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

Colorado hires lawyers behind Pepper Hamilton report to investigate Joe Tumpkin response

DENVER - AUGUST 30:  A University of Colorado Buffaloes fag is brought onto the field during the game against the Colorado State University Rams at Invesco Field at Mile High on August 30, 2003 in Denver, Colorado. Colorado defeated Colorado State 42-35. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Joe Tumpkin is no longer with the Colorado football program, but the Buffaloes are still sorting through the way he left.

To recap: The longtime girlfriend of Tumpkin called head coach Mike MacIntyre in early December to inform him of a pattern of abuse from his safeties coach, which she later told investigators occurred more than 100 times over a 21-month period. According to the woman’s account given to Sports Illustrated — which the school has not denied — MacIntyre and the woman spoke a couple of times with the coach pledging to handle the situation until the line of communication went dead.

In the meantime, Tumpkin remained on staff and was promoted to interim defensive coordinator for the late-December Alamo Bowl after Jim Leavitt left for Oregon. MacIntyre suspended Tumpkin in mid-January, and Tumpkin resigned a couple weeks after that after a restraining order was filed against him.

However, the SI story created a level of blowback in Boulder that prompted MacIntyre to issue a statement defending the program’s response to the situation.

Still, the CU Board of Regents felt necessary to delay the approval of MacIntyre’s announced extension, and on Friday announced they have hired the two lawyers behind the Pepper Hamilton report that sunk Baylor’s leadership to probe the school’s response to the Tumpkin allegations.

“We are looking at what occurred and when, if our policies were violated, or whether those policies should be modified to better explain the reporting (requirements),” CU Board of Regents Chair Irene Griego said in a statement, via the Boulder Daily Camera.

The probe will be conducted by Leslie Gomez and Gina Maisto Smith, a pair of former Philadelphia prosecutors who now work for the Cozen O’Connor law firm in Philly. At center of their investigation will be whether MacIntyre, AD Rick George and chancellor Phil DeStefano followed the university’s protocol for reporting sexual assault.

Still, Greigo noted the pair’s hiring doesn’t indicate a predetermined outcome one way or the other.

“Let me be clear, in no way should this decision to wait be viewed as an indication that the Board of Regents has determined that any employee violated a policy or that any disciplinary action is warranted,” Griego said. “We are simply being prudent.”

David Blackburn comes out and says he wants the Tennessee AD job

KNOXVILLE, TN - SEPTEMBER 15: A view of the inside of Neyland Stadium during a game between the Florida Gators and Tennessee Volunteers on September 15, 2012 in Knoxville, Tennessee.    (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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In reading the tea leaves in and around Knoxville, it seems most in orange want David Blackburn to be the Volunteers’ new athletics director.

Blackburn wants that, too.

A former Vol student and administrator, Blackburn has racked up an impressive resume as the AD at Chattanooga. Considering his only competition for the job at this point seems to be former Vols head coach Phillip Fulmer — who has zero AD experience — that seems like a logical choice for Big Orange.

While Blackburn has hemmed and hawed around the idea of becoming Tennessee’s next AD over the past, oh, six months since it was announced back in August Dave Hart was on his way out, Friday was the first time he came out and said he’d like to be the next head Vol.

“If asked to be a part of this process officially, in terms of an interview I would love to,” Blackburn, said Friday on WNML FM 99.1 (via SEC Country).

“It would mean the world to me to be able to lead the institution that led me, by all the people that allowed me the opportunity to do what I do.”

The AD search has, understandably, been stuck in a holding pattern until the university could hire and install a new chancellor — which it has now done. Beverly Davenport took office Wednesday and said the school was working “very quickly” to hire a new AD, and seemed to outline Blackburn as the type of leader she’d want to fill the post.

“I’m looking for a leader with a proven track record of success on and off the field,” Davenport said in a statement. “I will hire someone who is committed to maintaining the integrity of our program and is dedicated to the success of all of our student-athletes and all of the management of our nationally recognized athletic programs.”

It seems like Blackburn will be the eventual choice for Tennessee. Young-ish career administrators with fundraising chops are the new mold for big-time athletics directors — see Florida’s hiring of  Scott Stricklin and Alabama’s of Greg Byrne — but this is Tennessee. The Volunteers haven’t been good in football since Fulmer was the head coach, so would it really be any surprise if they turned to him to be their AD?

Former Washington LB Pslam Wooching eschews NFL Draft for rugby

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 19:  Psalm Wooching #28 of the Washington Huskies leaves the field following the game against the Arizona State Sun Devils on November 19, 2016 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Huskies defeated the Sun Devils 44-18.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Former Washington linebacker Psalm Wooching will be going pro in something other than… well, football. Wooching announced Thursday he is passing up an opportunity to become a late-round NFL Draft pick in order to pursue a career in rugby, with an eye on making the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’ve been in deep thought and pray about whether I wanted to continue to play football and I’ve come to a conclusion that it is time to turn the page in my life,” Wooching wrote in a Twitter post. “I will be exchanging shoulder pads for short shorts and rugby boots. My first love and sport I excelled in was rugby, and it is time for me to follow my heart.”

As a senior in 2016, Wooching finished eighth on Washington’s No. 8-ranked defense with 42 tackles out of his linebacker position. Signed as a running back out of Hawaii, Wooching stepped up to lead the Huskies’ injury-depleted front to lead the team with six sacks on the year.

Wooching’s pursuit of rugby continues his love affair of a sport he has already played at a high level. The Seattle Times noted Wooching played on the U.S. rugby junior national team as a high schooler and helped Washington’s club rugby team to a national championship in 2014.

Michigan State expresses support for Mark Dantonio despite criminal investigations

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 01:  Michigan State Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio looks on against the Stanford Cardinal during the 100th Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio at the Rose Bowl on January 1, 2014 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Despite four members of the football program under criminal investigation, Michigan State says its support of its head coach has not wavered.

Michigan State announced Friday it has approved a 1-year contract extension for Mark Dantonio, a rollover provision in his contract. There was question of whether the Spartans would, uh, look into that provision as three unidentified football players and staffer Curtis Blackwell are now under investigation from multiple entities for alleged sexual assault. One of those investigations has resulted in arrest warrants sought by the Michigan State University Police Department.

“My sense is that, if we had anything to be concerned about, we wouldn’t have moved forward with the action today,” Michigan State president Lou Anna K. Simon told the Lansing State Journal. “We’re still looking at everything, because it’s in his interest, as well.”

The extension means Dantonio is now signed with the Spartans through 2023 on a $4.3 million salary with a $700,000 annual retention bonus.

Heading into his 11th season on campus, Dantonio is 90-42 with the Spartans with two Big Ten championships in the past four seasons but is coming off a 3-9 campaign, his worst in 13 seasons as a head coach.