Projecting football fortunes of this year’s Final Four

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Even as the preeminent sport in collegiate athletics continues to trudge ever so carefully toward a possible playoff, another is nearing the end of its annual month of madness.  College basketball, of course, is what we’re speaking of and, as you no doubt know courtesy of your busted brackets, its Final Four participants were decided over the weekend — Kansas, Kentucky, Louisville and Ohio State.

The first three have long been known as basketball schools rich in hoops history, although the Buckeyes have its own roundball tradition that’s not to be scoffed at, especially since the arrival of Thad “I’d Sweat Profusely in the Arctic” Matta.  This, of course, is a college football blog — for all of your “amateur” hoops needs, check out CollegeBasketballTalk.com — which means we need to weave the upcoming events in New Orleans into something that relates to our area of focus.

In other words, does a school’s success in one sport portend anything for another?  Of course not.  One literally has nothing to do with the other.  In fact, just one Div. 1 institution — Florida, 2007 — has won a national championship in football and men’s basketball in the same year, much to the chagrin of one of the schools participating in this year’s Final Four it should be noted.

Still, “we” thought it’d be a nifty and/or keen endeavor to take a look at the Final Four participants and see if the respective schools’ hardwood success this year will somehow give way to similar results on the gridiron in 2012.

(Here’s a hint: probably not.)

So, in order of projected success, here are thumbnail looks at how these basketball schools may fair in the “other” sport this coming season.

1. LOUISVILLE
Last Final Four appearance: 2005
Football record the following season: 9-3, No. 19 in final AP poll

If the first two seasons under Charlie Strong are any indication, the Cardinals are in this football thing for the long haul.  Despite “just” a 7-6 record overall in 2011, the Cardinals took home a share of the Big East title in Strong’s second year.  With somewhere in the neighborhood of 14 returning starters — including quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who possesses most of the tools to be something very special at this level — as well as West Virginia’s departure for the Big 12, the Cardinals should be one of the — if not the — preseason favorites for what would be a run at a second straight conference crown.

2. KENTUCKY
Last Final Four appearance: 2011
Football record the following season: 5-7, 2-6 in SEC play

Even as the Wildcats took a step — or two — back from a first season under Joker Phillips in which UK won six games and qualified for a bowl, the program’s first win over Tennessee in more than a quarter of a century helped salve some of the wounds created by the five-win regression in 2011.  The biggest problem for UK in 2012, or any other year for that matter?  The conference in which it resides, one which you may or may not know has made its mark playing a high-level of football on an annual basis.  It’s highly possible that Phillips is a good, solid head football coach; in the SEC, however, “good, solid” simply won’t get it done, in 2012 or any other year.

3. KANSAS
Last Final Four appearance: 2008
Football record the following season: 8-5, Insight Bowl win

Two wins to start the 2011 season — over Div. 1-A McNeese State and the MAC’s Northern Illinois — gave way to 10 consecutive losses, including six by at least 28 points and four by at least 42 points.  Not so surprisingly, Turner Gill gave way to Charlie Weis at season’s end.  The former Notre Dame head coach inherited a mess, and he’s gone about cleaning it up in part by bringing in a handful of transfers that should be able to contribute immediately to the talent-deficient Jayhawks.  Still, it will be an uphill climb just to get back to respectability for Weis & Company, let alone make any type of Mark Mangino-level imprint on the Big 12 and grow up and spare me the weight jokes people.

4. OHIO STATE
Last Final Four appearance: 2007
Football record the following season: 11-2, loss to LSU in BcS title game

Were it not for NCAA issues, the Buckeyes would sit atop this mini-list.  Alas, sanctions have rendered OSU ineligible for the postseason in 2012, including the Big Ten’s second annual conference championship game.  All is not lost for the university in the state of Ohio, however, as the hiring of two-time BcS champion head coach Urban Meyer has reinvigorated a program tainted by scandal over last year and a half.  2012 for Meyer and his new coaching staff will be all about “the process”, particularly on the offensive side of the ball with the implementation of Meyer’s brand of the spread.  There may be no chance for any type of title for the football Buckeyes in 2012, but there is hope that 2013 and beyond will bring the type of gridiron success for which this football-first school is most known.

Derrius Guice ‘very questionable’ for LSU vs. Syracuse

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LSU could very well be without its most potent offensive weapon when it looks to bounce back from an embarrassing Week 3 loss.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State, Derrius Guice sustained an injury to his left knee.  The star running back hasn’t practiced at all this week, even as Ed Orgeron downplayed the severity of the injury.

On the SEC teleconference Wednesday, however, the head coach acknowledged that it could be much worse than he’d been letting on, so much so that the Guice could miss the Week 4 game against Syracuse.

“I don’t know if Derrius is going to play,” Orgeron said. “He didn’t dress out yesterday in pads. He’s very questionable right now.”

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns.  His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

Should Guice be unable to go, Darrel Williams (28-159-4) would likely be next in line to shoulder the running-game load.

Baylor gets back 2016 leading rusher, two starting DBs for Oklahoma game

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They may be winless, but at least Baylor will be getting some much-needed reinforcements for their game against No. 3 Oklahoma this weekend.

According to head coach Matt Rhule, three projected starters — running back Terence Williams (pictured), safety Taion Sells and cornerback Grayland Arnold — are all expected to play in the Week 4 game against the Sooners. Neither Williams nor Arnold have played this season because of injury, while Sells completed a three-game suspension last week.

Williams led the Bears last season with 1,048 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. The junior underwent offseason shoulder surgery, leading to his absence for the first quarter of the year.

With Williams rehabbing the injured joint, John Lovett currently leads the 0-3 Bears in rushing with 182 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a team, BU is averaging just 150 yards per game and slightly less than five yards per rush; last season, they were at 241.8 and 5.0.

“I think it takes a little bit of the pressure off the young guys,” the first-year head coach, by way of the Associated Press, said of Williams’ much-anticipated return. “I think Terence gives us the physicality and a presence running the football that you can clearly see on tape. … He brings us that ability to run you over and make you miss.”

Arnold started four games last season and was listed as the starter heading into summer camp before breaking his left arm in August. After starting four games in 2015, Sells sat out the 2016 season because of an injury. Prior to the suspension for unspecified violations of team rules, Sells too had been listed as a starter in camp.

Mother’s health — and playing time — triggered Byron Cowart’s Auburn departure

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Initially, there was no known reason for one of the top recruits in the Class of 2015 left his original college football home. Not long after, the window of insight was cracked a bit.

Tuesday, Byron Cowart was granted a release from his Auburn scholarship, one day after requesting it from the football program. In an interview with al.com, the defensive lineman revealed that his mother in Florida is going through an unspecified health situation and, as an only child, he wanted to be closer to her to help her through it.

Additionally, he acknowledged that, yes, his playing time, or lack thereof, played a role in his decision to leave The Plains.

“I’m happy with my decision and I know that this ain’t it for me,” Cowart told the website. “My main reason was my mother’s health is more important. Me being an only child, got to get back to home to her. Plus I already wasn’t playing enough and contributing to the team.”

In a separate interview with 247Sports.com, Cowart also acknowledged that he has twice previously considered leaving the Tigers, the last coming this past summer.

Cowart also indicated that, very soon, he will be starting up classes nearer his home in Seffner, Fla., presumably at a junior or community college. After that, he’ll decide where to continue his collegiate playing career at the FBS level.

“I’ll see what options I have and what the NCAA allows me to do,” the junior lineman told al.com. “This isn’t over for me and this definitely is not the end of my college career. … I can guarantee you football is not over for me. I still love the game, I love everything about football.”

A consensus five-star signee, Cowart was rated by Rivals.com as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2014 while 247Sports.com had Florida product as the No. 3 player overall on its composite board. In 26 career games, Cowart was credited with 15 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. He was one of four Tigers arrested for marijuana possession in May of last year.

This past spring, Cowart was moved from end to tackle in an attempt to jumpstart his career. In three games at his new position this season, he had three tackles and half a tackle for loss in three games.

Div. II football player Robert Grays dies from neck injury sustained in game

Midwestern State athletics
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There’s horribly sad news to note today as Midwestern State University football player Robert Grays passed away Tuesday, the Division II school in Texas confirmed Wednesday morning.

Grays sustained a serious neck injury attempting to make a tackle during this past Saturday’s game against Texas A&M-Kingsville.  After initially being taken to a local hospital in Wichita Falls, he was life-flighted to a hospital in Houston, where he ultimately succumbed to his injuries.

“Robert touched many lives while attending the university, but perhaps he will be remembered best for his smile,” a statement from university president Suzanne Shipley said, in part. “He was an inspiration on and off the field to those around him, and he will be remembered with love and affection by his friends, classmates, coaches, and teammates.”

Grays was listed as a 5-8, 160-pound sophomore cornerback on the Mustangs’ official roster.

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Grays’ way-too-soon passing.