CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 18 North Carolina

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2011 record: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in ACC (4th-tie in Coastal)

2011 postseason: Independence Bowl (41-24 loss to Missouri)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: unranked/unranked

Head coach: Larry Fedora (34-19 overall, first season at North Carolina)

Offensive coordinator: Blake Anderson (first season at UNC, first as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 76th rushing offense (138.8 ypg); 36th passing offense (254.4 ypg); 53rd total offense (393.2 ypg); 56th scoring offense (28 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: eight

Defensive coordinator: Dan Disch (first season at UNC, first as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 27th rushing defense (123.9 ypg); 78th passing defense (241.3 ypg); 49th total defense (365.2 ypg); 56th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: five

Location: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium (62,980; grass)

Last league title: 1980

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
You ever have a gut feeling about something for no readily apparent reason?  Welcome to UNC at No. 18, y’all!!!  Actually, there are two valid reasons for their stunning — “Stupid’s more like it,” John Taylor’s inner voice said in off-the-record comments — inclusion in the Top 25, let alone the Top 20.  One, my supreme confidence in Larry Fedora as a head coach possessing the ability to right the listing Tar Heels football ship immediately.  And, two, the presence of quarterback Bryn Renner.  Aside from that?  It’s hard to explain the inexplicable.

The Bad
The schedule, for one, which features road trips to Wake Forest, Louisville, Miami and Virginia, and home dates with Virginia Tech, North Carolina State and Georgia Tech.  It’s not exactly an SEC murderer’s row, but it will serve as a stiff challenge in Fedora’s first season. Then there’s this: 53rd/49th in total offense/defense, 56th in scoring offense and scoring defense in 2011. And there’s the fact that UNC has almost nothing to play for thanks to a postseason ban courtesy of the NCAA.  Remind me again why we’re here with the Tar Heels?  Oh yeah, the whole gut thing.  On a completely unrelated note, I obviously need to hit the gym way more than I normally do.

The Unknown
You could place at least a couple of things under this heading.  How the Tar Heels respond to the 180-mph Fedora.  How they respond to no shot at a postseason berth.  The unknowns are so numerous, in fact, that anyone including them in a preseason in a Top 25 is delusional at best or … dammit.  Never mind.

Make-or-break game: vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 6
In the midst serving out their NCAA sanctions, the role of spoiler is the best to which the Tar Heels can hope to climb in 2012.  As the Hokies are the consensus pick to run away with the Coastal Division, the game in Chapel Hill will serve as UNC’s best opportunity to play the spoiler.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback Bryn Renner
In his first year as UNC’s starter, Renner led the ACC in passing efficiency.  With Fedora onboard, nothing less than progress that may eventually, at some point in the season, be measured in leaps and bounds for the junior should be expected.  Last season, Renner completed over 68 percent of his passes for nearly 3,100 yards and 26 touchdowns, numbers that could/should improve in the new offense.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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Finalists announced for a number of individual awards

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The final week of the regular season is upon us. Heck, some teams still have two games to play between now and bowl season. Still, it’s awards season in college football, and the petty matter of actual games won’t get in the way of the pageantry.

Let’s dive right in.

Bednarik Award (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Biletnikoff Award (best wide receiver)
Michael Gallup, Colorado State
David Sills V, West Virginia
James Washington, Oklahoma State

Bronko Nagurski Trophy (best defensive player)
Bradley Chubb, NC State
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Ed Oliver, Houston
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Butkus Award (best linebacker)
Devin Bush, Michigan
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson
Roquan Smith, Georgia

Davey O’Brien Award (best quarterback)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State

Doak Walker Award (best running back)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin

Jim Thorpe Award (best defensive back)
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Josh Jackson, Iowa

John Mackey Award (best tight end)
Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin
Mike Geisicki, Penn State

Lou Groza Award (best kicker)
Daniel Carlson, Auburn
Dominik Eberle, Utah State
Matt Gay, Utah

Maxwell Award (best overall player)
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma

Outland Trophy (best interior player)
Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame
Ed Oliver, Houston

Ray Guy Award (best punter)
Michael Dickson, Texas
J.K. Scott, Alabama
Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah

Wuerffel Trophy (best community servant)
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State
Courtney Love, Kentucky
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame

Winners will be announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards show in Atlanta, Thursday, Dec. 7 on ESPN.

Kentucky loses TE C.J. Conrad to foot injury

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Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad has been lost for the season to a lisfranc injury in his left foot, head coach Mark Stoops announced Monday. He will undergo surgery to correct the issue on Tuesday.

Though he caught just 16 passes for 286 yards and four touchdowns on the season, Conrad was Kentucky’s leading receiver this season. The junior caught one 17-yard pass in Big Blue’s 41-38 defeat of Louisville last season.

With Conrad, a junior, out, Kentucky will turn to senior Greg Hart and/or sophomore Justin Rigg at tight end, though the Louisville Courier-Journal notes that both have battled injuries of late.

Kentucky will close the season against Louisville in Lexington on Saturday (noon ET, SEC Network) and in a to-be-determined bowl game.

Joey Jones steps down as South Alabama head coach

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There’s never a good time to lose a football game 52-0, but even by that scale it’s an especially bad thing to lose 52-0 in a game you had to win to keep your bowl hopes alive to a team so disgusted by its own season that it fired its head coach a month ago.

That’s what South Alabama did on Saturday in dropping a 52-0 decision to Georgia Southern, giving the Eagles their first win of the season.

And on Monday, South Alabama announced head coach Joey Jones will resign following the Jaguars’ Dec. 2 finale at New Mexico State.

“There comes a time in every program where there is a need for change.  For this program that I love so much, that time is now,” Jones said in a statement.  “One of the proudest days of my professional life was being the named the first head coach at South Alabama.  Today is difficult, but it is the right step for me, my family and for this football program.”

Jones is the only head coach South Alabama has ever known, hired Feb. 15, 2008. He led the Jags for three seasons as an FCS Independent before joining the Sun Belt in 2012, taking the club to bowl games in 2014 and 2016.

The loss Saturday dropped the program to 4-7 this season, ending hopes of returning to a bowl game for the first time in the program’s short history.

“Joey Jones is the father of our football program.  He, his wife Elise and his entire family put their arms around the program and committed to its establishment and growth,” said AD Dr. Joel Erdmann.  “He has placed South Alabama Football on strong footing, which is something he and his family can be very proud of and we sincerely appreciate.  His good, hard work and commitment will forever be recognized.”

As Bronco Mendenhall denies interest, Oregon State reportedly interviews two Pac-12 coordinators

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A report broke over the weekend that Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall was a person of interest in the ongoing Oregon State coaching search. An Oregon State graduate with significant experience in the region as BYU’s former head coach, Mendenhall made a lot of sense for the Beavers. Problem is, the Beavers didn’t make a lot of sense for Mendenhall, and on Monday he effectively withdrew his name from the search.

No matter, Oregon State quickly moved on to a group of qualified, logical candidates. According to Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune, Oregon State interim head coach Cory Hall, Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin and Washington offensive coordinator Jonathan Smith have interviewed for the post.

Eggers wrote that Hall is running significantly behind the other two, but that Oregon State AD Scott Barnes would work to influence the actual hire to retain Hall.

Baldwin has a decade of experience as a head coach in the Pacific Northwest, one 10-3 season at Central Washington and an 85-32 run with an FCS national championship in nine seasons at Eastern Washington. Baldwin left EWU to become Justin Wilcox‘s offensive coordinator in Berkeley last winter.

Smith doesn’t have Bladwin’s head coaching experience, but he does have more successful experience within the Pac-12 and at Oregon State in particular. Smith has been Chris Petersen‘s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for his entire run at Washington, and spent two years as Boise State’s quarterbacks coach before that.

Smith was also a record-setting quarterback at Oregon State and began his coaching career as a Beavers graduate assistant in 2002-03.