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)

Northwestern remembers Randy Walker 10 years after his passing

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Ten years ago Wednesday, the college football world was rocked by the unexpected and sudden loss of Northwestern coach Randy Walker.

The athletics department produced a touching video tribute to the man who suffered a heart attack at the age of 52, seven years into his tenure in Evanston.

Walker’s death unexpectedly thrust a young former Wildcats linebacker named Pat Fitzgerald into the head coach’s chair.

“I would prefer to be toasting to his longevity right now,” Fitzgerald says in the video.

Walker posted a 37-45 mark at Northwestern, including a surprising 8-4 campaign in 2000.

That followed a successful nine-year run at Miami University, the southwest Ohio school where he was a player.

Report: Ole Miss violations laid out to NCAA by stepfather of Laremy Tunsil

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The Mississippi football program might not find out its NCAA fate very soon, but the rest of the world learned more specifics regarding the accusations the Rebels face Wednesday.

Sports Illustrated published the results of its investigation, including specific allegations levied by a man in the process of getting a divorce from the mother of star offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil.

Lindsey Miller detailed several potentially serious violations involving Tunsil and his family, and SI was able to view some of the information he says he turned over to the NCAA during extensive interviews.

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations is consistent with Miller’s claims in numerous places, including 12 occasions of free lodging that totaled $2,253. Miller says he told the NCAA those nights were arranged by boosters he met through [Mississippi DL coach Chris] Kiffin, but the NCAA never found that link. Kiffin’s name appears 13 times in the Notice of Allegations, but none of those prove he set Miller up with boosters.

Tunsil was part of a surprisingly star-studded recruiting class in 2013, but head coach Hugh Freeze has consistently defended his program against accusations his recruiting success was thanks to illegal methods.

Freeze, who took over as coach in December 2011, may minimize the NCAA’s case, but nine of the 13 football allegations relate to his tenure there. (Four allegations, including fraudulent ACT scores, occurred under former coach Houston Nutt.) There are four Level I violations under Freeze and a significant Level II failure to monitor charge in which the NCAA says the athletic department and football program failed to monitor Tunsil driving three different loaner cars between August 2014 and June 2015. (That latter allegation is the one Ole Miss is disputing.)

Perhaps complicating matters is the fact Miller went to the NCAA only after having a fallout with Tunsil and his mother, Desiree Polingo, during the summer of 2015.

Polingo denied Miller’s accusations via a statement to SI, and in another statement a lawyer for Tunsil told SI, “You have to consider the source.”

Mississippi has already admitted to 12 of the 13 allegations and self-imposed penalties, but it remains to be seen if the NCAA Committee on Infractions will find the punishment sufficient or more is added.

The full SI story goes into deeper detail about the situations facing not only Ole Miss athletics but also the NCAA enforcement model itself.

NCAA announces common-sense change to bowl selection process

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 26:  Andy Janovich #35 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers jumps over Jayon Brown #12 of the UCLA Bruins during the Foster Farms Bowl at Levi's Stadium on December 26, 2015 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NCAA Division I council announced 5-7 teams will still have a chance to make a bowl this fall.

They will have to wait until all of the 6-6 teams have been picked, though.

The common sense rule tweak was announced Wednesday.

Nebraska, Minnesota and San Jose State all made bowls last season despite finishing the regular season 5-7, and coincidentally they all won.

In a statement, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, who serves as chair of the football oversight committee, said the postseason selection process “makes sense and is fair to the schools and the bowls.”

APR scores will continue to be used to designate which 5-7 teams are eligible to take up the bowl slots left available after all of the 6-6 teams have been selected.

After swelling to 41 games last season, the postseason is not set to expand again until at least the 2020 season as a result of a moratorium on the certification of new bowls was established by the council in April.

NCAA inquires about additional Sandusky victims from Penn State lawsuit

BELLEFONTE, PA - OCTOBER 09: Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky (C) leaves the Centre County Courthouse after being sentenced in his child sex abuse case on October 9, 2012 in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. The 68-year-old Sandusky was sentenced to at least 30 years and not more that 60 years in prison for his conviction in June on 45 counts of child sexual abuse, including while he was the defensive coordinator for the Penn State college football team. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Penn State and Joe Paterno‘s family have already done their part to return the tragic Jerry Sandusky saga to the news this year.

Now the NCAA apparently wants to join in.

The Centre Daily Times reports the college sports governing body has requested information regarding two men allegedly victimized by Sandusky, a long-time Penn State assistant coach, in the 1970s.

Their stories came to light in a court filing from a lawsuit involving Penn State and an insurer. The school tried to collect on a policy to help pay settlements it reached with more than 30 individuals who accused Sandusky of sexually abusing them.

The university tried to recoup money for those settlements from liability insurer Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association, but PMA challenged that in court. The two men’s cases were revealed in an order by Philadelphia Judge Gary Glazer that referenced their cases, years earlier than the 10 Sandusky was convicted of in 2012. One said he told Paterno.

The CDT story does not give any indication the NCAA might want to revisit the sanctions that were handed down in 2012.

Rather, it is looking for defense fodder in a defamation lawsuit filed by the family of Paterno, the legendary Nittany Lions head coach

The estate claims the college sports oversight group defamed the man who helmed the program from 1966 until his firing in 2011 after the Sandusky story broke.

A key point is the NCAA’s acceptance of the findings of the Freeh report, the university-commissioned investigation of the Sandusky scandal, which placed blame on four Penn State leaders, including Paterno, who died six months before it was released. The NCAA then levied historic sanctions on the university, including stripping 110 wins from the Nittany Lions, dropping Paterno from first place in the leaderboard for most wins by a Division 1 coach.

But in new documents, the NCAA says it needs the information about the two claimants to refute the estate’s defamation claims.

Sandusky was convicted in 2012, and some of the sanctions Penn State agreed to accept from the NCAA were gradually lifted in the following years.

While Sandusky reportedly continues to work on getting his convictions overturned, it’s not hard to imagine Sandusky’s victims and plenty of members of the Penn State community would prefer to move on from the tragedy — allowing both time to heal in whatever way is possible.

The same can most likely be said of current coach James Franklin, who took the job two-plus years ago after coach Bill O’Brien endured the brunt of the storm and maintained solid recruiting despite the sanctions.

During the spring, Franklin told CBSSports.com, “This is really year one for us in a lot of ways,” citing a return to having close to a full allotment of scholarships.