Karl Benson

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.

Kirby Smart unsure of severity of Nick Chubb’s ankle injury

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Nick Chubb #27 of the Georgia Bulldogs runs the ball and is pursued by the defense of the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  The Rebels defeated the Bulldogs 45-14.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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You really have to feel for Nick Chubb.

The Georgia running back returned from a devastating knee injury that knocked him out for more than half of the 2015 season, rushing for career regular-season high of 222 yards in the 2016 opener in his first game back.  In an embarrassing Week 4 loss to Ole Miss, however, Chubb sustained an ankle in the second quarter and wasn’t able to return.

Whether he will be healthy enough to return for a ky SEC East matchup with Tennessee next weekend remains to be seen.

“Don’t know the severity yet. He couldn’t come back in the game,” head coach Kirby Smart said according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution following the loss. “If he could have come back, I know he wanted to. So we’ll see how that goes the next couple days.

In his three games since the opener, has for just 200 yards total.  Included in that was the 57 yards on 12 carries he had prior to the ankle injury.  If Chubby can’t go vs. the Vols, Brian Herrien (11 carries for 78 yards against the Rebels) and Sony Michel (11-66).  Herrien also scored the Bulldogs’ two touchdowns in the 45-14 loss, both of which came on the ground.

Sackless in South Bend: Irish lone remaining FBS team without a sack

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish yells at a referee during a game against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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And then there was one.

Entering Week 4, Nevada and Notre Dame were the lone FBS teams that had yet to register a sack during the first quarter of the 2016 season.  Midway through the second quarter of the game against Purdue today, however, Nevada’s Korey Rush sacked David Blough for a four-yard loss.

With Notre Dame not playing until 3:30 ET this afternoon (on NBC), that leaves the Irish standing alone as the only sackless team left at the FBS level.

Ironically enough, Purdue entered today’s game as one of five FBS teams, along with East Carolina, Northern Illinois, Texas State and West Virginia, that had recorded just one sack on the year.  And, for those who are curious, Florida came into Week 4 leading the nation in sacks with 16.

No. 2 in that category?  The Irish’s opponent this afternoon, the Blue Devils (tied with Ball State).

No. 23 Ole Miss blows away No. 12 Georgia

OXFORD, MS - SEPTEMBER 24:  Chad Kelly #10 of the Mississippi Rebels rolls out to pass in the first second quarter under pressure from Raquan Smith #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Oxford, Mississippi.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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The story of September for No. 23 Ole Miss (2-2, 1-1 SEC) had been the inability to keep its foot on the gas pedal once it jumped out to a sizable lead against a quality opponent. Whether it was a lesson learned or the mere fact that No. 12 Georgia (3-1, 1-1 SEC) was over-ranked heading in, the Rebels did not let up Saturday afternoon in Oxford. Ole Miss built a 17-0 lead in the first quarter, took a 31-0 lead into the halftime break and went on to demolish Georgia, 45-14.

Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly was able to get an early rest after one extremely productive first half. Before Hugh Freeze handed the offense to backups quarterbacks, Kelly completed 16 of 21 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. The ball was distributed pretty well between the running and passing games as well. Eight different players caught a pass for Ole Miss, and seven different Rebels carried the football at least once. Kelly took off four times for 53 yards and a touchdown in addition to his efficient day through the air.

Georgia’s running duo of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel rushed for a combined 123 yards, but neither scored a touchdown before the game started to get out of hand and away from Georgia’s strength. The early hole meant Georgia had to try and catch up through the air, with freshman quarterback Jacob Eason having a rough afternoon on the road. Eason completed 16 of 36 pass attempts for 137 yards and an interception, and a number of dropped passes.

Georgia will return home and hope the momentum is quick to swing back in its favor next week. The Bulldogs play a pivotal SEC East contest against Tennessee. The Vols are playing an important SEC East game today against Florida. Georgia may need a win at home to bounce back, with games at South Carolina and at home against Vanderbilt following before a bye week. After the bye week comes the annual game in Jacksonville against Florida. How Kirby Smart gets his team to come back next week with Eason will be key as Georgia looks to prove this loss was a bit of a fluke.

There was certainly nothing flukey about it though, as Ole Miss showed what they can do when they play a complete game. For the first time this season, Ole Miss did not get tired against a physical opponent and continued to make plays all afternoon to lock down the win. This was one Ole Miss needed to have after the way this month has played out thus far. Next up for Ole Miss is a bit of a revenge game at home next week against Memphis of the American Athletic Conference. The Tigers stunned Ole Miss last season with Paxton Lynch at quarterback and Justin Fuente coaching. Both have moved on from Memphis (Lynch to the NFL, Fuente to Virginia Tech), so the Tigers will have their work cut out for them if they are to pull the stunner once more. Ole Miss will be a prohibitive favorite and get a chance to get to the bye week with a winning record before heading to Arkansas and then to LSU before returning home to play Auburn.

No. 11 Wisconsin makes B1G statement with 30-6 win at No. 8 Michigan State

EAST LANSING, MI - SEPTEMBER 24:  Eric Steffes #44 of the Wisconsin Badgers catches a pass for a touchdown durng the first quarter of the game against the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on September 24, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan.  (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
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It just might be time to start taking No. 11 Wisconsin (4-0, 1-0 Big Ten) seriously as a Big Ten threat. Feel free to throw the Badgers in your late September College Football Playoff conversation if you are so inclined, but the Badgers made mincemeat of No.8 Michigan State (2-1, 0-1 Big Ten) and may have put the Big Ten on notice with some very challenging games still to come in the next month. Wisconsin picked up their second win against a top 10 opponent with a 30-6 victory at Michigan State.

Wisconsin put this game away in the third quarter. After taking a 13-6 lead into halftime, the Badgers defense made a big play to open the scoring in the second half. Michigan State running back LJ Scott had the ball pop out of his hands on a run up the middle, and free safety Leo Musso managed to pick up the loose ball and make his way down the left side of the field, shove aside Michigan State quarterback Tyler O’Connor attempting to make a tackle, and get some blockers to make his way to the end zone for a wild touchdown. The score seemed to deflate the Spartans just a little more than they already had been against the Badgers defense. Wisconsin took advantage of a special teams mistake when a punt snap went above the punter and the ball was downed at the five-yard line. One play later, Corey Clement ran in for a knockout blow of a touchdown, putting the Badgers up 30-6.

O’Connor was picked off by the Badgers defense three times in the game, and he completed just 18 of 38 pass attempts. Scott managed to pick up just 61 rushing yards on the ground for the Spartans. Michigan State may have to go back to the drawing board with its offense.

Wisconsin opened the year with a win against LSU, who was then ranked in the preseason top 10. Maybe LSU was overhyped (LSU was definitely overhyped), but take nothing away from what the Badgers have managed to do, even if this is a step-back year for Michigan State. Few teams have accumulated two quality wins the way Wisconsin has four weeks into the season. The only team that may have done better is Alabama, although the Crimson Tide’s win against now 1-3 USC looks far less sexy than it could have. Does this make Wisconsin the team to beat in the Big Ten? No. Not at this point, with Michigan and Ohio State still looming. But the Badgers are most certainly worthy of praise for what they have accomplished in September.

Next up for Wisconsin is a return trip to the state of Michigan to play the Wolverines. Michigan hosts Penn State today, looking to keep an undefeated start to the season in play. Wisconsin will be Michigan’s toughest opponent to date when the two meet next week in Michigan Stadium. Wisconsin will get a much-needed bye week after that but it gets no easier once they return to action. Wisconsin hosts Ohio State, visits Iowa and then hosts Nebraska in October.

Michigan State will hit the road next week to continue Big Ten play. The Spartans head to Bloomington to take on Indiana. Michigan State’s next home game will be no easy one either, with BYU heading in for a non-conference battle.