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CFT Predicts: the SEC

Nick Saban AP

As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our other conference previews: Big Ten, Pac-12

SEC East

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Michigan in Outback Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Gamecocks put together an 11-2 season for the second straight year — the first time in school history the program has accomplished such a feat. Yet, Steve Spurrier‘s team still didn’t make it to the SEC championship game despite handing it to SEC champ Georgia 35-7 in Columbia. Also, this happened. You may have seen it before on SportsCenter. 

So why are they ranked here?
South Carolina and Georgia have taken their respective turns representing the East division in the SEC title for the past three years, and it looks like 2013 will be two-team race between these two once again. The Gamecocks get the edge this time because of their defense, which features preseason Heisman candidate Jadeveon Clowney. But it’s not just the projected No. 1 NFL draft pick that makes this defense so good. Cornerback Victor Hampton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles also return.

Anything else?
That’s a Clowney question, bro. But for real, the offense loses wide receiver Ace Sanders. However, the Gamecocks have a solid wide receiver group led by Bruce Ellington and Damiere Byrd. 

2. Georgia (Last year: 12-2; beat Nebraska in Capital One Bowl) 
What happened last season?
If only Chris Conley had been a few yards further, Georgia would have been playing in the BCS championship game. Still, 12-2 and a January bowl win aren’t too shabby. Despite getting blasted by South Carolina midway through the season, UGA still won the East division for the second year in a row.

So why are they ranked here?
The Bulldogs’ offense returns so many key players, including seventh-year senior quarterback Aaron Murray and running backs Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall. But conversely, it’s the defense that loses just about everyone. There’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball and Todd Grantham is considered one of the best in the business at defense coordinator, but there’s enough turnover to cost the Bulldogs the top spot in the East.

Anything else?
Georgia is the media’s favorite to win the SEC East this year, but the month of September could get the Bulldogs off to a slow start. Georgia faces four tough opponents to start the season: Clemson, South Carolina, North Texas* and LSU.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

3. Florida (Last year: 11-2; lost to Louisville in Sugar Bowl)
What happened last season?
It wasn’t always pretty, but Florida won 11 regular season games with arguably one of the tougher schedules in college football. However, the Gators’ season ended in a Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville, something only our favorite Cardinals fan Mark Ennis could have foreseen.

So why are they ranked here?
This is where the Gators fit. The East will continue to be dominated by Georgia and South Carolina at least for another season, and there are some injury concerns on offense for Florida with wide receiver Andre Debose out for the year and running back Matt Jones out indefinitely with a viral infection. Quarterback Jeff Driskel is now a junior and should be a bigger part of this offense. On defense, this team needs to replace stars Matt Elam, Jelani Jenkins and Sharrif Floyd.

Anything else?
It doesn’t affect SEC records, but the Gators have two meaty non-conference games: the annual rivalry with Florida State and an early season game against Miami, a team some feel are flying under the radar.

4. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat NC State in the Music City Bowl)
What happened last season?
Seven straight wins to end 2012 gave Vanderbilt its first nine-win season since 1915. James Franklin continues to do an outstanding job building the Commodores’ brand and is now quickly becoming one of the most intriguing coaches in the game.

So why are they ranked here?
That nine-win season? Yeah, Vandy returns 17 starters from that team a year ago. Leading receiver Jordan Matthews is back, but Chris Boydthe team’s second-leading receiver, is currently dealing with a legal issue related to a horrific rape allegation involving four former VU players. Still there should be plenty of firepower on offense and the defensive front seven should be a strength.

Anything else?
Vanderbilt’s next step is to knock off a SEC favorite. This team will have four opportunities to do so against South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Texas A&M. A season-opener against Ole Miss could also build some early momentum for the ‘Dores.

5. Missouri (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
Missouri’s first year in the SEC was, shall we say, eye-opening. The Tigers suffered their first losing season under Gary Pinkel in eight years thanks, at least in part, to the fact that quarterback James Franklin couldn’t stay healthy. Missouri’s only two conference wins came against Kentucky and Tennessee.

So why are they ranked here?
It’s not a stretch to think Mizzou can have, say, a two-game swing in the win column this season. The Tigers don’t have to play Alabama or LSU out of the West and there are about four winnable conference games on the schedule. Franklin has to stay healthy, which could again be an issue if the offensive line doesn’t come through. Running back Henry Josey returns after missing last season with a significant knee injury and one-time five-star wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham is a sophomore who needs to have a big year. A lot of previously unknown names are going to have to emerge as playmakers.

Anything else?
Pinkel has been the head coach of Mizzou for 13 years if you can believe it. And, if nothing else, the Tigers have been fairly consistent with winning records. But a new conference and a disappointing 2012 campaign has made the seat beneath Pinkel’s keister a little warm. If there’s not at least a little bit of a turnaround, or some reason to be excited about the future, Mizzou could be looking for another direction by year’s end.

6. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
What happened last season?
The Vols suffered their third straight losing season and Derek Dooley was punished by being demoted to the wide receivers coach for the Dallas Cowboys.

So why are they ranked here?
Butch Jones is a good coach and he should be the guy to finally get things turned around for Tennessee. He’s a natural with young people and players love him. That said, Neyland Stadium wasn’t built in a day — neither were UT’s shiny new facilities — and the Vols took a solid gut punch in the passing game with the departures of wide receivers Justin Hunter and Cordarrelle Patterson. Defense has been bad too. There’s a lot to fix and not a lot to work with right away.

Anything else?
The stretch between Sept. 21 (at Florida) and Oct. 26 (at Alabama) is ruthless and unkind. But winning one game against either the Gators, Georgia or South Carolina would go a long way for Jones no matter the final record.

7. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Wildcats beat Samford and Kent State, the latter of which almost had a chance to make a BCS bowl appearance. Strange, indeed. Either way, Joker Phillips got canned.

So why are they ranked here?
If Tennessee is building things “brick by brick”, then Kentucky’s going to need some heavier materials. UK made an interesting hire with former Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, who is recruiting extremely well early. Signing Day 2014 is still a ways off and it’s yet to be seen if those efforts will pay dividends down the road. For now, the Wildcats have too much to improve upon to make a real dent.

Anything else?
The schedule the Wildcats go through doesn’t help. Road games against South Carolina and Georgia aren’t even the worst games — that distinction would belong to hosting Alabama on Oct. 12.

SEC West

1. Alabama (Last year: 13-1; beat Notre Dame in BCS championship)
What happened last season?
Oh, not much. The Tide won the SEC and then mercilessly beat Notre Dame in the BCS championship, giving Nick Saban his third national title in four years with Alabama. Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. Texas A&M came into Tuscaloosa in November and stunned the top-ranked team in the country 29-24. Saban has since been playing that game on loop around the football facilities because money isn’t the root of all evil — satisfaction is.

So why are they ranked here?
Unless the wheels inexplicably fall off or Saban takes his coaching talents to the pros, Alabama is in rolling along (see what we did–ah forget it) and there’s nothing anybody can do to stop it. We could talk about returning starters like A.J. McCarron or C.J. Moseley, or how the Tide’s schedule doesn’t feature any of the SEC East teams expected to finish at or near the top of that respective division. Those are all fine and well, but as long as Saban is wearing crimson, this program is going to be a perennial favorite.

Anything else?
Because college football black magic is very, very real, it should be pointed out again that Alabama has never have won a BCS title when ranked atop the preseason coaches poll. Guess where they’re ranked this year.

2. LSU (last year: 10-3; lost to Clemson in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
What happened last season?
The Tigers shocked the college football world by beating up on a much more talented North Texas team* to open the year and came thisclose to beating Alabama at home (tailback screen FTW!) on their way to a 10-win season. LSU lost by one point to Clemson in the Chick-fil-A Bowl as Tajh Boyd pulled off the toughest individual postseason performance of the year.

(*Kidding, obviously. But seriously #GoMeanGreen.) 

So why are they ranked here?
LSU is an interesting team who’s getting overshadowed by two other SEC West teams. Understandably, Alabama is the overwhelming favorite not only to win the West division, but to win the SEC and get back to another national championship. But the Tigers shouldn’t be counted out so quickly. Defense will always be a staple and Zach Mettenberger has all the tools to be an elite quarterback, he just has to put it all together. Ironically, perhaps his best game last season came in that agonizing loss to Alabama.

Anything else?
Les Miles‘ team has some big games this year, including road games against Georgia and Alabama, and a season-opener against TCU. This is a program that’s thrived in those environments over the last few years (sans a BCS title loss to Alabama in 2012). They’ll need to again if they want to knock off the preseason favorite.

3. Texas A&M (last year: 11-2; beat Oklahoma in Cotton Bowl)
What happened last season?
Kevin Sumlin started Johnny Manziel at quarterback and all of us — defenses, media members, all of us — looked like idiots. Also, Manziel won the Heisman as a redshirt freshman. Just as a reminder.

So why are they ranked here?
Manziel is back… maybe. In fact, this is probably one of the few predictions that actually deserves an asterisk next to it. With the NCAA reportedly investigating whether Manziel improperly received money for signing thousands of pieces of memorabilia, it’s possible he could face suspension. If he does, and depending when and for how long, the Aggies’ win total could dip tremendously. There are a lot of questions defensively even with Manziel in the lineup, and while I personally don’t believe the offseason “controversies” will affect Manziel’s play on the field, he still has a lot of growing to do as a quarterback.

Anything else?
Wide receiver Mike Evans burst on to the scene last year with over 1,100 yards as a freshman. All the talk is about Manziel, but Evans provides an athletic, big target to throw to in this offense. He could have an even bigger year as a sophomore.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 7-6; beat Pitt in the BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Hugh Freeze made one of the bigger first-season splashes by leading the Rebels to a seven-win season and then pulling in one of the most impressive recruiting classes for 2013.

So why are they ranked here?
The Rebels are considered to be on the upswing, but the first half of their ’13 schedule is bordering on unfair. Ole Miss travels to Vanderbilt, to Texas in non-conference play, to Alabama, and to Auburn before finally catching a break and hosting Texas A&M and LSU. It seems impossible to get through that stretch unscathed, but if quarterback Bo Wallace cuts down on his mistakes (17 interceptions a year ago) and the defense can clamp down even a little (the Rebels gave up an average of 36 points in five losses to the aforementioned six opponents last season thanks in part to 66 points from the Longhorns), then this team should find itself with some quality wins headed into an easier second half of the schedule.

Anything else?
If you think Ole Miss has broken any recruiting rules, Freeze asks that you email compliance@olemiss.edu. Thanks and hotty toddy!

5. Auburn (Last year: 3-9)
What happened last season?
The Tigers failed to win a conference game and Gene Chizik, two years removed from winning a BCS championship, was fired.

So why are they ranked here?
Gus Malzahn, who was the offensive coordinator for Auburn when it won that national title over Oregon in 2011, returns to The Plains as head coach hoping to turn things around. There are plenty of guys returning on both sides of the ball… it’s just that neither side played particularly well. It’s not like there’s a lack of talent at Auburn, so if Malzahn and his coaching staff, which features veteran defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, can get the production out of their players in a way Chizik couldn’t, then there’s no reason this team can’t go bowling this year.

Anything else?
Nick Marshall, a former Georgia defensive back, will be the starting quarterback for the Tigers. Meanwhile, Kiehl Frazier, Auburn’s former starting quarterback, has moved to defensive back.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 8-5; lost to Northwestern in the Gator Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Things were looking good for Dan Mullen‘s team, which was 7-0 headed into a late October game against Alabama. That’s when it fell apart and the schedule got significantly harder. The Bulldogs lost 38-7 in Tuscaloosa and went on to drop five of their last six games, including a bowl loss to Northwestern.

So why are they ranked here?
Because the SEC West is arguably the deepest division in college football. It’s quite possible that six teams could be bowl eligible here. Quarterback Tyler Russell is back, but there will be plenty of new faces at wide receiver. Six starters return on defense, but in all, this is a relatively young team that will be tested when it faces South Carolina, Texas A&M and Alabama in consecutive weeks.

Anything else?
If Bulldogs center Dillon Day plays as well as he bowls, then MSU should have a spectacular season.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Bobby Petrino drove his motorcycle off a road. John L. Smith then drove the BCS-ready Razorbacks into the ground. Hog fans didn’t take either particularly well.

So why are they ranked here?
Arkansas brings in a new coach in Bret Bielema, but loses quarterback Tyler Wilson, its top two leading rushers and receivers from a year ago. Defense was a major liability last season and will have to improve significantly if the offense doesn’t get going. And that schedule? Brutal. The Hogs may not win a game past September.

Anything else?
Freshman running back Alex Collins had some drama trying to Fayetteville, but in Bielema’s run-heavy offense, he could make a huge impact right away.

—————————————-

John Taylor‘s prediction:

East
1. Georgia
2. South Carolina
3. Florida
4. Tennessee
5. Vanderbilt
6. Kentucky
7. Missouri

West
1. Alabama
2. LSU
3. Texas A&M
4. Ole Miss
5. Mississippi State
6. Arkansas
7. Auburn
Ben’s SEC champ: Alabama
John’s SEC champ: Alabama
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Pair of Iowa running backs cited for a disorderly house

Two Iowa running backs were cited for a disorderly house, but it is not because they failed to clean up the pizza boxes and dust the furniture.

Iowa redshirt freshmen Jonathan Parker and Akrum Wadley were cited by police Saturday night after being called to respond to a complaint about a noise disturbance. Police discovered  a large gathering of people, and a scent of marijuana was reported to be stemming from the residence. According to a report from Iowa City Press-Citizen, both players were released later that night.

Parker and Wadley were apparently responsible for the party, but nothing beyond the disorderly house citation has been dropped on either player. As far as crimes and violations go in the offseason, this is hardly much reason for much concern given the information available at this time.

Parker rushed for 141 yards and one touchdown for the Hawkeyes in 2014. Wadley rushed for 186 yards and a touchdown after appearing in eight games in 2014.

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Report: LSU to earn $8.75 million from future neutral site games

Playing a marquee game on a neutral field has become rather common in college football in recent seasons, and the paydays that come with them tend to be the reason why. Aside from solving scheduling conflicts by avoiding arguments over home-and-home or one-and-done scheduling arrangements on one school’s campus without a return trip, neutral sites tend to cut rather significant paychecks to the participants. It is for this reason the neutral site game is far from a fad in college football. It is a new luxury that will be sought after by major programs for years to come.

According to information obtained by The Advocate, LSU will be cashing in on a pair of future non-conference match-ups taking place on a neutral field. As reported, ESPN will pay LSU a sum of $4 million when the Tigers face BYU in Houston in 2017. ESPN will cut another check in the amount of $4.75 million when LSU travels to Arlington, Texas to face Miami the following season (2018).

LSU is starting to see some nice income from neutral site arrangements. The $4.75 million due from the Miami game in 2018 is expected to be the most LSU will receive to play in a neutral site game, but the school is likely padding the coffers with frequently scheduled neutral site games. LSU has played in a neutral site game four out of the last five seasons.

Alabama and West Virginia split $6.4 million to play in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game in Atlanta in 2014. Ole Miss and Boise State split $3.1 million for the same event a couple of days earlier. The Cowboys Classic offered even bigger payouts for each school in its game. In 2012 Alabama and Michigan each received $4.7 million. The previous year LSU was paid $3.5 million and Oregon received $2 million to play in the game. The Florida Gators are expected to receive $6 million to play in the 2017 Cowboys Classic, against Michigan. Florida State will receive $3.5 million to play Ole Miss in Orlando in 2016.

It is no wonder Auburn is looking to secure a neutral site game in 2018 when so much money is involved.

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NAIA national champs asking for donations to buy championship rings

Austin Dodge, Heston Altenbach

One of the perks of winning a national championship is receiving a national championship ring. These are luxuries that may be taken for granted at the highest level of college football. This past season’s champions from the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, Southern Oregon University, are in need of donations just to buy the team championship rings.

A statement from Southern Oregon states NCAA championship rings are paid for ahead of time. This is not the case in the NAIA. the school must find a way to purchase championship rings for players and coaches, with the rings costing $250 each. Assuming everybody on the team’s roster page and each coach is supposed to get a ring, Southern Oregon is looking to raise $31,000.

If each of you donated one dollar, they should be able to reach that goal rather quickly. I will go ahead and get the ball rolling with a $5 donation (it’s on the way Southern Oregon).

The school is now reaching out to the public to raise money to purchase the rings, and every little bit should help. You can make a donation online on this donation page. The “Ring ‘Em up” campaign also allows you to sponsor a specific position on the team or a general donation for the entire squad.

Here’s hoping Southern Oregon can raise whatever funds are needed in order to provide some championship bling to the NAIA national champions.

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FCS power North Dakota State rewards Klieman with contract extension

Chris Klieman

After coaching FCS power North Dakota State to a fourth straight national championship, Chris Klieman has been rewarded with a two-year contract extension. The new deal will secure Klieman at North Dakota State through 2021.

“Chris understands the culture of Bison football and what it takes to continue the program’s high level of success,” athletic director Matt Larsen said in a released statement. “The excitement around the football program has never been greater and I look forward to having Chris and his family in Fargo for the long term.”

North Dakota State went 15-1 in 2014, highlighted by a victory over Big 12 school Iowa State and capped with a fourth straight FCS national championship. Klieman was as a finalist for the Eddie Robinson Award.

“I’m excited to continue to build on the great tradition of Bison football,” Klieman said. “My family enjoys being in Fargo and I am extremely thankful for how this community and Bison Nation have embraced my family and me.”

Klieman succeeded Craig Bohl after the former Bison head coach accepted a job offer at Wyoming after three straight national championship seasons at North Dakota State.

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Alabama adding former Chicago Bears DC Mel Tucker to staff

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears

Alabama’s coaching staff has been undergoing some changes this offseason with a handful of coaches leaving to pursue other opportunities. That means Nick Saban has had some vacancies to fill on his staff in Tuscaloosa. Former Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker looks to be the next addition to the staff.

According to Thayer Evans of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Alabama will add Tucker to the coaching staff as a secondary coach. When not filling the role of defensive coordinator throughout his coaching career, coaching defensive backs is what Tucker has done most often. Tucker has coached defensive backs for Miami-Ohio, LSU, Ohio State, the Cleveland Browns and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Considering how some teams managed to expose Alabama’s secondary at times in 2014, bringing in a coach with that level of expertise seems to be a good fit to the coaching staff for Saban and Alabama.

Alabama was generally a middle-of-the-pack team when it came to pass defense in 2014. The Crimson Tide defense had 11 interceptions and allowed 19 passing touchdowns, while allowing 226.0 passing yards per game in 2014.

Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart is also expected to take on coaching inside linebackers as the staff shuffles responsibilities.

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The AAC wants at least one more bowl game

Mike Aresco

Oh, you thought college football had enough bowl games, or perhaps too many bowl games? Tell that to schools like UAB, Georgia Southern and Temple. All reached the required win minimum in order to be bowl eligible in 2014, but none were sent an invitation to play in a bowl game. Georgia Southern was ineligible due to playing its first season at the FBS level, but UAB and Temple were simply left out.

Perhaps because of that, the American Athletic Conference is looking into the possibility of introducing another bowl game to the college football calendar.

“We have a great bowl lineup that we think is just going to get better and better next year as we add a couple of bowls to lineup and we may even add a few more,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said to The Orlando Sentinel. “No one wants to have teams left out as several conferences did and several conferences have had it historically happen every year so we’re trying to prevent that.”

Naturally, Aresco did not dive any deeper into explaining how far along any potential plans to add a new bowl game may or may not be at this point.

This would not be the first time the AAC has had a hand in creating a new bowl game. The conference worked with the Miami Marlins of Major League Baseball to create the new bowl game, which this year ended in a brawl between Memphis and BYU players.

The AAC has seen a handful of teams reach the normal bowl eligibility requirement in the win column the last few years, so creating at least one extra bowl to help send all bowl-eligible programs to a postseason game should not be a huge surprise.

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Report: ACL rehab sidelines Clemson safety for spring practices

Travis Blanks

Promising Clemson safety Travis Blanks will be forced to miss the spring practices this year after suffering a setback in his rehab for a torn ACL.

Blanks suffered a setback in his rehab process for his torn ACL during Clemson’s practices leading up to the bowl game, according to Aaron Brenner of Post & Courier (via Twitter).

Blanks was one of Clemson’s top freshmen in 2012 and was a starter for much of the 2013 season before having his year ended due to an injury. Blanks then suffered the knee injury in the spring of 2014, which kept him out of action last fall. Perhaps fortunately, Blanks had a redshirt year to spare in 2014, so he did not lose out on any eligibility at Clemson. He will still have two years to use starting this fall.

Keeping him out of the spring will hopefully allow him to be ready to go in the fall.

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Arkansas AD Jeff Long to continue in role as CFB Playoff Chairman

Jeff Long

The planning for year two of the College Football Playoff continues with a familiar face filling the role of chairman. Arkansas Athletics Director Jeff Long was elected to serve as the chairman of the College Football Playoff for a second straight season today.

“Jeff has been a terrific chair and I am delighted that the committee elected him to serve again,” College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said in a released statement. “Jeff is a thoughtful and dedicated leader who conducted the meetings skillfully. He also did a very good job answering questions about the rankings so fans could gain insight into the committee’s decisions. It’s clear that he has the full respect and confidence of the other committee members.”n the second half of the season on ESPN’s weekly

In the second half of the season Long made an appearance on ESPN’s weekly College Football Playoff selection committee rankings program to explain some of the logic used to form the latest committee rankings. It was a good idea in principle but struggled to provide clarity or show consistency in the ranking process. Whether that continues in year two has yet to be determined. Regardless, Long’s responsibility will continue to be to speak on behalf of the committee whenever possible. Year two of the system is not without its challenges, but Long is appreciative of the opportunity to continue to serve in this role.

“I appreciate the confidence that the committee members have shown in me,” said Long. “I am truly honored that they have chosen me to serve in this capacity this coming year. The real strength of this committee is the work that each member does to rank the teams each week and ultimately select the best four teams for the playoff. I am honored to represent them in the role of chair.”

ESPN is already reportedly putting pressure on the College Football Playoff to adjust its schedule for the 2015 playoff games, which are currently scheduled to be played on December 31. ESPN has concerns about scheduling the game on New Years’ Eve against traditional programming at the end of the year, as well as potential scheduling conflicts with the NFL and a possibly expanded playoff schedule by the pro football league.

Long will also be tasked with ensuring more consistency in the selection committee in the public’s eye. It is not necessarily his duty to ensure the committee is consistent, but it is his job to show the public there is an existing consistency with the playoff model.

Good luck Jeff.

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James Franklin scorns PSU player on Twitter for settling for a B on exam

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Boston College v Penn State

Some day college football players will learn not everything needs to be shared to the public. Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones found that out, as you may have heard by now, but things turned out OK for him. Maybe Penn State sophomore safety Bryant Harper will learn a lesson after being publicly scorned by his head coach on Twitter.

On Monday, Harper took to Twitter to boast about a B he received on a recent anatomy exam.

Penn State head coach James Franklin, known to be fluent with Twitter, saw the tweet from his player (or had somebody point it out to him), and responded…

Who knows just how serious Franklin was about the Twitter comment, but if nothing else a lesson should be learned by all college football players. What you put on Twitter (or Facebook or Instagram) will have someone watching, so be careful what you share! Harper was reminded of the Penn State philosophy of Success With Honor by way of some public humiliation from his head coach. Harper took this lesson in stride, and odds are he will not be bragging about any B‘s anytime soon.

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Oakland Raiders target Louisville DC Todd Grantham for Del Rio’s staff

Todd Grantham

The head coaching carousel around the NFL may have come to a close, but assistants are still ripe for the picking. That means some college football assistants are going to get some looks to fill some vacancies in the NFL. The Oakland Raiders have an eye on Louisville defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

The Raiders hired Jack Del Rio to be the team’s new head coach recently. The two coaches have never coached together, but there are some good reasons why Grantham would be considered for the job in Oakland. First, Grantham has some NFL coaching experience. The current defensive coordinator for Louisville has coached defensive line for the Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans and Dallas Cowboys in addition to serving as the defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns for three seasons. Grantham last coached in the NFL in 2009 as a defensive line coach for Dallas. He then coached four years as the defensive coordinator at Georgia before moving to Louisville last season. In his one year at Louisville, Grantham coached the second-best total defense in the ACC and held opponents to just 308.5 yards per game.

If Grantham does leave Louisville after one season to return to the NFL, the Cardinals should be able to find a suitable replacement. The timing may be unfortunate for Louisville, with National Signing Day coming up next week, but it is a reality of the profession. Louisville should have the resources to keep things afloat on the coaching staff as well.

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No Justice for Michigan; RB Hayes to transfer

Justice Hayes, Jonathan Truman

Looking for an opportunity for more playing time in his fifth and final year of eligibility, running back Justice Hayes has decided to transfer out of the Michigan program. Hayes announced on his Instagram page —  because this is what college kids do these days — he is leaving Michigan on good terms and will be graduating from the university this spring.The fact that I will be graduating from the University of Michigan in April will be meritorious. I have earned team captain on numerous occasions, won respect

“The fact that I will be graduating from the University of Michigan in April will be meritorious,” Hayes said. “I have earned team captain on numerous occasions, won respect from coaches and players, and most importantly played my heart out every Saturday. I truly appreciate the offer from [Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh] to allow me to return for my 5th year, but I have decided that I will choose another college to play football as a graduate student.”

Hayes appeared in all 12 games Michigan played in 2014. He carried the football 48 times for a total of 213 yards in a crowded backfield. That depth at the running back position likely meant little playing time would be expected for Hayes in 2015. Because he will be graduating from Michigan, he will be eligible to play at any FBS program that welcomes him to their program this fall.

Hayes also had a note for any potential critics of his decision. There will likely be somebody out there that reads a little too much into it, but the point is a solid one. Players need to have the freedom to make the best possible decision for their own path, and not be hounded by fans who say otherwise.

“There will be people out there that disagree with this tough decision I made, but they won’t be the ones that cut me checks in the future.”

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UCF adding a little (fake) beach-front property to Bright House Networks Stadium

UCF club section

With the game day atmosphere becoming more and more of an issue some schools are struggling to address, UCF is looking to bring a more casual, beach-like setting to fans on game day. Well, at least for club members.

UCF calls it the East Side Club, a newly renovated section of Bright House Network Stadium will take on the look and feel of a beach club, complete with a walk-out section to enjoy a beverage while watching the Knights take on their opponents or be able to socialize in a preferred area hooked up with more than 15 flat-screen TVs (do they even make non-flat TVs anymore?) and enhanced WiFi, because everybody needs more WiFi. The new area will also have private bathrooms and a preferred VIP entrance.

The open area will have a view of the field between the 30-yard lines, which should make for an excellent overview of the game being played that day. The walkout area will also have a sand-colored finish to attempt to mimic the idea of walking on the beach and watching football as best as possible. Keep in mind Orlando is not exactly all that close to the beaches in Florida, so UCF is trying to bring that scenery as close to home as possible. Plus, this is much less messy than actual sand.

UCF states the renovations should be completed in time for UCF’s 2015 season opener against Florida International on September 5, 2015. You can read more about the plans for the new club area and check out the specs and more artist renderings on UCF’s official website.

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Pros and cons of conference foes scheduling non-conference games

Duke v Wake Forest

North Carolina and Wake Forest announced an unprecedented scheduling agreement earlier on Monday. The two ACC schools announced they will play a pair of non-conference games in 2019 and 2021. It is the first such scheduling agreement between power conference schools within the same conference, and it has been received to mixed reviews.

PRO: It creates a game fans will look forward to

North Carolina and Wake Forest each have a duty to satisfy their alums, students and fans. By scheduling a game against an in-state rival they rarely get to see, North Carolina and Wake Forest are each giving their fans something to look forward to. In a world where conference expansion has taken away some annual or near-annual rivalry games, North Carolina and Wake Forest have found a way to resume playing more often instead of waiting for the ACC schedule to pair them up on a rotating basis.

CON: It sets a somewhat sketchy precedent for the sport

With power conferences creating a larger divide between the haves and have-nots in college football, power conferences scheduling games against opponents from inside their own conference ultimately takes away not one, but potentially two opportunities for schools from the Group of Five to schedule at least a marginally attractive game on their respective schedules.

PRO: It can have a positive effect on each school’s overall body of work

Not that anyone is honestly ready to suggest North Carolina or Wake Forest will be competing for a spot in the College Football Playoff in four to six years, but in a hypothetical world both schools have added a power conference opponent to the schedule. In theory, this should result in a positive effect on the strength of schedule for either UNC or Wake Forets (or both).

CON: It neutralizes the conference’s overall strength of schedule

Rather than going out and competing against the SEC, Pac-12 Big Ten or Big 12, what North Carolina and Wake Forest are doing is dropping an anchor on the ACC’s overall strength of schedule. The College Football Playoff selection committee, however it is formed by 2019 or 2021 rolls around, may be unlikely to acknowledge the ACC if ACC schools are scheduling non-conference games against each other. The committee will be more impressed with victories over other power conferences, because they will be able to evaluate the strength of each conference better with true out-of-conference match-ups on the schedule.

PRO: In-state rivalries are a good thing

It is always good to see in-state rivalries thrive when possible, and North Carolina and Wake Forest managed to ensure there will be one more to pay attention to in the state. Because of this, it may not be a shock to eventually see Duke and N.C. State explore a similar arrangement, which would add more to the whole concept of a state championship in the state of North Carolina.

Sorry East Carolina.

If you have more pros or cons about this type of scheduling arrangement, feel free to add on in the comment section.

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Former Wake OL Cory Helms lands at South Carolina

Wake Forest v Vanderbilt

South Carolina head coach still has to wait until next week to see how his Class of 2015 comes together, but the Gamecocks added a talented offensive lineman to the roster a little early. Cory Helms, a two-year starter at Wake Forest, has decided to join the South Carolina program after weighing a few options.

Helms, a Freshman All-American center in 2013, will have to sit out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, although Helms told GoGamecocks.com the Uuniversity will file an appeal to have him eligible immediately in the fall. Helms is moving closer to home to be near his sick grandmother, which will be the basis for the argument to allow him to avoid having to sit out a season. If approved, Helms will be able to slide right into the South Carolina offensive line mix and add some versatility after playing center and guard at Wake Forest. South Carolina lost two seniors on one side of the line to graduation, so there should be a spot waiting for Helms if eligible to play in 2015.

Helms ended up choosing South Carolina over offers from Mississippi State, Texas A&M and Penn State.

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UNC and Wake Forest schedule non-conference home-and-home

Miami of Ohio v UNC Getty Images

The evolution of college football scheduling reached a new low Monday, potentially. North Carolina and Wake Forest have agreed to a home-and-home series as non-conference opponents. UNC and Wake Forest are both ACC members, but play in opposite divisions. This is the first time two conference members have scheduled a home-and-home series for non-conference competition*, and it may not be the last.

Wake Forest will host North Carolina on September 19, 2019. UNC will host the second part of the home-and-home series on September 25, 2021. Because these are non-conference match-ups, neither game will count in the ACC standings.

“This is a unique opportunity to play a regional rival in years that fall outside the normal conference rotation,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham.  “We have a long history with Wake Forest that has historical value and will generate interest within our fans.”

The ACC requires schools in the conference to schedule at least one power conference opponent each season. Yes, this scheduling arrangement will satisfy that non-conference scheduling requirement. The idea of the scheduling requirement was designed to increase the overall conference strength of schedule, but this move essentially drags it down by guaranteeing one extra loss for the conference, against power conference opposition no less.

This could be a trend that continues as power conferences flex more muscle over the rest of the college football landscape with new powers granted through autonomy. Keeping the money within the conference, and between power conferences, will lead to more scheduling developments like this. It may not be all bad though, as 14-team conferences have limits to how often some schools face each other on a rotating basis. Perhaps this could be something that solves those concerns and makes for marketable games on our schedule.

Mixed reviews are already coming in about this scheduling announcement now that the precedent has been set.

* California and Colorado played a 2011 game as non-conference opponents despite Colorado just joining the Pac-12. That game had been scheduled back in 2004, before Colorado had joined the conference, but both teams kept the game on the books to fill out the schedule.

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