Week six's contenders and pretenders

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I’m sure “Separation Saturday” has already happened, but as we move forward with conference play, it’s time to separate the pretenders from the contenders.

CONTENDERS

South Carolina (4-1 overall, 2-1 SEC)

I’m always sort of waiting for the Gamecocks to implode around this time of the year. I can’t tell you how many years the wicked USC of the East has has started 5-1 or 6-2, only to fold like a towel down the stretch.

But, this team looks different. They’re playing better and with a sense of urgency. With Florida and the rest of the SEC East down, there hasn’t been a better time to make a move. South Carolina’s remaining schedule is manageable. They’ll have to avoid a ‘Bama-beatin’ hangover against Kentucky (who proved last night they’re no walk in the park) and overcome back-to-back games against Arkansas and Florida.

I’m not expecting South Carolina to run the table, so the Nov. 13 match-up in The Swamp now takes on some serious precedence if Spurrier’s club is going to carry a tie-breaker over Florida.

Michigan State (6-0 overall, 2-0 Big Ten)

Look at Sparty sitting high atop the Big Ten standings! Not only did Michigan State win against favored Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday, but they flat-out handed it to ’em. They also did something no other team’s been able to do so far: contain Denard Robinson. In the Big Ten, defense is king, but Michigan State has been able to defeat teams with great defense and offense.

How the team has responded to Mark Dantonio’s health issues have been nothing short of inspirational. Sparty’s been playing hard and, what do you know, they don’t have to play Ohio State this year. Michigan State will still have to take care of business, though. An Oct. 30 date at Iowa City against the Hawkeyes awaits the Spartans.

Nebraska (5-0 overall, 1-0 Big 12)

The Cornhuskers simply dominated Kansas State Thursday night in every aspect of the game. Granted, it’s Kansas State, but quarterback Taylor Martinez gave a chin-rubbing, Heisman-pondering performance. There simply hasn’t been anyone in the Big 12 who has dominated like Nebraska.

Despite Texas’ struggles, next week’s battle against the ‘Horns in Lincoln should tell us a lot about Nebraska. Texas can’t afford to drop three straight (it would be the first time under Mack Brown), so I expect them to come in to Memorial Stadium playing like a caged animal. A week eight match-up at Oklahoma State is the only real test remaining for Nebraska.

Florida State (5-1 overall, 3-0 ACC)

A drumming in Norman aside, Florida State has played superb football through six weeks. In five wins, the Seminoles have swept past their competition by an average of 31 points and look to be the class of a down ACC.

Their 45-17 dismantling of rival Miami (see pretenders) on national television was more than enough to mention Florida State back among college football’s elite.

Auburn (6-0 overall, 3-0 SEC)

Don’t look now, but Auburn controls their own destiny in the SEC West. With Alabama falling yesterday, the Tigers just need to win out and they’re in the SEC Championship Game. Easier said than done, right?

The next two weeks will tell us a lot about the Tigers. Back-to-back home games against Arkansas and LSU will test the merit of Auburn and quarterback Cam Newton and the Iron Bowl will be in Tuscaloosa this year.

Let’s also point out Auburn just beat South Carolina a week ago who, so I’ve heard, had a big win this weekend …

PRETENDERS

Miami (3-2 overall, 1-1 ACC)

Other than Texas, there may not be a team who, in hindsight, was less deserving of such a lofty preseason ranking than the Hurricanes. Two bad losses to Ohio State and Florida State on national television showed once and for all the the U is not back.

In fact, they’re not even close.

Jacory Harris continues to be inconsistent and his durability has become an issue. I’m not sure how hot Randy Shannon’s seat really is, but to say the Hurricanes have underachieved so far this season is an understatement. For as bad as the ACC has been this year, the Hurricanes still have a shot for a conference title, but they’ll need to get past Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Arizona (4-1 overall, 1-1 Pac-10)

This is a struggle. I’m still not entirely sure what to make of this team, yet. Through four games, the Wildcats were playing with a purpose, but barely got by against Iowa and Cal. That string of good fortune finally caught up with Mike Stoops and ‘Zona lost to a 2-2 Oregon State at home.

If Arizona is really the Pac-10 championship-caliber squad they think they are, they’ll rebound against USC, Stanford and Oregon — their three toughest remaining tests. If they can’t, it’ll be just another year where Arizona finishes the season colder than Tiger Woods’ winless streak.

Florida (4-2 overall, 2-2 SEC)

You know you’re an elite program when 4-2 is tough-goings, but the Gators are having a down year. Period. Florida hasn’t dropped two straight conference games since 2007 and Meyer’s team finished 9-4 that year.

After watching South Carolina get physical on Alabama, there’s an argument that the power in the SEC East has shifted a couple states north. Florida’s offense has struggled and their defense has been gashed a couple of times. As usual, there’s speed on the team, but this season is showing that’s clearly not enough.

Pittsburgh and UConn (5-6 combined, no conference wins)

Weren’t these two supposed to be all that and a bag of chips at the beginning of this season? Wasn’t Pittsburgh ranked and unanimously projected to win the Big East? What happened to Dion Lewis, the returning Big East Offensive Player of the Year? Through five games, Lewis has 206 yards and two touchdowns. I think he had that in one game last year.

UConn was the dark horse — the feel-good, sexy pick after the tragic death of Jasper Howard and solid bowl victory over South Carolina. To date, UConn’s done nothing. After defeating Vanderbilt in week five, the Huskies turned right back around and dropped one against Rutgers, who lost to Tulane.

Come on, man.

Bonus: To Be Determined

LSU (6-0 overall, 4-0 SEC)

Seriously, how does this team keep winning?

LOOK: Virginia unveils new uniforms

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - NOVEMBER 26:  A general view of the game between the Virginia Tech Hokies and the Virginia Cavaliers at Scott Stadium on November 26, 2011 in Charlottesville, Virginia. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
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For those who pay attention to the uniform game within the game of college football — which seems like just about everyone these days — a distinct pattern has emerged of late: new coach, new uniforms. This offseason alone we’ve seen it at Rutgers (new coach Chris Ash), Central Florida (new coach Scott Frost), Virginia Tech (new coach Justin Fuente) and, now, Virginia. Nothing gives the fan base something new to rally around quite like giving them something new to look at, particularly when a new staff takes over for an underperforming one. When the product on the field still appears like the old one, you might as well make it look different, at least.

The Cavaliers broke out new uniforms on Saturday that blend the program’s past with its present.

Here, head coach Bronco Mendenhall explains the thesis behind the change. I’ll let you decide whether this is the typical Nike brand-speak coming out a new mouth or convicting symbolism that will yield a tangible difference on the field.

Next, some new looks at the new look, courtesy of Virginia athletics:

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Virginia’s new staff and new uniforms will see the field for the first time Saturday against Richmond.

Miss. State DL Nick James arrested for fourth time as a Bulldog

COLUMBIA , MO - NOVEMBER 5:  Quarterback Drew Lock #3 of the Missouri Tigers rolls out as he looks to pass as he is pursued by Nick James #88 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs in the first quarter at Memorial Stadium on November 5, 2015 in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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A familiar headline splashed across SEC-land on Sunday: Mississippi State defensive tackle Nick James was arrested early Sunday morning.

It’s his fourth arrest in the past three years.

James was arrested previously for driving without insurance in 2013, disorderly conduct and driving with a suspended license in 2014, and public intoxication in February of last year.

The latest arrest came at 1:36 Sunday morning for public intoxication, according to the Starkville Daily News.

The Bulldogs released a statement saying Dan Mullen “is aware of an incident involving Nick James that occurred last night, and he is currently getting more information on it.”

A senior, James saw action in all 13 games last season with 10 starts. He has posted 43 tackles, three TFLs and one forced fumble in 34 career appearances. James was penciled in to start along the Bulldogs’ defensive front this season.

Mississippi State will already be without five-star signee Jeffery Simmons for punching a woman in a parking lot fight before his arrival on campus.

Western Michigan dismisses pair accused of alleged stick-up

KALAMAZOO, MI - SEPTEMBER 4: Western Michigan Broncos fans get fired up before the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Waldo Stadium on September 4, 2015 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Western Michigan has dismissed a pair of players accused of sticking up a female WMU student after committing an on-campus robbery, the program announced Sunday. The players, linebacker Ron George and wide receiver Bryson White, were both freshmen.

The pair are accused of holding the student up with a semi-automatic firearm and a knife. It is not clear which player is accused of holding which weapon. “He had the gun to the back of my head and he slammed the back of my head with the gun,” the woman said.

The woman says the players stole “hundreds of dollars, along with a stereo speaker.”

“I’m so scared. I couldn’t sleep last night,” the woman told WWMT-TV. “I haven’t ate anything since. I’m so scared. I don’t want to live here anymore.”

“This has been a difficult time for our University, community and football family,” head coach P.J. Fleck said in a statement. “With this action we are moving forward and we are focusing our attention on Northwestern.”

George was a three-star signee out of Pittsburgh. White was a walk-on from Ohio.

Western Michigan visits Northwestern Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU).

Texas Tech boss Kirby Hocutt becomes latest million-dollar AD

LUBBOCK, TX - JANUARY 16: Texas Tech Athletic Director Kirby Hocutt answers questions from the media after being named the chairman of the College Football Playoff Selection Committee on January 16, 2016 at United Supermarkets Arena in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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It’s been a good year for Kirby Hocutt. His basketball team returned to the NCAA Tournament, then made a nice rebound hire in Chris Beard when Tubby Smith bolted for Memphis. His baseball team won its first-ever game at the College World Series, then held onto head coach Tim Tadlock when Texas came calling. His football program is positioned for a solid year, with rare stability at the defensive coordinator position and perhaps the most talented quarterback in school history in Patrick Mahomes. He reached a new level of professional currency when he was named chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee.

That last bit has led to a handsome new contract that pushes his salary to north of $1 million a year.

As detailed by the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Hocutt has inked a seven-year contract that pays him a sum of $7.525 million. He’ll earn $1 million in the first year and net raises of $25,000 each year, plus bonuses that could reach as much as $225,000 each year. All told, theoretically, Hocutt could earn $1.4 million by the final year of his contract.

“I couldn’t feel more fortunate to have the support that I’ve enjoyed and continue to enjoy at Texas Tech University,” Hocutt told the paper. “The leadership continues to be tremendous. I couldn’t be more excited about President Schovanec. The support he provides, that Chancellor (Robert) Duncan provides, I couldn’t be more fortunate as an athletics director.”

Salaries for athletics directors aren’t as easy to track as coaches but, according to the most recent data on file, Hocutt appears to be one of just eight active ADs to earn seven figures — and more than the ADs at both Texas and Texas A&M.

In addition to Tech’s success in the big three sports — the Red Raiders were the only Big 12 program to reach the postseason in football and men’s basketball while also reaching the College World Series — 11 of the school’s 14 other programs also reached the postseason, including Big 12 titles in soccer, men’s tennis and baseball.