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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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‘Bama DT Jonathan Taylor again arrested for domestic violence

Jonathan Taylor Mugshot

After an alleged domestic violence incident led to his dismissal at Georgia last July, Jonathan Taylor signed with Alabama in January as one of Nick Saban‘s second-chance signees.  Less than three months later, Taylor is making his new head coach look rather foolish and/or naïve.

Both Aaron Suttles of TideSports.com and Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News are reporting that Taylor is once again facing charges related to a domestic incident earlier today.  According to the Tuscaloosa Police Department’s website, Taylor is facing charges of domestic violence/assault and domestic violence/criminal mischief.

At this moment, details of what led to the defensive tackle’s arrest have not been released.  Taylor remains in jail in lieu of a pair of $500 bonds.

Taylor has been participating with his new Tide teammates in spring practice, even as his initial signing caused enough of a controversy that the school felt the need to address it in a statement.  It would seem unlikely that Saban would allow the lineman to remain on his squad, not with two domestic violence arrests in less than a year littering his record, the first of which is still pending in the state of Georgia.  Additionally, Taylor was one of four UGA players arrested last March on theft by deception charges.

Taylor was a four-star member of the Bulldogs’ 2012 recruiting class, rated as the No. 7 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Georgia.  After taking a redshirt his true freshman season, Taylor played in 10 games in 2013.  He spent the 2014 season at the JUCO level.

Overall, it’s been a rough last 24 hours or so for the Tide off the field.

Late Friday night, defensive back Geno Smith was arrested for driving under the influence.  It was the senior’s second drunk-driving arrest in less than two years, prompting him to issue a public apology on Twitter.

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NCAA to study future handling of grad transfers

Louisville v Wichita State Getty Images

The NCAA has already changed the way it deals with hardship waivers for transfers.  Now, The Association is seemingly set to further stifle the movement of its student-athletes.

The Division I Council Coordination Committee appointed earlier this month the Ad Hoc Transfer Issues Working Group to do what a release describes as “consider where improvements can be made to current [transfer] rules,” with the group focusing “on graduate transfers and permission-to-contact rules.”

Currently, FBS graduate transfers in all sports can transfer to another FBS program without sitting out a season, proved three provisions are met: 1. the student-athlete has graduated from his current institution; 2. the student-athlete enrolls in a graduate program at his new university not offered at his previous one; and 3. the student-athlete’s original university signs off on the transfer.

What the group will look into in the coming months is “whether to update the policy for graduate transfers to more closely mirror a new policy adopted last year for undergraduate transfers.”

Earlier this month, the new policy mentioned above went into effect, effectively eliminating the hardship waiver that provided immediately eligibility for a transfer. Previously, a student-athlete could file an appeal for a hardship waiver on various grounds, the most common one of which was related to illnesses and/or situations in the family that necessitated a move closer to home; now, potential transfers can request a waiver that would extend their eligibility out by another season but cannot gain immediate eligibility.

Normally a graduate transfer would have a single season of eligibility remaining, although there are occasionally exceptions. If the new procedure is adopted — it wouldn’t be in place until the 2016-17 academic year at the earliest — a graduate transfer would be forced to sit out the first season with his/her new program, then have another season of eligibility tacked on the following year if the waiver is granted.

For example, if Cardale Jones, by then a redshirt junior, decides to transfer out of Ohio State to Michigan after graduating next May, Jones would be forced to sit out the 2016 season. He could then apply for a waiver that would give him one more year of eligibility in 2017.

Provided, of course, the same policy in place for undergrad transfers is implemented for grad transfers.

“Student transfers are an important issue in higher education, and it is no different in athletics,” said co-chair Jere Morehead, Georgia president, in a statement. “The group will be mindful of the integration of athletics and academics when creating recommendations for Division I transfer policy or legislation.”

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Tide’s Geno Smith tweets apology following latest arrest

Geno Smith Mugshot

Late last night, Alabama’s Geno Smith was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence.  It was the senior cornerback’s second drunk-driving-related arrest in less than two years.

Smith did not participate in practice Saturday, in large part because he was still jailed around the time his teammates began yet another spring session.

Head coach Nick Saban did not address the latest development involving an experienced piece of his secondary, although that’s expected to happen early this coming week.  Ahead of that, a contrite Smith took to Twitter to apologize to the university, the football program and its fans for his latest off-field misstep.

Whether it’s enough to help avoid the full wrath of Saban — and maintain a spot on the roster for his final season — remains to be seen.

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Pair of Seminole LBs to miss rest of spring with shoulder injuries

Bethune-Cookman v Florida State Getty Images

A pair of Florida State linebackers who had their 2014 seasons interrupted by suspensions have not seen their spring interrupted by injuries.

Friday, head coach Jimbo Fisher confirmed that both Chris Casher and Matthew Thomas (pictured) will miss the remainder of the spring due to shoulder issues.  The former has already undergone surgery to repair his damage, while “[w]e’re gonna have to end up [surgically] fixing” the latter.”

The issue with Thomas is an ongoing and lingering one. He took a medical redshirt for the 2013 season because of it, while he dealt with the issue throughout the 2014 season as well.

“It popped out. Popped out,” Fisher said of the shoulder according to the Orlando Sentinel. “It popped out a bunch of times last year, one game it popped out four different times. It popped out the other day. It’s too loose.”

After a copious amount of drama and a splash of theatrics, Thomas signed with FSU as a five-star recruit in 2013. As a redshirt freshman last season — he played in four games in 2013 before the initial injury — Thomas was suspended in early September and didn’t return until mid-October. He went on to play in the remaining eight games, making three starts.

Casher, meanwhile, was suspended for the 2014 opener for what was described as an academic-related issue. He ended up starting two of the final 13 games of that season.

Despite some on-field production, Casher is more well-known for off-field headlines, whether it be in connection to the Jameis Winston sexual assault allegations or being sued by his attorney or being stopped by police at gunpoint over a pellet gun.

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WR Isaiah Jones leaving FSU, will likely land at Miss. JUCO

Isaiah Jones AP

In August of last year, Isaiah Jones was declared academically ineligible and didn’t play a down for Florida State in 2014.  As it turns out, that’ll be the case in 2015 — and likely beyond.

Friday, head coach Jimbo Fisher confirmed that Jones has decided to transfer out of the FSU football program and continue his playing career elsewhere.  That elsewhere, according to Fisher, is likely East Mississippi State Community College.

The Palm Beach Post noted that Jones had traveled with the team to the Rose Bowl and said at the time that, as a longtime Seminole fan, he had no desire to transfer.  What prompted the change of heart, and whether it was again related to academics, wasn’t addressed.

A four-star member of the Seminoles’ 2013 recruiting class, Jones was rated as the No. 28 receiver in the country and the No. 36 player at any position in the talent-rich state of Florida. As a true freshman in 2013, the 6-4, 194-pound Jones caught two passes for 31 yards.

His production could’ve been higher that season, but a foot injury forced him to miss most of the second half of the season.

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Ole Miss’ leading tackler, second-leading rusher sustain injuries

Mississippi v Texas Getty Images

The bad news for Ole Miss is that key players on each side of the ball have sustained injuries.  The good news?  It’s only the spring, and the start of the new season is still more than five months down the road.

The most significant injury was sustained by defensive back Mike Hilton, who broke his thumb during a practice session earlier this week.  Additionally, running back Jordan Wilkins suffered what’s being described a sprained MCL.

Hilton will miss the remainder of the spring, but is expected to be healthy enough to participate in summer camp at the beginning of August.  Wilkins’ availability for the rest of the spring is to be determined.

In 2014 as a third-year junior, Hilton started 11 of the Rebels’ 13 games.  He led the team in tackles with 71, and was second in interceptions (three) and passes broken up (seven).

Over the past three seasons, Hilton has started 26 of the 36 games in which he’s played.

Wilkins‘ 361 yards rushing as a redshirt freshman last season was second on the Rebels, while his 6.9 yards per carry was tied for tops on the team.

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McElwain talks ‘insufficient’ cupboard left by Muschamp

Hungry Hill Getty Images

Will Muschamp may be gone at Florida, but he’s certainly not been forgotten.

Shortly after his firing last November, Muschamp was very emphatic in stating that the Gators possess “a deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got any players.”

The new guy in this case is Jim McElwain, hired away from Colorado State in December and charged with cleaning up the mess in Gainesville. And, apparently, he didn’t get Muschamp’s memo.

From al.com:

“When you look at it, you know, the thing that has been lacking is the numbers and the size of what we’re doing on the other side of the ball,” McElwain told reporters in Gainesville. “It’s probably the reason we’re here. That’s all right, man, I’m excited to be here and we’re going to get it taken care of.”

“They’re trying their tails off,” McElwain said. “For the lack of numbers there, and it’s one of those things you’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt and right now, quite honestly, the hand we were dealt is really insufficient at some of the areas. And yet at the same time that’s what you have, so we’re going to make the best of it. Those guys are battling in there. To try to even create kind of two groups is hard, so these guys, we’re giving them spells. Just kind of the way we practice, we had to kind of totally change how we will normally practice here in the future.”

It’s not uncommon for the new cook on campus to lament the lack of ingredients left in the cupboard. One of the things that lamenting does, though, is undercut those who remain on the roster.

Perhaps mindful of that, McElwain also tossed around words like “foundation” and “toughness” and “fight” in an attempt to soften what he sees as a lack of depth at best and, at worst, an overall lack of talent.

“The thing about this group of guys is they care about each other and care about the team,” the first-year coach said. “They fight their way through tough times, and that’s how you build the foundation of a football team. It’s really exciting to watch because at some point in the season, this toughness foundation is going to be what carries us, and we’re learning all about that right now.”

While they’re far from the gospel, recent recruiting rankings would suggest that McElwain at least has some talent with which to work — he and his staff just needs to coach them up better than their predecessors.

Muschamp was hired as UF’s head coach on Dec. 10, 2010. In his four recruiting classes, none finished lower than 12th nationally according to Rivals.com. That was Muschamp’s first class, one that he had roughly three months to put/hold together.

The first full class of the Muschamp era was in 2012, and that class finished No. 3 overall and No. 2 in the SEC. That was followed up by the fourth-ranked class in 2013 that was again second in the conference.

Even when rumors were swirling that he was a dead man coaching, Muschamp was able to pull in the No. 8 class in 2014, although that was only good for sixth in the conference.

Again, recruiting rankings aren’t the be-all, end-all when it comes to wins and losses, but they are a good indicator of potential.  And potentially, McElwain, whose first class ranked 23rd nationally and 10th in the conference — they get a pass on that — has a lot more talent with which to work than he’s allowing.

Tempering expectations of an anxious and dissatisfied fan base?  Perhaps.  Or he’s realized that the most important ingredient in the kitchen, the quarterback, may not necessarily be in his cupboard at the moment.

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Miami’s leading returning rusher suspended for spring game

Joseph Yearby, Jeremy Cash AP

Miami takes the field this afternoon for its annual spring game, and the Hurricanes will do so without a player who’ll be expected to be a key piece of their 2015 offensive puzzle.

Shortly before the game kicked off, Miami announced that Joseph Yearby has been suspended for the spring finale.  According to the team, it was for a violation of unspecified team rules.

According to Susan Miller Degnan of the Miami Herald, the suspension involves allegedly breaking curfew so that the running back could be in attendance at a life-altering event:

I was told by my source, but not by UM, that Yearby was suspended for breaking curfew last night.

I was told he was there for the birth of his baby, but I did not have that confirmed and I don’t know when the baby was born.

It seems incomprehensible that Yearby would be suspended for attending the birth of his child, but we’ll just have to await Al Golden‘s postgame talk with the media and see if he offers any further explanation to the report.

Last season as a true freshman, Yearby was second on the team with 509 yards rushing.  He also added eight catches for 118 yards and a touchdown coming out of the backfield.

With Duke Johnson‘s early departure for the NFL, Yearby will get the opportunity to be the bell cow for the Hurricanes’ ground game.

UPDATED 2:52 p.m. ET: And now a little bit more of the rest of the real story.

Yearby did indeed become a new father recently… over the winter.  Becoming a new parent, however, had nothing to do with the suspension; instead; it was breaking curfew last night that sidelined the back.

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Alabama DB Geno Smith again arrested on DUI charge

Sammie Coates ,Geno Smith Getty Images

I guess now we’re going to find out just how wedded Nick Saban is to his second chance mantra, and if it extends to a third chance.

While the details are scant at the moment, and the school has yet to address the situation, Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Geno Smith was arrested Friday night on a charge of driving under the influence.  According to the Tuscaloosa County Sheriff’s Department website, Smith was released on a $1,000 bond this afternoon.

From the sheriff’s department’s website:

Geno Smith Mugshot

What makes this a significant issue for Smith is that it’s the player’s second alcohol-related charge in less than two years.

In August of 2013, Smith was arrested on a charge of driving under the influence.  A couple of days later, Saban announced that the defensive back would be suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech.

Smith started six of the 14 games in which he played last season as a true junior last season.  All told, he’s played in 39 games in his three seasons with the Tide, including eight starts.

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NCAA says no malice involved in Reggie Bush investigation

Todd McNair AP

Well, that settles it.  Or not.

AS CFT wrote earlier this week, the NCAA Tuesday released 500 pages of documents– including damning internal dialogue – related to the Reggie Bush investigation as part of a defamation lawsuit involving former USC running backs coach Todd McNair. The documents revealed those involved stepping well beyond the bounds of normal investigation protocol – including value judgments on the program’s hiring of Lane Kiffin as head coach — and seemingly showing bias against the USC football program in meting out near-historic sanctions that crippled the Trojans for years.

Suffice to say, USC was not pleased with how the NCAA’s investigation was conducted as portrayed in the document dump, saying in a statement that “[w]e are extremely disappointed and dismayed at the way the NCAA investigated, judged and penalized our university throughout this process.” In that same statement, the school intimated that further action could be taken — legal action of its own would be the most likely recourse — depending upon further review of documents, both those that have been released and others that may soon, as the school expects, come to light.

In a statement released Friday, the NCAA, which has been accused by the McNair camp of not releasing all pertinent documents, claimed that its Committee on Infractions “acted appropriately” and “engaged in a comprehensive, deliberative process and did not act with malice” in the Bush investigation.  Furthermore, a governing body that saw one COI member compare the Bush investigation to the Oklahoma City bombing had the audacity to write “[i]t is unfortunate that Mr. McNair’s unfounded claims have resulted in an attack on the character and integrity of dedicated individual committee members and the overall infractions process.”

For the entirety of the NCAA’s statement, grab your hip waders and step in it below:

As a result of the Court of Appeals February 6 decision and in order to have a meaningful appeal opportunity, the NCAA filed a collection of documents with the court which demonstrate that the Division I Committee on Infractions acted appropriately when reaching its conclusions in the USC Infractions Report.

These publicly filed documents illustrate how the Committee on Infractions underwent thorough deliberations consistent with the policies and procedures governing the infractions process. The documents, including committee’s e-mail correspondence after the hearing which has received the most attention, further demonstrate that the Committee on Infractions is not a body of single-minded individuals but rather a group of individuals with different perspectives who worked diligently to reach a consensus based on information presented to the committee.

After careful review of the documents, we are confident the Court of Appeals will conclude that the committee engaged in a comprehensive, deliberative process and did not act with malice.

Our volunteer committee members, comprised of highly reputable individuals from member schools, conferences and the public, work extremely hard to uphold the NCAA’s mission and values. It is unfortunate that Mr. McNair’s unfounded claims have resulted in an attack on the character and integrity of dedicated individual committee members and the overall infractions process.

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Likely starter at QB for Vandy chooses medical school over football

Massachusetts v Vanderbilt Getty Images

Somewhat abruptly and unexpectedly, the dynamic of Vanderbilt’s quarterback competition has has undergone a dramatic shift.

Friday, Vandy issued a press release announcing that Patton Robinette has decided to retire from the game of football.  A history of injuries, including a concussion last September, influenced the quarterback’s decision to some degree.

The school stated that Robinette spoke frequently with his parents, close acquaintances, Vanderbilt physicians and athletic trainers, and Commodore coaches before walking away from the sport in a fashion similar to the recent retirements of Chris Borland and Jack Miller.

“This has been a very difficult decision to make,” Robinette said in a statement sent out by the school. “This team means the world to me and I love playing football more than anything. It’s been tough coming to a decision that is right for my family and I, and protects my health and future.

“I’ve been very deliberate in coming to this decision. It’s difficult but I’m really excited to move forward to the next chapter of my life and really to see what the field of medicine has in store for me.”

Exiting the spring game this past Saturday, Robinette was widely viewed as the favorite to land the starting job. Less than a week ago, Robinette was stating that he was “going to have to go out this offseason and camp and compete to maintain my position at the top,” adding, “I am going to work hard and do [just] that.”

Six days later, Robinette will now be preparing for medical school instead of summer camp.

While concern over his health played a role in his decision, a significant one, so did the opportunity to embark on a medical career sooner rather than later.

“People have made a big deal of the concussion thing,” said Robinette during a press conference. “That’s certainly a factor, but more than that I’m looking at moving forward in my medical career and seeing where that takes me.

“Though football is an amazing game and I’ve loved playing the game at Vanderbilt, for myself and my future family, there are more important things than me trying to have one last stand. It was difficult to come to that decision.”

The past two seasons, Robinette started five of the 16 games in which he played.  The pinnacle of Robinette’s playing career very well could’ve come in 2013, with the school writing “[t]o many Commodore fans, Robinette’s greatest contribution came on Nov. 23, 2013 when his 5-yard rushing touchdown proved the winning margin over Tennessee in Knoxville.”

That was the second-straight win for the Commodores over the in-state rival Vols, but just the third in the last 31 years.

With Robinette out of the picture, redshirt sophomore Johnny McCrary will likely enter camp as a slight favorite to win the starting job. Also in the mix will be sophomore Wade Freebeck and redshirt freshman Shawn Stankavage, with incoming freshman and 2015 four-star signee Kyle Shurmur joining the fray this summer.

McCrary and Freebeck were two of the four quarterbacks who started at least one game last year for the ‘Dores.  The other player to start a game under center last year, Stephen Rivers, was granted a release from his Vandy scholarship this past January with the intention of transferring.

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PHOTOS: Buckeyes flash title ring bling on Twitter

National Championship - Oregon v Ohio State Getty Images

To the victor goes the spoils, the old chestnut goes.  As does, in this case, the jewelry.

As you may have heard, Ohio State beat Oregon 42-20 this past January to claim the first-ever College Football Playoff championship.  Armed with new hardware for its trophy case, the Buckeyes kicked off spring practice earlier this month, with those sessions, as far as the general public is concerned, focused mainly on a quarterback competition that will ultimately feature three past/future Heisman Trophy contenders — probably.

In the midst of the ramp-up to the 2015 season, though, one OSU assistant, wide receivers coach Zach Smith, Twitter-modeled the bling he received for this past season’s CFP title…

… while head coach Urban Meyer and tight end Jeff Heuerman modeled there’s in a tweet from the latter’s account:

A tweet from OSU director of player personnel Mark Pantoni stated that the rings displayed by Smith, Meyer and Heuerman were from the CFP committee, adding “wait until you see the National Championship rings our players designed!”  In other words, the Buckeyes will be on the receiving end of a pair of championship rings, one from the CFP and one that they themselves designed.

Additionally, the players, as well as the coaches and other various members of the support staff, will receive Big Ten title rings at some point in the not-too-distant future.

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B1G issues statement on Indiana’s ‘religious freedom’ law

Jim Delany AP

As expected, the Big Ten has chimed in on the burgeoning controversy in the state of Indiana.

Thursday, Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a bill that allows for private businesses to refuse service to — or discriminate against, as some would say — members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.  The NCAA quickly issued a statement expressing concern over the new law, intimating that The Association, which is headquartered in Indianapolis, could sever its ties with the state.

Already, there’s a petition posted to change.org by a Wisconsin man demanding that the Big Ten move its conference football championship game out of the state, where it’s been contested since its inception in 2011.  Lucas Oil Stadium is also scheduled to host future B1G title games every year through the 2021 season.

In a statement, however, the conference stated that its presidents and chancellors will review the situation “and its impact” at its next scheduled meeting.  Just when that meeting will take place is unclear.

Here’s the Big Ten’s statement, in its entirety:

The Big Ten Conference and its member institutions believe in promoting an inclusive environment in which athletic competition can operate free from discrimination. The conference is aware of the bill that was recently signed into law in the state of Indiana and will further review its impact at the next scheduled meetings of its administrators, presidents and chancellors.

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Archie Manning cedes CFP post, replaced by Bobby Johnson

Bobby Johnson

Not so unexpectedly, another change has come to the College Football Playoff selection committee.

In a press release Friday, the CFP announced that Archie Manning will not be able to rejoin the committee charged with both picking the four playoff participants and slotting teams in the other “New Years Six” games.  Manning was one of the original 13 members of the committee, but was forced to take a sabbatical related to health issues this past October.

“I was honored when I was chosen to be on the College Football Playoff Selection Committee,” Manning said in a statement. “It’s a great group of people and they did a wonderful job last year. But as I look ahead to the various commitments I have – to my family, numerous time obligations around the country and to other conflicting demands – I have concluded that I won’t be able to return to the committee. I particularly want to watch [NFL quarterback sons] Peyton and Eli play, in person when I can, and it’s hard to do that when weekends are devoted to watching college games. This is not an easy choice, but it’s the right choice for [wife] Olivia and me.

“The College Football Playoff is a big hit and I wish my colleagues the very best.”

Manning’s replacement has already been selected, with Bobby Johnson sliding into the open spot. After spending eight seasons (1994-2001) as the head coach at Furman, the 64-year-old Johnson spent eight seasons (2002-09) in the same position at Vanderbilt before abruptly retiring from coaching in July of 2010.

Johnson, a South Carolina native, played his college football at Clemson in the late sixties and early seventies.  He also spent one season (1993) as the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.

According to the release, Johnson was selected unanimously during a March 25 conference call.

“I have tremendous respect for the selection committee and I am honored to join the group,” said Johnson. “As a former player and coach, I’m particularly happy about the opportunity to continue to serve the game.”

With Johnson onboard, there are now four former FBS head coaches on the committee: Johnson, Tom OsborneBarry Alvarez and Tyrone Willingham.

Johnson is also the second new committee member announced this year.  In mid-December of last year, after the final CFP rankings came out, it was announced that Oliver Luck would be stepping down as West Virginia’s athletic director and taking a job at the NCAA.  Two months later, Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt was announced as Luck’s replacement.

This likely won’t be the last shakeup as the terms of current committee members Mike Gould, Pat HadenMike Tranghese and Osborne expire next February.  As far as the other committee members go, the terms of Alvarez and Condoleezza Rice expire in February of 2017, while the terms of Willingham, committee chair Jeff Long, Tom Jernstedt, Dan Radakovich and Steve Wieberg are up a year later.

(Photo credit: Vanderbilt athletics)

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Nick Chubb impresses even the great Herschel Walker

Nick Chubb AP

I’ve made it perfectly clear during my time at CFT that Herschel Walker was the greatest college football player I’ve seen in my lifetime, so the former Georgia running back’s words carry a little more weight in my mind.  And Walker’s words on a current UGA running back?  Positively glowing.

Walker attended practice at his old stomping grounds Thursday, and spoke with the media about very Bulldog talking points.  Well, really, one talking point: Nick Chubb.

And when it comes to Walker on Chubb, well, insert an erection euphemism here.

“One thing I like about him, the game is over, practice is over, and the kid is still out there working out,” the College Football Hall of Famer said. “That’s just the sign of a good athlete. That’s a sign that he’s doing things he needs to get done. …

“This kid came on as a freshman and just think if he had started the whole season, what he would have done. That’s what’s so amazing.”

Walker has a very valid point when it comes to Chubb.

Backing up a healthy Todd Gurley, the true freshman Chubb rushed for a modest 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns through the first five games of the 2014 season. Gurley’s season was over after that fifth game thanks to a combination of a four-game suspension for NCAA violations and a torn ACL in his first game back, which allowed Chubb to absolutely go off: in the last eight games of the year, Chubb ripped off 1,323 yards and 12 touchdowns. Included in that total was a school-record 266 yards in the Belk Bowl win over Louisville.

Extrapolate that production out over an entire regular season plus a bowl game, and Chubb’s statline would’ve read 2,150 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. The former total would’ve been good enough for second nationally this past season, behind only the 2,587 yards from Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon.

As it was, his 1,547 yards rushing were the second-most ever for an UGA freshman, behind only the 1,616 yards put up by, you guessed it, Walker back in 1980.

As impressive as those numbers are, it’s the workload Chubb shouldered that really stands out to Walker, especially in this day and age of passing offenses. In his eight games post-Gurley, Chubb had 25 or more carries four times, with three games topping the 30-carry mark.

“When you see football today, you see a choir playing at running back,” Walker said. “You see about 10 guys running in and out of the game. This guy (Chubb) carried the ball 30 some times. That is absolutely amazing. That shows you the worth that he is. I’m amazed.”

Given the shelf life of running backs these days, I’d be amazed if Chubb continued that workload throughout the entirety of the 2015 season.

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