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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

Pac-12 preview, vote

Oregon president takes thinly-veiled shot at Brady Hoke

CORVALLIS, OR - NOVEMBER 26: Defensive coordinator Brady Hoke of the Oregon Ducks dresses his players during the third quarter of the game against the Oregon State Beavers at Reser Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Corvallis, Oregon. The Beavers won 34-24. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Brady Hoke had a miserable one-and-done at Oregon, and this piling on just adds to it.

Brought in to turnaround the Ducks’ defense, Hoke instead was in charge of one of the worst units in the country.  Their play, in very large part, helped bring an abrupt end to Mark Helfrich‘s three-year tenure in Eugene.

Helfrich was officially replaced by USF’s Willie Taggart earlier this week.  The boss of Taggart’s boss, UO president Michael Schill, had one piece of advice and one piece of advice alone for his new head football coach.

Can we take that as confirmation that Hoke won’t be retained by the new regime?  At least statistically, though, the president has a point, no matter how clumsily or ill-advised it may have been.

Out of the 128 teams listed on the NCAA’s official stats website, the Ducks were 126th in scoring and yards allowed; 121st in third-down percentage and rushing yards allowed; 117th in turnovers forced; and 114th in passing yards. Last season, the Ducks were 114th in scoring and 116th in yards.

And Taggart’s defense this season? The Bulls were 86th in scoring defense and 120th in yards allowed.  So, there’s that.

Malik Zaire pens thank-you note to Notre Dame students, staff

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Malik Zaire #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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A week after his departure from Notre Dame was revealed Malik Zaire has gotten down to saying goodbye.

In a letter to The Observer, the university’s student newspaper, Zaire thanked “the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.” The notes comes a week after the quarterback was given an unconditional release from his Irish scholarship.

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Zaire expects to graduate in December, meaning he’d be eligible immediately at whatever FBS program he ultimately lands. The senior has already or will visit North Carolina and Wisconsin. Pittsburgh is also believed to be in play as well.

South Carolina’s Shawn Elliott reportedly lands Georgia State job

COLUMBIA,SC - SEPTEMBER 17: Offensive Line coach Shawn Elliott of the South Carolina Gamecocks looks on as the team warms up before the start of their football game against the East Carolina Pirates  at Williams-Brice Stadium on September 17, 2016  in Columbia, South Carolina. (Photo by Mary Ann Chastain/ Getty Images)
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For the second time today, a non-offensive or defensive coordinator has filled an FBS head-coaching vacancy.

According to 247Sports.com, South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will be the next head coach at Georgia State.  An official announcement from the football program is expected to come by Friday at the latest.

Elliott would replace Trent Miles, who was fired by the Sun Belt Conference school in mid-November.

This would be Elliot’s first head-coaching job, although he did serve as the Gamecocks’ interim coach when Steve Spurrier abruptly retired midway through the 2015 season.

Elliott has spent the past seven seasons at USC, having been retained by new head coach Will Muschamp.  Prior to that, he had spent his entire coaching career at his alma mater Appalachian State, a career that began in 1996.

Ole Miss announces co-OC Dan Werner won’t return in 2017

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Hugh Freeze‘s 2017 coaching staff at Ole Miss will have a decidedly different look than his 2016 version.

In late November, the football program announced that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has decided to retire from coaching at the end of year after nearly four decades in the profession.  Nearly two weeks later, the rebels announced that co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner will not return as well.

Werner also served as quarterbacks coach.

“I am grateful to Dan for his contributions to our program,” Freeze said in a statement. “His leadership and experience were invaluable in the development of our quarterbacks. These are always very difficult decisions, but at this time, I believe it is best for our program to have a fresh approach. We wish Dan and his family the very best.”

In 2016, the Rebels were 13th nationally in passing offense and tied for 45th in scoring.  They were in the Top 10 in 2015 in both of those categories.

Matt Luke remains on staff as the other co-offensive coordinator while also holding the title of assistant head coach.  He’s also the Rebels’ line coach.

Werner has been in Oxford for all five year’s of Freeze’s tenure.  He was also the Rebels’ coordinator in 2006 and 2007 under Ed Orgeron, who is now the head coach at LSU.

In addition to the move on Werner, it was also announced that Barney Farrar, the assistant athletic director for high school and junior college relations, would not have his contract renewed.  Farrar had been on administrative leave prior to his dismissal.

Farrar was connected to the draft-day imbroglio involving former Ole Miss All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.  It was reported in October that an NCAA investigation into the football program is ongoing.