Clemson, FSU bringing the ACC back to the spotlight

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For the second year in a row, Clemson and Florida State will put the ACC under the national spotlight in a contest of top ten teams. The last time the ACC had two top-ten teams play each other in a conference game before last year’s top ten clash between Clemson and Florida State was when Matt Ryan was leading Boston College on an improbable BCS Championship run. The Eagles were ranked second in the AP poll and traveled to No. 8 Virginia Tech for a Thursday night football game. Boston College escaped the game with a 14-10 victory but their BCS dreams were shattered a couple of weeks later with a home loss to Florida State. That game between the Hokies and Eagles was played on October 25, 2007.

Now it is up to Clemson and Florida State to show off just what the class of the conference is capable of doing once again.

No. 3 Clemson hosts No. 5 Florida State in one of the biggest games in the conference’s history, at least in recent memory. The showdown has all of the makings for a classic battle with division bragging rights and a chance to pursue a BCS Championship awaiting the winner. The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to play in the ACC Championship each of the last four seasons, and the two have won the last two ACC championships.

ACC championships are nice of course, but it has been a while since the ACC had a national title contender. Could the winner of this game enter that role last filled by Florida State in 2000*?

If Clemson wins…

The ball is in Clemson’s court. Or, to use a football metaphor instead of a basketball analogy, the Tigers will be in the red zone. A win will give Clemson two wins over top five teams, including the season opening win over Georgia. A quick glance at the remaining schedule shows some favorable match-ups the rest of the way in ACC play. Clemson plays their next two games on the road but they come against Maryland and Virginia. Clemson should be the favorite in those games, and despite looking to be an improved team this season the Terrapins of Maryland were blasted by Florida State, 63-0. Clemson may not put together that same kind of result, but the Tigers should be a solid favorite in each of their two games heading in to a bye week.

The rest of the November schedule could set Clemson up nicely for a final push in the rankings, if they end up needing it. Getting Georgia Tech at home after a bye week will be a nice bonus. Georgia Tech may be able to play some defense, but Clemson’s offense should be able to overcome any threat. The big test will come against rival South Carolina. Clemson travels to Columbia for the rivalry game. South carolina enters this weekend ranked 11th in the country. Could the Gamecocks move up a few more spots to give Clemson one more win over a top 10 team?

A win over South Carolina would help push Clemson over the edge, but a win over a top ten Miami team in the ACC Championship Game would also help the cause. Clemson’s best bet would be to have Miami continue to run the table, which would include a win over Florida State.

Tajh Boyd would likely benefit in the Heisman race with a win as well. Clemson has never had a Heisman Trophy winner.

If Florida State wins…

The road back to national prominence will continue, but heir path to a potential spot in the BCS Championship Game should be trickier to navigate. Rivalry games against Miami and at Florida will not be easy, but are certainly games Florida State can win. Aside from Miami, the ACC schedule the rest of the way is favorable for the Seminoles. Florida State gets North carolina State, Miami and Syracuse at home and the only ACC road game left is at Wake Forest. Florida State also gets a home game against Idaho before traveling to Gainesville to play Florida.

The the question becomes who would Florida State play in the ACC Championship Game, and would that opponent be able to help push Florida State past a conference champion from the Pac 12 (Oregon?) or Big Ten (Ohio State?). If all goes to plan for Florida State, they will have already beaten Miami, but the Hurricanes could realistically be set up for a rematch in Charlotte. Or would it be best to beat Miami and hope Virginia Tech does the same the following week? The Hokies are ranked in the top 20 right now, and could start moving up the rankings enough to crack the top ten if things work out. That would be the scenario Florida State fans would be hoping for to pad their BCS profile.

Like Boyd for Clemson, a win over the Tigers would help push freshman quarterback Jameis Winston in to the leading candidate category for the Heisman Trophy. The Seminoles have had two players win the award before (Charlie Ward, Chris Weinke), and the freshman stigma has already been shattered, so the door is open.

* Miami played for the BCS National Championship in the 2001 and 2002 seasons, but did so as a member of the Big East.

Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

Helmet sticker to Gridiron Now.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.