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

Surgery will KO UGA LB Roquan Smith for spring

NASHVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 12:  Darrius Sims #6 of the Vanderbilt Commodores is tackled by Johnathan Abram #25, Natrez Patrick #6, and Roquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs during the first half at Vanderbilt Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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If Roquan Smith is to win a starting linebacking job as some project, he’ll have to do so coming from behind.

Georgia confirmed in a press release Friday that the linebacker underwent successful surgery last month to repair a damaged wrist.  As a result, Smith (pictured, No. 3) will be sideline for all of the 15 spring practice sessions that will commence next month.

The good news is that, according to UGA director of sports medicine Ron Courson, “[a] full recovery is anticipated and he [is] expected to fully participate in summer workouts.” Additionally, there should be no limitations placed on Smith’s participation in summer camp that will kick off the beginning of August.

Smith was a four-star member of the Bulldogs’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Georgia; and the No. 77 recruit overall according to Rivals.com. He was one of the highest-rated players in UGA’s class.

As a true freshman, Smith played in 12 games. He was named as one of the football program’s five Newcomers of the Year following the 2015 season.

Boston College adds former Syracuse and UConn head coach Pasqualoni to staff

Connecticut head coach Paul Pasqualoni reacts during an NCAA college football game against Massachusetts in East Hartford, Conn., Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
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As the assistant coach shuffle continues in college football, Boston College is welcoming back a familiar face to the sidelines. Paul Pasqualoni has officially been added to the assistant coaching staff as a defensive line coach. Pasqualoni spent the 2015 football season working as a defensive line coach for the NFL’s Houston Texans. He brings plenty of coaching experience with a 43-year career in the football coaching world, including head coaching stints with Syracuse and UConn.

“It is a great thrill for me to announce the addition of Paul Pasqualoni as the defensive line coach at Boston College,” Boston College head coach Steve Addazio said in a released statement. Addazio started his coaching career as an assistant on Pasqualoni’s Western Connecticut State coaching staff. “His experience, passion for the game, high integrity and knowledge of Boston College and of New England football will be a tremendous asset to our program and to this university.”

Boston College also announced the addition of Rich Gunnell, a former Boston College wide receiver, as a wide receivers coach. Gunnell graduated from Boston College in 2009 after registering 181 receptions for 2,459 yards and 18 touchdowns and serving as a team captain during his college career. He joins BC after two years as a high school head coach in Framingham, Massachusetts.

“It is a dream come true to coach at the school that I played for, was a captain for, did my graduate assistant work at and will work with the exact position that I played,” Gunnell said. “I couldn’t be happier and I feel like I am back at home. Boston College is a small, close-knit community. This place helped mold me into the person that I am today and many of the people who were there when I was in school are still here today. I am just excited to be back around the same people.”

Addazio made a couple of other internal coaching moves with his staff as well. Tight ends coach Frank Leonard has been promoted to assistant head coach and Al Washington will move from special teams coordinator to defensive line coach.

Oregon RB Thomas Tyner retires from football

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2015, file photo, Oregon running back Thomas Tyner scores against Florida State during the second half of the Rose Bowl NCAA college football playoff semifinal in Pasadena, Calif. After coming on strong during last season’s College Football Playoff, Tyner has undergone offseason shoulder surgery that has prevented him from participating in fall camp.(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
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The college football career of Oregon running back Thomas Tyner has come to an unceremonious end. Oregon has announced Tyner has taken a medical retirement from football, a year after missing the entire 2015 season due to a shoulder injury.

“We thank Thomas and wish him well,” Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich said. “We will continue to support his efforts to graduate from the University of Oregon.”

Tyner was a five-star recruit for Oregon in the Class of 2013. The Beaverton, Oregon native was the top-rated recruit in that recruiting class, which also included offensive lineman Evan Voeller and four-star athletes Tyrell Robinson and Tyree Robinson.

“Thank you for all the support over the years,” Tyner said in a brief statement posted on his Twitter account Friday. “Couldn’t have been more blessed to have been party of such a great community, I have the [utmost] respect for the staff and my teammates. Now it’s time to get in the books and finish up in school. Much love to you all and Go Ducks!”

Tyner rushed for 711 yards and nine touchdowns in his freshman season and 573 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore before a midseason injury put him on the sideline for five games. He returned for Oregon’s College Football Playoff run and rushed for 124 yards against Florida State in the Rose Bowl semifinal game before rushing for 62 yards against Ohio State in the national championship game at the end of the 2014 season. Tyner missed the entire 2015 season, which led to Royce Freeman taking on the leading rusher role for the Ducks.

It would have been fun to watch Oregon run with Tyner and freeman, but alas sometimes health concerns have an unfortunate knack for taking a talented player out of the game, and that just stinks.

Penn State’s Beaver Stadium not in outdoor plans for Flyers, Penguins

Penn State fans watch the second half of an NCAA college football game between the Penn State and Rutgers at Beaver Stadium during a "Stripe Out" in State College, Pa., Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. Penn State  won 28-3. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League reportedly are discussing plans to play a pair of outdoor games during the regular season, but Penn State’s Beaver Stadium is not in the mix.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports the two NFL in-state rivals are expected to play in Heinz Field (home to the Pitt Panthers and Pittsburgh Steelers) in 2017 with the intent to play a second game in Philadelphia at a later time. The Flyers have played one outdoor game in Philadelphia in Citizens Bank Park for the NHL’s New Years Day Winter Classic, and the Penguins are no strangers to playing an outdoor game either. With outdoor hockey games all the rage in the NHL, Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a possible neutral site for a future game between the Flyers and Penguins as it is located fairly equidistant from each city and is a melting pot for fans attending Penn State.

Penn State recently made plans to review renovation plans for all of the athletic facilities on campus, including Beaver Stadium. As long as the NHL is open to outdoor hockey games, Beaver Stadium will remain a hot candidate in the discussion for a future game involving either the Flyers or Penguins, if not both. It should also be noted Penn State has a strong relationship with Terry Pegula, owner of the Buffalo Sabres, which would suggest there might be a push to have the Sabres involved in any outdoor plans that could one day take place on the football field.

One of the goals of Penn State’s potential renovation to Beaver Stadium is to modernize the stadium in order to be able to accommodate outdoor events in the offseason, winter in particular. That idea may have to be placed on ice until renovations are completed, whenever that may be.