Washington v Arizona State

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions


As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.


1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manziel, the Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.


1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

Oregon over UCLA

Georgia reportedly hires Kirby Smart as head coach

Kirby Smart

Sometimes the rumors really are true.

Seemingly since he arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007, the worst-kept secret in college football was that Kirby Smart wouldn’t jump from Nick Saban‘s perch until the Georgia job opened.

And now, one day after Mark Richt said goodbye in Athens, multiple reports say that’s exactly what will happen – Smart will be the next Bulldogs coach.

Outside of Houston’s Tom Herman, Smart was the only target UGA athletics director Greg McGarity truly targeted and, barring a major turn of events between now and the SEC championship, he’ll have landed him.

Hailing from Bainbridge, Ga., Smart played safety for Georgia from 1995-98, then returned in 2005 as running backs coach. In between he made stops at Valdosta State, Florida State, LSU, the Miami Dolphins and, finally, Alabama, where he helped the Crimson Tide to three national titles and never produced a defense ranked lower than 18th nationally in yards per play defense.

This year’s Crimson Tide defense ranks second nationally heading into an SEC title game date with Florida. If, as expected, Alabama wins and, as expected, Smart is introduced as Georgia’s next coach, he would have to decide whether or not to pull a move much like Herman last year and work double-duty through Alabama’s run in the College Football Playoff. Or he could rip a page from his predecessor’s book and dump Alabama to drive straight into the Georgia job.

What sort of program will Smart run? Other than the Process-based enterprise seemingly microchip implanted into the brain of every Saban aide, it’s hard to say. Smart only spoke to the media three times annually.

But here’s one guarantee: he’ll need to nail his offensive coordinator hire. Saban’s former offensive coordinators — Jimbo Fisher and Jim McElwain — have thrived, while his most prominent defensive coordinator-turned-head coach protege — Will Muschamp — failed mightily at Florida because he could never conquer the other side of the ball.

Smart will be expected to win, win big, and win quickly. You don’t fire a coach with 145 wins in 15 years and 19 victories in the last two for any other reason.

Why Steve Spurrier retired, as told by Steve Spurrier

Steve Spurrier

When Steve Spurrier abruptly retired in October, most stopped to reminisce about a true college football original’s career come to a sudden, but not unexpected end. But others pointed out that Spurrier essentially quit on his team in the middle of a tough season. It was an easy take and, hey, it’s not like the Old Ball Coach himself wouldn’t have said something if Mark Richt had done something similar.

In a letter provided to The State, Spurrier reasoned his retirement truly was better for the team, that the team played better without him around and that his presence would’ve generated speculation that would have suffocated the rest of the season.

Considering the Gamecocks lost to The Citadel, one has every reason to doubt that claim. But it’s the one Spurrier is going with.

The letter in full:

In the last few years when asked how much longer I plan to coach, I have said often that if our team is going in the wrong direction I need to resign and allow someone else to take over as head coach here. After six games, we were 2-4 with two blow-outs by Georgia and LSU. We were behind at halftime against UCF (a team that went 0-12 this year). We were definitely going in the wrong direction. I felt that I was doing a lousy job as head coach and a change would help our team become more competitive.

I told our team after I resigned that they needed new leadership, new enthusiasm and a new plan. By stepping aside, this allowed Shawn Elliott the opportunity to change our direction, change our attitude, and hopefully, he could be named head coach after the season. If this happens, some of our assistant coaches would be retained, and this was a major reason for me to get out of the way. Also, by resigning, I forfeited the buyout clause in my contract that saved our university three million dollars.

I certainly believe, as the media has said, that our team played better after I resigned. Shawn Elliott did an excellent job getting this team prepared to play with enthusiasm and effort the rest of our season. Unfortunately, the close games turned into close losses.

When I mentioned I may coach again, I meant possibly as a volunteer coach at a high school. After thirty years as a head coach, I positively know that my head coaching career is finished.

I understand the critics have asked why I didn’t announce I was retiring at the end of the season, as some other coaches have done. I felt that if I had done this, I would have been a distraction throughout the remainder of the season about my last game everywhere I went. I did not want a “Spurrier Farewell Tour.” The players deserve to be the story of each game. Also, it would have prevented Shawn Elliott, a coach that has loved the South Carolina Gamecocks his whole life, from getting the shot to be the interim head coach, with the possibility of becoming the Head Coach here.

When a coach gets fired, the change is often good and helpful to the team. Miami was 4-3 when Al Golden was fired, and the interim head coach went 4-1. Randy Edsall was 2-4 at Maryland when fired and his replacement got the team playing better. Clay Helton, the interim coach at the other USC, was recently named head coach as they went 5-2 under his watch.

Our university was not going to fire me, so I thought it was best for our team that I basically fire myself by resigning. The players have enjoyed playing for Coach Elliott and again the media has said the team has performed better after I resigned.

Thanks to all Gamecocks for allowing me to be your coach for over ten years. My wife Jerri and I will always be thankful and appreciative to the University of South Carolina for this opportunity.


Steve Spurrier

Top four remains same in penultimate College Football Playoff rankings

Bob Stoops

The penultimate College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night and the top four remained the same from last week. Michigan State sits at fifth, meaning Saturday’s Big Ten Championship is officially a national quarterfinal.

Stanford, heading into this week’s Pac-12 Championship, checked in at No. 7, while party-crasher-to-be North Carolina jumped from No. 14 to No. 10.

Ohio State checks in at No. 6, but Stanford seems primed to pass the Buckeyes with a win over No. 20 USC. Getting into the top four, however, would require a loss by No. 1 Clemson or No. 2 Alabama. No. 3 Oklahoma is seemingly in the playoff with a completed 11-1 regular season.

TCU moved one spot ahead of Baylor after a rain-soaked double overtime win over the Bears on Friday night.

Houston, USC and LSU moved back into the rankings, while Tennessee joined the party for the first time this year.

Tuesday night’s release was the final dress rehearsal of the 2015 season; the next time we hear from the CFP selection committee will be to announce the four semifinal selections.

But while these are the second-to-last set of rankings, we can ask 2014 TCU about how much they ultimately mean.

The full rankings:

1. Clemson
2. Alabama
3. Oklahoma
4. Iowa
5. Michigan State
6. Ohio State
7. Stanford
8. Notre Dame
9. Florida State
10. North Carolina
11. TCU
12. Baylor
13. Ole Miss
14. Northwestern
15. Michigan
16. Oregon
17. Oklahoma State
18. Florida
19. Houston
20. USC
21. LSU
22. Temple
23. Navy
24. Utah
25. Tennessee

Dabo Swinney wins ACC Coach of the Year award

Dabo Swinney

When you go undefeated, people tend to give you awards.

In the wake of Clemson’s first perfect regular season, its first since 1981, head coach and pizza party patron Dabo Swinney was named the ACC’s top coach on Tuesday.

Swinney received 27 of the 50 available votes, edging North Carolina’s Larry Fedora (21). Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher and Pittsburgh’s Pat Narduzzi each gobbled up one of the two remaining votes.

Aaron Brenner of the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier notes Swinney is due a $25,000 bonus for winning the award.