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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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Georgia initiates study for new indoor facility, raise ticket prices

Georgia v Clemson

In the wake of the Ed O’Bannon court ruling, it’s more obvious than ever that college football (and the NCAA in general) is a business. A school’s ability to raise funds for new facilities is an integral part of the game’s arms races for recruits and maintaining a high profile.

The University of Georgia is the latest program to investigate the possibility of adding a new indoor practice facility, according to the Athens Banner-Herald’s Marc Weiszer.

How will the school fund the product if it’s approved? Fundraising and donations will certainly be a big part of the process. The school also plans to raise ticket prices next season.

The “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” will be a little more expensive to attend as well.

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FAA grounds Michigan’s game-ball drone delivery plans

station radio control

Michigan wanted to deliver this weekend’s game ball against Utah to Michigan Stadium by drone. The Federal Aviation Administration said “Nope.”

As reported by Bloomberg, the University of Michigan had plans to use a drone aircraft. The plan was even discussed with local aviation regulators, but once the FAA caught wind of the idea the organization was quick to make sure the plan did not take flight.

“The FAA promotes voluntary compliance by educating UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the FAA said to Bloomberg. The FAA has only allowed permits for limited drone operations to date, so the possibility of having something like this approved in the future is certainly a realistic possibility.

Now the only air delivery Michigan fans will focus on on Saturday against Utah will be that off the arm of quarterback Devin Gardner.

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A milestone weekend for Virginia Tech, LSU, Arkansas and Minnesota

Hodges, Green

Looking to rebound from a home loss to East Carolina, Virgina Tech will host Georgia Tech in an ACC Coastal Division match-up. As with all games in the wide open ACC Coastal Division, the result will loom large later in the season. But Virginia Tech will also be recognizing a little bit of history for the football program. According to Virgina Tech, this weekend will mark the 1,200th game in program history.

Virgina Tech is not the only school celebrating that milestone. If we are to trust the record keeping on Wikipedia — and when has that ever been wrong? — it looks as though this weekend will also see Minnesota, LSU and Arkansas all hit the 1,200 games played mark as well.

Using the same list, no school has played more games than the Ivy League’s Penn Quakers with 1,343 game son the record books. Penn finally gets its season started this weekend with a home game against Jacksonville. The FBS school with the most games played in college football history is Rutgers. This should come as little surprise given Rutgers is the birthplace of college football and played in the first college football game on record, against Princeton. Other FBS schools with 1,200 games and counting include Navy, Michigan, Nebraska, Syracuse, Penn State, Virginia, Texas, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Alabama, Ohio State, Georgia, West Virginia, Missouri, Maryland, Notre Dame, Tennessee, Georgia Tech, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and California.

Army actually played its 1,200th game in program history last weekend, so apologies for missing the milestone.

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Report: Rutgers AD made inappropriate Sandusky reference

Julie Hermann

Not even a full week after issuing an apology to Penn State, Rutgers Athletics Director Julie Hermann is in some hot water for an inappropriate comment referencing former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This on the day the Big Ten issued a public endorsement for the new “It’s On US” campaign launched by the White House. The timing of it all really is incredible.

The comment made by Hermann was made last fall, well before the need to apologize to Penn State for the behavior of some fans at last Saturday’s Big Ten opener and for the university accidentally sharing photos on social media channels with inappropriate references to the crimes committed by Sandusky. According to a report by NJ.com, Hermann shared an “off the cuff response” while discussing ways to reach out to donors. Rutgers senior vice president for external affairs Pete McDonough suggested it was not aimed directly at Penn State.

“Julie’s comment was an off the cuff response to a give-and-take interaction urging the fundraising team to reach out and touch the donors,” said McDonough, per NJ.com. “There probably isn’t a person alive today who hasn’t made an impromptu remark in a private meeting that probably shouldn’t have been said. Even taken out of context, this single comment was not directed at Penn State, its students, staff or faculty.”

It has been a rough 17 months for Hermann since being appointed athletics director at Rutgers. What could possibly happen next?

The lesson here is simple. Abuse of children through any means is simply not funny. If you think you are making a joke that is even somewhat related to sexual abuse or child abuse in any way, you should probably think again. Then again, this should not even require much thinking from the start.

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Nebraska kicker hurt in motorcycle crash

Nebraska v Penn State

Nebraska kicker Mauro Bondi suffered a broken collar bone Thursday night after crashing his motorcycle. The Journal Star in Lincoln was the first to report this injury.

According to the police report, as reported by The Journal Star, Bondi had trouble making a turn, hit a curb and ran off the road. Bondi was aided by a passerby back to his apartment, and his roommate drove him to a nearby hospital. According to police, no alcohol was connected to the accident and Bondi was wearing a helmet. However, the Nebraska kicker was cited for negligent driving and riding without a motorcycle licence.

With Bondi injured, Nebraska may have to ask place kicker Drew Brown to pull some double duty for the Huskers on special teams. Bondi is Nebraska’s kickoff specialist, while Brown typically handles the place-kicking responsibilities.

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Big Ten, Pac-12 join the “It’s On Us” sexual abuse prevention movement

PAC 12 Media Day

Today the White House launched a brand new initiative designed to prevent sexual assault and raise awareness for what has become a top story in the sports world in recent weeks. “It’s On Us,” according to the campaign’s official website, is a pledge to help keep women and men safe from sexual assault and is a promise to not be a bystander to the issue. The Big Ten and Pac-12 were quick to hop on board in support of the new program.

As the program was formally launching in Washington D.C., both conferences released statements of support for the initiative.

“The Pac-12 is proud to join this effort to build a culture on college campuses in which everyone has a responsibility to stop sexual violence,” said Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott. “Our member institutions are very focused on this issue and we see a great opportunity to use the visibility of college athletics as a means to raise awareness and promote this campaign.”

As noted in the Pac-12 release, research shows one in five women in the United States today are sexually assaulted while in college with most assaults occurring in their freshman or sophomore years at the hands of acquaintances, classmates or friends. The Big Ten saw the terrors of sexual abuse unfold right in front of it a few years ago with the startling revelations that came from the investigation and trial of former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This new initiative is aimed more at preventing college students from abuse, but the message should easily spread to all levels beyond college-aged students.

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A win with an asterisk would be just fine with Clemson’s Swinney

Dabo Swinney

Florida State will open Saturday night’s home game against Clemson without starting quarterback Jameis Winston. Winston will not play until the second half of the key ACC Atlantic Division battle due to a half-game suspension. This seems to give Clemson an advantage at the start of the game, but nothing is guaranteed. If Clemson does return home with a win over the top-ranked Seminoles, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will not care if anyone chooses to place an asterisk next to the result.

“Georgia beat us,” Swinney said referring to Clemson’s season-opening loss at Georgia, per per TigerNet.com. “Did we put an asterisk by that? We didn’t have three senior starters.” Clemson was without  defensive end Corey Crawford, offensive guard David Beasley and defensive back Garry Peters for the week one road game at Georgia. All three were suspended (as well as offensive tackle Shaq Anthony) for violations of team rules.

“Heck, no. They beat us. Period. There’s no asterisk by that. Give me a break.”

Swinney also made reference to Alabama’s 2010 BCS Championship Game victory over Texas to prove his point further. Texas lost starting quarterback Colt McCoy to an early injury in the game, leaving the Longhorns having to turn the offense over to a young and inexperienced Garrett Gilbert.

“I don’t think there’s an asterisk on that crystal ball down in Tuscaloosa,” Swinney said. “I think we’ve got a national championship trophy [at Clemson, referring to the 1981 season] where we beat Nebraska. I don’t think they played Turner Gill in that game but it still says national championship.” Gill did not play in that season’s Orange Bowl due to a leg injury.

The bottom line is pretty straightforward. Clemson can only worry about whatever they see on the other side of the field. The game still lasts 60 minutes and there is more than enough talent for Clemson to prepare for coming at them from the Florida State sideline. Florida State will give the start under center to Sean Maguire. Maguire’s parents already gave their tickets away. If Clemson benefits from Florida State being without Winston for 30 minutes, that is not Clemson’s problem.

Of course, if Florida State does lose, we then can entertain the arguments from Jimbo Fisher about how a fully-equipped FSU would split 10 games with Clemson down the road. Right?

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For what it’s worth, Big 12 piling up quality losses

Big 12 Football Media Days

When it comes to determining the best conferences, we tend to look first at the quality wins recorded in non-conference play. This is an area where the Big Ten has come under fire in a big way in the first few weeks of the season, and for good reason. While much will be discussed regarding the Big Ten’s place in the power conference pecking order, it may be time to take a close examination of the Big 12’s lack of signature wins as well.

Through the first three weeks of the season and last night’s Thursday night start to Week Four, the Big 12 has had its own share of opportunities to score some key victories for conference bragging rights. The best you can make of the Big 12’s start in non-conference play is “Well, at least we’re not the Big Ten.” That is not a terrific selling point.

The season started out on a down note with the Big 12 seeing Iowa State lose at home to FCS powerhouse North Dakota State. While most of the rest of the conference performed better against weaker opponents to start the season, the Big 12 missed on two chances to impress on the national stage with West Virginia losing to Alabama and Oklahoma State coming up short against Florida State. The Mountaineers and Cowboys may have played well or better than expected against the highly-ranked programs from the SEC and ACC, respectively, but in the end the Big 12 started 0-2 against power conference opponents.

The following week saw BYU steamroll Texas for a second straight season while the rest of the conference enjoyed victories against lesser opponents (except for Iowa State, losing at home to Kansas State in Big 12 play). Week three of the season was the first real test for the Big 12 and there were some positives to draw from it. The Big 12 proved on the field to be better than the Big Ten in three games (West Virginia over Maryland, Iowa State over Iowa, TCU over Minnesota), cementing the Big Ten at the bottom of the power conference pecking order for now, but the Big 12 still lags significantly behind the SEC, ACC and Pac-12 in terms of quality wins. Oklahoma did pick up a good win at home against a Tennessee program on the rise, but the Vols are still a work in progress and unranked. The same weekend saw Texas suffer a loss at the expense of the Pac-12’s UCLA. Texas Tech could not slow down Arkansas in Lubbock. Kansas was blown away by Duke as well.

Last night the Big 12 once again whiffed on an opportunity to defeat a quality opponent with Kansas State imploding inside the red zone and leaving points off the scoreboard in a 20-14 loss at home to Auburn. The Big 12 could have really used that win, especially on a light weekend schedule for the conference. Kansas will host Central Michigan Saturday afternoon. West Virginia will have a chance to notch a conference victory at home Saturday night, against Oklahoma. Just as it was perceived to be Ohio State’s or Michigan State’s responsibility to carry the Big Ten banner on the national stage, the Big 12 may now be in need of Oklahoma (or Baylor) running the table. Oklahoma losing in Morgantown may end up doing more damage than good for the sake of the Big 12 when it comes time for the College Football Playoff selection committee to do their job.

As stated already, the Big 12 has breathing room ahead of the Big Ten for now, but losses inside the conference could start to do more damage than they would have if the Big 12 could record some wins against power conferences not named the Big Ten.

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Louisville might have RB Michael Dyer vs. FIU

Michael Dyer

Louisville rushed for just 79 yards last weekend against Virgina. It is not time to push the panic button, especially after some strong performances on the ground in the two games prior to last week’s loss at Virgina, but the Cardinals are looking forward to the return of Michael Dyer. There may even be a chance Dyer makes his season debut this weekend as Louisville travels to FIU.

According to a report Thursday from The Courier-Journal in Louisville, head coach Bobby Petrino suggested it may be a possibility Dyer returns to action Saturday. The running back was injured in a scrimmage in August and has just completed his first full week of practice since going inactive.

“We saw some really good things from him,” Petrino said, according to the report. “The thing that’s hard on that is it’s not only the injury that he’s overcoming, it’s the soreness from not doing those things for five weeks — not running hard and cutting and doing all that. The rest of his body is sore.”

The urgency to rush Dyer back this weekend may not be huge given the opponent, but this could also be a good week to allow Dyer a chance to get his legs back in order. Louisville should manage to beat FIU without Dyer, but if there is a chance he can play then he should probably take advantage of it. It may be better to get in game shape this weekend as opposed to next weekend in ACC play (against Wake Forest).

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If Auburn was stealing signs, nobody to blame but Kansas State

Auburn v Kansas State

Auburn picked up a hard-fought victory on the road Thursday night at Kansas State, defeating the Big 12’s Wildcats by a final score of 20-14 in a game that almost seemed to go against the grain for the SEC’s Auburn Tigers. Auburn was forced to slow things down in order to protect a lead and there were times when Auburn’s running game seemed to be out-worked by a relentless and well-prepared Kansas State defense. Kansas State head coach Bill Snyder thinks Auburn had another advantage to rely on; stealing signs.

As the teams went to halftime Thursday night in Manhattan, Snyder told ESPN sideline reporter Sam Ponder he believed Auburn had picked up on some of Kansas State’s signals. The veteran coach suggested to Ponder his team needed to do a better job of disguising their calls in order to keep Auburn guessing. Following the game, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn disputed having any advantage of that kind, not that there should be any reason to feel bad about it if indeed Auburn did figure something out.

To be fair, Snyder was not accusing Malzahn and Auburn of doing anything wrong. He seemed to be just making an observation to Ponder, as it was reported during the telecast. Kansas State had plenty of opportunities to score the upset, and the possibility of having signals stolen by Auburn is far down on the list behind missed field goals, failed red zone opportunities and turnovers.

There should be a line drawn between the idea of stealing signals and picking up on signals. Stealing implies a team or person did something wrong, perhaps by sending someone undercover to scope out a team’s practice during the week or by getting a hold of an opponent’s playbook or game plan before the kickoff. Picking up on hand signals or vocal calls during the course of a game should be considered nothing more than awareness and showing an ability to adjust. There is nothing wrong with that just as there is nothing wrong with a quarterback calling an audible at the line of scrimmage because he does not like what he sees in the defensive formation.

The coach and team that learns to make adjustments the fastest will have a schematic advantage. Those who fail to make those adjustments are only holding themselves back.

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With a little help from their friends, Auburn beats K-State 20-14

Gus Malzahn

The blueprint was simple for both teams. When rushing for less than 200 yards over the past three years, No. 5 Auburn was 1-9. And when holding its opponent to less than 200 yards over that same period, No. 20 Kansas State was 21-2.

The Tigers rushed for 128 yards tonight, and won 20-14.

Quarterback Nick Marshall made the plays when he had to, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns – one to put his Tigers up 10-7 at the half, and another to push the lead to 17-7 – and a critical 39-yard clincher to Duke Williams (eight catches, 110 yards and a touchdown) to put the game away with under two minutes to play.

But this game was won for Auburn thanks to critical mistakes by the Kansas State offense and special teams.

It started on the first play of the game, when Jake Waters fumbled the ball inside his own red zone on a botched exchange, allowing Auburn to take a 3-0 lead. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats moved 74 yards to the Auburn 2 before a Waters pass bounced off the face mask of all-everything wide receiver Tyler Lockett and into the waiting arms of Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones. And then came the missed field goals. Three of them, all by the usually trustworthy Jack Cantele. He was 11-of-13 last season and 4-of-5 in 2014 until tonight, but missed from 41, 42 and 22 yards. He was replaced by Matthew McCrane for the Wildcats’ final extra point.

Waters, simply put, wasn’t nearly as good as a senior quarterback needs to be to win tonight. He threw for 245 yards, but recorded a terrible interception to Trovon Reed while Kansas State trailed 17-7 in the fourth quarter, and missed an opportunity to put Kansas State up 14-10 just before the half with Lockett wide open in the end zone. Instead, he held on to the ball, fumbled, and made Cantele’s 42-yard try much more difficult than it had to be. That’s just the kind of night it was for the Wildcats.

After falling behind 20-7, Kansas State pulled within 20-14 with 3:49 to play, but never possessed the ball again. The game was decided when Marshall hit Williams on a double move while facing a 3rd-and-9 in its own territory.

Defensively, Kansas State did everything one could have expected them to do. The ground game didn’t even register three yards per carry in its 45 attempts. In fact, Auburn didn’t even hit 100 yards of total offense until its first touchdown drive to end the first half, and nearly went the entire first half without converting a third down. However, it didn’t stay that way. It never does against Auburn. After missing its first five third down tries, Auburn converted 10 of its final 13, and outgained K-State on the night 359-285.

For Auburn, this is the type of night Gus Malzahn and staff can build on. Marshall-to-Williams is a certifiably reliable go-to option, and a six-point win on the road brings the type of value no 50-point shellacking of a mid-major can duplicate. “I’m glad it was tough,” Malzahn told ESPN after the game, “that’ll help us in the long run.” The Tigers host Louisiana Tech on Sept. 27 before reopening SEC play against No. 8 LSU on Oct. 4.

For Kansas State, what can you say? You did everything you needed to do to win the game, and you lost. In reality, there’s not much else you can do but rectify the result within yourself (with the help of a few adult beverages) and move on to the next game. That comes next Saturday when UTEP comes to town.

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D’oh! FSU QB Sean Maguire’s parents give away tickets, won’t attend son’s first start

Sean Maguire

So, this isn’t how you draw it up when you son signs a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State.

With sophomore quarterback Sean Maguire set to make his first start Saturday, his parents won’t be in attendance. It’s not that they don’t support his career. They just gave his tickets away thinking there was no chance their son would see the field against an important conference rival.

They were probably right, until Jameis Winston hopped on that table and earned himself a half-game suspension.

Maguire, who ran a Wing-T offense in high school, has thrown 26 career passes with 16 completions for 144 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

No. 1 Florida State faces No. 22 Clemson at 8 p.m. ET Saturday night on ABC.

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K-State shoots itself in foot, shin and kneecap, trails Auburn 10-7 at the half

Tyler Lockett

When hosting the No. 5 team in the country and defending SEC champions, it’s never a good idea to turn the ball over twice – once in your own red zone, once in your opponent’s – and miss a field goal in the first quarter. No. 20 Kansas State did just that.

The Wildcats opened the game by forcing a punt, but gave the ball right back when Jake Waters dropped the ball on a botched zone read. Auburn’s Robenson Therezie recovered at the Kansas State 21, and the Tigers turned it into a field goal. On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats calmly marched 74 yards in 10 plays to set up a 2nd-and-goal at the Auburn one, but Waters’ pass was bobbled by all-everything wide receiver Tyler Lockett and straight into the arms of Auburn cornerback Jonathan Jones. This is an Auburn game, after all. Of course balls are popping off opponents’ face masks straight into their defenders’ arms. Kicker Jack Cantele put the cherry on top of a frustrating first quarter for Kansas State by missing a 41-yard field goal try.

With all that considered, Kansas State is lucky to be within 10-7 at the half.

The Kansas State defensive front has been fantastic to this point, limiting Auburn to 55 rushing yards on 17 carries. Nick Marshall has completed 9-of-18 passes for 118 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The simple fact that Auburn has more passes than rushes and twice as many yards through the air than the ground should tell you the job the Wildcats have done defensively.

Defensive tackle Travis Britz has been especially good, batting down one pass to end an Auburn drive, and deflecting another to create the Marshall interception. Auburn is just 2-of-7 on third down, and came up empty on its first five tries.

Jake Waters has had an up-and-down night so far, completing 13-of-20 passes for 151 yards with the interception to Lockett. He ended the half by taking an awful sack/fumble that set up another Cantele field goal miss at the horn.

The key for the second half, obviously, is the Auburn running game. The Tigers are 1-9 when rushing for less than 200 yards over the last three years, while Kansas State is 21-2 while allowing less than 200 rushing yards.

Kansas State gets the ball to open the second half.

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Report: Texas A&M will pay $300,000 to ship in a new field from North Carolina

Kyle Field

For a university that takes such pride in their grass (seriously, go there some time), the playing conditions – or lack thereof – at Kyle Field last Saturday night had to be especially disheartening for Texas A&M. Heavy rain Friday night and Saturday morning combined with Kyle Field’s natural grass combined to create a playing surface that was hazardous at best and dangerous at worst.

“The field was kind of bad, but both teams had to play on it,” Texas A&M wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones told the Houston Chronicle after the game.

Rice head coach David Bailiff said “had some concerns” about even bringing his team out of the locker room to play the second half. (He did, and Rice lost 38-10). “I thought the grounds crew did about as good a job as anybody could do,” Bailiff said. “They kept the surface safe. Every time they saw a divot, they ran out there and fixed it.”

These post-game tweets showed his fears were not without reason.

According to a report from the Bryan-College Station Eagle, Texas A&M has a plan in place to fix the field, and will spare no expense to do it. Texas A&M officials plan to pay North Carolina-based company Carolina Green to ship an entirely new field to College Station.

The field will be moved in pieces inside 21 refrigerated trucks and begin installation the week of Sept. 29. Texas A&M System vice chancellor of marketing and communications Steve Moore says the process should take about four days.

“After the game, the chancellor asked the staff and the Kyle Field redevelopment committee to look at options,” Moore told the paper. “He wanted to know how to provide the best competitive playing surface we could going to forward and that’s what led to this process and the decisions that have been made.”

Carolina Green offers a thicker, more solid base that should allow the sod to take root in time for the Aggies’ next home game. And if there’s one silver lining to this story, it’s that the replacement comes at a good time: the Aggies are on the road the next three weeks, visiting SMU on Saturday, facing Arkansas at AT&T Stadium on Sept. 27, and visiting Mississippi State on Oct. 4. The sixth-ranked Aggies return to Kyle Field and their new surface on Oct. 11 to face No. 10 Ole Miss.

The new field comes at a cost of $300,000, but that’s chump change when you’re paying nearly half a billion dollars to renovate your football stadium.

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At long last, BYU to retire Jim McMahon’s No. 9 on Oct. 3

Jim McMahon

From the Department of Things That Should Have Happened a Long Time Ago, BYU announced Thursday it would retire former quarterback Jim McMahon’s No. 9 on Friday, Oct. 3.

McMahon will be enshrined into the BYU Athletics Hall of Fame on Thursday, Oct. 2.

Seriously, the man quarterbacked the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl nearly 30 years ago, and has spent every waking second since then making sure we don’t forget it. Frankly, I’m surprised the man hasn’t broken in during the middle of the night (wearing his signature shades and utterly unnecessary head band, of course) and installed his own bust by now.

A tipster tells us the delay was on McMahon’s part, not BYU’s. Athletes are not eligible for enshrinement or jersey retirement until completing graduation, which McMahon apparently just recently finished.

McMahon, whose name and number will be permanently displayed on the LaVell Edwards Stadium press box, joins a group of a half-dozen former Cougars to have their numbers retired: Eldon Fortie (No. 40), Marion Probert (No. 81), Steve Young (No. 8) and Gifford Nielsen and Ty Detmer (both No. 14).

“I’m very proud of Jim finishing his degree. He is a competitor and a finisher. Completing his education at BYU is evidence of the type of person he is,” said his former coach LaVell Edwards. “Jim was a great leader and had a complete understanding of the game of football. He is very deserving of the hall of fame and having his jersey retired.”

McMahon left school in 1981 holding 70 school records after compiling 653 completions for 9,536 yards and 84 touchdowns with a 156.9 passer rating. As a senior, McMahon won the inaugural Davey O’Brien Award, the Sammy Baugh Trophy, and was named the NCAA Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting behind USC’s Marcus Allen and Georgia’s Herschel Walker.

McMahon will be honored in a ceremony during No. 21 BYU’s home date with Utah State on Oct. 4. The Cougars host Virginia on Saturday.

 

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