Karl Benson: 12 still desired number for Sun Belt membership

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Get ready for continued offseason conference expansion and realignment rumors this offseason, because the Sun Belt Conference still wants to do what they can to reach a football membership of 12 members. Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson addressed the topic in a Q&A with AL.com Friday in Mobile during a luncheon for the GoDaddy.com Bowl before hopping on a plane for Pasadena. In it Benson reflected on a successful year for the Sun Belt and confirmed the conference is still hoping to get to 12 football members in the near future.

“There are schools who want to be the 12th member,” Benson said to AL.com, suggesting discussions of some sort have been ongoing, although Benson did not specify which schools may have been showing interest. One of the draws for a conference getting to 12 football members is the ability to hold a conference championship game. Benson noted the Sun Belt is the left out of the championship mix between Conference USA, the MAC, Mountain West Conference and, soon, the American. The American Athletic Conference is expected to play a championship game following upcoming realignment changes that will see Louisville (ACC) and Rutgers (Big Ten) leave but Tulane, Tulsa and East Carolina join and Navy on the way in 2015.

“I know that this past December 7th when the MAC and Conference USA and the Mountain West had their championship games and next year the American will have their championship game and the Sun Belt will be the one in our peer group that doesn’t have a championship game,” Benson said. “We miss out not having that type of exposure on that championship Saturday.”

Asked about a timeline for finding a 12th conference member, Benson said in order to make it official for 2015 the conference will have to have a deal done by June 1 of this year, although he says it is too early to speculate on the confidence level of having a school confirmed by then.

Western Kentucky will leave the Sun Belt for Conference USA officially on June 1. Appalachian State and Georgia Southern will join the conference in their transition from FCS to FBS at that time. Idaho and New Mexico, left abandoned following the crumbling of the WAC’s football operations and unwanted by the Mountain West Conference, will also join the conference as affiliate members. Those changes leave the conference with 11 members for 2014.

The Sun Belt will not be likely to pry a school away from any of the other FBS conferences, so the most likely route for the Sun Belt may be to add another FCS program. Benson suggested finding a school situated within the current footprint of the conference may be ideal, suggesting it would be nice if Appalachian State could have a travel partner. That would seem to suggest another school in or nearby North Carolina would be the ideal addition for the Sun Belt. Charlotte and Old Dominion are each heading to Conference USA, so those options are off the table for the Sun Belt.

Two schools to keep an eye on might be Coastal Carolina and Liberty. Both have been improving their football programs in recent years and would be in a good location as a traveling partner for Appalachian State.

Auburn lands UMass transfer lineman over UCLA, USC

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At least in this graduate transfer battle, the SEC has gotten over on the Pac-12.

Tuesday, Jack Driscoll, who decided to transfer from UMass earlier this offseason, confirmed that he had narrowed his potential landing spots down to three — Auburn, UCLA and USC.  A day later, the offensive lineman took to Twitter to announce that he will be enrolling at AU and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Tigers.

Driscoll will graduate from UMass early next month, and will be eligible to play immediately in 2018 on The Plains.  The upcoming season will be the first of two years of eligibility the 6-5, 294-pound lineman has remaining.

After starting eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, with most of those starts coming at left guard, he started all 12 games in 2017.  All of those starts this past season came at right tackle for the football-independent Minutemen. He was named to Phil Steele’s All-Independent first team while he earned second-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors for good measure.

North Carolina makes addition of Ohio State transfer RB Antonio Williams official

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North Carolina’s addition of a player from another Power Five program.

On his personal Twitter account earlier this week, Antonio Williams announced that he would be transferring to UNC.  A couple of days later, the Tar Heels confirmed that the running back has joined Larry Fedora‘s football program.

Williams will have to sit out the 2018 season because of NCAA rules.  Beginning with the 2019 season, however, he will have two seasons of eligibility that he can use at the ACC school.

Earlier this offseason, Williams had opted to transfer from Ohio State.

A four-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2016 recruiting class, Williams was rated as the No. 7 running back in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of North Carolina.  Williams ran for 318 yards and three touchdowns on his 63 carries the past two seasons; 290 of the yards and all three scores came this past season as he was the third back in a rotation that included Freshman All-American J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, who led the Buckeyes in rushing as a redshirt freshman in 2016.

Both Dobbins and Weber return this season, which was likely a trigger for Williams’ move from Columbus.

Nebraska AD: Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh ‘running a little bit scared right now’

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This is just the cutest, bless his heart.

As evidenced by the record-breaking spring game earlier this month, there’s an air of excitement once again surrounding the Nebraska football program, thanks in very large part to the return of Scott Frost as the head coach.  Riding that wave of optimism, new NU athletic director Bill Moos was a speaker at an Omaha Press Club luncheon Tuesday and, well, let’s just say that he may have initially been planning on dipping his toes into the feel-good spring pool but instead ended up doing a cannonball into the thing.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

We’re gonna run that uptempo offense we saw (at the spring game), and we’re gonna get the Blackshirts back to being Blackshirts. And that’s extremely important,” Moos said. “You’ve got Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh thinking, ‘We better put a little more into that Nebraska game coming up.’ And that’s the way we want it. They’re running a little bit scared right now. And they won’t admit it. We’ll leave that at that.

Nebraska will face both Michigan and Ohio State this season, with each of those serving as road games for the Cornhuskers.  Given the heat that seems to be growing under the highly-paid Harbaugh’s seat — finishes of third, third and fourth in the Big Ten East in three seasons in Ann Arbor — mentioning the U-M coach might be apropos.  But Meyer?  In his six seasons in Columbus, Meyer’s Buckeyes have lost three games combined in conference play; in three meetings under Meyer, OSU has woodshedded NU by a combined score of 181-55.

Perhaps, instead of the Big Dog of the conference, Moos should focus these early public comments on Paul Chryst, whose Wisconsin Badgers are the class of Nebraska’s division — Big Ten West champs three of the last four years — and have beaten the Cornhuskers in five straight meetings (three under Chryst) dating back to the 2012 Big Ten championship game.  Or even Kirk Ferentz, whose Iowa Hawkeyes have won three in a row in the rivalry, and by a collective 96-24 score the past two seasons.

Maybe start by finishing higher than fifth in your own division, where you were a season ago, and then work your way up?  Just a thought.

As the kerfuffle over Moos’ comments began to gain traction, the athletic director told the Associated Press in a text message that his words were “[a] bit tongue in cheek.”

“Meant to point out that the competition is aware that there’s a renewed energy at Nebraska and we aim to get back in the hunt,” Moos added in an apparent attempt to cram the toothpaste back into the tube.

Arizona State, Mississippi State ink home-and-home

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Arizona State and Mississippi State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series to be played in 2024-25. Arizona State will host the first game in Tempe on Sept. 7, 2024, and the clubs will meet in Starkville on Sept. 6, 2025.

The Sun Devils and Bulldogs have never met previously.

The Arizona State trip is not Mississippi State’s only upcoming trek from the Deep South to the Southwest. The Bulldogs also lined up a visit to Arizona in 2020 and Texas Tech in 2029. Mississippi State will open the 2024 season against Eastern Kentucky and visit Southern Miss the week after its Arizona State visit, on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs have no other games lined up in 2025 as of yet, according to FBSchedules.

Likewise, Mississippi State is not the Sun Devils’ lone upcoming SEC opponent. Arizona State has a home-and-home with LSU on the docket for 2026-28, per FBSchedules. The Mississippi State games complete both of the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedules for these respective seasons. Arizona State opens with Wyoming and visits Texas State in 2024, and hosts Northern Arizona and Texas State in 2025.