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CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The Pac-12

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While the Pac-12 has not gotten over the hump and won a national title in over a decade, last season was in many respects a banner year for the league. Washington went toe-to-toe with Alabama in the College Football Playoff and USC capped off an incredible run to finish in the top three of the final polls. Add in some incredible depth (four teams with double-digit wins) and plenty of national recognition and there was plenty for commissioner Larry Scott to be excited about.

Things will be much the same again in 2017 for the conference. The Huskies and Trojans will start off the year in the top 10 of just about every poll and have their sights on being in the final four at the end of the year. USC signal-caller Sam Darnold is the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the so-called ‘Conference of Champions’ might have to change its name to ‘Conference of Quarterbacks’ given how many great players there are at the position this year.

How will things shape up out West? Here’s a look at the Pac-12 heading into the 2017 campaign and how things should shake out:

NORTH
1. Washington (12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Everybody kept saying it was only a matter of time before Chris Petersen would turn the Huskies into a monster and that prophecy came true last season. The team returns the bulk of their offensive production from 2016 and are headlined by their terrific backfield of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. The defense looses plenty of NFL talent but is still pretty stocked with guys like Vita Vea holding down the fort along the defensive line. Add in a very easy schedule and it’s hard not to see UW coast to the conference title game once again.

2. Stanford (10-3, 6-3 last season)
Head coach David Shaw said last year was a disappointment for the Cardinal despite winning 10 games. That’s a pretty clear sign of how things have changed on the Farm the past few seasons but there’s plenty of optimism at returning to the top of the North division in 2017 with a stout defense and strong offensive line play once again. It will be tough to replace all-everything superstar Christian McCaffrey but Stanford will once again be a tough team to get past on a weekly basis.

3. Washington State (8-5, 7-2 last season)
Don’t discount the Cougars from making a run to win the division. The offense is loaded as you would expect for a Mike Leach coached team and have a star in QB Luke Falk. What is really the difference on the Palouse this time around is a quality defense that will be tough to run on.

4. Oregon (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Just about everything that could go wrong for the Ducks last year, did. Hence a coaching change and the arrival of a new era under Willie Taggart. The defense has nowhere to go but up and the offense has enough pieces to spark a turnaround and sneak into a bowl game when all is said and done.

5. Oregon State (4-8, 3-6 last season)
If you’re looking for a team to emulate Colorado’s turnaround from 2016, look no further than the Beavers after they put together a nice surge down the stretch heading into the offseason. Ryan Nall remains a load to tackle at running back and OSU’s defense has enough experience to help the team get back to .500.

6. California (5-7, 3-6 last season)
It’s going to be a long rebuild in Berkeley for new coach Justin Wilcox. The offense may not be worth tuning in for and the same certainly can be said of the Bears’ lackluster defense.

SOUTH

1. USC (10-3 overall, 7-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Expectations are always high around Troy but things are through the roof in Los Angeles this year. Darnold’s return under center has a lot to do with things but there’s NFL talent across the board in the program and plenty of momentum from last year’s run to the Roses. The South is a mess behind Clay Helton’s squad so go ahead and pencil in the Trojans for a trip to Santa Clara (and possibly beyond).

2. Utah (9-4, 5-4 last season)
Like other teams in the division, there’s a number of question marks about the Utes heading into the year. Despite that, Kyle Whittingham has developed a remarkably consistent program that is a tough out each week in conference play and a new look offense could finally be the answer for a team that will always field a strong defense.
3. UCLA (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Jim Mora enters the year firmly on the hot seat in Los Angeles after a program that was trending downward finally bottomed out with a disastrous 2016 campaign. A healthy Josh Rosen returning to action is worth several wins alone but we’ll have to see just how well the Bruins will come together in order to turn things around at the Rose Bowl.

4. Colorado (10-4, 8-1 last season)
The Buffs wild run to the conference title game was the talk of college football in November and December. Now comes the hard part in following up that success with a ton of seniors no longer in Boulder. QB Steven Montez showed enough potential as a freshman to indicate that life will be okay for CU but a slight step back is expected in 2017.

5. Arizona State (5-7, 2-7 last season)
There’s enough talent returning in Tempe that this could be the surprise team in the South that could make things a little interesting when the end of the year rolls around. Either way, the pressure is on Todd Graham, who is undoubtedly coaching for his job this season.

6. Arizona (3-9, 1-8 last season)
Few teams had worse injury luck than the Wildcats have had the past few years. The offense should be a lot more fun to watch if tailback J.J. Taylor remains healthy but the defense has miles to go before it’s helping the team move up in the standings.

James Franklin: I am not Keegan-Michael Key

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College GameDay was in Times Square on Saturday and decided to do the most New York thing possible: respond to a Mike Francessa rant.

Francessa ripped Penn State head coach James Franklin, calling him a “horses’s ass,” for trying to prevent a field goal to preserve the Nittany Lions’ 56-0 blanking of Georgia State last week. To respond, ESPN didn’t talk to Franklin, but instead asked comedian (and Penn State graduate) Keegan-Michael Key to speak for him.

This is not the first time Key has leverages his resemblance to Franklin for comedic purposes.

Nevertheless, Franklin addressed the bit to close his post-game press conference following Penn State’s 21-19 escape of Iowa in an answer that toed the line between seriousness and wry sarcasm.

Boston College loses WR Charlie Callinan for ‘an extended period of time’

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Boston College will be without wide receiver Charlie Callinan for “an extended period of time,” the program announced just before the Eagles’ date with Clemson on Saturday.

Callinan suffered a foot injury. The nature of the injury was not disclosed.

A senior from Westfield, N.J., Callinan was one of the most experienced players on the roster with 41 career appearances and 31 starts under his belt. He is the third BC player with at least 30 career games to be lost for an extended period of time this season.

Callinan posted the best game of his career in what may go down as the final game of his career, hauling in seven catches for 89 yards and two touchdowns in a 49-20 loss to Notre Dame a week ago.

Without him in the lineup, BC passed for 141 yards on 34 attempts in a 34-7 loss to the second-ranked Tigers.

Don’t let Saquon Barkley distract you from the season Stanford’s Bryce Love is having

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Saquon Barkley is incredible. The Penn State running back is every bit a deserving Heisman front-runner, what with his 66 carries for 518 yards and four touchdowns, his team-leading 23 grabs for 335 yards and two touchdowns, and his 22.86-yard average on seven kickoff returns. This isn’t a criticism of him.

But I want to introduce an idea to you right now, and I want you to take a deep breath first: it’s possible Barkley is not having the best season of any running back in college football. At least not to this point.

Take a look at Stanford’s Bryce Love‘s first four games:

  • 13 carries for 180 yards and a touchdown in a 62-7 destruction of Rice
  • 17 carries for 160 yards and a touchdown in a 42-24 loss to USC
  • 13 carries for 184 yards and two scores in a 20-17 loss to San Diego State
  • 30 carries for 263 yards and a touchdown in last night’s 58-34 defeat of UCLA

Add it all up and you get 73 carries for 787 yards and five touchdowns, which not only means Love leads the nation in rushing yards per game — he leads the nation in rushing while averaging 10.78 yards per carry.

Love not only leads the nation in total rushing yards, he not only leads the nation in rushing yards per game, he leads the nation in yards per carry for all players anywhere in the neighborhood his carry total. Four players rank ahead of Love in yards per carry thus far, and those three players have toted the rock 76 times — combined.

The next closest player on the yards per carry rankings with at least 70 rushes is San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny, who averages 7.87 yards on 91 carries. That’s an incredible number, and still 27 percent lower than Love’s average.

Stanford may not win enough for Love to join Barkley in the Heisman conversation, but right now it appears the two running back spots on every All-American team are locked up until further notice.

Georgia, TCU replace Ohio State and OK State in top 10 of latest AP poll

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Big wins over ranked opponents pushed Georgia and TCU into the top 10 of the latest Associated Press poll, released Sunday. Voters were apparently more impressed with Georgia’s 31-3 whipping of then-No. 17 Mississippi State in Athens than they were of TCU’s 44-31 upset of then-No. 6 Oklahoma State in Stillwater. Georgia moved up four spots while TCU jumped seven, but the Bulldogs remained ahead of the Frogs by two spots, No. 7 to No. 9.

Elsewhere, Washington creeped forward one spot, Washington State and Louisville nudged forward two, and South Florida, San Diego State and Utah leaped three spots forward. Notre Dame and West Virginia returned to this week’s poll at Nos. 22 and 23, replacing upset losers Florida State and Oregon. Unlike the Coaches’ Poll, voters remembered that Mississippi State hammered LSU by 30 points just eight days ago, keeping the Bulldogs one spot ahead of the Bayou Bengals.

The full poll:

  1. Alabama — 1,515 total points (52 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson — 1,458 (2)
  3. Oklahoma — 1,397 (1)
  4. Penn State — 1,304
  5. USC — 1,247
  6. Washington — 1,188
  7. Georgia — 1,136
  8. Michigan — 1,088
  9. TCU — 1,028
  10. Wisconsin — 1,023
  11. Ohio State — 1,016
  12. Virginia Tech — 828
  13. Auburn — 701
  14. Miami — 693
  15. Oklahoma State — 665
  16. Washington State — 551
  17. Louisville — 502
  18. South Florida — 406
  19. San Diego State — 365
  20. Utah — 356
  21. Florida — 342
  22. Notre Dame — 246
  23. West Virginia — 212
  24. Mississippi State — 148
  25. LSU — 92