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)

Vandy swiping San Diego State assistant Osia Lewis

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Head coach Rocky Long of the San Diego State Aztecs stands near the bench area in the second half of  the Mountain West Championship game against the Air Force Falcons at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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For the first time this offseason, Rocky Long will be forced to fill a hole on his San Diego State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that Vanderbilt had hired Osia Lewis away from SDSU. Thursday, school officials confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Lewis will indeed be leaving the Aztecs for a job with the Commodores.

Lewis had spent the past five seasons coaching the defensive line with the Aztecs; it’s expected he’ll have similar duties with the Commodores. What’s not expected is for Lewis to have the specific title of line coach as Derek Mason had previously announced the hiring of Oklahoma’s C.J. Ah You for that job.

Not only had Lewis spent the past five seasons with Long at SDSU, but he was also on Long’s staff at New Mexico for five years (2003-07) as well. During Lewis’ time at SDSU, at least one defensive lineman per season earned All-Mountain West honors, the Union-Tribune noted.

Bret Bielema looks to Kansas for Arkansas’ new RBs coach

Samford v Arkansas
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A week after losing his running backs coach to the NFL for the second straight year, Bret Bielema has looked to the Big 12 for yet another replacement.

Arkansas confirmed in a press release Friday night that Reggie Mitchell will replace Jemal Singleton as the Razorbacks’ running backs coach.  Singleton left last weekend for the same job with the Indianapolis Colts.

Mitchell spent the past six season in the same job at Kansas.  The past two seasons, he held the title of recruiting coordinator.

From 1997-2009, Mitchell was an assistant with Big Ten programs, with stops that included Minnesota (1997-98), Michigan State (1999-2004) and Illinois (2005-09).

“I got to know Reggie during my time in the Big Ten and he was known as a dominant recruiter,” said Bielema, “Over his career he’s recruited and developed elite running backs and athletes that had great college careers and advanced to the NFL. I’m excited about the opportunity to have Coach Mitchell join our staff.”

Stanford confirms hiring of Oklahoma D-line coach Diron Reynolds

Stanford coach David Shaw prepares to lead his team onto the field for an NCAA college football game against Oregon State, in Corvallis, Ore., Friday, Sept. 25, 2015. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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Stanford has officially poached Bob Stoops‘ Oklahoma coaching staff.

Following up on reports from earlier in the week, the Cardinal confirmed in a press release Friday that Diron Reynolds has been added as David Shaw‘s defensive line coach.  The move is a return home of sorts for Reynolds as he served as an assistant defensive line coach for the Cardinal in 2014 before spending one season with the Sooners in 2015.

Reynolds replaces Randy Hart, who announced his retirement three days ago after spending six years at the school.

“We are very excited to have Diron return to Stanford,” said Shaw in a statement. “Not only did he work well with Coach Hart a year ago, he is well-versed in our scheme and brings a unique blend of college and NFL experience.”

In addition to his time at Stanford and Oklahoma, Reynolds served as an assistant line coach with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings from 2007-13. Prior to that, he worked with the Indianapolis Colts from 2002-06.

Reynolds’ first job at the collegiate level came at his alma mater, Wake Forest, in 1999-2000. He was the defensive tackles coach at Indiana before moving on to a decade-long stint in the NFL.

Done Knott: Iowa State LB ends injury-plagued career

IOWA CITY, IA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Running back Damon Bullock #5 of the Iowa Hawkeyes dives in front of linebacker Luke Knott #21, of the Iowa State Cyclones, in the first quarter, on September 13, 2014 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa.  (Photo by Matthew Holst/Getty Images)
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Never fully healthy since an initial injury, Luke Knott has decided to hang up his cleats and get on with his post-football life.

Iowa State announced in a press release Friday that Knott will forego his final season of eligibility in the sport because of lingering hip issues.  The linebacker first hurt the joint in 2013, which forced him to undergo his first surgery.  A year later, he was forced to undergo another medical procedure.  In April of last year, he suffered a setback in his battle with the ongoing hip issues.

Despite the surgeries and setbacks, Knott managed to play in all 24 games the past two seasons, starting eight of those contests.  Knott started five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013 before the initial injury sidelined him after six games.

In 2014, he was third on the team in tackles despite never being 100-percent healthy.

Below is a statement from Knott, followed by one from first-year head coach Matt Campbell:

Obviously, I thought about this a lot. Two years ago when I had my first hip surgery, my first thought was, ‘I’m a 19-year-old kid and I am having hip surgery?’ I made the decision to take it head on, go through rehabilitation and keep playing football. Then I had hip surgery again a year later. That was the first time I thought that football may not be in the best interest for me. I didn’t want to give up football because I didn’t want to walk away from my teammates. I barely made it through last season. You can tell when you watch the film. This is an exciting time for Iowa State and I wanted to be a part something special next year. However, going through the initial workouts, I just didn’t have it in my hip. It’s time start a different career. I have to start thinking long term. I want to be able to run around with my kids, and something like that puts it in perspective. I want to thank Coach Campbell and his staff. They were really understanding and helped ease my mind. They knew my history. This coaching staff knows what they are doing. I told Coach Campbell that the hardest thing for me was to walk away now when I feel we are on the cusp of something great. I already have a job lined up in Kansas City after graduation. Coach Campbell told us to use college football to get a degree and a career, and I felt that I have done that. I want to thank all of my coaches, my teammates and the fans. I’ve enjoyed every minute of my time as a Cyclone.”

“I don’t know if anybody loves Iowa State football more than Luke Knott. Luke obviously comes from a great family and a great tradition at Iowa State. You just want to put your arms around a kid like Luke, because here is a guy who was straining and doing everything in his power to play, but his body wouldn’t allow him to play anymore. The thing that I appreciate more than anything is that he has already been a part of the culture change here. He was doing a tremendous job leading our program. I hope Luke stays around us. He’s a special young man and he’s already left a great legacy here at Iowa State because of his commitment to be the best.