CFT predicts: the Pac-12

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Briefly, there was a shift in the power of the Pac-12. After USC’s nearly decade of dominance, Oregon and Stanford had their turn as the league’s best programs while the Trojans went through a coaching change and dealt with NCAA sanctions.

Well, the Trojans? They’re not facing a bowl ban anymore.

And they might just win the whole thing (the AP agrees) with 75 scholarship players (unless Oregon has anything to say about it).

Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how the Pac-12 should shake out:

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

North Division 

1. Oregon (last season: 12-2; won Rose Bowl) 
If there’s one team in college football that overcomes player turnover better than anyone, it’s Oregon. The Ducks find a way to do the whole “next guy in” thing without much, if any, dropoff. That’s a reflection of recruiting and coaching by Chip Kelly and his staff. Darron Thomas and LaMichael James are gone, but the backfield is loaded with Kenjon Barner and De’Anthony Thomas. Bryan Bennett figures to be the starting QB, but there’s a healthy battle between him and Marcus Mariota. I was also impressed by Oregon’s team speed on defense this spring too. Bottom line: I wouldn’t count out Oregon at all just because USC is the favorite.

2. Stanford (last season: 11-2; lost Fiesta Bowl) 
Like Oregon, Stanford loses some key starters on offense, and not just Andrew Luck; tight end Coby Fleener and offensive linemen Jonathan Martin and David DeCastro are all gone to the NFL, too. The Cardinal look good in the trenches on both sides — a tribute to Jim Harbaugh — and the team’s bread and butter of running the ball shouldn’t take a hit. Stanford’s passing game — and ability to defend the pass — could be problematic.

3. Washington (last season: 7-6; lost Alamo Bowl) 
With the changes Steve Sarkisian has made to his defensive coaching staff combined with the upgraded facilities the program is receiving, it’s just a matter of time before Washington is playing in Pac-12 title games. Keith Price is arguably the division’s best quarterback. Protecting Price could come with its own cost, though, as depth along the offensive line is an issue despite four returning starters in the group.

4. Washington State (last season: 4-8)
Paul Wulff left Wazzu in a little better shape than last year’s 4-8 record indicates. Mike Leach is one hell of a coach and having him on board a big reason the Cougars should be the surprise of the Pac-12 North. Jeff Tuel has the potential to be one of the conference’s hidden gems at quarterback, but he missed almost all of last season with injuries. The team’s leading rusher (Rickey Galvin) and receiver (Marquess Wilson) are both back, so there is some firepower for Leach to work with. Overall, the Cougars return 18 starters.

5. Cal (last season: 7-6; lost Holiday Bowl)
Jeff Tedford‘s stock has been falling in recent years, and with only 11 starters returning from last year’s mediocre team, I’m not sure the ship can be righted in time. It also says something when you’re a program like Cal and the best you can do at quarterback is Zach Maynard. The good news is that the best player on the team, receiver Keenan Allen, is one of those 11 returning starters. The not-so-good news is that the Bears have a tough conference schedule, going on the road to USC and Utah (two teams that should finish first and second in the South).

6. Oregon State (last season: 3-9)
Mike Riley is a good coach and has done some great things with Oregon State. I also believe his time’s about up in Corvallis. Quarterback Sean Mannion is back after a nice freshman showing last year. Defensive back Jordan Poyer leads the defense. Don’t expect Oregon State to get off to a great start, but it is worth nothing that the Beavers get four of their final six games of the season at home.

South Division

1. USC (last season: 10-2; banned from postseason play) 
Yeah, go ahead and punch my ticket for the USC bandwagon. I mean, who else is going to win the South? Despite scholarship losses and a thin defensive line, the Trojans are stacked pretty much everywhere else with BCS championship-caliber talent. Also, Lane Kiffin is recruiting like a mad man (related: the city of Knoxville collectively pukes). His latest addition is former Penn State running back Silas Redd.

2. Utah (last season: 8-5; won Sun Bowl) 
The Utes were my sleeper pick to win the South Division last season. Yeah, that didn’t happen. Jordan Wynn was hurt and life in a BCS league was a little rough on the former Mountain West members. But, one year older and wiser, Utah returns with 18 starters, including running back John White IV, who rushed for over 1,500 yards. I don’t consider the Utes a sleeper this year because I don’t see anyone overthrowing USC, but three divisional rivals are starting new eras with new coaches and Colorado is, well…

3. Arizona State (last season: 6-7; lost Las Vegas Bowl)
Replacing Brock Osweiler could be difficult for Arizona State, but the QB situation isn’t nearly as bad as UCLA’s. Plus, this team is more fit to what Todd Graham will do offensively than Pitt. The team has only 11 returning starters, but there’s some solid talent at the skill positions in Tempe.

4. UCLA (last season: 6-8; lost Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
The Bruins have talent, but they’ve been a bottom feeder because of injuries and bad coaching situations. Jim Mora will try to get UCLA turned around. At least he has running back Johnathan Franklin to work with because the quarterback situation is awful. Along with Texas A&M, UCLA is one of those programs that should be better every year, but somehow isn’t.

5. Arizona (last season: 4-8)
Arizona is a good place for Rich Rodriguez. If the athletic department continues to make strides with facility improvements, the Wildcats can consistently at least be in the running for divisional titles under the former coach of Michigan and West Virginia. Historically, however, Rodriguez has struggled in his first year with a program, largely because the personnel he’s had doesn’t initially fit what he likes to do on offense. Matt Scott gives Rodriguez a weapon more tuned to the zone read, so that’ll help.

6. Colorado (last season: 3-10) 
I don’t know when Colorado’s going to get out of the football funk it’s been in for the better part of the last decade. It’s a shame too; Boulder provides a superb football environment and the program has a good tradition. The Buffs have plenty of defensive starters from a year ago, but the offense could be awful.

CFT’s Pac-12 champion: USC 

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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 East
Big Ten
Big 12
Conference USA 
MAC
Mountain West
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

Marshall football player arrested for domestic battery

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Marshall safety Braydon Drayton was arrested Wednesday and charged for his alleged actions in a domestic assault incident.

According to a report from WSAZ, Drayton was place din custody at a regional jail with a bond set at $55,000. Drayton was charged for suspected strangulation and domestic battery of a woman. A formal complaint submitted earlier in the day claimed the alleged victim had red marks around her neck and chest following the alleged assault by Drayton. The victim claims to have been grabbed by Drayton around her neck as tempers flared.

Drayton has been suspended by the Marshall football program on an indefinite basis, allowing the legal process to play out before any further decisions on his status with the program may be made.

Mississippi State players say Joe Moorhead isn’t leaving SEC for another job

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With Rutgers searching for a new head coach and Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead reportedly being among the top candidates to fill the vacancy, the rumor-denial season is in full swing in Starkville. Days after Moorhead deflected the idea of him leaving Mississippi State to take the Rutgers job, some of Moorhead’s players are coming to his aide to shut down the idea the coach would return to his home state.

“It’s funnier to him than anything,” Mississippi State quarterback Garrett Shrader said, according to a Mississippi Clarion Ledger report on Tuesday. “He’s not leaving an SEC West program. He’s told me that multiple times.”

“He’s our coach. He’s been the same guy,” Shrader said. “He’s passionate about this team. He’s very vocal about that. He’s not going anywhere.”

Joining Shrader in attempting to shut down the Moorhead-to-Rutgers rumor mill was running back Kylin Hill, who summed up the discussion as nothing more than the typical banter that seemingly happens during the silly season that is the coaching carousel.

“There’s always going to be outside noise,” Hill said. “That’s the world we live in today. I’m not too focused on it. Nobody’s focused on it. Everybody loves the man.”

Moorhead and Mississippi State will have their attention set on this week’s game. The Bulldogs hit the road for a game at Texas A&M on Saturday. Mississippi State is looking to even its record at 4-4.

Georgia may be next in line for ‘Fair Pay to Play’ legislation

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The trend sweeping the nation in collegiate athletics appears to be heading to Georgia next. The “Fair Pay to Play” movement will be coming to Georgia, following the lead of California and following similar pushes by other states around the country.

Georgia state representative Billy Mitchell will reportedly be submitting formal legislation that would seek to allow college athletes to be eligible to receive compensation for the use of their image, likeness, and name. This is the same basic principle behind the new law in the state of California which was recently signed and will go into effect beginning in 2023.

If the legislation were to pass within the state of Georgia, it would impact every college football team in the state including FBS programs at Georgia, Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, and Georgia State. Other states in the southeast to begin getting the wheels in motion for a Fair Pay to Play movement include Kentucky, South Carolina, and Florida. Other states have gotten in on the fun too, including Pennsylvania, Minnesota, New York, Illinois and Nevada.

New York’s proposal went a step farther than the most common proposed legislation in the Fair Pay to Play movement by proposing universities directly share a percentage of an athletic program’s overall revenue with every student-athlete on campus.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey addresses concerns over officiating

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In this day and age, officials are being scrutinized to degrees once never dreamed of. With multiple angles for instant replays on television and on the big stadium scoreboards, every little mistake by an official in a football game will come under fire from fans, coaches and players.  Following a tough loss to Florida, South Carolina fans and their head coach, Will Muschamp, were not particularly pleased with some officiating decisions or lack of decisions made in the setback at home against the Gators. South Carolina’s issues were just the latest in a string of concerns folks around the SEC have had about the integrity of the officials calling their games, a story every fanbase in every conference can relate to in some way.

On Wednesday, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey addressed the general concerns fans about the officials working game sin his conference. In short, Sankey says nobody is perfect.

“The Southeastern Conference is entrusted with supporting an officiating program that is responsible for calling the games of our member schools. We take this duty most seriously,” Sankey wrote on the SEC’s official website. “We view perfection as our desired goal while also understanding it will always be an elusive standard in a game that is filled with surprises. And we are disappointed when we don’t get it right. Because our goal is to get it right, every time.”

Sankey continued to enforce the idea the SEC is constantly monitoring the performance of their officials and explained the assignments for officials may also be adjusted according to their ongoing in-season performance reviews. While the SEC does not make these assignment changes transparent once changes are made, the idea is to have the best officials working the best games without any potential issues becoming growing concerns in key moments.

Sankey also issued a reminder that coaches and administrators throughout the conference are not allowed to publicly rip the officials, a standard operating procedure in every conference (just ask Lane Kiffin about that).

The SEC has taken some strides in an effort to be more transparent about the officiating process with the launch of a new Twitter account (just don’t check the mentions on game days) and programming on the SEC Network to detail how the rules are governed and upheld during games.