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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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After Texas Tech dismissal, former three-star safety expects to transfer

A month ago, the Texas Tech Red Raiders lost a key contributor to their secondary when junior safety Josh Keys was kicked out of the program.

Keys, who was a three-star recruit from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, finally discussed the reason behind his dismissal with WreckEm247.com.

The safety was eventually removed from the program after a second failed drug test.

“I don’t like the way it happened,” Keys told WreckEm247.com’s Daniel Paulling. “I want to learn from my mistakes.”

Prior to the dismissal, Keys registered 14 tackles in five games while serving as the team’s primary backup at both safety positions.

The junior defensive back wants to start over again with another program. He’s currently taking classes at Texas Tech and expects to transfer during the spring semester.

“I’m still looking around; see what’s out there for me,” Keys said.

Keys originally chose to play at Texas Tech over offers from the Arkansas Razorbacks, Auburn Tigers, Baylor Bears, Georgia Bulldogs, Mississippi State Bulldogs, Nebraska Cornhuskers, Ole Miss Rebels and Tennessee Volunteers. The safety held 20 total offers.

Whether or not those programs that were previously interested in Keys will remain so after his issues at Texas Tech isn’t known. However, it may be in Keys’ best interests to transfer to an FCS program in order to avoid the one-year transfer rule between FBS programs.

Although, his dismissal from Texas Tech’s program could allow him to be eligible next season based on the “run-off rule”, which allows an athlete to be immediately eligible if they’re still in good academic standing and the previous school files paperwork which confirms the athlete isn’t invited back to the program.

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Eight-team playoff system preferred by coaches

College Football Playoff Announces The College Football Playoff Selection Committee - News Conference

With less than one year in the new College Football Playoff system, coaches and at least one commissioner are already breaking ranks and not fully supporting the new setup.

According to ESPN’s Brett McMurphy, 44 percent of 103 coaches who participated in a poll preferred an eight-team playoff structure. Only 29 percent preferred the current setup. While 17 percent want to expand the playoff to 16 teams.

“Most of the coaches who want an eight-team playoff believe it should consist of the conference champions from the Power 5 leagues plus the next three highest-ranked at-large teams, or the top-ranked Group of 5 champion and the two highest-ranked at-large teams,” McMurphy reported.

The poll comes on the heels of ACC commissioner John Swofford saying teams — and, by extension, conferences — will be unhappy once the final playoff rankings are released.

“I don’t think all the controversy’s going to go away,” Swofford told The Herald-Sun. “You have four teams that get a chance to play for the national championship, which is twice as many as before, but whoever’s fifth or sixth is not going to be happy. There will be some conferences that won’t have a team in the playoff.”

Commissioners are already preparing for the possibility of not having a team among college football’s final four. Currently, the Big Ten and Big 12 Conferences would be left out of the mix based on the current rankings.

However, change isn’t expected any time soon. The current agreement for a four-team playoff is in place for the next 12 years, and College Football Playoff executive director Bill Hancock said that “there has been no discussion of expanding.”

Even though Swofford views an eight-team playoff as “ideal” and the majority of coaches currently support that notion, it’s not going to happen any time soon.

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Brian Kelly, Dabo Swinney latest to deny interest in Florida opening

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Florida v Cincinnati

Since Will Muschamp was officially dismissed as Florida’s head coach — even though he’ll continue to coach the Gators for the rest of this season — multiple high-profile head coaches already denied any interest in the opening.

It started with Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops. Stoops, who is the favorite in Las Vegas to eventually claim the job, quickly squashed any rumors a day after Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley made his decision.

“All I want to be is a candidate at Oklahoma,” Stoops said during a conference call Monday. “I’m not a candidate anywhere else. I’m finished with that question.”

A 69-year-old Steve Spurrier isn’t making a triumphant return to Gainesville either.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn followed suit Tuesday by saying he was “totally committed” to the Tigers program, per Al.com.

Two more denials came Friday.

Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly joked about the possibility of leaving South Bend for sunny Florida.

“I’m going to Florida — in about two weeks to get some sun,” Kelly told WNDU.com. “I’m getting out of here with this weather. What are you, kidding me? So you can write that down. I’m going to Florida. Write it down now, get it out there get it on the news waves.”

When reporters followed Kelly’s sarcastic response with a direct question about the coach’s interest in Florida, the Notre Dame coach continued to lay it on thick.

“Oh yeah. I’ve been interested in the Florida job,” Kelly said. “What else am I up for anything else? Can I be up for the Notre Dame job? Because we are 7-3 right now, [and] I’m hoping to hold on to this job.”

Clemson’s Dabo Swinney was more direct with his answer regarding any interest in the opening.

“The more you sit around and talk about that kind of stuff, the more of a distraction it is,” Swinney said. “I love my job. I just signed a long-term contract because of that. And this is a place that’s special to me. And I’ve invested a lot here. My focus is 100 percent on winning here.”

Two reasons prompt these blanket denials.

First, no coach is going to express interest in the middle of the season. It’s detrimental to his team’s progress on the field and recruiting off of it.

Second, Florida is no longer considered one of the elite jobs. It’s close, but it doesn’t fall in the same category as Alabama, Ohio State or Texas anymore.

“If those elite jobs are a 10, Florida is a 9.5,” a source told USA TODAY.

Despite being in a talent-rich state as one of the highest-profile programs in the nation, Florida has fallen behind in regards to facilities. It’s still a desirable job, but it’s not quite as enticing for these top coaches as it used to be.

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UPDATE: Weather forces kickoff shuffling in Houston but not in Waco

Thunderstorm Lightning

In Buffalo, it was massive snowstorm that first caused the postponement, then the rescheduling, and finally the cancellation of a MAC football game this week.  Saturday, it will be a different weather system affecting an AAC contest.  And, possibly, a Big 12 one as well.

Friday, Houston announced that the kickoff time for Saturday’s game against Tulsa has been moved up.  Instead of putting foot to pigskin at 2:00 p.m. ET, the start will come three hours earlier at 11 a.m. ET (10 a.m. local time).

From the UH’s press release:

Administration from the University of Houston Department of Intercollegiate Athletics has been in consultation with the National Weather Service, the American Athletic Conference and the University of Tulsa in making the decision to move Saturday’s game time.

Courtesy of the Weather Channel, here’s Saturday’s forecast:

Houston Forecast

It’s not just Houston, either, when it comes to the potential for severe weather in the state of Texas that could impact games.

Baylor and North Texas both play at home in Week 13. Especially when it comes to the former’s game against Oklahoma State tomorrow night, heavy rain — and perhaps thunderstorms — could be an issue during the contest, with talk that kickoff for BU-OSU could be moved as well.

According to ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy, not only is an adjustment of the kickoff time being discussed, but there’s also talk of moving the game to Sunday. That, though, would be “a last resort” a source told McMurphy.

UPDATE (5:45 p.m. ET):  Baylor University released a statement Friday that Saturday’s contest against the Oklahoma State Cowboys will proceed as planned.

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Playoff committee chair Jeff Long tries to explain ‘game control’, effect on rankings

Jeff Long

One thing everyone has learned since the advent of the College Football Playoff rankings is that everything is subjective and there isn’t any real rhyme or reason behind where a team is eventually slotted.

The latest example came this week when the Alabama Crimson Tide jumped to the No. 1 overall spot after beating then No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs.

Alabama claimed the top spot despite being ranked behind the Oregon Ducks, Florida State Seminoles and TCU Horned Frogs during the previous week. None of those teams lost this past weekend, yet Alabama still leapfrogged them in the rankings.

There are no hard or fast rules when it comes to theses new rankings. The committee simply takes into consideration certain aspects like strength of schedule, head-to-head meetings, etc. However, it’s at their discretion which team is ranked where. And it’s an inexact science.

The latest example came with a new buzzword emanated from the chairman of the College Football Playoff selection committee, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long. The term “game control” or some variation was used to explain the latest rankings.

While it’s an impressive sounding term to give everyone a reason behind certain decision, there isn’t any actual substance to it.

“There’s absolutely no metric involved,” Long told USA TODAY‘s George Schroeder. “It’s a discussion amongst committee members about controlling the game.”

The term was used in conjunction with Alabama’s 25-20 victory over Mississippi State.

“What I was trying to convey is that it wasn’t a three-touchdown blowout of Mississippi State,” Long said. “They were within less than two touchdowns the whole way. But we never felt Alabama was out of control of that game.

“It’s more of, the committee watches the games, and then we discuss the game and we talk about whether the game was a back-and-forth contest, whether someone assumes control in the game early and keeps it throughout, (or) whether they assumed (control) in the second quarter or the third quarter or the fourth quarter and controlled it to the end.”

This explanation was good enough to rank Alabama No. 1 overall, while Mississippi State only fell to No. 4 and TCU was ranked No. 5 after struggling against the Kansas Jayhawks.

When everyone clamored for a playoff system, it was supposed to solve all the problems the computers created during the BCS era. Instead, the process has become even more subjective and less defined as to what it takes to eventually earn a spot as one of the top four teams in college football.

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Indiana’s Kevin Wilson gets boss’ vote of confidence

Kevin Wilson AP

Whether it’s the “dreaded vote of confidence” remains to be seen.

With a 3-2 record to start the season, there was talk that Kevin Wilson had finally started turning around the Indiana football program.  With a five-game losing streak entering Week 13 — four of them by 16 or more points — the pitchforks are being gathered up and the torches lit in and around Bloomington.

Don’t look for Wilson’s boss to be in that mob, though.  At least not yet.

“To me, the answer is a resounding yes, notwithstanding the lack of wins this year,” IU athletic director Fred Glass said when asked by the Indianapolis Star‘s David Woods if the football program is head in the right direction.

“I just think it takes a little while. That’s why I gave Kevin a seven-year contract.”

Contractually, it’d cost Glass’ athletic department $1.5 million to rid themselves of Wilson at season’s end, which is far from a prohibitive amount.  On at least two occasions during his Star interview, however, Glass noted something that, at least in his mind, mitigates this season’s 3-7 record.

“I get that we’d like to win more games,” Glass said. “But I also think you just can’t overstate the impact of Nate going down. …

“Given the challenges inherent here, Kevin is going the right way. It’s just a shame Nate went down.”

The AD is referring to Nate Sudfeld, the starting quarterback who went down with a season-ending shoulder injury in the Oct. 11 loss to Iowa. That loss was followed by four more, with IU set to take a five-game losing streak on its road trip to No. 6 Ohio State.

When Sudfeld finished a game he started this season, the Hoosiers were 3-2 and appeared headed for its first bowl appearance since 2007 and just its second since 1993. Instead, with true freshman Zander Diamont mostly under center, Wilson’s seen his record tumble to 5-25 in Big Ten play in four seasons in Bloomington; Bill Lynch, the man Wilson replaced, was 6-26 in Big Ten play before he and the university “parted ways.”

“I think contracts need to mean something again at Indiana University,” Glass said in October of 2009. “He’s in the second year of a four-year contract … I hope that and really think that coach Lynch will be very successful.”

Exactly one year and one month later, Lynch was “replaced” as the Hoosiers’ head coach, with one year remaining on his contract.

Wilson is currently in the fourth year of his seven-year deal. Despite Glass’ public plaudits, it remains to be seen whether Wilson will see a fifth year.

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Outland Trophy goes on the offensive with semifinalists

Aaron Donald

The Lombardi Award finalists had a decidedly defensive lean. When it comes to another predominately lineman award, though, it’s almost all about the other side of the ball.

The Outland Trophy, handed out annually since 1946, announced its semifinalists for the 2014 award Thursday, revealing a pool of six potential winners. As you may have guessed from the headline, five of the six semifinalists are offensive linemen.

The lone defensive player is Texas tackle Malcolm Brown, who is also one of the finalists for the Bronko Nagurski Award. What follows are the other five Outland semifinalists.

  • Auburn center Reese Dismukes
  • Baylor offensive tackle Spencer Drango
  • Oregon tackle Jake Fisher
  • Florida State guard Tre’ Jackson
  • Iowa offensive tackle Brandon Scherff

Finalists for this year’s award will be announced next Tuesday.  Last year’s winner was Pittsburgh defensive tackle Aaron Donald.

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Miss. St. suspends starting FS Justin Cox after domestic violence arrest

Auburn v Mississippi State Getty Images

Embarking on a two-game stretch that, with a pair of wins, could potentially earn Mississippi State an early-December trip to Atlanta for the SEC title game, the Bulldogs will, for at least one of those games, be without a key piece of its defensive puzzle.

Very late Friday morning, MSU announced that starting safety Justin Cox has been indefinitely suspended from the football program.  Other than it being related to “an off-campus incident,” no reason for the suspension was given by the school.

However, the Starkville Daily News is reporting that the suspension came a few hours after Cox was arrested and charged following an alleged domestic violence incident.  From the Daily News:

Oktibbeha County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Brett Watson said deputies responded to a burglary call on Rocky Road in the Aspen Heights apartment complex at about 3 a.m. Friday. He said upon arrival, deputies found a female victim with an injury to her head.

Cox was ultimately charged with suspicion of burglary of a dwelling and aggravated domestic violence.

The suspension almost certainly means Cox will miss Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.  It also calls into question the defensive back’s availability for the Egg Bowl a week later, which could very well be the most important MSU-Ole Miss game in the rivalry’s history.

Cox has started eight of the 10 games in which he’s played at free safety this season, including the last six.  Cox has four passes broken up and five defensed in 2014.

Cox is in his first season in Starkville after transferring in from the JUCO ranks.

 

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A&M expected to get defensive help for Turkey Day game vs. LSU

Bo Wallace;Myles Garrett AP

And, yes, they could use it.

Ahead of its bye in Week 13, head coach Kevin Sumlin said that a pair of starting defensive linemen — end Myles Garrett and tackle Ivan Robinson — are listed as probable for the Thanksgiving Day game against LSU. Both Garrett and Robinson did not play in last weekend’s loss to Missouri due to unspecified injuries.

Additionally, linebacker Otaro Alaka, injured during the Mizzou game, is listed as probable as well.

All three are starters, although the return of Garrett should provide the biggest boost for an Aggies defense that’s at or near the bottom of the SEC in nearly every major statistical category.

Garrett, a sure-fire freshman All-American, is sixth in the country in sacks per game (1.1) and is tied for 35th in tackles for loss per game (1.3). His 11 sacks are an SEC record for a freshman, shattering the mark of eight previously held by South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.

Robinson had started six games in a row prior to missing the Mizzou game, while Robinson has started the last three.

The Aggies are currently 77th nationally and 11th in the 14-team SEC — 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’re even worse: at 445.2 yards per game, the Aggies are dead last in the conference and 100th in the country.

Based on performance, Mark Snyder‘s seat is decidedly hot, so much so that beat writers are already talking about the specifics of a buyout contained in his contract. To his credit, Snyder is not shying away from the speculation.

“I learned at about 30 years old, the second you take a job in this profession, you’re on the hot seat,” Snyder said Thursday according to the Houston Chronicle. “This is a production-based business. Period.”

Snyder does, though, have one very vocal supporter, with defensive leader Deshazor Everett tweeting that the onus for improved performance is on the players.

Whether such strident support will come from Snyder’s boss at season’s end remains to be seen.

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Out of the Hunt: ‘Cuse starting QB done for year

Louisville v Syracuse

Any hope Syracuse held out that Terrel Hunt would return before the end of the season has officially been dashed.

At his weekly Thursday press conference, Scott Shafer confirmed that the quarterback will not play in either of Syracuse’s remaining two games because of injury. Hunt sustained a fractured fibula in early October in the loss to Louisville, and has missed the last five games.

The Orange, at 3-7 not eligible for a bowl game, will close out their season against Pittsburgh and Boston College.

“Terrel’s down,” Shafer said. “He’s getting better, it’s just that bones heal differently in each kid. He won’t be available for the rest of the season, but he’s doing a nice job with school, he’s adjusted to the situation well and he’s helping us with the young guys. He’s been very attentive to meetings, but he won’t be available.”

Hunt, a redshirt junior who’s expected to enter spring practice both healthy and as the starter, started the first five games of the 2014 season, and was responsible for 62.6 percent (1,290 yards) of the Orange’s 2,062 yards of total offense in those games. His six rushing touchdowns are still five more than any other player on the team.

With Hunt out, AJ Long has taken over the lion’s share of the quarterbacking duties. A shoulder issue kept Long out of Syracuse’s last game, a Nov. 8 loss to Duke, but he’s expected to start Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh.

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Georgia Tech claims ACC Coastal crown with Duke’s loss to North Carolina

David Cutcliffe

When the Duke Blue Devils hosted the North Carolina Tar Heels Thursday, it was all about the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets.

North Carolina’s dominant 45-20 victory over the rival Blue Devils handed Georgia Tech the ACC Coastal crown and placed Paul Johnson‘s team in the ACC Championship Game against the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles.

The school already released a statement with reaction to winning the ACC Coastal:

Meanwhile, Duke fell to 4-3 in the division, while North Carolina improved and now sports the same conference record.

The Blue Devils’ defense simply didn’t show up to play Thursday. North Carolina racked up a whopping 592 total yards. The Tar Heels were dominant at the point of attack and ran the ball for 316 of those yards. Three different players ran for at least 96 yards. Sophomore running back T.J. Logan led the way with 116 yards on 18 carries.

North Carolina quarterback Marquise Williams also proved to be a difficult matchup for Duke. The dual-threat quarterback accumulated 374 total yards and four total touchdowns. Dukes’ offense only gained four more yards than Williams did.

Williams’ effort placed him in North Carolina’s record books:

The quarterback’s performance almost made everyone forget about the fact he also fumbled the ball three times.

The entire contest was plagued by mistakes. A combined six turnovers were committed. Duke was never able to recover from two early fumbles, though.

Blue Devils quarterback Anthony Boone also didn’t rise to the occasion. The senior signal-caller was 22-of-40 passing for 262 yards.

Once the first quarter ended, Duke was never in the contest. The Tar Heels went into Wallace Wade Stadium, ran their rivals out of the building and claimed the Victory Bell as their own.

Both teams are still bowl eligible, but the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t as bright as it once was for Duke. Instead, the Blue Devils ran smack into a Ramblin’ Wreck.

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Quarterback play defines No. 12 Kansas State’s 26-20 victory over WVU

Kansas State v West Virginia Getty Images

Bill Snyder‘s Kansas State Wildcats are known for playing fundamentally sound, ball-control football. Neither was the case Thursday against the West Virginia Mountaineers. Yet, the No. 12 Wildcats still found a way to beat WVU 26-20 in Morgantown.

Two leaders on Kansas State’s offense, quarterback Jake Waters and wide receiver Tyler Lockett, took over the game and never looked back.

Everything starts with the quarterback. Waters was forced to carry the offense due to West Virginia completely taking away Kansas State’s running game. The Wildcats gained one yard on the ground. Waters was forced to throw the ball 33 times. He completed 22 passes for a career-high 400 yards through the air.

Waters doubled as the team’s leading rusher. The quarterback was credited with 12 carries for 13 yards. And his seven-yard touchdown pass to running back Demarcus Robinson on the team’s initial drive was the only time the offense found the end zone.

Lockett was, as per usual, Waters’ favorite target.

The senior wide receiver caught 10 passes for 196 yards. His biggest contributions actually came on special teams, though. Lockett’s 43-yard punt return for a touchdown granted Kansas State a 17-3 lead in the second quarter. The talented receiver/returner finished the contest with 321 total yards.

Lockett completely outplayed one of the nation’s top wide receivers in West Virginia’s Kevin White. The Wildcats successfully bracketed White throughout the contest, and the nation’s third-leading receiver finished the contest with seven catches for 63 yards and a touchdown.

Waters’ play wasn’t the only interesting quarterback situation in this particular game.

West Virginia sophomore Sklyer Howard took over for senior Clint Trickett, and the underclassman may not hand the job to Trickett with only Iowa State remaining on the schedule.

Howard played much better than Trickett did once he was inserted into the lineup. The sophomore was 15-of-23 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns.

At 6-5 overall, the future is now for the Mountaineers.

As the Mountaineers contemplate their fledgling quarterback controversy, Kansas State still has an outside shot of claiming a Big 12 Conference championship.

The Wildcats are now tied with the TCU Horned Frogs at 6-1 overall in the division. With a contest remaining against the No. 7 Baylor Bears and TCU playing the Texas Longhorns this weekend, Kansas State can still claim an outright Big 12 title.

Snyder’s squad will have to play better than they did against West Virginia for the program to have a chance of that actually happening.

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MAC cancels contest between Buffalo Bulls and Kent State Golden Flashes

Record Snowstorm Pummels Buffalo Getty Images

Snowmageddon 2014 will prevent all of us from enjoying more MACtion.

With the city of Buffalo completely snowed over and suffering from blizzard conditions, a college football contest became a secondary concern.

The MAC announced Thursday that the meeting between the Kent State Golden Flashes and the Buffalo Bulls, which was originally scheduled for Wednesday, has been cancelled.

The two sides hoped to play Friday, but the conference decided the game will not be rescheduled.

“Despite the best efforts of all involved, it will not be feasible to play the football game between Kent State and Buffalo on Friday,” MAC Commissioner Jon Steinbrecher said in a statement. “The game has been cancelled and will not be rescheduled. The safety of the student-athletes and fans is paramount. We want to be respectful of the efforts of the emergency service personnel in the Buffalo area who are working to assist those in need.”

The two teams will finish their seasons under revised schedules. Both teams will play their final games on Friday, Nov. 28. Kent State will face the rival Akron Zips at Dix Stadium, while Buffalo will travel to Amherst, Mass. to challenge the UMass Minutemen.

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UNC dominates Duke 28-7 during first half as ACC Coastal starts to take shape

Mack Hollins, Ryan Switzer

If the Duke Blue Devils are trying to earn an Orange Bowl berth, the team has a funny way of showing it.

During a sloppy first half of play, the North Carolina Tar Heels dominated the Blue Devils. The Tar Heels built an impressive 28-7 lead, which appears to be an insurmountable lead due to the mistakes Duke committed.

Overall, the two teams combined to turn the ball over five times. North Carolina actually fumbled the ball three times, but Duke wasn’t able to take advantage. The Tar Heels, meanwhile, scored after both of Duke’s fumbles.

As soon as North Carolina built a lead, questions regarding the ACC Coastal standings started to surface.

A loss by Duke will hand the No. 18 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets an ACC Coastal crown and an appearance in the ACC Championship Game against the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles.

Duke still has the second half to redeem itself.

The Blue Devils have to start by stopping the Tar Heels offense. North Carolina amassed 391 yards of total offense through two quarters of play. If not for three fumbles by quarterback Marquise Williams, the score could be worse than it already is.

Sophomore Ryan Switzer proved to be North Carolina’s biggest threat on offense after catching two passes for 107 yards. Whereas Williams, T.J. Logan and Romar Morris combined to run for 203 yards.

Duke needs to get a strong second-half performance from senior quarterback Anthony Boone, who is 8-of-17 passing for 89 yards. If Boone and Duke’s talented corps of wide receivers can’t get the passing game going, the Blue Devils don’t have a chance in the second half and will concede the ACC Coastal to Georgia Tech.

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Fortunate calls allow No. 12 Kansas State to build 17-3 lead against WVU

Kansas State v West Virginia Getty Images

The ball bounced in favor of the No. 12 Kansas State Wildcats during the first half of play against the West Virginia Mountaineers.

A suspect touchdown call and another touchdown being called back proved to be the biggest difference for the Wildcats, who hold a 17-3 lead at halftime.

The fortunate calls in Kansas State’s favor started on the team’s initial drive.

After a 23-yard punt return from Tyler Lockett — and his presence on special teams will come up again — the Wildcats started their initial drive from West Virginia’s 49-yard line. Seven plays later, Kansas State quarterback Jake Waters drove his offense to the 7-yard line. On third-and-goal, Waters scrambled in the pocket and found running back Demarcus Robinson open for a touchdown pass.

However, Robinson dropped the football during the follow through of the catch. Despite the bobbled ball, the referees ruled he had possession before he went to the ground and the touchdown call stood. Kansas State gained an early 7-0 lead.

After the team’s traded field goals, the Mountaineers finally found the end zone on one of the wackiest touchdown catches of the season. Or so they thought.

Kevin White, the nation’s third-leading receiver, came up with an amazing tipped pass for the unlikely score (see: below).

The catch was eventually ruled incomplete upon review. One angle appeared to show the ball hitting the ground before it flipped into the air toward White. The situation was compounded by the fact West Virginia kicker Josh Lambert missed the ensuing field goal attempt.

Locket extended Kansas State’s lead with a 43-yard punt return for a touchdown. The All-American returner averaged 33 yards per punt return through two quarters of play.

As the teams enter the second half, Kansas State wants to return to playing sound football after a sloppy first half. West Virginia, meanwhile, needs to capitalize on its opportunities and find ways to get its vertical passing attack on track.

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