Leonard Williams, RJ Morgan

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 14 USC

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12 conference (tied for 2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State (45-25 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 19/No. 19
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (34-29 overall; 1st year at USC)
Offensive coordinator: Clay Helton (5th year at USC)
2013 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (172.8 ypg); 70th passing offense (227.1 ypg); 72nd total offense (399.9 ypg); 60th scoring offense (29.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Justin Wilcox (1st year at USC)
2013 defensive rankings: 15th rushing defense (120.6 ypg); 32nd passing defense (214.6 ypg);  13th total defense (335.2 ypg); 16th scoring defense (21.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607; grass)
Last conference title: 2008

Once USC athletic director Pat Haden cut ties with head coach Lane Kiffin during the middle of season, the Trojans played very well down the stretch. The team won six of its last seven games to finish 10-4. The offense in particular played at a much higher level. In the team’s final seven games, junior quarterback Cody Kessler threw 12 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Kessler had to battle earlier in the season with fellow quarterback Max Wittek to earn the starting job, but once Kessler was handed the reins, the team’s offense played at a much higher level. They did so under the supervision of offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. An experienced quarterback and improved system should help the Trojans play at a more consistent level on offense during the upcoming season.

As the Trojans prepare for the season, the team’s situation at offensive line is tenuous at best. Max Tuerk may be one of the most versatile linemen in college football — he’ll start at center for the first time this fall — and Chad Wheeler improved throughout his freshmen campaign. But the rest of the projected starters along the offensive line lack experience. Aundrey Walker was expected to provide a veteran presence and potentially start, but he has yet to practice during camp due to a lingering leg injury. Zach Banner (right tackle), Khaliel Rodgers (right guard) and Toa Lobendahn (left guard) continue to practice with the first unit, yet Banner is the only one to even appear in a game as a member of the Trojans. In fact, Lobendahn is a true freshman. It’s a unit that will require time to gel and needs to gain experience throughout the season for USC to play to expectations this season.

Will the Trojans ever be able to recapture the magic that once surrounded the program during Pete Carroll‘s nine-year run as the team’s head coach? It already failed to do so when named Lane Kiffin, the team’s former co-offensive coordinator, was named as Carroll’s replacement. Yet, the school went back to the same well and named Kiffin’s former running mate as the program’s newest head coach. Sarkisian seems like an ideal fit due to his history with the team, but the coach was never able to get the Washington Huskies over the hump during his five seasons with the program. Granted, USC’s talent level compared to Washington’s at the time Sarkisian took over is night and day. It has to be a concern for USC faithful that Sarkisian never finished better than 8-4 as a head coach.

Last season, the Trojans got the proverbial monkey off their backs by beating the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal for the first time since 2008. The next obstacle for the Trojans is overcome their cross-town rival, the UCLA Bruins. As the Trojans dealt with NCAA sanctions, Bruins head coach Jim Mora rebuilt UCLA and made the Bruins into one of the top teams in the nation entering this season. While the Bruins haven’t been able to overcome the Trojans on the recruiting trail, UCLA still won the last two contests between the teams by a combined score of 73-42. It’s likely that when these two teams meet to play on Nov. 12 the Pac-12 South division and an appearance in the conference’s championship game will be on the line.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: DT Leonard Williams
Everyone knows that a only one player primarily from the defensive side of the football has ever won the Heisman Trophy, and Michigan’s Charles Woodson had the luxury of playing special teams and a little bit of offense too. However, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o have shown in recent years that dominant defenders in the midst of a special season can garner legitimate consideration for the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Williams is the most talented player on USC’s roster. He’s projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. In 13 games last season, Williams was second on the team with 74 tackles and added 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Williams will put together a season like Suh did in 2009 (85 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks) and establish himself as the most dominant defender in college football.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

No charges filed in alleged rape at Nebraska players’ house

PISCATAWAY, NJ - NOVEMBER 14:  Tommy Armstrong Jr. #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers congratulates teammate Jordan Westerkamp #1 after he scored a touchdown in the first quarter against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights  on November 14, 2015 at High Point Solutions Stadium in Piscataway, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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An investigation into an alleged sexual assault at the home of three current Nebraska football players will not result in charges, Lancaster County (Neb.) officials announced Wednesday.

An unidentified 20-year-old female claimed she was raped Nov. 15 at the residence of NU quarterback Tommy Armstrong (pictured, left), tight end Trey Foster and wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp (pictured, right). The subsequent investigation could not prove that any type of an assault had taken place.

“Filing charges would require proof beyond a reasonable doubt. That simply is not there,” district attorney Joe Kelly stated in announcing the decision.  Armstrong had previously claimed that “[f]rom what we’re hearing, everything was consensual.”

The university’s athletic department released a statement in the wake of today’s announcement.

We are aware of this morning’s announcement by the Lincoln Police Department and the Lancaster County Attorney. There is no change in the status of any student-athletes. We will continue to follow University policies.

The school is in the midst of conducting its own investigation into the situation. As it stands now, all three players will be available for Friday’s game against No. 4 Iowa..

Baylor loses QB Jarrett Stidham to broken bone in ankle

Jarrett Stidham, Lemaefe Galea'i
Associated Press

If Baylor’s designs on a national championship are to come to fruition, it appears the Big 12 school will be forced to go the Ohio State route and do it with their third-string quarterback.

The university has reportedly confirmed Wednesday that Jarrett Stidham sustained a broken bone in the back of his ankle in the second quarter of Saturday’s win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma State.  As a result, the true freshman will miss the remainder of the 2015 season.

Stidham had started the last three games in place of Seth Russell, who will miss the rest of 2015 as well because of a broken bone in his neck.

With Stidham and Russell sidelined, the Bears’ title hopes will fall in large part to Chris Johnson. The redshirt sophomore had been moved to wide receiver during summer camp before becoming Stidham’s backup a month ago.  In the win over OSU, Johnson completed five of his 10 passes for 138 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

Should Johnson find himself injured, the only other player listed as a quarterback on Baylor’s roster is Zack Bennema. A true freshman, Bennema joined the Bears earlier this year as a walk-on.

Baylor will travel to TCU and host Texas to close out the season.  Because of a loss to Oklahoma earlier this month, the Bears will need a Sooners loss in Bedlam in addition to winning its last two in order to claim a Big 12 title and, potentially, a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Federal fugitive arrested at home of Buffs players following hours-long standoff

BERKELEY, CA - SEPTEMBER 27:  Colorado Buffaloes head coach Mike MacIntyre argues with lines judge Michael Feldman during their game against the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Every year I type a headline that I never thought I’d have to type. Welcome to at least the third one of those in 2015.

Tuesday, 24-year-old Donte Faison, the subject of a manhunt led by the U.S. Marshals Service, was arrested following a six-hour standoff that involved the Boulder Police Department SWAT team. Faison was wanted in connection to a shooting in Baltimore — he’s facing first-degree attempted murder charges once he’s extradited — although the fact that the standoff took place at the residence of a current, unnamed member of the Colorado Buffaloes football team brings this under the CFT purview.

According to a statement from the university, Faison is “a childhood acquaintance” of the unnamed Buffs player, and neither the unnamed player nor any of the other CU players who interacted with him since his arrival in the state Monday were aware of his status as a wanted fugitive.

Mr. Faison is a childhood acquaintance of a CU football player and recently asked to reconnect and stay in his home with other players. Every indication we have is that the players had no knowledge that law enforcement agencies had an active warrant for Mr. Faison’s arrest. Our players are cooperating with Boulder police during this investigation.

Faison is originally from Washington D.C.; three current Buffs, defensive backs Ken Crawley and John Walker and defensive lineman De’Jon Wilson, claim the nation’s capital as their hometown on the football program’s official online roster.

Exactly two weeks ago, athletic director Rick George very publicly stated that Mike MacIntyre, 10-26 overall and 2-24 in Pac-12 play, “is going to be our coach next year.

Bowl-eligible Cal might need another win to actually become bowl-eligible

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 20:  Head coach Sonny Dykes of the California Golden Bears reacts on the sidelines during the second half of the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 20, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats defeated the Golden Bears 49-45.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Following a Week 10 win over Oregon State, Cal won its sixth game of the season and became bowl-eligible… or did they?

Cal opened the 2015 season against FCS Grambling State, a win that is supposed to count toward the six needed for bowl eligibility. According to USA Today, however, a scholarship issue on Grambling’s side could lead to the win not counting for Cal’s bowl eligibility.

More to the point, Cal has already requested a waiver from the NCAA that would allow for the win to count toward bowl eligibility regardless of the scholarship accounting that’s currently ongoing. From Steve Berkowitz‘s USA Today report:

Grambling is a Football Championship Subdivision School, and Cal athletics spokesman Wes Mallette told USA TODAY Sports that the request was made because Grambling officials are trying to determine whether the school has awarded a sufficient amount of financial aid to football players for the game to count without a waiver.

Under NCAA rules, FBS schools generally can count one win against an FCS team per season toward the six needed for bowl eligibility. However, for the game to count without a waiver, the FCS school needs to have awarded — on average — at least 90% of the 63 scholarships allowed under FCS rules during a rolling two-year period.

According to Grambling’s 2013-14 financial report to the NCAA — the most recent one available — the school awarded the equivalent of 52.55 football scholarships in 2013-14. However, that document covers only financial aid awarded by athletics department sources — not all forms of aid that can count toward the scholarship limit. In response to an inquiry from USA TODAY Sports, Grambling’s interim assistant athletic director Patricia Simmons said the school’s athletics department and financial aid office had determined the school awarded the equivalent of 56.44 football scholarships, including all countable aid, in 2014-15. That’s fractionally short of meeting the NCAA’s 90% requirement.

Should the NCAA decide that Grambling falls under the scholarship threshold and Cal’s waiver is denied, it’d mean that the 6-5 Bears would need to beat 6-5 Arizona State Saturday night in Berkeley to become bowl-eligible for the second time this season. Bowl eligibility has served as a flashpoint issue of late, with Cal’s potential postseason plight shining a harsher and much-needed light on the oversaturation of the bowl market.

This year there will be a record 40 bowl games — including the two College Football Playoff semifinals, not including the stand-alone CFP title game — that will need filled with 80 teams. Entering Week 13, and including Cal, there are 71 teams that are currently bowl-eligible. There are 14 five-win teams that could get to that six-win mark this weekend: Buffalo, East Carolina, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Old Dominion, San Jose State, South Alabama, Tulsa, Virginia Tech and Washington. There are also four 4-6 teams that could get to six wins with victories the last two weeks of the season: Georgia State, Kansas State, Louisiana-Lafayette and Texas.

It should be noted that South Alabama is currently 5-5 and needs a win either this weekend or the next to become bowl-eligible.

It should also be noted that there are way too damn many bowl games, and the issue of whether a 5-7 team — or teams — will get rewarded for a sub-.500 season will continue annually until the postseason market corrects itself. I’m all for more quality football, just not more football for the sake of more football. I fear, though, I’m in the minority.