charlie strong

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

VIDEO: Pitt RB James Conner working out with Panthers

James Conner
AP Photo/The News & Observer, Robert Willett
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Pittsburgh running back James Conner is continuing tow work out with his Panther teammates despite an ongoing battle with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest. If you need video evidence to serve as a reminder just how tough Conner is, here he is putting work in, complete with a summersault at the end of his drill.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi previously said he believes Conner will be able to play for the Panthers in the fall.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said last week. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Judging by that one short video clip shared on Narduzzi’s Twitter account, Conner certainly doesn’t look as though he has missed a beat.

LSU adds RB coach Jabbar Juluke from Texas Tech

LSU running back Leonard Fournette (7) scores a touchdown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Texas A&M in Baton Rouge, La., Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. LSU won 19-7. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)
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If there ends up being college football in the state of Louisiana in 2016, LSU has a running backs coach lined up. LSU announced the hiring of running backs coach Jabbar Juluke Saturday morning. Juluke joins LSU after previously coaching at Texas Tech. He fills the vacancy left on the staff by Frank Wilson, who accepted a position as head coach at UTSA.

“Jabbar is a veteran running backs coach with strong ties to New Orleans,” LSU head coach Les Miles said in a released statement. “He has a proven track record of success at both the college and high school level and he’s going to do a great job of continuing to develop our players both on and off the field. Jabbar is a great fit for us and we are excited to have him join our program.”

Juluke spent three years coaching running backs at Louisiana Tech before heading to Texas Tech. The New Orleans native was  a high school head coach for nine years and graduated from Southern University, so it goes without saying he has a good feel for the landscape in Louisiana, which has clearly been a big recruiting factory for LSU over the years. At Louisiana Tech, Juluke coached Kenneth Dixon, who would go on to set NCAA all-time rushing records for touchdowns (which was then topped by Navy’s Keenan Reynolds), points scored and games with a touchdown scored. Now he will get the opportunity to coach one of the nation’s best running backs, Leonard Fournette.

LSU also announced the departure of wide receivers coach Tony Ball, who is leaving to pursue other coaching opportunities.

Urban Meyer speaks out against early signing period in recruiting

FILE - In this Nov. 28, 2015, file photo, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer leads his team onto the Michigan Stadium field before an NCAA college football game against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich. Ohio State University has extended its current sponsorship contract with Nike by 15 years in a deal worth $252 million. The university and the Beaverton, Oregon-based athletic apparel company announced the deal on Thursday. The current partnership had been scheduled to end in July 2018. It will now continue to 2033. (AP Photo/Tony Ding, File)
AP Photo/Tony Ding, File
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Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is no fan of the idea of signing recruits earlier than the traditional signing day in early February. Having pulled in the top classes in the Big Ten each season since his arrival in Columbus, what reason would he have to change the recruiting guidelines? With the topic of a possible early signing period continuing to be discussed at multiple levels, Meyer is standing firm on his stance.

I’m not a fan of that,” Meyer said this week, according to Cleveland.com. “You’re moving it just forward and forward, what if a kid wants to change his mind? (If) he wants to change his mind because of coaching changes or other circumstances, the player should be allowed to change his mind.”

Meyer knows all about recruits changing their minds. In the weeks leading up to National Signing Day, Meyer and Ohio State managed to flip a pair of four-star players previously committed to Maryland on the same day; quarterback Dwayne Haskins and linebacker Keandre Jones. Had either of those two been locked to a commitment with Maryland by way of an early signing period, Ohio State never would have benefitted from the late switches. That also addresses another concern over the early signing period. What happens when a kid commits early only to see the head coach fired or accept another job elsewhere? Should that player be bound to his agreement or be allowed to reopen his recruitment later in the recruiting cycle? That in itself opens a door for concerns, as time could be running out on a recruit as scholarships fill up and programs may be lacking the interest they once had for a variety of reasons (of course, if a four or five-star athlete goes back on the market it is doubtful that kid would not find a decent landing spot even late in the recruiting cycle).

Meyer also addressed another concern with an early signing period that delves into the shadier aspects of recruiting, including contacting high school juniors.”Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” he said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.

“Also, if you’re going to let people contact a junior in a high school in spring, just visualize a great player, what that will look like,” Meyer said. “So don’t go to class the month of May because you’re going to be meeting with coaches all day long.”

That could potentially be a tad extreme, but Meyer knows this stuff happens already.

“And they say, well, coaches are doing it anyways. Well fire the coaches, fine the coaches, and then put the schools on probation for the schools that are doing that,” Meyer continued. “So that’s just not the Ohio State — I don’t want to speak for Gene Smith — but I speak for our coaching staff. We feel very strongly about strong regulation and keeping the recruiting calendar as is.”

It would be interesting to know if Meyer felt the same way about this early signing period topic if he were still the head coach at Bowling Green or Utah, but given his current situation — a mighty fine position indeed — as a head coach with a national championship and in charge of one of the true recruiting giants in the game right now, it is only natural Meyer would prefer the status quo. Have no doubt, however, that if an early signing period is adopted and implemented, Meyer and the Buckeyes will be one of the more aggressive programs in the game. Ohio State is already doing a fine job lining up top recruits (Ohio State already has seven four or five-star commitments for the Class of 2017), and a chance to get some of those commitments signed earlier would most certainly be welcomed in Columbus.

Vandy swiping San Diego State assistant Osia Lewis

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs stands near the bench area in the second half of  the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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For the first time this offseason, Rocky Long will be forced to fill a hole on his San Diego State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Vanderbilt had hired Osia Lewis away from SDSU. Thursday, school officials confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lewis will indeed be leaving the Aztecs for a job with the Commodores.

Lewis had spent the past five seasons coaching the defensive line with the Aztecs; it’s expected he’ll have similar duties with the Commodores. What’s not expected is for Lewis to have the specific title of line coach as Derek Mason had previously announced the hiring of Oklahoma’s C.J. Ah You for that job.

Not only had Lewis spent the past five seasons with Long at SDSU, but he was also on Long’s staff at New Mexico for five years (2003-07) as well. During Lewis’ time at SDSU, at least one defensive lineman per season earned All-Mountain West honors, the Union-Tribune noted.