Alabama USC

Alabama-USC set for 2016 opener in Arlington

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Hell.  Yes.  Now we’re (officially) talking.

Of all the big non-conference matchups that have come down the pike over the past few months, this might be the biggest.  And most anticipated.

In twin press releases, Alabama and USC announced that the two storied football programs will kick off the 2016 college football season Sept. 3 with a neutral site game.  The game will be played at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Tex., in what by then will the eighth annual Cowboys Classic.

The announcement is not actually a surprise in that there was speculation a couple of months ago, but it’s still huge scheduling news.

The two programs last met in the Aloha Bowl following the 1985 season and first met in 1938.  All told, the Tide and the Trojans have squared off seven times — the former owns a 5-2 edge — including the historic meeting in 1970 “in which John McKay’s visiting Trojans, with their all-black starting backfield, pounded Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant’s all-white Crimson Tide 42-21.”  That game, the story goes, forever changed Alabama football.

The 2016 appearance in the Cowboys Classic, incidentally, will mark the second consecutive appearance for Alabama in Arlington as the Tide is set to take on Wisconsin in the 2015 Classic.  The Tide also opened the 2012 season against Michigan in Arlington.

Of course, there’s also a chance that the UA-USC game could feature the Trojans playing against their former head coach, although it seems somewhat doubtful that current Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will still be in Tuscaloosa two years from now.  A man can dream, though.  A man can dream.

(Photo credit: Showtime)

Pitt RB James Conner declares for NFL Draft

STILLWATER, OK - SEPTEMBER 17 : Running back James Conner #24 of the Pittsburgh Panthers is pursued by linebacker Devante Averette #40 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys September 17, 2016 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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James Conner is taking his inspirational story and frightening running back skills to the NFL.

The Pittsburgh running back made the announcement Saturday afternoon through his Twitter account.

The Panthers immediately released a statement blessing the move.

Conner burst on the scene as a freshman, leading the Panthers with 799 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. He exploded as a sophomore for 1,765 yards and 26 touchdowns before missing his junior season due to Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He returned to the field this fall with a body free of cancer and promptly returned to form, carrying a team-leading 208 times for 1,060 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Conner was named the winner of the Disney Spirit Award on Thursday night.

The Pitt running back will join a growing list of running back early entrants, including D'Onta ForemanLeonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey.

Cincinnati formally announces Luke Fickell as new head coach

CHAMPAIGN, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Head coach Luke Fickell of the Ohio State Buckeyes watches as his team takes on the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium on October 15, 2011 in Champaign, Illinois. Ohio State defeated Illinois 17-7.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The worst-kept secret in college football is no longer a secret. Luke Fickell is Cincinnati’s new head coach.

The school made the announcement Saturday afternoon after word had begun trickling in the Buckeye State since last night.

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Fickell is a true son of Ohio State. Born in Columbus, he graduated from high school there, attended and met his wife at Ohio State, began his coaching career there and spent all but two seasons as a Buckeye — and those two seasons were at Akron.

Now he’ll move down state to a program that has placed Mark Dantonio at Michigan State, Brian Kelly at Notre Dame and Butch Jones at Tennessee.

The current occupier of the job Fickell surely wants announced his blessing of the move shortly after it went official.

As Tom Herman and Kirby Smart did before him, Fickell will remain with the Buckeyes through their College Football Playoff run.

“It’s with much pride and humility that I accept the awesome honor of becoming the head coach at the University of Cincinnati,” Fickell said in a statement. This city, this school and my family are all Ohio. It’s a tough blue-collar state with hard-working, blue-collar people that respect an honest and complete effort. That’s what they will get from me personally and what they should expect from this football program. This team belongs to this city and we will make you proud.”

Reports: Lane Kiffin to FAU hits stumbling block

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin of the Alabama Crimson Tide walks on the field before the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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As of last night, there was a deal in place for Lane Kiffin to become the next head coach at Florida Atlantic.

As of Saturday morning, it appears the deal is off.

FootballScoop, who broke the news of the two sides’ talking, reported Saturday morning that the talks hit a “stumbling block.” (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit corroborated that report on SportsCenter.

Herbstreit went as far as saying Kiffin, back in Tuscaloosa, was back on the market pursuing offensive coordinator jobs. That would be good news for LSU, who has placed him as their top target to serve as Ed Orgeron‘s offensive coordinator.

How do Jackson, Mayfield and Watson stack up with recent Heisman QBs?

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals  runs for a touchdown against the Florida State Seminoles  at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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The 82nd Heisman Trophy winner will be crowned tonight, and it will probably be Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. If not him, it will almost certainly be Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson. And if some freak accident occurs where most of the votes from east of the Mississippi River somehow become destroyed, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield will take home the trophy.

With three quarterbacks among the five finalists, we thought it was time to trot out this old feature and compare this year’s signal-callers with recent Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

First, let’s recap the Heisman-winning signal callers since 2000, when college football’s most prestigious honor shifted to becoming a much more quarterback-centric award:

2000 – Chris Weinke, Florida State
2001 – Eric Crouch, Nebraska
2002 – Carson Palmer, USC
2003 – Jason White, Oklahoma
2004 – Matt Leinart, USC
2006 – Troy Smith, Ohio State
2007 – Tim Tebow, Florida
2008 – Sam Bradford, Oklahoma
2010 – Cam Newton, Auburn
2011 – Robert Griffin III, Baylor
2012 – Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M
2013 – Jameis Winston, Florida State
2014 – Marcus Mariota, Oregon

Without further ado:

Passing Efficiency
1. Mayfield – 197.8
2. Griffin – 189.5
3. Winston – 184.9
4. Newton – 182.1
5. Mariota – 181.8
— Watson – 154.0
— Jackson – 153.3

Yards Per Attempt
1. Mayfield – 11.1
2. Griffin – 10.7
3. Winston – 10.6
4. Newton – 10.2
5. Mariota – 10.0
— Jackson – 8.9
— Watson – 8.0

Completion Percentage
1. Griffin – 72.4
2. Mayfield – 71.2
3. Mariota – 68.3
4. Manziel – 68.0
5. Bradford – 67.9
— Watson – 67.6
— Jackson – 57.6

Touchdown Percentage
1. Mayfield – 11.5
2. Newton – 10.7
3. Bradford – 10.44
4. Winston – 10.42
5. Smith – 9.6
— Jackson – 7.9
— Watson – 7.6

Interception Percentage
1. Mariota – 0.9
2. Griffin – 1.5
Leinart – 1.5
4. Bradford – 1.7
Tebow – 1.7
— Jackson – 2.4
— Mayfield – 2.4
— Watson – 3.1

Yards Per Carry
1. Manziel – 7.0
2. Jackson — 6.6
3. Mariota – 5.7
4. Newton – 5.6
5. Crouch – 5.5
— Watson – 4.1
— Mayfield – 1.9

Rushing Touchdown Percentage
1. Mariota – 12.0
2. Bradford – 11.9
3. Tebow – 11.0
4. Manziel – 10.4
5. Jackson – 9.0
— Mayfield – 8.1
— Watson – 4.7

Yards Per Play
1. Mayfield – 9.4
2. Winston – 9.08
3. Bradford – 9.06
4. Mariota – 9.0
5. Weinke – 8.8
— Jackson – 8.0
— Watson 7.21

So, what did we learn? Other than an appreciation for RG3’s 2011 season, not much.

Mayfield is clearly having a historically efficient season. For the year he’s 235-of-330 passing for 3,669 yards with 38 touchdowns and eight interceptions while adding 74 carries for 143 yards and six touchdowns. But that can be written away by a historically poor Big 12 schedule. Add in that Mayfield had his worst performance of the season in Oklahoma’s biggest game — he was 17-of-32 for 226 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in a 45-24 loss to Ohio State in September — it’s clear to see why Mayfield is running a distant third in Heisman projections.

Watson has had a nice year — he’s 329-of-487 for 3,914 yards with 37 touchdowns against 15 picks while rushing 129 times for 529 yards with six scores — but his candidacy is built around his career accomplishments. Two straight ACC championships and back-to-back College Football Playoff appearances say more than his numbers ever could.

Jackson’s argument is built around bulk numbers over efficiency. He’s 220-of-382 for 3,390 yards with 30 touchdowns and nine interceptions while rushing 234 times for 1,538 yards with 21 touchdowns. That 30/20 number — a club occupied only by Newton and Tebow until this season — is likely what will push Jackson over the top tonight.