Weekend Preview: LSU has what it takes to battle Alabama, BCS busters and more

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The biggest games of the week may have been played Thursday night, but the Saturday line-up  is not all that shabby either.

Alabama vs. LSU

Nobody has been safe in the SEC this season. Everybody has taken a loss except for one team, Alabama. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa the Crimson Tide host LSU. The SEC West match-up may not have quite the same magnitude recent meetings have had, but with the season winding down there is no good time to take a loss now for Alabama. Of course, that hasn’t exactly hurt them before. Could this year turn out to be different? Alabama cannot risk it to find out.

LSU is one of the few teams to have been able to handle the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won five of the last six games in Alabama. Alabama’s only win at home against LSU since 1999 came in a 24-15 victory in 2009. So, does LSU have a chance at knocking of Alabama once more? Why wouldn’t they?

LSU has all of the ingredients they need to pull the upset. the Tigers have one of he top quarterbacks in the SEC (Zach Mettenberger), a power running game led by one of the top rushers in the SEC (Jeremy Hill) and one of the top defenses in the SEC. The problem for LSU is Alabama has all of those things as well.

A loss for Alabama may put a temporary dent on the bus to the SEC Championship, but no matter what happens it appears The Iron Bowl with Auburn is going to be huge.

ACC Championship Chase

Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) is in a good spot in the BCS championship, but still must make sure to finish the year strong in ACC play. Florida State will look to avoid a huge upset Saturday when they travel to Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4 ACC). This should be a game that sees some big numbers put up by the Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston (Marcus Mariota‘s performance Thursday likely results in Winston leading the pack). Letting up at this point in the year is probably not wise for Florida State as there are other undefeated teams on the prowl for a trip to Pasadena. Don’t count on Florida State having a sluggish afternoon.

While Florida State may have the Atlantic Division pretty much wrapped up, the Coastal Division is still up for grabs. Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC), despite losing running back Duke Johnson in the loss to Florida State last week, still sits in a good spot in the division. The Hurricanes host Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2)  Saturday in what may be the biggest hurdle the rest of the way before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game. Stephen Morris will have to be smart with his pass selection because the Hokies have one of the tougher defenses in the ACC. Without Johnson, the Hurricanes will look to Dallas Crawford, who should be more than capable of handling the responsibilities.

BCS Buster Watch

Entering the week Fresno State (8-0, 5-0 MWC) remains in the perfect position for a BCS bowl berth. The Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the BCS rankings and ahead of the top contenders in The American (we’ll get to that conference in a moment). As long as Derek Carr can lead the Bulldogs to a road win at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2 MWC) Fresno State should remain in a good spot with time winding down in the regular season.

Northern Illinois (9-0, 5-0 MAC) dropped a spot in the BCS standings to 18th overall, but the Huskies still remain in striking distance of making a return trip to the BCS stage. As long as Fresno state keeps winning though, it will be tough to see Northern Illinois sneak in one more time.

Chasing The American Dream

The American Athletic Conference championship picture will be a bit more clear after this weekend. The key game to pay attention to will feature Central Florida (6-1, 3-0 AAC) and surprising Houston (7-1, 4-0 AAC). UCF is ranked 21st in the BCS rankings, which is vital to Fresno State and Northern Illinois, but the Knights and Cougars will battle for the pole position for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. If Central Florida wins this weekend, the berth will be their’s to blow having already beaten Louisville this season. A Houston win could open up a bit of a complicated situation in the conference. Houston visits Louisville next week. If Houston wins this weekend and Louisville defeats Houston next week, a three-way tie at the top of the conference would be left to untangle. But let’s worry about that later if we need to. The big key this weekend is whether or not Central Florida wins. A win could make a case to bump the Knights up in the rankings, either closing the gap on Fresno State and NIU or passing them altogether.

The quarterback battle between Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Houston’s John O’Korn should be an entertaining one. Bortles will also be put to the test though, with Houston leading the nation in turnover margin with a +20, highlighted by 17 interceptions.

Arkansas adds TCU signee who signed with New York Yankees

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Austin Aune‘s circuitous sports journey, one which Chris Weinke and Brandon Weeden would approve, has taken its next stop in Fayetteville.

According to 247Sports.com, Aune has joined the Arkansas football program and is enrolled in classes at the university.  At least initially, the quarterback will be a part of the Razorbacks as a walk-on; it’s expected he’ll take the field with the rest of his new teammates when spring practice kicks off month after next.

According to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Aune had also considered TCU and North Texas before the SEC’s mystique proved to be too much.

“The allure of the SEC and the SEC West and Chad [Morris] and Coach [Joe] Craddock, and everybody being on the same page up there as far as the opportunity goes,” the player’s father, Greg Aune, told the Democrat-Gazette. “He likes their system. It’s a fast-paced system, wide-open system. That’s what he played in high school. It’s a pass-oriented offense. He’s a read-run oriented guy, so that’s a lot of what those guys do.”

The fact that Aune considered TCU as a potential landing spot before settling on Morris and UA shouldn’t come as a surprise as he actually signed with the Horned Frogs back in 2012.  However, he was drafted by the New York Yankees that same year and, after signing a contract that included a $1 million signing bonus, embarked on what turned out to be a six-year career in the minor leagues.  Despite that financial commitment, Aune never made it past Single-A ball.

Chip Kelly completes first UCLA coaching staff

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Nearly two months to the day he was hired, Chip Kelly has put the finishing touches on his first college coaching staff in six years.

Tuesday afternoon, the Bruins confirmed the hiring of three new assistant coaches: Dana Bible (quarterbacks coach), Roy Manning (outside linebackers, special teams coordinator) and Vince Oghobaase (defensive line).

Bible’s last job in the coaching profession came as an offensive assistant for Kelly with the San Francisco 49ers; he last spent time at the collegiate level as the offensive coordinator at North Carolina State from 2007-12.  The first four years with the Wolfpack, he was also quarterbacks and wide receivers coach, while he dropped the receivers coach role his last season with the ACC program.

Manning spent the past three seasons at Washington State, with Oghobaase working the last two seasons with the 49ers.  One of those years, obviously, was spent with Kelly.

Kelly retained four of Jim Mora’s former assistants: wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, running backs coach DeShaun Foster, offensive line coach Hank Fraley and Angus McClure, who returns to coaching the tight end position.  The program had previously announced the hirings of Jerry Azzinaro as the defensive coordinator, Don Pellum as inside linebackers coach and Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach.

With Tua Tagovailoa lurking, Bryce Love is Bovada’s way-too-early 2018 Heisman favorite

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The 2018 season doesn’t kick off for another seven-plus months, but it’s never too early for a little wagering action.

Two weeks after the 2017 regular season ended, Bovada.lv released its first set of odds as to who will win the 2018 Heisman Trophy.  Not surprisingly, running back Bryce Love, who stunned most observers by returning to Stanford for another season, has been listed by the sportsbook as a slight 7/1 favorite.  Love is the only returning finalist for the 2017 award, and he finished a distant second to winner Baker Mayfield.

Two other players who finished in the Top 10 in the 2017 Heisman voting, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor (6th) and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton (8th), are listed in Bovada‘s initial set of odds — Taylor right behind Love at 8/1 and Milton at 18/1.

Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate, who could greatly benefit from the hiring of Kevin Sumlin as head coach, is at 9/1.  National championship game hero Tua Tagovailoa, who has never started a game at the collegiate level, is at 10/1, with the Alabama quarterback ahead of the likes of Ohio State running back J.K. Dobbins (12/1), Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm (12/1), Clemson quarterback Kelly Bryant (15/1) and Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley (18/1).

West Virginia’s David Sills (45/1) is the only wide receiver listed.  There are also two defensive linemen on the board — Houston’s Ed Oliver (55/1) and Ohio State’s Nick Bosa (75/1).

And, for those who are curious, here are the top four in the odds Bovada released for the 2017 Heisman exactly one year ago today: Mayfield (11/2), Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett (6/1), Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (7/1) and USC quarterback Sam Darnold (9/1).  The Oklahoma quarterback won the award, of course, while Jackson, the 2016 Heisman winner, was one of three finalists.  The other two didn’t crack the Top 10 in votes.

Below are the complete set of odds for the 2018 Heisman Trophy, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

Bryce Love (RB Stanford) 7/1
Johnathan Taylor (RB Wisconsin) 8/1
Khalil Tate (QB Arizona) 9/1
Tua Tagovailoa (QB Alabama) 10/1
J.K. Dobbins (RB Ohio State) 12/1
Jake Fromm (QB Georgia) 12/1
Jarrett Stidham (QB Auburn) 12/1
Will Grier (QB West Virginia) 12/1
Justin Herbert (QB Oregon) 15/1
Kelly Bryant (QB Clemson) 15/1
McKenzie Milton (QB UCF) 18/1
Trace McSorley (QB Penn State) 18/1
Cam Akers (RB Florida State) 22/1
Jake Browning (QB Washington) 22/1
Rodney Anderson (RB Oklahoma) 25/1
Ryan Finley (QB NC State) 25/1
Brandon Winbush (QB Notre Dame) 35/1
D'Andre Swift (RB Georgia) 35/1
Nick Fitzgerald (QB Mississippi State) 35/1
Travis Etienne (RB Clemson) 35/1
David Sills (WR West Virginia) 45/1
Ed Oliver (DL Houston) 55/1
Nick Bosa (DL Ohio State) 75/1

Michigan QB Alex Malzone moves on to the MAC Miami

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Nearly two months after leaving Michigan, Alex Malzone has found himself a new college football home.

Taking to his social media accounts Monday evening, Malzone announced that he will be enrolling at Miami (Ohio) and will continue his playing career with the RedHawks. “Beyond pumped to join Coach [Chuck] Martin and this team,” the quarterback wrote.

Because he’s leaving U-M as a graduate transfer, he can play immediately this season for the MAC school.  Even better for Martin, 2018 will be the first of two seasons of eligibility Malzone has remaining.

A four-star member of the Wolverines’ 2015 recruiting class, Malzone was rated as the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Michigan.  While he played in three games — one in each of the past three seasons — during his brief time in Ann Arbor, the 6-2, 224-pound signal-caller didn’t attempt a pass.