John Swofford

Five questions for the ACC Football Kickoff

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The SEC had its fun with a four-day event, but the fun continues in the coming weeks. The ACC is the second conference on the summer media day schedule, and it gets started Sunday with players from each ACC school going through the circuit of interviews.

1. Who challenges Florida State in 2014?

The obvious answer would be Clemson, although the Tigers have some work to do after losing some explosive offensive leaders like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, and we all remember how close Clemson was to Florida State a year ago. Clemson looks to have the best overall roster after Florida State, but the Tigers will have to make a trip to Tallahassee this season in what should be the game of the year in the ACC. The question is whether or not there is anyone aside from Clemson that can rise up and give Florida State a tussle.

Miami? Virginia Tech? More on those in a bit.

2. How will Louisville’s first season in the ACC go?

This is an interesting time of transition for the Louisville program. Charlie Strong built the football program up to compete at this level but is now looking to restore the pride in the Texas football program. Watching Teddy Bridgewater go up against Florida State and Clemson would have been great to see, but now the Cardinals have to replace him as well. Bobby Petrino has returned to the program and is already changing things up with all-black alternate uniforms for the season opener and ACC-debut against Miami. Petrino is also looking to prove his wild hog days are behind him and to prove he can keep Louisville among the leaders in the new conference. The future looks bright for Louisville athletics, and the Cardinals could be in the top half of their division. How they stack up against Florida State and Clemson will be just the right measuring stick needed.

3. What about the other Big East alums?

This will be year two in the ACC for Pittsburgh and Syracuse. Despite a good amount of skepticism (myself included), the ACC debuts for both schools went much better than anticipated. Both represented the conference well with postseason wins. This season there could be more coming together as well. Pittsburgh could make a legitimate run in the Coastal Division the way the schedule lines up.

As for the older Big East alums, Miami has still yet to play in an ACC Championship Game since joining the conference. Nobody would have predicted that when the Hurricanes joined the ACC a decade ago. Could this finally be the year? Virginia Tech has been much more successful, but the Hokies are looking to bounce back as well after finishing out of the AP Top 25 each of the past two seasons. The last time that happened was 1992. How do the Hokies and Hurricanes help raise the ACC’s profile? Wins in Big Ten stadiums would be a good start. Miami visits Nebraska and Virginia Tech travels to Ohio State. Boston College also gets to play USC at home after a tough bout in Los Angeles last fall.

4. Will people finally start respecting Duke, or is the magical ride over?

Duke will forever be a basketball school, at least according to Randy Edsall (probably), but the Blue Devils have been one of the more positive stories the past two years. David Cutcliffe has certainly had his work cut out for him, but despite reaching the ACC Championship Game last season there are still some doubts the success will be sustained. Duke has taken advantage of down years or roller coaster seasons at Miami, Virginia Tech and North Carolina (throw NC State into the mix if you wish), through no fault of its own, but another solid season would go a long way to erasing some doubts about the stability of the program.

5. Where does the ACC fit in the new era of college football?

Expect ACC commissioner John Swofford to discuss the looming age of autonomy, but will he echo the statements made by SEC commissioner Mike Slive threatening to leave the current NCAA structure entirely in favor of a new Division IV? What about potential talk about an ACC Network, using a similar model to the SEC Network? Changes are coming to college football with the new College Football Playoff. All of this will be brought up over the course of the media day festivities.

What do you want to see answered at the ACC Football Kickoff?

CFT Previews: The Pac-12

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 17:  Wide receiver Darren Carrington #7 of the Oregon Ducks hurdles defensive back Budda Baker #32 of the Washington Huskies in the second half on October 17, 2015 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Ducks defeated the Huskies 26-20.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 may be, pound for pound, the deepest conference in college football. And that’s the problem.

A conference with nine good teams and zero great ones creates a thrilling week-to-week product, and a weak one when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff. As we saw last season.

With no generational quarterback around to run the conference, 2016 shapes up more like 2015 than 2014.

NORTH
1. Washington (7-6, 4-5 Pac-12):
Most often, the off-season hype is wrong, fodder for the sake of fodder to get us through the long night that is the off-season. I don’t think this is one of those times. The Huskies don’t have Christian McCaffrey, but they have the best defense in the league, the best quarterback in the division and a coaching staff good enough to win the whole damn league.

2. Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): It feels like a sign of disrespect to pick against the machine David Shaw helped build, and then maintain and elevate after Jim Harbaugh‘s departure. Especially when they have the game’s sharpest Swiss Army knife. Come to think of it, why are they No. 2 again?

3. Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12): The Ducks can score on anybody. The question: can they stop anyone? Not even new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is sure of that answer.

4. Washington State (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12): Last year was a grand success for Wazzu. The Cougars won nine games, claimed twice as many Pac-12 games as they lost and stayed in the divisional race deep into the season. Another season like 2015 would be an even grander one.

5. California (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12): As we saw Friday night, Davis Webb may be the only thing standing between this team and an empty December.

6. Oregon State (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Poor, poor Gary Andersen. He leaves one of college football’s most stable winners for one of its heftiest rebuilds. Check back in 2018.

SOUTH
1. UCLA (8-5, 5-4 Pac-12): Jim Mora is the only coach to recruit on the same level as USC in the Pac-12 South. And USC has the nation’s most difficult schedule. Add in that plus Josh Rosen and you get yet another Pac-12 title game loss for the Bruins.

2. Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12): Utah won more total games than any team in the Pac-12 South last season, they shared the division championship with USC and they have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. So, why aren’t I picking them? In the Pac-12, always side with quarterbacks.

3. USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12): The most talented overall roster in the conference, but the worst schedule in the nation. Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA on the road, plus Oregon and Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum? Yikes.

4. Arizona (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12): Arizona won’t win the Pac-12 South as they did in 2014. But they won’t be as snake bit as they were last season, either. Eight wins, with four of five coming in conference play, feels right.

5. Colorado (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12): If you want to wow your friends with your brave prognostications, make it this: Colorado will play in a bowl game this fall.

6. Arizona State (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12): Todd Graham had better hope this (entirely worthless) prediction doesn’t come true. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-14, falling to last place in the division would scratch the trigger finger of Sun Devils AD and former NFL executive Ray Anderson something fierce.

Foot injury to oficially keep leading tackler T.J. Edwards out of Wisconsin’s opener vs. LSU

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Caleb Rowe #7 of the Maryland Terrapins takes a hit from linebacker T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers after making a pass during the second half at Byrd Stadium on November 7, 2015 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won, 31-24. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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When last we left T.J. Edwards, there was no timetable for the Wisconsin linebacker’s return.  With the opener just a handful of days away, there’s been some clarification to Edwards’ status.

Late last week, Edwards was left off the two-deep depth chart released by the Badgers, a clear sign that the redshirt junior would be unavailable for Saturday’s game against LSU at Lambeau Field.  Monday, head coach Paul Chryst officially ruled Edwards out of the Big Ten-SEC matchup.

Edwards suffered a broken foot over the summer and did not participate at all during camp.  It remains unclear whether Edwards will be healthy enough for UW’s Week 2 matchup with Akron in the home opener.  If the school continues to err on the side of caution, they could hold Edwards out of that game and the following week’s contest against Georgia State targeting a return for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State Sept. 24 in East Lansing.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Edwards started all 13 games.  He led the Badgers in tackles with 84 in 2015, while his 6.5 tackles for loss were fourth.

On the Edwards-less depth chart, redshirt junior Jack Cichy (four career starts) and true sophomore Chris Orr (six career starts) are listed as the two starting inside linebackers.

CFT Previews: The Big Ten

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the football during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on November 15, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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If there was ever a season the Big Ten looked like the Big Two and the Little Ten, this was it. Michigan State is reloading, while the rest of the conference scraps for space amongst themselves as Ohio State and Michigan take off into their own stratosphere.

Here’s a quick glance at how we think the Big Ten shakes out.

EAST
1. Ohio State (12-1 overall in 2015, 7-1 Big Ten): Losing all but six of your 22 starters would be a problem for anyone but Ohio State. If the 2014 team played like a pack of lions, the 2015 bunch was a pack of lions playing with a belly full of antelope: the ability was there, the desire wasn’t. This year’s group is just as talented, they just haven’t had the chance to prove it yet.

2. Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Many think next year will be The Year for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like working on other people’s timelines. I like this year’s team to lose to Ohio State but still reach the College Football Playoff.

3. Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten): Seemingly every year Michigan State reaches a height previously thought to be unattainable, but last year’s second-in-three-years Big Ten championship and CFP appearance feels like the farthest Mark Dantonio can take this team now that Michigan is no longer out to a decade-long lunch.

4. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten): With college football’s most miserable marriage of James Franklin and Christian Hackenberg at long last over, this should be the year Penn State starts to look like the Penn State Franklin wants it to be, especially with Joe Moorhead running the offense. The residual effects of the sanctions, though, say 2017 may be more like it.

5. Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Might as well place a giant “Under Construction” sign out side the program as D.J. Durkin works to build Maryland into a program after Jim Harbaugh‘s image.

6. Rutgers (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Ditto as above, but with an even larger “Under Construction” sign and Harbaugh’s mug crossed out from it and Urban Meyer‘s pasted crudely on top.

7. Indiana (6-7, 2-7 Big Ten): Kevin Wilson has done some nice things in Bloomington. He’s run the ball as well as anyone in the conference, he put a scare into Ohio State last season and he took the Hooisers to a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten East is getting better, though, and Indiana is, well, Indiana.

WEST (A.K.A.: THE BIGGEST TOSS-UP IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL)
1. Nebraska (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten): In a division that will largely come down to who gets lucky at the right time, go with a team whose luck is due to flip after losing six one-score games in 2015.

2. Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Normally Northwestern takes a tumble after Pat Fitzgerald‘s bunch builds to a 10-win peak, needing to reload after losing the bulk of a senior-laden team. The 2016 Wildcats bring back enough to contend again.

3. Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten): Kirk Ferentz‘s teams zig when they’re supposed to zag, and zag when they’re supposed to zig. Last year’s undefeated regular season, coming one stop shy of an improbable Cotton Bowl run, was a zig. Most expect the Hawkeyes to zig again this year. We know better.

4. Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Feels like Paul Chryst, while a solid coach, will only take the Badgers to heights seen previously under Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema, but not above them.

5. Illinois (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten): New AD Josh Whitman made a bold move in hiring longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith to head a program to which he had no prior connection. Building the Illini to a contender will take time, but keeping Wes Lunt healthy may be all Illinois needs to reach a bowl game this fall.

6. Minnesota (6-7, 2-6 Big Ten): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has the Gophers winning the Big Ten West. I’m willing to be wrong in saying he’ll be way, way wrong.

7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7 Big Ten): Make no mistake: this is a make or break year for Darrell Hazell, especially with new AD Mike Bobinski now in place. I think he’ll break.

USC’s star LT won’t start vs. ‘Bama; backup LB suspended

BOSTON, MA- SEPTEMBER 13: Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans looks to pass behind the protection from offensive tackle Chad Wheeler #72 of the USC Trojans during the first half at Alumni Stadium on September 13 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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Chad Wheeler will not start at left tackle for USC in their opener against top-ranked Alabama, Clay Helton confirmed Monday night.

Instead, the head coach announced during a radio appearance, Chuma Edoga will be charged with protecting the blindside of the first-year starter at quarterback, Max Browne, against one of the top defensive lines in the country.  Wheeler has been dealing with a lingering foot injury — plantar fasciitis, to be specific — that’s kept him sidelined for most of summer camp.

Helton allowed that Wheeler could play “a couple of series” against the Tide, although that would, outside of an extreme emergency, seem unlikely.

Wheeler, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, has started 34 games the past three seasons.  As a true freshman last season, the 6-4, 290-pound Edoga started two games at right tackle and played in 13 games total.

Helton also announced that linebacker Osa Masina has been suspended for the opener and will not travel to Arlington for the neutral-field game.  Masina played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  The highlight of his first season as a Trojan was a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.