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The Fifth Quarter: Week 4 Rewind

Clemson v Florida State Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Guess who’s back… Back again…
Earlier this week on this lil’ ol’ website, the question was posed asking whether Florida State was back after years of keeping the national stage at arm’s length.  Consider that question answered in the affirmative.  And with (late-game) authority.  Early on, though, the Seminoles were staggering, with No. 10 Clemson holding a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter and seemingly having the No. 4 team in the country on the ropes.  Then, all offensive hell broke loose for the ‘Noles.  In a span of just under 17 minutes, FSU exploded for 35 points to send the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium into a frenzy and, ultimately, home ecstatic with a resounding 49-37 thumping.  The win puts the Seminoles in the ACC driver’s seat — FSU will be significant favorites every single conference game the remainder of the season — and, depending on how things shake out above them, could find themselves in the same seat when it comes to the chase for the BcS title chase.  Of course, there are still several obstacles to navigate, none more obvious than themselves and shooting their own foot.  For now, though, every sign points to the Seminoles very much being back.

A RB graveyard in Corvallis
Apparently, Oregon State is the place where top-flight running backs go to die.  In two games this season, OSU has limited Wisconsin’s Montee Ball — third in the country last season in rushing yards — to 61 yards on 15 carries and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin — the nation’s leading rusher entering this weekend’s game — to 45 yards on 12 carries.  Neither player scored a touchdown.  The Beavers turnaround in that phase of the game is nothing short of astounding.  Last season, OSU ranked 101st in the country, allowing 193.8 rushing yards per game in winning just three games; this season, OSU, 2-0 after their win over the No. 19 Bruins, is giving up just 53.5 yards per game.

Here he comes to Stave the day
The most notable change at the quarterback position this weekend came courtesy of Wisconsin, with the Badgers taking the reins of their offense out of the hands of Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien and handing them to Joel Stave.  And, at least for one game, the redshirt freshman made the UW coaching staff look like a bunch of Norman Einsteins.  In his first collegiate start, Stave threw for 147 yards — in the first half; the Badgers came into the game with UTEP averaging 156.3, a total “good” for 117th out of 124 FBS programs.  For the game, Stave threw for 210 yards — the return of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis certainly helped the first-time starter — as the Badgers held off the Miners 37-26.

Red-hot, dead sexy MACtion
MAC football: it’s not just for Wednesdays any more.  On Saturday, The Little Midwest Conference That Could finished the day with a 6-3 record in non-conference games.  It was the victories, however, that were the story of the day as four of those wins came against members of BcS conferences — Kansas, 30-23 losers to Northern Illinois; USF, 30-27 losers to Ball State; Iowa, 32-31 losers to Central Michigan; and UConn, 30-24 losers to Western Michigan.  Not only that, but Eastern Michigan hung with a ranked Michigan State team through three and a half quarters, as did Akron vs. Tennessee; in fact, the only blowout in MAC vs. BcS matchups Saturday was Virginia Tech’s 37-0 drubbing of Bowling Green.  Add in a 4-0 Ohio University team that should be ranked somewhere inside the Top 25, and it’s shaping up like the MAC could be the best football conference in that area of the country and yes I’m looking directly at you B1G.

AIRBHG on sabbatical?
You have no doubt heard of the curse of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, with the Hawkeyes losing somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 players at the position to on-field injuries and/or off-field “issues” the past several years.  The fullback position is another animal entirely, as Mark Weisman proved Saturday afternoon.  The former walk-on rushed for a career-high 217 yards — the Hawkeyes as a team rushed for 215 — and scored three of Iowa’s four touchdowns.  In the end, however, the AIRBHG had the last laugh as Central Michigan, after recovering an onside kick with less than a minute left, kicked a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the Chips a stunning 32-31 win over the Hawkeyes.

LOSERS

Mizzou’s rude welcome to SEC continues
Well, that’s no way to treat the new guy, is it?  After Georgia spoiled Missouri’s SEC coming-out party two weeks ago in a physical 21-point beatdown, South Carolina dominated the Tigers in every phase of the game, pushing and bullying its way to an easy 31-10 win.  That leaves Mizzou 0-2 in conference play, with games against old-man football teams such as Alabama and Florida among others remaining.  Granted, Mizzou has faced the two preseason favorites in the SEC East, but the Tigers had been hoping to send an early-season message to rest of the league.  They’ve actually done that, but it’s not the message they would’ve preferred: simply put, the Tigers aren’t nearly ready to compete with the best the East has to offer, let alone the best that the conference serves up annually.

The forward pass in South Bend
This all you need to know about the aerial circus, replete with clowns and a bearded lady, that reared its ugly head in South Bend Saturday: the last five passes Michigan attempted in the first half were all intercepted by Notre Dame — four by Denard Robinson, one by Vincent Smith.  All told, seven were intercepted between the two teams; the two by the Irish were courtesy of starter Everett Golson, who was promptly yanked in favor of Tommy Rees.  Fortunately for the Wolverines, that was the last of the picks, although Robinson was kind enough to lose a fumble on the first possession of the third quarter.  Unfortunately, the combination of the turnovers and the Irish defense was too much to overcome as the Wolverines fell to 2-2 with the 13-6 loss.

Ramblin’ Wrecked
For the second time in four weeks, Georgia Tech has lost an ACC heartbreaker, with this one likely costing the Yellow Jackets any slim hopes they’d entertained of making a trip to the conference championship game.  In today’s loss to Miami, Tech fell behind 19-0… only to score the next 36 points… only to see The U score the final 23 points, including a touchdown in overtime that gave Miami a 42-36 win.  That game-winning touchdown came after Tech, with the initial possession of the extra session and eschewing a chippie field goal attempt, failed to convert a fourth-and-one from the two-yard line.  Combine that with a three-point overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the season opener, and the Miami game was the back-end of a fatal one-two conference sucker punch to Tech’s gut.

No Moore equals much less for Boise
With the losses of Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and a whole host of other veteran starters, it was widely assumed that Boise State would struggle, especially on offense and early on in the season.  The struggles on that side of the ball, however, have been of a magnitude that no one could’ve reasonably predicted.  During the last three years with Moore under center, the Broncos never finished fifth in scoring and didn’t average less than 42 points a season.  Prior to the ugly win over BYU, BSU was 83rd in the country averaging 26 points per game, totals that will no doubt drop following their seven-point output against the Cougars.  Chris Petersen‘s track record says he will right the Broncos’ listing offensive ship; how soon that happens will determine whether the Broncos can once again crash the BcS postseason party.

Straight up the Wazzu
The highly-anticipated Mike Leach era at Washington State has been one long and  resounding thud.  A 24-point loss to BYU to open the season, then wins over FCS-level Eastern Washington and winless UNLV by a combined total of 12 points.  And then the biggest thud of all: a home loss to Colorado, a “football team” with an under-fire head coach and had just the week before given up 55 points and over 500 yards of total offense in the first half to Fresno State.  And had lost to Colorado State and FCS-level Sacramento State.  For Wazzu to lose a game against a team like that after leading by 17 in the fourth quarter is inexcusable and unacceptable, as explained by CFT correspondent Max Cady:

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 2 LSU 12, Auburn 10: Facing a road game against an opponent whose lone 2012 win came against Louisiana-Monroe in overtime, the Tigers escaped with win over Auburn.  It wasn’t pretty, but in the big conference picture, a win is a win is a win.  I wouldn’t think the Tigers would drop more than a spot in the polls, but you can never really tell which way the shifting voter winds will blow.

— No. 8 West Virginia 31, Maryland 21: I was on the fence about including this one, but the woeful state of Terrapin football proved to be the tipping point.  The Terps were actually tied with the Mountaineers in Morgantown midway through the second quarter and had outgained the explosive WVU offense by 70 yards.  WVU, as expected, pulled away for a double-digit win, but the fact that the Terps hung around for so long was eyebrow raising to say the least.

— No. 16 Ohio State 29, UAB 15: Trailing 9-0 late in the first half, and leading just 21-16 late in the fourth, Braxton Miller‘s second touchdown of the game — he now has 16 scores (seven passing, nine rushing) in four games — put the game away for the Buckeyes.  A perfect 4-0 in the first season under Urban Meyer, OSU will face its first real test of the season as they travel to East Lansing to face No. 21 Michigan State.

— No. 20 Louisville 28, FIU 20: The Cardinals trailed for the first time this season — 14-7 in the middle of the second quarter — before pulling away with 21 unanswered points in its fourth win to start the season.

— No. 21 Michigan State 16, Eastern Michigan 7: Like the Buckeyes, the Spartans were trailing a lesser opponent in the first half, with MSU actually trailing the Eagles late into the third quarter.  Based on this game and the overall start to the season, if MSU is the best the Big Ten has to offer then the conference is in for a very long, extremely embarrassing 2012 bowl season.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The Tide has outscored its opponents 168-21 in four games and likely won’t be tested for the first time this season — hello, Michigan!!! — until Oct. 27 against No. 23 Mississippi State.  Or the following weekend at No. 2 LSU. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: vs. Ole Miss

2. Florida State — An emphatic statement win indeed, one that’s been a long-time coming for the storied football program. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: at USF

3. Oregon — Take a Top-25 team to the woodshed?  Stay right where you are, courtesy of FSU’s own woodshedding of a ranked foe. (Last week: No. 3)
Up next: at Washington State

4. LSU — Win by two points over an unranked team, regardless of whether it’s on the road against a conference foe?  Take two steps back, please. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: vs. Towson

5. Kansas State —  Go on the road and beat the No. 6 team in the country?  Go ahead and leapfrog numerous teams and right into this lil’ Top Five. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. Kansas

COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

— Arkansas’ John L. Smith: The past three weeks, Smith’s Razorbacks have lost to the Sun Belt’s Louisiana-Monroe; were woodshedded by Alabama in a shutout loss; and, Saturday, lost to Rutgers.  All of those losses came at home.  For all intents and purposes, Smith was a one-year rental to bridge the gap between the dismissed Bobby Petrino and a permanent replacement.  Based on the past three games, Smith has all but assured that will indeed be the case.  And will likely burn the bridge down in the process.

— Kentucky’s Joker Phillips: An ugly loss to Florida — which included Phillips sticking with in-over-his-head quarterback Morgan Newton, he of the three first-half interceptions — dropped the Wildcats to 1-3 on the season.  Phillips will be lucky to survive the entire season, let alone making it to 2013 on the Wildcats sideline.

— Auburn’s Gene Chizik: For the first time since 1998, the Tigers have started a season 1-3.  For the first time since 1980, AU’s started SEC play 0-2.  We’ll reiterate a stat that says it all about Chizik’s tenure at AU.  With Cam Newton as his quarterback, Chizik is 14-0; without Newton, Chizik is 17-13 overall and 7-11 in SEC play.  In his career, Chizik is 22-30 as a head coach when he’s Cam-less.  If there is such a thing, a two-point setback to the No. 2 team in the country would qualify as a good loss.  For a program like AU and in a conference like the SEC, claiming moral victories is a sure sign you’re headed in the wrong direction.

HE SAID IT
“I don’t need any questions today.” — South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, channeling his inner Lane Kiffin, after giving his opening statement and promptly walking out of his postgame press conference.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
Tennessee has always had beautiful athletes.” — Akron head coach Terry Bowden, following the Zips loss to the Vols.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— After missing on his first throw of the day, Connor Shaw completed the final 20 passes he attempted in South Carolina’s taming of Missouri.  The FBS single-game record, incidentally, is 26 in a row set by East Carolina’s Dominique Davis in 2011.  Shaw can break Davis’ record of 36 straight completions over two games next week against Kentucky.

EJ Manuel and Chris Thompson combined to account for 585 of Florida State’s 667 yards of total offense — 380 yards passing for Manuel; 103 yards rushing for Thompson; and 102 yards rushing for Manuel.

— Oregon State’s Sean Mannion set a career-high in passing with 379 yards in the Beavers upset of UCLA.

— Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell rushed for a career-high 253 yards in the win over Eastern Michigan.

— West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, second in the country in receptions per game entering today’s tilt with Maryland, caught 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 31-21 win over the Terps.

— A first-quarter fumble in the game against UTEP was the first fumble Montee Ball had lost during his career at Wisconsin.  The fumble came on his 655th carry as a Badger.  Ball ultimately left the game with a head injury in the first half and did not return.

Dustin Harris set a Texas A&M and SEC record with 246 yards worth of punt returns in the Aggies’ 70-14 win over South Carolina State.  He averaged nearly 31 yards on his eight returns, which included a 96-yarder for a touchdown.

— A first-half reception gave Syracuse’s Alec Lemon 140 for his career, breaking the school record of 139 previously held by Scott Schwedes (1983-86) and Shelby Hill (1990-93).

— Arizona took six trips into the red zone in its loss to Oregon, and failed to come away with any points on any of those visits.

— It took a little over 182 minutes of play this season for Iowa to record its first touchdown pass, a 10-yard toss from James Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley.  Army and UConn also threw their first touchdown passes of the season, leaving Air Force as the lone FBS team with no scoring plays through the air.

— Wake Forest’s run defense has given up a staggering 814 yards rushing the past two weeks — 385 in a loss to Florida State last weekend, 429 in a win over Army this weekend.  Last season, Alabama gave up just 938 yards in 13 games.  Speaking of which…

— An FAU touchdown with 2:46 left in the game was the first points No. 1 Alabama’s defense had given up since the third quarter of the season-opening win over Michigan, a span of 192:28.  This season, the Tide has outscored its four opponents 168-21.

— Nebraska scored 45 points and rolled up 362 yards of total offense in the first half alone of its blowout win over FCS-level Idaho State.  That number represented the most the Cornhuskers have scored in two quarters since scoring 52 points against Baylor in the first half in October of 2000.

— In Georgia’s 48-3 win over Vanderbilt, the 2012 Bulldogs became the first team in the program’s history to score 40-plus points in consecutive games.

— Ohio State’s win over UAB was the 400th for the Buckeyes in the history of Ohio Stadium.

— Florida’s win over Kentucky was the school’s 26th straight over the Mildcats.  In other streak news, Penn State has now won 30 consecutive games it’s played against Temple.

— On the strength of its 17-10 win over Syracuse, Minnesota has started a season 4-0 for the first time since 2008.  And, if you want to talk about the state of the Big Ten, digest this little nugget: the Gophers and Northwestern are the conference’s only unbeaten teams that are eligible for the 2012 postseason.  Ouch.  The good news for the Big Ten?  Conference play begins next weekend, so the league is guaranteed to win half its games nearly every weekend.

— With a 31-19 win over Colorado State, Utah State has started a season 3-1 for the first time since 1978.  Senior running back Kerwynn Williams rushed for a career-high 205 yards and scored two touchdowns in the victory.

— North Carolina’s seven sacks in a win over East Carolina was the most for a Tar Heels team since 2000.

— Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke (no relation) threw for 730 yards and accounted for 791 yards of total offense in a 64-61 win over New Hampshire.  Those totals are the most ever in a single game at the Div. 1 level — FBS and FCS — and the third-most at any level.

— Derrick Henry, the No. 1 “athlete” in the Class of 2012, set a state of Florida record with 502 yards rushing in his high school football game Friday night.  Henry, who decommitted from Georgia earlier this year and is now believed to be leaning toward Alabama, broke the record of 501 yards set by Shawn Smith of Tampa Bay Tech back in 1985.

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Swoopes there it is: ‘Horns tap incumbent as starting QB

Tyrone Swoopes

Not surprisingly, Texas will begin the season with a familiar face under center.

Charlie Strong confirmed the expected at his Monday press conference, acknowledging that it’ll be Tyrone Swoopes who starts at quarterback when UT travels to South Bend for Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.  Swoopes had been in a battle with redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, although most thought the nod would go to the incumbent.

In fact, Strong stated that he had known for a couple of weeks that Swoopes was his guy, but held off on publicly naming a starter to allow the competition to play out a little longer.

Taking over as the starter for a concussed David Ash last season, Swoopes started all but one game in 2014.  He had moments where he was brilliant — 300-plus yards passing Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — and others where he looked absolutely lost — 24-point bowl loss to Arkansas, four interceptions in a 38-point loss to TCU.  Those latter two performances came in back-to-back games to close out the season, leading Strong to open up the competition in the spring.

Swoopes exited the spring as the No. 1 quarterback, and maintained that position throughout summer camp.  As he had previously stated, Strong reiterated that both Swoopes and Heard will see the field.

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Urban won’t name Buckeyes’ starting QB before opener vs. Hokies

Ohio State Spring Game Getty Images

To find out just who has won Ohio State’s much-discussed quarterback competition, you’ll have to wait until shortly after 8 p.m. ET next Monday.

At his Monday press conference, Urban Meyer revealed that he will not publicly name a starting quarterback prior to the Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech. Instead, the coach said, “[w]e will announce the starter when the first guy takes the snap.”

What is known is that the starter will either be 2014 regular-season record-setter J.T. Barrett or 2014 postseason hero Cardale Jones. As for the competition itself, Meyer described it as “still really close;” if it weren’t, the fourth-year OSU coach said, he’d publicly anoint a starter. While Meyer won’t disclose it to the media, he said he’ll know by Wednesday whether it’ll be Barrett or Jones who starts against the Hokies.

Not surprisingly, Meyer hasn’t ruled out playing both quarterbacks. Interestingly, though, the competition will apparently remain open on into the regular season.

I’ll still say that it’s Barrett who takes the first snap against the only team that beat the defending national champions next season. After that, Barrett’s performance will dictate whether he holds on to the job.

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Leading rusher one of two Toledo starters suspended for two games

GoDaddy Bowl - Toledo v Arkansas State AP

The season has yet to kick off and Toledo has already a suffered a pair of significant blows, one on each side of the ball.

The football program announced Monday morning that senior defensive end Allen Covington and junior running back Kareem Hunt have been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season. Other than “violating team policy,” no reason for the twin punitive measures was given.

The players will miss Thursday’s opener against Stony Brook, as well as the following week’s home game against No. 18 Arkansas. Both will be eligible to return for the Iowa State game Sept. 19.

Of the two, the loss of Hunt will be the most damaging.

Last season, Hunt’s total of 1,631 yards rushing was tops in the MAC and good for 10th nationally. His 16 rushing touchdowns were tied for 14th in the country.

Covington’s four tackles for loss were tied for sixth on the Rockets last season. He was expected to start at one of the end spots on UT’s defensive line.

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CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Big Ten Predictions

Michigan State v Maryland AP

As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC) and HERE (Big 12) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

BIG TEN EAST

1. Ohio State (14-1 in 2014; beat Oregon in College Football Playoff title game)
For the forseeable future, you can pencil in Urban Meyer‘s Buckeyes as the class of the both the division and conference, as well as an annual contender for a playoff spot thanks to the one-two combination of the coaching staff and its recruiting prowess.  Last year, Meyer thought his Buckeyes were a year away from contention… and all they did was run through Wisconsin, No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in the postseason to claim the inaugural CFP championship.  What can OSU do for an encore?  Given the returning talent, they could very well be the eighth team since the Poll Era began (1936) to go back-to-back — provided they can get past, among others, the very stout, tremendously talented and extremely motivated team directly below this blurb.

2. Michigan State (11-2; beat Baylor in Cotton Bowl)
The Spartans have several positives going for them entering the 2015 season, from one of the best offensive and defensive lines in the conference to one of the best quarterbacks in the entire country in senior Connor Cook to one of the most underrated head coaches in Mark Dantonio.  There’s every reason to think that the Spartans, ranked fifth in the preseason, will remain in that neighborhood for a sizable chunk of the season.  Losing defensive mastermind Pat Narduzzi, now the head coach at Pittsburgh, could negatively impact the season, as could the schedule: three of MSU’s toughest games are on the road (Ohio State, Nebraska and Michigan) while they also play host to a Top Ten in Week 2 in Oregon.

3. Michigan (5-7)
Yes, I’m drinking the Jim Harbaugh-flavored Kool-Aid already, and there are two good reasons as to why.  One, and look no further than what he did at Stanford, he is one of the best coaches at any level of football.  In the five years prior to his arrival on The Farm, the Cardinal won just 16 games; in Harbaugh’s four years heading the program, and taking over a one-win squad, the win total jumped to 29.  Secondly, he and his staff aren’t exactly coming into the kitchen with a bare cupboard.  In 2013 and 2012, UM’s recruiting classes were ranked fifth and seventh nationally and second in the Big Ten, respectively, according to Rivals.com. Even in 2014, amidst much speculation that Brady Hoke was as good as done, he still pulled in a class that ranked 31st in the country and fourth in the conference.  The talent is there, the coaching there, so there’s no reason to think that an immediate improvement won’t be there as well.

4. Penn State (7-6; beat Boston College in Pinstripe Bowl)
The biggest thing the Nittany Lions have going for them this season, the thing that could have them too low in this East prediction?  Their schedule.  They will be heavily favored in all six games — three conference, three non-conference — before traveling to Ohio State in mid-October, plus the scheduling gods gave them Illinois and Northwestern as their cross-divisional games this season.  Should the defense, as expected, remain one of the best in the conference, and Christian Hackenberg can overcome any crisis of confidence caused by a subpar offensive line — he was sacked 44 times in 2014, a season in which he tossed more interceptions (15) than touchdowns (12) — the Nittany Lions could very well increase their win total from a year ago.

5. Maryland (7-6; lost to Stanford in Foster Farms Bowl)
Relatively speaking, and compared to much of Randy Edsall‘s first four seasons in College Park, the Terps got off to a rousing start in 2014, winning five of their first seven games.  They then limped home with a 2-4 finish, punctuated by a 24-point loss to Stanford in the Foster Farms Bowl.  Like it or not, The Terps could very well be back in rebuilding mode, what with just 10 returning starters on both sides of the ball and a schedule that includes road trips to West Virginia, Ohio State, Iowa and Michigan State as well as a home game against West power Wisconsin.  Given that combination, getting back to a bowl game would serve as a huge plus for Edsall’s program.

6. Indiana (4-8)
It’s very simple for the Hoosiers: either win and make a bowl game, or the program will be looking for a new head coach following the upcoming season.  In four years thus far, the Kevin Wilson experiment has netted just 14 wins, with seven of those coming against Power Five teams and six against conference members.  For IU to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2007 — and just the second time since 1993 — they’ll need to take advantage of a slate that includes five very winnable games; if they can squeeze out an upset along the way, they could very well go bowling — and save Wilson’s job in the process.

7. Rutgers (8-5; beat North Carolina in Quick Lane Bowl)
If this particular prediction were to ultimately come to fruition, Rutgers would be the next Big Ten school looking for a new head coach.  Normally a coach that went 8-5 in the program’s first season in a Power Five conference wouldn’t even be remotely close to the hot seat, but Kyle Flood‘s recent off-field issue will place even more pressure on the fourth-year coach to win and win bigger than last season’s surprise total.  That, though, could prove to be an impossible row to hoe.  Not only do the Scarlet Knights return just 10 starters, they also lost 28 lettermen with varied amounts of experience and playing time, further exposing a glaring lack of depth compared to just one season ago.  Adding to the potential 2015 angst is that, in addition to the East heavyweights, RU also drew West stalwarts Nebraska and Wisconsin.  In fact, it’s conceivable and not even remotely out of the question that the Scarlet Knights could go winless in conference play.

BIG TEN WEST

1. Nebraska (9-4; lost to USC in Holiday Bowl)
The first season post-Bo Pelini in Lincoln is expected to be a breath of fresh air both on and off the field.  Mike Riley is a big reason for that, although how quickly the Cornhuskers adapt to his style of offense will likely determine whether or not this first-year prediction of success is overly optimistic.  NU was on the cusp of grabbing a divisional talent last season before dropping back-to-back November games against Wisconsin and Minnesota.  This season, the ‘Huskers get the Badgers at home, although they’ll have to make a mid-October trip to the Gophers.  One other question mark?  Replacing a handful of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball.

2. Wisconsin (11-3; beat Auburn in Outback Bowl)
Whether it was Barry Alvarez or Bret Bielema or Gary Andersen, the Badgers merely locked and reloaded at running back, along the offensive line and on defense from year to year to year with great success.  Can they do the same under first-year head coach and former UW offensive coordinator Paul Chryst?  The Badgers should again have one of the best defenses in the conference as well as one of the top running games in college football, although, again, the team will likely struggle to make gains through the air.  If they flip the script on the latter, though, they could be one of the most dangerous teams in the country and very well make it back to yet another conference championship game.  Another plus?  They avoid both Ohio State and Michigan State in the regular season, although they do have to travel to both Lincoln and Minneapolis.

3. Minnesota (8-5; lost to Missouri in Citrus Bowl)
How close were the Gophers to an absolutely epic 2014 season?  They held a four-point third-quarter lead in the regular-season finale against Wisconsin in a game that, with a win, would’ve meant a trip to Indianapolis for the Big Ten championship.  They lost that lead, then proceeded to lose both their bowl game (by double digits to Mizzou) and 12 starters, including leading rusher David Cobb, leading receiver Maxx Williams and their two most productive players on the defensive side of the ball.  Perhaps the best news?  They get both Nebraska and Wisconsin at home.

4. Northwestern (5-7)
Call this slotting a hunch.  Or a significant reach.  One of the two.  After going bowling for five straight seasons from 2008-12, the Wildcats have back-to-back postseason-less years from which they’re attempting to bounce back.  Returning 14 starters is a good start to the rebound; the schedule makers didn’t do the Evanston bunch many favors, though, as they’ll tackle Stanford in the opener, Duke and Michigan on the road as well as a home date against Penn State — and that’s in addition to the divisional games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.  While it won’t be easy, look for the Wildcats to get back to at least six wins and into a bowl game.

5. Iowa (7-6; lost to Tennessee in Taxslayer Bowl)
From 2002 through 2009, the Hawkeyes averaged nearly nine wins per season; in the five years since, they’ve averaged less than seven, and finished fourth or worse in the Big Ten in four of those seasons.  Last year, they didn’t beat a single FBS program that ended the year with a winning record.  Entering his 17th season at the school, and despite the lack of recent success, Kirk Ferentz has the benefit of a very loyal athletic department — and a hefty buyout that, in essence, handcuffs said department.  The 2015 season should serve up more of the same style of play on the field: running game-centric offense, brutish defense and just hanging around in games long enough and often enough to qualify for another third-tier bowl game.  How long the fair-to-middlin’ results will continue to be acceptable to the Hawkeye faithful — and boosters — remains to be seen.

6. Illinois (6-7; lost to Louisiana Tech in Heart of Dallas Bowl)
A two-game winning streak at the end of last season put the Illini into a bowl game and saved Tim Beckman‘s job; his alleged treatment of players, though, forced the athletic department’s hand and resulted in Beckman being dismissed exactly one week before the season opener.  Enter offensive coordinator Bill Cubit as the interim coach, although, from a projection standpoint, not much should really change. The Illini actually returns 15 starters — that’s in the top third of the Big Ten — including a starting quarterback in Wes Lunt who has the talent to be productive and thrive in this offensive system if he can only stay healthy.  Looking at the schedule, though, four wins seem to be a reasonable projection while five wins appears to be the best to which the Illini can aspire.  Should they get to 6-8 wins?  There may be no need to conduct a coaching search after all.

7. Purdue (3-9)
Let’s just get straight to the point.  Darrell Hazell has won a mere four games in his first two seasons in West Lafayette, including one lone win in Big Ten play.  His non-conference schedule this season includes Virginia Tech and a road trip to defending Conference USA champion Marshall, while there’s a better-than-average chance he will go winless in conference play for the second time in three years.  If the 15 returning starters can improve enough, there’s a chance the Boilermakers could, akin to a fat man shimmying into a pair of skinny jeans, squeeze its way into a postseason bid, which is likely the only way this branch of the Jim Tressel coaching tree gets another season.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Ohio State over Nebraska

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Miami RB Gus Edwards lost for all of 2015 with foot injury

Arkansas State v Miami Getty Images

Miami already knew it was going to be have to replace its all-time leading rusher in Duke Johnson.  Now, the ‘Canes will be forced to deal with replacing one of his prime replacements.

An injury originally described as minor turned out to be much more severe, with the football program confirming Sunday night that Gus Edwards will miss the entire 2015 season because of a foot issue.  The school declined to reveal the specific nature of the injury.

“Gus worked extremely hard for the last nine months to prepare for this moment,” head coach Al Golden said in a statement. “He set a high standard and did a great job leading and being unselfish. We are tremendously disappointed for him, but we will be there with him on the road to recovery and anxiously await his return.”

Edwards was third on the team in rushing last season with 349 yards. His six rushing touchdowns were second to Johnson’s 10 in 2014. He was expected to start and shoulder a significant amount of the running game load.

The good news for the Hurricanes is last year’s second-leading rusher, Joseph Yearby (509 yards), returns. Also on scholarship are Trayone Gray (24 yards, one touchdown as a true freshman last season) and four-star 2015 signee Mark Walton.  Yearby and Walton are listed as the co-starters on the depth chart released the same time as the Edwards injury news.

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Gamecocks to wear helmet sticker honoring church shooting victims

Emanuel 9

A tragedy that shocked both a state and a country will be commemorated by the former’s flagship football program.

South Carolina announced Sunday that its helmets will be adorned with a sticker honoring the nine individuals gunned down in cold blood in a Charleston church shooting this past June.  The inexplicably heinous act, committed by an individual with ties to hate groups, prompted a national discussion on the Confederate flag, and both the football program and the athletic department weren’t shy in letting their feelings be known on the issue.

“Whether it’s Greenville, Columbia, Charleston or any other cities in South Carolina, we feel a tremendous sense of pride in this state,” a statement from USC athletic director Ray Tanner. “The tragedy that happened in Charleston doesn’t just affect people in Charleston; it affects the entire state. We feel very much a part of that at the university. Coach Steve Spurrier and University President Harris Pastides felt very strongly that the ‘Emanuel 9’ should be recognized.”

According to Tanner, head coach Steve Spurrier had a significant voice in the decision to honor the victims.

“Coach Spurrier was very engaged in this process,” Tanner said. “Football coaches are usually focused on just getting ready for their season, and he very much is too, but he took the time to be engaged with what we were going to do. He is excited that we are going to do the helmet sticker.”

The sticker will be worn on every helmet for every game this season, the first of which will be the opener against North Carolina Thursday.

(Photo credit: South Carolina athletics)

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Knee injury to KO FAU WR Derek Moise for all of 2015

Florida Atlantic v Nebraska Getty Images

Unfortunately for both the player and the program, FAU’s worst fears when it comes to the status of Derek Moise have been realized.

Following up on speculation the past few days, Charlie Partridge confirmed this weekend that a knee injury sustained by Moise earlier in the week will sideline the wide receiver for the entire 2015 season.  The head coach declined to discuss the specific nature of the injury, although it’s believed the senior sustained a torn ACL in his right knee.

As is ofttimes the case, it was a non-contact injury that knocked out the receiver, with the Orlando Sentinel writing that “Moise said his knee buckled when he slipped and landed improperly after catching a pass from backup quarterback Jason Driskel.”

“As far as his spirit right now, he’s in a good place – as good as he can be,” Partridge said of Moise’s spirits. “It’s the same with the team. They’re disappointed for him and sad for him. But he’s in about as good of an emotional state as you can expect.”

Partridge also confirmed that Moise will seek a sixth season of eligibility through the NCAA.

Last season, Moise had career highs in receptions (10), receiving yards (74) and receiving touchdowns (one). Those totals are third among returning Owl wide receivers.

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Bowling Green the landing spot for ex-Kentucky LB Dorian Hendrix

MAC Championship AP

Dorian Hendrix played his high school football in the state of Ohio and, after a brief detour to the south, he’s back in his home state.

Bowling Green announced in a press release that Hendrix has been added to Dino Babers‘ football program.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, the linebacker will be forced to sit out the 2015 season.

Beginning in 2016, Hendrix will then have three years of eligibility remaining at the MAC school.

“We are excited to add a player like Dorian to our program,” a statement from Babers began. “He comes from a great high school program in Huber Heights Wayne and will be a great addition to our linebacker unit and also our defense. We look forward to seeing the impact that Dorian will make on both our University and our football program in the future.”

A three-star member of Kentucky’s 2014 recruiting class, Hendrix was rated as the No. 25 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 36 player at any position in the state of Ohio. He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then left the Wildcats earlier this offseason.

As BGSU noted in its release, Hendrix is the fifth player from a Power Five program to transfer to the Falcons under Babers since last August, joining Malik Brown (Tennessee), Robbie Rhodes (Baylor), Donovan Wilson (Georgia Tech) and Eilar Hardy (graduate transfer, Notre Dame).

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Hogs P Blake Johnson arrested after taking a leak on a light pole

Stadium light pole AP

Just last month we were espousing the virtues of a Bret Bielema-run Arkansas football program that had seen just two of his Razorbacks arrested since he took over in December of 2012.  That’d qualify as an oops as, the last two days, Bielema has seen that number double.

First, tight end C.J. O’Grady, on a scooter no less, was arrested and charged with, among other things, driving while intoxicated.  A day later, another Razorback was popped for an alcohol-related incident.

According to KFSM-TV in Fayetteville, Blake Johnson was arrested very early Saturday morning and charged with public intoxication, minor in possession and disorderly conduct. The incident that led to the charges?

According to a police report, Johnson was found urinating on a light pole in a university parking lot at 1:39 a.m. by an officer. When the officer approached him and asked why he was urinating on the light pole, he responded “because I needed to go.”

When reached for comment, long-time Hogs fan Jeff Goldblum was heard to state very matter-of-factly…

 

Johnson, who was in Fayetteville at the time of the incident, twice answered “Riverside, Calif.” when asked by the arresting officers where he was coming from that evening.

Johnson was a three-star member of UA’s 2015 recruiting class.  He was rated as the No. 3 kicker in the country, but is currently listed as a punter on the Razorbacks’ official roster.

(Tip O’ the Cap: ArrestNation.com)

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Sarkisian to cede ‘SC play-calling duties to OC

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - Fresno State v USC Getty Images

Well, for the most part he will.

Off the field, Steve Sarkisian has seen a series of significant developments this offseason, from a divorce to apologizing for “behavior, inappropriate language” to seeking treatment for a potential alcohol issue.  Saturday night, Sarkisian unveiled a rather significant on-field development.

According to the USC head coach’s post-practice pronouncement, coordinator “Clay Helton will assume more of the offensive play-calling responsibilities” for the Trojans this season. The athletic department’s official Twitter account writes that “Sarkisian has been developing the plan to cede play-calling duties to Helton since spring football.”

The fact that this official ceding of a major part of Sarkisian’s role comes so close to his very public off-field issues being laid bare would qualify as a little more than coincidental, although that’s not the way it’s being couched.

While Helton, entering his third season with the Trojans as “coordinator” and sixth as quarterbacks coach, will technically be the play-caller, Sarkisian will still be “involved on third downs and red-zone situations.”  Still, this is a significant development for a head coach who very much prides himself on his play-calling prowess.

“I have a firm belief in my own capability to execute those duties, as the head coach and the playcaller,” Sarkisian said in September of last year.

The fact that the Trojans have a senior Heisman Trophy candidate in Cody Kessler will make the ceding of duties a little easier, even as it remains to be seen how much ceding there will actually be as the season moves on.

Last season, with Sarkisian wearing both the head-coaching and play-calling hats, the 9-4 Trojans were tied for 22nd nationally in points per game at 35.8.  That average was good for fourth in the Pac-12; the Trojan defense was fifth in the conference in ppg at 25.2.

“Me being in defensive meetings, me being in every special-teams meeting, me really understanding the nuances of those things is critical to our success,” Sark said when it comes to the benefits of his diminished offensive role.

“I just felt like we’ll be a better team for it. Time will tell.”

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TE P.J. Gallo leaving Terps after 2015… for Wall Street

Maryland v Penn State Getty Images

The 2015 season hasn’t even kicked off yet and Maryland already knows one player is set to leave College Park with eligibility on the table — and not for the NFL draft, either.

Instead of working out with his teammates this past summer getting prepped for the upcoming season, Gallo worked out alone while serving a 10-week internship at Goldman Sachs in New York City.  The internship led to a job offer from the Wall Street staple, and also a choice for Gallo: pass on the job to play his final season of college football in 2016, or give up the sport and embark on his post-football career.

In the end, and after talking with head coach Randy Edsall, Gallo decided to leave the playing field early and get a head-start on the financial field.

“It was actually an easier conversation than I thought it was going to be because he was very supportive of it,” said Gallo to the Washington Post regarding his talk with Edsall. “I made the right decision for myself, for my future. Hopefully, five years from now, I can still look back and say it was the right decision.”

Gallo is on track to graduate from Maryland this spring and move to the Big Apple next summer, starting his new life in July.

In the fall, though, he’ll resume his role as mainly a blocking tight end for the Terps. Gallo has played in all 26 games the past two seasons, starting two of those contests. He has caught two passes in his career, including his first touchdown reception in an early-November win over Penn State last season.

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Holy Stitt! Montana stuns four-time defending FCS champ ND State

Bob Stitt AP

#StittHappens has always been a kind of cute and sorta naughty Twitter hashtag. Now, the man behind that expression has put some D-I meat on the marketing bone.

Two-touchdown underdogs entering the regular season and home opener, No. 12 Montana dropped a stunning 38-35 loss on FCS powerhouse and top-ranked North Dakota State Saturday evening. The Bison had entered the opener as back-to-back-to-back-to-back champions of the Football Championship Series, with this defeat marking just their fourth regular-season loss since the end of the 2010 season.

This game, though, was all about #StittHappening.

Bob Stitt became a cult hero in the game of college football thanks to his stint as the innovative — and flat-out unconventional — head coach at the Colorado School of Mines. After 15 seasons at the Div. II school, Stitt jumped into his first-ever head-coaching job at the Div. I level, and made an immediate impact.

Trailing 35-28 and facing a fourth and goal from the 11-yard line with roughly 3:30 remaining in the fourth quarter, Stitt opted for a field goal that cut the lead to four. Needing a defensive stand, the Grizzlies got just that on the ensuing drive in forcing a three and out, handing the ball back to the offense with just under two minutes remaining and 80 yards away from the winning score.

Facing a fourth and 10 from the NDSU 44-yard line, Brady Gustafson completed a beautiful pass over the middle to Reese Carlson that went for 33 yards to set the Grizz up in the red zone. Five plays later, on a fourth and goal from the one, Joey Counts powered over through the left side of the line for the game-winning score with just two ticks of the clock remaining.

Don’t fret, though, Bison fan; I get the feeling that, in the end, NDSU will be right back where they’ve been the last handful of years.

Holy Stitt, though, that was a fun way to open the 2015 Div. I season.

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No sir! Kevin Sumlin tweets, deletes ‘Sark After Dark’ crack

Kevin Sumlin AP

That uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach when, nanoseconds after sending what you thought was a direct message on Twitter to one of your friends/family members/close associates, you realize had instead been sent out for all 71,000-plus of your followers to see and digest?  Yeah, Kevin Sumlin suddenly knows that feeling all too well.

As you may have heard by now, USC head coach Steve Sarkisian essentially made an inebriated fool of himself at a school-sponsored event last weekend.  The second-year coach apologized in a statement for his behavior shortly thereafter and then offered up another apology in his first meeting in front of reporters, acknowledging that he will seek treatment to see if he has some type of drinking problem.

Fast-forward to Saturday afternoon, and the Texas A&M coach (accidentally), well, went here:

The tweet, obviously meant as a private missive to someone, was very quickly deleted.

Let this serve as a message to all of the youngsters in the audience: Twitter’s for sharing your public thoughts, and any thoughts that you think should be DM’d should instead be sent in the form of a text message.  On an untraceable burner phone.

Unless you have a fall guy, then all bets are off and just do whatever the hell you want.

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Arizona loses versatile LB Cody Ippolito to torn ACL

Arizona v UCLA Getty Images

For the second time the last three years, Cody Ippolito will be sidelined for the season with a knee injury.

Rich Rodriguez confirmed Friday evening the severity of the latest injury sustained by the linebacker, announcing that Ippolito tore an ACL in practice earlier in the week. Obviously, the redshirt junior will miss the entire 2015 season.

“Cody was having a really good camp and he’s a tough, hard-nosed football player,” Rodriguez said. “He loves to compete and loves to practice, so I was really disappointed for him. He’ll rehab like crazy after surgery, and hopefully we’ll get him back for another year or two playing at a high level.”

The “good” news that comes out of this, as the Wildcats head coach intimated, is that Ippolito is a prime candidate for fifth and sixth seasons of eligibility due to the fact that he missed complete seasons because of injury.

Last season, coming off his first collegiate knee injury in 2013, Ippolito started six of the 14 games in which he played. Ippolito had been in a battle with Derrick Turituri for the strongside ‘backer spot before the injury claimed him. He was also to serve as All-American Scooby Wright‘s primary backup at middle linebacker.

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Injured Hogs RB received handwritten note from new SEC commish

Greg Sankey AP

Departed SEC commissioner was widely known in college football circles as a man of integrity and class.  It appears his successor is cut from the same cloth.

Initially diagnosed with a foot injury that was expected to sideline him for an extended period of time, Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams was subsequently ruled out for the entire season because of the issue.  Even as Williams will likely never play a down under his stewardship, new SEC commissioner Greg Sankey decided to reach out to the injured Razorback.

And not only did the new conference boss reach out, he did it in an old-school style that would make the likes of Bill Snyder proud: a handwritten note.

That’s just class right there.  And yet another sign that the conference will remain in good hands for the foreseeable future.

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