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2013: A look ahead

Carnac

What’s that you say?  It’s barely stopped raining confetti following Alabama’s BCS title game win over Notre Dame and we’re already talking about a 2013 season that won’t start for another eight months?

You damn right we are.  And you know why?  ’Cause that’s how we roll.  Or something.

Each of the past three years, before the last piece of title-game confetti had fluttered to the ground and while the corpse of the previous season was still somewhat warm, I dusted off the trusty crystal ball and flung a few predictions up against the next season’s wall with the hope that something, anything, would stick.  Hilarity ensued when I picked Alabama as the No. 1 team in 2010 (they finished No. 10); Oklahoma in 2011 (they finished No. 16) and USC in 2012 (they finished No. ROTFLMAO!!!).  There were guffaws as far as the eye could see as I asked questions like “Have the Conference Musical Chairs Stopped?” and “Is This the Year the SEC’s Streak Stops?” — hell no to both — or listed 10 (10!!!) preseason Heisman contenders for the 2012 season and not a single one of ’em was even a finalist.

Yet here I am a year later, ready to once again expose my utter lack of prognosticating abilities for all the world to see.  So, without further ado, here’s what I, CFT’s resident Nostradumbass, think may — or may not — happen leading up to and during the 2013 season.

FIVE COMPELLING STORYLINES

1. DO I HEAR EIGHT IN A ROW?
For the past couple of years in this space, I’ve asked if the SEC can win five BCS titles in a row… six in a row… seven in a row… and each year the answer’s been a resounding “hell yes y’all!”  And why not?  Not only has the preeminent football conference in America won seven consecutive crystal footballs, they’ve won nine of the 15 played in the BCS era.  Unfortunately for the rest of the country, a downward trend doesn’t appear to be in the offing.  Sure, a team or two might take a dip in 2013 — I’m looking at you, LSU — but Alabama will be, well, Alabama, and Texas A&M appears to be on the verge of leaping on to the national stage.  Florida, should they get a handle on the quarterback situation and the embarrassing bowl performance against Louisville notwithstanding, should continue their upward trajectory in Year Three under Will Muschamp.  Georgia, with quarterback Aaron Murray returning for one more season, and South Carolina, despite the early loss of Marcus Lattimore, should be formidable if not on the fringe of the national title discussion.  In other words,  expect one or more SEC teams to be deep in the mix at the end in the final year of the BCS.  Speaking of which…

Death to the BcS2. DING, DONG THE BCS IS DEAD
Well, almost.  2013 will mark the final year of the bastard system utilized to crown a national champion since 1998, set to be replaced after the 2014 season with a slightly less bastardized version in the form of a four-team playoff.  While the new system is far from perfect, and a more equitable eight-team playoff will come sooner rather than later, the four-team parlay is already light years ahead of what the BCS had ever hoped to be and it’s yet to be officially implemented.  Granted, the BCS was a “better” system for crowing a champion than strictly polls, but that’s sort of like saying you own the nicest Yugo — it’s not exactly something you want to say or admit out loud.  Where will the new system take us?  Who cares, as long as it’s far, far away from the mess that is — and soon to be was — the BCS.

3. JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY CONFERENCE THING!
Expansion musical chairs has been an overriding theme in each of the past two look-aheads, and there’s no reason to think the shuffling will stop anytime soon.  At this time last year, who foresaw that Maryland and Rutgers would announce they were leaving the ACC and Big East, respectively, for the Big Ten, or that Louisville would ditch the Big East for the ACC, or that Boise State would turn its back on a 2013 move to the Big East to remain in the Mountain West?  The ACC, Big Ten and SEC all are at 14 current and future members, while the Big 12 is, for the moment, standing pat at 10.  The whispers are already out there that the ACC will race to become the first “real” 16-team superconference… unless the Big Ten beats them to it by, in part, raiding the ACC… unless the SEC beats the Big Ten to the punch by, in part, raiding the ACC.  In other words, we have very likely not seen the last of expansion talk and teams bolting this conference for that one and leagues like the Big East folding up their football shop and the like.  Hooray!?!

4. NO DUCKING THE NCAA
While Oregon is rightly basking in the glow of Chip Kelly‘s return to Eugene, there’s an NCAA elephant squatting smack dab in the middle of the room.  At some point this year, likely in the spring, Oregon officials will appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to answer allegations of recruiting improprieties related to street agent Willie Lyles.  Essentially, UO has been accused of paying $25,000 for bogus and outdated scouting reports of high school players in exchange for, as Lyles himself stated, steering recruits — including Lache Seastrunk — to the Ducks.  How big of a hammer will the NCAA whip out and will it tear down, at least for the short-term, all or most of what Kelly’s built at the school?  Some are saying that Kelly’s return is a sign that the sanctions may not be as heavy-handed as some expect.  Until a decision is actually handed down, expect pins and needles to rule the day as the university, athletic department and football program braces itself for deeply punitive sanctions.

5. BIELAMA’S UNLIKELY MARRIAGE
Don’t know about you, but I was beyond floored — and I wasn’t the only one — upon hearing that Bret Bielema was leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas.  Sure, he wanted to get out from under Barry Alvarez‘s immense shadow… and, unlike at UW, he and his assistants are getting p-a-i-d paid… and he spent some time in the state as a youth, but he has absolutely no ties to that area of the country or the conference; he played his college ball at Iowa, and his collegiate coaching stops have included his alma mater, Kansas State and UW.  Essentially, he’s a Big Ten guy with a sprinkling of the Big 12.  How will he fare in the rough and tumble SEC on the field and, perhaps more importantly, on the hyper-competitive southern recruiting trail?  I have no clue, but it should be fascinating to sit back and watch unfold.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama
Back-to-back BCS championships, three crystal footballs in four years.  Will return somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 starters and 37 or so from the two-deep depth chart.  Nick Saban, well on his way to staking his claim to the greatest coach at the FBS level of all-time, will return.  A 2013 recruiting class that’s currently ranked No. 2 in the country — oddly enough, behind the team they eviscerated for their latest title.  I seriously considered putting one of the three teams immediately below ‘Bama at the No. 1 spot; after seeing it laid out so starkly as it is in the previous sentences, there was simply no way I could justify anyone but the Tide in the top spot.

2. Ohio StateUrban Meyer, Braxton Miller
In Urban Meyer‘s first season, with nothing to play for but pride and a “I won the Big Ten Leaders division and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” consolation prize, the Buckeyes went a perfect 12-0.  At the end of the 2012 season, Meyer felt his team could compete with any in the country; thanks to NCAA sanctions and a shortsighted administration, proving it in the postseason wasn’t an option.  That will change this year as the one-year bowl ban is over, and all signs point to Meyer and his Buckeyes bullrushing back to the national stage.  Not only does tOSU return several key components on both sides of the ball (they do lose seven defensive starters, though), the schedule has “run me” written all over — the nonconference slate is more than manageable, with a road trip to Cal and a home date with San Diego State only remotely resembling potential stumbling blocks, while the first seven games of the Big Ten schedule sees Wisconsin and Penn State visiting Ohio Stadium.  The toughest game, at least on paper, doesn’t come until last: a late-November road trip to the Big House for a date with hated rival Michigan.  It’s conceivable, based on how they finished 2012 as well as how 2013 sets up, that the Buckeyes could head into Ann Arbor riding a winning streak approaching two-dozen games.  And my apologies, Buckeye Nation, for totally jinxing that possibility.

3. Texas A&M
By the time the curtain had fallen on the 2012 season, and if there had been a playoff system in place, the Aggies had become the proverbial team that no one wanted to face.  And for good reason.  In its first season in the big, bad SEC, A&M won 11 games and lost just two — by three points to Florida in what turned out to be both the season and conference opener for the Aggies, and by five to LSU.  The smashing debut included signature wins over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a blowout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, as well as a healthy dose of optimism for what 2013 will bring.  With the reigning Heisman winner in tow, the Aggies will be expected to match or exceed the breakout year.  Will they be able to handle the pressure of being the hunted instead of the hunter?  With Kevin Sumlin in charge, we’d lean toward the affirmative.

4. Oregon
The 2013 season hasn’t even started and the Ducks have already earned what will prove to be their biggest win of the year.  After yet another round of flirtations with the NFL, Chip Kelly decided that his heart’s in Eugene and returned to UO for at least another season — until the New England Patriots job opens up, of course.  The Ducks would’ve been fine with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taking over; they’ll be even better because the man who built the Ducks into a national powerhouse — 46-7 in his four years, four BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles — is sticking around to build on his burgeoning legacy.  Oh, and the fact that Marcus Mariota, the triggerman of UO’s offensive juggernaut who deserves more national acclaim than he gets, is returning as well doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

5. Stanford
When Jim Harbaugh bolted for the NFL, many thought the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 11 wins in 2011 showed the program is bigger than any one coach. When Andrew Luck bolted for the NFL, many thought, once again, the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 12 wins in 2012 showed the program is bigger than any one player. Anyone want to doubt them a third straight year? The Cardinal returns 16 starters from its Pac-12-winning 2012 squad, a total that includes quarterback Kevin Hogan, the redshirt freshman who quietly became one of the most promising players at his position in his first stint as a starter. Head coach David Shaw not only maintained what Harbaugh built down on The Farm but enhanced it, adding to the foundation and ensuring success will continue regardless of personnel losses. Bet against “14 for ’13” at your own peril.

THREE RISERS
Teams outside the final Top 10 that could be in it in 2013

Teddy Bridgewater, Charlie Strong1.Louisville
In my preseason Top 25, I lamented that, at No. 24, I was rating Louisville too low and “will likely regret it at season’s end.”  After 11 wins, a No. 13 ranking and the demolition of then-No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, I was right.  This year, though, that won’t be the case as the Cardinals, on the strength of the return of the sublime Teddy Bridgewater and the continuing presence of head coach Charlie Strong, are poised to sniff the Top 10 in the preseason rankings.

2. UCLA
With nine wins in 2012 in Jim Mora‘s first season at the school, UCLA posted its best mark since a 10-win season in 2005.  While the season finished with three straight losses — including back-to-back defeats to Stanford — the Bruins did claim quality wins over the likes of Nebraska, Arizona and USC.  With the Trojans plummeting toward mediocrity, the Bruins should be the class of the Pac-12 South yet again and the odds-on favorite for a a third consecutive appearance in the conference championship game — if not more.

3. Clemson
OK, this is cheating a little bit as the Tigers were just barely outside of the Top Ten at No. 11, but I need all the softballs I can take a whack at.  And, thanks to the (likely) return of Tajh Boyd, the Tigers afford me that opportunity.  Clemson’s two losses in 2012 came at the hands of 12-win Florida State and 11-win South Carolina, and they actually led each of those games at halftime before crumbling in the second half.  Call it a hunch, but the Tigers learned enough from those pair of disappointments to flip that script around in 2013 versus high-quality competition.

THREE TUMBLERS
Teams inside the final Top 25 that could struggle

1. Kansas State
While I don’t believe there will be a drastic drop-off for the Wildcats,  there should be at least a dip.  Heisman finalist Collin Klein is gone to expired eligibility, leaving a significant hole in both experience and leadership at the quarterback position.  All told, the Wildcats will lose 12 starters, including nine on the defensive side of the ball.  That formula has rebuilding year written all over it.

2. LSU
Losing nearly two handfuls of talented juniors won’t help LSU’s cause in 2013, even as the Tigers possess a wealth of talented albeit inexperienced replacements.  Nor will a schedule that includes a neutral site nonconference game with what should be a much-improved TCU squad as well as SEC road trips to Alabama and Georgia, although that’s mitigated somewhat by drawing Florida and Texas A&M at home.  LSU could take a half-step back in 2013, which means merely fighting for a top-ten spot instead of hovering around the top five and in the discussion for a BCS berth — championship game or otherwise .

3. Notre Dame
Yes, Notre Dame could very well begin the 2013 season inside the top five of the polls, and the talent they return would warrant such a lofty ranking.  However, the Irish won five of their games in 2012 by seven points or less, including one in overtime and another in triple overtime. Provided the talent level stays roughly the same, can the Domers expect to catch the same breaks and bounces — or officiating calls — in close games this season that they did last?  I say, even with a favorable schedule, not nearly to 2012’s degree, but your mileage may vary

RON ZOOK MEMORIAL COACHING HOT SEAT

Notre Dame v USC1. Lane Kiffin, USC
By any measure imaginable, the 2012 was an unmitigated disaster for USC.  The Trojans began the season ranked No. 1 in the country… and proceeded to become the first team in history with such a lofty ranking in the preseason to finish outside the Top 25 and culminated a six-loss season with an embarrassing performance in their bowl game.  The calls for Kiffin to be ousted grew louder as the season went further in the tank; a repeat performance in 2013 will earn Kiffin a well-deserved trip to the coaching unemployment line.

2. Mack Brown, Texas
Yes, Brown is signed through the 2020 season.  Yes, high-powered UT officials have been steadfast in their public support of their long-time head coach.  No, 15 losses in the past three years — one more than the Longhorns had in the past nine seasons combined — is not acceptable for a program accustomed to the national stage, especially when two of those defeats have come to rival Oklahoma by scores of 63-21 and 55-17 the past two seasons.  While quarterback continues to be an embarrassment for a program in the QB-rich state, the position is positively Vince Young-esque compared to a defense that was statistically the worst in the history of the storied program.  We know, it’s highly doubtful that Brown’s actually on the hot seat.  And that’s part of the problem — he deserves to be.

3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
In its first season in the SEC, Mizzou failed to meet even modest expectations by winning just five games and finishing with a 2-6 conference record, with the lone wins coming at the expense of conference featherweights Kentucky and Tennessee (sorry Vols). That miserable showing was compounded by fellow Big 12 refugee Texas A&M stunning the college football world by coming out of the gate with an 11-win season — including handing Alabama its lone loss of the regular season — in its first year in the SEC.  While 2012 was Mizzou’s worst under Pinkel since 2004, being a member of the SEC, replete with its additional revenue and exposure, brings with it exponentially more pressure on the head coach to succeed.  Pinkel realized immediate improvement is a must as he “parted ways” with long-time offensive coordinator David Yost.  Another season like this last one, and the Mizzou administration could find themselves “parting ways” with their long-time head coach.

4. Randy Edsall, Maryland
This one comes with a disclaimer as the Terps were wracked by injuries in 2012, including the loss of four starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries.  With that out of the way, the stark reality is this: the Terps have won a total of six games in Edsall’s two seasons, including just three wins in 16 games in ACC play.  Even the staunchest of supporters are beginning to question whether Edsall is the right man for his “dream job.”  With a move to the Big Ten in the offing after this season, anything short of a significant turnaround would likely signal to the administration that its time for a fresh start on the sidelines to coincide with the Terps’ departure for a new conference.

5. Mike London, Virginia
After getting Virginia to eight wins in his second season with the Hoos, London was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel, garnering mention as a potential replacement for Joe Paterno at Penn State.  Following a four-win season?  London has gone from the coaching penthouse to the coaching hot seat.  In a signal that London realizes how hot despite being just three years into his tenure, he axed nearly half his coaching staff — four to be exact — shortly after the end of the 2012 season.  London is one of the most outstanding coaches in the game, but this is a bottom-line business, with the bottom line being London needs to turns things around post-haste.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State — The first year in Urban Meyer‘s offense was above-average for Miller.  With a full year plus another offseason in the same system, Miller is poised to improve upon his fifth-place finish in the 2012 Heisman voting and could very well enter the 2013 season as the stiff-armed frontrunner.  The fact that the Buckeyes will likely be highly-ranked and Miller will again be a significant portion of the offense — he accounted for 28 of the 56 offensive touchdowns scored and led the team in rushing — means the Heisman hype will come early and often for the talented junior.

Chick-fil-A Bowl - LSU v Clemson2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson — Boyd will enter the 2013 season — provided he doesn’t jump to the NFL by the Jan. 15 deadline, of course — as one of the most prolific yet underrated players in the country.  With offensive coordinator Chad Morris remaining after some head-coaching flirtations over the last month, Boyd will put up the kind of numbers that’d be hard for Heisman voters to overlook.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — The first-year phenom shattered the freshman ceiling by taking home the Heisman in 2012.  Can he shatter the “no one’s won it twice since Archie Griffin” ceiling?  Based on his performance in the Aggies’ bowl romp, that would be a resounding yes.  With a year’s worth of film to view in the offseason, though, defenses could make harder a game that looked video-game easy for Manziel in 2012.

4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — Sure, no purely defensive player has ever claimed a Heisman.  However, the past few years, with the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te’o making it to the Big Apple as finalists, it appears the narrow-minded voters could be expanding their horizon when it comes to candidates.  And when it comes to defensive candidates for 2013, it doesn’t get any more explosive or dynamic or borderline homicidal than Clowney.

5. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — Bridgewater would’ve made this list even without the virtuoso performance in the bowl win over Florida.  With it, he moved up several notches in my eyes as he showed he could play at a high level against what was considered a top-notch defense.  In fact, slotting the soon-to-be junior fifth could prove to be low.  Very, very low.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State6. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — Thanks to the return of Chip Kelly, the Ducks will run the same offense in 2013 as they did in Mariota’s first year as the starter in 2012.  And in that first season, Mariota was spectacular, accounting for 37 touchdowns — 32 passing, five rushing — in leading the Ducks to a 12-win season.  Whether Kelly would’ve been around to oversee the scoring factory or not, Mariota is hurtling toward nothing but improvement in his second season.

7. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona — The nation’s leading rusher returns for another season and deserves a spot on this initial list.  The only problem is, will the Wildcats win enough to get the attention Carey deserves?  While the Wildcats’ won eight games in Rich Rodriguez‘s first season, Carey’s quest for a 2,000-yard season — he finished with 1,929 — flew under the radar until he erupted for 366 yards in mid-November.  By then it was too late to make a difference in the ’12 Heisman race.  It could, though, serve as a reminder to voters entering ’13 that he’s a player worthy of keeping an eye on.

8. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA — Bruins head coach Jim Mora has already proclaimed his starting quarterback a future Heisman contender, so we’ll go ahead and roll with it.  Statistically, Hundley is worthy of his coach’s praise as the sophomore completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns.  The 11 interceptions are a concern, although that could simply be a combination of Hundley’s youth and inexperience in the first year of a new offensive scheme.  Still, Hundley’s a name to keep track of as the season progresses.

9. Marqise Lee, WR, USC — Thanks to USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, I nearly put Georgia’s Aaron Murray here.  Based on Lee’s stunning athleticism and production, though, I had to put him on the list somewhere.  Lee led the country in receptions and finished second in receiving yards, narrowly missing out on a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

10. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor — Forget the head coach; the running back has already proclaimed himself to be a 2013 Heisman contender.  Over the last quarter of the season, the Oregon transfer showed there’s a reason behind that self-confidence.  After rushing for 465 yards in the first nine games of the season, Seastrunk exploded for 637 over the final four.  If he continues that trend in 2013, he could become a part of the Heisman discussion.

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Pitt loses RB Rachid Ibrahim to season-ending Achilles injury

Rachid Ibrahim, Kendall Fuller AP

An experienced member of Pittsburgh’s backfield has been put on the shelf courtesy of a non-contact injury.

First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi confirmed Wednesday that Rachid Ibrahim sustained an injury to his Achilles tendon in “one of those freak accidents that happens.” The injury, which occurred earlier this week, will sideline the running back for the entire 2015 season.

While he won’t have a concrete impact on the field this season, Ibrahim is already doing what he can to have an impact off of it.

He was choked up shortly after they told him what it was and what the recovery time was,” running backs coach Andre Powell said. “That afternoon, he was in meetings and he was talking in meetings and communicating with the young kids. He’s tough, he’s a leader, and he’ll fight through it.”

Used mainly as a third-down, change-of-pace back behind reigning ACC Player of the Year James Connor, Ibrahim was fifth on the team with 263 yards rushing last season, although his 8.0 yards per carry were tops on the team.  He also had 11 receptions for 73 yards coming out of the backfield.

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Erstwhile Irish RB Greg Bryant says he’s reopening recruitiment

Purdue v Notre Dame AP

It appears that Greg Bryant has all but closed the door on a return to South Bend next year.  Or any year after that, for that matter.

Earlier this month, and after he was suspended for the first four games, it was confirmed that Bryant had been declared academically ineligible and wouldn’t play at all in 2015.  While head coach Brian Kelly stated Bryant would be , the running back’s father stated that, even as he would be returning to classes at the school, he wouldn’t be reporting for summer camp.

However, the school part won’t come to fruition as Bryant posted on Instagram that he participated in his first practice Thursday at ASA Miami, a junior college in Florida and is coached by a former Notre Dame staffer.

Additionally, Bryant stated that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.  While that doesn’t necessarily preclude a return to the Irish, it appears he will be looking in other directions to restart his FBS career in 2016.

Below is his complete social media missive.

Had my first practice with my new team ASA Miami today and it went great! They gave me a opportunity to wear #1 this season! I’ll be keeping everyone updated with highlights and games. Opening up my recruitment so my next move will be my best move. Kinda feel like HIGHSCHOOL again getting offers and everything hahah. Highlights coming soon.

Last season as a true sophomore, Bryant’s 289 yards rushing were good for second on the team. Bryant was a five-star member of the Irish’s 2013 recruiting class and was rated as the No. 3 back in the country.

If he returns to the FBS level next year, Bryant would have two years of eligibility remaining.

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Dismissed by UNLV, ex-‘Bama RB Altee Tenpenny heads to FCS

Virginia Tech v Alabama Getty Images

Altee Tenpennyparted ways” with Alabama this past January, ultimately moving on to UNLV four months later.  Now, the running back is working on his third football program in the last eight months.

Earlier this month, Tenpenny was dismissed from the Rebels for violating unspecified team rules. Tenpenny would’ve been forced to sit out the 2015 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, but now he won’t even get the chance to restart his collegiate career with UNLV in 2016.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got plenty of guys,” first-year Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez said at the time of the dismissal. “The young guys look fantastic. That had nothing to do with (the dismissal). At the end of the day, rules are the rules.”

Where he will get his chance to start over is at Nicholls State, which al.com is reporting is Tenpenny’s new college football home. Because the Colonels play at the FCS level, Tenpenny would be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Tenpenny was a four-star member of the Tide’s 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 8 back in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of Arkansas; and the No. 53 player overall by Rivals.com. Despite that impressive recruiting profile, Tenpenny didn’t contribute more than a couple of cents during his brief stay in Tuscaloosa.

In two seasons with the Tide, Tenpenny totaled 218 yards on 48 carries in a backfield that’s loaded with more four- and five-star talent than any in the country.

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Shad Thornton, NCSU’s leading rusher, hit with two-game suspension

Tyler Hunter, Shadrach Thornton AP

In what’s become an annual tradition in Raleigh, North Carolina State’s top running back has once again found himself in his coach’s doghouse.

Dave Doeren announced Thursday that Shadrach Thornton has been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season.  The head coach declined to go into detail, allowing only that the issue responsible for the situation occurred six months ago.  The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he only outstanding legal charges against Thornton are minor traffic infractions.”

Because of the suspension, the senior back will miss the opener against Troy and the Week 2 matchup with Eastern Kentucky. He’ll return for the following week’s game at Old Dominion.

Thornton has led the Wolfpack in rushing each of the last three seasons, with his totals increasing from 694 yards to 798 to 907 last season. Earlier this month, he was named first-team All-ACC.

However, he’s had a hard time staying in the coaching staff’s good graces. In 2013, he was suspended for the opener after being charged with violence against a female. He was indefinitely suspended in December of that year for another run-in with the law, and reinstated in August of last year.

UPDATED 1:26 pm. ET: And now we have the alleged reason behind Thornton’s suspension.

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Vols suspend top receiver Pig Howard for opener vs. Bowling Green

Alton Howard, Cody Riggs AP

Tennessee’s lifting of the curtain on the 2015 season just got a little more interesting, at least offensively.

Thursday afternoon, head coach Butch Jones revealed that Alton “Pig” Howard has been suspended for the opener against Bowling Green.  The only reason given was unspecified violations of team rules, although Jones did allow that the issue that triggered the suspension dates back several months.

The wide receiver will be eligible to return for the Week two matchup with No. 19 Oklahoma.

The past two seasons, Howard has led the Vols in receiving with 54 and 44 receptions in 2014 and 2013, respectively.  He accounted for 1,006 receiving yards in that span, and has also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Howard’s suspension isn’t the only situation UT is being forced to deal with at the position, either.

Croom caught 21 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns last season, the latter total tied for second on the team.  Perry was a three-star member of the 2015 recruiting class.

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Ohio the new home for ex-Iowa RB C.J. Hilliard

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl AP

When it was announced this past weekend that Cincinnati native C.J. Hilliard would be transferring from Iowa, the stated reason for the departure was a desire by the player to move closer to home.

In the end, that’s exactly what the running back did.

Earlier this week, head coach Frank Solich confirmed that Hilliard had transferred into his Ohio football program.  To satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Hilliard will be forced to sit out the 2015 season.

Hilliard will have three years to use three years of eligibility beginning in 2016.

“He’s with us now, and will be on our football team,” Solich said. “It’s good to have him aboard.”

A three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class, Hilliard was rated as the No. 55 player at any position in the state of Ohio. He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

(Photo credit: Iowa athletics)

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CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

Clemson at Florida State

The ACC is starting to gain some confidence as a conference based on success in recent seasons. Florida State won a BCS title and Clemson defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl two postseasons ago. Last year the Seminoles were invited to the College Football Playoff and Georgia Tech topped the SEC’s Cinderella team from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and Clemson smacked Oklahoma up and down the field in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The ACC will work the numbers to their liking to prove they are among the elite power conferences right now, but the numbers can just as easily tell a different story as well. Regardless, things look to be lining up for a fun season in the ACC with Clemson a preseason favorite of many, Florida State likely to remain in the hunt and Louisville proving to be a tough out. And then there is the ACC Coastal Division, where mediocrity across the division makes for another wide-open division race this fall.

Let’s put my money where my mouth is and go on the record with some predictions for the ACC this season. Feel free to hold me accountable at the end of the season when these surely go wrong.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 13-1, lost to Oregon in College Football Playoff semifinal)
Florida State has entered the stage of program development where it is appropriate to suggest the program is reloading, rather than rebuilding. The Florida State offense returns just three starters from last year’s squad, but it does add Notre Dame transfer quarterback Everett Golson. With Dalvin Cook recently being found not guilty of battery charges, he should remain a featured asset in Florida State’s offense . Getting at Louisville in Tallahassee will be key, but the road game at Clemson could prove difficult. I have Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all ending the season with identical division records and splitting game sin the three-way head-to-head. This one comes down to the 27th ACC division tiebreaker, which may end up in Florida State’s favor when all is said and done.

2. Clemson (Last year: 10-3, beat Oklahoma in Russell Athletic Bowl)
The Clemson Tigers are returning perhaps the top quarterback in the conference with Deshaun Watson. Many are already pegging him as a strong Heisman Trophy contender, and having one of the top wide receiving units in the ACC will certainly help his case. The offensive line returns just two starters from last season though, and the entire offense has just four returning starters. The defense is in even more of a shaky ground with a pair of starters back in 2015. But place some trust in Brent Venables to have the defense up to speed enough to work things out along the way. An early Thursday night game at Louisville could be tricky, and the final game of the regular season at South Carolina is rarely easy. But Clemson gets Florida State at home in Week 10, by which most of Clemson’s concerns could very well have been put to rest.

3. Louisville (Last year: 9-4, lost to Georgia in Belk Bowl)
Another team that has a bunch of starters to replace, Louisville returns just seven starters from last season’s team. And things could very well get off to a bumpy start with Auburn in the season opener and Clemson just a couple of weeks later. But I think they manage to split those games, winning the important ACC Atlantic Division match-up on Thursday night in Week 3. The addition of defensive end Devonte Fields should be a really good addition to the defensive line. Louisville’s defense should be very good, and perhaps one of the best in the ACC, but the secondary will have to step up and make some plays if Louisville is going to make the kind of noise I expect from them this season.

4. Boston College (Last year: 7-6, lost to Penn State in Pinstripe Bowl)
Boston College is going to be one of those teams that gives opponents a tough game, but ultimately will not have enough offense to make the Eagles any serious threat in the ACC. The defense can hold its own, but Steve Addazio has just three returning starters this season. None of them are on the offensive line. I suspect Boston College will try trusting the running game with Jon Hilliman capable of going for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Things may very well improve at Boston College as the season progresses, but there is a brutal stretch that includes back-to-back road games at Clemson and Louisville and that is followed by a home game against Virginia Tech. Playing Notre Dame in Fenway Park late in the year should be interesting as well. Boston College should have what it takes to go bowling, and a return trip to the Pinstripe Bowl may not be unlikely.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 8-5, beat UCF in St. Petersburg Bowl)
North Carolina State is a team many people think is capable of making some noise in the ACC this season, and they very well could. The reason is the Wolfpack return seven starters on offense and seven more on defense. If experience is the key, no team in the ACC Atlantic Division has more of it heading into the 2015 season. There is not one thing NC State does exceptionally well, but they are pretty well-rounded in all areas of the game. Jacoby Brisset is back to start at quarterback, after helping the team improve dramatically last season. Now we will see if he is capable of taking NC State to the next step forward. The Wolfpack should get off to a good start with a favorable schedule, but I’m seeing some bumps in the road once they get into ACC play. NC State gets Louisville and Clemson at home, which is good and easily a recipe for potential upset alerts. I still will go with the favorites for now.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 3-9)
It looks to be a long season at Syracuse. The move to the ACC has not shown much improvement in the recruiting game under Scott Shafer, who could very well be coaching for his job this season. Syracuse could get off to a quick 3-0 start this season, but even that might be difficult. Then LSU comes to the dome in Week 4. Syracuse will get a bye after the big game with the LSU Tigers, and a road trip to USF comes after that, but then ACC play resumes and Syracuse’s next win may not come until 2016 at that point.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 3-9)
If you thought Syracuse had it rough, take a look at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will be a young team in 2015, giving head coach Dave Clawson some more expected growing pains this fall. Wake Forest could get off to a 2-1 start with wins over Elon and Army (losing to Syracuse), but it will be a long stretch of demoralization after that. If Wake Forest manages to get to four wins to improve on last season’s win total, that should be considered a solid victory for Clawson and company.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6, beat Cincinnati in Military Bowl – they also beat Ohio State, in case you forgot)
Virginia Tech has the best defense in the ACC this season, and that should be enough to push the Hokies ahead fo the rest of the seemingly always up-for-grabs Coastal Division. The biggest question for Virginia Tech is whether or not the offense can avoid giving it away. Having Marshawn Williams back and healthy at running back should help. I look for the Hokies to give Ohio State a respectable fight in the Labor Day season opener, bu the Buckeyes leave with revenge after last season’s meeting in Columbus. From there, things look good for Virginia Tech with no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the schedule. Pittsburgh and UNC are both at home too. The schedule and defense should come in handy this season in Blacksburg.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 6-7, lost to Rutgers in Quick Lane Bowl)
No offense in the ACC returns as many starters this season than the North Carolina Tar Heels. A total of 10 starters are back for UNC, including a healthy Marquise Williams at quarterback, but how much will he have to carry the offense this season? In addition to being the leading passer, Williams is also UNC’s leading returning rusher from a year ago (788 yards, 13 touchdowns). I’d like to see others take some of the pressure off Williams to do everything if UNC is going to make a serious run to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. Looking at the schedule, I see real potential for a possible 7-0 start, but I also see the possibility of a rough finish to the season. That would seem to be the opposite of what happened last season after UNC closed on a hot streak to overcome a dismal start to the season.

3. Pittsburgh (Last year: 6-7, lost to Houston in Armed Forces Bowl)
I seem to have said this the past couple of years and I will do so once more; Why not Pitt? Pat Narduzzi takes over the Pittsburgh program and that should help lock things down on defense, with seven returning starters. The former Michigan State defensive coordinator also inherits some of the top offensive players in the ACC with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner, but it will be up to quarterback Chad Voytik to keep things moving consistently for the Panthers. If the Panthers can get off to better than a 2-2 start (as I predict), they could make a run in the wide open division.

4. Miami (Last year: 6-7, lost to South Carolina in Independence Bowl)
Another year, another season of wondering if this could possibly be the year Miami finally plays in the ACC Championship Game. They have yet to do so since leaving the Big East to provide the ACC with more football balance, and it looks as though this could be another season that sees early promise and hype ultimately fizzle out in an up-and-down second half of the season. They have the quarterback in Brad Kaaya, but do they have the ability to pull it together everywhere else? I have Miami getting out to a nice little 4-0 start before visiting Florida State in Week 6. From there it should be on-off-on-off for the Hurricanes. That could put head coach Al Golden on as hot a seat as possible at the end of the season.

5. Georgia Tech (Last year: 11-3, beat Mississippi State in Orange Bowl)
The formula for Georgia Tech’s success never seems to change, although the effectiveness of it seems to have mixed results. Paul Johnson‘s offensive style picked up 11 wins last season and gave Florida State one of many close calls last season in the ACC Championship Game. Playing in this wide open division, you can easily make a case for Georgia Tech to make a return trip to Charlotte at the end of the season, and a steady defense helps support that argument. I just think there are some tough battles ahead this season with a road trip to Notre Dame followed by ACC contests against Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Florida State all in a row. That can be a tough stretch for the Yellow Jackets, as could the final two games of the season, at Miami and home against Georgia. Georgia Tech will still be a decent team, but they may skate on thin ice en route to the postseason.

6. Virginia (Last year: 5-7)
Virginia has had a rough stretch under Mike London, and this might be the final straw for the head coach if things do not show potential moving forward. Unfortunately for London, there may not be much progress shown with a three-win season. Yet, I have them somehow managing to avoid last place and staying ahead of Duke? Strange, I admit, but I think Virginia manages to win a pair of home games in ACC play, against Syracuse and Duke, and that is good enough to sneak just ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings. It may not, however, be enough to assure London a job in Charlottesville next season. Early games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State (and William & Mary) might be rough to watch at times.

7. Duke (Last year: 9-4, lost to Arizona State in Sun Bowl)
Do not be fooled by a last-place finish in the ACC Coastal. As you no doubt have learned by now, I view this division as a wide-open race, and I still predict Duke will be bowl-eligible this year. That will be because Duke has a very favorable schedule this season with likely wins in non-conference play and no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the conference schedule. Yet I still see Duke struggling to find much consistency in conference play. David Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job in Durham, but this year’s team may be lacking in enough playmakers outside of safety Jeremy Cash to find enough wins to make a run at the division.

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Florida State over Virginia Tech
After coming out on top of a clouded three-team tie in the ACC Atlantic Division, Florida State once again manages to win the ACC championship game for a fourth straight season. As will be the story all season, the Hokies defense keeps them in the game but the offense simply will not have enough firepower to get by a team with as much talent as Florida State. But will this Florida State team have done enough to convince the College Football Playoff selection committee it deserves a second straight invite to the postseason party?

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The Rosen One: Bruins hitch hopes to hyped QB cub as starter

Josh Rosen

If UCLA is to live up to the lofty post-Brett Hundley preseason expectations, the Bruins, at least offensively and initially, will do so with a very raw youngin’ under center.

Even as it involves a true freshman, Jim Mora confirmed what many had expected as he officially anointed Josh Rosen as his starting quarterback Wednesday night. Less than a year removed from high school, Rosen will make his first collegiate start Sept. 5 at home in the Rose Bowl against Virginia.

Rosen had been in a competition with redshirt juniors Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul, but it became apparent to the coaching staff throughout spring practice and on into summer camp that the trigger should be pulled on the young gun.

“At some point it just becomes apparent to you,” Mora said. “You get a gut feeling. You’ve seen enough. You say it’s time to make a decision and let’s go.”

When it comes to recruiting pedigrees, it’d be hard to find one more distinguished than Rosen’s.

A five-star 2015 recruit who enrolled early and went through spring ball, Rosen was rated as both the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country as well as the No. 1 player at any position in the talent-rich state of California. Overall, Rivals.com had the St. John Bosco product as the No. 2 player in the country regardless of position.

While Rosen’s FBS baptismal will come at home against a suspect Virginia, his feet will be really put to the fire by, after a Week 2 matchup against UNLV, a four-game stretch that opens with a defensively-stout BYU in the Rose Bowl followed up by back-to-back-to-back Pac-12 games against ranked opponents: at Arizona, home against Arizona State and at Stanford.

Even if Rosen struggles through that gauntlet, Mora has let it be known that this is the freshman’s offense and he doesn’t have to worry about looking over his shoulder.

“I made it very clear I’m a one quarterback type of coach,” Mora said. “I like to put a guy in that position, support the heck out of him, hope he has success, and rally around him if he’s struggling.”

(Photo credit: UCLA athletics)

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Ohio State loses Noah Brown for season with leg injury

Noah Brown

Locked and loaded for a run at a second consecutive national championship, Ohio State will enter the 2015 season a little less loaded at the wide receiver position.

Following up on reports of a “major” injury, OSU confirmed late Wednesday night that Noah Brown suffered an injury to his left leg during practice earlier in the day. While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t detailed, it was significant and serious enough that the sophomore receiver has already been ruled out for the entire 2015 season.

It’s believed that Brown broke his leg during the Wednesday practice session.  According to OSU’s release, he will undergo surgery Thursday to repair the damage.

Brown, who caught one pass last season, was expected to, at minimum, play a significant role as a third receiver and, potentially more substantially, earn a starting role in the Buckeyes’ receiving corps.  At least when it comes to the first game of the year, the road trip to Blacksburg — against the only team to defeat OSU last year — is pause for concern given the previously-announced attrition.

Earlier this offseason, it was announced that H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, along with receiver Corey Smith, had been suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech.

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Personal issues cause Clemson starting DT D.J. Reader to step away from football

D.J. Reader

Sometimes there are some things more important than football, and sometimes that means you need to step away from the game to take care of those important issues away from the field. Whatever the case may be, that is what is happening with Clemson defensive tackle D.J. Reader. The starting defensive lineman is stepping away from Clemson’s football team for an undetermined amount of time, head coach Dabo Swinney announced Tuesday.

“D.J. Reader has decided to step away from football for a while,” Swinney said in a released statement. “He has some personal issues he has to deal with at this time. We are not sure when he will return. We will support him any way we can. This is no different than a player being lost for a period of time due to injury.”

The loss of Reader, for whatever amount of time, is a tough blow for Clemson’s defense. The senior was to be a starter this season after getting some starting experience last season. He enters this season having recorded 110 tackles and 4.5 sacks over the last three seasons. Clemson’s options to fill in the hole on the defensive line appear to be redshirt sophomore Scott Pagano and freshman Christian Wilkins.

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Oklahoma vs. Akron heading to Pay-Per-View

Bob Stoops

Some TV customers might prefer a la carte programming, but this is not exactly what they mean.

Perhaps this is difficult for most people to understand given the rising presence of conference-affiliated networks and the increased exposure of college football today, but some games you still have to pay extra to watch on your TV. Such is the case in the Big 12, where Oklahoma and Akron will be available on pay-per-view options.

Announced yesterday, FOX Sports Oklahoma will broadcast the season opener between the Sooners and Zips, but because the game was not chosen for over-the-air broadcast or cable television, it will only be made available to those customers with the dedicated PPV channel from their cable or satellite provider. Prices will vary by provider as well. The game will also be available for streaming online outside the state of Oklahoma at the economical price of $54.99. Yep. You read that correctly. Fans outside Oklahoma can pay $54.99 to watch a live stream of the game on their computer or tablet, and you do not even get a halftime UFC bout featuring Ronda Rousey or a WWE tables-ladders-chairs match.

Between NBC, NBC Sports Network, ABC, CBS, ESPN, ESPN2, EPSNU, ESPNews, Big Ten Network, SEC Network, Pac-12 Networks, FOX Sports 1, and a variety of local cable sports networks like Comcast Sportsnet we tend to get a little spoiled when it comes to watching college football. Or maybe fans of Oklahoma should be at a point where being able to watch every game is expected at this point in the evolution of the coverage of the game. Fans pay good money to have all of the previously mentioned sports networks, and now some will have to pay extra just for the chance to watch Oklahoma play Akron. That is a shame, and perhaps may strengthen the argument for some sort of change in the Big 12.

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East Carolina’s starting QB is done for the year

Kurt Benkert

East Carolina named Kurt Benkert the team’s starting quarterback earlier this month. Now he is done for the 2015 season.

East Carolina announced today the sophomore quarterback will be sidelined for the 2015 season as a result of a right knee injury. The injury is believed to have occurred during a practice on Tuesday. Discomfort in the knee following practice led to additional evaluations on Wednesday, which have now led to the unfortunate injury update.

“Everyone in college football is affected by injuries and we are no different,” ECU head coach Ruffin McNeill said in a released statement. “I am disappointed for Kurt because he has worked so hard for this opportunity. We’ve got a lot of talent on this team and we’ll be asking everyone to step up.”

With the Pirates now back to searching for a new quarterback (Benkert was to replace Shane Carden), McNeil will evaluate juniors Blake Kemp and Cody Keith in what little time remains before the start of the new season. Keith is just coming back from his own injury, having come back from a foot injury earlier this summer.

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Baylor QB switches position to help pave way for Jarrett Stidham

Jarrett Stidham

Believe it or not, there is actual on-field developments worth discussing with regard to the Baylor Bears. Things are happening with the quarterback depth leading up to the start of the season, but the impact will be seen more in 2016 if things go as planned.

Chris Johnson will be moving from quarterback to wide receiver in the coming year in a position change that undoubtedly is designed to clear a path to the top of the depth chart for freshman Jarrett Stidham (pictured). Stidham was quite the recruiting victory for Baylor head coach Art Briles, as the highly rated quarterback was once commited to Texas Tech. At one point a financial aid agreement with Texas Tech was even signed by Stidham.

Seth Russell is still expected to be the starting quarterback for the Bears entering this season. Briles has stood firm on that idea since the spring. This position change does not alter that line of thinking in any way. This will, however, bump the talented freshman up the depth chart now, putting him at No. 2 behind Russell. That would also likely mean there will be no redshirt season for Stidham.

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Georgia WR Justin Scott-Wesley may be done playing football

South Carolina v Georgia

It would appear the football-playing career of Georgia wide receiver Justin Scott-Wesley is over, but that does not mean he is stepping away from the game entirely. According to his high school football coach, Scott-Wesley is weighing his options with regard to football and may ultimately decide to stop playing.

“The vibe I got from him was that decision may have been out of frustration,” Dondrial Pinkins, Scott-Wesley’s high school coach, told the Athens Banner-Herald. “He’s in the process of talking (to trainers) about how he’s going to respond to the rehab. After that, he’ll see how he feels. If he’s able to play, he may play or he may just sit out. At this moment it’s all dependent on how his body feels.”

While playing and practicing may be out of the mix for now, Scott-Wesley appears to be staying with the team in some capacity. In an Instagram post, Scott-Wesley shared a photo of him appearing to be working as a student coach with the Bulldogs.

“When one door closes, another opens!” the Instagram post reads. “Blessed for the opportunity to learn and teach.”

Scott-Wesley left a Georgia football practice earlier this month after sustaining an injury to his right knee. The injury happened despite a lack of contact, which is always a scary situation. In 2013 Scott-Wesley suffered a torn ACL in his right knee and later underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in July.

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Texas A&M’s John Chavis has lawsuit against LSU dismissed in Texas court

John Chavis

The legal battle between Texas A&M defensive coordinator John Chavis and his former employers will not be settled in a Texas court. Chavis had his lawsuit against LSU dismissed by a judge in Texas determining the lawsuit has not grounds to be fought in the state of Texas. Instead, the lawsuit will be settled in the state of Louisiana.

This little legal squabble over the contract of Chavis has been going on for a while. As a refresher, Chavis and LSU reached an agreement for a one-year contract extension last November. Not long after that, Chavis was hired by Texas A&M instead. His hiring at Texas A&M was made official in February. LSU is pursuing a $400,000 buyout from Chavis, which the former defensive coordinator says he is not on the hook for. Chavis believes Texas A&M owes LSU that six-figure buyout. Texas A&M thinks Chavis should pay it.

This is not the only legal battle going on involving an assistant coach entering the 2015 season. This fall will see Texas and Oklahoma State do battle in a court room over the employment status of Texas assistant coach Joe Wickline. The offensive line coach was hired by Texas away from Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys believe Wickline’s change in jobs was a lateral move in staffing. If a court agrees, Oklahoma State would be owed some money.

Don’t worry. Football games that matter will soon be played.

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