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

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.