Dabo Swinney

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 16 Clemson

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in ACC (2nd in Atlantic division)
2013 postseason: Orange Bowl vs. Ohio State (40-35 win)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 8/No. 7
Head coach: Dabo Swinney (51-23 overall; 51-23 in 6 years at Clemson)
Offensive coordinator: Chad Morris (4th season at Clemson)
2013 offensive rankings: 56th rushing offense (175.62 ypg); 9th passing offense (332.9 ypg); 9th total offense (508.5 ypg); 8th scoring offense (40.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: 4
Defensive coordinator: Brent Venables (3rd season at Clemson)
2013 defensive rankings: 53rd rushing defense (155.69 ypg); 16th passing defense (200.6 ypg); 24th total defense (356.3 ypg); 24th scoring defense (22.2 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: 7
Location: Clemson, South Carolina
Stadium: Memorial Stadium (81,473; Grass)
Last conference title: 2011

THE GOOD
At first glance it may look as though Clemson is likely to be in a bit of rebuilding mode after losing some talented players (including Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and Roderick McDowell) but the Tigers return more seniors in 2014 than any previous season in the Dabo Swinney era. This year’s senior class needs eight wins to set a new school record for wins by a recruiting class, and that certainly looks attainable this season. Cole Stoudt is ready to take over the responsibility as starting quarterback after playing the role of Boyd’s understudy each of the past three seasons. The strength of Clemson could actually come on the defensive side of the football, with a deep defensive line led by defensive end Vic Beasley, who had 13 sacks last season. This Clemson team may not be as good as they have been in recent seasons, but Swinney’s recruiting in recent years have assured Clemson of a very good team once it gets going.

THE BAD
Clemson plays in the same division as Florida State. With as far as Clemson has come in recent seasons, the bar has been set to a height that may not be able to be cleared by Clemson this season, in part because they happen to play in the same division as the best team in the country (and defending national champions, and Clemson has to play on the road in Tallahassee). It could be a rough start for this Clemson team with road games at Georgia and Florida State in September, so it may be unfair to truly judge Clemson until later in the season. Clemson should be one of the best teams in the ACC by the end of the season, but they will likely be playing from behind Florida State the entire way.

THE UNKNOWN
How much will Clemson have in the tank at the start of the season. As just referenced above, the Tigers are going to be thrown right into the fire in September with rod games at Georgia, a team some expect to compete for the SEC East and perhaps even the SEC championship this fall, and later at Florida State, defending ACC and national champions and looking prime for a repeat bid out of the gate. Clemson could very well lose those two games, but will they be able to at least make them look respectable? No coach or player will take much solace in a lose, but proving worthy of going toe-to-toe with Georgia ad Florida State regardless of the outcome could go a long way in setting the tone for the remainder of the season. Clemson beat Georgia last year in a wild game at home, but failed to show up for the home game against the Seminoles. Revenge is one thing, but respect is an entirely different aspect.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. South Carolina
Regardless of what happens against Georgia or Florida State in September, the time has come for Clemson to prove it can compete with and beat South Carolina. Even Clemson’s best teams the past few years have been crippled by their in-state rivals from the SEC. Clemson has lost this game five straight years, and those games have not been all that close either. Each game has been decided by a minimum of 10 points, giving Steve Spurrier and his program some in-state bragging rights. Clemson gets this year’s meeting at home, and it would be a great way for the Tigers to put a bow on what could turn out to be a double-digit win season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: Defensive end Vic Beasley
We know that defensive players are probably never going to win the Heisman Trophy, but it should not go without mention just how good Vic Beasley is for the Tigers. He could have joined Boyd and Watkins in the NFL Draft this past spring but he opted to return for one more year at Clemson, and that is fantastic news for the Tigers. If he gets off to a fast tart in high-profile games at Georgia and Florida State, and helps Clemson’s defense lead the way to victories in each, then the campaign will quickly emerge as the latest defensive hopeful to snag the Heisman.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

 

Report: Art Briles to interview for Houston job

HOUSTON - NOVEMBER 17: Head coach Art Briles of the Houston Cougars looks on during the game with the Marshall Thundering Herd at Robertson Stadium November 17, 2007 in Houston, Texas. Houston won 35-28. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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At some point, scandal-stained Art Briles will be back at the FBS level as a head coach. It could happen, though, sooner than most everyone expected.

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, Briles is one of at least five candidates to fill the vacancy at Houston.  Briles’ first job as an FBS head coach came at UH in 2003.  In five seasons, Briles guided the Cougars to a 34-28 record during the time, a job that paved the way for him to take over at Baylor in 2008 and put that program on the national map.

Briles was fired earlier this year in the wake of the sexual assault scandal that rocked both the football program and university.  UH regents chair Tim Fertitta confirmed this past week that the door hasn’t been shut on a Briles return, even as some “clarity” when it comes to his controversial ouster in Waco is needed.

“There’s a lot of administrator and ex-administrators and board of regents from Baylor that say that Art Briles was a scapegoat at Baylor,” Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. “I’ve had calls from ex-chairman of the board of regents there, current big booster there, lawyers that represent Baylor. I have not had one negative call about Art Briles. But there still seems to be a clarity issue. …

“I would love for Art Briles to be on our super-short list. But until, or if, or when we can ever get full clarity, I can’t see us going there.”

For the record, UH’s president is Renu Khator, the second woman to ever hold that title at the university.  She also holds the dual title of UH System chancellor, the first woman to do so.

It had previously been reported that Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will interview for the UH job as well.  Per McMurphy, that interview will take place Sunday, after the SEC championship game this afternoon.

Additionally, former LSU head coach Les Miles and UH’s offensive and defensive coordinators, Major Applewhite and Todd Orlando, respectively, are candidates and will interview.  On Miles, Fertitta publicly stated that the coach “has some interest in us” and confirmed that the interest was being reciprocated.

Passenger jet flyover prior to Bedlam will honor ex-Sooner killed in airport shooting

CHICAGO - APRIL 05:  A Southwest Airlines Boeing 737-3H4 passenger jet prepares to land at Midway Airport on April 5, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. Southwest Airlines said it finished inspecting its grounded 737-300 series planes and of the nearly 80 planes five of them have cracks in the aluminum skin. The inspections come after Southwest Flight 812 had to make an emergency landing when a piece of its fuselage skin was torn while on its way from Phoenix to Sacramento. The discovery prompted the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Boeing to require emergency inspections on a portion of the 737 fleet manufactured during the 1980s and 1990s for the same fatigue cracks in the fuselage like the ones on the Southwest jets.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
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I’ve always loved flyovers prior to football games or NASCAR races. The plans for Bedlam Saturday, though, will be felt in the heart of those in attendance as much as it will in their ears.

In mid-November, Mike Winchester, a former Oklahoma punter on the Sooners’ 1985 national championship team and an employee at Southwest Airlines, was shot and killed at Will Rogers World Airport in Oklahoma City. Winchester’s son, James Winchester, was a longsnapper for the Sooners and currently plays for the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs. The elder Winchester also had two daughters who were Sooner student-athletes.

Prior to Saturday’s rivalry game with Oklahoma State, both OU on the ground and Winchester’s employer in the air will honor the memory of the one-time Sooner.

From OU’s press release:

The University of Oklahoma Athletics Department and Southwest Airlines have announced that, weather conditions permitting, a special commercial airliner flyover will take place before Saturday’s Bedlam game in Norman to honor a former OU football player whose life was cut short two weeks ago.

Winchester, whose son James also played football at OU (lettered 2009-11) and is a member of the Kansas City Chiefs, and whose daughters Carolyn (2006-09) and Rebecca (2010-13) competed on the OU women’s basketball and rowing teams, respectively, is also survived by his wife Julie, daughters Emilyne and Kate, and son John. Emilyne will graduate from OU later this month. They will be joined by 13 additional family members on the field for a pregame moment of silence, the national anthem and flyover by a Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 passenger jet.

Very well done by all involved. You should all be proud.

Surprise! Big Ten commish OK with teams that aren’t league champs making playoffs

Jim Delany
Associated Press
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I don’t have a lot of regard for that team.

That was Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany in May of 2012 when asked about a non-division winner, let alone a team that didn’t win its conference, qualifying for what at the time was a hypothetical college football playoff.  That comment also came five months after Alabama, a non-division winner, won the second-to-last BCS title ever handed out.

Four years later, Delany’s tune has changed, in part because Ohio State is sitting in the orchestra pit as the No. 2 seed with a virtual lock on one of the four playoff berths — and are also sitting at home Championship Weekend while Penn State represents their division in the conference championship.  To his credit, Delany says the team he didn’t “have a lot of regard for” four years should make the playoff even with a loss to Florida in the SEC title game this afternoon as well.

“I myself think Alabama has done enough whether they have a conference champion behind their resume or not. I think Ohio State has done enough. I think the committee has suggested that in their earlier years,” Delany said, by way of al.com, on ESPN‘s College GameDay show. “So what we have right now, I think, is two spots, and three, four, five teams fighting for those spots. Conference champion is relevant, but also, who you played, who you beat, who you played in the non-conference.”

Of course, Delany stumping for Ohio State is far from a surprise.  The fact that he’s seemingly dismissing Penn State and Wisconsin, the two teams that will play for his conference’s championship on the field tonight in Indianapolis, likely won’t sit well with those particular fan bases regardless of his reasons.

That said, Delany likely sees the reality that, thanks in large part to Washington’s win Friday night, his league has only one shot at a playoff berth for the third straight year, and that shot is sitting on its collective couches in Columbus this weekend.

There’s a new reality when it comes to college football’s postseason, and Delany seemingly understands that he has no choice but to embrace it — even as he was so strident against his current stance just a few years ago.

I lost that election four years ago. I argued for the four best conference champions. That was not the decision. We lost that election. That election was four years ago. We have to understand that elections happen, certain ideas are adopted and we’re at a different place now. It’s four best teams. And conference championships are there to help sort that cluster out, as well as head-to-head as well as strength of schedule.

“I was the campaign manager four years ago, for the four best conference champions. We lost that election. What we decided on was the four best teams, which I’m fine with. Obviously, this year is unique in some respects. We have the two divisional champions here today playing for the [Big Ten] conference championship, and they should be respected for that. The committee has another role, and that’s to pick the four best teams in the country.

Ouch, Nittany Lions.  That’ll leave a mark, Badgers.

In the end, though, he’s right.  Ohio State and Alabama are two of the four best teams in the country, regardless of whether they have “conference champions” attached to their names.  And that’s the job of the committee — find the four best teams in college football and put them in the playoffs.

Provisional plans in place in case Navy, ahem, wreaks bowl havoc

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 14: Sean Reaver #99 of the Navy Midshipmen and teammates run onto the field holding U.S. flags before playing against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. The Navy Midshipmen won, 55-14. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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As un-American as it is, there are numerous individuals associated with the bowl process, including bowl officials and affected schools, who will be rooting for Navy to lose later on today.

Why? Because if the service academy beats Temple in the AAC championship game, it was initially thought, a portion of the bowl process could be paralyzed as Navy would be in line for the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bid but still has its annual rivalry game with Army to play next weekend. A handful of bids would likely be delayed for another seven days, potentially putting some teams in a predicament where they would have as little as a 72-hour turnaround from learning where they will play in the postseason to actually playing in the game.

However, Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com reports, a provisional plan has been hatched that would allow 37 of the 40 bowl bids to be announced Sunday as planned regardless of what happens in the AAC title game this afternoon. The plan is based on four teams in particular winning this weekend, with one of the four, Washington, taking care of business Friday night by beating Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.

The other teams that need to win? No. 3 Clemson (in ACC title game vs. Virginia Tech), 5-6 Louisiana-Lafayette (at 4-7 Louisiana-Monroe) and 5-6 South Alabama (vs. 3-8 New Mexico State). If those three teams win, McMurphy reports, this is what would transpire when it comes to the remaining three bowl games that wouldn’t be able to offer bids this weekend:

Navy is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Navy goes to the Cotton Bowl, Western Michigan plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Army plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

Western Michigan is the highest-ranked Group of 5 champion
Western Michigan goes to the Cotton Bowl, Army plays North Texas in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, and Navy plays a Big 12 team, most likely Baylor, in the Armed Forces Bowl.

That said, it’s still possible this tentative plan could be blown to smithereens and the postseason hurled into temporary chaos.

However, bowl officials stressed that those scenarios get blown up if more than three 5-7 teams are needed to fill bowls or there are major upsets in the Power 5 championship games.

“If so,” a source said, “then we’ll have to reshuffle the cards again.

The Group of Six bid, the Cotton Bowl, will come down to either No. 19 Navy or No. 17 Western Michigan, which remained unbeaten with a win in the MAC championship game Friday night.