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

Florida reportedly moving on from Chip Kelly, who may be headed to UCLA

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Over the past several days, it appeared that Florida had zeroed in on Chip Kelly as its next head coach.  On Black Friday, that appears to no longer be the case.

Earlier this afternoon, FootballScoop.com reported that coaches they’ve spoken to expect Kelly to choose UCLA as his destination for a return to college football.  Not long after, Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports reported that “Florida has moved on from Kelly” as its potential head coach and will move on to other, unnamed candidates.  Forde adds that “UCLA is the increasingly likely new destination for the former coach of the Oregon Ducks.”

Whether Florida moved on because Kelly informed them he was headed to UCLA or because they simply couldn’t reach an agreement is unknown at this time.

These reports come a couple of days after it was reported that UF was prepared to move on from Kelly if he didn’t make a decision in short order.

With Kelly apparently out of the picture in Gainesville, the Gators will very likely turn their attention to UCF’s Scott Frost and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.

If Frost is the target, UF will likely have some competition in the form of Frost’s alma mater Nebraska, which is expected to part ways with Mike Riley after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.  MSU, meanwhile, is prepared to “go all in” to retain Mullen.

Report: Mississippi State set to go all in in effort to retain Dan Mullen

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The rumor mill is set to make yet another coach a much richer man.  Again.

While it appears that, at least for the moment, Florida is focused on Chip Kelly as its next head football coach, Dan Mullen‘s name has been mentioned as another realistic possibility to replace the dismissed Jim McElwain.  The connection makes sense as Mullen spent four seasons as UF’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Urban Meyer before leaving for Mississippi State, where he’s spent the past nine seasons as head coach.  Also, UF’s athletic director, Scott Stricklin, served in the same role in Starkville during a portion of Mullen’s time with the Bulldogs.

In addition to Florida, Tennessee is believed to maintain an interest in prying Mullen away as well.

In that vein, Bruce Feldman of SI.com is reporting that MSU is prepared to “go all in” in an attempt to keep Mullen.  How all in is the university? “The 45-year-old Mullen is already getting paid $4.5 million, but word is the school is willing to bump him up to around $6 million and also making an even stronger financial commitment to his staff,” Feldman wrote.

In his nine seasons, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a record of 69-46 overall and 33-39 in SEC play.  With the exception of 2014 (second), they’ve finished either fourth (2009, 2012) or fifth (2010, 2011, 2013, 2015, 2016) in the SEC West the last eight seasons; at 4-4, the best they’ll finish this season is tied for fourth.

Feldman’s report comes less than 24 hours after MSU, thanks in very large part to a gruesome first-half injury to its starting quarterback, lost its annual Egg Bowl matchup to Ole Miss.  That loss dropped Mullen’s record in that rivalry game to 5-4.  Prior to Mullen’s arrival in 2009, though, the Rebels had won five of the previous seven meetings in the series.

No. 2 Miami facing another halftime deficit, this time to Pitt

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For Miami, it’s deja vu all over again.

For the first quarter and half Black Friday afternoon, it was looking as if unbeaten and second-ranked Miami would be facing its fifth halftime deficit of the season as 4-7 Pitt was leading the Hurricanes 3-0 midway through the second quarter.  However, a 23-yard touchdown pass from Malik Rosier to Ahmmon Richards, which featured some nifty footwork from the latter to get into the end zone, gave the ‘Canes their first lead of the game with just over eight minutes remaining in the half.

However, a late Pitt touchdown at the end of freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett‘s six-yard scamper gave the Panthers a 10-7 lead heading into the halftime locker room.  Four times previously, UM has trailed at the half — Toledo (16-10), Florida State (3-0), Georgia Tech 14-13) and Virginia (21-14); each time, the Hurricanes came from behind to win.

As the score hints at, neither offense could muster much production, with the Panthers holding a 175-108 edge in yards.  The U’s much-discussed and mega-hyped turnover chain made a pair of appearances, but the Hurricanes couldn’t convert either turnover into points; in fact, the Pitt defense forced three-and-outs on each occasion.

If the Hurricanes can come from behind yet again, they will finish off a perfect 12-0 regular season for the first time since 2002.  That team made it to the BCS title game but lost to Ohio State.

Miami will get the ball to start the second half.

Starting Iowa State corner Brian Peavy arrested for criminal mischief

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The Thanksgiving holiday wasn’t an especially positive one for one member of the Iowa State football program.

According to the Des Moines Register, Brian Peavy was arrested Thursday evening on one count of fourth-degree criminal mischief.  The starting cornerback was subsequently released from the county jail a short time later after posting an unspecified bond.

From the Register‘s report:

Ames Police Department Sgt. Christine Crippen said police responded to a call around 5:06 p.m. regarding possible vandalism taking place in a skate park in Ames.

Police discovered Peavy and another male spray-painting underneath a bridge near the park. Peavy and the other male ran when approached by police. Peavy was caught while the other male escaped.

WHO-TV reports that an ISU spokesperson confirmed that Peavy remains in good standing with the team and will play in Saturday’s game against Kansas State.  ISU heads into the weekend with an outside shot at clinching a berth in the Big 12 championship game, pending the result of today’s Baylor-TCU game.

Peavy currently leads the Cyclones in pass breakups with seven; is tied for second in interceptions with two, and is third in tackles with 75.  The redshirt junior has been an honorable mention All-Big 12 selection each of the past two seasons.