CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 7 Oregon

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2011 record: 12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 (1st in North)

2011 postseason: Pac-12 title game (49-31 win over UCLA); Rose Bowl (45-38 win over Wisconsin)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 4/No. 4

Head coach: Chip Kelly (34-6 in three seasons at Oregon)

Offensive coordinator: Mark Helfrich (fourth season at Oregon, fourth as OC)

2011 offensive rankings: 5th rushing offense (299.2 ypg); 68th passing offense (223.6 ppg); 4th total offense (522.8 ypg); 3rd scoring offense (46.1 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: five

Defensive coordinator: Nick Aliotti (13th season at Oregon, 13th as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: 54th rushing defense (142.8 ypg); 88th passing defense (247.3 ypg); 67th total defense (390.1 ypg); 52nd scoring defense (24.6 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: six

Location: Eugene, Ore.

Stadium: Autzen Stadium (54,000; FieldTurf)

Last league title: 2011

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
The defense returns six starters from a unit that’s one of the speediest and most athletic in the country, an imperative in the wide-open Pac-12.  The schedule is full of cupcake goodness, from three non-conference pastries to home Pac-12 games against Arizona, Washington and Stanford.  Add in plenty of talent and the experience gleaned from three straight conference titles, and the Ducks are solidly in the mix for a fourth in a row.  Well, except for…

The Bad
Losing its starting quarterback  (Darron Thomas, who inexplicably gave up his final season of eligibility for the NFL), leading rusher (LaMichael James, who led the country the past two seasons in rushing yards per game) and leading receiver (Lavasier Tuinei) will leave a mark on the Ducks offensively.  While the schedule sets up nicely, the toughest test of the season will come on the road versus USC.

The Unknown
Hands down the biggest unknown for the Ducks in 2012 will be who will replace Thomas under center — and on the edges — and how effective the replacement will be.  While Thomas’ decision-making ability was questioned this offseason — he ended up an undrafted free agent — there was no questioning his abilities in running Kelly’s offense.  The task of replacing such a talent will come down to sophomore Bryan Bennett and redshirt freshman Marcus Mariota, with the latter exiting spring as the decided favorite to win the job heading into summer camp.  Regardless of which player ultimately emerges, how well they can manage to replace Thomas’ production will go a long way in determining whether the Ducks will have a spot on both the conference and national stage

Make-or-break game: at USC, Nov. 3
As noted in the USC preview, both of these teams should enter this game with spotless 8-0 records and rankings that would likely be a matchup of Top 5 squads.  As noted up above, however, the Ducks will have to travel to Los Angeles this year.  Oregon came away from its last trip to the Coliseum with a win, although this year’s Trojans are a much different team than the 2010 edition.  The only certainty in this game is that the winner will emerge as one of the front-runners for a spot in the BcS title game with three-quarters of the regular season in the books.

Heisman hopeful: running back Kenjon Barner
Playing in the immense shadow cast by one of the top running backs (LaMichael James) in the country over the past couple of years, Barner has still managed to rush for nearly 1,800 yards and 20 touchdowns.  With James off to the NFL, Barner will be expected to pick up a sizable chunk of the production lost.  The bad news for Barner’s Heisman chances?  Electrifying true sophomore DeAnthony Thomas is expected to play a bigger role in the offense than he did as a freshman last year, which could dampen any stiff-armed hopes Barner may be entertaining entering the season.

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.