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

Despite loss, Ohio State still has good shot to reach College Football Playoff

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  Grant Haley #15 of the Penn State Nittany Lions returns a field goal block 60 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter during the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The impact a single loss can have on a team’s national championship aspirations has been reduced with the introduction o the College Football Playoff. That could be a glimmer of light for Ohio State after losing in unbelievable fashion on the road at Penn State Saturday night.

For Ohio State, the overall picture remains just as in focus as it was before, if the goal is merely to reach the College Football Playoff. Win, and they should be in. Winning out would put Ohio State at 11-1 in the regular season, capped b a win over what could be a highly-ranked Michigan in the regular season finale. That would also give Ohio State a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Wolverines to reach the Big Ten Championship Game. Penn State now owns a critical head-to-head tiebreaker with Ohio State, but in the event of a three-way tie between the Buckeyes, Nittany Lions and Wolverines, Penn State’s overall record could end up being an advantage or Ohio State (if Michigan happens to lose twice and Penn State wins out, Penn State would play for the Big Ten title).

So you see, Ohio State still has a seemingly clear path to the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff, for now. Bur Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer admitted there is work to do, dropping the suggestion his team is not great right now. But a team with as much talent and potential and god coaching as Ohio State has should be able to recapture the momentum. If they do, then look out.

The first batch of College Football Playoff rankings will be telling to figure out jus where Ohio State fits into the conversation, but odds are they will most certainly be on the radar with time to spare and make up any lost ground that came with the road loss last night.

Todd Graham drops ‘chicken****’ on Mike Leach in postgame handshake

RAMOT HASHEVIM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 26: Israeli egg farmer Dan Aronheim sprays pesticide to kill the flies that breed in the mounds of feces under the cages of his 3,500 Highline breed egg-laying chickens in his small family farm October 26, 2005 in Ramot Hashevim, in central Israel. The livelihood of thousands of small farmers is being threatened by the migration of the H5N1 Avian Flu virus from the Far East to Western Europe. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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At least postgame, #Pac12AfterDark lived up to its NSFW billing.

Last season, Washington State’s Mike Leach accused his counterpart at Arizona State, Todd Graham, of stealing signs.  Ahead of the Cougars’ Week 8 trip to Tempe to face the Sun Devils, Leach again broached the sign-stealing allegations; that broaching earned Leach a reprimand and a $10,000 fine from the Pac-12.

While Graham had personally stayed relatively mum on the subject, the coach’s athletic director stated they fully supported the conference’s actions as “[o]ur professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.” Graham may have been relatively mum during the week, but, in the aftermath of Wazzu’s 37-32 win Saturday night, the coach apparently could no longer bite his tongue.

Leach, of course, was asked about the situation in his postgame presser.

Pirate’s gonna pirate, regardless.

Defense a mere rumor as Oklahoma outlasts Texas Tech in record-setting shootout

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 22: Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the first half of the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on October 22, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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Certainly there are deceased defensive purists who are rolling over in their graves at the moment.  In fact, there are likely amongst-the-living defensive purists who are currently digging six feet down, jumping in and rolling over just to prove a point.

To what are we referring?  Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59 in a game that spanned just four quarters.  Didn’t even go into a single overtime let alone multiple ones to at least buttress the video game-like numbers.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so screen snaps of the offensive carnage are just visually staggering in their breadth and scope:



Where to start?

Well, the teams collectively broke the NCAA record for combined offensive yards in a single game, with their 1,708 yards — exactly 854 for each, incidentally — easily surpassing the 1,640 of San Jose State and Nevada in 2001.  The combined 1,279 yards passing also broke the record of 1,261 yards set during the 2014 Washington State-Cal game.

That Pac-12 game also produced the individual passing record, with Wazzu’s Connor Halliday throwing for 734 yards; Tech’s Patrick Mahomes matched that record in this wild affair.  Mahomes’ 88 pass attempts were just one off the record of 89 set by Halliday in 2013.

Add in 85 yards rushing, and Mahomes became the first player in FBS history to account for more than 800 yards of offense in a single game. The previous record was Halliday’s 751 two years ago.

On the OU side, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Lubbock to Norman, set a Sooners record with his seven touchdown passes.  The 1,383 combined yards for Mayfield and Mahomes is an FBS record as well.

Additionally, running back Joe Mixon, with 262 yards rushing and 114 receiving, became just the third FBS player in at least 15 years to go for 250-plus in the former category and 100-plus in the latter.  Dede Westbrook also caught nine passes for 202 yards, making Oklahoma the fifth team in FBS history and first since Oklahoma State in 2008 to have a 300-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.

The Sooners also became the first FBS team with a 500-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in a single game.

I’m quite certain that there are myriad school and conference and national records that I missed, but, yeah, you get what was a very offensive point.  And, for that, there’s just no defense.

Leonard Fournette sets school record as LSU runs all over Ole Miss

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs past Zedrick Woods #36 of the Mississippi Rebels for a 76-yard touchdown during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for LSU and Leonard Fournette but the two reunited in a big way on Saturday night to run right over Ole Miss in a 38-21 win that put the rest of the SEC back on notice about the team from Baton Rouge.

Fournette needed just eight carries to set a new LSU school record for rushing yards in a game and finished the night with a whopping 284 yards on just 16 carries. The one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner scored three times as well and each one was a highlight in itself: from 59 yards out, another from 76 yards and a final one from 78 yards to embarrass the Ole Miss defense.

Backup Derrius Guice saw his string of 100 yard games come to an end after filling in nicely for Fournette but he did rush for 57 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Danny Etling didn’t have to do much as a result of that attack, throwing for 204 yards, a score and an interception.

Ole Miss was a controversial selection in the top 25 this week at 3-3 entering the game and failed to live up to the hype by dropping their second in a row. Chad Kelly was rattled on just about every throw, finishing with only 209 yards and a touchdown while throwing two picks and getting sacked twice. He didn’t get much help from the Rebels defense either, which was flattened by Fournette and gave up 515 total yards.

The win was LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron’s third in a row and gives the team plenty of momentum heading into their bye week. A home night game against No. 1 Alabama awaits after that and it’s not a stretch to say that the school would make him the permanent head coach if the win streak stretches to four.

There’s a long time between now and then however, but at least on Saturday night LSU looked a lot like the team that was ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield.