Weekend Preview: Championship races coming down to the wire

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It’s time to get prepared for another critical weekend around college football. Division and conference races are coming down the home stretch and postseason eligibility is still on the line for a number of teams. Here’s a rundown of what to pay attention to this weekend.

Alabama, Florida State on collision course

If you go by what the national narrative is, we are all set for No. 1 Alabama (9-0, 6-0 SEC) vs. No. 2 Florida State (9-0, 7-0 ACC) in the final BCS Championship game. That would be a rather fitting match-up of course, with Florida Sate having played in the first three BCS title games under the new format and Alabama having won three of the last four. It really would be a fitting way to close the book on the BCS, but we still have some games to get through before really digging in to that theme. This week should end with both picking up another win.

Alabama will have the more difficult task this weekend though, going on the road to take on a Mississippi State team that is in real need of a win. While Alabama continues to pound SEC competition, Mississippi State (4-5, 1-4 SEC) has given up 85 points in their last two games while sinking below .500. Mississippi State is coming off losses to ranked South Carolina and Texas A&M, so a home game against Alabama will wrap up a rough three-game stretch. A loss means Mississippi State needs to win their final two games of the year to become bowl eligible. The pressure for Dan Mullen really is mounting. And Nick Saban thinks he has pressure with his job.

In Tallahassee the Seminoles will wrap up their ACC schedule with a home game against Syracuse (5-4, 3-2 ACC). Florida State is already heading to the ACC Championship Game regardless of the outcome, but another big win should be enough to keep Florida State comfortably in the top two of the BCS standings. After a week that saw Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston thrown in to a potentially negative spotlight this week, how he handles the situation should be interesting. Winston has answered every challenge thrown his way this season. There should be no reason he does not answer this one either.

Auburn hosting Georgia

The biggest threat to Alabama in the SEC is likely Auburn (9-1, 5-1 SEC). Before we start making plans for one of the biggest Iron Bowls in history though, Auburn must get by Georgia (6-3, 4-2 SEC) this weekend. The Bulldogs may have been roughed up and beat up this season, but Georgia has won two straight games and is capable of playing spoiler. Heck, a win for Georgia even gives the defending SEC East champs an outside shot at returning to Atlanta although the odds are still not very good. Auburn has been thriving on the running game and has not had to rely much on the passing game. If the Tigers can continue to break big plays on the ground, Auburn will continue to have Alabama’s attention.

All eyes on Durham, North Carolina, of course

Maybe Duke (7-2, 3-2 ACC) going to a bowl game last year wasn’t exactly a fluke. The Blue Devils are now in position to make a run to take on Florida State in the ACC Championship Game. In football. Seriously.

A bit of a tangled mess in the ACC Coastal Division could start to sort itself out a little more this weekend after Georgia Tech concluded their ACC schedule with a loss Thursday night at Clemson. Duke can keep pace with Virginia Tech (7-3, 4-2 ACC) if they can pick up a home win against a Miami (7-2, 3-2 ACC) team that is all of a sudden sinking. A win for Duke will also clinch the most wins in a single season (eight) since winning eight games in 1994. Virginia Tech will be playing Maryland, which should result in a win unless the offense implodes.

B1G Game in the Big Ten

Ohio State is all but locked in to the Big Ten championship game, but the Legends Division is still a little more open. That could change this weekend with No. 16 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0 Big Ten) travels to Nebraska (7-2, 4-1 Big Ten). The winner will control the fate of the division with time running out in the Big Ten, but the loser will not necessarily be eliminated. The Spartans have been playing the best defense this season int he conference and should be able to control Nebraska’s offense, which will be tested by Ameer Abdullah. If the Spartans shut down Abdullah, it could be a long day for the home team.

Stanford looks to keep Pac 12 edge against revived Trojans

No. 4 Stanford (8-1, 6-1)is coming off the biggest win of the year but must continue the momentum this weekend on the road against one of the hottest teams in the country, if not just the Pac 12. USC (7-3, 4-2) is actually in position for a potential shot at playing for a Pac 12 title, although they need a little help while taking care of their own schedule in front of them. Stanford has won three straight on the strength of their defense that was able to shut down Oregon for three and a half quarters last week. This week they take on a USC team that has won three straight games and is playing quite well on both sides of the football, especially in the running game. USC won’t have Silas Redd but Javorious Allen has burst on the scene the last couple of games. USC may be trying to chop down a red wood with inadequate gear, but they aren’t trying to do so with a butter knife either. A win keeps USC in the Pac 12 South conversation and reopens the path to the Pac 12 championship game (and Rose Bowl?) for Oregon.

You would not want to be Utah today

If there is one team you might feel sorry for this weekend it might just be Utah (4-5, 1-5 Pac 12). The Utes only have one win in Pac 12 play this season, and ironically enough it came against Stanford. This weekend Utah heads to No. 6 Oregon (8-1, 5-1 Pac 12). The Ducks, of course, are returning home after getting trounced by Stanford last week. You have to think Oregon is going to get back on track with their offense rather quickly. Utah is 1-3 on the road this season and has lost three straight Pac 12 games. Utah has been a pesky team this season though. In addition to defeating Stanford, Utah has also topped BYU, taken Oregon State to overtime, lost to UCLA by a touchdown and lost to Arizona State by one. Utah needs two wins to become eligible for a postseason berth, but winning in a place they haven’t won since 1994 is not going to be easy.

Other Conference Races to Watch

American: No. 17 Central Florida (7-1, 4-0 AAC) is in Philadelphia Saturday to take on Temple (1-8, 0-5 AAC). They should leave town with a win against the Owls, putting the Knights one step closer to clinching the conference’s automatic BCS berth. Central Florida has a one-game lead on No. 20 Louisville, Cincinnati and Houston in the loss column and head-to-head tie-breakers against Louisville and Houston, who play each other this weekend. Cincinnati is at Rutgers.

Central Florida does not need to worry about No. 14 Fresno State or No. 15 Northern Illinois, but each of those BCS busting hopefuls will be keeping a close eye on the Knights for BCS standings purposes.

Big 12: No. 24 Texas (7-2, 6-0 Big 12) and No. 5 Baylor (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) could collide in a de facto Big 12 championship in the final week of the season, but let;s see if they get through this weekend first. Texas takes on No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-1, 5-1 Big 12) and Baylor faces Texas Tech (7-3, 4-3 Big 12) in Cowboys Stadium.

Conference USA: North Texas is closing in on a Conference USA division championship in the west. North Texas is battling Rice for the top spot in the division, with each owning one conference loss and North Texas owning the head-to-head tiebreaker. UTSA can become eligible for their first bowl game in program history with just one more win.

SEC: No. 9 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) needs to avoid any head-to-head tie-breakers with No. 10 South Carolina (7-2, 5-2 SEC) in the SEC East, so a win this weekend at Ole Miss would be huge before hosting Texas A&M in the regular season finale. Missouri enters the weekend one game ahead of the Gamecocks in the loss column. South Carolina owns the head-to-head tiebreaker thanks to an overtime victory a few weeks back at Missouri.

Bowl Eligibility Update

The following teams in action this weekend are one win shy of bowl eligibility:

Rutgers, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, Pittsburgh, Kansas State, UTSA, Navy, San Diego State, San Jose State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt, Arkansas State, Troy

Conversely, the following teams can be eliminated from postseason considerations with a loss this weekend:

South Florida, Memphis, NC State, West Virginia, TCU, Illinois, Florida Atlantic, Central Michigan, New Mexico

Florida’s Cece Jefferson expected back for start of camp

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There’s a sizable sliver of a silver lining involving the health of Florida’s most productive defensive lineman.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Cece Jefferson would be sidelined for four months after undergoing surgery on his right shoulder earlier this week; such a timeline would’ve had the lineman out until the middle of August, after summer camp had started. Thursday, however, brought word that Jefferson is instead expected to be recovered in time for the start of camp in early August.

It should be noted that, as of yet, the football program has not publicly addressed Jefferson’s status moving forward.

Jefferson was a consensus five-star prospect, rated as the No. 2 strongside defensive end in the Class of 2015; the No. 4 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 7 player overall on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

This past season, Jefferson led the Gators with 13.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. After considering early entry into the 2018 NFL draft, the 6-1, 242-pound lineman opted to return to Gainesville for one more season.

Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh, others pay tribute to Earle Bruce

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Not surprisingly, the memorials are pouring in for the passing of a College Football Hall of Famer.

Friday morning, the four daughters released a statement through Ohio State announcing that their father, former Buckeyes head coach Earle Bruce, had passed away at the age of 87.  Shortly thereafter, OSU released a statement from its current head football coach on the man who had battled Alzheimer’s for years.

“I’ve made it clear many times that, other than my father, Coach Bruce was the most influential man in my life,” Urban Meyer said. “Every significant decision I’ve made growing up in this profession was with him involved in it. His wife [Jean] and he were the role models for Shelley and me. They did everything with class. He was not afraid to show how much he loved his family and cared for his family.”

Others expressing their condolences included Jim Harbaugh of rival Michigan as well as Iowa State, where Bruce was the head coach from 1973-78 before taking over in Columbus in 1979, and the Cyclones’ current coach for good measure.

A&M’s Koda Martin transferring, joins dad, father-in-law at Syracuse

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Koda Martin‘s collegiate playing career has taken a familial turn.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday night, the offensive lineman announced that he would be transferring from Texas A&M.  Not only that, but Martin confirmed that he already has a new college football home — Syracuse.

Martin’s dad, Kirk Martin, was named as the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse earlier this year.  Last summer, Koda Martin married Jazzmin Babers, who happens to be the daughter of Orange head coach Dino Babers.

Whether it’s coincidence or not, Martin’s move from College Station comes two weeks after a heat stroke he suffered during an Aggies spring practice session left him near death according to a social media post from his father.

As Martin will graduate from A&M in May, he’ll be eligible to play for the Orange in 2017.  The upcoming season will be the lineman’s final year of eligibility.

Martin had started 14 games for the Aggies the past two seasons, including 10 last season as a redshirt junior.

Colorado State lands $37.7 million stadium naming rights deal

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Colorado State’s athletic department coffers will be a little more full thanks to one development this week.

CSU announced Thursday a 15-year agreement with Public Service Credit Union for the naming rights to the university’s year-old football stadium. The long-term agreement will result in the school being paid $37.7 million over the life of the deal. Per the school, “annual escalator clauses for inflation, as well as a signing bonus,” are also included in the agreement.

The on-campus stadium opened in July of last year at a cost of $225 million, with the first game played in August of 2017.

“This is a partnership that makes so much sense for our university community and for Public Service Credit Union, and we’re thrilled to announce this new agreement,” said CSU president Tony Frank in a statement. “Our stadium will carry the name of a Colorado-based business that shares our commitment to creating opportunity and opening doors for people at all income levels. Our mission and our values as a university align so well with those of PCSU, and the investment by the credit union and its members in our campus and programs will bring great visibility to how much they accomplish as a visionary community partner.”

According to the school’s release, the new naming rights deal, when combined with the field naming rights deal previously announced, actually compares reasonably well with some of the agreements reached by Power Five programs.

The agreement, which when added to the $20 million given in 2016 to name Sonny Lubick Field, brings the total naming rights revenues at Colorado State to $57 million for the stadium. This is comparable to the recently announced $69 million United Airlines Memorial Coliseum at University of Southern California and the $41 million Alaska Airlines Field at Husky Stadium at the University of Washington.

Interestingly, Lubick, the legendary former Rams head football coach, currently serves as the vice president of community outreach for the credit union.