CFT Predicts: the Pac-12

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Pac-12.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Big Ten

Pac-12 North

1. Stanford (Last year: 12-2; beat Wisconsin in Rose Bowl)
What happened last season?
Though Stanford lost arguably the best quarterback to ever pass through the program in Andrew Luck, the Cardinal did something it couldn’t when Luck and Jim Harbaugh were on The Farm: win the Pac-12. David Shaw is quickly ascending the list of best college coaches in the country. I mean, the guy did a Ted Talk. Clearly Stanford is big-time now.

So why are they ranked here?
The Cardinal are experienced and there really aren’t many glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is undefeated as a starter and has a solid offensive line and running game that brings back Tyler Gaffney. The defensive front seven returns plenty of starters too, including linebacker Shayne Skov. This is a solid team all around.

Anything else?
Things get a little more interesting schedule-wise in the second half of the season. The Cardinal play UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon in consecutive weeks before ending the year against Cal and Notre Dame. Weather that schedule and Stanford will absolutely be in the national title discussion. And I’d like their chances of winning it all (meaning, by rule of the jinx, they’ll go 8-5 and OMG I’m so sorry, you guys [sad face]).

2. Oregon (Last year: 12-1; beat Kansas State in Fiesta Bowl)
What happened last season?
Another BCS win for the Ducks would end up being the final game for coach Chip Kelly, who left for the NFL shortly thereafter. But the important story line here is that the one-point safety happened and we are all now better off as humans for seeing it.

So why are they ranked here?
The Pac-12 North looks like it could play out in a similar fashion to the SEC East, where Georgia and South Carolina could be slotted in either order as 1A or 1B. Oregon is actually the preseason favorite to win the North (and the league’s championship game) — albeit by the slimmest of margins — but if it comes down to it, I’m going to go with Shaw over first-year coach Mark Helfrich.

Anything else?
There’s a lot of national focus on Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel as far as as quarterbacks go, but keep an eye on Marcus Mariota. This redshirt sophomore was efficient in his first year as a starter, throwing for 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He has great size (6-foot-4 and 211 pounds) and athleticism.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 9-4; lost to Texas in Alamo Bowl)
What happened last season?
Just when you think Mike Riley is on the way out of Corvallis, he orchestrates one of the more dramatic turnarounds in college football. (Not that I thought Riley was on his way out or anything… Okay, I did.) The Beavers started 6-0 before exchanging wins and losses through the rest of the year, which ended in a bowl loss to Texas.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s good offensive firepower returning for Oregon State. This team has two capable quarterbacks in Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, and running back has both talent and depth. The question will continue to be on the offensive line can pave the way for OSU to have a better rushing attack than the one that ranked 101st in the country a year ago. On defense, the Beavers’ secondary should be a strength even with the departure of Jordan Poyer.

Anything else?
It wouldn’t be surprising to see this team 7-0 headed into a huge home game against Stanford — and playing in Reser Stadium can be a thorn for opposing teams. But there are no gimmes on the schedule once late October rolls around.

4. Washington (Last year: 7-6; lost to Boise State in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas)
What happened last season?
This can be summed up in highlights and lowlights. Highlight: beating Stanford, however ugly it was, 17-13. Lowlight: a regular-season ending loss to Wazzu in the Apple Cup. In overtime. Woof.

So why are they ranked here?
Steve Sarkisian isn’t on the hot seat, but it’s time to win more than seven games. Keith Price returns as one of the more talented quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but he’s also never experienced the luxury known as pass protection. If he has time, this is an offense that can put up a lot of points. The defense made major strides in 2012 under Justin Wilcox and will need to keep pace against a schedule that features plenty of good offensive opponents.

Anything else?
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is currently dealing with a broken pinkie. There’s optimism he can return by Week 1, though, as Sarkisian said it was a clean break. Jenkins will be counted on a lot this season in the passing game, so his health is crucial.

5. Washington State (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
Yeah, Mike Leach‘s first season in Pullman didn’t exactly go as planned. The Cougars passed the ball a lot (go figure) but struggled to score and couldn’t stop anyone. But, hey, y’all beat Washington so huzzah!

So why are they ranked here?
There are still plenty of concerns on both sides of the ball, but Wazzu is not a team completely deprived of talent. Connor Halliday returns at quarterback, but the offensive line needs to come together to give him some more protection. Sacks and interceptions doomed the Cougars offense last season. If the offense can jell, a turnaround might start taking some form in 2013.

Anything else?
Wazzu doesn’t have to run the ball more, but they have to run it more effectively. This is a team that averaged 29 yards per game on the ground in 2012. Twenty. Nine. That’s, like, De’Anthony Thomas‘ yards-per-carry or something.

6. Cal (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
The Golden Bears lost their shine and Jeff Tedford was shown the door. Things got really bad at the end when Cal lost their final two games by an average of 45 points.

So why are they ranked here?
Sonny Dykes will win in Berkeley, it just won’t be this year. True freshman Jared Goff will be thrown into the fire immediately as the team’s starting quarterback, and the schedule is unforgiving.

Anything else?
Cal will likely lose three of their first four games, but we could still get a decent understanding of what this team can potentially accomplish in Dykes’ first year if they hang tough with Northwestern, Ohio State or Oregon.

Pac-12 South

1. UCLA (Last year: 9-5; lost to Baylor in Holiday Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Bruins took a huge step forward under first-year coach Jim Mora by winning nine games and making it to the Pac-12 championship. UCLA got torched by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl, but the Bears were playing their best football at the end of the year.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s a new edge in Pasadena that previously wasn’t there. That’s a reflection on Mora, and things are only looking up for UCLA. Brett Hundley returns as one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the league. This is an offense that will need to find a replacement for Johnathan Franklin in the running game to take the pressure off of Hundley. The defense has to replace its entire secondary too. But this is a talented, young team.

Anything else?
Part of that talented youth is Notre Dame transfer Eddie Vanderdoes. The defensive lineman will be able to play immediately and he’s expected to do so.

2. Arizona State (Last year: 8-5; beat Navy in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
What happened last season?
First-year coach Todd Graham did a good job getting the Sun Devils to eight wins. And, of course, beating Arizona always helps.

So why are they ranked here?
ASU could be a sneaky good team this year. There’s a lot of hype in Tempe around Taylor Kelly, who already has a 3,000-yard passing season under his belt.  This team features 17 returning starters, including All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton. There’s room to grow at the receiver spot, but the Sun Devils have a good backfield with Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Based on their 2012 play, this is a team that can right in the middle of the Pac-12 South hunt.

Anything else?
ASU has an interesting and difficult early part of the season with Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. Winning both of those early Pac-12 games would be huge.

3. USC (Last year: 7-6; lost to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl) 
What happened last season?
USC went from the preseason No. 1 team to being unranked at the end of the season after losing a to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl in embarrassing fashion. Matt Barkley hurt his shoulder and couldn’t finish out his career with the Trojans. There were almost too many disappointments to list.

So why are they ranked here?
There are a lot of question marks on offense with the departure of Barkley and receiver Robert Woods. Marqise Lee is back though and figures to be a huge part of the game plan — if he can stay healthy. There was a lot of staff turnover during the offseason, so it could take some time for everything to come together. And let’s not forget the depth issues affecting this team while it rides out the scholarship reductions from the NCAA. Still, it’s not like USC is lacking talent. That should be enough to keep this team from going under .500 this year.

Anything else?
Well, that’s the thing. Lane Kiffin can’t afford to go under .500 — or .500 at all —  and realistically expect to keep his job. The scholarship reductions hurt, but they don’t have any impact on failed two-point conversions, or switching numbers between plays midway through a game. Pull shenanigans like that and win seven again, and Kiffin could be headed for the unemployment line.

4. Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Nevada in New Mexico Bowl)
What happened last season?
Rich Rodriguez rebounded from his short Michigan gig by winning right away with Arizona. The highlight of the year included a 39-36 win over what was then a top-10 ranked USC team.

So why are they ranked here?
Matt Scott waited his turn and had himself a banner senior season. He left for the NFL as one of the more intriguing quarterback prospects. But while the Wildcats have to replace him, they do bring back Ka’Deem Carey, who was the country’s leading running back last year. Carey figures to be the focal point of the offense this year, which may need to win some shootouts again.

Anything else?
The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season at giving up points. Jeff Casteel is a fine defensive coordinator, so that’ll be a unit to watch to see if any significant improvement can be made.

5. Utah (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
It was another disappointing year for Kyle Whittingham. The offense, especially the passing game, couldn’t get going and Jordan Wynn had to end his oft-injured career earlier than he’d hoped.

So why are they ranked here?
Dennis Erickson been brought in as co-offensive coordinator to light a fire under one of the worst passing games in the Pac-12 last season. The defensive line loses three key players as well in Star Lotulelei, Joe Kruger and Dave Kruger. There’s a lot to replace and plenty of tough games on the schedule.

Anything else?
Erickson is more than just another offensive mind to add to the staff. He’s familiar with the recent Pac-12 landscape from his time with Arizona State. That should pay dividends for the Utes, but just how soon remains unclear.

6. Colorado (Last year: 1-11) 
What happened last season?
The Buffaloes were terrible and Jon Embree got fired. During Embree’s final press conference, it become abundantly clear from a national perspective just how much work this program has to do to get back to its former winning ways.

So why are they ranked here?
Mike MacIntyre did wonders at San Jose State. He’ll need to work those miracles again in Boulder, but 2013 looks like it could be another brutal year for this program. The Buffs have a dire QB situation right now, though it appears Texas transfer Connor Wood will get the nod. There is a lot of experience returning for Colorado (17 starters), but how long it takes them to adjust to MacIntyre remains to be seen.

Anything else?
It won’t count toward Pac-12 standings, but Colorado can make a big splash at the start of the season by beating Colorado State. When little is expected to go your way, grabbing a win over an in-state rival goes a long way.

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John Taylor‘s prediction:
North
1. Stanford
2. Oregon
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

South
1. UCLA
2. Arizona State
3. USC
4. Utah
5. Arizona
6. Colorado

Ben’s Pac-12 champ: Stanford
John’s Pac-12 champ: Stanford

Boise State losing one-time starting corner Reid Harrison-Ducros to transfer

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For the third time since the 2017 season kicked off, Boise State is losing a player to transfer.

The father of Reid Harrison-Ducros (pictured, No. 27) confirmed to the Idaho Press-Tribune that his son has left the Broncos football team and will transfer. The cornerback met with Bryan Harsin Thursday morning to inform him of the decision to move on, with the head coach granting him a release from his BSU scholarship.

“This tears me up,” Gary Harrison-Ducros told the Press-Tribune. “We love everything about Boise, the faculty, geography, and oh my gosh the community and fans. However, Reid wants to be on the field and he believes he has to pursue that goal somewhere else.

“We will follow and support BSU always. I am keeping my tattoo and we’ll always bleed blue, we’re just expanding the HD family to another campus.”

A three-star member of the Broncos’ 2016 recruiting class, Harrison-Ducros played in 10 games as a true freshman. After starting the first four games of the 2017 season, he lost his starting job and has played sparingly since.

Previously, a pair of little-used wide receivers, Julian Carter and Bryan Jefferson, parted ways with the football program as well.

Starting QB Kenny Hill officially ruled out for TCU vs. Texas Tech

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This certainly makes things interesting.

Earlier this week, Gary Patterson revealed that starting quarterback Kenny Hill and starting linebacker Travin Howard were somewhere between “probable and questionable” for the Week 12 game against Texas Tech in Lubbock.  Both players suffered unspecified injuries in the Week 11 loss to Oklahoma.

Unfortunately for the Horned Frogs, it’s been confirmed that Hill will not play against the Red Raiders.  Additionally, strong safety Niko Small and kicker Jonathan Song have been ruled out as well.

Howard, the team’s leading tackler, will travel to Lubbock but be a game-time decision.

With Hill sidelined, true freshman Shawn Robinson, who has attempted 10 passes in five games this season, will make his first career start in a game that will carry significant weight in the chase for the Big 12 championship tilt.

Unless Oklahoma (6-1), which beat both TCU (5-2) and Oklahoma State (5-2) earlier this season, loses its last two games — ROTFL one of them is against Kansas — the Sooners have all but clinched one of the two spots in the conference title game. TCU needs to either win one of its last two games (at Tech, vs. Baylor) and have OSU lose at least one, or win out regardless of what OSU does in order to claim the other spot. OSU, meanwhile, needs to win out (vs. K-State, vs. Kansas) and have the Horned Frogs lose at least one. West Virginia (5-2), which lost to both TCU and OSU, needs to beat Texas and win at OU while TCU and OSU lose at least one game apiece.

K-Statement: Bill Snyder ‘will remain coach until he decides otherwise’

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Kansas State has responded to the events of Thursday and, wow, what a response.

Early yesterday afternoon, a report surfaced that indicated K-State had a verbal agreement with Jim Leavitt to ultimately take over the football program in place but that arrangement was nixed by legendary current head coach Bill Snyder, who wants his son to take the reins when he steps down. Subsequent to that, Leavitt, the defensive coordinator at Oregon who was an assistant under Snyder at KSU in the nineties, told GoPowercat.com that he has “no desire nor I ever had a desire to be a coach in waiting.”

Not long after, with FootballScoop.com refuting the original report, the Manhattan Mercury confirmed at least a portion of it; however, that newspaper said Snyder nixed the arrangement “because he did not want to commit to a timetable for his own retirement.” Per the original report via Facebook from former ESPN college football insider Brett McMurphy, Leavitt would’ve been paid $3 million if he wasn’t named head coach prior to Jan. 1 of 2018.

Given all of that he-said, he-said drama, the university released a statement that indicates Snyder maintains the autonomy to choose the when of his departure.

As has been the case and stated many times, Coach Snyder is our football coach and will remain coach until he decides otherwise.

Left unsaid is whether Snyder will get to handpick his successor whenever he decides otherwise.

In the past, the 78-year-old Snyder has made it perfectly clear that he wants his son, 48-year-old Wildcats special teams coordinator and associate head coach Sean Snyder, to take over when he steps down for good.

“I have a strong belief, and my preference is Sean,” Snyder said back in July of 2015 when asked his preference for a successor. “He knows more about our football program than anyone. He runs our program. I have great confidence in him.

“It’s easy to say, ‘He’s your son,’ but I don’t wish coaching on anyone.”

“If I were to step down today, I certainly would [recommend Sean for the job],” Snyder said in October of 2012, “I think he’d be absolutely fantastic at it, but I wouldn’t encourage him to take the job.

“I’d rather see him live a more complete life than this.”

The younger Snyder has actually spent more time as part of the K-State football program than his Hall of Fame father, transferring to KSU from Iowa after the 1989 season. The lone exception being 1993, Sean Snyder has been a Wildcats player, football staffer or assistant coach for 27 of the last 28 years. Since 1989, Bill Snyder has spent 26 years as K-State’s head coach, with a three-year sabbatical in the middle of the last decade splitting up his first and second tenures at the school.

Whether that makes him qualified to take over for his dad is a question that will very likely be answered in the coming months.

Tanner Lee on verge of being cleared to play for Nebraska vs. Penn State

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It’s looking more and more likely that Nebraska’s starting quarterback will be available for Week 12. Whether he starts seems to be another matter entirely.

In the second quarter of last Saturday’s embarrassing beatdown at the hands of Minnesota, Tanner Lee suffered a head injury that knocked him out of the game and left him in concussion protocol ever since. With No. 10 Penn State looming this Saturday, all signs are pointing toward Lee being cleared.

“He’s actually going through the protocol and if he does not have a setback as of today — if everything checks out OK after this practice, heading into tomorrow’s walkthrough — he will be cleared to play,” Mike Riley said according to the Lincoln Journal Star.

The embattled head coach stopped short of declaring the redshirt junior would be the starter if cleared, saying that’s something “[w]e’re going to talk about” prior to kickoff.  If Lee doesn’t get the start, those duties would fall to redshirt freshman Patrick O’Brien.

Only two quarterbacks at the FBS level have thrown more interceptions this season than Lee’s 13. On the other hand, his 2,539 yards passing are more than all but three other Big Ten quarterbacks.

Nebraska needs to win its last two games, at No. 10 Penn State and at home against 6-4 Iowa in the Black Friday regular-season finale, to become bowl-eligible.