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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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Duke’s DeVon Edwards out for season with torn ACL, MCL

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 1: DeVon Edwards #27 of the Duke Blue Devils returns a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 1, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Duke defeated Pittsburgh 51-48 in double overtime. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Duke may have beat Notre Dame over the weekend, but it lost one of its very best players for the season in the process.

Redshirt senior safety and kick returner DeVon Edwards suffered a torn ACL and torn MCL in his left leg Saturday, an injury that will end his college career.

In 44 games for the Blue Devils, Edwards returned six kicks for touchdowns and totaled 327 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 10 1/2 sacks, five interceptions, six forced fumbles, 21 pass breakups and eight quarterback pressures. Edwards also ran track for Duke in 2014 and 2015.

Duke has reached a bowl game every year since 2012, and will have to make it five in a row now without Edwards as well as quarterback Thomas Sirk, who’s out for the season due to a torn Achilles’.

On the bright side for Duke, running back Shaun Wilson picked up where Edwards left off and returned a kick 96 yards for a touchdown against Notre Dame.

Local Auburn man arrested after setting Toomer’s Corner oak tree on fire

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Fans of the Auburn Tigers roll trees at Toomer's Corner after defeating the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves 51-14.(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Police have identified and arrested a 29-year-old Auburn, Ala. man after he allegedly set fire to one of the oak trees at the famous Toomer’s Corner.

Fans traditionally celebrate a Tigers victory by “rolling” the trees with toilet paper and did so once again on Saturday night following an 18-13 victory over LSU. However, video surveillance showed a suspect lighting some of the paper on fire, setting the tree ablaze as he walked away.

The Auburn city police department, in a release obtained by USA Today, stated that “witnesses at Toomer’s Corner identified a suspect, who was immediately detained and taken into custody by police on an unrelated charge of public intoxication.” Several reports identified the suspect as Jochen Wiest.

Firefighters quickly responded to the fire and extinguished the burning tree but university officials are still evaluating the damage to the oaks.

“From the ground we can easily see damage to the leaves and base of the tree. It is significant,” Professor of Horticulture Gary Keever said in a statement released by the school. “I expect the foliage will continue to drop. The full extent of damage may not be known for several weeks. The best case scenario would be to see a flush of new growth next spring, but right now it’s too early to tell how the tree will respond.”

The incident is all the more emotional for Auburn fans given that the tradition had just been revived this season following a three-year absence as a result of an Alabama fan poisoning the oaks. Hopefully the area around Toomer’s Corner can recover in time for the Tigers’ next win, which might be as soon as Saturday when they host Louisiana-Monroe.

Notre Dame officially parts ways with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder

FILE - In an Aug. 29, 2014 file photo, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, right, talks with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder during practice during media day for a NCAA football team in South Bend, Ind. It was announced Sunday, Sept. 25, 2016, that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder following a 1-3 start. The school tweeted a new release saying VanGorder is being replaced by defensive analyst Greg Hudson.(AP Photo/Joe Raymond, File)
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Notre Dame has officially parted ways with embattled defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

“This is a difficult decision,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”

Notre Dame has allowed 134 points through their first four games and are just 1-3 after extremely high preseason expectations. This was VanGorder’s third season in South Bend but the Irish have regressed significantly and ranked 101st in FBS scoring defense after Saturday’s home loss to Duke.

Defensive analyst Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker who has served as defensive coordinator at Purdue, East Carolina and Minnesota, was elevated to fill VanGorder’s role.

“It’s never easy to make a change on your staff, but I’m confident in Greg’s ability to lead our defense,” Kelly added. “As a former player at Notre Dame and an experienced defensive coordinator, he not only understands the expectations necessary to compete at the highest level, but he’ll bring a fresh perspective to our sideline, practice field and meeting rooms.”

The move to make staff changes on the defensive side of the ball isn’t exactly surprising to Irish fans who have seen the team play this year but the timing is notable. Kelly remarked that the coaching was not the problem on defense after the loss to the Blue Devils but still opted to make a change on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if a very young defense will respond, and perhaps even rally, now that a big message has been sent.

Notre Dame plays Syracuse on Saturday at noon ET.

Florida International fires head coach Ron Turner after 10-30 run

HADLEY, MA - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Ron Turner of the FIU Golden Panthers looks on during the game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Warren McGuirk Alumni Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Hadley, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The firing season in college football is getting started earlier and earlier. Just ask Ron Turner.

The Florida International head coach was fired early Sunday in a move that was hardly surprising aside from its timing.

“I want to thank Coach Turner for his contributions to the FIU football program, most importantly his commitment to academics and community service,” athletic director Pete Garcia said in a short statement. “At this time Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Ron Cooper has been named interim head coach.”

Turner went 10-30 over four years at the school but was 0-4 to begin the season after a 53-14 loss to Central Florida last week. While he is far from the first coach fired in 2016, Turner did become the first head coach to be fired after the season got underway.

Cooper had a 45–55 record in nine seasons as a head coach at Eastern Michigan, Louisville and Alabama A&M. He was elevated to FIU’s defensive coordinator prior to the season and notably served as LSU’s defensive backs coach when Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu starred in Baton Rouge.

The Panthers are set to play local rival Florida Atlantic on Saturday.