UMass bracing for life as an independent, but for how long?

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Times are rough for the college football independents, unless you happen to be Notre Dame. With BYU finding out the hard way the evolving world of college football will not be looking upon the program in a very positive light, the Cougars have been tied to the seemingly annual discussion about joining a conference (Big 12? Mountain West Conference?) to find stability as a football program. But even BYU’s perceived troubles may be something a program like UMass would dream of having. Entering the final season as a football associate member of the MAC, the Minutemen are now bracing for the realistic possibility of playing as a football independent until a more permanent solution can be concocted.

UMass athletic director John McCutcheon addressed the possibility of moving forward as an independent, but the long-term goal remains to find a suitable conference home.

“There will come a point fairly soon where we feel like if we don’t have a conference we have to build an independent schedule for a couple of years and we’ll have to get on top of doing that,” McCutcheon said in a report by Daily Hampshire Gazette. “It’s an option. It’s not something you want to do indefinitely, but it may be a necessity just in terms of timing to make sure we don’t get caught short. … I know people want answers and guarantees, but you just can’t give them all the time. It may be necessary for us to get an independent schedule for a few years and show that growth in the program to open some doors. The conference shift has never ended. It never will end. Somewhere an opportunity will emerge for us. It’s just where and when and that I feel confident about.”

The biggest problem for UMass is the realistic or worthwhile options for a conference home just are not to be found at the FBS level. The ACC and Big Ten have no interest in a program like UMass and despite the idea floating around before, the Sun Belt just makes no sense from a fiscal standpoint for the UMass football program. The best option the school may be hoping for at some point may be the American Athletic Conference, but that does not appear to be in the fold either. The AAC will be adding Navy as a football member in 2015, when the conference will have 12 football-playing members. That means the conference has no need to expand just for the sake of expansion (to start a championship game).

The move up to the FBS for UMass is looking more and more like a misguided one, but would the school actually contemplate dropping back down to the FCS? If it can swallow the pride, UMass should at least consider it as an option. It may be the best option left standing.

CFT Previews: The Big Ten

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - NOVEMBER 15: J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes carries the football during the first quarter of the game against the Minnesota Golden Gophers on November 15, 2014 at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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If there was ever a season the Big Ten looked like the Big Two and the Little Ten, this was it. Michigan State is reloading, while the rest of the conference scraps for space amongst themselves as Ohio State and Michigan take off into their own stratosphere.

Here’s a quick glance at how we think the Big Ten shakes out.

EAST
1. Ohio State (12-1 overall in 2015, 7-1 Big Ten): Losing all but six of your 22 starters would be a problem for anyone but Ohio State. If the 2014 team played like a pack of lions, the 2015 bunch was a pack of lions playing with a belly full of antelope: the ability was there, the desire wasn’t. This year’s group is just as talented, they just haven’t had the chance to prove it yet.

2. Michigan (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Many think next year will be The Year for Michigan. Jim Harbaugh doesn’t like working on other people’s timelines. I like this year’s team to lose to Ohio State but still reach the College Football Playoff.

3. Michigan State (12-2, 7-1 Big Ten): Seemingly every year Michigan State reaches a height previously thought to be unattainable, but last year’s second-in-three-years Big Ten championship and CFP appearance feels like the farthest Mark Dantonio can take this team now that Michigan is no longer out to a decade-long lunch.

4. Penn State (7-6, 4-4 Big Ten): With college football’s most miserable marriage of James Franklin and Christian Hackenberg at long last over, this should be the year Penn State starts to look like the Penn State Franklin wants it to be, especially with Joe Moorhead running the offense. The residual effects of the sanctions, though, say 2017 may be more like it.

5. Maryland (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Might as well place a giant “Under Construction” sign out side the program as D.J. Durkin works to build Maryland into a program after Jim Harbaugh‘s image.

6. Rutgers (3-9, 1-7 Big Ten): Ditto as above, but with an even larger “Under Construction” sign and Harbaugh’s mug crossed out from it and Urban Meyer‘s pasted crudely on top.

7. Indiana (6-7, 2-7 Big Ten): Kevin Wilson has done some nice things in Bloomington. He’s run the ball as well as anyone in the conference, he put a scare into Ohio State last season and he took the Hooisers to a bowl game. The rest of the Big Ten East is getting better, though, and Indiana is, well, Indiana.

WEST (A.K.A.: THE BIGGEST TOSS-UP IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL)
1. Nebraska (6-7, 3-5 Big Ten): In a division that will largely come down to who gets lucky at the right time, go with a team whose luck is due to flip after losing six one-score games in 2015.

2. Northwestern (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Normally Northwestern takes a tumble after Pat Fitzgerald‘s bunch builds to a 10-win peak, needing to reload after losing the bulk of a senior-laden team. The 2016 Wildcats bring back enough to contend again.

3. Iowa (12-2, 8-0 Big Ten): Kirk Ferentz‘s teams zig when they’re supposed to zag, and zag when they’re supposed to zig. Last year’s undefeated regular season, coming one stop shy of an improbable Cotton Bowl run, was a zig. Most expect the Hawkeyes to zig again this year. We know better.

4. Wisconsin (10-3, 6-2 Big Ten): Feels like Paul Chryst, while a solid coach, will only take the Badgers to heights seen previously under Gary Andersen and Bret Bielema, but not above them.

5. Illinois (5-7, 2-6 Big Ten): New AD Josh Whitman made a bold move in hiring longtime NFL coach Lovie Smith to head a program to which he had no prior connection. Building the Illini to a contender will take time, but keeping Wes Lunt healthy may be all Illinois needs to reach a bowl game this fall.

6. Minnesota (6-7, 2-6 Big Ten): ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit has the Gophers winning the Big Ten West. I’m willing to be wrong in saying he’ll be way, way wrong.

7. Purdue (2-10, 1-7 Big Ten): Make no mistake: this is a make or break year for Darrell Hazell, especially with new AD Mike Bobinski now in place. I think he’ll break.

USC’s star LT won’t start vs. ‘Bama; backup LB suspended

BOSTON, MA- SEPTEMBER 13: Quarterback Cody Kessler #6 of the USC Trojans looks to pass behind the protection from offensive tackle Chad Wheeler #72 of the USC Trojans during the first half at Alumni Stadium on September 13 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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Chad Wheeler will not start at left tackle for USC in their opener against top-ranked Alabama, Clay Helton confirmed Monday night.

Instead, the head coach announced during a radio appearance, Chuma Edoga will be charged with protecting the blindside of the first-year starter at quarterback, Max Browne, against one of the top defensive lines in the country.  Wheeler has been dealing with a lingering foot injury — plantar fasciitis, to be specific — that’s kept him sidelined for most of summer camp.

Helton allowed that Wheeler could play “a couple of series” against the Tide, although that would, outside of an extreme emergency, seem unlikely.

Wheeler, a second-team All-Pac-12 selection last season, has started 34 games the past three seasons.  As a true freshman last season, the 6-4, 290-pound Edoga started two games at right tackle and played in 13 games total.

Helton also announced that linebacker Osa Masina has been suspended for the opener and will not travel to Arlington for the neutral-field game.  Masina played in 12 games as a true freshman last season, and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.  The highlight of his first season as a Trojan was a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.

Washington announces three-game suspension for WR Brayden Lenius

SEATTLE, WA - OCTOBER 17:  Cornerback Ugo Amadi #14 of the Oregon Ducks intercepts a pass against wide receiver Brayden Lenius #81 of the Washington Huskies in the fourth quarter on October 17, 2015 at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Washington. The Ducks defeated the Huskies 26-20.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Washington will be missing one of its top returning pass-catchers for the first quarter of the upcoming season.

Brayden Lenius, head coach Chris Petersen announced, “will not make a contribution the first three games” of 2016.  Other than your standard unspecified violations of team rules, no reason for the three game suspension was given.

The suspension means the wide receiver will miss the opener against Rutgers Sept. 3, and the next two weeks against Idaho and Portland State as well.  Provided he has crawled out of Petersen’s doghouse by then, the 6-5, 231-pound junior would be eligible to return for the Pac-12 opener against Arizona in Tucson Sept. 24.

Last season, Lenius, who started six games, was fourth on the Huskies with 26 receptions and fifth in receiving yards with 307.  His three receiving touchdowns tied with two other players for the team lead.

With the departures of leading receiver Jaydon Mickens (58 catches) and second-leading receiver Joshua Perkins (36) for the NFL, Lenius is UW’s second-leading returning receiver.

Car accident will sideline starting FAU lineman Reggie Bain for 2016

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On off-field incident late last week will cost FAU one of the top offensive linemen in Conference USA moving forward.

Over the weekend, FAU confirmed that Reggie Bain sustained injuries that were described as “not life threatening” in a car accident Friday. However, the non-specified injuries will likely sideline the true junior offensive tackle for the entire 2016 season.

“I have been in constant contact and have visited with both Reggie and his family,” a statement from head coach Charlie Partridge began. “His FAU football family has surrounded him with support and will continue to do so. Out of respect for Reggie, his family and our team, all questions should only be directed to me. I know that inquiries may be well-intentioned, under the HIPPA law, and per the request of Reggie and his family, there is very little I can disclose.”

No details surrounding the accident have been released.

Bain has started all 24 games in his two-year career with the Owls, earning second-team all-conference honors following the 2015 season. Coaches made Bain a preseason all-league selection last month.