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CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The Pac-12

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While the Pac-12 has not gotten over the hump and won a national title in over a decade, last season was in many respects a banner year for the league. Washington went toe-to-toe with Alabama in the College Football Playoff and USC capped off an incredible run to finish in the top three of the final polls. Add in some incredible depth (four teams with double-digit wins) and plenty of national recognition and there was plenty for commissioner Larry Scott to be excited about.

Things will be much the same again in 2017 for the conference. The Huskies and Trojans will start off the year in the top 10 of just about every poll and have their sights on being in the final four at the end of the year. USC signal-caller Sam Darnold is the overwhelming favorite to win the Heisman Trophy and the so-called ‘Conference of Champions’ might have to change its name to ‘Conference of Quarterbacks’ given how many great players there are at the position this year.

How will things shape up out West? Here’s a look at the Pac-12 heading into the 2017 campaign and how things should shake out:

NORTH
1. Washington (12-2 overall, 8-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Everybody kept saying it was only a matter of time before Chris Petersen would turn the Huskies into a monster and that prophecy came true last season. The team returns the bulk of their offensive production from 2016 and are headlined by their terrific backfield of Jake Browning and Myles Gaskin. The defense looses plenty of NFL talent but is still pretty stocked with guys like Vita Vea holding down the fort along the defensive line. Add in a very easy schedule and it’s hard not to see UW coast to the conference title game once again.

2. Stanford (10-3, 6-3 last season)
Head coach David Shaw said last year was a disappointment for the Cardinal despite winning 10 games. That’s a pretty clear sign of how things have changed on the Farm the past few seasons but there’s plenty of optimism at returning to the top of the North division in 2017 with a stout defense and strong offensive line play once again. It will be tough to replace all-everything superstar Christian McCaffrey but Stanford will once again be a tough team to get past on a weekly basis.

3. Washington State (8-5, 7-2 last season)
Don’t discount the Cougars from making a run to win the division. The offense is loaded as you would expect for a Mike Leach coached team and have a star in QB Luke Falk. What is really the difference on the Palouse this time around is a quality defense that will be tough to run on.

4. Oregon (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Just about everything that could go wrong for the Ducks last year, did. Hence a coaching change and the arrival of a new era under Willie Taggart. The defense has nowhere to go but up and the offense has enough pieces to spark a turnaround and sneak into a bowl game when all is said and done.

5. Oregon State (4-8, 3-6 last season)
If you’re looking for a team to emulate Colorado’s turnaround from 2016, look no further than the Beavers after they put together a nice surge down the stretch heading into the offseason. Ryan Nall remains a load to tackle at running back and OSU’s defense has enough experience to help the team get back to .500.

6. California (5-7, 3-6 last season)
It’s going to be a long rebuild in Berkeley for new coach Justin Wilcox. The offense may not be worth tuning in for and the same certainly can be said of the Bears’ lackluster defense.

SOUTH

1. USC (10-3 overall, 7-1 in Pac-12 last season)
Expectations are always high around Troy but things are through the roof in Los Angeles this year. Darnold’s return under center has a lot to do with things but there’s NFL talent across the board in the program and plenty of momentum from last year’s run to the Roses. The South is a mess behind Clay Helton’s squad so go ahead and pencil in the Trojans for a trip to Santa Clara (and possibly beyond).

2. Utah (9-4, 5-4 last season)
Like other teams in the division, there’s a number of question marks about the Utes heading into the year. Despite that, Kyle Whittingham has developed a remarkably consistent program that is a tough out each week in conference play and a new look offense could finally be the answer for a team that will always field a strong defense.
3. UCLA (4-8, 2-7 last season)
Jim Mora enters the year firmly on the hot seat in Los Angeles after a program that was trending downward finally bottomed out with a disastrous 2016 campaign. A healthy Josh Rosen returning to action is worth several wins alone but we’ll have to see just how well the Bruins will come together in order to turn things around at the Rose Bowl.

4. Colorado (10-4, 8-1 last season)
The Buffs wild run to the conference title game was the talk of college football in November and December. Now comes the hard part in following up that success with a ton of seniors no longer in Boulder. QB Steven Montez showed enough potential as a freshman to indicate that life will be okay for CU but a slight step back is expected in 2017.

5. Arizona State (5-7, 2-7 last season)
There’s enough talent returning in Tempe that this could be the surprise team in the South that could make things a little interesting when the end of the year rolls around. Either way, the pressure is on Todd Graham, who is undoubtedly coaching for his job this season.

6. Arizona (3-9, 1-8 last season)
Few teams had worse injury luck than the Wildcats have had the past few years. The offense should be a lot more fun to watch if tailback J.J. Taylor remains healthy but the defense has miles to go before it’s helping the team move up in the standings.

LOOK: South Florida shows off first look of new Adidas football uniforms

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South Florida is switching apparel providers this season, leaving behind Under Armour for a new deal with Adidas. And with a new apparel partner now officially on board, the time has come to see what Adidas has up their sleeves for the Bulls.

South Florida shared a video on its Twitter account with the first look at the new uniform design, which looks fairly common to what most Adidas uniforms look like. One of the most notable changes to the uniform is the removal of “USF” from the front chest of the uniform and replacing it with text that reads “South Florida.”

The pants read “Bulls” on the legs and the USF “U” logo makes appearances on the hips and wrist bands. The first look at the helmet looks pretty interesting as well, with a chrome green face mask. The details of the helmet can be a bit more difficult to make out, although it appears at one point to be a green USF logo outlined in white (and gold?) on a gray helmet.

Reaction to the new uniforms among USF fans seems to be a bit mixed, but we will have to wait and see how the feelings are when USF reveals the full home and away assortment of uniforms down the road. As with many uniforms these days, it should be expected USF will have some combinations to keep them looking fresh on a weekly basis.

Miami’s signature Turnover Chain could be back in 2018, and WR Ahmonn Richards wants one too

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If you thought it was just a short-term fads designed to inspire Miami’s defense, well, you were probably right. But that short-term fad could very well be appearing once again this season on a Miami Hurricanes sideline near you.

After fielding plenty of questions about the iconic Turnover Chain, representatives of Miami at the ACC Football Kickoff last week showed no reason to doubt the chain will not be back again this fall. The Turnover Chain was a pop culture sensation in the world of college football as defensive players recovering a fumble or picking off a pass for an interception would race to the sideline to have the sparkling turnover chain placed around the necks. People either loved it or loathed it. So get ready to love it or loathe it again this fall.

Miami head coach Mark Richt didn’t shut down the idea while addressing the media at the ACC media day event, and he jokingly called it the greatest thing since sliced bread. Even wide receiver Ahmonn Richards was asked about the turnover chain and the possibility of having an equivalent prize for offensive players.

I think so. I think it’s time,” Richards said, according to The Sun Sentinel. “But those guys work hard, and they’re really enjoying it, and it helps them out, also, wanting to make plays and stuff. So I think we should have something, but it’s not up to me.”

Miami tied for third in the nation with the most takeaways with 31 (Wyoming led the nation with 38; UCF was second with 32 and Miami tied with Memphis and Central Michigan). In 2016, the Hurricanes had just 19 takeaways for the entire season.

Rutgers AD takes to Twitter to support head coach Chris Ash, downplay any hot seat talk

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We’re weeks away from the 2018 season beginning and with media days underway across the country, there’s inevitably some talk of which coaches are on the hot seat and who might be a few losses away from feeling the heat.

CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd complies a list every year of who might be feeling some pressure and who is safer than can be around the sport. One of the coaches who he listed as ‘start improving now’ (or a 4 on a 1-5 hot seat scale) was Rutgers head coach Chris Ash. The Scarlet Knights job is one of the hardest in football given their place in the Big Ten and while there has been some progress in the rebuild, Ash is 6-18 overall and only picked up his first conference win last season.

It’s only Year 3 of Ash’s tenure though and it seems that kind of pressure isn’t quite reflecting reality from the administration as athletic director Pat Hobbs took to his Twitter account on Saturday to say that there’s no hot seat at all for the young head coach:

We’re sure that Ash appreciates the extra bit of support publicly in what he’s doing with the program but something says he’ll be asked to comment about the whole thing next week at Big Ten Media Days in Chicago. The Scarlet Knights certainly looked much improved in 2017 between the lines but digging out of such a big hole for the program is going to only get tougher as they try to get over the hump and make a bowl game in 2018.

Bowling Green dismisses two players for illegal use of school credit cards

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We’re just over a few weeks from fall camp starting around the country so needless to say, it’s a bad time to lose some players. Such is unfortunately the case for Mike Jinks at Bowling Green however as the program just dismissed two members of the team’s defense.

According to The Toledo Blade, redshirt sophomore linebackers Armani Posey and Dirion Hutchins were both dismissed “as a result of an investigation into the illegal use of credit/debit cards that belonged to the school.” Bowling Green later confirmed that the two players were no longer on the roster.

Posey, also a student and member of the football team, was charged June 26 with receiving stolen property and unauthorized use of property. He was found guilty July 9 of unauthorized use of property, a misdemeanor, in Bowling Green Municipal Court and was given a 180-day jail term that was suspended. The terms of his probation include having no criminal offenses for the next two years, paying $2,000 restitution to the Bowling Green athletics department, and paying a $500 fine.

The charges are the result of a police investigation that began after the university discovered irregular charges on debit card accounts designated for athletic book scholarships. Investigators think the cards were used by those who had the card numbers and security codes.

Mr. Hutchins is accused of taking money off the cards and placed them in a PayPal or Squareup account, then transferred to a bank and liquidated for cash. All told, he is accused of making 27 deposits and taking $9,066 between April 23 and June 26, court documents show.

The illegal usage of school credit cards has been a growing issue in college football the past few years. Just recently, as many as eight Rutgers players were being investigated for the same kind of scheme and some nine Florida Gators were suspended last season for similar reasons.

It’s also been a trying offseason for the Falcons themselves even prior to this latest bit of news. Defensive back and part-time starter Cam Jefferies announced a graduate transfer, wideout Matthew Wilcox was picked up for his second OVI in April, fellow receiver Datin Guyton was dismissed and lost their kicker due to a bizarre eligibility case.

Now on top of all of that, BGSU loses a five-game starter in Posey and a pass-rusher in Hutchins who played in every game last season. Not exactly what you want to have go on during the offseason when you’re coming off a 2-10 year and facing a non-conference schedule with three Power Five foes. The Falcons open at Oregon on September 1st.