The Swami

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

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Finally, after (nearly) seven long, agonizing months filled with seemingly nothing but arrests, suspensions, transfers, lawsuits and one Sharknado, the dawn of a new season is upon us.

In just 24 days, we’ll be hunkered down in front of the television taking in the glory that is the South Carolina Gamecocks playing host to the post-JFF Texas A&M Aggies. The day before that, the most addicted of us [/raises hand slowly at first, then proudly and defiantly] will take in the actual kickoff to the 2014 FBS season: FCS Abilene Christian at Georgia State of the Sun Belt.

In between now and then? Previews. Glorious, illuminating, voluminous previews as far as the eye can see.

We’ll kick off the look at the upcoming season the same way we have the past five years: storylines that you should pay attention to or could be in play in the coming months.

Proceed, and enjoy.

YOU KIDDING ME?!?! PLAYOFFS?!?!
No, Coach Mora, we’re not kidding. And we’re going to talk about it as a playoff has finally, thankfully come to the game of college football, and it will be, at least entering early September, the most talked-about aspect and overriding theme of the new season.

We’ll have a more in-depth primer on the particulars of the new system exactly three weeks from today (check out the repository for all of the preview posting dates HERE), but for now here are the bare essentials of what you need to know: the playoff will consist of four teams and two semifinal games — this year hosted by the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl — played on New Year’s Day followed by a stand-alone national championship game 11 days later at the home of the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. The four teams will be chosen by a committee consisting of 13 individuals, a group made up of former coaches, current and former administrators — five current athletic directors, one each from a Power Five conference, included — one retired media member and a former United States Secretary of State.

If you thought controversy was a thing of the past with the glorious death of the BCS? Think again as the new College Football Playoff and how the committee selects the four teams will dwarf just about anything we ever saw in the decade and a half under the old bastard of a system. Buckle up — and grab your popcorn — as it’s going to be one hell of a ride as the new system in general and the committee specifically works its way through what’s expected to be some serious and controversial growing pains.

Florida State v ClemsonJAMEIS’ ENCORE, FSU’S TITLE DEFENSE
Both Jameis Winston personally and his Florida State Seminoles as a team will have tough acts to follow in 2014.

All Winston did in his first season as a starter at the collegiate level was become just the second-ever freshman to win the Heisman Trophy — along with an armful of other postseason honors — en route to leading his team to the last-ever BCS title. During that championship run, the Seminoles were a devastating football machine that destroyed just about everything in its path: FSU won every game but two — Boston College (48-34) and Auburn (34-31) — by at least 27 points; they won nine of the 14 by 30 or more. In other words, they were a veritable buzzsaw that will see a plethora of returning talent (15 starters), leaving the Seminoles as the favorite until someone knocks them off. That doesn’t mean the ‘Noles are without question marks, though, and not the least of which involves Winston.

The redshirt sophomore has had an, ahem, eventful last several months, from the rape allegations to the crab caper to media-created hiccups littered about here and there. He will enter 2014 with a Johnny Manziel-level of hype and will be under perhaps an even harsher microscope than Johnny Football ever faced at the collegiate level. What if any impact will the added scrutiny have on Winston on the field? The answer to that question will go a long way in determining how successful the ‘Noles are in their title defense. Well, that and replacing a couple of key pieces on both sides of the ball due to early departures for the NFL as well as the highly-respected defensive coordinator leavi… meh, who am I kidding. Barring a substantial injury outbreak, FSU will be a heavy, heavy favorite to stake its claim to one of the four spots in the inaugural CFP.

SEC LogoCAN THE SEC CLIMB BACK TO THE CFB MOUNTAINTOP?
For six consecutive years, from 2007 through 2012, the college football season ended the way it began: with an SEC team as the reigning BCS champion. Then 2013 happened as the conference of champions and its ballyhooed seven-year title run morphed into the conference of runner-ups as Auburn dropped a three-point heartbreaker to Florida State in Pasadena. The question now becomes, was it just a one-year blip or the beginning of a trend? The answer, of course, depends on who you ask and how much stock you place on a single season.

For an SEC fan, it’s resoundingly the former, and for good reason. At least on paper, no fewer than five of the teams in the conference — Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, LSU and South Carolina — have the kind of talent that could translate into a spot in the College Football Playoffs. Hell, there could even be two teams from the preeminent college football league qualify for the CFP, with some folks already planting the seed that it would be a shame and/or a crime if half the field didn’t come from the SEC. Nonetheless, don’t let one title-less year fool you — the SEC is still the deepest conference in college football, with any team looking to grab the first-ever playoff trophy facing the very real possibility of going through an SEC squad — or two — to get it.

On the flip side, there are concerns, especially when it comes to the most important position on the gridiron. Quick quiz: who is the most experienced SEC quarterback entering 2014? Answer: Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace. Now, when the answer to that question is “Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace,” red flags fly up and sirens go off at an alarming rate. That’s certainly a cause for concern, with four of the five perceived favorites — Auburn and Nick Marshall being the lone exception — breaking in a new starter. Another? The gap between the SEC and the rest of the country appears to be shrinking, at least slightly. Oregon, Oklahoma — as it showed in the Sugar Bowl thumping of Alabama — Ohio State, UCLA, Michigan State, Baylor and Stanford all have the look of teams who could not only keep pace with the best the SEC has to offer, but could prove teams that trump the best the preeminent football conference in the country.

Regardless of how it ultimately plays out, it will be fascinating to watch how the conference as a whole reacts to being the hunter instead of the hunted.

California v OregonWEST COAST PREPS FOR AERIAL BOMBARDMENT
There may be question marks pockmarking the SEC at the quarterback position all across the board, but that’s not even remotely the case in the westernmost FBS conference.

Start with the main ingredient of two serious Heisman contenders — Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, UCLA’s Brett Hundley — add in a dash of under-the-radar candidates — Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Oregon State’s Sean Mannion — and a pinch of above-average quality — Washington State’s Connor Halliday, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, USC’s Cody Kessler and Cal’s Jared Goff — and you have a recipe for Pac-12 quarterbacks keeping defensive coordinators across the country awake and balled up in the corner in the fetal position.

How quarterback-driven will the Pac-12 be in 2014?  The two preseason favorites — by both the media and gamblers — are Oregon and UCLA; it’s no coincidence that Mariota and Hundley, especially the former, are viewed as being head and shoulders above their conference counterparts.  How those two perform will go a long way in determining how the conference race plays out — and whether either can push their respective teams and thus their league into the College Football Playoff this January.

Will MuschampSCORCHING SEATS FOR UF’s MUSCHAMP, UM’S HOKE
Many coaches will enter 2014 on the proverbial hot seat — we’ll have a more extensive look at that in a little over a week — but none more so than the two referenced in the headline.

And, of the two, there’s none higher-up on the Scoville scale than Will Muschamp, as he readily acknowledged earlier this summer.  First, the particulars: coming off an 11-2 season in his second year at Florida that raised the hopes of Gator Nation, the football program hit rock-bottom with a resounding thud and in near-historic fashion.  The 4-8 record was the worst since 1979; a bowl-less postseason was the first for a non-sanctioned Gators team since 1986; a second 3-5 record in SEC play in three years showed just how far behind the conference elite they currently are; and, arguably most embarrassingly, UF lost to FCS Georgia Southern in The Swamp.  The calls for Muschamp’s head on a platter from the media and fans alike were coming fast and furious.  So much so that the athletic director had to offer his beleaguered head coach an in-season vote of confidence. While Jeremy Foley has publicly supported the coach, there is growing concern behind closed doors that Muschamp may not be the man to lead the Gators out of the post-Urban Meyer morass — which actually started while Urb was lording over Gainesville — in which the program’s currently stuck.  One more season even remotely similar to 2013 — I’m guessing 8-5/9-4 with a bowl win to slightly cool down the seat — and the post-Muschamp era will begin in earnest.

Now, if Muschamp’s a Carolina Reaper in Scoville Heat Units, that would make Brady Hoke a, what, Bhut Jolokia?

Early on, it was all chili puppy dogs and pizza rainbows for Hoke in Ann Arbor.  In his first year at Michigan, the Wolverines went 11-2 and beat Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl.  Most importantly, and even as it came between the tenures of Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer, UM ended a six-game losing streak against hated rival Ohio State.  The honeymoon was hot, steamy and sweaty; the marriage since?  Ankle-length robes and open bathroom doors.  The Wolverines have gone a pedestrian 15-11 the last two years — two losses in minor bowls included — and returned to their losing ways in The Game.  Not only that, but UM has watched as “little brother” Michigan State has leapfrogged them, with the Spartans not only turning themselves into a force in the conference but a factor on the national stage as well.  Throw in some coaching changes, uncertainty at the quarterback position, an offensive line that’s subpar and suspect, just add everything all up and, like Muschamp, this could very well be a make-or-break year for Hoke.

Charlie StrongCAN CHARLIE MAKE TEXAS STRONG IMMEDIATELY?
The short, and likely correct, answer: nope. Or, unlikely if that makes you feel better. There are several unknowns when it comes to Charlie Strong taking over as Mack Brown‘s replacement at Texas. How will he handle the pressure cooker — created by media, fans and boosters alike — that is Austin and football-mad UT after coming from a hoops school like Louisville? More to the point, how will he handle the politicking and, even more importantly, the back-room games that are ofttimes played at a university and within an athletic department the size of the Longhorns?

Those are but a couple of the unknowns; here’s a known: Strong is a damn-fine head football coach, one who isn’t getting his just due as the home-run hire he was for UT. He may not have been the “people’s choice” to replace Brown, may not have even been the boosters’ choice, but, after Nick Saban or his agent spurned the reported nine-figure overtures, he was the best option for the Longhorns moving forward. Does that mean UT will be back on the stage immediately? Heck no, a point Strong somewhat controversially conveyed this offseason… and one he stated it for good reason.

The cupboard wasn’t exactly stocked or overflowing when Strong took over, with the coach doing some additional cleaning of the pantry the past couple of weeks.  Texas is behind at least Oklahoma, Baylor and, probably, Kansas State in the Big 12 let alone whatever their standing is nationally.  And, for good measure, keep in mind that this is a team that, over the past four years, has gone just 30-21, which is more Texas Tech University than University of Texas. Strong is a good coach; he’s not, however, an instantaneous miracle worker. Strong will need time to put his imprint on the football program, to trudge through the malaise and institute a much-needed culture change. Hopefully the athletic department, boosters and fans give him the time he will need to turn things around.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Former Texas OL Octavious Bishop joins ‘Horns staff in off-the-field role

Octavious Bishop
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Former Texas offensive lineman Octavious Bishop has rejoined the program as the Longhorns’ director of student leadership and personal development. The position is a new one, created specifically for Bishop.

Texas’s release announcing his hire says Bishop will work with Charlie Strong and the UT football staff to “provide strategy and implementation of programs to support student-athlete development. Among the program’s goals and objectives will be personal growth, character enhancement, leadership assessment and development, life skills and career preparation.”

“I had an unbelievable conversation with Octavious about what we were looking for in this position and knew right away that he was the man for the job,” Strong said in a statement. “He’s an engaging and energetic person who has a ton of experience working with personal development and has gained so much knowledge in handling all aspects of student-athletes’ lives. I just really loved his passion and all of the ideas he was bringing to the table. On top of that, he’s a Longhorn letterman who overcame a lot of obstacles in his own life. I’m so excited to have him joining our staff.”

Bishop is a former three-year starter at left tackle for the Longhorns, best known as one of the road graders for Ricky Williams‘s NCAA record-breaking 1998 Heisman Trophy campaign. Bishop played professionally for the Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons as well as in NFL Europe and the XFL before returning to Texas to finish his social work degree in 2001. He’s since earned his Master’s degree in social work from UT and is currently a Ph.D. candidate at Walden University in Minnesota. He has work experience as a social worker and counselor, dealing with marriage, family and addiction counseling and working with students with mental health needs.

“Many of the student-athletes who will attend The University of Texas come from backgrounds similar to my own,” Bishop said. “I have a unique perspective, as a former player and student, that many of them will share. The relationships I’ve established outside of football have played a profound role in my professional and personal development.”

SEC to discuss expanding restriction on transfers

Nick Saban
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A year ago, the SEC adopted a rule banning its member schools from accepting transfers who were disciplined at their previous institution for sexual assault or other forms of sexual violence. The rule came about after Alabama accepted a transfer from Georgia defensive lineman Jonathan Taylor, whom Mark Richt dismissed after he was arrested for domestic violence, only to see him again be arrested for domestic violence in Tuscaloosa. Chalk that entire episode up as just another way Nick Saban has changed the way the SEC conducts business.

Now the league is considering expanding the ban to other forms of misconduct in advance of its annual spring meetings in Destin, Fla.

According to the Athens Banner-Herald, a student-athlete working group has recommended expanding the rule to “bar transfers who were convicted of, pled guilty or no contest to a serious misconduct felony.”

“The rule that was passed at the last spring meeting was a first step,” SEC associate commissioner for legal affairs and compliance William King told the paper. “I think commissioner (Greg) Sankey made that clear from the beginning that this was a first step and that the conference would revisit the rule.”

The Big 12 and Pac-12 adopted similar rules to mimic the SEC, and it’s likely this policy will only see stronger teeth considering it was his practice of accepting players with violent pasts from other schools that led to Art Briles‘ eventual ouster.

The rule removes the incentive for coaches who fear that dismissing troubled players will only see them on the opposite sideline a season or two later.

SEC schools are expected to conduct background inquiries into all transfers, and a loophole exists for schools to appeal to the conference’s executive committee. Many believe the rule banning transfers will eventually apply to incoming freshmen as well, though that does not appear to be on the table for this year.

Baylor QB Seth Russell responds to Briles firing in Instagram post

Seth Russell
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Baylor quarterback Seth Russell has been on a mission trip with other Bears athletes to Brazil, and he returns from his South American voyage to a much different program than he left behind.

Head coach Art Briles is gone. So, too, are two of Baylor’s top incoming freshmen. More coaches and players may follow.

As QB1, Russell had to address the goings on in Waco one way or another, and did so Saturday in an Instagram post that speaks to the Bears’ crisis without really speaking to it while quoting — who else? — Robert Griffin III.

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord.

As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is.
We are broken. We are hurting.
But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times.

My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be.

Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

What an amazing experience these past few weeks have been. I, and 33 other Baylor student-athletes, have spent the last two weeks in Brazil sharing God’s love and pouring into children from Maceio and Rio de Janeiro. Through our sports, we were able to share our faith in hopes of changing lives, not just others, but our own as well. I can’t thank all who helped make this mission trip possible enough. I am forever grateful for my time spent growing with others, and ultimately growing with the Lord. As we head back to Waco, I can’t help but think of all that has changed since we first left for South America. Although I was in a different hemisphere, the heartache was still immensely present. However, being in the environment I was, the Lord was easily able to remind me of how great He is. We are broken. We are hurting. But at the end of the day, we are His. With that gift alone, there is no reason to not overcome through these hard times. My prayers for Baylor University are that we never forget that we need God as desperately on our best days as we do on our worst. We will overcome. We will become stronger. We will be who God has allowed us to be. Baylor we are and Baylor we’ll always be, but it’s up to us to define what that means-RGIII

A photo posted by Seth Russell (@sethrussell17) on May 28, 2016 at 7:16am PDT

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Russell started Baylor’s first seven games — all wins — before a broken neck bone suffered in a collision against Iowa State ended his season. He completed 119-of-200 passes for 2,104 yards (10.5 yards per attempt) with 29 touchdowns and six interceptions while rushing 49 times for 402 yards and six scores.

Houston Nutt steps out of the shadows following Ole Miss Notice of Allegations

Nutt
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Ole Miss dropped its long-awaited Notice of Allegations, which revealed the spin of the majority of the 28 allegations being against non-football sports and former head coach Houston Nutt‘s staff to be technically true but also just that — spin.

Of the 13 allegations against the Rebels’ football program, nine came against current head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff. However, the majority of those were relatively minor in nature (free rental cars, comped hotel rooms), and the largest did come against two former assistants. Former defensive backs coach Chris Vaughn and former operations staffer David Saunders were accused of setting up a fraudulent ACT system to get players into school.

“We usually know about who is going to make it in by May,” Nutt said of the players whom those ACTs got into school. “We were gonna place them in junior college.”

Still, Nutt told Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports he felt a twinge of validation from Friday’s release.

“It’s the most frustrating thing there is,” Nutt said, “to be on the sidelines and hear your name keep getting mentioned and mentioned. It’s hurtful. It makes you mad.

“I don’t have a major violation in 30 years of coaching.”

Nutt won 75 games at Arkansas and led Ole Miss to a 19-8 mark and back-to-back Cotton Bowl victories in his first two seasons in Oxford — read: with Ed Orgeron‘s players — and fell to 6-18 (1-15 SEC) in his final two seasons. That, plus the sting of these violations falling on his record, is likely to continue to keep Nutt out of coaching — at least at the highest levels of FBS.

Still, he remains optimistic.

“I’m going on five years without a team,” he said. “There were a few opportunities I went after. I’d love to coach again. I feel like I’ve got 10 more seasons in me.”