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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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Air Force Falcons clip Colorado State Rams with last-second field goal

Will Conant

The Air Force Falcons have played the role of spoiler all season.

The latest example came Friday against the Colorado State Rams. A Will Conant field goal as time expired proved to be the difference as the Falcons claimed a 27-24 victory.

With the win, Air Force improved its record to 9-3 this season. Colorado State, meanwhile, dropped to 10-2, and the program’s aspirations of possibly being the highest-ranked Group of Five program quickly vanished.

For Colorado State, the Boise State Broncos still needed to lose Saturday against the Utah State Aggies to become the top team from a non-Power Five conference. Now, it doesn’t matter.

Air Force also upset Boise State earlier in the season which made the Broncos’ trek through the season far more difficult before finally being ranked in the College Football Playoff committee’s Top 25 for the first time this past week.

The Falcons haven’t made life easy for any of their opponents.

The academy also claimed its first Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy since 2011 despite the Navy Midshipmen being considered the favorites to win the award.

But Air Force would never have been in the position it currently resides without a poor decision from Colorado State head coach Mike McElwain.

With 44 seconds remaining, the Rams faced a 4th-and-2 from the Falcons’ 42-yard line. McElwain decided to go for it instead of trying to pin Air Force deep into their own end. Running back Dee Hart, who ran for 115 yards, was stopped short of the first down, and Air Force took over with 38 seconds left.

A 26-yard pass from Air Force quarterback Nate Romine to junior wide receiver Garrett Brown was the big play the Falcons needed to move into field goal position. Conant proved to be up to the task when it came time to attempt the field goal.

Despite the loss, McElwain provided the quote of the day regarding Conant’s field goal:

At 9-4, Air Force is the fourth team in the Mountain West Conference to win at least nine games.

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Report: Tulsa expected to dismiss head coach Bill Blankenship

Bill Blankenship

As the Tulsa Golden Hurricane prepares for Friday’s contest against the East Carolina Pirates, it may be the last time head coach Bill Blankenship leads the team unto the field.

Conflicting reports surfaced earlier in the evening regarding Blankenship’s future with the program.

FOX Sports’ Bruce Feldman originally reported Blankenship will be dismissed after tonight’s game. However, the Tulsa World‘s John Hoover spoke with Tulsa University president Steadman Upham, who claimed a decision hasn’t been made. Hoover admitted the dismissal is still expected, though.

The Golden Hurricane is 2-9 this season and currently in ninth place during the program’s first season as part of the American Athletic Conference.

During Blankenship’s tenure, the team fell apart during the past two seasons. Last year’s 3-9 served as a precursor to the current disappointing campaign. Blankenship is 24-26 overall entering tonight’s game.

However, expectations were raised in Tulsa due to the success of the coaches that immediately predated Blankenship. From 2003-10, the Golden Hurricane was 64-39 overall under the direction of Steve Kragthorpe and then Todd Graham.

Both coaches went on to accept higher-profile jobs before the reins were eventually handed to Blankenship, a former Tulsa quarterback who never coached at any level above the high school ranks before being named an assistant coach under Graham.

During two non-competitive seasons, a program that was previously known for producing great offensive football and served as a hotbed for the next top name in coaching circles devolved under Blankenship’s direction.

Upham may be waiting to make his decision, but it’s clear which direction he should be leaning.

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Bobby Hauck resigns as head coach at UNLV

Bobby Hauck

There is now a third opening for a head football coach at a Football Bowl Subdivision school.

UNLV released a statement Friday that stated head coach Bobby Hauck resigned from his current position.

“Bobby Hauck submitted his resignation, effective Monday, and I have accepted it,” UNLV director of athletics Tina Kunzer-Murphy said in the statement. “No one has worked harder in trying to achieve consistent success with our football program than Coach Hauck and we thank him for his dedication and leadership. He and his staff have worked tirelessly in trying to achieve the results we all want to see but it unfortunately has not happened. We wish Bobby and his family the very best in their future endeavors.”

The decision comes 11 months after Hauck agreed to a controversial extension that raised his pay and added a year to his previous contract.

The extension was a reward for a 7-6 record during the 2013 campaign. Those seven wins more than tripled Hauck’s win total through his first three seasons with the program. It was also the school’s first non-losing season since 2003 when the Rebels finished 6-6 under the direction of John Robinson.

After another 2-10 season (with one game left to play), Hauck decided to step aside and let another coach attempt to resurrect the program.

“We were given an opportunity to get it done here at UNLV and we simply did not win enough games,” Hauck said. “It’s my responsibility to push the program forward and I wish we would have produced better results.

“I would like to thank our University leadership for their support of our program; in particular, President Don Snyder, Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy and Board of Regents Chair Kevin Page. In addition, I would like to thank our student body, alumni and community leaders for their support of Rebel Football.”

UNLV landed the top coach at the FCS level in Hauck during the previous coaching search. UNLV’s brass now has another major decision in front it to hire the right person for the job. It’s never been easy to win in Sin City. Harvey Hyde was the last head coach to own a winning record from 1982-85.

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Arizona Wildcats bear down, claim Pac-12 South crown over rival Arizona State

Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham

A Pac-12 South division crown and The Territorial Cup will both reside in Tucson, Arizona this year.

The No. 11 Arizona Wildcats claimed a 42-35 victory over the No. 13 Arizona State Sun Devils in a chippy affair that proved to be a de facto Pac-12 South championship game.

With the UCLA Bruins’ loss, the balance of the Pac-12 South was still in question during the fourth quarter for the Wildcats and the Sun Devils.

Arizona already built a 35-21 lead with the fourth frame about to commence. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham decided to make a change at quarterback by swapping Taylor Kelly for Mike Bercovici. The move paid immediate dividends, but it didn’t prove to be enough.

A 20-yard touchdown reception by sophomore wide receiver Samajie Grant — his second of the contest — was the difference in the game.

With the victory, the Wildcats enter rare territory for the program.

Arizona will now face the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. It will be a rematch of its Oct. 2 meeting. The Wildcats arrived on the national scene with a 31-24 victory during the Thursday night contest.

The Ducks will be favored again when these two teams meet for the second time:

After failing at the University Michigan and being fired after three seasons, Rodriguez already turned around Arizona’s football program in the same amount of time. With another strong effort against Oregon, Rodriguez could achieve something very special in the desert:

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UCLA squanders Pac-12 South lead with loss to Stanford

Stanford v UCLA Getty Images

The UCLA Bruins will not represent the South division in the Pac-12 Championship game. And the Bruins have no one to blame but themselves.

All Jim Mora‘s squad had to do was beat the underachieving 6-5 Stanford Cardinal. UCLA may not have beaten Stanford during the last six years, but this season was supposed to be different.

The Bruins were ranked eighth overall, and there were conversations during the week that UCLA could sneak into the backdoor of the College Football Playoff after three impressive victories against the Arizona Wildcats, Washington Huskies and the rival USC Trojans.

Stanford didn’t get the message.

The Cardinal played like the program it had been during previous seasons. David Shaw’s squad dominated at the point of attack and controlled the clock. This led to Stanford claiming a decisive 31-10 victory to extend their winning streak over UCLA to seven straight games.

UCLA took an early lead, though, when quarterback Brett Hundley completed a 15-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Thomas Duarte. Stanford responded with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to tie the game 7-7.

However, the second quarter belonged to the Cardinal.

During the second frame, Stanford ran 19 plays on two drives and gained 167 yards. Both drives ended in touchdowns. With 21-10 halftime, the game was essentially over for UCLA.

Stanford extended its streak of outscoring UCLA to 14 straight halves when it scored 10 more points in the second half of Friday’s contest.

The biggest difference in the game proved to be the play of the quarterbacks.

While Hundley, a junior, celebrated with the seniors because he is expected to leave UCLA for the NFL, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan was the most impressive signal-caller on the field.

Hogan began the game 12-of-12 passing. He was efficient and particularly deadly on third down. Stanford’s junior quarterback finished the game 16-of-19 passing for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Hundley, meanwhile, never got into a groove and struggled to lead his offense before leaving the game with what appeared to be an injured throwing hand. During Hundley’s last game at the Rose Bowl, the quarterback was only 17-of-32 passing for a meager 146 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams are bowl eligible, but Stanford once again proved to the biggest obstacle for a team hoping to go to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

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Mizzou dashes UGA’s ATL hopes, heads back to SEC title game

Arkansas v Missouri Getty Images

As it turns out, Georgia tripping all over itself in the latest edition of The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was as costly as it gets for the Bulldogs.

The UGA faithful were rightly optimistic as Arkansas absolutely controlled Missouri in the first half, jumping out to a 14-6 lead that seemed bigger than what it actually was.  What it actually wasn’t, however, was a lead big enough as Mizzou came back in the second half to both win the game 21-14 and stake its claim to a second straight SEC East title.

Mizzou still trailed by that same first-half deficit of 14-6 heading into the fourth quarter.  A pair of touchdowns and a two-point conversion, however — Maty Mauk‘s four-yard touchdown pass with 12:41 left, Marcus Murphy‘s 12-yard touchdown run with 4:38 remaining — sent the Tigers to Atlanta.

That Mauk scoring toss, incidentally, was the first touchdown allowed by the Razorbacks defense since the Nov. 1 game against Mississippi State.

UA did have one last chance to tie the game late in the game.  However, Alex Collins‘ fumble was recovered by the Tigers with just over two minutes left and essentially ended the game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, despite the losing effort, you won’t see a more gutsy performance football-wise than what Brandon Allen laid on the field, especially in the second half.  UA’s starting quarterback was questionable heading into the game due to injury, and was visibly hobbled late in it.  He remained in the game, however, and should be applauded for the heart and guts he showed.

What should be questioned, however, is the decision of Bret Bielema and/or his offensive coordinator to throw on all but one down — a carry that ended in the fumble, oddly enough — of a final drive that began with over four minutes remaining and with his quarterback banged up.

Regardless, Mizzou’s win sends the Tigers to their second consecutive SEC championship game appearance in just their third year in the conference.  Thanks to Georgia’s inexplicable loss to Florida, UGA needed a Mizzou loss to send it back to the league title game for the third time in four years.

Just who Mizzou will play next Saturday in the Georgia Dome will be decided tomorrow.

In the SEC West, Alabama and Mississippi State are both 6-1, but the former holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the latter.  Thus, if Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl, they clinch the West and will square off with Mizzou.  Also, if Alabama loses to Auburn and Mississippi State loses to Ole Miss, UA clinches the West.  The only way MSU can win the West is if they beat Ole Miss and Alabama loses to Auburn.

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A&M axes defensive coordinator Mark Snyder

Mark Snyder

And let the Will Muschamp Watch in College Station commence in earnest.

Less than 24 hours after Texas A&M closed out the regular season with a 23-17 loss to LSU, head coach Kevin Sumlin announced that the football program has, ahem, “parted ways” with defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.  Linebackers coach Mark Hagan will serve as the interim coordinator for the Aggies’ bowl appearance.

Snyder, who just completed his third season with the Aggies, will be due $700,000 in salary through March of 2016.

“Mark is an outstanding coach and an even better person, but he understands the production needed to be better on the defensive side of the football,” Sumlin said in a statement. “We wish he and his family all of the best moving forward.”

The fact that Snyder was jettisoned is far from surprising.  This season, A&M’s defense was 11th or worse among the 14 teams in the SEC in nearly every major statistical category.  Entering Week 14, the Aggies were 77th nationally and 11th in the conference — ahead of only Kentucky (30.1), Vanderbilt (32.4) and South Carolina (32.7) — in points allowed per game (27.7). When it comes to yards allowed, they were even worse: at 445.2 yards per game, the Aggies were dead last in the conference and 100th in the country.

“I appreciate the opportunity Kevin Sumlin gave me to come to Texas A&M and to work on his staff,” Snyder said in his statement. “I have been in the business a while now and understand it is a production-based business.”

As to where Sumlin will, or should, begin his search, look no further than the deposed Florida Gators head coach.  While his time in the Swamp was far from a success, Will Muschamp is still widely viewed as one of the top defensive coordinators in the country.  Until there’s a resolution one way or the other, it will be Muschamp’s name that’s first off the tongue of an Aggie fan — and should be first on Sumlin’s coordinator to-do list.

(Photo credit: Texas A&M athletics)

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Offensive fireworks send Marshall’s perfect season up in OT flames

And then there was one.

Entering Week 14, Marshall was one of just two undefeated FBS teams in the country.  The Herd had also just entered the Top 25 of the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.  All of that, though, came crashing down on the Herd as they dropped a wild 67-66 decision to visiting Western Kentucky in overtime.

The Herd sent the game into overtime on a touchdown with :39 seconds left, then scored a touchdown on its first overtime possession to take a 66-59 lead.  However, the Hilltoppers matched that touchdown and added a two-point conversion for the win.

Defense was merely a rumor in this game as the 133 combined points was the second-most ever for a game featuring at least one overtime, behind only the 2007 Boise State-Nevada in which 136 points were scored in the four-overtime affair.  The two teams combined for 1,438 yards of offense, behind the record of 1,640 set in 2001 during the San Jose State-Nevada.  Prior to this season, there had only been 40 games in the history of college football at the FBS/Div. 1-A level in which both teams gained more than 600 yards of offense.

One record that was set?  The most combined touchdown passes by two players in a single game, with WKU’s Brandon Doughty (eight) and MU’s Rakeem Cato (seven) combining for 15.

Marshall has already clinched the East division of Conference USA and will play in the league title game next Saturday.  A win Saturday would’ve ensured that that game would’ve been played in Huntington; now, the location is up in the air.  From the league’s official tiebreaker guidelines:

If Marshall loses to WKU on Friday and Louisiana Tech defeats Rice, both teams would have the same conference record (7-1). Marshall and Louisiana Tech do not play in the regular season, eliminating the head-to-head tie-breaker, the second tiebreaker after conference record. Therefore, the CFP ranking is the next tie-breaker. If neither team is in the top 25 of the CFP Rankings, average select computer ranking (Anderson and Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix and Wolfe) would be used to determine host.

The loss is also a blow to Marshall’s New Year’s Day bowl game aspirations, although not a fatal one — at least not yet.  The highest-ranked Group of Five team will earn a spot in one of the four marquee bowl games that aren’t a part of the CFP rotation this year; Marshall was No. 24 last week, while Boise State was No. 23.  It would seem likely that the Herd will drop out, although the Broncos could tumble out as well with a loss to Utah State Saturday.

Colorado State and Northern Illinois, which clinched the MAC West earlier today to move to 10-2 on the year, are also contenders for that lone Group of Five slot.

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Dawgs calling Hogs? Arkansas up on Mizzou at the half

Arkansas v Missouri Getty Images

The biggest fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks reside in Fayetteville and surrounding areas.  The second-biggest?  At least for this weekend, they reside in Athens, Georgia… and they’re extremely bullish on the Hogs right at the moment.

Through two quarters of play in Columbia, UA is taking it to SEC East-leading Missouri 14-6.  Brandon Allen, whose availability leading into the game due to injury was somewhat questionable, completed 7-of-10 passes for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

While the Razorbacks’ defense saw its shutout streak end — they hadn’t allowed a point in the last two games — they did hold the Tigers to 121 yards of first-half offense, including just 22 on the ground and an average of 1.3 yard per carry.

If Missouri can mount a second-half comeback and win, it would be headed to its second consecutive SEC championship game.  If Mizzou loses, Georgia would claim the East based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Arkansas, incidentally, will get the ball on offense to start the second half.

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‘Huskers rally past Iowa… and save Pelini’s coaching skin in process?

Nebraska v Iowa Getty Images

Those sounds you may have heard toward the end of the second quarter of the Nebraska-Iowa game? It was a mob in Lincoln firing up their torches and sharpening their pitchforks.  Whether what happened over the next two-plus quarters — and extra time — has quieted the grousing and grumbling in the nation’s heartland, however, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Nebraska mounted a massive comeback, in part because Iowa failed to capitalize on first-half opportunities… and then failed to put the game away late… and then stunned the Iowa City crowd in overtime to “steal” a 37-34 win.

The Hawkeyes took a 24-7 lead at the midway point of the second quarter, although the damage could’ve — and likely should’ve — been much, much worse. Twice in the first half, the Hawkeyes drove into the red zone, and inside the 10-yard line even, only to turn the ball over to the Cornhuskers. At worst the lead at that point should’ve been 30-7; at best, it would’ve been a seemingly insurmountable 38-7 deficit for the ‘Huskers on the road.

Instead, the ‘Huskers dodged those bullets and began firing some of their own. A touchdown with :20 left in the second quarter cut the lead to 24-14. NU then shut Iowa’s offense down for most of the second half while scoring 14 points on offense/special teams to take a 28-24 lead.

De’Mornay Pierson-El‘s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter was looking like the winning score until a Jake Ruddock five-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Canzeri with 1:49 remaining put the Hawkeyes back on top 31-28. Tommie Armstrong Jr. then led the ‘Huskers on a drive that was capped by a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Iowa’s possession in the first overtime resulted in a field goal.  On Nebraska’s possession, Armstrong Jr. tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell that, after a replay review, gave the Cornhuskers the come-from-behind win.

Despite the dramatic win that showed the tremendous heart on that squad, the questions surrounding Bo Pelini‘s future with the program will still swirl.

Nebraska improved to 9-3 on the season with a bowl game remaining. In each of Pelini’s previous six seasons in Lincoln, the ‘Huskers had lost four games; they’ve won 10 games in three seasons and nine in three others. Is that enough for the fan base and, more importantly, the administration?

It’s not that the Cornhuskers are a bad program under Pelini, it’s that they’re not even remotely the Cornhuskers of Tom Osborne.  Or, more to the point, they’re not even the Cornhuskers of Frank Solich.  In Osborne’s 25 seasons, NU never lost four games in a season and only lost three games in a season eight times.  Certainly Osborne is a lofty barometer for Pelini, but it’s not beyond the pale to think that the Cornhuskers should’ve returned to the national stage at some point during the current coach’s seven-year tenure.  Hell, Solich lost three or fewer games in four of his six seasons — either one or two losses in three of those years — and can claim one conference championship; Pelini’s won none in a tenure that’s one year beyond what Solich got from the university.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see Pelini remain with the Cornhuskers.  It also wouldn’t be a shock to see the two sides part ways.  Either way, it’s a situation that bears monitoring as the 2014 coaching carousel gets set to swing into high gear.

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NIU stakes claim to West divisional MACtion

MAC Logo

Northern Illinois came into Friday needing only a win over Western Michigan to secure a spot in the MAC championship game. As it turns out, the Huskies did just that.

Things looked bright for NIU early on as they scored on their first play from scrimmage, a 65-yard catch-and-run between quarterback Drew Hare and wide receiver Daniel Braverman that was 99-percent run. The Broncos, however, scored the next 21 points to take a 14-point lead deep into the second quarter.

From then on, though, it was all Huskies. NIU kicked a field at the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 21-10, then scored 21 second-half points to put the finishing touches on the 31-21 win.

The win means NIU will now face East winner Bowling Green in the MAC championship next Friday in Detroit.  The Huskies have now won five straight West division titles, and have won two of their last four championship game appearances.  They’ve appeared in five total in the 17-year history of the event.

WMU would’ve won the West with a win over NIU and a loss by Toledo this afternoon.  Toledo would’ve won the West with a win over Eastern Michigan and an NIU loss.

The Broncos have nothing to be ashamed of, however, as they went from 1-11 in 2013 to 8-4 in 2014 with a bowl game (probably) still in the offing.

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Ohio State issues statements on missing player

Kosta Karageorge II

As the search a missing Ohio State football player continues, the university has publicly addressed the situation for the first time.

Kosta Karageorge has not been seen since leaving his on-campus apartment very early Wednesday.  The search, which is now in its third day, involves the Columbus Police Department and the player’s family and friends, and came after the family filed missing person’s reports with three different police departments.

Karageorge, a senior walk-on, did not show for practice Wednesday or Thursday.  Karageorge’s head coach asked anyone with any knowledge of the defensive lineman’s whereabouts to contact authorities.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the family of Kosta Karageorge and we pray that he is safe and that he is found soon,” Urban Meyer said in a statement. “He is a young man who joined the football team in August and was a hard worker on the field and pleasant off the field. He has been an important player in practice for us, right up until the time he was reported missing. If anyone knows anything about his whereabouts, please help his family and contact the authorities.”

In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Karageorge’s sister, Sophia Karageorge, pointed to a history of sports-related concussions and sometimes becoming disoriented that has the family understandably worried. In that vein, the football program also released a statement attributed to the team’s physician, Dr. Jim Borchers.

“First and foremost, our primary concern is for the health, safety and welfare of Kosta,” the doctor said. “While we are not able to discuss or comment about the medical care regarding our student-athletes, we are confident in our medical procedures and policies to return athletes to participation following injury or illness.”

Again, anyone with any type of information on Karageorge’s whereabouts is being asked to call 614-747-1729.

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Marshall, WKU lighting up first-half scoreboard, stat sheet

Chris Thomas

It appears that Marshall is celebrating its rise to the Top 25 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings by giving its defense the weekend off.  And, in the spirit of sportsmanship, it appears the Herd’s opponent is following suit.

The two teams combined for a staggering 91 first-half points, with the 24th-ranked Herd trailing the 6-5 Hilltoppers 49-42 (not pictured).  They were a mere field goal away from tying the FBS record for most points in a half by both teams set during the North Texas-Navy game in 2007.  That game also set the record for most points in regulation by both teams at 136, a mark that is obviously in reach.

Another record that’s within reach?  Single-game total offense for both teams, set during the 2001 San Jose State-Nevada game (1,640); through two quarters, Marshall-WKU has seen 840, 462 for the latter and 378 for the former.

Of the 13  touchdowns scored in the game, 11 of them came on touchdown passes — six for WKU’s Brandon Doughty, five MU’s Rakeem Cato. The FBS record for a half is seven by several players, most recently by Hawaii’s Bryant Moniz in 201 vs. USC.

Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title and, with a win, would host the conference championship game next weekend in Huntington.

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Blech Friday: Hawkeyes atop ‘Huskers in first-half turnover fest

Iowa v Nebraska Getty Images

If you wanted to put a DVD in a time capsule to explain to future generations — or aliens — how Big Ten football is viewed by most of the country, the Black Friday Nebraska-Iowa would do the trick.

At the end of two quarters of play, the Hawkeyes lead the Cornhuskers 10-7 in Iowa City.  The game’s first touchdown, not so unexpectedly, came on a 17-yard interception return by Iowa’s John Lowdermilk in the middle of second quarter.  The only other touchdown, a five-yard pass from NU’s Tommie Armstrong Jr. to Ameer Abdullah with :20 seconds left, came after the sixth turnover of the half.

The offenses from both sides were, well, offensive for the better part of the first half.  Or, if you prefer, the defenses were stellar.  Either way, it was a half that made offensive aficionados cringe and/or throw up a little bit in their mouths.

Midway through the second quarter, the two teams combined for 150 yards of offense (Iowa 110, Nebraska 40); the Hawkeyes would finish the half with 178 yards and the Cornhuskers 92.  The Cornhuskers didn’t complete a pass until there were less than two minutes left in the second quarter, and 34 of their 49 first-half passing yards came on one play.

Iowa had five first-half possessions, and those ended with two interceptions, a fumble, a field goal and taking a knee at the end of the half.  Two of those turnovers, incidentally, came in the red zone, while the fourth of the four led to NU’s lone score.  The Hawkeyes also fumbled a punt back to the ‘Huskers to account for their four turnovers.

Nebraska had six possessions, those of which ended in a pair of punts, a missed field goal, the pick-six, another interception and the touchdown.

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Amidst SMU talk, Chad Morris says he’s ‘completely focused on SC’

Syracuse v Clemson Getty Images

Thanksgiving night, multiple media outlets reported that Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has been tapped as SMU’s next head coach.  One website reported that Morris would make $3 million-plus annually on a multi-year contract, with the hiring expected to be announced the first week of December.

While that may ultimately be the case, none of the sides involved are inclined to confirm.

Clemson officials have not commented on the reports thus far, while SMU athletic director Rick Hart told USA Today in a text message late Thursday night that there is “no deal with anyone yet.”  For his part, Morris downplayed the talk while also stating that his focus is on the game at hand.

Unreal, everyone thinks they know,” the coordinator said in a text message to The Clemson Insider. “Sorry completely focused on SC.”

Clemson is putting its finishing touches on Saturday’s annual in-state rivalry game with South Carolina.

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