Image: Rakeem Cato

CFT predicts: Conference USA

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I have a secret. I’m actually quite sad Conference USA as we know it today will be no more by 2013. Central Florida, Houston and SMU will all be departing for the Big East and taking their places will be FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio (UNC-Charlotte and Old Dominion join in 2015).

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

But 2012 should be another fun year for C-USA, though it may not have that one team making waves nationally like Houston did last season. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how Conference USA should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

East Division

1. Marshall (last season: 7-6; won Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl) 
The Thundering Herd overachieved in 2011 and came thisclose to securing the East title. Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato looks like the real deal, and even though I’ve never been a huge believer in Doc Holliday as a coach, there’s no denying his recruiting prowess.

2. East Carolina (last season: 5-7) 
One down year and East Carolina gets back near the  top of the East standings. The Pirates return most of their starters from a year ago, but the 2012 schedule is tough early with three straight road games that could set the tone for the whole year. A season-ending game at Marshall could decide the East.

3. UCF (last season: 5-7) 
Things went south quickly for the Knights last season. After a 2-0 start, UCF didn’t win consecutive games for the rest of the season. The program was sanctioned by the NCAA this offseason, which includes a bowl ban for 2012. Even if George O’Leary gets back to above .500, he might be gone after this year — unless he gets back to nine or 10 wins.

4. Southern Miss (last season: 12-2; won Hawaii Bowl) 
The defending C-USA champions will dip this year with only a dozen or so returning starters combined with a completely new coaching staff. The good news is the Golden Eagles don’t have to play Houston or Tulsa.

5. UAB (last season: 3-9) 
Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee starts his tenure at UAB with a tall task ahead. The team returns just 11 starters, but among them are key offensive pieces. Things will be rough in McGee’s first year, but not as bad as …

6. Memphis (last season: 2-10) 
One of college football’s worst programs also breaks in a new coach with ex-TCU co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente. Fuente has to move forward without quarterback Taylor Reed. Outside of a season-opening game against Tennessee-Martin, the Tigers may not win another game for the rest of the year.

West Division

1. Tulsa (last season: 8-5; lost Armed Forces Bowl) 
Tulsa has fielded a deceptively good football for the past couple of years. The Golden Hurricane went 10-3 in 2010 under Todd Graham and followed that up with an 8-5 campaign a year ago with an excruciating out-of-conference slate. Nebraska transfer Cody Green is eligible to play this season.

2. Houston (last season: 13-1; won TicketCity Bowl)
The Cougars lose a lot in quarterback Case Keenum and coach Kevin Sumlin. The passing game, Houston’s bread and butter, takes a hit, but leading rusher Charles Sims is back. Sumlin built a solid program at Houston that new coach Tony Levine won’t see much of a drop off in his first year.

3. SMU (last season: 8-5; won BBVA Compass Bowl) 
June Jones almost went to Arizona State this offseason … and then he didn’t. The Mustangs should be glad, and the team has picked up former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who will be able to play right away.

4. Rice (last season: 4-8) 
David Bailiff‘s stock at Rice is dropping. After a 10-3 season in 2008, the Owls haven’t won more than four games in the last three seasons. Bailiff promises Sam McGuffie will be more involved in the offense this year.

5. UTEP (last season: 5-7) 
Like Bailiff, Mike Price‘s seat is getting warm. Price hasn’t finished with a winning record with UTEP since 2005. The Miners return 13 starters from a year ago, but the 2012 schedule is pretty tough from beginning to end.

6. Tulane (last season: 2-11)
Whereas Rice and UTEP may be getting new coaches after this year, Tulane is entering Year 1 with Curtis Johnson. The wide receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints since 2006, Johnson is an interesting hire. While Johnson knows the area and should be able to recruit, the rebuilding process for the Green Wave will take a while.

CFT’s C-USA champion: Tulsa

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ‘em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Two Power Five teams among handful of FBS schools to express interest in ex-Gator Treon Harris

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 14:  Treon Harris #3 of the Florida Gators drops back to pass against the South Carolina Gamecocks during their game at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Less than a week after he left his first college football home, teams are lining up to inquire about being Treon Harris‘ second.  Reportedly.

According to 247Sports.com, at least nine FBS programs have either spoken to Harris’ family or “have interest and have requested Harris’ release so they have the option to make contact.”  Two included in the latter group are Power Five teams — Kansas and Minnesota.

Other FBS teams in that second group also include Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, Eastern Michigan and SMU.  Georgia State, Southern Miss and Texas State have all reportedly made contact with Harris and his family.

Additionally, a handful of FCS programs have been in contact.

Should Harris move on to another FBS program, he would be forced to sit out the 2016 season, but would then have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2017.  A move to the FCS would give him immediate eligibility in 2o16.

Monday, Florida confirmed that Harris had decided to transfer out of the Gators football program.  There was no specific reason given for the departure, although the announcement came less than a week after Jim McElwain confirmed that Harris would be moved from quarterback to wide receiver.

At his press conference prior to the start of spring practice, McElwain acknowledged that a pair of his players, Harris and wide receiver Antonio Callaway, haven’t been a part of the Florida football team since January.

And that’s without even mentioning Harris’ in-season issue in 2014 that was ultimately resolved a week later.

Harris started the 2015 season opener, but gave way to Will Grier — with a suspension thrown in for good measure — until Grier was himself suspended in October for the remainder of the season.  The true sophomore then started the last eight games of the year, with the Gators going 4-4 in that span.  Included in that stretch were three losses to close out the year by an average of nearly 25 points per game, with Harris completing under 44 percent of his passes (36-83) and directing the offense to a combined 24 points.

A four-star member of the Gators’ 2014 recruiting class, Harris was rated as the No. 18 player at any position in the state of Florida and the No. 123 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.

FSU, WVU closing in on agreement to open 2020 season in Atlanta

JACKSONVILLE, FL - JANUARY 01:  Head coach Bobby Bowden of the Florida State Seminoles is greeted by the Governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin III, before taking on the West Virginia Mountaineers during the Konica Minolta Gator Bowl on January 1, 2010 at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium in Jacksonville, Florida. Florida State defeated West Virginia 33-21 in Bobby Bowden's last game as a head coach for the Seminoles.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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Jimbo Fisher‘s native and adopted states could soon be crossing paths on the gridiron, this time in the regular season.

Mike Casazza of the Charleston Gazette-Mail was the first to report that West Virginia and Florida State are in talks for a game that would open the 2020 season, and that the two sides were close to finishing the deal.  ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy subsequently confirmed that report.

The game, which would be the latest iteration in the long-running Chick-fil-A Kickoff series, would be played Sept. 5 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

The football programs have met three times previously, with all three coming in the Gator Bowl.   As WVU was in the process of moving from the Big East to the Big 12 in February of 2012, it cancelled a 2012-13 home-and-home series with the Seminoles.

The final of what was a trio of FSU wins over WVU came in the last game for Bobby Bowden, the legendary head coach of the Seminoles who coached the Mountaineers for six seasons before leaving for Tallahassee.

Bowden’s successor at FSU, Fisher, is a native of Clarksburg, WV.

Justin Timberlake, Larry the Cable Guy stump for Big 12 candidacies of Memphis, UCF

SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07:  Actor/singer Justin Timberlake watches the game between the Memphis Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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As you no doubt know by now, the Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand.  Wednesday night, a pair of entertainment heavyweights threw their celebrity behind two of the potential candidates.

A handful of teams have been mentioned as possibilities, from Houston to UConn to USF to BYU to Tulane to East Carolina to Cincinnati to Colorado State to Boise State.  Additionally, Memphis and UCF have been heavily speculated on for months, and they’re the two programs that have seen Memphis native Justin Timberlake and Nebraska fan Larry the Cable Guy, respectively, stumping for them within a couple of hours of each other.

It’s highly, highly doubtful that the celebrities throwing their support behind their favorites will have any impact whatsoever on the process or the Big 12’s ultimate decision. Still, it certainly can’t hurt in the court of public opinion.

Video purports to show part of brawl involving Wazzu football players

TEMPE, AZ - NOVEMBER 13:  A Washington State Cougars helmet showing the initials of Pat Tillman next to the American flag during the Arizona State Sun Devils against Washington State Cougars Pac-10 game at Sun Devil Stadium/Frank Kush Field on November 13, 2004 in Tempe, Arizona. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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A situation that began to grow legs earlier this week now has some video evidence to prop it up.  Purportedly.

Monday, reports surfaced that a group of Washington State football players triggered a brawl at a backyard party in Pullman early Saturday morning.  The players allegedly threw fireworks at attendees, which twice led to a request by the house’s residents to leave.  A third request saw the verbal engagement escalate into a physical confrontation on the part of the players, with one of the residents being knocked unconscious for 10 minutes and another sustaining a broken jaw that’s going to require reconstructive surgery.

The names of the Cougars reportedly involved have not been divulged.

A police investigation into the situation is ongoing, and felony charges against those involved are possible.  One snippet that will be of interest to those investigating the brawl was obtained and posted by Spokane Spokesman-Review.

Head coach Mike Leach has yet to comment publicly on the incident, although athletic director Bill Moos released the following statement:

In regards to the events that took place over the past weekend, the university was made aware of the situation shortly after the incident occurred. It is our understanding there is a thorough investigation underway by local law enforcement and we will cooperate fully as we take these matters seriously. In addition, facts are being gathered within the athletic department in order to provide assistance. We have high expectations for the conduct of WSU student-athletes, and treat any alleged allegations with the utmost transparency. The WSU athletic staff is in constant communication with the Office of the President and the Office of Student Life to ensure that university leadership is aware of the continuing investigation by local law enforcement. We will refrain from further comment until the findings of the investigation are complete.