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

Stanford WR Francis Owusu to miss game against Washington with concussion

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Running back Francis Owusu #6 of the Stanford Cardinal carries the ball against the UCLA Bruins at the Rose Bowl on November 28, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Stanford will be without one of their top weapons ahead of a Pac-12 showdown with Washington.

Cardinal head coach David Shaw announced on Monday that receiver Francis Owusu suffered a concussion last week against UCLA and he will miss the team’s upcoming game on Friday in Seattle.

“He’s doing much better,” Shaw told ESPN. “If it was up to him, he’d play next week, but that’s not up to him.”

Owusu took a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit from defensive back Tahaan Goodman late in Saturday’s comeback win over UCLA. The play was reviewed but not considered targeting by Pac-12 referees, something that Shaw told reporters he would ask conference officials about.

“I know that Francis Owusu was not technically a ‘defenseless player,'” said Shaw. “But knowing the era we’re in — where we’re in the mode of trying to make this game safer, trying to take helmet hits out of the game, and trying to protect the players who play this wonderful, physical sport — in the spirit of where we are in the football world right now, you should throw a flag. It should be penalty. The initial contact was helmet-to-helmet.”

Owusu has just two catches for 15 yards on the season but the senior is one of the Cardinal’s veteran options at receiver. J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, who caught the game-winner at the Rose Bowl on Saturday, and Jay Tyler are expected to fill Owusu’s shoes in the offense.

No. 7 Stanford takes on No. 10 Washington in a battle of Pac-12 unbeatens that could be for a spot in the conference title game and the College Football Playoff. If nothing else, the game should determine who wins the Pac-12 North in 2016.

LSU defensive end Davon Godchaux suspended after domestic battery arrest

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 08:  Davon Godchaux #57 celebrates a defensive stop with Kwon Alexander #4 of the LSU Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide during a game at Tiger Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Ed Orgeron’s first order of business after being handed the interim head coaching title at LSU?

Suspending a starter.

The school announced on Monday that defensive end Davon Godchaux was suspended indefinitely after being arrested over the weekend as the result of an incident with his girlfriend.

NOLA.com reported that Godchaux was booked Monday morning by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s office on charges of false imprisonment and domestic abuse battery/child endangerment. He was released after posting a $20,000 bond.

Godchaux is accused of getting into an altercation with his girlfriend and preventing her from leaving their apartment with their 10-month old child.

The defensive end has been responsible for two sacks on the season and 20 tackles over four games. Frank Herron is expected to take Godchaux’s place on the Tigers’ first-team defense.

Reports: Florida hires Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin as new athletic director

FILE - In this Jan. 28, 2016, file photo, Mississippi State athletic director Scott Stricklin congratulates Dominique Dillingham following the team's NCAA college basketball game against Tennessee in Starkville, Miss. A person familiar with the search says Florida has hired Stricklin as its new athletic director. Stricklin replaces Jeremy Foley, one of the most tenured sports executives in the country. Foley is retiring Saturday after 40 years with the Gators, including the last 25 in charge of Florida's athletic program. The person spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity because Florida has an announcement and introductory news conference planned for Tuesday, Sept. 27. (AP Photo/Jim Lytle, File)
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One athletic director is making a rare intra-conference move to take the same position at a rival school.

As first reported by USA Today, Mississippi State’s Scott Stricklin is set to be announced as the new athletic director at Florida on Tuesday.

The move ends a lengthy search by the Gators to replace longtime AD Jeremy Foley, who officially retires at the end of the week but is remaining at the school to help fundraise.

The Florida athletic director’s job is considered to be one of the most plum in all of college sports. That may be the biggest reason why Stricklin, who graduated from Mississippi State in 1992, would make the rare move to leave his alma mater for another position in the SEC. He has been in charge of the Bulldogs since 2010 and also made stops at Tulane, Baylor and Kentucky before coming back to Starkville.

Stricklin is well-regarded in most circles for his moves to upgrade MSU facilities during his time as athletic director. The Gators recently announced plans for over $100 million in capital improvements so you can bet that the school’s new athletic director will hit the ground running starting on Saturday.

FSU’s Jimbo Fisher, Houston’s Tom Herman both deny being contacted by LSU

TALLAHASSEE, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Head coach Jimbo Fisher of the Florida State Seminoles looks on against the South Florida Bulls in the first half at Doak Campbell Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Les Miles has barely been out of a job for 24 hours and already the rumors have begun connecting other head coaches to his old job at LSU.

Not surprisingly, one of the most prominent names being mentioned is former Tigers assistant and current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.

“I’m not talking about LSU. No I haven’t [had contact] and I’m not talking about it,” Fisher told reporters on Monday. “We’re talking about North Carolina.”

The 12th-ranked Seminoles play the Tar Heels on Saturday.

Fisher spent seven years at LSU and was the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban during the 2003 national championship season in Baton Rouge. He recently won a national championship at Florida State in 2013 and has 71-15 career record.  Many have labeled Fisher one of the Tigers’ top targets in their coaching search but he is far from the only prominent name that has been mentioned recently for the job.

Houston coach Tom Herman, who has seemingly heard his name come up for every major coaching opening the past 18 months, also denied being contacted by the school. A report had surfaced shortly after Miles was fired saying that said school representatives had already made contact with the Cougars coach.

“I can say unequivocally nobody has contacted me,” Herman said after practice, according to the Houston Chronicle. “I can spend my time getting upset and going on radio shows and tweeting things out and all that stuff, but at the end of the day it’s not going to stop. I just let them do and say whatever they want to say.”

Stanford head coach David Shaw also issued a strong denial about him potentially leaving the Farm for LSU as well.

With such a big time job opening up this early in the year, you can expect plenty of these types of reports linking somebody with LSU and then a prompt denial from said coach. It seems like it’s going to be a long season for the Tigers on the field and an even longer for those following the team’s coaching search.

It’s probably safe to say the only person who won’t deny any interest in the job or being contacted about the opening is LSU’s current interim coach Ed Orgeron, who was introduced at a press conference Monday afternoon.