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

UCLA reportedly nabs Boston College o-line coach

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UCLA head coach Chip Kelly may have his offensive line coach. According to multiple reports on Thursday, UCLA will add Justin Frye to the coaching staff to fill the vacancy at offensive line coach. Football Scoop was among the first to report the news, and Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated has also reported the same development via Twitter.

Frye served as the offensive line coach at Boston College, where the Eagles have established themselves with a strong running game behind an improved offensive line. Frye will be expected to produce similar results with the Bruins as Kelly looks to bring the program up to a conference championship pedigree as quickly as possible.

Phil Trautwein was recently named as a new member of the Yale coaching staff in the Ivy League, where he was to be the offensive line coach. Now, he will instead return to Boston College, where his coaching career started. Trautwein was a graduate assistant at Boston College from 2013 through 2015 before spending two seasons as a special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Davidson. The former NFL player and Florida Gator spent four seasons in the NFL with brief stops with the St. Louis Rams, Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints and San Diego Chargers.

UCLA’s previous offensive line coach, Hank Fraley, has moved on to the NFL to coach the position with the Detroit Lions.

SEC rolls out four-day media day schedule

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The SEC may be packing up their media day extravaganza and moving from Alabama to Atlanta, but this year’s media day schedule shows the SEC will still carefully roll out plenty of storylines over the course of a four-day love fest for the conference.

The SEC is setting up shop at the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta, which feels like a great landing spot for the new media day fun for the SEC. The conference has established Atlanta as a destination point for the end of the regular season and the city just played host to the first College Football Playoff national championship game between two teams from the same conference, the SEC (Alabama and Georgia). So why not kickstart a new football season with the media in Atlanta too?

New Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher will be the headline act for the first of the four media days for the SEC. Fisher will make his SEC Media Days debut as head coach of the Aggies on Monday, July 16. Other coaches speaking that day will be LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Kentucky’s Mark Stoops. Day 2 will be an interesting one with Georgia’s Kirby Smart in the spotlight coming off the SEC championship last fall and new Florida head coach Dan Mullen addresses the media for the first time as the Gators coach, although the former Mississippi State head coach is no stranger to the SEC media day circuit by now. Day 2 will also be the first SEC Media Day introduction for new Arkansas head coach Chad Morris and second-year Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke (Luke took over as head coach in Oxford after SEC Media Days last summer following the removal of Hugh Freeze not long after media days).

But when is Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaking, you ask? Day 3 (Wed., July 18 for those keeping track). Saban headlines the third day of the media day event for the SEC. Two other coaches speaking that day will be new head coaches in the SEC with former Saban assistant Jeremy Pruitt representing Tennessee and Joe Moorhead of Mississippi State stepping to the SEC podium for the first time. Missouri’s Barry Odom is also scheduled on day three. Day 4 will feature Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, South Carolina’s Will Muschamp, and Vanderbilt’s Derek Mason.

Player representatives for each school in addition to any other speakers will be announced at a later time.

Report: Ex-South Alabama coach Joey Jones heading to Mississippi State

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After stepping down from his position as head coach at South Alabama, Joey Jones will remain in the coaching game this fall. According to a report from Steve Robertson of 247 Sports, Jones will join the Mississippi State coaching staff and serve as the special teams coordinator for head coach Joe Moorhead.

Jones was the head coach of the upstart South Alabama program from 2008 through 2017. As head coach of the Jaguars, Jones was 52-50 and the program played in two bowl games. Among the highlights for Jones during his time at South Alabama, ironically, was a 21-20 upset victory over Mississippi State to open the 2016 season. South Alabama was a four-touchdown underdog against the Bulldogs and survived for an upset win after Mississippi State kicker missed an extra point attempt. Mississippi State held leads of 17-0 and 20-7 in the game before letting it slip away.

The hiring of Jones continues a trend for Moorhead in building his first coaching staff with the Bulldogs. Although Moorhead has his own experience as a head coach prior to his arrival at Mississippi State, Moorhead has been building his coaching staff with assistants with previous head coaching experience as well. Tight ends coach Mark Hudspeth and quarterback coach Andrew Breiner each bring head coaching experience to the program that, in theory, will make for a more competent coaching staff on the sidelines this fall and moving forward.

Jones will replace Scott Fountain, who left Mississippi State for Georgia amid the coaching carousel this offseason.

Chris Ash plucks new Rutgers assistant from Indiana

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In filling a hole on his Rutgers coaching staff, Chris Ash turned to a fellow Big Ten school to do it.

RU confirmed Thursday morning that Ash has added Noah Joseph as one of his 10 Scarlet Knight assistants.  Joseph has been named as the football program’s co-defensive coordinator and will also serve as safeties coach.

Joseph had spent the past four seasons coaching safeties at Indiana.  He was also that program’s defensive recruiting coordinator.

“I’d like to welcome Noah and his family to our football program,” said Ash in a statement. “His extensive experience coaching defensive backs in the Big Ten will be a tremendous asset for our players. He is a great teacher and outstanding recruiter.”

Prior to his time in Bloomington, his first on-field job at the FBS level was at North Texas as safeties coach from 2012-13.