Notre Dame v USC

Barkley officially ruled out of bowl game; USC career over

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In early December, Lane Kiffin expressed confidence that Matt Barkley would be recovered enough from a shoulder injury to play in USC’s bowl game.  Less than a week ago, it looked doubtful the senior would take the field for what would be the final game of his collegiate career.

With the Trojans’ Sun Bowl matchup with Georgia Tech just four days away, the will he/won’t he question has finally and officially been answered.

In an announcement that seemed to be a foregone conclusion for at least a week, Kiffin confirmed Thursday that Barkley will not play in USC’s first postseason game since the quarterback’s freshman season.  Barkley suffered the shoulder injury in the UCLA loss and missed the regular-season finale against Notre Dame because of it.

Kiffin said Barkley wanted to play, but doctors would not medically clear him to do so. “I’ll be here with my team to finish strong. Proud to be a Trojan!” Barkley wrote in a tweet posted to his Twitter account.

As was the case in the game against the Irish, Max Wittek will get the start at quarterback for the Trojans, Kiffin confirmed.

And, just like that, one of the most star-crossed careers a high-profile player at the FBS level has endured in many a year has come to an end.

Barkley was a highly-touted five-star member of USC’s 2009 recruiting class, rated as the No. 1 quarterback and the No. 5 player at any position in the country.  After enrolling early in January of 2009, the Newport Beach, Calif., native won the starting job coming out of that first spring practice and went on to start 47 of the 50 games the Trojans played during his four-year career, with the only three games he missed due to an injury his freshman, sophomore and senior seasons.  The Trojans were 34-13 in games in which Barkley started, 0-3 in games he didn’t.

As expected from a player who both started nearly four dozen games and played in a pass-happy offense, Barkley set a slew of school and conference records during his statistically prolific career.  He currently owns 20 USC career, season and game records, 10 of which are Pac-12 marks, including career total offense (12,214), passing yards (12,327), completions (1,011), passing touchdowns (116) and rushing/passing touchdowns (122).  The school records owned by Barkley include most career 400-yard passing games (4); most career 300-yard passing games (15); most yards passing, game (493); and most touchdown passes, game (six, twice).

Despite all of the shiny numbers, Barkley’s career was marked by a series of disappointments, none more so than the NCAA sanctions that throttled the football program.  Thanks to the punitive measures levied by The Association over the Reggie Bush impermissible benefits scandal, USC was banned from participating in the postseason — including the inaugural Pac-12 championship game last year as well as bowl games — in 2010 and 2011.  So, thanks to those sanctions plus this injury, Barkley’s career will end with just one bowl appearance — the 2009 Emerald Bowl, a 24-13 win over Boston College.

Another oddity when it comes to a player of Barkley’s status and as the holder of a handful of conference records?  He never once was named to the first-team All-Pac-12 squads in any of his four seasons, and just once (2011) did he earn second-team all-conference honors.  In 2010 and then again this season, he was named honorable mention.

The biggest disappointment, though, might’ve been this season.  Entering 2012 ranked as the No. 1 team in the country by the Associated Press, and No. 3 according to the coaches, the Trojans lost four of their last five games to finish a disappointing regular season at 7-5.

Barkley also entered 2012 as the prohibitive Heisman front-runner before giving way to the likes of Geno Smith, Collin Klein and eventual winner Johnny Manziel.  Instead of Barkley, it was teammate and wide receiver Marqise Lee receiving the Heisman push from USC at season’s end, with the true sophomore finishing fourth in the balloting and just missing a trip to New York City as one of the Heisman finalists.

Losses and turnovers were the story of Barkley’s final season at the Los Angeles school, with the former number of five matching 2010 for the most in Barkley’s tenure. After throwing just seven interceptions in 446 attempts last season, Barkley set a career-high with 15 in 387 attempts this year.

The subpar 2012 season both personally and team-wise came nearly a year after Barkley eschewed what would’ve been a surefire shot at being top-10 selection in the April NFL draft for another year with the Trojans.  That decision could prove to be costly for Barkley as, even given the utter dearth of top-shelf talent at his position, he’s considered at the moment by many a draft observer to be a late first-round pick.

Provisional plans in place in case Navy, ahem, wreaks bowl havoc

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 14: Sean Reaver #99 of the Navy Midshipmen and teammates run onto the field holding U.S. flags before playing against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. The Navy Midshipmen won, 55-14. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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As un-American as it is, there are numerous individuals associated with the bowl process, including bowl officials and affected schools, who will be rooting for Navy to lose later on today.

Why? Because if the service academy beats Temple in the AAC championship game, it was initially thought, a portion of the bowl process could be paralyzed as Navy would be in line for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid but still has its annual rivalry game with Army to play next weekend. A handful of bids would likely be delayed for another seven days, potentially putting some teams in a predicament where they would have as little as a 72-hour turnaround from learning where they will play in the postseason to actually playing in the game.

However, Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com reports, a provisional plan has been hatched that would allow 37 of the 40 bowl bids to be announced Sunday as planned regardless of what happens in the AAC title game this afternoon. The plan is based on four teams in particular winning this weekend, with one of the four, Washington, taking care of business Friday night by beating Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.

The other teams that need to win? No. 3 Clemson (in ACC title game vs. Virginia Tech), 5-6 Louisiana-Lafayette (at 4-7 Louisiana-Monroe) and 5-6 South Alabama (vs. 3-8 New Mexico State). If those three teams win, McMurphy reports, this is what would transpire when it comes to the remaining three bowl games that wouldn’t be able to offer bids this weekend:

Navy is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Navy goes to the Cotton Bowl, Western Michigan plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Army plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Western Michigan goes to the Cotton Bowl, Army plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Navy plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That said, it’s still possible this tentative plan could be blown to smithereens and the postseason hurled into temporary chaos.

However, bowl officials stressed that those scenarios get blown up if more than three 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowls or there are major upsets in the Power 5 championship games.

“If so,” a source said, “then we’ll have to reshuffle the cards again.

The Group of Six bid, the Cotton Bowl, will come down to either No. 19 Navy or No. 17 Western Michigan, which remained unbeaten with a win in the MAC championship game Friday night.

Entering Championship Saturday, just one playoff spot remains open

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  The College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is seen on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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At least from my vantage point, it’s borderline staggering that we’ve reached the final full Saturday of the 2016 season. It seems like just days ago when, among other things, Texas was back and the epitaph for USC’s season had already been chiseled into its headstone.

Three months later, circumstances couldn’t be more different for not only those two programs but for a handful of others. Penn State representing the B1G East instead of conference bluebloods Ohio State or Michigan? Check. Washington (???) and Colorado (??????) fighting it out for Pac-12 supremacy last night? Yep. Western Michigan, 1-11 on this date three years ago, undefeated this year and looking every bit like the favorite to land the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six slot? Certainly. Alabama looking like a playoff lock even if… yeah, most everyone saw that coming even with their annual attrition.

Speaking of ‘Bama, the top-ranked Tide has already sewn up one of the four playoff slots, regardless of what happens in Atlanta against Florida.  Idle Ohio State, sitting at No. 2 after the penultimate CFP rankings, has a key in the deadbolt of a second spot and is just waiting for the committee to turn it Sunday afternoon.  No. 4 Washington’s methodical emasculation of Colorado guaranteed the Pac-12 will be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.

While math is not my strong suit, that would appear to leave just one playoff spot to be decided in the coming hours.  No. 3 Clemson, should it take care of business against 9-3 Virginia Tech tonight in the ACC championship game, would render any further discussion moot and solidify the four-team playoff field.  Should the Hokies upset the Tigers?  Meh, maybe there’s some movement.

Such a development, a Clemson loss, could conceivably bring two teams back into the equation: Michigan and the winner of the Penn State-Wisconsin Big Ten championship game.  And, yes, that means I’m completely discounting the Bedlam winner as a playoff possibility because of Washington’s win.

So, Clemson, Penn State/Wisconsin, Michigan.  How do their résumés compare entering Week 14?

  • CLEMSON: One FCS win; nine Power Five wins; five Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; two road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • MICHIGAN: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; two Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; zero road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • PENN STATE: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; three Power Five road wins; one win over current Top 25 CFP teams; one road win over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • WISCONSIN: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; four Power Five road wins; one win over current Top 25 CFP teams; zero road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.

For comparison’s sake, here’s Ohio State’s résumé using the same criteria that will weigh heavily in the committee’s decision:

  • OSU: Zero FCS games; nine Power Five wins; four Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; two road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.

Also part of the equation? Michigan beat both Penn State and Wisconsin at home but lost to Ohio State on the road.  Penn State beat Ohio State at home but lost by 39 to Michigan on the road.  Ohio State beat Michigan at home and Wisconsin on the road but lost to Penn State on the road.  Wisconsin lost to Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 14 points.

Got that, committee?

I’ve given Ohio State a near-mortal lock on a playoff spot, and its résumé more than speaks for itself.  Given Clemson’s 2016 pedigree, you could (should?) put them in that very same category even with a loss tonight.  With a win, they’d likely leapfrog OSU into the No. 2 seed.  And Washington, with a conference championship, could push OSU to No. 4.

In the end, seeding may be the only thing determined this weekend.

The stark reality is, there’s very little if any drama as it pertains to the playoff participants even before Championship Saturday kicks off.  The true reality will come when, at some point Sunday afternoon, a team that didn’t win its division let alone its conference becomes the first team to make the College Football Playoff.

The collective media/fan hyperventilating, at that point, will be off the charts and absolutely hilarious.  And the howls for an eight-team playoff will commence in earnest, which in and of itself will be a glorious and righteous and much-needed development.

Disney employees given free tickets in attempt to fill stadium for ACC championship game

FORT COLLINS, CO - NOVEMBER 01:  A lone fan takes his seat as the Brigham Young Cougars and the Colorado State Rams take the field to warm up prior to the game at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium on November 1, 2008 in Fort Collins, Colorado. BYU defeated CSU 45-42.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Thanks to a controversial bill passed in the state of North Carolina, the ACC moved this year’s football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando. That move, it seems, has played a role in creating an attendance problem for the conference.

Instead of Clemson and Virginia Tech fans having to travel just 130 or 170 miles or so, respectively, to Charlotte, it’s more than 560 for the former and 700 for the latter. If you’re a Tech fan and you’re driving, you’re going to spend an additional than $100-plus just in gas to get there and back.  And that’s just one aspect of the move that could add to the cost of a trip to Florida instead of North Carolina for both fan bases.

For Tiger fans, they also have to take into account that their team could be playing in a College Football Playoff semifinal and, potentially, the CFP title game, which could impact budget decisions when it comes traveling to the conference championship game. Dabo Swinney, though, doesn’t want his fan base to assume they’ll need to budget for other games until this one is in the books.

“I hope we have a great crowd. I hope we don’t just get complacent and say, ‘ah, well, we’ll go win that game. Let’s think about the next one.’ No, this is the biggest game of the year,” the Tigers head coach said earlier in the week. “It’s one thing to have an expectation, it’s another thing to have an appreciation. One of the things that sets Clemson fans apart is there’s always been a genuine appreciation.

“I know that it’s a game that’s been moved and all of that, and probably some frustration with that stuff. But hey, at the end of the day, we’re playing for a championship.”

Camping World Stadium has an official capacity of 70,000. The ACC estimates 50,000 fans will be in attendance according to one report.

According to TigerNet.com, tickets on StubHub.com are going for as little as &10.

Title game attendance issues aren’t limited to the ACC, though, as fellow Power Five leagues the Big Ten and Pac-12 have struggled this year either in actual attendance or on the secondary ticket market or both. “[U]pper deck tickets in Lucas Oil Stadium were less than $20 on the secondary market for Penn State-Wisconsin and the Washington-Colorado game was not yet a sellout,” USA Today wrote.

Perhaps one way to eliminate the attendance problem is to move the neutral-field game to on-campus sites at the home of the team ranked higher in the CFP Top 25, although such a move likely wouldn’t make fiscal sense to the various conferences and is therefore a non-starter.

Wyoming, Craig Bohl agree to new seven-year contract

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Craig Bohl of the Wyoming Cowboys watches warmups before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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Less than 24 hours before the Mountain West championship game, one of the head coaches involved is being rewarded for, in part, getting there.

Wyoming announced Friday night that Craig Bohl has signed a new seven-year contract that would keep the coach with the Cowboys through the 2023 season.  The news comes as UW is set to face San Diego State in the MWC title game.

It’s the football program’s first-ever appearance in the game.

“When I hired Craig three years ago, I believed he was the best coach to turn around our football program,” said athletic director Tom Burman in a statement. “He has certainly delivered and the turnaround is evident in the performance of our team this season.

“What excites me most about this new contract is the opportunity to develop stability in our football program. Our fans, our student-athletes, donors and our state legislators will now get an opportunity to watch this football program continue to grow. I believe Coach Bohl is going to be the head football coach at the University of Wyoming for the rest of his career.”

Bohl came to UW after creating an FCS dynasty at North Dakota State, a program that won three straight national championship before Bohl left for Laramie after the 2013 season.  A 4-8 first season with the Cowboys gave way to a 2-10 second year that had some whispering that Bohl might be out of his element at the FBS level.

However, Bohl’s eight wins thus far this season are the most since 2008 and just the second time they’ve reached that mark since 1998.  With wins in the league title game and a bowl, the Cowboys would reach double-digits for the first time since 1996.

“This is a mutual agreement to continue to move Cowboy Football forward,” said Bohl. “I can’t thank Tom Burman, Governor Mead, President Nichols and numerous members of the state legislature enough for the support they’ve provided our football program to help us be successful. And to our donors, fans and the UW student body, I want to thank them for the enthusiastic manner in which they have embraced our team and our coaches. …

“All of these elements will provide the resources necessary to give Cowboy Football the opportunity for long-term success, which the people of Wyoming deserve.”