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.

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.

Alabama reportedly hires Charlie Strong as defensive analyst

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It appears the marriage between Charlie Strong and Alabama is a go.

In early December of last year, Strong was let go as the head coach at South Florida.  Over the past two-plus months, the 59-year-old Strong has remained on the outside of the coaching profession looking in.  There has been speculation, though, that Strong could be returning to Florida and joining Dan Mullens‘ extended staff as a defensive analyst.

Late last week, however, it was reported that Charlie Strong was in Tuscaloosa visiting with the Alabama football coaching staff.  Overnight, yet another report surfaced that Strong was set to be back in Tuscaloosa this week, perhaps as early as Tuesday, with a hiring all but a given.  Late Tuesday morning, Chris Low of ESPN.com reported that Strong has agreed to join the Crimson Tide football staff as a defensive analyst.

Strong has spent the past decade as a head coach.  After going 37-15 in four seasons (2010-13) at Louisville, Strong left to take the head job at Texas.  Three seasons (2014-16) in Austin ended with his dismissal following a 16-21 record.  Strong’s tenure at USF ended after three seasons (2017-19) as well and a 4-8 2019 campaign.

In the last six years of his head-coaching career, Strong posted a 37-37 record.

Prior to that, Strong spent seven years (2003-09) as the defensive coordinator at Florida.  During that time with the Gators, he also coached defensive ends and linebackers.  For four of those seasons, Mullen was UF’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach before leaving to take the Mississippi State job.

That was actually Strong’s fourth stint with the Gators.  From 1991-94, he coached defensive tackles (1994) and defensive ends (1991-93).  He also served as outside linebackers coach from 1988-89.  Strong began his collegiate coaching career as a graduate assistant at UF in 1983-84.

Strong was also the defensive coordinator at South Carolina for four years (1999-2002) before moving on to Gainesville that fourth time.  In between the third Gainesville stint and his time in Columbia, Strong was the defensive line coach at Notre Dame from 1995-98.