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The Fifth Quarter: Week 14 Rewind

Kick-Six AP

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Bama bummer a boon for Buckeyes
Well, that escalated quickly.  With an Alabama-Florida State BCS title game tucked comfortably into the vast majority of people’s minds, Auburn done went and did that damn thing: a stunning 100-yard return of a missed field goal with no time left on the clock to send Alabama to its first loss and very likely ending the SEC’s streak of seven straight BCS titles.  And, at the same moment, sending the entire state of Ohio — and the bus carrying the Buckeyes back home — into a mix of stunned joy and utter elation.  Suddenly, Ohio State sits firmly in the driver’s seat for one of the two spots in the BCS title, with only Michigan State in the Big Ten championship game standing between the Buckeyes and a trip to the Rose Bowl Jan. 7.

Let’s also get this straight while we’re here: a one-loss SEC champion Auburn/Missouri will not leapfrog an unbeaten Big Ten champion Ohio State.  They shouldn’t, and they won’t.  It’s simply not going to happen, so that little meme — which is already being pushed by one SEC athletic director — needs to be nipped in the bud before it gains any type of serious traction.  Yes, it’s quite possible Auburn/Missouri could jump past not only Ohio State but Florida State as well in the computer composite with a win next weekend; no, they won’t jump either in the two human polls that make up the other two-thirds of the BCS rankings.  To put it in a historical context, no undefeated automatic-qualifying conference team has been ranked behind a one-loss team in the final rankings in the 15-year history of the BCS.

Boiled down?  If Ohio State and Florida State handle their respective conference business next weekend, it will be a Buckeyes-Seminoles BCS title game.  If one or both stumbles?  Some combination of Auburn, Missouri, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Michigan State and, yes, Alabama, could be right back in the mix.  The title-game scenario has the opportunity to be relatively simple and very straightforward… or turn into utter chaos once again.

As for the rest of the BCS bowl games, they are shaping up to look as follows if it’s an OSU-FSU title game:

  • Rose Bowl: Stanford/Arizona State vs. Michigan State
  • Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Alabama
  • Sugar Bowl: Auburn/Missouri vs. UCF
  • Oklahoma State/Baylor/Texas vs. Northern Illinois

Obviously, that’s a very tentative look at how the BCS will look, depending on how next weekend plays out.  Still, it gives you a fairly solid idea of which direction the major bowls appear to be headed.

Exiting Week 14, the second-to-last BCS rankings that are released Sunday night should look as follows: No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Auburn, No. 4 Alabama, No. 5 Alabama.  Exiting Week 15?  Based on the past couple of weeks, who the hell knows.

Mizzou FansSee ya in the ATL
In the SEC preseason media poll, Auburn was predicted to finish fifth in the West, Missouri sixth in the East — with some Nostradumbass picking each of them to finish dead last.  Absolutely no one picked either team, which combined for two league wins in 2012, to win the conference championship.  Four months and eight league games later?  Auburn and Missouri will meet in the SEC championship game next Saturday in Atlanta.  The West Tigers, of course, earned their trip to the Georgia Dome with the stunning upset of top-ranked Alabama.  The East Tigers wrapped up its first division title in just its second year in the conference with a win over Texas A&M Saturday night.  Mizzou needed the win as a loss would’ve dropped them into a tie with South Carolina, sending the Gamecocks to Atlanta based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

All hail the feel-good Dukes
Yes, a beatdown is very likely in order six days from now, but don’t let that impact the way you view what’s transpiring on Tobacco Road this season.  With a thrilling two-point win over in-state rival North Carolina, Duke clinched its first-ever ACC Coastal crown and will face mighty Florida State in the conference championship game.  Can Cinderella trade its glass slipper for David’s slingshot and slay Goliath?  Highly doubtful.  Then again, no one thought the Blue Devils would post the first 10-win season in school history, then get the opportunity to claim its first conference championship since 1989 and its first outright title since 1962.

Big 12 still up for grabs
With wins by Texas (over Texas Tech) and Baylor (over TCU) in Week 14, the chase for the Big 12 championship will, much to the delight of the league office, come down to the final weekend.  If Oklahoma State beats Oklahoma in Bedlam next Saturday, the Cowboys will win the conference and earn the league’s automatic BCS bid.  However, if OU upsets OSU, the winner of the Baylor-Texas game — in Waco — would get the trip to the desert for the Fiesta Bowl and face an at-large team, very likely Northern Illinois if the Huskies win the MAC championship next week.

Ding, dong the streak is dead!
Which old streak?  The wicked streak!  Since playing in the Conference USA title game following the 2011 season and winning its bowl game, Southern Miss had gone winless and were carrying a 23-game albatross around its neck.  In its regular-season finale, however, the streak was snapped — and in resounding fashion, no less.  The Golden Eagles’ 62-27 thumping of UAB Saturday was the program’s first since the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl.  They had scored 68 points in their previous five games combined.  With Southern Miss’ win, Georgia State and Miami of Ohio now have the onus of carrying the nation’s longest losing streaks at 16 straight.

No WAC, no problem
Suffice to say, it’s been a very successful first season for Utah State in its new league digs.  Moving from the now-defunct WAC to the Mountain West, the Aggies claimed the Mountain division title with its 35-7 win over Wyoming.  The win moved USU to 7-1 in conference play and one game ahead of 6-2 Boise State, which handed the Aggies their lone league loss earlier this year.  Not only did USU win a division in its first season in the MWC, it did so after losing head coach Gary Andersen to Wisconsin last offseason and handing the reins to first-time head coach Matt Wells.  Wells & Company will now face Fresno State in the inaugural MWC title game.

Rice a main C-USA dishRice Fans
Marshall clinched a spot in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.  Saturday night, another surprise team did the same.  Courtesy of its 17-13 win over Tulane, Rice clinched the West division and will face the Herd in the conference title game next weekend.  It’s the Owls first-ever division title, putting them in line to capture its first outright championship since 1957 in the old SWC.  Where the Owls-Herd game will take place will be determined by whichever team is ranked higher in tonight’s BCS standings.  Last Sunday, Rice was 55th while Marshall was 65th.

Case-stating continues
If Jordan Lynch is going to be snubbed for an invitation to New York City let alone the actual trophy, he’s going down fighting statistically.  In Tuesday night’s romp over Western Michigan, the Northern Illinois quarterback rushed for a season-high 321 yards to help keep the Huskies undefeated and in line for an at-large BCS berth.  The performance broke the record for most rushing yards in a single game by an FBS quarterback… set by Lynch himself Oct. 19 against Central Michigan.  People will point to a pitiful passing performance — 5-17 for 39 yards — and use it as anti-Heisman ammunition but will miss the greater point: Lynch is one of the most outstanding football players at this level in 2013 and should be recognized with, at bare minimum, a mid-December vacation in the Big Apple.

THUMBS DOWN

College football fans
Sadly, the time has come.  Week 14 of the 2013 season marks the last full (extended) weekend of the 2013 season.  Yes, next week there will be a handful of conference championship games and regular-season-finales (seven of them) for teams whose leagues don’t hold title games.  And then the iconic Army-Navy game the following weekend.  But, for the most part, the 2013 regular season for college football has come to an end.  And that makes me sad.  Very, very, very sad.  Pouring one out for you, 2013 college football regular season.  We’ll miss you, bro.

Dabo Swinney Steve SpurrierProperty of The OBC
For whatever reason, Steve Spurrier has had Dabo Swinney‘s number the past few years.  Saturday night showed that nothing’s changed.  On a warm night at Williams-Brice Stadium, South Carolina pulled away from Clemson with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to secure a 31-17 win.  It was the fifth straight win in the in-state series for the Gamecocks, with all five wins coming by at least 11 points.  Until Swinney can figure out Spurrier — and Jimbo Fisher for that matter — Clemson will be nothing more than a nice, entertaining little football team.

B1G perception swing
The Big Ten in general and Ohio State specifically could ill afford to have one of its heavyweights stumble at the end of the season, even with Alabama’s season going down in flames.  In Madison Saturday evening, that’s exactly what happened.  Inexplicably, UW dropped a 31-24 decision to a Penn State team that came into the game under .500 in conference play and was a 20-plus-point underdog.  The Badgers entered Week 14 averaging 297.8 yards per game on the ground and 6.8 yards a carry; against an inspired Nittany Lions defense, the numbers were just 121 and four.  Any shot the Badgers had of overcoming the early-season Screwing in the Desert and earning an at-large BCS bid officially ended with the baffling defeat.

Andre 2000 malfunctions
This is actually kind of a sad story.  Just last week, Boston College’s Andre Williams dove headfirst into the Heisman mix thanks to the combination of his FBS-leading rushing stats and a handful of contenders dropping like flies.  Unfortunately, it appears the running back’s time in the stiff-armed limelight was very brief.  Williams was sidelined with an injury in the third quarter of BC’s game against Syracuse and did not return, finishing with just 29 yards on nine carries.  Prior to the injury, Williams became just the ninth back in FBS history to eclipse the 2,100-yard mark.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORTUrban Meyer
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 3 Ohio State 42, Michigan 41: It took an intercepted two-point attempt with less than a minute remaining, but the Buckeyes were able to extend its nation’s best winning streak to 24 straight.  The one-point margin of victory was the closest in The Game since a 13-13 tie in 1992.

– No. 9 Baylor 41, TCU 38: The Bears, looking to bounce back from its first loss of the season, appeared comfortably ahead after taking a 34-17 lead early in the third quarter.  The Horned Frogs, though, pulled to within three early in the fourth quarter but could get no closer thanks to three three-an-outs and an interception in the final 14 minutes.

– No. 11 Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3: The Gophers only made it past midfield on five of their 13 drives, with just three of those going deeper than the Spartans’ 40-yard line.  MSU, though, could never really deliver a knockout blow offensively, ostensibly keeping the Gophers in the game until the very end.

– No. 12 Oregon 36, Oregon State 35: The 117th edition of the Civil War turned into an unexpected thriller, with the Ducks scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass with just :29 left and, following a two-point conversion, securing its 10th win of the season.  UO has now won at least 10 games in a season for six straight years, doing so under three different coaches.

– No. 15 LSU 31, Arkansas 27: It took a 99-yard drive and a last-minute score — and came at the expense of its starting quarterback — but the Tigers were able to fend off the conference-winless Razorbacks and put themselves in position for a prime, non-BCS bowl.

– No. 19 UCF 23, USF 20: Five turnovers would be enough to doom most teams, even against a two-win squad.    In late-fourth-quarter fashion, it didn’t end up costing UCF as the Knights clinched both at least a share of the first-ever AAC title and remains in line to claim the conference’s automatic BCS bid in a 23-20 win over USF.

– No. 24 Duke 27, North Carolina 25: Yep, the clock has yet to strike midnight on Duke’s stunning Cinderella season.  I don’t really have much else to add, other than this is such a great story for the football program in general and head coach David Cutcliffe specifically.  And, speaking of Cutcliffe, he will get my Coach of the Year vote for any and all of those awards in which I have a ballot.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Florida State — The final body count from the past seven games: Seminoles 439, Opponents 72.  They’ve won every game this season by an average score of 53-10, with their “closest” call being a 48-34 win over Boston College on the road back in Week 5.  They have not scored less than 41 points in any game, and have allowed more than 17 points just once.  The Seminoles are easily the best team in college football heading into the postseason… and it may not matter who the ‘Noles face in Pasadena Jan. 6. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. No. 24 Duke in ACC championship game

2. Ohio State – Regardless of how the media and fans of other programs want to portray them, the Buckeyes are a very good football team.  Not FSU good, but damn good nonetheless.  Of course, the level of play again in the Big Ten along with Luke Fickell‘s defense — that porous unit would serve as their Waterloo if they earn a spot in the BCS title game — does them no favors perception-wise. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. No. 11 Michigan State in Big Ten championship game

Auburn3. Auburn — When it happens two weeks in a row, does it cease being the impossible?  Whatever the case, it was Team Destiny 34, Team Dynasty 28 as the Tigers put themselves in a position to, if they can win the SEC championship, get back to the BCS title game for the first time since 2010.  Coming off a three-win season that included a big doughnut in SEC play, that is simply staggering.  And, if it weren’t for what David Cutcliffe is doing at Duke, Gus Malzahn would easily be my choice as Coach of the Year. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: vs. No. in SEC championship game

4. Alabama — The loss and the way they lost certainly stings, but the Tide is still one of the best teams in the country.  Sometimes, there’s just no process, even one that’s won three of the last four BCS championships, that can compete with destiny. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: regular season complete

5. Missouri — The Tigers clinch their  first SEC title game appearance in just its second season in the conference… and promptly drop one spot in my personal rankings.  Sorry about that, Mizzou. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. No. 4 Auburn in SEC championship game

(Dropped out: No. 5 Oklahoma State)

MY HEISMAN BALLOT
If I actually had a Heisman vote, this is what my ballot would look like if it were submitted after Week 14:

1. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State
2. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pittsburgh
3. Jordan Lynch, quarterback, Northern Illinois

(If Donald doesn’t get an invitation to New York City after the season he’s had and with all of the individual tumult, I’m going to throw a hissy fit.  That’s all I’m sayin’.)

HE SAID IT
“If they wanna fire me, go ahead.” — Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini, shortly after an embarrassing loss to Iowa and a day before a very public vote of confidence from his boss.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“First time I ever lost a game that way. First time I have ever seen a game lost that way.” — Alabama’s Nick Saban after watching Auburn return a missed field goal 100 yards with no time on the clock in the most amazing and improbable ending in the storied history of the Iron Bowl rivalry.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“They don’t play well when they play us.” — Steve Spurrier after South Carolina beat Clemson for the fifth straight season.

SCREEN SNAP OF THE DAY
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  Never has that saying been more appropriate than here, with an Alabama fan reacting to his team’s stunning loss to Auburn:

Bama Fan

Yep. That pretty much describes that ending to perfection.

VIDEOS OF THE DAY
When it comes to marching bands, and alongside TBDBITL, it doesn’t get much better than the ones hailing from Grambling State and Southern.  In the annual Bayou Classic (on NBC), the two bands, as expected put on a show.  Here are clips from both performances, beginning with Grambling:

SAY WHAT?
From the fine folks in the Michigan State sports information department: with the 14-3 win over Minnesota, the Spartans became the first undefeated Big Ten team to win all of its league games by double-figure points since Michigan in 1943 (6-0 record).  The win against the Gophers served as the Spartans’ closest call in B1G play.  Both MSU and Ohio State finished 8-0 in the conference, the first time since 2002 and just the second time since 1943 that two Big Ten teams finished with perfect marks.

TRUE STORY
Thanks to losses by Alabama and Fresno State, just three teams will end the regular season at a perfect 12-0: Florida State, Northern Illinois and Ohio State.  All three will play in their respective conference championship games this coming week.  On the flip side, wins by Hawaii and Southern Miss leaves two winless squads: Georgia State and Miami of Ohio.  Neither of those teams has won a game since October of last year.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLYJim Moa

– From UCLA football: UCLA’s 21-point margin of victory is the largest by the Bruins against USC in the all-time series at the L.A. Coliseum.  They’ve also won at least nine games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-98.

– In five games with Lane Kiffin as head coach, Javorius Allen ran the ball 14 times for 78 yards and no touchdowns and no receptions.  In the seven games since Kiffin’s dismissal, the sophomore has ran for 621 yards and 12 touchdowns, while he’s caught 18 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown.

– With eight receptions for 125 yards in a win over Wake Forest, Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews now has an SEC-leading 107 receptions for 1,334 yards on the season.

– Over the past two seasons, Clemson is 0-4 versus Florida State and South Carolina and 21-0 against every other team they’ve faced.

– Stanford ran for 261 yards while holding Notre Dame to just 64 in the Cardinal’s 27-20 win.  189 of Stanford’s rushing yards came on a career night from Tyler Gaffney.

– Boise State’s eight wins in the regular season are its fewest since it went 8-4 during a bowl-less 2001 season, its first year under Dan Hawkins.  Since then, the Broncos had 10 seasons of 10 or more wins, including a streak of seven straight double-digit wins that was snapped in 2013.

– Arizona running back Ka’Deem Carey ran for 157 yards in the Wildcats’ rivalry game loss to Arizona State.

– Trevor Siemian threw for 414 yards and four touchdowns to lead Northwestern past Illinois 37-34, the Wildcats’ first Big Ten win of the season.

Marquise Williams rushed for a career-high 104 yards in North Carolina’s loss to Duke, becoming the first Tar Heel quarterback to rush for 100-plus yards since Darian Durant had 110 vs. Clemson in 2003.

John HubertJohn Hubert ran for a career-high 220 yards as Kansas State dropped Kansas 31-10 in the Sunflower Showdown.

– Indiana claimed the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time in three years, in large part due to Tre Robinson‘s six touchdown passes in the win over Purdue.

– North Texas’ Brandin Byrd ran for 251 yards and three touchdowns in a 42-10 win over Tulsa.

– Quarterback Nick Mullens passed for 370 yards and five touchdowns as Southern Miss snapped its 23-game losing streak, with his 24 completions spread out to eight different receivers.

Garrett Grayson passed for 395 yards and three touchdowns as Colorado State whipped Air Force 58-13.

– Speaking of Air Force, the Falcons ended the 2013 season at 2-10, the military academy’s worst showing since going 2-9-1 in 1980.

– South Alabama wide receiver Shavarez Smith set a school game record with 194 yards receiving in the win over Georgia State.

– Vanderbilt has won 23 games the past three seasons under James Franklin.  Prior to Franklin’s’ arrival, the Commodores had 25 games in the previous six seasons.  Vandy won eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in 85 years.

– Wide receiver Stacy Coley caught two touchdown passes and ran for another  – a 73-yarder — as Miami closed out its first nine-win season since 2008 and just its second since 2005.  The Hurricanes can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 2003 with a bowl victory.

– Oregon wide receiver Josh Huff caught nine passes for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the Ducks’ last-minute win over Oregon State.  The former two totals represent career highs for the senior, while the latter tied a career-high set against USC in November of last year.  It was Huff’s seventh career 100-yard game, five of which have come this season.

Keith Wenning– Ball State’s Keith Wenning passed for 445 yards and six touchdowns as Ball State blew out winless Miami of Ohio 55-14.  Three RedHawk receivers caught passes for more than 100 yards each.

– In the win over rival Eastern Michigan, Central Michigan running back Zurlon Tipton rushed for 216 yards and four touchdowns.  And, yes, part of the reason this little note is in here was so I could type the name “Zurlon Tipton.”

– In its first season under Bret Bielema, Arkansas has not only gone winless in SEC play for the first time since joining the conference in 1992 but for the first time ever in any league in which its been a member.

– At the time of Carl Pelini‘s “resignation,” FAU was 2-6; since then the Panthers have gone 4-0 and become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2008.

– For the first time since October of 2004, a span of 113 games, SMU was whitewashed in its 34-0 loss to Houston.  The dismal showing not only cost the Mustangs bowl eligibility but also did nothing to the ever-increasing warmth of June Jones‘ coaching seat.

– In its second season under Terry Bowden, Akron won five games in a single season for the first time since 2008.

– With 49 yards in Northern Illinois’ win over Western Michigan, Cameron Stingily joined Jordan Lynch as a 1,000-yard rusher this season.  It marks the first time in that football program’s history they’ve had two players crack that barrier the same year.

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Tide tops in spring game attendance despite lowest turnout of Saban era

Alabama Spring Game Getty Images

Only at football-mad Alabama could being tops at something nationally also, at the same time, result in a low-water mark for the current era.

Such was the case Saturday afternoon as a total of 73,506 fans took in their Crimson Tide’s annual A-Day spring game.  That total topped the previous 2014 high-water mark of just over 72,000 for Penn State’s first spring game under James Franklin last weekend.

It also bested Iron Bowl rival Auburn, coming off an appearance in the BCS title game, and its 70,465 fans this same day, although weather in that part of the state may have played a role in those numbers.

It’s highly (highly) (highly) likely the Tide’s total from this Saturday will finish out the spring campaign as the most at the FBS level in 2014; of the remaining spring games, only those at Michigan State and UCLA could even remotely hope to surpass that total — and even that’s simply wishful thinking on anyone’s part.

Despite adding a “Spring Game Attendance High” notch in the belt to go along with yet another recruiting title this year, the turnout for Saturday’s A-Day game was the lowest since Nick Saban took over in Tuscaloosa.  In fact, it was the lowest since the 78,200 showed up during Saban’s second spring.

Of course, there’s not really any reason (at all) to fret over spring attendance as the Tide has blown past the 90,000-mark three times –2011 (92,310), 2007 (92,138), 2010 (91,312) — and the 80,000-mark once — 2009 (84,050) — during Saban’s eight years heading the football program.

More to the point, the eight most-attended spring games in the school’s history have come under Saban; prior to Saban’s arrival, the record amount of fans who took in a spring game was 51,117 (1988), or more than 20,000 fewer than the low-tide attendance Saturday.

Yeah, again, no need to fret for those who were even remotely inclined.

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Confident Nick Marshall dazzles as Auburn exits spring

Nick Marhall, Montravius Adams AP

It’s impossible for a player to win a Heisman based on his spring-game performance, just as, barring injury, it’s impossible for someone to lose it.  What a solid-to-spectacular performance — especially when it’s televised — can do is show the level of progress made from the previous year… and put that player on the minds of those with a stiff-armed lean during the dog days of the offseason.

Based on that assumption — howdy, Coach Saban! — you can very well expect rave reviews and upbeat predictions for the upcoming season to be rolling in for Nick Marshall.

During Auburn’s spring game Saturday, the Tigers quarterback led the first-team offense on seven possessions… and put points on the board at the end of every single one of them.  Included in that very efficient and proficient performance were four touchdown passes from Marshall to three different receivers.  Additionally, all of that scoring came in the first half as Marshall didn’t see the field for the last two quarters.

One of the few negatives to take out of Marshall’s day was the fact that he completed 59 percent of his passes; offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee has set a standard of a 65-percent completion percentage for Marshall.  Other than that, though, Marshall’s head coach came out of the day pleased with the triggerman of his offense as he grows both as a quarterback and as a leader.

“He’s more of a leader by example,” Gus Malzahn said of the second-year starter. “He doesn’t say a lot, but when he does, his teammates listen. …

“Our emphasis was obviously throwing the football. It was good to see our guys throwing and catching the ball in front of a crowd.”

For his part, Marshall had ominous words for what opposing defenses can expect from an offense that was run-centric in 2013 but could be adding a potent dimension for 2014.

We’re going to be a scary sight this year,” the quarterback said. “We can get real scary. We know we can run the ball. We’re just focusing on throwing the ball down the field. That’s the emphasis this year.”

In Marshall’s first year as a starter at this level of football, the Georgia transfer, by way of the JUCO ranks, played a significant role in leading the Tigers on a magical ride to the BCS title game following the 2013 season.  In two of AU’s biggest games of the season — the Kick-Six win over Alabama in the regular-season finale and the SEC championship game win over Missouri that propelled AU to its date with Florida State — Marshall completed just over 74 percent of his passes for three touchdowns and, most importantly, zero interceptions.  Not only that, but Marshall rushed for 200 yards and a pair of scores for good measure in those huge wins.

Of course, Marshall then proceeded to put up arguably his worst performance of the year against the best defense he faced, barely completing 50 percent of his passes and throwing a pick in what was still just a three-point loss to the Seminoles.

Coming off that inaugural starting campaign, AU coaches have done nothing but privately rave about the work Marshall has put in to improve himself this offseason.

Yes, it’s the spring and, yes, the spring game specifically is nothing more than a glorified scrimmage with fans in attendance.  Marshall has shown the desire to improve as a player, and those results showed themselves this afternoon.  How that all plays out when the real footballs start flying in a handful of months, though, remains to be seen.

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Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon takes home third straight A-Day MVP

TJ Yeldon, Landon Collins

Back in the day, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner derisively referred to his high-priced slugger, Dave Winfield, as “Mr. May.”  With no Steinbrenner-like derisiveness intended, T.J. Yeldon has taken the “Mr. April” mantle and literally run away with it.

As Alabama concluded Spring Practice 2014 Saturday with its annual A-Day spring game, Yeldon was named as the game’s MVP despite his Crimson team falling to the White squad 17-13.  Remarkably, it’s the third time in the running back’s three years with the Tide that he’s claimed those spring honors.

The true junior led all Tide backs with 95 yards on just 11 carries.  Yeldon had one of the three touchdowns the Tide offense was able to muster on the day as well, the other being touchdown passes from Blake Sims, the frontrunner (for now) to replace AJ McCarron, and Cooper Bateman.

Speaking of the quarterback situation, nothing was decided on that front — that battle will continue in earnest when Florida State transfer Jacob Coker gets to town — although there could’ve been a bit of concern this afternoon for a coach as averse to turnovers as Nick Saban.  All told, five Tide quarterbacks combined to toss four interceptions on the day.

Despite the turnovers and all-around lack of scoring in what was the first real public debut of new coordinator Lane Kiffin‘s offense, Saban, as expected, didn’t seem the least bit concerned.  Well, kind of.

After beginning his postgame remarks by stating that, from a coach’s perspective, “[n]obody ever has a bad spring game,” Saban did allow that the offense wasn’t quite where he thought it should be.

“I didn’t think the consistency on offense was what I would’ve liked for it to have been today,” Saban said in quotes distributed by the team. “We did make some plays, but there wasn’t the consistency that you would like to see in the offense.”

Seeing as the Tide is transitioning not only from a three-year starter at the quarterback position to a new coordinator, it’s not surprising that the consistency isn’t where Saban would like it.  Getting that consistency will be tested even further when Coker, who some or even most observers expect to be under center when the Tide opens the 2014 season, enters the fray when summer camp opens in early August and further dilutes the reps.

Regardless of how it ultimately turns out, it’s going to be absolutely fascinating to watch how the Tide gets to Saban’s optimum level of consistency at the position and moves on post-McCarron.

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Key recruiter leaving the Hawkeyes

Eric Johnson

A week ahead of its spring game, the Iowa football program has taken a rather significant hit on the recruiting front.

The Hawkeyes announced in a press release Saturday that assistant coach Eric Johnson has decided to leave Kirk Ferentz‘s coaching staff.  The state reason is that Johnson wants to pursue an unnamed career opportunity outside of football.

Johnson was a part of Ferentz’s first Iowa staff as a grad assistant.

“I know Eric and his family have given this decision great attention and thought, and we all wish them the best as they move forward,” said Ferentz in a statement.  “Eric has been a valued staff member since he joined our original staff in 1999 and has made many contributions to our program and team as a coach, recruiter and mentor.  I am very appreciative of Eric’s efforts and his commitment to Iowa and wish him all the best in the future.”

Johnson has served as assistant defensive line coach (2012-13), tight ends coach (2010-11; 2003-07) and assistant linebackers coach (2008-2009) during his decade-plus career with the Hawkeyes, but it was on the recruiting trail where Johnson made his biggest mark and where his departure will hit the program the hardest.  From the release on Johnson, who had spent the past 10 seasons as the Hawkeyes’ recruiting coordinator:

Johnson has been heavily involved in Iowa’s recruiting efforts since joining the Hawkeye staff. Iowa’s 2006 recruiting class was ranked extremely high by all the recruiting experts. Iowa’s 2005 recruiting class was ranked among the top 10 in the nation by all of the top recruiting services, while Iowa’s classes in 2000, 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2009 were all ranked in the nation’s top 25. Sporting News ranked Iowa’s 2011 recruiting class second best among Big Ten programs and the 2012 class was ranked third among league programs.

Johnson ranked as one of the top ten recruiting coordinators in the country by Tom Lemming in 2001 and was named one of the Top Ten Recruiters in the Big Ten Conference by Rivals.com in 2007.

“My family and I can’t thank everyone enough for our 15 years at Iowa,” said Johnson. “It has been a great time in our lives. From a family standpoint, we had a chance to raise our children in a tremendous community. From a professional standpoint, I have worked for the best person in college football.

“Coach Ferentz is the best teacher, leader, and person I have ever been around; he truly embodies the Iowa way. I have also been mentored by three great coordinators in Norm Parker, Phil Parker and Ken O’Keefe, and had the opportunity to work with one of the best people anyone can ask for in Reese Morgan.”

(Photo credit: Iowa athletics)

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Ark. St.’s ‘Coach for a Day’ claims spring game win

Nick Bhardwaj

How much does a win at the FBS level cost?  For Nick Bhardwaj, it was $11,700 of well-spent funds.

Earlier this month, Arkansas State and head coach Blake Anderson announced that it was auctioning off the opportunity for a fan to coach one of the Red Wolves’ squads in the annual spring game.  The winning bid went to Bhardwaj, who is the 25-year-old CEO of a California-based tech company.

Friday, Bhardwaj put his football mettle to the test… and came out on the winning side as his Black team dropped a 48-17 decision on the Red squad.  Bhardwaj, a release from the school stated, “gave the team’s pregame and halftime speeches and communicated with the coaching staff on headset throughout the entire game while making play-calling and fourth-down decisions.”  That decision-making came after an extensive film session with offensive coordinator Walt Bell.

Also as part of the promotion, Bhardwaj received a Powerade bath (pictured)following the lopsided win.

The truth was I was just a fan of the sport, a fan of the game, and just happy to be a part of this opportunity,” Bhardwaj, who had never been to the state of Arkansas prior to the spring game, said during a press conference. Even a day after the game, Bhardwaj was still basking in the glow of the unique experience while Anderson was praising the man with the unblemished coaching mark.

In addition to Bhardwaj, ASU had another surprise up its spring sleeves as beloved former Red Wolves head coach Larry Lacewell was on the Red team sidelines as coach.  Lacewell stills holds the school record for career wins.

“[Athletic director] Terry [Mohajir] kept this a big secret that I was going to coach because he didn’t want the crowd to get so big, or he was scared that when everybody finds out I’m going to coach again that nobody’s coming,” Lacewell said.

Well done and very classy on all fronts by Anderson and the football program.

(Photo credit: Arkansas State athletics)

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VIDEO: Navy football takes near-annual trip to White House

Navy White House 1

Navy’s trips to the White House in celebration of its gridiron success are becoming such a yearly tradition that we wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if the Midshipmen had their own monogrammed towels in one of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue’s myriad bathrooms.

Friday afternoon, Navy players and coaches were honored yet again by President Barack Obama at the White House for claiming the 2013 edition of the Commander-In-Chief trophy.  It’s the ninth time in the past 11 years the Midshipmen have staked its claim to the prestigious trophy.

Navy defeated both Air Force (28-10, after it looked like the game wouldn’t be played) and bitter rival (sometimes) Army (34-7) to earn its 14th CIC honor since the trophy was first handed out in 1972.  Despite the recent run of football success, the Midshipmen still trail the Falcons’ 18 trophies.  The Black Knights, the inaugural winner of the award, are well behind both service academies with six, with the last coming in 1996.

The trophy has been shared on four different occasions: 1974, 1976, 1980 and 1986.

Navy White House 2“When you sign up to play at Annapolis, you know you’re in for a different experience,” the President said. “So, yes, it’s about learning to be a good football player, but more importantly, it’s about learning how to be a good leader and to be a good man. And that’s what these outstanding Americans are and will continue to be.”

The President also acknowledged the tragedy with which the program has been forced to deal.  Last month, running back Will McKamey passed away after falling unconscious and into a coma during a spring practice session.

“I understand your motto for this season is ‘I Will’ in memory of him. And that’s what camaraderie is all about: Honor. Courage. Commitment. That’s what makes the Midshipmen so strong,” the POTUS said. “And that’s why I’m so proud to serve as your commander-in-chief. Not primarily because of what you’ve done on the football field, but because of your dedication to each other and your service to America.”

 

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Nick Saban ‘shocked’ at Manning-Gase imbroglio

Nick Saban Peyton Manning AP

In the course of a post yesterday on Peyton Manning and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase having their brains picked on the no-huddle offense by Nick Saban during a recent visit to Tuscaloosa, we mentioned in passing, as noted by our redheaded stepmothers over at PFT, that the confab may have been in violation of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.

For its part, the NFL is looking into whether or not Manning and Gase violated the portion of the CBA which prohibits coaches from meeting with players prior to the start of their team’s offseason workouts (the Broncos began their offseason program Monday, after the visits took place).  For his part, Saban is stunned that an NFL issue may have arisen out of what’s sounding like an impromptu get-together, ensuring that he stressed that Manning and his coach were never in the same room discussing football during their overlapping time in Tuscaloosa.

From an interview Saban did with the Denver Post after the situation blew up:

“I’m like shocked that anybody would think someone did anything wrong on their part,” Saban said by phone Friday night. “I never met with Adam. When I talked with him I talked about his family. Peyton, we talked an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon. Adam had been talking to our assistant coaches. I never talked with Adam about football.”

Asked specifically if Manning and Gase were in a meeting at the same time, Saban said, “Only to say hello and b.s. with each other. Adam came Monday and talked to the offensive coaches and some of the defensive coaches. I know he talked with Kirby (Smart, the Crimson Tide’s defensive coordinator). He and I just visited casually. We didn’t talk football. Adam was with me through two different college programs (at Michigan State and LSU).”

Saban firmly stated that Manning and Gase did not arrive together; in fact, the coach had been then there “for a couple days” prior to the player’s arrival.

Because of Manning’s proficiency in operating the no-huddle offense, the Alabama head coach and Denver Broncos quarterbacks spent a couple of hours one day — without Gase present — going over what defenses are problematic for that type of offense.

“And Peyton,” Saban said, “we were just talking ball. We talked about particular defenses that give us trouble with the no-huddle. Things like that.”

Given how the situation exploded, Saban took the opportunity to intimate an “ass out of you and me” joke when explaining the cause of the explosion.

“I was asked about their visit at my coach’s clinic press conference but I never said we sat down together. Because we didn’t. That’s what happens when people assume.”

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Hoke: Shane Morris narrowed gap on Devin Gardner after ‘good spring’

Shane Morris, Devin Gardner AP

While Devin Gardner said “it was amazing how much better (the quarterback competition this spring) made me,” the incumbent at the position –despite his pre-spring proclamation — exited the 15 practice sessions without a firm grasp on the starting job.

How tenuous Gardner’s hold on the job was further demonstrated by head coach Brady Hoke, who stated Friday “he might” when asked if Gardner would be his starter when the 2014 regular season commenced.  Gardner and Shane Morris have been engaged in what appeared to be a  neck-and-neck battle to lead the Wolverines offense throughout the spring.

When asked about Morris, Hoke was damn-near effusive, relative to his tepid comments Morris’ competition, in his praise.

“I thought Shane had a good spring,” Hoke said according to mlive.com. “Was it flawless? No. But I think he learned more about the urgency that he has to have to be the quarterback at Michigan.

“I thought he had a good spring.”

Gardner started every game last season before a foot injury he suffered in the loss to Ohio State in the regular-season finale sidelined him for the Wolverines’ bowl game.  In his first career start, and as a true freshman no less, Morris completed 24-of-38 passes for 196 yards and interception as UM dropped a 31-14 decision to Kansas State in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl.

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UGA expects Keith Marshall, pair of WRs back for summer workouts

Tennessee v Georgia

A high-profile running back and a pair of experienced and productive wide receivers missed all or part of Georgia’s spring practice due to injury and/or rehabilitation from injury, but that shouldn’t be the case when the Bulldogs takes its next big step in preparing for the upcoming season.

According to head coach Mark Richt, running back Keith Marshall (pictured) and wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Justin Scott-Wesley are expected to be healthy enough to participate in the football program’s “voluntary” summer workouts.  Those structured workouts will commence in June.

All three of the players are coming off of torn ACLs suffered last season that forced them to miss various amounts of games.  Marshall and Scott-Wesley both incurred their knee injuries during the Tennessee game last October, while Mitchell’s knee was injured in late August.

Mitchell had been participating — in non-contact fashion — in UGA’s spring practice earlier this year before another leg injury knocked him out for the remainder of the spring.

In addition to those three, Richt said he expects tight end Jay Rome, who suffered a foot injury last year and underwent surgery in the offseason, to be at full speed for the workouts as well.

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Washington latest to unveil new uniforms for 2014

View of Mascot

Another day, another FBS program has itself some new football duds.  Hooray?

This time around, it’s the Washington football players who will wear new uniform combinations for the 2014 season.  From the release:

The new stadium and athletic facilities are filled with Husky references, echoing the team’s ethos that “no dog runs alone.” A graphic symbol and unique coded sequence embroidered into the back inside neckline of the jerseys reinforces this mantra. Representing the quickest/most agile sled dog formation, the focal point of this special graphic is the area representing the “team dogs,” who are the heart and soul of the squad. The symbol is formed by lines that, when turned sideways, make an 11 to honor the 11 players on the field. Like a sled team, the Husky football team competes as a pack through innovative formations on field.

Our players can’t wait to take the field in these new uniforms. The design tells the story of our program and provides modern innovations in materials and design while embracing the rich tradition that has made Husky football so special,” said first-year UW head coach Chris Petersen in a statement.

Below are the three uniform combinations the Huskies will wear this season as well as a video tied to the release:

Washington Uniforms

 

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BYU lands Nebraska DB transfer Harvey Jackson

Monte Ball Harvey Jackson AP

The BYU Cougars are on the receiving end of some B1G transfer help in the secondary for the 2014 season.

The football program announced in a release Thursday that defensive back Harvey Jackson has signed with the football program and will continue his playing career with the Cougars.  As Jackson has already received his degree from NU, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2014.

“Harvey is an experienced player and a mature individual with excellent character,” head coach Bronco Mendenhall said in a statement. “He will join our program after graduating in construction management with a business minor. He is a great fit for BYU on and off the field.”

Jackson played in 35 games the past three years, starting four of those contests.  He started the first three games of the 2013 season before losing that job.

In 2011, Jackson, a three-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2010 recruiting class, was an Academic All-Big Ten selection

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Saban picks Peyton Manning’s no-huddle brain during visit

Nick Saban Peyton Manning AP

In mid-December last year, Lane Kiffin was brought to Alabama by head coach Nick Saban to help evaluate the Tide’s offense ahead of its BCS bowl matchup with Oklahoma.  Less than a month later, the former USC head coach was hired as Saban’s offensive coordinator.

While another hire likely won’t come out of another high-profile visit, Saban has again decided to pick the brain of some offensive-centric football types in his never-ending quest to improve his football program.

Saban confirmed to the media that current Denver Broncos and former Tennessee Vols quarterback Peyton Manning, along with Manning’s coordinator Adam Gase, visited Tuscaloosa for two days last week for a meeting that may have violated the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement.  Saban said Manning has “been a friend and very well-respected for a long time,” and the visit came about as the player and coach were taking a football tour to select cities across the country.

Given the proliferation of no-huddle, spread offenses in the college game — and the Tide’s notorious struggles in stopping them — and Manning’s expertise in running such a system, Saban jumped at the opportunity to pick the brain of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game.

“Since they’re a no-huddle team, we had a lot of questions for them, in terms of what gives them problems and what defensive teams do that give them problems,” Saban said. “That was a mutual benefit. I know it was a benefit to us. I hope it was a benefit to them as well.”

Saban’s attempts to decipher the no-huddle riddle from a defensive standpoint has become almost legendary; earlier this month, a football clinic hosted by Saban featured, among others, the head coach of the fast-paced, high-octane Baylor Bears, Art Briles.

“The goals that you have for next year are basically the things that you struggled with last year,” Saban said in explaining the proliferation of high-profile visitors of late. “You make a list of those things through your quality control, and then you go out and look for people who might be able to help you develop a little more expertise, a better way to teach, a better way to coach some situation.

“Sometimes we bring somebody in here to visit with us. Sometimes we have people call us and ask us if they can come and visit us and try to learn from us, which we share with quite a few people. I think we usually learn from them as well when that happens.”

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Clemson responds to group’s ‘too religious’ complaint

Dabo Swinney AP

It was reported earlier this week that a group of individuals with too much time on its hands and not nearly enough of a life had filed a formal complaint to Clemson alleging that Dabo Swinney‘s football program blurs the line between the separation of church and state as mandated in the U.S. Constitution.

An attorney for the Freedom From Religion Foundation stated that “the football coaching staff is doing a number of things to promote Christianity to their student-athletes” such as conducting Bible studies with their players.  A school spokesperson subsequently fired back that “no one is required to participate in any religious activities related to the football program” and that any participation is strictly voluntary.

Thursday, the university released a lengthier rebuttal to the group’s accusations, stating that “the FFRF is mistaken in its assessment” of the religious atmosphere in and around the Tigers football program.  Below is the school’s statement, in its entirety:

“We believe the practices of the football staff regarding religion are compliant with the Constitution and appropriately accommodate differing religious views. Participation in religious activities is purely voluntary, and there are no repercussions for students who decline to do so. We are not aware of any complaints from current or former student-athletes about feeling pressured or forced to participate in religious activities.

“Clemson takes very seriously its obligation to provide a comprehensive program for the development and welfare of our student-athletes ¬ which encompasses academic, athletic and personal support, including support for their spiritual needs.

“We will evaluate the complaints raised in the letter and will respond directly to the organization, but we believe FFRF is mistaken in its assessment. The Supreme Court has expressly upheld the right of public bodies to employ chaplains and has noted that the use of prayer is not in conflict with the principles of disestablishment and religious freedom.”

(Tip O’ the Cap: OrangeAndWhite.com)

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Attorney wants halted FSU probe in Jameis Winston case to continue

Florida State Spring Game Getty Images

A story that both Jameis Winston and Florida State would prefer to quickly fade away simply won’t.

The attorney for the alleged victim who claimed she was raped by the Florida State quarterback in December of 2012 told USA Today that the university has halted its Title IX investigation into the case.  The reason the probe is allegedly at a standstill?  The attorney, Blaine Kerr, says it’s because Winston refuses to cooperate with the university.

The university took the position that since he refused to respond to questions, they could not make any Title IX findings,” Kerr said according to the paper. “We have objected to that as impermissible reason to delay or terminate a Title IX sexual assault investigation because that would permit any charged party to thwart an investigation simply by refusing to answer questions.”

The paper went on to write that Kerr “wrote a letter to FSU earlier this month stating his objections to their investigation and calling for Winston to be charged under the school’s code of conduct policy.”

One law expert was baffled that the university would drop what’s a federally-mandated investigation simply because the accused refused to cooperate.

“The law is not supposed to operate in a way to reward people who don’t cooperate with either criminal or civil investigations,” said Erin Buzuvis, a professor of law at Western New England University and a Title IX expert. “It’s just bizarre to think that would result in, ‘Oh, I guess we just can’t do anything.’ Who would ever cooperate with anything?”

In early December of last year, following a three-week investigation, the Florida State’s Attorney office announced that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove that the sexual encounter between Winston and the alleged victim was not consensual, and that no charges would be filed against the player.  The state’s attorney in charge of that investigation, William Meggs, was highly critical of the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation into the alleged rape in a New York Times report earlier this week, a report in which the university subsequently expressed its disappointment.

Earlier this month it was reported that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

While Winston will not face criminal charges in connection to the incident, the alleged victim is expected to pursue civil action against him as well as, potentially, FSU and the TPD.

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Sooners’ leading tackler won’t face charges, but OU future ‘in limbo’

Oklahoma v Notre Dame Getty Images

At least from a legal perspective, a prominent member of Oklahoma’s defense has dodged a serious bullet.  Whether he remaisn part of the program, however, remains to be seen.

The office of the Cleveland County (Ok.) District Attorney confirmed to both the Daily Oklahoman and the Norman Transcript that  it has decided to not pursue charges against OU linebacker Frank Shannon related to an alleged incident of sexual assault Jan. 20.  The decision to decline prosecution, DA Greg Mashburn told the Oklahoman, was made weeks ago.

It was reported Thursday that Nelson’s was named in a Title IX sexual misconduct allegation report filed with the university in which it was alleged he sexually assaulted a female student in his apartment.  Conflicting statements from the two involved prompted the DA’s office to drop the matter and the Norman Police Department to drop its investigation.

In the report, a woman alleges that early on the morning of Jan. 20 after a party, Shannon offered her a ride home but stopped by his off-campus apartment. The two went into Shannon’s bedroom, where the woman claims he pulled her pants down and tried to forcibly have sex with her.

The woman and Shannon both say they knew each other before the incident. Shannon denied the allegations in the report, saying that the woman laid on top of him, kissed him and removed her own clothes, but that after an argument over whether or not she was menstruating, he went to the bathroom and she left the apartment.

The Oklahoman does write that “Shannon’s future at the University of Oklahoma, however, remains very much in limbo while an independent OU investigation runs its course, a legal requirement under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”  OU’s student conduct office could impose sanctions on Shannon, up to and including a dismissal from the university.

As a redshirt sophomore in 2013, Shannon started all 13 games and led the Sooners in tackles with 92. He neither practiced last Thursday nor played in Saturday’s spring game due to what head coach Bob Stoops described as personal reasons.

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