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?

Former Texas OL Octavious Bishop joins ‘Horns staff in off-the-field role

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Former Texas offensive lineman Octavious Bishop has rejoined the program as the Longhorns’ director of student leadership and personal development. The position is a new one, created specifically for Bishop.

Texas’s release announcing his hire says Bishop will work with Charlie Strong and the UT football staff to “provide strategy and implementation of programs to support student-athlete development. Among the program’s goals and objectives will be personal growth, character enhancement, leadership assessment and development, life skills and career preparation.”

“I had an unbelievable conversation with Octavious about what we were looking for in this position and knew right away that he was the man for the job,” Strong said in a statement. “He’s an engaging and energetic person who has a ton of experience working with personal development and has gained so much knowledge in handling all aspects of student-athletes’ lives. I just really loved his passion and all of the ideas he was bringing to the table. On top of that, he’s a Longhorn letterman who overcame a lot of obstacles in his own life. I’m so excited to have him joining our staff.”

Bishop is a former three-year starter at left tackle for the Longhorns, best known as one of the road graders for Ricky Williams‘s NCAA record-breaking 1998 Heisman Trophy campaign. Bishop played professionally for the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL before returning to Texas to finish his social work degree in 2001. He’s since earned his Master’s degree in social work from UT and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University in Minnesota. He has work experience as a social worker and counselor, dealing with marriage, family and addiction counseling and working with students with mental health needs.

“Many of the student-athletes who will attend The University of Texas come from backgrounds similar to my own,” Bishop said. “I have a unique perspective, as a former player and student, that many of them will share. The relationships I’ve established outside of football have played a profound role in my professional and personal development.”

SEC to discuss expanding restriction on transfers

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A year ago, the SEC adopted a rule banning its member schools from accepting transfers who were disciplined at their previous institution for sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence. The rule came about after Alabama accepted a transfer from Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, whom Mark Richt dismissed after he was arrested for domestic violence, only to see him again be arrested for domestic violence in Tuscaloosa. Chalk that entire episode up as just another way Nick Saban has changed the way the SEC conducts business.

Now the league is considering expanding the ban to other forms of misconduct in advance of its annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, a student-athlete working group has recommended expanding the rule to “bar transfers who were convicted of, pled guilty or no contest to a serious misconduct felony.”

“The rule that was passed at the last spring meeting was a first step,” SEC associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance William King told the paper. “I think commissioner (Greg) Sankey made that clear from the beginning that this was a first step and that the conference would revisit the rule.”

The Big 12 and Pac-12 adopted similar rules to mimic the SEC, and it’s likely this policy will only see stronger teeth considering it was his practice of accepting players with violent pasts from other schools that led to Art Briles‘ eventual ouster.

The rule removes the incentive for coaches who fear that dismissing troubled players will only see them on the opposite sideline a season or two later.

SEC schools are expected to conduct background inquiries into all transfers, and a loophole exists for schools to appeal to the conference’s executive committee. Many believe the rule banning transfers will eventually apply to incoming freshmen as well, though that does not appear to be on the table for this year.

Baylor QB Seth Russell responds to Briles firing in Instagram post

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Baylor quarterback Seth Russell has been on a mission trip with other Bears athletes to Brazil, and he returns from his South American voyage to a much different program than he left behind.

Head coach Art Briles is gone. So, too, are two of Baylor’s top incoming freshmen. More coaches and players may follow.

As QB1, Russell had to address the goings on in Waco one way or another, and did so Saturday in an Instagram post that speaks to the Bears’ crisis without really speaking to it while quoting — who else? — Robert Griffin III.

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord.

As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is.
We are broken. We are hurting.
But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times.

My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be.

Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord. As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is. We are broken. We are hurting. But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times. My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be. Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

A photo posted by Seth Russell (@sethrussell17) on May 28, 2016 at 7:16am PDT

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Russell started Baylor’s first seven games — all wins — before a broken neck bone suffered in a collision against Iowa State ended his season. He completed 119-of-200 passes for 2,104 yards (10.5 yards per attempt) with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing 49 times for 402 yards and six scores.

Houston Nutt steps out of the shadows following Ole Miss Notice of Allegations

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Ole Miss dropped its long-awaited Notice of Allegations, which revealed the spin of the majority of the 28 allegations being against non-football sports and former head coach Houston Nutt‘s staff to be technically true but also just that — spin.

Of the 13 allegations against the Rebels’ football program, nine came against current head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff. However, the majority of those were relatively minor in nature (free rental cars, comped hotel rooms), and the largest did come against two former assistants. Former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and former operations staffer David Saunders were accused of setting up a fraudulent ACT system to get players into school.

“We usually know about who is going to make it in by May,” Nutt said of the players whom those ACTs got into school. “We were gonna place them in junior college.”

Still, Nutt told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he felt a twinge of validation from Friday’s release.

“It’s the most frustrating thing there is,” Nutt said, “to be on the sidelines and hear your name keep getting mentioned and mentioned. It’s hurtful. It makes you mad.

“I don’t have a major violation in 30 years of coaching.”

Nutt won 75 games at Arkansas and led Ole Miss to a 19-8 mark and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories in his first two seasons in Oxford — read: with Ed Orgeron‘s players — and fell to 6-18 (1-15 SEC) in his final two seasons. That, plus the sting of these violations falling on his record, is likely to continue to keep Nutt out of coaching — at least at the highest levels of FBS.

Still, he remains optimistic.

“I’m going on five years without a team,” he said. “There were a few opportunities I went after. I’d love to coach again. I feel like I’ve got 10 more seasons in me.”