Image: Rakeem Cato

CFT predicts: Conference USA

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I have a secret. I’m actually quite sad Conference USA as we know it today will be no more by 2013. Central Florida, Houston and SMU will all be departing for the Big East and taking their places will be FIU, Louisiana Tech, North Texas and UT-San Antonio (UNC-Charlotte and Old Dominion join in 2015).

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.

But 2012 should be another fun year for C-USA, though it may not have that one team making waves nationally like Houston did last season. Looking ahead to the 2012 season, here’s how Conference USA should shake out:

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

East Division

1. Marshall (last season: 7-6; won Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl) 
The Thundering Herd overachieved in 2011 and came thisclose to securing the East title. Sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato looks like the real deal, and even though I’ve never been a huge believer in Doc Holliday as a coach, there’s no denying his recruiting prowess.

2. East Carolina (last season: 5-7) 
One down year and East Carolina gets back near the  top of the East standings. The Pirates return most of their starters from a year ago, but the 2012 schedule is tough early with three straight road games that could set the tone for the whole year. A season-ending game at Marshall could decide the East.

3. UCF (last season: 5-7) 
Things went south quickly for the Knights last season. After a 2-0 start, UCF didn’t win consecutive games for the rest of the season. The program was sanctioned by the NCAA this offseason, which includes a bowl ban for 2012. Even if George O’Leary gets back to above .500, he might be gone after this year — unless he gets back to nine or 10 wins.

4. Southern Miss (last season: 12-2; won Hawaii Bowl) 
The defending C-USA champions will dip this year with only a dozen or so returning starters combined with a completely new coaching staff. The good news is the Golden Eagles don’t have to play Houston or Tulsa.

5. UAB (last season: 3-9) 
Former Arkansas offensive coordinator Garrick McGee starts his tenure at UAB with a tall task ahead. The team returns just 11 starters, but among them are key offensive pieces. Things will be rough in McGee’s first year, but not as bad as …

6. Memphis (last season: 2-10) 
One of college football’s worst programs also breaks in a new coach with ex-TCU co-offensive coordinator Justin Fuente. Fuente has to move forward without quarterback Taylor Reed. Outside of a season-opening game against Tennessee-Martin, the Tigers may not win another game for the rest of the year.

West Division

1. Tulsa (last season: 8-5; lost Armed Forces Bowl) 
Tulsa has fielded a deceptively good football for the past couple of years. The Golden Hurricane went 10-3 in 2010 under Todd Graham and followed that up with an 8-5 campaign a year ago with an excruciating out-of-conference slate. Nebraska transfer Cody Green is eligible to play this season.

2. Houston (last season: 13-1; won TicketCity Bowl)
The Cougars lose a lot in quarterback Case Keenum and coach Kevin Sumlin. The passing game, Houston’s bread and butter, takes a hit, but leading rusher Charles Sims is back. Sumlin built a solid program at Houston that new coach Tony Levine won’t see much of a drop off in his first year.

3. SMU (last season: 8-5; won BBVA Compass Bowl) 
June Jones almost went to Arizona State this offseason … and then he didn’t. The Mustangs should be glad, and the team has picked up former Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert, who will be able to play right away.

4. Rice (last season: 4-8) 
David Bailiff‘s stock at Rice is dropping. After a 10-3 season in 2008, the Owls haven’t won more than four games in the last three seasons. Bailiff promises Sam McGuffie will be more involved in the offense this year.

5. UTEP (last season: 5-7) 
Like Bailiff, Mike Price‘s seat is getting warm. Price hasn’t finished with a winning record with UTEP since 2005. The Miners return 13 starters from a year ago, but the 2012 schedule is pretty tough from beginning to end.

6. Tulane (last season: 2-11)
Whereas Rice and UTEP may be getting new coaches after this year, Tulane is entering Year 1 with Curtis Johnson. The wide receivers coach for the New Orleans Saints since 2006, Johnson is an interesting hire. While Johnson knows the area and should be able to recruit, the rebuilding process for the Green Wave will take a while.

CFT’s C-USA champion: Tulsa

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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
MAC
Mountain West
Pac-12
SEC
Sun Belt
WAC
Independents

USC confirms JT Daniels is still Trojans’ starting QB

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The drama in the Land of Troy, such as it was, is officially over.

For most, there was a three-man battle for USC’s starting quarterback job throughout this offseason — incumbent JT Daniels, Matt Fink and Jack Sears.  Tuesday, the Trojans ended the competition charade by confirming that Daniels will indeed be the team’s starter when they open the 2019 season later this month.

Most intriguing, though, is the fact that true freshman Kedon Slovis, who has been mostly an afterthought in the competition, has been chosen as the true sophomore Daniels’ backup over Fink, a redshirt junior, and Sears, a redshirt sophomore.

Daniels started 11 games as a true freshman for the Trojans this past season, with Sears starting the other.  Fink seriously contemplated a transfer this offseason before opting to remain at USC.  Slovis, meanwhile, was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 26 pro-style quarterback in the country.

In his first season as a starter, Daniels completed almost 60 percent of his 363 passes for 2,672 yards, 14 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Michigan transfer Brandon Peters wins starting QB job at Illinois

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Michigan transfer Brandon Peters has won the quarterback derby at Illinois, Lovie Smith announced Tuesday.

“We loved Brandon when we got a chance to know him during the recruiting process,” Smith said. “Now that we’ve seen him on the field, he has been everything we though he would be. He has really thrown the ball well and is a better runner than he’s given credit for. Most importantly, he has moved into a leadership role for us. We’re pumped up about Brandon leading us heading into the season.”

A former 4-star recruit, the Avon, Ind., native is a graduate transfer who still has two years of eligibility remaining.

At Michigan he appeared in 10 games with four starts, completing 53 percent of his 110 throws for 680 yards and four touchdowns.

Illinois opens its season Aug. 31 at home versus Akron.

Trevor Lawrence headlines Preseason AP All-American team

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Everyone and their blog now has an All-American team; so many are out there, in fact, that if we wrote about all of them we’d never write about anything else.

But there’s something different about being a Preseason AP All-American, and as such we’d be remiss if we didn’t add to our historical record here at CFT.

Most notably, Trevor Lawrence nudged out Tua Tagovailoa for the First Team quarterback job, where he’s joined by running back Travis Etienne and linebacker Isaiah Simmons on the First Team. Alabama also had three First Teamers — wide receiver Jerry Jeudy, defensive tackle Raekwon Davis and linebacker Dylan Moses.

The SEC led all conferences with eight First Team selections, followed by the Big Ten’s seven.

Without further ado, behold the 2019 Preseason AP All-America First Team:

OFFENSE
QB: Trevor Lawrence, Clemson
RB: Travis Etienne, Clemson; Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin
WR: Jerry Jeudy, Alabama; Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State
TE: Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
C: Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin
OG: Ben Bredeson, Michigan; Shane Lemieux, Oregon
OT: Walker Little, Stanford; Andrew Thomas, Georgia
AP: Rondale Moore, Purdue
K: Andre Szmyt, Syracuse

DEFENSE
LB: Joe Bachie, Michigan State; Dylan Moses, Alabama; Isaiah Simmons, Clemson
S: Andre Cisco, Syracuse; Grant Delpit, LSU
CB: Paulson Abedo, Stanford; Bryce Hall, Virginia
DE: AJ Epenesa, Iowa; Chase Young, Ohio State
DT: Derrick Brown, Auburn; Raekwon Davis, Alabama
P: Braden Mann, Texas A&M

It’s grrrrreat! Tony the Tiger claims title sponsorship of Sun Bowl

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The Sun Bowl has a new title sponsor and it’s, well, it’s great. The El Paso-based postseason college football game will now be sponsored by Tony the Tiger. Don’t be mistaken, it’s not sponsored by Kellogg’s brand or even Frosted Flakes cereal, but Tony the Tiger himself.

“For the last few months we’ve worked closely and collectively with the Sun Bowl association and it’s become clear how well the association understands the strength and resilience of this community and we are honored to be part of it,” Kellogg’s marketing director Bryant Wheaton told the El Paso Times.

The change has already been reflected on the Sun Bowl’s Twitter account — sort of. The name and avatar have been changed, but the handle, as of press time, still reflected the bowl’s previous sponsor, Hyundai.

The Sun Bowl, first played on Jan. 1, 1935 between the El Paso All-Stars and Ranger (Texas) High School, has now welcomed nine title sponsors. The game takes credit for bringing title sponsorship to the college football postseason.

“We were the very first bowl ever to have a title sponsor, back in 1986 when John Hancock saved the Sun Bowl from going extinct,” executive director Bernie Olivas told the El Paso Times. “We have had some great sponsors since then. Our past sponsor, who had been with us nine years, is the longest sponsor we’ve ever had.

“When we got the title sponsor in 1986, there were only 16 bowls. We were the first ones to have a title sponsor. The rest of the bowls shunned us, they said, ‘You sold out.’ Well how do you like us now?”

The 85th annual Sun Bowl will once again pit the ACC against the Pac-12 on Tuesday, Dec. 31 (2 p.m. ET, CBS). Stanford won the 2018 edition, topping Pitt, 14-13.