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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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Swinney still says Clemson would split 10 games with FSU in 2013

Dabo Swinney

Last year’s biggest game in the ACC turned out to be more of a dud than anyone would have sensibly predicted. Clemson was trounced at home by the eventual ACC and BCS champions from Florida State and it was never a contest despite the Tigers fielding one of their best teams in years. The Seminoles silenced a crowd going for a stadium noise record with a 51-14 beating that may as well have been 61-14 or 71-14. Every team is bound to have a bad game at some point, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney believes if his Tigers from 2013 had another crack at Florida State then they would have been much more competitive.

In fact, Swinney went so far as to say Clemson would win five out of 10 games against Florida State if the 2013 teams were to play so many games. He made that statement shortly after Clemson was steamrolled at home, but Swinney has not backed down from the statement.

“Lord have mercy, I caught enough grief on that,” Swinney said this week, according to The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. “I gave an answer that I really truly believed about that team, last year’s team. I still believe that. It was absolutely nothing negative.”

“I really thought we had a heck of a football team, a really good team,” Swinney added. “We finished 7th in the country. That’s the reality. There ain’t a lot of difference between 1 and 15, to be honest with you. It’s a play here or there.”

Clemson rebounded from that loss to Florida State to go 10-2, with the only other loss coming in the final weekend of the regular season to in-state rival South Carolina. The Tigers accepted an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl as Florida State played for the BCS Championship. Clemson defeated Big Ten runner-up Ohio State, 40-35 to end the season on a high note.

Clemson travels to Florida State this weekend for a primetime match-up against the top-ranked Seminoles.

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Can you kick a football? Fresno State wants you!

Garrett Swanson

Fresno State has a need to improve on special teams, and fast. The Bulldogs will be holding an open try-out for all full-time students with previous kicking experience later this week. Just three weeks into the season, it is that desperate of a situation for the defending Mountain West Conference champions.

Earlier this month Fresno State lost kicker Colin McGuire, who left the team to deal with personal issues according to head coach Tim DeRuyter. That left DeRuyter to have to rely on freshman walk-on Kody Kroening for place-kicking duties. Punter Garrett Swanson continued with his responsibilities on special teams. Kroening has successfully connected on all five of his PAT attempts and one of two field goal attempts.

Kroening and Swanson are the only two kickers on the roster, which puts Fresno State in even more of a bind in the event either should happen to go down. Kroening can handle the punting duties if needed, but having Swanson take over place-kicking duties may not be the most ideal situation considering the circumstances for Fresno State.

Fresno State is one of three schools yet to record a touchback on a kickoff (SMU and Wisconsin are the others).

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Pac-12 releases 2015 football schedule

USC v Stanford

The Pac-12 will open the 2015 college football season with a pair of noteworthy games on Pac-12 soil. Utah will host Michigan and Arizona will play host to UTSA on Thursday, September 3, 2015. The rest of the Pac-12 schedule, including a nine-game conference schedule and a championship game in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, was unveiled Tuesday night.

As confirmed by the Pac-12, one-third of the conference’s schedule will be played against other Power 5 conferences, including five against their Rose Bowl partners from the Big Ten. As usual, the Pac-12 will reserve the final two weeks of the season for traditional rivalry games between conference members. One exception to the schedule will be a regular season finale between Arizona State and California (instead of Stanford-Cal and Arizona State-Arizona). This was done in order to protect contracts between Stanford and USC with Notre Dame.

As expected, the Pac-12 also has confirmed every game played by a Pac-12 school will appear on TV as a result of broadcast deals with ESPN, ABC, FOX and FOX Sports 1. Pac-12 Network will pick up any additional games not carried by any of the other networks. Broadcast schedules will be determined next year.

The date for the Pac-12 Championship Game will be either Friday, December 4, 2015 or the following day, December 5, 2015. The Pac-12 played its championship game on a Friday the first two years (2011 and 2012), but moved to Saturday night in 2013. This year’s championship game will move back to Friday night (December 5) for a more exclusive time slot that weekend.

Some of the more notable games on the Pac-12 schedule are:

Sep. 3 (Thursday) Utah vs. Michigan

Sep. 5 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Houston, Texas)

Sep. 5 Washington @ Boise State

Sep. 12 Oregon @ Michigan State

Sep. 12 Oregon State @ Michigan

Sep. 12 Washington State @ Rutgers

Sep. 19 USC vs. Stanford

Sep. 19 UCLA vs. BYU

Sep. 19 California @ Texas

Sep. 26 Arizona State vs. USC

Oct. 8 (Thursday) USC vs. Washington

Oct. 15 (Thursday) Stanford vs. UCLA

Oct. 17 USC @ Notre Dame

Oct. 29 (Thursday) Arizona State vs. Oregon

Nov. 14 Stanford vs. Oregon

Nov. 21 Oregon vs. USC

Nov. 27 (Friday) Oregon vs. Oregon State

Nov. 27 (Friday) Washington vs. Washington State

Nov. 28 USC vs. UCLA

Nov. 28 Stanford vs. Notre Dame

Dec 4 or Dec. 5 Pac-12 Championship Game (Levi’s Stadium)

You can see the full release about the Pac-12 schedule here.

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Baylor’s Shawn Oakman living on the outside edge

Sam B. Richardson, Shawn Oakman

If every player in college football is allowed a second chance, then Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman is making the most of his. Oakman has become one of the nation’s top defensive ends. Motivation from his unfortunate end to his time at Penn State have served Oakman well as he continues to be a key contributor to Baylor’s defensive efforts.

Oakman was dismissed from Penn State in the spring of 2012 following an arrest over harassment and retail theft. Because Oakman was dismissed by the university months before the NCAA slammed Penn State with sanctions (which of course have been trimmed), Oakman was not eligible to play right away in the fall of 2012 once arriving at Baylor. Oakman did not qualify under the NCAA’s free transfer opportunity for current Penn State players at the time sanctions were levied.

The wait was worth it for Oakman and Baylor. In his first season with the Bears Oakman earned all-Big 12 honors. This season Oakman is considered an All-American candidate and appears on multiple watch lists. Through three games, Oakman has totaled three sacks and four tackles for a loss.

Oakman has many of the skills NFL scouts will pay attention to for a defensive end. He can be quick off the snap and is difficult to contain on the outside edge. This is why Josh Norris of Rotoworld believes Oakman is the best defensive end in the country coming off the edge.

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Golden Gopher QB grounded with turf toe

Mitch Leidner, David Cobb

The availability of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner is in doubt for Saturday’s game against San Jose State. The Gophers quarterback is dealing with turf toe right now, and head coach Jerry Kill has no intention to use him until he is said to be at full speed.

“I would never play anybody that was 82.9,” Kill said Tuesday, per the Associated Press. “I’m not going to risk a kid or a quarterback or anything like that.”

Kill added he will only allow Leidner to see the field if the doctors say he is ready to go.

“They’ve got to be cleared by the trainer,” Kill said. “I always tell the trainer, ‘Can he play full speed?’ Because this is a full-speed game.”

Kill may not be ready to say Leidner will be back on the field on Saturday, but Leidner’s back-up seems more confident about it. Chris Streveler, who has replaced Leidner in each of the past two games, says if there is any chance Leidner will be available to play, he will play.

“I know if Mitch can play, he’s going to play,” Streveler said.

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Taylor Kelly out for Arizona State vs. UCLA

Arizona State v Colorado

It is now official. As previously feared, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will not play next week as the Sun Devils take on UCLA in a key Pac-12 South battle. A foot injury suffered in Arizona State’s road victory at Colorado is to blame.

It is unknown at this time how long Kelly will be out of action for Arizona State, but for at least one game it will be senior quarterback Mike Bercovici leading the offense. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham will go with that plan for now and evaluate the quarterback situation following next week’s game. Graham was optimistic following the game against Colorado.

The loss of Kelly is significant given his time as starter for the Sun Devils and his place in the record book at the school. But Graham has a system in place and hopes Bercovici should be capable of moving the football against UCLA. Having a bye week this week to help Bercovici get up to speed with the responsibility that comes with being the team’s starter should help. There should be plenty of talent surrounding the senior quarterback to ease the tension in practices this week and next, as well as the game.

The result of Arizona State and UCLA could be huge in the Pac-12 race, although USC looks to be a strong contender as well. Arizona State and USC are already tied for the Pac-12 South lead early in the season and UCLA is playing its first Pac-12 game when it travels to Arizona State next Thursday.

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Straw poll shows Oregon’s Mariota still leading Heisman contender

South Dakota v Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota remains the top player in college football according to a select panel of Heisman voters. According to the latest straw poll conducted by HeismanPundit.com, if the Heisman Trophy was to be awarded today, it would go to Oregon’s Mariota.

The Heisman Pundit straw poll is updated every Tuesday. Through four weeks of the straw poll, Mariota has been on top three out of the four weeks and has now been voted on top of the poll two straight weeks. Mariota’s big performance a couple of weeks ago resulted in the Pac-12 favorites coming from behind to pull away from defending Big Ten champion Michigan State. Mariota has completed 70 percent of his passes and has thrown eight touchdowns without an interception early on in the 2014 season. Only Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has thrown more touchdowns without an interception (11 touchdowns).

You can check out the full straw poll via HeismanPundit.com.

Mariota is also the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada.

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Jameis Winston’s latest eye-rolling incident

Oklahoma State v Florida State

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston once again is under a hot lamp. No, he isn’t being accused of any sexual assault, stealing soda in ketchup cups, or stealing crab legs, but any time Winston does something out of the ordinary it is going to be worth discussing. He is, after all, college football’s best player and the reigning Heisman Trophy. He is not a typical college student, so let’s forget about that argument right off the bat.

Winston was witnessed on campus jumping on a table and shouting out an explicit phrase alluding to a sexual act. The phrase stems from an Internet meme, which some people must find humor in on some level. There was no harm done in any of this, nor does it sound as though there was any ill-intent in the random act of spontaneity on campus. It was just Winston looking to have a laugh all accounts. Given Winston’s history, this should be something that Winston should have thought about to himself and say “You know what, maybe this is in poor taste.” But hey, he’s just a college kid, right?

Whether you want to believe it or not, Winston is the face of Florida State football right now, and thus the face of the university for the time being. Even if this was just a joke to Winston, his friends and those around him, it does not come off with a positive glow for he or the university. There is no reason to discipline Winston for this latest story, nor should there be, but as word of this spreads around the Internet (via Deadspin and SB Nation, for example), this will be at least one small distraction from what should be a big week for Florida State. The Seminoles are hosting Clemson Saturday in a key ACC Atlantic Division battle. By the end of the week the game itself will be the story. This single isolated incident will merely be a side story without many legs to crawl on for very long.

The point regarding Winston is simply this; the actions of Winston will be highly scrutinized because of his stature in our sports culture. In light of recent stories regarding top football players getting into trouble, Winston’s shouting on top of a table is a relative non-issue. However, Winston’s past actions have been criticized to a fair degree time and time again. This will too. Because of the big shoes Winston wears representing Florida State, and college football as a Heisman Trophy winner, there will be times when Winston needs to create a filter and think about how his actions will be portrayed and received. Winston knows he needs to hold himself to a higher degree of morality. He has stated this himself.

Winston is still young, but he is certainly more than old enough to be able to make these decisions now.

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SMU can still win the American, says interim coach

Tom Mason

SMU has lost its first two games of the season by a combined score of 88-6. This week the Mustangs host No. 6 Texas A&M in the first game since June Jones resigned as head coach. The next two weeks could very easily continue to be sour for the struggling SMU program (TCU is up next after Texas A&M), but interim head coach resigned as head coach. The next two weeks could very easily continue to be sour for the struggling SMU program (TCU is up next after Texas A&M), but interim head coach Tom Mason will continue to keep his team motivated by finding ways to t them to realize a chance at the American Athletic Conference is still within their control.

“I just told them we got to continue to grow, change some things about how we practice, put my stamp on some of that,” Mason said Tuesday when meeting with the media, according to The Dallas Morning News. “It’s not going to be one of those quick fixes (but) I told them we have a lot left to play for. We have a conference championship left to play for a bowl game is still out there. And this team is still capable of doing that.”

“We’re young,” Mason said. “We don’t know how to practice yet obviously. We can get better every week (then) by the time we hit conference we might be a decent football team.”

The good news for Mason is there appears to be nowhere to go but up right now for this SMU program. There is plenty of work to do though. The program has lost its starting quarterback and the face of the program’s history has not held back in his criticisms. Yesterday SMU hired former Florida assistant coach Tim Davis to help improve the offensive line.

The rebuilding project is officially on, again.

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Texas player apologizes for coin-flip error

Mack Brown, Desmond Jackson

Saturday night got off to a weird start for the Texas Longhorns when a slip in managing the coin toss resulted in UCLA getting to receive the football first in both halves. Texas captain Desmond Jackson inexplicably told the ref Texas wanted to kick off to start the game, after UCLA had won the coin flip and deferred to the second half. This resulted in Texas having to kick off to the Bruins at the start of the first and second half. The bizarre coin flip sequence quickly became a point of ridicule for the Longhorns, and Jackson felt a need to apologize for the error in football judgement. He did so by issuing a public apology via his Twitter account on Tuesday.

UCLA won the football game, 20-17. Would Texas getting one of the half-opening possessions have changed the outcome? It is impossible to guess how things might have been different. The game still went down to the wire. The only time a mistake in the coin flip may have taken a costly toll on the Longhorns might have been if the mistake had taken place in overtime, with Texas choosing to play defense second rather than the more traditional option of playing defense first.

Mistakes happen, but mistakes are bigger in Texas.

Helmet sticker to The Oklahoman.

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Michigan State d-line could receive boost for B1G schedule

Michigan State v Notre Dame

Michigan State is set to officially begin defending their Big Ten championship reign at the beginning of October, at home against Nebraska. By then, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio believes his defensive line will be ready to go with the returns of a pair of linemen to the depth chart. The head coach of the Spartans said on Tuesday he expects defensive tackles Damon Knox and James Kittredge to be ready to go by the time conference play starts.

“We’re going to get Kittredge back, we’re going to get Damon Knox back, that gives us six defensive tackles to play once we get into Big Ten season,” Dantonio said, per MLive.com.

Knox underwent surgery for an undisclosed injury at the beginning of August. At the time, Dantonio told reporters the defensive lineman would miss some playing time but a timetable for a return was not specified. Knox was projected to be a starter on the Michigan State defensive line this season.

Kittredge transferred to Michigan State from Vanderbilt in 2011. He was injured in the season opener against Jacksonville State.

Michigan State has two more games to play before opening the Big Ten portion of the 2014 against Nebraska on October 4. This weekend the Spartans host in-state MAC foe Eastern Michigan. Next week Michigan State will welcome Wyoming to Spartan Stadium. These are games Michigan State should win without much concern, but the hope will continue to be to avoid further injuries before conference play.

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FBS receiving yards leader among dozen added to Biletnikoff watch list

KD Cannon, Fred Thomas AP

This right here is Exhibit No. 3,456 why preseason watch lists are brutally unnecessary.

Tuesday morning, the Biletnikoff Award announced that 12 players have been added to its watch list.  Among those added were the nation’s top two in receiving yards — Baylor’s KD Cannon (471) and West Virginia’s Kevin White (460) — three games into the 2014 season.  In fact, every single one of the dozen players added are in the Top 14 in the country in that category.

The only two players among the 14 receiving yards leaders that weren’t added — Alabama’s Amari Cooper (third) and Northern Illinois’ Da’Ron Brown (ninth) — were already included in the award’s preseason watch list.

With the inclusion of Cannon, a true freshman, the Bears now have three receivers in the running for the Biletnikoff, the other two being Antwan Goodly and Levi Norwood.  Neither one of those two have caught a pass this season due to injury, but that didn’t stop a BU assistant from touting the new “WideReceiverU.”

Below is the list of the 12 receivers added to the Biletnikoff watch list.

KD Cannon, Baylor
Travin Dural, LSU
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Geno Lewis, Penn State
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Isiah Myers, Washington State
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Kevin White, West Virginia

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Report: injury will sideline A&M’s Speedy Noil for 3-5 weeks

Lamar v Texas A&M

Yes, yes, yes.  Let’s hope he has a speedy recovery.  Now, with that out of the way, we can move on.

According to 247Sports.com, and citing unnamed sources, Texas A&M wide receiver Speedy Noil sustained an injury to the MCL in his left knee during the win over Rice Saturday.  Because of the injury, Noil will miss 3-5 weeks.

At the short end of the prognosis, Noil would miss games against SMU (Sept. 20), Arkansas (Sept. 27) and Mississippi State (Oct. 4).  Also in jeopardy for Noil are matchups with Ole Miss (Oct. 11) and Alabama (Oct. 18).

Head coach Kevin Sumlin would only state that Noil likely won’t play this weekend.  He also took to task the report of Noil being out for upwards of a month.

Through three games, Noil, a five-star member of A&M’s most recent recruiting class, is third on the team in receptions (12) and second in receiving yards (197).  He’s also the team’s leading punt returner — three returns for 74 yards, with a long of 67 — and has returned one kickoff for 53.

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One of Iowa State’s top WRs could be done for year

P.J. Harris, Darian Cotton

When it comes to the passing game — and thanks to one very significant injury — Iowa State likes to spread the wealth. Moving forward, there will be one less recipient of that offensive generosity.

Monday, Cyclones head coach Paul Rhoads confirmed that P.J. Harris has a broken leg and will be out for the foreseeable future. Harris suffered the injury during ISU’s win over in-state rival Iowa this past weekend.

Rhoads stopped short of proclaiming Harris out for the season, saying instead that “P.J. may be able to be back later” this year. That, though, doesn’t sound promising.

Through three games, Harris is tied for second — with two other players — on the team with nine receptions. Harris, a three-star member of ISU’s 2012 recruiting class, caught seven passes as a redshirt freshman in 2013.

Rhoads did, though, confirm that backup offensive tackle Jacob Dunning suffered a ruptured patella tendon in the win over the Hawkeyes.

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Kevin Olsen ‘no longer a student at Miami’

Kevin Olsen

And just like that, Kevin Olsen‘s very brief career as a Miami Hurricane football player has come to an end.

Early Tuesday afternoon, Miami confirmed the expected by announcing that the erstwhile UM quarterback no longer a part of either the football team or the university. “Kevin Olsen is no longer a student at the University of Miami. We wish him the very best in the future,” a statement from the school read.

The separation, needless to say, was far from a mutual decision by both parties.

Olsen was arrested very early Monday morning and charged with driving under the influence and possession of a stolen or fictitious driver’s license following a traffic stop. That off-field misstep came a month and a half after it was reported Olsen would be suspended for the opener, reportedly for failing a drug test.

Olsen had been involved in the Hurricanes’ quarterback competition throughout the offseason, which was eventually whittled down to Kansas transfer Jake Heaps and true freshman Brad Kaaya.  The latter ultimately won the job.

A four-star member of Miami’s 2013 recruiting class, Olsen was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country.  He’s the younger brother of former Hurricanes standout Greg Olsen.

During his two years with the ‘Canes, Olsen did not attempt a pass.

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