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2013: A look ahead

Carnac

What’s that you say?  It’s barely stopped raining confetti following Alabama’s BCS title game win over Notre Dame and we’re already talking about a 2013 season that won’t start for another eight months?

You damn right we are.  And you know why?  ’Cause that’s how we roll.  Or something.

Each of the past three years, before the last piece of title-game confetti had fluttered to the ground and while the corpse of the previous season was still somewhat warm, I dusted off the trusty crystal ball and flung a few predictions up against the next season’s wall with the hope that something, anything, would stick.  Hilarity ensued when I picked Alabama as the No. 1 team in 2010 (they finished No. 10); Oklahoma in 2011 (they finished No. 16) and USC in 2012 (they finished No. ROTFLMAO!!!).  There were guffaws as far as the eye could see as I asked questions like “Have the Conference Musical Chairs Stopped?” and “Is This the Year the SEC’s Streak Stops?” — hell no to both — or listed 10 (10!!!) preseason Heisman contenders for the 2012 season and not a single one of ‘em was even a finalist.

Yet here I am a year later, ready to once again expose my utter lack of prognosticating abilities for all the world to see.  So, without further ado, here’s what I, CFT’s resident Nostradumbass, think may — or may not — happen leading up to and during the 2013 season.

FIVE COMPELLING STORYLINES

1. DO I HEAR EIGHT IN A ROW?
For the past couple of years in this space, I’ve asked if the SEC can win five BCS titles in a row… six in a row… seven in a row… and each year the answer’s been a resounding “hell yes y’all!”  And why not?  Not only has the preeminent football conference in America won seven consecutive crystal footballs, they’ve won nine of the 15 played in the BCS era.  Unfortunately for the rest of the country, a downward trend doesn’t appear to be in the offing.  Sure, a team or two might take a dip in 2013 — I’m looking at you, LSU — but Alabama will be, well, Alabama, and Texas A&M appears to be on the verge of leaping on to the national stage.  Florida, should they get a handle on the quarterback situation and the embarrassing bowl performance against Louisville notwithstanding, should continue their upward trajectory in Year Three under Will Muschamp.  Georgia, with quarterback Aaron Murray returning for one more season, and South Carolina, despite the early loss of Marcus Lattimore, should be formidable if not on the fringe of the national title discussion.  In other words,  expect one or more SEC teams to be deep in the mix at the end in the final year of the BCS.  Speaking of which…

Death to the BcS2. DING, DONG THE BCS IS DEAD
Well, almost.  2013 will mark the final year of the bastard system utilized to crown a national champion since 1998, set to be replaced after the 2014 season with a slightly less bastardized version in the form of a four-team playoff.  While the new system is far from perfect, and a more equitable eight-team playoff will come sooner rather than later, the four-team parlay is already light years ahead of what the BCS had ever hoped to be and it’s yet to be officially implemented.  Granted, the BCS was a “better” system for crowing a champion than strictly polls, but that’s sort of like saying you own the nicest Yugo — it’s not exactly something you want to say or admit out loud.  Where will the new system take us?  Who cares, as long as it’s far, far away from the mess that is — and soon to be was — the BCS.

3. JANE, STOP THIS CRAZY CONFERENCE THING!
Expansion musical chairs has been an overriding theme in each of the past two look-aheads, and there’s no reason to think the shuffling will stop anytime soon.  At this time last year, who foresaw that Maryland and Rutgers would announce they were leaving the ACC and Big East, respectively, for the Big Ten, or that Louisville would ditch the Big East for the ACC, or that Boise State would turn its back on a 2013 move to the Big East to remain in the Mountain West?  The ACC, Big Ten and SEC all are at 14 current and future members, while the Big 12 is, for the moment, standing pat at 10.  The whispers are already out there that the ACC will race to become the first “real” 16-team superconference… unless the Big Ten beats them to it by, in part, raiding the ACC… unless the SEC beats the Big Ten to the punch by, in part, raiding the ACC.  In other words, we have very likely not seen the last of expansion talk and teams bolting this conference for that one and leagues like the Big East folding up their football shop and the like.  Hooray!?!

4. NO DUCKING THE NCAA
While Oregon is rightly basking in the glow of Chip Kelly‘s return to Eugene, there’s an NCAA elephant squatting smack dab in the middle of the room.  At some point this year, likely in the spring, Oregon officials will appear before the NCAA Committee on Infractions to answer allegations of recruiting improprieties related to street agent Willie Lyles.  Essentially, UO has been accused of paying $25,000 for bogus and outdated scouting reports of high school players in exchange for, as Lyles himself stated, steering recruits — including Lache Seastrunk — to the Ducks.  How big of a hammer will the NCAA whip out and will it tear down, at least for the short-term, all or most of what Kelly’s built at the school?  Some are saying that Kelly’s return is a sign that the sanctions may not be as heavy-handed as some expect.  Until a decision is actually handed down, expect pins and needles to rule the day as the university, athletic department and football program braces itself for deeply punitive sanctions.

5. BIELAMA’S UNLIKELY MARRIAGE
Don’t know about you, but I was beyond floored — and I wasn’t the only one — upon hearing that Bret Bielema was leaving Wisconsin for Arkansas.  Sure, he wanted to get out from under Barry Alvarez‘s immense shadow… and, unlike at UW, he and his assistants are getting p-a-i-d paid… and he spent some time in the state as a youth, but he has absolutely no ties to that area of the country or the conference; he played his college ball at Iowa, and his collegiate coaching stops have included his alma mater, Kansas State and UW.  Essentially, he’s a Big Ten guy with a sprinkling of the Big 12.  How will he fare in the rough and tumble SEC on the field and, perhaps more importantly, on the hyper-competitive southern recruiting trail?  I have no clue, but it should be fascinating to sit back and watch unfold.

EARLY-BIRD TOP FIVE

1. Alabama
Back-to-back BCS championships, three crystal footballs in four years.  Will return somewhere in the neighborhood of 16 starters and 37 or so from the two-deep depth chart.  Nick Saban, well on his way to staking his claim to the greatest coach at the FBS level of all-time, will return.  A 2013 recruiting class that’s currently ranked No. 2 in the country — oddly enough, behind the team they eviscerated for their latest title.  I seriously considered putting one of the three teams immediately below ‘Bama at the No. 1 spot; after seeing it laid out so starkly as it is in the previous sentences, there was simply no way I could justify anyone but the Tide in the top spot.

2. Ohio StateUrban Meyer, Braxton Miller
In Urban Meyer‘s first season, with nothing to play for but pride and a “I won the Big Ten Leaders division and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” consolation prize, the Buckeyes went a perfect 12-0.  At the end of the 2012 season, Meyer felt his team could compete with any in the country; thanks to NCAA sanctions and a shortsighted administration, proving it in the postseason wasn’t an option.  That will change this year as the one-year bowl ban is over, and all signs point to Meyer and his Buckeyes bullrushing back to the national stage.  Not only does tOSU return several key components on both sides of the ball (they do lose seven defensive starters, though), the schedule has “run me” written all over — the nonconference slate is more than manageable, with a road trip to Cal and a home date with San Diego State only remotely resembling potential stumbling blocks, while the first seven games of the Big Ten schedule sees Wisconsin and Penn State visiting Ohio Stadium.  The toughest game, at least on paper, doesn’t come until last: a late-November road trip to the Big House for a date with hated rival Michigan.  It’s conceivable, based on how they finished 2012 as well as how 2013 sets up, that the Buckeyes could head into Ann Arbor riding a winning streak approaching two-dozen games.  And my apologies, Buckeye Nation, for totally jinxing that possibility.

3. Texas A&M
By the time the curtain had fallen on the 2012 season, and if there had been a playoff system in place, the Aggies had become the proverbial team that no one wanted to face.  And for good reason.  In its first season in the big, bad SEC, A&M won 11 games and lost just two — by three points to Florida in what turned out to be both the season and conference opener for the Aggies, and by five to LSU.  The smashing debut included signature wins over top-ranked Alabama in Tuscaloosa and a blowout of Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, as well as a healthy dose of optimism for what 2013 will bring.  With the reigning Heisman winner in tow, the Aggies will be expected to match or exceed the breakout year.  Will they be able to handle the pressure of being the hunted instead of the hunter?  With Kevin Sumlin in charge, we’d lean toward the affirmative.

4. Oregon
The 2013 season hasn’t even started and the Ducks have already earned what will prove to be their biggest win of the year.  After yet another round of flirtations with the NFL, Chip Kelly decided that his heart’s in Eugene and returned to UO for at least another season — until the New England Patriots job opens up, of course.  The Ducks would’ve been fine with offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich taking over; they’ll be even better because the man who built the Ducks into a national powerhouse — 46-7 in his four years, four BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles — is sticking around to build on his burgeoning legacy.  Oh, and the fact that Marcus Mariota, the triggerman of UO’s offensive juggernaut who deserves more national acclaim than he gets, is returning as well doesn’t exactly hurt, either.

5. Stanford
When Jim Harbaugh bolted for the NFL, many thought the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 11 wins in 2011 showed the program is bigger than any one coach. When Andrew Luck bolted for the NFL, many thought, once again, the Cardinal would sink back to the depths from which it came; 12 wins in 2012 showed the program is bigger than any one player. Anyone want to doubt them a third straight year? The Cardinal returns 16 starters from its Pac-12-winning 2012 squad, a total that includes quarterback Kevin Hogan, the redshirt freshman who quietly became one of the most promising players at his position in his first stint as a starter. Head coach David Shaw not only maintained what Harbaugh built down on The Farm but enhanced it, adding to the foundation and ensuring success will continue regardless of personnel losses. Bet against “14 for ’13” at your own peril.

THREE RISERS
Teams outside the final Top 10 that could be in it in 2013

Teddy Bridgewater, Charlie Strong1.Louisville
In my preseason Top 25, I lamented that, at No. 24, I was rating Louisville too low and “will likely regret it at season’s end.”  After 11 wins, a No. 13 ranking and the demolition of then-No. 4 Florida in the Sugar Bowl, I was right.  This year, though, that won’t be the case as the Cardinals, on the strength of the return of the sublime Teddy Bridgewater and the continuing presence of head coach Charlie Strong, are poised to sniff the Top 10 in the preseason rankings.

2. UCLA
With nine wins in 2012 in Jim Mora‘s first season at the school, UCLA posted its best mark since a 10-win season in 2005.  While the season finished with three straight losses — including back-to-back defeats to Stanford — the Bruins did claim quality wins over the likes of Nebraska, Arizona and USC.  With the Trojans plummeting toward mediocrity, the Bruins should be the class of the Pac-12 South yet again and the odds-on favorite for a a third consecutive appearance in the conference championship game — if not more.

3. Clemson
OK, this is cheating a little bit as the Tigers were just barely outside of the Top Ten at No. 11, but I need all the softballs I can take a whack at.  And, thanks to the (likely) return of Tajh Boyd, the Tigers afford me that opportunity.  Clemson’s two losses in 2012 came at the hands of 12-win Florida State and 11-win South Carolina, and they actually led each of those games at halftime before crumbling in the second half.  Call it a hunch, but the Tigers learned enough from those pair of disappointments to flip that script around in 2013 versus high-quality competition.

THREE TUMBLERS
Teams inside the final Top 25 that could struggle

1. Kansas State
While I don’t believe there will be a drastic drop-off for the Wildcats,  there should be at least a dip.  Heisman finalist Collin Klein is gone to expired eligibility, leaving a significant hole in both experience and leadership at the quarterback position.  All told, the Wildcats will lose 12 starters, including nine on the defensive side of the ball.  That formula has rebuilding year written all over it.

2. LSU
Losing nearly two handfuls of talented juniors won’t help LSU’s cause in 2013, even as the Tigers possess a wealth of talented albeit inexperienced replacements.  Nor will a schedule that includes a neutral site nonconference game with what should be a much-improved TCU squad as well as SEC road trips to Alabama and Georgia, although that’s mitigated somewhat by drawing Florida and Texas A&M at home.  LSU could take a half-step back in 2013, which means merely fighting for a top-ten spot instead of hovering around the top five and in the discussion for a BCS berth — championship game or otherwise .

3. Notre Dame
Yes, Notre Dame could very well begin the 2013 season inside the top five of the polls, and the talent they return would warrant such a lofty ranking.  However, the Irish won five of their games in 2012 by seven points or less, including one in overtime and another in triple overtime. Provided the talent level stays roughly the same, can the Domers expect to catch the same breaks and bounces — or officiating calls — in close games this season that they did last?  I say, even with a favorable schedule, not nearly to 2012’s degree, but your mileage may vary

RON ZOOK MEMORIAL COACHING HOT SEAT

Notre Dame v USC1. Lane Kiffin, USC
By any measure imaginable, the 2012 was an unmitigated disaster for USC.  The Trojans began the season ranked No. 1 in the country… and proceeded to become the first team in history with such a lofty ranking in the preseason to finish outside the Top 25 and culminated a six-loss season with an embarrassing performance in their bowl game.  The calls for Kiffin to be ousted grew louder as the season went further in the tank; a repeat performance in 2013 will earn Kiffin a well-deserved trip to the coaching unemployment line.

2. Mack Brown, Texas
Yes, Brown is signed through the 2020 season.  Yes, high-powered UT officials have been steadfast in their public support of their long-time head coach.  No, 15 losses in the past three years — one more than the Longhorns had in the past nine seasons combined — is not acceptable for a program accustomed to the national stage, especially when two of those defeats have come to rival Oklahoma by scores of 63-21 and 55-17 the past two seasons.  While quarterback continues to be an embarrassment for a program in the QB-rich state, the position is positively Vince Young-esque compared to a defense that was statistically the worst in the history of the storied program.  We know, it’s highly doubtful that Brown’s actually on the hot seat.  And that’s part of the problem — he deserves to be.

3. Gary Pinkel, Missouri
In its first season in the SEC, Mizzou failed to meet even modest expectations by winning just five games and finishing with a 2-6 conference record, with the lone wins coming at the expense of conference featherweights Kentucky and Tennessee (sorry Vols). That miserable showing was compounded by fellow Big 12 refugee Texas A&M stunning the college football world by coming out of the gate with an 11-win season — including handing Alabama its lone loss of the regular season — in its first year in the SEC.  While 2012 was Mizzou’s worst under Pinkel since 2004, being a member of the SEC, replete with its additional revenue and exposure, brings with it exponentially more pressure on the head coach to succeed.  Pinkel realized immediate improvement is a must as he “parted ways” with long-time offensive coordinator David Yost.  Another season like this last one, and the Mizzou administration could find themselves “parting ways” with their long-time head coach.

4. Randy Edsall, Maryland
This one comes with a disclaimer as the Terps were wracked by injuries in 2012, including the loss of four starting quarterbacks to season-ending injuries.  With that out of the way, the stark reality is this: the Terps have won a total of six games in Edsall’s two seasons, including just three wins in 16 games in ACC play.  Even the staunchest of supporters are beginning to question whether Edsall is the right man for his “dream job.”  With a move to the Big Ten in the offing after this season, anything short of a significant turnaround would likely signal to the administration that its time for a fresh start on the sidelines to coincide with the Terps’ departure for a new conference.

5. Mike London, Virginia
After getting Virginia to eight wins in his second season with the Hoos, London was one of the hottest names on the coaching carousel, garnering mention as a potential replacement for Joe Paterno at Penn State.  Following a four-win season?  London has gone from the coaching penthouse to the coaching hot seat.  In a signal that London realizes how hot despite being just three years into his tenure, he axed nearly half his coaching staff — four to be exact — shortly after the end of the 2012 season.  London is one of the most outstanding coaches in the game, but this is a bottom-line business, with the bottom line being London needs to turns things around post-haste.

WAY-TOO-EARLY HEISMAN ROLL CALL

1. Braxton Miller, QB, Ohio State — The first year in Urban Meyer‘s offense was above-average for Miller.  With a full year plus another offseason in the same system, Miller is poised to improve upon his fifth-place finish in the 2012 Heisman voting and could very well enter the 2013 season as the stiff-armed frontrunner.  The fact that the Buckeyes will likely be highly-ranked and Miller will again be a significant portion of the offense — he accounted for 28 of the 56 offensive touchdowns scored and led the team in rushing — means the Heisman hype will come early and often for the talented junior.

Chick-fil-A Bowl - LSU v Clemson2. Tajh Boyd, QB, Clemson — Boyd will enter the 2013 season — provided he doesn’t jump to the NFL by the Jan. 15 deadline, of course — as one of the most prolific yet underrated players in the country.  With offensive coordinator Chad Morris remaining after some head-coaching flirtations over the last month, Boyd will put up the kind of numbers that’d be hard for Heisman voters to overlook.

3. Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M — The first-year phenom shattered the freshman ceiling by taking home the Heisman in 2012.  Can he shatter the “no one’s won it twice since Archie Griffin” ceiling?  Based on his performance in the Aggies’ bowl romp, that would be a resounding yes.  With a year’s worth of film to view in the offseason, though, defenses could make harder a game that looked video-game easy for Manziel in 2012.

4. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina — Sure, no purely defensive player has ever claimed a Heisman.  However, the past few years, with the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Tyrann Mathieu and Manti Te’o making it to the Big Apple as finalists, it appears the narrow-minded voters could be expanding their horizon when it comes to candidates.  And when it comes to defensive candidates for 2013, it doesn’t get any more explosive or dynamic or borderline homicidal than Clowney.

5. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville — Bridgewater would’ve made this list even without the virtuoso performance in the bowl win over Florida.  With it, he moved up several notches in my eyes as he showed he could play at a high level against what was considered a top-notch defense.  In fact, slotting the soon-to-be junior fifth could prove to be low.  Very, very low.

Tostitos Fiesta Bowl - Oregon v Kansas State6. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon — Thanks to the return of Chip Kelly, the Ducks will run the same offense in 2013 as they did in Mariota’s first year as the starter in 2012.  And in that first season, Mariota was spectacular, accounting for 37 touchdowns — 32 passing, five rushing — in leading the Ducks to a 12-win season.  Whether Kelly would’ve been around to oversee the scoring factory or not, Mariota is hurtling toward nothing but improvement in his second season.

7. Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona — The nation’s leading rusher returns for another season and deserves a spot on this initial list.  The only problem is, will the Wildcats win enough to get the attention Carey deserves?  While the Wildcats’ won eight games in Rich Rodriguez‘s first season, Carey’s quest for a 2,000-yard season — he finished with 1,929 — flew under the radar until he erupted for 366 yards in mid-November.  By then it was too late to make a difference in the ’12 Heisman race.  It could, though, serve as a reminder to voters entering ’13 that he’s a player worthy of keeping an eye on.

8. Brett Hundley, QB, UCLA — Bruins head coach Jim Mora has already proclaimed his starting quarterback a future Heisman contender, so we’ll go ahead and roll with it.  Statistically, Hundley is worthy of his coach’s praise as the sophomore completed nearly 66 percent of his passes for 3,740 yards and 29 touchdowns.  The 11 interceptions are a concern, although that could simply be a combination of Hundley’s youth and inexperience in the first year of a new offensive scheme.  Still, Hundley’s a name to keep track of as the season progresses.

9. Marqise Lee, WR, USC — Thanks to USC breaking in a new starting quarterback, I nearly put Georgia’s Aaron Murray here.  Based on Lee’s stunning athleticism and production, though, I had to put him on the list somewhere.  Lee led the country in receptions and finished second in receiving yards, narrowly missing out on a trip to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

10. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor — Forget the head coach; the running back has already proclaimed himself to be a 2013 Heisman contender.  Over the last quarter of the season, the Oregon transfer showed there’s a reason behind that self-confidence.  After rushing for 465 yards in the first nine games of the season, Seastrunk exploded for 637 over the final four.  If he continues that trend in 2013, he could become a part of the Heisman discussion.

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Ground and pound: Hurricanes establish identity during 30-6 victory over Hokies

Al Golden, Duke Johnson

The Miami Hurricanes made a statement Thursday against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

While the program may never return to the winning ways it once experienced while Al Golden is at the helm, the program finally gravitated toward an identity that’s long been forgotten. The vaunted Miami teams from the 1980’s and the early 2000’s used to physically dominate opponents. They did that Thursday night in Blacksburg.

Miami (5-2) captured a dominant 30-6 victory over Virginia Tech (4-4).

When Golden was the head coach of Temple from 2006-10, the Owls climbed their way out of football purgatory by running the football effectively week in and week out. The talent level at Miami supersedes anything Golden had at Temple, but the team’s approach against the Hokies was reminiscent of those Owls.

There was nothing fancy about what Miami did to Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes lined up and jammed the ball down the Hokies’ collective throat. Two running backs combined to run for an impressive 364 yards.

Junior running back Duke Johnson ran like a man possessed. Johnson set a career high with 249 rushing yards on 29 carries.

Sophomore Gus Edwards took over in the second half and managed 115 yards.

The Hurricanes were so dominant in the trenches, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was only asked to throw the ball 16 teams. He completed seven of those passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Plus, Miami played well on the defensive side of the football.

The Hurricanes shut out the Hokies through the first half of play, before Virginia Tech decided to ride freshman running back Marshawn Williams. Willams carried the ball 21 times for 100 yards. The young back also fumbled twice.

With the ACC Coastal division being wide open, the Hurricanes may have found its identity at the right time. At 2-2 in the division, Miami is now a half game behind the Duke Blue Devils going into this weekend’s games. But Miami holds the head-to-head edge.

If Miami plans to make a run in their division, its ball-control offense will be needed over the next two weeks against the North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 2 Florida State Seminoles.

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No. 18 ECU Pirates may stumble in polls despite 31-21 victory over UConn

Ruffin Mc Neill

The No. 18 East Carolina Pirates secured a 31-21 victory over the Connecticut Huskies Thursday. But was it enough for the Pirates to remain the top non-Power Five program and the favorite to claim an appearance in a contract bowl?

Sometimes a win can be viewed as a loss.

The Pirates struggled against a Huskies squad that entered the game 1-5 and didn’t have a victory against a single FBS opponent this season. It wasn’t until six minutes left in the game that East Carolina finally pulled away from UConn.

When a non-power conference team trying to impress the College Football Playoff gets an opportunity to add style points to their resume on national television, it has to do so. East Carolina didn’t.

The Pirates moved the ball and racked up 580 total yards, but they weren’t able to complete drives most of the evening. UConn employed a bend-but-don’t-break, and the scheme worked.

If East Carolina isn’t putting up big scoring and yardage numbers, the team is nowhere near as impressive.

East Carolina’s primary competition as the top non-Power Five program is the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. The Thundering Herd’s underwhelming schedule has prevented them from legitimately entering the national conversation. Yet, Marshall’s schedule doesn’t feature a team ranked lower than Connecticut.

Despite the lackluster effort, East Carolina did win the game. Ruffin McNeill‘s squad overcame adversity and was able to win a close contest even though everything didn’t go in their favor. The program still holds victories over the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Plus, very few teams feature a dynamic duo like quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden was 38-of-64 passing Thursday for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy, meanwhile, grabbed 14 passes for 186 yards. The impressive effort moved Hardy into second place among the FBS’ all-time receptions list.

The Huskies deserve some credit for knocking down the Pirates a notch. First-year head coach Bob Diaco has his team playing hard, and they seem to be figuring some things out. The defense plays sound football, while the offense was finally able to move the ball in stretches against East Carolina.

In the end, East Carolina is still the top non-Power Five program in college football, but the margin between the top team and the second team is much closer after Thursday night’s effort.

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Miami RB Duke Johnson explodes as Miami leads Virginia Tech 24-0 at halftime

Brad Kaaya, Duke Johnson

Welcome to the Duke Johnson show.

The Virginia Tech Hokies simply had no answer for Miami’s running back. Johnson accumulated 185 total yards through two quarters of play as the Hurricanes lead the Hokies 24-0 at halftime.

Miami came into Thursday night’s contest with the intention of establishing the run game, and Al Golden‘s squad did so in spectacular fashion.

As the Hurricanes dominated an undersized Virginia Tech defensive front, Johnson continued to churn out yardage. The junior running back accumulated 148 rushing yards on 19 carries.

The dagger at the end of the first half also came from the running back.

Already leading 17-0, Miami drove the ball to Virginia Tech’s 22-yard line with the clocking ticking within 15 seconds remaining before the horn for halftime blew. With the clock still running, the Hurricanes snapped the ball and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya found Johnson open out of the backfield for his second touchdown in the half.

While the Hurricanes’ offense running all over the Hokies, Miami’s defense completely shut down the Hokies’ rushing attack. Virginia Tech ran the ball eight times for minus-13 yards.

Because of the Hokies’ inept running game, quarterback Michael Brewer suffered. When forced to throw, Brewer couldn’t step up and make a play. Virginia Tech’s signal-caller finished the half 7-of-12 passing for 49 yards.

The Hokies should expect the same approach from the Hurricanes in the second half. Golden may decide to lighten Johnson’s load (after he establishes a new career high), but Virginia Tech will then get a steady dose of sophomore Gus Edwards.

If Frank Beamer‘s squad has any chance of coming back in tonight’s game, Brewer must take his game to another level. That may be asking too much of the junior quarterback.

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No. 18 ECU Pirates lead UConn 14-7 as Carden, Hardy post memorable halves

Shane Carden

The first half of Thursday’s meeting with the Connecticut Huskies had it all for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden.

Carden already threw the ball 39 times as the No. 18 East Carolina Pirates built a 14-7 over the Huskies at halftime. Carden is well on his way to eclipsing his season high of 48 passes.

The quarterback also doubled his season total for interceptions by throwing an ill-advised pass into the end zone. UConn senior cornerback Byron Jones came down with the ball.

The senior signal-caller also threw a pair of touchdowns. The first of which was a highlight reel reception by senior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy dove in the end zone and bobbled the ball before he finally came down with the 13-yard touchdown reception (see: below).

The catch wasn’t Hardy’s only memorable moment of the evening. The prolific pass-catcher also climbed another rung on NCAA’s all time receptions ladder. Hardy became the NCAA’s third all-time leader in receptions during the first half. The talented wide receiver already made six receptions for 90 yards.

While the Pirates continued to throw the ball over the field, the Huskies prevented the big play. Despite surrendering 302 yards of total offense through two quarters, Connecticut is within striking distance due to Easter Carolina’s miscues.

Connecticut has been able to throw the ball better than expected. Senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer is 7-of-10 passing for 96 yards. But the Huskies stalled on offense numerous times due to penalties and an inability to run the ball.

For the Huskies to remain in the game, they’ll need to shorten the second half. Carden can’t be allowed to throw the ball 25 times in one quarter like he did in the opening frame. A commitment to the running game will help keep the Pirates offense off the field, while the Huskies try to to muster enough offense to garner their first win over an FBS opponent this season.

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Marshall hires PR firm to help with possible College Football Playoff berth

Marshall v Florida International

A year ago, the Marshall Thundering Herd would be known as a “BCS Buster.” Instead, Doc Holliday‘s squad is attempting to be this year’s dark horse choice to become one of four teams invited to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Thundering Herd (7-0) is one of three undefeated teams, and the program is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. With only five games left on the regular season schedule, Marshall has plenty to overcome to be named one of college football’s Top 4 teams.

But the university and Conference USA won’t go down without a fight.

“Marshall University and Conference USA have hired an LA-based public relations firm to assist with their case to be selected to the first College Football Playoff,” Tess Quinlan of USA TODAY Sports reported.

“Brener Zwikel & Associates, which counts the Rose Bowl, Los Angeles Dodgers and Speedo as clients, sent out a release Thursday highlighting the Thundering Herd’s undefeated record, standing in the Amway Coaches Poll and their non-Power Five conference affiliation.”

The Thundering Herd’s schedule is expected to hold the program back despite a potential undefeated campaign. Marshall won’t face a single ranked opponent this season and their biggest win could eventually come in the Conference USA Championship Game.

However, the school features one of college football’s most exciting offenses and an electric quarterback.

Marshall’s offense is ranked second overall behind the Baylor Bears. The Bears only average 4.1 more yards per game than the Thundering Herd. And senior quarterback Rakeem Cato accumulated 2,135 total yards and 24 total touchdowns through seven games.

While it’s unlikely a strong public relations effort will be enough to push the Thundering Herd into this year’s College Football Playoff, the hire won’t be for naught. Marshall still trails the No. 18 East Carolina Pirates as the top program not affiliated with a Power Five conference. The highest-rated team outside of the Power Five automatically receives a bid to one of the remaining contract bowls.

Marshall’s ability to pass East Carolina in the rankings is far more important and achievable than chasing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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Report: Syracuse football is under NCAA investigation

Scott Shafer

Syracuse is the latest football program to find itself in the clutches of the NCAA.

While the Orange’s basketball team was believed to be the focus of an ongoing investigation, there are concerns regarding the football program, too.

Syracuse.com’s Nate Mink reported the investigation could affect multiple areas within the school’s athletic department.

“The Syracuse football program is part of the wide-ranging NCAA investigation into the school’s athletic department,” sources told Mink.

“The information shows that the NCAA inquiry that has swirled around the basketball team for two years is more involved, and that the football team is part of the investigation and potentially exposed to penalties. It’s unclear if other teams are involved.”

If the Orange football team was to receive any type of sanctions, possible infractions apparently didn’t occur during Doug Marrone‘s tenure. Marrone served as the Orange’s head coach from 2009-12. The current head coach of the Buffalo Bills spoke with Fink about possible reasons behind the investigation.

“There’s nothing that I know about that we did that wasn’t either punished or put forth,” Marrone said.

“One thing I did, if we made a mistake, an incidental contact or something, I just always reported it. It’s not worth it. This way I can sleep at night.”

Syracuse officials are expected to meet with the NCAA in Indianapolis at some point before the end of the month.

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Michigan lowers student-ticket prices for 2015 season

Minnesota v Michigan

The Big House’s student section should be completely full during every game next season.

After recent complaints by the student body, the University of Michigan decided its in the school’s best interests to decrease the prices of student tickets for the 2015 campaign.

This season, a season ticket purchased by a student was $280. Next season, the prices will be dropped to $175 per season ticket.

“We’ve been listening,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Michigan Daily Thursday. “We really learned that two really important components to re-engaging with our students in trying to create a more robust, more enthusiastic and larger student section for next year’s football season was price and strength of schedule.

“A nearly 40-percent reduction in ticket prices is, I think it’s fair to say, unprecedented.”

However, it’s not quite to the price level demanded by the president of Michigan’s central student government, Bobby Dishell, a week earlier at Michigan’s Board of Regents meeting.

During’s Dishell’s address to the board, he said Michigan’s “athletic department has broken its trust” with students. Another student representative respectfully asked for Brandon’s resignation.

Dishell appears happy with the change, though.

“It’s been great working together,”  Dishell told The Michigan Daily. “We realized that the University takes need into account when you’re coming here, so your experiences here should also take that into account.”

As the future of the football program remains in turmoil, it appears to have regained the trust of its students and may avoid seeing empty seats at Michigan Stadium.

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Hackenberg, other Nittany Lions deliver pizzas to ‘Nittanyville’

Christian Hackenberg AP

Christian Hackenberg may not be delivering on the field the way he did as a true freshman last season, but he sure is off of it.

(Waiting for the groaning to die down… waiting… still waiting… and we’re good)

This week, students at Penn State have set up camp in “Nittanyville” ahead of Saturday’s primetime showdown with Ohio State in Happy Valley.  And by “this week” I mean “several days ahead of the contest.”

As is ofttimes the case with individuals in that age group, they came down with a serious case of the munchies.  And, thanks to the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback and some of his teammates, said craving was sated Wednesday night.

Before you ask, I have no idea who paid for the pizzas.  And, for video of the special delivery that we can’t embed here, click HERE.

The Nittany Lions, incidentally, will be looking to snap a two-game Big Ten losing streak when they host the 13th-ranked Buckeyes.  And Hackenberg will be looking to bounce back from both a rough first half of the 2014 season (five touchdowns, seven interceptions compared to 20-10 a year ago) and his worst day yardage-wise a year ago (112 in a 63-14 thrashing by OSU in Columbus).

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Butch Jones playing coy with Justin Worley’s availability for ‘Bama

Justin Worley, Robert Nkemdiche AP

Earlier this week, Butch Jones seemed to indicate that there was little doubt his starting quarterback would be healthy enough to play this weekend.

With the Alabama game getting closer on the horizon?  Yeah, not so much.

Justin Worley was knocked out of the Week 8 loss to Ole Miss with a shoulder injury.  While Worley has practiced since, the Vols’ head coach intimated during his radio show Wednesday night that it’s up in the air whether or not Worley plays in the rivalry game.

It’s ongoing right now,” Jones said when asked for an update on Worley’s status. “We’ll have to make a decision here later in the week with Justin’s status. The great thing for us is the way we practice all of our quarterback get equal reps in practice.”

That said, it’s widely expected Worley will be on the field and under center when the Vols square off with the Tide in Neyland Stadium.  Should the unexpected happen and Worley is shelved, either Josh Dobbs or Nathan Peterman would assume the position.

Regardless of just who is under center, though, the UT offensive line, with all new starters from last year’s unit, needs to do a better job of protecting the quarterback.  The 30 sacks surrendered by the Vols is second only to SMU’s 35 as the most at the FBS level this season.

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Northwestern CB retires… after learning he has one kidney?

Alonzo Moore, Dwight White AP

This is something you don’t hear or read about every day.

In a press release Thursday, Northwestern announce that Dwight White has decided to retire from the game of football.  No specific reason, injury, medical or otherwise, was given, although the cornerback said in a statement that the “decision I’ve had to make [is] for my long-term health.”

According to InsideNU.com, however, the reason for the decision is that the player has one less significant organ than most.

OK then.

“We love Dwight and we’re proud to have him as a part of the Wildcats football family,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. “It’s disappointing to lose a great teammate from the field but I’m excited he’s able to remain involved in the program, and I’m looking forward to his continuing development as a student, a leader and a professional at Northwestern.”

After starting six of the 12 games in which he played in 2013, White was being looked upon as a significant contributor to the Wildcats’ secondary this season. After playing in the season opener, White was subsequently announced the following week as being out with an undisclosed injury. He hadn’t seen the field since.

“I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches, teammates and especially the Northwestern Sports Medicine staff for all of their support,” the final portion of White’s statement read.

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Five-person committee to steer SEC search for Slive replacement

Mike Slive

Just a little over a week after Mike Slive not-so-unexpectedly announced he would be stepping down as the commissioner of the SEC next year, the conference has taken the next expected step in securing a replacement.

The SEC announced in a press release Thursday that it is set to launch its search for Slive’s successor.  As part of that search, Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, current chair of the SEC’s presidents and chancellors, has appointed a five-person committee charged with the task of hiring the eighth commissioner in the conference’s history. The Fab Search Five are:

  • Dr. David Gearhart, Arkansas chancellor
  • Dr. Judith Bonner, Alabama president
  • Dr. Eli Capilouto, Kentucky president
  • Dr. Mark Keenum, Mississippi State president
  • Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, Missouri chancellor.

Dr. Gearhart’s will serve as the committee’s chairperson.

“The SEC has enjoyed an era of unprecedented success under Mike Slive and at the same time has been a leader in dramatic change in the landscape of college athletics under his direction,” Zeppos said in the statement. “It is critical to have an efficient transition of leadership in order to continue our success on the fields of play as well as to identify a staunch advocate for academic achievement, integrity and sportsmanship. Our objective is to seamlessly maintain our conference’s participation in shaping the future of intercollegiate athletics.”

It’s widely believed that the SEC’s current chief operating officer, Greg Sankey, is the current favorite to take over for Slive.  Before what many assume to be the inevitable happens, though, the committee will undertake a search that’s national in scope.

As for a timeline, there’s not one specific in nature.  The release, though, stated that “the presidents and chancellors hope to select the new commissioner in a timely manner to allow a transition period before Slive’s retirement on July 31, 2015.”

By most accounts, the conference would like to have the successor in place around the first couple of months of the new year to allow for as smooth a transition as possible.

“The SEC has enjoyed an era of unprecedented success under Mike Slive and at the same time has been a leader in dramatic change in the landscape of college athletics under his direction,” Zeppos said. “It is critical to have an efficient transition of leadership in order to continue our success on the fields of play as well as to identify a staunch advocate for academic achievement, integrity and sportsmanship. Our objective is to seamlessly maintain our conference’s participation in shaping the future of intercollegiate athletics.”

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UPDATE: SMU ‘floating $4 million annually’ to entice Mack Brown

Mack Brown

If SMU fails to land Mack Brown as its next head coach, it won’t be for lack of trying.  Or financial incentive.

In a piece detailing just who may emerge as legitimate candidates for the Mustangs job opened by June Jones’ abrupt retirement two games into the 2014 season, Dallas Morning News writer Bill Nichols dropped the intriguing nugget below a handful of paragraphs into the article:

And basketball’s quick ascension under Larry Brown seems to have galvanized the school’s football commitment.

Thus, it’s not shocking that SMU officials have already had preliminary discussions with former Texas coach Mack Brown, floating $4 million annually over eight years, sources say. Brown, 63, fits the Larry Brown model — a national championship winner who can land star prospects on name alone.

A $4 million-per-year commitment would more than double Jones’ 2013 salary of $1.9 million. The healthiest salary for an AAC head coach in 2013 was the $3.7 million earned by Louisville’s Charlie Strong, who, oddly enough, replaced Brown in Austin. Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville made $3.1 million at Cincinnati last season, while Strong’s successor at the UofL, Bobby Petrino, will average $3.5 million annually on a seven-year contract.

In his final season at Texas, Brown pulled in just over $5.4 million.

All of the discussion involving Brown, SMU and salary, though, is wholly dependent on whether the coach wants to return to the sidelines.

Earlier this month, the former UT head coach’s attorney confirmed that SMU had approached his client about a return to the sidelines. While acknowledging that Brown misses coaching, the attorney, Joe Jamail, flatly stated that “he’s not interested in coaching anywhere right now.”

Brown, currently serving as a college football analyst on ESPN, himself said a week earlier that he will decide in December if his coaching career is done.

Should Brown decide to take over the reins at SMU, he’d be stepping into an on-field mess.  The Mustangs’ offense has scored 39 points in six games this season; 14 teams are averaging at least that many points per per game.  UConn is the second-lowest scoring team in the country, and they’ve nearly doubled up SMU’s output (77 points in seven games).

To add insult to offensive injury, the Mustangs rank dead last in points allowed at 48 per game.  Not so unexpectedly, they are 125th out of 125 teams in total defense (548.8 ypg) and next-to-last in total offense (249.2 ypg, ahead of only Wake Forest’s 206.7).

On the flip side, the Mustangs qualified for four straight bowl games from 2009-12 before missing out with a 5-7 record in 2013, so there is a recent track record of both some modicum of talent and success.  Still, it’s a significant rebuilding effort for anyone who takes over, let alone an individual who will turn 64 prior to the start of the 2015 season.

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Texas OC, Okla. St. trade lawsuits over play-calling duties

Joe Wickline AP

Just who is calling plays for Texas in 2014 is at the heart of a pair of lawsuits that have begun their journeys through the legal system.

Oklahoma State filed a lawsuit Oct. 17 (case summary HERE) against former OSU assistant and current Texas co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline in which the university essentially accuses Wickline of lying about the duties his new position entails.  Wickline left the Cowboys in January to become the Longhorns’ co-offensive coordinator along alongside Shawn Watson; in that role, Wickline would reportedly hold play-calling responsibilities.

That latter aspect is key as, the Austin American-Statesman wrote, “Wickline would owe OSU the balance of his contract unless he was named offensive coordinator ‘with play-calling duties’ or went to the NFL.” The balance of that contract is nearly $600,000, which OSU is seeking in its lawsuit.

The impetus for this legal back and forth appears to have been triggered, in part, by Wickline’s new boss. Back in mid-March, ESPN.com wrote, “[UT head coach Charlie] Strong changed course publicly, clarifying that Watson and Wickline would share play-calling duties and that ‘the one final voice will be Shawn.'”

Six days later, Wickline was sent a letter from OSU athletic director Mike Holder that contained the following passage.

“Further, it has now come to our attention that you do not have ‘play-calling duties,'” Holder wrote in a letter dated March 24. “Instead, it appears that your head coach has confirmed that Shawn Watson, not you, will be calling the plays. Thus, in reality it appears you unilaterally and voluntarily terminated the Contract to make a lateral move and as such a waiver of the liquidated damages clause of the Contract is not triggered.

“While OSU wishes you every success in your endeavors and burgeoning career, it is paramount to OSU that contract terms be taken seriously and that they be strictly enforced in the interest of professionalism. Accordingly, OSU will insist upon payment of the liquidated damages clause of the Contract.

It’s readily apparent that Wickline does not hold sole play-calling duties at UT. Based on multiple media accounts, Wickline’s OSU contract also didn’t specify that he must maintain sole play-calling responsibilities or be liable for damages. It’s that distinction that will likely be the crux of the battle should the lawsuits ever see the light of day in a courtroom.

Wickline’s lawsuit, meanwhile, was filed Monday and claims “tortuous interference” on the part of OSU. The coach’s suit makes the claim that his former school’s action “is baseless and its sole purpose is to interfere with coach Wickline’s ongoing employment relationship with UT and the UT contract.”

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Pac-12 paces Lott IMPACT quarterfinalists

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

You know you how you can tell another season is quickly beginning to wind down?  Awards begin to whittle their lengthy preseason watch lists down to quarterfinalists or semifinalists.

The first to get down to its quarterfinalists was the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which announced its group of 20 Wednesday.  There were two quarterfinalists from a year ago that made the cut this time around: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with seven players selected.  The ACC and SEC had four players apiece, while the Big Ten and Big 12 had two each.  There were no players from the Non-Power Five conferences as Notre Dame claims the remaining player.

Washington was the only school with two players included.

Linebackers and defensive ends had the most players for positions with eight and six, respectively.  Cornerbacks, safeties and defensive tackles accounted for two apiece.

The Lott Trophy, named after Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, is presented annually to the player who best embodies the award’s six tenets — Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity. Last year’s winner was UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.

Eight semifinalists for the award will be announced Nov. 11. In a release, the award states that “four finalists will fly to Newport Beach for a black-tie gala at the Pacific Club on Dec. 14 where the winner will be announced.”

Below is the complete list of 20 Lott IMPACT quarterfinalists.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Henry Coley, LB, Virginia
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Michael Doctor, LB, Oregon State
Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
David Helton, LB, Duke
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
Hau’oli Kikaha, DE, Washington
Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State
Jordan Richards, S, Stanford
Deterrian Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Leonard Williams, DT, USC

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‘Extremely doubtful’ Wyoming’s injured leading tackler returns in ’14

Mark Nzeocha, Taylor Graham

Wyoming’s defense will likely have to play the remainder of the 2014 season without one of its leaders on that side of the ball.

Mark Nzeocha suffered what appeared to be a knee injury during last Saturday’s overtime loss to San Jose State. While head coach Craig Bohl wouldn’t specify the exact nature of the injury, he was decidedly pessimistic about the senior linebacker’s availability moving forward.

“The outlook for him to be playing the rest of the year would be extremely doubtful,” the coach said.

Nzeocha currently leads the Cowboys in both tackles (59) and passes broken up (five). He’s tied for the team lead with two sacks and he’s second in tackles for loss with three.

With Nzeocha sidelined, seniors Devyn Harris or Jordan Stanton will likely serve as his replacement.

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