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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

The Swami AP

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)

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Catching up with former Clemson receiver Daniel Rodriguez

Georgia State v Clemson

Back in 2012 Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient Daniel Rodriguez officially joined the Clemson football program. Now he is looking to make it in the NFL.

As noted by our pals over at Pro Football Talk, Rodriguez is hoping to take advantage of his latest opportunity with the St. Louis Rams. Rodriguez was undrafted but still has a chance to grab a spot on the roster in St. Louis. He had landed on the radar of the franchise at the Medal of Honor Bowl and his pro day at Clemson. He was invited to try out with the team at a rookie minicamp.

Rodriguez served two tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq and intended to join Clemson as a walk-on in 2012. The NCAA needed to clear a waiver for his eligibility for that to happen since he was attending Clemson on the G.I. Bill and not on a scholarship. This was one situation the NCAA made the right call. Last year Rodriguez’s story was picked up for movie rights and he later received the Armed Forces Merit Award.

If things continue to go well, perhaps there will be another story to be made into a movie.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: Can Big Ten carry over momentum?

Urban Meyer

Go back to Week 2 of the college football season last year. This was the Big Ten’s big opportunity to make a statement in nationally televised spotlight games, and the conference came up empty. Ohio State lost at home to Virginia Tech. Michigan State let one get away from them at Oregon. Michigan was no match for Notre Dame. On top of that, Nebraska needed Ameer Abdullah to provide a miracle to avoid overtime against McNeese State and Northwestern was defeated at home by Northern Illinois. It was a rough day for the Big Ten, and many around the country were quick to write the conference off as a result. Well, we know how that all worked out.

This offseason has been nothing short of renewed praise for the Big Ten’s resurrection, but the conference is still quite top heavy at the moment. Sure, the Big Ten may be heading in a positive direction and the expectations are high for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan and continue to rise with James Franklin at Penn State, but there is still plenty of work to do to follow-up the way last season ended for the Big Ten. Following up one of the more successful postseason runs by the conference, highlighted by Ohio State’s national championship and supplemented by Michigan State’s tremendous effort in the Cotton Bowl, the Big Ten is now tasked with keeping the momentum going.

Here are some of the key games the Big Ten will need to win in order to keep things going its way at the start of the 2015 season.

Michigan at Utah (September 3): The Harbaugh Era kicks off in Pac-12 territory. Utah roughed up Michigan last season so there is a bit of a revenge factor at stake. And winning against the Pac-12 to open the season always helps with the image.

Minnesota vs. TCU (September 3): On the same night, Minnesota hosts Big 12 favorite TCU. The Horned Frogs may very well leave with a win, but the Gophers can put up a fight. If they can’t win it, keeping it competitive and close will still represent the Big Ten well in this one.

Nebraska vs. BYU (September 5): BYU may not be in a power conference (as much as they would love it), but they are not exactly a cupcake either. A win by Nebraska over BYU is worth respect, especially now that conferences like the ACC and SEC recognize the Cougars as a power conference-equivalent opponent.

Northwestern vs. Stanford (September 5): The academic bowl between the Wildcats and Cardinal could be a tough one for Northwestern, but they get the home field advantage. A win against one of the top programs in the Pac-12 the last few years would not go unnoticed.

Wisconsin vs. Alabama (September 5): Here is the biggie of the opening week. The Badgers take on defending SEC champion Alabama and will hope to be able to do what Ohio State did in the Sugar Bowl. It would also give Wisconsin the rare opportunity for a Big Ten team to have consecutive wins against Auburn and Alabama. A win would be huge for the Big Ten on the big stage in Arlington.

Ohio State at Virginia Tech (September 7): The Buckeyes take on the Hokies in primetime looking to avenge their only loss from last season. This Ohio State team should be much better than the one that stumbled last season, but a road victory in an ACC stadium would be a good way to cap the opening weekend.

If everything goes well for the Big Ten, and that is a big if, the conference could own wins against the ACC, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC (including wins against defending champions or co-champions in the SEC and Big 12) after just one week of play. Just putting together a winning record in those games would be a nice bragging point for the conference and would help carry over the momentum from last season. And that is just the start for the Big Ten. Week two sees Michigan State host Oregon and Michigan hosting Oregon State. Rutgers hosts Washington State to get in on the fun, and Iowa visits Iowa State. Iowa will also face Pittsburgh and Illinois will take on North Carolina. These are the types of games the Big Ten needs to win to move up the conference power rankings and prove the depth of the conference goes beyond the Buckeyes and Spartans.

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Netflix and live college football? Nope, not happening

FRANCE-ENTERTAINMENT-INTERNET-FILM-TELEVISION-NETFLIX-EUROPE

The advancement of live sports in media continues to see expansion in delivering live action through various live streaming outlets, but the most popular streaming service is not ready to get in on the fun. Netflix, in response to the possibility of helping the NFL out with a streaming option for a game to be played in London, pretty much slammed the door shut on the possibility of seeing college football or any other sports on the service for quite some time.

Ken Fang of Awful Announcing noted this morning Netflix has no intention of jumping in the bidding for live sports content and that business model may not change in the near future. Netflix is built on offering content on demand, and none of its content is ever live. The bottom line is bidding on live games is just too expensive.

“I will never say never, but I would say that where we sit today, I don’t think the on-demand to sports is enough of an addition to the value proposition to chase,” Netflix content boss Ted Sarandos explained, via re/code. “I think the leagues have tremendous leverage in those deals, so it’s not like we’re going to get in and de-leverage the leagues. We’re going to go in and overpay like everyone else does, so it doesn’t get me that excited. Not to say that it wouldn’t someday, down the road, make sense.”

What would be cool would be if some conference could broker a deal with Netflix to put a library of college football games on the service. This becomes complicated considering existing media rights deals with networks and other broadcast partners, especially when some of those partners have rights to the on demand archives. But hey, maybe some day it could happen. Why not watch “Orange is The New Black,” then an old Syracuse game against Louisville, and then load up “House of Cards?”

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Rutgers receiver arrested for armed robbery in Florida

Darian Dailey, Rivals.com

Two teenagers in Florida were arrested Sunday morning for their involvement in a robbery. One of them just so happens to be a Rutgers wide receiver.

Darian Dailey was one of the two arrested by police in Sarasota, Florida. He is accused of using a handgun to rob a bicyclist around 2:00 a.m. Sunday morning. Nobody was injured in the incident, and the victim reportedly handed over his money. How much was turned over was not reported, not that it matters in this circumstance. Police have charged Dailey and Trazelle Johnson of robbery with a firearm.

Dailey, 19,  is a native of Bradenton, Florida. Dailey was a two-star recruit in the Class of 2014 for Rutgers, and was expected to compete for playing time this season.

Photo credit: Rivals.com

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Indiana wide receiver Isaac Griffith jailed for OWI

Isaac Griffith

This Memorial Day weekend got off to a rough start for Indiana wide receiver Isaac Griffith. Griffith, 20 years old, was arrested and placed in jail early Saturday after being charged if driving while intoxicated.

According to The Indy Star, Griffith was arrested in Bloomington and charged of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with endangerment, operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated with a blood alcohol content above 0.08, and illegal consumption. The arrest took place at 3:54 a.m. local time after a police officer saw his high beams were on. Griffith was pulled over and the officer on the scene observed the odor of alcohol.

Indiana has said it is aware of the situation and gathering information regarding the incident.

You may remember the last time we discussed Griffith a little more than a year ago. Griffith was in a medically induced coma after nearly drowning in the Gulf of Mexico in March 2014. He was saved by a friend and returned home after coming out of his coma.

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Rutgers focusing on getting B1Gger and stronger

150524_rutgers Getty Images

Jumping from the American Athletic Conference to the Big Ten was supposed to be a step up for Rutgers last season, and it was. The Scarlet Knights managed to hold their own enough to reach the postseason in a Big Ten debut season few expected to result in a bowl trip. Despite getting to the postseason, Rutgers saw firsthand just how far it still has to go before being able to make any threats in the Big Ten East Division and Big Ten Conference.

The gap was put on clear display against the top programs in the Big Ten last season; Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Nebraska. Rutgers lost to eventual national champion Ohio State 56-17 (it was 49-7 before Rutgers picked up a long field goal and a touchdown with six seconds left in the game). Ohio State outgained Rutgers 585-345 in that game, with 324 of Ohio State’s yards coming on the ground. Against Michigan State, Rutgers fell behind 35-0 at halftime before losing 45-3. The Spartans outgained Rutgers 520-234, with a 242-95 edge on the ground. Wisconsin sent Rutgers home with a 37-0 loss (298 rushing yards to Rutgers’ 76). The Nebraska loss was not quite as ugly, but Rutgers was on the wrong end of a 42-24 final score (and Ameer Abdullah).

What did Rutgers learn from these games? The time to get bigger and stronger is now, and they have been attacking that this offseason.

According to a report from NJ.com, Rutgers football players broke 19 all-time program records in the weight room during the winter and the players are excited to get back at it on Tuesday for summer conditioning routines.

“Now we all know,” Rutgers linebacker Steve Longa said. “The coaches knew. We had an idea, but we didn’t really know. We got out there and we knew what we were up against. After the season, we knew what we had to work on and we attacked it.”

Of course, Rutgers can only improve so much in the weight room. The biggest impact the program will have as a member of the Big Ten is in recruiting. At least that is the hope for the program. Head coach Kyle Flood is focusing more on players that fit the traditional Big Ten mold that he will need on his roster to close the gap with the likes of Ohio State and Michigan State (and Penn State and Michigan) in what could be a stacked Big Ten East Division in the years to come.

“I don’t focus on the weight, I focus on explosion,” Flood said to NJ.com. “That’s really what I’m looking for and if we get bigger in the process, that’s fine. We’re looking for explosive athletes, and I can only point to the results. When you break 19 all-time records, that tells me that we’re moving in the right direction as a program.”

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PA lawmaker wants to name bridge after Joe Paterno

Joe Paterno

Get your hot takes ready, America. Pennsylvania representative Michael Regan is preparing to introduce a state bill that would name a bridge after former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno. This led PennLive to ask whether it is safe to start naming things after Paterno. Proceed with caution.

The answer to that question will undoubtedly depend on a few things. First, are you a student or alumnus of Penn State? If so, you will probably say yes. Are you a fan of Penn State but did not go to Penn State? Again, your answer will likely be yes. Do you actively root against Penn State when given the opportunity to choose sides? If you said yes, then your answer will probably be no.

Any time the subject of Joe Paterno and his legacy come up, it remains a bit of a touchy subject given his connection to the unfortunate and disturbing Jerry Sandusky scandal we learned about four years ago. And that is the key. That tale unfolded four years ago this November. Has time healed enough wounds?

As far as strictly football is concerned, the NCAA has thought so. The NCAA lifted all parts of the sanctions dropped on Penn State’s program, including the restoration of 111 vacated wins from Paterno’s career win total, once again making him Division 1 football’s all-time wins leader with 409 career victories.

Per the PennLive report, Rep. Regan wants to rename a bridge on the Pennsylvania Turnpike over the Susquehanna River as the Joseph V. Paterno Memorial Bridge. The bill would need to be passed by Pennsylvania’s House and Senate and then be signed by the governor (Tom Wolf).

There was always going to be a time at some point where it would be appropriate and perhaps less controversial to begin looking back at Paterno’s legacy as Penn State’s football coach, with the benefit of hindsight and allowing time to pass by to allow for a broader perspective of the good and the bad. Perhaps this is the beginning of that time.

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The Pac-12 Networks seemed like a good idea at the time

The Pac-12 Network is not a doomed experiment in sports television and media just yet, but it may be fair to suggest it is not working out quite as well as it could have after three years on the air. It can still be saved and prosper, and it is far from being put on life support the way the short-lived Mountain West Conference network was, but it needs help if the Pac-12 is going to cash in on the lucrative media revenue the Big Ten and SEC receive through their respective networks.

“We are developing the way we hoped, but we still have a way to go to reach the full potential of our networks,” Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said to The Salt Lake Tribune. “We certainly realized it takes time to build, and we went in with eyes wide open.”

The San Jose Mercury Times reports the Pac-12 Network is received by 11 million homes. A similar report by FOX Sports estimated the subscriber total at 12.3 million. Whichever report you choose to go with, it is a far cry from the 60 million homes the network is technically available in. In contrast, the Big Ten Network and SEC Network are each over the 60 million subscriber total.

The Pac-12 Network launched on August 15, 2012 with seven smaller networks throughout the Pac-12’s regional footprint. It was an innovative idea at the time, offering regionalized content to cater to the specific fanbases within those various regions. The Pac-12 launched the network without the aid and support of a broadcasting partner. The Pac-12 wanted total control of the network, which was admirable. But the support the Big Ten received from FOX Sports for the revolutionary and innovative Big Ten Network and the tremendous amount of help the SEC Network has received through ESPN can be used as arguments saying the Pac-12 swung and missed on this one. The Pac-12 lags well behind both conference sports networks in subscriber totals, and thus revenue.

There is a benefit to the Pac-12 owning every portion of the Pac-12 Networks. As total owners of the networks, it keeps every penny the networks earn, which in theory leads to better revenue shares. But the network continues to struggle to get in enough homes to have that 100 percent ownership stake lead to max revenue shares in the conference. The network is still not carried by DirecTV, and some subscribers of the network do not receive the network in high-definition (myself included). Those are problems that have plagued the conference for nearly three years now.

At a time when the Pac-12 is on the rise on the football field, the pressure is continuing to mount to have Scott put these issues to rest, get the network available in more homes and start making it the cash cow it was envisioned to be. It’s not too late, and it’s not too late to seek help from an established media partner either.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: The games the Big 12 cannot afford to lose in 2015

150524_strong Getty Images

The Big 12 was left out of the first College Football Playoff. Depending upon whom you ask, the Big 12 was left out because Baylor didn’t play anybody (they didn’t), TCU lost to Baylor (they did) or the Big 12 just was not that good overall (plausible). You will also get some tell you Baylor and TCU just did not have the brand recognition a program like Ohio State or Florida State carried with it (again, true).Whatever the case

Whatever the case maybe, the Big 12 is in need of ensuring a Big 12 champion will be battle tested and respected by the College Football Playoff selection committee at the end of the season. With the margin for error possibly very small for the Big 12 (two one-loss teams getting left out of the four-team playoff may be a rarity in all honesty), the Big 12 needs to impress in non-conference action. This season there are a handful of notable games worth paying attention to, especially with the Big 12’s reputation riding on the results.

Here are five games the Big 12 must win this season in order to boost the Big 12 profile in November and December.

Texas at Notre Dame (September 5): The Texas Longhorns get the season underway in South Bend under the stadium lights in primetime. It is a perfect opportunity to represent the Big 12 on national television (NBC, of course) in the opening weekend. Feel free to throw in a home date a couple of weeks later against California of the Pac-12. It may not be a huge game, but adding a win against the Pac-12 would certainly help the Big 12’s overall profile.

West Virginia vs. Georgia Southern (September 5): Don’t laugh, because Georgia Southern is not a joke. The Eagles won the Sun Belt Conference in their first year at the FBS level and just won at Florida two seasons ago. West Virginia being upset at home in the season opener would not be a good look for the Big 12.

Oklahoma at Tennessee (September 12): Oklahoma sent Tennessee home with a loss last season, but now the Sooners make a visit to Neyland Stadium against a Tennessee program budding with potential and momentum. Getting out of the SEC with a win would be big for the Sooners and the entire Big 12.

Texas Tech at Arkansas (September 19): This one might be a reach, but it is worthy of consideration. Arkansas is another team those following the SEC may feel optimistic about moving forward, and Texas Tech’s defense could be in for a long game. If the Red Raiders could manage to get out of the state with a win against a team from the SEC West, the Big 12 would be smiling in a big way.

West Virginia vs. Maryland (September 26): The Big 12 was passed over by the Big Ten, so the best course of action is to strike back at the conference up north. TCU (at Minnesota), Iowa State (vs. Iowa) and West Virginia each get a chance to do that, but the Mountaineers may have the most pivotal of the three. Minnesota may be good this year, but TCU will have plenty of time to recover should they be upset on the road in the season opener. West Virginia could be in position to give the Big 12 a winning record against the Big Ten, which did not come in handy last season but could come back this season.

Last season was  a bit of a reality check for the Big 12. the conference was hyped to be a deep conference, but the production on the field failed to live up to the hype when it counted (TCU’s blasting of Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl not included). Would the Big 12 have been shut out of the playoff had it been Texas or Oklahoma standing at the end of the season with just one loss? Probably not, but the Big 12 does not need a big brand to carry the Big 12 banner if the entire conference can rise to the occasion in non-conference contests early and often.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: American’s West can help shape conference image too

UH Coach Tom Herman

The task of changing the way the American Athletic Conference is perceived does not fall just on the shoulders of the American’s East Division. The West has some chances to help give the conference a boost as well. And with Navy joining the division, the door to some more opportunities has been opened moving forward.

The schedules among the AAC’s West teams is littered with big road tests against power conference foes and even some home games. All provide a chance for the West to rise and defend the conference’s image. Last season saw Boise State of the Mountain West Conference come away with the guaranteed New Years Six bowl spot, thanks in large part to the perception of the Boise State program and relative strength of schedule of the Mountain West Conference as a whole. The American has an opportunity to climb to the top, but it will have to work to get there. With some bright new head coaches in place at Houston (Tom Herman), SMU (Chad Morris) and Tulsa (Philip Montgomery), the bar is being raised in the West.

After already going through some of the key games in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division, here is a look at some of the more notable opportunities to come for the schools in the West this season.

Tulane vs. Duke (September 5); Tulane at Georgia Tech (September 12): Tulane may be coming off a miserable debut season in the American Athletic Conference, but it can more than make up for it by getting the conference off to a great start against the past two ACC Coastal Division champions. It may be a tall order for Tulane at this point in time, but it has a better chance of resulting in some wins than SMU’s early-season match-ups with Baylor and TCU.

Houston at Louisville (September 12): Louisville looks to be an interesting team out of the ACC Atlantic Division this season. Could a home game against Houston sandwiched between Auburn and Clemson be a trap game? Oh yes, it certainly could.

Memphis at Kansas (September 12); Memphis at Bowling Green (September 19): Pairing these two games together for one reason. First, Memphis winning at Kansas may not score major points for the conference given the perception of the Jayhawks, but it would still go down as a road win against a Big 12 opponent. But Memphis then needs to avoid a loss to MAC threat Bowling Green. Remember, we are not only looking for victories against power conference opponents, but also against the best threats from other Group of Five conferences. Knocking off Kansas and Bowling Green, the defending MAC champions, would end up giving Memphis and the AAC a nice little boost in September.

Navy vs. Air Force (October 3); Navy at Notre Dame (October 10): Following similar logic as just above with Memphis, Navy has an excellent opportunity to score some big wins in back-to-back weeks. First Navy hosts Air Force, coming off a successful season and representing the Mountain West Conference. Again, victories against other Group of Five opponents can be huge in the end. And beating Notre Dame obviously carries some weight.

Memphis vs. Ole Miss (October 17): Oh, you thought we were done with Memphis? Think again. The Tigers host the SEC’s Ole Miss in mid-October. If Memphis can defend its home turf against a power conference opponent from the hyped SEC West, their work will largely be done representing the conference in 2015.

Like the East Division, if the West can somehow come away with a .500 mark out of this slate of games, that would be a tremendous victory for the conference and would bode well for the conference’s champion. Keep in mind the AAC will hold a conference championship game this season as well, giving it one more game to showcase the best it has to offer.

One thing that should also be noted is Navy will actually play one more game after the College Football Playoff selection committee is set to make its big bowl pairings. The Army-Navy Game is scheduled for the Saturday after the release of the CFB Playoff and New Years Six bowl pairings. The expectation is this can be worked around to avoid any controversial hassles, but after seeing Baylor and/or TCU get shortchanged in part because of playing one fewer game than everyone else, it is worth keeping in mind.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: American’s East contenders can change way we think about AAC

Tommy Tuberville

The American Athletic Conference just missed out on the College Football Playoff selection committee’s guaranteed reservation to a Group of Five conference champion. Memphis ended up needed just a little more help out of the Mountain West Conference, which was represented by Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl this past postseason. If the American Athletic Conference is going to shake off the perception it still carries from the days of the crumbling Big East, then it should hope to win some pivotal games in non-conference play this season. It just so happens the American Athletic Conference will have plenty of opportunities to score some eye-opening victories, although they will not come easily.

Here are some of the more notable games on the AAC schedule for the contenders in the East Division that could actually boost the perception of the conference and its champion.

Temple vs. Penn State (September 5): The Temple Owls open the season in Lincoln Financial Field, but it will feel like a Penn State home game with the Nittany Lions back in the city of brotherly love. Temple’s defense can pose some problems for Penn State’s offense early, but may need a flawless performance on offense for the upset.

East Carolina at Florida (September 12): East Carolina gets Florida at a decent time with the Gators still looking to rebound and in the first year under Jim McElwain. Winning in Gainesville is not easy, although Georgia Southern managed to do it. So why not the Pirates?

UCF at Stanford (September 12): The Knights head to the west coast to take on perennial Pac-12 contender Stanford. The Cardinal got off to a slow start last season. If they do once again this season then UCF could return home with a big win for the conference.

UCF at South Carolina (September 26): The Knights are not satisfied playing just one power conference opponent on the road. A couple weeks after visiting Stanford they will head to South Carolina. The Knights nearly pulled off the upset of the Gamecocks the last time they played. Could UCF win on the road in Pac-12 and SEC territory?

East Carolina vs. Virginia Tech (September 26): A year ago it was the Pirates who stormed to the front of the pack in the Group of Five race after knocking off Virginia Tech. The Hokies had just topped Ohio State in Columbus, which helped boost East Carolina’s profile as a result. The way things shape out we could see that happen all over again. Or not. Who knows?

Cincinnati vs. Miami (October 1): The Bearcats figure to be a regular threat in the American Athletic Conference, and a home victory over the Miami Hurricanes can help push them to the top of the pecking order among Group of Five contenders. Cincinnati hosts Miami on a Thursday night, with Miami coming off a bye week following a home date with Nebraska.

Temple vs. Notre Dame (October 31): It is a big year for Temple season ticket holder. Not only does Penn State come to town, but so does Notre Dame. If Temple can pull the upset of the Irish, it would be a huge victory for the conference as a whole. What if Temple beats both Penn State and Notre Dame…

Coming out of these games with a 3-4 mark should be considered a success (4-3 obviously an even bigger success), and it would likely help change the way the AAC’s champion is compared alongside whichever team comes out of the Mountain West Conference, MAC, Conference USA or Sun Belt Conference. The games in September can carry huge weight in December.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: ACC Coastal Division

Cincinnati v Miami Getty Images

Once again, it looks as though the ACC Coastal Division is going to be a wide-open race just waiting for someone to jump up and grab control of the division. After looking over just the schedules of the ACC Coastal Division, you can see why.

Take Pittsburgh for example. The Panthers, now with Pat Narduzzi making his head coaching debut, may have some of the top offensive players in the ACC with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner, but the Panthers must overcome a lot of travel in the first half of the season. Pittsburgh will go all the way to Week 9 before getting its second ACC game at home. Pittsburgh has just two home games before Halloween. If they can stay above water before November, the Panthers will have some huge games at home down the stretch (UNC, Louisville and Miami in ACC play and Notre Dame). The Panthers also avoid Clemson and Florida State.

Duke may have the best schedule in the ACC with no Clemson, no Florida State and no Louisville. The Blue Devils also get Georgia Tech, Boston College, Miami and Pittsburgh at home. Duke has to travel to Virginia Tech, but they get a bye week to prepare for it. The UNC Tar Heels also miss on the top three Atlantic Division threats, and they get Duke at home after a Thursday night road trip at Pittsburgh. Georgia Tech, the defending division champions get both Clemson and Florida State in crossover match-ups.

I’m still left wondering when Miami is going to take control of this division, which was supposed to happen as soon as the Hurricanes joined the conference and a division split was put into play. If nothing else, Miami has a decent chance to generate the annual “Is Miami back” conversation with a couple of easy games in the first two weeks followed by a revenge situation at home against Nebraska. They then get a bye week to prepare for a Thursday night game at American contender Cincinnati before a road game at Florida State and home dates with Virginia Tech and Clemson. In other words, Al Golden has his work cut out for him before heading down the home stretch against Coastal competition.

Virginia Tech has the biggest non-conference game on the ACC schedule with a Labor Day night season opener against defending champion, and most likely preseason No. 1, Ohio State. We all know what happened last year. If Virginia Tech can do it again in Blacksburg, will they avoid a letdown a few weeks later at East Carolina? Or at home against Pittsburgh?

Oh, I also had some thoughts on the ACC Atlantic Division schedules if you are interested.

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Quick offseason schedule thoughts: ACC Atlantic Division

150523_SwinneyClemson Getty Images

It’s Memorial Day weekend, which means things can probably get a little slow here around the virtual desk in the home office of this college football writer. It also can be a good time to begin to start looking a little more at the upcoming college football season. After all, the first FBS game is only 103 days, five hours and 25 minutes away and counting. TO pass the time I started loading up individual season schedules into Excel, which will later be used to keep track of predicted wins and losses and you don’t really care about this level of college football data archiving.

I started with the ACC schedules, going through each conference in alphabetical order I know, I know, technically the American Athletic Conference comes first) and figured I would share some thoughts about the schedules. Why not make them into some quick posts? SO here are some quick thoughts.

I am pretty optimistic about Clemson this season. The Tigers get a couple of easy games (against Wofford and Appalachian State) before a huge road test on a Thursday night at Louisville. They then get a bye before hosting Notre Dame, Georgia Tech and Boston College the next three weeks. They also get Florida State at home. As far as the ACC is concerned, advantage Tigers.

We are going to get a good idea of what Louisville is early on. The Cardinals take on Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta in week one and two weeks later host Clemson on a Thursday night. If Louisville scratches together two wins there, then watch out. Cardinals have a bye week to prepare for Florida State, who will be coming off a game against Miami the previous week. Florida State will play its first two ACC games on the road and must also play on the road against Georgia Tech and Clemson. The Noles take on FCS Chattanooga the week before visiting Gainesville.

Boston College opens the year with back-to-back home games against FCS opponents, Maine and Howard. This will mean Boston College will have to win seven games in order to be bowl eligible this season. The Eagles have won seven games in each of the first two seasons since the arrival of Steve Addazio.

NC State is one of the rare power five conference schools to take to the road to play Group of Five schools twice in a season, and they will do so in back-to-back weeks against Old Dominion and South Alabama.  Still, we could be talking about a 4-0 Wolfpack when Louisville comes to town in Week 5.

The schedule does no favors to Syracuse. The Orange host LSU in non-conference play in Week 4. But that is not the ACC’s fault. Syracuse has what could be a brutal ACC stretch as October flips over to November. At Florida State on Halloween, at Louisville the following week and at home against Clemson. Good luck with all that.

Wake Forest will have an uphill battle from start to finish. The Demon Deacons get Florida State and Louisville at home and travel to Notre Dame and Clemson at the end of the season. The ceiling is very low for Wake Forest no matter how the schedule shapes out though.

After looking through the schedules in the ACC’s Atlantic Division, I still think Clemson has the best path to a trip to Charlotte at the end of the year, although Everett Golson keeps Florida State’s path somewhat clear as well if they can get by Clemson in Week 10. And if Louisville gets hot early, things could get interesting real fast.

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LSU AD says Tigers would play Texas A&M on Black Friday, hopes SEC never goes to 9 games

LSU v Texas A&M Getty Images

LSU athletics director Joe Alleva has said pretty sternly there is not a chance LSU will play a game on Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving? Well that sounds liek a different story.

Appearing as a guest on the Paul Finebaum Show on ESPN Radio Friday afternoon, with Tony Barnhart sitting in as a guest host, Alleva said LSU would be willing to play Texas A&M the day after Thanksgiving.

“The reason I said that is not necessarily because it’s a Thursday night game, but it’s Thanksgiving Thursday night and I’m opposed to playing a game on Thanksgiving Day inside the stadium. In my opinion it’s a time when our families need to be with their families and give thanks for all the blessings they have, take a day off and get ready for Friday or Saturday night inside the stadium.”

Asked if that meant LSU would play Texas A&M on a Friday in Tiger Stadium, Alleva said “Yeah, we would play on a Friday, hopefully at night.” Alleva went on to say LSU prefers to play games at night, which he had previously gone on record saying. Alleva also

Alleva, who said this week non-conference opponents from power conferences are scared to schedule a road game in Tiger Stadium, also suggested the chances the SEC would ever move to a nine-game conference schedule are still slim.

“I hope we don’t get to that, but we’ll see,” Alleva said to Barnhart. “We may get to that at some point. My personal opinion is this league is very tough and we don’t need to make it tougher by playing another family member in the league and beating each other up more than we already do.”

The SEC has stuck with an eight-game conference schedule despite having 14 members. Each school has a locked in crossover opponent (LSU is paired with Florida), and the SEC will begin requiring each member to schedule one non-conference game against an opponent from a power conference. Notre Dame, BYU and Army will count toward satisfying that non-conference scheduling requirement. Alleva has been vocal with his thoughts against the current SEC scheduling model.

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Wisconsin QB leaves Badgers after one spring

Paul Chryst

Despite graduating high school early to join the Wisconsin Badgers, true freshman quarterback Austin Kafentzis is already on his way out of Madison.

The Wisconsin State Journal reports Kafentzis saw a limited number of snaps in the spring in Madison at a time when freshman quarterback Alex Hornibrook seemed to have a more productive spring. Another report from 247 Sports says new Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst was not viewing Kafentzis as a quarterback option, but another position instead.

Kafentzis was a three-star recruit according to Rivals, and the fifth-best recruit in the state of Utah. He had committed to Wisconsin in June 2013. He had reportedly had strong ties with former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, and once Andersen packed his bags for Oregon State the quarterback reaffirmed his commitment to the program following the hiring of Chryst.

Kafentzis did reportedly take interest in Oregon State after Andersen left Wisconsin for the Pac-12 program, but it is unknown at this time if Kafentzis has any specific interest in another program. However, if he transfers to another FBS program he will now have to sit out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules since he has already enrolled.

Wisconsin’s quarterback situation should still be good enough when it comes to depth. Joel Stave will be the team’s starter under center in the fall and redshirt junior Bart Houston is back in Madison this season. Wisconsin will also have redshirt freshman D.J. Gillins and Hornibrook.

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