CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

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As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC) and HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 13-2, lost to Ohio State in College Football Playoff national championship game)

First thing’s first, replacing Marcus Mariota is not exactly easy for Mark Helfrich. The Heisman Trophy winner from a year ago leaves big shoes to fill. Fortunately, Oregon added one of the top quarterbacks in the nation to transfer schools this offseason with Vernon Adams leaving FCS powerhouse Eastern Washington to join the Ducks (he is now listed as the starter). The transition will go well enough for Oregon’s offense to continue making big things happen, especially with Royce Freeman looking to join the young crop of running backs expected to have a big season. The good news is Adams has a pretty solid offensive line back with starting experience, but road trips to Michigan State and Arizona State will be tough to return home with wins. Oregon finishes the season with two wins, which puts last year’s national runner-up on the fringe of the playoff conversation at the end of the season.

2. Stanford (Last year: 8-5, beat Maryland in Foster Farms Bowl)

Stanford will once again be Oregon’s biggest threat in the Pac-12 North this season, while Washington takes some time to rebound and Cal’s defense a major work in progress. Defense will be the consistent key to the Cardinal this season even though it returns just a small handful of starters from last season. The biggest concern for Stanford last season was a slow-starting offense. The offense finally started to click at the end of the year and must get off to a better start this year. Kevin Hogan has nearly his entire starting offensive line back this fall, and Stanford should have a decent running game to work with. Stanford gets Oregon at home and an early road trip to USC could be a toss-up.

3. Washington (Last year: 8-6, lost to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl)

I still believe good things are coming to Washington under Chris Petersen. I just think this is a step back before the Huskies start stepping forward. There are just too many holes on the roster right now after losing a load of talent to the NFL. Give Petersen some time though and Washington should be an improved team in 2016. This season could get off to a rough start on the road against Boise State and a home game against Utah State. Good for the Mountain West Conference. Not so good for the Pac-12. Washington also gets USC, Oregon and Stanford in consecutive weeks in the middle of the year. Ouch.

4. California (Last year: 5-7)

No win total will justify how fun this team will be to watch this season. The offense is there with Jared Goff leading the offense. The defense is a different story, as it will struggle to slow down anybody. Cal suffered some close calls last season. Getting to six wins is not impossible if the Bears can get off to a fast start. I’m just not sure if they will do that. A 1-3 record before hosting Washington State is what I’m seeing in the cards, and that cannot happen if Cal is to go bowling this season.

5. Oregon State (Last year: 5-7)

Mike Riley left for Nebraska, and he may have taken the good vibes with him this season. In steps Gary Andersen, fresh off a 59-0 beatdown at the hands of Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game last year. Andersen is a good enough coach to make Oregon State do some good things, but his defense returns just two starters and he inherits an unstable quarterback situation lacking in experience. They may be up and down in the first half of the season but they run into a wall starting with, believe it or not, Colorado.

6. Washington State (Last year: 3-9)

The Mike Leach experiment at Washington State may come to a close soon if things do not show promise and progress this season in Pullman. After winning just three games last season, the Cougars added some junior college experience to the roster this season. If Leach can channel his inner Bill Snyder (whom Leach once called a sorcerer), maybe the Cougars can scratch together enough wins to reach the postseason. I’m not sure I see enough of those wins though, especially in Pac-12 play.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. Arizona State (Last year: 10-3, beat Duke in Sun Bowl)

The Sun Devils do few things extraordinarily well, and getting out of the Pac-12 South unscathed will be difficult for every team in the division. So it must be the schedule, right? You may actually like Arizona State’s chances in the opener against Texas A&M in Houston, and they get USC at home a few weeks later. Tough road tests at UCLA and Utah before the bye week are not automatic losses, although those games could spell trouble. Fortunately for Arizona State,they score an upset at home on a Thursday night after a bye week against Oregon (setting up an eventual rematch in the Pac-12 championship game) and they will not lose again in the regular season. Quarterback Mike Bercovici finds a comfort level with receiver D.J. Foster as the Sun Devils put a streak together at the perfect time. While all that is happening, cannibalism within the division will help place Arizona State on top of the pile.

2. USC (Last year: 9-4, beat Nebraska in Holiday Bowl)

The Trojans were tabbed the media preseason favorite at Pac-12 media days. Sure, USC looks attractive, but don’t we need to see some more consistency out of Cody Kessler and to see Steve Sarkisian win a big game before buying into the hype? Throw in the fact this is a tough division, is anybody sure USC gets out of it without a couple of losses along the way? That said, they are in the running for the Pac-12 South crown, but I do not see them getting by Arizona State on the road the week after hosting Stanford. I have USC splitting those two games, but it could just as well end up being an 0-2 setback heading into the bye week (sure, I suppose it could also be 2-0). I also think USC comes back from South Bend with a loss to Notre Dame and a road game at Oregon is a probable loss as well.

3. Utah (Last year: 9-4, beat Colorado State in Las Vegas Bowl)

Utah is my wild card team in the Pac-12 South this season because they play what may be the best defense in the division, if not the conference. Utah will be extremely difficult to beat at home, but three tough road games ultimately hold Utah back from reaching the Pac-12 championship game (Oregon, USC, Arizona). I do think things get off to a good start at home against Michigan, spoiling Jim Harbaugh‘s debut as head coach of the Wolverines, and the next week against Chuckie Keeton and Utah State. They even get a chance to knock off Arizona State at home in the middle of the season. Potential is there, but the offense needs to keep its foot on the gas to make any run.

4. Arizona (Last year: 10-4, lost to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl)

After coming up small against Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl last season, the Wildcats still look to be moving forward. Anu Solomon is one of the top quarterbacks in the conference and should be ready for a big season with Caleb Jones back as his go-to receiver. The offensive and defensive lines have some holes to plug, but the Wildcats have linebacker Scooby Wright III at linebacker to pick up the slack in the middle of the defense. What I do not like about Arizona is the schedule. Arizona plays 12 straight games without a bye week. It will be a grind, but Arizona is capable of being in the hunt in this crazy division and may be welcoming that bye week at the end of the season if things fall into place again this fall. I think the final four games could be hitting a wall for Arizona though, as I have them losing three of the final four games (three of the final four on the road).

5. UCLA (Last year: 10-3, beat Kansas State in the Alamo Bowl)

The Bruins were the trendy pick last summer. Now it seems we are taking a much more scaled-back stance on UCLA. But why? UCLA returns a ton of starters from a year ago and has added a new defensive coordinator in Tom Bradley that should help. The talent is there with just one key position to address; quarterback. If Josh Rosen can step right in and have an impact, UCLA will be a contender in this competitive division. But freshmen, even the great ones, can make mistakes. Rosen has the hype, and there is a good chance to get comfortable early on with home games against Virginia and BYU and a road game at UNLV. UCLA can play itself into controlling the fate of the Pac-12 South coming down the stretch, but back-to-back road games at Utah and USC to end the season is not an easy draw.

6. Colorado (Last year: 2-10)

Colorado is not going to return to its 1990s powerhouse form in 2015, but we should see some signs of continued progress with the program under Mike MacIntyre. Colorado has a chance to enter October with a winning record, which would be a promising start. The Buffs return nine starters on defense and six on offense, so the hope is experience helps develop some talent to continue being competitive. Colorado lost some close calls last season. If they can turn a couple of those close games the other way, Colorado and a bowl trip is not out of the mix. Seriously.

PAC-12 CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Oregon over Arizona State

Oregon remains my team to beat, and they could be hitting a stride just at the right time by the time the conference championship game comes around. Oregon would be playing in the title game for the third time in five seasons while Arizona State would be in the game for the second time in three years. Oregon’s offense once again leads the way, but Arizona State gives them a run.

Jarrett Stidham tried recruiting Texas A&M after leaving Baylor, but Aggies weren’t as interested

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Well, this might sting a little for Texas A&M. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham shared his experience in the recruiting process at SEC Media Days in Atlanta, claiming to be the one trying to sell himself more to Texas A&M than Texas A&M tried recruiting him when Stidham opted to leave Baylor.

“Honestly, [former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin], he didn’t recruit me too hard,” Stidham said. “I probably tried to recruit myself to A&M a little harder. Just because it was in-state, it was right down the road from where I was there in Waco.”

Originally a four-star recruit of Baylor in the Class of 2015, Stidham transferred from Baylor in the wake of the sexual assault scandal with the program in the summer of 2016. Five months later, Stidham announced his decision to transfer to Auburn for the 2017 season. This will be Stidham’s second season starting for the Tigers after passing for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Why would Texas A&M not go after such a talented quarterback that was showing great interest in playing for them? It may because the urgency in adding a quarterback may not have felt like a pressing need for Texas A&M heading into the 2017 season. The Aggies had freshman Kellen Mond coming in as a five-star recruit in the Class of 2017. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but Mond appeared in 10 games for Texas A&M and completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns for the Aggies.

Texas A&M went 7-6 last season, while Auburn knocked off both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season to advance to the SEC Championship Game. How many fans in College Station are wondering if the fate of the 2017 season would have been changed drastically if Sumlin decided Stidham would be his guy instead of Mond? Would it have made much of a difference for the Aggies (and for that matter, Auburn)?

As Stidham said to the media, it all worked out for him. Sumlin ended up losing his job and is now the head coach at Arizona, while former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is getting prepared for his season as the new (handsomely paid) head coach of Texas A&M.

If you were wondering, Stidham also completed 20-of-27 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 42-27 victory over Texas A&M in Kyle Field last November.

Battle with admissions results in UCLA granting release to 2018 signee

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After a bit of a drawn-out battle with the UCLA admissions department, safety and wide receiver prospect Bryan Addison is once again looking for a place to play some college football.

According to a report from Bruin Report Online, Addison has been given a full release from his scholarship by Chip Kelly and UCLA. The release comes after Addison decided he needed to start looking at other potential options with the fear his situation at UCLA would not get resolved in time to get enrolled at UCLA (or potentially at another college).

I had some issues with the college board and UCLA admissions,” Addison said in the report published by Bruin Report Online. “I have been fighting this for 5-6 weeks and things were a little slow to get going and time was running out for me. All the other freshmen were already enrolling and it was getting stressful for me.”

Where Addison is heading next remains to be seen, but he has apparently already been reviewing some possible offers from other Pac-12 schools including USC and Oregon as well as Big Ten member Nebraska. A decision could come soon as well, as Addison feels a need to get this taken care of so he can turn the page and get enrolled at his new school.

Fortunately for Addison, he will not be required to sit out a season this fall because he is not actually transferring. Because he was not enrolled at UCLA, his move to a new program does not qualify as an actual transfer. That means he will be eligible to play right away this fall at whatever school manages to bring him in before the 2018 season.

Dabo Swinney undecided on Clemson starting QB

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Not that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has much need to name a starter for the opening game of the 2018 season, but the head coach of the defending three-time ACC champions says he has not made up his mind on who will be sitting on top of the depth chart at the position.

Speaking at ACC media day in Charlotte, North Carolina, Swinney said he has no timeline for when a decision will be made, which is typical coachspeak this time of year. In Swinney’s’ case, opening at home against an FCS opponent gives him a little more time to have to make a decision, and playing both quarterbacks in the season opener before making a final decision going into a Week 2 road trip to Texas A&M (against former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher) may be an option.

The two most likely options are Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. Bryant was Clemson’s starting quarterback last season and passed for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions and 665 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Despite having the starting experience from last season after replacing Deshaun Watson, Lawrence arrives on campus as one of the top recruits in the nation in the Class of 2018 and is expected to push for consideration right away.

For Swinney, as with most coaches, it is mostly about keeping things tight knit for now and not showing your cards until much closer to the season. Given the potential for Lawrence, it may be worth seeing what he does in training camp to see if there is a comfort level to give him such a significant role in the offense for a playoff contender.

Bryant will likely get the majority of the first-team reps at first, however, due to being the experienced option that was a part of an ACC championship team just last fall (and the only game Clemson lost in the regular season occurred when Bryant was injured and could not return).

Lane Kiffin shares thoughts on Larry Fedora’s comments and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

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At Conference USA media day, the FAU Owls were voted as the preseason favorite to repeat as the conference champion. You would think Lane Kiffin would have his plate full talking about his team’s quest for a second straight conference title, but the most popular coach in the conference found himself sounding off on a handful of topics outside Conference USA.

A day after UNC head coach Larry Fedora made headlines with his comments about the possibility that the state of football could be in danger of bringing down the country and showed himself to be skeptical of the link between football and CTE. Kiffin took a different stance on Fedora’s idea of a war on football threatening the stability of the United States.

“What’s the most important thing,” Kiffin questioned. “Long-term health, or how the game looks?”

Fedora took exception to the abundant changes to the game with rules being designed to protect the health of players. He has not been alone in his complaints about how the game is changing, but Kiffin expressed a different take on the importance of changing the game than his ACC counterpart.

Looking ahead to the season, though, Kiffin fielded some questions about FAU’s first opponent, defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. Already keeping an eye on the opposition, Kiffin joked he thinks likely starting quarterback for the Sooners, Kyler Murray, should go ahead and skip football to begin his professional baseball career after being drafted ninth overall in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. But, sticking to the previous comments in regard to Fedora’s comments, Kiffin used Murray to expand on the long-term health concerns Murray could potentially face by not going right into baseball.

“He should change his mind and go to baseball,” Kiffin said. “It’s crazy that he doesn’t go play (baseball) this year. Think of all the concussion issues that are out there with college football and the NFL. He should go play baseball.”

FAU received 22 first-place votes in a Conference USA preseason media poll to easily be named the favorite in the East Division. The Owls open the 2018 season at Oklahoma on September 1.