CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 14 USC

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2013 record: 10-4 overall, 6-3 in the Pac-12 conference (tied for 2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Las Vegas Bowl vs. Fresno State (45-25 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 19/No. 19
Head coach: Steve Sarkisian (34-29 overall; 1st year at USC)
Offensive coordinator: Clay Helton (5th year at USC)
2013 offensive rankings: 59th rushing offense (172.8 ypg); 70th passing offense (227.1 ypg); 72nd total offense (399.9 ypg); 60th scoring offense (29.7 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Justin Wilcox (1st year at USC)
2013 defensive rankings: 15th rushing defense (120.6 ypg); 32nd passing defense (214.6 ypg);  13th total defense (335.2 ypg); 16th scoring defense (21.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (93,607; grass)
Last conference title: 2008

THE GOOD
Once USC athletic director Pat Haden cut ties with head coach Lane Kiffin during the middle of season, the Trojans played very well down the stretch. The team won six of its last seven games to finish 10-4. The offense in particular played at a much higher level. In the team’s final seven games, junior quarterback Cody Kessler threw 12 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Kessler had to battle earlier in the season with fellow quarterback Max Wittek to earn the starting job, but once Kessler was handed the reins, the team’s offense played at a much higher level. They did so under the supervision of offensive coordinator Clay Helton, who was retained by new head coach Steve Sarkisian. An experienced quarterback and improved system should help the Trojans play at a more consistent level on offense during the upcoming season.

THE BAD
As the Trojans prepare for the season, the team’s situation at offensive line is tenuous at best. Max Tuerk may be one of the most versatile linemen in college football — he’ll start at center for the first time this fall — and Chad Wheeler improved throughout his freshmen campaign. But the rest of the projected starters along the offensive line lack experience. Aundrey Walker was expected to provide a veteran presence and potentially start, but he has yet to practice during camp due to a lingering leg injury. Zach Banner (right tackle), Khaliel Rodgers (right guard) and Toa Lobendahn (left guard) continue to practice with the first unit, yet Banner is the only one to even appear in a game as a member of the Trojans. In fact, Lobendahn is a true freshman. It’s a unit that will require time to gel and needs to gain experience throughout the season for USC to play to expectations this season.

THE UNKNOWN
Will the Trojans ever be able to recapture the magic that once surrounded the program during Pete Carroll‘s nine-year run as the team’s head coach? It already failed to do so when named Lane Kiffin, the team’s former co-offensive coordinator, was named as Carroll’s replacement. Yet, the school went back to the same well and named Kiffin’s former running mate as the program’s newest head coach. Sarkisian seems like an ideal fit due to his history with the team, but the coach was never able to get the Washington Huskies over the hump during his five seasons with the program. Granted, USC’s talent level compared to Washington’s at the time Sarkisian took over is night and day. It has to be a concern for USC faithful that Sarkisian never finished better than 8-4 as a head coach.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at UCLA
Last season, the Trojans got the proverbial monkey off their backs by beating the fifth-ranked Stanford Cardinal for the first time since 2008. The next obstacle for the Trojans is overcome their cross-town rival, the UCLA Bruins. As the Trojans dealt with NCAA sanctions, Bruins head coach Jim Mora rebuilt UCLA and made the Bruins into one of the top teams in the nation entering this season. While the Bruins haven’t been able to overcome the Trojans on the recruiting trail, UCLA still won the last two contests between the teams by a combined score of 73-42. It’s likely that when these two teams meet to play on Nov. 12 the Pac-12 South division and an appearance in the conference’s championship game will be on the line.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: DT Leonard Williams
Everyone knows that a only one player primarily from the defensive side of the football has ever won the Heisman Trophy, and Michigan’s Charles Woodson had the luxury of playing special teams and a little bit of offense too. However, Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh and Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o have shown in recent years that dominant defenders in the midst of a special season can garner legitimate consideration for the sport’s most prestigious trophy. Williams is the most talented player on USC’s roster. He’s projected as a possible No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft. In 13 games last season, Williams was second on the team with 74 tackles and added 13.5 tackles for loss and six sacks. It’s not out of the realm of possibility to think Williams will put together a season like Suh did in 2009 (85 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, 12 sacks) and establish himself as the most dominant defender in college football.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Autopsy results inconclusive in determining cause of death of Georgia Tech football player

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As the Georgia Tech football community continues to mourn the passing of Brandon Adams, who passed away on Saturday, the search for answers continues. According to a local report in Atlanta, the autopsy of the body of Adams failed to draw any definitive conclusions on what caused the young man’s death.

According to a report from WSB-TV in Atlanta, the results from an autopsy conducted by the Georgia Bureaus of Investigation were inconclusive. As a result, more tests will be conducted as medical examiners attempt to determine what caused the sudden passing of the 21-year old defensive tackle.

Georgia Tech will reportedly move forward by starting up spring football practices as scheduled on Tuesday. It will be the first spring practice under new head coach Geoff Collins.

“Our entire Georgia Tech football family is heartbroken by the news of Brandon’s passing,” Collins said in a released statement on Sunday. “In the short time that I have had the privilege and honor of knowing Brandon, I admired and respected him, first and foremost as a terrific human being, but also as an outstanding teammate and leader. Jennifer and I offer our thoughts, prayers and unconditional support to his parents, Lisa and Reginald, his sister, Rian, and all of his family and friends, especially his brothers in our football program.”

Here’s hoping there is some closure on this unfortunate situation for the sake of those around Adams and the Georgia Tech community.

Ohio State receiver suffers serious knee injury

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The college football season is still months away from getting started, but Ohio State wide receiver Kamryn Babb is already questionable to play a single down in the fall. As first reported by Lettermen Row on Monday, Babb suffered a serious knee injury in a non-contact mishap. His status for the upcoming season is now officially in jeopardy as a result.

A serious knee injury is always a reason for concern for any player. This is even more the case when that player has experienced a previous knee injury. Babb is no stranger to a torn ACL or knee injury, as he has suffered two torn ACL injuries the past two years, and his fourth potentially season-ending injury since playing high school football.

Babb was considered one of the players to watch as he worked his way back from injury last season to be a possible contributor to Ohio State’s passing game as a target for transfer quarterback Justin Fields. Now, the focus will once again be on rehabbing and working on a timeline for a possible return to action.

Babb was a four-star member of Ohio State’s Class of 2018 from St. Louis, Missouri.

Pac-12 reportedly turned down offer from ESPN to distribute Pac-12 Network

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Given a chance to let ESPN take care of the distribution of the Pac-12 Network alongside the ESPN family of networks that includes the SEC Network and will soon include the ACC Network, the Pac-12 opted to pass. According to a report from Sports Business Daily reporters John Ourand and Michael Smith, ESPN approached the Pac-12 about working out a deal that would extend the media rights package deal between ESPN and the Pac-12 for the better part of the next two decades, but the Pac-12 rejected the offer in hopes of securing a more rewarding media rights deal in the next round of rights negotiations.

The Pac-12 has constantly struggled with getting the Pac-12 Network in as many homes as they likely hoped when the network launched in 2012. Unlike other conference-branded networks, the Pac-12 has retained total ownership of the network, which seemed like a good idea at one point in time. But considering the massive windfall of cash that schools from the Big Ten and SEC get with their conference-branded networks as partnerships with FOX Sports (Big Ten Network) and ESPN (SEC Network) while the Pac-12 continues to have issues getting some carriers to get on board with the Pac-12 Network, perhaps total ownership and decision-making with regard to operating and distribution should be on the table for discussion for the Pac-12.

The Pac-12’s current media rights agreement with ESPN and FOX will expire in 2024, and a consultant has already been hired to help out with the negotiations to come. What exactly the media landscape will look like at that point remains difficult to predict. As more and more consumers are choosing to cut the cord, the oversaturation of streaming platforms leaves plenty of possibilities for what the future holds, including a brand new announcement from Apple today about their future Apple TV plans. The Pac-12  holding off and taking their shot in the next few years appears to be a gamble, but it may work out in their favor anyway. Even though the Pac-12 backed away from secure financial and distribution stability that would surely come with the helping hands of ESPN, the media rights numbers continue to increase every year.

The Pac-12 is still going to make out a pretty rewarding deal, but it will be compared against what the schools in other conferences receive from their various media rights deals. Some within the Pac-12 have grumbled about the payout the Pac-12 Network has yielded thus far, so this is a pretty interesting decision by the conference to not take the ESPN money now and run. This is the same conference that is hoping to get investors to shell out some cash to be a part of the conference as well.

The biggest question may be whether or not Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will be around to see the new media rights deal be settled.

Syracuse to add grad transfer offensive lineman Ryan Alexander from South Alabama

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Syracuse is adding graduate transfer offensive lineman Ryan Alexander to the roster, providing a nice boost to the depth on the line for the ORange heading into the 2019 season. As reported by Cuse Nation the other day, Alexander has decided to transfer to Syracuse over offers from Big Ten programs Rutgers and Purdue.

Alexander will transfer to Syracuse from South Alabama, and he brings a good amount of playing experience with him. Alexander has started 24 games for South Alabama the last two seasons. He will have one final year of eligibility to use this fall at Syracuse, where he will hope to provide some stability on the line that loses a couple starters from last year’s improved unit.

As a graduate transfer, Alexander will be eligible to play this fall for Syracuse. He is expected to slide right into a starting role given the state of the line that loses two starters from last season and his own experience he brings with him to the Orange. After the Syracuse offense took off as Dino Babers continues to improve the offensive identity of the Orange, Syracuse hopes to keep things moving forward after coming off a 10-win season.