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

Checking in on the nation’s longest winning & losing streaks

Alabama's head coach Saban instructs his players as they take on the LSU Tigers during their NCAA football game in Baton Rouge
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Unbelievably, at the end of today, we’ll be more than one-third of the way through the 2016 regular season as the calendar flips from September to October. And, not surprisingly, some teams are faring better than others — and some, suffice to say, are not.

In “water’s wet, sky’s blue” news, defending national champions and undefeated top-ranked Alabama holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 16 in a row. ‘Bama’s last loss came Sept. 19 a year ago against Ole Miss. In fact, the Tide hasn’t really come close to seeing that streak end since as just two of their last 16 games have been decided by 10-plus points, with the lone exceptions being a 19-14 win over Tennessee in October of last year and 43-37 over Ole Miss just two weeks ago.

What might surprise you, though, is the second-longest streak behind ‘Bama. The holder of that honor? San Diego State, which has peeled off 13 wins in a row entering Week 5. Tennessee is the only other team in double digits, with 10 wins in a row dating back to last season.  The Vols’ last loss?  To the Tide, of course, a defeat that UT will get to avenge two weeks from today in the friendly confines of Neyland Stadium.

A total of nine teams will also take the field Saturday with a winning streak of at least five in a row:

7 — Houston, Washington
6 — Louisville, Utah, Western Michigan, Wisconsin
5 — Boise State, Navy, Ohio State

Clemson could join some combination of the above at that five-game winning-streak plateau Saturday, but to get there they’ll have to beat… Louisville.

On the other side of the won-loss ledger, the “proud” owner of the nation’s longest losing streak entering the 2016 season was Kansas* at 15 straight, followed by UCF (13), Charlotte (10), Eastern Michigan (10), Oregon State (nine) and Boston College (eight).

All six of those teams have seen those losing streaks come to a merciful end, with EMU actually off to a 3-1 start to the year. The team that was just behind BC, Wake Forest, carried a six-game losing streak into 2016 before surprisingly (stunningly?) winning their first four games of the season.

So, with all of that winning from last year’s biggest losers, who’s the current “top” loser? That title now belongs to the Northern Illinois Huskies, the winners of the last six MAC West championships — and three of the last six conference titles — who have started this season with four straight losses to stretch their ignominious streak to a nation’s best/worst seven in a row. Just three other teams have a streak that began during the 2015 season: Florida International, which has lost six in a row and already fired their head coach; Arkansas State, which lost its first four of this season to push its streak to five in a row; and Georgia State, 0-3 on the season to add to a loss in the 2015 Cure Bowl for a four-game losing streak.

Two additional teams are winless on the season after winning their last game of 2015: Miami of Ohio and Rice, which are each 0-4 in 2016.

(*While Kansas’ overall losing streak came to an end, they’ve still lost 17 in a row against FBS opponents, with the last one of those coming in early November of 2015 against Iowa State.)

Miami to wear helmet stickers honoring late Marlins P Jose Fernandez

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 29: Scenes from the funeral for Jose Fernandez at St. Brendanâs Catholic Church on September 29, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy-Pool/Getty Images)
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The tragic death of Miami Marlins star pitcher Jose Fernandez has touched those in and around the South Beach community, including the flagship college football program in the area.

Fernandez, along with two friends, was killed in a boating accident off of South Beach last Sunday.  For Saturday’s ACC opener against Georgia Tech, The U will wear helmet stickers with Fernandez’s No. 16 on the back to honor the late All-Star pitcher.

The football program unveiled the sticker as displayed on the helmet of starting quarterback Brad Kaaya.

LOOK: TCU to wear debut new chrome helmets for game vs. Oklahoma

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As someone loathe to post on the myriad uniform combinations that college football teams toss out there on an almost weekly basis, I have to admit that these are… not bad. At all.

Quite fresh looking, actually.

Ahead of their black-out game against Oklahoma Saturday, TCU unveiled a new chrome helmet that the Horned Frogs will wear against the Sooners.  The helmets feature purple facemasks and a rather large purple horned frog on each side of it.

While all of that stuff, the helmets and uniforms and cleats and gloves and the like, are mainly for the benefit of recruits and current players, I and my particular demographic would have to give it a hearty thumbs up.  Which I’m certain means the world to the football program.

Longtime starting WKU safety likely out for remainder of 2016

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide rushes away from Marcus Ward #8 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Like they have the last couple of weeks, Western Kentucky will have to get used to Marcus Ward not patrolling its defensive secondary on game days.

Ward (pictured, left) injured his knee in Week 2 and has not returned to the playing field.  Unfortunately for the player and the football program, that absence will continue as the safety underwent surgery on the knee, which is expected to sideline him for the remainder of the 2016 season.

This may not be the last of the fourth-year senior in a Hilltopper uniform, though, as Ward has yet to use his redshirt season and would have a medical waiver at his disposal even if he had.  It’s unclear, however, if Ward will return for another season or rather make himself available for the 2017 NFL draft.

Ward has started a total of 31 games since his true freshman season in 2013, including 26 the previous two seasons.  He was named preseason second-team All-Conference USA prior to the start of the 2016 season.

Perhaps more importantly, he was named a semifinalist earlier this month as a semifinalist for the Campbell Trophy, also known as the Academic Heisman.