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

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.

Third ex-Vandy football player sentenced to 15 years for rape

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A third former Vanderbilt football player will spend a sizable portion of his adult life behind bars.

In June of this year, Brandon Banks was found guilty on one count each of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery related to a 2013 gang rape of an unconscious woman. Friday, Banks was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

In July of last year, one of Banks’ former teammates, Cory Batey, was sentenced to 15 years after being found guilty of aggravated rape. Four months later, another former Vandy football player, Brandon Vandenburg, was sentenced to 17 years after being found guilty of the same charge as Batey. The judge gave Vandenburg a longer sentence than Batey because the former was the leader in the attack and betrayed the woman’s trust.

Banks, Vandenburg, Batey and another ex-Vandy football player, Jaborian ‘Tip’ McKenziewere initially charged Aug. 9, 2013, with five counts of aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery each after a police investigation determined that the four had raped an unconscious woman.

On June 28 of 2013, Vanderbilt announced that four unnamed players had been indefinitely suspended amid reports that the players were connected to an alleged sex crimes case.  The next day, Vandy officials further clarified the players’ statuses, releasing a statement announcing the dismissals of the four.  That release further added that none of the four will be permitted to return to campus without permission from the office of student conduct and academic integrity.

McKenzie has pleaded guilty and is awaiting sentencing.  He has agreed to testify against his former teammates in exchange for what he hopes is a lighter sentence.

Georgia Tech dismisses leading rusher Dedrick Mills

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I believe this one would qualify as a significant development.

In a very brief press release, Georgia Tech announced Friday afternoon that Dedrick Mills has been dismissed by Paul Johnson from the football team.  The only reason given was an unspecified violation of Tech athletics department rules.

The head coach is expected to meet with the media following practice later on this afternoon.

Regardless of the specific reason for the dismissal, Mills’ departure serves as yet another blow for the run-heavy Yellow Jackets.

Last season, Mills’ 771 yards and 12 rushing touchdowns led all Tech ball carriers.  169 of those yards came in the bowl win over Kentucky.  Mills put up all of those numbers as a true freshman despite being suspended on two different occasions for a total of three games.

Mills’ dismissal is the second huge blow to their 2017 running game as Marcus Marshall, who was second on the team last season with 624 yards, announced in late November that he would be transferring from Tech.  Less than a month later, he moved on to James Madison.

With those twin departures, Clinton Lynch‘s 415 yards last season makes him the team’s leading returning rusher.