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

Pac-12 preview, vote

Cincinnati, Western Michigan ink home-and-home series

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Cincinnati and Western Michigan have agreed to a 2-game home-and-home series, it was announced Monday.

The Bearcats will host WMU on Sept. 12, 2020, and Western Michigan will host Cincinnati on Sept. 10, 2022.

The programs have met three times prior. Cincinnati and Western Michigan also played a home-and-home in 1949-50; the Bearcats won both games by scores of 27-6. Cincinnati also won their meeting in the 2007 International Bowl in Toronto,  a 27-24 triumph.

Cincinnati already has road games lined up with Miami (Ohio) and Nebraska in 2020, with a Sept. 5 opener still to fill. Considering the Bearcats already have two MAC opponents and a Big Ten trip lined up, that game will almost certainly be a home game and likely against an FCS opponent. In 2022, Cincinnati will host Indiana and play Miami (Ohio) at the Bengals’ Paul Brown Stadium, with their Sept. 3 opener still unfilled.

Western Michigan also has a road trip to Notre Dame on the schedule for Sept. 19, 2020, and does not have any other games slated for 2022.

USC AD Lynn Swann explains wins still trump strength of schedule

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For a long time, college football programs on the west coast have battled to overcome an east coast bias. USC athletics director Lynn Swann says that is still a hurdle USC faces to this day, which is why the Trojans go about trying to build as competitive football schedule as they can.

“Because of time zones, people on the East Coast aren’t really seeing us,” Swann said in a Q&A with The Orange County Register. “We have to play a tougher schedule. If the voters are going to look at four teams to be in the top four, the Pac-12 playing the Pac-12 won’t get it by itself.”

That comment alone could be received as a veiled (or not-so-veiled) shot at the rest of the Pac-12, but it is a fair comment to say, especially after the postseason the Pac-12 as a whole just had this past bowl season (it was… not very good). Swann’s comment though backs up the overall philosophy power conferences and programs within them have taken to heart since the introduction of the College Football Playoff, where strength of schedule is held in high regard and placed on a pedestal above most other factors to determine a playoff contender and separate them from playoff pretenders.

“We have to schedule teams and we have to have that very competitive schedule to be able to get that look,” Swann said. “And we’ve got to win those games. So it’s important to have Texas on the schedule. It’s important that Notre Dame is playing well and we play them and we beat them along the way.”

Scheduling attractive games is great, and it allows for a slightly wider margin for error, but recent history has shown that the strength of schedule does not act alone in getting a team into the playoff as much as actually winning games. The last two seasons have seen one-loss teams without a division championship invited to the College Football Playoff (Ohio State in 2016, Alabama last year). Last year, USC lost two games but won the Pac-12 championship but was largely left out of the conversation that involved Alabama and Ohio State.

“The committee who’s going to vote on this is going to look at strength of schedule. They’re going to look at how you win games,” Swann explained. “They’re going to look at a lot of factors. They’re going to look at the competition inside your conference, outside your conference, all those kind of things. It won’t ever be just one thing.”

USC has yet to play in a College Football Playoff and the 2018 season could be an uphill climb to get there with so many key losses from last season. Regardless, the Trojans continue to be improving with depth and scoring big wins to return to work their way back to the big championship stage.

Florida is opening spring practices to fans

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What’s one easy way to get fans on board with a new head coach? Invite them to practice.

Florida head coach Dan Mullen wants the doors to be open to fans to come watch the Gators practice during the first two spring practices the Gators will conduct next month. Seats will be limited at the practice field, of course, but Mullen seems optimistic this will help get the energy going for the program from the jump this spring, and that could potentially lead to a good crowd at Florida’s spring game to wrap up the spring practice schedule.

Florida is scheduled to begin their spring football practices on March 16. That practice and the next day will be open to fans to attend practice, which likely will lead to some personal interactions with coaches and players for any fans who take Mullen up on his offer. Florida’s spring game is scheduled for April 14.

Florida fans may be getting a chance to see a hard-working bunch of Gators. Early indications are Florida players are already claiming to be working harder than they have in years in the offseason workout routine.

But it won’t be just the fans that will be given some exclusive first-hand looks at the Gators this spring. Mullen will also look to extend an open invitation to Florida faculty and staff to some spring practices. Those dates are yet to be determined.

Helmet sticker to SEC Country.

Clemson commit wins free Chick-fil-A for a year

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Who doesn’t love a good meal from Chick-fil-A? Hopefully Clemson commit BT Potter does because he just won free Chick-fil-A for an entire year.

Potter was voted the Chandler Catanzaro Kicker of the Year, and to the victor go the waffle fries. In addition to a $1,000 scholarship, Potter will have a one-year supply of Chick-fil-A meals on the house. That could add up to a lot of chicken sandwiches for the second-ranked kicker in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals.

This wasn’t a contest won by asking for retweets on Twitter, but Potter did have Clemson fans come to his support by stuffing an online ballot box. Maybe Potter can use his Chick-fil-A year-long supply to hand out some milkshakes.

The best part about all this? There doesn’t seem to be any way for the NCAA to come in and ruin the fun, as there are no NCAA violations in play here. Score one for the good guys.

Potter, a native of South Carolina, committed to the Tigers back in June 2017.