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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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‘Bama, Ohio State among those going to the (uniform) dark side?

Florida Black Jersey

Traditionalists, hide the women and children.  And then your eyes and ears, as you may not like what you’re about to see and hear.

Andrew Lind is a reporter for the Tidewater News and, apparently, some sort of a uniform connoisseur. In that latter capacity, Lind has tweeted some very jarring news: a handful of the most prestigious college football programs in the country will be sporting black alternate uniforms at some point during the 2015 season.

A total of nine teams, Lind reports, will be going to the dark side this coming year: Alabama, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Oregon and Texas.

The above are Nike t-shirts that have been available in retail stores for several months. It’s unclear how closely the t-shirts will resemble the actual black uniforms that will reportedly be worn by those nine teams.

As Lind notes in a followup tweet, it’s “[s]omewhat surprising to hear Texas will have a black alternate jersey just days after head coach Charlie Strong said the team would not.”

Georgia has worn a black jersey on occasion in the past, as has Oregon and Florida State.  According to ElevenWarriors.com, Ohio State will join that group for their October prime-time game against Penn State.

And, if you had been paying attention, Buckeye fans, this alternate move to the dark side shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

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Wisconsin new home for former Clemson/Oklahoma/Michigan LB

South Carolina State v Clemson Getty Images

Kellen Jones began his collegiate career in the Big Ten… continued it in the Big 12… continued it further in the ACC… and will now, reportedly, finish it in the conference in which he started.

247Sports.com reported late this past week that Jones has decided to transfer out of the Clemson football program and transfer into the one at Wisconsin.  Jones made his decision after taking an official visit to Madison earlier in the week.

Because the linebacker has already graduated from Clemson, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2015 as long as he enrolls in a grad program not offered at his now-former school.

And, speaking of now-former schools, Jones has a boatload of them.

In February of 2011, Jones signed on as a three-star member of Michigan’s recruiting class that year.  Six months later, Jones announced that he was transferring to Oklahoma before ever stepping foot on the field at UM.  Seven months later, Jones decided to leave OU and, one month after that, he reunited with defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Jones did manage to play 12 games for the Sooners before transferring to the Tigers.  At Clemson, he played in a total of 16 games, including 13 in 2014.  He was credited with 29 tackles, one forced fumble and a half of a tackle for loss.

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JUCO WR Jarvis Baxter gets release from LOI at USF, walking on at Oklahoma

NCAA Football - Oklahoma vs Missouri - October 28, 2006

Junior college wide receiver Jarvis Baxter set his sights on joining the South Florida Bulls this fall, but academic concerns forced him to try and back out of a letter of intent. USF’s loss will be Oklahoma’s gain. Baxter will reportedly walk-on with the Sooners and report to fall camp this coming week.

According to a report from Scout.com, Baxter will meet the academic requirements to enroll at Oklahoma and intends to join the program on Tuesday when players report to camp in Norman. The academic hang-up with USF stemmed from having too many summer credits to count toward his GPA in Tampa. Those extra credits do count at Oklahoma.

“I talked with [Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley], and he said they have a walk-on spot at wide receiver open,” Baxter said to Scout.com. “I talked to my family about it and decided this would be the best thing for me to do.”

Baxter said he expects to have a chance to receive a scholarship this season. He will arrive at Oklahoma with three years to play two seasons for the Sooners.

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Jim Tressel predicts Terrelle Pryor will drop first pass in Browns practice in Ohio Stadium

Navy v Ohio State Getty Images

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is currently hard at work learning a new position in an attempt to land a roster spot with the Cleveland Browns. It is somewhat similar to the experience of Braxton Miller right now at Ohio State, although Miller is guaranteed a roster spot in the fall. The same is not true for Pryor in the NFL. On Saturday, Pryor’s former Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel, paid a visit to Browns training camp.

As it just so happens, the Browns will be holding a training camp practice inside Ohio Stadium this month, which means Pryor will take the field in Columbus for the first time since unceremoniously being suspended by the program and deciding to enter the NFL supplemental draft following the infamous tattoo-gate scandal of 2011. That scandal ultimately cost Tressel a job as head coach as well and led to a postseason ban for Ohio State, served by Urban Meyer in his first year on the job rather than in the 2011 season. Asked about Pryor’s upcoming Ohio Stadium homecoming, Tressel said it was going to be a cool moment for him, although he also served up a not-so-flattering prediction (in good humor).

“You know that’s got to be thrilling to him. He loved that place and has carried a burden with him that didn’t end the way he wanted to,” Tressel said. “He’ll probably drop three passes in a row.”

In related Browns-Buckeyes news, current Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones stopped by practice on Saturday, sporting his 12-gauge t-shirt. Jones was there to support his friend and former high school teammate Shane Wynn (a former Indiana Hoosier).

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If you thought Auburn’s new scoreboard was impressive before…

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The largest video scoreboard in the nation could be even more impressive from behind. While nothing is officially planned just yet, the construction of the new video scoreboard at Auburn has some envisioning even more video goodness to be enjoyed in the years to come. This time the video entertainment could be for the benefit of fans outside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“In the future what we may end up doing is we may end up putting LED video boards back there so it’s not static signage,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a story published by Al.com. “So that we can do things like ‘Graduation today at a certain time’ or ‘congratulations to professor Smith for winning the Leischuck award,’ things like that because it’s such a big board and massive space. I didn’t want it just to be solid, I want it to be something that we can actually utilize.”

Yeah, sure you could do all sorts of cool things with that extra video space. You could also sell advertising. You will definitely sell extra advertising. In this day and age you have to utilize every square inch you possibly can to squeeze as much revenue out of a football program you can. While the murals of former players like Bo Jackson, Cam Newton and Pat Sullivan would be cool, they don’t provide nearly the amount of cash Dr. Pepper or Chick-fil-A would.

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Ole Miss OL Laremy Tunsil and stepfather agree to drop charges against each other

tunsil Getty Images

Temperatures may have reached  a boiling point between Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and his stepfather, but it seems the two have agreed to keep their family business in house instead of pursue legal action against one another. Domestic violence charges against each other are expected to be formally dropped on Monday, according to a report from Riley Blevins of  The Clarion-Ledger.

Per the information in the report out of Oxford, Mississippi, lawyers for both have mutually agreed to have their clients sign a dismissal from earlier this week, thereby requesting to a local judge to review and drop the charges previously filed. Tunsil reportedly punched his stepfather in defense of his mother. Tunsil’s stepfather, Lindsey Miller, claimed tensions rose when an argument over Tunsil’s connection to sports agents flared up. The NCAA has since opened an investigation into Tunsil’s alleged connection to agents.

Whatever happened is now behind both men, and hopefully things have been smoothed over. Ole Miss suspended Tunsil from the team while the legal process played out, but head coach Hugh Freeze has seemed understanding of the situation from the jump and should be expected to find it appropriate to welcome Tunsil back to the program as quickly as possible.

That is, of course, as long as the NCAA investigation does not yield any rules violations. For that to happen, the NCAA will have to find incriminating evidence through testimony from witnesses. Miller would seem to be the first person the NCAA would wish to speak to, but now that he and Tunsil have agreed to drop charges who knows how cooperative he would want to be with the NCAA.

Don’t expect much to come out of this mildly twisted saga.

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Michigan LB Joe Bolden has no regrets for Michigan State tent-spike

Gary Nova, Joe Bolden, Jake Ryan

It was all blown out of proportion, Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden says of his pregame driving of a tent spike into the field at Michigan State last fall. The pregame act did not go unnoticed by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who took issue with it after the Spartans’ blowout victory over the Wolverines, for which former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke apologized.

“Simply motivation that backfired, got blown out of proportion in a way, so it is what it is,” Bolden said when asked about the incident during Big Ten media days this week.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said Michigan State felt disrespected and he played with a bit of an extra chip on his shoulder as a result. Bolden understands that, but seemed to shrug it aside this week.

“Things were said, and somebody said they ran the ball when they wanted to take a knee, well, I’m a competitor, it’s a rivalry football game, I”m running the ball, too,” Bolden said. “If I’m a head coach I”m running the football. I have the utmost respect for coach Dantonio and his staff.”

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Mountain West Conference moves to 8-man officiating crews in 2015

Catherine Conti

There will be one more body on the field when you watch a Mountain West Conference game this season, and neither team will be flagged for too many men on the field. This week the Mountain West Conference confirmed the officiating crew will now consist of eight officials instead of seven. The conference experimented with the 8-man crew at times last season, and apparently it was deemed a successful trial run.

Love it. Absolutely love it,” Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said, per The Denver Post. “I think there are certain expenditures you carry out that are prudent, that make sense, that make for a more quality game. That’s one of them. That’s a good investment.”

Coaches are not the only one applauded having more eyes on the field to monitor the game. The officials are on board as well.

“The last two years I was on a crew of eight officials and what it allowed me to do as a referee is as soon as the play ended go right to the offense and look for substitutions,” Greg Burks, an active official and Mountain West Conference coordinator of officials said this week (via The Herald Journal) said. “And what we found out — without naming the schools — is some of them every time they would go to the sidelines, they were substituting and gaining an advantage because the (opposing) defense wasn’t able to match up.”

It will be the job of the center judge to spot the football. The umpire will retrieve the football from the sideline. Meanwhile, the referee will be able to look at the offensive sideline to monitor substitutions. It should make for a smoother process for officials, with less scrambling around and juggling multiple procedures at once. Refs still need to work on getting everything to run smoothly though, but at least the Mountain West Conference will have a potentially seamless process.

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Penn State, Pitt ADs will discuss potential future of in-state series

Pitt Panthers Bill Fralic

New leadership and conference scheduling requirements and commitments may leave the door wide open for a long-term future for a Keystone State rivalry. Penn State and Pittsburgh have not played since 2000, but a four-game series will begin next season. Penn State Athletics Director Sandy Barbour said this week at Big Ten media days she is scheduled to discuss the future of the series with her counterpart at Pittsburgh, Scott Barnes, in the coming months.

“Scott Barnes, [Pitt’s] new AD, I’ve known for a long time,” Barbour said Friday, according to Audrey Snyder of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’ve had a brief conversation. I think we’re scheduled here in the next month or so to talk about it. We’ve got a big puzzle in looking at our non-conference schedule, so we’ll see where that fits in.”

The Big Ten will be moving to a new conference-wide scheduling philosophy that will see all 14 members committed to scheduling one game per season against a power conference opponent. While not technically a requirement, it is one aspect of the new scheduling direction the Big Ten is taking a firm stance. The ACC requires all conference members to schedule one game against a power conference opponent each season as well. This would seem to make Penn State and Pittsburgh ideal and logical scheduling partners for years to come. But college football scheduling is not always so easy.

Pittsburgh will host Penn State in the 2016 season to open up a four-game series between the in-state power programs. The original deal in place was for a brief home-and-home series with each side getting a home game. That was later expanded to a four-game deal, and it is likely to remain that way for the time being. With future schedules arranged years in advance, it may not be likely to see Penn State and Pittsburgh put together any long-term or even brief series for a number of years down the road, as it is not likely either school will be overenthusiastic to schedule multiple power conference opponents in any given year if possible, at least on a regular basis.

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Jim Mora prefers using one QB, but not ready to anoint starter

Jim Mora

UCLA head coach Jim Mora faced plenty of questions about his quarterback situation at UCLA during Pac-12 media days, but he is far from prepared to settle on a starting quarterback for the start of the 2015 season. He must have been prepared for that given Brett Hundley left the Bruins a year early to enter the NFL Draft and Asiantii Woulard is hoping to be ruled eligible to play elsewhere this fall. The spring game yielded far too little confidence in any candidate to grab the starting nod months ahead of the season, so Mora is going to hold off on making any concrete decisions until he can get a better sense of who is ready to lead UCLA’s offense. One thing Mora does not plan to do is use multiple quarterbacks.

“I’d rather use one. I think that is the most beneficial way to build your team and consistency is to use one,” Mora said Friday during Pac-12 media day. “But we’ll see. My gut instinct is to name a guy and support the hell out of him. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

So, who will that be? The three quarterback race is down to Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul and freshman Josh Rosen. Despite the high expectations for Rosen, Mora is not getting caught up in the hype just yet.

“He hasn’t taken a snap at this level. So I don’t want to put too many expectations,” Mora suggested. “I’ll let others put expectations on them. I think if Josh reaches his potential every day at the end of his time at UCLA we’ll look back and say he was a success.”

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LSU reinstates three players, including QB Anthony Jennings

Anthony Jennings

LSU has reinstated three players just days before fall practices are scheduled to open in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Anthony Jennings, defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas will all be available to practice after being indefinitely suspended from the program.

LSU head coach Les Miles made the decision Friday afternoon with the indication the three players will undergo further in-house discipline. All three were suspended in response to an incident involving alleged unauthorized entry of an inhabited building. The alleged victim in that incident has since asked for the charges against the LSU football players to be dropped. That is exactly what has happened, allowing the door for Miles to welcome back all three, which he suspected might be the case.

No formal charges were filed against the three LSU players.

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Fitzgerald: Big Ten coaches voted unanimously against 9-game conference schedule

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In 2016 the Big Ten will expand its conference schedule from eight games to nine in a league-wide effort to enhance the overall strength of schedule for the conference. Apparently this is being done without approval from the 14 Big Ten head coaches.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald says, per Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports, the coaches in the Big Ten were unanimous in voting for an eight-game conference schedule.

This is certainly a reminder just who makes the big decisions in the Big Ten, and it sure is not the head coaches.

A nine-game conference schedule does help improve the conference’s overall schedule, but it also has its drawbacks as well. For starters, it allows for one fewer non-conference game on the schedule, which means less flexibility for scheduling options. On another hand, it also leads the Big Ten beating up on itself just a little more, potentially keeping a Big Ten member from reaching bowl eligibility.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 also use a nine-game conference schedule. The ACC and SEC remain firm on an eight-game conference schedule. The ACC, SEC and now the Big Ten all have a scheduling requirement to include a power conference opponent each season in addition to the conference schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 do not have such a scheduling requirement. The Big Ten will also eliminate FCS opponents from the non-conference schedule across the conference.

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Oregon State’s Gary Andersen says speed separates Pac-12 from Big Ten

Gary Andersen

Earlier in the day in Chicago new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was asked about the difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, to which the nicest coach in the world shrugged off the notion of the two conferences being too different. His replacement at Oregon State, former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, has a different take on the subject.

“Well, the speed,” Andersen replied when asked the same question at the Pac-12 media day event Friday. “If you want to talk about something that is different. This is without question, and I’m looking from afar through a TV screen or a big jumbo screen we have in the offices that we watch film from and on the TV.

“[T]his league has what we like to call juice,” Andersen explained. “It is fast. There are a lot of guys that make one mistake and you’re going to pay the price quickly. On the defensive side it is the same way. There are elite pass rushers that are fast and quick. There are linebackers that can run on the back end that I believe can make up for a lot of problems that — it’s hard to solve with a pen in your hand, but genetics take over and make you some special plays.”

Prior to taking the Wisconsin head coaching job in 2013, Andersen was the head coach of Utah State. During his tenure at Utah State he coached against one Pac-12 team, in which he emerged victorious over Utah in 2012.  In his two seasons with the Badgers in Madison, Anderson lost on the road against Arizona State (in bizarre fashion). So he does have some first-hand experience coaching against the Pac-12 to compare with his brief experience in the Big Ten (which did not end well). Andersen also thinks the Pac-12 lacks credit as a tough conference, physically.

“I never hear people talking about this league is tough-minded. I know it’s not the class, flashy thing to talk about, right, anyway, with the offensive and defensive lines,” Andersen said. “But the fact of the matter is they’re well coached. They’re tough kids. They play with leverage and play with great technique. That is something that jumped out on me on film because I look for that stuff.”

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USC coach Sarkisian takes jab at Oregon’s uniforms

Steve Sarkisian

You have to imagine that being tabbed the preseason media favorite has USC head coach Steve Sarkisian feeling a little extra confident this week. On Friday he may have allowed his confidence to go slightly far in taking a mild-tempered shot at the Oregon Ducks. More specifically, Sarkisian took aim at Oregon’s multiple uniform combinations.

This is just a guess he is not referring to Appalachian State and their 21 new uniform combinations for the 2015 season. No, this was a direct shot at the Oregon Ducks, who have made suiting up ina  different uniform every week something any school looking to generate buzz or gain an edge in recruiting seeks to emulate.

Sarkisian has yet to defeat the Ducks since being named a head coach in 2009 at Washington. In fact, he has not really come close. Since 2009, Sarkisian has lost to Oregon all six times by an average of 25.8 points per defeat. USC seems to have things going in the right direction, and the preseason media poll in the conference certainly gives the Trojans a little extra boost. But until Oregon is dethroned, USC has something to prove on the field.

USC still must get out of a tough Pac-12 South, which saw Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all hand USC a loss in conference play last season. USC will visit Oregon on November 21 this season, in what could potentially be a PAc-12 Championship Game preview. That game will be played two weeks later.

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Pac-12 not looking to expand, if you were curious

Larry Scott

If you had any hopes the Pac-12 might be looking to expand in the future, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has some bad news.

“I do not see us expanding in the foreseeable future,” Scott said Thursday during Pac-12 media days. “We are delighted with 12 schools. It’s worked exceedingly well for us.”

There has not been much discussion about the conference contemplating expansion projects to grow beyond the current 12-school membership. Much of the hypothetical expansion conversation has centered on the Big 12, with 10 members. So forget about resurrecting those Pac-16 scenarios if you were holding out hope for such a thing. This may also be somewhat discouraging news for BYU fans as well, although getting the Cougars and Utah back in the same room would be entertaining.

The Pac-12 rebranded itself following the 2011 additions of Colorado and Utah. That was the same season Nebraska joined the Big Ten and BYU went independent. Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC the following year as well. For now, the Pac-12 is just keeping the focus on improving from within, starting with conference scheduling.

“As a 12-team conference playing nine conference games, this is an interesting distinction between us and some other conferences,” Scott said. “This is why I’m confident standing up and saying no one has got a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champion has got the toughest road, because there aren’t many misses that you can have within your conference.”

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