SEC takes center stage; Big Ten gets a MAC-tastic reprieve

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Certainly the schedule says the Big Ten will be out in full force — minus Illinois — and engaging in gridiron “competition” this weekend, but they will be facing the same number of schools from BcS conferences as I will — zero.

Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan, N. Colorado, Bowling Green, Austin Peay, Ball State, Toledo, Akron, Northern Illinois.  Those are nine of the ten schools gearing up to face Big Ten squads, with seven of them calling the Mid-American Conference home.  Perhaps the only intriguing on-paper match-up before conference play begins involves yet another MAC school that beat up on a Big East school last week.

Then there’s the SEC.

Four conference games and one non-conference contest — previewed HERE — highlight this week’s slate for the league, with a top-ten tilt between Alabama and Arkansas looking as arguably the game of the week in college football (apologies to Boise State-Oregon State go here).

Below is a brief glimpse of a few of the more intriguing games involving the two conferences this weekend.  And, for the degenerates in the audience, the record versus the spread that appears at the end of this piece should serve as a warning if you’re looking for a cheat sheet in your gambling endeavors.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned.

No. 1 Alabama at N0. 10 Arkansas (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Alabama -7

THE PLOT: With easy wins over San Jose State, Penn State and Duke to open the season, Alabama’s revamped defense, replete with nine new starters, has yet to face it’s first real test of the season.  With Ryan Mallett and a cadre of talented receivers on this weekend’s agenda, that will change in short order.  Or, at least, it should.  Not only was the secondary’s inexperience a major concern throughout the Tide’s summer camp, but the lack of depth in that unit did nothing but add to the worries.  With Mallett in charge of the Razorbacks’ pass-happy offense, we’ll know one way or the other whether there was any validity to those preseason concerns.

Of course, the Razorbacks will also be forced to do something about the law firm of McElroy, Ingram, Richardson & Jones when they don’t have the ball.  As Yoda would say, a pretty picture this is not. 

THE PICK: Even given some of the “question marks” that pockmark the untested defense, and the fact that they are playing on the road, there’s simply no way I could in good conscience go against the Tide.  At least straight up.  In the end, ‘Bama will prove to be the better team… but not by much in a thriller of a game.

THE SCORE: Alabama 27, Arkansas 24

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Temple at No. 23 Penn State (3:30 ET)

THE LINE: Penn State -14

THE PLOT: Well, we had to throw a Big Ten game in here somewhere, and this seems to be the most compelling as far as upset potential is concerned. The Owls overwhelmed UConn 30-16 last Saturday in one of the biggest wins in recent school history.  The Nittany Lions are starting a freshman quarterback and, remarkably, have yet to give up a sack, the only school in the nation that can make that claim three weeks in.  You might be chuckling right now, but this is actually a fairly big game for both sides.

THE PICK: Al Golden is a helluva football coach, and will be at a BcS school — hell, maybe even Happy Valley — sooner rather than later, but his program is not to the point yet where it can realistically expect to upend a school like Penn State on the road.  That said, I look for the Owls to cover in a game that’s closer than some might expect.  On any given Saturday though…

THE SCORE: Penn State 24, Temple 14

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Kentucky at No. 9 Florida (7:00 ET)

THE LINE: Florida -14

THE PLOT: If you were told that this game included the second-leading offense in the SEC, it probably wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.  It might raise some eyebrows, however, if it was the Wildcats and not the Gators that’s holding the lofty early-season offensive perch.  While it’s a credit to what Joker Phillips is doing in Lexington, it’s also a telling sign of what’s been the overriding theme of the first three games of the season — a limp Florida offense that’s done more spitting and sputtering than Dr. Lou.  The Gators showed some positive signs of breaking out of their offensive malaise last weekend; whether it was nothing more than a tease remains to be seen.  This should be a solid test of where the Gators stand on that side of the ball as Kentucky is ranked No. 13 nationally in yards allowed and No. 34 in scoring defense.

THE PICK: At some point this year, the Gators will put it all together offensively and match the level where their defense and special teams are currently residing.  This will be that week and unfortunately for the Wildcats, Florida will not be looking ahead to their rematch of the last two SEC title games next week.

THE SCORE: Florida 41, Kentucky 17

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Georgia at Mississippi State (7:00 ET)

THE LINE: Mississippi State -1

THE PLOT: If Georgia loses this game, they will start the season 0-3 in SEC play.  The sale of pitchforks and torches in the greater Athens area will go through the roof with a loss.  Mark Richt will elbow his way to the front of the coaching hot seat line with a loss  There is your overriding plot for this game.

THE PICK: How much will the loss of A.J. Green mean for UGA in this game?  Coupled with the way the road Bulldogs have started the season, enough to take the home Bulldogs outright.

THE SCORE: Mississippi State 23, Georgia 21

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No. 12 South Carolina at No. 17 Auburn (7:45 ET)

THE LINE: Auburn -3

THE PLOT: South Carolina has struggled on the road of late in SEC play, but this is not your nephew’s Gamecocks.  With a punishing defense and a punch-you-square-in-the-face running game, the East Coast USC has seemingly overhauled their style of play in less than a calendar year, making any attempts at predictions based on the past futile.  Auburn thus far has been a bit of a head-scratcher, at least to me.  I was high on the Tigers in the preseason, but they’ve merely been “meh” in the first three games.  Certainly the talent is there on The Plains; now it’s a matter of deciphering whether they’ve merely been idling or coasting through the quarter pole of the season, or if people such as myself had a false sense of what they could be in Year Two of Gene Chizik‘s tenure.

THE PICK: Whatever it is Steve Spurrier‘s selling this year, I’m buying even if I have to pay retail.  Outright on the road, thy name is “Gamecock”.

THE SCORE: South Carolina 26, Auburn 20

LAST WEEKStraight up: 3-2Vs. spread: 1-3-1

OVERALLStraight up: 10-3Vs. spread: 5-7-1

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

Suspended Mich. St. staffer receives one-MONTH contract extension

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A disturbing situation in East Lansing has added a head-scratching twist.

According to ESPN.com, and by way of a Freedom of Information request, Michigan State football staffer Curtis Blackwell was on the receiving end of a one-month contract extension earlier this month.  Blackwell, whose title with the football program is director of college advancement and performance, was set to see his contract expire at the end of this week.

What makes this development noteworthy is that Blackwell has been indefinitely suspended by the Spartans since early February.

Around that time, it was confirmed by the university that three still-unnamed MSU football players had been suspended after allegations of sexual assault were made against them last month.  An unnamed football staffer was suspended at the time as well; that staffer was subsequently identified as Blackwell.

A police investigation, as well as a Title IX probe, into the allegations continue.  Blackwell is not accused of participating in the alleged sexual assault, but rather a non-sexual crime that’s connected to the investigation.

Mark Dantonio hadn’t spoken publicly about the allegations until earlier this week, and the head coach probably would’ve been better served to have kept it that way.

A&M, UCLA both add New Mexico to future schedules

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Texas A&M and UCLA announced Wednesday that their 2017 opener had been moved from Saturday to Sunday.  As it turns out, that wasn’t the only scheduling news connecting the two football programs.

As part of a release announcing seven games being added to its future schedules, New Mexico confirmed that two of those contests will include A&M and UCLA.  Both of those games, obviously, will be on the road, with the Lobos traveling to College Station Sept. 18, 2021, and to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl Sept. 13, 2025.

In its release, the school wrote that “[t]he game in College Station has a guarantee of $1,100,000 and 450 complementary tickets,” while “[t]he game in Pasadena has a guarantee of $1,200,000 plus 2,000 complementary tickets that UNM can sell for extra revenue.”

The last and only time New Mexico and UCLA squared off was in the 2002 Las Vegas Bowl, a 27-13 win for the Bruins.  UNM and A&M actually completed a home-and-home series relatively recently, with the Aggies winning both games played in the 2008 (28-22) and 2009 (41-6) seasons.

In addition to the future Power Five games, a continuation of the long-running rivalry with UTEP will be extended.  UNM will play in El Paso in 2021, then host UTEP in 2022.  Those two games will mark the 79th and 80th contests in the regional rivalry.

Michigan State, Washington round out future schedules with Utah State

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Needing to fill a single spot in some future schedules, both Michigan State and Washington have come calling to the Mountain West for an opponent. Utah State was happy to oblige.

Michigan State will host Utah State on September 1, 2018. The Aggies will travel to Washington on September 19, 2020. For their travels, Utah State will collect $2.9 million between the two games, according to FBScheduels.com ($1.4 million from Michigan State, $1.5 million from Washington).

The Big Ten and Pac-12 each use nine-game conference schedules, leaving three spots open for non-conference games. The Big Ten requires all conference members schedule one game per season against another power conference opponent (the Pac-12 has no such requirement of its members at this time), although exceptions are made. Utah State, as a member of the Mountain West Conference, would not satisfy that requirement for the Big Ten, but the Spartans already have a road game against Arizona State (Pac-12) on the schedule in 2018. Michigan State and Arizona State will play again in 2019 in East Lansing. Michigan State also has future power conference matchups with Notre Dame (2017, 2026, 2027) and Miami (2020, 2021). Michigan State will also play BYU in 2020 in Provo.

Washington has future power conference matchups with Rutgers (2017), Auburn (2018, in Atlanta), and Michigan (2020, 2021). The Huskies will also face Mountain West Competition from Fresno State (2017), Hawaii (2019), and Nevada (2027).

Utah State will face power conference opponents on the road in 2017 (Wisconsin, Wake Forest), 2018 (Michigan State), 2019 (Wake Forest, LSU), 2020 (Washington), and 2021 (Washington State). Utah State will also host Washington State in 2020 as part of a home-and-home deal. Utah State also has an annual series against BYU running through 2020.

Old Dominion hopes to “hit the ground running” on new stadium project

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Some fans of the Old Dominion football program may be getting a little impatient with the progress (or lack of) in the development of the football stadium, but Old Dominion athletic director Wood Selig says things are coming along nicely and progress will start to be seen soon enough.

“Once we get the architects engaged, we’ll figure out what $55 million will buy in 2019 dollars,” Selig said, according to The Virginian-Pilot. “Then we’ll have an idea for how much additional money needs to be raised to support the project.”

Old Dominion is planning on tearing down Foreman Field at the end of the 2018 season and rebuild it with modern seating and amenities. The $55 million project remained on the books in the Virginia budget in February, allowing the university to move ahead with their plans. The first step is finding an architect to take on the job.

Because Old Dominion’s football stadium is among the smallest in the nation and will remain so even after the rebuild and renovations, the entire project is expected to move fairly swiftly once the work actually begins. Old Dominion isn’t building a grand football palace, so any concerns over the lack of updates on the stadium should be calmed.

If nothing else, the concerns raised about the lack of updates on the stadium renovations may just mean Old Dominion has some eager fans excited about the future of the program.