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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 1 USC

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2011 record: 10-2 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st in South)

2011 postseason: ineligible due to NCAA sanctions

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 6/ineligible

Head coach: Lane Kiffin (25-13 overall; 18-7 in two years at USC)

Offensive coordinator: Kennedy Polamalu (third season)

2011 offensive rankings: 51st rushing offense (162.6 ypg); 15th passing offense (294.2 ypg); 21st total offense (456.7 ypg); 16th scoring offense (35.7 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: eight

Defensive coordinator: Ed Orgeron (third season)

2011 defensive rankings: 18th rushing defense (111.4 ypg); 102nd passing defense (263.3 ypg);  54th total defense ( 374.7 ypg); 45th scoring defense (23.6 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: seven

Location: Los Angeles

Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607; grass)

Last conference title: 2008

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
What’s not to like about USC in 2012?  Coming off a two-year bowl ban and a 10-win season to close out the postseason NCAA sanctions, the Trojans are AP’s preseason No. 1 and are loaded for Bear… and Duck and Bruin and Buffalo and, well, you get the point.  One of the most glaring weaknesses was at the running back position, and that hole was filled in late July by transfer Silas Redd, the 1,000-yard rusher from Penn State who will be eligible immediately and will be expected to play a significant and pivotal role from the get-go.

The Bad
Thanks to the NCAA sanctions, USC is limited to 75 scholarship players this year, so injuries/suspensions/etc. will be critical as depth is not the Trojans’ strong suit.  Already this offseason, they’ve lost starting defensive end Devon Kennard to a pec injury that could prove to be the season-ending variety.  One of those types of injuries the Trojans can withstand; a handful or more?  Given the roster situation, USC is simply not built to withstand and overcome myriad injury issues.

The Unknown
Speaking of injury issues, All-American wide receiver Robert Woods has been dealing with his own ankle situation since last season.  He underwent surgery in the offseason, missed spring practice and, is participating in camp but not quite at 100 percent.  Whether that injury issue bleeds into the regular season remains to be seen, although, fortunately for the Trojans, receiver is one of the few positions on the roster capable of withstanding a loss of this magnitude.  Provided George Farmer’s own injury issue isn’t a long-term deal either, of course.

Make-or-break game: vs. Oregon, Nov. 3
No offense to Stanford or UCLA (chuckle) or Notre Dame, this is the game Kiffin & Co. will have circled on their calendars — and probably have had circled since the curtain closed on the 2011 season.  As winners of the past three Pac-12 titles, the road to a conference conference championship runs straight through the school in Eugene.  If as expected both squads hold serve through the first two months of the season, an early-November match-up of 8-0 teams could very well be in the offing — as well as a preview of a Pac-12 title game that would be rife with BcS implications  The good news for the Trojans is that the regular-season game will be in Los Angeles.  The bad news?  The Trojans have dropped two of the last three to the Ducks —  including Oregon’s last trip to the Coliseum in 2010.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Matt Barkley
Forget the best Heisman hopeful for USC; the senior will likely be the preseason favorite of the vast majority of Heisman prognosticators.  And it’d be hard to blame them. Barkley is coming off a season in which he threw for more than 3,500 yards and 39 touchdowns versus just seven interceptions in nearly 450 attempts, made a surprise decision to return for his senior season and will lead arguably the best team in the country — it’d be an upset if Barkley weren’t the leader heading out of the clubhouse.  Add that to weapons at the receiver position — don’t forget Marqise Lee is also in the mix — that are criminal in at least a dozen states, the addition of Redd and all of the attention USC will garner in the preseason, it goes without saying that Barkley will be the lead dog in the hunt for the Heisman.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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ECU transfer Kurt Benkert wins Virginia’s starting QB job

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Four months ago, Kurt Benkert was one the losing end of a quarterback competition at East Carolina.  Fastforward to today, and he’s now the trigger man in a Power Five offense.

First-year Hoos head coach Bronco Mendenhall announced Wednesday that Benkert will start the season opener against Richmond.  Benkert had been involved in a competition that included returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.

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Benkert came to the Cavaliers as a graduate transfer, but is not a one-year stop-gap as he has two years of eligibility remaining.

Named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, Benkert sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  Blake Kemp took over and kept a stranglehold on the starting job through spring practice this year, triggering Benkert’s decision to move on.

Benkert has attempted 10 passes in his collegiate career, all in 2014.

In starting all 12 games for the Cavaliers last season, Johns’ 2,810 passing yards were third in school history while his 20 touchdowns were tied for fourth.  His 17 interceptions, though, were the most of any FBS quarterback in 2015.

Cassius Peat granted release by Mich. St., appears headed to JUCO

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 15:  A Michigan State Spartans helmet on the bench during a college football game against the Maryland Terrapins at Byrd Stadium on November 15, 2014 in College Park, Maryland.  The Spartans won 37-15.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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Earlier this month, Mark Dantonio stated that Michigan State was giving Cassius Peat “an opportunity to work on his academics and get himself in order” as his status with the program was “in flux.”

A week or so later?  He gone.

MSU confirmed Wednesday that Peat has been granted a release from his scholarship and will transfer from the Spartans.  And, in fact, the defensive lineman may have already found a new home, one at the junior college level.

Peat, initially a UCLA commit, was a three-star 2015 recruit who was rated as the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Arizona.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, and had been listed as the No. tackle heading into summer camp.

However, according to mlive.com, Peat did not report for camp amidst his academic issues.

Ex-Oregon St. DB goes home to LaTech as grad transfer

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Running back Justin Davis #22 of the USC Trojans is defended by safety Cyril Noland-Lewis #17 of the Oregon State Beavers in the second half at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on September 27, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. USC defeated Oregon State 35-10.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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A week after transferring from Oregon State, Cyril Noland-Lewis has found a new home that happens to also double as his hometown.

The Ruston News Star, among others, has reported that Noland-Lewis is transferring into the Louisiana Tech football program.  As he is coming to Tech as a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play for the Bulldogs in 2016, his final season of eligibility.

The defensive back, who went to high school in Ruston, was at the Bulldogs’ practice Tuesday as Tech continues preparations for the season opener Sept. 3 against Arkansas.

Noland-Lewis started 10 games for the Beavers last season.  Six of those starts came as a safety, the others as the nickel corner.  OSU moved Noland-Lewis to cornerback this offseason, where he ultimately found himself buried on the depth chart in summer camp.

The 6-0, 198-pound fifth-year senior, who began his OSU career as a linebacker, played in a total of 37 games during his time in Corvallis.

Tyler Rodgers, NMSU’s starting QB, arrested on battery charge

BATON ROUGE, LA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Tyler Rogers #18 of the New Mexico State Aggies drops back to pass against the LSU Tigers during the first quarter of a game at Tiger Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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It’s not been a good day for a couple of starting quarterbacks at Group of Five programs.

The Las Cruces Sun-News has reported that New Mexico State’s Tyler Rogers turned himself in last Friday on a warrant that had been issued for him Aug. 14.  The junior was booked on one count of misdemeanor charge of battery against a household member.

The alleged victim is Rogers’ girlfriend. A verbal altercation at a party allegedly turned physical in a vehicle later on. When police arrived, the woman, who was initially crying, “downplayed the incident and said that it wasn’t really anything and that the altercation did not get physical and didn’t consider Mr. Rogers grabbing her arm as being a physical altercation.”

The woman decided against completing a domestic violence supplement report, and, according to the Sun-News, it’s unclear if the woman is cooperating with police.

“I was very disappointed in hearing the news but we are in the information gathering stage,” NMSU athletic director Mario Moccia said in a statement. “These are allegations that we take very seriously and we look forward to getting as much detail as possible so the university can be informed and the athletic department can make an informed decision moving forward.”

Because “it is a misdemeanor, there isn’t a suspension coming forth right now,” head coach Doug Martin said.

Rogers has started 15 games the past two seasons for the Aggies.