Matt Barkley

CFT predicts: the Pac-12

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Briefly, there was a shift in the power of the Pac-12. After USC’s nearly decade of dominance, Oregon and Stanford had their turn as the league’s best programs while the Trojans went through a coaching change and dealt with NCAA sanctions.

Well, the Trojans? They’re not facing a bowl ban anymore.

And they might just win the whole thing (the AP agrees) with 75 scholarship players (unless Oregon has anything to say about it).

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Pac-12 should shake out:

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

North Division 

1. Oregon (last season: 12-2; won Rose Bowl) 
If there’s one team in college football that overcomes player turnover better than anyone, it’s Oregon. The Ducks find a way to do the whole “next guy in” thing without much, if any, dropoff. That’s a reflection of recruiting and coaching by Chip Kelly and his staff. Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are gone, but the backfield is loaded with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Bryan Bennett figures to be the starting QB, but there’s a healthy battle between him and Marcus Mariota. I was also impressed by Oregon’s team speed on defense this spring too. Bottom line: I wouldn’t count out Oregon at all just because USC is the favorite.

2. Stanford (last season: 11-2; lost Fiesta Bowl) 
Like Oregon, Stanford loses some key starters on offense, and not just Andrew Luck; tight end Coby Fleener and offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro are all gone to the NFL, too. The Cardinal look good in the trenches on both sides — a tribute to Jim Harbaugh — and the team’s bread and butter of running the ball shouldn’t take a hit. Stanford’s passing game — and ability to defend the pass — could be problematic.

3. Washington (last season: 7-6; lost Alamo Bowl) 
With the changes Steve Sarkisian has made to his defensive coaching staff combined with the upgraded facilities the program is receiving, it’s just a matter of time before Washington is playing in Pac-12 title games. Keith Price is arguably the division’s best quarterback. Protecting Price could come with its own cost, though, as depth along the offensive line is an issue despite four returning starters in the group.

4. Washington State (last season: 4-8)
Paul Wulff left Wazzu in a little better shape than last year’s 4-8 record indicates. Mike Leach is one hell of a coach and having him on board a big reason the Cougars should be the surprise of the Pac-12 North. Jeff Tuel has the potential to be one of the conference’s hidden gems at quarterback, but he missed almost all of last season with injuries. The team’s leading rusher (Rickey Galvin) and receiver (Marquess Wilson) are both back, so there is some firepower for Leach to work with. Overall, the Cougars return 18 starters.

5. Cal (last season: 7-6; lost Holiday Bowl)
Jeff Tedford‘s stock has been falling in recent years, and with only 11 starters returning from last year’s mediocre team, I’m not sure the ship can be righted in time. It also says something when you’re a program like Cal and the best you can do at quarterback is Zach Maynard. The good news is that the best player on the team, receiver Keenan Allen, is one of those 11 returning starters. The not-so-good news is that the Bears have a tough conference schedule, going on the road to USC and Utah (two teams that should finish first and second in the South).

6. Oregon State (last season: 3-9)
Mike Riley is a good coach and has done some great things with Oregon State. I also believe his time’s about up in Corvallis. Quarterback Sean Mannion is back after a nice freshman showing last year. Defensive back Jordan Poyer leads the defense. Don’t expect Oregon State to get off to a great start, but it is worth nothing that the Beavers get four of their final six games of the season at home.

South Division

1. USC (last season: 10-2; banned from postseason play) 
Yeah, go ahead and punch my ticket for the USC bandwagon. I mean, who else is going to win the South? Despite scholarship losses and a thin defensive line, the Trojans are stacked pretty much everywhere else with BCS championship-caliber talent. Also, Lane Kiffin is recruiting like a mad man (related: the city of Knoxville collectively pukes). His latest addition is former Penn State running back Silas Redd.

2. Utah (last season: 8-5; won Sun Bowl) 
The Utes were my sleeper pick to win the South Division last season. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Jordan Wynn was hurt and life in a BCS league was a little rough on the former Mountain West members. But, one year older and wiser, Utah returns with 18 starters, including running back John White IV, who rushed for over 1,500 yards. I don’t consider the Utes a sleeper this year because I don’t see anyone overthrowing USC, but three divisional rivals are starting new eras with new coaches and Colorado is, well…

3. Arizona State (last season: 6-7; lost Las Vegas Bowl)
Replacing Brock Osweiler could be difficult for Arizona State, but the QB situation isn’t nearly as bad as UCLA’s. Plus, this team is more fit to what Todd Graham will do offensively than Pitt. The team has only 11 returning starters, but there’s some solid talent at the skill positions in Tempe.

4. UCLA (last season: 6-8; lost Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
The Bruins have talent, but they’ve been a bottom feeder because of injuries and bad coaching situations. Jim Mora will try to get UCLA turned around. At least he has running back Johnathan Franklin to work with because the quarterback situation is awful. Along with Texas A&M, UCLA is one of those programs that should be better every year, but somehow isn’t.

5. Arizona (last season: 4-8)
Arizona is a good place for Rich Rodriguez. If the athletic department continues to make strides with facility improvements, the Wildcats can consistently at least be in the running for divisional titles under the former coach of Michigan and West Virginia. Historically, however, Rodriguez has struggled in his first year with a program, largely because the personnel he’s had doesn’t initially fit what he likes to do on offense. Matt Scott gives Rodriguez a weapon more tuned to the zone read, so that’ll help.

6. Colorado (last season: 3-10) 
I don’t know when Colorado’s going to get out of the football funk it’s been in for the better part of the last decade. It’s a shame too; Boulder provides a superb football environment and the program has a good tradition. The Buffs have plenty of defensive starters from a year ago, but the offense could be awful.

CFT’s Pac-12 champion: USC 

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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 East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA 
MAC
Mountain West
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Temple adds recent NFL assistant, long-time college coach

MIAMI - 2009:  George DeLeone of the Miami Dolphins poses for his 2009 NFL headshot at photo day in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by NFL Photos)
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With the Cleveland Browns (again) changing regimes, George DeLeone found himself on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  A couple of weeks later, DeLeone is back on the inside, and in a familiar locale at that.

While the school has yet to officially confirm it, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting that DeLeone has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff at Temple.  Bruce Feldman of FOXSports.com subsequently confirmed the report.

According to both outlets, DeLeone will serve as the Owls’ running-game coordinator.

The past two seasons, DeLeone worked as an assistant line coach with the Browns.  Prior to that, however, the vast majority of his 46-year coaching career had been spent at the collegiate level.  And a sizable chunk of that time was spent in the Northeast.

DeLeone’s first FBS job came at Rutgers from 1980-83.  Two different stints at Syracuse (1985-96, 1998-2004) were sandwiched between his the job at the NFL level with the Miami Dolphins (1997).  Temple was his home from 2006-07, and then UConn from 2011-13 before the Browns called.

Demoted by BC, Todd Fitch takes over as LaTech’s OC

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 19:  Head coach Skip Holtz of the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs objects to a call during the first half of the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 19, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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A promotion in 2015 was quickly followed by a demotion a year later for Todd Fitch.  Not long after the latter went down, Fitch left town for a fresh start to his coaching career.

Friday, Skip Holtz announced that Fitch has been hired as his offensive coordinator at Louisiana Tech.  Additionally, Fitch will serve as the wide receivers coach for the Bulldogs.

Fitch had spent the past three seasons at Boston College, first as receivers coach and passing-game coordinator in 2013-14 before being promoted to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2015.  However, BC head coach Steve Addazio announced in mid-January that he had hired Scott Loeffler as his coordinator, effectively demoting Fitch back to receivers coach.

Three weeks later, Fitch headed south.

“I am excited to be joining a staff that is part of growing something special,” Fitch said. “This coaching staff has laid the groundwork for a program that has already done some great things and is building a foundation for future success. I am excited for the opportunity to be on a staff with Skip Holtz again and to keep growing this program.”

In addition to BC, Fitch had also been a coordinator at East Carolina and USF. Holtz was the head coach at both of those stops.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.