Florida State v Clemson

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

Akron the new home for transferring Ohio State RB Warren Ball

PISCATAWAY, NJ - OCTOBER 24: Warren Ball #28 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights during a game at High Point Solutions Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Piscataway, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)
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Warren Ball may be leaving Ohio State, but he’s not leaving the state of Ohio.

The OSU running back has decided to transfer out of the Buckeyes football program and continue his collegiate playing career elsewhere.  Specifically, that continuation will involve a 125-mile move to the northeast as George Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal reports that Ball will enroll at Akron and play his football for Terry Bowden‘s Zips.

As Ball is set to graduate from OSU this semester, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016.  This upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

Ball was a four-star member of OSU’s 2012 recruiting class, rated as the No. 16 running back in the country; the No. 12 player at any position in the state of Ohio; and the No. 193 player overall by Rivals.com.  Ball ran for 189 yards on 41 carries the past three seasons, with 28 of those yards coming on 10 2015 carries.

ElevenWarriors.com writes that “Ball’s apparent transfer has no impact on Ohio State’s scholarship grid for 2016, as he was already on his way out of the program following last season,” adding that “[t]he Buckeyes still sit at 87 scholarships after National Signing Day.”

‘Unlikely’ Louisville’s Trevon Young is able to play in 2016

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An injury at the end of the 2015 season could have a significant impact on Louisville’s defense for the whole of the 2016 season.

Linebacker Trevon Young sustained both a dislocated and fractured hip in the UofL’s Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M late last December. A day later, Young underwent surgery to, the Louisville Courier Journal writes, “put his femur back in place and insert a plate around a chipped piece of his hip socket.”

Six weeks later, Young remains on crutches, and will remain on them for at least another five weeks as part of a rehab process that could take as little as eight months to as many as a dozen. As a result, Miles Young, the player’s father, tells the Courier-Journal it’s unlikely his son will play during the 2016 season.

The injury that will likely cost Young the upcoming is certainly a unique and rare one, but one that’s not expected to be Bo-level bad.

The doctor in Nashville told the family he had not seen a similar hip injury suffered in a football game – only in a traumatic event like a car accident – however the bone fracture was less severe than originally feared, so “it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Miles Young said.

Mr. Young said, to his understanding, the fracture is considerably less serious than the infamous one suffered by former star NFL running back Bo Jackson in the early 1990s.

While Young was just a part-time starter in 2015, his 8.5 sacks were second on the team and seventh among all ACC players.He had been expected to be a more significant contributor to the Cardinals’ defense in 2016.

The expected loss of Young is compounded by the transfers last month of Keith Brown (HERE) and Nick Dawson-Brents (HERE), a pair of linebackers who combined to play in 26 games last season.

La. governor threatens LSU football in stumping for tax increase

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers look on during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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In life, there are some things you just don’t threaten, like a man’s mother or wife or kids.  In the South, you never, ever threaten a man’s — or woman’s or mom’s — college football, even if it’s nothing more than what most are calling your typical political bluster.

Yet that’s exactly where Louisiana’s governor went Thursday, with John Bel Edwards “threatening” the very existence of the sport in the state — including flagship program LSU — if a tax increase for which he’s pushing isn’t implemented.  The state is facing a nearly $1 billion deficit, and funding for higher education, among other things, could be cut, the governor said, if “the largest tax increase in state history” is not put in place by June.

“If you are a student attending one of these universities, it means that you will receive a grade of incomplete, many students will not be able to graduate, and student-athletes across the state at those schools will be ineligible to play next semester,” Edwards said. “That means you can say farewell to college football next fall.”

“These are not scare tactics,” Edwards, wearing a Grim Reaper costume, added.

From the New Orleans Times-Picayune:

The governor went so far as to say that LSU football was also in jeopardy, due to a threatened suspension of spring classes that would jeopardize college athletes’ eligibility next year. He said the state would no longer be able to afford one of its most popular programs with middle class residents — the TOPS college scholarship — without tax hikes.

… “I don’t say this to scare you. But I am going to be honest with you.”

The governor didn’t just threaten LSU football if his tax increase wasn’t implemented, with the Times-Picayune writing that, during the state-wide television address, “Edwards told viewers that the state would be forced to take extreme action — such as throwing people with off of kidney dialysis and shutting down hospice services — if new taxes didn’t go into place over the next few months.”

Here’s to guessing that a deal will be reached before June, before people are thrown off dialysis.  Or before people start throwing legislators off buildings and/or bridges for shutting down their beloved Bayou Bengals football.

Texas losing assistant Jay Norvell to Arizona State

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Back in December, Jay Norvell was rumored to be a candidate for Arizona State’s vacancy at offensive coordinator.  Two months later, it appears the Texas play-caller will be joining Todd Graham‘s coaching staff after all, albeit in a “lesser” capacity.

Shortly after Texas confirmed that Charlie Strong had lost one assistant due to “circumstances [that] have put us in a position that we are going to part ways,” reports began to surface that Norvell is leaving Texas to take a job at ASU. Specifically, Norvell is expected to become Graham’s wide receivers coach and hold the title of passing-game coordinator as well.

Norvell spent one season at Texas after being dismissed by Oklahoma following the 2014 season.  Originally hired as the Longhorns’ wide receivers coach, Norvell was promoted to play-caller early on in the 2015 season when Shawn Watson and Joe Wickline were demoted by Strong.

After the 2015 season, Norvell ceded his play-calling duties to Sterlin Gilbert, who was hired by Strong as offensive coordinator in December. Norvell won’t have play-calling duties at Arizona State, either, as Graham hired Chip Lindsey away from Southern Miss to coordinate the Sun Devils’ offense.

Norvell becomes the fifth Longhorn assistant to leave the program since the end of the season, joining Watson (not retained), Wickline (moved on to West Virginia), Tommie Robinson (left for USC) and Chris Vaughn (Ole Miss muck). The last two offseasons, a total of eight assistants have left the program in some form or fashion.

As it stands now, Strong has three vacancies to fill on his current staff.

UPDATED 10:29 a.m. ET: While neither program has confirmed it, Norvell took to his personal Twitter account to apparently say goodbye to his home of the last year.