Washington v UCLA

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 6 UCLA

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Pac-12 Conference (2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech (42-12 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 16/No. 16
Head coach: Jim Mora (19-8 overall; 19-8 in three years at UCLA)
Offensive coordinator: Noel Mazzone (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 offensive rankings: 35th rushing offense (196.6 ypg); 43rd passing offense (251.8 ypg); 38th total offense (448.5 ypg); 2oth scoring offense (36.9 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: nine
Defensive coordinator: Jeff Ulbrich (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (169.5 ypg); 40th passing defense (217.6 ypg);  54th total defense (387.1 ypg); 35th scoring defense (23.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Rose Bowl (92,542; grass)
Last conference title: 1998

THE GOOD
The talent on UCLA’s roster makes the Bruins contenders in the Pac-12 Conference. The play of quarterback Brett Hundley can place the team in national title contention. Hundley is among the Top 3 quarterbacks in college football along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Like Mariota, Hundley would have a first-round pick in May’s NFL draft if he decided to declare early. But he decided to stay in Westwood. The Bruins will gladly continue to build around their talented quarterback. Hundley is an impressive athlete at 6-3 and 226 pounds. Last season. Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also led the team with 748 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. One of the reasons Hundley returned to UCLA for his redshirt junior campaign is to become a better overall quarterback. Hundley did improve his decision making through the final six games of last season. He only threw one of his nine interceptions after Oct. 26. As Hundley continues to develop his overall game, the Bruins will be the biggest beneficiary. And top-notch quarterback play is a key ingredient for any program ready to make the jump from being good to great.

THE BAD
UCLA head coach Jim Mora is a defensive coach by nature. It had to drive him crazy to see the Bruins play as poorly on defense as they did last seson. The Bruins actually finished fifth overall in the Pac-12 in total defense, but that is more an indictment of the overall defensive play around the league. The country’s 71st overall rushing defense simply isn’t good enough. UCLA wants to be able to compete with any team in the country. And it has to be better on defense. The team relied heavily on two talented freshmen, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark, along the defensive line last season. Both should naturally improve during their sophomore campaigns. While the team’s starting front is talented, the depth is questionable beyond Ellis McCarthy. Players such as junior Kevin McReynolds, need to provide quality reps as part of the team’s defensive line rotation for them to improve significantly against the run. Isaako Savaiinaea will also be inserted into the starting lineup to replace Jordan Zumwalt at inside linebacker. UCLA knows what to expect of senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, but Savaiinaea’s play could prove to be the difference in the Bruins’ defense as a whole. The Bruins’ progression on the defensive side of the football should be the primary indicator how far the team can go this season.

THE UNKNOWN
UCLA’s offense line was in constant flux in 2013. The team used four different offensive line combinations throughout the season. The team actually changed its starting lineup in six of its last seven games. A lack of continuity up front will have a drastic effect throughout the rest of the offense. While this shouldn’t be a concern which lingers between seasons, the Bruins have already started off on the wrong foot with at least one significant injury along this year’s offensive line. Left tackle Simon Goines will miss at least the first two games of the season after he had bone spurs removed in his ankle Aug. 9. Malcolm Bunche, a Miami transfer, has 13 career starts at left tackle, and he is expected to slide into the spot vacated by Goines. Once Goines returns, the coaching staff will have shuffle the starting lineup. How many times will they have to do so this season? Will Bunche slide inside to guard once Goines is healthy or he remain on the blindside? The fact of the matter is UCLA won’t have their top offensive line on the field until week three of the season with very little practice time as an entire unit. Goines is expected to return just in time for one of the Bruins’ biggest games of the season against Texas. However, he won’t have much time to build a rapport with the rest of the unit. The only ones who will suffer if the offensive can’t gel quickly are Hundley and the rest of UCLA’s skill positions.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
It’s been six years since UCLA defeated Stanford. To put that time frame into context, the 2008 season was Rick Neuheisel’s first at UCLA. It was Jim Harbaugh‘s second with the Cardinal. Stanford has gone on to become one of the most successful and intimidating teams in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins, meanwhile, have searched for an identity and found one under Mora. This game will be Mora’s opportunity to truly put his stamp on the program. It’s the last game of the regular season. Both UCLA and Stanford are expected to be battling for an appearance in the Pac-12 championship game. Since the game falls on a Friday, both teams will have short practice weeks. The Bruins want to prove they’re among the Pac-12’s elite and a potential national championship contender. Stanford is as tough a team as the Bruins will face all season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: linebacker/running back Myles Jack
Hundley is the obvious choice here. There is, however, a natural curiosity that will draw college football fans and Heisman voters to Jack. On one hand, Jack is one of the best young linebackers in college football. On the other, he is a dynamic runner when the Bruins decide to hand him the football. Last season, Jack was third on the Bruins’ defense with 49 tackles. He also added seven tackles for loss and 13 deflected passes while dropping in coverage. On offense, Jack led the team with an average of 7.0 yards per carry. He only ran the ball 38 times, yet he was second on the team with seven rushing touchdowns. And Jack accomplished these numbers as a true freshman. The “runningbacker” simply brings a completely different dynamic to both sides of the football. He’ll be expected to make the big play on defense in crucial parts of the game. And the team clearly favors him when they’re around the goal line on offense. The novelty of Jack playing both ways will draw interest from fans around the country. It’s his talent and ability to play at a high level on both sides of the football that will make him a legitimate Heisman contender.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Hugh Freeze denies Ole Miss staffers knowingly broke NCAA recruiting rules

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 26:  Head coach Hugh Freeze of the Mississippi Rebels takes the field with his team prior to a game against the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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In a tweet that he surely regrets on a daily basis, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze famously challenged anyone with information regarding any possible NCAA violations to come forward with them.

“If you have facts about a violation, send it to compliance@olemiss.edu. If not, please do not slander these young men or insult their family,” he posted in a since-deleted tweet on Feb. 1, 2013, the day Freeze inked his highly-touted, highly-controversial class headlined by Laremy TunsilRobert Nkemdiche and Laquon Treadwell.

Which, of course, the NCAA did.

The Rebels were hit with 28 total violations — nine of which the school confirmed originate from Freeze’s staff. And that’s not including the allegations regarding Tunsil that popped up on NFL Draft night.

Ole Miss has suspended unnamed assistants from recruiting in the wake of the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations, but Freeze has denied anyone under his employ knowingly broke rules.

“The first thing I would say is that I own it. That’s part of it when you’re the head coach. You take the good with the bad,” Freeze told ESPN’s Chris Low from the SEC spring meetings in Sandestin, Fla. “But there’s a big difference between making mistakes in recruiting and going out there with the intent to cheat. I don’t have any information that anybody on my staff has been involved in any illegal payments to players or offering any inducements to players, and if I did have that information, I would fire them.”

As for the text messages showing Tunsil asking off-the-field staff member John Miller for mone, which were not included in last week’s release?

“That’s something I can’t talk about right now because both sides are still looking into it, but I feel confident with the report we do have from the NCAA that our staff is not involved in any purposeful breaking of the rules,” Freeze said. “Have we made mistakes in recruiting? Yes, and we’ve taken steps to make sure we don’t make those same mistakes again. But to say me or anybody on my staff is out there cheating to gain advantage just isn’t true.”

To be fair, most of the allegations against the Rebels’ current regime are relatively minor in nature. A comped hotel room here, a loaner car there. Because of that, Freeze said he won’t fire anyone on his staff.

“We’re not going to terminate a guy who makes a mistake and didn’t have any intent to go out and cheat,” Freeze said. “There is no charge in these allegations of a staff member being involved in a payment or offering extra benefits. There’s none of that in there.”

However, there are major allegations against coaches wearing Ole Miss red and blue, as former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and operations assistant David Saunders are accused of running an ACT fraud scheme. Unfortunately for Freeze, the NCAA may take out the sins of Houston Nutt‘s staff on his own.

Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham confirms commitment to program

Jarrett Stidham
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Continuing a trend we have witnessed at Baylor over the past week, incoming and future players are looking elsewhere while players already in the program are preparing to stay put. In the past 24 hours, a lot has happened with the program with the resignation of athletics director Ian McCaw following the hiring of head coach Jim Grobe. While the school still works to gain control of the situation, Baylor quarterback Jarrett Stidham announced he intends to stand by the program.

“Can’t wait to get back on that grind [Tuesday] with my brothers,” Stidham said in an update posted on his Instagram account on Monday. “This year is going to be different than the rest in many ways, but either way we will make a statement to everyone. Excited for the opportunity God has presented this team with to overcome adversity and become even closer as a family. Stick with us Baylor nation, we got this.”

Stidham was a major addition to Baylor’s recruiting class in 2015. After initially pledging his commitment to Texas Tech, Stidham later flipped his commitment to Baylor. Although Baylor appears set to have a healthy Seth Russell (who also has been making statements on Instagram) leading the offense this fall, all signs point to Stidham being the starting quarterback in 2017 (if not sooner).

Baylor has managed to keep all current players on the roster in Waco, which is not too surprising. Unless the NCAA chimes in later and drops a hammer of the weight it slammed on Penn State four summers ago (which is perhaps not all that likely to happen for a number of reasons, and they have no comment at this time), there is likely no reason to expect a mass exodus from the current roster. The recruiting game, however, is a different story.

Some key pieces of Baylor’s Class of 2016 — including running back Kameron Martin, offensive lineman Patrick Hudson and offensive tackle J.P. Urquidez  — made the late decision not to enroll in summer courses this week, which means they may still land elsewhere before the start of the fall football season. The Class of 2017 has quickly been dismantled and reduced to just a small handful of players for now as well.

How much Grobe can keep the recruiting ship afloat will be fascinating to watch, especially if he is simply on a one-year deal with no real chance to be the long-term head coach.

Baylor AD Ian McCaw resigns

WACO, TX - AUGUST 31:  A general view of play between the Southern Methodist Mustangs and the Baylor Bears at McLane Stadium on August 31, 2014 in Waco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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On the same day Baylor made the coaching hire of Jim Grobe official, athletics director Ian McCaw has announced his resignation.

“After much reflection and prayer, I have decided that a change in athletics department leadership is in Baylor University’s best interest in order to promote the unity, healing and restoration that must occur in order to move forward,” McCaw said in a released statement Monday evening.

The resignation of McCaw is not to be unexpected given the serious nature of the revelations surrounding the Baylor program in the last week. Art Briles already lost his job and president Ken Starr was reappointed to a different position within the university as it looks to regroup from some egregious violations of Title IX and a complete system meltdown in responding to sexual violence involving Baylor student-athletes. That he lasted this long is puzzling to some, and his resignation is very likely a forced one. McCaw was placed on probation by the university last week.

“We understand and accept this difficult decision by Ian McCaw to resign as Athletic Director and we are grateful for his service to Baylor University,” a statement from Baylor’s Board of Regents read. “We also appreciate Ian’s commitment and involvement in bringing a person of integrity such as Jim Grobe to the University before making this decision.”

It should be expected McCaw let Grobe know of the situation when making the quick coaching hire, although Grobe likely knows this is a short-term deal anyway.

McCaw joined the Baylor program in 2003.

NCAA has no comment on Baylor Title IX violations at this time

ARLINGTON, TX - APRIL 06:  NCAA President Mark Emmert speaks to the media during a press conference at AT&T Stadium on April 6, 2014 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Last week when the Baylor board of regents released a handful of documents outlining Title IX violations, the university also acknowledged it had been in contact with the NCAA regarding various violations. It remains to be seen what, if anything, the NCAA will do in response to the Baylor situation that led to the dismissal of head coach Art Briles. For now, the NCAA has no comment, which is a pretty regular way of staying out of trouble on a sensitive subject.

It would be unwise for the NCAA to open its mouth and say anything regarding the Baylor situation at this point in time. Baylor is still sifting through the mess it has uncovered in Waco and looking to establish a sense of order moving forward. As far as football is concerned, that continued on Monday with the reported hire of former Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe as an interim head coach for the upcoming season.

There are a handful of areas the NCAA could weigh on in the future (including lack of institutional control), but there is never a concrete timetable with anything the NCAA does, and the governing body has yet to open any formal investigation of its own. With a “no comment,” the NCAA is reserving judgement until a later time, which makes perfect sense. The NCAA is already keeping its distance as it wants to avoid overstepping its boundaries as it did in responding to the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State.

This does not mean Baylor will be left off the hook when it comes to the NCAA, because this is something that could drag on for a while.