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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Chaos Theory

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

WINNERS

Chaos in the offing?
Don’t look now, but we could be in for an unprecedented controversy in the second-to-last year of existence for the BcS.  With five weeks left in the regular season, including conference championship game weekend in early December, there exists the very real possibility there could be four unbeaten teams from so-called BcS conferences left standing as No. 1 Alabama, No. 2 Oregon, No. 4 Kansas State and No. 5 Notre Dame all held serve and remained unbeaten this weekend — and, yes, I’m discounting Louisville from title talk at the moment.  While the chance for an upset is always right around the corner — hello Oklahoma State and Oregon State circa 2011 and 2012, respectively — the schedules for all four teams suggest the worst-case scenario before a four-team playoff is implemented in 2014 could very well become a reality:

Alabama: at LSU, Texas A&M, Western Carolina, Auburn
Oregon: at USC, at Cal, Stanford, Oregon State
Kansas State: Oklahoma State, at TCU, at Baylor, Texas
Notre Dame: Pittsburgh, at Boston College, Wake Forest, at USC

Again, there are plenty of late-season speed bumps for all five teams in the apocalyptic scenario for it to never fully come to fruition.  However, as an ardent anti-BcS proponent and even as I’d hate it for the teams and players involved, I would love nothing more than for that very thing to happen and further embarrass the sham that is the current system for determining a national champion, whether it’s in its last days or not.

Little Manhattan, big-time football
One of the best storylines in college football this season has been Kansas State’s ascension to the national stage, and in Week 9 K-State continued rolling right along.  Literally.  After falling behind No. 15 Texas Tech 10-3 early in the second quarter, the Wildcats scored on eight straight possessions, with the seventh of those possessions punctuated a minute later by an interception return for a touchdown.  That 52-14 run lifted K-State to its eighth consecutive win in 2012.  And further buttressed the case for Bill Snyder as it relates to national honors.  While there has been talk about the job Penn State’s Bill O’Brien has been doing in scandal-ridden Happy Valley, there’s only one logical choice for Coach of the Year honors all across the board.  What Snyder has done in Manhattan is nothing short of staggering and should be duly recognized for the masterpiece that it is.  Of course, having the presumptive Heisman front-runner — Collin Klein, two passing and two rushing touchdowns vs. Tech — doesn’t hurt, but it should take nothing away from the totality of Snyder’s 2012 work.

Can’t spell “Heisman Trophy” without “Manti Te’o”
Ben did an excellent job recapping the they’re-real-and-they’re-spectacular Notre Dame win over Oklahoma, so we’ll just touch on one angle of the fascinating 2012 story that is the Irish: linebacker Manti Te’o.  Simply put, the senior heart and soul of the Irish defense is, on a weekly basis, putting on the most dominating defensive display since Ndamukong Suh in 2009.  That year, the Nebraska defensive lineman terrorized opponents throughout the season and earned a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.  Based on his play thus far, Te’o deserves at least that much.  If Collin Klein, the presumptive front-runner at this point, were to stub his toe at some point, though, Te’o and the combination of his dominating play plus the poignant story attached to his 2012 season could become (gasp!) the first purely defensive player to take home the stiff-armed trophy.

Classy Vols
The heartbreaking injury suffered by Marcus Lattimore in South Carolina’s win over Tennessee did have one endearing moment, at least as much as could be had in such a devastating situation.  As Lattimore was being placed onto a cart to be taken into the locker room for further treatment, the running back was, understandably, surrounded by the entire Gamecocks squad.  In one of the classier moves you’ll ever see on a football field, though, the entire Volunteer team came across from their sidelines and did the same, with some offering personal “keep your head up” messages to the injured player.  “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anything like that,” head coach Steve Spurrier said of what UT did post-injury.  Top notch, Vols.  Top notch.  And, if you ever want to know what kind of player college football may have lost for good, that gesture from the opposing sideline spoke volumes.

Huskers: They are Legends
For the moment, at least.  Thanks to Nebraska’s 23-9 win over Michigan, the Cornhuskers and Wolverines are tied for first place atop the Big Ten’s Legends division at 3-1.  As the Huskers hold the head-to-head advantage, however, they tentatively sit in the driver’s seat with four conference games remaining — at Michigan State and Iowa and home games versus Penn State and Minnesota.  On the other side of the conference, and despite their overtime loss to Michigan State, Wisconsin is firmly in control of the Leaders division at 3-2; the next-best eligible team is Indiana at 1-3 and oh my goodness is the B1G just sad this season.

Buckeyes hoist IneligiBowl trophy
Thanks to NCAA sanctions, neither Ohio State nor Penn State are eligible for the 2012 postseason, turning the Week 9 matchup of the top two teams in the Big Ten’s Leaders division into a de facto bowl game for both programs.  And, thanks to a dominating second-half performance, the Buckeyes can continue to stake its unofficial claim as the best team in the Big Ten.  With the score tied at seven coming out of halftime, OSU scored 21 third-quarter points to effectively put the game out of reach for a Nittany Lions’ offense whose NASCAR package was the equivalent of Danica Patrick on this Saturday afternoon.  The 35-23 win pushes the Buckeyes to 9-0 in the first season under Urban Meyer and keeps them on track for the only thing other than pride they still have to play for: the Leaders’ division trophy, for which they are still eligible even as they are ineligible for the Big Ten title game.

Marquise performer
Based on God-given ability, there’s likely not a better or more naturally-gifted player than Marquise Lee at the wide receiver position in all of college football.  Never was that more evident than in USC’s game against Arizona.  The true sophomore caught 12 passes for 255 yards… then decided to come out and play in the second half.  Lee finished with 16 catches for 345 yards and two touchdowns, with the yardage total representing new school and conference records.  Lee actually totaled 469 yards as he returned three kicks for 123 yards and rushed once for one yard.  It was all for naught, however, the No. 10 Trojans dropped a 39-36 decision to Arizona,

Sammy no longer MIA
— In 2011, Sammy Watkins caught 12 touchdown passes and accounted for 1,219 receiving yards en route to an All-American season as a true freshman. This season? Yeah, not so much. Through Clemson’s first nine games last season, the wide receiver had hauled in 10 touchdowns; Thursday night, in the Tigers’ ninth game of the season, Watkins caught his first touchdown of the season. Entering the 42-13 dismantling of Wake Forest, Watkins had 202 yards receiving on the season; he matched his season total in the game. Yes, there was the suspension for the first two games of the season due to an offseason arrest, and yes there was the missed late-September game against Boston College due to illness, but the fact that we’re deep into October and a talent such as Watkins has crossed the goal line for the first time and matched his seasonal yardage total in a single game is one of the more under-the-radar developments of the 2012 season.

Off the SEChnide
Coming into Week 9, Missouri was one of just two teams in the country — lowly Hawaii being the other — that switched conferences for the 2012 season and had yet to win a game in league play.  Thanks to the gift that is Kentucky football, that’s no longer the case.  A 33-14 win over the hapless MWildcats gave Mizzou its first-ever win in SEC play and lifted the Tigers out of the East division cellar.  Despite the win, Mizzou showed that it still has a ways to go before it’s able to compete with the middleweights of the SEC, let alone the heavyweights like Alabama, Florida and LSU.

LOSERS

World’s Largest Penalty-Ridden Turnover Party
In the Florida-Georgia game, the two teams combined for nearly as many penalties (22) as points (26).  There were five interceptions and four fumbles lost for both teams, with the Gators committing six of those miscues — four fumbles, two interceptions.  The Bulldogs converted just one of 11 third downs in the 17-9 win, while the Gators averaged a paltry 1.7 yards on its 40 rushing attempts.  The two teams totaled 526 yards of offense, or 89 yards less than Oregon had in their win over Colorado.  Simply put, no amount of lipstick could mask this pig of a game… and as far as UGA’s concerned, it matters not a single bit.  Georgia, with wins over Ole Miss and Auburn the next two weeks, will clinch a second straight trip to the SEC championship game.  That qualifies this game as a thing of beauty to Bulldog Nation.

Beavers pelted from ranks of unbeatens
With another Upset Saturday in full effect, the final game of the night was the cherry on top of a ridiculously chaotic sundae.  Oregon State entered their game with unranked Washington as the No. 7 team in the country, the Beavers outgained the Huskies 427-293… but coughed the ball up four times in a stunning 20-17 road loss to UW.  Likely off the table?  OSU’s dreams of a spot in the Pac-12 title game and a seat at the BcS big-boy table.  A for-the-ages Civil War game against Oregon at the end of November.  While the season’s certainly not lost — a win over the Ducks could still lead to a division title — but the loss did put a significant dent in the feel-good story.  The loss is not exactly a surprise, however, as the Beavers had won their previous six games by a total of 58 points, including three by seven points or less and two by three points apiece.

Big East bushMACked again
Two weeks ago, the Little Conference That Couldn’t was one of the surprises of the 2012 season, boasting more undefeated teams — Louisville, Cincinnati and Rutgers — than any other conference not initialed “SEC.”  After Week 9?   Yeah, not so much.  One week after the Bearcats dropped their first game of the season to Toledo, the No. 15 Scarlet Knights served as the conference’s latest MACrificial lamb, with Kent State — they of the 7-1 Golden Flashes — traveling to Piscataway and heading back to Ohio with a 35-23 win.  Kent State forced seven turnovers in beating a ranked team for the first time in the program’s history, ending a losing streak of 22 straight games against ranked opponents.

Reverse MACtion
The Midwestern conference’s lone shot at playing BcS buster is no more.  Ohio University, which was ranked last weekend in the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since 1968, came into their game with conference rival Miami of Ohio sporting an unblemished 7-0 record and ranked as the No. 23 team in the country.  The Bobcats’ dream season came to end, however, as the RedHawks found itself on the winning end of a 23-20 score. The loss dropped the Bobcats into a third-place tie in the MAC East, behind Kent State and Bowling Green.

Wolfpack special teams not so special
It’s one thing to lose late to a bitter in-state rival.  It’s another animal entirely to do so on account of a collective special teams gaffe.  With under 30 seconds remaining and the game tied at 35 — and surely headed to overtime — the Wolfpack punted to the Tar Heels’ Giovani Bernard.  73 yards later, and with just :13 left, UNC had a 43-35 lead and the ballgame firmly stuffed into its back pocket.  The game-winning return capped a wild day for the Tar Heels as they jumped out to a 25-7 lead, then fell behind 35-25 before scoring 18 unanswered fourth-quarter points.

Southern aMiss
Last season, Southern Miss finished the year at 12-2, claiming the Conference USA championship and a bowl win.  Head coach Larry Fedora subsequently left for North Carolina… and the Golden Eagles have completely unraveled under first-year coach Ellis Johnson.  The 44-17 loss to Rice was the eighth straight to open the 2012 season, with the losses coming by an average of 20 points per game.  USM and UMass, in its first year at the FBS level, are the lone winless teams in major college football.  It’s unlikely Johnson is in any type of danger of losing his job after just one season, but, if the losing continues through the end of 2012, he’ll enter 2013 squarely on the hot seat.

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

– No. 6 Oregon State , Washington :

– No. 16 Louisville 34, Cincinnati 31: This was not your ordinary ranked-vs.-unranked matchup Friday night as the Bearcats, up until last weekend, were one of three undefeated Big East teams.  That fact showed as UC extended the Cardinals into overtime before the ‘Ville both snapped its four-game losing streak to this Big East foe and stayed unbeaten on the season.  This close shave continued a 2012 trend for the Cardinals; after winning the first two games by a combined 46 points, they’ve won the last six by a total of 31, including five by seven points or less.

– No. 17 South Carolina 38, Tennessee 35: Despite the loss of its top running back, the Gamecocks were able to hold off a game Volunteers squad and put a halt to a two-game losing streak.

– No. 19 Stanford 24, Washington State 17: Tied at the half at 10-all, the Cardinal hung on for a closer-than-expected win over the two-win Cougars.

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 — First real test of the 2012 season?  Passed with flying colors.  Next weekend, though, is the test for the Tide.(Last week: No. 1)
Up next: at No. 6 LSU

2. Oregon — The Ducks buffaloed (see what I did there?) their way to 56 points and 447 yards of total offense in the first half in a resounding evisceration of Colorado.  The relative cakewalk the 2012 season has been for UO comes to a halt next week as the Ducks travel to USC, followed by back-to-back games against ranked teams (Stanford and Oregon State) to close out the regular season. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: at USC

3. Kansas State — Road wins over then-No. 6 Oklahoma and then-No.13 West Virginia added to the thrashing of No. 15 Texas Tech is enough for me to push the Wildcats into the No. 3 hole.  Well, that and the Gators’ loss, of course. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: vs. Oklahoma State

4. Notre Dame — For the first time this season, the Irish enter my little corner of the rankings world.  The win over Oklahoma pushed the Domers to 8-0 for the first time since 2002, and they won’t be truly tested again until the season-finale against USC. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. Pittsburgh

5. (blank as no one is worthy)

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.

– Auburn’s Gene Chizik: The latest data point that Chizik’s not long for The Plains?  At Jordan-Hare Saturday, the Tigers were down to Texas A&M 42-7 at the half, trailing in total yards by a staggering 464-91 count.  The most damning part of the evening, however, was the fact that the stadium was less than half full before the gun sounded on the second quarter.  There’s only one thing worse than a pissed-off fan base, and that’s an apathetic one.  If that’s indeed where the Tiger faithful are at the moment, Chizik is in deeper trouble than his president’s letter earlier in the week suggested.

– Tennessee’s Derek Dooley: The Vols are just 4-17 in SEC play in two-plus seasons under Dooley, 1-12 since the start of the 2011 season.  UT’s last conference win came in overtime against Vanderbilt Nov. 19.  The Knoxville natives are restless and are no longer drinking the Dool-Aid, and the clock is certainly ticking on coach’s time on Rocky Top.

– Kentucky’s Joker Phillips: Phillips has actually out-Dooley’d the coach he beat last year, going 4-18 in the SEC the past two-plus seasons.  The Wildcats could be one of four SEC programs in search of a new head coach at season’s end, joining UA (probably), UT (probably) and Arkansas (definitely).

HE SAID IT
“There’s a lot at stake down the stretch and we could still have a really good season.” — UT head coach Derek Dooley, presumably stated with a straight face and everything.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I still can’t believe it. I’m still shaking right now. After that I started crying. I couldn’t hold my emotions back.” — North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard following his game-winning punt return for a touchdown.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“He told us to kick ass.” — SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, when asked what former President George W. Bush said to the Mustangs in his pregame speech prior the Memphis game.

PHOTO OF THE DAY
This is a photo of Jordan-Hare Stadium, snapped by al.com just as halftime of the A&M-Auburn game commenced:

Yeah, Chizik might be in a bit of trouble.

YOU DON’T SAY?
Braxton Miller became the third different Big Ten quarterback and the first Ohio State quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Indiana’s Antwaan Randle El and Michigan’s Denard Robinson (twice) are the other two.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– During a stretch of 65 seasons — 1927-1988, 2006-08 — Kansas State won 168 games.  In 21 seasons under Bill Snyder, K-State has won 167 games.  Snyder has led the Wildcats to 14 winning seasons; in the 80 non-Snyder years, KSU has had 16 plus-.500 seasons.  And one more note on arguably the most underrated head coach in college football history: K-State has been to 15 bowl games in their history, with 13 of those appearances coming on Snyder’s watch.

– You might as well go ahead and write Jarvis Jones‘ name in Sharpie as the SEC Defensive Player of the Week: in the upset win over Florida, the Georgia linebacker was credited with a career-high 13 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.

– Auburn’s 63-21 loss to Texas A&M was the worst home loss in school history, and the points were the most given up by the Tigers since 1917.  The 671 yards allowed were also the most ever surrendered by AU in a single game.

– In the past five games — two of them of them losses — Texas has given up 1,299 yards rushing.  That’s more than what nine teams gave up all last season.

– Kansas has now lost 16 consecutive Big 12 games.  Their last win in conference play came Nov. 6, 2010, against Colorado, which is now a member of the Pac-12.  Their last win against a team still in the Big 12?  Oct. 10, 2009, over Iowa State.

– With the 31-17 win over Illinois, Indiana snapped its 11-game Big Ten losing streak.  Still, the Hoosiers are just 4-32 in conference play since 2008.

– Playing in just his third game at Oklahoma since being cleared by the NCAA, Fresno State transfer Jalen Saunders set school records for most receptions in a game (15) and a quarter (eight).

– It was a record-setting Thursday night all around for Clemson as Watkins’ 202 receiving yards broke the school mark that was just set earlier this year by DeAndre Hopkins (197), while Tajh Boyd‘s 428 yards passing surpassed Charlie Whitehurst‘s 420 yards in 2002.

– North Carolina State quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 328 yards and four touchdowns against North Carolina… in the first half alone.  Glennon finished with 467 yards and five touchdowns in the 43-35 loss to the Tar Heels.

– In the above game, UNC running back Giovani Bernard accounted for 304 total yards: 135 rushing, 95 receiving and 74 on punt returns.

Connor Shaw threw for a career-high 356 yards in the win over Tennessee.

– The 70 points by Oregon in its 56-point throttling of Colorado set the school record for a conference game.

– Steele Jantz set career highs with 381 yards passing and five touchdowns in Iowa State’s 35-21 win over Baylor.

Max Tuerk became the first true freshman to start a game at left tackle in the storied history of the USC football program, protecting Matt Barkley‘s blind side in the loss to Arizona.

–- SID Stat of the Day, Thursday Night Edition: Clemson did not score in the third quarter of the win over Wake, marking just the second quarter all year in which the Tigers did not score.

– Tweet Stat of the Day, from Mark Story of Kentucky.com: “With loss to Missouri, UK all-time record is 579-580-44. Last time UK under .500 (44-45-6) was after falling to Transy in 1902 finale.”

– Navy rushed for 512 yards in a 56-28 win over East Carolina.

FINAL THOUGHT
If the rumors concerning the severity of Lattimore’s injury are true — we’re not going to touch on them until the situation is confirmed by South Carolina — it would be one of the most devastating injuries a football player can suffer.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to the classy young man as he works his way through a situation that’s rough physically, mentally and emotionally.

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Indiana’s Wilson fires misguided shot at Big 12 and Notre Dame

Kevin Wilson

There was a time the Big Ten had what seemed to be a competitive advantage in the BCS bowl picture by not playing a conference championship game when the ACC, Big 12 and SEC were. Now the tables have been turned and folks around the Big Ten are starting to fire shots at the Big 12, a conference without a championship game.

One of the big questions yet to be answered entering the new era of college football is what the impact of playing a conference championship game or not playing one will hold on the College Football Playoff selection committee’s line of thinking when it comes to choosing the four best teams in the country. Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson may not be ready to have a program worthy of sniffing that conversation any time soon, but he certainly feels the Big 12 and Notre Dame are getting an easier path to the postseason mix.

Wilson, a former offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, suggested the Big 12 is avoiding a challenge that is embraced by the Big Ten, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC with a conference championship game. Not playing the game gives the Big 12 a competitive advantage. To drive his point home, Wilson made a golf reference that suggests Big 12 schools and Notre Dame are playing the equivalent of 17 holes while the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC are playing the entire back nine.

That is probably an unfair statement, of course, especially in the case of the Big 12. Unlike in the Big Ten, every Big 12 school plays the entire conference using a nine-game schedule for the 10-team conference. Wilson’s Hoosiers will not have to play Wisconsin, Nebraska, Northwestern or Minnesota this season. A true champion can be crowned in the Big 12 by having every member play the entire conference. Wilson’s point, though, is the added challenge of playing a conference championship game has the advantage of padding a school’s strength of schedule, but also provides a giant risk by potentially missing out on a playoff spot or perhaps a spot in another lucrative bowl game with a loss. Of course, this argument is nothing new.

Notre Dame is a slightly different situation, as a football independent, but the Irish have established a track record of organizing competitive schedules. This season the Irish play Michigan, Stanford, North Carolina, Florida State, Arizona State and USC. All but Michigan appear in the preseason coaches poll. Indiana faces just two teams ranked in the same preseason poll this fall (Ohio State and Michigan State). Notre Dame has no started a new relationship with the ACC, guaranteeing multiple games each season against ACC competition, in addition to annual rivalry games against USC, Stanford an Navy. Notre Dame also takes their show on the road in the Shamrock Series against other power conference opponents on neutral sites.

Is Wilson out of line, or does he have a point worth discussing further? Feel free to share your opinions down in the comment section.

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Who replaces Bortles? UCF not rushing to find out

George O'Leary

It is that time of the year again when head coaches with vacancies at quarterback refuse to show their cards on making a final call on who will lead the offense on the field. This often happens at schools looking to replace established quarterbacks from the previous season, whether it be because the coach honestly is not sure which way to go with it or because he does not want to give the season opening opponent a hint of whom to prepare for in week one. Where UCF head coach George O’Leary falls on this subject is probably anyone’s guess, but he is not making any decisions on a starting quarterback to replace Blake Bortles anytime soon.

”I’ll let you know when I’m going to name one, it’s not a big secret,” O’Leary said, according to the Associated Press. ”I’ll let you know when I feel comfortable about somebody.

With Bortles now in training camp with the Jacksonville Jaguars after being drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft, the competition is now wide open in Orlando. Sophomore Justin Holman is the lone option with any previous playing experience, but redshirt freshman Pete DiNovo, freshman and Boise State transfer Tyler Harris and redshirt sophomore Nick Patti are all going to be given a chance to win the job.

Reporters covering the Knights, defending American Athletic Conference champions, are not the only ones hounding O’Leary for an answer as camp opened up Thursday. “Everybody’s trying to get a jump on it,” O’Leary said. “My wife’s going to be the first one to know. And she’s out of the state, so good luck.”

It may be best to allow the competition play out with so much unknown about the new options, but there is a benefit to narrowing the decision down as quickly as possible. Knowing who will lead the offense during the season will give everybody on the offense a chance to develop an identity and comfort level with the quarterback. With a somewhat challenging schedule facing the Knights, getting as much taken care of early on could be a benefit in the long run.

UCF will open up the 2014 season in Ireland against Penn State in week one. The Knights topped the Nittany Lions in State College last fall, kickstarting their run to the Fiesta Bowl.

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Kirk Ferentz says 10-game conference schedules are coming

Kirk Ferentz

Every change in college football over the last few years has been about expanding and growth. That philosophy could be shifting to the length of a conference schedule. Forget about the debates over eight-game conference schedules or nine-game conference schedules. Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz says 10-game conference schedules are coming, at least in the Big Ten.

While making his way through the ESPN car wash on Thursday, Ferentz was asked about conference scheduling when he dropped that thought for all to ponder. Via Brett McMurphy’s Twitter feed;

The Big Ten will be using a nine-game conference schedule, similar to the Pac-12 and Big 12. The ACC and SEC are sticking with eight-game conference schedules but adding a non-conference scheduling requirement for all members to add one game against another power conference opponent each season. The hypothetical 10-game conference schedule format would seem to solve a number of scheduling concerns for any conference with more than 12 teams, such as the ACC, SEC and Big Ten. With a two division format, six games are reserved for division games, leaving just two (ACC, SEC) or three (Big Ten) spots for cross division games. If a conference has locked crossover games (the SEC has paired crossover match-ups, the Big Ten scrapped them with its new division alignment), that reduces the number of opportunities to schedule other teams from the other division while rotating through the conference. The cross division scheduling may not be a major concern in the Big Ten, but it has been a topic of concern in the ACC and SEC.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said at this week’s Big Ten media day the Big Ten will stop playing FCS teams while discussing future plans to increase the strength of schedule for the entire conference. Moving to a 10-game schedule would likely have a positive effect on overall conference strength of schedule, but it also makes it more difficult for top contenders to get out of the regular season without a scratch. That could be something that comes back to haunt a Big Ten champion in the College Football Playoff era as well.

Are 10-game conference schedules a realistic possibility? Yes, although the question may be if that leads to the extension of the regular season from 12 games to 13 or 14. More games means more TV money, which means it is very much a realistic possibility.

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Oklahoma to return to Houston after 14 years, in 2016

Big 12 Football Media Days

Oklahoma will open the 2016 season in one NFL stadium, and if all goes well it could end in another. The Sooners and Houston have agreed to open the 2016 season in NRG Stadium in Houston, home to the NFL’s Houston Texans as well as the AdvoCare Texas Kickoff. The 2016 season will conclude with the College Football Playoff championship game in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, home of the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Houston Chronicle was the first to report the possibility of a 2016 opener between the Sooners and Cougars, and Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com later confirmed the report to be a done deal via Twitter. The Texas Kickoff is one of the newest neutral site game sin college football, joining Atlanta’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff and the Cowboys Classic in Arlington, Texas. The first game in the series was played last season between Oklahoma State and Mississippi State and continues this season with LSU and Wisconsin. Texas A&M and Arizona are scheduled to appear in the game in 2015.

This season’s game between LSU and Wisconsin is expected to top last year’s attendance of 35,874 fans, and next year’s game with Texas A&M involved should see a nice turnout as well at the gate. Oklahoma and Houston should make for a good crowd at the game as well, especially if Houston can continue to build its program between now and then and emerge as a top power from the “Group of Five” (I really hate that term) conferences.

Oklahoma leads the all-time series with Houston, 2-0. The most recent of those two meeting came in 2004, with the Sooners winning by a blowout score of 63-14. As noted by The Dallas Morning News, Oklahoma’s last trip to the city of Houston went well. The last time the Sooners were in town they left with the Big 12 championship after topping Colorado in the 2002 Big 12 Championship Game in the same stadium.

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Former Penn football player dies in lobster diving accident

Miami v South Florida Getty Images

A former Ivy League football player who was heading to the Miami Hurricanes this fall was the victim of a diving accident in South Florida. Joseph Grosso, a starting linebacker for the Pennsylvania Quakers, died in a scuba diving accident in Pompano Beach, Florida on Wednesday. According to multiple reports, Grosso was diving alone while lobster diving.

“The entire Penn football family is saddened by the tragic news of Joe’s passing,” Penn football coach Al Bagnoli said in a statement shared by The Daily Pennsylvanian. “Joe was a terrific young man, an accomplished student and an outstanding player. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family during this very difficult period.”

Grosso was added to the football roster for the Miami Hurricanes on Tuesday, according to The Miami Herald. Grosso was to be a walk-on for Al Golden’s program this fall after graduating from Penn. He was intending to continue with law school at Miami and play one mroe year of college football with the Hurricanes.

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Ohio State’s Sprinkle pleads no contest

Tracy Sprinkle

A dismissed Ohio State defensive lineman pleaded guilty to his role in a massive altercation outside an Ohio bar earlier this month. Tracy Sprinkle will now wait to see if he will be allowed to return to the Buckeyes roster in time for the fall season after pleading no contest for a reduced charge for failure to comply, according to The Columbus Dispatch.

Sprinkle had his charges reduced after drug tests using various samples returned negative results just days after the arrest. Sprinkle had been facing a cocaine possession charge. Police admitted the drugs may have come from another person apprehended in the vehicle, according to Eleven Warriors. Because the drug test came back negative, Sprinkle was fortunate to be able to negotiate a lesser charge. He was fined $500 and placed on two years of probation. He will also be required to do some community service.

Sprinkle was arrested over the weekend of July 4 for his role in a bar brawl. He was later dismissed by head coach Urban Meyer, but an Ohio State spokesperson suggested a potential return to the team would not be eliminated from the discussion of his future.

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Florida State (over)loading up on QB recruits in 2015

Jameis Winston

It is amazing what a national championship can do to a program’s recruiting production. Just take a look at Florida State, now with three quarterback recruits verbally committed for the Class of 2015. For now.

As of today, Florida State has three four-star quarterbacks lined up in the Class of 2015, according to Rivals. That includes in-state prospects Deondre Francois and De’Andre Johnson and Maryland recruit Kai Locksley, the son of Maryland offensive coordinator Mike Locksley who surprised some Thursday afternoon by committing to the Seminoles. Locksley’s verbal came slightly before that of Francois, which makes the recruiting plan a bit interesting for Florida State moving forward. In case you forgot, Florida State is already in a pretty solid position under center with the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston, returning for just his sophomore season. Florida State also added four-star quarterback J.J. Cosentino in the most recent recruiting class. Simply put, life is good for head coach Jimbo Fisher as far as quarterbacks are concerned. Francois, Johnson and Locksley are all classified as dual-threat options, while Cosentino is scouted more as a typical pro-style quarterback. Winston, of course, is labeled a dual-threat quarterback as well, so that may give a sense for which direction Fisher would like to go on offense. Hey, it worked last season, but what do you do with all of that talent under center?

The first question to address is the future of Winston in Tallahassee. Winston has stated he intends to play two more seasons for Florida State before deciding on his pro future, which echoed comments made by his father earlier in the offseason. If Winston does stay on campus through the end of the 2015 season, the next question is what goes through the minds of four four-star quarterbacks hoping to be the next starter for Florida State? What are the odds Francois, Johnson, Locksley and Cosentino are all still in Tallahassee? They may not be all that great.

For Fisher, that is a problem he will have to begin sorting through now, although the additions of Francois, Johnson and Locksley will not become official until the next signing day, if they all choose to stay committed to Florida State. By then Fisher will have a better idea of whether or not Winston really will be back in 2015 or if he ends up heading into the NFL. The planning for the position all hinges on Winston’s decision, and Winston’s decision could be an influential one to the future decisions of the Class of 2015 quarterbacks. If Winston does come back, might one of these Class of 2015 quarterbacks re-open his recruiting process? It certainly would not be out of the question, nor would it be against the norm in college football recruiting. Florida State is even in a position where it would not be worth sweating over if one of the quarterbacks did start looking again.

Florida State’s recruiting “problem” is one that every program would love to have. There is never anything wrong with having too much talent in a recruiting class, just ask Alabama.

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Potential DL starter one of three no longer with Tar Heels

Shawn Underwood

North Carolina’s depth and talent on the defensive side of the  ball, especially along the line, has taken a hit ahead of the start of summer camp.

A UNC spokesperson confirmed to the Raleigh News & Observer that three players — defensive tackles Shawn Underwood and Greg Webb as well as linebacker Clint Heaven — are no longer on the UNC football team. The two defensive linemen left for personal reasons, while the latter has already transferred to Northern Iowa.

By the far the biggest loss is that of Underwood.

Underwood played in 20 games the past two seasons, starting five of those contests. He would’ve entered summer camp as a favorite to land a starting job.

Webb, a touted four-star member of UNC’s 2013 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season, while Heaven played in five games as a redshirt freshman in 2013.

In addition to that trio, the status of offensive lineman J.J. Patterson is up in the air. Patterson played defensive tackle as a redshirt freshman in 2013 before moving to guard this past spring.

(Photo credit: North Carolina athletics)

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Four-star 2008 signee-turned-MLBer returns to Bulldogs

Rashun Dixon

Apparently you can, in a sports sense, come home again.

In 2008, Rashun Dixon was a four-star member of Mississippi State’s recruiting class, the last of Sylvester Croom‘s tenure.  Dixon never suited up for the Bulldogs, however, as he was drafted in the 10th round of the Major League Baseball draft by the Oakland Athletics and embarked on a career in professional baseball.

A handful of years later, however, he’s back.

According to InsideMSUSports.com, the 23-year-old Dixon has decided to return to the Bulldogs as a walk-on player.   Because he’s never played a down of college football, he maintains all four years of eligibility and could ultimately earn a scholarship.

At least in his past sporting life, the talent was certainly there.

Rivals.com rated Davis as a four-star recruit in 2008 and as the No. 19 safety in the country that year.  What specific position he will play in his second football go-around is to be determined, although the website wrote that “his No. 85 suggests he will be utilized on the offensive side of the ball,” which could mean either tight end or wide receiver for a player listed at 6-2 and 210 pounds.

After six years in Oakland’s farm system — he batted under .250 for his career — and following his release last fall, Dixon opted to give football another shot.  Dixon is the younger brother of Anthony Dixon, who led MSU in rushing every year from 2007-09.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Former Boise St. RB Aaron Baltazar now leaving Wazzu

Deon'tae Florence AP

Well that was abrupt.

Back in April it was announced that Aaron Baltazar had followed Chris Petersen to the state of Washington, transferring from Boise State into the Washington State football program.  Less than four months later?  Never mind.

A Wazzu spokesperson confirmed to the Idaho Statesman that the running back is no longer a member of the team.  No reason was given for the abrupt and unexpected departure.

In the short-term it’s no loss for Mike Leach and the Cougars as Baltazar would’ve been forced to sit out the 2014 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.  Wherever he lands next, he’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

As a true freshman last season, Baltazar was second on the Broncos in rushing before suffering a torn ACL the fifth game of the year and, obviously, missed the remainder of the year.

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Wake suspends leading returning rusher

Wake Forest v Miami Getty Images

One of the most important pieces of Wake Forest’s running game will apparently not be available for the foreseeable future.

A Wake spokesperson has confirmed to the Associated Press that Dominique Gibson has been indefinitely suspended from the football team.  Other than an undisclosed violation of team rules, no reason was given for the punitive measure.

Entering summer camp, he was being viewed as a likely starter, or at the very least one of the two heads in a two-headed rushing attack.

Gibson’s 138 yards last year made him the Demon Deacons’ leading returning rusher.  He had a pair of touchdowns in 2013, one each rushing  and receiving.

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Auburn remembers Lutzenkirchen with number on practice field

Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Joey Gautney

Auburn continues to find ways to pay tribute to one of its own. Following death of former tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen, killed in an auto accident in June, fans took to rolling Toomer’s Corner and there was a video tribute following a memorial service that was very touching. With Auburn now set to open up camp ahead of the 2014 season, the defending SEC champions will continue to remember Lutzenkirchen with his old uniform number (No. 43) painted on the practice field.

The number is painted in each end zone, and a look at the final touch can be seen through this tweet from Auburn’s Twitter account;

Auburn opens camp Friday afternoon.

Helmet sticker to Al.com.

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Hoke: ‘if we opened the season today,” Gardner would be starter

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Throughout this offseason, Brady Hoke has declined to definitively tap the incumbent, Devin Gardner, or his challenger, Shane Morris, as Michigan’s starting quarterback.  Instead, the UM head coach demurred and insisted he’d wait until early on in summer camp to declare a starter.

Thursday, Hoke deviated from that tack slightly.

Taking his turn in the Big Ten coaches ESPN car wash, Hoke was, of course, asked about the Wolverines’ quarterback situation.  The coach, compared to how he’s been since spring practice, was surprisingly candid.

“Going in (to camp, there will be a competition),” Hoke said according to mlive.com. “We’ve got great competition. (But) if we opened the season today, Devin would start for the Wolverines.”

Of course, “if we open the season today” is a tremendous qualifier.

Gardner started every game last season before a foot injury he suffered in the loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale sidelined him for the Wolverines’ bowl game.  In his first career start, and as a true freshman no less, Morris completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and interception as UM dropped a 31-14 decision to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

While Gardner was at one time quoted as saying that “it was amazing how much better [quarterback competition this spring] made me,” the incumbent at the position –despite his pre-spring proclamation— exited the 15 practice sessions without a firm grasp on the starting job.  That thought was buttressed as, at the end of spring practice in mid-April, Hoke acknowledged that Morris had narrowed the gap on Gardner.

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Ball State officially adds ex-Cincinnati DE

Joshua Posley

Earlier this summer there was speculation that a member of the Cincinnati Bearcats would be on the move to the MAC.  Thursday, that came to fruition.

Ball State announced in a release that Joshua Posley has transferred into the football program.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, the defensive end will have to sit out the 2014 season.

He will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

“We are pleased to welcome Joshua to the football program and the University community,” Pete Lembo said in a statement. “We have known him since his high school days at Warren Central and have built a strong relationship with the coaching staff there. Joshua is an outgoing guy and a strong student. … We hope he transitions well to a new environment this fall and is ready to compete for playing time once spring practice arrives.”

A pair of high school teammates, Darnell Smith and Anthony Winbush, are already with the Cardinals, which likely played some role in the transfer decision.

Posley, an Indianapolis native, played in four games during his two years with the Bearcats.

(Photo credit: Cincinnati athletics)

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Miami QB Ryan Williams becomes a first-time father

Wake Forest v Miami

As he continues rehabbing a serious knee injury, Ryan Williams will have a much, much, much more important job to perform in the coming months.  And years.

The Miami quarterback announced via Twitter that he and his wife, Deanna, are now the proud parents of a bouncing — and rather large — baby boy.  Roman Louis Williams, the first child for both mom and dad, was born July 29 and weighed in at a healthy nine pounds even.

The couple had announced back in March that Deanna was expecting.

Here’s a picture of the newest member of the Williams clan, courtesy of the newly-minted father’s Instagram account:

Ryan Williams' Son

Sincere congratulations to the new parents from all of us.

Williams suffered a torn ACL in early April and underwent surgery shortly thereafter, meaning the prohibitive favorite to replace Stephen Morris as the starter entering spring practice won’t hit the practice field through at least September.  The earliest Williams is expected to begin participating in practice is at some point in October, if then.

With Williams sidelined for the foreseeable future, Jake Heaps, the Kansas transfer, and Kevin Olsen are expected to be the two main combatants for the starting job, at least early on.  For his part, Heaps has been quoted as saying he didn’t come to The U “to be the backup.”

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