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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: 12-Pack of Top Games

The Swami AP

In 17 days — 16 if you’re a degenerate like me who counts Abilene Christian at Georgia State the day before — the 2014 college football season kicks off, with all eyes focused on Texas A&M, playing its first game without Johnny Manziel under center since 2011, traveling to Columbia to face what could very well be the best team Steve Spurrier‘s had in what will be his 10th season at South Carolina.

As we have been and will continue doing throughout the month of August, CFT trudges on with previews of the upcoming season, with the 12 games that could have the biggest impact on both key conference races and the national landscape.  Said national landscape will include, for the first-time ever, a College Football Playoff.  Of course, the reality once we get into the season can change greatly from the preseason perceptions — see: 2013 Auburn Tigers — but the following 12-pack should form some sort of solid guide through what’s certain to be yet another eventful season in the great game of college football.

So, without further ado and for your reading pleasure, here’s a sampling of some of the top games on the 2014 slate.  And, as always, you can whine/bitch/moan in the comment section that your team was snubbed…

TEXAS A&M AT SOUTH CAROLINA, AUG. 28
LAST MEETING: First meeting
SERIES RECORD: 0-0
THE SKINNY: This contest has a handful of firsts going for it.  Most importantly to the business side of the conference, it will be the first-ever football game televised on the fledgling SEC Network, a network that’s expected to drop tens of millions of dollars annually into the coffers of each conference member.  Additionally, as noted above, it’s the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.  And finally, both the Aggies and Gamecocks will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks for the first time in two and two-plus years, respectively, with the former going with (Kenny Hill or Kyle Allen) and the latter Dylan Thompson.  While neither Hill nor Allen have started a game at the collegiate level, Thompson at least has some experience in that capacity — he’s 3-0 in his career as a starter replacing Connor Shaw, and has thrown passes in 20 of the games in which he’s played the past three years.  Even as the Aggies will face a deficit in experience at the most important position on the field, it’s not their most pressing concern as Kevin Sumlin could probably throw you or I in at quarterback and still put up 30-plus per game.  Rather, it’s the defense that should cause the most consternation, especially facing a running back as talented as Mike Davis.  A defense that was suspect throughout 2013 is even more so in 2014, with attrition via dismissals, graduation, etc.  This game could be the beginning of an uneven season in College Station, which would be the first since the Aggies joined the SEC in 2012.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: South Carolina 41, Texas A&M 27

WISCONSIN VS. LSU IN HOUSTON, AUG. 30
LAST MEETING: Sept. 30, 1972, a 27-7 LSU win in Baton Rouge
SERIES RECORD: LSU leads 2-0
THE SKINNY: Any time teams from the Big Ten and SEC meet it’s a big deal, especially when it’s two programs that have been at or near the top of their respective conferences for the past few years.  At least football-wise, this game is the dictionary definition of unstoppable force vs. immovable object: the Tigers will bring their always-stout run defense ( 35th nationally, third in SEC in 2013) into the neutral site affair against a Badgers football that thrives on running the football (8th in rushing offense) and would much rather take a pair of steel-toed boots to the groin than pass it (93rd in passing offense).  Perhaps most importantly, especially as far as fans are concerned, this game will give the winning league bragging rights until bowl season as this marks the only marquee match-up between the Big Ten and SEC during the regular season.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: LSU 24, Wisconsin 17

MICHIGAN STATE AT OREGON, SEPT. 6
LAST MEETING: Sept. 2, 1999, a 27-20 Michigan State win in East Lansing
SERIES RECORD: Tied at 2-2
THE SKINNY: There might not be a game this season featuring a pair of teams that are such extreme polar opposites of one another.  The Spartans’ 2013 success was predicated on a physical, dominating defense complemented by a methodical and productive rushing attack, with the passing game managing games and putting up big numbers when necessary.  The Ducks are the antithesis of the Spartans.  UO is a balls-to-the-wall, pedal-mashed-to-the-floor offense that is equally adept — and deadly — at running or passing the football.  Oh, and the Ducks can play some defense as well, as evidenced by the fact that they finished 13th nationally in scoring defense last season (MSU was third).  This game has the potential to be one of the more fascinating matchups for the upcoming season, and it’s probably the non-conference game that I’m looking at with the most anticipation — even as I foresee a blowout in Eugene for the East Lansing boys.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Oregon 48, Michigan State 27

GEORGIA AT SOUTH CAROLINA, SEPT. 13
LAST MEETING: Sept,. 7, 2013, a 41-30 Georgia win in Athens
SERIES RECORD: Georgia leads 47-17-2
THE SKINNY: After being unceremoniously shoved to the side by Missouri last season, the Bulldogs and Gamecocks are once again expected to be the cream of the SEC East crop.  And, because of that, this game will go a long way in determining just who will represent the division in the SEC championship game against their West counterparts.  USC has won three of the last four in the series, with the lone blemish being the 11-point loss in Athens last season.  This year, and as is the case throughout the conference, both teams will be breaking in new starting quarterbacks.  The Gamecocks’ situation is a little different from most, though, as Dylan Thompson is a very seasoned backup with nearly two dozen games played and three starts. Hutson Mason, meanwhile, got a taste of what it’s like to be a starter in the SEC as he took over under center for the injured Aaron Murray the last two and a half games and performed well, throwing for over 800 yards and four touchdowns in that stretch.  The good news for both is that they will have very talented and accomplished running backs at their disposal, Mike Davis for the Gamecocks and Todd Gurley for the Bulldogs.  How those two go, so should their respective teams as this game could be a rarity these days: one that’s determined in large part by the running game.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: South Carolina 34, Georgia 21

UCLA AT ARIZONA STATE, SEPT. 27
LAST MEETING: Nov. 23, 2013, a 38-33 Arizona State win in Tempe
SERIES RECORD: UCLA 18-11-1
THE SKINNY: For everything that Oregon-Stanford is as far as the Pac-12 North is concerned, Arizona State-UCLA is fast becoming the same for the South.  Like 2013 when ASU tripped up UCLA to help stake its claim to a spot in the conference championship game, 2014 should be no different.  Both teams will feature very experienced and extremely talented quarterbacks, Taylor Kelly for the Sun Devils and Brett Hundley.  Both could, or even should, be in the thick of the Heisman chase when this game rolls around, which would be a testament to both their individual performances and their team’s success.  The Bruins, though, easily return the most talent with 18 starters (eight each on offense and defense to go along with both kickers) coming back while the Sun Devils return just 10, including a paltry two on the defensive side of the ball.  Is that advantage, along with being at home this around, be enough to put the Bruins back in the title game?  Time will tell, although USC may have a little something to say about the latter before it’s all said and done.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: UCLA 48, Arizona State 38

OREGON AT UCLA, OCT. 11
LAST MEETING: Oct. 26, 2013, a 42-14 Oregon win in Eugene
SERIES RECORD: UCLA leads 39-27
THE SKINNY: Depending on how things play out, this very well could be a preview of the Pac-12 championship game.  The Bruins’ loss to the Ducks last year, the second of back-to-back conference losses, all but handed the South division to Arizona State.  Getting UO in Los Angeles should make the task a little less treacherous, but not much as the Ducks are expected to be the class of the league and the odds-on favorite to represent the Pac-12 in the College Football Playoff.  Last season’s win was Oregon’s fifth straight in the series; a sixth straight could further push the Ducks toward their ultimate postseason goal, while snapping that skein would go a long way in helping the Bruins get back to the top of the conference — and perhaps climbing back on to the national stage for the first time in a very, very long time.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Oregon 49, UCLA 31

STANFORD AT OREGON, NOV. 1
LAST MEETING: Nov. 7, 2013, a 26-20 Oregon win in Stanford
SERIES RECORD: Stanford leads 43-30-1
THE SKINNY: In all three years of the Pac-12 championship game, either the Cardinal or the Ducks have been the North’s representative — 2012 and 2013 for the former, 2011 for the latter.  That’s not expected to change in Year 4 as both teams are, once again, the class of the division.  UO, in fact, may end up being the class of college football at year’s end.  Both teams return a ton of starters, 15 (nine on offense) coming back for the Ducks and 14 (seven on defense) for the Cardinal.  Four of the starters who don’t return to The Farm, however, come from the offensive line, so David Shaw and his offensive staff have to hope the new players plugged in have gelled into a cohesive unit by the time this game rolls around.  Even if that happens, can the Cardinal keep pace with a high-powered offense triggered by Heisman front-runner Marcus Mariota?  The answer was resounding “hell yes!!!” in 2013; whether that’s the case in 2014 will go a long way in determining which team takes this game — and which team likely punches its ticket to another conference championship game.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Oregon 41, Stanford 27

ALABAMA AT LSU, NOV. 8
LAST MEETING: Nov. 9, 2013, a 38-17 Alabama win in Tuscaloosa
SERIES RECORD: Alabama leads 48-25-5
THE SKINNY: This one of those games where, when the schedule comes out, you always check to see when it will be played.  For all of the hype it receives, however, it’s been a bit lopsided of sorts of late, at least results-wise.  The Tide was won three straight in the series, including the BCS title game following the 2012 season and a blowout win last year.  There are very few certainties in college football, but here’s one you can just about chisel in stone: there won’t be many points scored when the two teams clash in Tuscaloosa in early November.  Thanks to what’s ofttimes a pair of suffocating defenses, just once has a team scored more than 30 points — the Tide in its 38-17 win last year — in the last eight meetings.  In the last thirteen meetings, one or both of the teams failed to score at least 20 points a whopping 10 times.  The microcosm of the series?  The 9-6 Battle of the Kickers in 2011 that was the epitome of the defensive duels between the two SEC West programs.  As both teams reload their respective defenses the way most people change their underwear, and both offenses will be manned by first-year starters at quarterback, it should be lather, rinse, repeat on the defensive front once again.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Alabama 24, LSU 14

OHIO STATE AT MICHIGAN STATE, NOV. 8
LAST MEETING: Dec. 7, 2013, a 34-24 Michigan State win in Indianapolis (Big Ten title game)
SERIES RECORD: Ohio State leads 28-14
THE SKINNY: This will easily be the most anticipated Big Ten game of the year, with the Buckeyes looking to avenge a double-digit “upset” loss to the Spartans in the Big Ten championship game.  A loss, incidentally, that both ended No. 2 OSU’s 24-game losing streak and knocked the Buckeyes out of a likely spot in the BCS title game against Florida State.  As was the case last season, one key in this year’s game will be MSU’s stifling defense’s ability to contain Braxton Miller.  While the OSU quarterback did rush for 142 and a pair of touchdowns, he was held to a paltry 8-of-21 passing for just 101 yards.  Connor Cook, on the other hand, riddled a porous Buckeyes pass defense for 304 yards and three touchdowns.  Throw in Jeremy Langford‘s 128 yards rushing, and MSU was able to flip a 24-17 deficit late in the third quarter to a 10-point win that propelled the Spartans into the Rose Bowl.  So, yes, “revenge” will be a key storyline heading into this game — along with MSU looking to prove yet again that it belongs on the national stage.  And one more tidbit: thanks to the additions of Maryland and Rutgers to the Big Ten and subsequent shifts in the divisions, this game will now likely be a contest for East supremacy and a spot in the conference championship game.  Just a little bit on the line in this game, in other words.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Ohio State 27, Michigan State 24

BAYLOR AT OKLAHOMA, NOV. 8
LAST MEETING: Nov. 7, 2013, a 41-12 Baylor win in Waco
SERIES RECORD: Oklahoma leads 20-2
THE SKINNY: The Sooners have absolutely owned the Bears for the whole of the series, but the tide is certainly shifting.  After losing the first 17 meetings to OU — all but three by 12 points or more, and 11 by 20-plus points — BU has won two of the last three.  Included in that total was last year’s evisceration, a 29-point beatdown in early November that signaled the  Bears were the team to beat in the Big 12.  Can that trend continue?  If it does, it’ll do so with some new pieces in place.  The Bears must replace seven starters on the defensive side of the ball, including a pair of first-team All-Big 12 performers and three members of its secondary.  Bryce Petty is still Bryce Petty and Art Briles‘ offense is still Art Briles’ offense, so the Bears will maintain the ability to outscore most of the defensive liabilities it may possess.  On the flip side, the Sooners return 14 starters, including quarterback Trevor Knight.  Whether that’s a positive or a negative remains to be seen as no one knows which Knight will show up: the one who struggled to hold on to his job throughout the season or the one who strafed Alabama’s defense in the Sugar Bowl.  The answer to that question will go a long way in determining who wins this game and, as a result, who controls the Big 12 and a likely spot in the College Football Playoff.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Baylor 38, Oklahoma 35

AUBURN AT ALABAMA, NOV. 29
LAST MEETING: Nov. 30, 2013, a 34-28 Auburn win in Auburn
SERIES RECORD: Alabama leads 42-35-1
THE SKINNY: The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would make this type of list year-in and year-out.  After last year?  This one comes in at or near the top of the 2014 version of these lists.  Of course, I’m referring to the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  The questions entering the season for AU are twofold: one, can they replace 1,800-yard rusher Tre’ Mason and, two, how many more miracles does Gus Malzahn & Company have tucked into their hip pockets?  The Tide has its own questions to answer as well, not the least of which is just who will replace three-year starter AJ McCarron under center.  The knowns, though are that AU will have Nick Marshall, who’s expected to do nothing but get better in his second season as a starting quarterback, while UA will have what’s become an annual twin tradition under Nick Saban: a punishing rushing attack with its stable of backs to go along with a physical, suffocating defense.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Alabama 38, Auburn 31

MICHIGAN AT OHIO STATE, NOV. 29
LAST MEETING: Nov. 30, 2013, a 42-41 Ohio State win in Ann Arbor
SERIES RECORD: Michigan leads 58-45-6
THE SKINNY: Regardless of the records or prospects of either or both teams, The Game is and always will be a destination event for college football viewers.  While the Wolverines have owned the overall series, it’s the Buckeyes who’ve owned That School Up North this century as OSU has won (on the field) nine of the last 10 and 11 of the last 13.  Both teams will enter the season with question marks littering the offensive line, with the Buckeyes needing to replace four starters while the Wolverines, which had significant issues in that group last year, must replace an All-American tackle and the starter on the other side as well.  Where this game may be won or lost is at the quarterback position, which bodes well for OSU.  Braxton Miller, the reigning two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year, returns and looks to take his game to the next level as a senior, while the Wolverines will go with either the inconsistent, turnover-prone Devin Gardner or the unproven Shane Morris.  Decided advantage, OSU.  If the Buckeyes can cure its secondary woes, woes that are directly to blame for its two-game losing streak to end last season, they should have little problem in dispatching their bitter rivals and possibly continuing on a Big Ten/CFP title run.
THE WAY-TOO-EARLY PREDICTION: Ohio State 45, Michigan 31

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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LSU plans to pursue John Chavis’ buyout

John Chavis

When John Chavis left the LSU Tigers to become the defensive coordinator of the Texas A&M Aggies, he walked away from a $1.3 million contract.

Chavis reportedly wanted his annual salary increased to $1.7 million to make him, along with Auburn’s Will Muschamp, the nation’s highest paid defensive coordinator.

When LSU brass decided that wasn’t going to happen, Chavis refused to sign a new contract. Instead, Texas A&M stepped up to the plate and lured him away to College Station.

Whether or not Texas A&M matched Chavis’ asking price, the assistant coach won’t see the full amount of his contract next season due to a buyout in his previous contract with LSU.

Chavis owes LSU $400,00 as part of the provision, according to The Shreveport Times‘ Glenn Guilbeau. The school intends to pursue the money it is owed.

“I’m not sure if we’ll get it, but we’re going to try to get it,” LSU board member Ronald Anderson told Guilbeau. “That was part of his contract. It’s his obligation.”

Whether or not LSU receives the payment may determine the future of former defensive line coach Brick Haley. Haley is currently on staff, but he was replaced by Ed Orgeron. Unlike Chavis, Haley signed a new contract offered after the season. However, his status along with the $450,000 contract remain uncertain until Chavis’ situation is finalized.

Haley is currently serving as a staff “intern.”

“I’m told that by June, if he decides to stay, they’ll decide what he’ll be doing and that title would change,” Anderson said.

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Former Crimson Tide safety takes shot at LSU’s new defensive coordinator

HaHa Clinton-Dix

You can take the football player out of Alabama, but you can’t take the Crimson Tide out of the football player.

Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix left Alabama as a highly decorated safety before becoming the 21st pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 2014 NFL draft.

The safety didn’t take to Twitter Friday to rip the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions or even the Minnesota Vikings, though.

Clinton-Dix’s contempt for the rival LSU Tigers remains strong, and he made sure to point out what type of hire the program made when Kevin Steele was named its new offensive coordinator.

The game Clinton-Dix referred to was the 2012 Orange Bowl. Steele was the defensive coordinator of the Clemson Tigers at the time. His defense surrendered 595 total yards to the West Virginia Mountaineers on their way to scoring 70 points.

The embarrassing performance eventually cost Steele his job.

Despite the pitiful performance and being a few years removed from defensive coordinator duties, LSU head coach Les Miles was excited about Steele’s inclusion to his coaching staff.

“He has a great defensive mind and he’s an outstanding recruiter,” Miles said when the hire was officially announced, per ESPN. “He knows our players and our system and his knowledge of the SEC and the SEC Western Division makes him a great fit. We are very excited the Kevin will be joining our staff.”

Miles and LSU might be excited about the hire, but Clinton-Dix obviously thinks it’s a joke.

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Texas Tech cancels spring game, caters schedule to QB Patrick Mahomes

Patrick Mahomes

The spring game is an annual tradition in college football.

However, Kliff Kingsbury and his Texas Tech Red Raiders were forced to change up their spring schedule due to a couple of factors.

First, the Red Raiders won’t hold a spring game this year, according to the team’s official site.

“Due to the replacement of seating inside Jones AT&T Stadium, the annual Spring Game has been cancelled and there will be no other open practice opportunities for fans in Lubbock,” the statement read.

Also, the team will accommodate its projected starter at quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, who is also a member of the baseball team.

“Individual practices dates will be determined on a week-by-week basis in order to accommodate sophomore quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ baseball schedule, the school announced. “Mahomes will pitch and play in the outfield for the preseason No. 5 Texas Tech Baseball team this spring.”

Mahomes started the final four games of the 2014 campaign, and the freshman’s performance was impressive. The two-sport star passed for 1,428 yards, 14 touchdowns and two interceptions during that stretch.

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Iowa WR breaks Odell Beckham’s Guinness world record

Iowa v Minnesota

Iowa’s Tevaun Smith didn’t just one-up New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. a day after he set a world record. The junior from Toronto, Canada easily surpassed Beckham’s mark and caught nearly as many one-handed passes in a minute than he did all season.

Beckham originally set the record Thursday by making 33 catches without a drop in 60 seconds. Smith, who caught 43 passes for 596 yards last season, decided he was up to the task with 41 one-handed snags.

The Iowa Hawkeyes athletic department recorded the record-breaking event, via ESPN:

After being challenged, Beckham will surely attempt to break the new record.

“The type of person I am, I love breaking records, no matter what it is,” Beckham said Thursday in an interview with CBS New York. “I look forward to breaking and going above and beyond what somebody else has done.”

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FCS coaches not sure Vernon Adams can transition from EWU to Oregon

Eastern Washington v Washington

There is very little Vernon Adams can prove with another year at Eastern Washington.

During his time as a member of the Eagles, the quarterback has proved he’s one of the elite players at the FCS level of play, and he helped lead his team to three straight playoff appearances.

In 37 career games, Adams threw for 10,438 yards, 110 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. Plus, the quarterback ran for 1,232 yards and 11 more touchdowns.

However, none of this means he’s ready to make the leap from the FCS level to play for the Oregon Ducks, who just played in a national championship game.

Adams is still entertaining the idea of transferring, though, as he prepares to visit Eugene this weekend.

“I’m not saying I’m leaving Eastern, but I’m just going to check it out and see what they have to say,” Adams told The Spokesman-Review‘s Jim Allen.

FCS coaches believe Adams can play at the level, but it may not be the right time for the quarterback to make the move.

“If I was advising him, I’d say he should stay,” Sam Houston State’s K.C. Keeler told The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif.

Keeler once coached Joe Flacco at Delaware before eventually becoming the Bearkats’ head coach. Sam Houston State even faced Eastern Washington to open its 2014 campaign.

“I walked out of that saying I don’t think I’ll see a better quarterback in the country and in my time coaching, I can’t list a whole lot better than I just saw,” Keeler said. “I have no reservation saying he’ll go into the Oregon locker room and that he’ll be as talented as anybody. It’s just there are a lot of things that go into being a starting quarterback.

“I’m disappointed he’s leaving because I think what players have to understand is bigger is not better, better is better. He’s developed an unbelievable following at Eastern Washington and I’d be disappointed he’s leaving our level. I’m not excited that he’s trying to bump up to a higher level. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get, and I don’t know if that’s the situation at Oregon.”

One obstacle Adams will face if he does decide to transfer is waiting to become part of the Ducks program until this summer. The quarterback is on track to graduate in June, which means he wouldn’t be able to participate in Oregon’s spring ball.

“I think there’s a real risk for Vernon Adams to do that,” former Oregon receivers coach and current Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said. “Can Vernon Adams do it? I’m a firm believer he can having seen him and having watched him from afar. It’s just going to be a totally different challenge for him and some of that is mental.”

The coaches were in agreement on one thing. If Adams does transfer to Oregon, they’ll be rooting for him to succeed.

“We’d cheer for him and a lot more than when he was playing against us, too,” Montana State’s Rob Ash said.

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Touted 2014 JUCO transfer leaving K-State for EKU

With National Signing Day five days away, here’s your daily reminder that recruiting hype doesn’t necessarily translate into on-field success.

D’Vonta Derricott was a four-star JUCO member of Kansas State’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 3 outside linebacker prospect coming from that level of football. Derricott never saw the field in 2014, taking a redshirt for his first season in Manhattan.

As it turns out, Derricott won’t ever see the field for K-State as he has decided to transfer, announcing via Twitter Thursday that he’s moving on to Eastern Kentucky.  According to the Manhattan Mercury, Derricott had been removed from K-State’s Alamo Bowl roster, although head coach Bill Snyder seemed to indicate that the door was at least slightly open for a return.

Because EKU plays at the FCS level, the linebacker will be eligible to play immediately in 2015. Counting this season, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

(Photo credit: Kansas State athletics)

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Two more opt to transfer from Michigan

Michigan v Nebraska Getty Images

The work week began with word that a Michigan player has decided to leave Ann Arbor.  As it turns out, it’ll end the same way.  Times two.

First off, on Instagram Friday, Russell Bellomy announced that he will transfer out of the UM football program. In a very heartfelt statement, the quarterback asked that “you respect my decision and support me in whatever I do.”

Below is the statement, in its entirety.

“To those of you that know me well, I always try my hardest never to get emotional; however, I write this with a heavy heart. My heart is packed full of experiences, acquaintances and irreplaceable memories that I will reminisce on for the rest of my life. I love each and every one of my teammates, both former and present, and I hope y’all know that every day I busted my butt for you and the benefit of UM.

“I will receive my degree at the end of this semester and have decided to sign my release that enables me to play my 5th year as a graduate student at another university. I pray that you respect my decision and support me in whatever I do, because this was not an easy process. I am forever grateful to have attended and played for UM and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. “For I know the plans I have for you…” #GoBlueAlways”

As noted in the statement, Bellomy will be a graduate transfer, which means he would be eligible to play in 2015 if he decides to move on to an FBS program. The release granted by Michigan, which Bellomy showed on his social media post, allows him to transfer to any school not on the Wolverines’ schedule.

Russell Bellomy Release

Bellomy, a three-star member of the Wolverines’ 2011 recruiting class, played in six games during his time at UM, completing 4-of-23 passes for 46 yards and four interceptions.  Three of those interceptions came in a 23-9 loss to Nebraska in October of 2012, a game in which he was forced into action because of an elbow injury to starter Denard Robinson.

A short time later, teammate and defensive end-turned-tight end Keith Heitzman did the same thing as Bellomy, and on the same website to boot.

“The past few years have been an unforgettable journey full of ever lasting memories, both exciting and saddening. I have experienced the spoils of winning and the heartbreak of losing. I have always blamed my struggles on external factors and never realized that all of this was part of the process of becoming a Michigan man. It has been the most challenging yet rewarding 4 years of my life and for that I will be forever grateful.

“However, this moment right now has manifested itself into the toughest experience as of yet. I have signed my release form allowing me to talk with other schools for the potential to transfer. As of right now I will leave this great institution in the spring with a degree in hand and friendships that will last a lifetime. I have to make the best possible decision for me, therefore, I feel like I need to explore my options. I have to thank all the fans for their continued support through the turbulent times over these past few years and promise that Michigan is destined for greatness in the future. #forevergoblue”

Last season, Heitzman caught two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in playing in all 12 games.  Heitzman was a three-star member of UM’s 2011 recruiting class, and will be eligible to play immediately at an FBS school because he will be a grad transfer.

Monday, it was reported that running back Justice Hayes would be leaving as a graduate transfer. Prior to that, and between the firing of Brady Hoke and the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, linebacker Michael Ferns and offensive lineman Kyle Bosch left the program as well. Both of those players ultimately landed at West Virginia.

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Report: Clancy Pendergast is front-runner for Utah DC job

California v Washington State Getty Images

After a year away from the game, it appears Clancy Pendergast could be back in it if he so desires.  Reportedly.

Accord to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News*, Pendergast has emerged as the front-runner for the defensive coordinator job at Utah.  The Utes have been without a coordinator on that side of the ball for well over a month after Kalani Sitake left for the same post at Oregon State.

Pendergast was last on the sidelines as the coordinator at USC in 2013, his lone season with the Trojans.  He wasn’t retained as part of Steve Sarkisian‘s new coaching staff.  For the three years before that, he served in the same position at Cal.

Prior to that, Pendergast had spent 15 seasons as an assistant at the NFL level.  During his stint as coordinator with Arizona (2004-08), the Cardinals earned the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl berth following the 2008 season.

As LSU searched for its new coordinator, Pendergast was interviewed as a potential replacement for John Chavis before hiring Kevin Steele away from Alabama.

(*Yes, I’m well aware of all y’all’s feelings toward Mr. Wolf.  Please, save yourself the breath and keystrokes.  Thanks in advance.)

 

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Brady Hoke reportedly not in the mix for CMU job

Brady Hoke AP

We still don’t know who will be Central Michigan’s next head football coach.  We can, though, apparently cross off one of the rumored candidates for the job of the school’s coaching to-do list.

Citing an individual with knowledge of the discussions, Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press is reporting that Brady Hoke is not in the mix for the CMU job.  Snyder writes “[t]hough CMU considered Hoke… it was not a fit* between the two sides.”

Hoke, of course, was fired as Michigan’s head coach in early December. Prior to his time at UM (2011-14) and San Diego State (2009-10), Hoke served as the head coach at Ball State of the MAC from 2004-08.

The CMU job came open Jan. 22 when Dan Enos abruptly stepped down to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. The Chips are currently the only FBS team without a head coach.

Athletic director Dave Heeke stated that he would employ a search firm to aid in the search and would like a replacement in place by signing day Feb. 4; that seems highly unlikely, although not impossible.

Aside from Hoke, other rumored candidates have included Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, Ferris State head coach Tony Annese, Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal and Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks among many, many others.

(*Allow me to get ahead of this: In the comments section, feel free, if it makes you feel better, to let the hefty jokes rain down like beads at Mardi Gras.)

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Title run to net OSU $3 million bump in merchandise royalties

American Money AP

Ohio State’s run to the College Football Playoff championship will have a trickle-down effect economically for the university as a whole.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, OSU officials expect to see an increase of $3 million over last year’s figures when it comes to the sale of licensed merchandise. While the paper writes that “[t]he percentage gain isn’t close to what OSU saw in 2002 when the Buckeyes beat Miami for the national crown, when royalties doubled to $5 million that year over the year before,” it is a figure that will benefit many.

Oddly enough, the greatest financial benefit won’t end up in the athletic department coffers. From the Dispatch:

For every dollar that goes into the licensing office, 55 cents goes to academic affairs, which handles scholarships, libraries, ongoing programs and the university’s 14 college units; 15 cents goes to the athletics department; 15 cents goes to the alumni association; and 15 cents goes to the student life program and its 1,000 student organizations.

That means that just $450,000 or so will go to the athletic department, while the remaining $2.55 million will be directed toward entities that benefit the present and past student populations.

The title run will also continue benefiting small businesses that sell Buckeye gear.

“People were energized long before the game, and people are still coming through the door,” Lori Leavitt Watson, vice president of one such business, told the Dispatch. “This has legs for us.

“What that (championship) does is people are willing to spend money. We had two people call and say they had planned on restringing their flag poles in the spring, but now? Nope. ‘We’re going to do it now, and we want that flag right now.'”

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Arian Foster says he accepted ’40, 50 grand’ from Vols boosters

Tennessee v South Carolina Getty Images

It’s not exactly a shock that Arian Foster stated during an interview Friday that he had accepted money from boosters during his time playing running back at Tennessee; in a documentary that aired in 2013, Foster acknowledged as much.

This time around, though, Foster got into specific dollar amounts, which always piques the interest of some.

During the radio interview with Dan LeBatard Thursday, the current Houston Texans running back was asked about receiving what would be impermissible cash benefits from UT boosters while he was a player.  From the Knoxville News:

“You have people help you out here and there,” Foster said Thursday on the Dan LeBatard show. “Boosters and alumni and ex-players, they all know how it is, man. It’s hard living check to check when you don’t have enough money to go out to the movies or any kind of leisure activity. And you’re not allowed to get a job. Especially when I was in college, they were a lot more stringent on those rules, so at any given chance I got the opportunity, I took a free handout. Absolutely.”

LeBatard pushed Foster for an exact dollar figure. Foster guessed that it was “40, 50 grand throughout my entire career.”

Foster was in Knoxville from 2004-08. His coach during that time was Phillip Fulmer, who released a statement after Foster’s comments in the 2013 documentary became public.

“As the head coach at Tennessee for 17 years, I took great pride in having a program that was NCAA compliant, as did our staff and administration,” Fulmer said at the time. “If we knew of a violation, big or small, we reported it.”

Foster’s comments come amidst a push, especially amongst the Power Five conferences, to put some of the billions of dollars the sports makes back into the pockets of the players in the form of bridging the cost-of-attendance gap. They also come one day after Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett called the NCAA “one of the biggest scams in America.”

UPDATED 3:04 p.m. ET: That certainly didn’t take long.

Shortly after we posted the above, UT fans took to Twitter to blast Foster for his admissions during the radio interview yesterday.  At first Foster took this tack…

… and then, as the rhetoric from the other side began to ratchet up, he changed course…

… and ultimately landed here:

Grab your popcorn and head on over to Foster’s Twitter feed HERE.  This could be fun for an hour or two.

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Ezekiel Elliott tops, OSU QB trio among early Heisman favorites

If you thought the third-string quarterback who helped propel Ohio State to a three-win postseason run that culminated in a national championship, and who eschewed early entry into the NFL draft, would be the current Heisman front-runner, you’d be wrong.

Instead, it’s his backfield mate Ezekiel Elliott, who Bovada.lv has installed as a 6/1 favorite to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy.  Considering Elliott’s late-season run, his placement as the front-runner is hardly a surprise.

Over the last three games, which included wins in the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff semifinal and championship games, Elliott, just a sophomore, carried the ball 76 times for 696 yards and eight touchdowns.  That’s more rushing yardage than Wake Forest (479) and Washington State (478) totaled the entire season.  His eight rushing touchdowns in that three-game span were more than Wake (four), Wazzu (five) and Kent State (six) had in 12 games in 2014.

The last running back to win the Heisman was Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009.

As for the player alluded to in the lede?  Cardale Jones is at 14/1, tied with a pair of running backs — Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine — and behind seven other players.  Right behind Jones are the other parts to OSU’s upcoming three-headed quarterback battle: J.T. Barrett at 16/1, Braxton Miller at 18/1.

Getting back toward the top, a pair of SEC players are right on Elliott’s heels, with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, a midseason Heisman favorite last year before fading, and LSU freshman running back sensation Leonard Fournette at 7/1.  TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is not far behind the top three at 15/2.

There are no finalists for the 2014 version of the award on the initial 2015 odds list as all three — Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper — all left early for the NFL.

Below are the complete set of 2015 Heisman Trophy odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

2015 Initial Bovada Heisman Odds

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Awaiting a UAB resurrection, Bill Clark won’t coach in 2015

UAB Blazers v Arkansas Razorbacks

After killing off the program late last year, there’s a growing sense of hope that football will be reinstated at UAB.  Maybe.

In that vein, the man who led the Blazers to a mini-renaissance, only to see it mercilessly executed, is lying in wait for what many are projecting to be a resurrection.

Speaking to Kevin Scarbinsky of al.com, Bill Clark stated that he’s had several opportunities to coach elsewhere since the sport was controversially axed in early December. Clark wouldn’t divulge any particular programs, but did allow that there were head-coaching as well as assistant offers on the table.

He turned them all down, in part because he wants to see how the situation at UAB plays out — “My heart is still at UAB. I love those people” — and in part because he’ll be fully vested in the state’s retirement system within a year.

Despite the program going on the chopping block, the 46-year-old Clark will still be paid the final two years of his contract, which will allow him to hit the 25-year mark of the state’s vesting threshold later in 2015.

Football-wise, Clark labeled it a “definite possibility” he’d return to the Blazers if the program was reinstated. There was, though, one potentially significant qualifier when it comes to a return.

“There’s a glimmer of hope for me and a lot of folks,” he said. “I love Birmingham and I love the state of Alabama, but a lot of things would have to happen, and it would have to be done correctly.”

The intimation from Clark is that the financial commitment from the school would need to be very tangible as the Blazers would essentially be a start-up program again as nearly every player of merit has fled the university to continue their playing careers elsewhere. Commitment outside of the financial from the administration would also seem to be paramount, although the program would seemingly have the backing of some well-heeled boosters who were ready to step in and save the sport in the first place. Even the faculty at the school would be behind a revival.

The situation’s gotten to the point where a state lawmaker is “seeking a ‘full, thorough, independent’ review of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees to investigate accusations of board interference involving UAB athletics,” which serves as yet another suggestion that an about-face may be in order — and Clark may be the man to lead it.

In 2014, Clark’s first season at the school, the Blazers posted a 6-6 mark, the first time the team had finished a season with at least a .500 record since 2004. That’s the last time UAB was bowl-eligible, although the Blazers weren’t invited to play in a bowl game at the conclusion of this past season.

Last year was just the fourth time in the program’s 19-year history that the Blazers finished .500 or better, with the other two coming in 2000 and 2001.

Based on his lone season, and his loyalty to the school, Clark deserves the first crack at making it five. That’s the least the university could do if the sport’s reinstated.

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Hacked off: Mora Twitter issues continue

UCLA v Washington State Getty Images

Either Jim Mora or the person responsible for the UCLA head coach’s Twitter account needs to pick up a copy or of “Twitter for Dummies.”

Mora’s Twitter account was originally abandoned earlier this month after a tweet war erupted in the wake of the post-bowl handshake imbroglio with kindly Bill Snyder.  Mora then moved to a private Twitter account before resurrecting the old one, as BruinsNation.com explained.

The account then posted the following photo late last night, one in a series of screen snaps astutely compiled and saved by the same SBNation.com website:

Mora Tweetgate I

That would be a Bruins uniform photoshopped onto the body of Maea Teuhema, a five-star 2015 recruit Mora and the Bruins are trying to flip away from LSU. That would also be an NCAA no-no as coaches are not permitted to acknowledged unsigned prospects in such a manner.

In a gallant attempt to cram the toothpaste back into the tube, one in which we harken back to the golden age of “the dog ate my homework” excuses, the account went here with its explanation:

Mora Tweetgate II

As of now, if you attempt to access Mora’s Twitter account, you get the following

Mora Tweetgate III

When it comes to social media in general and Twitter specifically, Mora might want to take to heart the (paraphrased) sage advice Brian Fantana gently offered Champ Kind: “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop tweeting for a while.”

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Tweet reaffirms top QB Kyler Murray’s commitment to A&M

Kyler Murray

Things seemingly got a little dicey on the quarterback recruiting front for Texas A&M and its faithful over the last week.

Kyler Murray, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, has been a long-time verbal commitment to Texas A&M, his father’s alma mater. Then came a tweet from Murray’s personal Twitter account in which he showed a picture of a Texas Longhorn jersey while on a surprise visit to Austin.

Just as quickly as the recruit caused a rise in Aggie Nation’s collective blood pressure via Twitter, Murray, following an in-home visit from A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, brought it back down on the same social media website Thursday night with a short and simple missive less than a week before National Signing Day.

In an interview with ESPN.com a short time later, Murray explained that the face-to-face with Sumlin yesterday reaffirmed his commitment to the Aggies.

Texas A&M is where my heart is at,” Murray said late Thursday night. “Coach [Charlie] Strong and Texas is a great opportunity, but I felt that A&M was the place for me. Not because of my dad having played there, but just the right place for me. …

“It went well. All my questions were answered. I just can’t wait to get this all over with and get back to playing ball.”

To further buttress Murray’s commitment, an in-home visit from Strong that had been expected Friday won’t take place after all.

Murray would/will be a four-star member of A&M’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Texas by Rivals.com.  It’s at this point in the program where we note that verbal commitments are non-binding and nothing is official until the Herbie Hancock is put on paper next Wednesday, but it doesn’t appear as if Murray will be flipping at any point in the near future.

A&M, though, is not completely out of the woods when it comes to procuring Murray’s talents for at least the next three years, although the competition could come from another sport.

Meanwhile, baseball is a threat to A&M… when it comes to Murray. As an infielder with power at the plate, he projects as a potential first-round selection in the June amateur draft, and he’ll likely have to decide between signing a pro baseball contract or playing college football.

If he does play football, he has said he intends to play baseball as well at the college of his choosing.

It’s highly likely Murray will opt for football with baseball as a secondary collegiate option ala Jameis Winston, especially given the new MLB restrictions on amateur spending, but it’s a situation that bears keeping at least one eye on when June rolls around.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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