ACC, Big East looking to salvage some respect… again

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Last night’s match-up between Miami and Pittsburgh was clearly the most anticipatedACC vs. Big East game of the week, but it may turn out to be the most revolting. As Ben so eloquently put it, the game was mustn’t see television.

But let’s not give up on the two conferences! A team does not need a two digit numberless than 26 next to its name in order to provide good football. Hell, in 2007 Boston Collegestarted 2-0 unranked and was one point No. 2 in the nation. Anything can happen this week,folks.

But if you are into “sexy” football, we do have a game for you. No. 22 West Virginia is headingover to No. 15 LSU tomorrow night in a game many people believe will make-or-breakMountaineer Noel Devine‘s Heisman campaign.

Virginia Tech at Boston College (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Virginia Tech -4

THE PLOT: When was the last time neither team was ranked in this rivalry? I could notlocate the answer to that question, despite roaming through records dating back to 1992. (If youcan find it, share the information!)

This ACC matchup between former conference forerunners will play a huge role in determiningthe outcome of both teams for the remainder of the year. Virginia Tech has to answer to criticsafter a few real bad games. The Hokies also need to win out, or get to and win a bowl game inorder to continue their 10-win season streak alive; they currently sit at six seasons, which issecond behind Texas’ nine.

Boston College is 2-0 on the young season, but both wins have been unimpressive and overlower tier teams, Weber State and Kent State. The quarterback play of Dave Shinskiefor the Eagles will be just as important as BC’s defensive play. The only thing the Eagles trulyhave going for them is that this game is in Chestnut Hill.

THE PICK: In 2007 and 2008, Boston College and Virginia Tech met four total times;once during the year and again during the ACC title game. The same scenario played out bothtimes with the Eagles winning the regular season matchup and the Hokies taking the moreimportant game to reach a BCS bowl. At the rate both teams are playing now, neither team willreach the conference title game, so they better play hard this game, because it will likely be theonly meeting between the two until next season.

Virginia Tech has a more balanced team. I know the Hokies lost to James Madison, but theweather was crummy, the players were still reeling from the gigantic Boise State loss and it’s notimpossible to believe that the Hokies expected to walk over the Dukes.

I think the Hokies take this game in Massachusetts to set the tone for the rest of their ACC slate.The play of Ryan Williams? Nah, they won’t need it.

THE SCORE: Virginia Tech 24, Boston College 10

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North Carolina at Rutgers (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: North Carolina -2

THE PLOT: The Tar Heels have played four games with Rutgers, losing three. Theywon the most recent though, in 2008 in New Brunswick, a 44-12 victory.

North Carolina has played two games this season, both six-point losses to goodteams. They did this despite missing twelve players. The Tar Heels will not have any of those ineligible players back for this matchup (other thanShaun Draughn), which leaves them susceptible to being taken advantage of late in thegame due to a lack of depth.

Rutgers enters the game with a 2-0 record, with wins over Norfolk State andFlorida International. Quarterback Tom Savage played amiserable game two weeks ago in a 19-14 win down in Miami, but he vowed himself to getbetter from that point.

North Carolina’s Butch Davis is 8-9 coming off a loss, and Rutgers’ GregSchiano isn’t much better coming off a bye week with a 13-10 record.

THE PICK: I know Rutgers has played rather tough within the Big East this decade,but their defense is not the same as it was in 2006, coincidentally the same year that Rutgers lastbeat UNC. The Scarlet Knights’ offense has also declined in yards per game each of the past twoseasons–once Ray Rice left.

As for the Tar Heels, they have still played great football without their best playmakers.Quarterback TJ Yates has really improved his draft stock with his tough–andproductive–play against two good defenses in LSU and Georgia Tech.

I expect UNC to play lights out defense and Yates to lead the Tar Heels on several scoring drivesin a low-scoring battle.

THE SCORE: North Carolina 17, Rutgers 9

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No. 8 Oklahoma at Cincinnati (6:00 ET)

THE LINE: Oklahoma -13.5

THE PLOT: The Sooners have played really good football so far this year. They got thejitterbugs out early against Utah State and a mobile quarterback in Diondre Borel. Theyembarrassed and dismantled Christian Ponder and then-No. 17 Florida State. And lastweek, they squared off against the nation’s leading rushing team in Air Force. What can we pickup from these results? That Oklahoma’s rush defense hasn’t been that great this year.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, hasn’t been great this year at…well, anything. The Big East teamhas lost twice as many games through three bouts this year as they did all of last season. Thepreseason favorite to run the Big East conference has only one impressive offensive performanceso far, and that was against Indiana State.

THE PICK: This matchup is a home game for Cincinnati, seeing as it is being played15 minutes from the Bearcats’ campus at Paul Brown Stadium.

Oklahoma has not been on the road yet this year, so there is certainly the possibility of an upsethere. In fact, for those who care, Bob Stoops is 2-4 in non-conference regular seasonaway games against BCS foes.

I think if Cincinnati can score early, they might look cute for a little bit, but it will not take longfor Oklahoma to suffocate them. FSU’s Christian Ponder was picked apart on a big stage,so playing the Bearcats’ Zach Collaros should not present too much of a problem.

THE SCORE: Oklahoma 30, Cincinnati 16

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No. 22 West Virginia at No. 15 LSU (9:00 ET)

THE LINE: LSU -10

THE PLOT: This is the biggest non-conference game for the Mountaineers since 2005when West Virginia hosted No. 3 Virginia Tech. That game didn’t end well for the team fromMorgantown, but it was their only loss as WVU went on to win the Sugar Bowl against No. 8Georgia.

This year is completely different. The Mountaineers do not have Pat White, but possess ayoung and inexperienced quarterback in Geno Smith. To be fair, Smith has played aswell as anyone could ask, scoring seven touchdowns and limiting himself to one turnover. TheMountaineers have not seen a consistent passing quarterback in nearly a decade, but Smith istaking on that role.

Speaking of a passing quarterback, that is about the last thing Louisiana State would like to seetomorrow night. The Tigers surrendered 412 yards to North Carolina’s Yates during week one.Yates is the only passing quarterback that LSU has faced all year, so this week’s opponent inWest Virginia may by problematic.

THE PICK: Bill Stewart has a winning record against Top 25 teams, as wellas against BCS teams, but is 4-6 away from Morgantown. His three road games against non-conference BCS opponents have all culminated in
losses.

LSU possesses
the talent advantage, the coaching advantage, and home field advantage. WestVirginia will need as much out of Noel Devine and Geno Smith as they possibly can get.

THE SCORE: Louisiana State 33, West Virginia 21

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBCSports.com.)

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.

College football world will watch as SEC reviews graduate transfer rules at spring meetings

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Among a handful of items on the agenda for this week’s SEC spring meetings will be a review and discussion about the league’s graduate transfer rules. Specifically, the SEC is expected to address the current restrictions on accepting players as graduate transfers if a previous graduate transfer fails to meet that school’s academic requirements.

“This will be the first meaningful conversation that we’ve had since the proliferation of graduate transfers has happened nationally,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said to the Associated Press. ”I expect our membership to have a pretty meaningful conversation about the right perspective on graduate transfers entering the SEC from outside and then the topic of inter-conference transfers.”

Sankey has promised the topic of graduate transfer rules will be reviewed at the SEC spring meetings, and it will be a bit overdue. Better later than never, right?

Like the early signing period, this is a topic the SEC has found themselves standing in the minority crowd. The SEC has had a complicated relationship to graduate transfers since the NCAA opened the door for graduate transfers in 2006. The conference banned all graduate transfers in 2011 after Ole Miss had added former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli as a graduate transfer. The Masoli transfer was one scrutinized by the NCAA and critics before officially being cleared following an appeal. In 2014, the ban was lifted, but with provisions in place to ensure SEC schools were not adding graduate transfers with no intention of pursuing a graduate degree.

One person who may be watching this development this week with great interest is likely former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire. Zaire is suspected to be down to deciding whether to transfer to Florida or Texas, and he has already pushed back his decision seemingly to wait and see if the Gators will be an actual option. For that to happen, the SEC will have to amend its graduate transfer policy or allow Florida an exemption.

Florida is unable to add a graduate transfer like Zaire because two previous graduate transfers (former Georgia Tech linebacker Anthony Harrell and former Fordham offensive lineman Mason Halter) failed to meet the academic requirements after transferring to Florida. That put Florida on a three-year ban from adding any graduate transfers through 2018.

But if the SEC is the one lagging behind the competition when it comes to its graduate transfer policies, why would the college football world be watching? That’s easy. If the sEC amends its graduate transfer policies, then makes the conference that already typically dominates in talent acquisition through recruiting has a chance to become even stronger and more desirable. Graduate transfers who may be blocked from enrolling at an SEC school and have been forced to evaluate other options in the Big 12 or Big Ten and so on, could have a chance to transfer to the SEC. For example, Florida could add Zaire to their roster, which leaves Texas hoping Tom Herman really works his QB magic in Austin.

There is a ripple effect that could potentially play out, even in a conference that is in need of catching up in this particular issue. That’s how important the decisions made in the SEC could be for the entire sport.