Washington v Arizona State

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

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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.

PAC-12 NORTH

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.

PAC-12 SOUTH

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.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

BYU says it would be open to football-only Big 12 membership

PROVO, UT - SEPTEMBER 1:  BYU  Athletic Director Tom Holmoe announces that BYU football will become independent in football in 2011 separating from the Mountain West Conference, September 1, 2010 in Provo, Utah. The remaining BYU sports will become affiliated with the West Coast Conference in 2011. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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While not preferred, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby has said his conference would be open to football-only membership as it pursues expansion.

That would work for BYU, too.

“We’re obviously open to listening to what they want to do. We’re going to go through this process with an open mind to listen to what they have to say,” BYU AD Tom Holmoe told ESPN.

A football-only addition of the Cougars would solve a number of problems for the Big 12:

1) The conference is starting a championship game in 2017 and, as an independent, BYU would be available immediately. Holding a title game with 10 teams is a clunky option the conference would prefer to avoid if possible, so the Cougars’ immediate availability helps both sides.

2) Adding only BYU’s football program eliminates the question of what to do with the Cougars’ no-Sundays policy.

3) Stretching a conference from Morgantown to Provo is, obviously, geographically challenging. Sending your football team across two time zones is one thing, asking your women’s basketball team to do the same on a Wednesday and turn around and play again on Saturday is something else entirely. It may serve both parties well to keep the Cougars’ Olympic sports in the West Coast Conference.

However, if the Big 12 is interested in bringing BYU aboard as an all-sports member, Holmoe is confident the two sides can make it work. After all, they’ve done it in the WAC, the Mountain West and now the WCC.

“I believe that’s something that can be worked out,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of leagues through the years, and we’ve been able to work it out.

“There would be a difference in the Big 12 because that would be a Power 5 conference. They’re going to ask questions. We’ll have our solutions, creative ideas of what we can do. We’re going to do everything we can.”

Florida LB Cristian Garcia stops sexual assault behind Gainesville bar

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 13: The Florida Gators take the field before the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Florida linebacker Cristian Garcia stopped a sexual assault behind a popular Gainesville bar, according to a police report.

Garcia told police he was taking out the trash early Thursday morning at 101 Cantina, where he works security, and witnessed a couple having sex by the dumpsters. Upon closer inspection, he says, Garcia noticed the woman was unconscious. He and a coworker approached the man, a 34-year old named Christian Shaw, who managed to escape but has since been arrested on sexual battery charges.

“I was taking out the garbage, and I saw the man pressing the woman up against the Dumpster. At first the guy said she was his girlfriend, but about five seconds later I realized the girl was unconscious,” Garcia told the Gainesville Sun. “I turned around and pulled the guy by the shoulder and said ‘get off.’ That pretty much ended the situation then. He was intoxicated and attempted to throw some punches, but he slipped and busted his face on the wall.”

The Sun notes that police video shows “the victim was mentally and physically unable to give consent due to her level of intoxication.”

Garcia is a walk-on from Miami who appeared in one game in 2015.

Bill Snyder thinks Nebraska has buyer’s remorse in the Big Ten

MANHATTAN, KS - NOVEMBER 05:  Head coach Bill Snyder of the Kansas State Wildcats walks on the field during warm-ups prior to the game against the Baylor Bears at Bill Snyder Family Football Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Manhattan, Kansas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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There may be something to the fact that life in the Big Ten hasn’t proved to be all Nebraska thought it was. The money is nice, sure, but it hasn’t translated to Big Ten championships, and it’s not like the Huskers are cutting their fans in on any of the profits.

So, yes, Nebraska may have found, half a decade in now, that life in the Big Ten West is more similar to life in the Big 12 North than they’d ever admit publicly.

But that doesn’t mean they would ever actually go back to the Big 12.

And whatever amount of remorse the ‘Huskers may feel in the Big Ten doesn’t nearly equate to the desire some have in the Big 12 to make everyone think Nebraska has buyer’s remorse about its big move.

Case in point: K-State head coach Bill Snyder.

“When push comes to shove,” Snyder told ESPN, “I don’t want to speak for anybody, but I’m not so sure they’re pleased with the decision they made.”

Snyder also said he missed the Wildcats’ rivalry with Nebraska and thinks the two should still be playing.

And considering the state of affairs in Lincoln, perhaps Nebraska should feel the same way. The see-saw was somewhat even from the late-90’s through the early 2000’s — K-State actually held a 5-2 advantage from 1998-04, and the winner of their annual meeting went on to claim the Big 12 North title every year from 1996 through 2000. But other than that seven-year spurt, Nebraska-Kansas State was about as competitive as bugs vs. windshields — the Huskers hold a 76-10-2 edge, including a six-game winning streak.

Michigan State hires ex-Lions executive as program consultant

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 28: The Michigan State Spartans celebrate after the game against the Penn State Nittany Lions at Spartan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Penn State 55-16 to clinch a berth in the Big Ten championship game. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Michigan State has hired former Detroit Lions personnel executive Sheldon White as an all-encompassing “program consultant,” the Spartans have announced.

“We’re extremely excited about the addition of Sheldon to our program,” Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. “He has a vast amount of experience at the highest level of football. We can’t wait to work with him and gain insight from his knowledge and expertise, while at the same time introducing him to our players and coaches. I think Sheldon will provide a great benefit to our program.”

White worked for the Lions for 19 years in a variety of roles, including as vice president of pro personnel and interim general manager. A four-year starter at cornerback at Miami (Ohio), White played for the New York Giants, Lions and Cincinnati Bengals before returning to his alma mater as wide receivers coach.

From Miami, White joined the Lions’ organization and steadily rose the ranks before being let go after last season.

As outlined in the press release, White won’t have a defined role for however long he works with the Spartans, instead lending a hand wherever they could use one.

“From the other perspective, whatever Coach Dantonio needs me to do, I’m all in with him and his entire staff. Michigan State has a great program and I’m looking forward to joining in and giving whatever insight I can provide. Anywhere I can help out and wherever Coach Dantonio needs me to go, that’s where I’ll be,” White said.

“One of the main things I’m excited about is being around the players and getting a chance to work with them. I hope I can add something that will maximize their performance and possibly get them ready for the National Football League.”

Michigan State finished 12-2 last season, winning the Big Ten title and reaching their first College Football Playoff semifinals. The Spartans open the 2016 campaign Friday, Sept. 2 against Furman in East Lansing (7 p.m. ET, BTN).