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


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.

Big East
Big Ten
Big 12
Mountain West
Sun Belt

Navy’s Army-Navy Game uniforms won’t give up the ship

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Navy lost a chance to play for the American Athletic Conference this past weekend with a road loss at Houston, but the Midshipmen will still get a chance to close out the regular season with a win. They will be doing so in quite a unique style.

On Monday, Navy took to social media to show off their specially designed “Navy Fleet” uniforms and hand-painted helmets that will be worn for the annual Army-Navy Game next week. We have seen individually hand-painted helmets before, but never quite like this. The helmets to be worn will pay tribute to seven historic battleships in the United States Navy, and each player will have a different ship on their helmet depending on their position.

Here is the helmet design breakdown, as explained by Navy:

  • Linebacker: Cruiser- Provides anti-air defense and packs the biggest punch of Naval surface ships representative of the linebackers on the Navy football team
  • Defensive Back: Destroyer- Known for significant fire power, speed, and anti-missile defense as are Navy’s defensive backs
  • Wide Receiver: Submarine- Predominantly utilized as blockers, wide receivers play a key role in driving the Navy rush attack, taking on a stealth-like persona as they blend into the rhythm of the offense but bring significant fire power when called upon, just like a Naval submarine
  • Lineman: Amphibious Assault Ships- Just as a lineman’s job is the create a hole for a running back or linebacker, these ships are utilized to establish the “beach head” that enables the invading force to gain access and ultimately accomplish their objective
  • Quarterback: Aircraft Carrier- The QB of the Naval Fleet, the aircraft carrier is the ultimate decision maker; the “quick strike” weapon of the Naval fleet
  • Running Back: Littoral Combat Ship- Like running backs, these fast and nimble ships can navigate through both crowded shallow and deep waters
  • Kicker/Special Teams: Minesweeper- Much like the specific task of the Navy special teams, this small ship has a unique mission of identifying and eliminating mines

Compared to some of the uniforms Navy has worn in the past for the Army-Navy Game, these are certainly more unique. I’m personally a fan more of some of the more recent uniforms worn, but I certainly cannot wait to see what these uniforms look like in person.

Army and Navy square off in Philadelphia on Saturday, December 12.

Report: Michigan QB Jake Rudock could play in bowl game

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We do not yet know which bowl game Michigan will be playing in this bowl season, but the outlooks appears promising for quarterback Jake Rudock and his chances to play in the postseason game.

Rudock was knocked out of Michigan’s weekend loss to rival Ohio State after being on the wrong end of a Joey Bosa takedown. The play ended up spraining an AC joint in Rudock’s non-throwing shoulder, according to a report by Dan Murphy for Murphy reports Rudock is expected to still be healthy enough to play for the Wolverines by the time a bowl game comes around.

Rudock has been a steady addition to Michigan’s offense under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Iowa transfer came to Ann Arbor and won the starting job and has been a rock for the offense. In 12 games, Rudock completed 64 percent of his pass attempts for 2,739 yards and 17 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Michigan should be playing in a New Years bowl game in the Big Ten line-up. Which bowl game may have to be sorted after figuring out which Big Ten team (or teams) will be participating in the College Football Playoff and Rose Bowl. The winner of this weekend’s Big Ten Championship Game between Iowa (Rudock’s previous school) and Michigan State will be very likely to be in the four-team playoff. The loser will likely head to the Rose Bowl to represent the Big Ten. Ohio State’s possibility of sneaking into the playoff appears to be quite a long shot that would require both Clemson and Alabama to lose this weekend in their respective conference championship game, but the scenario is still on the table. After those three are sorted, Michigan will be one of the top Big Ten bowl participants.

Matt Campbell wants to bring greatness to Iowa State

Matt Campbell
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Nobody will argue the idea Matt Campbell is taking on a tall order to make Iowa State a respected football program in the years to come. Campbell, introduced as the new head coach of the Cyclones, addressed the difficulties that will come with building something at Iowa State.

“My job is to grow the foundation and build it to an elite level,” Campbell said at his introductory press conference Monday. “Change happens, but greatness is a choice. From this day forward, every decision I make will be to bring greatness to Iowa State.”

Iowa State is a perennial cellar-dweller in the Big 12, but it has its moments. The Cyclones have had three straight seasons with no more than three wins under former head coach Paul Rhoads. With Campbell on board, Iowa State will hope to pick up the offense to the level Campbell had working for him at Toledo. Campbell’s offensive background is the kind of profile Iowa State needed in a Big 12 conference that continues to open things up offensively. In a conference with Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, offense is key.

“You can’t just talk greatness, you have to show it,” Campbell said. “Every hand that touches this program has to show that.”

“When you have success, you are always tweaking and adjusting. The foundational principles of growth do not change.”

Campbell’s first mission will to assemble a coaching staff around him. Campbell did not offer a suggestion which way he will go with that task but did comment on the quality staff he leaves behind at Toledo that is now preparing for one final game during the bowl season. Current members of the coaching staff at Iowa State will be given an opportunity to stay on board if Campbell feels they can continue to play a role under his direction. No final decisions will be made before Campbell evaluates the current staff.

Chip Kelly says he never met to discuss USC vacancy

Chip Kelly

Whether you chose to believe him or not, at least Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is officially on the record. During his regularly scheduled Monday press conference in Philadelphia, Kelly said he never met with anybody to discuss the previously vacant head coaching position at USC.

Alright then. So at least that’s that. (But what about his agent?)

USC filled the head coaching position this morning by officially announcing Clay Helton will remain the head coach after serving as the interim head coach following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian earlier this season. Kelly, the former head coach at Oregon, has had his name attached to multiple coaching rumors at the college level since he left for the NFL, including Texas and Florida before this position at USC opened. Kelly has stood firm on his public statements about not having any interest in a college job, but that never seems to silence the fun hypothetical discussions about his probable eventual return to college football.