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Sun Belt commissioner remains ‘optimistic’ about future of conference


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

Florida RB Mark Thompson cited for pot possession

GAINESVILLE, FL - OCTOBER 15:  Mark Thompson #24 of the Florida Gators rushes for yardage during the game against the Missouri Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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And now we know a little bit more of the rest of the story.

Friday afternoon, Florida announced that Mark Thompson would not travel with the rest of the team to Jacksonville for Saturday’s game against Georgia.  The only reason given was “some choices and decisions he’s made.”

According to the Orlando Sentinel, one of those choices was smoking weed, with that decision resulting in a citation for possession of marijuana.  The citation was issued after the running back ran a stop sign very early Thursday morning and was pulled over by a university police officer.

From the Sentinel:

UFPD spokesperson Maj. Brad Barber said the officer smelled the odor of marijuana in the car and after a search discovered Thompson in possession of fewer than 20 grams of the substance.

Thompson was given a notice to appear for the misdemeanor violation and also cited for failure to stop at a stop sign and failure to provide proof of insurance.

Thompson, a 6-2, 237-pound redshirt junior, is currently third on the Gators in rushing yards (262) and second in rushing touchdowns (two). This is the back’s first season in Gainesville after transferring in from the junior college ranks earlier this year.

Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp set to return after two-game absence

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp #1 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass against linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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When undefeated and seventh-ranked Nebraska takes the field for its biggest game of the 2016 season thus far, it’ll do so with one of the most experienced and productive pieces of its passing game back in action.

Jordan Westerkamp sustained an injury to his back during the Week 5 win over Illinois, and was briefly hospitalized after being hit by an Illini defender. The wide receiver missed the Week 7 win over Indiana and the Purdue win the following Saturday because of the injury.

This week, however, Westerkamp practiced without any type of restrictions ahead of the Week 9 game against No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison. Westerkamp, who stated his injuries included tiny fractures on the transverse process in his spine as well as what was described as a deep muscle bruise, confirmed the obvious, that he will suit up for the Cornhuskers and play against the Badgers in the huge Big Ten West matchup.

“It’s been good,” Westerkamp said, by way of the Omaha World-Herald, of his return to practice. “My confidence is at an all-time high and we’re ready to go get back with the team and kick butt this Saturday.”

At the time of the injury, Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers in receiving touchdowns (four) and tied for the team lead in receptions (13). His 228 receiving yards were second behind Alonzo Moore‘s 310.
Last season, Westerkamp led the ‘Huskers in all three of those categories.

‘Due to some choices and decisions he’s made,’ Florida RB Mark Thompson won’t play vs. UGA

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Mark Thompson #24 of the Florida Gators in action during the second half of the game against the North Texas Mean Green at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Sounding very similar to a disappointed parent, Florida has announced that one of their kids will be in timeout instead of on the field this weekend.

Ahead of Saturday’s annual rivalry game with Georgia, Florida announced via Twitter that running back Mark Thompson not only won’t play this Saturday but won’t even make the trip to Jacksonville for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  Why? “[D]ue to some choices and decisions he’s made.”

The school, obviously, will not go into any further details as to the issue or issues that will sideline the player.

Thompson, a 6-2, 237-pound redshirt junior, is currently third on the Gators in rushing yards (262) and second in rushing touchdowns (two). This is the back’s first season in Gainesville after transferring in from the junior college ranks earlier this year.

Big 12 eschews two-division setup; instead, top two teams to play in league title game

WVU vs Marshall
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The Big 12 earlier this month eschewed expansion.  A short time later, they’ve done the same for splitting up the conference.

The league announced late Friday morning that, when the conference championship game returns for the 2017 season, there will be no split into two five-team divisions.  Instead, the teams with the best and second-best record in conference play will square off in the conference championship game.

Each conference member will continue to play nine league games every season, one against each other member.

“There are a number of advantages to matching our top two teams,” said commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. “Given our round-robin, nine-game scheduling model, it is expected the Big 12 champion will be uniquely positioned for College Football Playoff consideration. I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s, where it will have played every team in the Conference, faced at least one Autonomy Conference non-conference opponent, and then plays in our championship game.

“The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”

The release gave no indication as to how three-way ties would be handled, although CFP rankings would likely come into play.  The decision to not split into two divisions likely won’t sit well with the league’s coaches, however, even as it’s arguably the wisest decision the conference has made in years.

The conference also revealed that the site of the 2017 conference championship game “will be announced in the coming weeks.” AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, is widely believed to be the front-runner for at least the first renewal, and is viewed as the far and away favorite if the league opts to “anchor” the game at one site for a period of years.