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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

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 Manzielthe 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

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Pair of Iowa running backs cited for a disorderly house

Two Iowa running backs were cited for a disorderly house, but it is not because they failed to clean up the pizza boxes and dust the furniture.

Iowa redshirt freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley were cited by police Saturday night after being called to respond to a complaint about a noise disturbance. Police discovered  a large gathering of people, and a scent of marijuana was reported to be stemming from the residence. According to a report from Iowa City Press-Citizen, both players were released later that night.

Parker and Wadley were apparently responsible for the party, but nothing beyond the disorderly house citation has been dropped on either player. As far as crimes and violations go in the offseason, this is hardly much reason for much concern given the information available at this time.

Parker rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown for the Hawkeyes in 2014. Wadley rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown after appearing in eight games in 2014.

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Report: LSU to earn $8.75 million from future neutral site games

Playing a marquee game on a neutral field has become rather common in college football in recent seasons, and the paydays that come with them tend to be the reason why. Aside from solving scheduling conflicts by avoiding arguments over home-and-home or one-and-done scheduling arrangements on one school’s campus without a return trip, neutral sites tend to cut rather significant paychecks to the participants. It is for this reason the neutral site game is far from a fad in college football. It is a new luxury that will be sought after by major programs for years to come.

According to information obtained by The Advocate, LSU will be cashing in on a pair of future non-conference match-ups taking place on a neutral field. As reported, ESPN will pay LSU a sum of $4 million when the Tigers face BYU in Houston in 2017. ESPN will cut another check in the amount of $4.75 million when LSU travels to Arlington, Texas to face Miami the following season (2018).

LSU is starting to see some nice income from neutral site arrangements. The $4.75 million due from the Miami game in 2018 is expected to be the most LSU will receive to play in a neutral site game, but the school is likely padding the coffers with frequently scheduled neutral site games. LSU has played in a neutral site game four out of the last five seasons.

Alabama and West Virginia split $6.4 million to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta in 2014. Ole Miss and Boise State split $3.1 million for the same event a couple of days earlier. The Cowboys Classic offered even bigger payouts for each school in its game. In 2012 Alabama and Michigan each received $4.7 million. The previous year LSU was paid $3.5 million and Oregon received $2 million to play in the game. The Florida Gators are expected to receive $6 million to play in the 2017 Cowboys Classic, against Michigan. Florida State will receive $3.5 million to play Ole Miss in Orlando in 2016.

It is no wonder Auburn is looking to secure a neutral site game in 2018 when so much money is involved.

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NAIA national champs asking for donations to buy championship rings

Austin Dodge, Heston Altenbach

One of the perks of winning a national championship is receiving a national championship ring. These are luxuries that may be taken for granted at the highest level of college football. This past season’s champions from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Southern Oregon University, are in need of donations just to buy the team championship rings.

A statement from Southern Oregon states NCAA championship rings are paid for ahead of time. This is not the case in the NAIA. the school must find a way to purchase championship rings for players and coaches, with the rings costing $250 each. Assuming everybody on the team’s roster page and each coach is supposed to get a ring, Southern Oregon is looking to raise $31,000.

If each of you donated one dollar, they should be able to reach that goal rather quickly. I will go ahead and get the ball rolling with a $5 donation (it’s on the way Southern Oregon).

The school is now reaching out to the public to raise money to purchase the rings, and every little bit should help. You can make a donation online on this donation page. The “Ring ‘Em up” campaign also allows you to sponsor a specific position on the team or a general donation for the entire squad.

Here’s hoping Southern Oregon can raise whatever funds are needed in order to provide some championship bling to the NAIA national champions.

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FCS power North Dakota State rewards Klieman with contract extension

Chris Klieman

After coaching FCS power North Dakota State to a fourth straight national championship, Chris Klieman has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The new deal will secure Klieman at North Dakota State through 2021.

“Chris understands the culture of Bison football and what it takes to continue the program’s high level of success,” athletic director Matt Larsen said in a released statement. “The excitement around the football program has never been greater and I look forward to having Chris and his family in Fargo for the long term.”

North Dakota State went 15-1 in 2014, highlighted by a victory over Big 12 school Iowa State and capped with a fourth straight FCS national championship. Klieman was as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award.

“I’m excited to continue to build on the great tradition of Bison football,” Klieman said. “My family enjoys being in Fargo and I am extremely thankful for how this community and Bison Nation have embraced my family and me.”

Klieman succeeded Craig Bohl after the former Bison head coach accepted a job offer at Wyoming after three straight national championship seasons at North Dakota State.

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Alabama adding former Chicago Bears DC Mel Tucker to staff

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears

Alabama’s coaching staff has been undergoing some changes this offseason with a handful of coaches leaving to pursue other opportunities. That means Nick Saban has had some vacancies to fill on his staff in Tuscaloosa. Former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker looks to be the next addition to the staff.

According to Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Alabama will add Tucker to the coaching staff as a secondary coach. When not filling the role of defensive coordinator throughout his coaching career, coaching defensive backs is what Tucker has done most often. Tucker has coached defensive backs for Miami-Ohio, LSU, Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considering how some teams managed to expose Alabama’s secondary at times in 2014, bringing in a coach with that level of expertise seems to be a good fit to the coaching staff for Saban and Alabama.

Alabama was generally a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to pass defense in 2014. The Crimson Tide defense had 11 interceptions and allowed 19 passing touchdowns, while allowing 226.0 passing yards per game in 2014.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is also expected to take on coaching inside linebackers as the staff shuffles responsibilities.

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The AAC wants at least one more bowl game

Mike Aresco

Oh, you thought college football had enough bowl games, or perhaps too many bowl games? Tell that to schools like UAB, Georgia Southern and Temple. All reached the required win minimum in order to be bowl eligible in 2014, but none were sent an invitation to play in a bowl game. Georgia Southern was ineligible due to playing its first season at the FBS level, but UAB and Temple were simply left out.

Perhaps because of that, the American Athletic Conference is looking into the possibility of introducing another bowl game to the college football calendar.

“We have a great bowl lineup that we think is just going to get better and better next year as we add a couple of bowls to lineup and we may even add a few more,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said to The Orlando Sentinel. “No one wants to have teams left out as several conferences did and several conferences have had it historically happen every year so we’re trying to prevent that.”

Naturally, Aresco did not dive any deeper into explaining how far along any potential plans to add a new bowl game may or may not be at this point.

This would not be the first time the AAC has had a hand in creating a new bowl game. The conference worked with the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball to create the new bowl game, which this year ended in a brawl between Memphis and BYU players.

The AAC has seen a handful of teams reach the normal bowl eligibility requirement in the win column the last few years, so creating at least one extra bowl to help send all bowl-eligible programs to a postseason game should not be a huge surprise.

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Report: ACL rehab sidelines Clemson safety for spring practices

Travis Blanks

Promising Clemson safety Travis Blanks will be forced to miss the spring practices this year after suffering a setback in his rehab for a torn ACL.

Blanks suffered a setback in his rehab process for his torn ACL during Clemson’s practices leading up to the bowl game, according to Aaron Brenner of Post & Courier (via Twitter).

Blanks was one of Clemson’s top freshmen in 2012 and was a starter for much of the 2013 season before having his year ended due to an injury. Blanks then suffered the knee injury in the spring of 2014, which kept him out of action last fall. Perhaps fortunately, Blanks had a redshirt year to spare in 2014, so he did not lose out on any eligibility at Clemson. He will still have two years to use starting this fall.

Keeping him out of the spring will hopefully allow him to be ready to go in the fall.

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Arkansas AD Jeff Long to continue in role as CFB Playoff Chairman

Jeff Long

The planning for year two of the College Football Playoff continues with a familiar face filling the role of chairman. Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long was elected to serve as the chairman of the College Football Playoff for a second straight season today.

“Jeff has been a terrific chair and I am delighted that the committee elected him to serve again,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a released statement. “Jeff is a thoughtful and dedicated leader who conducted the meetings skillfully. He also did a very good job answering questions about the rankings so fans could gain insight into the committee’s decisions. It’s clear that he has the full respect and confidence of the other committee members.”n the second half of the season on ESPN’s weekly

In the second half of the season Long made an appearance on ESPN’s weekly College Football Playoff selection committee rankings program to explain some of the logic used to form the latest committee rankings. It was a good idea in principle but struggled to provide clarity or show consistency in the ranking process. Whether that continues in year two has yet to be determined. Regardless, Long’s responsibility will continue to be to speak on behalf of the committee whenever possible. Year two of the system is not without its challenges, but Long is appreciative of the opportunity to continue to serve in this role.

“I appreciate the confidence that the committee members have shown in me,” said Long. “I am truly honored that they have chosen me to serve in this capacity this coming year. The real strength of this committee is the work that each member does to rank the teams each week and ultimately select the best four teams for the playoff. I am honored to represent them in the role of chair.”

ESPN is already reportedly putting pressure on the College Football Playoff to adjust its schedule for the 2015 playoff games, which are currently scheduled to be played on December 31. ESPN has concerns about scheduling the game on New Years’ Eve against traditional programming at the end of the year, as well as potential scheduling conflicts with the NFL and a possibly expanded playoff schedule by the pro football league.

Long will also be tasked with ensuring more consistency in the selection committee in the public’s eye. It is not necessarily his duty to ensure the committee is consistent, but it is his job to show the public there is an existing consistency with the playoff model.

Good luck Jeff.

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James Franklin scorns PSU player on Twitter for settling for a B on exam

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Boston College v Penn State

Some day college football players will learn not everything needs to be shared to the public. Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones found that out, as you may have heard by now, but things turned out OK for him. Maybe Penn State sophomore safety Bryant Harper will learn a lesson after being publicly scorned by his head coach on Twitter.

On Monday, Harper took to Twitter to boast about a B he received on a recent anatomy exam.

Penn State head coach James Franklin, known to be fluent with Twitter, saw the tweet from his player (or had somebody point it out to him), and responded…

Who knows just how serious Franklin was about the Twitter comment, but if nothing else a lesson should be learned by all college football players. What you put on Twitter (or Facebook or Instagram) will have someone watching, so be careful what you share! Harper was reminded of the Penn State philosophy of Success With Honor by way of some public humiliation from his head coach. Harper took this lesson in stride, and odds are he will not be bragging about any B‘s anytime soon.

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Oakland Raiders target Louisville DC Todd Grantham for Del Rio’s staff

Todd Grantham

The head coaching carousel around the NFL may have come to a close, but assistants are still ripe for the picking. That means some college football assistants are going to get some looks to fill some vacancies in the NFL. The Oakland Raiders have an eye on Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

The Raiders hired Jack Del Rio to be the team’s new head coach recently. The two coaches have never coached together, but there are some good reasons why Grantham would be considered for the job in Oakland. First, Grantham has some NFL coaching experience. The current defensive coordinator for Louisville has coached defensive line for the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys in addition to serving as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns for three seasons. Grantham last coached in the NFL in 2009 as a defensive line coach for Dallas. He then coached four years as the defensive coordinator at Georgia before moving to Louisville last season. In his one year at Louisville, Grantham coached the second-best total defense in the ACC and held opponents to just 308.5 yards per game.

If Grantham does leave Louisville after one season to return to the NFL, the Cardinals should be able to find a suitable replacement. The timing may be unfortunate for Louisville, with National Signing Day coming up next week, but it is a reality of the profession. Louisville should have the resources to keep things afloat on the coaching staff as well.

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No Justice for Michigan; RB Hayes to transfer

Justice Hayes, Jonathan Truman

Looking for an opportunity for more playing time in his fifth and final year of eligibility, running back Justice Hayes has decided to transfer out of the Michigan program. Hayes announced on his Instagram page —  because this is what college kids do these days — he is leaving Michigan on good terms and will be graduating from the university this spring.The fact that I will be graduating from the University of Michigan in April will be meritorious. I have earned team captain on numerous occasions, won respect

“The fact that I will be graduating from the University of Michigan in April will be meritorious,” Hayes said. “I have earned team captain on numerous occasions, won respect from coaches and players, and most importantly played my heart out every Saturday. I truly appreciate the offer from [Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh] to allow me to return for my 5th year, but I have decided that I will choose another college to play football as a graduate student.”

Hayes appeared in all 12 games Michigan played in 2014. He carried the football 48 times for a total of 213 yards in a crowded backfield. That depth at the running back position likely meant little playing time would be expected for Hayes in 2015. Because he will be graduating from Michigan, he will be eligible to play at any FBS program that welcomes him to their program this fall.

Hayes also had a note for any potential critics of his decision. There will likely be somebody out there that reads a little too much into it, but the point is a solid one. Players need to have the freedom to make the best possible decision for their own path, and not be hounded by fans who say otherwise.

“There will be people out there that disagree with this tough decision I made, but they won’t be the ones that cut me checks in the future.”

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UCF adding a little (fake) beach-front property to Bright House Networks Stadium

UCF club section

With the game day atmosphere becoming more and more of an issue some schools are struggling to address, UCF is looking to bring a more casual, beach-like setting to fans on game day. Well, at least for club members.

UCF calls it the East Side Club, a newly renovated section of Bright House Network Stadium will take on the look and feel of a beach club, complete with a walk-out section to enjoy a beverage while watching the Knights take on their opponents or be able to socialize in a preferred area hooked up with more than 15 flat-screen TVs (do they even make non-flat TVs anymore?) and enhanced WiFi, because everybody needs more WiFi. The new area will also have private bathrooms and a preferred VIP entrance.

The open area will have a view of the field between the 30-yard lines, which should make for an excellent overview of the game being played that day. The walkout area will also have a sand-colored finish to attempt to mimic the idea of walking on the beach and watching football as best as possible. Keep in mind Orlando is not exactly all that close to the beaches in Florida, so UCF is trying to bring that scenery as close to home as possible. Plus, this is much less messy than actual sand.

UCF states the renovations should be completed in time for UCF’s 2015 season opener against Florida International on September 5, 2015. You can read more about the plans for the new club area and check out the specs and more artist renderings on UCF’s official website.

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Pros and cons of conference foes scheduling non-conference games

Duke v Wake Forest

North Carolina and Wake Forest announced an unprecedented scheduling agreement earlier on Monday. The two ACC schools announced they will play a pair of non-conference games in 2019 and 2021. It is the first such scheduling agreement between power conference schools within the same conference, and it has been received to mixed reviews.

PRO: It creates a game fans will look forward to

North Carolina and Wake Forest each have a duty to satisfy their alums, students and fans. By scheduling a game against an in-state rival they rarely get to see, North Carolina and Wake Forest are each giving their fans something to look forward to. In a world where conference expansion has taken away some annual or near-annual rivalry games, North Carolina and Wake Forest have found a way to resume playing more often instead of waiting for the ACC schedule to pair them up on a rotating basis.

CON: It sets a somewhat sketchy precedent for the sport

With power conferences creating a larger divide between the haves and have-nots in college football, power conferences scheduling games against opponents from inside their own conference ultimately takes away not one, but potentially two opportunities for schools from the Group of Five to schedule at least a marginally attractive game on their respective schedules.

PRO: It can have a positive effect on each school’s overall body of work

Not that anyone is honestly ready to suggest North Carolina or Wake Forest will be competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff in four to six years, but in a hypothetical world both schools have added a power conference opponent to the schedule. In theory, this should result in a positive effect on the strength of schedule for either UNC or Wake Forets (or both).

CON: It neutralizes the conference’s overall strength of schedule

Rather than going out and competing against the SEC, Pac-12 Big Ten or Big 12, what North Carolina and Wake Forest are doing is dropping an anchor on the ACC’s overall strength of schedule. The College Football Playoff selection committee, however it is formed by 2019 or 2021 rolls around, may be unlikely to acknowledge the ACC if ACC schools are scheduling non-conference games against each other. The committee will be more impressed with victories over other power conferences, because they will be able to evaluate the strength of each conference better with true out-of-conference match-ups on the schedule.

PRO: In-state rivalries are a good thing

It is always good to see in-state rivalries thrive when possible, and North Carolina and Wake Forest managed to ensure there will be one more to pay attention to in the state. Because of this, it may not be a shock to eventually see Duke and N.C. State explore a similar arrangement, which would add more to the whole concept of a state championship in the state of North Carolina.

Sorry East Carolina.

If you have more pros or cons about this type of scheduling arrangement, feel free to add on in the comment section.

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Former Wake OL Cory Helms lands at South Carolina

Wake Forest v Vanderbilt

South Carolina head coach still has to wait until next week to see how his Class of 2015 comes together, but the Gamecocks added a talented offensive lineman to the roster a little early. Cory Helms, a two-year starter at Wake Forest, has decided to join the South Carolina program after weighing a few options.

Helms, a Freshman All-American center in 2013, will have to sit out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, although Helms told GoGamecocks.com the Uuniversity will file an appeal to have him eligible immediately in the fall. Helms is moving closer to home to be near his sick grandmother, which will be the basis for the argument to allow him to avoid having to sit out a season. If approved, Helms will be able to slide right into the South Carolina offensive line mix and add some versatility after playing center and guard at Wake Forest. South Carolina lost two seniors on one side of the line to graduation, so there should be a spot waiting for Helms if eligible to play in 2015.

Helms ended up choosing South Carolina over offers from Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Penn State.

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UNC and Wake Forest schedule non-conference home-and-home

Miami of Ohio v UNC Getty Images

The evolution of college football scheduling reached a new low Monday, potentially. North Carolina and Wake Forest have agreed to a home-and-home series as non-conference opponents. UNC and Wake Forest are both ACC members, but play in opposite divisions. This is the first time two conference members have scheduled a home-and-home series for non-conference competition*, and it may not be the last.

Wake Forest will host North Carolina on September 19, 2019. UNC will host the second part of the home-and-home series on September 25, 2021. Because these are non-conference match-ups, neither game will count in the ACC standings.

“This is a unique opportunity to play a regional rival in years that fall outside the normal conference rotation,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham.  “We have a long history with Wake Forest that has historical value and will generate interest within our fans.”

The ACC requires schools in the conference to schedule at least one power conference opponent each season. Yes, this scheduling arrangement will satisfy that non-conference scheduling requirement. The idea of the scheduling requirement was designed to increase the overall conference strength of schedule, but this move essentially drags it down by guaranteeing one extra loss for the conference, against power conference opposition no less.

This could be a trend that continues as power conferences flex more muscle over the rest of the college football landscape with new powers granted through autonomy. Keeping the money within the conference, and between power conferences, will lead to more scheduling developments like this. It may not be all bad though, as 14-team conferences have limits to how often some schools face each other on a rotating basis. Perhaps this could be something that solves those concerns and makes for marketable games on our schedule.

Mixed reviews are already coming in about this scheduling announcement now that the precedent has been set.

* California and Colorado played a 2011 game as non-conference opponents despite Colorado just joining the Pac-12. That game had been scheduled back in 2004, before Colorado had joined the conference, but both teams kept the game on the books to fill out the schedule.

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