Weekend Preview: Noles look to continue roll, B1G match-up

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Oh, you think this is a down weekend for college football? Well, yeah, you may be right, but this week marks the first weekend of November and that means things are starting to heat up in the conference championship hunts. There is a reason November is the best month for college football. Trust me on this, once we get through this weekend thing will pick up in a hurry with next week. But before you write off this week, keep in mind that crazy things can happen when you least expect them too. Could we be lining up for a crazy weekend in college football nobody saw coming?

Getting back to the glory days: Florida State-Miami getting there

No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0 ACC) and No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0 ACC) used to be something special in college football. It was appointment viewing in its heyday, and it may be getting to that point once again with both programs seeming to trend upward. The problem this week though is even though both are starring in the ACC’s second national spotlight of the season, only one seems to fit the part at this time. Florida State is there, and Miami is getting there. Al Golden‘s Hurricanes just aren’t quite there yet.

Florida State has shredded ACC opponents the last few weeks, including that blowout at Clemson two weeks ago. Miami is a top ten team, but they have struggled to climb the rankings while taking advantage of others stumbling along the way. Florida State is a huge favorite in this match-up of top ten teams, and if the Seminoles play the way they have been playing they will have an easy time creating a cushion against the Hurricanes as well.

A win will keep Florida State in the top three, and maybe even help boost them past Oregon, but this game may serve as a preview of this year’s ACC Championship Game as well. For Miami, take notes this weekend because a second game against Jameis Winston could be looming.

What about Alabama and Oregon?

No. 1 Alabama (8-0, 5-0 SEC) and No. 11 LSU (7-2, 3-2 SEC) play each other next weekend, and they each get a week off to prepare for the usually physically demanding SEC West battle. The game will once again have a huge influence on what happens in the SEC West race to Atlanta, but Alabama is also hoping to get back to Pasadena to play for another BCS championship. This weekend will also be without No. 2 Oregon (8-0 5-0 Pac 12) and No. No. 6 Stanford (7-1, 5-1). The two Pac 12 North powers collide next Thursday night, and they are getting a bye week to prep for the game as well. Both the Cardinal and Ducks are battling for control in the Pac 12 North, which will likely lead to home field advantage in the Pac 12 championship game at the end of the regular season. The winner will also remain in the BCS Championship hunt as well. Oregon enters this weekend ranked second in the BCS standings, but Stanford is the highest ranked one-loss team, which puts them in prime position if some other teams take a fall in November.

Who’s the real B1G brother?

No. 23 Michigan (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten) defeated No. 24 Michigan State (7-1, 4-1 Big Ten) last season but the Spartans have won four of the past five meetings and look to add one more this weekend. Michigan State owns the best defense in the Big Ten and Michigan has struggled on the road this season (UConn, Penn State), so it would appear Michigan State has the edge this weekend in East Lansing. The game actually is one of the more important ones in the Big Ten this month, with the winner will take control in the Big Ten Legends Division with the schedule winding down. The Spartans are 4-0 in Big Ten play with two road games coming up the next two weeks at Nebraska and Northwestern. If the Spartans have figured out their offense, which it seems they have the last few weeks, then Michigan could be in for a rough time against their “little brother.”

Baylor will not score this weekend

The only thing that may be able to prevent No. 5 Baylor’s (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) offense is the schedule. Baylor’s high-powered offense will get a chance to recharge their batteries this week as they get a bye. Baylor will return to action next Thursday when they host No. 13 Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) in a huge Big 12 match-up. While Baylor may be off, there should still be some fireworks in the conference this weekend. No. 15 Texas Tech (7-1, 4-1 Big 12) and No. 18 Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) will meet in Lubbock in a top 20 match-up and each should have some offense to unleash in a wild shootout. This will be a good test for Texas Tech, who looks to bounce back after being defeated by Oklahoma last week. Each team has one loss in Big 12 play and trails Baylor by one game in the loss column. Needless to say, whichever team wins will remain in the Big 12 conversation with games against Baylor still to come on each team’s schedule.

Mismatch of the Week

No. 21 Northern Illinois (8-0, 4-0 MAC) remain undefeated with an 8-0 record and the Huskies are beginning to sniff around for a second straight BCS berth. This weekend Jordan Lynch and Northern Illinois are on the road against one of the worst teams in the FBS, UMass (1-7, 1-3 MAC). The Minutemen are just 1-7 this season with their lone win coming against a Miami Ohio team still searching for their first win of the season. Northern Illinois should have an easy time keeping their BCS dreams alive and could rack up some style points in a hurry.

Show Me Something

No. 17 UCLA (5-2, 2-2 Pac 12) hung tight with Oregon for three quarters last week, a week after getting shut down by Stanford. The Bruins may still be a pretty good team but it has become clear they are not quite up to par with the top of the Pac 12 just yet. This week UCLA returns home to take on woeful Colorado (3-4, 0-4 Pac 12). Expect the Bruins to bounce back in a big way. Right now, No. 25 Arizona State (6-2, 4-1 Pac 12) looks like the team to beat in the Pac 12 North, but UCLA is right there. Circle the date now, UCLA hosts Arizona State on November 23.

The Streaks Continue

No. 4 Ohio State’s (8-0, 4-0 Big Ten) winning streak extended to 20 games with last weekend’s 63-14 blowout of Penn State. As has been noted a few times by now, a 25-0 mark under Urban Meer will get Ohio State to Pasadena, but we just don’t know if it will be for the Rose Bowl or the BCS Championship. Ohio State’s winning streak is the nation’s longest active winning streak.

On the flip side, Southern Mississippi’s (0-7, 0-3 Conference USA)losing streak has hit a dismal 19 straight games. Southern Miss plays their next two game son the road, including this weekend’s trip to Marshall (4-3, 2-1). The best chance to snap the losing streak may not come until a few more weeks when Southern Miss hosts Florida Atlantic.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.

Toledo, Jason Candle reach agreement on contract extension

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After just one year on the job, Jason Candle has earned himself some additional job security — or a bigger golden parachute should he be canned.

Toledo announced Wednesday that the university and its head football coach have reached an agreement on a contract extension.  Candle is now signed through 2021, meaning he received a one-year extension of his original five-year deal agreed to in December of 2015.

There was no word on what if any financial bump was included in the reworked contract.  Candle’s $675,000 salary in 2016 was second to Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck ($820,000) in the MAC.  With Fleck now at Minnesota, Candle is likely the highest-paid coach in the conference.

“Jason has played a very important part of the success of our football program over the last eight years, first as an assistant coach and now as head coach,” said athletic director Mike O’Brien in a statement. “He is a tremendous leader and teacher of young men, and has a great desire to elevate our football program to even greater heights. We look forward to his leadership for many years to come.”

Candle spent seven seasons as a Toledo assistant, the last four as offensive coordinator, before taking over the program after Matt Campbell left for the Iowa State job.  In his first year as head coach, Candle guided the Rockets to a 9-4 record.

“I’m very appreciative of the support and confidence that President Gaber and Mike O’Brien have in me and my staff,” said Candle. “Our program is built on a strong foundation of success, and we are focused on bringing a Mid-American Conference Championship to this great University.”

WKU RB Leon Allen medically cleared to return to practice

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Leon Allen‘s return from a devastating injury has taken a major step forward.

In September of 2015, Allen, one of the top running backs in Conference USA, sustained a significant and serious knee injury in Western Kentucky’s Week 2 win over Louisiana Tech.  While he received a medical hardship waiver in March of last year, he hadn’t played in a game or even fully participated in practice since the injury.

Tuesday, that all changed as the football program confirmed that Allen has been medically cleared to participate in practice.  The Hilltoppers will kick off spring practice Thursday afternoon, with the back adding the next chapter to his comeback.

“There are a lot of Western Kentucky fans that have been around the program multiple years who haven’t seen an athlete do some of the things he’s done on the field,” head coach Mike Sanford said according to the Bowling Green Daily News. “To me it’s disappointing to think there’s even a thought of him not having a chance to return to that football field.

“So the football side of it to me is extremely important to … end what he started well.”

Allen was far and away the Hilltoppers’ leading rusher in 2014, totaling 1,542 yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground. Those totals were good for third in Conference USA and 18th nationally.

The multi-purpose back was also a threat out of the backfield, with his 51 receptions that season finishing up fourth on the team.