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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 coach Jim Mora goes to bat to help child with cancer

Jim Mora

Cancer sucks, and UCLA head coach Jim Mora is doing what he can to help raise money and awareness for one young child battling cancer.

Avery Huffman, the daughter of Scout.com‘s National Director of Recruiting Brandon Huffman, was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in her brain, and the location of the tumor made surgery impossible. No six-year old should have to go through that, and college football world has come together to support the Huffman family. A GoFundMe campaign has been started in support of Avery and her battle, and UCLA’s football offices took notice and responded.

Mora and UCLA are offered three fundraising options that will raise a good chunk of money while also giving the fan responsible for the donation a chance to get a look behind the curtain of UCLA football. For $10,000, UCLA will bring two adults on a road trip to the road game of their choice, complete with first class seats on the team plane and a room in the team hotel. Everywhere the team goes, so will the two fans and donors. A similar home package was also be available for a $5,000 donation. Both packages have already been claimed, raising $15,000 in quick order.

Five passes for a fall camp practice were available for $1,500 and 50 full game-day packages (tailgating, parking and game tickets) are available for a $1,200 donation. This is all money that will go toward a very worthy and noble cause, and it is good to see coaches like Mora stepping up in a time of need.

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Alabama self-reports multiple secondary violations

Nick Saban

Secondary violations rarely amount to much in the eyes of the NCAA, so do not expect Alabama to be handed a stiff punishment from the folks in Indianapolis after the university self-reported 13 secondary violations of NCAA rules. The violations occurred between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2015, according to a report from AL.com.

Names of players connected to various minor offenses have not been revealed, and the violations took place within multiple athletics programs at Alabama. Five of the violations stem from the football program under head coach Nick Saban.

One violation is for a player connected to a commercial endorsement through social media. The unnamed player was ruled ineligible before being reinstated by the NCAA and the football staff underwent rules education as a result. Another violation occurred when a player was accidentally awarded more scholarship money due to a computer entry error. This was discovered at the end of the semester during a routine audit, and the player was required to repay the excess payment.

The third reported violation was a player’s friend selling complimentary tickets to a football game. The friend was added to the player’s pass list and that player was ruled ineligible before being reinstated by the NCAA. No more free passes will be given to the player’s friend.

The fourth violation was for a player receiving aid and practicing with the team after being deemed a non-qualifier for such aid. The player’s scholarship has since been revoked and he must receive and reinstatement. It is unconfirmed but believed running back DeSherrius Flowers is the player connected to this violation. Flowers, a Class of 2015 early enrollee was ruled ineligible by Alabama in mid-June due to a “recently discovered initial eligibility issue.”

Last but not least, an assistant coach was found guilty of responding to a text message from a recruit. The coach was prohibited from contacting recruits for 30 days as a result.

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Report: Notre Dame, Navy to play in Jacksonville in 2016

Obi Uzoma, Tarean Folston

Navy and Notre Dame do not typically make too many trips to the state of Florida during the course of a football season, but each will be playing in the state in 2016. In fact, they’ll even be playing each other in the state in November 2016.

According to a report Friday by ND Insider, Notre Dame and Navy will play their 2016 game in Jacksonville, Florida on November 5, 2016. The game will be played in EverBank Field, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and recently undergoing upgrades to the stadium in hopes of keeping the Jaguars in town. Attracting some noteworthy college football game son the side is a nice perk too, and it seems to have worked.

Navy typically serves as host to Notre Dame in even-numbered years in the series, but tends to hold the game in a larger venue instead of its home stadium. The deal has not been officially announced, but ND Insider says the Jacksonville Sports Council has a press conference scheduled for this coming Wednesday, at which time it is expected to become official.

In the history of the Notre Dame-Navy rivalry, the game has been played in the state of Florida just once before. The 200 meeting was played in Orlando, with the Irish winning 45-14.

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NCAA now getting involved with Ole Miss and Laremy Tunsil

Memphis v Mississippi

What sounds like a messy situation at home is now getting the NCAA to come knocking in Oxford, Mississippi. The Clarion-Ledger reports the NCAA has sent officials to Ole Miss on Friday to interview the stepfather of Rebels offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and his alleged connection to agents, which would be violations of the NCAA rules.

Last week Tunsil turned himself into authorities after being charged for domestic violence following an incident in which Tunsil allegedly punched his stepfather in defense of his mother in a domestic dispute of some nature. Tunsil and his mother had filed a lawsuit against his stepfather, and his stepfather turned around and claimed Tunsil had been riding with football agents. It is the stepfather’s (Lindsey Miller) claim Tunsil riding with agents was the root of the argument.

“We are aware that Laremy and his family have met with potential agents, which is within his NCAA rights as a student-athlete,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said in a statement to The Clarion-Ledger. “Regarding the altercation, we will continue to gather facts and cooperate with the proper authorities.”

What this means for Tunsil and Ole Miss are two different scenarios in play right now. The NCAA is not always the speediest when it comes to investigations, and projecting how long one investigation will take is difficult to estimate. If the NCAA does find Tunsil guilty of accepting any benefits from agents (and yes, a car ride would probably fall within that category), then he will face a light suspension at the most. If there is more to the claims of associations with agents, that could be a much different story that is best to refrain from speculating until more information is known. The severity of the punishment for Ole Miss is also impossible to speculate on at this point in time until more is known about the situation, and whether or not there is anything to even bother focusing on.

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PETA investigated two (Michigan) Wolverines and a wallaby

Bennetts Wallaby and Joey.

Some people have dogs as pets. Others have cats. Others have fish, and perhaps some have other animals like lizards or frogs or turtles or snakes. How many have a wallaby?

Recently, Michigan football players were seen around the Ann Arbor campus posing for photos with a young wallaby, which was allegedly trying to be sold by the Michigan student-athletes. The wallaby, originally purchased in Michigan, was discovered on the Instagram page of Michigan wide receiver Jack Wangler, which was shared by quarterback Shane Morris. Per MLive.com, Wangler said the animal was not living in the apartment shared by he and Morris, but the animal was merely visiting. However, it was Wangler who reportedly answered the phone when a call to the phone number attached to the listing for the wallaby was called.

The People for Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, organized a deal with the Detroit Zoo to provide a safe home for the wallaby. Instead, the wallaby was returned to the breeder that originally sold the animal. The wallaby was reportedly returned in excellent condition, according to a PETA representative, and doing well. Still, it was PETA’s preference the wallaby be given a chance to live out its life in the zoo alongside its own kind.

Ultimately a wallaby doesn’t belong in a private home any more than a wolverine does,” PETA Foundation deputy director of captive animal law enforcement Brittany Peet said, per MLive.com. “These students and the University of Michigan had an opportunity to step up and set a great example by allowing the wallaby to spend the rest of its life with other wallabies in a natural habitat in an accredited facility. Unfortunately, they dropped the ball.”

Nice football puns there, Peet.

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Report: Baylor and Cal will (thankfully) not be playing in Australia in 2016

TCU vs. Baylor football

The dream of opening the college football season in Australia will just have to wait. Any plans to send Baylor and Cal abroad to play a 2016 season opener down under have been nixed. Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com reported such news Friday afternoon (via Twitter).

Last month it was reported Baylor was openly discussing the possibility to open the 2016 season in Australia against a Pac-12 opponent. That opponent turned out to be Cal, although both schools would have had to opt out of season openers at home against FCS opponents. Doing so comes at a price, not to mention the lost revenue in hosting a football game for either. Throw in the expensive travel costs to ship a football program across the Pacific Ocean, and it is not difficult to see why these talks may have dissolved. Whether or not Baylor will continue to seek an opponent for a season-opening game abroad remains to be seen.

As things stand right now, Baylor is scheduled to open the 2016 season at home against Northwestern State on September 3, 2016. Baylor’s two other non-conference games that season are scheduled against SMU and Rice. Baylor’s strength of schedule became a hot topic during last season’s College Football Playoff hunt, and is perceived to be one of the reasons Baylor fell behind the top four playoff contenders in the end, most notably Ohio State. There is no non-conference scheduling requirement in the Big 12 to schedule games against other power conference opponents like there is in the ACC or SEC, but the Big 12 would benefit from seeing more of its top programs schedule tougher games. Scheduling Cal may not sound like a huge upgrade, but it is still a power conference opponent with potential to do some things offensively.

With or without Baylor on the schedule, Cal will still be getting its dose of Big 12 opposition in 2016. The Bears are scheduled to host Texas on September 17, 2016 in the back-end of a home-and-home series that begins this fall in Austin (September 19, 2015). Cal is scheduled to open the season at home against South Dakota State and has a road game at San Diego State scheduled to fill out its 2016 schedule.

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Kirby Smart: Alabama didn’t value OSU QB Cardale Jones enough

Cardale Jones,Landon Collins

In defense of Wisconsin, not many expected Cardale Jones to be capable of stepping right in to lead Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game as effectively as he did. But Wisconsin’s misfortune should have been enough of a wake-up call for Alabama with a month to prepare for the College Football Playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl. According to Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, he and the Alabama staff may not have done enough to keep the defense grounded and aware of what Jones could do.

“All three of them (referring to Landon Collins, Nick Perry and Jarrick Williams)  said they did not respect the quarterback, and our job as the coaches was to make them respect the quarterback,” Smart said in an interview on 680 The Fan in Atlanta. “Well, they heard from the media, they heard from ESPN, they heard from everybody that he was a third-string quarterback. How can a third-string quarterback beat Alabama? We didn’t promote him enough and they didn’t value his talents enough, and he came in — we thought he was a really good passer. Well, he ran the ball well, too. Well, we had not seen him run the ball . . . and not a runner like (Bama QB) Blake (Sims) and not a runner like their other guy, just big.”

In the Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal game against the Crimson Tide, Jones completed 18 of 35 passes for 243 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 43 yards in the Ohio State victory.

Smart went on to praise Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott, who had a monster performance as well. Smart said he saw his defense was going to be in for a long night against Ohio State’s offense even though the Crimson Tide held an early lead.

“We had not slowed them down. We had two red area stops, which were six points (two field goals), could have been 14,” Smart said. “We had a turnover, we stripped a ball. We had not slowed them down, and I’m thinking this could be 21 but it’s six, 21-6, could be 21-21. And then they scored right before the half, which we thought was deadly. They had a good two-minute drive and scored, and I knew that we were in trouble.”

Smart also said Alabama reached out to Houston head coach Tom Herman, who was Ohio State’s quarterbacks coach last season. He and Nick Saban asked Herman to offer his take on what he saw in Alabama’s defense that Ohio State was able to crack.

Helmet sticker to The Sporting News.

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WVU announces fireworks and stripe-the-stadium plans for 2015

Getting fans to dress all in one color for a football game is so old-fashioned now. Today it is all about striping your stadium in school colors. That is West Virginia will be doing with the Big 12 opener against Oklahoma State.

Fans attending the October 10 home game in Milan Puskar Stadium will be asked to wear blue or gold depending on their section. Fans sitting in even-numbered sections will be encouraged to wear gold. All other fans are being asked to wear blue. Oklahoma State fans making the trip to Morgantown are more than welcome to join in the fun, I’m sure, but odds are pretty good they will try adding as much orange as possible to the scene.

In addition to the stripe out game against the Sooners, West Virginia will also have two games with some color-coordination among the fans. Fans are being asked to wear gold to the September 26 game against Big Ten foe Maryland. West Virginia is calling it a “Gold Rush.” The Mountaineers won a thriller against the Terrapins last season, leaving College Park with a 40-37 victory over the newest Big Ten member. West Virginia will later ask fans to all come wearing blue for the November 14 game against Texas. It will be just the second time Texas has played in Morgantown.

Need another reason to head to a West Virginia game this season? The season opener against Georgia Southern will have a fireworks show after the game.

Tennessee still set the bar about as high as you can go last season with its checker-out in Neyland Stadium. Kansas State will also be striping out its stadium this fall.

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Ranking the 10 most patriotic college conferences

The July 4th weekend is for all intents and purposes here, which means things tend to be a little slow on the college football news front. Instead of taking the day off though, I decided to rank the top 10 most patriotic conferences. Here is my list. Feel free to disagree with it as you see fit. Sorry, the independents do not qualify, as they are not an official conference.

1. American Athletic Conference

When the Big East crumbled, up rose the American Athletic Conference. Giving itself such a name made it one of the most patriotic conferences be default, but just this week it cemented its place ahead of Conference USA when Navy officially became a football-playing member. The conference also includes Temple, from Philadelphia. In case you forgot, the Declaration of Independence was signed in Philly, so that should count for something.

2. Conference USA

The OG of patriotic conferences, Conference USA was once the home to Army football (before the Black Knights struggled and decided to go back to being independent). Now it is a conference rooted in the future growth and development of some young or upcoming programs. Consider them college football’s equivalent to colonies at this stage.

3. Mid-American Conference

Another conference with a direct reference to America right in its name, the Mid-American Conference serves us all some #MACTION, because this is America.

4. Patriot League

Bet you didn’t see this one coming. The Patriot League would have been higher had it been in the FBS but it receives special recognition in this list because it is the home to Army and Navy in non-football sports. We’ll give it half-credit for that. It is also the home to American University, which does not play football.

5. Big Ten

Is there anything more American than greed and the idea that bigger is better? Doesn’t that sum up the Big Ten quite well? The conference that added Rutgers and Maryland for no other reason to add more viewers to its innovative Big Ten Network, the Big Ten also hands out plenty of cash to its members, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

6. Mountain West Conference

America was once an underdog looking to prove capable of holding its own against the dominant powers. Then one day, America became that dominant power. That reminds me of the Mountain West Conference, home to more BCS-busters and BCS bowl victories than any other non-power conference. Don’t tell the Mountain West Conference they don’t belong, because they dream big and have even seen some of their own go on to be members of power conferences along the way (Utah, TCU). Dream big MWC, it’s the American way. Also, the home to Air Force football.

7. Colonial Athletic Association

Before we were a nation, we were just 13 simple colonies. The Colonial Athletic Association has members in nine of them spanning from Maine all the way down to North Carolina. That includes Delaware (the first state), Villanova (close enough to Philadelphia and Valley Forge to count), and William & Mary (in Williamsburg).

8. Great American Standings

Sure, we may think we are all great Americans, but the 11 members that make up the Great American Conference in Division 2 have a conference labeling them as such.

9. Liberty League

If you have never heard of the Liberty League, do not be alarmed for you are likely not alone. This Division 3 conference is home to eight football schools, including the Union Dutchmen and the Merchant Marine Mariners.

10. Presidents’ Athletic Conference

Last, but certainly not least, is another one from the world of Division 3 football. The Presidents’ Athletics Conference, or the PAC, is home to Washington & Jefferson (appropriately nicknamed the Presidents). Perhaps this one should have been ranked a little higher.

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Report: RB Delton Williams could return to Spartans this month

Delton Williams, Ryan Russell

After being left off the spring roster, running back Delton Williams may be preparing to return to the Spartans football program in time for the 2015 season.

Per a story from MLive.com this morning, it is expected Williams will return to the Spartans as early as this month, although the school and head coach Mark Dantonio have not commented on the running back’s status since his initial suspension. Williams was not enrolled in classes as of the middle of June after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor firearms charge as a result of a road rage incident in March.  If Williams does rejoin the program within the month, he will be back in Eats Lansing in enough time to participate in fall camp, which could help him be ready for the start of the season.

Williams appeared in 13 games for Michigan State last season, in which he rushed for 316 yards and five touchdowns. Both of those numbers were good for third on the team behind Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill. With both having moved on, Williams is Michigan State’s leading rusher returning in 2015.

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USF adds North Carolina St. transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling, too

Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Steve Osondu

Late last month, UCLA quarterback Asiantii Woulard confirmed that he would be transferring to USF to continue his collegiate playing career.  As it turns out, he’s not the only new Power Five addition to the Bulls.

In confirming Woulard’s addition, USF also announced that they have added transfer Marquez Valdes-Scantling to Willie Taggart‘s football program. The wide receiver comes to USF by way of North Carolina State.

In two seasons at NCSU, Valdes-Scantling caught 44 passes for 538 yards, with 22 catches each year. As a true sophomore, he started the first eight games of the 2014 season. He also started three games as a true freshman in 2013.

Both Valdes-Scantling and Woulard will have to sit out the 2015 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.  Each will have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2016.

Neither will have a redshirt season at their disposal, with Valdes-Scantling using his for the 2015 season and Woulard his in 2013.

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USF stays in-house to fill coaching vacancy

David Gilbertson

That certainly didn’t take long.  Or very far to look, for that matter.

Wednesday, we noted reports surfaced that Willie Taggart had lost one of his USF assistants to a Sun Belt Conference school.  A day later, Taggart announced that David Gilbertson has been promoted to the position of tight ends coach.

“David is a really smart, cerebral coach who brings a lot of energy, is great with our kids and has their respect,” Taggart said in a statement. “He is the son of a coach and has been with our program for a year now and really knows our system and what we want to do. He’ll be a great fit for the Bulls moving forward.”

Gilbertson joined the Bulls last summer and had been working as an offensive grad assistant. He played quarterback for Washington State, from where he received his degree in 2013 after his playing career ended in 2012.

His father, Keith Gilbertson, served as the head coach at Idaho (1986–1988), Cal (1992–1995) and Washington (2003–2004). He currently is the director of pro personnel for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.

Gilbertson will replace Stu Holt, who will reportedly take over as the running backs coach at Appalachian State.  Holt also served as special teams coordinator; Taggart has not yet indicated who will assume those duties.

The Bulls did confirm that Holt “departed the staff in order to move his family back to their home area” of North Carolina.

(Photo credit: USF athletics)

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Mo’ money, no problems: Diddy won’t face felony charges

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 19:  Sean Diddy Combs attends CIROC "Step Into The Circle" Launch hosted by Sean Diddy Combs in Times Square on November 19, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael N. Todaro/Getty Images for CIROC) Getty Images

In the end, it’s the ol’ Lt. Drebin.  Move on, there’s nothing to see here.

Facing five felony charges, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office has decided against pursuing a felony case against Sean “Puffy” “Diddy” “P. Diddy” “et al” Combs for whatever role he played in an incident at the UCLA football complex last month.  According to Variety.com, Combs still has a minor legal hurdle to traverse, writing that “[h]is case has been referred to the City Attorney’s Office to decide on charging the rap mogul with a misdemeanor.”

Combs was involved in an altercation with a UCLA assistant, strength coach Sal Alosi, in the Bruins football offices June 22 and was ultimately arrested on multiple felony charges.  The confrontation occurred after Combs’ son, UCLA defensive back Justin Combs, was kicked out of a workout session by Alosi earlier that day, then scurried home to complain to his famous father.

Combs, through a spokesperson, claimed “any actions taken by Mr. Combs were solely defensive in nature to protect himself and his son.” UCLA had preferred charges not being pursued from the beginning.

It was subsequently reported that Alosi had “shamed” the younger Combs for missing a February workout session by posting a photo of him sitting courtside at the NBA All-Star game while his teammates were working out.

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Shoulder issues force A&M’s Jay Arnold to give up football

Texas A&M at Missouri

With the start of summer camp right around the corner, Texas A&M has seen the depth along its defensive line take a little bit of a hit.

The Houston Chronicle‘s Brent Zwerneman is reporting Thursday that Jay Arnold has been forced to retire from the sport of football due to health issues.  Specifically, the lineman is dealing with a lingering shoulder issue that simply wouldn’t allow him to continue to play.

“The shoulder wasn’t going to hold up for another season,” Arnold told Zwerneman.

Arnold played in 11 games last season, starting one of those contests. He started two games during his Aggie career, which began after he came to College Station as a three-star recruit in the Class of 2013.

The silver lining for A&M is that they have assembled quite a bit of talent along the defensive line under head coach Kevin Sumlin, so this medical move should have little impact.

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TBDBITL set to invade London… on NFL’s dime

TBDBITL

For the first time ever, an audience abroad will get to witness firsthand the magnificence that is The Best Damn Band in the Land.

Thursday, it was announced that the Ohio State University Marching Band will perform prior to the Oct. 25 Buffalo-Jacksonville game at London’s Wembley Stadium.

“We’re fortunate to have an international reputation thanks to shows that have gone viral on video or received widespread media attention,” interim band director Christopher Hoch said in a statement. “It will be a real thrill to have a chance to perform for the people of London.

“The NFL has requested a London-themed show, but left the creative elements up to us. We are planning a very special and exciting performance.”

OSU also noted in its release that “[t]he NFL will cover all of the band’s travel costs for the London trip.” Not noted in the release is that the appearance of TBDBITL will at least give those American football fans in attendance something worthwhile on the field to watch… especially if “Script Ohio” is part of the program.

 

(Photo credit: NFL UK)

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