Sneak Peek: 2014 BCS Championship Game

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WHO: 13-0 Florida State (ACC) vs. 12-1 Auburn (SEC)

WHAT: BCS Championship Game (16th year)

WHERE: The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

WHEN: Jan. 6 at 8 p.m. ET

WHY: It’s the end of the an era as the final BCS championship game takes place on Monday night in Pasadena between No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Auburn.

The SEC will be going for its eighth-straight championship (and fifth-consecutive from the state of Alabama), while the Seminoles are hoping for their first title since 2000.

These two teams took wildly different paths to get here.

FSU put up one of the most dominant seasons in the history of college football, defeating its 13 opponents by an average score of 53 to 11. The balanced offense is led by quarterback Jameis Winston, who threw for 3,820 yards and 38 touchdowns on his way to becoming the second freshman (and third Seminole) to win the Heisman Trophy. A trio of talented skill players form the nation’s best receiving corps, with Rashad Greene, Kelvin Benjamin and Kenny Shaw all within striking distance of 1,000 yards. Tailback Devonta Freeman rushed for 943 yards and 13 touchdowns while converted safety Karlos Williams had 705 yards, 11 scores and averaged over 8 yards per carry. Tight end Nick O’Leary (did yo know he’s the grandson of legendary golfer Jack Nicklaus?) is also a big weapon, with 33 catches for 557 yards and seven touchdowns.

This is an offense without many weaknesses, but there might be a couple for Auburn to exploit. The Seminoles offensive line allowed Winston to be sacked 29 times, for instance. And this is a team and a quarterback that has not had to play in a tight game under pressure. If the Tigers can keep this one close, will FSU stay calm or will it begin to press? We’ll see.

If worse comes to worse and the Seminoles struggle on offense, there is always the FSU defense to rely on. This dominant unit led the nation in points allowed, interceptions, passing defense and passing efficiency defense. It’s a playmaking unit led by All-American defensive back Lamarcus Joyner, linebacker Telvin Smith and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. But again, this is not a defense that has been stressed by too many dynamic offenses. They’ll be going up against one of the great offensive masterminds in college football on Monday night.

That would be Gus Malzahn, who took over a 3-9 Auburn team and executed one of the great turnaround jobs in the history of the sport. The Tigers were like a mix between the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team and the 1969 New York Mets, winning games in unlikely and dramatic fashion on their way to the SEC title.

Malzahn’s offense developed slowly but, as the year went on, it was transformed into a dynamic and deadly ground attack, averaging a nation-best 335 yards per game. Quarterback Nick Marshall, a junior college transfer and former defensive back at Georgia, threw for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns and rushed for 1,023 and 11 scores. Tailback Tre Mason rushed for 1,622 yards and scored 22 touchdowns on his way to being named a Heisman finalist. The Tigers averaged 47 points per game over their last eight games as no defense — not even Alabama — could find a way to stop them.

Auburn will probably need to score as many points as possible because its defense, while opportunistic and active, is not exactly as stingy as FSU’s. The Tigers gave up 24 points per game and were particularly vulnerable in the secondary, finishing 102nd nationally in passing yards allowed. They will be hard-pressed to stop Winston and Co.

There could be no better venue for the final game of the BCS era and, arguably, no better teams to send the system off into the sunset. FSU, which appeared in the first three BCS title games, will complete its long-sought-for Return to Glory if it can get a win over Auburn. If the Tigers claim a victory, it’ll be their second title in four years and cement the SEC as the sport’s premier league — plus confirm that the state of Alabama is the indeed the center of the college football universe.

Who are we to argue with destiny?

PREDICTION: Auburn 35, Florida State 34

Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks found guilty of rape

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Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was convicted by a jury on Friday for rape of a female Vanderbilt student. Following 15 hours of jury deliberations, the verdict of guilty on one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated sexual battery was in.

”He’s shocked but understands that this is only the first part of this process, there’s a lot more to do from here on,” Banks’ lawyer, Mark Scruggs, said after the verdict. ”We have some really good issues to raise.”

Part of Banks’ defense was built on succumbing to peer pressure, suggesting he feared he may be beaten up by teammates if he did not participate in the scandalous activity. The jury, having reviewed videos and photos from the incident, some of which were shot by Banks, determined that was not a viable defense.

”Making fun of another person is not right, but we know it happens,” Assistant District Attorney Roger Moore said in closing arguments, according to the Associated Press. ”But it doesn’t give you a legal defense to commit a crime, particularly not an aggravated rape, an aggravated sexual battery. I mean if that’s the case, then we’d have the ‘football team defense.”’

Banks will serve a minimum of 15 years in prison. One count of aggravated rape has a minimum sentence of 15 years.

Other former Vanderbilt players had previously been convicted for their roles in the 2013 rape. Cory Batey was found guilty of aggravated rape and sentenced to 15-25 years in prison in April 2016. Brandon Vandenbeurg was found guilty and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

California’s state-funded travel ban to discriminating states raises mild football scheduling concerns

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The state of California is banning state-funded travel to the states of Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and South Dakota. Those states are added to the previous state-funded travel bans that included Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee due to what California lawmakers say are laws that allow for discrimination against gay and transgender people.

So what does this have to do with college football? My colleague, Bryan, notes this latest decision from the state means scheduling any potential road games for a handful of schools just got a tad trickier.

This development poses a couple of issues for some California schools to address moving forward.

San Jose State is the school affected by this latest news right off the bat. San Jose State has a road game scheduled at Texas on September 9 this season. San Jose State may have to rely on some of that guaranteed money from Texas to cover the expenses, which would put a dent in the total takeaway from playing the game in the first place.

Cal is also scheduled to play at North Carolina on September 2. Cal also plays at TCU in 2021 and at Auburn in 2024. If the ban is still in operation at those times, then Cal will have to budget ahead of time to tackle the expenses. UCLA will play at Memphis on September 19.

The state-funded travel ban to these states may not be an issue for the postseason, as bowl game expenses tend to be carried by the conference and their revenue shares.

Fresno State has a road game at Texas A&M scheduled in 2020. San Diego State has no future scheduling hassles to worry about for the time being.

When ‘physically, mentally ready,’ door wide open for Keyshawn Johnson Jr.’s return to Nebraska

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Keyshawn Johnson Jr. has yet to play a down for Nebraska, but, if it’s up to Mike Riley, he will at some point down the road.

Earlier this month, the son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  This past week, the younger Johnson decided to take a leave of absence, with his father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and will not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

Left open at the time was the question of whether Johnson Jr. would ever play for the ‘Huskers, period.  Friday, Riley left the door wide open for a return.

“We’re disappointed that he’s not here with us right now today,” the head coach said according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. “I think there’s kind of a wellness factor for Keyshawn going home. We talked to him about the possibility of maybe enrolling part time and taking care of his progress toward his degree, and also getting in great shape.

“And we opened the door for return, which is just kind of left open that we’ll deal with at the time that he is physically and mentally ready to do that.”

A three-star 2017 signee who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, the younger Johnson had been expected to be an immediate contributor for the Cornhuskers this season.

Ex-K-State WR involved in release imbroglio transfers to Appalachian State

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After public pressure helped get him out of the Little Apple, Corey Sutton is going to resume his collegiate playing career on the East Coast.

On his personal Twitter account Friday night, Sutton (pictured, No. 12) announced that he is “[b]lessed to say I will be continuing my collegiate career at Appalachian State University.” The rising sophomore will have to sit out the 2017 season because of arcane and one-sided NCAA transfer rules.

Beginning in 2018, he’ll have three seasons of eligibility remaining.

The move comes three weeks or so after a very noisy exit from his first college football home.

In early June, the transferring wide receiver revealed in an interview that Kansas State had denied a release to all 35 schools he requested, including FCS and Div. II programs.  Bill Snyder both confirmed the accuracy of Sutton’s accounting of events and defended his decision, then inexplicably ratcheted up the public rhetoric by revealing Sutton had failed a pair of drug tests.

Facing a maelstrom of criticism, Snyder subsequently apologized publicly while the football program granted Sutton a “full release” from his scholarship that still restricted him from transferring to any Big 12 school or one that’s on K-State’s future schedule while he still has eligibility. It’s unclear if the Sun Belt Mountaineers were on Sutton’s original list of 35 schools that was denied by the university.

In his lone season with the Wildcats, Sutton played in 11 games, catching four passes for 54 yards. Sutton came to K-State as a three-star 2016 signee after playing his high school football in North Carolina.