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Big Ten spring game wrap-ups

Tyler Ferguson AP

Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the Big Ten Saturday afternoon…

MICHIGAN STATE
To say that the Spartans’ quarterbacks struggled somewhat during today’s spring game would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.

MSU quarterbacks combined to go 22 of 53 for 386 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.  Last year’s starter and presumptive front-runner for the job this season, Andrew Maxwell, completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass.  The strong-armed Connor Cook, who has gained some ground on Maxwell this spring, threw for 217 yards and a scoring toss but also completed less than 40 percent of his passes (10-26).  Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor completed five of six passes — three to his offensive teammates, two to his defensive teammates.

All in all, it was rough outing at a position where the Spartans may have more questions exiting spring than they did entering it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said that the incumbent would top the depth chart entering summer, but stopped short of anointing him as the season-opening starter.

“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance.”

For his part, Maxwell feels as if he’s done enough to retain the job.

“I feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to make my case to the coaches to be the guy, and I feel like every day I came out and got better,” the player said. “I took a competitive mindset to every practice, and the ultimate decision is with Coach D.”

– The Spartans’ defense accounted for two touchdowns in the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad: a Chris Laneaux 25-yard interception return and a fumble recovery by Kyler Elsworth that was returned 41 yards.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Burbridge caught five passes for 113 yards.

– Former MSU quarterback great Kirk Cousins, now Robert Griffin III‘s backup in Washington, returned to the East Lansing campus as color analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the game.  Based on Cousins’ comments, it doesn’t appear this will be his last rodeo in the booth.

“I want the football thing to last as long as it possibly can, but at the same time, in the offseason it makes a lot of sense to pursue other opportunities and prepare yourself for whenever football ends,” Cousins said. “And that’s why I’m here today, and it’s just a bonus I get to be back in familiar territory, watching the team that I love.”

– One of the coolest parts of the Spartans’ spring game was their helmets.  Specifically, the stickers on the back of the helmets honoring those who were killed or injured by the bombings at last Monday’s Boston Marathon.  Very classy gesture:

Michigan State Helmets

PENN STATE
If you were an individual looking for some clarity at the quarterback position coming out of the Nittany Lions’ spring game, you are likely somewhat disappointed at this point in time.

Following the game, head coach Bill O’Brien stated very firmly that neither Steven Bench nor Tyler Ferguson (pictured) had grabbed hold of the starting job and the competition would continue into the “voluntary” workouts and on into summer camp.  Both players completed nine of 15 passes, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90.  Ferguson tossed two touchdown passes to Bench’s one.

As has been the case for most of the spring, the second-year coach was, for the most part, pleased with the duo’s performance.

“I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced,” O’Brien said. “I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I’m sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today.”

In his post-game talk with reporters, O’Brien made it perfectly clear where the competition stands.

“I’d say, no, I’m not any closer as I sit here right now,” the coach said when asked about naming a starter. “Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision.”

O’Brien added that he will now go back and look at all of the spring practice tapes as they work toward naming a starter at the position.

The real competition, though, won’t begin until August; Christian Hackenberg, a five-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in this year’s class, will join the competition this summer, with most expecting the Virginia product to make a very serious run at the starting job as a true freshman.

– In front of 28,000 or so fans who braved the rain and snow and cold, the the Blue team (defense) dropped the White squad (offense), 67-47.  It was the second straight year the defense has “won” the spring game.

A big reason for the defensive win?  The Nittany Lions’ defense accounted for nine sacks, which counted four points apiece in the scoring system utilized by O’Brien.

– Youth was certainly served for the Nittany Lions as the school noted that all six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.  Both of the front-runners for the starting QB job will be sophomores.

– Another of the young ones was running back Akeel Lynch, who led all rushers with 83 yards on his 13 carries.

– “I feel terrible because I love that city,” O’Brien said of the tragic events in Boston this past week. “I grew up 20 minutes north of that city and my brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and so is my older brother and my dad and my mom so I feel terrible for them. … Boston is a very resilient city and we caught him last night so that was good.”

WISCONSIN
At the end of Gary Andersen‘s first spring as the Badgers’ head coach, and in the midst of a crowded quarterback competition, it was UW’s defense winning most of the plaudits in Madison Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the “unique” scoring systems that are all the rage during spring games, the final score appears to be a high-scoring offensive affair: Cardinal 61, White 47.  The former team consisted of the Badgers’ defense, the latter the offense.

The game wasn’t a true measure of either unit, however, as Andersen lamented afterwards that “[w]e’re basically missing six starters right now on the defensive side that didn’t play a snap today, and four or five on the offensive side.”

Also, the fact that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network led Andersen to keep his team’s cards very close to his vest.

“I will say this: Defense today was very vanilla. Offensively, we were very generic, and defensively, we were very generic,” the former Utah State head coach said. “We did throw the ball, bottom line, and we did catch the ball better than we have all spring, and that was very encouraging.”

– The Cardinal team totaled 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the game.  As those plays were worth two points apiece, the defense scored 36 of its 61 points off those two types of plays.  They also earned 24 points off of eight three-and-outs.

– As far as the quarterback battle goes, two players, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, received the vast majority of the reps.  Stave completed 15 of his 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips went 8-of-13 for 82 yards.  The other quarterbacks on the roster, including former Maryland Terrapin Danny O’Brien, attempted just three passes each.

– Running back Melvin Gordon, who will be charged with the task of replacing Montee Ball, ran for a team-high 74 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on the ground.  He also added three catches for 35 yards.

– “Yeah, we’re in a good spot,” Andersen said when asked if his team is where he thought it’d be at the end of the spring.  “You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that.”

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Jameis Winston suspended for entire Clemson game

Jameis Winston AP

If Florida State fans are looking for a whole-game look at what post-Jameis Winston life will be like, you’re going to get a sneak peek in Week 4.

In an unexpected and “WOW!!!” development, FSU announced very late Friday night that its Heisman-winning starting quarterback has been suspended for the Clemson game Saturday.  As in, the entire game, not just the first two quarters.

Earlier this week, it had been announced that Winston would be suspended for the first half of the Seminoles’ ACC opener against the Tigers.  That suspension stemmed from Winston’s very vocal public performance of a vulgar and obscene Internet meme.

The statement announcing the full-game suspension, attributed to interim president Dr. Garnett Stokes and athletic director Stan Wilcox, appears below.

Based upon the results of our continuing investigation of Tuesday’s incident involving Jameis Winston, we have decided to not play him for the entire game against Clemson.

With Winston sitting, it’ll be up to Sean McGuire, in his first career start, to guide the Seminoles as it looks to not only extend it’s nation’s best wining streak to 19 straight but also continuing positioning FSU for the first-ever College Football Playoff.

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Top 5 recruit suffers apparent leg injury

Josh Sweat

Defensive end Josh Sweat (Chesapeake, VA/Oscar Smith) is one of those rare talents at the high school level who has his choice of colleges across the country.

Unfortunately, Sweat’s football career will be put on hold after he suffered a leg injury Friday night.

The severity of Sweat’s injury has yet to be determined, but he appeared to be in good spirits as he was taken off the field.

Sweat is a 6-5, 236-pound defensive end ranked as the fifth best prospect in the nation, according to Rivals.com. Sweat holds offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Penn State, South Carolina, Texas A&M, USC and many others.

Virginia Tech, Florida State, Georgia and Ohio State are considered the early favorites for his services. The Hokies would love to keep the talented edge-rusher in state, but the injury will prevent Sweat from visiting Blacksburg this weekend.

The defensive end also has visits scheduled with Georgia, Florida State and Oregon depending on the status of his injury.

(Photo courtesy of Rivals.com)

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Georgia attempting to schedule ‘iconic’ programs

Uga VI

As college football enters a new era that culminates each season with the College Football Playoffs, programs are attempting to beef up their schedules as much as possible to become attractive options to the selection committee.

The committee made itself very clear in how it will evaluate which four teams will be included.

“Strength of schedule, head-to-head competition and championships won must be specifically applied as tie-breakers between teams that look similar,” a document released by the College Football Playoff stated.

Georgia Bulldogs athletic director Greg McGarity took notice of the proclamation. With the Notre Dame Fighting Irish already on the schedule during the 2017 and 2019 seasons, McGarity isn’t finished adding “iconic” programs to the Bulldogs’ schedules.

“I feel like over the next seven years just be expecting some more games of this magnitude,” McGarity told the UGA athletic board, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer. “Nothing’s in writing. …It’s all verbal at this time. Expect some good things to happen over the next seven or eight years from a scheduling standpoint.”

Georgia currently has two openings during the 2016 and 2019 campaigns, The 2017 season has one spot yet to be filled. And 2018 is relatively wide open with three games yet to be filled.

The Bulldogs aren’t expected to schedule some traditional rivals like the Clemson Tigers. McGarity is looking to build a national brand.

“It would be great for us to move into other areas,” McGarity told Weiszer. “I think that’s kind of what we’re looking at, to go to some places where when you say Georgia’s playing at this site, you say, ‘Wow. I can’t wait for that to happen.’”

Some of the programs that immediately come to mind are the USC Trojans, Oregon Ducks, Oklahoma Sooners, Ohio State Buckeyes, Michigan Wolverines and Texas Longhorns. None of those have been attached to a game against Georgia, but they seem to fit the type of program McGarity would like to schedule.

The athletic director has certainly changed his approach as the program moves forward with the new system in place.

“I think it changes somewhat because of the strength of schedule model that we think is in place,” McGarity said. “We don’t know what that is, but I do think the excitement that the Notre Dame game has generated has just been phenomenal.”

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NCAA wants Ed O’Bannon appeal resolved by next summer

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

The NCAA needs to have its appeal of the Ed O’Bannon case heard before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals within the year.

Correction: The NCAA believes it’s “critical” to have its appeal resolved within the year, according to CBSSports.com’s Jon Solomon.

“The NCAA contends that if this appeal is not resolved by that date, then absent a stay the NCAA and its members will, in the NCAA’s words, be forced to make fundamental changes to the administration of collegiate athletics and to their relationship with student-athletes,” the joint filing stated. “Plaintiffs disagree vigorously that the injunction will present a disruption but are nevertheless amenable to a briefing and argument schedule that would permit both to be completed by April or May 2015.”

Whether you side with or against the NCAA in its attempt to retain its amateurism, it is important for the appeal to be heard and resolved by August. Schools will then know how to adjust their approach to running their profitable sports such as football and basketball, which both take place in the fall.

“The NCAA requested that oral arguments be set for a date in April or May 2015,” Solomon reported.

As of now, the NCAA has to prepare for the changes U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken enacted when she ruled in favor of the players represented in the O’Bannon case.

“The judge’s decision strikes down NCAA rules restricting their compensation and permits reasonable but significant sharing with athletes — both for the costs of education and to establish trust funds — from the billions in revenues that schools earn from their football and basketball players,” attorney who represented the plaintiffs, Bill Isaacson, said in a statement directly after ruling was made.

The NCAA“will not be permitted to set this cap below the cost of attendance, as the term is defined in its current bylaws.” It also prevents the NCAA from making rules to limit schools from“offering to deposit a limited share of licensing revenue in trust for their FBS football and Division I basketball recruits, payable when they leave school or their eligibility expires.”

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Georgia initiates study for new indoor facility, raise ticket prices

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

In the wake of the Ed O’Bannon court ruling, it’s more obvious than ever that college football (and the NCAA in general) is a business. A school’s ability to raise funds for new facilities is an integral part of the game’s arms races for recruits and maintaining a high profile.

The University of Georgia is the latest program to investigate the possibility of adding a new indoor practice facility, according to the Athens Banner-Herald‘s Marc Weiszer.

How will the school fund the product if it’s approved? Fundraising and donations will certainly be a big part of the process. The school also plans to raise ticket prices next season.

The “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” will be a little more expensive to attend as well.

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FAA grounds Michigan’s game-ball drone delivery plans

station radio control

Michigan wanted to deliver this weekend’s game ball against Utah to Michigan Stadium by drone. The Federal Aviation Administration said “Nope.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the University of Michigan had plans to use a drone aircraft. The plan was even discussed with local aviation regulators, but once the FAA caught wind of the idea the organization was quick to make sure the plan did not take flight.

“The FAA promotes voluntary compliance by educating UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the FAA said to Bloomberg. The FAA has only allowed permits for limited drone operations to date, so the possibility of having something like this approved in the future is certainly a realistic possibility.

Now the only air delivery Michigan fans will focus on on Saturday against Utah will be that off the arm of quarterback Devin Gardner.

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A milestone weekend for Virginia Tech, LSU, Arkansas and Minnesota

Hodges, Green

Looking to rebound from a home loss to East Carolina, Virgina Tech will host Georgia Tech in an ACC Coastal Division match-up. As with all games in the wide open ACC Coastal Division, the result will loom large later in the season. But Virginia Tech will also be recognizing a little bit of history for the football program. According to Virgina Tech, this weekend will mark the 1,200th game in program history.

Virgina Tech is not the only school celebrating that milestone. If we are to trust the record keeping on Wikipedia — and when has that ever been wrong? — it looks as though this weekend will also see Minnesota, LSU and Arkansas all hit the 1,200 games played mark as well.

Using the same list, no school has played more games than the Ivy League’s Penn Quakers with 1,343 game son the record books. Penn finally gets its season started this weekend with a home game against Jacksonville. The FBS school with the most games played in college football history is Rutgers. This should come as little surprise given Rutgers is the birthplace of college football and played in the first college football game on record, against Princeton. Other FBS schools with 1,200 games and counting include Navy, Michigan, Nebraska, Syracuse, Penn State, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, West Virginia, Missouri, Maryland, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and California.

Army actually played its 1,200th game in program history last weekend, so apologies for missing the milestone.

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Report: Rutgers AD made inappropriate Sandusky reference

Julie Hermann

Not even a full week after issuing an apology to Penn State, Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann is in some hot water for an inappropriate comment referencing former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This on the day the Big Ten issued a public endorsement for the new “It’s On US” campaign launched by the White House. The timing of it all really is incredible.

The comment made by Hermann was made last fall, well before the need to apologize to Penn State for the behavior of some fans at last Saturday’s Big Ten opener and for the university accidentally sharing photos on social media channels with inappropriate references to the crimes committed by Sandusky. According to a report by NJ.com, Hermann shared an “off the cuff response” while discussing ways to reach out to donors. Rutgers senior vice president for external affairs Pete McDonough suggested it was not aimed directly at Penn State.

“Julie’s comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors,” said McDonough, per NJ.com. “There probably isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn’t have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty.”

It has been a rough 17 months for Hermann since being appointed athletics director at Rutgers. What could possibly happen next?

The lesson here is simple. Abuse of children through any means is simply not funny. If you think you are making a joke that is even somewhat related to sexual abuse or child abuse in any way, you should probably think again. Then again, this should not even require much thinking from the start.

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Nebraska kicker hurt in motorcycle crash

Nebraska v Penn State

Nebraska kicker Mauro Bondi suffered a broken collar bone Thursday night after crashing his motorcycle. The Journal Star in Lincoln was the first to report this injury.

According to the police report, as reported by The Journal Star, Bondi had trouble making a turn, hit a curb and ran off the road. Bondi was aided by a passerby back to his apartment, and his roommate drove him to a nearby hospital. According to police, no alcohol was connected to the accident and Bondi was wearing a helmet. However, the Nebraska kicker was cited for negligent driving and riding without a motorcycle licence.

With Bondi injured, Nebraska may have to ask place kicker Drew Brown to pull some double duty for the Huskers on special teams. Bondi is Nebraska’s kickoff specialist, while Brown typically handles the place-kicking responsibilities.

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Big Ten, Pac-12 join the “It’s On Us” sexual abuse prevention movement

PAC 12 Media Day

Today the White House launched a brand new initiative designed to prevent sexual assault and raise awareness for what has become a top story in the sports world in recent weeks. “It’s On Us,” according to the campaign’s official website, is a pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault and is a promise to not be a bystander to the issue. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were quick to hop on board in support of the new program.

As the program was formally launching in Washington D.C., both conferences released statements of support for the initiative.

“The Pac-12 is proud to join this effort to build a culture on college campuses in which everyone has a responsibility to stop sexual violence,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our member institutions are very focused on this issue and we see a great opportunity to use the visibility of college athletics as a means to raise awareness and promote this campaign.”

As noted in the Pac-12 release, research shows one in five women in the United States today are sexually assaulted while in college with most assaults occurring in their freshman or sophomore years at the hands of acquaintances, classmates or friends. The Big Ten saw the terrors of sexual abuse unfold right in front of it a few years ago with the startling revelations that came from the investigation and trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This new initiative is aimed more at preventing college students from abuse, but the message should easily spread to all levels beyond college-aged students.

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A win with an asterisk would be just fine with Clemson’s Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Florida State will open Saturday night’s home game against Clemson without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston will not play until the second half of the key ACC Atlantic Division battle due to a half-game suspension. This seems to give Clemson an advantage at the start of the game, but nothing is guaranteed. If Clemson does return home with a win over the top-ranked Seminoles, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will not care if anyone chooses to place an asterisk next to the result.

“Georgia beat us,” Swinney said referring to Clemson’s season-opening loss at Georgia, per per TigerNet.com. “Did we put an asterisk by that? We didn’t have three senior starters.” Clemson was without  defensive end Corey Crawford, offensive guard David Beasley and defensive back Garry Peters for the week one road game at Georgia. All three were suspended (as well as offensive tackle Shaq Anthony) for violations of team rules.

“Heck, no. They beat us. Period. There’s no asterisk by that. Give me a break.”

Swinney also made reference to Alabama’s 2010 BCS Championship Game victory over Texas to prove his point further. Texas lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy to an early injury in the game, leaving the Longhorns having to turn the offense over to a young and inexperienced Garrett Gilbert.

“I don’t think there’s an asterisk on that crystal ball down in Tuscaloosa,” Swinney said. “I think we’ve got a national championship trophy [at Clemson, referring to the 1981 season] where we beat Nebraska. I don’t think they played Turner Gill in that game but it still says national championship.” Gill did not play in that season’s Orange Bowl due to a leg injury.

The bottom line is pretty straightforward. Clemson can only worry about whatever they see on the other side of the field. The game still lasts 60 minutes and there is more than enough talent for Clemson to prepare for coming at them from the Florida State sideline. Florida State will give the start under center to Sean Maguire. Maguire’s parents already gave their tickets away. If Clemson benefits from Florida State being without Winston for 30 minutes, that is not Clemson’s problem.

Of course, if Florida State does lose, we then can entertain the arguments from Jimbo Fisher about how a fully-equipped FSU would split 10 games with Clemson down the road. Right?

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For what it’s worth, Big 12 piling up quality losses

Big 12 Football Media Days

When it comes to determining the best conferences, we tend to look first at the quality wins recorded in non-conference play. This is an area where the Big Ten has come under fire in a big way in the first few weeks of the season, and for good reason. While much will be discussed regarding the Big Ten’s place in the power conference pecking order, it may be time to take a close examination of the Big 12’s lack of signature wins as well.

Through the first three weeks of the season and last night’s Thursday night start to Week Four, the Big 12 has had its own share of opportunities to score some key victories for conference bragging rights. The best you can make of the Big 12’s start in non-conference play is “Well, at least we’re not the Big Ten.” That is not a terrific selling point.

The season started out on a down note with the Big 12 seeing Iowa State lose at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While most of the rest of the conference performed better against weaker opponents to start the season, the Big 12 missed on two chances to impress on the national stage with West Virginia losing to Alabama and Oklahoma State coming up short against Florida State. The Mountaineers and Cowboys may have played well or better than expected against the highly-ranked programs from the SEC and ACC, respectively, but in the end the Big 12 started 0-2 against power conference opponents.

The following week saw BYU steamroll Texas for a second straight season while the rest of the conference enjoyed victories against lesser opponents (except for Iowa State, losing at home to Kansas State in Big 12 play). Week three of the season was the first real test for the Big 12 and there were some positives to draw from it. The Big 12 proved on the field to be better than the Big Ten in three games (West Virginia over Maryland, Iowa State over Iowa, TCU over Minnesota), cementing the Big Ten at the bottom of the power conference pecking order for now, but the Big 12 still lags significantly behind the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 in terms of quality wins. Oklahoma did pick up a good win at home against a Tennessee program on the rise, but the Vols are still a work in progress and unranked. The same weekend saw Texas suffer a loss at the expense of the Pac-12’s UCLA. Texas Tech could not slow down Arkansas in Lubbock. Kansas was blown away by Duke as well.

Last night the Big 12 once again whiffed on an opportunity to defeat a quality opponent with Kansas State imploding inside the red zone and leaving points off the scoreboard in a 20-14 loss at home to Auburn. The Big 12 could have really used that win, especially on a light weekend schedule for the conference. Kansas will host Central Michigan Saturday afternoon. West Virginia will have a chance to notch a conference victory at home Saturday night, against Oklahoma. Just as it was perceived to be Ohio State’s or Michigan State’s responsibility to carry the Big Ten banner on the national stage, the Big 12 may now be in need of Oklahoma (or Baylor) running the table. Oklahoma losing in Morgantown may end up doing more damage than good for the sake of the Big 12 when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to do their job.

As stated already, the Big 12 has breathing room ahead of the Big Ten for now, but losses inside the conference could start to do more damage than they would have if the Big 12 could record some wins against power conferences not named the Big Ten.

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Louisville might have RB Michael Dyer vs. FIU

Michael Dyer

Louisville rushed for just 79 yards last weekend against Virgina. It is not time to push the panic button, especially after some strong performances on the ground in the two games prior to last week’s loss at Virgina, but the Cardinals are looking forward to the return of Michael Dyer. There may even be a chance Dyer makes his season debut this weekend as Louisville travels to FIU.

According to a report Thursday from The Courier-Journal in Louisville, head coach Bobby Petrino suggested it may be a possibility Dyer returns to action Saturday. The running back was injured in a scrimmage in August and has just completed his first full week of practice since going inactive.

“We saw some really good things from him,” Petrino said, according to the report. “The thing that’s hard on that is it’s not only the injury that he’s overcoming, it’s the soreness from not doing those things for five weeks — not running hard and cutting and doing all that. The rest of his body is sore.”

The urgency to rush Dyer back this weekend may not be huge given the opponent, but this could also be a good week to allow Dyer a chance to get his legs back in order. Louisville should manage to beat FIU without Dyer, but if there is a chance he can play then he should probably take advantage of it. It may be better to get in game shape this weekend as opposed to next weekend in ACC play (against Wake Forest).

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If Auburn was stealing signs, nobody to blame but Kansas State

Auburn v Kansas State Getty Images

Auburn picked up a hard-fought victory on the road Thursday night at Kansas State, defeating the Big 12’s Wildcats by a final score of 20-14 in a game that almost seemed to go against the grain for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Auburn was forced to slow things down in order to protect a lead and there were times when Auburn’s running game seemed to be out-worked by a relentless and well-prepared Kansas State defense. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder thinks Auburn had another advantage to rely on; stealing signs.

As the teams went to halftime Thursday night in Manhattan, Snyder told ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder he believed Auburn had picked up on some of Kansas State’s signals. The veteran coach suggested to Ponder his team needed to do a better job of disguising their calls in order to keep Auburn guessing. Following the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn disputed having any advantage of that kind, not that there should be any reason to feel bad about it if indeed Auburn did figure something out.

To be fair, Snyder was not accusing Malzahn and Auburn of doing anything wrong. He seemed to be just making an observation to Ponder, as it was reported during the telecast. Kansas State had plenty of opportunities to score the upset, and the possibility of having signals stolen by Auburn is far down on the list behind missed field goals, failed red zone opportunities and turnovers.

There should be a line drawn between the idea of stealing signals and picking up on signals. Stealing implies a team or person did something wrong, perhaps by sending someone undercover to scope out a team’s practice during the week or by getting a hold of an opponent’s playbook or game plan before the kickoff. Picking up on hand signals or vocal calls during the course of a game should be considered nothing more than awareness and showing an ability to adjust. There is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage because he does not like what he sees in the defensive formation.

The coach and team that learns to make adjustments the fastest will have a schematic advantage. Those who fail to make those adjustments are only holding themselves back.

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With a little help from their friends, Auburn beats K-State 20-14

Gus Malzahn

The blueprint was simple for both teams. When rushing for less than 200 yards over the past three years, No. 5 Auburn was 1-9. And when holding its opponent to less than 200 yards over that same period, No. 20 Kansas State was 21-2.

The Tigers rushed for 128 yards tonight, and won 20-14.

Quarterback Nick Marshall made the plays when he had to, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns – one to put his Tigers up 10-7 at the half, and another to push the lead to 17-7 – and a critical 39-yard clincher to Duke Williams (eight catches, 110 yards and a touchdown) to put the game away with under two minutes to play.

But this game was won for Auburn thanks to critical mistakes by the Kansas State offense and special teams.

It started on the first play of the game, when Jake Waters fumbled the ball inside his own red zone on a botched exchange, allowing Auburn to take a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats moved 74 yards to the Auburn 2 before a Waters pass bounced off the face mask of all-everything wide receiver Tyler Lockett and into the waiting arms of Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones. And then came the missed field goals. Three of them, all by the usually trustworthy Jack Cantele. He was 11-of-13 last season and 4-of-5 in 2014 until tonight, but missed from 41, 42 and 22 yards. He was replaced by Matthew McCrane for the Wildcats’ final extra point.

Waters, simply put, wasn’t nearly as good as a senior quarterback needs to be to win tonight. He threw for 245 yards, but recorded a terrible interception to Trovon Reed while Kansas State trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, and missed an opportunity to put Kansas State up 14-10 just before the half with Lockett wide open in the end zone. Instead, he held on to the ball, fumbled, and made Cantele’s 42-yard try much more difficult than it had to be. That’s just the kind of night it was for the Wildcats.

After falling behind 20-7, Kansas State pulled within 20-14 with 3:49 to play, but never possessed the ball again. The game was decided when Marshall hit Williams on a double move while facing a 3rd-and-9 in its own territory.

Defensively, Kansas State did everything one could have expected them to do. The ground game didn’t even register three yards per carry in its 45 attempts. In fact, Auburn didn’t even hit 100 yards of total offense until its first touchdown drive to end the first half, and nearly went the entire first half without converting a third down. However, it didn’t stay that way. It never does against Auburn. After missing its first five third down tries, Auburn converted 10 of its final 13, and outgained K-State on the night 359-285.

For Auburn, this is the type of night Gus Malzahn and staff can build on. Marshall-to-Williams is a certifiably reliable go-to option, and a six-point win on the road brings the type of value no 50-point shellacking of a mid-major can duplicate. “I’m glad it was tough,” Malzahn told ESPN after the game, “that’ll help us in the long run.” The Tigers host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27 before reopening SEC play against No. 8 LSU on Oct. 4.

For Kansas State, what can you say? You did everything you needed to do to win the game, and you lost. In reality, there’s not much else you can do but rectify the result within yourself (with the help of a few adult beverages) and move on to the next game. That comes next Saturday when UTEP comes to town.

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