Texas A&M v Alabama

Will Alabama vs. Texas A&M dictate BCS title race?

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Alabama has won two consecutive BCS national titles despite having one blemish on their final record. For Alabama, the goal is simply not to win but to do so displaying excellence in every way possible. Deep down Alabama players and coaches know they can afford to take a hit in conference play, but this week’s road trip to Texas A&M is about much more. The Aggies were the only team to manage to out-score Alabama last season, and they did so in eye-opening fashion by jumping out to a big first quarter lead and celebrating on Alabama’s storied field with the fans that made the trip to Tuscaloosa last November.

This one has to be a little more personal for Alabama. It is the hottest ticket in College Station perhaps in program history and even the most casual college football fan has probably had this game circled on the calendar since the calendar changed from 2012 to 2013. The hype machine has been in full force all week, but is it worth it? What would be the fallout if Alabama happened to lose? Would Texas A&M automatically pass Oregon, Ohio State and Clemson on their way up the rankings with a win? What exactly does this particular game mean in the grand scheme of the college football world?

Let’s explore both possible outcomes in a little more detail…

If Alabama wins…

Should the Crimson Tide overcome the 12th Man and Johnny Manziel’s latest performance, not too much will change as far as the college football world is concerned. Alabama will remain on top of the polls and could very well gobble up what few first-place votes do not already belong to them. A win on the road against a top ten SEC team tends to speak loudly, which is ironic as it would come at the home of the Midnight Yell and Yell leaders. For Alabama, it will continue to be business as usual, which means the next most important game on the schedule could be November 9 when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa. Alabama’s schedule is favorable leading up to that game, and with a win over Texas A&M the Crimson Tide could be in a position to afford a late loss in division play.

Depending on what happens with LSU, it would be possible Alabama could lose to LSU and still advance to the SEC Championship Game if they manage to win the other games on their schedule, including a regular season finale at Auburn. Texas A&M would likely need Alabama to lose twice in order for the Aggies to make a trip to Atlanta, and that is under the extreme scenario in which LSU loses twice. So for Alabama, a win in College Station may give the defending SEC champs a much easier path back to Atlanta.

But should we write Texas A&M off so soon? Absolutely not. A loss to the top-ranked team, if close, should not result in a significant drop in the polls for the Aggies. With plenty of games still to be played, there will be plenty of time for Texas A&M to work their way back up the polls if they can manage to pick up some key wins along the way. Texas A&M’s schedule is less favorable than Alabama though. The Aggies still have road games at Arkansas, LSU and a surprisingly hot Ole Miss. Texas A&M may need a lot of help to get to Atlanta, but the Aggies could very well play in to the BCS at-large equation by the end of the year.

If Texas A&M wins…

If Texas A&M once again proves they can control the Tide, the Aggies could grab a large handful of first place votes in the polls. The question would then become how many first place votes do they grab away from Oregon, Clemson, and Ohio State? Given the schedule this weekend, a Texas A&M victory could score major points from the voters, so it is entirely possible Texas A&M could become the top-ranked team for the first time since 1957, when Paul “Bear” Bryant was the head coach. Maybe this is a stretch, but it is certainly a realistic possibility despite entering the weekend ranked sixth in the AP and coaches polls.

Like Alabama, Texas A&M would jump out in front of the SEC West division race and take a Texas-sized step toward Atlanta. But this is where it begins to get fun. If the game happens to be close, decided by a single score, it is not at all likely Alabama drops very far in the polls. Alabama would likely remain a top five team and they almost certainly would fall no lower sixth unless Manziel goes off and rewrites all of the offensive record books. And just like Texas A&M, Alabama would have plenty of time to work their way back up the rankings. In fact, it would hypothetically be possible Alabama could ascend back to number one by the end of the regular season and still get shutout of the SEC Championship Game. A lot would have to happen, but it is possible once you take a closer look at the rest of the season and the SEC division tiebreaker rules. Of course, a top-ranked Alabama, SEC championship game appearance or not, would be a virtual lock to own one of the top two spots in the BCS rankings as well to send them back to the championship game.

So does this game really matter all that much?

This match-up certainly matters, but if the main objective is to win a BCS championship then this game may not be quite as important as you may think. After all, Alabama has won the past two BCS titles with a loss on their record so if any program knows it is more about the marathon and not the first couple of miles it is the Crimson Tide. The winner gets the edge in the race to Atlanta, so there is plenty riding on the outcome, but if you are focused on a crystal football at the end of the year, there will be many more important games to come.

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Cost of attendance not having negative recruiting impact on Group of Five (yet)

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs for a first down against Temple during the second half of the American Athletic Conference championship football game, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2015, in Houston. Houston won 24-13. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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The outlook on the impact cost of attendance has on non-power conference institutions may not be known for another year or so, but after one recruiting cycle since the power conferences were granted autonomy powers, cost of attendance stipends have not been seen to be a major difference in the game as one might have thought originally.

Underdog Dynasty took a look at the issue and how Group of Five schools have fared. The initial findings suggest Group of Five programs are not struggling nearly as much as once suspected when it comes to cost of attendance stipends, although it is something that not every program has jumped into providing just yet. And yes, the topic of stipends does pop up on the recruiting trail, which suggests the Group of Five programs that can provide a little extra money as part of a player’s enrollment do figure to have some sort of advantage. However, stipends do not appear to be a game changer on a massive enough scale.

From Underdog Dynasty;

Another fear from last season was that smaller athletic departments couldn’t afford it. Those may have been overblown as well. My Google search turned up news of South Dakota State phasing in COA stipends for all student-athletes, something North Dakota and North Dakota State already have done.

All three are FCS schools. If they can afford the stipends, albeit funding 63 football scholarships rather than 85, G5 schools should as well. Even the Sun Belt distributes more than $1 million per school in College Football Playoff payouts.

Houston, of the American Athletic Conference, just landed a recruiting class that would make a good number of power conference programs jealous, although the Cougars were the only Group of Five program to finish ranked in the top 50 in the final team rankings compiled by Rivals (BYU finished No. 48). Boise State, UCF and Temple fell in the upper half of the FBS mix as well.

Just as one year of the College Football Playoff system did not provide enough empirical evidence to suggest the Big 12 should expand to 12 just to get a conference championship game, one year of cost of attendance stipends is not nearly enough to suggest it has a devastating or minimal impact on the recruiting game in college football. This is just something that will have to be watched for a few more years in order to gather more evidence to evaluate.

Former Wolverine Brian Cole transferring to Kentucky

FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2013, file photo, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops watches from the sideline during the second quarter of an NCAA college football game against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn. Stoops has recruited some high-level talent since coming to Lexington three years ago and the Wildcats have taken substantial steps forward. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)
AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File
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Maybe it’s the new uniforms. Maybe it’s an opportunity for a fresh start. Whatever the reason, former Michigan wide receiver and defensive back Brian Cole is heading to Kentucky.

Cole was a four-star recruit in Michigan’s Class of 2015. The second-ranked player from the state of Michigan was a significant addition to the Wolverines by then first-year Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, which helps make his decision to leave for another program now a bit interesting to note considering the momentum seemingly being generated in Ann Arbor. He was released from his scholarship in Michigan in January.

Due to NCAA transfer rules, Cole will be forced to sit out the 2016 season and will be eligible to return to the playing field again in 2017. The good news for Cole is he will still have three years of eligibility remaining.

Cole appeared in two games for the Wolverines in 2015, but he spent most of the season held back by injury issues. His addition to the Kentucky roster is a big win for head coach Mark Stoops, who has developed a little bit of a habit for adding some talented transfers to his program in Lexington.

Michigan and Notre Dame could be rekindling their football series

FILE - In this Sept. 10, 1994, file photo, Notre Dame's Derrick Mayes (1) pulls in a touchdown catch in front of Michigan's Chuck Winters (35) during the fourth quarter of an NCAA college football game in South Bend, Ind. Mayes may have grabbed this spectacular catch for a score, but Michigan's Remy Hamilton kicked four field goals, including a 42-yarder with 2 seconds left, to give the Wolverines a 26-24  victory. (AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File)
AP Photo/Beth A. Keiser, File
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The bitter divorce between Michigan and Notre Dame on the football field could soon be forgiven. There are hints and clues the series could be heading to a revival.

Michigan athletics director Jim Hackett started lighting the fire for the rivalry series renewal discussion last week when he mentioned during a radio interview the two schools have opened communication on the subject.

“I will tell you this, the relationship is good, and it started with [Jim Harbaugh] and coach [Brian Kelly] working together on a desire to play together,” Hackett said. “But (there’s) nothing firm yet.”

In 2013, when the two schools were beginning to play what was to be their final game son the existing contract, Kelly downplayed the rivalry with Michigan by noting it has not been one of the best rivalries in Notre Dame’s history. In his defense, he is right. In fact, Notre Dame has a more storied history with Michigan State, not to mention USC or Navy.

“I really haven’t seen it as one of those historic, traditional Notre Dame rivalries,” Kelly said according to the Chicago Tribune. “I’ve seen it as just one of those great football games that Notre Dame has played.

“For me, I’ve been in Michigan a long time, I’ve always felt the Notre Dame-Michigan game was a big regional game. But in the Notre Dame history books, this game has (been) played, but obviously there have been some years where it hasn’t been played for a number of years.”

Kelly did later go on to say he was optimistic the series with Michigan would return in the future. Harbaugh was quick to follow up on the idea of playing Notre Dame again. Now we just sit and wait to see when that may become a possibility.

Scheduling for both Michigan and Notre Dame have become a bit more complex in more recent years than it used to be. Notre Dame is part of an ACC scheduling rotation that guarantees a certain number of power conference opponents from the ACC each season and the Irish continue rivalry game son an annual basis with USC, Stanford and Navy. Michigan is moving to a nine-game Big Ten schedule with the requirement to play at least one power conference opponent in its non-conference slate each season. The Wolverines already have that requirement met through the 2027 season but have shown a willingness to schedule two power conference opponents in a season, which is the case in 2020 and 2021 (games vs. Washington and Virginia Tech in alternating home-and-home deals).