CFT predicts: the Independents

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Yeah, there’s no official standings for the Division 1 Independents, but what kind of site would we be if we left out the likes of Notre Dame?

Wait, don’t answer that.

The Independents were mostly disappointing in 2011, with BYU being the only one to reach a 10-win  record. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Independents should rank in terms of best record:

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

1. BYU (last season: 10-3; won Armed Forces Bowl) 
The Cougars got off to a slow start last year, losing two of their first three games and looking generally bad for the month of September. Then, BYU won six out of their last seven regular season games, losing only to TCU, before an Armed Forces Bowl win over Tulsa. Now that former five-star prospect Jake Heaps is gone, Riley Nelson is the unquestioned starter at quarterback. And, unlike Notre Dame (see below), the Cougars have a generally soft schedule in 2012. Combine that with plenty of returning starters and BYU could be looking at another 10-win season.

2. Notre Dame (last season 8-5; lost Champs Sports Bowl) 
If Notre Dame’s schedule wasn’t as difficult as it is with games at Michigan State, at Oklahoma, at USC, and home against Michigan, Stanford and BYU, I’d say the Irish have a good chance of being the best Independent this season. Quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese will miss the season-opener against Navy in Ireland because of off-the-field issues, and as far as anyone’s really concerned, Rees doesn’t have his job locked down at all. In fact, Brian Kelly‘s been raving about Everett Golson this offseason. Kelly has been successful everywhere he’s been, but it’s been frustrating for him in South Bend.

3. Navy (last season: 5-7) 
Navy has been the model of consistency under Ken Niumatalolo. Last year’s 5-7 record initially felt like an exception, but the recipe is there for another tough season. Unforeseen offseason player turnover and only 13 returning starters makes Navy’s 2012 campaign much like 2011.

4. Army (last season: 3-9) 
A bowl appearance following the 2010 season was the high point for Army football in recent years, but it was back to a losing record in 2011. At least veteran quarterback Trent Steelman is back and the middle of the schedule is soft enough that the Black Knights could get back to six wins and bowl eligibility.

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Interested in our 11 conference projections? 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
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC

Alabama QB Jalen Hurts uses photo of Clemson celebrating title win as motivational phone background

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Nick Saban said last week that the loss to Clemson in the the national championship game earlier this year is one that he’ll never get over, although he didn’t go so far as to compare it to a death in the family. One playing member of Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide team is taking to steps to ensure that he never forgets, either.

Jalen Hurts was the Tide’s talented true freshman starting quarterback who helped lead ‘Bama into the title game and, with a 30-yard touchdown run with just over two minutes left, gave his team a 31-28 lead. That lead was short-lived, however, as Deshaun Watson led his Tigers on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown pass with just one tick left on the clock for the 35-31 win.

The stunning last-second loss is something that Hurts makes a conscious effort to remind himself of daily as the rising sophomore, as the background on his smartphone, has a picture of Clemson players celebrating their win.

“We’re obviously all on our phones all the time,” Hurts said according to al.com after this past weekend’s spring game. “Every time I unlock it, it’s kind of a reminder. It kind of humbles me and keeps me motivated. …

“It’s not a grudge at all. It’s just something that keeps it on the back of your shoulder like, yeah, it’s still there. Remember why you’re doing it because at the end of the day, the goal for this team is to win the national championship.

Father of former Florida State WR Travis Rudolph killed in accidental shooting

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The father of Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph was killed Friday in an accidental shooting, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement on Monday.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, Darryl Rudolph was working on repairs inside a West Palm Beach, Fla., when a gun accidentally fired in an adjacent room, hitting him in the back/neck area. He was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 55 years old.

The younger Rudolph was Florida State’s leading receiver over the past two seasons before becoming an early-entrant into this week’s NFL Draft. He gained viral notoriety after a photo snapped of him sitting at lunch with an autistic elementary school student hit Facebook.

“When I used to coach and help other kids with football, basketball and sports, Travis was small but he used to pay attention to what I was doing,” the elder Rudolph said in an interview with ESPN last year. “I told them get your education. You can be the best athlete in the world, but without an education, you’re not going very far. That’s what Travis followed through on.”

LSU QB Danny Etling undergoes back surgery

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LSU quarterback Danny Etling has undergone surgery to relieve back pain, the program announced Monday.

“Danny had a minor back procedure this morning and everything went alright,” head coach Ed Orgeron said in a statement (and not in an Arrested Development way).

Etling has played through back pain for months, according to Ross Dellenger from The Advocate, and this procedure should remove that pain.

In a possibly related story, Etling went 4-of-11 for 53 yards in LSU’s spring game.

A transfer from Purdue, Etling appeared in 11 games for the Tigers last season, completing 160-of-269 passes (59.5 percent) for 2,123 yards (7.9 yards per attempt) with 11 touchdowns against five interceptions.

Etling’s recovery from Monday’s procedure is expected to be a short one.

Willie Taggart defends Oregon’s offseason workouts in interview

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Things got off to a rocky start for new Oregon head coach Willie Taggart. Among the issues Taggart was forced to deal with soon after accepting the job of head coach at Oregon was players falling ill during and after offseason workouts.

Three Ducks were hospitalized in January to treat symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a product of overworking leading to soft tissue and possible kidney damage. Oregon suspended strength and conditioning coach Irele Oderinde following the hospital treatments to players, and questions about his certification were thrust under a microscope. Despite the unfortunate situation in Eugene, Taggart has defended his program’s workout routine in an interview with Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com.

“We know we didn’t do anything to try to hurt our kids. We’d done [the same program] everywhere we’ve been and never had a problem,” Taggart explained in the interview. “I think our guys just overworked themselves and didn’t hydrate. … They were trying to impress the new coaches.”

It seems Taggart has been trying to raise the bar at Oregon and find a way to make his new players tougher overall. That is a common strategy for a new coach in a new program, so Taggart’s mission is not unique in that sense.

Maybe it was just a tough physical transition in the approach to workouts after years of Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich running the show. Will this all pay off in the end? Taggart sure hopes so.