ACC pushing for conference championship game changes; Big 12 listening

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Ask anyone who follows ACC football who the best two teams in the conference were in 2013 and the response would likely be Florida State and Clemson. both went on to play in BCS bowl games, Florida State winning the BCS National Championship and Clemson winning the Orange Bowl,but it was Duke that played the Seminoles in the ACC Conference Championship Game in Charlotte last season. Florida State and Clemson were the best two teams in the conference in 2012 as well, but Florida State was paired up with Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship Game despite the Yellow Jackets actually being the third best option out of their own division (Miami voluntarily sat out of the postseason and North Carolina was on a postseason ban). If the ACC gets its way, the two best teams in the conference regardless of division affiliation will get a chance to compete for the conference championship in the future.

According to a report by Dennis Dodd of CBSSports.com, the ACC is asking for a deregulation of football conference championship games. If approved by the NCAA, conferences will be permitted to establish the rules and guidelines for their respective conference championship games instead of following the mandated NCAA blueprint that requires two division champions to face off even if potentially more worthy teams are available. If approved, the Big Ten, Pac 12, SEC, Conference USA, MAC and Mountain West Conference could do the same. The American could follow suit when Navy joins the conference and a championship game is introduced in 2015. And yes, even the Big 12 could revisit the idea of a conference championship game.

The Big 12 has had to put their conference championship game on ice in after the previous rounds of realignment reduced the conference to a 12-member league to 10. Texas A&M and Missouri left for the SEC, the pioneer conference of the championship game. Nebraska joined the Big Ten, allowing that conference to form two divisions and create a conference championship game. Colorado left to join the Pac 10 along with Utah from the Mountain West Conference. That allowed the Pac 10 to rebrand to the Pac 12 and start their championship game as well. The Big 12 has since added West Virginia and TCU, but has been sitting on 10 members for the past few years. Although the Big 12 could have applied for a waiver to approve a conference championship game — any conference below 12 members is allowed to ask — the Big 12 has settled on life without a conference championship game. But how long will that last?

“You wouldn’t any longer have to have 12 (teams),” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in Dodd’s report. “You wouldn’t any longer have to play a full round-robin in your subdivision. That would actually afford us the opportunity to have a playoff between two selected teams by whatever process we would want to select. I doubt we’re going to do that but we would likely have the prerogative.”

With conference media rights packages continuing to draw big bucks, the demand for more attractive match-ups is rising and television partners are more than willing to give a nudge when needed. If the Big 12 does not want to be left behind, returning to a conference championship game might be a good idea. The best part is it would help the Big 12 stay at 10 members because the need to expand will no longer be there for the conference. If the NCAA allows for a deregulation of the conference championship games, getting to 12 teams becomes less of a priority. The problem the Big 12 faced once losing Texas A&M, Missouri, Nebraska and Colorado and adding West Virginia and TCU is there was a lack of attractive expansion candidates that would boost the membership to 12 schools. The BYU talk has been sitting in a corner waiting for a reason to pull up a seat to the table, but without a 12th member that made any sense for the Big 12, nothing really developed.

The Big 12 has the perfect setting just waiting for the championship game to make a return in Arlington. The television partners with the conference, ESPN and FOX, surely would jump at the opportunity to add another championship game to the line-up as well. The pieces are just about all in place for the Big 12. Somebody just needs to put them all together.

Potential 2013 Conference Championship Match-ups with Deregulation
(using BCS standings for placement)

So what would the conference championships have looked like in 2013 if there was a deregulation of the championship game rules in 2013? Honestly, perhaps not all that much different. The Big Ten and Pac 12 would have had the same match-ups, but the match-ups may have been different in the ACC and SEC, where an Iron Bowl rematch would have taken place one week after that memorable finish. The Big 12 may have given Oklahoma State a Mulligan for a loss in the Bedlam game to Oklahoma if using BCS standings, but the Sooners finished second in the conference standings. One of them would have faced Baylor, who won the Big 12 title last fall.

ACC: Florida State vs. Clemson

American: UCF vs. Louisville

Big 12: Oklahoma State vs. Baylor

Big Ten: Ohio State vs. Michigan State

Pac 12: Stanford vs. Arizona State

SEC: Auburn vs. Alabama

Conference USA: Marshall vs. Rice (although a Marshall vs. East Carolina rematch may have come in to play if going off expanded BCS standings)

MAC: Northern Illinois vs. Bowling Green

Mountain West: Fresno State vs. Utah State

Sun Belt: Louisiana-Lafayette vs. Arkansas State

UNC and Minnesota line up future home-and-home deal

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While one football series between an ACC and Big Ten team may be hard to come by, North Carolina and Minnesota have put together a future home-and-home scheduling agreement to look forward to. The Tar Heels and Gophers will meet for the first time on the football field in 2023 and follow up with a second game in 2024, the schools announced on Wednesday.

North Carolina will host Minnesota on Sept. 16, 2023. The two schools will then open the 2024 season at Minnesota, either on August 31, 2024 or for a Thursday opener on August 29, 2024.

The ACC and Big Ten each require their members to play one game against another power conference opponent each season. North Carolina already satisfied that requirement in 2024 with a season-opener against South Carolina scheduled to be played in Charlotte, NC, but the 2024 game fulfills the power conference scheduling requirement for the Tar Heels. The home-and-home series will also satisfy Minnesota’s obligation to the Big Ten scheduling policy for both seasons (Minnesota is getting an exemption for 2018 and 2019 due to previous scheduling arrangements being in place prior to the Big Ten’s stance on strength of schedule in non-conference play.

Pitt leaves renewal of football series in Penn State’s hands

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Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.

“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”

The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.

Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).

It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.

Transferring BYU QB Kody Wilstead finds new home at Kansas JUCO

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With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March.  A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.

According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.  As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.

Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.

After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy ConnerJoe CritchlowHayden GriffittsBeau HogeTanner MangumBaylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.