CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 6 UCLA

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2013 record: 10-3 overall, 6-3 in Pac-12 Conference (2nd in South division)
2013 postseason: Sun Bowl vs. Virginia Tech (42-12 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 16/No. 16
Head coach: Jim Mora (19-8 overall; 19-8 in three years at UCLA)
Offensive coordinator: Noel Mazzone (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 offensive rankings: 35th rushing offense (196.6 ypg); 43rd passing offense (251.8 ypg); 38th total offense (448.5 ypg); 2oth scoring offense (36.9 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: nine
Defensive coordinator: Jeff Ulbrich (3rd year at UCLA)
2013 defensive rankings: 71st rushing defense (169.5 ypg); 40th passing defense (217.6 ypg);  54th total defense (387.1 ypg); 35th scoring defense (23.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Los Angeles
Stadium: Rose Bowl (92,542; grass)
Last conference title: 1998

THE GOOD
The talent on UCLA’s roster makes the Bruins contenders in the Pac-12 Conference. The play of quarterback Brett Hundley can place the team in national title contention. Hundley is among the Top 3 quarterbacks in college football along with Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and Florida State’s Jameis Winston. Like Mariota, Hundley would have a first-round pick in May’s NFL draft if he decided to declare early. But he decided to stay in Westwood. The Bruins will gladly continue to build around their talented quarterback. Hundley is an impressive athlete at 6-3 and 226 pounds. Last season. Hundley threw for 3,071 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also led the team with 748 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. One of the reasons Hundley returned to UCLA for his redshirt junior campaign is to become a better overall quarterback. Hundley did improve his decision making through the final six games of last season. He only threw one of his nine interceptions after Oct. 26. As Hundley continues to develop his overall game, the Bruins will be the biggest beneficiary. And top-notch quarterback play is a key ingredient for any program ready to make the jump from being good to great.

THE BAD
UCLA head coach Jim Mora is a defensive coach by nature. It had to drive him crazy to see the Bruins play as poorly on defense as they did last seson. The Bruins actually finished fifth overall in the Pac-12 in total defense, but that is more an indictment of the overall defensive play around the league. The country’s 71st overall rushing defense simply isn’t good enough. UCLA wants to be able to compete with any team in the country. And it has to be better on defense. The team relied heavily on two talented freshmen, Eddie Vanderdoes and Kenny Clark, along the defensive line last season. Both should naturally improve during their sophomore campaigns. While the team’s starting front is talented, the depth is questionable beyond Ellis McCarthy. Players such as junior Kevin McReynolds, need to provide quality reps as part of the team’s defensive line rotation for them to improve significantly against the run. Isaako Savaiinaea will also be inserted into the starting lineup to replace Jordan Zumwalt at inside linebacker. UCLA knows what to expect of senior linebacker Eric Kendricks, but Savaiinaea’s play could prove to be the difference in the Bruins’ defense as a whole. The Bruins’ progression on the defensive side of the football should be the primary indicator how far the team can go this season.

THE UNKNOWN
UCLA’s offense line was in constant flux in 2013. The team used four different offensive line combinations throughout the season. The team actually changed its starting lineup in six of its last seven games. A lack of continuity up front will have a drastic effect throughout the rest of the offense. While this shouldn’t be a concern which lingers between seasons, the Bruins have already started off on the wrong foot with at least one significant injury along this year’s offensive line. Left tackle Simon Goines will miss at least the first two games of the season after he had bone spurs removed in his ankle Aug. 9. Malcolm Bunche, a Miami transfer, has 13 career starts at left tackle, and he is expected to slide into the spot vacated by Goines. Once Goines returns, the coaching staff will have shuffle the starting lineup. How many times will they have to do so this season? Will Bunche slide inside to guard once Goines is healthy or he remain on the blindside? The fact of the matter is UCLA won’t have their top offensive line on the field until week three of the season with very little practice time as an entire unit. Goines is expected to return just in time for one of the Bruins’ biggest games of the season against Texas. However, he won’t have much time to build a rapport with the rest of the unit. The only ones who will suffer if the offensive can’t gel quickly are Hundley and the rest of UCLA’s skill positions.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Stanford
It’s been six years since UCLA defeated Stanford. To put that time frame into context, the 2008 season was Rick Neuheisel’s first at UCLA. It was Jim Harbaugh‘s second with the Cardinal. Stanford has gone on to become one of the most successful and intimidating teams in the Pac-12 Conference. The Bruins, meanwhile, have searched for an identity and found one under Mora. This game will be Mora’s opportunity to truly put his stamp on the program. It’s the last game of the regular season. Both UCLA and Stanford are expected to be battling for an appearance in the Pac-12 championship game. Since the game falls on a Friday, both teams will have short practice weeks. The Bruins want to prove they’re among the Pac-12’s elite and a potential national championship contender. Stanford is as tough a team as the Bruins will face all season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: linebacker/running back Myles Jack
Hundley is the obvious choice here. There is, however, a natural curiosity that will draw college football fans and Heisman voters to Jack. On one hand, Jack is one of the best young linebackers in college football. On the other, he is a dynamic runner when the Bruins decide to hand him the football. Last season, Jack was third on the Bruins’ defense with 49 tackles. He also added seven tackles for loss and 13 deflected passes while dropping in coverage. On offense, Jack led the team with an average of 7.0 yards per carry. He only ran the ball 38 times, yet he was second on the team with seven rushing touchdowns. And Jack accomplished these numbers as a true freshman. The “runningbacker” simply brings a completely different dynamic to both sides of the football. He’ll be expected to make the big play on defense in crucial parts of the game. And the team clearly favors him when they’re around the goal line on offense. The novelty of Jack playing both ways will draw interest from fans around the country. It’s his talent and ability to play at a high level on both sides of the football that will make him a legitimate Heisman contender.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

NCAA could approve all athletes to transfer without penalty as soon as April

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Presently, all college athletes except those in football, basketball, baseball and men’s hockey can transfer to another institution and play immediately. That could soon change.

The NCAA on Tuesday announced the Division I Transfer Working Group will consider granting all student-athletes a 1-time waiver to transfer without penalty, and if approved the change could come in effect in time for the 2020-21 academic year.

“The current system is unsustainable. Working group members believe it’s time to bring our transfer rules more in line with today’s college landscape,” said working group chair Jon Steinbrecher, commissioner of the Mid-American Conference. “This concept provides a uniform approach that is understandable, predictable and objective. Most importantly, it benefits students.”

The news comes on the heels of the Big Ten proposing the current rules be scrapped, a proposal that was endorsed by the ACC this week.

If approved, the NCAA would now allow athletes to transfer without penalty as long as they: A) receive a release from their current school (and the NCAA has greatly restricted schools’ ability to restrict transfers in recent years), B) leave their outgoing school academically eligible, C) maintain eligibility at their current school, and D) are not suspended by their outgoing school.

The NCAA in 2018 liberalized its waiver process on a case-by-case basis, but those cases ended up boiling down to whose families had the money to hire the right lawyer, and often had nothing to do with the merits of their case. Rather than try to officiate that byzantine process, the NCAA is moving toward scrapping it.

“More than a third of all college students transfer at least once, and the Division I rule prohibiting immediate competition for students who play five sports hasn’t discouraged them from transferring,” Steinbrecher said. “This dynamic has strained the waiver process, which was designed to handle extenuating and extraordinary circumstances.”

The Transfer Working Group will solicit feedback from NCAA membership in advance of a vote by the Division I Council in April.

 

Texas’ recruiting director Bryan Carrington undergoes successful surgery

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One non-playing member of the Texas Longhorns football program is recovering from a surgical procedure a few months in the making.

During summer camp last year, Bryan Carrington was injured in a car wreck.  In a lengthy Twitter post Tuesday morning, Carrington explained that he recently underwent surgery to repair damage to his hips.  Per Carrington, he “tore both of my labrums that surround my hips” in that automobile accident.

Despite the injuries, Carrington continued his duties as the recruiting director for the Longhorns.  The staffer stated that he had “postponed my surgery until after the February signing period.”

I’ve been sleeping in and out and on medication for the last 24 hours, so I apologize I haven’t made an update sooner. Long story short, when I was 13, I broke both of my hips, also dislocating the right. Doctors put one screw into my left hip and two in my right hip. After an 18-week rehab, I was fully healed and free of any complications. I went on to letter in four sports in high school. This past August I was in a car accident that gave me a plethora of complications. It tore both of my labrums that surround my hips, which was painful and made me very unstable standing or sitting. I had trouble positioning myself to be comfortable when sitting, laying down or driving. I couldn’t stand or sit for long periods of time without pain and discomfort. I basically felt immobile and handicapped in my lower extremities.

“Similarly to athletes, I fought through the pain, discomfort, psychological and emotional stress for the [duration] of the season and postponed my surgery until after the February signing period. Yesterday, I had hip arthroscopy on my right leg with labral repair and osteoplasty to remove the impingements. Despite the hardships, I remain positive and in good spirits. I’ll be back better than ever. Thanks again.

Carrington was hired away from Houston not long after Tom Herman was named head coach in November of 2016.  This past National Signing Day, Texas Longhorns football finished with the top-ranked class in the Big 12 and the No. 9 group nationally on the 247Sports.com composite board.

Clemson, Georgia to open 2021 season in Charlotte

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The good news is that the rivalry between Clemson and Georgia will resume earlier than previously anticipated.  The not-so-good news?  It’ll be played off-campus.

Monday, both Clemson and Georgia announced that the two football programs will kick off the 2021 season against each other.  The game will be played at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. on Saturday, Sept. 4.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” said UGA head coach Kirby Smart. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

To make room for this non-conference game, Clemson canceled a previously-scheduled matchup with Wyoming while Georgia did the same with one against San Jose State.

Along with the addition of a new home-and-home announced in April of last year, the Tigers and Bulldogs are now scheduled to face each other six times between 2021 and 2033, including the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.  There’s also a previously announced home-and-home series scheduled for 2029 (in Clemson) and 2030 (in Georgia).

The two football programs have met 64 times previously, the first in 1897 and the most recent in 2014.  UGA leads the all-time series 42-18-4.

“The eyes of the nation will be on Charlotte as we start the 2021 season,” said UGA athletic director Greg McGarity. “It is yet another opportunity to strengthen our schedule and provide an opportunity for our supporters to enjoy another huge matchup. We will now have at least two Power 5 opponents on our schedule through 2033.

FCS head coach Brad Laird placed on unpaid leave after DWI arrest

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Courtesy of Brad Laird, it’s neither a player nor someone from the FBS level that’s at the center of the latest off-field issue in college football.

In 2018, Brad Laird was named as the head football coach at FCS Northwestern State.  Saturday night, Laird was arrested and charged with driving while intoxicated in Natchitoches, LA.  No details of what led to the arrest have been released.

However, Northwestern State announced Monday that Laird has been suspended without pay for a week.  The school did confirm, though, that Laird will retain his job moving forward.

The school also issued a pair of statements addressing the off-field development.

NSU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR GREG BURKE
“Brad Laird informed me on February 16 that he had been charged with a DWI the previous evening. The university takes misconduct by any employee seriously and especially one with the level of responsibility of a head coach. The university immediately investigated and confirmed this incident.

“I met with Coach Laird on the morning of February 17 and informed him that he would be suspended for one week without pay. He was also issued a letter of reprimand informing him of consequences that could result from any future misconduct that would violate the conditions of his contract with the university. The letter also outlined additional measures to address this incident. Having known Coach Laird for many years, I respect and was not surprised that he expressed regret about his lack of judgment in this incident and stated that it is his desire to learn from this matter and move forward as a better leader for the young men in the NSU football program.”

NSU HEAD FOOTBALL COACH BRAD LAIRD
“On Saturday night, February 15, I made a poor decision to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after drinking alcohol. It was a poor and selfish decision, and I apologize to everyone who was unknowingly put at risk. I am extremely disappointed in this decision as this is not the type of behavior I instill in my players and staff. This was a lapse in judgment, and I take 100 percent responsibility for my actions.

“There are so many that are affected by my selfish decision. I would like to apologize to my family, Dr. Jim Henderson and the University Louisiana System, Dr. Chris Maggio and Northwestern State University, Mr. Greg Burke and the Northwestern State Athletic Department, and to the Northwestern State football players and coaches – past and present. As a role model for this great University and the players and coaches, I am disappointed as my actions were not in the best interest of my family, University, players and coaches. I completely understand there are consequences for all actions, and I accept the disciplinary terms that come with the decision I made Saturday night.”

In two seasons with the Demons, Laird has posted an 8-15 record.  The school went 5-6 in 2018 and 3-9 in 2019. In between his first and second seasons, Laird added two Power Five transfers and another from BYU.

Laird actually played his college football at the FCS school.  He also began his coaching career at his alma mater in 1996 as a graduate assistant.

In the ensuing years, the ties to NSU only deepened for Laird.  From 2003-05 and again from 2008-11, Laird was the Demons’ defensive coordinator.  Prior to being named head coach, he was the coordinator at NSU in 2017.