CMU stops WKU’s bid for first FBS bowl win in last non-Petrino game

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Interim Western Kentucky head coach Lance Guidry punctuated his fiery and emotional pregame speech to the Hilltoppers with a rousing battle cry of “LET’S GO GET OUR DAMN TROPHY!!!*

Instead, it was Central Michigan that got their damn trophy.

Thanks in part to what some have and will continue to label a questionable late-game decision on the part of WKU, the Chippewas claimed the Little Caesars Bowl with a 24-21 win over the Hilltoppers.  Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff threw for 253 yards and accounted for all three of CMU’s touchdowns, while wide receivers Andrew Flory and Cody Wilson, taking on a bigger role in the passing game thanks to suspensions for the Chips’ top two receivers, combined for 13 receptions and 206 yards.  The duo was on the receiving end of all three of Radcliff’s scoring strikes.

The Hilltoppers were playing in their first bowl game at the FBS level.

Both CMU and WKU finish the season at 7-6, although it could’ve been a vastly different won-loss scenario had the final minute-plus played out differently.

After CMU went up 24-21 with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter, WKU drove down to the Chips’ 19-yard line with just over a minute to play.  Facing a fourth and two, the Hilltoppers called a timeout with :51 to discuss going for it or kicking what would’ve been a 36-yard field goal attempt that could’ve sent the game into overtime.  Landry opted for the former option and played for the win; defeat and the loss of the damn trophy became the reality as quarterback Kawaun Jakes‘ pass sailed incomplete.

For those screaming at your TV screen at the time or at your monitor at the moment that they should’ve kicked the “automatic” field goal to tie the game, WKU’s kicker was just 2-of-5 this season on kicks beyond 30 yards.  Personally, I applaud Guidry grabbing his post-Christmas jingle bells and going for the win — the play-call, on the other hand, left him open to criticism — but your mileage may vary.

Entering the game, the overriding storyline was WKU running back Antonio Andrews chasing history.  With 2,997 all-purpose yards, Andrews was just 274 yards behind the single-season mark set by Barry Sanders in 1988 during the legend’s final season at Oklahoma State.  Alas, Sanders’ record is safe for another season as Andrews finished the game with 184 yards — 119 rushing, 21 receiving, 40 on kick returns and four on punt returns.

Additionally, the game’s end marked the official beginning of the Bobby Petrino era at WKU.  The former Arkansas head coach, who left the Razorbacks in disgrace this past spring, was hired to replace Willie Taggart, who left the Hilltoppers to take over at USF.  Petrino was expected to be at the game, but travel issues prevented him from being there and no a motorcycle wasn’t involved so just stop it right now.

(*yes, Guidry screamed in italicized all-caps.  And exclamation points.)

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.