Lache Seastrunk, Datone Jones, Nick Florence

Weekend Preview: Big 12, SEC and Pac 12 stakes on the line


The tension is mounting. Rivalry games are just around the corner. Championship dreams are starting to fade or become reality. The time to make a Heisman moment is running out as well. This weekend has a little bit of it all to offer this weekend, eve if the BCS championship heavyweight contenders are mostly taking it easy this week.

BCS Championship frontrunners get week off, sort of

No. 1 Alabama (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 2 Florida State (10-0, 8-0 ACC) can put everything on cruise control this week, but nobody will expect that. The Crimson Tide square off in an epic Iron Bowl match-up with Auburn next week but warm up with a home game against FCS Chattanooga (8-3, 6-2 Southern) while Florida State will play host to Idaho (1-9). Both should be able to name their score, but Florida State’s game will be under a bit of a microscope.

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston is the center of attention in college football this week, but not for his play on the field. Winston has been linked to a sexual assault case from last December and a state attorney continues to review all of the information before making a decision on whether or not to press charges against the Florida State quarterback and Heisman contender. If you think Florida State is going to succumb under pressure or Winston will falter under the scrutiny, think again. Against Idaho it is not likely the first team offense will be on the field anyway.

Baylor, Oklahoma State put Big 12 on the line

No. 4 Baylor (9-0, 6-0 Big 12) visits No. 10 Oklahoma State (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) looking to keep the high powered offense in gear. Baylor is making a push to move by Ohio State in the BCS standings, and with the Buckeyes taking on Indiana the Bears may have a good chance to make a move with a strong showing against the Cowboys. The winner of this one will take over first place in the Big 12.

Since being upset by West Virginia, Oklahoma State has won six straight games including last week’s 38-13 shelling of Texas in Austin. Quarterback Clint Chelf was 16-for-22 for 197 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a game-high 95 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Longhorns. Chelf will need more help from the supporting cast this week because Bryce Petty, Lache Seastrunk and Antwan Goodley make for a lethal trio every time they are on the field. There will be plenty of points scored in this one, and it will be critical for Oklahoma State to find a way to keep pace early on.

Why can’t we have Clemson-South Carolina this week instead?

Every season criticism is thrown on teams scheduling cupcakes at the beginning of the year rather than improving their strength of schedule. This trend may change as college football moves to the College Football Playoff model that takes note of strength of schedule more than the current BCS formula. Unfortunately the season also ends with some blatant mismatches lacking any sizzle as well.

No. 7. Clemson (9-1, 7-1 ACC) is one of those teams. Sure, the Tigers play No. 11 South Carolina (8-2, 6-2 SEC) next weekend, but this week they host Citadel. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, are hosting Coastal Carolina.

Speaking of South Carolina…

The Gamecocks may not be playing an SEC game this weekend but they can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game anyway. No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1 SEC) travels to No. 24 Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 SEC) and needs to win to stay in front of South Carolina in the SEC East standings. If Ole Miss picks up the win, South Carolina will head to Atlanta as a result of owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Missouri earlier this season.

Manziel’s Heisman moment?

No. 12 Texas A&M (8-2, 4-2 SEC) heads to No. 22 LSU (7-3, 3-3 SEC) Saturday afternoon. SEC Championship stakes may not be on the line in this one, but Johnny Manziel‘s Heisman chances may be. Manziel has become one of the favorites to win the Heisman Trophy this season, and for good reason. Manziel may not be putting up the kind of numbers he did last year during his 2012 Heisman campaign, but his numbers are superior in many areas once again this season. All that is lacking is a signature win. With home losses to Alabama and Auburn, a road win at LSU followed by a win at Missouri could help put Manziel on the top of the ballots of Heisman voters. History may be against Manziel when it comes to winning a second Heisman Trophy — it has only been done once before of course — but the schedule sets up well for Manziel to put together some lasting impressions before the votes must be submitted. Last year a road win at Alabama put Manziel over the top. Could a road thriller have the same impact this season?

Heisman aside, third place in the SEC West is on the line, which could lead to a spot in the Cotton Bowl the way things may play out.

Pac 12 South Battle in the Rose Bowl

No. 17 Arizona State (8-2, 6-1 Pac 12) is the team to beat right now in the Pac 12 South, but No. 14 UCLA (8-2, 5-2 Pac 12) gets the home field advantage in the stadium both teams dream of playing in on New Year’s Day, the Rose Bowl. While Oregon appears to be on track to host the Pac 12 championship game, the south is a bit more wide open than you might think. Arizona State has a chance to make things a bit less complicated if they can escape Los Angeles with a win against the Bruins. If Arizona State wins they will carry at least a one-game lead in the division in to the season finale against Arizona. The Sun Devils have not been quite the same team when on the road this season, going just 2-2 with losses against Stanford and Notre Dame.

UCLA has played very well at home this season. The Bruins have scored at least 37 points in each of their five home games. Quarterback Brett Hundley has thrown 12 of his 20 touchdowns at home and has been intercepted just twice in those games. The Bruins will likely keep plugging freshman linebacker Myles Jack in the offensive backfield in certain situations. In the last two games Jack has rushed for 180 yards and five touchdowns.

In a bizarre twist, a UCLA win also keeps USC in the running for a Pac 12 championship game appearance, although the Trojans need a few things to fall in to place for them to keep that dream possible.

Bowl Eligibility Update

The following teams can become bowl eligible with a win this weekend:

Colorado State, Louisiana-Monroe, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, UT-San Antonio

On the other hand, these teams can officially be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss:

Central Michigan, Colorado, Florida, Florida Atlantic, Indiana, Louisiana Tech, Memphis, Mississippi State, Northwestern, South Alabama, Tennessee, Utah, Wake Forest, Wyoming

Auburn horticulture professor offers dire update on torched Toomer’s Corner oak

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 10: Fans of the Auburn Tigers roll trees at Toomer's Corner after defeating the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Jordan Hare Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. The Auburn Tigers defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves 51-14.(Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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It appears that, once again, one of the oaks at famed Toomer’s Corner in Auburn will likely need to be replaced because of the actions of a lone dolt.

Following the win over LSU in late September, students and fans, as they have done for decades, rolled the oaks with toilet paper, only to watch as one of the trees go up in flames. A 29-year-old Auburn “man,” Jochen Weist, was identified on video using a lighter to set the toilet paper on fire and arrested.

Nearly four weeks later, it’s not looking good for the tree’s survival.

“Our message to the Auburn Family about the Magnolia Avenue tree remains the same as from the outset, that it is severely damaged from the Sept. 25 fire,” AU professor of horticulture Dr. Gary Keever said in a statement according to “We have conducted three assessments of its health, the most recent one showing 60-70 percent of the tree’s canopy is dead. A few new leaves have formed on some of the live branches, however, this does not indicate additional growth will occur or that those branches will be alive in the spring.

“Although the outlook is not promising, Auburn is doing everything possible to save the tree. We will continue to monitor the tree and provide updates as they become available.”

Weist was originally taken into custody on a charge of public intoxication. Additional charges of first-degree criminal mischief, a felony, and desecration of a venerable object were later added.

The case has been sent to a grand jury.

University officials have asked that the fire-damaged tree not be rolled. That tradition had just been revived this season following a three-year absence as a result of an Alabama fan poisoning the oaks.

Notre Dame AD: Brian Kelly ‘will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year’

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and his team wait to head on to the field for the start of the game against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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For those looking — or hoping — for Brian Kelly to be on the coaching hot seat, it appears you’ll have to wait another year or more.

Kelly’s Notre Dame squad, which began 2016 ranked 10th in the Associated Press Top 25, has had its fair share of issues on the field, stumbling to a 2-5 start that’s the program’s worst since 2007.  There have also been issues off the field related to those on-field struggles, with Kelly firing his defensive coordinator and throwing his players under the bus for good measure.  Former Irish football players have sounded off and taken aim as well.

Add it all up, and it had some thinking that Kelly might not be long for South Bend.  At least publicly, Kelly’s boss is emphatically putting the kibosh on such talk.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told earlier today. “I can tell you I continue to have complete confidence in Brian. … I get to see the program day in and day out and I continue to have great confidence in Brian and confidence in our future as a program.”

Kelly is in the midst of his seventh season at the school.  In the previous six, he’d led the Irish to a 55-23 mark.  Included in that total are a pair of 10-plus win seasons as well as an appearance in the BCS title game following the 2012 regular season.

In late January of this year, Kelly and the university reached an agreement on a six-year contract extension that runs through the 2021 season.

When did Nick Saban realize he missed college football? His ‘first press conference’ in Miami

Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban watches play   against the   Carolina Panthers   September 25, 2005 in Miami.  The Dolphins defeated the Panthers 27  to 24.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Yeah, he’s playing to, using the vernacular of the political season, his very fervent base, but it’s still not the least bit surprising.

When Nick Saban left LSU for the job with the Miami Dolphins in 2004, there were more than a couple of observers who were surprised the coach would leave the college game to get back into the NFL. When Saban, after infamously denying it, left the Dolphins to take the job at Alabama after just two seasons, there were more than a couple of observers who were not surprised the coach made such a decision.

Why? Because Saban just seemed like a coach who could relate better to — some would say control more — college players than those in the NFL. With Verne Lundquist serving as a guest on Saban’s weekly radio show Thursday night, the retiring college football broadcaster asked the Alabama head coach, writes, “when in his Miami Dolphins tenure he realized he missed coaching college football?”

Saban’s answer was illuminating…

“Well, the day I landed in Miami and went to the first press conference,” Saban said. “I started to realize the difference between the NFL then and what the NFL was like before when I was in it with Bill Belichick from 1991-94 in Cleveland, before we had free agency, before the media had infiltrated sorta everything that was happening. I guess right then.”

… but not as illuminating as the coach, once again, addressing his version of the Drew Brees situation as it relates to the level control, or lack thereof, in the NFL compared to what he has in Tuscaloosa.

“When [the Brees situation] happened, I said I can’t control my destiny here,” Saban said. “I can’t control my destiny here. There’s too many things that, no matter how hard I work or no matter what I do, I can control my destiny better in college by working hard and making good choices and decisions and creating a good program for players. I think that happening made me lean back to coming back to college.”

Yes, Saban may have, in the eyes of some, unfinished business in the NFL. At 64 years old — he’ll be 65 Oct. 31 — don’t expect him, though, to at any point in the near or distant future to rectify that “hole” in his coaching résumé.

Long-time starting guard ruled out by Tar Heels for rest of season

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 17:  Quinshad Davis #14 and Caleb Peterson #70 of the North Carolina Tar Heels celebrate after a touchdown against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during their game at Kenan Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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As it turns out, the short-term hit North Carolina took to its offensive line last weekend will turn into a long-turn one.

Caleb Peterson (pictured, being uplifted) suffered a back injury earlier this month that kept him out of both the Virginia Tech (Oct. 8) and Miami (Oct. 15) games. Thursday night, the school announced that the offensive lineman will undergo surgery Friday at the Carrell Clinic in Dallas.

As a result, the senior guard will miss the remainder of the 2016 season. Peterson used his redshirt in 2012 and isn’t eligible for any type of waiver, meaning the 6-5, 300-pound lineman has likely seen his collegiate playing career come to an end.

In his Tar Heel career, Peterson had started a total of 42 games. He had a streak of 30 straight starts snapped when he missed the Tech game.

Following the 2015 season, Peterson was named second-team All-ACC by the league’s coaches.

In addition to Peterson, the football program also announced that Jonathan Smith underwent season-ending surgery Thursday to repair a fracture in his right foot. The freshman linebacker initially suffered the injury during practice in the week leading up to the game against the Hokies.

A three-star member of UNC’s 2016 recruiting class, Smith was rated as the No. 21 inside linebacker in the country and the No. 25 player at any position in the state of North Carolina. He had appeared in six games as a true freshman this season, and was credited with one tackle.