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)

Demoted Clemson QB Kelly Bryant misses second straight practice

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Things are certainly getting interesting, quarterback-wise, for the second-ranked team in the country.

Monday, Dabo Swinney confirmed that senior Kelly Bryant had been benched in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence.  A day later, Swinney revealed that he and Bryant had a lengthy conversation in which the two discussed, among other things, the possibility of a transfer.

According to Swinney, he gave Bryant the day off from practice Monday to allow him to wrap his head around the demotion.  Both TigerNet.com and The State are now reporting, though, that Bryant missed a second consecutive day of practice on Tuesday.

The obvious intimation from a second straight day of missing practice is that Bryant is seriously contemplating a move from the Tigers — or has already decided a move on is in his best interests.  Because of the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, Bryant, who started the first four games of the 2018 season, could leave the Tigers now and retain a year of eligibility that he can use in 2019 at another school.

If he were to play another down this season, however, Bryant’s collegiate career would be over at the end of the 2018 season.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Swinney said earlier today, prior to the reports od a second missed practice surfaced. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Bryant has started the last 18 games under center for the Tigers, winning 16 of those contests.  Lawrence was a highly-touted five-star 2018 signee who had outplayed the incumbent the first third of the regular season.

Alabama to change Bryant-Denny Stadium layout after LB Dylan Moses crashes into wall

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In one of those moments that you wonder how it doesn’t happen more often, Alabama linebacker Dylan Moses crashed into a fence near the corner of a Bryant-Denny Stadium end zone on Saturday and remained down for a few perilous moments. He got up safely, and No. 1 Alabama cruised to a 45-23 win over Texas A&M.

But Nick Saban said Monday Alabama will work to ensure such an event doesn’t happen again.

“They’re going to try to do some stuff to the stadium there to shave that little corner off a little bit and pad it up a little better,” Saban told AL.com. “That was something that, after being here all these years, I never even noticed that until that play. That is definitely something that we are addressing.”

Just a few steps separate the playing field from a padded wall. Moses didn’t actually make contact with the wall, he crashed into a security guard, who was then pinned against the wall.

“As far as the security guard, I feel sorry for him,” Moses said. “But if it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be in the hospital right now because he was really in between the wall and me. I know I ran into his like knee, that was pretty bad, gruesome.”

As AL.com notes, Crimson Tide wide receiver Keith Brown had to be taken off the field in a stretcher after crashing into a wall at the other end of the field in 2004. He suffered a shoulder injury on the play.

DUI case against Louisville TEs coach has been ‘worked out’

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Last month, Louisville tight ends coach Chris Klenakis was arrested for DUI, reckless driving, felony wanton endangerment and possession of alcohol. He was pulled over at 1 a.m. after a Saturday during fall camp after he was spotted while driving through a construction zone with workers present and seen swerving on Interstate 64 West, nearly striking a wall barrier multiple times, according to an arrest citation by the Shelby County (Ky.) Sheriff’s Department.

His blood alcohol content was .165, more than twice the legal limit in Kentucky. The sheriff’s department said he nearly walked in front of a moving truck during his field sobriety test and that multiple used beer cans were spotted in his vehicle’s passenger seat.

He was immediately placed on leave, but it seems his legal case will be resolved this week.

According to WDRB in Louisville, Klenakis’s attorney Alan Zaring entered a not guilty plea on Tuesday, but told the judge “we can enter a resolution” on Thursday.

No matter the resolution, Bobby Petrino stated earlier this week Klenakis will remain on administrative leave for the rest of this season.

Dabo Swinney says he and Kelly Bryant discussed transferring after QB’s benching

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No. 3 Clemson has formally, finally benched senior quarterback Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Football-wise, it’s the smart decision. Lawrence has thrown 60 passes through the Tigers’ first four games to Bryant’s 54, but Lawrence’s six extra passes have gone for 139 more yards and seven more touchdowns. Plus, Lawrence will be around for the next two-to-three seasons; Bryant will not.

But there is a human element to this equation that made this this obvious decision so gut-wrenching for all involved. Like Jalen Hurts at Alabama, Bryant has been the Good Soldier for Clemson. In fact, the Clemson quarterback conundrum is actually more extreme than Alabama’s. Bryant waited two years behind Deshaun Watson, led Clemson to wins in 16 of his 18 starts, including an ACC championship and a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and still lost his job to a younger player.

It’s no accident this decision came when it did. Thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, players can now compete in up to four games and not lose their entire season. Clemson is at that point this season. Bryant is a senior, meaning the next game he plays for Clemson clinches this as his last season. Or, if Bryant sits the rest of this year, he could transfer anywhere he wants and get to play his senior year again in 2019.

And it appears Clemson will leave that option open for him.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Dabo Swinney told The State. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter broke the news to Bryant on Sunday, and Bryant had a long conversation with Swinney on Monday, after which the head coach gave his quarterback the rest of the day off.

And Swinney confirmed, in so many words, that transferring was part of that long discussion.

“We talked about lots of things. It was a deep, long, emotional conversation,” Swinney said. “It’s something that we needed to talk through and go from there.”

If indeed Bryant sits the rest of this season and transfers, his name will shoot to the top of the quarterback transfer market for 2019.