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The Fifth Quarter: Week 3 Rewind

Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban shakes hands with Texas A&M Aggies Johnny Manziel after their NCAA SEC football game in College Station Reuters

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

One rolled, one to go
When it came to Alabama’s season, most outside observers felt their season would come down to a pair of games against highly-ranked teams.  Mission No. 1?  Accomplished, courtesy of a wildly entertaining shootout win over Texas A&M on the road that aged an old defensive soul like Nick Saban.  Thanks to a schedule that includes Colorado State, Georgia State and Kentucky — Ole Miss might have a puncher’s chance — the two-time defending BCS champions will be heavily favored in every game leading up to Mission No. 2:  Nov. 9 in Tuscaloosa against LSU.  Certainly you never count your wins before they’re hatched, but the schedule couldn’t set up any better for Alabama prior to the game against the Bayou Bengals,  The path to Pasadena was cleared; now the Tide just has to traverse and avoid the little obstacles — and one big one — along the way.

Super Mariota
Thanks to the fact that Oregon plays on the West Coast and a sizable chunk of their games end after most of the country has fallen asleep and/or passed out, not a lot of people know — or even care to know — about Marcus Mariota.  Thanks to a certain game in College Station, a rare mid-afternoon start for the Ducks did little to raise the quarterback’s national profile.  Still, it should be raised and people should take notice.  In UO’s woodshedding of Tennessee, Mariota passed for 350 first-half yards, finished with a career-high 456 yards and accounted for five touchdowns — four passing, one rushing — in just three quarters of work.  Mariota’s one of the top players at his position in the country, and it’s a shame some fail to recognize it based on location and time zones.

The Manziel & Evans Show
It may have come in a losing cause, but Johnny Manziel and Mike Evans were about as good as it gets on the offensive side of the football.  The reigning Heisman winner — who should still be at the forefront of the discussion for this year’s award — threw for 464 yards and ran for another 98 for a total of 562 yards; the Aggies as a team had 628 yards.  Manziel also tossed five touchdown passes, one of which went to Evans, who caught seven balls for a staggering 279 yards.  The defense may have let A&M down, but the offense, headed by Manziel and Evans, certainly didn’t.

Jameis WinstonFamous Jameis
With just one game on his résumé, many people scoffed at the mere notion that Jameis Winston might already be part of the Heisman discussion.  While that may be the case, the redshirt freshman is making an awfully good case that those individuals are wrong.  In limited action thanks to Florida State’s 62-7 blowout of Nevada, Winston completed 12-of-15 passes — after misfiring on three of his first five passes — for 214 yards and two touchdowns.  On the season, Winston has completed 40-of-45 passes, meaning he has thrown more touchdown passes (six) than he has incompletions (five).  The fact that Winston has such a firm grasp of the offense and can deliver the ball accurately bodes well for FSU’s future at the position, regardless of if he’s part of any stiff-armed discussion or not.

Gentlemen, start… your… Belldozer
When Trevor Knight was announced as Oklahoma’s starting quarterback before the opener, there were more than a few eyebrows raised as Blake Bell, aka the Belldozer, had been viewed by some (most?) as the likely successor to Landry Jones.  Part of the reasoning behind pulling the trigger on Knight, the theory went, was that he was the more polished passer.  In the game against Tulsa, Bell said, essentially, “polish this.”  Against the Golden Hurricane, Bell passed for 281 yards… in the first half.  He finished the 51-20 win with 413 yards passing and four touchdowns, further solidifying his hold on the starting job in place of the injured Knight.

It can only be Jared
If Jared Goff were a fifth-year senior, the video game-like numbers would be impressive.  The fact that he’s doing it as a true freshman?  Off the charts unbelievable.  The Cal quarterback came into the game against Ohio State leading the nation with 935 yards passing through the first two games of the 2013 season.  Against the No. 4 Buckeyes, Goff continued making a mockery of opposing defenses by throwing for 371 yards in the loss.  If Goff continues at this pace — he likely won’t — the first-year player would throw for a freshman record of 5,224 yards in the regular season alone.  Again, it’s not very likely Goff can keep up this breakneck pace, but if he even sniffs that rarefied statistical air, it will be one of the more impressive accomplishments of the 2013 season that gets little or no notice due to Cal’s record.

LOSERS

WTF was that?
This is what I know about the bizarre ending in the Wisconsin-Arizona State game: yes, the officials jobbed the Badgers, but the Badgers put themselves in a position to be jobbed thanks to whatever the hell that was Joel Stave was attempting to accomplish at the end of the game and with the seconds ticking away.  Why in the name of, well, pretty much anything, did Stave not simply spike it?  Or why didn’t the Badgers, down 32-30 and sitting at the 13-yard line, just simply kick a game-winning field goal with :18 left?  I’ve been on this earth for 45 years, and have been watching college football for as far back as I can remember, and I simply can’t recall anything like what happened in those final 15 or so ticks of the clock in the desert.  We’ll have more on this later, once that game sobers up and gets some coffee in it.

Trojan Nation speaking loud and clear
The question is, will Pat Haden listen?  Yes, USC cruised to an easy 28-point win over Boston College, bouncing back from last Saturday’s debacle against Washington State.  In that loss to Wazzu, chants of “Fire Kiffin!” rang out across the Coliseum.  The collective anger at Lane Kiffin, however, has apparently turned to apathy toward the Trojans.  Check out the scene eight minutes before USC’s home game against BC, courtesy of @uscpsycho:

USC Coliseum

On some level anger’s good as it shows the fan base still cares.  Apathy manifesting itself in the form of empty seats?  That’s never good for the future of a head coach anywhere.

So Manny more problems
If Longhorn Nation thought dumping Manny Diaz in favor of Greg Robinson would magically cure all that ails their beloved Texas football team, the disappointment should be kicking in… right about now.  While the Longhorns offered a glimmer of hope in their loss to Ole Miss — they led 23-14 late in the first half — the defense again could do next to nothing to stop the other side of the ball.  The Rebels scored the final 30 points in the 44-23 win in Austin, thanks in large part due to a running game that produced 272 yards on the ground.  Yes, that’s half the total UT gave up to BYU in another home loss (to BYU) last weekend, but its’ still an embarrassing total for a defense that can’t do something as simple as wrap up on a tackle.  Understandably, the fan base is frustrated.  How frustrated?  They booed Mack Brown when he appeared on the stadium’s Jumbotron to deliver a PSA on helping at-risk students.  How many more opportunities the UT faithful will get to boo Brown remains to be seen, although a continued downward trajectory could make it sooner rather than later.

Starkville needs to be Mullen a change
For some reason or another, just about anyone who discusses Mississippi State football over the past couple of years speaks highly of the job Dan Mullen has done with the Bulldogs.  The stark reality, though, is that he hasn’t.  During his first four-plus seasons at MSU, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 17-4 record in non-conference games as well as bowls.  In SEC play?  Mullen is an abysmal 13-20.  Included in that latter total is a 24-20 loss to Auburn this weekend.  At least as far as the conference goes, the Bulldogs have made little or no progress under Mullen.  If MSU hopes to fight its way from conference also-rans to contenders, a change at the top may be in order.  Unless they’re happy with seven- or eight-win seasons and Music City Bowl victories, of course.

Unhappy Valley
A 2-0 start to the 2013 season had the denizens of Happy Valley feeling that the Penn State football program had turned yet another corner in its climb from the Sandusky abyss.  While that’s still the case, the ascent took a bit of a detour Saturday night.  A 31-17 deficit early in the fourth quarter turned into an insurmountable one as the Nittany Lions dropped a 34-31 decision to UCF.  While there’s no shame in losing to the Knights, an underrated squad that’s now 3-0, it says a lot about the current state of the PSU program that hanging close to a team that was in Conference USA just a year ago is considered a type of moral victory.  Bill O’Brien is the right man for the job; patience, though, will be at a premium over the next couple of years,

Akron v MichiganThe Big (Near-Flop) House
Make no mistake: Michigan averted a disaster Saturday that would’ve trumped even the infamous loss to Appalachian State six years ago.  Saturday’s opponent in the Big House, Akron, had lost 27 straight road games… hadn’t beaten an FBS team since 2010… and totaled just four wins the past three-plus seasons.  The Zips are pictured next to “football ineptness” in many a dictionary, and yet the Wolverines allowed the MAC school to come within a failed fourth-and-goal attempt of stunning them in their own house.  Offensive tackle Taylor Lewan (no relation) called the win “embarrassing” afterwards; he’s not far off, even as his team appears to be a long ways away from challenging the likes of hated rival Ohio State for Big Ten supremacy.

Taggart’s bus ripe for repo
In a promotional campaign utilized by USF in an attempt to drive up ticket sales, the athletic department urged fans to “get on the bus” with new head coach Willie Taggart.  That bus, unfortunately, has dropped its transmission and is in danger of blowing its motor just three games into Taggart’s tenure.  Including Saturday’s loss to FAU (previously winless), the Bulls have dropped all three games of the 2013 season by a combined score of 102-37.  Included in that was a season-opening loss to FCS-level McNeese State by 32 points at home.  Taggart did an outstanding job at his previous stop at Western Kentucky; how long he’ll get to rectify and undo the damage caused by the horrific recruiting of his predecessor, Skip Holtz, remains to be seen.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 5 Stanford 34, Army 20: Thanks to what was by all appearances a nasty case of jet lag, the Cardinal fell behind the Black Knights 6-0 on the road — and led just 20-13 at the half — before righting the ship and pulling away.

— No. 13 South Carolina 35, Vanderbilt 23: A comfortable 25-point lead at the end of the third quarter for the Gamecocks was sliced to 10 after just a minute was played in the fourth.   That was as close as Vandy would get, however, as USC rebounded from its emotional loss last weekend.

— No. 19 Washington 34, Illinois 24:  The Illini made it interesting after falling behind 31-10 at Soldier Field, but the Huskies made enough plays on the defensive side of the ball to push their record to 2-0 on the young season.

— No. 21 Notre Dame 31, Purdue 27: Trailing 17-10 on the road entering the fourth quarter, the Irish ripped off 21 straight points to stave off the Boilermakers upset bid.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — Coming back from 14 down on the road against the No. 6 team in the country?  Yeah, that’ll keep you slotted comfortably in the top spot. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. Colorado StateTennessee Oregon Football

2. Oregon — You eviscerate an SEC team, even a (being kind here) mid-level one like Tennessee, by 45 points, you deserve to move up a couple of spots. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: bye weekend

3. Clemson — With one of their two byes out of the way, the Tigers were able to get in a little extra prep work for the ACC opener this Thursday. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up: at North Carolina State

4. Ohio State — The Buckeyes won by 18 or more points for the third time in three games this season against Cal, but the perceived weakness of their schedule will keep them from moving back closer to where they began the season in the polls at this point in time.
Next up: vs. Florida A&M

5. Louisville — The Cardinals looked lethargic and/or positively uninterested in leading in-state rival Kentucky just 10-3 at the half.  A 17-point second half, however, righted what had been a previously listing ship.  Even at a perfect 3-0, the UofL must tighten some things up or risk tumbling in the polls that really matter. (Last week: No. 5)
Up next: vs. FIU

HE SAID IT
“I am really proud of those kids. You can’t believe how tough it was on them. You just can’t. Unless you were at practice, in those meeting rooms, in that locker room, you just can’t. He had such an impact on our team.” — UCLA head coach Jim Mora, following his Bruins’ first game after the tragic death of wide receiver Nick Pasquale.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“Look, it’s all gonna be about what we do on this little 53-yard by 100-yard triangle out here.” — Nick Saban, defying the laws of geometry prior to Alabama’s win.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I’m just sick for my players on how hard, how well and how long they played and not to come away with the W, a victory to stamp on the end of what I consider a great football game that they played. I’ve been fortunate in my lifetime to get some big wins and that would have been the biggest.” — Head coach Terry Bowden, following Akron’s near-upset of Michigan.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“We’ll get all of this righted with a Big 12 championship.” — Mack Brown, presumably with a straight face and everything.

GAMEDAY SIGN OF THE DAY
This beauty comes courtesy of BustedCoverage.com and, as is normally is the case, needs no explanation:

Johnny Manziel GameDay Sign

SAY WHAT?
How negative is the perception of next week’s slate of games?  ESPN’s GameDay show will originate from Fargo for the Delaware State-North Dakota State FCS matchup.  Curious choice, though, given games such as Michigan State-Notre Dame, Tennessee-Florida and Arizona State-Stanford are among those on the admittedly weak Week 4 FBS schedule.

TRUE STORY
Oklahoma City Thunder great Kevin Durant served as the honorary captain for Texas’ game against Ole Miss and no Mack Brown didn’t recruit the NBA superstar as a safety.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— Arkansas’ Alec Collins became the first player in SEC history, including the great Herschel Walker, to rush for 100-plus yards in the first three games of his career.  The last player to accomplish that feat at the FBS level was Oklahoma’s Adrian Peterson in 2004.

— Utah State quarterback Chuckie Keaton threw five first-half touchdowns in the 70-6 evisceration of Weber State.  The five scoring tosses ties the school record, which Keaton equaled last week as well.

— Cementing his hold on the starting job, Connor Cook passed for four first-half touchdowns as Michigan State easily got past Youngstown State 55-17.

Ford Childress— In his collegiate debut, Ford Childress (if that is his real name) threw for 359 yards in West Virginia’s 41-7 win over Georgia State.

— The 42 points given up by Alabama in the win over Texas A&M was the most under Nick Saban.  The 628 yards of total offense by the Aggies is the most the storied football program has ever allowed in a single game.

— Speaking of Saban, Purdue’s Drew Brees remains the last quarterback to beat the coach in back-to-back games at the collegiate level, performing that feat when the current Tide coach held the same job at Michigan State in the late nineties.

— Colorado State’s Shaq Barrett blocked a pair of field goals to help the Rams upend Cal Poly 34-17.

— Running back Jay Ajayi ran for four touchdowns in Boise State’s 42-20 win over Air Force Friday night.

— Nebraska coughing up a 21-3 lead to UCLA was the Cornhuskers’ largest since Washington came back from a 20-point deficit… in 1920.

— With a 32-21 win over UConn, Maryland has started a season 3-0 for the first time since 2001.

— In Indiana’s 42-10 win over Bowling Green, the Hoosiers punted once… and it was blocked and returned for the Falcons’ only touchdown of the game.

— The 92 points Navy has scored in its first two games this season are the service academy’s most since 1975.

— It took five overtimes, but Buffalo was able to secure its first win of the season by the score of 26-23 over FCS-level Stoney Brook.

— Thursday night, Louisiana Tech forced four turnovers, had 11 tackles and tallied five sacks — and still lost 24-15 to Tulane.  Of course, when you muster just 289 yards of offense, that tends to happen.

IN CLOSING…
Nebraska showed its class as a football program in the first game after the Jerry Sandusky scandal shattered the serenity in Happy Valley.  Today, the ‘Huskers did it again.  Prior to the game against UCLA, over 90,000 fans in attendance at Memorial Stadium stood and paid their respects with a moment of silence for Nick Pasquale, the Bruins wide receiver who was tragically killed last weekend after being struck by a vehicle.  When the Cornhuskers took the field, their helmets were adorned with Pasquale’s jersey number.  Pure class, Lincoln.  Pure class.

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McGuire’s Memorial Day Mailbag

Tim Beckman

You may not be receiving any mail from the United States Postal Service today, but that does not mean there is not any mail to sort through today. With it being Memorial Day (be sure to read John’s touching post from this morning, it’s an annual tradition here at CFT) and a slow news day on the college football front, I decided to field questions on Twitter and throw them into a mailbag post. We do not typically do these around here at College Football Talk, but like I said, it is a slow day and not much else is going on. So humor me, will you?

Let’s get right to it.

Always an excellent question, and it could go one of a few different ways. Do you pick a power conference team struggling to meet expectations, or go with a non-power program in need of a quick change. Last year’s first coaching change took place at SMU when June Jones stepped aside on September 8. Kansas let go of Charlie Weis later that same month. I am going to stick in the Big Ten and suggest Illinois head coach Tim Beckman has a very small margin for error at this point. Despite managing to get the Illini into a postseason bowl game last fall, the offseason stories regarding his treatment of players is not a good look, and Beckman does not win enough to get away with that kind of attention. If things do not go well, Illinois could be staring at a 1-3 record before Big Ten play, with Nebraska and Iowa on deck before a bye week. That seems like a good time to make a change if needed.

Excellent question, especially since I have been going through with some schedule commentary this weekend. The Michigan State-Oregon game is one of the top draws on the non-conference schedule, and for good reason. It will be given the primetime treatment with two of Lee Corso‘s favorite mascots, Sparty and the Oregon Duck. I guess the biggest question is what exactly should be the expectations for Oregon this year? Do they take a step back in the early going in the post-Marcus Mariota era? Two games in for a new starting quarterback on the road at Michigan State feels like a bad spot, even for an experienced transfer like Vernon Adams.

So where does this one in particular rank among other non-conference clashes? I would say it is a lock for top five, and a very strong candidate for the top three. I would probably give Alabama-Wisconsin but Michigan State-Oregon is right in that conversation. I also throw Louisville-Auburn in the conversation.

Aside from Navy joining the American Athletic Conference and Charlotte officially joining Conference USA in football this summer (July 1 is the official realignment day), we are going through another year with only minor ripples on the realignment Richter scale. This is a good thing, as it seems the monumental changes on the realignment phase seems to have settled in. The only thing left to wonder is when it could potentially happen again. Much to the chagrin of programs like BYU, UCF and Cincinnati, I honestly don’t see anything happening in the near future. The Big 12 appears to be content with 10 members, and the need to expand is non-existent in the Pac-12, Big Ten, SEC and ACC at this stage. Perhaps the only thing that could change things is if there ever comes a time when Notre Dame decides to abandon independence, at which point the Big Ten, ACC and maybe even the Big 12 would be making sales pitches. And I don’t think that’s going to happen either. I have said before though I can envision a scenario in which BYU returns to the Mountain West Conference.

It is certainly not going to hurt, although we also should not expect Pitt to turn into a second coming of some of the top Michigan State defenses we have seen in recent seasons under Pat Narduzzi. I like what Narduzzi is doing with the Panthers but there are still some things that will be unknown until we see how he coaches the team as a head coach. Pitt was eighth in the ACC in total defense last season and tied for last in total takeaways. Look for that to be a big focus for Narduzzi. The Spartans led the Big Ten in takeaways last season with 34 and tied for the most takeaways in the conference the previous season too.

That was a good way to kill some time today, so thanks for sending in your questions. Who knows, maybe we’ll even give this another try some day. The fun does not have to stop here though. Keep your questions coming in the comments section or feel free to lob some my way on Twitter.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: Four teams get a bye week before facing Alabama

Nick Saban

It seems every year one school has a legitimate gripe with the scheduling within its conference. This year it may just be Alabama, which will surely cause many to break out the tiny violins for Nick Saban and company. Four of Alabama’s opponents this year will have the benefit of a bye week leading up to their respective match-ups with the defending SEC champions, including three within the SEC. Another school will get a few extra days to prepare for the game, while two more will be coming off virtual bye weeks against FCS opponents before facing Alabama.

Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt Conference, Texas A&M, Tennessee, and LSU all have a bye week before facing Alabama. In the case of LSU, Alabama also has a bye week before hosting the Tigers in Tuscaloosa. Mississippi State will be coming off a Thursday night game (at Missouri), so Dan Mullen, Dak Prescott and the Bulldogs will have a couple of extra days to prepare for Alabama. Georgia plays an FCS opponent the week before hosting Alabama. Auburn will host Idaho the week before playing the Crimson Tide in the Iron Bowl in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

Here are some other brief thoughts on the schedules in the SEC this upcoming season.

Much to the disgust of some, the back-end of the SEC schedule is once again loaded with cupcakes. Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, and South Carolina each finish the season with a game against either an FCS or Sun Belt opponent the week before taking in their in-state ACC rivals. Alabama and Auburn each dive into the FCS or Sun Belt pool before the Iron Bowl. Alabama and Auburn counter those late cupcakes with a filling main course in week one. Alabama faces Wisconsin in Arlington and Auburn takes on Louisville in Atlanta in week one.

We will be sure to hear gripes about this SEC scheduling practice, just as we seem to every season as the season draws to a close. The advantage of scheduling lightweights later in the season comes in helping to save teams from a late loss to keep rankings in order. Complaints from the Big Ten and Pac-12 fans may come, but there is nothing stopping their conferences from doing the same. Hey, that sounds familiar.

Florida and Georgia each get a bye week before facing each other in Jacksonville for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (not sorry, I’m still calling it that). It will be the third straight game that sees Florida playing outside of Gainesville.

How many power conference opponents will the SEC play this season in non-conference play? The SEC East will play seven games against power conference opponents, including Missouri’s game against BYU in Arrowhead Stadium (the SEC will recognize BYU as a power conference opponent by the way). The SEC West has five games scheduled against power conference opponents, with three of those taking place in big spotlight neutral site venues in the opening week. In total, the SEC has 12 games scheduled against power conference opponents. The ACC has 21 games thanks to the addition of Notre Dame on a rotating schedule. The Big Ten has 19 power conference opponents, followed by the SEC’s 12. The Pac-12 has 11 power conference opponents and the Big 12 has eight (although each conference has smaller membership compared to the ACC, Big Ten and SEC).

Biggest non-conference upset alert game for the SEC? Tossing those neutral site games and ACC rivalry games to the side, keep tabs on Tennessee’s season opener in Nashville against Bowling Green. The Falcons have some work to do to make a return trip to the MAC championship game but the offense is developing into the mold of the Oregon Ducks. If Tennessee stumbles out of the gate, Bowling Green may be able to pull an upset if the defense doesn’t fall apart. That would put a rising Tennessee program in a difficult spot with Oklahoma coming to Knoxville the following week. South Carolina’s home game against UCF could get interesting as well.

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Georgia Tech recruit says he lost Ohio State offer when someone else commited

Photo credit: Rivals

This sort of stuff happens all the time at this level of college football, and it most certainly will not be the last time it occurs either. Incoming Georgia Tech defensive end  Anree Saint-Armour explained he lost a chance to go to Ohio State when the offer that was extended to him was later pulled.

“Missouri was leading as my senior season started,” Saint-Armour told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Then more offers started coming in. Then it was Ohio State for a little bit until that offer went away because somebody else committed there.”

Ohio State added four defensive ends in the Class of 2015. Two four-star players (Jashon Cornell and Dre’Mont Jones) and two three-star recruits (Joshua Alabi and Rashod Berry) were part of Ohio State’s impressive recruiting class, leaving little need for another defensive end in the class. Berry was the last of the four to commit to Ohio State, doing so in October. Ohio State added another defensive line recruit in December with defensive tackle Robert Landers giving his verbal in the middle of December.

With the offer from Ohio State vanishing, Georgia Tech came along at a good time. More importantly, Georgia Tech was the right fit at the right time for Saint-Armour.

“I started thinking about being close to family, and that Georgia Tech offered the same kind of education as Stanford,” Saint-Armour said to the AJC. “As I thought about it more seriously, in terms as the whole aspect of going off to college and instead of playing football – that’s when Georgia Tech took the lead.”

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This Memorial Day, take time to remember

Memorial Day III AP

(Reprinted and reposted with permission for a sixth straight year from, well, me.)

You have to admit that, despite the financial woes and political in-fighting and every other really crappy thing going on, we have a pretty damn good life, living in these United States of America.  It’s a far-from-perfect country, but, dammit, it’s ours.  Ours because our own have and will continue to shed their blood in the ultimate sacrifice.  Gave and will continue to give their lives, their hopes, their dreams so that we — and our children and our children’s children and their children — may live and realize ours and theirs.

As you go about your day today, doing whatever it is that you do on Memorial Day, take a second or two or sixty — or more — to reflect on what exactly this day is all about.

Please.  Just take a moment.  Take a moment to God bless those who have given so much.

God bless those who have paid the ultimate price for the freedom we enjoy day-in and day-out.

God bless those hundreds of thousands who’ve lost fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters in the ultimate sacrifice paid forward to every single one of us, for our freedoms.

And thank you — thank you, thank you, thank you with every fiber of my being — to those who continue serving this country and keeping this great nation safe.

And, again, God bless families torn apart and made lesser by the heartbreaking losses, hellish and unthinkable holes in the soul that allow us to do whatever the hell it is we want to on this day and every other day of the year…

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Catching up with former Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez

Georgia State v Clemson

Back in 2012 Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Daniel Rodriguez officially joined the Clemson football program. Now he is looking to make it in the NFL.

As noted by our pals over at Pro Football Talk, Rodriguez is hoping to take advantage of his latest opportunity with the St. Louis Rams. Rodriguez was undrafted but still has a chance to grab a spot on the roster in St. Louis. He had landed on the radar of the franchise at the Medal of Honor Bowl and his pro day at Clemson. He was invited to try out with the team at a rookie minicamp.

Rodriguez served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and intended to join Clemson as a walk-on in 2012. The NCAA needed to clear a waiver for his eligibility for that to happen since he was attending Clemson on the G.I. Bill and not on a scholarship. This was one situation the NCAA made the right call. Last year Rodriguez’s story was picked up for movie rights and he later received the Armed Forces Merit Award.

If things continue to go well, perhaps there will be another story to be made into a movie.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: Can Big Ten carry over momentum?

Urban Meyer

Go back to Week 2 of the college football season last year. This was the Big Ten’s big opportunity to make a statement in nationally televised spotlight games, and the conference came up empty. Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. Michigan State let one get away from them at Oregon. Michigan was no match for Notre Dame. On top of that, Nebraska needed Ameer Abdullah to provide a miracle to avoid overtime against McNeese State and Northwestern was defeated at home by Northern Illinois. It was a rough day for the Big Ten, and many around the country were quick to write the conference off as a result. Well, we know how that all worked out.

This offseason has been nothing short of renewed praise for the Big Ten’s resurrection, but the conference is still quite top heavy at the moment. Sure, the Big Ten may be heading in a positive direction and the expectations are high for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan and continue to rise with James Franklin at Penn State, but there is still plenty of work to do to follow-up the way last season ended for the Big Ten. Following up one of the more successful postseason runs by the conference, highlighted by Ohio State’s national championship and supplemented by Michigan State’s tremendous effort in the Cotton Bowl, the Big Ten is now tasked with keeping the momentum going.

Here are some of the key games the Big Ten will need to win in order to keep things going its way at the start of the 2015 season.

Michigan at Utah (September 3): The Harbaugh Era kicks off in Pac-12 territory. Utah roughed up Michigan last season so there is a bit of a revenge factor at stake. And winning against the Pac-12 to open the season always helps with the image.

Minnesota vs. TCU (September 3): On the same night, Minnesota hosts Big 12 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs may very well leave with a win, but the Gophers can put up a fight. If they can’t win it, keeping it competitive and close will still represent the Big Ten well in this one.

Nebraska vs. BYU (September 5): BYU may not be in a power conference (as much as they would love it), but they are not exactly a cupcake either. A win by Nebraska over BYU is worth respect, especially now that conferences like the ACC and SEC recognize the Cougars as a power conference-equivalent opponent.

Northwestern vs. Stanford (September 5): The academic bowl between the Wildcats and Cardinal could be a tough one for Northwestern, but they get the home field advantage. A win against one of the top programs in the Pac-12 the last few years would not go unnoticed.

Wisconsin vs. Alabama (September 5): Here is the biggie of the opening week. The Badgers take on defending SEC champion Alabama and will hope to be able to do what Ohio State did in the Sugar Bowl. It would also give Wisconsin the rare opportunity for a Big Ten team to have consecutive wins against Auburn and Alabama. A win would be huge for the Big Ten on the big stage in Arlington.

Ohio State at Virginia Tech (September 7): The Buckeyes take on the Hokies in primetime looking to avenge their only loss from last season. This Ohio State team should be much better than the one that stumbled last season, but a road victory in an ACC stadium would be a good way to cap the opening weekend.

If everything goes well for the Big Ten, and that is a big if, the conference could own wins against the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC (including wins against defending champions or co-champions in the SEC and Big 12) after just one week of play. Just putting together a winning record in those games would be a nice bragging point for the conference and would help carry over the momentum from last season. And that is just the start for the Big Ten. Week two sees Michigan State host Oregon and Michigan hosting Oregon State. Rutgers hosts Washington State to get in on the fun, and Iowa visits Iowa State. Iowa will also face Pittsburgh and Illinois will take on North Carolina. These are the types of games the Big Ten needs to win to move up the conference power rankings and prove the depth of the conference goes beyond the Buckeyes and Spartans.

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Netflix and live college football? Nope, not happening

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The advancement of live sports in media continues to see expansion in delivering live action through various live streaming outlets, but the most popular streaming service is not ready to get in on the fun. Netflix, in response to the possibility of helping the NFL out with a streaming option for a game to be played in London, pretty much slammed the door shut on the possibility of seeing college football or any other sports on the service for quite some time.

Ken Fang of Awful Announcing noted this morning Netflix has no intention of jumping in the bidding for live sports content and that business model may not change in the near future. Netflix is built on offering content on demand, and none of its content is ever live. The bottom line is bidding on live games is just too expensive.

“I will never say never, but I would say that where we sit today, I don’t think the on-demand to sports is enough of an addition to the value proposition to chase,” Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos explained, via re/code. “I think the leagues have tremendous leverage in those deals, so it’s not like we’re going to get in and de-leverage the leagues. We’re going to go in and overpay like everyone else does, so it doesn’t get me that excited. Not to say that it wouldn’t someday, down the road, make sense.”

What would be cool would be if some conference could broker a deal with Netflix to put a library of college football games on the service. This becomes complicated considering existing media rights deals with networks and other broadcast partners, especially when some of those partners have rights to the on demand archives. But hey, maybe some day it could happen. Why not watch “Orange is The New Black,” then an old Syracuse game against Louisville, and then load up “House of Cards?”

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Rutgers receiver arrested for armed robbery in Florida

Darian Dailey, Rivals.com

Two teenagers in Florida were arrested Sunday morning for their involvement in a robbery. One of them just so happens to be a Rutgers wide receiver.

Darian Dailey was one of the two arrested by police in Sarasota, Florida. He is accused of using a handgun to rob a bicyclist around 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Nobody was injured in the incident, and the victim reportedly handed over his money. How much was turned over was not reported, not that it matters in this circumstance. Police have charged Dailey and Trazelle Johnson of robbery with a firearm.

Dailey, 19,  is a native of Bradenton, Florida. Dailey was a two-star recruit in the Class of 2014 for Rutgers, and was expected to compete for playing time this season.

Photo credit: Rivals.com

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Indiana wide receiver Isaac Griffith jailed for OWI

Isaac Griffith

This Memorial Day weekend got off to a rough start for Indiana wide receiver Isaac Griffith. Griffith, 20 years old, was arrested and placed in jail early Saturday after being charged if driving while intoxicated.

According to The Indy Star, Griffith was arrested in Bloomington and charged of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with endangerment, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with a blood alcohol content above 0.08, and illegal consumption. The arrest took place at 3:54 a.m. local time after a police officer saw his high beams were on. Griffith was pulled over and the officer on the scene observed the odor of alcohol.

Indiana has said it is aware of the situation and gathering information regarding the incident.

You may remember the last time we discussed Griffith a little more than a year ago. Griffith was in a medically induced coma after nearly drowning in the Gulf of Mexico in March 2014. He was saved by a friend and returned home after coming out of his coma.

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Rutgers focusing on getting B1Gger and stronger

150524_rutgers Getty Images

Jumping from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten was supposed to be a step up for Rutgers last season, and it was. The Scarlet Knights managed to hold their own enough to reach the postseason in a Big Ten debut season few expected to result in a bowl trip. Despite getting to the postseason, Rutgers saw firsthand just how far it still has to go before being able to make any threats in the Big Ten East Division and Big Ten Conference.

The gap was put on clear display against the top programs in the Big Ten last season; Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Rutgers lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 56-17 (it was 49-7 before Rutgers picked up a long field goal and a touchdown with six seconds left in the game). Ohio State outgained Rutgers 585-345 in that game, with 324 of Ohio State’s yards coming on the ground. Against Michigan State, Rutgers fell behind 35-0 at halftime before losing 45-3. The Spartans outgained Rutgers 520-234, with a 242-95 edge on the ground. Wisconsin sent Rutgers home with a 37-0 loss (298 rushing yards to Rutgers’ 76). The Nebraska loss was not quite as ugly, but Rutgers was on the wrong end of a 42-24 final score (and Ameer Abdullah).

What did Rutgers learn from these games? The time to get bigger and stronger is now, and they have been attacking that this offseason.

According to a report from NJ.com, Rutgers football players broke 19 all-time program records in the weight room during the winter and the players are excited to get back at it on Tuesday for summer conditioning routines.

“Now we all know,” Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa said. “The coaches knew. We had an idea, but we didn’t really know. We got out there and we knew what we were up against. After the season, we knew what we had to work on and we attacked it.”

Of course, Rutgers can only improve so much in the weight room. The biggest impact the program will have as a member of the Big Ten is in recruiting. At least that is the hope for the program. Head coach Kyle Flood is focusing more on players that fit the traditional Big Ten mold that he will need on his roster to close the gap with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State (and Penn State and Michigan) in what could be a stacked Big Ten East Division in the years to come.

“I don’t focus on the weight, I focus on explosion,” Flood said to NJ.com. “That’s really what I’m looking for and if we get bigger in the process, that’s fine. We’re looking for explosive athletes, and I can only point to the results. When you break 19 all-time records, that tells me that we’re moving in the right direction as a program.”

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PA lawmaker wants to name bridge after Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno

Get your hot takes ready, America. Pennsylvania representative Michael Regan is preparing to introduce a state bill that would name a bridge after former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. This led PennLive to ask whether it is safe to start naming things after Paterno. Proceed with caution.

The answer to that question will undoubtedly depend on a few things. First, are you a student or alumnus of Penn State? If so, you will probably say yes. Are you a fan of Penn State but did not go to Penn State? Again, your answer will likely be yes. Do you actively root against Penn State when given the opportunity to choose sides? If you said yes, then your answer will probably be no.

Any time the subject of Joe Paterno and his legacy come up, it remains a bit of a touchy subject given his connection to the unfortunate and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal we learned about four years ago. And that is the key. That tale unfolded four years ago this November. Has time healed enough wounds?

As far as strictly football is concerned, the NCAA has thought so. The NCAA lifted all parts of the sanctions dropped on Penn State’s program, including the restoration of 111 vacated wins from Paterno’s career win total, once again making him Division 1 football’s all-time wins leader with 409 career victories.

Per the PennLive report, Rep. Regan wants to rename a bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Susquehanna River as the Joseph V. Paterno Memorial Bridge. The bill would need to be passed by Pennsylvania’s House and Senate and then be signed by the governor (Tom Wolf).

There was always going to be a time at some point where it would be appropriate and perhaps less controversial to begin looking back at Paterno’s legacy as Penn State’s football coach, with the benefit of hindsight and allowing time to pass by to allow for a broader perspective of the good and the bad. Perhaps this is the beginning of that time.

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The Pac-12 Networks seemed like a good idea at the time

The Pac-12 Network is not a doomed experiment in sports television and media just yet, but it may be fair to suggest it is not working out quite as well as it could have after three years on the air. It can still be saved and prosper, and it is far from being put on life support the way the short-lived Mountain West Conference network was, but it needs help if the Pac-12 is going to cash in on the lucrative media revenue the Big Ten and SEC receive through their respective networks.

“We are developing the way we hoped, but we still have a way to go to reach the full potential of our networks,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We certainly realized it takes time to build, and we went in with eyes wide open.”

The San Jose Mercury Times reports the Pac-12 Network is received by 11 million homes. A similar report by FOX Sports estimated the subscriber total at 12.3 million. Whichever report you choose to go with, it is a far cry from the 60 million homes the network is technically available in. In contrast, the Big Ten Network and SEC Network are each over the 60 million subscriber total.

The Pac-12 Network launched on August 15, 2012 with seven smaller networks throughout the Pac-12’s regional footprint. It was an innovative idea at the time, offering regionalized content to cater to the specific fanbases within those various regions. The Pac-12 launched the network without the aid and support of a broadcasting partner. The Pac-12 wanted total control of the network, which was admirable. But the support the Big Ten received from FOX Sports for the revolutionary and innovative Big Ten Network and the tremendous amount of help the SEC Network has received through ESPN can be used as arguments saying the Pac-12 swung and missed on this one. The Pac-12 lags well behind both conference sports networks in subscriber totals, and thus revenue.

There is a benefit to the Pac-12 owning every portion of the Pac-12 Networks. As total owners of the networks, it keeps every penny the networks earn, which in theory leads to better revenue shares. But the network continues to struggle to get in enough homes to have that 100 percent ownership stake lead to max revenue shares in the conference. The network is still not carried by DirecTV, and some subscribers of the network do not receive the network in high-definition (myself included). Those are problems that have plagued the conference for nearly three years now.

At a time when the Pac-12 is on the rise on the football field, the pressure is continuing to mount to have Scott put these issues to rest, get the network available in more homes and start making it the cash cow it was envisioned to be. It’s not too late, and it’s not too late to seek help from an established media partner either.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: The games the Big 12 cannot afford to lose in 2015

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The Big 12 was left out of the first College Football Playoff. Depending upon whom you ask, the Big 12 was left out because Baylor didn’t play anybody (they didn’t), TCU lost to Baylor (they did) or the Big 12 just was not that good overall (plausible). You will also get some tell you Baylor and TCU just did not have the brand recognition a program like Ohio State or Florida State carried with it (again, true).Whatever the case

Whatever the case maybe, the Big 12 is in need of ensuring a Big 12 champion will be battle tested and respected by the College Football Playoff selection committee at the end of the season. With the margin for error possibly very small for the Big 12 (two one-loss teams getting left out of the four-team playoff may be a rarity in all honesty), the Big 12 needs to impress in non-conference action. This season there are a handful of notable games worth paying attention to, especially with the Big 12’s reputation riding on the results.

Here are five games the Big 12 must win this season in order to boost the Big 12 profile in November and December.

Texas at Notre Dame (September 5): The Texas Longhorns get the season underway in South Bend under the stadium lights in primetime. It is a perfect opportunity to represent the Big 12 on national television (NBC, of course) in the opening weekend. Feel free to throw in a home date a couple of weeks later against California of the Pac-12. It may not be a huge game, but adding a win against the Pac-12 would certainly help the Big 12’s overall profile.

West Virginia vs. Georgia Southern (September 5): Don’t laugh, because Georgia Southern is not a joke. The Eagles won the Sun Belt Conference in their first year at the FBS level and just won at Florida two seasons ago. West Virginia being upset at home in the season opener would not be a good look for the Big 12.

Oklahoma at Tennessee (September 12): Oklahoma sent Tennessee home with a loss last season, but now the Sooners make a visit to Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee program budding with potential and momentum. Getting out of the SEC with a win would be big for the Sooners and the entire Big 12.

Texas Tech at Arkansas (September 19): This one might be a reach, but it is worthy of consideration. Arkansas is another team those following the SEC may feel optimistic about moving forward, and Texas Tech’s defense could be in for a long game. If the Red Raiders could manage to get out of the state with a win against a team from the SEC West, the Big 12 would be smiling in a big way.

West Virginia vs. Maryland (September 26): The Big 12 was passed over by the Big Ten, so the best course of action is to strike back at the conference up north. TCU (at Minnesota), Iowa State (vs. Iowa) and West Virginia each get a chance to do that, but the Mountaineers may have the most pivotal of the three. Minnesota may be good this year, but TCU will have plenty of time to recover should they be upset on the road in the season opener. West Virginia could be in position to give the Big 12 a winning record against the Big Ten, which did not come in handy last season but could come back this season.

Last season was  a bit of a reality check for the Big 12. the conference was hyped to be a deep conference, but the production on the field failed to live up to the hype when it counted (TCU’s blasting of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl not included). Would the Big 12 have been shut out of the playoff had it been Texas or Oklahoma standing at the end of the season with just one loss? Probably not, but the Big 12 does not need a big brand to carry the Big 12 banner if the entire conference can rise to the occasion in non-conference contests early and often.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: American’s West can help shape conference image too

UH Coach Tom Herman

The task of changing the way the American Athletic Conference is perceived does not fall just on the shoulders of the American’s East Division. The West has some chances to help give the conference a boost as well. And with Navy joining the division, the door to some more opportunities has been opened moving forward.

The schedules among the AAC’s West teams is littered with big road tests against power conference foes and even some home games. All provide a chance for the West to rise and defend the conference’s image. Last season saw Boise State of the Mountain West Conference come away with the guaranteed New Years Six bowl spot, thanks in large part to the perception of the Boise State program and relative strength of schedule of the Mountain West Conference as a whole. The American has an opportunity to climb to the top, but it will have to work to get there. With some bright new head coaches in place at Houston (Tom Herman), SMU (Chad Morris) and Tulsa (Philip Montgomery), the bar is being raised in the West.

After already going through some of the key games in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division, here is a look at some of the more notable opportunities to come for the schools in the West this season.

Tulane vs. Duke (September 5); Tulane at Georgia Tech (September 12): Tulane may be coming off a miserable debut season in the American Athletic Conference, but it can more than make up for it by getting the conference off to a great start against the past two ACC Coastal Division champions. It may be a tall order for Tulane at this point in time, but it has a better chance of resulting in some wins than SMU’s early-season match-ups with Baylor and TCU.

Houston at Louisville (September 12): Louisville looks to be an interesting team out of the ACC Atlantic Division this season. Could a home game against Houston sandwiched between Auburn and Clemson be a trap game? Oh yes, it certainly could.

Memphis at Kansas (September 12); Memphis at Bowling Green (September 19): Pairing these two games together for one reason. First, Memphis winning at Kansas may not score major points for the conference given the perception of the Jayhawks, but it would still go down as a road win against a Big 12 opponent. But Memphis then needs to avoid a loss to MAC threat Bowling Green. Remember, we are not only looking for victories against power conference opponents, but also against the best threats from other Group of Five conferences. Knocking off Kansas and Bowling Green, the defending MAC champions, would end up giving Memphis and the AAC a nice little boost in September.

Navy vs. Air Force (October 3); Navy at Notre Dame (October 10): Following similar logic as just above with Memphis, Navy has an excellent opportunity to score some big wins in back-to-back weeks. First Navy hosts Air Force, coming off a successful season and representing the Mountain West Conference. Again, victories against other Group of Five opponents can be huge in the end. And beating Notre Dame obviously carries some weight.

Memphis vs. Ole Miss (October 17): Oh, you thought we were done with Memphis? Think again. The Tigers host the SEC’s Ole Miss in mid-October. If Memphis can defend its home turf against a power conference opponent from the hyped SEC West, their work will largely be done representing the conference in 2015.

Like the East Division, if the West can somehow come away with a .500 mark out of this slate of games, that would be a tremendous victory for the conference and would bode well for the conference’s champion. Keep in mind the AAC will hold a conference championship game this season as well, giving it one more game to showcase the best it has to offer.

One thing that should also be noted is Navy will actually play one more game after the College Football Playoff selection committee is set to make its big bowl pairings. The Army-Navy Game is scheduled for the Saturday after the release of the CFB Playoff and New Years Six bowl pairings. The expectation is this can be worked around to avoid any controversial hassles, but after seeing Baylor and/or TCU get shortchanged in part because of playing one fewer game than everyone else, it is worth keeping in mind.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: American’s East contenders can change way we think about AAC

Tommy Tuberville

The American Athletic Conference just missed out on the College Football Playoff selection committee’s guaranteed reservation to a Group of Five conference champion. Memphis ended up needed just a little more help out of the Mountain West Conference, which was represented by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl this past postseason. If the American Athletic Conference is going to shake off the perception it still carries from the days of the crumbling Big East, then it should hope to win some pivotal games in non-conference play this season. It just so happens the American Athletic Conference will have plenty of opportunities to score some eye-opening victories, although they will not come easily.

Here are some of the more notable games on the AAC schedule for the contenders in the East Division that could actually boost the perception of the conference and its champion.

Temple vs. Penn State (September 5): The Temple Owls open the season in Lincoln Financial Field, but it will feel like a Penn State home game with the Nittany Lions back in the city of brotherly love. Temple’s defense can pose some problems for Penn State’s offense early, but may need a flawless performance on offense for the upset.

East Carolina at Florida (September 12): East Carolina gets Florida at a decent time with the Gators still looking to rebound and in the first year under Jim McElwain. Winning in Gainesville is not easy, although Georgia Southern managed to do it. So why not the Pirates?

UCF at Stanford (September 12): The Knights head to the west coast to take on perennial Pac-12 contender Stanford. The Cardinal got off to a slow start last season. If they do once again this season then UCF could return home with a big win for the conference.

UCF at South Carolina (September 26): The Knights are not satisfied playing just one power conference opponent on the road. A couple weeks after visiting Stanford they will head to South Carolina. The Knights nearly pulled off the upset of the Gamecocks the last time they played. Could UCF win on the road in Pac-12 and SEC territory?

East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech (September 26): A year ago it was the Pirates who stormed to the front of the pack in the Group of Five race after knocking off Virginia Tech. The Hokies had just topped Ohio State in Columbus, which helped boost East Carolina’s profile as a result. The way things shape out we could see that happen all over again. Or not. Who knows?

Cincinnati vs. Miami (October 1): The Bearcats figure to be a regular threat in the American Athletic Conference, and a home victory over the Miami Hurricanes can help push them to the top of the pecking order among Group of Five contenders. Cincinnati hosts Miami on a Thursday night, with Miami coming off a bye week following a home date with Nebraska.

Temple vs. Notre Dame (October 31): It is a big year for Temple season ticket holder. Not only does Penn State come to town, but so does Notre Dame. If Temple can pull the upset of the Irish, it would be a huge victory for the conference as a whole. What if Temple beats both Penn State and Notre Dame…

Coming out of these games with a 3-4 mark should be considered a success (4-3 obviously an even bigger success), and it would likely help change the way the AAC’s champion is compared alongside whichever team comes out of the Mountain West Conference, MAC, Conference USA or Sun Belt Conference. The games in September can carry huge weight in December.

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