Breaking down the Big 12 championship picture

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There may no longer be a Big 12 championship game, but the conference’s championship picture certainly should not be forgotten this championship weekend. The fate of the Big 12 will be determined between a pair of games with just one guaranteed BCS spot to be filled. No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), No. 9 Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12) and No. 25 Texas (8-3, 7-1 Big 12) all have a chance to lay claim to the Big 12 championship and a trip to a CBS bowl game that goes to the winner.

Oklahoma State has the inside track to the conference championship. Already with wins against Baylor and Texas this season, the Cowboys simply need to win their rivalry game against No. 17 Oklahoma (9-2, 6-2 Big 12) to force no less than a tie for first place in the Big 12. As winners of head-to-head contests with the Bears and Longhorns, Oklahoma State will win any tie-breaker scenario possible this weekend, sending the Cowboys to their second BCS bowl game in the BCS era. Oklahoma State won the Big 12 title in 2011 and defeated Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.

Oklahoma State is the hottest team in the Big 12, winners of seven straight games after an upset loss at West Virginia. The Cowboys had a little bit of a scare the next week against Kansas State but managed a fourth quarter rally to take advantage of a five-turnover day by Kansas State’s offense. Since then, the Cowboys have been locked in and unbeatable in the Big 12. Back-to-back wins against Texas and Baylor came by a combined score of 87-30.

How will the Cowboys keep that level of play up after a late bye week against the school’s biggest rival, Oklahoma?

The Sooners started the year off with a 5-0 mark but were handled by Texas in the Red River Rivalry, 36-20. Oklahoma’s lack of offense came back to haunt them a couple of weeks later against Baylor. Oklahoma played well on defense early on, but it was only a matter of time before Baylor’s offense exploded on the Sooners, and when it did the points came in a hurry. The Sooners have thrived more on offense when they run the football this season. Running back Brennan Clay had a 200-yard outburst against Kansas State in Oklahoma’s last game.

The Sooners have won nine of the last ten meetings with Oklahoma State, although the Cowboys look to have more going in their favor this time around. Still, if Baylor and Texas fans are looking for something to fall back on then history may be on their side. If Oklahoma can find a winning formula to take down Oklahoma State, then the door is wide open for Baylor and Texas.

Bedlam should be coming to a close as the Longhorns and Bears are kicking off in Waco for the final game in Floyd Casey Stadium. Thinking back to September, fresh after BYU shredded the Texas defense, this game looked like a disaster waiting to drive the final nail in the coffin of Mack Brown’s coaching career if he managed to survive this long. Texas could still have their problems with Baylor’s offense, but the Longhorns have proven to be capable of scoring points as well. The Longhorns outlasted Baylor last season in Austin, 56-50, but Texas continues to be banged up on offense.

The key to this game may be Baylor quarterback Bryce Petty, who remains in the thick of the Heisman conversation even if Florida State’s Jameis Winston appears to be the clear favorite. Petty has completed 28 touchdown passes to just two interceptions this season. His accuracy and careful decision-making will make it tough for Texas to slow down the Bears.

Oklahoma Stat has the best shot to come out on top of the Big 12 this weekend, but Baylor could easily make their first BCS bowl trip if the Cowboys stumble. Whatever the case, the only two Big 12 game son the schedule will pack plenty of drama Saturday afternoon while the other conferences play out their conference championship games.

Who needs a conference championship game anyway?

Ken Sparks, fifth-winningest coach at any level in college football history, dies at age 73

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College football has lost a coaching legend of the sport that you may never have heard of.

Carson-Newman announced Wednesday morning that its legendary former head football coach, Ken Sparks, passed away earlier in the day at the age of 73.  Sparks had been battling prostate cancer since being diagnosed in 2012, but doctors stopped treating him in January of this year.

According to WBIR-TV, Sparks had been in hospice care for the last several weeks.

Sparks was the head coach at Carson-Newman from 1980 through November of 2016, when he stepped down because of health concerns. During his time at the Div. II program — the first baker’s dozen years they were an NAIA school — the Eagles went 338-99-2. Sparks laid claim to five NAIA national championships and qualified for the Div. II playoffs 15 times in 24 years, although they failed to win a title at that latter level.

The 338 wins for Sparks are the fifth-most at any level of college football, behind only John Gagliardi (489), Joe Paterno (409), Eddie Robinson (408) and Bobby Bowden (377).

Alabama won’t be rushing Bo Scarbrough back this spring

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Not surprisingly, Alabama is going to err on the side of caution when it comes to one the most productive horses in its backfield stable.

On a second-down carry late in the third quarter of the national championship game loss to Clemson, Bo Scarbrough went down with an injury that turned out to be a fractured bone in his lower right leg.  The rising sophomore running back has recovered enough to be a participant in the Crimson Tide’s spring practice during some drills, albeit in non-contact mode.

Following the fourth practice of the spring Tuesday, Nick Saban made it clear made it clear that, while Scarbrough is getting some work in, the football program won’t be pushing him.

“Bo is doing more and more every day,” the head coach said according to al.com. “He did quite a bit today in practice, non-contact stuff, but he’s sort of gaining confidence. Our goal for Bo is by the end of spring, he’s fully confident that he can do everything he needs to do. Whether he ever scrimmages or is really something that we’re not that concerned about.”

It’s expected Scarbrough, barring a setback between now and then, will be fully recovered well ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

Scarbrough’s 812 yards rushing year was second amongst Tide backs, while his 11 rushing touchdowns were second on the team.  He ran for 180 of those yards and two of the touchdowns in the College Football Playoff semifinal win over Washington, then had 93 yards and two more touchdowns before going down with the injury in the title game.

Western Kentucky hoops star to give Hilltoppers football a try

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Coming off a season in which he was the best player on Western Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, Justin Johnson is going to try his hand at another sport.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Johnson will practice with the Hilltoppers football team for the remainder of spring practice. The 6-7 forward will, not surprisingly, spend his time at tight end.

At the end of practices this spring, a WKU official told CFT, both sides will determine what if any future Johnson has in the sport.

Johnson admitted in one interview earlier this basketball season that he grew up wanting to play linebacker for Ohio State, and he did play two years of football at his Kentucky high school. Despite the fact that both Kentucky and Louisville had interest in him as a tight end, he ended up signing with WKU’s hoops team in 2014.

That decision has worked out well for both parties as Johnson has led the team in scoring and rebounding each of the past two seasons. He led Conference USA in the latter category as well as double-doubles, and was named second-team all-conference after his junior season.

Victim of alleged WKU football attack plans to file charges

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A former Western Kentucky fraternity member says he was attacked by a group of Hilltoppers football players and plans to file charges.

Jerald Armfield, an alum of WKU’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity, told WBKO-TV he was caught in an ongoing feud between the fraternity and the football team:

“I went to the house in the best interest of the fraternity and Western as a whole to prevent any type of violence from occurring. We got up there and realized they were all hiding behind garbage cans, trees, and buildings.”

“I never in my wildest dreams thought they would attack me in the manner that they did. They all started surrounding me. One of them threw a rock at me. It was within a few seconds that one of them punched me in the face.”

“I fell down. I was kicked several times. The whole time they were beating me, I was begging them to stop, telling them I wasn’t here the night before, I had nothing to to do with it, like please stop, please stop, and they didn’t.”

Armfield said between nine and 10 people ultimately attacked him; it isn’t known for sure how many of that group are on the football team, though the program’s involvement in the incident is being investigated.

“We are aware of the allegations involving a few members of our football team,” the program said in the statement when word of the altercation broke three weeks ago. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities. However, at this time, we have not received a police report and cannot provide further comment.”

While the status of the investigation is currently unknown, Armfield told WBKO he would like it to end with multiple charges. “I made it very clear that night when the police arrived on the scene that I wanted charges pressed,” he said. “As far as I know a detective from Bowling Green Police Department has it. As it stands right now, I still want charges pressed. They need to be held accountable for what they did not only as citizens but as students at Western.”