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Clowney secures $5 million NCAA insurance policy

Jadeveon Clowney, Talh Boyd AP

Hey, if it’s good enough for the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, it’s good enough for one of the front-runners for the 2013 version of the award.

South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowneyhe of the freakish 4.5 40-yard dash at 270-plus pounds — confirmed to reporters Thursday that he has indeed secured a $5 million insurance policy through the NCAA.  That figure is the maximum amount allowed under current NCAA guidelines.

The premium for such a policy, which falls under the auspices of the “Exceptional Student-Athlete Disability Program,” is in the neighborhood of $40,000 annually.  The NCAA will finance the the money needed to cover the premium — at a low-interest rate that would be paid back upon returning pro, incidentally — although the policy would only pay out upon a player suffering a career-ending injury.

If Clowney were to suffer an injury that negatively impacted his draft stock — he’s widely expected to make the early leap to the NFL in 2014 and is the prohibitive favorite to be the first player selected — but was not career-ending, the lineman would receive no money from the policy.

Clowney could also go through a private insurer to secure a policy, although the NCAA would not help with the payment of the premium in such a case.

There’s no word on whether Vincent Smith will seek a similar policy, although it’s better to be safe than sorry as you never know when you may run into Clowney during the postseason.

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Pitt names Chad Voytik starting QB

Chad Voytik AP

As expected, Pittsburgh has turned to Chad Voytik under center.

In an announcement that should surprise absolutely no one, Pitt head coach Paul Chryst announced that Voytik has been named as his starting quarterback.  The redshirt sophomore had been in a competition with senior Trey Anderson throughout the spring and on into summer camp, although from the time he played the entire second half of the Panthers’ bowl game it has seemingly been Voytik’s job to lose.

Voytik will replace Tom Savage, last year’s starter whose eligibility expired after an 18-year collegiate career.  This will, incidentally, mark the third consecutive season that Pitt has a different starting quarterback at the beginning of the year.

Voytik played in four games as Savage’s backup last season, completing 6-of-11 passes for 116 yards along the way.  Nine of those attempts and 108 of those yards came in the Little Caesars Bowl win over Bowling Green.  While he didn’t throw a touchdown pass, he did rush for a score in the 30-27 win.

A four-star member of Pitt’s 2012 recruiting class, Voytik was rated as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 1 player in the state of Tennessee.

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Former four-star lineman leaving Texas

Rami Hammad

A promising young offensive lineman will see, as it turns out, said promise realized at somewhere other than Texas.

At a press conference Thursday, head coach Charlie Strong announced that Rami Hammad has become the latest player to leave the UT football program over the past few weeks.  Hammad, however, is not a forced departure as he has simply decided to transfer out.

No reason was given for the departure, although Hammad likely wouldn’t have appeared on the two-deep depth chart heading into the season.

Hammad was a four-star member of the Longhorns’ 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 10 guard in the country and the No. 24 player at any position in the state of Texas.  He didn’t play a s a true freshman, instead taking his redshirt.

(Photo credit: Texas athletics)

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Hoosier WR Caleb Cornett arrested, suspended

Football player head shots, 06/23/14_Mike Dickbernd

An arrest early Wednesday morning that resulted in no charges for an Indiana Hoosier has still ended with punitive measures for the player.

In a statement sent out Thursday afternoon, IU head coach Kevin Wilson announced that Caleb Cornett has been indefinitely suspended following the incident.

“We are aware of Caleb’s situation and take this matter very seriously,” Wilson said in the statement. “At this time, Caleb is suspended from all team activities. Once we gather all of the facts and information, we will move forward accordingly.”

The situation involving the wide receiver is actually a bizarre one.

Cornett was involved in a physical confrontation with another male in downtown Bloomington yesterday morning. Police officers witnessed Cornett throw a punch that result in the male being “knocked unconscious for several minutes” and was arrested for battery and disorderly conduct. The Indianapolis Star wrote that “[t]he other individual involved in the incident was transported to Bloomington Hospital.”

Because it was deemed to be a “mutual combat scenario,” though, prosecutors decided the player wouldn’t be charged.

However, Cornett remains jailed. Why? In a previously unreported incident, Cornett was arrested and charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated. While the charge was ultimately pleaded down to reckless operation, Cornett was still placed on probation. The arrest triggered a violation of his probation.

The previous legal issue likely also played a role in Cornett being suspended despite a lack of charges in the most recent incident.

Cornett played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman last season, mostly on special teams.  While he had as many catches as I did, Cornett was expected to see his playing time on offense increased.

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CFT 2013 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

WVU vs Marshall

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big 12 Conference.

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG 12

1. Oklahoma (Last year: 11-2; beat Alabama in Sugar Bowl)
Will the real Oklahoma Sooners please stand up? Questions surround one of the most talented teams in college football. Will Trevor Knight be the quarterback that shredded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, or will he revert to the player that couldn’t initially beat out Blake Bell (who converted to tight end) to become the team’s starting quarterback? Will wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham receive a waiver from the NCAA to play this season? How will the Sooners overcome the losses of their top tackler, Frank Shannon, and five-star freshman Joe Mixon? And, historically, the Sooners have a penchant to disappoint after being named a preseason Top 5 team. The program will enter this season ranked fourth overall in the AP Poll and third in USA TODAY’s Coaches Poll. Despite these questions, the Sooners are still the favorites to win the Big 12. Oklahoma returns eight starters to a defensive unit that was the Big 12’s best last season. The group is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker, who is one of the most feared defenders in the country. Knight is the key on offense, but the quarterback will benefit from an experienced and talented offensive line. Both of the team’s starting offensive tackles as well as left guard Adam Shead return for another season. The Sooners’ ability to win up front on both sides of the ball will give them a decided advantage each week. Oklahoma will need it, because the team may have to go undefeated to be a part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor (Last year: 11-2; lost to UCF in Fiesta Bowl) 
Despite Oklahoma’s status as the favorite to claim a Big 12 crown, it’s a wide-open race and the Bears have just as much chance to win a conference title. Whereas the Sooners will rely heavily on a strong defense and an improving offense, the Bears will continue to score points in bunches and hope they can stop opponents at least once or twice per game. The biggest advantage the Bears have among their conference rivals is the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions during his first full season as a starter. Petty should be even better during his second season as he continues to grow in all phases of the game. The Bears also lay claim to the most talented group of skill position players in the conference. Five of the team’s top six receivers from last year return, while running Shock Linwood will get an opportunity to show how explosive he is as the team’s new starting running back. The Bears will score points in bunches. It will fall on the defense to makes sure they don’t surrender more points than the team’s offense can score. College football is more offensive driven than its ever been, but we’ll give Oklahoma a very slight edge over Baylor due to the old adage, “Defense wins championships.”

3. Texas (Last year: 8-5; lost to Oregon in Alamo Bowl)
Everything Texas does this season will be under a microscope. New head coach Charlie Strong will be scrutinized at every turn. How the team responds to Strong, both on and off the field, will be compared to the program’s former coach, Mack Brown. Strong has already made a statement during the offseason by suspending or dismissing numerous players. Everyone will be anxious to see whether or not this new-found discipline in the locker room will eventually translate to the field. In four seasons with the Louisville Cardinals, Strong was 37-15 overall with an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators in 2012. What Strong inherits in Texas is a far more talented roster than he ever had in Louisville, and his Cardinals finished No. 1 overall in total defense last season. Strong, a former defensive coordinator, should be giddy with the talent he now has on the defensive side of the football. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Cedric Reed are as good of an inside-outside defensive line tandem as can be found in college football. On offense, meanwhile, the team will will rely on quarterback David Ash again. Believe it or not, Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12. But this will be a run-first team with the talented Malcolm Brown and the recovering Jonathan Gray running behind a big and athletic offensive line. Texas has enough to compete for a Big 12 championship if it finally puts everything together on both sides of the football.

4. Texas Tech (Last year: 8-5; beat Arizona State in Holiday Bowl)
The Red Raiders did their best disappearing act a year ago. Kliff Kingsbury‘s squad started 7-0 and was ranked as high as 10th overall before the team faded down the stretch. Texas Tech lost five straight to end the team’s regular season but bounced back with a 37-23 victory against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl. The losing streak showed the Red Raiders weren’t ready to play against the big boys of the Big 12. However, the win in the bowl game showed the team’s resiliency and growth during the month the team had to regroup and grow with the extra practices. And the Red Raiders will continue to build their program under Kingsbury. The biggest growth should come on the offensive side of the ball. Texas Tech already had the best passing offense in the conference last year, and it should be even better in 2014. Davis Webb enters his first full season as starter. Webb threw for over 400 yards in four games and finished with 20-to-9 touchdown-interception ratio. Both of his offensive tackles and center return along the offensive line. And each of the wide receivers expected to start received plenty of playing time last season. The defense is another matter altogether, but this is a team built to win games with its passing game and offensive explosiveness. Kingsbury has made his mark in a very short time as a head coach, and his team should be expected to impress during his second season with the program.

5. Kansas State (Last year: 8-5; beat Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Everyone will know whether or not the Wildcats are for real this season by Sept. 18. On that day, Kansas State will host the Auburn Tigers. The clash of styles will make for an highly intriguing game. The reason this game is so important for the Wildcats is because the teams they lost to last season either ran the ball very well or operated with tempo on offense. The Tigers do both, and they do both very well. The game is Manhattan, and Kansas State will be prepared very well by the ageless Bill Snyder. This is a program that is built around playing fundamental football and winning close games. Three top offensive linemen may have left the program after last season, but the team should still be very good up front with B.J. Finney at center and Cody Whitehair at left guard. They’ll be blocking for a quarterback, Jake Waters, who will be going into his second season as the team’s starter. And Tyler Lockett is one of the most dynamic wide receivers and return men in the nation. This is a team that could very well finish much higher or lower in the standings. It’s all dependent on whether or not the ball bounces in their favor, because they don’t have a player the caliber of Collin Klein to carry the team to the top of the conference.

6. TCU (Last year: 4-8)
It’s been a rough transition to the Big 12 for the Horned Frogs. The team is 11-14 since making the move. The program lost a combined 13 games the previous six seasons. However, this year’s squad is regarded as the most talented since it entered the league. Last season, the Horned Frogs’ defense played at a high level and finished second in the league. The biggest story line of the offseason, though, was the potential return and eventual dismissal of Devonte Fields. The defensive end was voted the Big 12’s preseason Defensive of the Year even after missing nine games last season due to injury. Fields, who was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012, was a game-changing talent and his presence on the field will be missed greatly. The team also lost one of the best cornerbacks in school history when Jason Verrett graduated and went on to become a first-round selection in May’s NFL draft. Despite these losses, this unit is still talented, particularly at linebacker. Both Jonathan Anderson and Paul Dawson return. And head coach Gary Patterson always has that side of the football prepared to play at a high level. It’s on the offensive side of the football the Horned Frogs are expected to experience the most growth. While a starter has yet to be named at quarterback, Trevone Boykin should be more comfortable behind center after starting nine games last year and Matt Joeckel is a talented transfer from Texas A&M. The team can always lean heavily on its skill positions. Running backs Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon as well as the team’s top receiver, Josh Doctson, are back. TCU may not return to the level of winning it experienced prior to becoming a member of the Big 12, but the team should be much better than 4-8 during the upcoming season.

7. Oklahoma State (Last year: 10-3; lost to Missouri in Cotton Bowl)
It’s difficult to place the Cowboys this low in the standings. After all, the program has won at least 10 games three of the last four years. It’s been seven years since Oklahoma finished this low in the Big 12 standings. The biggest concern for this team is experience. Both sides of the ball will be overhauled after losing a total of 14 starters. It isn’t just how many starters the Cowboys lost, but who they lost. Justin Gilbert was an elite cornerback and returner. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett could be dominant at times. The team’s top three tacklers from last season are gone. Three of the team’s top four receivers graduated. And the offensive line will have four new starters, while senior Daniel Koenig will transition from right to left tackle. Head coach Mike Gundy will still find ways to manufacture points due to his dynamic offensive scheme, but this is simply too much talent for a team to lose and still hope to be legitimate contenders.

8. Iowa State (Last year: 3-9)
Three years ago, Iowas State head coach Paul Rhoads was considered one of the top coaching candidates in college football. The Cyclones rewarded him with a 10-year contract worth $20 million. The Cyclones are 9-16 since then, and the team is coming off a 3-9 season. Two of those wins came at the end end of the season when quarterback Sam Richardson wasn’t in the starting lineup. Yet, Richardson won this summer’s quarterback competition. The rest of last year’s starting offense remains virtually intact. Plus, Richardson will now have a legitimate No. 1 target at wide receiver in freshman Allen Lazard. Despite the positives on the offensive side of the ball, the Cyclones’ defense was the worst in the Big 12 last season. The program simply doesn’t have the athletes on that side of the ball to compete against the explosive offenses they face this season.

9. West Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
It’s a make-or-break season for West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. The team has gotten progressively worse each season Holgorsen has been at the helm of the program and tensions are building in Morgantown. Holgorsen’s entire program is built around his offense. An offense which disappointed in 2013 and finished 62nd overall in yardage per game. That level of production simply isn’t good enough when the defense continues to be an issue for the Mountaineers. The defensive coordinator position has been a revolving door under Holgorsen’s supervision. Former Penn State coordinator Tom Bradley was hired as a senior associate head coach during the offseason. Bradley’s inclusion to the staff is a last-ditch attempt to get a woeful defense on track. If it doesn’t and Holgorsen can’t revive his offense — and it doesn’t seem likely — there will be major changes within the program.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
At this point, what is there to say about Charlie Weis‘ tenure at Kansas? It’s a failed experiment. Yes, the team improved by two wins during Weis’ second season and finally captured a conference victory for the first time in three years. But Weis’ plan to inject talent into the roster with a plethora of junior college additions and transfers didn’t do nearly enough to close the gap with the rest of the teams in the Big 12. All is not bleak, though. The Jayhawks return 17 starters. The team has officially given the reins to quarterback Montell Cozart, who decided to stay in-state to be the future of Jayhawks football. His growth at the position will play a major part in Kansas’ improvement this season. The team also has a solid edge-rushing duo in junior Ben Goodman and senior Michael Reynolds. Overall, It’s difficult to win at this basketball school. And it’s even more difficult to establish a long-term winning culture. After a quick peak at the schedule, it’s hard to project this team winning more than three or four games even in a best-case scenario.

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Clemson loses OT Shaq Anthony to transfer

Shaq Anthony

In early March it was announced that Shaq Anthony was one of four Clemson players suspended for the opener against Georgia.  Five months later, it’s now known that offensive tackle won’t be available for the game after that, or the game after that, or, well, any other game for that matter.

In a press release, Clemson announced that Anthony has decided to transfer out of the football program.  The decision comes just nine days before the opener.

“I appreciate the hard work Shaq has put into this program,” said head coach Dabo Swinney in a statement. “Sometimes a player needs a change. I support his decision and will help him any way I can. I wish him nothing but the best.”

The moves comes as a surprise as the redshirt junior had long projected to be the starting right tackle, although his suspension had, at least temporarily, handed that job to Joe Gore.

Anthony started five of the 17 games in which he played the past two seasons. He was a three-star member of the Tigers’ 2011 recruiting class.

“I have enjoyed my time at Clemson and appreciate the opportunity I’ve had,” said Anthony. “This is an outstanding program, but I wish to make a clean start at a program where I can hopefully be a starter. I want to thank all the Clemson coaches, my teammates and the Clemson family for their support. I will always be a Tiger.”

If Anthony transfers to an FBS program, he’d more than likely be forced to sit out the 2014 season. He would then have one season of eligibility remaining.

This is the second significant loss for the Tigers the past two days. Wednesday, Clemson announced that Zac Brooks, the Tigers’ leading returning rusher, would miss the entire 2014 season with a foot injury.

(Photo credit: Clemson athletics)

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UTSA regents approve Larry Coker’s extension

Larry Coker

In late November it was reported that Larry Coker and UT-San Antonio were closing in on an approval for a contract extension for the head coach.

Nearly nine months later that “closing in on” has morphed into “finalized.”

According to the San Antonio Express-News, a contract extension for Coker has been signed off on by the University of Texas Systems’ Board of Regents. The regents gave their official approval during a meeting Thursday morning.

The contract extension, which would extend Coker through the 2018 season, had already been recommended to the regents and approved by the UT System’s vice chancellor for academic affairs. Coker would be 70 years old if he’s still the Roadrunners’ head coach at the end of the extension.

The fact that UTSA would extend Coker is far from surprising as he’s taken a fledgling football program and, in short order, turned it into one of the “mid-majors” on the rise.

UTSA’s first season was in 2011 as a member of the FCS; the Roadrunners have spent the past two seasons as provisional FBS members.

The fact that UTSA is now a full-fledged FBS member, officially confirmed earlier this month, means that the Roadrunners will be bowl-eligible in 2014. In 2012 and 2013, during UTSA’s FBS transition phase, the Roadrunners went 8-4 and 7-5, respectively, which would’ve made the school eligible for the postseason.

The Roadrunners will compete in Conference USA — they were in that conference last year, in the now-defunct WAC the year before — and will be eligible for that league’s championship game as well.

As we wrote before and for the record, UTSA opens 2014 with games against Houston, Arizona and Oklahoma State. Nothing says “cannonballing into full FBS membership” more than that schedule.

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Want to throw a pie in Harvey Updyke’s face? Here’s your chance

Harvey Almorn Updyke Jr.

I don’t know who this’ll be more popular amongst, Alabama fans or Auburn fans. Or who’d more want to take a shot at him.

Regardless, Harvey Updyke, the Alabama fan who poisoned the famed oak trees at Auburn’s Toomer’s Corner a couple of years ago, has agreed to appear at a charity function in Mobile, Ala., next month, ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach reported. At this charity event, which is being held to raise funds for a family whose young son died of cancer last month, “fans will be allowed to either dunk [Updyke] in a dunking booth or throw pies at his face,” Schlabach wrote.

Former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron and his mother are helping raise awareness to the event, but it’s Updyke’s (potential) presence that’ll trigger the most attention nationally. The event’s organizer, Alabama fan T.J. Hodges, stated the “Updyke idea came from me thinking outside the box to raise money for the family” and that “I thought I’d take a chance and see if Harvey was interested in helping, and he said he’d do whatever we wanted.”

It did, though, take Updyke a while to get to that point.

“He thought about it and thought about it,” Updyke’s wife, Elva, told Schlabach. “His daughter said he needed to do it because it will show that he’s not as big of a nut as some people believe. He told them they can do whatever they want to him if it will raise money for kids.”

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, charged and 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.

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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Gamecocks RB Mike Davis’ status for A&M game up in the air

Florida v South Carolina Getty Images

This is certainly, at bare minimum, an interesting development that bears monitoring.

South Carolina’s Mike Davis has been unable to practice the past two days because of a rib injury. Both the running back and his position coach have told the media that, essentially, there’s nothing to worry about.

That’s not the tone his head coach took as Steve Spurrier, already dealing with the loss of a starting offensive lineman, intimated Wednesday that the star back could miss the opener against Texas A&M because of the injury.

“Mike Davis has been hurt, he hasn’t practiced all week,” Spurrier told the Sportstalk radio network by way of The State. “I don’t know if he’d even be able to start or not. But we got Brandon Wilds, he’s ready to go. Shon Carson, Dave Williams, so we’re in good shape there. …

“He hasn’t practiced much, so we’ll see how much he’s ready to play for the game.”

It could just be a case of the OBC playing mind games with his opponents a week ahead of their season-opening date with the Aggies that also doubles as the conference opener for both. Or, it could be very real concern.

Whatever the case, a healthy Davis is an all-important key for whatever success the Gamecocks have this season.

One of the more underrated players in not only the SEC but in college football as a whole, Davis led USC with 1,183 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s also a weapon out of the backfield as his 34 receptions for 352 yards were good for fourth on the team.

Carson’s 256 yards and Wilds’ 221 yards last season made them the second- and third-leading rushers among running backs.

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 8 Auburn

2013 record: 12-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (1st in West division)
2013 postseason: BCS title game vs. Florida State (34-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 2/No. 2
Head coach: Gus Malzahn (21-5 overall; 12-2 in one year at Auburn)
Offensive coordinator: Rhett Lashlee (second season); Dameyune Craig (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 offensive rankings: 1st rushing offense (328.3 ypg); 106th passing offense (173 ypg); 11th total offense (501.3 ypg); 12th scoring offense (39.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 7
Defensive coordinator: Ellis Johnson (second season); Charlie Harbison (second season as co-coordinator)
2013 defensive rankings: 62nd rushing defense (162.1 ypg); 100th passing defense (258.6 ypg); 86th total defense (420.7 ypg); 48th scoring defense (24.7 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 6
Location: Auburn, Ala.
Stadium: Jordan-Hare Stadium (87,451; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
No one was able to control the Tigers’ powerful rushing attack and, even with the departure of its leading rusher, that’s expected to continue on into 2014 and the second season in Gus Malzahn‘s fast-paced, relentless offense.  Having Nick Marshall, expected to be much improved in the passing-game aspect, in his second season as a starter should help soften the blow that was running back Tre Mason‘s departure for the NFL.  As AU goes from the hunter to the hunted, it’ll be incumbent on Marshall to take that next step, one his head coach feels he’s ready to do.

THE BAD
When you have as magical ride as AU did last season there’s not a whole heck of a lot of bad going on, but the defense was, at the very least, suspect during that run to Pasadena.  They were in the bottom half of the country in yards allowed per game, although they were in the top half in the most important stat: points allowed.  That, though, was only good for eighth in the SEC.  In fairness, it was the Tigers’ first season under coordinator Ellis Johnson, so the expectation is that just based on familiarity with the scheme the defense will improve.  The good news is that there’s really nowhere for that group to go but up, especially as it relates to the rest of the SEC.  There’s also the little matter of the schedule as AU has conference road games scheduled for Mississippi State (Oct. 11), Ole Miss (Nov. 1), Georgia (Nov. 15) and Alabama (Nov. 29) to go along with a non-conference tilt at underrated Kansas State.  AU won’t sneak up on anyone this season, so they will get every team’s best, most concentrated shot, especially on the road.

THE UNKNOWN
(Writer’s note: pardon me while I repeat myself)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014 — did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question mostly moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: at Alabama Nov. 29
As Auburn and Alabama are expected to be the class of the SEC West, it only makes sense to put the season-ending Iron Bowl in this slot.  Last year’s dramatic, last-second win over the Tide that propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game was one of the most exhilarating and improbable in the storied history of the rivalry.  UA will have revenge on its mind as the Tide looks to get back on the national championship stage after its one-year sabbatical in 2013.  More than likely, the winner of this game will claim the West’s spot in the SEC championship game and, perhaps, a spot in the four-team playoff.  So, yes, this will be one of the more anticipated games of the year — provided both teams can make it to the game unscathed, of course.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Quarterback Nick Marshall
Marshall’s first season as a starter wasn’t statistically overwhelming — less than 2,000 yards passing, just 14 touchdown passes — but it was deadly in its efficiency. Marijuana citation aside, Marshall is said to have had a very good offseason, improving his throwing mechanics and becoming more and more comfortable in Gus Malzahn‘s offense. If true, and if the passing aspect of his game improves — as evidenced by his 1,068 yards rushing and 12 rushing touchdowns, he’ll continue to get his on the ground — that could prove to be bad news for the SEC in general and the West specifically. Thanks to the departure of their leading rusher, the Tigers will likely lean even more heavily on both Marshall’s arm and legs; as far as his Heisman chances go, that’s certainly good news.  Hell, one teammate has even already called his stiff-armed shot for Marshall, so he’s got that going for him.  Which is nice.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Must-read story: The ‘blueprint for a rebuild’

Bob Diaco AP

Over at SB Nation, Bill Connelly has a magnificent longform on the “blueprint for a rebuild,” which dives into how six coaches have built or plan to build their respective programs.

It’s well worth your time. Connelly talked in-depth to Kansas State’s Bill Snyder, UConn’s Bob Diaco, Memphis’ Justin Fuente, Indiana’s Kevin Wilson, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. An excerpt from his conversation with Diaco, who left a gig as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator to take over a lagging program in Storrs:

“I think that the brand is strong, in part, based on those championships. Those are worldwide news events, and we’ve had unprecedented-in-sport type of success there. So the brand is strong. And then you just take a peek, just a quick Google search. You’ll see this is one of the top public universities in the country, one of the top research universities in terms of science and mathematics. It’s in an area that’s very close to a bunch of Fortune 500 companies. We’re pretty rich in resources. And it’s a resident life campus, not a commuter campus. This is a good place for the quintessential college experience.”

He’s selling me on the school, and he might not even realize he’s doing it. You can’t stop the salesman mid-pitch.

“Hopefully prospective student-athletes don’t make the decision based on football alone. You can’t hide behind [the information you mail a recruit]; there’s too much info at a finger’s touch. If your graduation rate is at 43 percent, you can’t hide from that. A lot of players want to go to institutions that they are going to graduate from, next to their teammates and classmates. If you’re in a metroplex, and you’re recruiting against other AAC teams, and if there’s a prospect that’s interested in you and another school, and he also wants to be an engineer, and your engineering department is strong, you’ve got more opportunity there.”

It’s a fascinating look at how these coaches have gone about building their programs — the K-State/Snyder stuff is certainly interesting — and is definitely worth your time with one week until kickoff.

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Pitt secondary takes another hit with transfer of Coles

Pitt Logo

Pittsburgh ranked fourth in the ACC in passing defense in 2013, but maintaining that level of play could be pretty difficult this season. The Panthers are starting to run dry on experience in the secondary as Trenton Coles has decided to leave the program. Head coach Paul Chryst announced the roster update on Wednesday, according to ESPN.com.

Coles was expected to be a starter for the Panthers this fall, so his late departure from the program comes at a complicated time. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the 2014 season due to NCAA transfer rules. He would, however, be eligible to play right away this season if he transferred to a school at the FCS level or below.

The transfer of Coles comes in the same month Pittsburgh suspended another member of the secondary, Titus Howard. Howard was suspended for the entire season due to a violation of team rules. For now, Pittsburgh has just one cornerback with any playing experience heading into the 2014 season. Lafayette Pitts has started 25 games for the Panthers and will now be relied on for leadership even more on the field this fall. Wisconsin transfer Reggie Mitchell could be looking to slide into a bigger role now, and freshmen Avonte Maddox and Phillipie Motley could compete for playing time as well.

Pittsburgh opens the 2014 season at home on August 30 against Delaware.

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DUI was cause for Michigan State receiver’s spring suspension

Macgarrett Kings Jr.

Michigan State wide receiver Macgarrett Kings Jr. was suspended from team activities in the spring for a violation of teams rules. Now, according to court documents obtained by MLive.com, the cause for the suspension is known; DUI.

According to the information obtained in the court records, Kings Jr. was arrested and charged for driving under the influence on April 6 with a blood alcohol content above .17. A sentencing was later given in July with 13 months probation and a $750 fine for pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. A little more than a week after the arrest, Michigan State suspended Kings Jr..

Kings did not practice during the spring due to the suspension from the team. That allowed head coach Mark Dantonio to give other players some more reps, including DeAnthony Arnett and R.J. Shelton. The two players needed the extra snaps after combining for just four receptions in 2013 between them. Kings was Michigan State’s second leading receiver in 2013. He was reinstated prior to the opening of fall camp.

There is no word on whether or not he will miss any playing time during the season.

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350 players named to Senior Bowl watch list

Senior Bowl

If you thought watch list season was over, think again. The Senior Bowl, the nation’s premiere college football all-star game, released a watch list with a massive list of players that will be eligible and scouted for the 2015 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. In all, 350 of the nation’s top seniors are named on the watch list, although other players may be added at any time just in case the folks at the senior Bowl happened to miss one of the seniors from around the country. Players from all levels of college football are considered for an invitation to the Senior Bowl, so the possibility exists for a Division 2 or Division 3 players to make a push out of nowhere for consideration.

The SEC has 75 players on the watch list, more than any other conference. The ACC (56), Pac-12 (40), Big 12 (36) and Big Ten (35) are all well-represented on the list. Clemson has the most players from one school on the list with 12 players named to the watch list, followed by Auburn (11), Alabama (10), Mississippi State (9), Georgia (8) and Louisville (8).

Many of the top names from around college football are included in the list, including Texas A&M left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, Florida State offensive tackle Cameron Erving, Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, Clemson outside linebacker Vic Beasley, Iowa left tackle Brandon Scherff, Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty and Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker. Five Pac-12 quarterbacks are also on the list including Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley.

“With both of these players already graduated from college, we hope the opportunity to invite this duo will present itself through their play on the field in the Pac-12,” said Reese’s Senior Bowl Executive Director Phil Savage, speaking of Mariota and Hundley.

A total of 110 players will initially receive invites to the 2015 Senior Bowl. The game is generally attended very well by top players invited as it serves as the last major showcase for rookie NFL talent before the NFL Scouting Combine. The game is a big draw for NFL coaches and scouts and is the last chance to see players in pads and gear before the combine in Indianapolis.

You can check out the full watch list, and you can even break it down by position, conference or school for making browsing the list a bit easier.

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Volcano could disrupt Penn State-UCF in Ireland

Volcano herdubreid in Iceland

Although it could be taking place about 900 miles away, a possible volcanic eruption in Iceland could put the season opener between Penn State and UCF in Ireland at risk.

Penn State and UCF, the defending AAC champions from 2013, are scheduled to play the Croke Park Classic on Saturday, August 30, but getting there could prove to be difficult. Officials in Iceland are monitoring the developments and stability of a sub-glacial volcano following a series of small earthquakes that caused the evacuation of 500 people. If the volcano does erupt, it could fill the sky with volcanic ash that would interfere with air travel to Ireland.

According to the Associated Press, more than 100,000 flights have to be cancelled following a 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajokul volcano in Iceland. Both Penn State and UCF are scheduled to leave for Ireland next week, days before the game, so both schools are paying close attention to the developments. For now, the game is still on, and odds are the schools will find a way to get there. Fans looking to make the trip, on the other hand, could run into more troubles.

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Following injury, Air Force RB must earn his jersey back

One of the basic principles most coaches will abide by in sports is a player will never lose a job due to injury. There are exceptions to that mantra, of course, but one has to wonder to what degree Air Force is taking it. Running back Devin Rushing, who missed the last 10 days of practice due to an ankle sprain suffered in a drill, says not only must he earn his starting job back, but also his jersey. His actual jersey.

“They took my jersey,” Rushing told The Gazette. “I talked to the equipment manager and he said my jersey is still in there with Rushing written on the back, but I’ve got to earn it back.”

That’s right. He must earn his actual jersey back. If you have a problem with that, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun seems to think players who have a history of getting hurt may be better off finding some other activity to participate in.

“I think at every position we’re going to have tough, durable guys,” Calhoun said. “If you aren’t, you’re going to get us beat. I think the other thing is you have a built-in alibi if you’re a guy who gets hurt easily. If you’re a guy who gets hurt easily, you need to find another activity where there’s not contact involved.”

Injured players at Air Force reportedly wear red jerseys in practice and are isolated to watch the practice rather than kept close to the action, where they can hear what coaches are saying and see up close what is happening on the field. Calhoun says this is used to enhance the chemistry on the field more than anything else.

“They go to meetings,” Calhoun said. “I just think you either add to the chemistry or take from the chemistry. There’s no in between. If you’re a red jersey, I just don’t want anybody sucking the life out of everybody else who is working. Who is able to go out there even if they have an itch somewhere?”

“I think a warrior wants to be in battle, and we want warriors,” Calhoun explained.

This might not be the best way to change a potential image issue for Air Force’s football program.

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