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

QB Thomas Sirk probable for Duke vs. Wake

DURHAM, NC - SEPTEMBER 19:  C.J. Robbins #90 of the Northwestern Wildcats tackles Thomas Sirk #1 of the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Wallace Wade Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Durham, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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In the midst of a four-game losing streak, it appears Duke will have its starting quarterback at its disposable in the final regular season attempt to end the skein –if that’s the direction the coaching staff wants to go, of course.

On Duke’s official injury report, Thomas Sirk is listed as probable for the Wake Forest game with an unspecified upper-body injury.  Sirk sustained the injury in the Week 10 loss to North Carolina and didn’t play in the loss to Pitt the following weekend.

He returned last Saturday for the loss to Virginia.

Not only is Sirk the Blue Devils’ leading passer, but he also leads the team in rushing with 593 yards on the ground.  Sirk is one of four Power Five quarterbacks who leads their team in rushing and passing, joining Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott and Oregon State’s Seth Collins.

Even as it has looked like Sirk will be healthy enough to go this weekend, head coach David Cutcliffe has declined to name a starter.  Parker Boehme is Sirk’s backup and started the Week 11 loss to Pitt.  In his first collegiate start, the sophomore completed 23-of-42 passes for 248 yards and an interception.

Wintry weather could have an impact Bedlam

AMES, IA - OCTOBER 26: Head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys signals a play from the sidelines during the second half of play against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium on October 26, 2013 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated the Iowa State Cyclones 58-27. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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One of the most important games on the holiday docket this weekend is Oklahoma-Oklahoma State, with the Sooners looking to maintain their No. 3 spot in the College Football Playoff rankings and the Cowboys looking to get back into the playoff mix following their first loss of the season.

As it’s late November, though, Mother Nature may be looking to have a say in the outcome.

With Bedlam scheduled to kick off at 8 p.m. ET in Stillwater on Saturday, the weather forecast bears watching. “There is 40-percent chance for precipitation Saturday night and a low temperature around 30 degrees with the potential for rain or freezing rain,” the Oklahoman‘s Kyle Fredrickson wrote, citing National Weather Service data.

In the old days when playing surfaces were mainly grass, wet weather wreaked havoc on field. With the advent of advanced fake turf, that concern has been somewhat mitigated. At least, that’s what OSU’s offensive boss is telling himself.

“I think you have to have contingency plans based on the weather,” coordinator Mike Yurcich said. “But nowadays, you’re playing on the turf so it can’t be that bad. Back in the day when we were playing on grass, it would affect you because there would be mud on the ball and you would only use two balls in the game.”

OU, OSU and Baylor all currently have one Big 12 loss, with the latter having two regular season games remaining while Bedlam is the last for the in-state rivals. The Sooners would be declared the conference champion with a win this weekend — they would’ve beaten both the Bears and Cowboys — while the Bears stake their claim as the league champ with wins in the last two games (TCU, Texas) combined with a Sooners loss. Because of its loss to the Bears last weekend, the Cowboys can be Big 12 champs only if they beat the Sooners and the Bears lose at least one of their last two.

If OU can win Bedlam and hold the crown of Big 12 champ, they’ll have to wait another week to see if the playoff committee will keep them in the top four or, as was the case with TCU last year, they get bumped out in favor of teams that played in and won conference championship games while they sat at home.

Injury issues continue to plague Gators’ defensive line

during the game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Gainesville, Florida.
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Looking to put an embarrassing overtime win over two-win FAU in the rearview mirror, Florida is look at some significant defensive line issues heading into its annual in-state showdown with Florida State.

First and foremost on the injury report is Jon Bullard, who is listed as doubtful for Saturday night’s game against the Seminoles.  Bullard, who has been dealing with an arm issue the past couple of weeks, suffered a knee injury on the first possession of the FAU game.  While the defensive tackle returned to that game, he’s been limited in practice this week leading to his doubtful designation.

Bullard’s 13.5 tackles for loss are tops on the team and fourth in the SEC.  He has started 33 games during his Gator career, including a streak of 23 straight.

In addition to Bullard’s injury issue, defensive ends Alex McCalister (foot) and defensive tackle Taven Bryan (ankle) are also listed as doubtful as well. McCalister currently leads the Gators in sacks with 6.5, one more than Bullard’s 5.5.

But wait, there’s more: three other defensive linemen are listed as questionable — Joey Ivie (knee), Jordan Sherit (hamstring) and Thomas Holley (hip).

Chris Petersen gets two-year extension from Washington

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 26: Washington Huskies head coach Chris Petersen celebrates a goal line stand against the California Golden Bears during the first half of a college football game at Husky Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. California went on to win 30-24. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Chris Petersen
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Still needing another win to secure bowl eligibility, Chris Petersen has been rewarded by his Washington bosses for the work he’s done with the Huskies thus far.

First reported by SI.com‘s Pete Thamel and subsequently confirmed by ESPN.com‘s Joe Schad, Petersen has signed a two-year contract extension with UW.  The new deal would keep Petersen with the Huskies through the 2020 season.

Thamel adds that Petersen will earn $4 million in the extension years of 2019 and 2020; in 2015, Petersen earned $3.4 million.  Petersen had already been scheduled to earn $4 million in 2018 under the terms of his original five-year deal.

Following an eight-year tenure at Boise State in which the Broncos won 88 percent of their games, Petersen left to take over the Huskies for the 2014 season after Steve Sarkisian exited for the USC job.  In his first season, Petersen went 8-5 and ended the year with a Cactus Bowl loss.  This season, the Huskies are 5-6 and need a win over No. 20 Washington State this weekend to extend their bowl streak to six straight seasons.

In Petersen’s first seven seasons as a head coach, he went 84-8; in his last three seasons, he’s gone a combined 21-16 — 8-4 in his last season in Boise, 13-12 in his first two years at UW.

UPDATED 12:04 p.m. ET: Within a minute of this being posted, UW sent out a press release confirming that Petersen has indeed agreed to a contract extension.

“Coach Petersen has demonstrated tremendous integrity and is building a program that Husky fans can be proud of, both on and off the field,” athletic director Scott Woodward said in a statement. “This extension is well-deserved and we hope Coach Petersen is a Husky for a long time to come.”