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The Fifth Quarter: Week 9 Rewind

Tennessee v Alabama Getty Images

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

WINNERS

Alabama vs. Oregon: Tale of the Tape
Seeing as Alabama and Oregon play in different conferences on essentially opposite sides of the country, there’s very little concrete data available to compare the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.  With Tennessee on both of their schedules this season?  Yeah, the comparisons were going to be inevitable.  Back on Sept. 14 in Eugene, the Ducks led the Vols 38-7 at halftime; Oct. 26 in Tuscaloosa, the Tide led the Vols 35-0 after two quarters of play.  The final scores were 59-14 for the former, 45-10 for the latter.  The Ducks totaled 687 yards of offense while holding the Vols to 316; the Tide gave up 322 while gaining 479.

If special teams is your thing, Oregon was forced to punt three times while Alabama punted just twice.

The conclusion?  There is none, of course, other than UT was whipped six weeks apart by two very, very, very good football teams who could possibly square off in early January if they continue their winning ways.  That said, feel free to use the numbers to further whatever agenda you may be wanting to push.  Enjoy!

Brutus the Bully
With the three teams ahead of them in the BCS standings winning by a combined score of 136-41, Ohio State needed a statement game, something they’ve lacked throughout 2013.  Unfortunately for Penn State, that’s exactly what OSU went out and did.  The Buckeyes bullied the Nittany Lions in the first half, jumping out to a 42-7 before cruising to a 63-14 win.  Winning in this fashion won’t necessarily help Ohio State, though; they’re not leapfrogging Alabama, Oregon or Florida State anytime soon as long as those three teams keep winning.  Rather, such an impressive performance will likely keep the likes of Baylor from passing them in the polls and, thus, the BCS standings later on tonight.  That said, it’s still hard to wrap my head around the fact that Ohio State could conceivably carry a 25-game winning streak into early January… and be on the outside looking in when it comes to the BCS title game.  Again.

Bobby Bowden, spear planter
After what was nearly a three-year sabbatical following his unceremonious dismissal in 2010, the legendary Bobby Bowden returned to the stadium that in part bears his name.  It was a glorious return for the Tallahassee icon, replete with a pregame ceremony featuring one of the most storied traditions in the sport: the planting of the spear at midfield of Doak Campbell Stadium.  Instead of Osceola and Renegade, though, it was Bowden doing the planting.  And, dadgummit, it was awesome:

Bowden Spear

(Tip O’ the Cap: SBNation.com)

The return of Bowden to his rightful place in college football was awesome. The spear-planting merely drove that point home, so to speak.

Connor Shaw
No pithy headlines.  Just this: Connor Shaw is a straight-up baller.  The senior did not start for South Carolina in the game against Missouri due to a combination of injury and illness.  With the Gamecocks trailing 17-0 in the fourth and in dire need of an offensive spark, Shaw slapped on his Superman cape and strapped the ‘Cocks on his back and grow up already people.  In the fourth quarter and first overtime, Shaw passed for three touchdowns; the middle one tied the game with :42 left in regulation, with the third coming on fourth-and-goal from the 15 to send the game into a second overtime.  It was a gutsy performance by an underrated player, one that helped keep what was merely a flicker of SEC East hope very much alive and well for USC.

Better late than never
A weather system filled with lightning delayed Texas’ game with TCU for three hours, six minutes.  As it turned out, the wait was more than worth it.  The Longhorns entered the extended break with a 17-7 lead, then extended that lead to 30-7 by game’s end as UT won its fourth straight contest.  Unbelievably, given the back-to-back embarrassing losses to BYU and Ole Miss last month, the ‘Horns are now 4-0 in Big 12 play, tied with Baylor for the top spot in the conference.  All the talk of Mack Brown being able to survive the season has suddenly morphed into conversations involving how UT can claim its first conference crown since 2009.  Amazing, amazing in-season turnaround going on in Austin.

Duke Virginia Tech FootballBowling Blue Devils… again
We could very easily put Virginia Tech tripping over its own junk in the “Losers” category, but instead we’ll give some love to the football nerds.  In Blacksburg Saturday afternoon, Duke upended a Hokies team that had won six straight games and had climbed inside the Top 20 of the rankings.  It was the Blue Devils’ sixth win of the season, meaning the football program at a university known more for academics and basketball is bowl-eligible for the second straight season; that’s the first time in school history that’s ever happened.  The win over the Hokies was historic as well as it marked the first time Duke has beaten a ranked team since 1994… and the first time it’s beaten a ranked team on the road since 1971.  Hats off to David Cutcliffe, his coaching staff and his players for what they’re doing with that program.  The entire university and its alumni should be proud of what’s going on.

Spartans: they are Legends
Missouri’s not the only surprise division leader just past the halfway point of the 2013 season.  Take Michigan State, for example.  Heading into the new season, most figured Michigan and Nebraska and Northwestern would be battling for the right to represent the Legends Division in the Big Ten title game, with the Spartans leading the middle-of-the-pack teams in that division.  The Wildcats have played itself out of contention with four straight losses to start conference play.  The Wolverines and Cornhuskers have each lost one league game; the Spartans, on the other hand, sport a perfect 4-0 mark at the halfway point of their conference slate, the latest coming courtesy of a 42-3 shellacking of Illinois.  The best part for the Spartans?  They face the Wolverines and Cornhuskers the next two weeks.  Win both, and MSU would all but have the division locked up with two games remaining in the season.  And, speaking of surprising division leaders…

Tulane road, with a side of Rice
Sorry, that’s the best I can do at about one in the morning.  Anyway, the past two seasons have seen Rice and Tulane combine for a woeful 14-35 record, with the Green Wave accounting for just four of those wins.  2013, however, is a different story.  At the end of Week 9, Rice and Tulane are tied atop the Conference USA West standings at a perfect 4-0.  The Owls and Green Wave, with six wins overall, are now bowl-eligible before the calendar flips to November; it’s the first time the latter has hit that mark since 2002.

Your move, JFFJordan Lynch, Willie Creear, Mycal Swaim
Last week, Jordan Lynch set an FBS record for rushing yards by a quarterback.  This week, the Northern Illinois senior added another notch to his statistical legend.  In NIU’s cruise over Eastern Michigan, Lynch passed for three touchdowns, ran for one and caught another, and did all of that scoring damage in the first half.  Lynch became the first player at the FBS level since 2010 (Ohio’s Boo Jackson) to hit the two passing/one rushing/one receiving TD trifecta in the same game.  For the game, Lynch finished with six touchdowns — four passing, one each rushing and receiving — in less than three full quarters of play as the Huskies are off to a program-best 8-0 start, one season removed from its BCS bowl appearance.

Continuing the upHill climb
The first three games of the season, and aside from a 259-yard rushing performance against Texas, Taysom Hill struggled mightily.  The BYU sophomore was completing just over 35 percent of his passes and had tossed three interceptions to just one touchdown.  Since then, it’s as if someone has flipped the switch.  The last five games, Hill has completed more than 65 percent of his passes in four of them and has tossed 11 touchdowns and added another four on the ground.  Yes, he’s thrown five interceptions in that span, but the number is skewed somewhat by a three-pick anomaly against Houston a week ago.  Not so coincidentally, Hill’s blooming has coincided with a Cougars resurgence; after starting the season 1-2, BYU has ripped off five straight wins to become bowl-eligible for the ninth straight season.

LOSERS

South Carolina v MissouriSoul-crushing
There are losses that feel like punches to the guts, then there are those that feel like kicks to what my seven-year-old (thankfully) mispronounces as “tentacles.”  And, boy, did Missouri take a steel-toed boot to the old giblets.  By now, you know the story: Mizzou took a 17-0 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see South Carolina tie it late to send it into overtime.  Then, giving up a touchdown on what was essentially fourth-and-15 to send it into the second overtime.  Then, in the second overtime, well, college kickers.  And holders.  With one clank off the left upright, the Tigers saw their unbeaten season go up in smoke.  What it didn’t see happen, and what’s been somewhat lost in the heartbreak of a devastating home loss, is the fact that Mizzou’s path to SEC title game has only become slightly cluttered.  The Tigers still hold a one-game lead over Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the loss column, and can probably — OK, maybe — punch its ticket to the Georgia Dome as the East’s representative by winning three of their last four games against Tennessee, Kentucky, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.  All is not lost for Mizzou, even though it may very well feel like it in the here and now.

This displeases Touchdown Tommie
Last month, Nebraska legend Tommie Frazier blasted his alma mater, calling for essentially the entire defensive coaching staff to be fired following an embarrassing home loss to UCLA.  Saturday, the Cornhuskers gave Frazier additional ammunition.  A week after reentering the rankings, the Cornhuskers looked listless in their 34-23 loss to Minnesota.  The Huskers could do little offensively in the return of Taylor Martinez (no relation) while the Blackshirts were gashed for 430 yards, 271 of which came on the ground. “Do I need to say anymore? … This is simply inexcusable,” Frazier tweeted shortly after the loss, adding, “where do we go from here Husker Nation?”  That’s a very good question, but one that won’t have an answer for at least another month.

Guns down, foot shotTexas Tech v Oklahoma
With the chance to keep pace with Baylor and Texas, Texas Tech blinked.  And flinched.  And gagged on the moment.  Not only did the Red Raiders cough up its unbeaten season against Oklahoma Saturday, it suffered its first defeat in Big 12 play, one that puts Tech a game behind the Bears and Longhorns in the loss column.  The division chase is far from over as the Red Raiders close out the regular season with back-to-back games against the teams ahead of them.  They did, though, miss out an opportunity to drop an average Sooners team in Norman and put themselves in position to continue to control their own destiny in pursuit of the conference’s BCS bid.

Still Mullen
Including Thursday night’s six-point win over Kentucky, Mississippi State is 14-21 in SEC play since Dan Mullen took over as head coach in 2009.  Since 2011, the Bulldogs have won seven conference games against five different teams — Ole Miss, 2011; Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee, 2012; and Kentucky each of the past three years.  The combined league record of those schools at the end of the season/currently?  A miserable 5-47.  Mullen has yet to beat the two heavyweights in the SEC West, Alabama and LSU, since coming to Starkville, and lost to conference newcomer Texas A&M last season.  Again, if the MSU administration is comfortable with the mediocrity of Gator Bowl or Music City Bowl appearances, then so be it.  They shouldn’t, though, and should instead, if they haven’t already, do some soul-searching when it comes to the state of the football program and Mullen’s future in it.

Double-digit danger
In each of Chris Petersen‘s first seven seasons as Boise State’s head coach, the Broncos had won at least 10 games, winning at least 11 in six of those years and at least 12 in five of them.  That stunning string of success, however, is in serious jeopardy.  With just four games left in the regular season, Boise’s record stands at 5-3 after the beatdown at the hands of BYU Friday night.  In order to reach the double-digit plateau for an eighth straight season and match Petersen’s worst season at Boise — 10-3 in his second year in 2007 – the Broncos will need to sweep the final four games (Colorado State, Wyoming, San Diego State and New Mexico) as well as win their bowl game.

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

– No. 6 Stanford 20, Oregon State 12: This is a bit misleading as the Beavers are ranked in the coaches’ poll, but, since we use the Associated Press rankings, it falls within the parameters.  While the Cardinal trailed just once (3-0 in the first quarter), they couldn’t put OSU away until a fourth-and-goal pass from the seven-yard line fell incomplete with one second left on the clock.  Stanford has now won two straight after what’s still an inexplicable loss to Utah and with, following a bye, what’s still a huge showdown with Oregon looming on the first-Thursday-in-November horizon.

Wake Forest v Miami– No. 7 Miami 24, Wake Forest 21: For the third time in as many weeks, the Hurricanes fell behind by 10-plus points.  As was the case in each of those games, the ‘Canes came back to keep their record perfect on the season.  That said, if The U plays the way they have during this stretch, Florida State will woodshed them next Saturday.

– No. 9 Clemson 40, Maryland 27: Perhaps suffering through the malaise of last Saturday’s crushing loss to Florida State, the Tigers led the injury-ravaged Terps just 19-13 at the end of the third quarter.  Three touchdowns in the first 10 minutes of the final quarter, however, was enough to get Clemson back on the winning side of the ledger.

– No. 15 Fresno State 35, San Diego State 28: The two teams scored just 14 points total in the first 39 minutes… and then all MAC-like hell broke loose.    A total of 42 points in the final 21 minutes — and a blocked field goal at the end of regulation by Fresno — culminated in overtime, with the Bulldogs scoring a touchdown on its lone possession while keeping the Aztecs out of the end zone.  With the win, the Bulldogs keep its record unblemished and allows it to maintain its BCS-buster status for another week.

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 — Updating this little statistical chestnut, the Tide has outscored its opponents 246-26 in the six games since beating Texas A&M 49-42 in Week 3.  Bama has allowed just two touchdown in that stretch, with none coming in the first half when the game was in any kind of doubt.  (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: Bye (LSU Nov. 9)

2. Florida State — After a couple of weeks of contemplation, I’m finally pulling the trigger.  And this nothing to do with the team that’s held this spot throughout the season; rather, it has everything to do with the fact that, over the past month, I don’t know that’s there’s been a better team in the country than the Seminoles.  In fact, I wouldn’t argue too much if someone wanted to push FSU past the Tide in the rankings. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 7 Miami

3. Oregon — Again, nothing against the Ducks for the move down.  And, yes, you normally don’t see a team drop after beating the No. 12 team in the country by 28 points.  It’s just, damn, that team in Tallahassee.  Really, it’s FSU, not you Eugene. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: Bye (Stanford Nov. 7)

Urban Meyer4. Ohio State — A 49-point win and 20 straight victories overall would normally mean something in the polls.  It won’t thanks to the three teams above, but the Buckeyes should be satisfied knowing they easily put together their most impressive all-around performance of the season. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: at Purdue

5. Baylor — Well hello Bears.  Good to see you in this rarefied air.  Of course, it came at the expense of Missouri, but that doesn’t make it any less meaningful.  How long they stay here remains to be seen; over the next three weeks, the Bears will face three ranked foes in the form of Oklahoma and Texas Tech at home, then travel to Stillwater to square off against Oklahoma State.  They will then finish off the season against TCU and Texas. In other words, if they stay here, they’ll have earned it. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: No. 15 Oklahoma

(Dropped out: No. 5 Missouri)

HE SAID IT
“We stunk it up the whole ballgame.  I don’t know how it happened.” — Steve Spurrier after South Carolina’s improbable overtime win over previously-unbeaten Missouri.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“We kind of felt disrespected because they called us the red team all week long and said we didn’t deserve to be called Alabama.” quarterback AJ McCarron after the red team beat up on the orange team in a 35-point win.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“Jimbo [F]isher will be hit with a bullying lawsuit tomorrow.” — Notre Dame defensive lineman Louis Nix in a tweet posted to his Twitter account (@1IrishChocolate) in the midst of Florida State’s evisceration of North Carolina State.  And, yes, a big part of the reason I chose this “quote” was so I could type “Irish Chocolate.”

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“I was disappointed in the way we blocked, but we rushed for 394 yards.” — Paul Johnson after Georgia Tech pushed its record to 5-3 with a 10-point win over Virginia.

VIDEO OF THE WEEK
If you’re anything like me — and God help you if you are — you’ve been fascinated by the fact that Phil Robertson, patriarch of the Duck Dynasty phenomenon,  played college football at Louisiana Tech in the sixties and was the school’s starting quarterback.  And not only did he start, he kept future Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw on the bench for two seasons before quitting the game altogether.  I’ve always wondered what the Sage Bearded One looked like slinging a football instead of selling duck calls.  My prayers were answered earlier this week courtesy of al.com, which posted this clip of Robertson taking on Alabama in a 1966 game:

Not a bad set of skills from the younger, lankier Robertson, even as it came in a 34-0 loss to the Kenny Stabler-led Crimson Tide.

SAY WHAT?
Undefeated team, ranked No. 7 in the country.  News this week that the football program would be getting the proverbial “slap on the wrist” from the NCAA.  So, how do the Miami fans celebrate?  By not showing up at Sun Life Stadium, that’s how.  From the Twitter account of the USA Today‘s Paul Myerberg:

Miami Fans

Embarrassing.  That’s all you can say about that “turnout,” other than Nick Saban‘s head would explode if he ever witnessed that kind of support.

TRUE STORY
With losses by Missouri and Texas Tech, the ranks of the unbeaten have dwindled to just eight after Week 9.  The ACC is the only conference with two undefeated teams remaining (Florida State, Miami), while six other conferences are represented: Big Ten (Ohio State), Big 12 (Baylor), MAC (Northern Illinois), MWC (Fresno State), Pac-12 (Oregon) and SEC (Alabama).  Meanwhile, two teams, Western Michigan and New Mexico State, won its first games of the season.  That leaves five programs (Georgia State, Hawaii, Miami of Ohio, Southern Miss and UConn) without a win to show for its effort this season.  Southern Miss, incidentally, has now lost 19 consecutive games.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

Garrett Gilbert‘s 635 yards of offense (a school-record 538 passing, 97 rushing) in SMU’s win over Temple is the seventh-most in FBS history.  The record for single-game total offense is Houston quarterback David Klingler‘s 732, who passed for 716 and rushed for 16 against Arizona State in December of 1990.

Octavius McKoy of Division III Western Connecticut rushed for 455 yards on 43 carries, breaking the single-game all-division NCAA record.  Marietta’s Dante Brown had set the old mark of 441 yards back in 1996.  Ladanian Tomlinson, for those curious, holds the FBS record with 406 yards.

– Stanford held Sean Mannion to just 271 yards passing and one touchdown in its win over Oregon State.  The junior came into the game leading the nation in passing yards per game at 427.4 and had thrown an FBS-best 29 touchdowns, throwing at least three in each of the first seven games of the season.

Penn State v Ohio State– In Ohio State’s blowout of Penn State, Braxton Miller accounted for a career-high 261 yards passing and 68 yards rushing.  He also had five touchdowns: three passing, two rushing.  Meanwhile, Carlos Hyde carried the ball 16 times for 147 yards and two touchdowns as Ohio State won its 20th straight game.

Bryce Petty passed for 430 yards, 348 of which came in the first half, as Baylor scraped past Kansas 59-14.

Bishop Sankey, one week after rushing for a season-low 22 yards against Arizona State, rushed for a season-high 241 yards in Washington’s throttling of Cal.

– In two quarters of play plus the first possession of the third quarter, Jameis Winston passed for 292 yards and three touchdowns in Florida State’s romp over North Carolina State.

Duke Johnson rushed for 168 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner with just under a minute left, to help Miami eke its way past Wake Forest.

– Clemson’s Sammy Watkins had a school-record 14 catches in the win over Maryland.

Connor Cook‘s 93.8 completion percentage (15-of-16) set a single-game Michigan State record.

Desmond Roland ran for a career-high 219 yards and four TDs in Oklahoma State’s 58-27 rout of Iowa State.

– Nebraska’s Ameer Abdullah rushed for 165 yards on just 19 carries, pushing his total for the 2013 season to 981 yards.  He needs 19 yards to become just the eight player in the storied history of the football program to rush for 1,000-plus yards in back-to-back seasons.

– With a 17-yard reception late in the first half of Vanderbilt’s loss to Texas A&M. Jordan Matthews set the SEC mark for most career receiving yards.  The record of 3,093 had previously been held by Georgia’s Terrence Edwards.

Deontay Greenberry, Anthony Cioffi– Houston’s Deontay Greenberry caught six passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in the first half of Houston’s blowout win.  The wide receiver finished with eight receptions for 168 yards and three touchdowns.

– In Louisville’s easy win over inept USF, Teddy Bridgewater passed for 344 yards and three touchdowns.

– Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller intercepted three passes in the loss to Duke, giving him five on the season.  Oregon State’s Steve Nelson and Northern Illinois’ Jimmie Ward entered Week 9 leading the country with five apiece.

– Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova has thrown 25 interceptions the last 14 games, including three in the loss to Houston Saturday.  In fact, seven of those interceptions have come the past two weeks.  He also tossed six picks in a late-October loss to Kent State last year.

– BYU’s Cody Hoffman now has 31 career touchdown catches, breaking the old mark of 30 set by Austin Collie.

– Taysom Hill accounted for 408 yards of offense (339 passing, 69 rushing) and added three touchdowns passing and one rushing in BYU’s win over Boise State.

– The past three games, Florida State has outscored its opponents, all ACC foes, 163-31.

– This is a sobering stat for my adopted home state: in 34 games under Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia has lost nine of them by 21-plus points.  In 126 games under Rich Rodriguez and Bill Stewart, which spans a 10-year period, the Mountaineers were beaten by 21 or more points a total of eight times.  Hide the couches.  And the lighters.

– Despite jumping out to a 14-3 lead, Wake Forest was unable to hang on its upset bid of Miami.  It was the Demon Deacons’ 51st straight loss to a team ranked in the Top 10, with the last coming exactly 67 years ago yesterday against No. 4 Tennessee (Oct. 26, 1946).  That was also the football program’s only win over a Top-Ten team ever.

Nebraska v Minnesota– Minnesota’s 11-point win over Nebraska was the Gophers first over the Cornhuskers since September of 1960, snapping a 16-game losing streak.

– Penn State has allowed 40-plus points in three consecutive games for the first time since 1899.  The 686 yards they gave up to Ohio State was the most in the program’s storied history, which dates back to 1889.

– Kansas’ Big 12 losing streak has now stretched to a mind-boggling 25 straight games, with the last conference win coming on Nov. 6, 2010 against Colorado.  You have to go back to Oct. 10, 2009 (Iowa State) for the Jayhawks’ last win over a current member of the conference.  Since playing in the Orange Bowl following the 2007 season, KU has gone 6-40 in Big 12 play, with four of those wins coming in 2008.

– Forget the SI cover jinx: with the overtime loss to Iowa, Northwestern has now lost four straight games since ESPN‘s College GameDay show set up camp in Evanston.

– Auburn ran for 422 yards on 59 carries as the Tigers moved to 7-1 with the 45-10 win over FAU.  A total of 10 different Tiger players were credited with carries in the game.

– UCF scored 45 points in the first half of its 62-17 waxing of UConn; the Knights had not scored more than 38 points in a single game at all this season entering the weekend.

IN CLOSING…
For three years, Rice’s Jayson Carter has toiled through practice and summer conditioning and the like as a walk-on while never seeing the playing field on game day.  Carter’s story is not unlike countless other non-scholarship players who truly play for the love of the game.  Not many, if any, of them, however, were born with a genetic disorder that leaves them standing 4-9 and weighing 130 pounds.  After three years, though, Carter finally got his Rudy moment.  Late in the fourth quarter of the Owls’ blowout win over UTEP, head coach David Bailiff inserted the running back into the game.  And, not only did he get in the game, he got the carry that he’s earned after toiling for years on the scout team.

“I did what I was supposed to … I didn’t get negative yards,” Carter said of his one-yard run.

Bravo on the perseverance and the perspective, young man.  Bravo.

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TCU appears to have washed its hands of Brandon Carter

Brandon Carter, Nigel Tribune AP

A rough day for this particular football program continues as one of the most productive and experienced pieces of TCU’s passing game puzzle looks to be no more.

During his time at the Big 12 Media Days, Gary Patterson was asked if he hoped Brandon Carter would remain at TCU and return to the Horned Frogs at some point. The head coach’s response was surprisingly — and refreshingly — blunt.

“No,” said Patterson in regards to the wide receiver’s potential return. “He has a redshirt year, and I think the best thing for him is to get a new start. It’s setting a precedent — you have to go to school.”

Carter was charged with possession of marijuana in late April — it was later dropped — but that wasn’t the reason for the parting of ways. Rather, it was Carter’s effort in the classroom — or lack thereof — that put the talented receiver on the outside of the football program looking in.

“Academically he will not make it,” Patterson said.

Carter entered Week 10 of the 2013 season second on the team in receptions with 17 and tied for third in receiving yards with 197. In early November, however, he took a leave of absence for personal reasons. Those “personal reasons” turned out to be related to a family matter.

Coming into last season, he was the Horned Frogs’ leading returning receiver as his 36-590-6 statline from 2012 was second only to the since-departed Josh Boyce.

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With first-year QB starter, Saban downplays Tide’s title chances

Blake Sims AP

In his first year as a starting quarterback in 2009, Greg McElroy helped lead Alabama to a BCS title.  In 2011, in his first year as a starting quarterback, AJ McCarron helped lead the Tide to Nick Saban‘s second of three BCS titles at UA.

With McCarron’s eligibility expired, Saban will be looking to replace that experience and production under center with yet another first-year starter.  Ahead of that, the coach is looking to tap the brakes on, well, any optimism that may be rearing its ugly, unwanted and unwarranted head.

The two main combatants in the fight to replace McCarron are fifth-year senior Blake Sims (pictured) and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker.  Entering 2014, and even with inexperience at the most important position on the field — neither Sims nor Coker have started a game at the collegiate level — the Tide is viewed as a betting favorite to claim yet another national championship.

At least for the moment, Saban is pooh-poohing and downplaying any type of favorite talk despite what’s happened the last two times he’s had a first-year starter at quarterback.

“Well I think it is a little bit unrealistic because basically what you’re talking about is two guys [who] are untested,” said Saban during an ESPN interview when asked about title expectations. “And when you have an untested player at that position, you can be pleasantly surprised with the way they develop and how they do and how the team sorta rallies around them and the impact of their leadership, decision-making, those things are critical at the quarterback position. …

“They can also go to where they turn the ball over and do some things that make it hard to overcome. Because quarterback is such a critical position to me. Football is a great team game, but then there’s the quarterback. And most successful teams have a guy that, at least in their system, is functionally successful for the other players on the team. And in our case, because we have good skill guys, it’s important that our guy can distribute the ball to those guys and make those guys effective players for us.”

(Writer’s note: the Tide QB competition is officially a two-man thing, based on Saban’s quotes.)

Entering summer camp, and even as he has yet to take a snap as a member of the Crimson Tide, Coker is viewed as the heavy favorite to win the starting job.  Consistency and lack of turnovers will be key regardless of which player actually wins out.

Whether Coker’s the way it plays out remains to be seen; what’s certain is that, with a first-year starter, Saban & Company will rely on its loaded backfield, including the three-headed monster of T.J. YeldonDerrick Henry and Kenyan Drakearrest and suspension notwithstanding — to help the starter get his feet wet, especially early on.

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Gator TE reportedly transferring to Temple

Colin Thompson

Temple has added a late-in-the-offseason transfer pickup from the top conference in college football, the Philadelphia Daily News reported Tuesday.

Citing multiple sources with knowledge of the situation, the Philadelphia Daily News reports that tight end Colin Thompson has transferred into the Owls football program. Officials from neither Temple nor Florida, where Thompson spent the past two seasons, have confirmed the player’s addition to/departure from their respective rosters.

No reason was given for the departure, although a search for playing time would be a good place to start.

It was reported last month that Thompson would be looking to transfer to a school closer to his home in Warminster, Penn. Thompson visited Penn State before apparently opting for Temple, while Stanford, UCF and Villanova all expressed some level of interest in his services.

A four-star member of the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class, Thompson was rated as the No. 6 tight end in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania. He played in three games, all last seasons, during his time in Gainesville, and didn’t catch a pass in his brief UF career.

A foot injury during summer camp of his true freshman season derailed the immediate impact Thompson was expected to make.

(Photo credit: Florida athletics)

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Ex-Illini O-lineman, current D-II player passes away

Shawn Afryl

The Illinois football family has suffered a heartbreaking loss, the school announced Tuesday.

In a press release, the Illini confirmed that former offensive lineman Shawn Afryl passed away Monday.  The cause of death was not revealed, although media accounts state that the player collapsed during a workout and died a short time later after being rushed to a hospital.

Afryl was just 22 years of age.

“All of us in the Fighting Illini football family are greatly saddened by Shawn’s passing last night,” Illinois head coach Tim Beckman said in a statement. “He was a great teammate and a dedicated student. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family.”

Afryl took a redshirt his true freshman season in 2010, didn’t play in 2011 and saw action in one game in 2012. He graduated from Illinois in November of 2013, then, the school stated, enrolled at Winona State University (MN) for fall of 2014, where he planned on using his final season of eligibility.

Afryl was working out at Winona in preperation for the upcoming season when he collapsed

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those affected by Afryl’s way-too-soon death.

(Photo credit: Illinois athletics)

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Pat Fitzgerald launches verbal bombs at Cal’s Dykes, state of Nebraska

NCAA Football: Northwestern at California AP

As Steve Spurrier stated earlier today, and amidst his astronomy dissertationit’s the talkin’ season.

The latest to do some talkin’ is an unexpected source: Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald.  At a charity golf outing Tuesday, the Wildcats head coach not only took a shot at the coach of his team’s season-opening opponent but managed to offend an entire state for good measure.

In the season opener last August at Cal, the Wildcats (somewhat) easily dispatched the Golden Bears to the tune of 44-30.  Following the game, Cal head coach Sonny Dykes infamously confronted Fitzgerald during the traditional postgame handshake as the former felt the latter’s team feigned injuries in an attempt to slow down Cal’s offense.

That confrontation left Fitzgerald in a feisty, predicting mood nearly a year later.

“The way it went last year,” Fitzgerald said according to the Chicago Tribune, “I look forward to shaking that coach’s hand after we beat ‘em.”

OBC Lite, though, wasn’t done.

Nebraska will visit Evanston this year for a conference matchup Oct. 18. For whatever reason, Fitzgerald decided to take a shot at the entire state — while also acknowledging the likelihood of a significant ‘Husker Nation presence on his home turf this fall.

“It’s a pretty boring state, so they’re really excited to see Chicago,” Fitzgerald said. “I talked to the state senator about putting state troopers out on I-80 (to block them).”

OK then.

And stock up on some popcorn.  Just in case.

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Tide now Bovada’s co-favorites with FSU as title favorites

Nick Saban AP

Back in January, reigning BCS champion Florida State was the favorite to claim the first-ever championship in the College Football Playoff era.

Six months later, and a handful of weeks before the start of the 2014 season, the Seminoles have some company at the top.

According to Bovada.lv, FSU remains at the same 11/2 odds to win the 2014 FBS championship as they were earlier this year.  Joining them at 11/2, however, is Alabama.  In the moist recent set of odds, the Tide came in at 13/2.

In odds released a couple of weeks ago, the Tide stood at 6/1 while the ‘Noles were, again, at 11/2.

The team that’s made the biggest jump over the last seven months is Ole Miss, with the Rebels moving from 66/1 to 40/1.  Others trending upward are Oregon (7/1, from 12/1), Oklahoma (20/1, from 9/1), Auburn (10/1, from 14/1), UCLA (14/1, from 25/1), Georgia (18/1, from 25/1)LSU (20/1), from 25/1), USC (25/1, from 33/1) and Wisconsin (33/1, from 40/1).

On the flip side, Bovada has lost all kinds of respect for Stanford as the Cardinal has tumbled from 9/1 in January to 33/1 in July.  Clemson and Texas A&M have also taken precipitous drops, with both going from 25/1 to 66/1.  Ohio State (12/1, from 10/1), Michigan State (25/1, from 20/1), Baylor (28/1, from 25/1) and Florida and South Carolina (33/1, from 25/1) are among the others who have lost wagering ground to the field.

Below are the complete set of championship odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

(Writer’s note: teams in red have longer odds, teams in blue have shorter odds, and teams in black stayed the same.)

2014 Title Odds

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Strong officially anoints David Ash as UT’s starting QB

David Ash AP

Monday saw the expected in David Ash being medically cleared to fully participate from the beginning in Texas’ summer camp that begins early next month.  A day later, yet another expected development became official.

UT head coach Charlie Strong announced during the Big 12 Media Days Tuesday that, yes, Ash is the Longhorns’ starting quarterback.  Strong stated that Ash is his starter entering camp, so that would technically leave the door cracked for either sophomore Tyrone Swoopes or incoming freshman Jerrod Heard to make a push for the job.

Barring an injury, however, that’s not expected.

Speaking of injury, though, it would behoove Strong and his offensive coaching staff to ensure that Swoopes and/or Harris are prepared given what’s transpired over the past 10 months or so.

Ash missed most of last year due to a concussion suffered early on in the season.  After incurring the original injury Sept. 7, Ash returned two weeks later only to see the concussion symptoms recur and sideline him yet again.  In late November, Ash was officially shut down for what little was left of the season.  In mid-January, he was cleared by the UT medical staff to resume football activities.

In mid-April this year, Ash broke a bone in his left foot and missed the remainder of spring practice.

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June Jones issues statement clarifying spring games for ‘have-nots’

June Jones

Last week, June Jones stepped into it by laughably suggesting that the non-Power Five conferences — his AAC, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt — should move their games from the fall to spring in an effort to think outside the box and not get “left behind.”

A couple of days later, three of the commissioners from those conferences completely distanced themselves from the SMU head coach’s idea. A couple of days after said distancing, Jones has issued a statement clarifying the comments made during a radio interview and ensuring that people know it was his personal opinion and not that of his employer or his employer’s conference.

Here is Jones’ statement, in its entirety:

“My recent comments about the non-’Group of Five’ conferences possibly moving their football seasons to the spring were my own, and not those of SMU or the American Athletic Conference. Not being in one of these leagues creates unique challenges, and requires us to think out of the box. My comments were an example of this, and, I hope, triggered others to do so as well.

“Our conference experienced a great deal of national success in its first season. Two teams were ranked in the top 15 of the final AP poll and five were selected for bowl games. At SMU, we strive for that same level of success and will compete for American Athletic Conference Championships. We want to compete with and beat teams from the “Group of Five.”

So, there’s that.

And, hopefully, this’ll be the last time we ever have to discuss the USFL-ish notion of college football being played in the spring instead of the fall where it belongs.

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Penn State slapped with million-dollar suit filed by Jay Paterno

Penn State v Wisconsin Getty Images

The seemingly never-ending Paterno vs. Penn State battle royale is, well, never going to end.

The latest salvo in the ongoing feud between the two parties was fired by Jay Paterno, the son of the late Hall of Fame Nittany Lions head coach.  Joe Paterno was fired in November of 2011 by Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child-sex scandal, with his son facing a similar fate two months later.

In confirming his departure in January of 2012, Paterno said in a statement that he and his father’s replacement, Bill O’Brien, “reached the conclusion” that he would not be a part of the new coaching staff. The younger expressed no bitterness in his farewell statement, but, more than two years later, he has expressed it by filing a lawsuit against Penn State.

The suit was filed in a Philadelphia federal court and seeks $1 million in damages from the university. Former PSU assistant Bill Kenney is also a plaintiff the suit.

The suit claims in part that “Penn State destroyed any realistic prospect Plaintiffs had to obtain other comparable positions for which they were qualified and would have otherwise been competitive, either at the collegiate or professional level, or with positions with national media companies.”  In connection to that claim, the suit claims that, after his departure from Penn State, Paterno applied for head-coaching jobs at Boston College, Colorado, UConn and James Madison; Paterno, it’s claimed, didn’t receive an interview from any of those four schools.

You can view the entire lawsuit by clicking HERE.

In a statement, Penn State responded to the lawsuit thusly:

“It is common practice for incoming head coaches to select their own coaching staff. Penn State will have no further comment on this matter.”

Neither Paterno nor Kenney have been hired as assistant coaches since they “parted ways” with Penn State 30 months ago. Paterno looked into running for lieutenant governor of the state of Pennsylvania but opted out of that political pursuit.

In February of this year, the Paterno family added Penn State as a defendant in its lawsuit against the NCAA.

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GaTech dismisses three, suspends another for two games

Lynn Griffin

Just a couple of weeks ahead of the start of summer camp, Paul Johnson has whipped out his ban hammer and slammed it into his Georgia Tech roster.

In a release, Tech announced that three players have been dismissed from the football program: redshirt sophomore wide receiver Anthony Autry, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Darius Commissiong and redshirt sophomore defensive end Travin Henry . The dismissals were due to what the school described as violations of the Athletic Association’s student-athlete code of conduct.

Additionally, defensive back Lynn Griffin (pictured) was suspended for the first two games of the 2014 for the same reason. The redshirt sophomore will miss a home game against Wofford and a road trip to face Tulane.

The loss of Griffin will actually have the biggest impact as he played in 12 games last season. In addition to nine tackles during backup secondary duty, Griffin also returned eight kicks for 212 yards.

The other three saw little or no action during their time with the Yellow Jackets.

Autry caught three passes for 117 yards (yes, that’s nearly 40 yards per reception) before missing all of 2013 due to injury. Neither Commissiong nor Henry, who was moved from receiver to the defensive line this spring, played a down for Tech.

(Photo credit: Georgia Tech athletics)

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Saban takes issue with Bowlsby’s ‘cheating pays’ claim

Nick Saban AP

In opening the Big 12 Media Days Monday, commissioner Bob Bowlsby created a bit of a firestorm when, in the midst of a diatribe against the current enforcement practices in the NCAA, stated “cheating pays” and “[r]ight now, if you wanna cheat you can do it and get away with it and that needs to change.”

Tuesday afternoon, the highest-paid coach in college football took exception to the broad strokes painted by one of the most respected commissioners in the sport.

In a sit-down interview with ESPN radio “personality” Colin Cowherd, Nick Saban questioned Bowlsby’s take on the current climate of enforcement while espousing how the commissioner of his conference has stressed compliance throughout his time in the league. In fact, in Saban’s mind, social media has forced all of college football to keep their collective hands clean on the recruiting front.

Here are some of Saban’s comments on the situation, as transcribed by al.com:

“I don’t see that. I don’t know where people get those opinions. Like I think the compliance in our league is actually better than it’s ever been. I think Mike Slive, that was one of his babies when he came in, he was going to make sure that we had a clean league and people did it the right things. When you don’t walk the walk in our league, you’re going to get called down by our conference offices as much as the NCAA.”

“But I don’t see players getting bought. I don’t see players getting extra benefits any place. I think recruiting is so transparent now, I think most people are scared to death that they would get caught publicly — not by the NCAA, not by the conference office.

“But even if you have illegal contact with a player, he tweets that you talked to him. So that’s a violation. I mean, it’s so transparent, you almost have to do things correctly because I don’t think anybody needs to catch you. I think the public would catch you.”

Saban also seemed to take a bit of a shot at Bowlsby’s “cheating” crutch, saying that “[y]ou’re always looking for a reason and one of the easiest excuses is to say the other guy did something illegal… which I don’t buy into that.”

The coach did allow though, that “[a]gents are a problem.” That is an understandable stance on Saban’s part.

Over the past couple of years, various Tide players, including D.J. Fluker, Marcell Dareus and HaHa Clinton-Dix, have been accused of and/or suspended for having illicit dealings with agents or their middlemen.

The NCAA’s Enforcement Committee hasn’t met in over a year according to Bowlsby, which seems to be an indicator to the commish that the game of college football has become akin to the Wild West. According to Saban, though, there’s too much at stake for coaches and their staff to go rogue.

“The No. 1 thing that blows up my future and any coaches’ future is if you violate NCAA rules,” Saban said. “That’s a big risk to be taking over winning a football game when you’re talking about your family, your future and your career and all the hard work you’ve done professionally to get where you are.”

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Duke walk-on, son of John Mellencamp arrested again

Hud Mellencamp

One of those crazy rock-and-roll kids is at it again.

According to Laura Keeley of the Raleigh News & Observer, Duke defensive back Hud Mellencamp was arrested earlier this month and charged with illegal consumption of an alcoholic beverage.  The 20-year-old Mellencamp, who is the son of music legend John Mellencamp, is a walk-on entering his third year with the Blue Devils.

The school has yet to comment on what if any impact Mellencamp’s second run-in with the law the past two years will have on his status as a member of the team.

Last summer, Mellencamp and two other individuals, including his brother Speck and an Indiana football player, were charged with felony battery.  That case is still ongoing, although Mellencamp has remained with the team throughout.

(Photo credit: Duke athletics)

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Devonte Fields ‘separated’ from TCU pending investigation results

TCU v Baylor Getty Images

A very disturbing incident has, at least temporarily, cost TCU one of the top defensive players in the Big 12.

In a statement, TCU announced that “Devonte Fields has been separated from the University pending results of an investigation into the allegations against him.” The defensive end is under investigation by the Fort Worth Police Department for a domestic incident involving his ex-girlfriend.

According to reports, Fields’ ex accused him of pointing a gun at her; threatening to “blast” her while pointing the gun at her; and punching her with a closed fist.

Fields has yet to be charged in connection to the disturbance early Sunday morning. Should he be charged, especially if felonies are involved, the separation would likely and very quickly morph into a dismissal.

Earlier this month, Fields was named as the Big 12′s preseason Defensive Player of the Year. In 2012 he was the conference’s Freshman of the Year. His 2013 season was marred by a two-game suspension and, ultimately, a foot injury that limited him to three games.

In late January of this year, Fields claimed he was attacked, beaten and robbed three male suspects, one of whom fired five shots from a handgun into the air.  For whatever reason, Fields declined to press charges despite contacting police.

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Vols, WVU to open 2018 season in Charlotte

West Virginia v Oklahoma Getty Images

Once again, thank you College Football Playoff.

The latest college football programs to up their future scheduling games are Tennessee and West Virginia, with the schools that the Volunteers and Mountaineers will open the 2018 season against one another. The twist is it will be a neutral-site game, with the the two teams squaring off at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.

That stadium, the home of the ACC championship game as well as the Belk Bowl, will also play host to the North Carolina-South Carolina game in 2015.

“The game in Charlotte presents a tremendous opportunity for our football program to play against a quality opponent in West Virginia in a first-class NFL venue,” UT head coach Butch Jones said in a statement. “The Charlotte area is in close proximity to many of our fans, and the state of North Carolina is a key component in our recruiting efforts. We very much look forward to such a unique opportunity for our student-athletes and our program.”

The 2018 game, which will be played Sept. 1, will mark the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.  The Vols haven’t played a team from the Big 12 in the regular season — they faced Texas A&M in the 2004 Cotton Bowl — since opening 1997 against Texas Tech, while the Mountaineers’ last regular-season meeting with a member of the SEC came in 2010 versus LSU.

WVU will open the 2014 season at the home of the Atlanta Falcons against Alabama, while UT will play UAB on the Tennessee Titans’s home turf in 2015 and at Bristol Motor Speedway against Virginia Tech the following season.

“Our players enjoy playing in NFL Stadiums and this a great matchup for our program,” said WVU head coach Dana Holgorsen, who may or may not still hold that title four years down the road. “We recruit the state of North Carolina and Charlotte is a strong football area. Our fans have always supported us strongly in previous games in Charlotte and I think this is a matchup that they will really enjoy.”

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Report: TCU DE Devonte Fields pointed gun at ex-girlfriend, threatend to ‘blast you’

Devonte Fields, Wes Lunt

Star TCU defensive end Devonte Fields is being investigated by police for allegedly pointing a gun at his ex-girlfriend and threatening to shoot her, according to a report by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Fields allegedly punched his ex-girlfriend with a closed fist in the incident as well.

From the Star-Telegram:

There, 20-year-old Haley Brown told officers that Fields had apparently been standing outside the bedroom window listening to her talk to a mutual male friend. Brown told police Fields then punched out the window of their friend’s bedroom from the outside and began yelling at her.

“Haley stated that she thought Devonte was holding a gun in one of his hands and stated that he pointed it at her,” the report states.

“I should blast you!” he yelled at Haley, according to the report.

There are more details of the alleged incident in the Star-Telegram article, but if these accusations are true, Fields is in a world of trouble — and coach Gary Patterson would have justification to kick him off the team. No charges have been filed an arrest has yet to be made as the investigation remains ongoing.

Fields was tabbed as the Big 12 preseason defensive player of the year, though Patterson said Monday he was surprised at that and, as the Dallas Morning News’ Chuck Carlton put it:

Fields only played in three games last year and underwent foot surgery in October, but was the Big 12′s Freshman Defensive Player of the Year in 2012.

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