Lache Seastrunk, Datone Jones, Nick Florence

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

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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

Entering Championship Saturday, just one playoff spot remains open

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  The College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy is seen on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Clemson Tigers and the Alabama Crimson Tide at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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At least from my vantage point, it’s borderline staggering that we’ve reached the final full Saturday of the 2016 season. It seems like just days ago when, among other things, Texas was back and the epitaph for USC’s season had already been chiseled into its headstone.

Three months later, circumstances couldn’t be more different for not only those two programs but for a handful of others. Penn State representing the B1G East instead of conference bluebloods Ohio State or Michigan? Check. Washington (???) and Colorado (??????) fighting it out for Pac-12 supremacy last night? Yep. Western Michigan, 1-11 on this date three years ago, undefeated this year and looking every bit like the favorite to land the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six slot? Certainly. Alabama looking like a playoff lock even if… yeah, most everyone saw that coming even with their annual attrition.

Speaking of ‘Bama, the top-ranked Tide has already sewn up one of the four playoff slots, regardless of what happens in Atlanta against Florida.  Idle Ohio State, sitting at No. 2 after the penultimate CFP rankings, has a key in the deadbolt of a second spot and is just waiting for the committee to turn it Sunday afternoon.  No. 4 Washington’s methodical emasculation of Colorado guaranteed the Pac-12 will be back in the playoffs after a one-year absence.

While math is not my strong suit, that would appear to leave just one playoff spot to be decided in the coming hours.  No. 3 Clemson, should it take care of business against 9-3 Virginia Tech tonight in the ACC championship game, would render any further discussion moot and solidify the four-team playoff field.  Should the Hokies upset the Tigers?  Meh, maybe there’s some movement.

Such a development, a Clemson loss, could conceivably bring two teams back into the equation: Michigan and the winner of the Penn State-Wisconsin Big Ten championship game.  And, yes, that means I’m completely discounting the Bedlam winner as a playoff possibility because of Washington’s win.

So, Clemson, Penn State/Wisconsin, Michigan.  How do their résumés compare entering Week 14?

  • CLEMSON: One FCS win; nine Power Five wins; five Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; two road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • MICHIGAN: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; two Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; zero road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • PENN STATE: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; three Power Five road wins; one win over current Top 25 CFP teams; one road win over current Top 25 CFP teams.
  • WISCONSIN: Zero FCS games; eight Power Five wins; four Power Five road wins; one win over current Top 25 CFP teams; zero road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.

For comparison’s sake, here’s Ohio State’s résumé using the same criteria that will weigh heavily in the committee’s decision:

  • OSU: Zero FCS games; nine Power Five wins; four Power Five road wins; three wins over current Top 25 CFP teams; two road wins over current Top 25 CFP teams.

Also part of the equation? Michigan beat both Penn State and Wisconsin at home but lost to Ohio State on the road.  Penn State beat Ohio State at home but lost by 39 to Michigan on the road.  Ohio State beat Michigan at home and Wisconsin on the road but lost to Penn State on the road.  Wisconsin lost to Michigan and Ohio State by a combined 14 points.

Got that, committee?

I’ve given Ohio State a near-mortal lock on a playoff spot, and its résumé more than speaks for itself.  Given Clemson’s 2016 pedigree, you could (should?) put them in that very same category even with a loss tonight.  With a win, they’d likely leapfrog OSU into the No. 2 seed.  And Washington, with a conference championship, could push OSU to No. 4.

In the end, seeding may be the only thing determined this weekend.

The stark reality is, there’s very little if any drama as it pertains to the playoff participants even before Championship Saturday kicks off.  The true reality will come when, at some point Sunday afternoon, a team that didn’t win its division let alone its conference becomes the first team to make the College Football Playoff.

The collective media/fan hyperventilating, at that point, will be off the charts and absolutely hilarious.  And the howls for an eight-team playoff will commence in earnest, which in and of itself will be a glorious and righteous and much-needed development.

Disney employees given free tickets in attempt to fill stadium for ACC championship game

FORT COLLINS, CO - NOVEMBER 01:  A lone fan takes his seat as the Brigham Young Cougars and the Colorado State Rams take the field to warm up prior to the game at Sonny Lubick Field at Hughes Stadium on November 1, 2008 in Fort Collins, Colorado. BYU defeated CSU 45-42.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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Thanks to a controversial bill passed in the state of North Carolina, the ACC moved this year’s football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando. That move, it seems, has played a role in creating an attendance problem for the conference.

Instead of Clemson and Virginia Tech fans having to travel just 130 or 170 miles or so, respectively, to Charlotte, it’s more than 560 for the former and 700 for the latter. If you’re a Tech fan and you’re driving, you’re going to spend an additional than $100-plus just in gas to get there and back.  And that’s just one aspect of the move that could add to the cost of a trip to Florida instead of North Carolina for both fan bases.

For Tiger fans, they also have to take into account that their team could be playing in a College Football Playoff semifinal and, potentially, the CFP title game, which could impact budget decisions when it comes traveling to the conference championship game. Dabo Swinney, though, doesn’t want his fan base to assume they’ll need to budget for other games until this one is in the books.

“I hope we have a great crowd. I hope we don’t just get complacent and say, ‘ah, well, we’ll go win that game. Let’s think about the next one.’ No, this is the biggest game of the year,” the Tigers head coach said earlier in the week. “It’s one thing to have an expectation, it’s another thing to have an appreciation. One of the things that sets Clemson fans apart is there’s always been a genuine appreciation.

“I know that it’s a game that’s been moved and all of that, and probably some frustration with that stuff. But hey, at the end of the day, we’re playing for a championship.”

Camping World Stadium has an official capacity of 70,000. The ACC estimates 50,000 fans will be in attendance according to one report.

According to TigerNet.com, tickets on StubHub.com are going for as little as &10.

Title game attendance issues aren’t limited to the ACC, though, as fellow Power Five leagues the Big Ten and Pac-12 have struggled this year either in actual attendance or on the secondary ticket market or both. “[U]pper deck tickets in Lucas Oil Stadium were less than $20 on the secondary market for Penn State-Wisconsin and the Washington-Colorado game was not yet a sellout,” USA Today wrote.

Perhaps one way to eliminate the attendance problem is to move the neutral-field game to on-campus sites at the home of the team ranked higher in the CFP Top 25, although such a move likely wouldn’t make fiscal sense to the various conferences and is therefore a non-starter.

Wyoming, Craig Bohl agree to new seven-year contract

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Head coach Craig Bohl of the Wyoming Cowboys watches warmups before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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Less than 24 hours before the Mountain West championship game, one of the head coaches involved is being rewarded for, in part, getting there.

Wyoming announced Friday night that Craig Bohl has signed a new seven-year contract that would keep the coach with the Cowboys through the 2023 season.  The news comes as UW is set to face San Diego State in the MWC title game.

It’s the football program’s first-ever appearance in the game.

“When I hired Craig three years ago, I believed he was the best coach to turn around our football program,” said athletic director Tom Burman in a statement. “He has certainly delivered and the turnaround is evident in the performance of our team this season.

“What excites me most about this new contract is the opportunity to develop stability in our football program. Our fans, our student-athletes, donors and our state legislators will now get an opportunity to watch this football program continue to grow. I believe Coach Bohl is going to be the head football coach at the University of Wyoming for the rest of his career.”

Bohl came to UW after creating an FCS dynasty at North Dakota State, a program that won three straight national championship before Bohl left for Laramie after the 2013 season.  A 4-8 first season with the Cowboys gave way to a 2-10 second year that had some whispering that Bohl might be out of his element at the FBS level.

However, Bohl’s eight wins thus far this season are the most since 2008 and just the second time they’ve reached that mark since 1998.  With wins in the league title game and a bowl, the Cowboys would reach double-digits for the first time since 1996.

“This is a mutual agreement to continue to move Cowboy Football forward,” said Bohl. “I can’t thank Tom Burman, Governor Mead, President Nichols and numerous members of the state legislature enough for the support they’ve provided our football program to help us be successful. And to our donors, fans and the UW student body, I want to thank them for the enthusiastic manner in which they have embraced our team and our coaches. …

“All of these elements will provide the resources necessary to give Cowboy Football the opportunity for long-term success, which the people of Wyoming deserve.”

Starting QB Alex Hornibrook questionable for Wisconsin in B1G championship game

MADISON, WI - OCTOBER 15: Alex Hornibrook #12 of the Wisconsin Badgers warms up before the game against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Camp Randall Stadium on October 15, 2016 in Madison, Wisconsin. (Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)
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The lead-up into tonight’s Big Ten championship game apparently won’t be without some injury intrigue.

On Wisconsin’s injury report ahead of its title game matchup with Penn State, quarterback Alex Hornibrook is listed as questionable with a head injury. The redshirt freshman sustained the injury in the regular-season finale against Minnesota last Saturday.

Hornibrook took over the starting job in late September and has started the last nine games in a row for the Badgers. However, for the last two-thirds of those starts, he shared significant time with Bart Houston.

Houston started the first three games of the season, and would get the start if Hornibrook is unable to go.

Also making a surprise appearance on the injury report for the Badgers? Defensive lineman Conor Sheehy, who’s listed as questionable with an injury to his right arm.

The junior has started 11 of 12 games this season and 19 total in his career. In 2016, he’s been credited with four tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks.