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CFT Predicts: the ACC

ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Clemson Getty Images

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the ACC.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig Ten, Pac-12

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Tigers shook their ‘Clemsoning’ curse and previous Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia by going 11-2 and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
Offense, offense, offense. And some offense sprinkled in. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman candidate and he’ll have Sammy Watkins to throw to for a third straight year. Watkins had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012 — at least by his standards — because of a variety of issues, from a suspension to injuries, but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. His touchdown production should rise again after getting in the end zone just four times.

Anything else?
The defense improved under first-year coordinator Brent Venables. With as good as the Tigers offense projects to be, there’s more wiggle room on that side of the ball. Also, can Clemson finally beat South Carolina after dropping four straight games?

2. Florida State (Last year: 12-2; beat NIU in Orange Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The ‘Noles won the ACC and beat NIU in the Orange Bowl. They also pulled their annual head-scratcher by losing to North Carolina State. The circle never ends, it seems.

So why are they ranked here?
Talent isn’t a question Tallahassee, but there are a lot of new faces. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has a ton of upside at the quarterback spot, it just remains to be seen at this point how he handles his first year as starter. Wide receiver depth is becoming an issue too. The defensive line loses two pass rushers in Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, but that’s an area stacked — almost unfairly — with capable players.

Anything else?
Florida State had a whopping 11 NFL draft picks in April, but Jimbo Fisher also had to replace roughly half his coaching staff. That’s a lot of turnover and it’ll be interesting to see how players and coaches jell this year.

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CFT Predicts: the Big 12

Gary Patterson AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big 12. 

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig TenPac-12

1. TCU (Last year: 7-6; lost to Michigan State in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Thanks to injuries, dismissals and attrition of various varieties, the Horned Frogs tossed a lot of young players into their first Big 12 fire and still managed to win seven games. Included in the list of new faces was quarterback Trevone Boykin, who played out the final two months of the season while Casey Pachall dealt with substance abuse issues. Of all the success Gary Patterson‘s had in Fort Worth, 2012 may have been was his best coaching job, and a young defense buckled down in the final month of the season.

So why are they picked here?
Most of them youngins mentioned above are back. The offense should be fine no matter which quarterback, Pachall or Boykin, takes the field. And they’ll have options at their disposal too. Running back Waymon James averaged nearly 10 yards per carry in two games before going down with a season-ending knee injury. In that vein, TCU’s backfield had its fair share of injuries, but when healthy, it should flourish alongside a solid receiving unit.

And that defense? It should be the best in the conference with just about everybody coming back (minus linebacker and second-leading tackler Joel Hasley).

Anything else?
Some departures just before, and around the start of, preseason camp have put a dent in the offensive line and linebacker units. Defensive end Devonte Fields will miss some early-season action as well. But Patterson is well-respected around these parts and he’s shown as recently as a year ago that he can coach around injuries. Also, the Horned Frogs have some intriguing road games at Oklahoma (Oct. 5), Oklahoma State (Oct. 19) and Kansas State (Nov. 16) that should provide tough tests. Going to Lubbock in the early portion of the season (Sept. 12) and Ames in November (Nov. 9) aren’t always picnics, either.

2. Texas (last year: 9-4; beat Oregon State in Alamo Bowl)
What happened last season?
Texas experienced about as many ups and downs as a nine-win team could possibly go through in one season. The Longhorns got taken to the woodshed (again) by Oklahoma and still couldn’t find a way to beat Kansas State, but a come-from-behind win against Oregon State in the Alamo Bowl cleansed the football palate just enough to make the offseason bearable. The offense, led by quarterback David Ash, was inconsistent and the defense exhibited too many breakdowns in fundamentals and tackling. 

So why are they picked here?
That’s a handsome question considering there wasn’t a lot praise being doled out in the 2012 recap. But the simple answer is Texas brings back among the most experienced group of starters not just in the Big 12, but in the country. There’s no denying the skill position talent on offense, where receivers Mike Davis and Jaxon Shipley should be complemented by the deepest backfield in the conference. If the defense can improve even a little — getting Jordan Hicks back should help — this team has the potential to be dangerous.

Anything else?
Yeah, about that Mack Brown. Two BCS championship appearances (and winning one) would normally eliminate Brown from being mentioned as a concern, but media members in Big 12 country didn’t seem to have a lot of confidence in him when they picked Texas to finish fourth in the conference this year. I’m a little more convinced Texas will ascend to the top, or near the top, of the Big 12, which should be wide open this year. But if Brown can’t make it happen this year, it’s hard to see him hanging around much longer.

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Saturday offseason one-liners

Bo Pelini AP

Some links from around college football on a Saturday… 

Breaking and important: Les Miles was almost in a SyFy movie called “Ghost Shark”. Instead, we’re left with the shattered dreams of what could have been.

– Speaking of acting, you have to hand it to Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. He was 100 percent committed in this prank he pulled on his players.

–The status of Kansas offensive lineman Pearce Slater is muddy at this time.

The Oklahoman examines the gamble of picking Trevor Knight as OU’s starting quarterback.

– Michigan State will be picking a starting quarterback on Monday.

– Wisconsin and Northwestern recently showed off some new lids for this season. These look pretty sharp.

– TCU has some new alternate unis as well.

– “Lane Kiffin, Ice Cream Man” is probably a horror film waiting to happen (you’re welcome, Hollywood).

– Oh, hello there, former Alabama football player Eddie Williams.

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Goodbye from Ben

North Texas v LSU Getty Images

Hey, all.

There’s really never a good lede for something like this, and if there was, it’d probably be self-indulgent anyway. So, here it is: yesterday was my last day at CFT. Beginning today, I’m moving on to a new opportunity in my career (and if you’re looking for more information, you can find it on my Twitter account).

You’ll still see some conference previews over the next day or so with my byline on them like some sort of ghost of college football past, but this is my last post.

I’m sad to be leaving CFT and NBCSports. I’ve had three tremendous years here and there are a lot of people who are responsible for that. Rather than spend (most of) my last post on CFT talking about me, I’d like to take a few moments and acknowledge them.

First, I have to thank my loving family and friends, who have given me their unconditional support and understanding while I chase the dream.

Thank you to Mike Florio and Larry Mazza. They’re two of the brightest, hardest working gents I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting to know. They were there from Day 1 and gave me a chance out of faith. I am forever thankful to them.

Thank you to Tom Seely, Rick Cordella, Mike Miller, all the news desk guys and gals, past and present. There are some truly great people at NBC and I can’t say enough about how much fun they’ve been to work with over the years.

Thank you, John. Y’all, he’s more than my boss. He’s become a dear friend and I’ll cherish that for the rest of my life. I feel blessed to have had such a solid working and personal relationship with him. There were days when we’d literally email each other at the same time about the same site-related things. It was beyond creepy.

Finally, thank you. Yes, you. Thank you for reading, for making CFT a part of your day… or week… or whenever it is you visit. I appreciate it and I know John appreciates it. We haven’t always agreed on things, and that’s okay because you all have continued to be so loyal to this site. That alone rises above everything else. I mean, there were days when I could barely construct a sentence with a proper subject-verb agreement — yet y’all kept on comin’ back anyway.

I’ll certainly miss it here. CFT has been such a big part of my life over these last three years. It’s one of the first things I see in the morning and usually the last thing I shut down before I go to bed. Naturally, there is a sense of ownership I’ve gained from all of this. Moving on is definitely going to take some getting used to, but I will always look back on my time here fondly. Who knows, maybe our paths will cross again some day.

Until then, and with tears unapologetically welling up in my eyes, I say be good to each other, enjoy the season, and go Mean Green.

Signing off,

Ben

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CFT Predicts: the Pac-12

David Yankey, David Shaw, Shayne Skov AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Pac-12.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Big Ten

Pac-12 North

1. Stanford (Last year: 12-2; beat Wisconsin in Rose Bowl)
What happened last season?
Though Stanford lost arguably the best quarterback to ever pass through the program in Andrew Luck, the Cardinal did something it couldn’t when Luck and Jim Harbaugh were on The Farm: win the Pac-12. David Shaw is quickly ascending the list of best college coaches in the country. I mean, the guy did a Ted Talk. Clearly Stanford is big-time now.

So why are they ranked here?
The Cardinal are experienced and there really aren’t many glaring weaknesses on either side of the ball. Quarterback Kevin Hogan is undefeated as a starter and has a solid offensive line and running game that brings back Tyler Gaffney. The defensive front seven returns plenty of starters too, including linebacker Shayne Skov. This is a solid team all around.

Anything else?
Things get a little more interesting schedule-wise in the second half of the season. The Cardinal play UCLA, Oregon State and Oregon in consecutive weeks before ending the year against Cal and Notre Dame. Weather that schedule and Stanford will absolutely be in the national title discussion. And I’d like their chances of winning it all (meaning, by rule of the jinx, they’ll go 8-5 and OMG I’m so sorry, you guys [sad face]).

2. Oregon (Last year: 12-1; beat Kansas State in Fiesta Bowl)
What happened last season?
Another BCS win for the Ducks would end up being the final game for coach Chip Kelly, who left for the NFL shortly thereafter. But the important story line here is that the one-point safety happened and we are all now better off as humans for seeing it.

So why are they ranked here?
The Pac-12 North looks like it could play out in a similar fashion to the SEC East, where Georgia and South Carolina could be slotted in either order as 1A or 1B. Oregon is actually the preseason favorite to win the North (and the league’s championship game) — albeit by the slimmest of margins — but if it comes down to it, I’m going to go with Shaw over first-year coach Mark Helfrich.

Anything else?
There’s a lot of national focus on Teddy Bridgewater and Johnny Manziel as far as as quarterbacks go, but keep an eye on Marcus Mariota. This redshirt sophomore was efficient in his first year as a starter, throwing for 32 touchdowns to just six interceptions while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. He has great size (6-foot-4 and 211 pounds) and athleticism.

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Iowa names Jake Rudock its starting QB

Iowa Spring Football AP

While it remains to be seen if Iowa can bounce back from a disappointing four-win season, at least it’s clear who the Hawkeyes want under center to try and make it happen.

Kirk Ferentz announced Friday that redshirt sophomore Jake Rudock has been named the starter for the season opener against Northern Illinois. He beats out Cody Sokol and C.J. Beathard for the starting gig.

All three returning quarterbacks have competed well and improved in each phase of our preseason camp,” Ferentz said.

Rudock was technically the backup to James Vandenberg last season, but none of the three quarterbacks who competed this offseason have any game experience since Vandenberg took every snap for the Hawkeyes. Offense, especially the passing game, has been a big concern transitioning into 2013. There aren’t many ways the Hawkeyes’ passing attack can be worse than it was a year ago, but with literally no experience at the QB spot, it’s hard to even get a gauge on how it’ll look this year.

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Starting Gators O-lineman likely out until Tennessee game

Jeff Driskel, Florida's Jon Halapio, Cornelius Washington AP

Florida can’t quite catch a break when it comes to injuries and attrition this preseason. The latest to miss some time will be offensive lineman Jon Halapio.

Will Muschamp said Friday that Halapio has a torn left pectoral muscle. He’s likely to miss the season opener against Toledo and the Week 2 game against Miami, but is expected to be back in time for the Gators’ third game of the year against Tennessee.

Losing Halapio for the opener should be manageable, but depending on how long it takes for Matt Jones to fully recover from his viral infection, the Gators’ ground game could be a question mark against the Hurricanes, which now feature an upgraded defensive line with the additions of transfers David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow.

The good news is that Halapio figures to be back in time for SEC play. Perhaps Jones will be back by then as well.

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Ohio State confirms CB Najee Murray is off the team

Najee Murray

Ohio State cornerback Najee Murray was reportedly dismissed from the team earlier this month… before he wasn’t. But he’s officially off the team now.

OSU confirmed Thursday via the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Murray has in fact left the team and has been given his release. Urban Meyer said earlier this month that Murray was suspended for a “training camp issue.” A previous report said that he had been dismissed from the team.

As a true freshman and mainly on special teams, Murray played in the first six games of the 2012 season before going down with a torn ACL. He was expected to contribute similarly in 2013

(Photo credit: Ohio State athletics) 

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Thursday offseason one-liners

Collin Klein, Keenan Robinson, Alex Okafor, Jackson Jeffcoat AP

Some links from around college football on a Thursday…

– The New York Times has an awesome profile on Jadeveon Clowney. There’s been a lot written about him lately, but this is worth a read.

– Michigan players got a visit from former quarterback Tom Brady.

– Texas defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat shares a special bond with his father.

– There is still no imminent deal for Time Warner Cable to carry the Longhorn Network.

– The Desmond Harrison eligibility soap opera at Texas has come to an end.

– Former Baylor running back Terrance Ganaway is retiring from the NFL.

– Here’s a really cool piece from Paul Myerberg at the USA Today about what makes Nick Saban and Urban Meyer so good.

– What’s good, and what’s bad, about Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez.

–  There’s still no official word on the injury to UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.

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CFT Predicts: the Big Ten

Urban Meyer AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the Big Ten.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SEC, Pac-12

Leaders Division

1. Ohio State (Last year: 12-0)
What happened last season?
Urban Meyer‘s first year with the Buckeyes was flawless, at least as far as things go in the win-loss column. Though Ohio State had no postseason to look forward to thanks to NCAA sanctions, it went undefeated during the regular season. That’s propelled OSU to become one of the preseason favorites to appear in the final BCS championship.

So why are they ranked here?
The more appropriate question would be why wouldn’t the Buckeyes be ranked here? Meyer is easily one of the best in the game and quarterback Braxton Miller is now the betting favorite to win the Heisman. There are some concerns along the defensive front for this team, but it doesn’t have the appearance of something that will be an insurmountable problem.

Anything else?
The Game against Michigan can go either way, but there’s really only one spot I can potentially see Ohio State slipping. That would be an Oct. 5 game at Northwestern. The Wildcats enter 2013 with some hype (there’s something you don’t type everyday) after winning 10 games last year.

2. Wisconsin (Last year: 8-6; lost to Stanford in Rose Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Badgers can thank the NCAA for getting to the Big Ten title game as both Ohio State and Penn State watched from home. The Badgers struggled with offensive consistency throughout the year even though Montee Ball was among the leading rushers in the country. 

So why are they ranked here?
Gary Andersen takes over for the departed Bret Bielema. Though Ball is gone and the quarterback situation needs to be figured out, this is a veteran team with some recognizable names still around like running back James White and receiver Jared Abbrederis. The bigger concern lies on defense, which will be moving to more of a 3-4 this year.

Anything else?
The Badgers avoid Michigan, Michigan State and Nebraska this season. It may not help Andersen win the Leaders Division in his first year, but it should help with a few more W’s. Also, QB Tanner McEvoy has started getting some looks at receiver and should help in that department.

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Ex-USF WR transfers to Iowa State

K'Waun Williams, D'vario Montgomery AP

South Florida’s wide receiver unit has seen its fair share of attrition over the past several months. The latest to depart the program, sophomore D’vario Montgomery, has already decided on a transfer destination.

Not that there was a whole lot of time to think about it anyway with the season just over a week away.

Iowa State announced in a statement that Montgomery has joined the Cyclones program where he’ll be reunited with his high school teammate, Sam Richardson. Richardson is believed to be the leading candidate to win the starting quarterback job for the Cyclones in 2013 after finishing out the end of the 2012 season.

Montgomery will have to sit out the 2013 season per NCAA transfer rules and will have three years of eligibility remaining starting in 2014. News of Montgomery’s decision first came via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times

Montgomery confirmed his intentions to the paper, saying there was “no animosity” toward USF or new coach Willie Taggart.

“I want to thank everybody who did anything for me from USF. I just feel like it’s time to go,” Montgomery said.

Though Montgomery caught just six passes last season as a freshman, he was thought to have a lot of potential and his size (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) makes him an attractive target. Instead, he becomes the third Bulls receive to depart the program over the offseason. Sterling Griffin opted to leave USF and play football at Louisiana Tech and former coach Skip Holtz, and Terrence Mitchell was suspended and will not be playing this fall.

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Disorderly conduct charge against Ohio State CB conditionally dismissed

Bradley Roby AP

The legal problem Ohio State cornerback Bradley Roby was facing is no longer a problem — so long as he completes a diversion program, that is.

Roby’s misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge has been conditionally dismissed. The terms of the agreement, first offered by prosecutors last week, say Roby must avoid legal trouble until Aug. 16, 2014. A pretrial hearing for the case has been cancelled.

Roby was arrested by Bloomington (Ind.) police on an assault charge last month after he allegedly became involved in a scuffle with the bouncers at a night club, though video evidence of the incident appeared to clear the junior of any kind of battery. The charge was later reduced to disorderly conduct.

Roby is still facing punishment from Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer and will miss the season opener against Buffalo.

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Marqise Lee aggravates injured shoulder in practice, but is okay to return

USC v UCLA Getty Images

USC wide receiver Marqise Lee now has the most closely watched shoulder in college football.

Just a couple of weeks after sustaining a bone bruise in his right arm, the returning Biletnikoff Award winner had another scare in practice on Wednesday. According to reports, Lee re-injured his shoulder when he dove for a ball and had to leave the field. His pads had to be removed without lifting his arm, and his shoulder iced down.

The good news is it doesn’t appear to be serious, at least according to Lane Kiffin. Lee apparently re-aggravated the injury and will be “fine.” Lee even told reporters after practice that, if he was playing a game, he would have stayed in.

But with the season less than two weeks away, it’ll be interesting to see if Lee’s shoulder continues to bother him at all.

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Wednesday offseason one-liners

Valero Bowl - Texas v Oregon State Getty Images

Some links from around college football on a Wednesday…

– To surprise of no one following the Gophers, Minnesota’s starting quarterback will be Philip Nelson.

– UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr left practice with an unknown injury, but coach Jim Mora said on the Dan Patrick Show that it wasn’t anything serious.

– ESPN’s Sports Business reporter Kristi Dosh breaks down some numbers if video game revenue was shared with athletes.

– We’ll give Mack Brown this: he sure is confident.

Meet Jim Tressel, teacher.

– Former Alabama defensive end D.J. Pettway has enrolled in a Community College in Mississippi.

– Expect Kentucky to play two quarterbacks in its season opener.

Stewart Mandel of SI writes a good piece on Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost.

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CFT Predicts: the SEC

Nick Saban AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our other conference previews: Big Ten, Pac-12

SEC East

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Michigan in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Gamecocks put together an 11-2 season for the second straight year — the first time in school history the program has accomplished such a feat. Yet, Steve Spurrier‘s team still didn’t make it to the SEC championship game despite handing it to SEC champ Georgia 35-7 in Columbia. Also, this happened. You may have seen it before on SportsCenter. 

So why are they ranked here?
South Carolina and Georgia have taken their respective turns representing the East division in the SEC title for the past three years, and it looks like 2013 will be two-team race between these two once again. The Gamecocks get the edge this time because of their defense, which features preseason Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney. But it’s not just the projected No. 1 NFL draft pick that makes this defense so good. Cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles also return.

Anything else?
That’s a Clowney question, bro. But for real, the offense loses wide receiver Ace Sanders. However, the Gamecocks have a solid wide receiver group led by Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. 

2. Georgia (Last year: 12-2; beat Nebraska in Capital One Bowl) 
What happened last season?
If only Chris Conley had been a few yards further, Georgia would have been playing in the BCS championship game. Still, 12-2 and a January bowl win aren’t too shabby. Despite getting blasted by South Carolina midway through the season, UGA still won the East division for the second year in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
The Bulldogs’ offense returns so many key players, including seventh-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But conversely, it’s the defense that loses just about everyone. There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball and Todd Grantham is considered one of the best in the business at defense coordinator, but there’s enough turnover to cost the Bulldogs the top spot in the East.

Anything else?
Georgia is the media’s favorite to win the SEC East this year, but the month of September could get the Bulldogs off to a slow start. Georgia faces four tough opponents to start the season: Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas* and LSU.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

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