The Swami

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Six-Pack of Storylines

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

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

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

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

Proceed, and enjoy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Stacy Coley reportedly clear in Miami’s exotic car flap

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 10: Stacy Coley #3 of the Miami Hurricanes catches a touchdown over Tyler Hunter #1 of the Florida State Seminoles during a game  at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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An off-field issue that enveloped and ultimately spit out three of his defensive teammates apparently won’t have the same ending for Miami wide receiver Stacy Coley.

Citing a source with knowledge of the matter, Matt Porter of the Palm Beach Post reported earlier Tuesday that, “barring any new information surfacing in the luxury rental car situation… Coley will not be suspended and will remain with the team.” A week and a half ago, reports surfaced that an investigation into Miami football players’ involvement with a luxury car rental agency had been expanded to include Coley as well.

That investigation ultimately led to the dismissal of a pair of defensive starters, defensive lineman Al-Quadin Muhammad and linebacker Jermaine Grace, three days ago.  Linebacker Juwon Young was indefinitely suspended by The U in connection to the alleged NCAA violations involving the agency, and eventually transferred to Marshall.

It was alleged that those players had received preferential treatment from the agency in exchange for future promises based on their potential earnings as football players.  The owner of the agency in question has since publicly claimed that the players involved received no discounts or special treatment because they were football players.

The fact that Coley apparently won’t get caught up in the situation is a significant boon for The U’s offense moving forward in 2016.

Coley was second on the Hurricanes last season in receptions (47), yards (689) and receiving touchdowns (4). He opted to pass on the NFL draft to return for his senior season this year.

Baylor suspends dog-beating WR for three games, makes him give canine ‘to animal-friendly home’

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Nick Orr #18 of the TCU Horned Frogs makes a pass interception against Ishmael Zamora #8 of the Baylor Bears in the first quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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After a couple of weeks of outrage over yet another incident involving one of its football players, Baylor has finally pulled the trigger on actually doing something of substance.

In a press release Tuesday evening, Baylor announced that wide receiver Ishmael Zamora has been suspended for the first three games of the 2016 season.  The suspension comes 12 days or so after a video surfaced that showed Zamora beating his dog with a belt and kicking the animal.  The incident happened in June, and ultimately resulted in a citation for misdemeanor animal cruelty.

In addition to the suspension, the university also levied the following punishments on the wide receiver: “Zamora must perform 40 community service hours in a manner that will teach him kindness and respect toward animals, must undergo counseling and must relinquish the dog to an animal-friendly home.”

The player agreed to release the details of his punishment as it’s not university policy to divulge such information publicly, the school made sure to note in its release.

Last season, Zamora caught nine passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns.  The sophomore has been expected to play a bigger role in the Bears’ passing game with the departure of All-American Corey Coleman, as evidenced by the fact that, just yesterday, Zamora was listed as a starting wide receiver on the depth chart released by the Bears.

The suspension will cost the receiver games against FCS Northwestern State, SMU and Rice.  Zamora will be eligible to return for the Sept. 24 Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State.

Below are the statements released by the university in connection to this development.

ZAMORA
“I am sorry that I took out my frustration on my dog and accept the punishment that comes with it. This incident will never, ever, happen again. I truly love my dog, however, I know that my actions showed differently and I know that I made a big mistake.

“I apologize to my family, teammates, Baylor University and our fans for my actions.

“Eventually, I hope that everyone can see who I really am and that I am not a terrible person. This incident does not and will not define me, and I know that I am the one who will have to prove that to others in the days ahead.”

INTERIM HEAD COACH JIM GROBE
“Our football program does not condone this behavior by anyone. We are deeply saddened by it and have worked together with the University to hold Ishmael accountable for his actions.

“We have received communications about this incident from many passionate individuals over the past 10 days, and I am aware of their concerns. Our goal is for this discipline to be educational and restorative, and I believe that we have taken corrective measures to help Ishmael learn from his actions and to better understand the behavior we demand of all students at the University.”

ATHLETIC DIRECTOR MACK RHODES
“Ishmael’s behavior toward his dog is disheartening, and is not condoned. We believe with proper counseling and training Ishmael can learn from this and I expect that of him. I’ve conveyed to him my expectation that his actions and his service will illustrate his commitment to change.”

Dee Dowis, Air Force’s all-time leading rusher, killed in car wreck

Dee Dowis
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Air Force is today mourning the loss of one of the most beloved players in the football program’s history.

The service academy confirmed Tuesday that Dee Dowis was killed in a vehicle accident in Gwinnett City., Ga., Monday.  Dowis was 48 years old, and is survived by his wife Tracie and two children.

Dowis was a three-year letterman and graduated from the Academy in 1990.

“I don’t have adequate words to describe what a personal loss this is for me,” Dowis’ head coach, Fisher DeBerry, told the Colorado Springs Gazette. “It’s a sad day for Falcon football. I’m sure so many people who enjoyed watching him play feel as empty as I do today. …

“I am shocked. So saddened. My heart’s broken. It bleeds for Tracie and Madeline and Grant, Dee’s mother and family and for all our Falcon brothers. What a legacy he leaves for all of us and what it means to be a wonderful husband, devoted father, a Christian businessman and leader like he was. But he has secured his eternal home and one day we’ll be able to relive a lot of those Falcons days that we all had together.”

Dowis came to the Falcons as a 150-pound quarterback in the mid-eighties and left as the academy’s all-time leading rusher with 3,612 yards rushing, a record that still remains.  His sixth-place finish in the 1989 Heisman Trophy voting is the highest finish ever for a Falcon, and made him one of three service academy players to finish that high in the voting since Roger Staubach of Navy took home the honor in 1963.

The season that led to that finish, 1,286 yards rushing and 1,285 passing, marked just the fifth time a player had topped 1,000 yards both passing and rushing in the same season.  In 2009, Dowis was a member of the second class inducted into the Air Force Athletic Hall of Fame.

One of Dowis’ teammates during his time at the Academy was Troy Calhoun, the Falcons’ current head football coach.  Obviously, Dowis’ passing had a significant impact on the coach.

“He was the most electric, dynamic and exciting football player probably in the history of service academy football, ever. And yet a better person,” Calhoun told the Gazette. “You just knew he was going to be quite, quite accomplished no matter what he did. Hands down the nicest and most humble human being, period.”

Suspended USC LB Osa Masina reportedly under investigation for sexual assault

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 08:  Antwaun Woods #99 of the USC Trojans and Osa Masina #58 of the USC Trojans pressure Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies on this pass play during the first quarter of a game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on October 8, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean Haffey/Getty Images)
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And now we know a little more of the rest of the story, and it’s potentially serious for one member of the USC football program.

Monday night, Clay Helton revealed that Osa Masina has been suspended for his team’s season opener against Alabama this weekend.  The head coach gave no specific reason or reasons for the sanctions being placed on the linebacker, although a school official subsequently described it as an unspecified violation of team rules.

However, the FOX affiliate out of Salt Lake City is reporting that Masina, a Utah native, is being investigated over sexual assault allegations.  The probe stems from an alleged incident or incidents that allegedly took place over the summer in Salt Lake County.

From the television station’s report:

Cottonwood Heights Police have confirmed the ongoing investigation but have not released details about the alleged crime.

Cottonwood Heights PD, with the help of the Los Angeles Police Dept., served a search warrant last week at a USC practice facility in Los Angeles.

At this point, no charges have been filed.  All questions to Masina’s parents were referred to the defense attorney representing their son.

Masina (pictured, left) was a five-star 2015 recruit who was the top-rated player at any position in the state of Utah.  He played in 12 games as a true freshman last season and was credited with 25 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss, with the highlight of his first year as a Trojan coming on a fumble return for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas State.

On the preseason depth chart released a week ago, Masina was listed as a backup to starting inside linebacker Michael Hutchings.