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The Fifth Quarter: Alabama-LSU Rewind

Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron celebrates after his team defeated the LSU Tigers during their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge, Louisiana AP

Yes, this game was so big it gets its own Rewind.  Your regularly-scheduled “The Fifth Quarter: Week 10 Rewind” will appear, in its entirety, later on in the day Sunday.

Ben did a helluva job with the post-game recap of one of the more entertaining football games you’ll see at any level, a 21-17 win for the top-ranked team in the nation.  Below is a little bit of the minutia and talking points that may or may not litter sports radio shows and water cooler conversations throughout the weekend and into the start of a new work week.

THE TURNING POINT
The first five drives of the second half, LSU’s relentlessly stifling defense had held Alabama’s offense in check, limiting the No. 1 Tide to 49 yards of total offense.  In those five series, the No. 5 Tigers forced four three-and-outs and one fumble.

And then came the sixth drive.

After a missed 38-yard field goal attempt gave the Tide the ball at their own 28-yard line with 1:34 left in the game, LSU, which had been in full-blown attack mode on defense throughout, went into full-blown soft-zone mode.  It turned out to be the worst of several questionable decisions made by Les Miles and his coaching staff throughout the game.

In three plays after taking possession, and in less than 40 seconds, the Tide gained nearly as many yards (44) as they had in the entire second half previously, moving from their own 28 to the same yard line on LSU’s side of the field.  Following an incompletion on the fourth play of what would prove to be the game-winning drive, LSU again donned their blitzing caps… and the Tide made the Tigers pay dearly, dialing up a perfectly-executed screen pass from AJ McCarron to T.J. Yeldon that saved both the game and the Tide’s title aspirations.

It’s hard to blame LSU for trying to prevent the one big play that would cost them the game.  It’s not hard to blame LSU, though, for a decision that allowed a trio of mini-big plays, ultimately leading to the big play.

THUMBS UP

Back-to-back still intact
Suffice to say, the biggest winner of the night was Alabama’s title hopes.  If last week was the Tide’s first real test of the 2012 season, tonight was their first real test of the year.  And, while they didn’t pass with the flying colors of a week ago, they passed.  At this stage of the season, that’s all that matters — for the most part.  While the Tide had walked, talked, smelled and played like an unstoppable force through eight games — so  much so, in fact, that the laughable notion of UA being able to beat an NFL team was actually taking hold — they were anything but that for a sizable chunk of the first 58 minutes.  As odd as it sounds, though, that might’ve been the second most important development of the night as it gives Nick Saban‘s coaching arsenal yet another pointed teaching tool to use on what is still, despite all of the wins and lofty rankings, a very young football team.  Complacency will likely be the Tide’s biggest enemy for the remainder of the regular season; the LSU game tape would serve as the ultimate trump card, as evidenced by Saban’s quotes following the game.

“Our players have to be aware that they can take this one way or the other,” the coach said of the hard-fought win. “This one is either going to affect them in a positive way or a negative way with what they do in the future. They can focus on the things they didn’t do and take the next challenge and continue to improve and be ready to play next week and prepare and practice next week or they can say, ‘We’re satisfied for ourselves with what we did.’”

AJ’s Heisman hopes
AJ McCarron, because of Alabama’s style of play, will simply not put up the type of numbers that other Heisman contenders do on a weekly basis, and that was never more evident than this latest Saturday night in Death Valley.  That final drive, however, was the stuff of which legends are made.  And the stuff that attracts the attention of Heisman voters regardless of the stat line for the first 58 minutes.  The raw, from-the-heart emotion McCarron displayed as the final seconds ticked off the clock and then boiled over as he met his parents beyond the end zone after the game were as epic, in a good way, as his engineering of the final drive.  I don’t know if the junior deserves to win the Heisman, but he certainly belongs in the discussion.

The SEC
If you don’t think the SEC was privately and/or publicly rooting for an Alabama win, you might consider removing your head from the sand as it’s awfully hot and hard to breathe down there.  For the conference in general and the Tide specifically, the stakes couldn’t have been higher.  An Alabama loss would’ve left the SEC with no unbeaten teams.  When combined with three other highly-ranked teams still unbeaten — four if you want to consider Louisville as part of the mix — the SEC’s streak of six straight BcS titles would’ve been in serious jeopardy, with the conference in the uncharted territory of relying on outside help for a ticket to the title game.  Fortunately for the SEC, the Tide’s win left the conference with the inside track for one of the two spots in the BcS championship game.  Just as fortunate?  There were no controversial calls that favored Alabama and played a role in the outcome of the game…

Death Valley didn’t disappoint
Forget the fact that LSU lost just its second home game under the lights (Florida, 2009) under Les Miles.  The atmosphere at Tiger Stadium, even from my vantage point a little over 1,000 miles, is simply electric and by all accounts deafening, which makes the Tide’s triumph all the more impressive.  If you were to make a list of the greatest venues for any sport in the country, it wouldn’t take long to call roll before you got to Death Valley.  It’s a credit to the university, the football program and, most importantly, the fan base that such a spectacle exists.  Yes, the loss was certainly disappointing to those that live and die with the Bayou Bengals, but they can take heart in the knowledge that they are a big part of what makes the sport of college football so great.  And, yes, a trip to Death Valley is on my sports bucket list.  Gotta get there at some point for a night game…

Democrats
Regardless of what the polls may or may not say, the Democratic Party has to be feeling pretty good heading into Tuesday based solely on the results of a football game.  Why?  According to research conducted by FanSided.com, the winner of the Alabama-LSU has accurately predicted the results of all seven presidential elections held since 1984.  In years that Alabama won, a Democrat won the election.  In years LSU won, a Republican was sent to the White House. So, with the Tide’s win, is it hello second term for the sitting president?  Your mileage may vary greatly as to whether an eighth-consecutive accurate prediction would be a positive or negative development.

THUMBS DOWN

The Mad Hatter
Take your pick on the daffiest of the daftness of the Mad Hatter in this game.  Was it the failed fake field goal that everybody — including the Tide’s defense and my grandmother, who’s been six feet under for two decades — saw coming?  The failed onside kick, which admittedly would’ve been idiot savant-level genius were it not for a quirky bounce that resulted in an illegal touching penalty on the kicker?  The failed 54-yard field goal attempt that gave the Tide prime field position with just over a minute left in the second quarter, and which the Tide turned into a touchdown and a 14-3 lead heading into the half?  A failed fourth-and-one from the Alabama 24, one in which LSU utilized its version of the gimmicky Wildcat offense after it had been very successful running the football with the standard power game?  Individually, these plays didn’t cost LSU the game.  Collectively, they were part of the subtle flow of the game that set the table for the game-winning drive.

Oh, Copeland…
Midway through the second quarter, a fumbled punt on the part of the Tide was recovered by the Tigers at UA’s 32-yard line.  On the ensuing play, a 19-yard run by Jeremy Hill moved the Tigers down to the 13-yard line… and a post-play personal foul on J.C. Copeland moved the ball back to the 28.  While it was still first and 10 following the penalty, all the momentum gained from the previous two plays was lost as the Tigers gained just one yard the next three, leading to the failed fake field goal.  The penalty almost certainly cost the Tigers at least a field goal, if not a touchdown.  In what was a four-point loss, and even as it occurred in the first half, Copeland’s momentary lapse of reason was a significant moment in the game.

Who are you and what’d you do with the Tide’s defense?
Through the first eight games of the season, Alabama led the country by stingily giving up just a little over 57 yards per game on the ground; LSU churned out 80 rushing yards… in the first quarter alone.  For the game, the Tigers rushed for 139 yards; previously, the most the Tide had given up in a single game this season was 80 to Ole Miss in Week 5.  Add that to some very suspect play in the passing game, and we’re guessing Nick Saban will spend an inordinate amount of time tightening things up on that side of the ball as the Tide preps for the high-octane Texas A&M Aggies’ trip to Tuscaloosa this Saturday.

McCarron’s Heisman hopes
As great as the final drive was, the first 58:26 was as choppy of a game McCarron has played in his one-plus seasons as the Tide’s starting quarterback.  On that final drive, McCarron was 4-5 for 72 yards and a touchdown; prior to that, he was 10-22 for 93 yards and one rushing touchdown.  On what will be his second-biggest stage before votes are cast — the SEC championship being the biggest, provided the Tide can navigate games against A&M and Auburn — the question will become what voters give the most weight to when it comes to McCarron’s stiff-armed candidacy: the first 58, or final two.

QUOTABLE

“I’ve never been prouder of a bunch of guys to overcome adversity. … It’s something I’ll never forget.” — Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

“It was a very hard game. We needed a hard game.” — Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner.

“You’ll remember this one forever.  It hurts worse than the [loss to Alabama] in the national championship game.” — LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan.

STATISTICALLY SPEAKING

– From the UA Sports Information Department: AJ McCarron continues to build his school record of passes without an interception. McCarron ends the LSU game with an active streak of 289 passing attempts without an interception.

– Speaking of McCarron, the junior is one touchdown pass away from tying and two away from breaking Greg McElroy‘s single-season mark of 20 set in 2010.  He’s also 10 touchdown passes away from breaking John Parker Wilson‘s career mark of 47.

– Despite the loss, quarterback Zach Mettenberger came of age for the Tigers.  In unquestionably his finest performance in his first season as a starter, Mettenberger completed 24-of-35 passes for 298 yards, one touchdown and, most impressively considering the opposition’s defense, no interceptions.

– Until late in the third quarter, LSU had gone 169:38 without scoring a touchdown against Alabama, a span that stretched back to 8:13 left in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 6, 2010, win over the Tide and which covered two-plus games.  Then, in a span of 5:37, the Tigers exploded for a pair of touchdowns.

– The 435 yards of total offense by the Tigers was the most surrendered by a Tide defense since a loss to the same team in November of 2007, Saban’s first season in Tuscaloosa.

– The attendance of 93,374 is a new Tiger Stadium record.

– Alabama leads the all-time series with LSU, 47-25-5.

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James Franklin opens up about daughter’s sickle-cell

James Franklin AP

Since taking over at Penn State, and even dating back to his time at Vanderbilt, James Franklin may have ruffled a feather or two or 50.  The following story, however, might soften some of those rough edges.

Wednesday, the new Nittany Lions head coach and some of his players visited a children’s hospital in Hershey, Pa.  During the course of a meeting with the media, Franklin dropped some 411 on something that, as far as we can ascertain, has never been made public.

“You know, this (hospital visit) is important to us, too, because our youngest daughter has sickle-cell disease, the full-blown disease,” Franklin said according to PennLive.com.

Five-year-old Addy, the coach revealed, was diagnosed with sickle-cell anemia shortly after her birth. As the website notes, the disease affects 100,000 people, most of whom are black.

Franklin also acknowledged that the presence of experts in the blood disorder’s field in the state played a role, at least on some level, in him leaving Vanderbilt for Penn State.

“It was a big factor in us coming to Penn State, making sure that we were going to have the right type of support,” said the coach. “We’re fortunate, our daughter’s doing great but I know then when they come, we’re going to come and have a trip down here and sit down and talk to the doctors.

“And then fortunately, the person that used to run the sickle-cell branch here at the (Hershey) hospital now is in State College. So it’s a tremendous blessing.”

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed back in August of 2011 that his young son was battling a rare blood disorder, and subsequently announced a foundation that would raise money to research and combat the illness. Franklin said during his visit to the hospital today that they talked “about possibly getting my wife involved in, and fundraising at the hospital or starting a foundation” to raise money for sickle-cell research.

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January the estimated ETA for ex-Vols QB in Charlotte

cd0ymzcznguwzdbhnduynddiytjhm2yyzthlmtjjotqwyyznptcyzdfhode2nwjlnwq4nwiynmzknwuwyjzmmjkzntyx AP

Earlier this month it was reported that erstwhile Tennessee quarterback Riley Ferguson would be transferring to Charlotte.

While that still appears to be the case, it won’t happen for a little bit further down the road.

Josh Ward of Knoxville radio station WNML tweeted earlier this evening that Ferguson will enroll at Charlotte in January of next year.  Ward confirmed the development with the player’s father. Ferguson’s brother Zach is a redshirt sophomore on the football team, which likely played a role on some level in his move to the school.

UT head coach Butch Jones confirmed in late May that it was very likely Ferguson would be leaving the Vols.

Because he will sit out the 2014 season, Ferguson will be eligible to play for the 49ers in 2015, when the current FCS program makes its official transition to the FBS as a Conference USA member.

A three-star member of the Vols’ 2013 recruiting class, Ferguson was rated as the No. 23 pro-style quarterback in the country coming out of high school in North Carolina. He took a redshirt as a true freshman.

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Dave Wannstedt back in college football — as TV analyst

Dave Wannstedt AP

For those college football fans who’ve yearned for the return of the mustachioed Camaro man, today’s your lucky day.

Since “resigning” — winkwinknudgenudge — as Pittsburgh’s head coach December of 2011, Dave Wannstedt has served as an assistant at the professional level, spending two years with the Buffalo Bills and 2013 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Now, however, he’s back in college football, albeit in a slightly different capacity.

In an interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Wannstedt revealed that he will serve as a television analyst for the 2014 season.  The long-time coach will be a part of FOX Sports’ college football pregame, halftime and postgame shows along with co-hosting a weekly show on the Big Ten Network.

“I guess I am moving to the dark side, so to speak,” the coach told the Post-Gazette. “I reached out to several media outlets to see if I could get into the TV side of things and Fox offered me this job after several discussions.

“I have always had it in the back of my mind that this is what I wanted to do and now I have the opportunity and it should be really a lot of fun and I think it is something that will be a challenge but that I’m really looking forward to.”

The paper writes that Wannstedt “will be based in Chicago but will fly to Los Angeles for the Fox Shows each weekend.”

The 62-year-old Wannstedt didn’t state either way whether he’d like to continue his coaching career.

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Five-star recruit facing felony ‘denies the charges’

Darnell Salomon

There’s been yet another development in a situation involving a highly-rated member of the Class of 2016.

Earlier today it was reported that a warrant had been issued for the arrest of 17-year-old Darnell Salomon.  The five-star wide receiver has been accused of stealing items — iPhone 5, credit cards, cash — from a dorm room on the Georgia campus while he attended an UGA football camp.

In a statement sent to Marc Weiszer of the Athens Banner-Herald, Salomon’s attorney did the expected and proclaimed his client’s innocence.  He also said he is working with authorities in Georgia to have his client, who lives in Florida, turn himself in on the warrant.

“Darnell and his family were informed of the issuance of a warrant for his arrest earlier today. Since that time our office has been in contact with the Athens-Clarke County Sheriff’s Office and the Athens-Clarke County District Attorney’s Office. We are currently working in cooperation with these officials to arrange his surrender. Our client denies the charges presented against him. Darnell and his family wish to thank those who have offered words of encouragement and support during this difficult time.”

I should also point out that I received some bad information earlier today — the charge Salomon is facing is a felony, not a misdemeanor as I had previously been told.

It’s unclear how this incident and the charge will impact the recruitment of Salomon, who holds more than a dozen offers from high-profile schools such as Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame, South Carolina, Tennessee and USC.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Bearcats, Hoosiers make future home-and-home official

Football vs. Bowling Green State University, 09/14/13_Mike Dickbernd

A short time after it was first reported, the two football parties made it official.

In twin press releases, Cincinnati and Indiana confirmed that the two football programs will square off in a future home-and-home series. The Hoosiers will host the Bearcats on Sept. 18, 2021, with UC returning the hosting favor Sept. 24, 2022.

The Bearcats have future games scheduled against Ohio State (2014, 2019), Miami (Fla.) (2015), Michigan (2017) and Boise State (2019, 2020) while the Hoosiers have, well, nothing even remotely resembling that level of non-conference competition.

“Facing Cincinnati reinforces our commitment to adding strong non-conference programs to our future schedules,” IU athletic director Fred Glass said in a statement. “It is a great opportunity for our large alumni base in the Greater Cincinnati Area to come out and watch the Hoosiers. Along with the addition of UConn (2019, 2020), we are set up to reach our goal of playing seven home games every season and are consistent with the Big Ten’s policy that each school play at least one major conference opponent in the non-conference each year.”

The two teams have met on a football field 14 times, with Indiana holding a 9-3-2 advantage that includes wins in the last five games played. The last time they squared off was in 1998.

(Photo credit: Indiana athletics)

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Future Stanford-SJSU games might be at 49ers’ new home

Levi's Stadium

Earlier this offseason, the Pac-12 announced that Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers, would host its conference championship game for the next three years.

Depending how things shake out in the coming months, the NFL stadium could be seeing some regular season college football action as well.

San Jose State head coach Ron Caragher confirmed to the San Jose Mercury News Wednesday that talks have been initiated between his school and Stanford about renewing their series.  If that series returns, the coach also confirmed, it would likely take place at a neutral site, Levi’s Stadium.

There’s some fringe talk about it,” Caragher said about playing a neutral site game/games with the Cardinal. “Has anything been finalized? Not necessarily. But I think it’d be great.”

SJSU and Stanford have met on a football field 67 times since the first game was played in 1900.  However, last year’s game — a 34-13 Cardinal win in Stanford Stadium in the season opener — was the final game between the two programs until a new contract is signed.

Stanford comfortably leads the in-state series 52-14-1, with San Jose State’s last win coming in 2006.

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Larry Scott’s the anti-Bowlsby, optimistic on future of college sports

Alfred E. Neuman

In leading off the Big 12 media Days Monday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby painted a bleak picture of the future of athletics at the collegiate level, stating that, because of the O’Bannon lawsuit and the like, both men’s and women’s Olympic sports could be eliminated.

His Pac-12 counterpart, on the other hand, has taken the Alfred E. Neuman approach to the sports horizon on the college front.

Speaking as he kicked off his conference’s media days Wednesday, Larry Scott (pictured) acknowledged the gloom and doom some have espoused as of late.    For his part, however, the future’s so bright he might as well wear shades.

“While we’ve heard some doomsday and some threats over the last week, I am very confident and optimistic about where college sports is going,” the commissioner said during his address to the media. “We know there are some significant challenges out there, and we know it’s time to make significant changes. Today requires that we do more for student-athletes who work so hard to find balance for their passions for their sport while still wanting to get an education.”

It wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows from Scott as the commissioner warned that going to the professional model — i.e. paying athletes as employees of the universities — for football and perhaps basketball could make Bowlsby’s comments very prescient.

“We need to make necessary reforms, and we will,” he said. “But radically changing the model into a professional model or trying to reinvent the construct where student-athletes are treated as employees would threaten the existence of many women’s sports (and) Olympic sports.”

Our best guess? The future of college sports will fall somewhere closer to Scott’s optimism than Bowlsby’s dire pessimism. There’s too much money at stake, and too many smart individuals like Scott involved, for it to not work itself out in the end. Certainly collegiate athletics will have a different look even just a decade down the road, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Change is necessary, whether it’s forced through the courts or voluntarily with the universities and the NCAA coming to their collective senses and realizing the current system is broke and in dire need of a major renovation.

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Warrant issued for five-star WR implicated in UGA dorm theft

iPhone theft

A couple of days later, we now have a name to go with the accusation.

Monday it was reported that an unidentified 2016 football recruit was the prime suspect in the burglary of a Georgia dorm. The player, who was staying with a pair of Bulldog football players during a camp, allegedly stole a wallet with cash and a pair of credit cards in it as well as an iPhone 5 out of the room of two female Bulldog athletes.

It was initially reported that the player likely wasn’t facing an arrest or extradition because he was a juvenile from out of state. That turned out to not be the case as multiple media outlets Wednesday reported that Darnell Salomon, the recruit in question, has a warrant out for his arrest in connection to the incident.

It’s believed the charge will be of the misdemeanor variety.

From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

It’s unclear at this point whether Salomon plans to turn himself in to fight the charges. According to the police report, UGA Police Sgt. Dale Parrish of the notified Salomon’s mother that a warrant had been taken and the procedure for turning himself into the Athens-Clarke County Sherriff’s Office.

The 17-year-old Salomon’s high school football coach proclaimed his player’s innocence.

“When the facts in the case come out we’re all sure Darnell Salomon will be cleared of all charges,” Hialeah (Fla.) Champagnat Catholic Mike Tunsil told 247Sports.com in a statement.

That same recruiting website lists Salomon as a five-star prospect and the No. 3 wide receiver in the Class of 2016. The same holds true for Scout.com.

The 6-2, 186-pound high schooler holds scholarship offers from a veritable who’s who of the college football elite: Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Miami, Notre Dame, South Carolina Tennessee and USC just to name a few.

Salomon has yet to verbally commit to any school, although he still has two seasons worth of high school football to get through. Well, that and this legal hiccup.

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Aggravated assault arrest leads to Georgia dismissing DT Taylor

Georgia Bulldogs logo

Following an arrest for aggravated assault earlier this week, Georgia has dismissed defensive tackle Jonathan Taylor. As reported yesterday, Taylor was arrested for the second time this offseason, this time being charged for aggravated assault on a female.

According to The Telegraph, Taylor was released from jail after 28 hours. Soon after his release from jail, the University of Georgia athletics department released a brief statement confirming his dismissal from the football program. Taylor is now the third player on Georgia’s defense to be given the boot this offseason.

Taylor was arrested in March following theft by deception charges against he and three other Georgia players. To avoid a suspension by the team at that time, Taylor entered a pre-trial intervention program. Unfortunately, it appears Taylor was unable to stay out of trouble and will now have bigger problems to worry about. Any arrest or citation is considered a violation of the program.

As far as football is concerned, which really is trivial at best when discussing a player accused of strangling a woman, Georgia should be able to survive the depth concern on the defensive line. The Bulldogs return five players with experience and have recruited well at the position, but now the focus on recruiting for the future will have to shift a bit more on the defensive front than initially expected.

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West Virginia, NC State announce 2018-2019 series

Dana Holgorsen

West Virginia has not been shy on scheduling news this week. In addition to plans to play Tennessee in Charlotte to open the 2018 season and head coach Dana Holgorsen suggesting a revival of The Backyard Brawl with Pittsburgh, the Mountaineers rolled out plans for a home-and-home series with a different ACC opponent, North Carolina State. West Virginia and North Carolina State will square off in 2018 and 2019, according to a West Virginia statement.

West Virginia will host NC State on September 15, 2018. North Carolina State will host the second game the following season on September 14, 2019. This scheduling agreement will satisfy NC State’s non-conference scheduling requirement in the ACC, which requires each member to schedule a power conference opponent each season in non-conference play. NC State now has the non-conference scheduling requirement fulfilled from 2017 through 2021 (at Notre Dame in 2017, WVU in 2018 and 2019, Mississippi State home-and-home in 2020 and 2021).

As noted above, West Virginia is scheduled to open the 2018 season in Charlotte against Tennessee, giving the Mountaineers two non-conference games against power conference opponents in 2018 with one game to fill. As it stands now, there is no scheduling requirement in the Big 12 to schedule non-conference opponents from other power conferences (although it is certainly encouraged by Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops).

“I am excited about this series, because it gives our football program and our fans an outstanding home-and-home series with a team from the ACC,” West Virginia Athletics Director Oliver Luck said in the released statement. “WVU has a lot of alumni living in North Carolina, especially in the triangle region, so it gives our fans a game that is close. We have had a competitive games over the years with NC State, and this is a chance to restart the series.”

In all, the two schools have faced each other 10 times on the football field, with the most recent meeting coming in the 2010 Champs Sports Bowl. Each school has won five games in the series that dates back to 1914.

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Did Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops criticize Texas A&M’s scheduling? YESSIR!

Bob Stoops

Bob Stoops has been making the rounds through the ESPN Car Wash today and he has been throwing out a couple nuggets worth digesting. Aside from his latest jab at Alabama head coach Nick Saban‘s thoughts on the Sugar Bowl, Stoops took aim at non-conference scheduling by a former Big 12 foe, Texas A&M.

Texas A&M opens the regular season on the road in SEC play against South Carolina, the favorite to come out of the SEC East this fall, but after that the Aggies have home games against Lamar (and FCS school) and Rice. After that is a road game at SMU. On November 1 Texas A&M will host UL Monroe in College Station the week before a road game at Auburn. Looking at the non-conference schedule for the Aggies leaves Stoops unimpressed.

Texas A&M’s non-conference schedule is anything but a murderer’s row, that much is for sure. Lamar is coming off a 5-6 season at the FCS level last season. Rice made a surprise run to a Conference USA West Division championship and ended the season with a record of 10-4, but the Owls are hardly considered among the elite of the Group of Five at this point. SMU filed to meet eligibility for postseason play with a 5-7 record and ULM broke even at 6-6 but was not invited to a bowl game.

To be fair, Oklahoma has rarely gone out and put together one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country on an annual basis, but the Sooners have lined up some marquee non-conference opponents for home-and-home opportunities. Recent seasons have seen Oklahoma play Notre Dame and Florida State while future seasons will see Ohio State, UCLA and historic rival Nebraska. But the Sooners have a share of games against programs like Tulsa and UTEP littered throughout as well. Texas A&M will have future games against Arizona State, UCLA and Oregon coming up as well.

The other part of the argument is how difficult Texas A&M’s conference schedule will be compared to that of Oklahoma over the course of time as well. The Sooners may have to battle a resurgent Texas in due time, and Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Baylor have their moments, but the Aggies are pit in the same division as Alabama, Auburn and LSU.

Is Stoops fair to criticize the difficulty of Texas A&M’s schedule?

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Win The Pac-12: Oregon Ducks picked as preseason media favorite

Marcus Mariota

Stanford has ruled supreme in the Pac-12 each of the past two seasons, but Oregon is picked to return to the top of the Pac-12 mountain in 2014. Oregon has been picked to finish first in the Pac-12 North Division, receiving 37 first-place votes in a media poll, and to win the Pac-12, receiving 24 out of a possible 39 votes.

Oregon ran away with first-place votes in the division voting. Two-time defending Pac-12 champion Stanford received just two first-place votes in the north. Washington, Oregon State, Washington State and California followed in the Pac-12 North Division predictions, respectively. UCLA ended up running away with the Pac-12 South Division votes as well. The Bruins, among the more trendy College Football Playoff contenders this offseason, received 37 of 39 first-place votes in the South. USC and defending division champion Arizona State each received one. The Trojans are predicted to finish in second place in the south, followed by Arizona State, Arizona, Utah and Colorado.

In a rematch of the first Pac-12 Championship Game in conference history, Oregon is predicted to once again top UCLA, receiving 24 votes to UCLA’s 13. Stanford and USC each received one Pac-12 championship vote from the media at Pac-12 media day. Oregon is also widely considered one of the top contenders for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

Here are the Pac-12 predictions, as released by the Pac-12 Wednesday.

NORTH DIVISION

1. Oregon (37) 232

2. Stanford (2) 192

3. Washington 142

4. Oregon State 125

5. Washington State 87

6. California 41

SOUTH DIVISION

1. UCLA (37) 231

2. USC (1) 181

3. Arizona State (1) 163

4. Arizona 119

5. Utah 82

6. Colorado 43

PAC-12 TITLE GAME CHAMPION: Oregon (24 votes)

Others receiving votes:  UCLA (13), Stanford (1), USC (1)

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Report: Indiana, Cincinnati to rumble in 2021-22

Indiana and Cincinnati got out their respective long-term planners and set aside a pair of dates to play some football. The two schools have scheduled a home-and-home series for 2021 and 2022. Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com was first to report this scheduling agreement between Indiana and Cincinnati.

Tom Groeschen of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports via Twitter Cincinnati will travel to Indiana on September 18, 2021 and will host the Hoosiers in the return game on September 24, 2022. Groeschen also reports Cincinnati is working on scheduling games with Kentucky, Pittsburgh and longtime rival Louisville. For now, any talk about Cincinnati and Alabama scheduling any games has been put on ice.

Who knows exactly where Indiana and Cincinnati will be by 2021 in terms of competitiveness. Indiana is not going to be leaving the Big Ten anytime soon, but the program has generally been in the bottom half of the conference on an annual basis. Still, Cincinnati getting a Big Ten team on the schedule, and getting a game at home, is still pretty significant. Unless the realignment game starts up again as power conferences move to a different playing field with autonomy or even a complete split from the current NCAA structure, Cincinnati appears to be left stranded in the American Athletic Conference. Any games against power conference opponents can be critical for bowl positioning when compared to other Group of Five schools.

How much are you looking forward to this match-up years down the road?

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Is the world OK with a mellow Nick Saban?

Nick Saban

Alabama head coach Nick Saban is a living legend in the sport of college football. With a handful of national championship rings, Saban has little to prove on the football field even as the game is evolving in a way he is not particularly fond of. Instead of worrying so much about on-field success, Saban says he has stepped back, become more mellow and focused more on the bigger picture for preparing his players for what is ahead of them.

“I think people got on me for being a little too tough, a little too difficult,” Saban said on ESPN‘s “Numbers Never Lie,” as reported by Al.com. “But I think over the years you learn that it’s not the emotional part of what you do with a player, but it’s more the lessons you can teach them. And I don’t think there’s anything emotional or getting angry about, none of it’s worth it.”

It is always easy to say things like this though when you have won and you happen to be the richest man in college football. I feel like that should be pointed out here.

“I’ve kinda mellowed out a little bit, but I think I’ve become a little bit of a teacher because of that as well.”

Saban has done well in making Alabama one of the top factories for NFL talent, and the chances of improving to become an NFL prospect is one of the reaosns some of the nation’s top high school players will continue to commit to Alabama. But Saban is saying what most coaches should agree with. There is a role for being a teacher that comes with being a coach. Saban has accepted that, and hopefully more coaches are with him in that thought.

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Holgorsen wants the Backyard Brawl (WVU vs. Pitt) back

Pittsburgh v West Virginia Getty Images

If there is one thing that has been taken away from fans trough the years of realignment, it is traditional rivalries. We have lost some good ones in recent years such as Nebraska-Oklahoma, Texas-Texas A&M, BYU-Utah and Pittsburgh-West Virginia. Fortunately, West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen is speaking out in favor of resurrecting The Backyard Brawl between the Panthers and Mountaineers.

“I would welcome back Pitt and the Backyard Brawl any time that they want it,” Holgorsen said Tuesday during Big 12 media days according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “But scheduling is tricky. … Now that we’re not in the same conference we both had to drop non-conference games. That makes it challenging. There’s a reason why a lot of games are being announced for 2020 and 2021. … It’s got to be done in advance.”

West Virginia and Pittsburgh have each lined up future games against Penn State, another former regional rival for each for years before the Big East started up and Penn State joined the Big Ten. West Virginia also has some future games set against another former Big East foe, Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers also announced plans to play a neutral-site game against Tennessee in Charlotte, North Carolina in 2018 and West Virginia will open the 2014 season in Atlanta against Alabama. With an apparent interest in restoring some past rivalries at both schools, it would seem only natural to get something worked out for some future games.

West Virginia plays a nine-game conference schedule in the 10-team Big 12, which limits the Mountaineers to three non-conference games each season. Pittsburgh generally has some more flexibility with just eight conference games, but must satisfy a non-conference scheduling requirement for the ACC. Pittsburgh is required to schedule one opponent from another power conference (or Notre Dame when not on the rotating ACC schedule) each season.

Why not make that West Virginia on an annual basis and kill two birds with one stone? The more important question may be whether or not Holgorsen will even be around Morgantown by the time the two bitter rivals do get back on the field for a game. Holgorsen is largely considered to be one of the coaches on the hot seat entering the 2014 season.

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