David Yankey, David Shaw, Shayne Skov

CFT Predicts: the Pac-12


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.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 9-4; lost to Texas in Alamo Bowl)
What happened last season?
Just when you think Mike Riley is on the way out of Corvallis, he orchestrates one of the more dramatic turnarounds in college football. (Not that I thought Riley was on his way out or anything… Okay, I did.) The Beavers started 6-0 before exchanging wins and losses through the rest of the year, which ended in a bowl loss to Texas.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s good offensive firepower returning for Oregon State. This team has two capable quarterbacks in Sean Mannion and Cody Vaz, and running back has both talent and depth. The question will continue to be on the offensive line can pave the way for OSU to have a better rushing attack than the one that ranked 101st in the country a year ago. On defense, the Beavers’ secondary should be a strength even with the departure of Jordan Poyer.

Anything else?
It wouldn’t be surprising to see this team 7-0 headed into a huge home game against Stanford — and playing in Reser Stadium can be a thorn for opposing teams. But there are no gimmes on the schedule once late October rolls around.

4. Washington (Last year: 7-6; lost to Boise State in MAACO Bowl Las Vegas)
What happened last season?
This can be summed up in highlights and lowlights. Highlight: beating Stanford, however ugly it was, 17-13. Lowlight: a regular-season ending loss to Wazzu in the Apple Cup. In overtime. Woof.

So why are they ranked here?
Steve Sarkisian isn’t on the hot seat, but it’s time to win more than seven games. Keith Price returns as one of the more talented quarterbacks in the Pac-12, but he’s also never experienced the luxury known as pass protection. If he has time, this is an offense that can put up a lot of points. The defense made major strides in 2012 under Justin Wilcox and will need to keep pace against a schedule that features plenty of good offensive opponents.

Anything else?
Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins is currently dealing with a broken pinkie. There’s optimism he can return by Week 1, though, as Sarkisian said it was a clean break. Jenkins will be counted on a lot this season in the passing game, so his health is crucial.

5. Washington State (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
Yeah, Mike Leach‘s first season in Pullman didn’t exactly go as planned. The Cougars passed the ball a lot (go figure) but struggled to score and couldn’t stop anyone. But, hey, y’all beat Washington so huzzah!

So why are they ranked here?
There are still plenty of concerns on both sides of the ball, but Wazzu is not a team completely deprived of talent. Connor Halliday returns at quarterback, but the offensive line needs to come together to give him some more protection. Sacks and interceptions doomed the Cougars offense last season. If the offense can jell, a turnaround might start taking some form in 2013.

Anything else?
Wazzu doesn’t have to run the ball more, but they have to run it more effectively. This is a team that averaged 29 yards per game on the ground in 2012. Twenty. Nine. That’s, like, De’Anthony Thomas‘ yards-per-carry or something.

6. Cal (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
The Golden Bears lost their shine and Jeff Tedford was shown the door. Things got really bad at the end when Cal lost their final two games by an average of 45 points.

So why are they ranked here?
Sonny Dykes will win in Berkeley, it just won’t be this year. True freshman Jared Goff will be thrown into the fire immediately as the team’s starting quarterback, and the schedule is unforgiving.

Anything else?
Cal will likely lose three of their first four games, but we could still get a decent understanding of what this team can potentially accomplish in Dykes’ first year if they hang tough with Northwestern, Ohio State or Oregon.

Pac-12 South

1. UCLA (Last year: 9-5; lost to Baylor in Holiday Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Bruins took a huge step forward under first-year coach Jim Mora by winning nine games and making it to the Pac-12 championship. UCLA got torched by Baylor in the Holiday Bowl, but the Bears were playing their best football at the end of the year.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s a new edge in Pasadena that previously wasn’t there. That’s a reflection on Mora, and things are only looking up for UCLA. Brett Hundley returns as one of the most gifted quarterbacks in the league. This is an offense that will need to find a replacement for Johnathan Franklin in the running game to take the pressure off of Hundley. The defense has to replace its entire secondary too. But this is a talented, young team.

Anything else?
Part of that talented youth is Notre Dame transfer Eddie Vanderdoes. The defensive lineman will be able to play immediately and he’s expected to do so.

2. Arizona State (Last year: 8-5; beat Navy in Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl) 
What happened last season?
First-year coach Todd Graham did a good job getting the Sun Devils to eight wins. And, of course, beating Arizona always helps.

So why are they ranked here?
ASU could be a sneaky good team this year. There’s a lot of hype in Tempe around Taylor Kelly, who already has a 3,000-yard passing season under his belt.  This team features 17 returning starters, including All-American defensive tackle Will Sutton. There’s room to grow at the receiver spot, but the Sun Devils have a good backfield with Marion Grice and D.J. Foster. Based on their 2012 play, this is a team that can right in the middle of the Pac-12 South hunt.

Anything else?
ASU has an interesting and difficult early part of the season with Wisconsin, Stanford, USC and Notre Dame in consecutive weeks. Winning both of those early Pac-12 games would be huge.

3. USC (Last year: 7-6; lost to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl) 
What happened last season?
USC went from the preseason No. 1 team to being unranked at the end of the season after losing a to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl in embarrassing fashion. Matt Barkley hurt his shoulder and couldn’t finish out his career with the Trojans. There were almost too many disappointments to list.

So why are they ranked here?
There are a lot of question marks on offense with the departure of Barkley and receiver Robert Woods. Marqise Lee is back though and figures to be a huge part of the game plan — if he can stay healthy. There was a lot of staff turnover during the offseason, so it could take some time for everything to come together. And let’s not forget the depth issues affecting this team while it rides out the scholarship reductions from the NCAA. Still, it’s not like USC is lacking talent. That should be enough to keep this team from going under .500 this year.

Anything else?
Well, that’s the thing. Lane Kiffin can’t afford to go under .500 — or .500 at all —  and realistically expect to keep his job. The scholarship reductions hurt, but they don’t have any impact on failed two-point conversions, or switching numbers between plays midway through a game. Pull shenanigans like that and win seven again, and Kiffin could be headed for the unemployment line.

4. Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Nevada in New Mexico Bowl)
What happened last season?
Rich Rodriguez rebounded from his short Michigan gig by winning right away with Arizona. The highlight of the year included a 39-36 win over what was then a top-10 ranked USC team.

So why are they ranked here?
Matt Scott waited his turn and had himself a banner senior season. He left for the NFL as one of the more intriguing quarterback prospects. But while the Wildcats have to replace him, they do bring back Ka’Deem Carey, who was the country’s leading running back last year. Carey figures to be the focal point of the offense this year, which may need to win some shootouts again.

Anything else?
The defense was the worst in the Pac-12 last season at giving up points. Jeff Casteel is a fine defensive coordinator, so that’ll be a unit to watch to see if any significant improvement can be made.

5. Utah (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
It was another disappointing year for Kyle Whittingham. The offense, especially the passing game, couldn’t get going and Jordan Wynn had to end his oft-injured career earlier than he’d hoped.

So why are they ranked here?
Dennis Erickson been brought in as co-offensive coordinator to light a fire under one of the worst passing games in the Pac-12 last season. The defensive line loses three key players as well in Star Lotulelei, Joe Kruger and Dave Kruger. There’s a lot to replace and plenty of tough games on the schedule.

Anything else?
Erickson is more than just another offensive mind to add to the staff. He’s familiar with the recent Pac-12 landscape from his time with Arizona State. That should pay dividends for the Utes, but just how soon remains unclear.

6. Colorado (Last year: 1-11) 
What happened last season?
The Buffaloes were terrible and Jon Embree got fired. During Embree’s final press conference, it become abundantly clear from a national perspective just how much work this program has to do to get back to its former winning ways.

So why are they ranked here?
Mike MacIntyre did wonders at San Jose State. He’ll need to work those miracles again in Boulder, but 2013 looks like it could be another brutal year for this program. The Buffs have a dire QB situation right now, though it appears Texas transfer Connor Wood will get the nod. There is a lot of experience returning for Colorado (17 starters), but how long it takes them to adjust to MacIntyre remains to be seen.

Anything else?
It won’t count toward Pac-12 standings, but Colorado can make a big splash at the start of the season by beating Colorado State. When little is expected to go your way, grabbing a win over an in-state rival goes a long way.


John Taylor‘s prediction:
1. Stanford
2. Oregon
3. Oregon State
4. Washington
5. Washington State
6. Cal

2. Arizona State
3. USC
4. Utah
5. Arizona
6. Colorado

Ben’s Pac-12 champ: Stanford
John’s Pac-12 champ: Stanford

LSU AD: ‘Les Miles is our coach and will continue to be our coach’

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers celebrates after defeating the Texas A&M Aggies 19-7 at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Getty Images

Never mind people.  Move on.  There’s nothing to see here.

After a couple of weeks worth of speculation it appeared as if today’s game against Texas A&M would be Les Miles‘ last as LSU’s head coach.  There were at least two reports, though, that indicated a win would go a long way in helping to save Miles’ job.

With a 19-7 victory over the Aggies in the books, all eyes turned toward Tigers athletic director Joe Alleva.  And, in one fell swoop, the A.D. did something that could’ve been done a week or more ago instead of leaving his long-time head coach out to dry — he came out and publicly announced that Miles will remain on as the program’s head football coach.

“I ant to make it clear that Les Miles is our football coach and will continue to be our football coach,” Alleva stated. “My policy is to wait until the end of the season, and obviously it’s the end of the regular season right now.”

Certainly there’s more back-channel intrigue simmering just below and will likely surface in the coming days and weeks, but Miles will remain at LSU for the foreseeable future.  And with a seemingly weakened boss for good measure while his own personal profile among the fan base and his players — and some boosters, who haven’t appreciated how he’s been treated — has done nothing but grow stronger.

Simply put, it’d be hard to find a way to screw up a non-firing firing more than LSU just did.  And the worst thing about it for the university, it’s done nothing but embolden Miles and his supporters, making it potentially even harder to get rid of him if/when they actually do want to pull the trigger.

The speculation has already begun that Alleva’s job is on the line.  Here’s to guessing that his head likely won’t be the only one to roll because of how mismanaged the situation became.

Oklahoma makes playoff statement on behalf of Big 12

Dimitri Flowers, Trace Clark

If Oklahoma had anything to say about it Saturday night in Stillwater, the Big 12 is not in danger of missing out on the College Football Playoff this year. The No. 3 Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12) locked up the outright Big 12 championship with a 58-23 victory over No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-2, 7-2 Big 12) to close out regular season play. The ball is now in the playoff selection committee’s court. There is no way Oklahoma should not be in the top four when the final playoff rankings are updated after next weekend’s conference championship games.

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield completed 17 of 25 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns, but the Sooners offense was a two-man show between running backs Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon. The two each rushed for over 130 yards (136 yards for Mixon, 131 for Perine) and each scored two rushing touchdowns. Mayfield also got involved running the football, taking off for 77 yards and a touchdown of his own. Oklahoma State’s J.W. Walsh got the start at quarterback with Mason Rudolph banged up. Walsh passed for 325 yards and two touchdowns, but that was mostly while the Cowboys were attempting to catch up in the second half.

Oklahoma finished its season with the three best consecutive wins any College Football Playoff contender or participant likely will have played with wins over ranked opponents Baylor, TCU and Oklahoma State. Two of those wins were on the road too. The Big 12’s back loaded scheduled needed one team to rise up and prove worthy of playoff hype, and Oklahoma turned out to be that team. Throw in a nice road win earlier in the season at Tennessee, and Oklahoma’s overall body of work is solid, perhaps even more so than that of Alabama’s. Michigan State could prove to be a different argument, as the Spartans could have road wins at Michigan and Ohio State to go with a win against Oregon and an undefeated Iowa if Michigan State wins the Big Ten Championship Game next week.

Oklahoma’s fate as the Big 12’s playoff hope was further cemented with Notre Dame falling out of the running with a close loss at Stanford. It is not likely Oklahoma would be at risk of dropping behind Stanford as a two-loss Pac-12 champion. Oklahoma would have the edge, even if Stanford blasted USC 59-0 next week in the Pac-12 Championship Game. The Sooners will be a solid lock for one of the top four spots in the playoff, and may have a chance to wiggle up the rankings while not playing a game. Whatever the case, the Big 12 will be sending its one true champion to the playoff fun, once again showing the conference is not in need of expansion or a conference championship game. Some years it will work out, some years it will not. Such will be life in the Big 12.

Oklahoma will be fine with that.

Dalvin Cook, defense lead No. 13 Florida State to pounding of No. 12 Gators

Dalvin Cook, Justin Simmons, John Johnson

Keeping Florida State running back Dalvin Cook contained is no easy task, but Florida managed to do that for much of the night. But as many previous opponents can confirm, Cook is bound to make a spectacular play. He did just that with a run right up the middle of the defense and powered his way into the end zone in the fourth quarter of No. 13 Florida State’s (10-2) 27-2 victory over No. 12 Florida (10-2).

Cook scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns in the win, including one in the final minutes that served as the cherry on top of the sundae for the Seminoles. With 183 rushing yards, Cook ended his season with one last solid performance to merit discussion about a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy, although this one got off to a slow start by comparison as Florida’s defense was as good as it could be for a while. Florida State’s defense was also clicking on all cylinders in this one, holding the Gators to just 262 yards of offense. As Florida prepares to play for the SEC championship next week against Alabama, after this performance against the Seminoles and last week’s effort against FAU, there should be some serious concerns about Florida’s ability to do anything on offense that will challenge Alabama.

To be fair, Florida’s defense really was pretty good, although the final score may not suggest so. Cook’s two fourth quarter touchdowns turned a defensive battle into a bit more of a blowout than it really was for the majority of the night. Florida held Florida State to just two third-down conversions out of 13 and 304 yards of offense.

The win for the Seminoles clinched a fourth straight season with double-digit victories. Florida State may not be playing for an ACC title (Clemson will be facing North Carolina next week in Charlotte), but Florida State has not had four straight 10-win seasons since the height of the Bobby Bowden era from 1987 through 2000. Under Jimbo Fisher, Florida State has won at least 10 games in all but one season (2011). With that kind of track record it is easy to see why LSU, hypothetically, would be interested in Fisher as a possible successor to Les Miles, but Fisher says he is not leaving Tallahassee.

Florida State looked to be on track to pitch its first shutout of the Gators in the history of the series, but all of that changed in spectacular fashion. Sean Maguire had a ball knocked out of his hand as he was attempting to pass by Cece Jefferson. The ball wiggled loose and was not easy for anyone to pounce on. After a mad scramble for the ball 25 yards back from the line of scrimmage, it was Maguire who finally landed on it in the endzone for a safety, giving Florida two points. Florida looked to have a great return by Valdez Showers on the free kick return, but an illegal block in the back took the ball all the way back to Florida’s 14-yard line.

Florida State has now won three in a row against the Gators for the first time since stringing together three straight wins from 1998 through 2000. The win also marks Florida State’s third straight win in The Swamp, the first time Florida State has done that in the history of the rivalry.

Stanford keeps faint playoff hopes alive, extinguishes Irish’s in last-second win

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Devon Cajuste #89 of the Stanford Cardinal catches the ball while covered by Cole Luke #36 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Getty Images

For both Notre Dame and Stanford, tonight’s game down on The Farm was one that each needed to keep any playoff hopes that they entertained alive.  In the end, it’s the latter that holds the lone remaining hope for the rivalry.

With both teams throwing punches on either side of the ball, it was the Cardinal that was able to withstand the body blows and leave Foster Field with a thrilling 38-36 win.  It wasn’t looking that way, though, after DeShone Kizer led the Irish on an epic 88-yard drive that was capped by his two-yard touchdown run with :30 left and gave the visitors a 36-35 lead.

Kevin Hogan, playing his last home game as a member of the Cardinal, proceeded to ensure he left one more indelible mark in the program’s history books.  Taking over at their own 28-yard line, a face-mask penalty on the Irish moved the ball out to the 43-yard line with :15 left.  An incomplete pass on first down was followed by the play of the game, a 27-yard Hogan-to-Devon Cajuste that put the Cardinal in field goal range; a Christian McCaffrey two-yard run positioned the Cardinal for a 45-yard field goal attempt, which Conrad Ukropina absolutely piped with no time left for the 36-35 win.

Hogan was superb throughout the night, finishing with 269 yards and four touchdown passes on 17-of-21 passing in a back-and-forth affair that saw the lead change six times.  The Irish had a pair of 100-yard runners, with Josh Adams leading the way with 168 and Kizer contributing 128.

The win improves Stanford to 10-2, and sends them into the Pac-12 championship game against USC with hopes of a playoff berth still intact, however faint they may be.  Even if the Cardinal can take down the Trojans, they would still need significant upheaval ahead of them — think Clemson, Iowa and Alabama losing their title games — in order to even begin any type of realistic playoff talk.

But still…

For Notre Dame, it’s their second loss of the season and, with no championship game to leave another impression on the committee, it appears their playoff hopes have been officially dashed.  Still, given the myriad injuries with which the Domers have had to deal, it’s a minor miracle that they were even in the playoff discussion this late in the season, and a testament to Brian Kelly and his coaching staff.