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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

Florida v LSU

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the SEC. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1.  South Carolina (Last year: 11-2; beat Wisconsin in Capital One Bowl)
I’ve said it multiple times and I’ll say it again: this could very well be Steve Spurrier‘s best and deepest Gamecock team since taking over in Columbia a decade ago.  The loss of starting quarterback Connor Shaw will certainly have some impact, but the fact that Dylan Thompson isn’t your typical first-year starter — he’s started three games and thrown passes in 17 others — should help soften the transition.  Losing a pair of defensive line starters and two secondary starters won’t help matters either, but USC has recruited well at those positions the past couple of years and should have the on-paper talent to fill the voids.  A total of 16 starters return, though, including workhorse running back Mike Davis.  The Gamecocks are clearly the class of the East, and it would be more than a little surprising to not see them in Atlanta in early December after qualifying for the SEC championship game.

2. Georgia (Last year: 8-5; lost to Nebraska in Gator Bowl) 
After watching uneven and subpar defensive performances not just last season but the past couple of years, Mark Richt looked to right that ship by going out and reeling in Jeremy Pruitt of the defending BCS champion Florida State Seminoles as defensive coordinator.  Combine that with the returning talent — nine starters on that side of the ball — and the defensive woes of the past should be a thing of the, well, past.  The loss of a four-year starting quarterback will sting, at least initially, but the fact that his replacement, Hutson Mason, started two games at year’s end to go along with Todd Gurley carrying the offensive load while Mason gets his starting sea legs should help in the transition to the post-Murray era.  Having to travel to East favorite South Carolina won’t help the cause, but getting past that early-season hurdle could set the Bulldogs up for a return trip to Atlanta after a one-year absence.

3. Florida (Last year: 4-8)
The Gators could very well be the third-best team in the SEC East — and that may not be enough to save Will Muschamp‘s job.  Beset with injuries and overall poor play — especially on offense — in 2013, UF tripped, bumbled and stumbled its way through the program’s worst season in nearly two decades.  The offense was simply abysmal, especially in the passing game, which served as the impetus for Muschamp to swipe offensive coordinator Kurt Roper from Duke in the offseason.  The early signs point to a rejuvenated offense in general and quarterback Jeff Driskel in particular under Roper.  The defense, as has been the case under Muschamp, will be just fine; if the offense can merely climb to respectable, it should be enough for the Gators to get closer to 2012’s 10-win season than last year’s eight-loss abomination.  The schedule is essentially a wash, with games at Alabama and Florida State offset by tough games against LSU and South Carolina in The Swamp.  UF could be staring an eight-win season square in the face — and that should be enough for Muschamp to get a fourth year on the job.  Anything less than that, and his future employment in Gainesville becomes dicey.

4. Tennessee (Last year: 5-7)
Surprise!!!  Yes, this one could — and quite likely will — come back and bite me square in the arse, but what the hell.  Call it a hunch. Or the fact that they finished with a better record than did the Gators, who I have listed above.  Or a bad case of (insert serious mental disorder here).  Whatever the case, I love what Butch Jones is doing in Knoxville and, while I might be a year early on this, I’m buying in.  How mental am I?  I’m predicting the Vols to finish fourth in the seven-team East, even as I’m fully aware of the fact that UT is the only team in the country that lost every starter on both the offensive and defensive lines.  And then there’s the schedule: the opener at home against an underrated Utah State; a road trip to Oklahoma in Week 3; and SEC away games at Georgia, Ole Miss and South Carolina.  Yep, I’m nuts.  But I do like the defense and the receiving corps, and think that Justin Worley is ready to take a step up to the next level in a conference riddled with questions at the quarterback position, especially as he’s now solidified his hold on the job.  Again, I may not be right, but I think I’m closer to that than wrong.

5. Missouri (Last year: 12-2; beat Oklahoma State in Cotton Bowl) 
The Tigers return just seven of 22 starters — three on offense, four on defense — from last year’s surprise SEC East championship squad.  Mizzou must find a way to replace its leading passer, rusher and three top receivers from a year ago, although the former is a little disingenuous as Maty Mauk showed he was the Tigers’ future at the quarterback position subbing for an injured James Franklin.  Losing Dorial Green-Beckham to a dismissal, though, was a huge blow for Mauk as he assumes the full-time offensive reins for the first time.  The good news is that, while Mauk is adjusting to his new role, Mizzou will feature a pair of running backs — Russell Hansborough and Marcus Murphy — who combined for nearly 1,300 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.  The schedule makers didn’t do Mizzou many favors, with road trips to South Carolina, Florida, Texas A&M and Tennessee in the offing.  The Tigers surprised many most all observers by claiming a division title in just their second season in the conference; it’d be equally surprising if they came even remotely close to matching 2013’s success,

6. Kentucky (Last year: 2-10)
Despite just two wins last season, UK appears to be a football program on the upswing, especially if recruiting rankings mean anything.  The past two recruiting cycles, UK has pulled in the No. 17 (2014) and No. 23 (2013) recruiting classes, and are currently rated No. 20 for 2015.  Prior to Mark Stoops’ arrival, UK had just two recruiting classes — 2006 (No. 36) and 2009 (No. 41) — finish inside the Top 50 nationally since 2002.  How long before that success planted on the recruiting trail bears fruit on the field?  That remains unclear, although it could be 2015 before Stoops truly sees the fruit of his and his staff’s labor.  Until then, it could be another rough football season at the basketball school, even as doubling up on last year’s win total would seem to be a modest and attainable goal.

7. Vanderbilt (Last year: 9-4; beat Houston in BBVA Compass Bowl)
I’m fully aware that the Commodores finished fourth in the East last year and won nine games, including the program’s first-ever back-to-back bowl game.  I’m also fully aware that James Franklin was a huge part of that success, and Franklin and his coaching staff are currently in Happy Valley preparing for the upcoming season.  Do I think Stanford’s Derek Mason was a subpar replacement?  Most definitely not; he was one of the more underrated hires of the offseason.  Do I think he can do what David Shaw did after Jim Harbaugh left The Farm after laying the foundation?  No, because there’s simply not that type of foundation in place in Nashville.  Inexperience on the skill player side of the equation, especially at quarterback and wide receiver, could be Vandy’s undoing.

SEC WEST

1. Alabama (Last year: 11-2; lost to Oklahoma in Sugar Bowl)
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  So, yes, the Tide will, as has ofttimes been the case over the past five-plus years, be the favorite not only in the division but in the conference, despite the presence of East/SEC title winner Auburn.  The Tide is locked and loaded to bounce back from two straight losses to end the 2013 season by a squad that was viewed by some, including its head coach, to be an entitled bunch.  A pissed-off Saban with a legitimate agenda and loads of talent at his disposal entering a season is a dangerous proposition not just for the SEC but for college football as a whole.

2. Auburn (Last year: 12-2; lost to Florida State in BCS title game)
There’s no way around it, no way to tap-dance whilst whistling past the biggest question when it comes to AU football in 2014: did the Tigers use a couple of years (decades?) worth of luck in their magical, unexpected, inexplicable ride to the BCS title game?  Even the biggest homer out on The Plains would have to admit that the Tigers were “fortunate” to end the season where they did.  Of their 12 wins, six were decided by eight points or less.  In four games — Mississippi State, Texas A&M, Georgia, Alabama — they were trailing with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Georgia (“Prayer at Jordan-Hare“) and Alabama (“Kick-Six“) wins immediately earned nicknames for the sheer improbability of the endings.  There’s little doubt that Gus Malzahn has, very quickly, turned AU around from the three-win embarrassment that was the final season of Gene Chizik in 2012.  How much was sheer luck, the kind of once-a-decade (or two) happenstance that simply can’t repeat itself?  Regardless of the answer — I’m guessing the talent is sufficient so as to make the question moot — Malzahn’s Tigers will be one of the more fascinating squads to watch throughout the 2014 season.

3. LSU (Last year: 10-3; beat Iowa in Outback Bowl)
Eight times in Les Miles‘ 10 season on the bayou, the Tigers have won at least 10 games.  Included in that total is a streak of five straight.  Don’t expect that skein to be broken in 2015.   Gone is starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger, leaving LSU with arguably the biggest question mark in the conference at the most important position.  Gone also are the top two receivers and leading rusher.  Back, though, are four offensive line starters and seven defensive starters.  Entering the fray as well is Leonard Fournette, one of the most hyped freshman running backs since Adrian Peterson burst onto the scene as a true freshman in Norman a decade ago.  Fournette has the type of ability that will allow whomever emerges from LSU’s quarterback competition to ease into the job.  Well, that and a defense that will be as physical and stifling as it always is.  The schedule makers also smiled on LSU, with its toughest road trip likely proving to be a Oct. 4 date with Auburn at Jordan-Hare, although a regular season-ending trip to Texas A&M’s Kyle Field won’t exactly be a cakewalk.

4. Ole Miss (Last year: 8-5; beat Georgia Tech in Music City Bowl) 
I was almost — almost — tempted to put the Rebels ahead of the Bayou Bengals, but simply couldn’t pull the trigger.  Ole Miss is the “trendy” sleeper pick heading into 2014, and for good reason.  There’s really not a lot to not like about the potential of the 2014 version of Hugh Freeze‘s 2014 Rebels.  They will, once again, possess one of the best offenses in the SEC to go along with a defense that, quietly, is one of the best in a defense-heavy conference.  The biggest hurdle the Rebels have is something completely out of their control: the division in which they reside.  Since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012, the Rebels are just 2-6 against those four programs — a three-point home win against LSU last season and a win in 2012 against an Auburn team that would ultimately win three games and fire its head coach.  And that’s without even mentioning that Ole Miss has lost four of the last five Egg Bowls against in-state rival — and divisional foe — Mississippi State.  How Ole Miss can crack the Top Three the way the West is currently constituted is unclear.  What appears to be clear is that they have the head coach who could do just that, whether it be in 2014 or in the coming years.

5. Texas A&M (Last year: 9-4; beat Duke in Chick-fil-A Bowl)
Where do we start?  You lose Johnny ManzielMike Evans, one of the best receivers in the country… the best left tackle in the game in Jake Matthews… myriad defensive contributors due to suspension/dismissals/other forms of attrition from a unit that was really bad in 2013… all of that, and it could be quite the season in College Station coming off the success that was A&M’s first two seasons in the SEC.  One known amidst the question marks is that Kevin Sumlin always fields a Top-10 offense as a head coach; even as just five starters on that side of the ball return, that shouldn’t change as Sumlin’s system remains a big consistent for the Aggies.  That defense, though, needs to step it up a level or eight so that the offense doesn’t have to outscore its expected unevenness on that side of the ball.  Games at South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn — the Gamecocks contest is the season opener — doesn’t bode well for the young but talented Aggies.

6. Mississippi State (Last year: 7-6; beat Rice in Liberty Bowl) 
MSU’s placement of second-to-last is not an indictment of Dan Mullens‘ football program, but merely an indicator of just how deep the West is.  If the Bulldogs were in the East, they could very well be the third-best team in the division.  Given their current football lot, they’ll continue to struggle to get past their in-division rivals.  Since going 5-7 in Mullens’ first season in 2009, MSU’s win total has ranged from seven (twice, including 2013) to nine (2010).  With 16 returning starters back, including nine on defense as well as one of the most experienced returning quarterback starters in the conference (Dak Prescott), MSU could and should very well get in that very same win range for a fifth consecutive season.  Whether that’s good enough for the fans and the administration remains to be seen.

7. Arkansas (Last year: 3-9)
In Bret Bielema‘s first season in Fayetteville, the Razorbacks won just three games; two of those wins came against FCS programs, the other against a Southern Miss team that was in the midst of what would become a 23-game losing streak.  UA ended the season on a nine-game losing streak, finishing up Year 1 of the Great Bielema Southern Experiment at 0-8 in SEC play.  Six of those nine losses came by at least 10 points, with two of them coming by a combined 97 points.  It was a rough first season for Bielema and his charges; it doesn’t expect to get much better in 2014.  The good news for Bielema and his coaching staff is that his boss, athletic director Jeff Long, is committed to them for the long haul; whether the long haul is three years or four years or even five years remains to be seen.  One thing is certain: Bielema has a helluva tough job ahead of him, cleaning up the mess left by the controversy-stained departure of Bobby Petrino and the lost 2012 season under John L. Smith.  Oh, and all the while sweeping the broom in the toughest division in any conference in the conference.  Yeah, good luck with that.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Alabama over South Carolina

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UCLA and Cincinnati planning future home-and-home series

UCLA Virginia Football, Tim Harris

UCLA and Cincinnati have never played each other in football, but that could be about to change. A future home-and-home series could be in the works.

According to a report from the Cincinnati Enquirer, the two schools are close to putting together a home-and-home series that would be played in 2019 and 2020. The exact dates of those games have not been reported, and may not be known until the contract is finalized.

The scheduling of these games would have some nice perks for both sides involved. UCLA would get a chance to play on the road in the state of Ohio, a state that tends to be ripe with college football talent. Cincinnati would get two games against a power conference opponent and a trip to the west coast, which is always nice even if just for a business trip or a game.

There is no power conference scheduling requirement for UCLA as a Pac-12 member, and Cincinnati is likely to be one of the top Group of Five programs for years to come if it pays to its potential. Of course, if things go well for Cincinnati, the Bearcats might — MIGHT — even be a power conference program by the time this series comes around. For that to happen, the Big 12 may have to come calling though and there is still no sign that will be happening in the near future.

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Texas A&M chancellor throws more cold water on A&M-Texas revival

Texas Longhorns vs Texas A&M Aggies

When it comes to the Texas-Texas A&M series revival, it seems the coaches want it but the powers that be have no genuine interest. Case in point, the most recent comments from Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp on Friday.

“My sense is with the 12th Man – we’ve got new friends,” Sharp said, according to The Houston Chronicle. Those new friends he is referring to reside in the SEC West. Apparently it is enough to fill any void previously filled by Texas on the schedule.

“That would be a decision made by regents … (some) day,” Sharp said. “We haven’t had any more discussions about that.”

And that is the problem. The people who truly matter with having this discussion continue to avoid each other, either out of pride or spite or whatever reason you want to come up with.

There will come a day when Texas and Texas A&M get back together on the football field, it is just a matter of when that day finally comes. The SEC requiring all members to schedule at least one game against another power conference program would seem to help the cause to revive the in-state rivalry, but the Aggies have that covered through 2021, so any need to get Texas on the Texas A&M schedule is not there for some time.

And so the waiting game continues…

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Report says Jalen Collins “failed multiple drug tests” at LSU

Jalen Collins, Ryan Timmons

Over the last few years there has been a good handful of players from LSU who have been questioned about or have been tied to various degrees of drug concerns.

Now you can add former cornerback Jalen Collins to the list of Tigers with some drug use baggage traveling with them, just as the NFL Draft is about to get underway next week.

Albert Breer of the NFL Network reported via Twitter on Friday Collins failed multiple drug tests while in college…

There are two key pieces of information we are missing from this. First, we do not know exactly how many drug tests were reportedly failed by Collins. Second, we do not know when these supposed failed tests occurred. What we do know is Collins appeared in 13 games in each of LSU’s past three seasons, at least according to CFBStats.com.

As noted by Bryan Fischer on NFL.com, this news of failed drug tests does not seem likely to affect the draft stock for Collins in the NFL Draft. Collins still has plenty of talent that NFL teams are going to be interested in acquiring, and sometimes talent prevails over what seem to be minor drug concerns.

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Nick Saban says Alabama must regain mojo and identity

Alabama Football - Saban Presser: Spring Practice 6

One of the most recognizable brands in college football has an identity crisis on its hands. That seems to be the vibe coming from head coach Nick Saban, who is already dropping a reality check on his program following a second straight postseason ending with a loss and a spring that lacked the kind of development Saban would have preferred to see.

We need to get our mojo back … we need into get our identity back,” Saban said Thursday to a group of media on a caravan tour stop in Huntsville, Alabama (via The Atlanta Journal-Constitution).

He’s not wrong. Alabama is not exactly falling off the surface of the college football world, but more is expected from Alabama, its fans and its coaches. An SEC championship is nice, as is a victory over Auburn, but Alabama is thinking about national championships. It has been a whole three years since Alabama’s last title. It is quite a drought for Tuscaloosa.

“We used to be a team nobody wanted to play,” he explained. “We’ve had a few distractions with the last couple years that I think have affected how we’ve finished the season.”

Alabama is still a really good football team, but the intimidation factor has been diminished in recent seasons for a variety of reasons. First, the Crimson Tide have become vulnerable in some areas on defense, and teams excelling in offense have taken note of that. But the bar is set incredibly high at Alabama, rightfully so given a handful of national titles in recent seasons.

Saban has a way of giving his team a reality check, and it appears now is one of those times. Alabama may very well be one of the preseason favorites and among the top-ranked teams in the nation when the preseason polls start coming out this summer, but Saban is not one who will buy into it and wants to see his team earn that accolades.

This is not the first time Saban has played this tactic, nor will it be the last.

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Extension makes Gary Pinkel SEC’s 10th $4 million coach

Gary Pinkel

Following a second straight SEC East Division championship in just its third year in the SEC, Missouri has extended the contract of head coach Gary Pinkel and rewarded him with a nice bump in pay. Pinkel’s contract has been extended through 2021 with a guaranteed salary of $4.02 million.

Cha-ching.

The investment in Pinkel seems to have been a long time coming, as Pinkel may have exceeded many expectations for Missouri since making the transition from the Big 12 to the SEC.

Pinkel was hired by Missouri in 2001 after a successful stint at Toledo. Since arriving in Columbia, Pinkel is 113-66 with six bowl victories, including three in the last four seasons. After going 5-7 in Missouri’s first season in the SEC after leaving the Big 12, Pinkel coached Missouri to two consecutive SEC East Division championships and appearances in the SEC Championship Game.

If you are wondering how many coaches are left in the SEC not receiving $4 million, the number is apparently down to four; Jim McElwain (Florida), Derek Mason (Vanderbilt), Mike Stoops (Kentucky) and Butch Jones (Tennessee).

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Vols WR Von Pearson a suspect in alleged rape investigation

TaxSlayer Bowl - Iowa v Tennessee

Tennessee wide receiver Von Pearson is a suspect in an alleged rape investigation in Knoxville, the Knoxville Police Department said Friday afternoon. Pearson has not been charged with any crimes at this time, and the police are currently investigating the story.

According to The Knoxville News Sentinel, the incident in question was reported early Friday morning and police have interviewed the alleged victim and several potential witnesses. Police have already contacted the Sexual Assault Center as the investigation gets underway.

Pearson was Tennessee’s second-leading receiver last fall behind Pig Howard. Pearson recorded 393 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 11 games.

This is not the first time this spring a Tennessee player has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons. Earlier this month offensive lineman Coleman Thomas had a felony theft charge dismissed. Former defensive lineman Michael Sawyers was soon charged with the same offense. Sawyers was actually dismissed from the team in February by head coach Butch Jones for a violation of team rules.

Tennessee’s spring game is scheduled for Saturday afternoon. Given this recent report, it may be safe to assume Pearson will not participate in it as the legal process plays out. At this time, Tennessee has not issued any statement on the situation or Pearson’s status with the program.

UPDATE (6:27 p.m.): Tennessee has suspended Pearson from all team activities.

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Baylor and TCU getting return on investments in Briles, Patterson

Art Briles, Gary Patterson

It may be safe to say Baylor and TCU are getting what they paid for with Art Briles and Gary Patterson, respectively. The head coaches of the co-Big 12 champions in 2014 were each paid at least 2.5 times what they made just a few short years ago according to documents cited in a USA Today report Friday afternoon.

According to the report by USA Today, TCU paid Patterson a base salary of $3.5 million in 2013, which was roughly tripled from his 2008 salary. In all, Patterson received a total compensation of $3.9 million. Briles was paid a base salary of $3.6 million in 2013 by Baylor, or 2.5 times what he was paid in 2009 by the university. Briles received a total compensation of $4.2 million.

There is no question the impact each of these coaches has had on their respective programs. Briles (55-34 at Baylor) has successfully turned Baylor from a perennial cellar-dwelling candidate in the Big 12 to a regular threat to win the conference. Baylor has won at least a share of the Big 12 championship each of the past two seasons, although the Bears are still looking for their first BCS/New Years Six bowl victory after two straight losses in the postseason. Baylor’s success has come at a good time with the Texas Longhorns struggling as a program, relatively speaking.

Patterson (132-45 all-time) has been the man in charge of the TCU football program through plenty of changes in the realignment scene. Under Patterson TCU has competed in Conference USA, the Mountain West Conference and now the Big 12, with a brief detour heading toward the Big East in the process. Patterson has coached TCU to a top 25 finish in all but five seasons since taking over as head coach in Fort Worth in 2001 (he was an interim coach in 2000 for TCU’s bowl game). Patterson has led TCU to a Rose Bowl victory and a Peach Bowl victory, and in 2015 the Horned Frogs are expected to be a top national championship contender.

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Cal cutting ties with Pierre Ingram following solicitation of prostitute

California v Northwestern

Cal will not be bringing back receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Pierre Ingram in a move that is probably not to be unexpected.

Ingram’s contract is scheduled to expire on April 30. Cal will not be renewing the contract after Ingram was arrested earlier this month for solicitation of a prostitute. He was immediately placed on administrative leave, and now the program is going to wipe its hands clean of him entirely.

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Report: Old Big East rivals Syracuse and UConn getting back together

Florida State v Syracuse

The rivalry between Syracuse and UConn was one of the best things about the old Big East. Well, in basketball at least. The rivalry never really reached the same height of animosity or excitement in football as it did in basketball, but the two schools are reportedly working on plans to begin a home-and-home football series in the future.

Brett McMurphy of ESPN reports (via Twitter) are putting the finishing touches on a pair of games between 2016 and 2018. Per McMurphy, UConn would host the Orange in 2016 and Syracuse would host the Huskies in 2018. Specific dates have not been reported or confirmed.

Syracuse will not meet its ACC power conference scheduling requirement with this series, but the requirement has already been met for 2016 with Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium and 2018 against the Irish in South Bend.

UConn leads the all-time series between the two schools, with a 6-3 edge over nine games. The series started in 2004 after UConn upgraded from FCS to FBS and joined the Big East. Syracuse left the crumbling Big East for the ACC in 2013, and UConn stayed a part of the conference as it morphed into the American Athletic Conference. Syracuse won the most recent meeting between the two schools in 2012 with a 40-10 victory.

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North Dakota State brings new meaning to “championship drive”

North Dakota State team

It is Friday afternoon, which tends to mean things can get a little slow as we head into the weekend. Fortunately, North Dakota State decided to have a little fun and make some people smile* with this photo of its four national championship trophies going for a Friday drive.

Judging by this photo, seen on the North Dakota State Facebook page, the national championship trophies are practicing safety first by wearing their respective seatbelts.

NDState-Trophy-Drive

North Dakota State won the 2014 Division 1 championship by defeating Illinois State. The previous year the Bison defeated Towson for the national title, and the previous two years saw North Dakota State beat Sam Houston State for the championship. North Dakota State’s championship drive will continue this season as the Bison will likely be the team to beat once again in the land of the FCS. North Dakota State will not play any FBS opponents in 2015, but a trip to Iowa is on the schedule for 2016. The 2015 season will kick off against Montana on August 29 in Missoula, Montana.

* With the possible exception of fans of Sam Houston State, Towson and Illinois State. Apologies to you.

Helmet sticker to Reddit.

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NCAA: Oklahoma State did not fail to monitor football program

Oklahoma State did not follow its drug testing policy and allowed the Orange Pride to host prospective student-athletes. The result? A one-year probation, the suspension of the Orange Pride program and $8,500 in fines on top of university-imposed recruiting restrictions.

The NCAA released a statement outlining the mild sanctions handed to Oklahoma State Friday afternoon. The violations are the result of a previous investigative story published by Sports Illustrated last year. The report was quick to be torn to shreds from any number of critics of the evidence and information reported, and perhaps the severity of the original report can be summed up best by the light punishment extended by the enforcement hand of the NCAA.

The NCAA opened its investigation into Oklahoma State following the publication of the Sports Illustrated story. The investigation included a review of over 50,000 emails and about 90 different interviews with current and former student-athletes, coaches, staff members and boosters. The end result was the NCAA determined many of the allegations reported by Sports Illustrated were unfounded, according to the NCAA statement. But Oklahoma State did not get off without some criticism.

Accusations the program did not follow its drug testing program were confirmed by the NCAA, stating suspensions for players violating the banned substance rules had suspensions determined on a case-by-case basis. This led to five players competing on the field in seven games they should have been suspended. There was no mention of which games were included, nor is there a mention of vacating any victories. Instead, part of the $8,500 in fines includes a $500 payment by Oklahoma State for each of the seven games a player should have been suspended.

On the recruiting side of the punishment, Oklahoma State self-imposed a reduction in coaches participating in off-campus evaluations by one and the reduction of total evaluation days by 10 in the fall and spring through the 2015-2016 calendar.

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Trollin’ Jim Harbaugh invites ALL coaches to Michigan football camp

Michigan Football Spring Game

If you are not following Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh on Twitter, you should probably take care of that right now. At the end of a week that has been filled with talk and debate about satellite camps, Harbaugh took to Twitter to extend an open invitation to all college football coaches to join he and his staff in Ann Arbor this summer.

It is already being considered a Grade-A troll move, and there is likely no coincidence it looks that way.

Just this week we have been talking about comments from Alabama’s regarding the ridiculousness of satellite camp rules, the perception of a loophole being exploited by northern coaches (in addition to Harbaugh, Penn State’s James Franklin and Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly have taken advantage of the satellite camp rules). Folks in the ACC are not pleased either, but willing to adapt. The NCAA is also expecting to address the satellite camp discussion in the football rules oversight committee.

One question that should be asked is how many coaches from the Big Ten will accept the open invite? Imagine the scene if Mark Dantonio or Urban Meyer or Franklin showed up in Ann Arbor to work at the camp. It is an open invite after all.

This much we know; coaches from the ACC and SEC will not be sending in any R.S.V.P. replies, although they are invited to be a keynote speaker by Harbaugh. Their conferences do not allow for that possibility.

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ASU’s Todd Graham says scheduling cupcakes is un-American

Todd Graham

Keep this in mind the next time Arizona State schedules an easy opponent. Todd Graham, head coach of the Sun Devils, says scheduling easy games is un-American. God bless Todd Graham.

Graham’s comments on non-conference scheduling stem from a discussion regarding the College Football Playoff, which has many believing the emphasis on strength of schedule will help the game overall. It will, unquestionably. If the goal is to see more attractive games between power conference programs, then fans should benefit from the College Football Playoff era with schools not wanting to be left out of the playoff at the end of the year the way Baylor was in 2014.

“We need to consider what the fans want,” Graham said, according to AZFamily.com. “Fans don’t want to see you schedule four easy wins, then get two conference wins to get into a bowl game. That’s un-American.”

For the record, Arizona State has a game scheduled against Cal Poly this season and Northern Arizona in 2016. The Sun Devils also have a game against Texas A&M in Houston this fall and a home-and-home with Texas Tech starting in 2016.

But just as you start to think Graham is speaking for America with his thoughts on non-conference scheduling, he then takes a turn toward communism on other thoughts regarding scheduling.

“Here’s the issue with college football. It should be equal for everybody,” said Graham. “Everybody should play nine conference games. Why nine games instead of eight? Because you play one more conference game that your fans want to see instead of scheduling a team that no one wants to see because you’re scheduling wins and don’t want to be out of the four-team playoff.”

Before we had debates over satellite camps, we had debates over eight-game vs. nine-game conference schedules. Simply put, what works well for one conference does not necessarily make for the best scheduling approach for the other. The Big 12’s nine-game schedule makes sense for a 10-member league. The Pac-12 plays a nine-game conference schedule and the Big Ten has joined the nine-game party. Meanwhile the ACC and SEC remain with eight-game conference schedules, but with the non-scheduling requirement to schedule at least one game against another power conference opponent.

Some things in college football should be equal for everybody. Non-conference scheduling does not need to be one.

Helmet sticker to House of Sparky.

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Hugh Freeze’s spring game idea is not new, and it’s not likely to happen

Hugh Freeze

The spring football season is drawing to a close with a decent handful of teams in action this weekend. Every spring seems to have one idea come up as a new and innovative idea, but it really is not new at all. The idea of having teams play a scrimmage against another school is back in the discussion thanks to Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, who endorsed the idea this week.

I would love to see us be able to scrimmage another team,” Freeze said in a radio interview in Nashville, according to The Clarion-Ledger. “That way you can go ones on ones, twos on twos, threes on threes – really get something out of it.”

Freeze’s idea sounds good, and has some merit. Again, this is nothing we have not heard before, especially in recent years. Having the opportunity to go up against another team can have benefits as you can see how players react in certain situations against players and schemes they may not have seen during the spring practices. It also allows for an opportunity to work on some skills and potential game plans against certain styles of offenses or defenses. But the odds of getting a pair of FBS programs together, even if allowed by the NCAA, is not the most feasible idea due to financial requirements. So what does Freeze recommend?

“Maybe even adopt a charity. Maybe it’s a 1-AA opponent that you don’t play in the regular season,” Freeze suggested. “I think there would be a lot of interest in something like that. I wish we could do something like that.”

This is an idea that would have more traction than a scrimmage against another FBS program. There could be some benefits to take from this as well, on both sides. We already see this kind of exhibition idea in college basketball, with Division 1 programs often scrimmaging with a Division 2 school before officially opening the regular season. This would be the equivalent, and it would be entirely optional. What do you think? Would you be more interested in seeing a school like Ole Miss take on an FCS opponent in a spring scrimmage as a replacement for a traditional spring game or scrimmage?

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No college football abroad in Ireland in 2016

Penn State and UCF opened the 2014 season in Ireland in the Croke Park Classic last season, and it seems it might be the last college football game played in Ireland for at least a few more years. Plans for a potential game in 2016 have been put on ice, and economics are apparently to blame.

“The strength of the dollar against the euro means that the staging of the game at Croke Park was no longer viable for the Association without significant support from government agencies,” a statement from the Gaelic Athletic Association in Ireland said. That financial support was nowhere to be found for the 2016 plans.

This brings a disappointing end to the planning for the next college football game in Ireland, but it appears the writing had been on the wall. The 2016 event, long rumored to include ACC opponents Boston College and Georgia Tech, was supposed to be formally announced on St. Patrick’s Day, but never was. That led many following the developments of the game to believe the game may not happen at all. The planning involved with a game like this requires plenty of time to plan and budget for all parties involved, and the delaying of an announcement did not look good.

So as things stand now, Boston College and Georgia Tech will move forward with the expectation of playing their regular season meeting on American soil. Boston College is scheduled to host the Yellow Jackets, although the exact date of the game has not been determined by the ACC (the ACC will not release the 2016 schedule until early next year). The rumored plans originally suggested Boston College and Georgia Tech would meet in Ireland later in the season as opposed to a season-opening game like Penn State and UCF played in 2014.

Does this mean college football will never return to Ireland? That is probably not the case, especially since ACC commissioner John Swofford has said before he would like to see the conference explore overseas opportunities in the future. A return to Ireland should not be considered out of the mix, just not in 2016.

Helmet sticker to BC Interruption.

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