CFT predicts: the Big East

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Now that major college football has a four-team playoff, the Big East is fighting for an opportunity to be visible enough for inclusion. Automatic qualifier status, which the Big East currently has, will be done with in 2014. Replacing it is the “contractual tie-in” game, which the Big East currently doesn’t have.

That’s due in large part because the conference doesn’t have a well-known football brand worth the TV dollars. West Virginia was the Big East’s best representative and the Mountaineers are gone to the Big 12. Now, the league hopes the likes of Boise State can pick up where WVU left off. The Broncos won’t be joining until 2013, however.

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Big East should shake out:

(Let it be known that I reserve the right to change my mind at any time without notice.)

1. Louisville (last season: 7-6; lost Belk Bowl) 
The Charlie Strong hire has been met with praise since he arrived in Louisville three years ago. For the most part, it’s understandable. Strong has paid his dues and been around the coaching circuit more than a couple of times. But anyone can lose to Kentucky and FIU. The Cardinals need to build on the 38-35 win against West Virginia last season. Now that the Mountaineers are out of the Big East and into the Big 12, there’s no excuse not to win the conference. — not with the talent Louisville returns, not with the one-year opportunity the program has before Boise State, San Diego State, Houston and Central Florida join the mix.

2. South Florida (last season: 5-7)
More than Louisville, South Florida has run out of reasons why it can’t win a conference title. Say it with me: location, location, location. Skip Holtz is a likable guy so I want him to succeed, but 8-5 will only get a coach so far in a very winnable league. Quarterback B.J. Daniels is back for his 10th final year and he desperately needs to improve on his consistency. USF’s non-conference schedule has two tough games against Florida State and Miami, but the Bulls should be able to compete for a Big East title — which of course are famous last words.

3. Rutgers (last season: 9-4; won Pinstripe Bowl) 
Kyle Flood inherits a Rutgers program that has made significant strides under Greg Schiano. Yet, for all that Schiano’s done, the Scarlet Knights still haven’t brought home so much as a share of a conference title. Rutgers has a chance this year, but the quarterback battle between Gary Nova and Chas Dodd could be the deterrent as neither played particularly well last year.

4. Cincinnati (last season: 10-3; won Liberty Bowl)
Charlie Strong will get a lot of the attention this year because Louisville is favored to win the conference, but Butch Jones is the Big East’s best coach. Jones took the Bearcats from 4-8 in his first season to 10-3 last year and a bowl win over Vanderbilt. Will Jones have the same kind of year in 2012? It’s going to be hard without quarterback Zach Collaros and former Big East offensive player of the year, Isaiah Pead, but Jones should get enough wins though to draw the interest of a bigger program.

5. Pitt (last season: 6-7; lost BBVA Compass Bowl) 
Like B.J. Daniels at USF, it feels like Tino Sunseri‘s been at Pitt for the most of the past decade. He’ll have a new head coach — his third in as many years — in former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst. The hiring of Chryst feels more natural, as opposed to Todd Graham, who was never a good fit for the Panthers. The biggest boost for Chryst is getting running back Ray Graham back from a season-ending injury. Graham racked up nearly 1,000 yards in eight games last year.

6. Syracuse (last season: 5-7) 
The highlight of Syracuse’s 2011 season was a 49-23 dismantling of West Virginia. After that, it was all downhill with five straight losses to end the year 5-7. Like other Northeastern programs, Syracuse just isn’t what it used to be and the talent in that area doesn’t support programs like it did a couple of decades ago. Doug Marrone is a good enough coach that he might be able to have some success here and there — that doesn’t change much in the ACC, either — but the Orange leaves the Big East on a low note.

7. Temple (last season: 9-4 in MAC; won New Mexico Bowl) 
It’s back to the old stomping grounds for Temple after an eight-year hiatus. The Owls re-enter the league as an improved program and not the one unceremoniously shown the door after the 2004 season. However,  Temple will struggle this year because of the turnover on the offensive coaching staff coupled with the loss of running back Bernard Pierce. 

8. UConn (last season: 5-7) 
It was an underwhelming first year for Paul Pasqualoni‘s return to the college ranks. Then again, the Huskies reached their ceiling with a Fiesta Bowl appearance against Oklahoma following the 2010 season. You can pretty much count on UConn to do one thing consistently: run the football. Lyle McCombs, at just 166 pounds, was able to churn out 1,100 yards last season. With the passing game once again a questionable area of the offense, McCombs will be counted on once again.

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Interested in our other 10 conference projections along with Division 1-A (FBS) Independents? View ’em all below by clicking the individual links or our projections landing page HERE. And don’t forget to check out CFT’s preseason Top 25.

ACC
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Lott IMPACT Trophy announces semifinalists

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You know we are getting close to award season in college football because it seems this week has been filled with announcements about semifinalists for every award possible. Welcome to the party, Lott IMPACT Trophy. A total of nine semifinalists were announced by the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which is awarded to the best defensive player with a focus on success on and off the field, integrity, maturity, performance, academics, community and tenacity.

The nine semifinalists for this year’s Lott IMPACT Trophy are:

  • Derrick Brown, DL, Auburn
  • Cole Christiansen, LB, Army
  • Jordan Fuller, DB, Ohio State
  • Brandon Jones, DB, Texas
  • Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
  • Chris Orr, LB, Wisconsin
  • Isaiah Simmons, LB, Clemson
  • Curtis Weaver, DL, Boise State
  • Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Linebacker remains a strong position for the Lott IMPACT Trophy this season, with five of the nine semifinalists playing a linebacker position.

This year’s recipient of the Lott IMPACT Trophy will be announced on Dec. 15 at the Pacific Club in Newport Beach. This list of nine semifinalists will be trimmed down to four finalists prior to the announcement.

Kentucky’s Josh Allen took home the award last season.

Class of 2019 four-star Baylor commit says he’s heading to Utah

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Former Baylor quarterback Peyton Powell has a new football home in the Pac-12. Powell announced on Thursday he is heading to Utah to join the Utes program.

“It’s time for me to clear the air and I WILL be doing that at THE University of Utah,” Powell said in a statement share don his Twitter account on Thursday afternoon.

Powell came to Baylor with the hopes of being able to compete and play quarterback for the Bears. That opportunity was one of the reasons Baylor ended up winning his commitment out of high school, while many schools hoping to sign the four-star athlete could find ways to use his athleticism at different positions. Powell, a member of the Baylor Class of 2019, has not played this season and will have four years of eligibility remaining. NCAA rules would force Powell to sit out the 2010 season before being ruled eligible to play, but he may be given a chance to play right away considering he did not play during his freshman year at Baylor.

Arizona continues shaking up coaching staff with reported firing of defensive line coach

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As a year of disappointing results comes down the final stretch for the Arizona Wildcats, changes are already in the air for Kevin Sumlin and the program. On Thursday, Arizona continued to go through the process of overhauling its defensive coaching staff with the firing of defensive line coach Iona Uiagalelei.

News of the coaching change was first reported by Jason Scheer of Wildcat Authority. According to that same report, defensive analyst Greg Patrick will be moved into the position of defensive line coach, at least for the remainder of the current season.

Arizona ranks 73rd nationally in rushing defense, 113th in sacks, and 119th in tackles for a loss. These are all stats most commonly used to evaluate the performance of the defensive line, and the results this late in the season just simply aren’t good any way you look at it.

A month ago, Arizona parted ways with defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and linebackers coach John Rushing. Uiagalelei is the third defensive coach to be removed from the staff during the 2019 season.

Jonathan Taylor, Chuba Hubbard among semifinalists for Doak Walker Award

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Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is attempting to do something that has only been done twice before by winning the Doak Walker Award in back-to-back seasons. Taylor was one of the 10 semifinalists revealed by the Doak Walker Award on Thursday, putting last year’s top running back one step closer to pulling off the rare feat on the college football award circuit.

Taylor will have some stiff competition for the award this season. Among the other semifinalists for the award include Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s rushing leader with 1,726 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns (Taylor has 1,463 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in the same number of games as Hubbard).

Darren McFadden of Arkansas is the most recent player to win the Doak  Walker Award in back-to-back seasons, doing so in 2006 and 2007. The only other player to win the award in consecutive seasons, and the only other two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, is Ricky Williams of Texas. Williams won the award in 1997 and 1998. Taylor joined former Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (2014), Montee Ball (2012) and Ron Dayne (1999) to move Wisconsin into first place for most all-time Doak Walker Award winners. Texas also has four awards won, but by three players (Ricky Williams twice, Cedric Benson in 2004 and D’Onta Foreman in 2016).

The other semi-finalists for the Doak Walker Award this year include LeVante Bellamy of Western Michigan (21 touchdowns leads the nation), AJ Dillon of Boston College, JK Dobbins of Ohio State, Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU, Travis Etienne of Clemson, Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis, Xavier Jones of SMU, Zack Moss of Utah.