The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Scheduling buzzsaw complete
One of the major storylines of the weekend heading into the Top-10 matchup between LSU and Georgia was current Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray and former Bulldogs/current Tigers quarterback Zach Mettenberger.  While neither disappointed, it was another defining team moment for the squad from Athens that’s had a season’s worth in the first month of the football year.  The huge 44-41 win over LSU was UGA’s second win over a team ranked No. 6 in the country this season, the first coming three weeks ago against SEC East rival South Carolina.  Their lone loss?  A season-opening three-point defeat on the road at the hands of Clemson, which was No. 8 at the time but has climbed to No. 3.  Thanks in large part to the play of Murray — four touchdown passes on the day, including the game-winner with under two minutes left — the Bulldogs still control their own destiny; win out through early December, and UGA will head to Pasadena to play in the last-ever BCS championship game.  Of course, their opponents in Saturday’s game can say the same thing, as can Alabama.  Still, from the heartbreak in the opener to an absolute meatgrinder two of the last three games, Mark Richt has to be beyond ecstatic with the position his football team finds itself in.

Braxton back, boon for Buckeyes
After Kenny Guiton lit up opposing defenses for 10 touchdowns in two starts, many were calling for the senior to start even after Braxton Miller was healthy enough to return from a knee injury.  Urban Meyer wouldn’t hear of it, and Miller showed why.  In his first action since the first quarter of a Week 2 win over San Diego State, Miller accounted for 281 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-24 win over Wisconsin.  The win was the Buckeyes’ nation’s best 17th straight, and its first over a ranked team since beating Michigan to end the 2012 regular season.  Whether it was enough to impress voters, though, remains to be seen.  OSU’s first four wins of the season came against three FBS teams that had won a combined two games entering Week 5 as well an FCS program.  The fact that OSU couldn’t put away the Badgers after holding a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter could give those with the power pause.  Regardless, OSU will have another chance to impress next week as they travel to Evanston to face No. 19 Northwestern.

The Camdy Man can
If the Broyles Award for the nation’s top assistant coach were given out today, LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron would likely be an easy choice for most voters.  On the bayou, the former head coach who failed miserably at stops in Indiana and with the Miami Dolphins is like water finding its level.  While the Tigers dropped a heartbreaker to the Bulldogs Sunday, Cameron’s impact on the LSU offense in general and Mettenberger specifically is undeniably obvious.  Last season, Mettenberger completed just 58.8 percent of his passes; averaged just 7.41 yards per attempt; and threw 12 touchdowns versus seven interceptions.  This season, with Cameron orchestrating the offense, Mettenberger is completing 64 percent of his passes; averaging 10.9 yards per attempt; and has thrown 13 touchdowns and, even more amazingly, a mere one interception.  Yes, the game between The Hedges was a punch to the gut, but Tiger Nation can take solace in the fact that they finally have a championship-caliber offense to go with an above-average defense.

Class of the Big 12? Oklahoma v Notre Dame
Thanks to Oklahoma State tripping over its own junk in Morgantown Saturday, it appears that Oklahoma is the class of the Big 12 and the road to the conference’s BCS berth will, as it ofttimes does, go through Norman.  Maybe.  Exacting revenge for its loss to Notre Dame last season, the Sooners went into South Bend and went home with an impressive 35-21 win over the Irish.  Certainly OU was helped by three turnovers, which they turned into 21 points, but this kind of performance in a big-game atmosphere is something that’s somewhat eluded the Sooners for the past several years.  Does it, though, signify they’re should be sitting in the league driver’s seat?  That answer will have to wait until back-to-back late October/early November games against No. 25 Texas Tech and No. 19 Baylor in Waco.

UW, short for “Unother Win”
Don’t look now, but there may be another player in the race for the Pac-12 North title.  In handing Arizona its first loss of the season, Washington raised its record to a perfect 4-0 for the first time since 2001.  The Huskies have now won all four by double-digit margins, including a 32 drubbing of (soon-to-be) 3-2 Boise State and a 10-point win over  3-1 Illinois.  The good news for those in the media whose beat is the Pac-12 is that whether the Huskies are pretenders or contenders will be known in short order; next week, UW travels to No. 5 Stanford before playing host to No. 2 Oregon seven days later.  One thing is certain: two weeks from today, we’ll know exactly where the Huskies stand in the Pac-12 pecking order.

A Mannion among boys
Remember that quarterback competition at Oregon State?  Yeah, it appears Mike Riley made the right call.  After throwing for 414 yards in the blowout win over previously unbeaten Colorado, Sean Mannion now has 2,018 passing yards through five games.  He came into the game leading the nation in that category, and the fact that he led by nearly 300 yards (Wyoming’s Brett Smith and Ball State’s Keith Wenning, 1,315 apiece) means he will enter Week 6 as the leader as well.  Last season, Mannion had 15 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in nine games; this year, he’s thrown 21 touchdowns — including a school-record six Saturday — while tossing just two picks in 235 attempts.  The best part of Mannion’s torrid start is the fact that it’s played a significant role in OSU’s 4-1 start to the season, which could’ve been a perfect one were it not for the inexplicable season-opening loss to FCS-level Eastern Washington.

NIU B1GB1G MACownership
Who says the SEC has sole ownership of the Big Ten?  Northern Illinois pushed its record to 4-0 on the season with a 55-17 pasting of Purdue.  It’s the first time one MAC school has beaten two B1G teams in the same regular season, with the Huskies’ other coming in the season opener against Iowa.  NIU also tied a record for the largest margin of victory by a MAC member over the B1G, matching Toledo’s 31-point woodshedding of Minnesota in 2001.  What it also means is that Fresno State might not be the only BCS buster still in play as the Huskies, which crashed the BCS party last season, are on an unbeaten path, although they would need to remain undefeated and get some help from some of the heavyweights in college football to make it back-to-back party crashes.

No UpHill climb this time
Taysom Hill‘s struggles in 2013 aren’t exactly a state secret.  BYU starting quarterback entered Friday night’s game against Middle Tennessee State completing an anemic 35.1 percent of his passes and ranked No. 114 in passing efficiency.  After getting a vote of confidence from his teammates and coaching staff earlier in the week, Hill went out and completed 14-of-19 passes (a career-high 73.7 completion percentage, besting his previous high of 66.7) and 177 yards in the win over the Blue Raiders.  The sophomore also rushed for 165 yards and two touchdowns.  Hill’s not out of the offensive woods quite yet, but Friday night was most certainly a step in the right direction.

LOSERS

Bo don’t know THAT defense
Ole Miss starting quarterback Bo Wallace raised some eyebrows earlier this week when he opined that his Rebels offense “can put points on” Alabama’s stingy defense.  Yeah, that didn’t work out too well for anyone with an Oxford lean.  In Alabama’s Tuscaloosa whitewashing of Ole Miss, the Rebels managed just 205 yards of offense and zero points.  Ole Miss came into the game averaging 490 yards (T-26th nationally) and 38 points per game (T-37th).  Ole Miss averaged just 1.8 yards per rush attempt and a staggering 4.9 yards per pass attempt against the No. 1 team in the country.  The Tide defense actually outscored the Rebel offense, with ‘Bama putting a safety on the board — at Wallace’s expense, appropriately enough — in the fourth quarter.  Hint to Wallace for future reference: it’s best to allow sleeping D’s lie, especially one like the Tide’s.

One-Lane road outta town
Thanks to our friend at YouTube, here are the final moments of USC’s epic 62-41 meltdown against Arizona State Saturday night:

 

There’s no way Lane Kiffin survives this season, right?  Right???  For the sake of a very loyal and proud Trojan fan base, he’d better not.

Not-so-OK State
Oklahoma State entered Week 5 as the highest-ranked team in the Big 12.  An inexplicable loss to a not-very-good West Virginia team, however, has cast a pall over a season that began with BCS title aspirations in Stillwater.  In two games against FBS teams this season, the Mountaineers passed for a total of 280 yards; in the loss Saturday, the Cowboys coughed up 320 yards in the air, including 309 by first-time WVU starter Clint Trickett.  OSU is certainly not out of the Big 12 race by any means, but if they’re giving up that type of yardage to a team like West Virginia, what are they going to do when teams like Baylor and Oklahoma come a callin’?

VoLOLOL
Since replacing Phillip Fulmer in 2008, Tennessee has gone a non-UT-like 26-29.  Included in that total was a seven-point win at home against South Alabama, a program that was playing at the FCS level a mere two seasons ago.  The Vols were leading 31-7 early in the early quarter, but allowed three Jaguar touchdowns in less than a quarter and a half to cut the lead to seven with just under nine minutes remaining.  USA had a fourth-and-goal with under two minutes left that could’ve resulted in a game-tying touchdown, but the Vols intercepted the last-gasp attempt in the end zone to preserve the win.  While the Vols are 3-2, those three wins have come against a pair of Sun Belt school (USA and Western Kentucky) and an FCS program (Austin Peay).  In two games against teams from automatic-qualifying conferences, UT has lost by 45 (Oregon) and 14 (Florida).  I liked the Butch Jones hire when it happened, and still do, but he and his coaching staff have a long way to go to dig out of the hole created by previous coaches over the past few years.

Larry FedoraWhat the Heel is going on in Chapel Hill?
After becoming the permanent replacement to Butch Davis, Larry Fedora raised the hopes of Tar Heel Nation by guiding North Carolina to an 8-4 record his first season at the school.  Three of those losses came by a combined total of nine points.  Then the 2013 season started.  An embarrassing 24-point loss to East Carolina Saturday, however, dropped UNC to a surprising 1-3 on the season.  The road to redemption doesn’t get any easier for Fedora’s charges, either, as the Tar Heels will in the next four games face an improving Virginia Tech team on the road; No. 15 Miami; and Boston College and in-state rival North Carolina State.

UConn-not be serious
Exactly one week after having Michigan on the ropes at home, UConn went on the road and were embarrassed by 1-2 (now 2-2) MAC member Buffalo 41-12.  And going inside the numbers might be even more embarrassing than the 29-point loss.  The Bulls entered the Week 5 game 122nd (out of 123) in total defense, giving up an average of 560.3 yards per game; UConn could muster just 220 yards of offense against the worst non-New Mexico State defense in the game.  The Huskies were just 7-of-18 on third down, committed four turnovers and averaged a meager .7 yards per carry.  Add it all up and it’s an 0-4 start for Paul Pasqualoni, who entered the season on the coaching hot seat after winning just 10 games his first two years with the program.  If things don’t turn around in a hurry, he may not make it through his third season let alone make it to a fourth.

MY EYES!!!
During ESPN‘s College GameDay show, veteran pot-stirrer Paul Finebaum stated that former Tennessee and current USC head coach Lane Kiffin “is the Miley Cyrus of college football.”  In response to a tweet to that effect, one of CFT’s followers on Twitter, well, posted this:

Lane Kiffin Twerk

Yeah, good luck going to sleep again.  Ever.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 10 Texas A&M 45, Arkansas 33: The Aggies jumped to first-half leads of 17-7 and 24-10, but allowed the Razorbacks to pull to within 24-20 heading into the locker room.  It was 38-33 early in the fourth quarter until a Ben Malena one-yard touchdown run essentially iced the game in a downpour.

— No. 12 South Carolina 28, UCF 25: Placing the Gamecocks into this category is a tad bit misleading as the Knights were 4-0 and on the verge of cracking the Top 25.  UCF led 10-0 at halftime, but a punishing ground game — and the Knights’ inability to cash in on first-half turnovers — in the second half kept the Gamecocks’ (slim) BCS title hopes alive.

— No. 20 Florida 24, Kentucky 7: Why would a team that won comfortably and was never in any real jeopardy be here?  The Gators did it against a team like the Wildcats, that’s why.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — It wasn’t pretty (again), but a win is a win is a win is a win.  The Tide’s next four games come against one FCS team and three other teams (Kentucky, Arkansas and Tennessee) that have combined for five wins against FBS schools in 2013. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Georgia State

2. Oregon —  Neither rain nor bye week can stop the Ducks as UO cruised to a 55-16 win over Cal.  UO’s offense was limited to 381 yards, but that was due more to the “stiff dew” than anything else. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: at Colorado

3. Clemson — The Tigers had absolutely no problem dispatching Wake Forest to the tune of 56-7.  A trap game coming up this weekend is the only thing standing between Clemson and a huge Week 7 showdown against the Florida State. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: Boston College

Wisconsin v Ohio State4. Ohio State — The Buckeyes turned a double-digit win that would’ve looked good in the eyes of pollsters into a closer-than-it-should’ve-been over nemesis Wisconsin.  “Redemption,” though, is at hand. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at No. 19 Northwestern

5. Stanford — After winning their first three games by 21, 14 and 14 points, the Cardinal laid the wood to overmatched Wazzu in a 38-point win.  Stanford is rounding into shape nicely, and it comes at a most opportune time: four of their next five games are against Washington, UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon. (Last week: No. 5)
Next up: vs. No. 16 Washington

HE SAID IT
“Ole Miss has a really good team and a really good offensive team, so for us to shut them out was a great job by the defense.” — Nick Saban, presumably with a non-smile on his face.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I’m about to pass out.  I mean, what a game.  What a game.” — Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“What a great team win. We played a complete game for all four quarters. There were no lulls in our play.  We played a ton of guys and they played to our standard of excellence.” — Dabo Swinney, on Clemson’s 49-point waxing of Wake Forest.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“It was like Muhammad Ali and Joe Louis.” — Georgia tight end Arthur Lynch, on the back and forth between Aaron Murray and Zach Mettenberger.

HE SAID IT, LES MILES EDITION
“I hope not.” — Les Miles, when asked if the SEC is entering a new era of high-powered offense.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK
ESPN‘s College GameDay may just go ahead and call it a career as the pregame show could never possibly top this, regardless of how long it stays on the air:

Tom Rinaldi Jorts

Tom Rinaldi.  In jorts and dark socks.  My life is now complete.

SAY WHAT?
Entering its game against Notre Dame, Oklahoma had three interceptions in three games; the Sooners had three in the first half in building a 21-7 halftime lead en route to avenging last year’s loss.

TRUE STORY
Not only is Miami 4-0 for the first time since 2004, they are doing so in dominating fashion: according to a note from the school, the Hurricanes have not trailed in a game for the last 357 minutes dating back to last season.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

Jameis Winston totaled five incompletions his first two games of the season; he misfired on four of his first six attempts against Boston College Saturday.  The Florida State quarterback settled down, however, by completing his last six passes of the first half and finished the 48-34 win with 330 yards passing and four touchdowns.  He also totaled 67 yards on the ground.

Wake Forest v ClemsonTajh Boyd totaled 380 yards of offense (311 passing, 69 rushing) and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing) in Clemson’s 56-7 rout of Wake Forest.  The senior also became the second player in ACC history to account for 100 or more touchdowns in his career.

Tommy Rees had two turnovers in Notre Dame’s first four games; he had three in the first half against Oklahoma, helping the Irish dig a hole from which they could never recover.

— In the first half alone, Nathan Scheelhaase passed for 256 yards (on 15-of-20 passing) and a school record-tying five touchdowns.  Playing sparingly in the second half, Scheelhaase added just 28 yards and zero touchdowns to that total in Illinois’ 50-14 win over Miami of Ohio.

— Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo went 38-for-54 for 389 yards with three touchdowns in Nevada’s 45-42 win over Air Force.

— From the “One of the Best QBs You’ve Probably Never Heard Of” department, East Carolina’s Shane Carden totaled six touchdowns — three passing, three rushing — in the Pirates’ romp over North Carolina.

— Bishop Sarkey‘s 40 carries in Washington win over Arizona set a school record.  He rushed for 161 yards and a touchdown on those 40 carries.

Barry Sanders — yes, the son of that Barry Sanders —  scored his first career touchdown in Stanford’s win over Washington State.  His 22-yard scoring jaunt was part of a three-carry, 34-yard performance.

Logan Thomas completed 76 percent of his passes in Virginia Tech’s win over previously unbeaten Georgia Tech Thursday night; it marked the first time the quarterback has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in a single outing since Oct. 13 of last year, a stretch of 10 straight games.  The completion percentage in the win was the second-highest of his career, trailing only the 92 percent (23-of-25) he put up against Miami Oct. 8, 2011.

Chuckie Keaton did Chuckie Keaton-like stuff in Utah State’s win over San Jose State Friday night, totaling 312 yards of offense (260 passing, 52 rushing) and four touchdowns (three passing, one rushing).

Braxton Miller‘s 25-yard scoring toss to Evan Spencer in the first quarter was the first touchdown pass Wisconsin had given up this season.  He would go on to toss three more in the win.

— Wisconsin came into the game against Ohio State averaging 349.8 yards per game on the ground and 7.99 yards per carry the first four games of the season; in four quarters against the Buckeyes, the Badgers totaled a season-low 104 yards and averaged just 3.9 ypc.

— USC had entered last night’s game against Arizona State having given up 44 points in four games; they gave up 62 to Arizona State in a 21-point loss.  It was the most points the Trojans have ever given up in a single game.

Arizona v Washington— Every team that Washington has played this season had been without a loss entering their respective games against the Huskies.

— Florida has now won 27 straight games against Kentucky, the longest such streak in the country.

— Clemson ran its record to 66-0-1 all-time when putting up 500 or more yards of total offense.

— Southern Miss has now lost 16 straight games dating back to Week 1 of the 2012 season.  Prior to that, the Golden Eagles had gone 12-3 in their previous 15 games and prior to the departure of Larry Fedora for North Carolina.

— TCU had six sacks in the win over SMU, the Horned Frogs’ most in a single game since 2009.  They also forced five turnovers (four interceptions, one fumble recovery).

— Sticking with the school in Fort Worth, TCU’s 31 four-quarter points are the most scored in the fourth quarter by an FBS team this season.

— Texas A&M and Arkansas combined for 1,003 yards of total offense, 523 for the Aggies and 483 for the Razorbacks.

— Army ran for 414 yards and passed for 16 — on three attempts and one completion — in a 35-16 win over Louisiana Tech.

— In their stunning 24-point win over North Carolina, East Carolina rolled up 603 yards of total offense (376 passing, 227 rushing).  That total, incidentally, was the most given up by UNC since 1989 against Duke… which was coached at the time by Steve Spurrier.

— The Wyoming-Texas State game was delayed for nearly four hours due to lightning.  It was the third time in five games this season that a Cowboys contest has been delayed by lightning.

— UNLV’s 22-game road losing streak came to an end courtesy of a 56-42 win over New Mexico.  The Rebels last road win?  In 2009 against the Lobos, of course.

— UT-San Antonio outgained Houston 493-491… had as many first downs (27) as the Cougars… had just six penalties compared to UH’s 10… and still lost 59-28.  Of course, five Roadrunner turnovers that the Cougars converted into 21 points played a significant role in the lopsided final score.

— Colorado State jumped out to a 28-7 halftime lead on UTEP, watched as the Miners tied the score at 28-all in the middle of the third quarter, then scored the next 24 points en route to a 59-42 win.

— Before a one-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter of their loss to Illinois, Miami of Ohio had gone 193:39 without an offensive touchdown dating back to the second quarter of their season opener four weeks ago.

— Georgia Tech came into their game against Virginia Tech No. 4 in the nation with 345.3 yards per game and averaging 5.7 yards per carry; in their win Thursday, the Hokies’ defense held the Yellow Jackets to season-low totals of 129 yards and 3.1 ypc.

helmet_UCIN CLOSING…
The world of college football suffered another loss last weekend, with Cincinnati offensive lineman Ben Flick losing his life due to injuries incurred in a one-vehicle accident Saturday night.  In honor of Flick, Western Michigan, which wasn’t even playing the Bearcats Saturday, wore UC’s helmet logo beneath theirs for their game against Kent State.  A very classy, selfless and moving gesture by head coach P.J. Fleck and the entire football program.

Details emerge in starting Colorado corner’s second arrest

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Not surprisingly, we now know a little bit more to the rest of what’s yet another not-so-flattering off-field story involving an FBS player.

Over the weekend, Colorado cornerback Anthony Julmisse was arrested on charges of robbery, first-degree criminal trespass of a vehicle, criminal mischief and careless driving. The first two charges listed are felonies.

While no details were available at the time, the Boulder Daily Camera is now reporting that the arrest and charges are related to an incident in which Julmisse, who was driving a friend’s car because the friend was too drunk to drive, rear-ended another vehicle. The driver of the other vehicle, after Julmisse offered him money, took pictures of the damage and then returned to his car. It was at that point it’s alleged that the robbery came into play.

From the Daily Camera:

The driver of the Corolla said Julmisse suddenly reached through the open window of the cars and snatched the phone from him before the SUV drove off. The driver of the Corolla began to follow the SUV and said that Julmisse then threw the phone out of the window a few blocks away, damaging it.

Police interviewed a different witness who also said he saw Julmisse reach into the other car and take something from the driver before leaving the scene.

While the phone was damaged, police were able to pull images off the phone and find the SUV’s owner, who identified Julmisse as the driver.

After initially denying taking the cell phone, Julmisse admitted to police that he took the phone in an attempt to keep his friend out of trouble.

This was Julmisse’s second brush with the law in less than a month.

In late July, Julmisse was arrested on multiple charges related to a domestic incident, including one count each of third-degree assault and domestic violence and two counts of physical harassment. According to an arrest affidavit, it’s alleged that the cornerback dragged a woman down a hallway and attempted to push her down a flight of stairs.

Julmisse was suspended after that initial arrest; he remains that way after the second, although his tenure with the team is certainly tenuous at best.

Last season, Julmisse played in all 14 games. Exiting spring practice, he was one of the Buffaloes’ starters at cornerback.

WATCH: Dan Patrick discusses ESPN decision to take Robert Lee off Virginia game

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Robert E. Lee was a Confederate general whose statue in Charlottesville, and the decision to take it down, served as the flashpoint for violence earlier this month as white supremacists clashed with counter-protesters.

Robert Lee (not pictured) is an up-and-coming ESPN broadcaster who was scheduled to do play-by-play on the William & Mary-Virginia opener a week from Saturday in Charlottesville.  The key word there is “was” as, as first noted by Outkick the Coverage, the network decided to move Lee off that game because of the site of the game and similarities in name to the leader of the Confederate forces 150 years ago.  Specifically, Dan Wolken of USA Today wrote, “ESPN asked Lee if he would be more comfortable calling another game but gave him the option to stay. Lee chose to switch assignments, and ESPN accommodated him.”

Lee, the broadcaster, will now open with the Youngstown-Pittsburgh game.

The outing of the decision by Clay Travis, though, subsequently created a firestorm of criticism that the network never would’ve faced if they had just left Lee on the game, and forced them to issue a statement defending the move.

We collectively made the decision with Robert to switch games as the tragic events in Charlottesville were unfolding, simply because of the coincidence of his name. In that moment it felt right to all parties. It’s a shame that this is even a topic of conversation and we regret that who calls play-by-play for a football game has become an issue.

On his show Wednesday morning, Dan Patrick broached the topic, saying that his former network may have had good intentions in pulling Lee but they didn’t necessarily need to make the change.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The Pac-12

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While the Pac-12 has not gotten over the hump and won a national title in over a decade, last season was in many respects a banner year for the league. Washington went toe-to-toe with Alabama in the College Football Playoff and USC capped off an incredible run to finish in the top three of the final polls. Add in some incredible depth (four teams with double-digit wins) and plenty of national recognition and there was plenty for commissioner Larry Scott to be excited about.

Things will be much the same again in 2017 for the conference. The Huskies and Trojans will start off the year in the top 10 of just about every poll and have their sights on being in the final four at the end of the year. USC signal-caller Sam Darnold is the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the so-called ‘Conference of Champions’ might have to change its name to ‘Conference of Quarterbacks’ given how many great players there are at the position this year.

How will things shape up out West? Here’s a look at the Pac-12 heading into the 2017 campaign and how things should shake out:

NORTH
1. Washington (12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Everybody kept saying it was only a matter of time before Chris Petersen would turn the Huskies into a monster and that prophecy came true last season. The team returns the bulk of their offensive production from 2016 and are headlined by their terrific backfield of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. The defense looses plenty of NFL talent but is still pretty stocked with guys like Vita Vea holding down the fort along the defensive line. Add in a very easy schedule and it’s hard not to see UW coast to the conference title game once again.

2. Stanford (10-3, 6-3 last season)
Head coach David Shaw said last year was a disappointment for the Cardinal despite winning 10 games. That’s a pretty clear sign of how things have changed on the Farm the past few seasons but there’s plenty of optimism at returning to the top of the North division in 2017 with a stout defense and strong offensive line play once again. It will be tough to replace all-everything superstar Christian McCaffrey but Stanford will once again be a tough team to get past on a weekly basis.

3. Washington State (8-5, 7-2 last season)
Don’t discount the Cougars from making a run to win the division. The offense is loaded as you would expect for a Mike Leach coached team and have a star in QB Luke Falk. What is really the difference on the Palouse this time around is a quality defense that will be tough to run on.

4. Oregon (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Just about everything that could go wrong for the Ducks last year, did. Hence a coaching change and the arrival of a new era under Willie Taggart. The defense has nowhere to go but up and the offense has enough pieces to spark a turnaround and sneak into a bowl game when all is said and done.

5. Oregon State (4-8, 3-6 last season)
If you’re looking for a team to emulate Colorado’s turnaround from 2016, look no further than the Beavers after they put together a nice surge down the stretch heading into the offseason. Ryan Nall remains a load to tackle at running back and OSU’s defense has enough experience to help the team get back to .500.

6. California (5-7, 3-6 last season)
It’s going to be a long rebuild in Berkeley for new coach Justin Wilcox. The offense may not be worth tuning in for and the same certainly can be said of the Bears’ lackluster defense.

SOUTH

1. USC (10-3 overall, 7-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Expectations are always high around Troy but things are through the roof in Los Angeles this year. Darnold’s return under center has a lot to do with things but there’s NFL talent across the board in the program and plenty of momentum from last year’s run to the Roses. The South is a mess behind Clay Helton’s squad so go ahead and pencil in the Trojans for a trip to Santa Clara (and possibly beyond).

2. Utah (9-4, 5-4 last season)
Like other teams in the division, there’s a number of question marks about the Utes heading into the year. Despite that, Kyle Whittingham has developed a remarkably consistent program that is a tough out each week in conference play and a new look offense could finally be the answer for a team that will always field a strong defense.
3. UCLA (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Jim Mora enters the year firmly on the hot seat in Los Angeles after a program that was trending downward finally bottomed out with a disastrous 2016 campaign. A healthy Josh Rosen returning to action is worth several wins alone but we’ll have to see just how well the Bruins will come together in order to turn things around at the Rose Bowl.

4. Colorado (10-4, 8-1 last season)
The Buffs wild run to the conference title game was the talk of college football in November and December. Now comes the hard part in following up that success with a ton of seniors no longer in Boulder. QB Steven Montez showed enough potential as a freshman to indicate that life will be okay for CU but a slight step back is expected in 2017.

5. Arizona State (5-7, 2-7 last season)
There’s enough talent returning in Tempe that this could be the surprise team in the South that could make things a little interesting when the end of the year rolls around. Either way, the pressure is on Todd Graham, who is undoubtedly coaching for his job this season.

6. Arizona (3-9, 1-8 last season)
Few teams had worse injury luck than the Wildcats have had the past few years. The offense should be a lot more fun to watch if tailback J.J. Taylor remains healthy but the defense has miles to go before it’s helping the team move up in the standings.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The Big Ten

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After hearing calls about how great the Big Ten was becoming, the conference fell flat on its face during the postseason. Ohio State was blanked in the College Football Playoff by eventual national champion Clemson. Michigan couldn’t hold on to beat Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Penn State blew a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in the Rose Bowl against USC. The rest of the conference went 3-4.

Now, entering the 2017 season, the Big Ten is once again looking to prove itself among its power conference peers, and it just may have some teams able to help wave the Big Ten banner. The Big Ten may even have a chance to place not one, but two teams in the College Football Playoff if things go down in their favor in the Pac-12 and Big 12 (or, of course, in the ACC and SEC).

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State (11-2 in 2016, lost Fiesta Bowl vs. Clemson in College Football Playoff semifinal)
What is not to like about the Buckeyes this season? The Big Ten’s deepest team across the board thanks to multiple years of bringing in the top recruiting classes in the Big Ten seems to only be getting stronger. In 2017, the Buckeyes will have a tremendous defensive front led by Sam Hubbard and a strong linebacking unit with Chris Worley. If there is one concern, it might be in the secondary. On offense, J.T. Barrett is back once again and has the luxury of handing off to sophomore running back Mike Weber. The expectations are high for the Ohio State offense with new offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson but we’ll see how quickly that offense gels. The Bucks also get some of the toughest games at home — Oklahoma and Penn State — although road trips to Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan are not to be taken lightly. Not only is Ohio State a favorite in the Big Ten, but they might prove to be a favorite to win the national championship for the second time in the College Football Playoff era.

2. Penn State (11-3, Big Ten champion, lost Rose Bowl vs. USC)
The Nittany Lions surged last year and will be out to prove the 2016 season’s Big Ten championship was not a fluke. The Big Ten’s best offense will shine in Happy Valley with RB Saquon Barkley, QB Trace McSorley, TE Mike Gesicki and more led by offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead, but the defense will have to show a little more development and improvement this season to avoid some slips along the way. If Penn State wins every game they are favored in, they could be making a legitimate playoff case at 11-1 without a Big Ten conference or division championship. Road games at Iowa, Northwestern, and Michigan State will be dangerous.

3. Michigan (10-3, lost Orange Bowl vs. Florida State)
Jim Harbaugh will have the Wolverines looking pretty good once again this season even after replacing a good number of starters from last season. Michigan has started to catch up on the recruiting trail and Harbaugh has proven more than capable of developing the players to reach their full potential. And after slumping to the finish line last season, the motivation will be to finish what was started a season ago. The Wolverines return just one starter on defense (but they do have Rashan Gary) but have a good chance to get past that initial hurdle while everyone finds a role. The offense must figure out its quarterback situation, but can rely on running back Chris Evans to have a breakout season. Michigan will be a slight work in progress this season, but could still potentially be undefeated when they make the trip to Penn State in mid-October. Tread carefully with Michigan in 2017.

4. Michigan State (3-9)
This season could not possibly go worse for Mark Dantonio and the Spartans, could it? Of course it could, with just a small handful of returning starter from a woeful 2016 season. Despite all of the trends seemingly going against the Spartans, Dantonio should not be counted out just yet. A new season will offer Michigan State a chance to start from scratch without the preseason expectations of competing for a Big Ten title weighing on their shoulders. LJ Scott is still there to run the ball and he will have to be the main guy until the rest of the offense figures things out, including at quarterback. The Spartans defense has traditionally been the strong suit, but they will also have to forget about what happened last year and get back to fundamentals. The Spartans can still be tough, but they may lack enough playmakers to do any serious damage in the division. A return to the bowl season, however, is not that far out of reach.

5. Maryland (6-7, lost Quick Lane Bowl vs. Boston College)
Maryland is a program that should be watched closely because head coach DJ Durkin is starting to get the blueprint off the ground in College Park. For 2017, the season will be more about continued growth within the program and develop a young roster to be able to physically go toe-to-toe with their division rivals. Maryland may be capable of scoring an upset (Nov. 11 vs. Michigan, Nov. 25 vs. Penn State?), but they are still at least a minimum of a couple of more years away from having the kind of size, durability, and depth needed to make a run at the division crown. Instead, the goal of getting to and winning a bowl game will be seen as a step in the right direction, and that is well within reason.

6. Indiana
Tom Allen takes over as the head coach of the Hoosiers on a full-time basis, and he has a good amount of work to do. For starters, Indiana has to reshape its offensive approach, and it is expected the offense will downshift gears in the post-Kevin Wilson era.The Hoosiers also have big shoes to fill on offense. Richard Lagow will provide some stability as the starting quarterback but he must cut down on mistakes. Nick Westbrook will remain the top target after 995 receiving yards and six touchdowns a season ago. Indiana is not typically known for its defense, but Allen’s squad returns almost an entire defense with starting experience, and that defense can do enough to keep some games within reach if the offense gets on track.

7. Rutgers (2-10)
Year one under head coach Chris Ash revealed that the Rutgers rebuild is going to take some time and patience. Fortunately for Rutgers, Ash appears to have the right mindset for the challenges that lay ahead. Rather than immediately set the bar as high as winning the Big Ten, Rutgers simply needs to focus on the little things that build a program. As bad as things were for Rutgers a year ago, there are some reasons to be at least a bit more optimistic this season. Having a healthy Janarion Grant is among them. Grant is arguably the most electric player in the Big Ten and he looks to come back for a strong season in the offense and special teams after having his 2016 season cut short due to injury. The defense also returns a good amount of starting experience, which could potentially pay off in the growing and maturing process with the program. reaching a bowl game will be a reach for Rutgers, but improving on last year’s win total should absolutely be expected.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Wisconsin (11-3, Big Ten West champion, won Cotton Bowl vs. Western Michigan)
The Badgers took an unfortunate blow this summer with the loss of linebacker Jack Cichy, but the Badgers have plenty of returning talent on offense and defense to keep things running smoothly in Madison. The Badgers running game will always be in good form behind an offensive line returning just about everybody, and tight end Troy Fumagalli will be a big target to trust. Plus, the schedule is as favorable as possible with no Ohio State or Penn State, but a home game against Michigan late in the season. The Badgers also get Northwestern and Iowa at home, but must go to Nebraska. The Badgers appear to be in a great spot to get back to Indy.

2. Nebraska (9-4, lost Music City Bowl vs. Tennessee)
The Cornhuskers stumbled their way to the finish last season. After starting the season 7-0, Nebraska’s season went off the rails with an overtime loss at Wisconsin and a 59-point beating at Ohio State as Nebraska dropped four of the final six games, including the bowl game. If Nebraska is going to improve their chances of competing for the Big Ten West, getting stronger up front will be the key. If the offensive line doesn’t improve, the signature running game will not be a factor, and the passing game will not be a consistent threat despite a pair of talented receivers like De’Mornay Pierson-El and Stanley Morgan.

3. Northwestern (7-6, won Pinstripe Bowl vs. Pittsburgh)
Those pesky Wildcats will again be a thorn in the sides for a handful of teams this season. Pat Fitzgerald continues to keep the Wildcats playing well and that should continue in 2017 with one of the top[ running backs in the Big Ten; Justin Jackson. Jackson will rack up big rushing numbers once again this season, but there may not be a tremendous amount of support from the rest of the offense, and that could ultimately keep Northwestern from making a serious push for the division. But Northwestern is going to score an upset somewhere this season, and a home game against Penn State (a week after facing Wisconsin) should not be overlooked.

4. Iowa (8-5, lost Outback Bowl vs. Florida)
There are two strengths for Iowa this season, and neither one of them will help make the Hawkeyes a legitimate Big Ten title contender. The offensive line should be dominant enough to give Akrum Wadley plenty of opportunities to grind out yardage. The linebackers should be steady enough to hold down the fort in the middle of the field as well. Other than that, there are some questions about Iowa this season. One drastic change could come on the offense, where offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz is expected to open things up with the offense. We’ll see how quickly that changes Iowa’s outlook. Until then, Iowa will be a stingy team (just ask Michigan) lacking much firepower.

5. Minnesota (9-4, won Holiday Bowl vs. Washington State)
Expect good things to come at Minnesota, where P.J. Fleck is already kicking up dust and getting the engines going on the recruiting trail. Fleck is going to provide a spark with the Gophers, but it may be another year or so before things really get going in the Big Ten West. The schedule is more difficult than it was a season ago with a pretty brutal November slate. The Gophers do have Rodney Smith to run the ball, and he can do damage catching the ball as well. A lack of depth will be addressed over time, but for now, it remains a serious concern for Fleck and his staff.

6. Purdue (3-9)
Fleck stole the show when it came to new coaching hires, but Purdue came away with a solid hire that should start paying off rather quickly. Jeff Brohm may have a complete rebuild on his hands in front of a challenging schedule, one should expect Purdue’s offense to start improving immediately. Success in 2017 should not be judged by the win total, because Purdue simply does not have the talent to win much more than they did last year, but having David Blough back to lead an offense in transition will be a benefit while receivers find themselves and the offense continues to build using a new offensive philosophy. Better days are coming, but they will be few and far between in 2017.

7. Illinois (3-9)
Hiring Lovie Smith was supposed to have a positive impact on the Illini. Instead, the program took steps backward and now Illinois is in serious danger of falling to the bottom of the conference while others improve. Recruiting has not gone well with Smith as the head coach, and this year’s team has few options to replace whatever key players are moving on. This is a young team that will need time to grow and develop, but any serious signs of progress will be more likely to show up in 2018 if you are being optimistic.

BIG TEN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION

Ohio State over Wisconsin