Which is hard to do if you’re Karl Benson, the former WAC commissioner who saw the Mountain West pick apart his conference over the course of the past couple of years of realignment. With the news yesterday that FAU and Middle Tennessee would be leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA — that was made official today in a release — well, it’s been tough sledding for Benson as of late.
Yet Benson claims to be ‘very optimistic’ about the future of the Sun Belt in a statement released Thursday regarding the departures of FAU and MTSU:
“While I am disappointed that Middle Tennessee State University and Florida Atlantic University have elected to depart the Sun Belt Conference, the SBC is still very well positioned for the future and I remain very optimistic that the momentum that has been created in the past six months will continue to grow. The continuing 10 members of the SBC are committed to excellence and I am confident that the SBC will take advantage of these latest changes in the landscape. As I have stated many times in the past six months, the SBC will be a major player in the future, especially within its geographic footprint.
As for future members, there are several outstanding universities that have indicated interest in joining the SBC. While we have conducted research on these universities in the past six months, we will now focus on identifying the ones that will be the best “fit” for the conference and the ones that will contribute immediately in achieving our goal of being the best of the FBS conferences that currently do not receive automatic qualification into the BCS.
The future is still very BRIGHT for the SBC and I look forward to working with the leadership of the SBC in the coming days, weeks and months to continue the growth and development of this outstanding athletic conference.”
FAU and MTSU are the third and fourth departures from the Sun Belt to C-USA, joining North Texas and FIU. Those teams will be replaced by the trio of Georgia State, Texas State and UT-Arlington next season. Idaho and New Mexico State, formerly of the WAC, and Georgia Southern are also possible additions to the Sun Belt.
After having a bit of a cloud of uncertainty floating above them the past few days, Georgia linebackers Natrez Patrick and Roquan Smith will not face any discipline from the university and football program. Georgia announced that decision on Monday, saying the legal manner has been resolved from an on-campus dorm search by campus police.
“After receiving an incident report last week, we determined that neither Roquan Smith nor Natrez Patrick had violated any Athletic Association rules that would require suspension,”Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity said in a released statement. “This included drug testing, which was negative for both student-athletes.”
Campus police were called to Patrick’s dorm room on October 15 to investigate a potential marijuana smell. No substances were discovered and no arrests were made.
Not losing Patrick and Smith is good news for the Bulldogs, as the two are the leading tacklers on Georgia’s defense, with 42 and 39 tackles, respectively. Each player released a brief statement in addition to McGarity’s statement.
“Since November 2015, I have dedicated myself to moving forward,” Patrick said in a released statement. “I’m blessed to have done that despite hurdles I’ve had to clear. This incident was simply another hurdle and I was confident I would successfully clear it. I’ll continue to move forward and I’m anxious to play on Saturday.”
“As a student at the University of Georgia and a member of the football team, I take this opportunity very seriously,” Smith said in his statement. “I have followed the rules of the Athletic Association and I am happy this situation has been rightfully resolved. I look forward to representing my school and my team on Saturday in Jacksonville.”
Northwestern cornerback Matt Harris is retiring from football after a series of concussions have put his health at risk.
“This is an incredibly difficult decision to reach, but it is the right one for me and for my future,” Harris said in a released statement. “There are few things I love more than playing the game of football and the game has provided me with so many opportunities, including the chance to attend this University. It has been a blessing to be a part of this community and learn so many lessons. Northwestern has given me so much, I look forward to taking full advantage of my chance to give back to the world around me in the future.”
Harris, a team captain in 2016, earned All-Big Ten honors in 2015 and has been named a two-time Academic All-Big Ten player during his time at Northwestern. Harris will retire having notched 161 tackles, six interceptions and three forced fumbles on the football field.
Harris is another name added to the growing list of football players making the decision to retire at such a young age. As time goes by, we learn more and more about the possible long-term effects of head injuries seen in sports, particularly in football. As a result, we are seeing players more frequently decide to step away from the sport in order to preserve their long-term health in the years to come. It is an unfortunate reality of the sport of football today, and one that continues to be addressed at all levels.
One of Wisconsin’s top defensive players will miss the remainder of the season. Linebacker Jack Cichy, despite saying after Saturday’s win against Iowa he was determined to play this weekend against Nebraska, will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral.
Cichy led the Badgers in tackles this season with 60, 45 of which have been solo tackles. What makes the injury extra frustrating for the Badgers is the team just welcomed back Vince Biegel from an injury. Biegel and Cichy made for a very talented linebacking duo in Madison, but that will be lost for the rest of Wisconsin’s Big Ten West Division championship hunt. The Badgers lost another linebacker for the season in the first game of the season when Chris Orr went down.
So long for having a veteran option to rely on at South Carolina. The Gamecocks’ are moving forward giving a pair of freshmen the chance to lead the offense for the remainder of the season. Jake Bentley and Brandon McIlwain will continue to take first-team reps with the offense
“I just feel like right now, just from an ability standpoint, those two guys give us the best opportunity,” South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said during his Sunday teleconference, according to The Post and Courier. “And they’re just going to keep getting better. Both of them do things equally well, and we’ll continue to rep that way.”
Bentley made his season debut over the weekend, completing 17 of 26 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns against UMass. McIlwain has appeared in six games this season, completing 56-of-106 passes for 567 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception. At 3-4, the Gamecocks can still make a run to a postseason bowl berth, but having a quarterback capable of lighting a spark on offense is essential. Bentley did that against UMAss, but games against Tennessee, Florida and Clemson in the second half of the season will prove to be more difficult.
Regardless, this means we may have seen the last of Perry Orth at quarterback for the Gamecocks. Orth will step aside as South Carolina’s leading passer with 661 passing yards and a completion percentage of 63.3 without a touchdown and two interceptions. The senior, a former walk-on, will remain influential on the sideline, however.
“Perry’s been great in terms of supporting our guys and talking to them on the sideline,” Muschamp said. “He’s been a great teammate, he’s a great young man, and he’s a guy who certainly is a valuable member of our organization, and a guy I’ve got the utmost respect for.”