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?

Colorado AD says Denver won’t be option for future CU-CSU games after 2020

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Colorado and Colorado State are scheduled to wrap up their current scheduling agreement in 2020, and the future of the in-state rivalry remains in question beyond that. Both schools are in talks to continue the series beyond 2020 once scheduling vacancies are available, but there is no target date currently in sight. What is known, however, is any such scheduling arrangement will not include games being played in Denver if Colorado’s athletics director has his say.

We won’t have any future games in Denver with CSU in any kind of new relationship,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said in a story published by The Daily Camera.  George did state he and his counterpart at Colorado State, Joe Parker, share an interest in keeping the series going on in the years beyond the current deal in place.

As it stands right now, Colorado State will host the final game in the current arrangement in 2020. No games will be possible in 2021 and 2022 because Colorado’s non-conference schedule is currently booked. The Buffs will face UMass, Texas A&M, and Minnesota in 2021 and TCU, Air Force, and Minnesota in 2022. Colorado currently has scheduling vacancies in 2023 and beyond, making 2023 the earliest possible year the series could be rekindled. The concern, at least for Colorado, will be overexerting the strength of schedule with games against TCU and Nebraska already lined up in 2023.

“With this College Football Playoff game now, there’s a lot of discussion on strength of schedules,” George said. “We certainly don’t want to over-schedule ourselves, but at the same time, we want to be in a position as we continue to compete on a yearly basis for championships, we want to be in the conversation. We don’t want the schedule to be a deterrent to us longer term.”

Geroge has previously expressed his interest in continuing the series if it could be agreed to play the games on campus sites instead of neutral fields. George has said it is not in Colorado’s best interest to continue the series. His latest statements about the strength of schedule keep in line with that logic. Having a potentially very good Group of Five program on top of previously announced games against power conference opponents in addition to a nine-game Pac-12 schedule becomes quite challenging. Having a less threatening opponent from the FCS provides a better chance to keep making money on a home game and increasing the chances for a win to rely on.

Colorado and Colorado State have faced off 88 times since 1893, with the Buffs holding a 64-22-2 edge in the all-time series. Colorado won last year’s meeting in Denver by a score of 44-7 for its most lopsided victory in the series since a 47-7 victory in Boulder in 1956. Colorado and Colorado State have played annually since 1995.

Mark Richt tweets his best wishes to Georgia

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A new college football season is just about here (there will be actual college football played this week), and Miami head coach Mark Richt has plenty to look forward to with the Hurricanes. A show at coaching Miami to its first appearance in the ACC Championship Game is right in front of him, but Richt spent a quick moment on Twitter to extended his best wishes to his former program; the Georgia Bulldogs.

Richt recruited the majority of the players currently on Georgia’s roster, and by all accounts, Richt had as healthy a relationship with Georgia’s players than any coach could hope to have. With that in mind, there is no shock in seeing a coach of one program offer this kind of warm and fuzzy feeling to his former program. This is also not the first time Richt has wished Georgia well under new head coach Kirby Smart. In May 2016, Richt was praised for his classiness toward Smart and Georgia for the upcoming season just months after being fired.

Georgia parted ways with Richt following the 2015 season despite a long and successful tenure as head coach (although without as many SEC titles as some would have liked, and a lack of national title appearances during a run that saw the SEC dominate the BCS era). Richt was quickly hired by Miami, and this season Richt is expected to help lead the Hurricanes forward another step toward national prominence.

If there is a college football god watching from the skies above, then we will be blessed with a bowl matchup between Miami and Georgia. Richt said in December 2015 that he believes the two programs are on a collision course for a national championship.

There is a solar eclipse tomorrow, but Nick Saban has work to do

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Stores may be sold out of special solar eclipse glasses for what some are dubbing the Great American Eclipse on Monday, but Alabama head coach Nick Saban may be more likely to be found in his office preparing for a mega matchup to open the season next week.

Besides, Saban has seen how an eclipse works already because he is a devoted fan of The Weather Channel.

“I watch the Weather Channel every day,” Saban said Saturday, according to AL.com. “They’re already saying what it’s going to look like in every city in America. So, what’s going to be significant? Watch the Weather Channel and you’ll see what it’s going to be like in Portland, Oregon.”

That Saban sure is a curmudgeon, isn’t he? But that’s part of the legacy of Saban. Unless the eclipse can help Alabama win a game against Florida State in Atlanta next week, Saban has little time to worry about such nonsense. Otherwise, it is business as usual for Saban and Alabama. However, Saban will allow his players to take advantage of what is, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“We’ll set it up so if the players want to go out there and get some sunglasses, I guess they can,” Saban said.

The eclipse is having a slight impact on some football practices around the country, including in the NFL. The Tennessee Titans, for example, have modified their practice schedule for Monday due to the eclipse and will organize a team party around the event.

“I thought what a cool thing to do, but then I thought I’d like them to finish practice and give them time to put the glasses on and really enjoy the experience,” Titans head coach Mike Mularkey said (per ESPN.com). “I wanted to be on the field when it happened, as a team, I thought it’d be a neat memory for these guys.”

Clearly, Mularkey is not watching the Weather Channel on a daily basis.

Kansas surprised four walk-ons with scholarships at Royals-Indians game

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There has been no shortage of videos and stories about walk-ons at various college football programs receiving scholarships by surprise. It is an annual tradition around college football during the offseason, and the fun and pure joy of the moment never gets old.

The Kansas Jayhawks took the game to a whole new level, and a whole new playing field this weekend.

Kansas took its football team out on Friday night to enjoy a Major League Baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians. During the course of the game, four walk-on players — defensive end Mazin Aqi, offensive lineman Beau Lawrence, punter Cole Moos, and running back Reese Randall — were shown sitting next to each other on the video screen in Kauffman Stadium. As they were shown on the screen, a message popped up congratulating them on being awarded a scholarship.

Video of the players soaking in the moment and realizing they had just had their lives changed was captured by the Royals.

It sure beats the heck out of a stadium proposal.