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)

Report: Butch Jones leaving Alabama for job at Maryland

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College Park is taking on a decidedly Tuscaloosa feel to it.

Earlier this month, Maryland confirmed that it had hired Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley as its next head football coach.  Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, 247Sports.com is now reporting that Butch Jones is leaving Nick Saban‘s program for a spot on Locksley’s Terrapins coaching staff.

Jones, who met with Locksley earlier this month before agreeing to take the job, is expected to serve as the Terps’ tight ends coach.  He’ll also carry the title of associate head coach for the Big Ten program.

In March of this year, Saban added Jones to his Alabama football staff as an offensive analyst.  Jones, of course, was the head coach at rival Tennessee for nearly five seasons before he was summarily dismissed in mid-November of last year.

Jones last served as a tight ends coach in 1998 at Central Michigan; he was last a position coach at West Virginia (2005-06).

Per the terms of his UT contract, Jones will be paid just north of $8 million in the form of a buyout, minus whatever he was to make at future jobs through February of 2021.  He made $35,000 as an analyst at Alabama this year.

Ex-Texas Tech lineman Justin Murphy gets sixth season at UCLA

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After originally ending his collegiate career prematurely, Justin Murphy has now seen it extended.

Murphy took to Twitter on Monday to announce that he has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. “None of this could’ve been possible if it weren’t for the amazing job done by [UCLA’s compliance department],” the offensive lineman wrote.

In the middle of the 2016 season, Murphy, then at Texas Tech, announced that he was taking a medical retirement because of knee injuries.  In April of 2018, however, Murphy revealed that he would be moving on from Tech to UCLA as a graduate transfer.

Murphy played in the first four games of his first season with the Bruins this year before going down with a knee injury.  That issue kept the lineman sidelined for all but the final two games of the year.

Ex-Florida State, ‘Last Chance U’ QB transferring from FAU

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Maybe the fourth chance will be the charm for De’Andre Johnson?

After a highly-publicized incident that was caught on videotape, Johnson was dismissed by Florida State in July of 2015.  Following a stint as one of the stars of “Last Chance U,” Johnson landed at Florida Atlantic.

Two years later, the quarterback took to Twitter to announce that he has decided to transfer from Lane Kiffin‘s FAU program.  Johnson gave no indication as to the specifics behind his decision to leave the Owls.

As noted by the player himself, Johnson will be leaving as a graduate transfer — he’s scheduled to earn his degree in the spring — and will have two seasons of eligibility he can use at another FBS program.  One of the seasons of eligibility is the result of blood clots in his arm that sidelined him for all but one game in 2017.

This season, Johnson completed 13-of-23 passes for 161 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.  He also ran for another 178 and a score on 35 carries.

As for a potential transfer destination, the Palm Beach Post notes the West Coast or a Big Ten school could be possibilities:

A source with knowledge of the situation said Johnson hopes to move up to the Power Five level and hasn’t ruled out moving to the West Coast. Johnson’s younger brother, Tyreke, is a cornerback for Ohio State and Buckeyes quarterback Dwayne Haskins is a redshirt sophomore who could jump to the NFL.

In June of 2015, Johnson was indefinitely suspended by FSU after being accused of punching a woman at a bar.  He was subsequently charged with misdemeanor battery as video of the incident emerged.

One day after the video surfaced, Johnson was dismissed.

Kyle Whittingham adds former Ute to Utah coaching staff

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In filling a hole in his Utah coaching staff, Kyle Whittingham reached back to the Utes’ football past to do so.

Monday evening, Utah announced that Whittingham has hired Sione Po’uha as his new defensive tackles coach.  Po’uha spent the 2018 season coaching the same position at Navy.

“It’s great to have Sione back in our program,” said Whittingham. “In his playing days he was an outstanding defensive tackle here at Utah and had a lengthy and successful NFL career as well. We are also excited about the impact he will have in our recruiting.”

From 2001-04, Po’uha was a defensive lineman for the Utes, earning first-team All-Mountain West honors as a senior.  He was a third-round pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, and spent his entire eight-year career with the New York Jets.

After beginning his post-playing career as a student assistant at his alma mater from 2015-16, Po’uha became the Utes’ director of football player development in 2017 before leaving for Navy.  The job at the service academy was the first on-field role of Po’uha’s coaching career.

“I am so appreciative of Coach Whittingham for giving me the opportunity to come back and coach at my alma mater,” said Po’uha. “It was a dream of mine and I am excited about working with the players and coaches here.”