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Pat Haden: schools should prepare for an O’Bannon victory

University Kidney Research Organization Gala Getty Images

It’s no secret that the result of the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit against the NCAA could have far-reaching implications that dramatically change the way college athletics are operated.

While the NCAA and co-defendant EA Sports maintain their confidence that the O’Bannon plaintiffs will ultimately fall short of getting their desired results — they’re asking that current and former athletes receive 50 percent of the revenue generated by both the NCAA and conference television contracts — USC athletic director Pat Haden isn’t so sure.

Or, at the very least, he wants to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

“We ought to be kept abreast of it at all times, and we ought to prepare for it in case we lose,” Haden told Stewart Mandel of Sports Illustrated. “I haven’t followed the case closely, but what I read from legal scholars, it’s not a slam dunk for the NCAA.”

Haden continued:

“The context of the lawsuit has changed. What do we do if we lost?” Haden said. “All of a sudden your television revenue — let’s say it’s $20 million a year [for a school]. Now if they win, it’s $10 million a year. How do you make your 21 sports work on half the revenue?”

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany thinks de-emphasizing athletics in a way that resembles, say, a Division III model could be an answer. In reality, it’s not.

(On that subject, O’Bannon plaintiffs want new depositions from Delany and others.)

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports recently broke down what he thinks is fuzzy math from college athletic admins, posing the theoretical question “if Michigan doesn’t think it should pay for a field hockey team, then why does it think Denard Robinson should?”

But there would need to be adjustments made on the university’s behalf. SI.com‘s legal expert Michael McCann said coaching salaries could go down and some teams — perhaps men’s to continue to comply with Title IX — may be cut as a result of an O’Bannon victory.

How, then, do universities prepare for that now? That’s a difficult question to answer. From NCAA guru John Infante:

Keep in mind that if the O’Bannon plaintiffs win, it would be the co-defendants owing the damages; conferences would only have to pony up to athletes going forward. Still, even advocates of pay-for-play or additional stipends [/ahem] have to understand it would be the universities stuck with the challenge of trying to rearrange funds to make it all work.

The formula for how to pay players has been nearly impossible to create in a way that makes everyone happy, but if the O’Bannon plaintiffs defeat the NCAA, it likely won’t matter. Conferences and schools will have to adjust financially — let’s table hyperbolic ultimatums such as Delany’s DIII threat or breaking away from the NCAA for now — to compensate certain athletes.

And, like it or not, the amateur model as we know it today will be gone.

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Georgia will apply for reinstatement of Todd Gurley today

Todd Gurley

Georgia running back Todd Gurley was suspended earlier this month while an investigation commenced regarding the alleged autograph signings for compensation. The university has stood by their student-athlete and is now prepared to apply for his reinstatement. Georgia will formally apply for a reinstatement later today, the school said in a statement released on the university’s athletics website.

“I want to thank the University, coaches, teammates, and the Bulldog Nation for their patience and support,” Gurley said.  “I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made, and I can’t thank the University, my coaches, and teammates enough for supporting me throughout this process.  I’m looking forward to getting back on the field with my teammates.”

It is Georgia’s hope a decision on the reinstatement application will be made quickly. Georgia is off this week but travels to Jacksonville next week to face Florida. Georgia has won two games without Gurley on the field, both in impressive fashion. Despite how good Georgia has looked the past tow weeks, it is clear Gurley remains one of the best players in college football. Having Gurley on the field only makes Georgia more of a threat to win the SEC and possibly wiggle into the College Football Playoff.

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TCU to mix up signals vs. Texas Tech

Texas Tech v Oklahoma

TCU is looking to keep its hopes at winning the Big 12 alive this weekend when the No. 10 Horned Frogs host in-state rival Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have struggled to a 3-4 record (1-3 in Big 12 play), but TCU will be cautious with its offensive calling this weekend. TCU will be changing up its usual hand signals this week, knowing that Texas Tech may have a little insight to how the TCU coaches and players relay plays.

TCU co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Sonny Cumbie is a former Texas Tech quarterback. He joined the TCU staff last December after four seasons as an assistant coach at Texas Tech, so Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury and his staff and team should be aware of how Cumbie operates. TCU head coach Gary Patterson told reporters Tuesday his staff will do what they can to change things up from the sideline to keep texas Tech guessing.

“Everybody has everybody’s signals,” Patterson said. “We’ll change what we have to change. There will have to be some tweaks.”

As with most Big 12 games, Patterson expects points to be scored this week, but he says the game plan is always to stay grounded on defense. In this conference, that does not always hold true for very long. A couple of weeks ago TCU got caught failing to protect a 21-point lead on the road at Baylor. Patterson said playing with a lead does lead to a change in a play calling mindset.

“It makes a difference in how you call a ballgame. Whether people believe it or not, I’m just about winning,” Patterson explained. “How do I need to call a game where we’re winning? We’re going to try to put a game plan together that is zero points. That hardly ever happens. Our game plan is zero and hopefully we get them to 17 or 21. So, how can you be aggressive but still do the things you need to defensively against a fast-paced offense. That’ll be our challenge again this week.”

Texas Tech enters this week averaging 30.9 points per game, which is seventh best in the Big 12. TCU has averaged 45.2 points per game, only trailing Baylor in that category (49.0 ppg). TCU leads the Big 12 in scoring defense with 20.7 ppg allowed, while Texas Tech is last in the 10-team Big 12 with an average of 36.9 ppg allowed. Patterson may be found playing with the lead once again this week.

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Travis Wilson starting again at Utah, but Whittingham still evaluating options

Travis Wilson

Utah is off to a solid start this season thanks in large part to the play of the defense and the production of the running game. Those two areas have helped to overcome some quarterback indecision for the Utes. After just one week, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has decided to hand the offense back to Travis Wilson under center. Kendal Thompson will return to the back-up position when No. 19 Utah hosts No. 20 USC this weekend.

“We think Travis’ performance is a little bit better so far this season than Kendal overall,” Whittingham said this week. “When you look at the numbers, it’s very close. It’s no different than when we came out of fall camp, with it being a tight race. Kendal has run the ball a little bit better than Travis has so far this season, Travis has thrown the ball a little bit better than Kendal. It’s very tight.”

Whittingham may be giving the starting job back to Wilson, but the head coach of the Utes also suggested Thompson will still see some playing time. This is far from a concrete answer for the quarterback solution at Utah.

“There is a very strong possibility that you’ll see Kendal in the game this week as well,” Whittingham said. “It’s still not what I term a two-quarterback system. People say ‘you’re playing two quarterbacks so it’s a two quarterback system’ – no it’s not, as far as my definition where both guys know they are going to play X amount of time or X amount of plays, whatever the case may be. We’re waiting for some separation to occur. Ideally we’d like some separation to occur, and one guy to take charge and settle in and be the guy, but that hasn’t happened yet, so they’re both going to get opportunities until that does happen.”

Utah’s passing offense ranks 11th in the Pac-12, just ahead of Washington. The Utes quarterbacks have combined for 1,151 passing yards in six games, an average of 191.8 yards per game. Combined, Wilson and Thompson have nine touchdown passes and two interceptions that have come through inconsistent play. Fortunately for Utah, the running game has excelled so far this season and the defense has kept games within reach.

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Candidates for governor of Florida debate FSU, of course

Jameis Winston

There has been plenty of conversation about Florida State and its handling of the Jameis Winston investigation and so much more. At this point, I am not going to delve into that conversation now, but it is interesting to note just how important the image of Florida State football is in the state of Florida.

On Tuesday night a debate for the governor’s seat in the state of Florida was held between Governor Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is challenging Scott for his seat in office. Among the topics that popped up for debate…

Politics and football. What a combo.

Of course, with Florida State being such a huge part of the community, it is fair to question if there are larger concerns that can be addressed by the governor. This is true of any state institution, not just Florida State.

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Tebow just another former college star slamming his former team

Tim Tebow

It’s tough watching Florida Gators football this season. Even former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow thinks so. Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and still a fan favorite among the Florida faithful, went on radio recently and suggested one of the many problems Florida is battling through right now is a lack of identity and leadership.

“I don’t think that the offense has an identity right now, and I don’t think that they know what they want their identity to be,” Tebow said while on air with 1010 XL in Jacksonville. “One of the biggest problems on the offense is leadership. You need to have something to motivate you, something to give you an edge…they’re not out of the SEC East.”

Tebow is far from the first former player to come out and hammer his former college program. Just this season former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron offered some criticism of Alabama’s performance. At USC, former Trojans running back LenDale White has not held anything back in his critiquing of the current state of the USC program. That even led to him being ejected from the Los Angeles Coliseum this past weekend.

Tebow is a bit different from the McCarron and White cases of course. Tebow is a member fo the media, paid for his opinions on college football. Specifically, Tebow is paid for his commentary on the SEC as a member of the SEC Network. How much insight Tebow actually has into the locker room in Gainesville may be fair to question as a new coaching staff is in place since his last played for the Gators, although when images like this pop up following a dismal performance at home…

… Tebow’s suggestions there is a leadership problem carry some weight. This isn’t even the first time a scene like this played out under Will Muschamp. Remember this, from after the 2013 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville?

Does Florida have a leadership problem? Maybe. Or maybe this team just is not very good.

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Does the AP poll have an SEC bias?

SEC Football Championship - Florida v Alabama Getty Images

This week’s latest Associated Press top 25 poll features four teams from the SEC in the top five, which has helped to ignite the discussion about a perceived SEC bias from poll voters. Is it legitimate? Looking to defend the integrity of its poll, the AP decided to dig into the numbers to see if there is anything to support the idea of a bias toward the conference that has dominated on the national stage for the better part of the past decade.

With some help from STATS, the AP reviewed the weekly polls from 2009 through 2013. Do SEC teams jump up the rankings faster than schools from the Big Ten or Big 12 or Pac-12 or ACC when they win? Do the SEC schools drop as far as schools form the other conferences do? This is what the AP wanted to find out.

From 2009 through 2013, SEC schools jumped an average of 1.5 spot sin the AP poll following a win. According to the data compiled, SEC schools had the smallest jump up in the AP poll following a win. ACC schools moved up an average of 2.0 spots. The Big Ten saw schools move up an average of 1.9 spots, the Big 12 had an average jump of 18 spots and the Pac-10/Pac-12 jumped an average of 1.6 spots. What is not properly demonstrated here is the minimal gain to be had by teams ranked highly in the AP poll. SEC schools ranked highly in that time span (Alabama, Florida, Auburn for example) never had much room to move up.

But how far are the schools from the SEC dropping? According to the data, SEC schools tend to have a smaller fall in the rankings than schools from all of the power conferences, except for the Pac-12. Pac-12 schools dropped an average of 5.3 spots in the AP poll following a loss. SEC schools dropped an average of 5.5 spots. ACC schools were hit the hardest with a drop of an average 6.6 spots following a loss. The Big Ten and Big 12 each dropped an average of 6.0 spots in the PA poll following a loss.

Midway through the 2014 season the numbers seem to suggest the SEC schools take a harder hit per loss and see a smaller boost following a win. Let’s see how these numbers play out through the end of this season.

The good news this season is the AP poll really does not mean a thing. The College Football Playoff selection committee will have its own ranking, which will begin to be published next week, and the committee will run independently of any existing polling system.

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Big 12 reprimands Baylor SID for Twitter rant

Angry Bird At Computer

Baylor sports information director Heath Nielsen vented some frustrations during Baylor’s road loss to West Virgina on Saturday by taking to Twitter. The Big 12 did not take too kindly to comments made by Nielsen on Twitter, and issued a public reprimand for his social media rant. In addition to a public reprimand, the Big 12 has also issued a $1,000 fine to Nielsen.

“Mr. Nielsen’s public statements via social media, and those of others that were shared on his Twitter account, called into question the integrity and competence of game officials and the Conference’s officiating program,” stated Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Big 12 administrators are reminded annually that they fall under the same sportsmanship guidelines as our coaches and student-athletes.”

Nielsen issued a public apology in the Big 12’s statement regarding the reaction to his statements.

“I apologize to the Big 12 Conference for having sent and retweeted some tweets last Saturday regarding officiating,” Nielsen said. “It was a regrettable act for someone in my position.”

A quick scan of Nielsen’s timeline looks as though any controversial tweets and retweets have since been taken down, but this one is still funny.

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Heart of Dallas Bowl has a tasty new sponsor

HOD Bowl

The Heart of Dallas Bowl has a brand new bowl sponsor. Zaxby’s, a popular casual restaurant chain found throughout the southeast, has signed on for a four-year sponsorship deal with the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The game, played in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, will be sponsored by Zaxby’s through the 2017 season, and the contract has an option for an extension.

“We are delighted to join with an organization that is fully dedicated to supporting college football, and look forward to expanding the Zaxby’s brand across the nation with the title sponsorship of our bowl game,” said Brant Ringler, Executive Director of the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. “It’s only fitting that the ‘Official Chicken of Sports Fanz’ will be on hand to enhance the experience of our participating teams and football fans that travel to Dallas.”

Zaxby’s, based out of Athens, Georgia, claims there are over 640 stores found in 15 states. This is the first bowl game sponsorship deal the chain has negotiated.

The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl will be played this season on December 26 at 1 p.m. eastern. The game, owned and operated by ESPN, will air — naturally — on ESPN. The game has tie-ins with the Big Ten and Conference USA. Conference USA is 2-0 in the bowl game, first played in 2011. The Big Ten is 0-3.

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Sun Belt offers some alternative sports programming tonight

Terrance Broadway, Elijah McGuire

Word is there is some important sporting event getting started tonight, but we will leave the baseball conversation to our friends over at Hardball Talk. If baseball is not your thing, feel free to tune in to some good old-fashioned Tuesday night Sun Belt Conference action as Louisiana hosts Arkansas State in a battle of Sun Belt unbeaten teams. Both are attempting to keep pace with conference newcomer Georgia Southern.

Georgia Southern is off to a 4-0 start in Sun Belt play, its first season in the conference. We’ll have to wait to see if the new FBS program can keep up that pace in the second half of the year, but it should be noted the Eagles are ineligible to represent the conference in a postseason bowl game. Because this is a transition season for Georgia Southern, it is ineligible for postseason play, although it can be recognized as the Sun Belt conference champion. With that caveat in play, the conference’s top bowl spot should be considered on the line tonight down in Lafayette.

Arkansas State appears to be entering tonight’s Sun Belt match-up on a bit of a hot streak with three straight wins. Among those wins is a victory over Utah State and another against Louisiana-Monroe. Casual viewers just catching Arkansas State for the first time tonight will likely become familiar with quarterback Fredi Knighten, a dual-threat option in the Red Wolves offense. Knighten has passed for seven touchdowns and run for six more. In his past two games, Knighten has accounted for a total of eight touchdowns.

Louisiana’s quarterback, Terrance Broadway, is also one to keep an eye on. As his last night might suggest, he could put on a memorable show. In a victory over Texas State a week ago, Broadway rushed for 101 yards to go with his 225 passing yards in a 34-10 victory on the road.

The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to win the Sun Belt Conference championship each of the past three years. Tonight’s game will be seen on ESPN 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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Utah State loses QB Garretson to wrist surgery

Darell Garretson

This season has not been kind to Utah State quarterbacks. For the second time this season the Aggies are losing a starting quarterback due to injury. Darell Garretson, who had been starting in place of an injured Chuckie Keeton, will undergo wrist surgery. The recovery will keep him off the field for at least a few weeks, and a return before the end of the season is still possible. The timeline for his recovery though, is unconfirmed.

What we do know is Garretson will be out this weekend when Utah State plays UNLV in conference play. Craig Harrison is listed as the starting quarterback for this weekend’s game on the latest Utah State depth chart. Harrison has appeared in two games and completed five of 12 pass attempts for 28 yards. The senior played in eight games last season, completing 47.3 percent of his passes in a similar back-up role behind Keeton and Garretson.

Garretson injured his wrist in Utah State’s loss to Colorado State. He had a sling put on his arm and placed an ice pack on his wrist. Utah State still has six games left to play this season. If Garretson only misses three or four weeks, he would likely be available for the final game or two, depending on how quickly he recovers.

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Devin Gardner shrugs aside social media criticism and racism

Devin Gardner

Twitter is full of anonymous online bullies who feel it is their right to be able to say whatever they want at whomever they want. Athletes may be the most targeted among the Twitterspehere, and it gets ugly time and time again, especially when a player or team is not performing well. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has certainly seen his share of cyberbullying directed at him this season.

“I’ve been called the N-word so many times this year,” Gardner said in a profile story published by The Detroit News. “One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can’t play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on.”

Some athletes would shut down their online profiles when they come under such attacks, but Gardner does what he can to block it out. Some players are incapable of brushing off the criticism from Internet tough guys, but fortunately Gardner seems to have the right frame of mind when it comes to this sort of thing. In a sense, it is the way Gardner attempts to play through pain.

“You can’t not feel the pain,” Gardner said. “The thing is, it’s mind over matter. You have to ignore it. Try to ignore it. You can’t compare a sprain to a broken bone, but high-ankle sprains are pretty bad. They hurt pretty bad. The Ohio game was different. This game, too, if I had to run, I would have been able to do it. If I had to, if it was third and seven and they gave me a lane to run, I was going to do it.”

I don’t particularly understand the rationale that defends lobbing Twitter or Facebook insults at others, never mind high school and college athletes. Perhaps there are other ways to relieve tension that builds up watching sports.

Just a thought.

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Elbow injury likely ends season of Beavers starting wideout

Richard Mullaney, Davion Orphey

Unfortunately, the injury to one of Oregon State’s leading receivers was as bad as originally feared.

In the second half of last Thursday night’s double-overtime loss to Utah, Richard Mullaney suffered an elbow injury.  At the time, Mike Riley said the wide receiver would be “out for a while.”

A few days later, the head coach wasn’t nearly as “optimistic” as he was shortly after the loss.

“We’ll be lucky if we get him back before the end of the year,” Riley succinctly stated.

As Mullaney is the most experienced member of OSU’s receiving corps, the loss will be a significant one. And one that the coaching staff isn’t downplaying.

“I think everyone’s disappointed for Mullaney,” the player’s position coach, Brent Brennan, said. “He’s an awesome kid, he’s a good teammate, he’s been a good player.

“So that hurts us and we’re sad for him.”

Through six games, Mullaney is third on the Beavers in receptions (18) and receiving yards (216). With Mullaney out, redshirt freshman Jordan Villamin (6-115-2) will take over as a starting receiver.

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ACC, Notre Dame announce games through 2025

jack swarbrick  john swofford AP

Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame further cemented its relationship with the ACC.

Both the school and the conference announced today the playing dates through the 2025 season, with the release stating that the announcement “formally [seals] the partnership that began this season.” The conference had previously announced games involving members of the league and the Irish through the 2016 season, meaning that this amounts to a nine-year extension of the scheduling arrangement.

“The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford. “Notre Dame not only adds to our league’s already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there’s no question that this partnership is significant.”

In six of the 12 years, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools. Three of the years — 2014, 2022, 2024 — will feature four games, while three other years — 2015, 2019, 2023 — will see six games.

With the exception of Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, Notre Dame will play each ACC member four times — two at home, two on the road — in the 12-year span. The Irish will face BC, Pitt and Wake on five occasions. Three of the games against the latter will be played in South Bend and three of the games against the Panthers will be played in Pittsburgh, while the 2015 game against the former will be played in historic Fenway Park.

Both of the “home” games for Syracuse will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

“Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules,” said ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement. “Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

“On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once.”

Below is the complete scheduling arrangement between the ACC and Notre Dame.

2014
1. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 9/27*
2. North Carolina at Notre Dame, 10/11
3. Notre Dame at Florida State, 10/18
4. Louisville at Notre Dame, 11/22

2015
1. Notre Dame at Virginia, 9/12
2. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 9/19
3. Notre Dame at Clemson, 10/3
4. Notre Dame at Pitt, 11/7
5. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/14
6. Notre Dame vs. Boston College (Fenway Park), 11/21@

2016
1. Duke at Notre Dame, 9/24
2. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 10/1*
3. Notre Dame at NC State, 10/8
4. Miami at Notre Dame, 10/29
5. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/19

2017
1. Notre Dame at Boston College, 9/16
2. Notre Dame at North Carolina, 10/07
3. NC State at Notre Dame, 10/28
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/04
5. Notre Dame at Miami, 11/11

2018
1. Syracuse at Notre Dame, 9/22
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, 10/13
3. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 10/20
4. Florida State at Notre Dame, 11/10
5. Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 11/17

2019
1. Notre Dame at Louisville, 9/2 (Labor Day)
2. Virginia at Notre Dame, 9/28
3. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 10/19
4. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/02
5. Notre Dame at Duke, 11/09
6. Boston College at Notre Dame, 11/23

2020
1. Notre Dame at Wake Forest
2. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
3. Duke at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame
5. Louisville at Notre Dame

2021
1. Notre Dame at Florida State, 9/6 (Labor Day)
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina at Notre Dame
4. Notre Dame at Virginia
5. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame

2022
1. Notre Dame at North Carolina
2. Notre Dame at Syracuse
3. Boston College at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame

2023
1. Notre Dame at NC State
2. Notre Dame at Duke
3. Notre Dame at Louisville
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame
5. Notre Dame at Clemson
6. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame

2024
1. Miami at Notre Dame
2. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
3. Florida State at Notre Dame
4. Virginia at Notre Dame

2025
1. Notre Dame at Miami
2. NC State at Notre Dame
3. Notre Dame at Boston College
4. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse at Notre Dame

* – Designated ‘home’ game for Syracuse
@ – Designated ‘home’ game for Notre Dame

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Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead reinstated after four-game sabbatical

Arkansas v Auburn Getty Images

Just a little over a month after being forced to the sidelines, Jermaine Whitehead is back with his teammates.  When he gets back on the field for real game action, though, remains to be seen.

Tuesday morning, Gus Malzahn confirmed that the defensive back has been reinstated to the Auburn football team.  White head began practicing with the team Sunday.

Malzahn declined to say whether Whitehead will play in this Saturday’s game against South Carolina.

“He practiced with the team on Sunday, and he’s going to do everything he can to earn his (place) back on the field,” the head coach said. “I don’t know how long that will take, I don’t have a timetable on it, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Whitehead was indefinitely suspended back in mid-September, reportedly for getting into a verbal altercation with an assistant coach.  The suspension ultimately cost him four games.

Prior to his suspension, Whitehead had started the last 26 games at safety, and is still currently tied for the second on the team in interceptions with two. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas.

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Saban downplays Kiffin’s return to Tennessee

Karma Is A Butch

Almost from the moment Alabama hired Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator this past January, Oct. 25 has been circled on many a Rocky Top fan’s calendar.

That’s the day Tennessee will play host to Alabama.  It’s also the day that will mark Kiffin’s return to Neyland Stadium for the first time since unceremoniously dumping the Vols in January of 2010 after one season to take the same job at USC.

As expected, the anticipation for Kiffin’s return to Knoxville is growing.  Just as expected, Kiffin’s boss is downplaying the return.

Saying “it’s only a distraction if you allow it to be a distraction,” Nick Saban tried to shift the focus from his coordinator to the team and the players.

“So if it doesn’t mean anything to us and we can stay focused on what we need to do to do what’s best for our team, then that’s the way you manage it, that’s the way you handle it, that’s the way we need to look at it,” Saban said of the hype surrounding Kiffin’s return. “So it doesn’t really mean anything to us. The game, our players, their players. That’s what means something to us and that’s what should mean something to every coach on our staff.”

Saban’s counterpart is of the same mindset when it comes to Kiffin.

“The game means everything to our football program and our fans because it’s the University of Alabama, not because it’s Lane Kiffin,” UT’s Butch Jones said. “Three-quarters of our team — he’s a great coach, but nobody knows who Lane Kiffin is. That’s for the fans.

“We have to concentrate on the game. We’re playing a great, great opponent, a top-five opponent. They played as inspired of a football game as I’ve seen in a very, very long time against Texas A&M. They’re a great football team.

“They’re a measuring stick for a lot of programs, so again, we have to focus on the task at hand.”

Jones and Saban are both correct. No current UT players were there under Kiffin, so to them it’s just another conference game. No coaches remain either.

The hype when it comes to Kiffin’s return is all about the fans. And politics, as it turns out.

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