Report: SEC to hold special expansion meeting

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As the A&M train barreling its way from College Station toward the SEC’s Birmingham offices shows no signs of slowing down, the first indications coming from the southern side of the college football landscape that the Aggies may indeed be on the move have surfaced.

According to MrSEC.com, as rock-solid a source for football news in that conference you’ll find anywhere, the SEC has called for a special meeting Sunday to discuss the expansion issues that the conference is reportedly facing.  All 12 of the conference’s chancellors/presidents will be involved in the meeting, although at least one may not be physically present and would participate instead via a conference call.

The website notes that it’s unclear if this meeting is simply a fact-finding mission of sorts or if a vote will be involved.  Based on the smoke coming out of one part of Texas, the latter may be the case by the time the weekend rolls around.

This move to a special meeting by the SEC, if it does go down as reported, would continue what has been a whirlwind last 24 hours generally, and the last 12 or so in particular.  Just today, the Higher Education Committee of the Texas House of Representatives announced a previously unscheduled meeting for Aug. 16 to discuss matters “pertaining to higher education, including collegiate athletics.”  A short time ago, and in what was obviously a preemptive move by the school, Texas A&M posted a notice of a special meeting that will take place one day earlier; one of the items on the agenda? “Authorization for the President to Take All Actions Relating to Texas A&M University’s Athletic Conference Alignment”.

It’s believed the A&M Board of Regents at that meeting will vote unanimously to give permission to President R. Bowen Loftin to accept/pursue an invitation to the SEC.  To show just how far down the fast track this has come in less than a day, that it’s to the point where Loftin will in short order likely be handed the keys to move his athletic department to a new conference, the agenda of the regents meeting that will be held Monday was originally scheduled for Aug. 22.

The SEC speculation, however, has not been limited to A&M.

Today, both Florida State and Virginia Tech have surfaced as rumored possibilities for an expanded SEC.  While officials from both schools have denied those reports, Chris Level of RedRaiderSports.com is reporting via Twitter this afternoon that “[a] high ranking Texas Tech official confirms to me that the SEC is in talks with Texas A&M and an ACC school.”  The specific name of the ACC school involved was not named by Level, but it wouldn’t take too great of a leap in logic and deduction to suggest that either the Seminoles or the Hokies are somehow involved.

While some have dismissed the talk of either school moving to another conference, the smoke is sufficient enough that the ACC’s commissioner felt compelled to release a statement addressing the speculation.

“As I’ve said previously, we’ll continue to be mindful of the collegiate landscape and what’s best for the ACC and its member institutions,” John Swofford said in the statement. “With that said, I’ve received no indication from any of our 12 Presidents that they have any intention of being affiliated with any conference other than the ACC.”

Slowly but surely, the timeline for an expanded SEC by way of an A&M defection has become compressed, going from 2012 to Aug. 22 of this year to now where we’re at the point where we could very well know something definitive in the next 72 hours or so.  Simply put, it’s to the point where the only pertinent question regarding the Aggies is whether they will be the only domino, or merely the first.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.