CFT Predicts: Florida State-Clemson

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For the second time this season, and about the fifth or sixth time the past three years, we have yet another Game of the Year/Century/Millennium on tap.

The latest iteration lugging around the “Game of the…” tag that’s enveloped sports in general and college football in particular is, of course, Florida State-Clemson. While taking a jab at the hype surrounding this and other such games, there’s little doubt that this matchup is dripping with ACC and, more importantly, BCS title implications.

Clemson comes into the game in Death Valley ranked No. 3 in the country. Florida State, thanks to Stanford’s upset loss, climbed into the Top Five at No. 5. Simply put, the winner will keep itself squarely in the mix for a spot in the BCS championship game while the loser see its title hopes diminish significantly.

How significantly?  The last 10 BCS title games have featured nine one- or two-loss teams; six of those came from the SEC, and none from the ACC.

A loss won’t end any and all title hopes for either team, but it will make the BCS row tougher to hoe. And force it to not only win out but to rely on the teams above them to stumble down the stretch.

At least statistically, FSU and Clemson are about as even as you can get, even as the oddsmakers are making FSU three-point favorites on the road.  Nationally, the Tigers and Seminoles are ranked in the Top 30 in every major statistical category but two: Clemson’s rush offense and rush defense.  For the statistical Tale of the Tape…

FSU-Clemson Stats

Of course, statistics only scratch the surface and doesn’t even begin take into account intangibles.

The game will be played in Tiger Stadium, one of the most electrifying and, for visitors, hostile environments in college football.

Getting his first start in such an environment is Jameis Winston.  While the redshirt FSU freshman has seen himself injected in the Heisman conversation after just a handful of starts, his only road tests thus far have been at Pittsburgh and Boston College.

On the flip side is Tajh Boyd, a battle-tested three-year starter who is among the best players at his position in the country, even as he still doesn’t get the respect he deserves.

Hype aside, the game has all of the makings of an instant classic.  How will it play out?  Let us here at CFT peer into our collective crystal balls (stop giggling and grow up, people) and take a shot at it.

KEVIN MCGUIRE
There is no doubt this game is the game of the year in the ACC. A pair of Top-Ten teams and Heisman contenders has all the makings of a conference championship game, but unfortunately we will not get a chance to watch this one again at the end of the season. While I have been impressed by what freshman sensation Jameis Winston has done for Florida State this season, we will finally get the chance to answer one of the few unanswered questions about him: how will he handle leading the offense in an environment that will be pumping the volume up from the start? If Aaron Murray, a seasoned quarterback with plenty of big game experience, failed to get out of Death Valley with a win, why should I bank on Winston being able to do so in his first real road test (sorry Boston College fans). I think Winston gets a bit of an eye-opener on the road at Clemson, but he’ll make his plays.

The big question for me comes down to defense. Can Clemson limit the big plays by Florida State? Can the Seminoles find a way to force Tajh Boyd to make some mistakes? I think Boyd and Sammy Watkins come up with enough plays to get the Tigers one step closer to the ACC championship game, allowing them to begin sniffing around for something a bit more enticing.

Prediction: Clemson 35, Florida State 28

CHRIS HOUSTON
This one should be a shootout on the magnitude of last year’s game, which the Seminoles won, 49-37. However, I think the tables will be turned this time, with Clemson coming out on top. As good as Jameis Winston has been for FSU, he has yet to go up against a quality defense with high-level athletes. I think the game will be won in the first half, with the Tigers and Tajh Boyd coming out sharp and jumping out to a lead while FSU struggles to get rolling.

However, I think Winston adjusts and gets hot in the second half and makes a game of it. But it won’t be enough and the Tigers will stay undefeated by the skin of their teeth.

Prediction:: Clemson 41, Florida State 38

JJ STANKEVITZ
FSU hasn’t really played anyone, but then again neither has Clemson since Week 1. I like the Georgia win, but basing a prediction off one game that happened a month and a half ago doesn’t seem safe.

Mainly, though, I’m drinking the Jameis Winston Kool-Aid. His stats are nuts: 90/123, 1,441 yards and 17 touchdowns in five games. FSU had an extra week to prepare while Clemson underperformed against Boston College. It’ll be close, but ultimately I think Winston makes the plays when it counts, and FSU sneaks out a win.

Prediction: Florida State 31, Clemson 27

JOHN TAYLOR
For every five times I’ve picked Clemson in my head, I’ve picked Florida State the same amount.  Yes, that’s how close this game should be.  FSU has a top-10 defense, while Clemson’s unit is underrated and undervalued.  While I think Boyd will outplay Winston (slightly) based solely on experience, I see the QB position being essentially a wash.

Where the tide will turn in favor of the Seminoles is in the running game.  The Tigers have been susceptible to the run at various points this season, and Clemson has yet to face a three-headed ground-game beast like Devonta Freeman, Karlos Williams and James Wilder Jr.  And that’s without even mentioning Winston’s ability to make/keep plays alive with his legs.

This game will be close, as close as most observers expect.  The whole Death Valley aura, especially, has me teetering back and forth on a selection.  I have to pick somebody, though — and if you asked me in two hours the answer might be different — so, based on everything up to and including a flip of the coin, I’m going with…

Prediction: Florida State 38, Clemson 34

North Carolina approves contract extension for Larry Fedora

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Heading into his sixth season at North Carolina, Larry Fedora will do so armed with a revamped deal.

Early Thursday afternoon, the university announced that a contract extension for Fedora has been formally approved by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.  Fedora is now under contract through the 2022 season.

“We are pleased that the Board of Trustees has approved the terms of Coach Fedora’s contract, which will allow him to continue our football program’s success into the next decade,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham in a statement. “Under his leadership, our student-athletes are succeeding in the classroom, contributing positively to our community – and competing for championships. We know this was a lengthy process, but we wanted to make sure the terms were appropriate for both Coach Fedora and the University.”

Fedora’s 2016 compensation of just under $2 million was 11th out of the 11 ACC head coaches listed in USA Today‘s salary database.  The new deal will pay Fedora $2.29 million in 2017, which would’ve been ninth among conference coaches last season.

Below are the salary breakdowns for each year of the new contract:

In his five seasons with the Tar Heels, Fedora has gone 40-25 overall and 26-14 in ACC play. His wins are already fifth in school history, while his .615 winning percentage is second since UNC joined the ACC in 1953.

In 2015, the Tar Heels played in their first-ever conference championship game en route to an 11-win season that was the program’s best since Mack Brown’s last year in Chapel Hill and tied for the most in school history.

“I enjoy coaching at the University of North Carolina and I appreciate the trust Chancellor Folt and Bubba Cunningham have shown in the leadership of our program,” Fedora said. “Our staff and players have worked diligently over the last five years to build a program that encompasses all aspects of the student-athlete experience, while simultaneously achieving success on the field.”

Report: Houston Nutt could sue Ole Miss for defamation if he doesn’t get apology

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If Ole Miss thought it had seen the last of Houston Nutt, they may want to think again.  And fast.

In the midst of an NCAA “situation” that has already result in significant penalties for the football program, the university attempted to paint the football-related issues as having mainly occurred on Nutt’s watch when he was the Rebels’ head coach from 2008-11.  Nutt wasn’t pleased with the portrayal at the time the Notice of Allegations was issued in May of last year, and certainly isn’t happy a year later.

“It hurts you,” Nutt told Yahoo SportsPat Forde. “It devastates you. …

“My name wasn’t mentioned in the report but my name’s on the ticker [on television]. My name is thrown out there a lot. It’s a frustrating thing.”

Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, takes it a step further, telling Forde that, if a public apology from Ole Miss isn’t forthcoming, he has every intention of filing a defamation lawsuit against the university on his client’s behalf.

“I would hope this wouldn’t become a legal situation,” Mars said. “But if the university doesn’t recognize at some point the damage that’s been done … I would like to think the appropriate action will be taken.

“This was a smear campaign. If it weren’t so deceitful and morally wrong, it would probably go down in college football history as one of the best trick plays ever.”

There were 13 allegations made by the NCAA against the Ole Miss football program. Nine of those, the majority of which are relatively minor in nature, came during Hugh Freeze‘s time with the Rebels.

In an updated NOA released in February of this year, the NCAA charged the university with lack of institutional control.  The university also self-imposed a one-year bowl ban and agreed to forfeit all postseason revenue for the 2017 season, which could be upwards of $7 million.

Freeze was charged with violating head coach responsibility legislation.

North Carolina responds to third Notice of Allegations in lingering academic scandal

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For the third time in as many years, North Carolina is responding to a Notice of Allegations connected to a decade-long academic scandal.

“We are prepared and look forward to presenting our case to the Committee on Infractions,” said chancellor Carol L. Folt in a statement. “Bringing closure to this process will be an important step for our University. The expansive reforms and initiatives now in place at Carolina reflect the academic values of a community that I am proud to lead.”

“We sent the NCAA a full and detailed response,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “Our reply to each allegation is based on the NCAA’s constitution and member-adopted bylaws. We expect the Committee on Infractions to consistently apply those bylaws as the case moves forward.”

For the complete response, click HERE.

The university had a deadline of May 16 to submit their response to this latest NOA, which they met.  The delay in releasing the response publicly was caused by the school stating that they needed to perform “a review to protect privacy rights” of those individuals mentioned in the response.

In June of 2014, the NCAA informed UNC “that it would reopen its original 2011 examination of the past academic irregularities.” The first NOA was sent to the university in 2015, with UNC accused of lack of institutional control as to student-athletes in multiple sports, including football, receiving preferential access to the controversial African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) courses dating all the way back to 2002.  In April of 2016, UNC received an amended NOA that replaced “lack of institutional control” with “failure to monitor.”

Below are the allegations the NCAA has made in the five violations The Associations has charged UNC with:

  1. African and Afro-American Studies student services manager Deborah Crowder and department professor/chair Julius Nyang’oro committed extra benefit and ethical conduct violations from 2002-11 by overseeing anomalous courses in the department and giving athletics personnel authority to impact aspects of the courses for student-athletes. School personnel committed extra benefits violation by leveraging the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to provide special arrangements to student-athletes.
  2. Academic counselor Jan Boxill provided extra benefits by way of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players from 2003-2010.
  3. Crowder violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  4. Nyang’oro violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  5. Allegation No. 1 and No. 2 show school’s failure to exercise institutional control and failure to monitor the conduct and administration of athletics programs.

In its most recent response, the university claims that the AFAM courses was “were available to all students in the same manner” and that “[n]o special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation.” “Student-athletes made up 29.4 percent of the enrollments in the Courses,” the university added, a number that is less than the nearly 50-percent figure the NCAA came up with.

Essentially, UNC’s argument is that, because the issue of AFAM courses is an academic one, “the University denies that there were NCAA violations.”

The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he NCAA’s enforcement staff will have an opportunity to review and address issues UNC raises over the next 60 days, with the case then expected to proceed to an infractions committee hearing in August.” A decision from the NCAA would come two months or so after the conclusion of the hearing, which would be right in the middle of the football season.

South Carolina QB, on Clemson’s 56-7 win: ‘everyone knew they were not that much better than us’

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On its way to its first national championship in three decades, Clemson laid waste to South Carolina, routing their in-state rivals in a 56-7 woodshedding that included a 35-0 halftime lead.  The Tigers outgained the Gamecocks 622-218, while they had a 41-14 advantage in first downs as well.

The 49-point difference served as the largest margin of victory in a rivalry that was first played in 1896 and has been played more than 110 times since.  Not only that, it was the largest margin of defeat for an SEC team at the hands of an ACC school.

By any measure, it was an utter and complete beatdown.  Unless you’re Jake Bentley.

In that game, Bentley, a true freshman quarterback, completed 7-of-17 passes for 41 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception.  That translates into a not-so-robust pass efficiency rating of 49.7.

During an interview with FOX Carolina Wednesday, however, Bentley indicated it was more of what USC didn’t do than what their rivals did that cost them the game.

“We just didn’t play well that week,” Bentley said, by way of TigerNet.com. “That’s our big quote going into this year. We felt we got outworked so never again. So our big thing is never again we will be outworked. Never again will be outcompeted in a game like that.

“It all stems from that game because at the end of the game everyone knew that they were not that much better than us or better than us at all. It really just lit a fire in everybody since that week. Everyone has worked harder and wanted it more.”

Again, 56-7 screams that the team with 56 points is significantly better than the one with 49 fewer, but your mileage may vary.  Regardless, it’s safe to assume the bolded, italicized portion of that quote will find its way onto some Death Valley bulletin boards ahead of this year’s edition of the rivalry game.