Setting the weekend tables for the ACC, Big East

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The Big East, as a conference, is taking a break this week. Therefore, I thankfully will not haveto write how the Big East needs to step up its game.

Cincinnati, Syracuse and West Virginia are all on bye weeks, with three other schools playingSun Belt opponents and Rutgers taking on Tulane. Connecticut, however, is playing a BCSopponent in Vanderbilt in what should be a well-matched game.

Over in the ACC, we have an in-state matchup with North Carolina and East Carolina, a fewtough conference games and a Notre Dame sighting. I thought the Irish were supposed to playBig Ten teams? Wait, Notre Dame isn’t in the Big Ten?

No. 16 Miami (FL) at Clemson (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Miami -3.5

THE PLOT: Both teams had bye weeks after crushing losses to ranked teams.The ‘Canes won at Heinz Field 31-3 over Pittsburgh after its bye, and this week it is Clemson’sturn to rebound after the bye.

This game brings with it huge ACC implications. Though there are seven teams without an in-conference loss thus far, the winner of this game–or quite possibly both teams–will most likelyend up in the ACC title match.

In terms of matchups, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney mentioned that the line playwill be huge in this game. “They’re second in the nation in sacks andwe’re not giving up many sacks.”

Clemson is coping much better with injuries than Miami, despite a small scare with quarterback Kyle Parker.

THE PICK: Obviously both teams can put on an offensive performance, even againstgood defenses–see Miami vs. Ohio State, and Clemson vs. Auburn. This game will pit a goodTiger defense against a scrappy, speedy and deeply talented Miami offense. Both coaches arerelatively new to the ACC and have yet to supplant a name for themselves within the conference.

I believe this game will end up being a lot bigger than it seems at face value. Playing in Clemsonis nuts, and if the Tiger faithful can get to Jacory Harris like the Buckeye fans didon September 11th, then Clemson walks away with a win. But Miami demoralized what wassupposed to be the Big East’s best team last weekend.

THE SCORE: Miami 30, Clemson 28

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Vanderbilt at Connecticut (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Connecticut -7.5

THE PLOT: In their respective histories, neither team has been outstanding against theopposing conference. The Commodores are just 10-7-1 against the Big East, while the Huskiesare only 1-2 against the SEC.

The only previous meeting between the two schools was former Vanderbilt head coachBobby Johnson‘s first win over a FBS Division 1A school in 2002.Connecticut’s only win over a SEC school came last year in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

Vanderbilt has lost both home games this season against Northwestern and No. 19 LSU, but wontheir only road game at Ole Miss. Saturday’s matchup with the Huskies is in Storrs.

As for the Huskies, both home games have resulted in wins by an average margin of nearly sixtouchdowns. Both road games have resulted in losses, 20-points at Michigan and 14-points atTemple.

THE PICK: To be fair, the Huskies have had quarterback problems. To beunfair, they have had quarterback problems for the past five years, averaging around 166 passingyards per game over that span.

And if you will believe me, Vanderbilt has a worse passing game this year than Connecticut.Through its first three games, the Commodores have recorded just 383 passing yards. An anemicpassing offense is tolerable, I guess, if you can run the football. But the Commodores donot have a single rusher who averages more than 75 rushing yards per game. The Huskies? Theyhave Jordan Todman.

Todman is fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game behind–brace yourself–DenardRobinson, LaMichael James, Daniel Thomas and Mark Ingram.Todman is going to elevate Connecticut past Vanderbilt at home and put the Huskies over .500for the first time this year.

THE SCORE: Connecticut 23, Vanderbilt 16

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Virginia Tech at No. 23 North Carolina State (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Virginia Tech -4.0

THE PLOT: Here it is folks. This is the game that will put Virginia Tech back on themap a la 2007 Michigan. Losses to Boise State and James Madison to start the year killed themoral of Hokie nation. I would even argue that the loss to Boise State set the Hokies up for itsloss to James Madison on a crummy and rainy day.

N.C. State comes into the game at 4-0 sporting a legitimate Heisman contender in RussellWilson. To put the Wolfpack’s start into perspective, the last time they were 4-0 they hadPhilip Rivers in his prime. There is a lot of hoopla surrounding N.C. State with theirunexpected start, which can only be cause for distraction.

THE PICK: If you don’t think Frank Beamer is treating this game as if it werethe last game of his career, you’re mistaken. All Beamer does is win ACC Championships. Heunderstands that an ACC match is much more valuable of a win than a game against either JamesMadison or East Carolina.

What did the Hokies do last week at Boston College? Virginia Tech shut out the Eaglesin the first ACC game of the year.

This Saturday, N.C. State walks into a slightly adapted trap game as Virginia Tech regains ACCdominance, despite Ryan Williams second straight absence.

THE SCORE: Virginia Tech 31, N.C. State 23

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Notre Dame at Boston College (8:00 ET)

THE LINE: Notre Dame -3.0

THE PLOT: This game will be very evenly matched, in my opinion. Since Notre Damelost Brady Quinn, the Irish have really played at the level of their opponent, be it up ordown. Coincidentally, Boston College also plays at the level of their opponent. The only majorbetween the two schools right now, besides history, is recruiting.

The Eagles won six straight against the Irish until last year when Notre Dame took away a 20-16win at home. That was the Eagles worst turnover performance, a -5 turnover margin.

A win for either team could really help. Boston College is unproven really, and could use anemergence at quarterback to set the tone for the remainder of the year. Notre Dame could simplyuse a win, because a 1-3 record to start the year with your lone win coming against a RobertMarve-led Purdue squad in South Bend surely is not cutting it.

THE PICK: While Notre Dame has some great playmakers on offense, they will reallyneed the defense to step up. Through four games, the Irish have surrendered nearly 30 points pergame. Boston College’s defense is good enough to hold the Irish under 30 points, so whomevercan score more points will win the game–Yes, I reread that last sentence.

That being said, this mini-rivalry has been awfully low scoring. The past eight games have seenan average combined 37 points per game. I think I’ll keep with that trend. Boston College nudgesout the win in Chestnut Hill.

THE SCORE: Boston College 20, Notre Dame 17

LAST WEEKStraight up: 4-0Vs. spread: 2-2

OVERALLStraight up: 11-1Vs. spread: 5-7

(I failed to predict scores before Week On
e, but if you would like to
count my predictions onWeek One from an outside source, you can add the following: Straight up 2-1, Vs. spread 0-3)

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

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.