CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 20 Texas

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 7-2 in the Big 12 Conference (4th in the Big 12)
2013 postseason: Alamo Bowl vs. Oregon Ducks (30-7 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Charlie Strong (37-16 overall; 1st year at Texas)
Offensive coordinatorJoe Wickline (1st year at Texas)
2013 offensive rankings: 36th rushing offense (196.2 ypg); 79th passing offense (212.5 ypg); 64th total offense (408.7 ypg); 65th scoring offense (29.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Vance Bedford (1st year at Texas)
2013 defensive rankings: 83th rushing defense (183.1 ypg); 53rd passing defense (224.2 ypg);  68th total defense (407.2 ypg); 57th scoring defense (25.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Austin, Texas
Stadium: Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (100,119 capacity; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2009

THE GOOD
Texas is absolutely loaded with talent from the top of the roster to the bottom. It’s only been two years since the Longhorns were putting together Top 5 recruiting classes. And Texas should benefit from those top recruits becoming upperclassmen. Running back Malcolm Brown, linebacker Steve Edmond, cornerback Quandre Diggs and defensive tackle Malcom Brown were elite recruits now expected to be leaders of the team. The talent on the roster is there to mold. It simply comes down to finding the right scheme and place said talent in the position to succeed. That’s where a new coaching staff can come in, have instant success and win at a high level even with the same team that’s struggled to win more than eight games the past four seasons.

THE BAD
Last season, the Louisville Cardinals finished as the top defense in college football. The Cardinals staff is now taking over at Texas, and they inherit a Texas defense that played far below expectations in recent seasons. The argument can be made that Texas plays in the wide-open Big 12 conference, which features some of the most explosive offenses in college football and skews the stats. Yet, Texas’ defense last year was substandard even for the Big 12. The Longhorns didn’t finish better than fifth in the conference in any of the major defensive statistics. The one area on defense the team excelled in 2013 was getting to the quarterback. Unfortunately, the team’s top sack artist from a year ago, Jackson Jeffcoat, has departed for the NFL and will be replaced by junior Shiro Davis. Bookend Cedric Reed returns as does the ultra-talented Malcom Brown. The Longhorns’ new head coach, Charlie Strong, hangs his newly fashioned 10-gallon hat on playing tough and fundamentally sound defense. The talent is there for the new staff to exploit. The coaches must simply develop the available talent to play at a much higher level than they’ve grown to expect in recent years.

THE UNKNOWN
There is a new sheriff in town and his last name is Strong. A multitude of questions comes along with the departure of Mack Brown after 16 seasons as the Longhorns’ head coach. Strong has already begun to answer some of those questions. The new coach immediately displayed strong leadership when he either dismissed or suspended multiple players, which included four projected starters. Recruiting appears to be picking up in recent weeks. These moves, however, are merely the first indications of Strong’s performance. Strong and his staff will need to build off their current momentum and ride it into the season. Strong proved to be a highly successful head coach at Louisville. But can he improve the Longhorns’ stagnant offense? Can Texas’ defense play to Strong’s standards? Will the young talent on the roster develop and reach their potential? As Strong answers questions, more will continue to come until he quiets the rabble with strong team performances each and every Saturday.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Oklahoma
The Red River Rivalry is important every year, but it’s exponentially so this season. When the Longhorns meet the Oklahoma Sooners on Oct. 11, it’s a chance for Strong to make a statement. Mack Brown won his last game against the Sooners, and the team did so in an impressive fashion. If Strong falls short, the negative comparisons will automatically commence. While Brown’s Longhorns upset the 12th ranked Sooners a year ago, Oklahoma is regarded as Top 5 program this fall. Strong can set the tone during this game and prove he was the right choice for the job by taking out Texas’ bitter rival.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: RB Malcolm Brown
While Texas’ roster is supremely talented, potential Heisman candidates are limited (to put it kindly). None of the players currently on the roster have lived up to their lofty status coming into Austin as recruits. Malcolm Brown is the closest of the bunch. The running back has shown the ability to take over games for stretches and be a dynamic runner. Last season, Malcolm Brown led the team with 904 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns. He was at his best late in the season with three straight games of 128 yards or more. If quarterback David Ash can play at a higher level and consistently threaten defenses in the passing game, Brown could explode for massive rushing totals. And the University of Texas could have its first Heisman Trophy winner since Ricky Williams.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

USC WR Joseph Lewis pleads no contest to domestic battery

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Late last week, USC wide receiver Joseph Lewis‘ trial in connection to a pair of domestic violence incidents was set to begin.  Less than a week later, the trial phase has come to an end before it really began.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lewis reached an agreement on a plea deal Wednesday that saw the Trojans football player plead no contest to two counts of domestic battery.  The Times reported that the plea arrangement came as jury selection was nearly complete and opening arguments in the case had been scheduled for the same day.

Lewis had been facing two years in jail; as part of the plea agreement, Lewis has been sentenced to 60 days in the Los Angeles County Jail, a sentence that will likely be reduced to 30 days based on what the newspaper describes as “good time, work time” credit.

Per the Times, the other terms of the plea deal include…

36 months summary probation… a 10-year ban on owning, using or possessing firearms; enrollment in a weekly yearlong domestic violence treatment program and a protective order that prohibits him from approaching within 100 yards of the victim or contacting her.

In late February, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office declined to pursue a felony charge against the USC wide receiver after he was arrested on one count of corporal injury on a spouse or cohabitant.  At the time, though, it was reported that the case had been referred to the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, which would decide whether misdemeanor charges would arise from the arrest.

Not long after, the city attorney’s office filed five misdemeanor counts against Lewis.  The charges stemmed from two separate incidents in February, and included three counts of domestic battery with an injury, false imprisonment and domestic battery without an injury.

In the wake of the arrest, Lewis was suspended from the football team.  In fact, his name was removed from the roster and remains that way.  While the player is hopeful he’ll be permitted to rejoin the team before the start of the upcoming season, the football program has yet to address said player’s status moving forward.

It should be noted that, thus far, no details of what led to the arrest and charges have been released.

A five-star member of the Trojans’ 2017 recruiting class, Lewis was rated as the No. 4 receiver in the country; the No. 6 player at any position in the state of California; and the No. 31 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. The only player rated higher in USC’s class that year was running back Stephen Carr.

As a true freshman last season, Lewis caught four passes for 39 yards. He had been expected to play a bigger role in the Trojans’ passing game this season, although the off-field situation will obviously be a factor in that.

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

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After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

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Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.