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CFT Predicts: the ACC

ACC Championship - Virginia Tech v Clemson Getty Images

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 ACC.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig Ten, Pac-12

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Tigers shook their ‘Clemsoning’ curse and previous Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia by going 11-2 and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
Offense, offense, offense. And some offense sprinkled in. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman candidate and he’ll have Sammy Watkins to throw to for a third straight year. Watkins had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012 — at least by his standards — because of a variety of issues, from a suspension to injuries, but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. His touchdown production should rise again after getting in the end zone just four times.

Anything else?
The defense improved under first-year coordinator Brent Venables. With as good as the Tigers offense projects to be, there’s more wiggle room on that side of the ball. Also, can Clemson finally beat South Carolina after dropping four straight games?

2. Florida State (Last year: 12-2; beat NIU in Orange Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The ‘Noles won the ACC and beat NIU in the Orange Bowl. They also pulled their annual head-scratcher by losing to North Carolina State. The circle never ends, it seems.

So why are they ranked here?
Talent isn’t a question Tallahassee, but there are a lot of new faces. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has a ton of upside at the quarterback spot, it just remains to be seen at this point how he handles his first year as starter. Wide receiver depth is becoming an issue too. The defensive line loses two pass rushers in Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, but that’s an area stacked — almost unfairly — with capable players.

Anything else?
Florida State had a whopping 11 NFL draft picks in April, but Jimbo Fisher also had to replace roughly half his coaching staff. That’s a lot of turnover and it’ll be interesting to see how players and coaches jell this year.

3. Maryland (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Randy Edsall doubled his win total in year two with the Terps, but a linebacker was starting at quarterback by the end of the year because of injuries. Apparently, being a quarterback at Maryland can be equated to playing drums for Spinal Tap.

So why are they ranked here?
The quarterbacks are finally back with working knees and there is some talent on that side of the ball, namely wide receiver Sefon Diggs. Another running back will have to step up with Wes Brown being suspended for the year, though the running game in general needs to improve. The Terps also have to replace a sizable portion of their starting defensive front seven. Several of Maryland’s toughest games (Florida State, Virginia Tech) are on the road too.

Anything else?
It feels like wide receiver Deon Long has led the life of a traveled NFL veteran more than a college player, but he finally at Maryland. He was suspended this spring, but he should be a good addition to the passing game. He has the physical tools to make an impact, so he could be a player to watch.

4. Wake Forest (Last year: 5-7) 
What happened last season?
It was a tough season in hindsight for the Deacs when you consider they lost two games by an average of six points (against Maryland, Duke) that could have propelled them back into the postseason.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s some potential for this team, which returns a good portion of its starting 22 from a year ago. Tanner Price is a veteran quarterback and leading running back Josh Harris will be eligible to play in 2013. The problem is Wake Forest couldn’t find the end zone last year and were shut out twice. The defense wasn’t much better, but it does return eight guys from 2012.

Anything else?
There are plenty of manageable games on Wake’s schedule this year, including in the non-conference department. Getting back to a bowl is a realistic goal.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 7-6; lost to Vanderbilt in Music City Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Though NC State hadn’t had a losing season since 2009, and despite upsetting Florida State, Tom O’Brien couldn’t keep his job. He’s replaced by former NIU coach Dave Doeren.

So why are they ranked here?
Turnover is rarely easy, and there’s a lot of it for the Wolfpack in 2013. In addition to a new coaching staff, this team loses quarterback Mike Glennon and, even though he had some disappointing moments in 2012, cornerback David Amerson. There’s plenty to be excited about with Doeren, but his first year could be rough.

Anything else?
If there’s one area of improvement to look for right away, it would be the ground game. NC State was among the worst rushing teams a year ago while NIU ranked 12th in the nation in that category. The offense does return its top two leading rushers from a year ago in Shadrach Thornton and Tony Creecy.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 8-5; beat West Virginia in Pinstripe Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Orange got off to a bit of a bumpy start, but won six of their final seven games in 2012. Two of those wins came in convincing fashion against Louisville and West Virginia.

So why are they ranked here?
The ‘Cuse lose coach Doug Marrone to the NFL and in comes Scott Shafer. The Orange are also entering a new conference with some key departures, including quarterback Ryan Nassib, wide receiver Alec Lemon and defensive back Shamarko Thomas — all leaders in their respective positions.

Anything else?
If there is one person to watch, it’s Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen. Though Shafer doesn’t plan on announcing a QB until the last possible moment, Allen is believed to be in a position to win the starting job. He played sparingly for the Sooners, but could be a key member of the offense for the Orange.

7. Boston College (Last year: 2-10)
What happened last season?
The Eagles won two games and Frank Spaziani got the long-awaited boot.

So why are they ranked here?
Former Temple coach Steve Addazio takes over and has, by all accounts, injected some energy into a program that desperately needs some. Whether that energy will turn into wins remains to be seen. This was an offense that couldn’t run the ball or score a year ago, but the passing duo of quarterback Chase Rettig and wide receiver Alex Amidon do give experience and play making ability to the passing game.

Anything else?
The front part of BC’s schedule is brutal, but there’s some room for the Eagles to make some noise toward the end of the year and build some momentum heading into 2014. The final two games against Maryland and Syracuse are on the road, but those aren’t impossible games to win.

Coastal Division

1. Miami (Last year: 7-5)
What happened last season?
The Hurricanes actually won a share of the Coastal Division, but they also self-imposed a postseason ban for the second straight year because of the ongoing NCAA investigation of the program.

So why are they ranked here?
Miami figures to have one of the more potent offenses in the entire conference thanks to the return of quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnsonwith the latter considered to be among the most exciting players to watch in the game. It’s the defense that has all the question marks for the ‘Canes. This was a team that was simply pushed around up front and gave up at least 40 points four times last year.

Anything else?
Give Al Golden credit. He’s identified the weakness on defense (not that it was too difficult) and recruited some immediate help. David Gilbert and Justin Renfrow join the team from Wisconsin and Virginia, respectively, and add an immediate boost along the defensive line.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 8-4)
What happened last season?
Like Miami, North Carolina had to watch the postseason from home thanks to a postseason ban. Unlike the Hurricanes, this was NCAA-mandated. Still the Tar Heels won eight games under first-year coach Larry Fedora.

So why are they ranked here?
There are two major departures from last year’s team: running back Giovani Bernard and offensive lineman Jonathan Cooper. Bernard received a bulk of the carries in the run game and had over 1,200 yards. So whether it’s one player — perhaps A.J. Blue – or a committee, that production will have to be replaced. But there are plenty of other playmakers on offense, including veteran QB Bryn Renner. Defense returns its entire secondary and should be an overall improved unit that fared well enough in Year 1 under Fedora.

Anything else?
UNC’s key stretch comes in the middle of the season. It starts with a road game at divisional opponent Georgia Tech and ends with another road game at North Carolina State. Get through that and a bulk of the Coastal Divsion contenders should be behind them by that point.

3. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6; beat Rutgers in Russell Athletic Bowl) 
What happened last season?
2012 was a disappointment by Virginia Tech’s standards. The Hokies needed overtime three times to pull out wins and there were some tough losses to Pitt and Cincinnati mixed in.

So why are they ranked here?
Primarily because health and depth are already concerns for Virginia Tech before a single regular season snap has been taken. Star cornerback Antone Exum will miss the season opener against Alabama and perhaps longer. The knee injury he sustained early this year was serious and there are few guarantees when it comes to a timeline for return. There’s been some attrition on both sides of the ball with various injuries and departures. If this team can get healthy as the season goes on, maybe it can make a run for the divisional title late in the season.

Anything else?
Scot Loeffler takes over as offensive coordinator. Quarterback Logan Thomas was, to say the least, inconsistent last year with just over a 50 percent completion rate and 18 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. He’s shown at times he can make tremendous throws, but he needs to be able to do it without a handful of bad throws and decisions in between. With Loeffler calling the plays, Thomas doesn’t need to throw for 4,000 yards — he just needs to play smarter.

4. Georgia Tech (Last year: 7-7; beat USC in the Sun Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Yellow Jackets backed their way into the ACC championship game, but embarrassed USC in the Sun Bowl. So, yeah. Georgia Tech came out ahead on that one.

So why are they ranked here?
Some key pieces of GT’s triple option are leaving, including Tevin Washington and Orwin Smith. But, Vad Lee moves in to take control of the offense, and he already saw plenty of game action last year. The defense ended up playing much better down the stretch last year after Al Groh was fired, so there’s definitely room to continue growing on that side of the ball.

Anything else?
Despite being a run-heavy offense, Georgia Tech has been known to have one big, physical receiver under Paul Johnson. Jeff Greene looked to be that guy until he left for Ohio State. Who will step up for the Yellow Jackets in that spot in 2013?

5. Pitt (Last year: 6-7; lost to Ole Miss in BBVA Compass Bowl) 
What happened last season?
Pitt got off to a tough start in Year 1 under Paul Chryst by losing to Youngstown State to start the season, but rebounded quickly by beating Virginia Tech in Week 3. The Panthers actually won and lost games in alternating pairs the entire way through the year before falling to Ole Miss in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
After 14 years, 10 head coaches and 500 sacks, the Tino Sunseri era is finally over. Tom Savage, the former Rutgers quarterback who is also a veteran of the college game, enters 2013 as the starter. But there are a lot of concerns on offense, namely the running game. Ray Graham is gone and Rushel Shell, the running back figured to take bulk of the carries going forward, has moved on to West Virginia. Defense should be the strength of the team with defensive tackle Aaron Donald coming back along with a solid secondary that has safety Jason Hendricks, who led the team in tackles a year ago.

Anything else?
Pitt has the opportunity to make a huge first impression in the ACC if it can beat Florida State at home in Week 1. There are some tough games for the Panthers this season, including a road trip to Virginia Tech, and the Panthers are an unknown heading into ACC play.

6. Duke (Last year: 6-7; lost to Cincinnati in Belk Bowl)
What happened last season?
Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994 under coach David Cutcliffe. The Blue Devils ultimately lost a close game to Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, but there was a lot to be happy with in 2012.

So why are they ranked here?
There’s little concern on offense. Even though quarterback Sean Renfree is gone, there’s a lot of buzz on Anthony Boone. Boone is a mobile guy who gives Cutcliffe another dimension to add to the offensive attack. If the ground game can improve, this is a team that could be tough to stop. Defense is a concern as it ranked among the worst in the country a year ago. The Blue Devils will probably find themselves in more than a couple shootouts this fall.

Anything else?
No matter where Duke finishes in the ACC this season, there’s something to be said for what Cutcliffe is building there. He’s had other opportunities to leave, and he’s chosen to stay. He’s one of the most well-regarded X’s and O’s coaches in the game and the Blue Devils should be in a position at the end of the year to possibly make it to a second straight bowl game.

7. Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
What happened last season?
Virginia got an early season win against Penn State when the Nittany Lions were struggling, and a late-season win over Miami. In between was when things were rough.

So why are they ranked here?
Mike London went with a coaching overhaul that brings in former North Carolina State coach Tom O’Brien and Jon Tenuta as defensive coordinator. Defense should be the greater strength for UVA this year with a seasoned secondary. It’s the offense that needs work. Two quarterbacks from 2012 — Phillip Sims and Michael Rocco — are gone, so this is a team that will probably have to rely on its run game.

Anything else?
It’ll be interesting to see if Virginia can make strides with a restructured coaching staff, but wins could still be hard to come by with a tough schedule. BYU, Oregon and even Ball State make up a difficult non-conference slate, and the last four games against Clemson, North Carolina, Miami and Virginia Tech is a rough way to end the year.

———————————————

John Taylor’s Prediction:

ATLANTIC
1. Clemson
2. Florida State
3. North Carolina State
4. Wake Forest
5. Maryland
6. Syracuse
7. Boston College

COASTAL
1. Miami
2. North Carolina
3. Georgia Tech
4. Virginia Tech
5. Pittsburgh
6. Virginia
7. Duke

Ben’s ACC champ: Clemson
John’s ACC champ: Clemson

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Report: Three more Longhorns could face a suspension

Daje Johnson

When four players were dismissed from the Texas Longhorns program last week, there was speculation more players would follow. Three more players have been identified by HornsDigest.com’s Chip Brown as being at risk.

Wide receiver Daje Johnson and offensive tackles Desmond Harrison and Kennedy Estelle all face suspension, according to Brown. The trio are apparently down to their “last strike” with the program.

It should be pointed out that Texas has not announced anything and these three players may simply be facing internal pressure to conform with head coach Charlie Strong’s new approach.

If we do take a moment to consider the possibility of any of these players being suspended, it would be a major blow to the Longhorns’ offense.

Harrison and Estelle are projected to the team’s starting bookends at offensive tackle. The Longhorns lack experience behind their starters and protecting quarterback David Ash with a pair of neophyte offensive tackles could prove to be disastrous. Kent Perkins, who is projected to start at guard, would likely be asked to move back to right tackle, while sophomore Camrhon Hughes would be thrust into the starting lineup.

At wide receiver, Johnson has shown the potential to be a dynamic play maker. While it may be difficult to replicate what Johnson can do within the offense, it could eventually prove to be an opportunity for a young receiver — whether it’s Jacorey Warrick, Jake Oliver or one of five incoming freshmen — to earn playing time and possibly produce.

It wouldn’t be surprising with Strong’s recent track record to find out that one or all of these players are eventually suspended, but we wanted to stress the fact that it hasn’t happened or hasn’t been announced at this time.

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Mizzou WR suspended due to a banned substance

Missouri v Vanderbilt

The Missouri Tigers’ war of attrition at wide receiver continues.

Sophomore Levi Copelin has been suspended for the 2014 campaign due to taking a banned substance.

“The reason I am suspended is that I recently bought an over-the-counter nutritional supplement from a local store, and used it as part of my workout routine,” Copelin said in a statement released by the schoool. “Unfortunately, I used it without clearing it with my strength coaches or trainers.  This supplement is legal and available to the public, but it isn’t approved by the NCAA, and as a result of using it, I failed an NCAA drug test.  This was a stupid mistake on my part, and I’m very sorry that I put myself and my team in this situation.  This is a hard lesson to learn, as I never had the wrong intentions. I also understand there aren’t any shortcuts to success.  There’s nothing I can do except dedicate myself to representing me, my family, my team, and Mizzou the right way going forward.  I’m very grateful to my coaches and my teammates for giving me a chance to overcome this.”

Last season, the Tigers had one of the most explosive wide receiver corps in college football. L’Damian Washington and Marcus Lucas were lost to the NFL, and budding superstar Dorial Green-Beckham was dismissed from the team in April.

The team will now rely heavily on seniors Bud Sasser, Darius White and Jimmie Hunt. Copelin was projected to be the team’s fourth starter at wide receiver in its spread system. Instead, Copelin’s absence will provide an opportunity for a pair of true freshmen, Nate Brown and DeSean Blair, to make an early impact for the Tigers. The coaching staff could also turn to tight end Sean Culkin to provide a big presence — all 6-6 and 245 pounds of him — in the slot.

“This is a very unfortunate situation, but one that Levi created for himself,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said in the statement. “He’s paying the price for this mistake, and I commend him for owning up to it and taking responsibility.  Our strength coaches and trainers rely on our players to be careful of what they do on their own, and to always get approval from them first.  We’re disappointed that Levi didn’t follow this guideline, but we will support him during this time, and have high expectations that he will handle all of his responsibilities in the classroom, in the community and on the field in a first-class manner.”

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WVU’s Wendell Smallwood cleared of charges in murder case

Wendell Smallwood

Sometimes, as is the case with West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood, it’s far more prudent to allow the justice system to play itself out before a student-athlete’s future is determined.

Smallwood was arrested July 14 on charges of intimidating a witness involved in a murder case.

Wilmington (Delaware) police claimed at the time that Smallwood “tried to get a witness to recant statements implicating a friend (Zakee Lloyd) of his charged with first-degree murder.”

Lloyd, however, admitted to the crime, while Smallwood was a vital part of the investigation. The Wilmington Police Department issued a statement regarding Smallwood’s role in the matter:

Since his arrest, Wendell Smallwood has been fully cooperative with the Department of Justice and Wilmington Police Department including giving a full statement regarding his involvement in witness intimidation. He was fully prepared to testify truthfully in the upcoming trial, and his cooperation was instrumental to the State in securing today’s conviction of Zakee Lloyd.

There is no evidence of Smallwood’s involvement in the murder of Manuel Oliveras.  Moreover, despite the recorded phone call between Smallwood and Lloyd, there is no evidence that it resulted in a threat being conveyed to that witness.  In consideration of all of the facts and circumstances, including Smallwood’s full cooperation with authorities and the conviction of Zakee Lloyd, the State today entered a nolle prosequi on the witness intimidation charge against Wendell Smallwood.

Upon news of Smallwood’s involvement in the case, West Virginia University didn’t comment on the situation, and Mountaineers head coach Dana Holgorsen wouldn’t discuss it during Big 12 media days. Instead, Smallwood remained on the roster, and he’ll now be able to return to the team without fear of suspension or dismissal.

Smallwood finished third on the team with 221 rushing yards in 2013, and he was second with 894 all-purpose yards.

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Jake Heaps expects to start at QB for the Hurricanes

Jake Heaps

Quarterback Jake Heaps hopes the third time is the charm.

Heaps is on his third team in four years. After unsuccessful stints with the BYU Cougars and the Kansas Jayhawks, Heaps has one year of eligibility left to make his mark with the Miami Hurricanes. And Heaps plans to make the most of it as the team’s starting quarterback.

“I didn’t come here to be the backup,” Heaps told the Miami Herald’s Susan Miller Degnan. “I made this decision for a reason. I came here to play, but you have to earn that. No one is going to give that to you, and that’s what I knew coming into this situation and that’s what I wanted.

“… That’s the only way you’re going to earn your teammates’ respect and gain their confidence. So for me, I’m very excited about this opportunity. This is my last year. I’ve given everything I have at this thing, and it’s extremely important for me to perform well — not only to win the job but for my goals and aspirations down the line as well.”

Heaps’ experience speaks for itself and provides him with an advantage in the Hurricanes’ upcoming quarterback competition. During his time with the other two institutions, Heaps played in 33 games and threw for 5,181 yards, 32 touchdowns and 27 interceptions.

The starting job, however, won’t be handed to the upperclassman. Although, the trek will be much easier to navigate without projected starter Ryan Williams in the running. Williams suffered a torn ACL during spring ball, which allowed Heaps to transfer to the University of Miami.

Heaps will compete with three young but very talented quarterbacks. Kevin Olsen is a redshirt freshman and former four-star recruit. Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier are a pair of highly touted true freshmen that could work their way into the mix with strong showings during fall camp.

“Many times you’re in a situation with quarterback battles, [and] it’s very easy to find a team that has a divided locker room, that in a lot of situations don’t handle this situation very well,” Heaps said. “It’s a testament to the group of guys in this quarterback room that there hasn’t been any division.

“I’ve tried to come in and be nobody but myself and show these guys how much I love the game of football. It has gone extremely well. These guys are great.”

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Disciplinary actions at Texas are helping recruiting

Charlie Strong

Charlie Strong had many challenges facing him when he took over as the head coach of the Texas Longhorns. The biggest of which was relating to high school coaches in the state of Texas after they became accustomed to the ways of Mack Brown over the past 16 years.

Strong’s recent disciplinary action — he suspended or dismissed six players last week, including two potential starters — wasn’t seen as a negative around the state. Strong is establishing a new culture in Texas, and high school coaches are taking notice.

“The high school coaches I’ve spoken with say they want to send players to a place where is sound discipline,” Daron Roberts, a Texas graduate who will coach at the high school level this season, told Bleacher Report’s Ben Kercheval. “Everyone knows that Strong means what he says.”

The high school coaches don’t just want their athletes to play for the University of Texas. They want them to become better men under the supervision of Strong.

“We’re in the development business,” Todd Moebes, the head football coach at Abilene Cooper High School, told Kercheval. “We want to make our players better citizens in society, but you also have to look at how that affects the program. I admire him.”

Strong is quickly setting the tone within his program and changing expectations around the state. And it’s working.

Texas currently ranks 20th overall in Rivals.com’s 2015 class rankings. The program didn’t rank in the Top 20 during Brown’s last full recruiting cycle. The team finished 24th. And the Longhorns received a pair of verbal commitments from wide receiver John Burt (Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln) and defensive lineman Du’Vonta Lampkin (Houston/Cypress Falls) since the suspensions.

It will take time for Strong and his staff to fully ingratiate themselves into recruiting the state of Texas, but the coach has certainly set the right tone early in his tenure.

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NCAA rescinds Oklahoma State’s practice penalty

Mike Gundy

The NCAA reversed its course, and the Oklahoma State Cowboys won’t be docked practice time this season.

Two months ago, the NCAA ruled the Cowboys’ football team fell below the minimum standard required as it pertains to program’s Academic Progress Rate.

A mistake in calculating the APR was brought to the NCAA’s attention by Oklahoma State, which brought the school’s APR score above the minimum threshold.

“Throughout this process the NCAA has been committed to having complete and accurate data,” OSU’s senior associate athletic director for compliance Kevin Fite said in a release. “We were provided a great deal of assistance in ensuring the information we were evaluated on accurately reflected our football team’s academic performance, based on APR standards. When the additional point was discovered earlier this summer, the NCAA staff promptly re-evaluated our situation and added the point, which took us out of the penalty range.”

The mistake apparently came when the school “discovered the recent graduation of a player from the 1990s which counted toward the APR score”, according to FOX Sports Southwest’s David Ubben.

The change in policy won’t have a drastic effect on how Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy approaches practice during fall camp or during the season.

“We haven’t used the 20 hours in a number of years,” Gundy said during Big 12 media days. “And when you put it down on paper, we end up being about 45 minutes short. We’ll incorporate a few new things in two-a-days prior to school starting, when we don’t have any limitations, and we’ll move forward. I’ve challenged the players with accepting responsibility to make up for that time during the week.”

Oklahoma State has shown marked academic improvement over the past two years, which lessened the original penalty, but the program will have to continue on its upward trend to avoid this situation in the future. Next time they might not be able to find a player from two decades ago that will able to help their cause.

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Urban Meyer wants LeBron James at OSU games

Wisconsin v Ohio State

Basketball megastar LeBron James described his time with the Miami Heat as his “college experience.” Now that “The King” is “coming home” to play for the Cleveland Cavaliers, The Ohio State University would like to expand on his so-called college experience this fall by making James a permanent fixture on the football team’s sidelines.

Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer was asked about James’ return to Ohio during the Big Ten’s media days. Meyer made sure to point out he has an open door policy with James.

James is one of the world’s most famous athletes, and the reason to have him around is obvious. James is a living and breathing recruiting tool, and coaches love to use every tool at their disposal.

Unfortunately, NBA training camps open at the start of October, and James will likely miss the bulk of Ohio State’s conference games, unless he has an off day or two from practice and games.

If Meyer really wanted James around more, he could have done exactly what the basketball program did and bequeath a permanent locker to James somewhere in the football facilities.

After all, there appears to be more than enough room in the team’s new extravagant new locker room to grant “The King” a throne…

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Urban Meyer’s Buckeyes have national title expectations

Urban Meyer

On The Dan Patrick Show, Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer addressed multiple issues he deals with on a daily basis as the leader of one of the nation’s premier programs.

Expectations for the Buckeyes may the most difficult issue to handle. Ohio State doesn’t just compete for Big Ten Championships. The program is trying to compete for national titles each and every year.

“I think it’s real,” Meyer told Patrick. “I felt it on our team last year during our win streak. I try to watch that. I been through it now for quite a while. I try to give some experience to it and focus on that task at hand. No one forced these players to come to Ohio State. No one forced these coaches. You get these top five, six, seven programs and that’s the way it is. You have to win every game you play, embrace it and try to do it. If you can’t, you rebound and try to win the next one. We have a good handle on that here.”

The Buckeyes are a consensus Top 10 pick entering the season, and they were chosen by the media to win the Big Ten Conference. If the Buckeyes hold true to form, they will have a legitimate shot to be one of four participants in the the new College Football Playoff.

To listen to the entire interview, click the video below:

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Media picks Cincinnati to win the American Athletic Conference

Tommy Tuberville

The Cincinnati Bearcats are the favorites to claw their way out of American Athletic Conference and potentially play in a major bowl game.

Cincinnati received 17 first-place votes from the media members currently covering the American’s media days.

“First time in my 19 years that I’ve ever been picked to win the conference,” Bearcats head coach Tommy Tuberville told The Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don’t think I have, but I can’t remember. But remember, Louisville was picked to win last year, and they didn’t win.

“We’ll have a target on our back every week. It’s something we can take and run with or we can hide from it. Obviously you want to take it and run with it.”

Two other teams, the UCF Knights and Houston Cougars, received first-place votes. The Knights received seven first-place votes and were chosen to finish second, while the Cougars had six first-place votes and were picked to finish third.

The Knights are coming off a BCS bowl berth and a Fiesta Bowl championship, but the losses of quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson to the NFL may be too much to overcome to repeat as league champions.

The Cougars, meanwhile, are highly talented on offense and have one of the nation’s best young quarterbacks in John O’Korn. The Cougars travel to Cincinnati on Dec. 6 with the conference championship likely on the line.

The conference’s newest addition, the East Carolina Pirates, were picked to finish fourth. The Pirates have arguably the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the AAC with Shane Carden and Justin Hardy, but the team plays a brutal non-conference schedule against the South Carolina Gamecocks, Virginia Tech Hokies or North Carolina Tar Heels.

The SMU Mustangs, South Florida Bulls, Memphis Tigers and Temple Owls were finished to finish fifth through eighth, respectively. The Connecticut Huskies and Tulane Green Wave received the same numbers of votes and tied for ninth place. Another new addition to the conference, the Tulsa Hurricane, was picked to finish last.

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NCAA settles concussion lawsuit

NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice

The NCAA’s headache over concussions and their treatment in multiple sports has been addressed for now.

The Associated Press obtained a court filing which states the NCAA will “create a $70 million fund to test current and former college athletes for brain injuries. Players can use the results later as grounds for suing for damages.

The NCAA agreed to settle the class-action lawsuit, which was comprised of ten individual lawsuits, but it denied “each and every allegation of liability, wrongdoing and damages and further denies that the MDL Action may be maintained as a class action except for settlement purposes.”

As part of the settlement agreement:

  • The NCAA agreed to pay $70 million in total.
  • The amount paid by the NCAA will go towards costs to fund the Medical Monitoring Program, Notice and Administrative Costs, the costs of the Medical Science Committee, Attorneys’ Fees and Expenses, and Service Awards.
  • The Medical Science Committee, which will be made up of four medical experts in the field, will establish a baseline screening questionnaire for the NCAA.
  • The allocation of the resources will be determined by a third-party professional service company.
  • Every student-athlete from each sport will receive preseason baseline testing.
  • If a student-athlete is diagnosed with a concussion, he or she is prohibited from returning to the game or practice that same day.
  • A student-athlete must be cleared by medical personnel before they can return to competition.
  • During all contact sports games, the institution is required to have trained medical personnel present. This applies to all three levels of the NCAA athletics.
  • The NCAA will create reporting process for institutions to report diagnosed concussions.
  • The NCAA will contribute $5 million to concussion research.

The NCAA is obligated to provide $30 million into the settlement account within the first 30 days of the ruling. If the full amount of the settlement is not used within a court appointed date, the money will be returned to the NCAA.

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Oklahoma recruit Joe Mixon claims innocence in statement

Mixon

In a statement released by his lawyer, Oklahoma’s five-star running back recruit, Joe Mixon, claims he was merely defending himself during an altercation Friday morning with University of Oklahoma student Amelia Molitor.

The statement, provided by The Oklahoman, reads:

This past Friday morning Joe Mixon found himself in a situation where he was subjected to both verbal and physical attacks from a very intoxicated and troubled young woman.  As a result of these physical attacks, Joe instinctually defended himself against further harm.

As promised, Joe met with investigators from the Norman Police Department this afternoon. Throughout the meeting, Joe continued to be forthcoming and cooperative with their investigation.

We are looking forward to a thorough investigation and are very much looking forward to the truth coming out.  As we have always maintained, Joe has done nothing wrong.

Molitor alleged Mixon punched her in the face, which caused a broken bone.

The Norman Police Department is still reviewing the case, and no charges have been filed against Mixon or Molitor at this time.

The University of Oklahoma is aware of the situation and will likely withhold further comment until the findings of the case are divulged.

Photo credit: Rivals

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Michigan AD says Brady Hoke isn’t on hot seat

University of Michigan Introduces Brady Hoke Getty Images

Michigan head coach Brady Hoke isn’t worried about being on the hot season this season, and he shouldn’t be.

Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon stated Hoke’s job isn’t on the line as the Wolverines prepare for the 2014 campaign.

“It’s not,” Brandon told The Detroit News’ Bob Wojnowski. “Every football coach in America lives under enormous pressure, so I don’t need to apply any more. We’re the winningest program in the history of college football, we know what the expectations of our fan base is. Nobody has to tell Brady that. And I have all the confidence in the world that he’s bringing in the right kids, that he continues to do the right thing in terms of getting his staff lined up. I’m convinced we’re heading to a very, very good place.”

It’s certainly different to make such a claim in July than it will be a few months from now, particularly if the Wolverines struggle through another season.

Brandon expects the Wolverines to improve from last year’s 7-6 record. But he wasn’t willing to provide a benchmark for Hoke to remain off the hot seat. Brandon simply expects to see continued improvement.

“I have a high level of confidence that the pieces are being put together for this program to be what we all want it to be,” Brandon said. “I have to be patient because I know what’s involved. I know what was here when coach Hoke arrived, in terms of how we needed to change.

“We needed to get bigger, we went from one style (the spread offense under Rich Rodriguez) to a different style. You’d like to think you can snap your fingers and make that happen, but it takes time. So on the one hand, I have to be patient because I realistically know it takes some time, but on the other hand, I’m as impatient as anybody.

“I want to win, and my expectations haven’t changed one iota. We want to be in that game in Indianapolis, we want to be competing for that championship. We have unfinished business and that’s to get this program back where we want it. I’m confident that’s going to happen.”

Unfortunately for Michigan, the road to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship doesn’t go through Ann Arbor. It goes through Columbus or East Lansing. And a third place finish — or worse — in the Big Ten’s eastern division could finally land Hoke on the hot seat.

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Georgia adds brother of Alabama recruit

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

Recruiting is all about relationships, and the Georgia Bulldogs may have pulled a trump card to eventually flip a current Alabama Crimson Tide commit.

The Bulldogs received a commitment from tight end Joseph Ledbetter, according to The Macon Telegraph.

“I’ll be at camp on Friday … and I will be on a full scholarship,” Ledbetter confirmed to Dawgs247.com.

Ledbetter, who played basketball for two years before deciding to transfer from Pfeiffer University, is the older brother of four-star recruit Jonathan Ledbetter.

Rivals.com ranks Johnathan Ledbetter as the third-best defensive end recruit in the nation. The defensive lineman committed to Alabama in January.

Despite his brother’s decision, Jonathan Ledbetter isn’t prepared to change his verbal commitment.

“It doesn’t really affect me,” Jonathan Ledbetter said. “I’m just glad he’s in school and has the opportunity, but we aren’t a package deal or anything.”

There could be some family pressure for Jonathan to eventually join Joseph at UGA, though.

“I would love to have two Georgia Bulldogs as sons, or three – because I have a third son as well,” the mother of Joseph and Jonathan Ledbetter, Teresa Belcher, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But I try to stay out of it. I try to let them decide what is best for them. Of course, I give my opinion. But Jonathan will make his decision on what is best for him, as far as the type of team that fits his personality. I try not to overwhelm him with questions about that.

“Jonathan is very happy for Joseph. He is very excited for his brother. But I really don’t think it’s going to influence his college decision on way or the other.”

Georgia, meanwhile, will still benefit even if the younger Ledbetter doesn’t change his mind. Joseph Ledbetter will add depth and athleticism to the Bulldogs’ tight end position after Hunter Atkinson decided to leave the program.

The trend at the tight end position is get highly athletic former basketball players and convert them. Georgia now has two with Joseph Ledbetter and starter Jay Rome on the roster.

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B1G commish expects governance model to pass

Jim Delany

College football continues to evolve and one of the game’s primary power players foresees a major change in the game coming in the next few days.

Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany fully expects his conference, along with the rest of the “Big 5″ conferences, to be granted more autonomy once the NCAA Division I board of directors votes Aug. 7 on a new governance model.

“I do think it’ll pass and capture the autonomy issues that are important to us in assisting student-athletes in the 21st century in ways that make sense,” Delany said during his speech at Big Ten media days, according to The Columbus Dispatch’s Todd Jones. “I’d be very surprised if it doesn’t pass.”

With more autonomy, the schools within the Big Ten, ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC can address a glaring issues in college football…extra stipends to fully cover the cost of tuition.

The vote will be made with the lingering threat of the power conferences renouncing their NCAA affiliations if it doesn’t pass.

“If we do not achieve a positive outcome under the existing big tent of Division I, we will need to consider the establishment of a venue with similar conferences and institutions where we can enact the desired changes in the best interests of our student‑athletes,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said during SEC media days.

Delany wasn’t as demonstrative as Slive when asked what the conferences will do if the model isn’t passed, but he didn’t rule out the possibility of a potential mutiny.

“If it doesn’t (pass), I don’t really know what we’d do,” Delany said. “I expect there would probably be conversations within each conference, we’d huddle up, and then see where we’re at.”

When Delany and Slive speak, people listen.

“Mike Slive and Jim Delany don’t make their comments without the support of the individual institutions, which means the presidents have signed off on it,” Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith told The Columbus Dispatch on July 18. “So each conference in the top five has gone through a process to get agreement from the presidents that if these things aren’t in place, at the vote, then we have to look at a different structure.”

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Will OSU QB Braxton Miller run the ball less this season?

Braxton Miller

During his first three seasons as a member of the Ohio State Buckeyes, quarterback Braxton Miller ran the ball 557 times for 3,054 yards. Miller is one of the premier dual-threat quarterbacks in the nation, but he’s also suffered numerous injuries caused by his scrambling.

Miller emphasized better conditioning during the off season, and he expects those injuries to be far less problematic this fall.

The Buckeyes can also help Miller by relying less on him as the one of the team’s primary ball carriers. Unfortunately, they may not have that luxury.

Miller is the team’s leading returning rusher despite missing two games last season.

There is plenty of talent in the Buckeyes’ backfield with Ezekiel Elliot, Bri’onte Dunn, and Rod Smith, but it’s largely unproven. The Buckeyes desperately need one of these running backs to take over the role vacated by Carlos Hyde, who led the team with 1,521 rushing yards last season. This year’s backs don’t need to be as productive as Hyde was, but they have to take the pressure off of Miller to prevent the quarterback from becoming the team’s primary rushing threat.

Miller may not get much of a reprieve even when he drops back to pass. Four starters along the offensive line graduated and are no longer on the roster. And Taylor Decker is switching from right tackle to left tackle. This unit is going to need time to gel.

Miller is now physically ready to take the pounding which comes during the Big Ten’s regular season, and he’s going  to need it.

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