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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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Study says football players need more time between seasons to recover from head impacts

Penn State football spring practice number 11

Football players need more than six months of no-contact to properly recover from various forms of head trauma, a study by PLOS-ONE recently determined. At a time when we are learning more and more about the long-lasting effects of head trauma in football, could this one day change the approach at the college level when it comes to spring practices?

The Verge describes the procedure for conducting the study on head trauma and football players, which determine six out of 10 players showed signs of needing more time to recover from head trauma;

To study the effect of non-concussive, repetitive head impacts, researchers put accelerometers in the helmets of 10 University of Rochester football players. The scientists used these sensors to monitor the quantity and severity of the blows that the players suffered over the course of the 2011 season. They found that each player received between 431 and 1,850 impacts to the head during the regular season. And although none of these blows resulted in a concussion, they still caused mild brain injury. Moreover, six out of the 10 players continued to exhibit these signs at the end of a six month-long resting period.

Spring football games have gone into retirement at some schools, in part because of the fear of injuries and because of the added value placed on one more practice session. This study may not lead to the removal of spring football just yet, but it could help open the door for a conversation about potentially pushing spring practices back or to restructure how some are organized. The NCAA and schools tend to take head injury precautions seriously and there are already rules in place to reduce the risks associated with contact drills, but this study may be used as a reason for future changes to spring football.

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Mark Dantonio wants more than 300 spartan fans at spring game

Mark Dantonio

Michigan State is coming off one of the most successful football seasons in quite some time, and head coach Mark Dantonio wants to see that enthusiasm continue with the upcoming spring game. Danotnio has said before he wants to see a big crowd for the Spartans’ spring game next week, and he has high hopes for a big turnout.

“I want to see 50,000 at the Green and White game,” Dantonio said according to MLive.com. “I think that’s where this program needs to go.”

Of course, weather can always be an issue. Michigan State athletics director Mark Hollis is hoping for a good turnout as well, but as with most spring games the weather can always be a concern.

“I know the enthusiasm’s there, I think that was reflected out in Pasadena,” Hollis said. “But if it’s pouring rain, I don’t think we’ll have 50,000, but we might. If it’s sunny, I think we have the potential to exceed a number like that.”

Getting 50,000 fans would be a very respectable crowd, and would more than double the crowd that turned out for last year’s spring game in East Lansing and the Michigan spring game earlier this month. If Dantonio gets the crowd he desires, Michigan State would have one of the larger spring crowds this season and would very likely finish the spring with at least the fourth largest spring crowd in the Big Ten.

Penn State currently leads the nation in spring game attendance with an estimated 72,000 last weekend. Nebraska recorded a crowd of 61,772 and Ohio State was just behind the Huskers with 61,058. The only other school to record at least 50,000 for the spring game has been Tennessee (68,500). That is expected to change once Alabama and Auburn hold their spring games this weekend. Both SEC West schools tend to draw very well for the spring game.

This is a relatively up-to-date record of spring game attendance this year. Some schools have not provided spring attendance numbers so there are some missing figures, but it is mostly accurate.

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Alabama 2014 defense fueled by dismal Sugar Bowl performance

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Oklahoma v Alabama

Don’t make Alabama angry. You might not like them when they are angry.

To say Alabama’s end of the 2013 did not go well is a bit of an understatement. After one of the biggest surprises in college football history knocked Alabama out of the SEC Championship Game and BCS Championship Game picture, the Crimson Tide we left for dust by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl. Alabama allowed 35 points to be scored off of five turnovers in the game, and that defensive performance has not been sitting well since January.

“It wasn’t the way we play,” linebacker Trey DePriest said to ESPN.com. “We don’t get that many points put up on us. That’s way more than what our goal is — 13 points or less. It didn’t seem like us. We were ready, we just didn’t go out and leave it on the field like it was our last game. It’s definitely been a driving force.”

The holes in Alabama’s defense were visible long before the Sugar Bowl though. Texas A&M racked up big yards and plenty of points against the two-time defending BCS champions last September in College Station as Johnny Manziel once again went wild on Alabama (although he did have a couple of turnovers as well). Alabama’s defense was able to get through most of the season on their overall talent alone last fall, but the holes were there all along. Oklahoma capitalized on it, giving Nick Saban and his program plenty to work on and fix this offseason.

Have opposing offenses found  formula that can overcome Alabama, or will the Tide rise again as they make adjustments to slow down quick-tempo offenses designed to wear down physical defenses?

Alabama will very likely be one of the top teams in the country next fall, and fine tuning on defense will be key.

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Kansas names starting QB with plenty of room to improve

Montell Cozart

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis has named his starting quarterback for the Jayhawks in 2014. That task will belong to sophomore Montell Cozart, who will look to turn around the production at the quarterback position.

Cozart is coming off an admirable spring game performance, completing six of 10 pass attempts for 58 yards, and rushing for 70 more yards and a pair of touchdowns while leading his spring team to victory. He beat out Jake Heaps and T.J. Millweard for the job. Cozart may have been the most likely starter for 2014 because he replaced Heaps under center last season.

How high is the bar of success for Kansas? Each of the past two seasons have ended with the top two quarterbacks on the roster completing fewer than 50 percent of their passes and combining for 25 interceptions to just 15 touchdowns. It may be safe to say the bar is quite low, or perhaps there is plenty of room for improvement.

Weis initially wanted to keep the quarterback competition open leading up closer to the fall, but it seems he has seen enough. This could come in handy, as now Weis and his offensive assistants can start planning to build an offense Cozart will be best suited to lead, which should give players more time to be ready for whatever the coaches put together.

Hey, why not take an optimistic spin where you can?

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Do you have any quarterbacks? Texas Tech says “Go fish!”

Texas Tech v Oklahoma

Texas Tech is down to just one quarterback on the roster as the spring comes to a close. Davis Webb was named the starting quarterback for the Red Raiders last week, but who will be there to back him up? The Dallas Morning News reports walk-on quarterbacks Tanner Tausch and Mike Richardson are both leaving the program, leaving Webb as the only quarterback left on the roster heading into the summer.

Tausch is not leaving Texas Tech, but he is leaving the football team to focus on academics. Richardson is looking for a chance to compete for more playing time that is not likely to be available at Texas Tech. In all, Texas Tech has lost five quarterbacks over the past six months. Fortuneately for Texas Tech, the future is still bright under center.

Texas Tech will be adding a quarterback through the most recent recruiting class with Patrick Mahomes, a three-star prospect according to Rivals.com, and a handful of walk-ons are expected to join the team in the coming months as well, including the son of former Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde, Vincent Testaverde. The Class of 2015 already has one of the top quarterback prospects in the nation lined up as well with four-star recruit Jarrett Stidham already committed.

All head coach Kliff Kingsbury needs to do is get through the 2014 season without any quarterback injuries before he can really get to work with the future leader of his offense.

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Breaking Bad: Brady Hoke likes Michigan’s chemistry

Brady Hoke

Michigan has not been bad since Brady Hoke took over as head coach, but the Wolverines have been traveling on a downward trend as far as wins are concerned. Will the 2014 season see things turn around in Ann Arbor? Hoke seems to like his chances, suggesting the chemistry cooking this spring was something he has not seen in years.

“This team has a chemistry that I think we haven’t had in a while,” Hoke said Wednesday during an interview on SiriusXM Radio, according to MLive.com. “When you look at the different groups and the leadership, we have really a team that’s back-loaded on the freshman and sophomore class. But we’ve got some really good guys in that senior class. Jake Ryan and Frank Clark. Devin Gardner. Desmond Morgan. We’ve got some really good leadership there.”

This is a pretty important year for Hoke. As MLive.com makes note of and as I have said before, this is finally Hoke’s team. Every player who signed with Michigan did so knowing Hoke would be the head coach of the Wolverines. Now it is time to show Hoke can develop that talent — Michigan has signed top three classes in the Big Ten according to Rivals.com in three of the last four years — he has brought in and make Michigan a contender in the Big Ten. Up until now he has fallen short of the high bar he set in his debut season when he took what was left from the Rich Rodriguez all the way to a Sugar Bowl victory. Since then, the Wolverines have stumbled to a mediocre 7-6 season capped with a loss in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

“We’re better mentally, and that’s a big part of it,” Hoke said earlier this week, according to MLive.com. “We’re not exactly where we want to be yet, but I like the way our team has reacted (to last season) and how we’ve gone about our business.”

If Hoke is right, Michigan could be in the winning business. It’s basic chemistry, yo.

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Northwestern alums say players being pushed to vote against union

Kain Colter

A meeting of former Northwestern football players Wednesday night brought attention to concerns that current players were being pressured to vote no on an upcoming vote to determine if Northwestern football players will form a union. Some Northwestern alums suggested current players on the football team have been receiving phone calls from alumni pushing them to vote no on the union next week.

The biggest problem right now is a state of confusion over the impact of players at Northwestern forming a union could potentially mean. The NCAA and the university will lead you to think it could be the beginning of the dismantling of many other sports at the division one level, but that could just be an extreme worst-case scenario. The biggest push right now by this players union movement is to have a seat at the table with Northwestern leaders and have their voices heard.

“We want the facts to be the facts,” said Kevin Brown, a former Northwestern football player from the 1980s. Brown did not take stance for or against the union vote, at least not in front of the media attending the meeting Wednesday night, but his message seemed pretty clear. Get out as much information as possible so the players can make an informed decision when they cast their ballot.

Some alumni believe the players should voice their concerns directly to the head coach, Pat Fitzgerald.

“They could have taken these issues straight to Coach Fitz and Northwestern,” former Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa said. “It’s frustrating to see your coach and your school come under fire like this.”

Fitzgerald has been on record speaking against the union idea and he has said he wants his players to think long and hard before voting on unionization. If it were up to Fitzgerald, Northwestern players would vote no. There is no indication Fitzgerald is applying pressure on players to vote no, but he will not shy away from voicing his concerns for the best interest of his players.

“We want to make sure that they have all the information, so that’s a process we’re starting to work through right now,” Fitzgerald said earlier this month. “I’m honored to have that opportunity with our guys and we’ll work through it day by day.”

A regional office of the National Labor Relations Board empowered players to hold such a vote, recognizing the football players as employees of Northwestern University. The players are set to vote on forming a union next week, although there are mixed emotions when it comes to whether or not it is a good idea. Now former quarterback Kain Colter has become the face of the union movement at Northwestern but earlier this month it was his replacement under center, Trevor Siemian who voiced his concerns about the formation of a union. Northwestern is prepared to contest the ruling all the way up to the Supreme Court if necessary, which has been expected from the start.

When it comes time to vote on forming a union, will there be enough votes to take the next step?

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Report: Sooners’ leading tackler facing sexual assault accusations

.J. Yeldon, Frank Shannon AP

While no charges have been filed as of yet, an Oklahoma football player is the target of some very serious accusations, the Daily Oklahoman is reporting.

According to the paper, linebacker Frank Shannon has been accused of sexually assaulting a female student at his off-campus apartment Jan. 20.  The accusation comes in the form of a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation report obtained from the university.

From the paper, relating to that report:

…the woman alleges that after a party, she intended to walk home. Shannon offered her a ride, but said he first needed to drop off friends near his apartment.

Shannon allegedly took the woman into his bedroom. According to the complaint, he came up behind her, pulled down her pants and attempted to have sex with her.

The complainant said Shannon became frustrated when she wouldn’t cooperate.

Shannon allegedly asked if she was menstruating, and when she said yes, he went to the bathroom. At that time, she left and met a friend in the parking lot, whom the woman had texted to come get her. The friend called the police.

For those unaware, Title IX is a Federal civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities. Under Title IX, the U.S. Department of Education website states, “discrimination on the basis of sex can include sexual harassment or sexual violence, such as rape, sexual assault, sexual battery, and sexual coercion.” All incidents of alleged sexual misconduct involving students must be reported when the university becomes aware of such an allegation.

The Norman Police Department is currently investigating the accusations, but, again, no charges have been filed. It should be noted, however, that the matter is not completely out of the university’s hands as, according to Title IX guidelines, “[a] criminal investigation into allegations of sexual harassment or sexual violence does not relieve the school of its duty under Title IX to resolve complaints promptly and equitably.”

As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Shannon started all 13 games and led the Sooners in tackles with 92. He neither practiced last Thursday nor played in Saturday’s spring game due to what head coach Bob Stoops described as personal reasons.

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Three Texas A&M Aggies were arrested last week

Howard Matthews, Charles Ross

It has been a whole ten days since the last time we wrote about a Texas A&M player being arrested, so let’s do some catching up. Three Texas A&M players – defensive back Howard Matthews, wide receiver Edward Pope and defensive lineman Gavin Stansbury — were arrested last Thursday according to multiple reports citing police records. All three were suspended by the university from team activities, although Stansbury has since returned.

“We are continuing to gather information,” a Texas A&M statement reads. “Gavin Stansbury was initially suspended from all athletic activities, but has since been reinstated to the team. Howard Matthews and Ed Pope were not suspended and are still members of the football team.”

Matthews was arrested and charged for speeding and failure to provide a driver’s licence after being pulled over for an expired registration. Pope and Stansbury were in the car at the time. Matthews and Pope both face a charge for failure to appear, although Pope’s charge stemmed from an earlier failure to comply on an unrelated incident. Warrants for all three players were discovered once the police officer pulling the car over ran the licenses of the players.

Stansbury is facing a misdemeanor charge for assault after being accused of pouring a can of beer on a person and then struck the person with a closed fist at Rice University.

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Is Chad Kelly’s apology to Clemson too little, too late?

South Carolina State v Clemson Getty Images

Former Clemson quarterback Chad Kelly shared his apology to his coaches, teammates and family after being dismissed by the program earlier this week. The nephew of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly said he let his family down.

”I let down not only my coaches, and teammates, but also Clemson University and all of our fans,” Kelly said. ”Most importantly, I’ve let down myself and my family.”

Kelly was booted from the team following an apparent meltdown during the spring game last weekend, but it was a pattern of poor behavior that ultimately cost him his spot on the Clemson roster. Head coach Dabo Swinney stated a pattern of behavior as the reasoning behind the roster cut after it was reported Kelly was arguing with coaches over play calling in the spring game.

”He has had a pattern of behavior that is not consistent with the values of our program,” Swinney said earlier this week. ”I hope he will mature and grow from this and become the man and player I know he can be. I wish him nothing but the best in the future academically and athletically.”

Kelly understands and agrees with that thought as well.

”I let my emotions get the best of me, culminating in this unfortunate situation with coach Swinney and the Clemson Tigers,” Kelly said. ”What’s most important now is that I use this experience to grow as a student, as an athlete and most importantly, as a man.”

The apology may be too little, too late as far as his position with Clemson is concerned. Clemson named Cole Stoudt as the starting quarterback to replace Tajh Boyd this upcoming season soon after the dismissal of Kelly.

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James Madison will pass on Sun Belt and FBS move

Stony Brook James Madison Football

With a number of programs making the move from the FCS to the FBS in recent years, James Madison will hold firm with their place in the Colonial Athletic Association at the FCS level.

“Consistent with these values and principles and the ongoing issue of conference alignment, JMU will not pursue or accept an invitation from a conference that does not meet our criteria,” James Madison president Jonthan Alger said in a statement released on the school’s athletics website this week. “If we do receive an offer consistent with our established values, we are prepared to review it and make a recommendation to the Board of Visitors. This process is ongoing and will require continued support on the part of the university, students, faculty, staff, coaches, alumni, and fans.”

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson told reporters the powerhouse FCS program was under consideration for an invite to join the conference, which will add Appalachian State and Georgia Southern this season.

“We never offered an invitation,“ Benson said, but “[t]hey were under consideration.”

If James Madison was to move up, Conference USA would look to be the most attractive and realistic option for the Dukes. Conference USA has added Old Dominion, another school from Virginia, and is adding Charlotte in football in 2015. There is no indication Conference USA is looking to add any other future members after Charlotte, which makes for a rough spot for James Madison and any FBS plans. As Massachusetts can prove, making the move for the sake of making the move can sometimes backfire on a school. If Conference USA is not coming to James Madison, the best situation for the Dukes may be to sit still, because it is not likely the ACC or SEC will come calling anytime soon.

The Sun Belt has been exploring expansion possibilities for a while now. James Madison may have been removed from the conversation, but that will not stop the conference from looking at all possibilities for future consideration. Liberty appears to be one of the consistent names in the mix to be the next FCS school to make the move up to the FBS ranks, and the Sun Belt Conference would appear to be a good fit with the latest additions to the conference (Appalachian State, Georgia Southern, Georgia State). The Sun Belt will have 12 football members including the additions of Idaho and New Mexico this season, so the football membership is even without any further expansions.

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NCAA approves new roughing the passer penalty for hits below knees

Tennessee v Florida Getty Images

Hitting a quarterback below the knees in passing situations will result in a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer according to a new rule approved by the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel. The new rule will go into effect this fall around the country.

One of the first questions that may come to mind is just what qualifies as a passing situation in a game where passing has become more and more frequent? Will every pass play by considered a passing situation, or just plays that come on third and long or perhaps even second and long? Fortunately the NCAA laid out the basics for when this penalty will come into play.

According to the NCAA, “the rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground.” When in this situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit the quarterback at the knees or below the knees. In addition, a defensive player may not roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee or below. So a defender already on the ground may not roll into the quarterback.

There are exceptions to the rule though. A quarterback who takes off to run, no matter where located on the field, is no longer considered in a passing situation so he would be vulnerable. If a defender is already engaging in wrapping up the quarterback for a tackle, the passing situation is considered over. Any defender blocked into a passer is also in the clear as far as a penalty is concerned, but this means officials will have to keep a close eye on the entire play to determine if a player hitting below the knee was pushed into the passer or if the dive or lunge was initiated by the defender.

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Florida State expresses disappointment in New York Times story

Florida State Spring Game Getty Images

Florida State University issued a statement in response to a story published by the New York Times on Wednesday. The university expressed disappointment in the story that profiles the timeline of the response taken by the university and Tallahassee police in an investigation for an alleged sexual assault committed by quarterback Jameis Winston.

According to the statement released by Florida State, many of the responses provided during the process of writing the story were not included in the final copy that was released. Among the many points made by the university in an outline of issues with the story include is a statement that Florida State does not tolerate sexual assault, state and federal privacy laws restrict what the university can do on certain student matters, and the university must balance the duty to investigate with the general welfare of the alleged victim. By leaving out information Florida State feels were justified to include in telling what it believes to be the full story, the New York Times has done a disservice to its readers and the Florida State community, the statement says.

“Like all other colleges and universities, FSU is faced with a balancing act when following the “Dear Colleague” letter,” the statement by Florida State opens.

“Given the inherent tension within the “Dear Colleague” letter, FSU seeks to empower victims by giving great weight to their wishes when it comes to counseling, academic accommodations and supporting them through criminal or university proceedings,” the statement continues. “In a great number of cases, the victims make it quite clear that they don’t want to file a police report or pursue a Code of Conduct process.”

You can read the full statement released by Florida State as well as the full outline of points the university feels were missing from the New York Times story.

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‘Cuse confirms Terrel Hunt will remain QB starter

Terrel Hunt AP

Not that there was much mystery involved to begin with, but the question marks surrounding the quarterback position at Syracuse have been answered.

As expected, offensive coordinator George McDonald has confirmed to ESPN.com that Terrell Hunt will remain the Orange’s man under center.  While Hunt ended last season in that position, the competition was open once again this spring.

McDonald said Hunt’s growth throughout the spring locked down the job once again for the player.

“He’s had a really good spring,” McDonald said of the incumbent. “He’s doing a lot of things he wasn’t able to do last spring. For him, the game that made him a lot more comfortable was the Minnesota game. He’s really built off that game. He’s playing at a different level this spring.”

Hunt ultimately started the final 10 games of the 2013 season after Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, who started the first three, was benched for poor performance.  In addition to throwing for over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns, Hunt was also second on the team with 500 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground.

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LSU, ‘Cuse officially set future home-and-home

1965 Sugar Bowl

After a month or more of speculation, the long wait for official word on a future series between programs from the ACC and SEC is finally, thankfully over.

Syracuse confirmed via a release Wednesday that it will play a future home-and-home series against LSU.  The Orange will host the Tigers Sept. 26, 2015, in the Carrier Dome, while ‘Cuse gets the “pleasure” of traveling to Death Valley to face the Bayou Bengals Sept. 9, 2017.

“We are thrilled to enter into this home-and-home agreement with a premiere program like LSU. Student-athletes come to Syracuse to play on the biggest stage possible, and this gives our coaches and young men the chance to battle one of the standard-bearers of the SEC on our home turf,” said athletic director Dr. Daryl Gross in a statement. “It is a complicated process to arrange games of this magnitude, and I couldn’t be happier for our fans and for all who will be involved in this upcoming series.”

The two football programs have never met during the regular season, but have squared off twice in the postseason. The first meeting came in the 1965 Sugar Bowl (LSU, 13-10) and the second and last came in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl (Syracuse, 23-10).

And, while I’m here, Syracuse introduced some new uniforms this afternoon as well.  So, instead of wasting any additional space on uniform news, here they are. Enjoy:

Syracuse Unis

(Program photo credit: Allstate Sugar Bowl)

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