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

Tennessee WR Jauan Jennings dismissed after Instagram tirade against Vols coaching staff

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The 2017 season just can’t end quick enough for Tennessee.

Proving that there have been much better days on Rocky Top, the school has reportedly and unexpectedly dismissed wide receiver Jauan Jennings from the team on Wednesday evening — just hours after the junior went on a tirade against the current coaching staff and posted it to his social media accounts.

Jennings reportedly went off earlier in the day at the staff and called them several choice, NSFW names in videos posted to his private Instagram account.

The receiver was somewhat of a surprise return to practice recently as it was expected he was going to miss the rest of the season after being injured in season opener against Georgia Tech. Jennings enter the year as an All-SEC third team selection in the preseason but was limited to just three catches for 17 yards the first half of the Vols’ first game.

Jennings could transfer to another school as he has a redshirt year available and likely would be able to receive a medical redshirt as well. Declaring for the NFL Draft seems the more likely scenario however but one thing is for certain: a return to Tennessee doesn’t look like it’s in the cards after Wednesday’s actions on both sides.

Arkansas names advisory committee for athletic director search to replace Jeff Long

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Arkansas needs a new athletic director so they’re doing what every enterprise in college athletics does when they need to get something done: form a committee.

The school announced on Wednesday that they had formed a seven person search committee to find the Razorback’s next athletic director after firing Jeff Long last week from the same position. Julie Cromer Peoples will continue to serve as the interim AD while Arkansas chancellor Joseph Steinmetz finds the next permanent name for the position.

The committee is quite a diverse group, headlined by LPGA golfer Stacy Lewis (who golfed for the school). Women’s track coach Lance Harter, Board of Trustees chairman Ben Hyneman, professor Gerald Jordan, architecture school dean Peter MacKeith, Razorback Foundation member Rick Massey, and former quarterback turned booster Bill Montgomery.

“I sought to assemble a committee representative of the university, spanning past and present in our academics and athletics history, with knowledge and perspective about Arkansas, and, notably an appreciation of the source of pride the Razorbacks are for the state of Arkansas,” Steinmetz said in a statement. “I have great faith in the approach that each of these advisors will bring to the process and I’d like to thank these folks for their time in this endeavor.”

It remains unclear what, if any, input the committee will have regarding the future of head coach Bret Bielema. His tenure was widely linked to that of Long’s and rumors have already surfaced that the school will quickly let the coach go and begin a full court press to land Auburn’s Gus Malzahn to replace him.

First up though is the team’s final game, which comes at home against Missouri on Friday. Arkansas, sitting at 4-7 on the season, has already been eliminated from bowl contention so the outing will be the team’s last before the future direction of the program gets decided.

AAC commissioner Mike Aresco says league is being disrespected by Playoff selection committee

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Mike Aresco has gone full Rodney Dangerfield.

The AAC commissioner made the rounds with several national media folks on Wednesday, less than 24 hours after seeing a three-loss Mississippi State team jump the conference standard-barer Central Florida in the latest College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s Top 25 rankings. Not only is the American commish claiming that the Knights aren’t getting a “fair shake” by the committee as part of the disrespect shown toward his league, he’s also not happy that one-loss South Florida isn’t even making the cut for the top 25.

“I just don’t think our league is garnering the respect it deserves, period… I feel strongly about it. The evidence is in,” Aresco told ESPN. “We’ve tried to prove for five years how good our conference is. What do we have to do is my question, to prove that we’re a really good league, especially at the top? I just don’t like the notion that, well, strength of schedule, I don’t like to see UCF behind three- and two-loss teams, and I think they can play with anyone. I just don’t know what more we can do.”

Aresco later expanded on his comments and said UCF should be in the top 10 and ahead of two-loss teams like Ohio State.

The fact that Aresco is sticking up for his league and his teams are no surprise but the public way he is going about criticizing the selection committee is a much different tack than previously employed. The AAC remains all but a lock to secure the annual Group of Five bid, which should go to the conference champion among No. 15 UCF, No. 20 Memphis or unranked USF (which would have a chance to beat both of the others in the next two weeks).

CFP executive director Bill Hancock issued a very generic statement in response to Aresco’s comments but his latest salvos should make for some interesting questions next Tuesday when chairman Kirby Hocutt goes in front of the cameras to explain the next set of rankings.

Amid Jimbo Fisher rumors, Florida State continues to explore facilities upgrades

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Jimbo Fisher turned interest from LSU to be their head coach into one of the biggest coach-friendly contracts in the country. Could he be leveraging the same kind of interest from Texas A&M into further facilities upgrades? It appears so.

Hot on the heels of Houston Chronicle report that said Fisher is the top target to replace the eventually deposed Kevin Sumlin in College Station, the Orlando Sentinel says that the Seminoles are exploring a number of different options to give the football program their own sport-specific facility on campus.

“You have no idea,” Fisher told the paper on Monday when asked about the importance of a centralized complex. “Their days are strung out … the schedules they’re on and what they’re asked to do. When you’re wasting time in between, you’re wasting development time for them.”

The Sentinel reports that there are two leading options for the program, the first of which includes a renovation of the team’s current home, the Moore Athletic Center, that would also result in other Seminoles sports moving to a different area for office space and training facilities. The other option would include a brand new football complex that would be built right next to the current indoor practice facility. Things are still in the planning stage at this point but it certainly sounds like things are getting fast-tracked given everything that is going on in the college football world in Tallahassee and beyond.

Whether Fisher leaves or not, it’s pretty clear that Florida State will be looking to build a new football facility for the simple fact that they need to keep up with their peers in the state. Florida is set to break ground in December on their new facility and Miami should have their new indoor facility ready to go by the start of next season. Even USF has laid the groundwork for a $40 million project that will include the latest and greatest for the Bulls football team.