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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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Jimbo Fisher says FSU is contemplating punishment for Winston

Jimbo Fisher Jameis Winston

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston may be disciplined by Florida State for his behavior reported Tuesday, although the extent of any punishment to the reigning Heisman Trophy winner is unknown. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher said during the weekly conference call the school was considering some sort of punishment for Winston.

“It was not a good decision,” Fisher said, per USA Today. “You can’t make certain statements that are derogatory or inflammatory to any person, race or gender. You have to understand that.”

On Tuesday it was reported Winston had jumped on a table on campus and shouted out a sexually-explicit phrase in what by all accounts to date suggest was nothing more than a joke. Winston’s outburst mimicked an Internet meme and was not directed at any particular individual, but it was just the latest reason to roll your eyes at the actions of Winston over the past year. Fisher probably did just that upon learning about this specific incident.

“You have to be very intelligent about what you say, (because) it matters,” Fisher said.

Florida State takes on Clemson this weekend in a key ACC Atlantic Division match-up.

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Alabama’s Amari Cooper in the spotlight this weekend vs. Gators

Amari Cooper, Quentin Hayes

The last time a wide receiver won the Heisman Trophy was 1991, with Michigan’s Desmond Howard striking his Heisman pose (inaccurately, mind you) three years before the TV series “Friends” hit the airwaves. Yeah, it was a long time ago. The Heisman Trophy may still be a quarterback’s to lose but Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper is starting to receive some consideration as a candidate.

Cooper is third in the nation in receiving yards through the first three weeks of the season with 454 yards and he leads the nation with 11.0 receptions per game. The Florida recruit in the Class of 2012 will get a chance to show the Florida Gators what they missed out on. According to the offer sheet for Cooper reported by Rivals.com, the Gators did not extend an offer to the in-state four-star recruit. That is a shame, because if there is one thing the Gators could use it is a game-changing receiver. This weekend Florida heads to Alabama for a crossover SEC match-up, and Cooper should be ready to make a statement.

Is Cooper the best wide receiver in the country? He may be. What he does in one of this weekend’s spotlight games will tell us whether or not he will continue to be a player worth considering for the Heisman Trophy. Here is a look at a few of the spotlight games around college football this weekend.

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Rutgers QB Nova now all-time leader in 5 interception games

Gary Nova, Anthony Zettel

Rutgers gave Penn State a good fight on Saturday night in its first Big Ten conference game. If not for a five-interception night from quarterback Gary Nova, Rutgers may very well have been celebrating its first Big Ten conference victory as well, instead of looking to rebound from a 13-10 loss to the Nittany Lions. Nova’s awful stat line Saturday night put him in a league of his own, sort of.

Nova was intercepted five times in a game for the second time in his career. Since 2000, according to the play index on College Football Reference, six different quarterbacks have been intercepted five times in a single game. Nova is the only player appearing on the list twice.

Nova was intercepted six times by Kent State in a 2012 loss. That is tied for the most single-game interceptions since 2000 with Travis Wilson of Utah. Wilson was picked off six times by UCLA in a 44-22 loss last October. The other quarterbacks to throw five interceptions in a game since 2000 are Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty (2013, vs. Tennessee), SMU’s Garrett Gilbert (2012, vs TCU), Houston’s David Piland (2012, vs. UCLA) and Mississippi’s Zack Stoudt (2011, vs. Vanderbilt). (EDIT: As reminded on Twitter, Penn State quarterback Matt McGloin was intercepted five times in a bowl game against Florida. Because that game was not vacated by the NCAA, that should count as well.)

Nova’s five interceptions is misleading though. The fifth interception came in the final minute of the game with Rutgers in desperation mode. Two other interceptions may fairly be accredited to the shortcomings of Nova’s intended targets failing to bring in a pass. Nova will receive the bulk of the blame, a responsibility that comes with the territory of being a starting quarterback. There is no indication head coach Kyle Flood is ready to make a change under center though.

Helmet sticker to Reddit for the find.

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Swinney still says Clemson would split 10 games with FSU in 2013

Dabo Swinney

Last year’s biggest game in the ACC turned out to be more of a dud than anyone would have sensibly predicted. Clemson was trounced at home by the eventual ACC and BCS champions from Florida State and it was never a contest despite the Tigers fielding one of their best teams in years. The Seminoles silenced a crowd going for a stadium noise record with a 51-14 beating that may as well have been 61-14 or 71-14. Every team is bound to have a bad game at some point, and Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney believes if his Tigers from 2013 had another crack at Florida State then they would have been much more competitive.

In fact, Swinney went so far as to say Clemson would win five out of 10 games against Florida State if the 2013 teams were to play so many games. He made that statement shortly after Clemson was steamrolled at home, but Swinney has not backed down from the statement.

“Lord have mercy, I caught enough grief on that,” Swinney said this week, according to The Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. “I gave an answer that I really truly believed about that team, last year’s team. I still believe that. It was absolutely nothing negative.”

“I really thought we had a heck of a football team, a really good team,” Swinney added. “We finished 7th in the country. That’s the reality. There ain’t a lot of difference between 1 and 15, to be honest with you. It’s a play here or there.”

Clemson rebounded from that loss to Florida State to go 10-2, with the only other loss coming in the final weekend of the regular season to in-state rival South Carolina. The Tigers accepted an invitation to play in the Orange Bowl as Florida State played for the BCS Championship. Clemson defeated Big Ten runner-up Ohio State, 40-35 to end the season on a high note.

Clemson travels to Florida State this weekend for a primetime match-up against the top-ranked Seminoles.

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Can you kick a football? Fresno State wants you!

Garrett Swanson

Fresno State has a need to improve on special teams, and fast. The Bulldogs will be holding an open try-out for all full-time students with previous kicking experience later this week. Just three weeks into the season, it is that desperate of a situation for the defending Mountain West Conference champions.

Earlier this month Fresno State lost kicker Colin McGuire, who left the team to deal with personal issues according to head coach Tim DeRuyter. That left DeRuyter to have to rely on freshman walk-on Kody Kroening for place-kicking duties. Punter Garrett Swanson continued with his responsibilities on special teams. Kroening has successfully connected on all five of his PAT attempts and one of two field goal attempts.

Kroening and Swanson are the only two kickers on the roster, which puts Fresno State in even more of a bind in the event either should happen to go down. Kroening can handle the punting duties if needed, but having Swanson take over place-kicking duties may not be the most ideal situation considering the circumstances for Fresno State.

Fresno State is one of three schools yet to record a touchback on a kickoff (SMU and Wisconsin are the others).

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Pac-12 releases 2015 football schedule

USC v Stanford

The Pac-12 will open the 2015 college football season with a pair of noteworthy games on Pac-12 soil. Utah will host Michigan and Arizona will play host to UTSA on Thursday, September 3, 2015. The rest of the Pac-12 schedule, including a nine-game conference schedule and a championship game in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, was unveiled Tuesday night.

As confirmed by the Pac-12, one-third of the conference’s schedule will be played against other Power 5 conferences, including five against their Rose Bowl partners from the Big Ten. As usual, the Pac-12 will reserve the final two weeks of the season for traditional rivalry games between conference members. One exception to the schedule will be a regular season finale between Arizona State and California (instead of Stanford-Cal and Arizona State-Arizona). This was done in order to protect contracts between Stanford and USC with Notre Dame.

As expected, the Pac-12 also has confirmed every game played by a Pac-12 school will appear on TV as a result of broadcast deals with ESPN, ABC, FOX and FOX Sports 1. Pac-12 Network will pick up any additional games not carried by any of the other networks. Broadcast schedules will be determined next year.

The date for the Pac-12 Championship Game will be either Friday, December 4, 2015 or the following day, December 5, 2015. The Pac-12 played its championship game on a Friday the first two years (2011 and 2012), but moved to Saturday night in 2013. This year’s championship game will move back to Friday night (December 5) for a more exclusive time slot that weekend.

Some of the more notable games on the Pac-12 schedule are:

Sep. 3 (Thursday) Utah vs. Michigan

Sep. 5 Arizona State vs. Texas A&M (Houston, Texas)

Sep. 5 Washington @ Boise State

Sep. 12 Oregon @ Michigan State

Sep. 12 Oregon State @ Michigan

Sep. 12 Washington State @ Rutgers

Sep. 19 USC vs. Stanford

Sep. 19 UCLA vs. BYU

Sep. 19 California @ Texas

Sep. 26 Arizona State vs. USC

Oct. 8 (Thursday) USC vs. Washington

Oct. 15 (Thursday) Stanford vs. UCLA

Oct. 17 USC @ Notre Dame

Oct. 29 (Thursday) Arizona State vs. Oregon

Nov. 14 Stanford vs. Oregon

Nov. 21 Oregon vs. USC

Nov. 27 (Friday) Oregon vs. Oregon State

Nov. 27 (Friday) Washington vs. Washington State

Nov. 28 USC vs. UCLA

Nov. 28 Stanford vs. Notre Dame

Dec 4 or Dec. 5 Pac-12 Championship Game (Levi’s Stadium)

You can see the full release about the Pac-12 schedule here.

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Baylor’s Shawn Oakman living on the outside edge

Sam B. Richardson, Shawn Oakman

If every player in college football is allowed a second chance, then Baylor defensive end Shawn Oakman is making the most of his. Oakman has become one of the nation’s top defensive ends. Motivation from his unfortunate end to his time at Penn State have served Oakman well as he continues to be a key contributor to Baylor’s defensive efforts.

Oakman was dismissed from Penn State in the spring of 2012 following an arrest over harassment and retail theft. Because Oakman was dismissed by the university months before the NCAA slammed Penn State with sanctions (which of course have been trimmed), Oakman was not eligible to play right away in the fall of 2012 once arriving at Baylor. Oakman did not qualify under the NCAA’s free transfer opportunity for current Penn State players at the time sanctions were levied.

The wait was worth it for Oakman and Baylor. In his first season with the Bears Oakman earned all-Big 12 honors. This season Oakman is considered an All-American candidate and appears on multiple watch lists. Through three games, Oakman has totaled three sacks and four tackles for a loss.

Oakman has many of the skills NFL scouts will pay attention to for a defensive end. He can be quick off the snap and is difficult to contain on the outside edge. This is why Josh Norris of Rotoworld believes Oakman is the best defensive end in the country coming off the edge.

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Golden Gopher QB grounded with turf toe

Mitch Leidner, David Cobb

The availability of Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner is in doubt for Saturday’s game against San Jose State. The Gophers quarterback is dealing with turf toe right now, and head coach Jerry Kill has no intention to use him until he is said to be at full speed.

“I would never play anybody that was 82.9,” Kill said Tuesday, per the Associated Press. “I’m not going to risk a kid or a quarterback or anything like that.”

Kill added he will only allow Leidner to see the field if the doctors say he is ready to go.

“They’ve got to be cleared by the trainer,” Kill said. “I always tell the trainer, ‘Can he play full speed?’ Because this is a full-speed game.”

Kill may not be ready to say Leidner will be back on the field on Saturday, but Leidner’s back-up seems more confident about it. Chris Streveler, who has replaced Leidner in each of the past two games, says if there is any chance Leidner will be available to play, he will play.

“I know if Mitch can play, he’s going to play,” Streveler said.

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Taylor Kelly out for Arizona State vs. UCLA

Arizona State v Colorado

It is now official. As previously feared, Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly will not play next week as the Sun Devils take on UCLA in a key Pac-12 South battle. A foot injury suffered in Arizona State’s road victory at Colorado is to blame.

It is unknown at this time how long Kelly will be out of action for Arizona State, but for at least one game it will be senior quarterback Mike Bercovici leading the offense. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham will go with that plan for now and evaluate the quarterback situation following next week’s game. Graham was optimistic following the game against Colorado.

The loss of Kelly is significant given his time as starter for the Sun Devils and his place in the record book at the school. But Graham has a system in place and hopes Bercovici should be capable of moving the football against UCLA. Having a bye week this week to help Bercovici get up to speed with the responsibility that comes with being the team’s starter should help. There should be plenty of talent surrounding the senior quarterback to ease the tension in practices this week and next, as well as the game.

The result of Arizona State and UCLA could be huge in the Pac-12 race, although USC looks to be a strong contender as well. Arizona State and USC are already tied for the Pac-12 South lead early in the season and UCLA is playing its first Pac-12 game when it travels to Arizona State next Thursday.

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Straw poll shows Oregon’s Mariota still leading Heisman contender

South Dakota v Oregon

Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota remains the top player in college football according to a select panel of Heisman voters. According to the latest straw poll conducted by HeismanPundit.com, if the Heisman Trophy was to be awarded today, it would go to Oregon’s Mariota.

The Heisman Pundit straw poll is updated every Tuesday. Through four weeks of the straw poll, Mariota has been on top three out of the four weeks and has now been voted on top of the poll two straight weeks. Mariota’s big performance a couple of weeks ago resulted in the Pac-12 favorites coming from behind to pull away from defending Big Ten champion Michigan State. Mariota has completed 70 percent of his passes and has thrown eight touchdowns without an interception early on in the 2014 season. Only Texas A&M quarterback Kenny Hill has thrown more touchdowns without an interception (11 touchdowns).

You can check out the full straw poll via HeismanPundit.com.

Mariota is also the betting favorite to win the Heisman Trophy, according to Bovada.

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Jameis Winston’s latest eye-rolling incident

Oklahoma State v Florida State

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston once again is under a hot lamp. No, he isn’t being accused of any sexual assault, stealing soda in ketchup cups, or stealing crab legs, but any time Winston does something out of the ordinary it is going to be worth discussing. He is, after all, college football’s best player and the reigning Heisman Trophy. He is not a typical college student, so let’s forget about that argument right off the bat.

Winston was witnessed on campus jumping on a table and shouting out an explicit phrase alluding to a sexual act. The phrase stems from an Internet meme, which some people must find humor in on some level. There was no harm done in any of this, nor does it sound as though there was any ill-intent in the random act of spontaneity on campus. It was just Winston looking to have a laugh all accounts. Given Winston’s history, this should be something that Winston should have thought about to himself and say “You know what, maybe this is in poor taste.” But hey, he’s just a college kid, right?

Whether you want to believe it or not, Winston is the face of Florida State football right now, and thus the face of the university for the time being. Even if this was just a joke to Winston, his friends and those around him, it does not come off with a positive glow for he or the university. There is no reason to discipline Winston for this latest story, nor should there be, but as word of this spreads around the Internet (via Deadspin and SB Nation, for example), this will be at least one small distraction from what should be a big week for Florida State. The Seminoles are hosting Clemson Saturday in a key ACC Atlantic Division battle. By the end of the week the game itself will be the story. This single isolated incident will merely be a side story without many legs to crawl on for very long.

The point regarding Winston is simply this; the actions of Winston will be highly scrutinized because of his stature in our sports culture. In light of recent stories regarding top football players getting into trouble, Winston’s shouting on top of a table is a relative non-issue. However, Winston’s past actions have been criticized to a fair degree time and time again. This will too. Because of the big shoes Winston wears representing Florida State, and college football as a Heisman Trophy winner, there will be times when Winston needs to create a filter and think about how his actions will be portrayed and received. Winston knows he needs to hold himself to a higher degree of morality. He has stated this himself.

Winston is still young, but he is certainly more than old enough to be able to make these decisions now.

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SMU can still win the American, says interim coach

Tom Mason

SMU has lost its first two games of the season by a combined score of 88-6. This week the Mustangs host No. 6 Texas A&M in the first game since June Jones resigned as head coach. The next two weeks could very easily continue to be sour for the struggling SMU program (TCU is up next after Texas A&M), but interim head coach resigned as head coach. The next two weeks could very easily continue to be sour for the struggling SMU program (TCU is up next after Texas A&M), but interim head coach Tom Mason will continue to keep his team motivated by finding ways to t them to realize a chance at the American Athletic Conference is still within their control.

“I just told them we got to continue to grow, change some things about how we practice, put my stamp on some of that,” Mason said Tuesday when meeting with the media, according to The Dallas Morning News. “It’s not going to be one of those quick fixes (but) I told them we have a lot left to play for. We have a conference championship left to play for a bowl game is still out there. And this team is still capable of doing that.”

“We’re young,” Mason said. “We don’t know how to practice yet obviously. We can get better every week (then) by the time we hit conference we might be a decent football team.”

The good news for Mason is there appears to be nowhere to go but up right now for this SMU program. There is plenty of work to do though. The program has lost its starting quarterback and the face of the program’s history has not held back in his criticisms. Yesterday SMU hired former Florida assistant coach Tim Davis to help improve the offensive line.

The rebuilding project is officially on, again.

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Texas player apologizes for coin-flip error

Mack Brown, Desmond Jackson

Saturday night got off to a weird start for the Texas Longhorns when a slip in managing the coin toss resulted in UCLA getting to receive the football first in both halves. Texas captain Desmond Jackson inexplicably told the ref Texas wanted to kick off to start the game, after UCLA had won the coin flip and deferred to the second half. This resulted in Texas having to kick off to the Bruins at the start of the first and second half. The bizarre coin flip sequence quickly became a point of ridicule for the Longhorns, and Jackson felt a need to apologize for the error in football judgement. He did so by issuing a public apology via his Twitter account on Tuesday.

UCLA won the football game, 20-17. Would Texas getting one of the half-opening possessions have changed the outcome? It is impossible to guess how things might have been different. The game still went down to the wire. The only time a mistake in the coin flip may have taken a costly toll on the Longhorns might have been if the mistake had taken place in overtime, with Texas choosing to play defense second rather than the more traditional option of playing defense first.

Mistakes happen, but mistakes are bigger in Texas.

Helmet sticker to The Oklahoman.

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Michigan State d-line could receive boost for B1G schedule

Michigan State v Notre Dame

Michigan State is set to officially begin defending their Big Ten championship reign at the beginning of October, at home against Nebraska. By then, Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio believes his defensive line will be ready to go with the returns of a pair of linemen to the depth chart. The head coach of the Spartans said on Tuesday he expects defensive tackles Damon Knox and James Kittredge to be ready to go by the time conference play starts.

“We’re going to get Kittredge back, we’re going to get Damon Knox back, that gives us six defensive tackles to play once we get into Big Ten season,” Dantonio said, per MLive.com.

Knox underwent surgery for an undisclosed injury at the beginning of August. At the time, Dantonio told reporters the defensive lineman would miss some playing time but a timetable for a return was not specified. Knox was projected to be a starter on the Michigan State defensive line this season.

Kittredge transferred to Michigan State from Vanderbilt in 2011. He was injured in the season opener against Jacksonville State.

Michigan State has two more games to play before opening the Big Ten portion of the 2014 against Nebraska on October 4. This weekend the Spartans host in-state MAC foe Eastern Michigan. Next week Michigan State will welcome Wyoming to Spartan Stadium. These are games Michigan State should win without much concern, but the hope will continue to be to avoid further injuries before conference play.

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FBS receiving yards leader among dozen added to Biletnikoff watch list

KD Cannon, Fred Thomas AP

This right here is Exhibit No. 3,456 why preseason watch lists are brutally unnecessary.

Tuesday morning, the Biletnikoff Award announced that 12 players have been added to its watch list.  Among those added were the nation’s top two in receiving yards — Baylor’s KD Cannon (471) and West Virginia’s Kevin White (460) — three games into the 2014 season.  In fact, every single one of the dozen players added are in the Top 14 in the country in that category.

The only two players among the 14 receiving yards leaders that weren’t added — Alabama’s Amari Cooper (third) and Northern Illinois’ Da’Ron Brown (ninth) — were already included in the award’s preseason watch list.

With the inclusion of Cannon, a true freshman, the Bears now have three receivers in the running for the Biletnikoff, the other two being Antwan Goodly and Levi Norwood.  Neither one of those two have caught a pass this season due to injury, but that didn’t stop a BU assistant from touting the new “WideReceiverU.”

Below is the list of the 12 receivers added to the Biletnikoff watch list.

KD Cannon, Baylor
Travin Dural, LSU
DaeSean Hamilton, Penn State
Geno Lewis, Penn State
Roger Lewis, Bowling Green
Keevan Lucas, Tulsa
Teldrick Morgan, New Mexico State
Isiah Myers, Washington State
Demarcus Robinson, Florida
Sterling Shepard, Oklahoma
Nelson Spruce, Colorado
Kevin White, West Virginia

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