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)

Michigan State promotes Mike Tressel to DC, adds ex-Kent State HC as DBs coach

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Mark Dantonio looked inside and out of his football program to fill some holes in his Michigan State staff.

Nearly two weeks ago, Harlon Barnett left as MSU’s co-defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach to take a job at Florida State.  That left Dantonio with two openings, one of which the head coach closed Friday by promoting Mike Tressel to defensive coordinator.

Tressel and Barnett had served as co-coordinators the past three seasons; the nephew of former Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel will now serve as the Spartans’ solo coordinator moving forward.

“Mike has done a tremendous job working with the defense,” said Dantonio in a statement. “He’s been deeply involved with everything with the defense since we first arrived here, and has helped coach some championship defenses that have been ranked consistently among the best in the nation, year in and year out. He did a great job as co-coordinator the past three years. He’s certainly earned this opportunity and I think he’ll do an outstanding job.”

To replace Barnett as defensive backs coach, Dantonio turned to Paul Haynes.  The past five years, Haynes was the head coach at Kent State before being dismissed at the end of the 2017 regular season.

This serves as a homecoming of sorts for Haynes as well.  From 2003-04, he was the defensive backs coach for the Spartans under John Smith.

The 48-year-old Haynes has also been a secondary coach at Arkansas (2012), Ohio State (2005-10), Louisville (2002) and Kent State (1999).

“We’re very, very excited about Paul,” said Dantonio. “He’s coached here before so he’s got a Spartan background. He was secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State, so he’s coached on the highest level with the secondary. He was a defensive coordinator at Arkansas as well. He’s been a head coach at Kent State, so I think that gives him a big picture feel. I think he’s an excellent recruiter. He’s a dynamic person as well, so we’re excited to have him on campus.”

Willie Taggart finalizes first Florida State coaching staff

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Exactly 45 days after being announced as Florida State’s new head coach, Willie Taggart has put the finishing touches on his first Seminoles staff.

Friday night, FSU confirmed that Taggart has completed his 10-man staff with the additions of five new assistants.  It was reported this week that Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell would be taking the same job at FSU; the school confirmed as much today, with Bell also taking over as quarterbacks coach.

The other four hires consisted of Greg Frey (offensive line/running-game coordinator), David Kelly (wide receivers/recruiting coordinator), Mark Snyder (defensive ends) and Alonzo Hampton (special teams coordinator).

That fivesome joins the other five assistants previously announced:

  • Harlon Barnett, defensive coordinator and defensive back
  • Odell Haggins, associate head coach and defensive tackles
  • Raymond Woodie, linebackers
  • Telly Lockette, tight ends
  • Donte’ Pimpleton, running backs

Haggins is the lone holdover from Jimbo Fisher‘s last staff.

“From the beginning of this process, my goal was to bring in the best coaches for our program and I believe we have done that,” Taggart said. “This group will do a great job of recruiting, developing, coaching and mentoring our student-athletes to reach their highest potential. I’m excited for the next few weeks as we are finalizing our 2018 signing class and then working with our team as we prepare for spring practice.”

WATCH: trailer for Joe Paterno movie starring Al Pacino released

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If you’re wondering what a legendary college football head coach who fell from grace looks like (very briefly) through the prism of Hollywood, you’re in luck.

It was confirmed in the summer of last year that Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino was set to star as former Penn State coach Joe Paterno in an HBO-produced film, with the movie focusing on the immediate aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal that erupted in November of 2011 and Paterno’s subsequent dismissal nearly two weeks later.  “Paterno,” directed by Barry Levinson and also starring Emmy Award-winning actress Kathy Baker, is set to premiere at some point this spring.

Ahead of that, a trailer for the highly-anticipated flick was released Friday.

The film is expected to center on how much Paterno, the unquestioned king of Happy Valley during his half-century reign, knew about Sandusky’s crimes, when he learned about them and whether he did enough with the information he had.

“He did act upon it,” Pacino said by way of pennlive.com. “He did say he thought someone should look into this. But a guy like Paterno, he’s like an emperor, he’s like a king. He didn’t take up with it because it was out of his control, and I think this is a character who’s used to control.”

“The film lays out the elements of the story and leaves you to make your own judgment,” said Levinson. “There are times when you may feel one way, and times when you may feel a totally different way, and I think that’s what makes the piece so compelling.”

Gus Malzahn’s new contract includes over $24 million in guaranteed money, increased buyout for Auburn

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzhan is a rich man. He’s set to become even richer.

It’s no secret that the Tigers’ head coach agreed to a new deal back in December that was worth a reported seven years at roughly $7 million a season. While the overall value of that would work out to around $49 million if Malzahn stays on the Plains until 2025, that’s not quite the amount that the school is committing to the coach if they decided to make a change down the road.

Speaking at a news conference for new athletic director Allen Greene on Friday, Auburn president Steven Leath told the Montgomery Advertiser that just over half of the money in the deal is fully guaranteed (so roughly $24.5 million) and that while there is an increased buyout on the Tigers side, it is not close to the reported $49 million mark that some thought it would be when figures were flying around at the end of 2017.

“I’m still a trust guy,” Leath told the paper. “Gus and I are functioning well together. We know the basic tenets, we’ve drawn things up and sent it to his attorney. So we’ll get that cleaned up pretty soon.”

He also confirmed the deal has not been signed by either side.

While Malzahn does seem like he’s on solid footing after guiding the team to an Iron Bowl victory, a SEC West title and a New Year’s Six bowl berth last season, he’s certainly no stranger to the hot seat given the fan base he works with and the sky-high expectations for the school. Either way, he’ll enter 2018 as one of the highest paid coaches in the country and a very rich man going forward, even if it wasn’t quite the security that some thought he was getting after a rumored flirtation with Arkansas several weeks ago.

Auburn checks in at No. 16 in CFT’s Way-Too-Early Top 25 for next season.