CFT predicts: the WAC

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This is it, everyone. Say goodbye to the WAC. It’s not going to be here much longer.

After this year, only Idaho and New Mexico State will remain, and both have been told to go to Plan B by the Mountain West. Football independence? FCS status? It’s an agonizing game of wait and see for the Vandals and Aggies. For everyone else, it’s just one more year before moving on up.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the WAC should shake out:

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

1. Louisiana Tech (last season: 8-5; lost Poinsettia Bowl) 
Sonny Dykes has Louisiana Tech playing at a high level after finishing 2011 with seven straight regular season wins. Only five teams are eligible for the WAC title this season. The Bulldogs are the clear favorite before heading to Conference USA.

2. Utah State (last season: 7-6; lost Famous Idaho Potato Bowl) 
Not too long ago, Utah State was one of the worst football programs in 1-A (FBS), but Gary Anderson has turned things around for the Aggies. Like Louisiana Tech, USU finished the 2011 regular season on a winning streak. There are lots of players to replace on offense, though.

3. San Jose State (last season: 5-7) 
Things drop off considerably for the WAC after Louisiana Tech and Utat State. San Jose State may not have a win against a 1-A (FBS) opponent until late October.  Still, the Spartans are better than Idaho and New Mexico State — and certainly better than the league’s new members. Linebacker Keith Smith returns as one of the nation’s best.

4. Idaho (last season: 2-10) 
Coach Robb Akey hasn’t taken Idaho bowling since 2009. He may need to change that if he’s going to keep his job. 2011 was horrific for the Vandals and 2012 doesn’t look like it’ll be much better. To top it off, Idaho’s future conference identity looks bleak.

5. New Mexico State (last season: 4-8) 
Like Idaho, New Mexico State looks to be headed for conference no man’s land. The Aggies may squeak out three or four wins, but one of the worst defenses in the country last season won’t be any better with just three returning starters.

6. Texas State (last season: 6-6 in FCS) 
Don’t let the 6-6 record fool you, though I know it won’t. The Bobcats were taken to the woodshed by Texas Tech and Wyoming last year. Dennis Franchione knows his way around Texas, so having some success at Texas State shouldn’t be an issue. 2012 will be a rude awakening, though.

7. UT-San Antonio (last season 4-6 in FCS) 
Like any new football program, UT-San Antonio has experienced growing pains. But, all things considered, the Roadrunners have done alright for themselves in one season. Granted, UTSA didn’t beat anybody on their level, but have to get wins somewhere, right? Former Miami coach Larry Coker will win there in time.

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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
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
Independents

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.