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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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USF appears set to make a change at QB

Mike White AP

During and after a four-turnover effort in the loss to Cincinnati last week, starting quarterback Mike White, the Tampa Bay Times wrote, “[got] down on himself and [allowed] teammates to see his dejection.” That didn’t sit well with head coach Willie Taggart… and might end up with White sitting on the bench this weekend.

According to the Times, backup Steven Bench has been seen taking reps with the Bulls’ starting center during practice this week. While Taggart has yet to make a decision on a starter for Saturday’s game against Houston, he again referenced composure in intimating that a change at the position could be in the offing.

“If we’re gonna be the team and win the games that we feel like we should win, everyone’s got to compete and no one can be complacent or get down when things don’t go well,” said Taggart, who didn’t indicate when he’d decide on a starter.

“If we’re gonna be the team and win the games that we feel like we should win, everyone’s got to compete and no one can be complacent or get down when things don’t go well,” the coach said Thursday. “”We’ve got to compete no matter what the situation is, and that’s what we’re looking for in our guys.”

White is currently 90th in the country, and ninth in the AAC, in passing efficiency.  White beat out Bench for the starting job during the middle of summer camp.

Bench, who transferred to the Bulls from Penn State, appears to be in line for his first start of the 2014 season. In 2013, his first season with the Bulls, Bench started a pair of games.

This season, Bench has completed less than half of his 51 passes for 319 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.

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Gordon Gee continues to atone for ‘Sisters of the Poor’ blast at TCU

Orville Redenbacher AP

Saturday, TCU will visit West Virginia for what’s (unbelievably) become one of the Big 12’s games of the year.  It’s a huge deal, replete with ESPN’s College GameDay traveling circus setting up shop in Morgantown.

It also brings up memories of one of WVU president E. Gordon Gee‘s numerous and memorable and controversial feet-in-the-mouth episodes at his former job.

“Well, I don’t know enough about the Xs and Os of college football,” said then-Ohio State president Gee in November of 2010, when asked about teams like Boise State and, yes, TCU being a player in the BCS racket. “I do know, having been both a Southeastern Conference president and a Big Ten president, that it’s like murderer’s row every week for these schools. We do not play the Little Sisters of the Poor. We play very fine schools on any given day. So I think until a university runs through that gauntlet that there’s some reason to believe that they not be the best teams to (be) in the big ballgame.”

With that as a backdrop, Gee went and did this on Twitter Friday.

As could be expected from the self-described Orville Redenbacher look-alike, it doesn’t exactly nudge the funny bone very much.  It is kinda cool, though, that the president continues to realize the absurdity of his closed-minded, four-year-old stupidity.

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‘Egg-throwing situation’ leads to charges for four Nittany Lions

Akeel Lynch, Wendy Laurent AP

Along with candy and costumes, egging is another annual tradition of the Halloween season.  Unlike the first two traditions, though, it’s normally an illegal activity — as a Penn State quartet recently found out.

Late last night, the PSU student newspaper The Daily Collegian reported, four Nittany Lions — tight end Brent Wilkerson, safety Anthony Smith, defensive end Garrett Sickels and center Wendy Laurent (pictured, No. 55) — were charged with criminal mischief. The charges stem from what was described as an on-campus “egg-throwing situation.”

Other than eggs and a building (Beaver Hall) being involved, no other details were released.

“We are aware of the egg-throwing situation that occurred Thursday evening and will determine the appropriate measures for the four squad members involved,” a statement from the school read. Presumably*, the lobbing of eggs at an inanimate object won’t result in any hefty punitive measures being meted out against any of the players.

(*unless a first-year head coach wants to send a message)

Laurent would be the most noticeable name of those involved. The offensive lineman is the team’s No. 2 center and, with starter Donovan Smith’s status uncertain for Saturday’s game against Maryland because of injury, the junior could be in line to start.

The only other player to see the field this season is Anthony Smith, who’s played on special teams in three games.

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Reports: UGA’s Keith Marshall won’t play vs. Florida

Keith Marshall

No Todd Gurley, no Keith Marshall and no Sony Michel have been no problem for Georgia for quite a while.  Saturday, it’ll be lather, rinse, repeat in UGA’s backfield for the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.

As previously reported, Gurley, suspended for two more games by the NCAA earlier this week, won’t play against Florida after his appeal was denied.  Additionally, both the Macon Telegraph’s Seth Emerson and 247Sports.com’s Gentry Estes are reporting that Marshall didn’t travel with the team to Jacksonville and, thus, won’t play in the annual rivalry game.

Marshall has been sidelined since suffering an ankle injury — presumably the high-ankle variety — in the Sept. 20 win over Troy, with Saturday marking the fifth consecutive game he will have missed.  This season, the former four-star running back has rushed for just 24 yards on 12 carries.

Additionally, Sony Michel is doubtful with a shoulder injury he suffered a week after Marshall’s injury.  Michel is still currently third on the team in rushing with 223 yards.

As has been the case since Gurley’s autographs-for-money issues surfaced, Nick Chubb will shoulder the bulk of the running-game load against the Gators.

The first five games of the season, the true freshman ran for 223 yards and two touchdowns.  The last two, those numbers are 345 and three, including a career-high 202 in the win over Arkansas two weeks ago.  In those two games, Chubb is responsible for 68 of the 86 running back carries; in the win over the Razorbacks, it was 30 to three.

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Four former winners highlight Dodd coaching award watch list

David Cutcliffe

In yet another (sad) sign that yet another season is rapidly slipping away, a coaching award has released its midseason(ish) watch list.

The second such major award to do the deed — the Bear Bryant Award did the same a week or so ago — is the Dodd Trophy, which recognizes “the head coach of a team which enjoys a successful football season while also stressing the importance of academic excellence and character.” A total of 13 coaches made the initial cut, all of whom come from Power Five conference schools.

Four former winners of the award are on the watch list, including last year’s winner, Duke’s David Cutcliffe, and two-time winner Bill Snyder of Kansas State (1998, 2012). The other two are Clemson’s Dabo Swinney (2011) and Bob Stoops (2003).

Some of the noteworthy names left off the list includes, among others, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Ole Miss’ Hugh Freeze, Marshall’s Doc Holliday, TCU’s Gary Patterson, Baylor’s Art Briles and Oregon’s Mark Helfrich.  The first two and last three of those have their respective teams in the Top 10, while the Herd is one of just three unbeaten FBS squads.

Meanwhile, two-loss coaches like Swinney, Stoops and UCLA’s Jim Mora are a part of the group.

The SEC led all conferences with four coaches on the watch list.  The ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac-12 have two apiece.

The 2014 winner of the Dodd Trophy will be announced in Atlanta during the week prior to the Dec. 31 Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl week.

2014 Dodd Trophy Watch List

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Harvey Updyke claims he’s going trick-or-treating… as a dead tree

Harvey Updyke AP

Because, of course he is.  Possibly

On the scariest of the holidays, one of the most frightening football fans on the planet, Harvey Updyke, is making a claim related to the criminal offense that turned him into a household name a couple of years ago.  In a Facebook posting this afternoon, the convicted tree-killer claimed that he will be going trick-or-treating this Halloween dressed up as a dead tree.

Updyke, a lifelong Alabama fan, was convicted of poisoning, and ultimately killing, the famed Toomer’s Corner oaks at Auburn following the 2010 Iron Bowl.

This stunt, as it were, comes a couple of months after Updyke had been scheduled to appear at a charity event where people would’ve been allowed to either dunk [Updyke] in a dunking booth or throw pies at his face.  Because of the ensuing uproar, the appearance was canceled.

Even if it’s a joke, which is what we’re guessing will eventually be the case, it likely won’t come off as a particularly funny one to either UA or AU fans.

Updyke, as “Al from Dadeville,” infamously called into the Paul Finebaum radio show in February of 2011 and claimed to have poisoned the Toomer’s oaks after Auburn beat Alabama in the 2010 Iron Bowl. He was subsequently arrested, chargedand ultimately pleaded guilty to one count of criminal damage of an agricultural facility, a Class-C felony. He was sentenced to three years in jailhe served 180 days of the sentence — and was placed on supervised probation for a period of five years. During that probationary period, he has a 7 p.m. curfew.

Additionally, Updyke, who now lives in Louisiana less than an hour from the LSU campus, was ordered to pay $800,000 in restitution and has been barred from the following: any Auburn University property, any collegiate sporting event and speaking to the media.  Thus far, he’s only reportedly paid $99 in restitution.

While there was initial hope that the oaks could be saved, they were ultimately taken down after one final roll. New trees are expected to be planted next year.

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Deshaun Watson resumes throwing football in practice

Deshaun Watson AP

No, Deshaun Watson is not ready for a return to the playing field, but he’s getting closer.  Much, much closer.

For the first time Wednesday night since injuring his hand in the Oct. 11 win over Louisville, the Charleston Post & Courier reported, the Clemson quarterback threw a football at practice.  The fact that Watson is back throwing a football less than three weeks after incurring the injury came as a bit of a shock to the true freshman’s offensive coordinator.

“Looked good. I think he’s kind of surprised everybody how far along he is right now with everything,” Chad Morris said. “[Wednesday] was his first time back into it taking actual snaps and reps, so it was good to see him back in there.”

Despise the surprise of what thus far has been a speedy recovery, don’t look for the original timeline for a return to be updated. Probably.

Morris, whose Tigers are on a bye this weekend, said its “doubtful” Watson would play in the Thursday night game next week against Wake Forest. That, though, is actually a slight upgrade as Watson’s currently listed as “out” on the official Clemson injury report for that game.

Cole Stoudt, who has started the last two games, is still expected to start against the Demon Deacons.  Watson might — might — be available as an emergency-type quarterback if the need arises.  Barring a setback, Watson is expected to return for the Nov. 15 game against Georgia Tech as the starter.

Watson remains the No. 2 quarterback in the country in passing efficiency, behind only Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota of Oregon. In the two games Watson has started and completed — he was injured early on in his third start– the Tigers have averaged 45.5 points per game; in Stoudt’s four starts against FBS teams, that average is 17.7 ppg.

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Dave Brandon officially out as Michigan’s AD

University of Michigan Introduces Brady Hoke Getty Images

The trigger has officially been pulled.

Following up on reports that surfaced late Friday morning, Michigan president Mark Schlissel announced this afternoon that Dave Brandon has (ahem) “resigned as UM’s athletic director”.  The move comes after a month in which Brandon was assailed from numerous corners for various missteps, from the handling of the Shane Morris head injury to the corporate nature of home football games to go along with the pricing to an embarrassing string of emails from the AD to various fans.

Add in the football team’s 3-5 record to start the 2014 season, its worst since 2008, and it’s a recipe for what most will consider a forced resignation after four years on the job.

“Dave feels that it would be in the best interest of our student-athletes, our athletic department and our university community if he moved on,” the president said.  Schlissel stated during a press conference that he accepted Brandon’s resignation this morning and that he agreed with the now-former AD’s decision to step aside.

Former UM football player Jim Hackett will serve as interim athletic director until a permanent replacement is found. Mlive.com wrote that “Hackett, a 1977 Michigan graduate, comes to U-M after two decades as chief executive of Grand Rapids-based Steelcase Inc., one of the world’s largest office furniture makers based.”

Brandon’s departure almost certainly means Brady Hoke, already on one of the hottest coaching seats in America, will be out as the Wolverines’ head coach at season’s end, if not sooner.  And, just who will make the decision to kick the chair out from underneath Hoke’s noosed neck?

Speculation had heavily centered on Arkansas AD and College Football Playoff chairperson Jeff Long even before Brandon’s resignation was announced; expect that speculation to increase exponentially with today’s development.  UConn’s Warde Manuel and Boston College’s Brad Bates have been mentioned prominently as well.  There’s even one report that tosses the name of Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione into the mix, while another states UM has already reached out to current Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke.

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Kentucky again extends Mark Stoops’ contract

Mark Stoops AP

Back in May, Kentucky announced that it had extended the contract of Mark Stoops.

Nearly six months and eight games later, they’ve done it again.

UK announced Friday afternoon that it had reached an agreement on yet another contract extension for its head football coach.  The deal back in May would’ve kept Stoops with the Wildcats through June 30, 2019; this new agreement binds him to UK through the 2019 season, meaning that it’s a rare half-year extension.

“Mark is guiding our program in the direction we all want it to go and we are proud to reward that,” athletic director Mitch Barnhart wrote in the first of a series of tweets posted to his Twitter account. “I was confident Mark was right for this job when I hired him, but he has exceeded my expectations. From leading a group of young men to recruiting to fundraising, Mark has embraced and excelled in all facets of this job. I am excited about the progress our team has shown on the field, but this is as much about the next five years as it is the last 1.5.

“As I’ve said before, I believe we can compete at the highest level in the toughest conference. @UKCoachStoops is the coach to take us there.”

There was no word on what if any salary increases may be involved.

After going 2-10 in his first season last year, Stoops has his Wildcats sitting at 5-3 in 2014 and on the verge of bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010.  While there’s certainly a greater on-field buzz when it comes to the Wildcats, it’s on the recruiting trail where it’s the loudest and most pronounced.

Kentucky currently has the No. 22 recruiting class for the 2015 cycle after Stoops and his coaching staff pulled in the No. 17 class this past February and the No. 29 class in 2013.  Prior to Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — finish inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.

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David Brandon will reportedly step down as Michigan’s AD

University of Michigan Introduces Brady Hoke Getty Images

It appears Michigan’s athletic department — and likely its football program as well — is about to embark on a new direction.

Late Friday morning, UM announced in a press release that university president Mark Schlissel will conduct a press conference at 1:30 ET this afternoon. The only reason given for the presser was that Schlissel would be making an unspecified announcement.

It’s been rumored for weeks that embattled athletic director Dave Brandon is on his way out. Based on one report, that’s indeed both the case and the subject of the this afternoon’s media event.

The Detroit News subsequently confirmed that Brandon will be stepping down.

In addition to the woeful performance of the football team under Brady Hoke, Brandon has come under fire for the handling of the Shane Morris head injury; the corporate nature of home football games to go along with the pricing; and an embarrassing string of emails from the AD to various fans.

Should Brandon be out as all signs indicate, it would likely serve as the second-to-last nail in Hoke’s coaching coffin, with the last being driven in by the new AD just before he brings in his own hand-picked head coach.

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Tulane loses WR to season-ending ACL injury

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Tulane AP

Unfortunately for both the player and the team, reality matched the speculation.

Tulane confirmed earlier this week that Xavier Rush suffered an undisclosed knee injury during practice and would undergo further evaluation.  There were rumblings that the injury was related to the wide receiver’s ACL.

While the school has yet to confirm it, both the Baton Rouge Advocate and New Orleans Times-Picayune are reporting that Rush has indeed torn an ACL.  The Green Wave is expected to confirm the news at some point today.

As the senior has already used his redshirt season and he will not be eligible for a medical waiver, Rush’s collegiate career has come to an end.

Rush is currently second on the Green Wave in receiving yards with 295 and leads the team with three receiving touchdowns and a 19.7 yards per catch average. His 15 catches are second among receivers and third among all players.

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Reports: Kyle Allen to start at QB for A&M

Kyle Allen AP

The 2014 season began with Kenny “Trill™” Hill being mentioned alongside other Heisman Trophy contenders.  It could, though, end with a performance-based benching.

Officially, Texas A&M will not name a starting quarterback for Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Monroe until shortly before kickoff.  Unofficially, a change is in the offing at the most important position on the football field as both the CBS affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth and Billy Liucci of TexAgs.com are reporting that Kyle Allen will get the start in the non-conference home game.

Hill tossed six interceptions in the last two losses to Alabama and Ole Miss, leading to the quarterback competition being opened up yet again during the Aggies’ bye week.  He had been named as Johnny Manziel‘s successor in mid-August after a fight with Allen that began in the spring and continued on into summer camp.

Should Allen start against ULM, he’d hit the field with as impressive an on-paper pedigree as any player in the country.  Allen came to College Station this season as a five-star member of the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 7 player at any position.

Allen has thrown passes in four of eight games this season, going 23-38 for 264 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

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No. 2 Florida State still unconquered, rallies to beat Louisville 42-31

Dalvin Cook

Before we get to what Louisville didn’t do, first let’s discuss what Florida State did on Thursday night: overcome a 21-0 deficit on the road, score 42 points over the game’s last 30 minutes and 33 seconds, drop 580 yards of total offense (and 380 in the second half) against the nation’s top statistical defense, and held the Louisville without a third- or fourth-down conversion until the game was put away. And in the process, No. 2 Florida State extended its winning streak to 24 games with a rise-from-the-dead 42-31 victory over Louisville.

With that out of the way, here is the list of things Louisville did not do that could have pushed this game the other way:

  • Turn a 1st-and-goal at the four into points on the game’s opening possession.
  • Recover a fumble by Florida State’s Karlos Williams at the goal line in the waning moments of the first half.
  • Hold on to the ball after intercepting Jameis Winston to open the second half.
  • Corral what would have been a possible pick six, which would have pushed Louisville’s lead to 31-21.
  • Convert a third down while the game was still in doubt.
  • Catch a 4th-and-2 pass with room to run while trailing 35-31 deep into the fourth quarter.

In the end, Louisville did just enough to give its fans (and the FSU-hating masses) just enough to hope, but not enough to actually put the game away.

Florida State trailed 21-0 late in the second quarter, and got on the board 33 seconds before halftime after Nick O’Leary recovered Williams’ fumble in the end zone to pull within 21-7 at the half.

Cardinals defensive back Gerold Holliman intercepted Winston – the reigning Heisman winner’s third pick of the night, and second to Holliman – on the first play from scrimmage of the second half, but Winston then forced a fumble as Holliman fought for extra yardage, and wide receiver Travis Rudolph hopped on the loose pigskin.

Louisville forced a turn0ver on downs on the next possession and then pushed the lead to 24-7 a minute later, but the two 50/50 plays falling Florida State’s way gave the Seminoles life.

Normally a 17-point road deficit is overcome through the battle-hardened strength only veterans possess, but true freshman teamed with Winston to overcome and then put away Louisville over the last 25 minutes of the game. Winston hit freshman Rudolph for a 68-yard catch-and-run score to pull within 24-14, and then true freshman Dalvin Cook accounted for 76 yards in an 80-yard drive, including a 40-yard touchdown dash, to make the score 24-21.

Florida State took its first lead with 12:48 to go in the fourth quarter when Winston hit Ermon Lane, another freshman, for a 47-yard pass that somehow threaded through three Louisville defenders, and came one play after Holliman let a possible pick-six bounce off his knee and land incomplete.

Louisville then regained the lead with 9:20 to go on a one-yard Dyer plunge, but the Seminoles re-took it for good with a 38-yard rush by Cook. The Cardinals’ next possession ended when a Will Gardner pass bounced off tight end Charles Standberry‘s hands on 4th-and-2 at the Louisville 39 with a shade over 150 seconds to go. Florida State scored three plays later when Winston hit fullback Freddie Stevenson for a 35-yard play-action touchdown pass on a 3rd-and-6.

Winston posted his finest performance of the season, overcoming self-inflicted adversity and a bum ankle to complete 25-of-48 passes for 401 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions (and one very important forced fumble), while Cook came off the bench to account for 150 yards and two touchdowns on 13 touches.

Gardner threw for 330 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but did not rise to the moment when Louisville needed it, missing every third down pass until the game was out of reach. DeVante Parker carried the Cardinals’ passing attack with eight grabs for 214 yards. Dyer rushed 28 times for 134 yards and three touchdowns, but tallied only 39 yards in the second half.

Louisville drops to a very painful 6-3 (4-3 ACC) on the season and heads to Boston College on Saturday.

Florida State improves to 8-0 on the year, and is now one win away from becoming the 11th team in the last 50 years to mount a 25-game winning streak.

After Clemson (17-10 deficit into a 23-17 win), N.C. State (24-7 deficit into a 56-41 win), Notre Dame (17-10 deficit into a 31-27 win) and tonight, this 2014 Florida State team has taught future opponents that they had best not bother even taking a lead; defeat is inevitable, and that’s just going to make it all the more painful.

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Georgia Southern drubs Troy 42-10, pushes winning streak to six

Willie Fritz, Kevin Ellison

One week after popping Georgia State to the tune of 69 points, 10 touchdowns in 11 possessions and 613 rushing yards, Georgia Southern kept the beat going with a 42-10 blowout of Troy on Thursday night.

Nine Georgia Southern rushers combined for 421 yards and six touchdowns on 63 carries. Quarterback Kevin Ellison led the way with 99 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries while also completing 5-of-9 passes for 31 yards, and Favian Upshaw added 96 yards and a touchdown on seven carries.

Tonight’s result means Georgia Southern, the top-ranked FBS rushing offense at a shade over 400 yards per game, has racked up 1,034 rushing yards in the past five days. They’ve punted twice in 22 combined possessions.

All that running limited Troy to just 44 offensive snaps. Five Trojans combined to rush 33 times for 141 yards, while two quarterbacks lifted only 11 passes with four completions for a combined 13 yards. The Trojans were held out of the end zone until the 1:18 mark of the fourth quarter, with the score already at 42-3.

In all, Georgia Southern outgained Troy 461-154 and held a 28-9 advantage in first downs.

The win pushes Georgia Southern to 7-2 and 6-0 in Sun Belt play with a trip to Texas State waiting next Saturday.

Troy (1-8, 1-4 Sun Belt) will host Georgia State next Saturday.

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NCAA upholds Todd Gurley suspension, won’t return until Nov. 15

Todd Gurley

The Todd Gurley saga has finally reached its final conclusion.

The NCAA announced Thursday night it had upheld Georgia’s appeal of his four-game suspension for accepting more than $3,000 in exchange for autographs.

Gurley has missed the last two games due to the investigation, and will miss the ninth-ranked Bulldogs’ dates with Georgia (Saturday) and Kentucky (Nov. 8).

“We are very disappointed in tonight’s decision by the Division I Student-Athlete Reinstatement Committee regarding our appeal on Todd Gurley’s eligibility reinstatement,” Georgia said in a statement. “We believe our case to the NCAA for Todd’s immediate reinstatement was strong and compelling.  However, we now have exhausted all available options and look forward to Todd’s return to competition on November 15.  The full attention of the Bulldog Nation now needs to be focused on our team and Saturday’s important game against Florida.”

The silver lining here for Georgia is that the Bulldogs should beat the Gators and Wildcats without Gurley, and then get a rested and hacked off version of the nation’s best runner back for No. 4 Auburn on Nov. 15.

Despite missing the past two games, Gurley still leads Georgia in rushing with 773 carries and eight touchdowns on 94 carries while catching 11 passes for 53 yards and completing his only pass for 50 yards.

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