USC and UCLA face off in battle for Los Angeles

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It’s been quite a while since USC and UCLA both fielded quality football teams for their annual crosstown showdown.

The last time this classic rivalry featured both teams with at least eight wins was back in 2005, when USC was 11-0 and the Bruins were 9-1.

The stakes aren’t quite as high this time, but Saturday’s game between No. 22 UCLA (8-3) and No. 23 USC (9-3) at the Coliseum promises to be a good one.

The Trojans are one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 thanks to a five-game win streak that includes a huge upset of then-No. 5 Stanford. Ed Orgeron is 6-1 as USC’s head coach since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin and could make a great case to be elevated to permanent coach with a win over the Bruins.

UCLA has lost to three teams ranked in the top 13 and missed out on a chance to win its third-straight Pac-12 South title when it lost to ASU last week. But the Bruins can notch their second-straight nine-win season by beating the Trojans. It could also beat USC in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-1998.

The outcome of this game will effect the battle for recruiting supremacy in the Los Angeles area. The two schools consistently duke it out for top talent in the region and USC has been dominant in this regard for the better part of the last decade. But UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. has turned things around in Westwood and he can continue to make inroads by beating the Trojans.

For UCLA to win, it will need a big game from sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, who has passed for 2,637 yards and 22 touchdowns to go with 507 rushing yards and seven scores. He’s got several weapons to throw to and a talented back to hand off to in Myles Jack, but the Bruins won’t be able to do much without a quality effort from a very young offensive line. USC’s front seven is as good as there is in the conference, so if Hundley is running for his life, then things won’t end well for the Bruins.

USC also needs a good game from its quarterback, sophomore Cody Kessler. His improvement has mirrored that of his team’s and he has 2,449 yards and 15 touchdown passes so far. Tailback Javorious Allen has been on fire of late, rushing for 439 yards and nine touchdowns in the past four games. UCLA’s brilliant linebacker corps will be key in stopping the USC offensive game plan, which relies on a physical ground game and a short passing attack.

The Trojans were left for dead earlier this season but could wind up with 10 wins despite a coaching change, NCAA sanctions and a ton of injuries. UCLA is still hoping for its first 10-win season since 2005, but will need to beat USC to get there.

Above all, the city is at stake, as well as bragging rights for the year to come.

Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson frowns upon Group of Five playoff idea

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The chances a team from the Group of Five ever gets selected to play in the College Football Playoff range from slim to none. As such, talk from within the Group of Five has kicked up from time to time, especially over the last year, about a possible Group of Five-only version of the College Football Playoff. The reactions to that idea has been mixed, but add Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson to the group of people who thinks that idea should be tossed aside.

While attending meetings for the College Football Playoff, Benson told reporters he would prefer to see conference champions from the Group of Five (American, Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt) receive better bowl bids instead of playing in a minor version of the College Football Playoff.

It’s time to have a realistic conversation about creating a playoff for the Group of 5,” NIU athletic director Sean Frazier told Brett McMurphy, then of ESPN.com, back in December. “Why not?”

Well, there are a number of reasons. First, not everybody seems to be on board with playing the college football version equivalent of the NIT. Sure, it would be on TV and would get ratings, but the reward at the end of the JV playoff would mean little. Nobody would consider it a national championship. That’s what the FCS is for.

Benson is not alone in his anti-Group of Five playoff stance. MAC commissioner Jon Steinbrecher also has been on record saying he is not interested in such a plan, and he oversaw a member from his conference go undefeated last season and play in the Cotton Bowl (Western Michigan).

My initial reaction is that’s not something I’m interested in,” Steinbrecher said, according to MLive.com in December. “We’re part of the (College Football Playoff) system, and it’s done a lot of very good things for the Mid-American Conference.”

Without the support from two of the Group of Five commissioners (and you can almost be guaranteed you can add Mike Aresco of the American Athletic Conference to the list given the conference’s push to be considered a power conference), this idea is pretty much dead on arrival.

LSU’s Arden Key: I am not sitting out my junior year

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After taking a little time off from the LSU football program this spring, Arden Key calmed the nerves of Tigers fans on Wednesday with a simple message on his Twitter account.

Key announced to his Twitter followers he will be on the field for the Tigers this fall. Back in February, LSU released a statement saying Key would be stepping away from the program “for personal reasons.” What those personal reasons were is unknown, but he did so with the support of head coach Ed Orgeron and the entire football program at the time.

Key earned second-team All-SEC honors last season after leading LSU with 14.5 tackles for loss and 12 sacks, a school record. With news, he would be stepping away from the program and the age of top NFL Draft prospects opting out of bowl games, the mere thought that Key might become the first potential NFL Draft pick the following season sitting out the entire football season was difficult to completely ignore. Fortunately, especially for LSU and not so much for LSU’s opponents, Key is choosing not to break that barrier at this time.

Texas A&M removes WR Kirk Merritt from roster

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After being charged for allegedly exposing himself to tutors at Texas A&M, wide receiver Kirk Merritt is no longer an Aggie. Merritt has been removed from the Texas A&M football program, according to a report from The Eagle. Though there has been no official statement confirming such news, Merritt’s name has been wiped off the team’s online roster.

Merritt pleaded not guilty to a pair of indecent exposure charges against him stemming from an incident last October. Merritt allegedly exposed himself to female academic tutors. Merritt was suspended by Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin a few days after the alleged incidents. The suspension was expanded to indefinite status following Merritt’s arrest on November 8. The suspension has since been lifted after the university’s conduct process wrapped up in January.

It has been a bit of a bumpy year for Merritt. Merritt left Oregon for Texas A&M last summer due to family reasons. He participated in Texas A&M’s spring practices but did not play in the spring game.

Big 12 revenue eclipses $300 million mark

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When it comes to revenues, the SEC and Big Ten continue to set the pace and leave the rest of the competition in the dust. That said, the Big 12 saw a second straight sizable revenue bump, according to recent tax returns.

As reported by USA Today, the Big 12 recorded a revenue of $313 million for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016 on its tax return. The figure is up roughly $40 million from last year’s revenue, and the conference has now doubled its revenue since the 2012 fiscal year amid conference realignment changes. As for the revenue shares for each Big 12 program, the numbers ranged from $28 million to West Virginia to $28.9 million for Oklahoma. This marked the first time West Virginia and TCU were eligible to receive their full conference revenue shares as Big 12 members.

The biggest reason for the big jump in revenue came from increased bowl revenue. The Big 12 pulled in $114.5 million in bowl revenue in 2016, which was just $74.5 million in 2015. The 2015 season, which was included in the fiscal year outlined by this tax return, saw Oklahoma advance to the College Football Playoff and Oklahoma State be selected to play in a New Years Six bowl game (Sugar Bowl), which led to a larger bowl game distribution for the Big 12. The previous year saw no Big 12 team in the College Football Playoff (TCU, Baylor).

The Big 12 still lags well behind the SEC. Most will, of course. The SEC announced a revenue of $584.2 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, with each SEC member receiving a revenue share of $40.4 million. The SEC and Big 12 are the only conference revenue numbers currently on record for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, but expect the Big Ten to be a solid second in the pecking order, with the ACC likely to come in front of the Big 12 and the Pac-12 to be toward the bottom of the pack.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby had a pay increase as well. Bowlsby reportedly earned a little more than $2.6 million in 2015, earning more than $70,000 than the previous year.