Weekend Preview: Championship races coming down to the wire

3 Comments

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

Highest-rated signee in TCU’s 2015 recruiting class to transfer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Ratings-wise, Deshawn Raymond was the crown jewel of TCU’s 2015 recruiting class.  Two years later, he’s gone.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Raymond announced that he has decided to transfer from the Horned Frogs and continue his collegiate playing career at an undetermined elsewhere. “I want to thank [head coach Gary Patterson] for giving me this golden opportunity and allowing me to be apart [sic] of something special,” the cornerback wrote. “I appreciate everything y’all did for me.”

A four-star 2015 signee, Raymond was rated as the No. 27 corner in the country and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of Louisiana. According to 247Sports.com‘s ratings, no player in the Horned Frogs class was rated higher than Raymond.

In addition to TCU, he held offers from, among others, Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi State, Nebraska and Texas A&M. He took official visits to Nebraska and MSU, and a handful of unofficial visits to LSU.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Raymond didn’t see the field at all in 2016. Should the defensive back land at another FBS program, he’d be forced to sit out the 2017 season. He would then have two seasons of eligibility to use beginning in 2018.

North Carolina approves contract extension for Larry Fedora

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Heading into his sixth season at North Carolina, Larry Fedora will do so armed with a revamped deal.

Early Thursday afternoon, the university announced that a contract extension for Fedora has been formally approved by the UNC-Chapel Hill Board of Trustees.  Fedora is now under contract through the 2022 season.

“We are pleased that the Board of Trustees has approved the terms of Coach Fedora’s contract, which will allow him to continue our football program’s success into the next decade,” said UNC athletic director Bubba Cunningham in a statement. “Under his leadership, our student-athletes are succeeding in the classroom, contributing positively to our community – and competing for championships. We know this was a lengthy process, but we wanted to make sure the terms were appropriate for both Coach Fedora and the University.”

Fedora’s 2016 compensation of just under $2 million was 11th out of the 11 ACC head coaches listed in USA Today‘s salary database.  The new deal will pay Fedora $2.29 million in 2017, which would’ve been ninth among conference coaches last season.

Below are the salary breakdowns for each year of the new contract:

In his five seasons with the Tar Heels, Fedora has gone 40-25 overall and 26-14 in ACC play. His wins are already fifth in school history, while his .615 winning percentage is second since UNC joined the ACC in 1953.

In 2015, the Tar Heels played in their first-ever conference championship game en route to an 11-win season that was the program’s best since Mack Brown’s last year in Chapel Hill and tied for the most in school history.

“I enjoy coaching at the University of North Carolina and I appreciate the trust Chancellor Folt and Bubba Cunningham have shown in the leadership of our program,” Fedora said. “Our staff and players have worked diligently over the last five years to build a program that encompasses all aspects of the student-athlete experience, while simultaneously achieving success on the field.”

Report: Houston Nutt could sue Ole Miss for defamation if he doesn’t get apology

Associated Press
1 Comment

If Ole Miss thought it had seen the last of Houston Nutt, they may want to think again.  And fast.

In the midst of an NCAA “situation” that has already result in significant penalties for the football program, the university attempted to paint the football-related issues as having mainly occurred on Nutt’s watch when he was the Rebels’ head coach from 2008-11.  Nutt wasn’t pleased with the portrayal at the time the Notice of Allegations was issued in May of last year, and certainly isn’t happy a year later.

“It hurts you,” Nutt told Yahoo SportsPat Forde. “It devastates you. …

“My name wasn’t mentioned in the report but my name’s on the ticker [on television]. My name is thrown out there a lot. It’s a frustrating thing.”

Nutt’s attorney, Thomas Mars, takes it a step further, telling Forde that, if a public apology from Ole Miss isn’t forthcoming, he has every intention of filing a defamation lawsuit against the university on his client’s behalf.

“I would hope this wouldn’t become a legal situation,” Mars said. “But if the university doesn’t recognize at some point the damage that’s been done … I would like to think the appropriate action will be taken.

“This was a smear campaign. If it weren’t so deceitful and morally wrong, it would probably go down in college football history as one of the best trick plays ever.”

There were 13 allegations made by the NCAA against the Ole Miss football program. Nine of those, the majority of which are relatively minor in nature, came during Hugh Freeze‘s time with the Rebels.

In an updated NOA released in February of this year, the NCAA charged the university with lack of institutional control.  The university also self-imposed a one-year bowl ban and agreed to forfeit all postseason revenue for the 2017 season, which could be upwards of $7 million.

Freeze was charged with violating head coach responsibility legislation.

North Carolina responds to third Notice of Allegations in lingering academic scandal

Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the third time in as many years, North Carolina is responding to a Notice of Allegations connected to a decade-long academic scandal.

“We are prepared and look forward to presenting our case to the Committee on Infractions,” said chancellor Carol L. Folt in a statement. “Bringing closure to this process will be an important step for our University. The expansive reforms and initiatives now in place at Carolina reflect the academic values of a community that I am proud to lead.”

“We sent the NCAA a full and detailed response,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “Our reply to each allegation is based on the NCAA’s constitution and member-adopted bylaws. We expect the Committee on Infractions to consistently apply those bylaws as the case moves forward.”

For the complete response, click HERE.

The university had a deadline of May 16 to submit their response to this latest NOA, which they met.  The delay in releasing the response publicly was caused by the school stating that they needed to perform “a review to protect privacy rights” of those individuals mentioned in the response.

In June of 2014, the NCAA informed UNC “that it would reopen its original 2011 examination of the past academic irregularities.” The first NOA was sent to the university in 2015, with UNC accused of lack of institutional control as to student-athletes in multiple sports, including football, receiving preferential access to the controversial African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) courses dating all the way back to 2002.  In April of 2016, UNC received an amended NOA that replaced “lack of institutional control” with “failure to monitor.”

Below are the allegations the NCAA has made in the five violations The Associations has charged UNC with:

  1. African and Afro-American Studies student services manager Deborah Crowder and department professor/chair Julius Nyang’oro committed extra benefit and ethical conduct violations from 2002-11 by overseeing anomalous courses in the department and giving athletics personnel authority to impact aspects of the courses for student-athletes. School personnel committed extra benefits violation by leveraging the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to provide special arrangements to student-athletes.
  2. Academic counselor Jan Boxill provided extra benefits by way of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players from 2003-2010.
  3. Crowder violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  4. Nyang’oro violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  5. Allegation No. 1 and No. 2 show school’s failure to exercise institutional control and failure to monitor the conduct and administration of athletics programs.

In its most recent response, the university claims that the AFAM courses was “were available to all students in the same manner” and that “[n]o special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation.” “Student-athletes made up 29.4 percent of the enrollments in the Courses,” the university added, a number that is less than the nearly 50-percent figure the NCAA came up with.

Essentially, UNC’s argument is that, because the issue of AFAM courses is an academic one, “the University denies that there were NCAA violations.”

The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he NCAA’s enforcement staff will have an opportunity to review and address issues UNC raises over the next 60 days, with the case then expected to proceed to an infractions committee hearing in August.” A decision from the NCAA would come two months or so after the conclusion of the hearing, which would be right in the middle of the football season.