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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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Report: UCLA’s Mazzone, USC’s Helton interviewed for Vols OC job

Noel Mazzone AP

We don’t know yet when Butch Jones will pull the trigger on his biggest coaching hire this offseason, but we do know some of the candidates who have caught his attention.  Reportedly.

According to Jimmy Hyams of radio station WNML in Knoxville, Jones has interviewed five outside candidates for the Vols’ vacancy at offensive coordinator: current Michigan administrator and former UM coordinator Mike DeBord, as well as 2014 coordinators Matt Canada (North Carolina State), Clay Helton (USC), Noel Mazzone (UCLA) and Kurt Roper (not retained at Florida). Additionally, UT wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is listed by Hyams as a candidate as well.

Hyams notes that Jones has interviewed those individuals in locations such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas.

Of the reported candidates, Mazzone and Helton would be the most noteworthy.

Mazzone has spent the past three seasons as the Bruins coordinator.  During those three seasons, the Bruins finished 37th (33.5 ppg, 2014), 21st (36.9 ppg, 2013) and 31st (34.4 ppg) in scoring; in the two years prior to Mazzone’s arrival, the Bruins were 88th (23.1 ppg, 2012) and 103rd (20.1 ppg) in that category.

Helton has spent the past five seasons as the Trojans’ coordinator/quarterbacks coach.  In his first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, Helton did not hold play-calling responsibilities.

Jones, incidentally, was on DeBord’s coaching staff at CMU from 2000-03.  DeBord has been out of the coaching game since serving as the tight ends coach of the Chicago Bears in 2012.  Hyams notes, though, that DeBord has NFL opportunities from which to potentially choose as well.

Whoever it is that Jones hires will replace Mike Bajakian, who left to to take the quarterbacks coach job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month.

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Tide makes Mel Tucker hiring official

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Three days after it was first reported, the lone hole on Nick Saban‘s Alabama coaching staff has been filled.

In a press release, UA announced that Mel Tucker has been hired as Saban’s defensive backs coach.  Tucker will also hold the title of assistant head coach.

Tucker has a history with Saban, who hired him as a grad assistant at Michigan State nearly two decades ago.

“He is an outstanding coach all the way around and really does an excellent job in terms of teaching the players,” Saban said in a statement. “When you look at his college and NFL experience, his resume is very impressive, and he’ll be a positive addition to our defensive staff. Mel’s experience with the secondary will allow us to move Kirby back to coaching the inside linebackers, which has been most effective for our defensive coordinator. We’re pleased and happy to welcome Mel and his family to Tuscaloosa.”

Tucker has been away from the college game for the last decade, having spent time on NFL staffs with the Cleveland Browns (2005-07, defensive backs; 2008, defensive coordinator), Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12, defensive coordinator) and Chicago Bears (2013-14, defensive coordinator).  His last job at the collegiate level came in 2004 as the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Prior to that, the Cleveland, Oh., native coached the secondary at OSU (2001-03), LSU (2000) and Miami of Ohio (1999).

“I’ve known Coach Saban since I was 17 years old and he recruited me when he was the head coach at Toledo,” said Tucker. “He gave me my first job at Michigan State and most of what I learned as a defensive backs coach came from him. He has always been extremely loyal to me and my family, and is a trusted friend and mentor.

“We’ve become big Crimson Tide fans through the years and our family actually went to the bowl games against Michigan State and Notre Dame. When I was invited to speak here at one of the coaching clinics, I really got to see first-hand how special the University of Alabama is and I’m honored to join Coach Saban’s staff. I have the utmost respect this program and what Coach Saban stands for as a man and as a coach.”

In addition to Tucker, UA also announce the hiring of former UAB assistant Jody Wright.  This is a return for Wright as he spent 201 as a graduate assistant with the Tide and 2011-12 as an offensive analyst.

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About-face: ACC to count BYU as Power Five opponent

BYU Stadium

Just last May, it was reported that the ACC would not consider BYU an option for its membership to satisfy the mandatory scheduling of at least one Power Five opponent per season.

Eight months later?  Never mind, apparently.

The same day that the ACC released its complete 2015 schedule, ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy reports that games against BYU will now count toward the Power Five non-league requirement for the conference. The league has yet to announce the reversal, for whatever that’s worth.

As it stands now, Virginia is the only ACC school with BYU on its future schedules, with games slated for 2019 in Charlottesville, 2020 in Provo. Whether this reported decision to allow BYU to meet the P5 scheduling requirement means future games between the football independent and ACC schools will start popping up remains to be seen.

Unless a change hasn’t been made public yet, the SEC still does not consider BYU meeting a scheduling requirement similar to that of the ACC’s. Of course, the Cougars have played just five games total against teams that were members of the SEC at the time the game was played, so it’s not as if there’s an extensive history between that institution and that conference.

Regardless, the ACC’s decision is a huge one for BYU as it will allow the football program to further bolster its schedule — and any potential playoff résumé — with quality Power Five opponents.  Short of landing a spot in one of those conferences — you have their digits, Big 12 — this is about as good as it gets for the Cougars.

(Photo credit: BYU athletics)

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Brandon Harris’ HS coach advised QB to ‘please get out of’ LSU

Brandon Harris

Here’s to guessing David Feaster‘s brutal honesty won’t ingratiate him too much to the LSU coaching staff.

Feaster is the head coach at Bossier City Parkway High School in Louisiana, the high school of LSU quarterback Brandon Harris.  After Harris’ true freshman season devolved into one of (mostly) sideline inactivity even as the quality of play at the quarterback position was suspect to say the least, Feaster encouraged his former player to leave the situation.

And by “leave the situation” I mean “get the hell out of Dodge before you do permanent damage to your collegiate career.” From the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s transcription of Feaster’s radio interview Wednesday.

“Please get out of there,” Feaster said he told Harris. “I wanted him to go to junior college. Go to a junior college, and because he’s a qualifier, he can just be there one year, leave at the midterm and restart the recruiting process all over again.”

“You’ve got the worst passing game in the country, and the best quarterback in the country sitting on the bench,” Feaster said. “Why don’t we even try him against Arkansas? He almost saved you against Mississippi State, did save you against New Mexico State. Why don’t we even give him a shot in some of these other games we can’t get a first down?”

There was speculation floating around that part of the reason for Harris’ inactivity over the last half of the season stemmed from what the Times-Picayune described as a lack of “dedication to studying tape and the playbook.”  On that front, Feaster lays the onus for the leak that cast his former player in an unfavorable light squarely on the LSU coaching staff.

“The stuff they’ve been saying has been lies,” Feaster said. “That he has trouble learning plays or checks, reading defenses, all that is bogus. He got there in January. They had plenty of time to go over the plays. I’ll just say that on his behalf, all that stuff is lies.

“He’s (Les Miles) the head coach, and he plays who he wants to. I don’t want people telling me who to play at QB either. But I don’t think they should be putting out false information about Brandon to make him look bad.”

Harris, of course, eschewed a transfer from LSU — “I couldn’t talk him into it,” Feaster said — and will, along with 2014 starter Anthony Jennings, compete for the starting job again beginning this spring. To Feaster’s credit, he did allow later in the interview that Harris is “right and I’m wrong” about wanting the quarterback to bolt after being on campus for less than a year.

In his first season in Baton Rouge, Harris played in eight games and started one. That lone start was, to say the least, a rough one, with Harris completing just 3-of-14 passes for 58 yards in a 41-7 loss on the road to Auburn. Harris attempted just one pass the remaining seven games, although that hasn’t seemed to dampen the former four-star recruit’s enthusiasm for the Tigers.

“Brandon is really enjoying LSU,” Feaster said. “He’s all in for it. He’s just going to try and compete. Maybe there’ll be a different set of criteria this year on how they choose their quarterback, and maybe he’ll get a shot.”

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ACC releases complete 2015 schedule

ACC Logo

With the start of the 2015 season less than eight months away — damn, that seems a long, long, long ways away — the ACC has gotten around to releasing its full schedule for the upcoming campaign.

The conference will have several high-profile games opening weekend, beginning with North Carolina-South Carolina Sept. 3 in Charlotte; continuing with Louisville-Auburn in the Georgia Dome for the Sept. 5 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game; and concluding with Virginia Tech-Ohio State Labor Day night, Sept. 7, in Blacksburg.  The Hokies were the only team to knock off the Buckeyes en route to OSU’s national championship.

Notre Dame will also be in the second year of its scheduling arrangement with the conference, with six games on the slate versus league foes. Clemson (Oct. 3), Virginia (Sept. 12) and Pitt (Nov. 7) will host the Irish, while Georgia Tech (Sept. 19) and (Wake Forest (Nov. 14) will travel to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Additionally, the Notre Dame-Boston College game will be played in Boston’s Fenway Park, and will be considered a home game for the Irish.

In the release announcing the 2015 slate, the ACC touted its schedule as one of the toughest in the country, at least on paper. Let us count the reasons why:

  • ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Too Early Top 25 rankings for 2015 (12) than any of the other Top Five Conferences. The ACC’s total is also more than double the number of games played by the next closest Power Five league.
  • ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power Five Conference teams (38%) than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams are also playing games against opponents who had a higher FBS (.536) and overall (.536) winning percentage in 2014 than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams will also play 24 games against non-conference opponents that played in bowl games in 2014. That total is the second-highest total of any Power Five Conference.

“This year’s ACC Football schedule once again showcases that collectively our league is arguably playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the country,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “In addition to the nonconference games, we have a tremendously competitive league schedule which provides our teams and fans with great games each week of the season.”

For the complete 2015 ACC schedule, click HERE.  For the complete helmet or logo versions, click HERE or HERE, respectively.

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Grantham confirms Raider interview, but will stay at Louisville

Miami v Louisville

As it turns out, Louisville won’t need to embark on a search for a new defensive coordinator after all.

Late Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the Oakland Raiders, which had previously targeted Todd Grantham, had offered their coordinator job to the current UofL coordinator.  In a statement subsequently released by the school, Grantham confirmed that he did interview for the NFL post.

He also confirmed, though, that he would be returning to the Cardinals for the 2015 season.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed for the defensive coordinator position with the Oakland Raiders, but I’m committed to the University of Louisville,” Grantham said in a statement. “I said when I came to Louisville that I thought we could win a national championship, and we are building toward that goal with the success we had this season.

“Coach Petrino and Tom Jurich have given me a great opportunity and I’m grateful for their commitment. My family loves it in Louisville, and I think we are establishing something special here with head coach Bobby Petrino and our staff. Our main objective over the next week is to finish strong in recruiting and continue to bolster this signing class.”

In his first season at Louisville in 2014, Grantham’s $975,000 salary was sixth amongst assistant coaches nationally and third in the ACC. It’s unknown at the moment if he’ll receive a bump in pay to repay his commitment to the university.

Under Grantham in 2014, the Cardinals were tied for 24th in the country in scoring defense at 21.8 points per game. The year prior to Grantham’s arrival, they were second at 12.2 ppg.

“We’re very pleased and happy that Todd is going to be staying at the University of Louisville,” Petrino said in his statement. “He’s done a fabulous job with our defense that ranked in the top 10. He’s one of the finest assistant coaches in the country, and you expect excellent coaches like Todd to get opportunities in the NFL. I’ve always had respect for the job that Todd has done throughout his career, especially this past year at Louisville, and we’re happy that he has and family will continue to be members of the Cardinals’ family.”

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Lincoln Riley to make $1 million over two years as Oklahoma’s OC

Lincoln Riley

In a fairly news-y day for the Sooners from Oklahoma, it was revealed Wednesday that new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has inked a two-year contract that will pay him $500,000 annually. His contract was approved during an OU Board of Regents meeting.

Thanks to Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World, we know Riley will be the Big 12’s second-highest paid offensive coordinator in the Big 12. Texas’ Shawn Watson made $650,000 in 2014 to lead the league. Departed Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery made $504,645 this fall.

Riley’s half-a-million dollar salary would have tied him for 66th nationally among all college football assistants last fall according to the USA Today coaching salary database. He ranked 244th at just north of $278,000 at East Carolina in 2014.

Riley will be Oklahoma’s second-highest paid assistant, trailing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Previous offensive coordinator Josh Heupel earned $605,000 in 2014.

 

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Jimbo Fisher’s new contract includes a mighty large buyout

Jimbo Fisher

We’ve known of Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher‘s new eight-year contract for more than a month now, but on Wednesday we learned the details of the head Seminole’s new deal.

Thanks to an open records request by the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida State revealed that Fisher will earn $5 million a year in 2015, and the coach will receive a $100,000 a year bump through the 2022 season. Fisher, who earned $3.6 million in 2014 according to the USA Today coaching salary database, joins Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Texas’ Charlie Strong and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh in college football’s $5 million club.

Of course, the most important figure in any coaching contract is the buyout. And there is a significant one here. Fisher would owe a cool $5 million should he leave before Dec. 31, 2016, a more manageable $3 million if he left between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018, and a minuscule $1 million thereafter.

Fisher is eligible for bonuses ranging from $50,000 for reaching a non-College Football Playoff bowl game to $250,000 for reaching certain team GPA or other off-the-field benchmarks. He’ll make $200,000 if the ‘Noles win a national championship. Fisher will also receive a $1.2 million longevity bonus should he remain in Tallahassee through the life of the contract.

The new deal also provides an extra $750,000 for Fisher’s assistants. The group earned nearly $3.4 million in 2014, good for 12th nationally and third in the ACC. The new pool would rank them just behind Auburn for fifth nationally.

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Report: OU to delay Memorial Stadium expansion, school president denies it

Oklahoma State v Oklahoma Getty Images

Oklahoma is planning on postponing the major renovation project to Gaylord Family-Memorial Stadium announced last summer. Or, they’re not. One or the other.

A report from SoonerScoop.com released Wednesday stated Oklahoma had informed contractors and architects that it is placing the $370 million project on hold due to “market related” factors. More specifically, the price of oil has dropped precipitously, directly impacting many of the Sooners’ big money donors. The report outlined that OU’s fundraising arm has struggled to secure sales of new suites, which would underwrite a large portion of the renovations.

The Sooners’ limp finish to the 2014 season certainly didn’t help, but SoonerScoop writes that competitive factors aren’t holding up the project. “The football outlook has barely entered into the discussion at all,” a source told the site. “It seems everyone knows upgrades like this are important in keeping us competitive.”

Another reason, the report states, that the project will go on hold has been Oklahoma president David Boren‘s drive to secure funding for OU’s Residential College, a sort of academic utopia mimicking schools back east and across the pond. “The new housing facilities will be designed as living/learning communities that would, by their nature, build strong communities and identities and become the cornerstone of the undergraduate experience,” said a university press release. “They will be patterned on those at Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge.”

As fate would have it, the report went live as Boren spoke to reporters at an OU Board of Regents meeting.

Well, then.

To its credit, SoonerScoop is standing by its reporting.

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Boren said that Oklahoma is “shovel ready,” and that he is slated to discuss the project with the Regents at their March meeting.

One thing is certain with stories like this: either the renovations will happen, or they won’t. We’ll find out soon enough.

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Central Florida, Florida Atlantic schedule home-and-home

George O'Leary

Central Florida and Florida Atlantic each have short histories as FBS programs. FAU played its first season in 2001, and UCF joined FBS way back in the ancient days of 1996. As such, two programs one would think tussle on a semi-annual basis have only played once, a 33-29 Knights win back in 2003.

That is about to change.

The schools announced a home-and-home series for 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Florida Atlantic will visit Orlando on Sept. 22, 2018, and Central Florida will return the favor on Sept. 7, 2019.

A home-and-home with Florida Atlantic means Central Florida will have played a Sunshine State opponent in non-conference play every year from 2005-19, save for a one-year break in 2010.

Each program has played Florida twice. Central Florida has played Florida State once and Miami twice, while Florida Atlantic has faced FAU once and never played Florida State.

Here’s hoping UCF’s sideline cabana is still around in 2018.

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Reports: Joker Phillips to coach WRs for NFL’s Browns

Joker Phillips

It appears that the Joker is back in the coaching game.

Following up on reports that began surfacing a couple of days ago, ESPN.com is reporting that Joker Phillips has agreed to become the wide receivers coach of the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.  The organization has not yet announced his hiring, although that’s something that could happen this week and perhaps as early as today.

Phillips had spent the 2013 season as Florida’s receivers coach before abruptly resigning his position in June of last year.  Other than “personal reasons,” no reason was given for the unexpected departure.  It was subsequently reported that Phillips was photographed eating in a restaurant with a football prospect during a recruiting dead period, which would be an NCAA violation.  He sat out the 2014 season, at least as far as coaching goes.

Phillips, whose main mark while at UF was as a recruiter and Twitter genius, has never held a job at the NFL level as his entire 26-year coaching career has come in the college game.

A receivers coach on six different occasions at five schools, Phillips has, in addition to his time at UF, held that role on staffs at Kentucky (199-96), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000) and South Carolina (2002).  He spent another stint at UK from 2003-09 before becoming the Wildcats’ head coach in 2010-12.

A 13-24 record in the three seasons led to his dismissal in 2012.

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Report: Raiders offer Todd Grantham their DC job

It appears Louisville could indeed be forced to search for a new defensive coordinator.

Monday, reports surfaced that the Oakland Raiders had targeted UofL coordinator Todd Grantham for the same position with the NFL club.  Two days later, the courtship between the two sides has reportedly gotten very serious.

It’s not, though, a done deal that Grantham will accept the Raiders offer.

While Grantham has coached at the collegiate level since 2010, he spent the previous 11 years in the NFL.  In February of 2013, Grantham, then the coordinator at Georgia, interviewed for the same job with the New Orleans Saints before deciding to remain with the Bulldogs.  Less than a year later, however, he left UGA for the UofL.

In mid-August of last year, it was reported that significant friction existed between Grantham and head coach Bobby Petrino.  Both coaches subsequently downplayed the speculation.

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Star FCS QB Vernon Adams will reportedly visit Oregon

Vernon Adams Jr.

It’s not often that an FCS player transfers up to the FBS.  It appears, though, that at least one star at the Level Formerly Known as Div. I-A is at least contemplating such a move.

According to Jen Beyrle of The Oregonian via Twitter, Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams will be visiting Oregon this weekend. While not stated specifically in the tweet, the assumption is that the quarterback is considering a transfer to the Ducks.

247Sports.com is reporting that Adams has already been granted his transfer release, which seems to make a move to the Ducks imminent.

With Heisman winner Marcus Mariota leaving his remaining eligibility on the table and moving on to the NFL, UO will conduct a quarterback competition beginning this spring. The way it stands now, Jeff Lockie will enter spring as the front-runner, with competition being provided by redshirt freshmen Taylor Alie and California product Ty Griffin, true freshman Morgan Mahalak and 2015 early signee and four-star recruit Travis Waller.  There have also been rumors that Braxton Miller has an interest in transferring to the Ducks, although that talk has waned of late.

Adams certainly has the credentials to come in and compete immediately with the group that will be there as he would be a grad transfer.

In a 49-46 win over Oregon State in 2013, Adams accounted for 518 yards of offense and six total touchdowns — 411 and four passing, 107 and two rushing.  A year later, Adams passed for 475 yards in a 59-52 loss to Washington.

Over the past two seasons, Adams has thrown for 90 touchdowns and ran for another 10.  In 2013, he was runner-up for the Walter Payton Award, given to the top player in the FCS.

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Four-star WR says he wore Vols gear during Auburn visit, denies pot rumors

Preston Williams

Don’t you just love the wonderful world of college football recruiting, especially when it comes to the SEC (or the Big Ten)?

Four-star 2015 wide receiver Preston Williams has been a verbal commit to Tennessee for the last four months but has still taken visits to, among other places, Georgia and, most recently, Auburn.  It was on that latter trip this past weekend that the darker side of the recruiting game reared its head yet again.

In the wake of that visit to The Plains, one in which he was reportedly adorned in UT clothing, rumors surfaced that the Georgia high schooler was caught smoking marijuana in a hotel.  During a radio interview Tuesday night, Williams, who claimed he was “forced into the visit” by the AU coaching staff, denied the weed accusations.

Not at all,” Williams told WNML when asked if what in part began as message board rumors were accurate. “That’s how people get when you don’t want to do something, they try to put bad words out on you, rumors and stuff. I just let them put rumors out on me. People are going to believe what they want to believe because they have their own opinion.”

Williams also copped to wearing Vols gear during his visit to The Plains, which could explain why or how the pot speculation surfaced in the first place. Not only was he (allegedly) wearing an SEC rival’s colors, he was (allegedly) actively recruiting other prospects who were visiting in an attempt to get them to flip to UT.

Suffice to say, and per the player, it didn’t sit well with his hosts.

“A lot of schools, they don’t like it,” Williams, who left his AU visit earlier than originally planned (or was forced to leave early), said. “They told me to take it off, this and that. They were getting mad. When they were getting mad, I was like, ‘Do I believe them or not? Are they playing with me or what?’ So I was just laughing.”

Of course, now there’s a report out that Williams wasn’t wearing UT apparel at all, that his visit was in fact cut short because of a combination of disinterest on the part of the prospect and the “incident in the hotel room.” The radio station that did the interview with Williams, citing a source in Auburn’s program with direct knowledge of the situation, reported Tuesday evening that Williams was sent home early after he was caught smoking marijuana.

As for Williams’ comments that he was forced into the AU visit and that it was a last-minute kind of thing, the player confirmed Dec. 31 that he would be taking a January visit to the Tigers. “I want to check Auburn out,” Williams said at the time. “Coach (Dameyune) Craig is recruiting me. I’ve talked to him a lot and I told him I’d come visit.”

So, who’s embellishing what?  Who knows.  Or, as some would say when it comes to the seedy side of recruiting, who cares just make it stop.

Williams, incidentally, is rated as the No. 19 receiver in the country and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of Georgia by Rivals.com.  Oh, and, call it a hunch as I’m no recruiting guru, but don’t look for him to flip to Auburn.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Michigan’s 2015 recruiting trail setting up 2016 inroads

Jim Harbaugh

Jim Harbaugh may or may not pull in one of the Big Ten’s top recruiting classes — it’ll more than likely the latter — when it’s all said and done, but what he and his staff are doing now is setting the football program up for the next year’s class.

Exactly one week away from National Signing Day, UM’s 2015 class ranks 75th nationally and dead last in the Big Ten (Purdue is the closest at 60th).  That’s quite an improvement from two weeks ago when, two weeks into his tenure, Harbaugh’s Wolverines were 97th in the country.  That bump was triggered by a trio of flips, including a four-star quarterback who had been a Texas commit.

UM, along with UCLA, is also in play for the No. 1 tight end in the country, Chris Clark, a target that could push the class ranking closer to midpack. Five-star cornerback Iman Marshall, the No. 3 player in the nation according to Rivals.com, took an official visit to Ann Arbor earlier this month and came away giving UM serious consideration, although USC is still widely considered the favorite (maybe).  A handful of three- and four-star recruits are still in play as well.

The program hopes to add 15 players from this year’s class, and are currently sitting at nine commitments with signing day seven days away.

Given the tight time frame in which Harbaugh’s been forced to operate, and despite attacking this day with Enthusiasm Unknown to Mankind, the 2015 recruiting cycle is essentially serving as a gateway to next year’s class.

“You may not see a huge bump in 2015, in part because of the timing of Jim Harbaugh’s hire,” Brandon Huffman, the national director of recruiting for Scout.com, told the Toledo Blade recently. “But you’ll see that momentum carry into the spring when coaches go on the road to begin evaluating the 2016 class.”

Harbaugh & Company could still make a late push this year, but circle 2016 as the year they begin to challenger Urban Meyer and Ohio State, currently seventh nationally, for Big Ten recruiting supremacy.

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