Getty Images

CFT 2018 Preseason Previews: Pac-12

4 Comments

If there’s any conference that looks forward to the fresh slate of a new season in 2018, it’s the Pac-12. The league missed the College Football Playoff for the second time in four tries last year and endured a disastrous — to put it mildly — bowl season that saw teams go 1-8 overall with few competitive contests. That’s all in the past though, as commissioner Larry Scott and his 12 schools look to turn the page and underscore that things on the gridiron out West are not quite as dour as the national narrative suggests. There are a handful of legitimate Playoff contenders entering this year’s campaign, a deep middle-class of teams sure to complicate division races and a handful of budding superstars that should factor heavily in the race for the Heisman Trophy once again. While it’s true there’s nowhere, really, to go but up for the Pac-12 in 2018, the conference appears primed to get back on track going forward.

Leading the charge will once again be Chris Petersen’s Washington Huskies, who are on paper the Pac-12’s only truly elite team and a heavy favorite to win the conference crown and make the final four. The group up in Seattle checks off all the boxes you’re looking for in a front-runner, including a savvy quarterback in Jake Browning, elite skill position talent like tailback Myles Gaskin, a stout defense and the best depth in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They’ll have a chance right away to cement their name in the national conversation with a trip to Atlanta to open against Auburn in Week 1, and will also benefit from hosting rival Stanford at home late in the season. Speaking of the Cardinal, they’ll be a contender once again thanks in part to what should be the school’s best offense since the days of Andrew Luck throwing passes on the Farm. Bryce Love headlines the group as a dynamic threat to score from just about everywhere but quarterback K.J. Costello should be able to take some of the pressure off in his second season as the established starter at quarterback. If there’s one area of concern for David Shaw’s team it’s on defense, which is something you could also say for the rest of the teams in the league as well.

Elsewhere in the Pac-12 North, Oregon should be a team that is a regular in the top 25 for Mario Cristobal’s first full year in charge up in Eugene. Quarterback Justin Herbert, when healthy, has the look of a first-round pick behind center and the team should benefit from a relatively stable offseason after so much change the past few years. After the Ducks though, the rest of the division is in various stages of rebuilding mode. Cal was better than their 5-7 record from 2017 suggests and returns most of their offense, but it will still be tough to be a week-in, week-out threat in the Pac-12 until head coach Justin Wilcox can add to the depth on defense. Washington State will always be a pesky thorn in everybody’s side as long as Mike Leach is in charge but the Cougars are facing massive coaching turnover (six new assistants) and it remains to be seen if the program is truly over the tragic loss of quarterback Tyler Hilinski. Oregon State figures to once again remain in the cellar even with a bit of a jolt from new coach Jonathan Smith.

While there’s a somewhat clear pecking order in the North, the Pac-12 South is about as wide-open as the division ever has been. USC once again will trot out the most talent of any of the six teams, but there’s still plenty of skepticism over the future of head coach Clay Helton and just how much depth the Trojans will have come the end of the season. Seeking not to repeat the quarterback controversy from two years ago, Helton has opted to go with true freshman J.T. Daniels at quarterback — a move that could pay off longterm but might lead to issues early as the signal-caller who should still be in high school adjusts to life in the Pac-12. Southern Cal remains the preseason media favorite to win the South but the door is certainly open for two others in Utah and Arizona.

In Salt Lake City, it might just be now or never for Kyle Whittingham’s squad despite a tough slate of crossover games (Oregon/Washington) on the schedule. The Utes get both the Wildcats and Trojans at Rice-Eccles and easily sport the South’s stingiest defense. The offense, a constant issue ever since joining the Pac-12, could be much more consistent than in years past thanks to a backfield that sports second-year QB Tyler Huntley and the terrific one-two punch of Zack Moss and Armand Shyne. Speaking of good second-year signal-callers, Kevin Sumlin finds himself in a great position as a first-year head coach at Arizona by having Heisman candidate Khalil Tate to work with. The bulk of a young defense is also back in Tucson and if the new staff can help bring Tate along as a passer, that elusive trip to the Rose Bowl might not be so far out of reach for the Wildcats like it once was.

Despite all that firepower to work with and high expectations though, Sumlin won’t be the most-watched first-year coach in the division thanks to the arrival of Chip Kelly at UCLA and the ever-quotable Herm Edwards at Arizona State. The Sun Devils have a chance to surprise a bit with quarterback Manny Wilkins under center and a budding superstar in wideout N'Keal Harry, but the team has one of the most difficult schedules in the country and a huge unknown in the coaching staff. Not much is expected of the Bruins in Kelly’s first season given numerous roster issues in Westwood, but nobody is putting it past the spread offense guru to get the team to be competitive in short order. Figuring out who starts at quarterback from a number of options is task No. 1 for the powder blues, but issues abound along the offensive line, running back and on defense. Some of those same issues are present up at Colorado as well, which looks ticketed toward another down season and probably needs to make a bowl game at a minimum to save Mike MacIntyre’s job in Boulder going forward.

 PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Pac-12 North

1. Washington
2. Stanford
3. Oregon
4. Cal
5. Washington State
6. Oregon State

Pac-12 South

1. Utah
2. Arizona
3. USC
4. Arizona State
5. UCLA
6. Colorado

IN SHORT…

Report: Ex-Clemson QB Kelly Bryant to announce grad transfer destination on Dec. 4

Getty Images
4 Comments

The first time Kelly Bryant was recruited, as a member of the class of 2015, he was a 4-star. A product of Wren High School in Piedmont, S.C., and the younger cousin of former Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant, Bryant chose Clemson over offers from Florida, North Carolina and Ole Miss, according to his Rivals profile.

This time around, Bryant is definitely a 5-star. Bryant led Clemson to an ACC title and a College Football Playoff berth in his lone season as Clemson’s starter, then guided the Tigers to a 4-0 mark before giving way to freshman Trevor Lawrence in September. Along the way, Bryant threw for 3,263 yards, rushed for 795 and accounted for 28 total touchdowns in leading Clemson to a 16-2 record.

Bryant is a proven, effective college player, which wasn’t enough for him to remain ahead of Lawrence on the Clemson depth chart but is plenty good enough to start at a number of other schools — and many of those other schools have courted Bryant.

Just like a high school recruit, Bryant is permitted five official visits, which he’s taken to Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina, with future visits planned for Mississippi State this weekend and Miami on Nov. 24. He’s also taken an unofficial vis to Auburn.

According to a report from Woody Wommack of Rivals, Bryant has set a date of Dec. 4 to pick his graduate transfer destination. That’s the Tuesday after Selection Sunday.

“I’m still trying to talk to more schools and make sure I get this right,” Bryant told Rivals earlier this month. “I need to make sure I establish the right type of relationship and make the right choice.

Among those six schools, three (Mississippi State, Missouri and Auburn) have senior starting quarterbacks, and three (Arkansas, Miami and UNC) are set to return their starters.

It’s clear that Bryant plans to start at whatever school he chooses. Whether he’ll be gifted the starting spot or have to earn it remains to be seen.

Report: ‘Mutual interest’ between Kansas, Todd Graham

Getty Images
1 Comment

Kansas needs a coach. Todd Graham needs a job.

On that basis, the two sides have talked about the KU opening, according to a report Monday from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports.

It is not known how far the discussion(s) went, nor where Graham stands on Jeff Long‘s list. But Graham does have experience building a program as the former head coach at Rice, Tulsa, Pittsburgh and Arizona State.

Coincidentally, Graham was current KU head coach David Beaty‘s boss for one season, as Beaty coached wide receivers on Graham’s Rice staff in 2006.

Graham is a Texas native and a former high school coach in the Dallas area, so he would present an opportunity to mine the Texas recruiting fields if Long opts to go that direction.

Overall, Graham is 95-61 with 10 bowl trips and four division championships in a dozen seasons as a head coach.

Long has also reportedly discussed the Kansas job with fellow out-of-work coaches Les Miles and DJ Durkin.

“KU fans, you don’t know me very well if you believe the latested [sic] speculation, I attempt to run a very confidential search and I am doing so now,” Long tweeted after the Durkin report went public. “The search is ongoing. Rock Chalk!!”

Mike Gundy rants on ‘liberalism’ and ‘the snowflake’ in question about transfers

Getty Images
15 Comments

On Sunday, Oklahoma State safety Thabo Mwaniki announced his intention to transfer. On Monday, Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy was asked about his decision, and Gundy had plenty of thoughts about it.

While insisting he’s not talking about Mwaniki specifically, Gundy launched into a soliloquy about “liberalism” and “the snowflake.”

“I’m talking about every millennial young person. Generation Z, I think is what they ‘call em,” Gundy said. “It’s the world we live in because if they say, ‘Well, it’s a little bit hard,’ we say, ‘OK, well, let’s go try something else’ vs. ‘Hey, let’s bear down and let’s fight and do this.’

Here’s the full quote, via The Oklahoman‘s Nathan Ruiz:

Mwaniki is the second Cowboy to announce a transfer during this season. Wideout Jalen McCleskey left the team earlier this year.

By the way, Gundy, who is paid $5 million a year, has attempted to use his post to transfer to similar jobs at Arkansas and Tennessee in order to leverage more money out of Oklahoma State.

Alabama has spent as much time as the AP No. 1 since 2009 as the rest of college football combined

Getty Images
3 Comments

Nick Saban‘s Alabama continues to rack up milestone after milestone. The Crimson Tide are already on a record streak of 11 consecutive seasons with at least one AP No. 1 ranking. They hit win No. 900 a week ago. They’re on record streaks as favorites and wins over unranked opponents.

But on Sunday, with yet another unanimous No. 1 ranking, Alabama hit a milestone that seemed unfathomable. According to SEC Network, Alabama has spent 79 weeks as the AP No. 1 since 2009, which is equal to the number by the rest of the sport combined.

Alabama has been the AP’s No. 1 every week during the 2018 season, and collected 13 of a possible 16 No. 1 rankings. They were No. 1 all throughout the 2016 season until finishing at No. 2. In 2015, Alabama was not the AP No. 1 at all during the season — until knocking off Clemson in the title game to ascend to No. 1.

Dating back to the final poll of the 2015 season, Alabama has been the AP No. 1 in 41 of the last 45 polls.

It’s a level of consistency unmatched in college football, and one that is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.