ACC’s “8+1” scheduling model has potential, but needs outside support

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For the past few years ACC commissioner John Swofford has been saying his conference needs to step it up in games against the other big conferences. Not so long ago the ACC was perceived to be sitting behind not only the SEC in the conference pecking order, but the Big Ten, Big 12 and Pac 12 as well. In a season that saw Florida State win the BCS championship against SEC champion Auburn and Clemson knock off Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, the image may be starting to change for the conference.

As the conference preps for upcoming changes in membership (so long Maryland, hello Louisville), what to do about future conference scheduling remains an unknown. With conferences exploring the ideas of nine-game conference schedules, the ACC is left with a complicated issue thanks to a football scheduling agreement with Notre Dame. The Irish are not a football member of the conference but set aside a handful of guaranteed games each season for ACC schools as part of the conference membership deal Notre Dame agreed to when joining in other sports such as basketball. One idea currently being discussed within the ACC is an “8+1” model that would set up eight conference games and set aside one spot on the schedule to be played against SEC opponents in a crossover scheduling agreement.

According to a report by ESPN.com, the scheduling model is just in the concept phase has and is a long way from becoming a reality. Getting the SEC to agree to provide full conference support for the agreement is just one of the obstacles in the way. If it were to come together though, it would be a great move by the ACC and SEC to provide fans with one more attractive game on the schedule. Of course, it also ramps up the strength of schedule on both ends and that could be a selling point when college football moves in to the College Football Playoff era. Strength of schedule is expected to carry more weight in the selection process for the playoff.

The ACC and SEC already have four match-ups that take place annually. Florida State and Florida, Georgia and Georgia Tech, South Carolina and Clemson, and Louisville and Kentucky are all games that will take place at the end of the season. That leaves 10 programs in each conference without an interconference rivalry game. The idea is not exactly unique of course. The Big Ten and Pac 12 previously had a tentative plan in place to schedule conference-wide crossover games after the conferences had expanded to 12 members, but the Pac 12 backed out of the agreement before it could fully develop due to conference scheduling changes coming up at the time. If the ACC cannot get the full support from the SEC, perhaps working something out with the Big Ten (or Big 12) could become a realistic possibility.

The drawbacks would be the possibility that an ACC-SEC crossover game late in the season could knock one team out of contention for a playoff spot. And if the idea is to schedule these games in the final week of the regular season — Florida-Florida State, Georgia-Georgia Tech, South Carolina-Clemson and Kentucky-Louisville are already the final games of the regular season — it would take away from the tradition of some key games on the college football calendar, such as the Iron Bowl between Alabama and Auburn. Alabama vs. Duke just doesn’t have the same ring to it.

But these games don’t have to be scheduled all on the same weekend. Perhaps some could, to keep some of the existing rivalry games at the end of the year in place both within conferences and between conferences. The idea of mixing in some crossover games in the beginning of the season would work well.

Whatever happens with the ACC scheduling, anything that can be done to improve the strength of schedule across the conference and make for more entertaining games for fans is a win for us all.

Shawn Eichorst’s firing at Nebraska increases heat on Mike Riley

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If Mike Riley wasn’t feeling the pressure to win before, he certainly is now.

Thursday afternoon, Nebraska announced that Shawn Eichorst, the man responsible for firing Bo Pelini as head football coach and hiring Riley as his replacement, has been ousted from his position as athletic director at the university.  The move is effective immediately.

Eichorst was hired by NU in October of 2012, and still has $1.7 million remaining on a contract that runs through June of 2019.  The university will be responsible for paying Eichorst that entire amount.

“Shawn has led Nebraska Athletics in many positive ways, but those efforts have not translated into on-field performance,” chancellor Ronnie Green said in a statement. “Our fans and our student-athletes deserve leadership that drives the highest levels of competitiveness, as well as excellence across all facets of Husker Athletics.”

The fact that the chancellor mentioned lack of on-field performance should be especially worrisome for Riley.

The Cornhuskers won at least nine games in each of the seven seasons under Pelini.  His last two seasons, they finished a combined 18-7.  In Riley’s two-plus seasons, they’ve gone 16-13, including a 1-2 stumble out of the gate this year.

The move to fire Eichorst comes less than a week after Nebraska lost 21-17 to Northern Illinois at Memorial Stadium.

That loss marked NU’s first defeat at home to a Group of Five team since falling to Southern Miss in 2004.  That was the first year of the Bill Callahan reign in Lincoln, a season that would finish with a 5-6 record; that was the program’s worst since going 3-6-1 in 1961.

The NIU loss was also the first time, ever, that the Cornhuskers have lost to a team from the MAC, either at home, on the road or on a neutral field.

USC optimistic Uchenna Nwosu will play against Cal

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Already battered by injuries on defense, USC may have avoided what would’ve potentially been a significant loss on that side of the ball.

Uchenna Nwosu suffered a sprained MCL in his knee during USC’s double-overtime win over Texas in Week 3.  After being held out in the early part of the week, the linebacker, armed — or kneed as the case may be — with a brace, returned to practice Wednesday.

Afterward, head coach Clay Helton seemed optimistic about Nwosu’s availability for the Week 4 game against Cal, their first road trip of the season.

Nwosu is currently second on the team in tackles with 20, while his seven pass breakups rank second nationally.  He’s started the first three games of the season for the Trojans after starting every game in 2016.

That brings us to the end of the positive injury news portion of the program as fellow linebacker Porter Gustin is very unlikely to play against the Golden Bears.  Gustin, who leads the Trojans in sacks with three, has been dealing with a surgically-repaired big toe.  While it didn’t keep him out of the Texas game as expected, he was sidelined again at practice Wednesday.

Additionally, defensive end Rasheem Green (ankle) and slot cornerback Ajene Harris (knee) are questionable for the road trip to Berkeley after sitting out practice yet again.

Tennessee LB Cortez McDowell’s season might not be over after all

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In the end, there could be an injury silver lining for Tennessee after all.

In the aftermath of the deflating last-second loss to rival Florida, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced that Cortez McDowell would miss the remainder of the 2017 season.  The linebacker sustained an injury to his wrist that, at the time, was deemed serious enough to shelve him for the rest of the year.

The key here is “at the time” as, a couple of days later, the prognosis has brightened slightly as Jones allowed Wednesday that McDowell could return at some point this season.  Whether it’s late in the regular season or even for a bowl game, the coach at least left the door open for the senior to play again in 2017.

Obviously, any availability would be determined in the coming weeks by the program’s medical staff.

McDowell would be eligible for a medical hardship waiver if he shut it down for the remainder of the season, which would give the fourth-year senior another year of eligibility to use in 2018.  At least at this point in time, that’s not the tack that either the player or the football program is taking.

After starting four of 12 games last season, McDowell started the first three games this season prior to his injury.

 

Derrius Guice ruled out for LSU’s game vs. Syracuse

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So there you have it.

Late in the third quarter of Saturday’s 37-7 loss to Mississippi State, Derrius Guice sustained an injury to his left knee.  While Ed Orgeron downplayed the severity of the injury in the ensuing days, he allowed during his turn on the SEC coaches teleconference Wednesday that his star running back is “very questionable right now” for the Week 4 game against Syracuse.

Later that night, on the head coach’s radio show, the very questionable morphed into completely out.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

With Guice unable to go, Darrel Williams (28-159-4) will likely be next in line to shoulder the brunt of the running-game load.