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Change in kickoffs, touchbacks approved by NCAA panel

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Significant changes are officially coming to the kicking game in 2012.

Two weeks after the NCAA Football Rules Committee announced it “has recommended several rules proposals intended to enhance student-athlete safety,” the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (PROP) has approved several of those proposals.  The rule change that will most likely receive the most attention is the one involving the spot of kickoffs and where a touchback is spotted.

From the NCAA’s release:

Next fall, teams will kick off at the 35-yard line instead of the 30. Also, players on the kicking team can’t line up for the play behind the 30-yard line, which is intended to limit the running start kicking teams used to have during the play.

Also, touchbacks on free kicks will be moved to the 25-yard line instead of the 20 to encourage more touchbacks. Touchbacks on other plays (for example, punts that go into the end zone, or fumbles that go out of the end zone) will remain at the 20-yard line.

Encouraging more touchbacks was the impetus for the change, with the NCAA stating that data showed injuries during kickoffs occur more often than in other phases of the game.  Of course, the kicking team can, if it so chooses, negate the intent of the rule change by placing kicks high and short of the goal line.  Additionally, returners can simply opt against taking a knee in the end zone and bring a kick out anyways, although it’s hoped by the NCAA that the extra five yards gained on a touchback would encourage coaching staffs to instruct their return men to kneel if a kickoff reaches the end zone.

In addition to the new kickoff/touchback rules, there’s another change certain to cause at least some controversy.  Accepting the recommendation of the committee, PROP has implemented a rule which states that “if a player loses his helmet (other than as the result of a foul by the opponent, such as a facemask), it will be treated like an injury. The player must leave the game and is not allowed to participate for the next play.”

While this rule change will certainly cause some consternation, there really is a simple solution to the oncoming angst: make sure the helmet is properly fitted and buckle the freaking thing the way it’s meant to be.  Do that, and a helmet will very rarely if ever become detached from the wearer’s head, especially at the rate they have been the past couple of years.

Two other rule changes, again targeting improved player safety, were implemented:

  • Approved new wording in the football rules book regarding blocking below the waist. Offensive players in the tackle box at the snap who are not in motion are allowed to block below the waist legally without restriction. All other players are restricted from blocking below the waist with a few exceptions (for example, straight-ahead blocks).
  • Players prohibited from leaping over blockers in an attempt to block a punt. Receiving-team players trying to jump over a shield-blocking scheme has become popular for teams in punt formation. Receiving-team players try to defeat this scheme by rushing into the backfield to block a punt. In some cases, these players are contacted and end up flipping in the air and landing on their head or shoulders.

All of these new rules will be in effect for the 2012 season.

Arrested Auburn S Stephen Roberts suspended for opener vs. Clemson

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Facing the best quarterback in the country, Auburn will need all hands on deck in the secondary for the opener.  Unfortunately for the SEC Tigers, that won’t be the case.

Late last week, Stephen Roberts was arrested following a traffic stop and charged with attempting to elude a police officer and possession of a firearm without a permit.  Tuesday, head coach Gus Malzahn confirmed that the defensive back will be suspended for Saturday’s season opener against No. 2 Clemson.

It’s uncertain if Roberts will return for the following Saturday’s game against Arkansas State as Malzahn labeled the suspension “week-to-week.”

Roberts played in 13 games last season, starting the final four games of the year.  He was expected to start at one of the safety positions for the Tigers this season.

Both of the charges Roberts is facing are misdemeanors.  His first court appearance is currently scheduled for Nov. 17.

Alabama’s Alphonse Taylor found not guilty of DUI

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 06:  Alphonse Taylor #50 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates their 42 to 13 win over the Missouri Tigers in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 6, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It appears the door is wide open for Alphonse Taylor‘s unfettered return to the playing field when Alabama kicks off the new season this weekend.  Maybe

Stephanie Taylor of the Tuscaloosa News was the first to report that Taylor had been not guilty of driving under the influence.  Al.com subsequently confirmed the news.

The offensive lineman was arrested and charged with driving under the influence and leaving the scene of an accident last month.  It was subsequently reported that Taylor, who called police himself to notify them that he had hit another vehicle, took two breathalyzer tests and both came back at 0.0.

“Of course I am pleased with this verdict,” Taylor’s attorney, Jason Neff, told the News. “I hope Mr. Taylor will have an opportunity to move forward with his football career.”

Neff added that “[t]he judge is expected to issue a ruling on the leaving the scene of an accident charge after the vehicle that was struck has been repaired,” the News wrote.

It was announced the day after his arrest that Taylor had been indefinitely suspended, although he has since been permitted to practice with the team.  His status for Saturday’s opener against USC is unclear at the moment.

A redshirt senior, Taylor has played in 35 games during his time in Tuscaloosa, starting 17 of those contests.  15 of his starts came at right guard during the Tide’s run to the title in 2015.

Last month, the media tabbed the redshirt senior as second-team preseason All-SEC.

CFT Previews: The Pac-12

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 17:  Wide receiver Darren Carrington #7 of the Oregon Ducks hurdles defensive back Budda Baker #32 of the Washington Huskies in the second half on October 17, 2015 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Ducks defeated the Huskies 26-20.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 may be, pound for pound, the deepest conference in college football. And that’s the problem.

A conference with nine good teams and zero great ones creates a thrilling week-to-week product, and a weak one when it comes to reaching the College Football Playoff. As we saw last season.

With no generational quarterback around to run the conference, 2016 shapes up more like 2015 than 2014.

NORTH
1. Washington (7-6, 4-5 Pac-12):
Most often, the off-season hype is wrong, fodder for the sake of fodder to get us through the long night that is the off-season. I don’t think this is one of those times. The Huskies don’t have Christian McCaffrey, but they have the best defense in the league, the best quarterback in the division and a coaching staff good enough to win the whole damn league.

2. Stanford (12-2, 8-1 Pac-12): It feels like a sign of disrespect to pick against the machine David Shaw helped build, and then maintain and elevate after Jim Harbaugh‘s departure. Especially when they have the game’s sharpest Swiss Army knife. Come to think of it, why are they No. 2 again?

3. Oregon (9-4, 7-2 Pac-12): The Ducks can score on anybody. The question: can they stop anyone? Not even new defensive coordinator Brady Hoke is sure of that answer.

4. Washington State (9-4, 6-3 Pac-12): Last year was a grand success for Wazzu. The Cougars won nine games, claimed twice as many Pac-12 games as they lost and stayed in the divisional race deep into the season. Another season like 2015 would be an even grander one.

5. California (8-5, 4-5 Pac-12): As we saw Friday night, Davis Webb may be the only thing standing between this team and an empty December.

6. Oregon State (2-10, 0-9 Pac-12): Poor, poor Gary Andersen. He leaves one of college football’s most stable winners for one of its heftiest rebuilds. Check back in 2018.

SOUTH
1. UCLA (8-5, 5-4 Pac-12): Jim Mora is the only coach to recruit on the same level as USC in the Pac-12 South. And USC has the nation’s most difficult schedule. Add in that plus Josh Rosen and you get yet another Pac-12 title game loss for the Bruins.

2. Utah (10-3, 6-3 Pac-12): Utah won more total games than any team in the Pac-12 South last season, they shared the division championship with USC and they have the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference. So, why aren’t I picking them? In the Pac-12, always side with quarterbacks.

3. USC (8-6, 6-3 Pac-12): The most talented overall roster in the conference, but the worst schedule in the nation. Alabama, Stanford, Utah, Washington and UCLA on the road, plus Oregon and Notre Dame coming to the Coliseum? Yikes.

4. Arizona (7-6, 3-6 Pac-12): Arizona won’t win the Pac-12 South as they did in 2014. But they won’t be as snake bit as they were last season, either. Eight wins, with four of five coming in conference play, feels right.

5. Colorado (4-9, 1-8 Pac-12): If you want to wow your friends with your brave prognostications, make it this: Colorado will play in a bowl game this fall.

6. Arizona State (6-7, 4-5 Pac-12): Todd Graham had better hope this (entirely worthless) prediction doesn’t come true. After back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2013-14, falling to last place in the division would scratch the trigger finger of Sun Devils AD and former NFL executive Ray Anderson something fierce.

Foot injury to oficially keep leading tackler T.J. Edwards out of Wisconsin’s opener vs. LSU

COLLEGE PARK, MD - NOVEMBER 07: Quarterback Caleb Rowe #7 of the Maryland Terrapins takes a hit from linebacker T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers after making a pass during the second half at Byrd Stadium on November 7, 2015 in College Park, Maryland. Wisconsin won, 31-24. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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When last we left T.J. Edwards, there was no timetable for the Wisconsin linebacker’s return.  With the opener just a handful of days away, there’s been some clarification to Edwards’ status.

Late last week, Edwards was left off the two-deep depth chart released by the Badgers, a clear sign that the redshirt junior would be unavailable for Saturday’s game against LSU at Lambeau Field.  Monday, head coach Paul Chryst officially ruled Edwards out of the Big Ten-SEC matchup.

Edwards suffered a broken foot over the summer and did not participate at all during camp.  It remains unclear whether Edwards will be healthy enough for UW’s Week 2 matchup with Akron in the home opener.  If the school continues to err on the side of caution, they could hold Edwards out of that game and the following week’s contest against Georgia State targeting a return for the Big Ten opener against Michigan State Sept. 24 in East Lansing.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Edwards started all 13 games.  He led the Badgers in tackles with 84 in 2015, while his 6.5 tackles for loss were fourth.

On the Edwards-less depth chart, redshirt junior Jack Cichy (four career starts) and true sophomore Chris Orr (six career starts) are listed as the two starting inside linebackers.