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

Emotional Baker Mayfield discusses being stripped of captaincy for last game, Senior Day, in Norman

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Much-needed, hard lesson learned, maybe?

While he was subjected to a lack-of-class moment by Kansas in the pregame and then a couple of questionable hits during this past Saturday’s game, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield showed his backside by very graphically grabbing his front in a heated response.  While he truly apologized in the postgame aftermath, OU announced Monday that the Heisman Trophy front-runner will not start this weekend’s regular-season finale against West Virginia.

Not only that, Mayfield was stripped of his captaincy for that finale.  On Senior Day, his last-ever game in Norman no less.

That latter aspect of the punishment proved to be almost too much for Mayfield to deal with, with the quarterback becoming visibly emotional when discussing with the media his lost captaincy Monday night.

“Playing at OU was something that I always dreamed of,” Mayfield said. “Not starting, it is what it is.

“But not being a team captain is so much more. It would be hard if it were a regular game or not, but it being my last one here ever, it means a lot more. It’s going to be tough, because Saturday was going to be — without all of this — an emotional one. It’s going to be hard to handle, but … it’s going to be hard.”

OU has already secured one spot in the Big 12 championship game, most likely against TCU.  The Sooners are also ranked fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff Top 25 and will earn one of the four semifinal slots if they win their next two games.

Arkansas QB Cole Kelley returns from DUI-related suspension

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Arkansas’ one-time starting quarterback will return for the Razorbacks’ season finale. Whether he sees the field is another matter entirely.

Cole Kelley was arrested for driving while intoxicated and reckless driving earlier this month. A day after the arrest, Kelley was indefinitely suspended by the football program and missed UA’s Week 12 game.

Monday, that suspension officially came to an end after one game as head coach Bret Bielema confirmed that the redshirt freshman has rejoined the team.

“He’ll be back full-go with us again,” Bielema said by way of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.  Left unsaid is whether Kelley will play in the Week 13 matchup with Missouri Friday afternoon, in part because he’s still recovering from an injury.

Austin Allen started the first five games of the season before going down with a shoulder injury. Kelley replaced him and started the next four, with Allen returning to his starting role the last two weeks against LSU and Mississippi State.

Kelley is 2-2 as the starter this year and Allen 2-5 for a Razorbacks team that won’t be going bowling for the first time since Bielema’s first season in 2013. This week’s game could also mark Bielema’s last as UA’s head coach.

Western Kentucky’s Jaylon George charged with DUI

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Given all of the activity on the coaching carousel this one flew under the radar, so allow me to address the latest resetting of the “Days Without An Arrest” ticker back to double zeroes.

According to both the Bowling Green Daily News and WBKO-TV, Western Kentucky’s Jaylon George was arrested early Saturday morning and charged with careless driving and operating a motor vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The incident involving the defensive lineman came just hours after WKU’s triple-overtime win over Middle Tennessee State Friday night.

According to the television station’s report, police pulled George over after he was spotted driving erratically in and around an apartment complex parking lot. George admitted to the arresting officer that he had been smoking marijuana, with a search of his vehicle and person yielding weed residue.

The school told the Daily News in a statement that they “are aware of the situation involving Jaylon and are currently in the process of gathering more information.”

George had played in five games this season as a reserve lineman, including the MTSU game before his arrest. The redshirt sophomore transferred after spending two seasons at an Oklahoma junior college.

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.