Saban no fan of only division games deciding SEC divisional champs

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Somewhat surprisingly, an idea on determining the East and West division champions of the SEC by counting only divisional games, first pushed by Steve Spurrier and later supported by Les Miles, has seemingly gained some level of traction and could at least be up for discussion at the conference meetings later this month in Florida.

Just don’t hold your breath for the best head coach in college football to throw his support behind such a proposal.

Ahead of a Crimson Caravan stop Tuesday, Nick Saban was asked about an idea that, in essence, would relegate cross-division games to a level of importance akin to non-conference games.  While acknowledging the thinking that’s behind it, the Alabama head coach intimated that minimizing the importance of cross-divisional games could end up damaging the conference in the long run.

“I just think that’s one of those things that’s not always going to be controlled,” Saban said. “It’s not manipulated with who you play. We have a rotation, we have to go through it.

“I think the other division games you play on the other side are important to our fans and there’s a lot of tradition involved in some of those games. I think if you minimize the importance of those games, that wouldn’t be in the best interest of our league.”

Division-only games already do play a role in deciding divisional champions, albeit only in the case of a tie.  In a two-way tie, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head, obviously, but the second is the two team’s record in divisional play.  Lather, rinse, repeat when it comes to a three-team tiebreaker.

The combination of new members Missouri and Texas A&M coming into the conference this year plus the West’s domination over the East the past few years has led to this division-only push by two of the SEC’s most recognizable coaches, although it’s likely the latter that’s led to the chatter from the Ol’ Ball Coach.  As Saban may have hinted at when he said “that’s one of the things that’s not always going to be controlled”, however, these things run in cycles.

The record bear out the West’s dominance the past three years, with the East going just 15-39 in non-division games.  The three years prior to that?  The East owned a 39-33 advantage over the West from 2006-08.  From 2002-04, it was 30 wins for West schools, 24 wins for schools from the East.

Again, cycles, although this current one is a definite low point for the East relative to others in recent years.

Would Spurrier’s proposal, though, really make a difference as to who in the past would’ve represented the East and West in the SEC championship game?  Not much research needs to be undertaken to see that it would’ve just this past year, and guess which school that would’ve benefited?

In 2011, Georgia won the East at 7-1 while South Carolina, which beat the Bulldogs the second week of the season, finished behind UGA at 6-2.  Take out the three games against the West, however — UGA was 3-0 (Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn) while USC was 1-2 (losses to Auburn and Arkansas, win over Mississippi State) — the former would’ve been 4-1 and the latter 5-0.  In other words, the Gamecocks, not the Bulldogs, would’ve served as the sacrificial lamb faced LSU in the SEC title game last December.

I love the OBC as much as anyone, but c’mon.  Do what’s best for the conference, not what would’ve been best for your school a year ago.  And, sorry coach, turning non-divisional games into the equivalent of non-conference games is not, as Saban said, what’s best for the SEC.

Having games against Florida Atlantic, Alabama-Birmingham, Georgia State and Louisiana-Monroe carry the same level of importance in the SEC standings as games against Florida, Alabama, Georgia and LSU?  That’s an indefensible — and laughable — proposition.  Or, as commissioner Mike Slive put it last month…

“We certainly can discuss it, but an SEC football game is an SEC football game,” Slive said. “Sitting here first blush without a lot of thought, it would be very hard to decide some games are more valuable than other games.”

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.