the role when Jeremy Pruitt was hired as the Volunteers’ new head football coach.

Fulmer’s contract will reportedly average $1 million annually, with the opportunity to earn up to $300,000 in bonuses as well.

“Phillip has been a great partner over the last four months and I commend him for the work he has done with our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” chancellor Beverly Davenport said in a statement. “Phillip has been connected to the University of Tennessee and its athletics program for more than 40 years and he understands the expectations we have for our athletics department.

“He is surrounded by a very knowledgeable staff that is deeply committed to the success of our student-athletes. I look forward to our continued partnership.”

A native of Winchester, Tenn., Fulmer played his college football for the Volunteers in the late sixties.  He began his coaching career at UT as a grad assistant from 1972-73, then returned as offensive line coach in 1980.  After spending 13 seasons as an assistant, he took over as the Volunteers head coach in 1992 — Johnny Majors has always alleged Fulmer was behind his ouster — and spent 17 seasons leading his alma mater.

In that span, Fulmer went 152-52, winning a pair of SEC titles and the 1998 national championship.

“I am very grateful to Chancellor Davenport for the opportunity to continue to serve our outstanding university and its proud legacy,” Fulmer said. “The positive momentum established by our talented student-athletes, dedicated coaches, excellent staff, our great alumni and fans has united us all. I am excited to work alongside them as we push forward in pursuit of excellence in all sports.”

Jalen Hurts’ dad: if son loses Alabama QB battle, ‘he’d be biggest free agent in college football history’

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For the first time, the rumors surrounding the future of the quarterback situation at Alabama have some real legs.

Ever since true freshman Tua Tagovailoa replaced two-year starter Jalen Hurts in the national championship game, it’s been thought that the former would replace the latter as Alabama’s No. 1 quarterback moving forward.  Even with Tagovailoa battling a hand injury since very early in the spring, most observers are still of the opinion that the rising sophomore will win the job and be under center when Alabama opens the 2018 season against Louisville.

And, should that come to fruition?  Hurts’ father, Averion Hurts, very heavily intimated to Matt Hayes of Bleacher Report that his son, 26-2 as the starting quarterback for the Crimson Tide, would transfer if he loses a job he’s held for most of the past two seasons.

Coach Saban’s job is to do what’s best for his team. I have no problem with that,” Averion Hurts said. “My job is to do what’s best for Jalen—and make no mistake, Jalen is a quarterback, and he wants to play quarterback. He loves Alabama, loves Coach Saban and everything about that place. But he wants to play, and he will play…”

Averion stops mid-sentence because the idea of his son not playing for Alabama isn’t one he takes lightly. What if Jalen doesn’t win the job, he is asked?

He shakes his head slowly, answers begrudgingly. “Well, he’d be the biggest free agent in college football history.

Given the rumors swirling around Hurts, the Crimson Tide has been in pursuit of at least one graduate transfer at the position this offseason.  East Carolina quarterback Gardner Minshew announced his commitment to UA in February, only to flip a month later to Washington State.

Earlier this month, a terse Saban told the media he has no timeline on making a decision on a starter.

“First of all, I don’t have a time frame. So how could it affect it? You have a time frame. I don’t,” the coach said. “So from your perspective, maybe I should ask you the question. From my perspective, if there is no time frame, how does it affect it? I can’t answer that. But I don’t think any time a player gets hurt at any position that he should be penalized for that.”

Earlier this week, Saban once again indicated that Tagovailoa would likely be a non-participant in this weekend’s spring game, meaning any decision on a starter likely won’t be made until some point during summer camp.

Florida’s Cece Jefferson reportedly out four months after surgery

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One of the most heralded members of Florida’s 2015 recruiting class has hit a medical speedbump.

According to Robbie Andreu of the Gainesville Sun, Cece Jefferson underwent surgery on his right shoulder earlier this week after injuring it during the Gators’ spring game.  As a result of that surgical procedure and the ensuing rehab, the defensive lineman is expected to be sidelined for the next four months.

Such a timeline would see Jefferson returning to on-field football action in mid-August, which would be right in the middle of summer camp.  Whether the lineman would be ready for the start of the 2018 regular season remains to be seen.

Jefferson was a consensus five-star prospect, rated as the No. 2 strongside defensive end in the Class of 2015; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 7 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

This past season, Jefferson led the Gators with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks.  After considering early entry into the 2018 NFL draft, the 6-1, 242-pound lineman opted to return to Gainesville for one more season.