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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

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 Pac-12. 

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

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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Candidates for governor of Florida debate FSU, of course

Jameis Winston

There has been plenty of conversation about Florida State and its handling of the Jameis Winston investigation and so much more. At this point, I am not going to delve into that conversation now, but it is interesting to note just how important the image of Florida State football is in the state of Florida.

On Tuesday night a debate for the governor’s seat in the state of Florida was held between Governor Rick Scott and Democrat Charlie Crist, who is challenging Scott for his seat in office. Among the topics that popped up for debate…

Politics and football. What a combo.

Of course, with Florida State being such a huge part of the community, it is fair to question if there are larger concerns that can be addressed by the governor. This is true of any state institution, not just Florida State.

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Tebow just another former college star slamming his former team

Tim Tebow

It’s tough watching Florida Gators football this season. Even former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow thinks so. Tebow, a former Heisman Trophy winner at Florida and still a fan favorite among the Florida faithful, went on radio recently and suggested one of the many problems Florida is battling through right now is a lack of identity and leadership.

“I don’t think that the offense has an identity right now, and I don’t think that they know what they want their identity to be,” Tebow said while on air with 1010 XL in Jacksonville. “One of the biggest problems on the offense is leadership. You need to have something to motivate you, something to give you an edge…they’re not out of the SEC East.”

Tebow is far from the first former player to come out and hammer his former college program. Just this season former Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron offered some criticism of Alabama’s performance. At USC, former Trojans running back LenDale White has not held anything back in his critiquing of the current state of the USC program. That even led to him being ejected from the Los Angeles Coliseum this past weekend.

Tebow is a bit different from the McCarron and White cases of course. Tebow is a member fo the media, paid for his opinions on college football. Specifically, Tebow is paid for his commentary on the SEC as a member of the SEC Network. How much insight Tebow actually has into the locker room in Gainesville may be fair to question as a new coaching staff is in place since his last played for the Gators, although when images like this pop up following a dismal performance at home…

… Tebow’s suggestions there is a leadership problem carry some weight. This isn’t even the first time a scene like this played out under Will Muschamp. Remember this, from after the 2013 Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville?

Does Florida have a leadership problem? Maybe. Or maybe this team just is not very good.

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Does the AP poll have an SEC bias?

SEC Football Championship - Florida v Alabama Getty Images

This week’s latest Associated Press top 25 poll features four teams from the SEC in the top five, which has helped to ignite the discussion about a perceived SEC bias from poll voters. Is it legitimate? Looking to defend the integrity of its poll, the AP decided to dig into the numbers to see if there is anything to support the idea of a bias toward the conference that has dominated on the national stage for the better part of the past decade.

With some help from STATS, the AP reviewed the weekly polls from 2009 through 2013. Do SEC teams jump up the rankings faster than schools from the Big Ten or Big 12 or Pac-12 or ACC when they win? Do the SEC schools drop as far as schools form the other conferences do? This is what the AP wanted to find out.

From 2009 through 2013, SEC schools jumped an average of 1.5 spot sin the AP poll following a win. According to the data compiled, SEC schools had the smallest jump up in the AP poll following a win. ACC schools moved up an average of 2.0 spots. The Big Ten saw schools move up an average of 1.9 spots, the Big 12 had an average jump of 18 spots and the Pac-10/Pac-12 jumped an average of 1.6 spots. What is not properly demonstrated here is the minimal gain to be had by teams ranked highly in the AP poll. SEC schools ranked highly in that time span (Alabama, Florida, Auburn for example) never had much room to move up.

But how far are the schools from the SEC dropping? According to the data, SEC schools tend to have a smaller fall in the rankings than schools from all of the power conferences, except for the Pac-12. Pac-12 schools dropped an average of 5.3 spots in the AP poll following a loss. SEC schools dropped an average of 5.5 spots. ACC schools were hit the hardest with a drop of an average 6.6 spots following a loss. The Big Ten and Big 12 each dropped an average of 6.0 spots in the PA poll following a loss.

Midway through the 2014 season the numbers seem to suggest the SEC schools take a harder hit per loss and see a smaller boost following a win. Let’s see how these numbers play out through the end of this season.

The good news this season is the AP poll really does not mean a thing. The College Football Playoff selection committee will have its own ranking, which will begin to be published next week, and the committee will run independently of any existing polling system.

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Big 12 reprimands Baylor SID for Twitter rant

Angry Bird At Computer

Baylor sports information director Heath Nielsen vented some frustrations during Baylor’s road loss to West Virgina on Saturday by taking to Twitter. The Big 12 did not take too kindly to comments made by Nielsen on Twitter, and issued a public reprimand for his social media rant. In addition to a public reprimand, the Big 12 has also issued a $1,000 fine to Nielsen.

“Mr. Nielsen’s public statements via social media, and those of others that were shared on his Twitter account, called into question the integrity and competence of game officials and the Conference’s officiating program,” stated Commissioner Bob Bowlsby. “Big 12 administrators are reminded annually that they fall under the same sportsmanship guidelines as our coaches and student-athletes.”

Nielsen issued a public apology in the Big 12’s statement regarding the reaction to his statements.

“I apologize to the Big 12 Conference for having sent and retweeted some tweets last Saturday regarding officiating,” Nielsen said. “It was a regrettable act for someone in my position.”

A quick scan of Nielsen’s timeline looks as though any controversial tweets and retweets have since been taken down, but this one is still funny.

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Heart of Dallas Bowl has a tasty new sponsor

HOD Bowl

The Heart of Dallas Bowl has a brand new bowl sponsor. Zaxby’s, a popular casual restaurant chain found throughout the southeast, has signed on for a four-year sponsorship deal with the Heart of Dallas Bowl. The game, played in the historic Cotton Bowl Stadium, will be sponsored by Zaxby’s through the 2017 season, and the contract has an option for an extension.

“We are delighted to join with an organization that is fully dedicated to supporting college football, and look forward to expanding the Zaxby’s brand across the nation with the title sponsorship of our bowl game,” said Brant Ringler, Executive Director of the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. “It’s only fitting that the ‘Official Chicken of Sports Fanz’ will be on hand to enhance the experience of our participating teams and football fans that travel to Dallas.”

Zaxby’s, based out of Athens, Georgia, claims there are over 640 stores found in 15 states. This is the first bowl game sponsorship deal the chain has negotiated.

The Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl will be played this season on December 26 at 1 p.m. eastern. The game, owned and operated by ESPN, will air — naturally — on ESPN. The game has tie-ins with the Big Ten and Conference USA. Conference USA is 2-0 in the bowl game, first played in 2011. The Big Ten is 0-3.

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Sun Belt offers some alternative sports programming tonight

Terrance Broadway, Elijah McGuire

Word is there is some important sporting event getting started tonight, but we will leave the baseball conversation to our friends over at Hardball Talk. If baseball is not your thing, feel free to tune in to some good old-fashioned Tuesday night Sun Belt Conference action as Louisiana hosts Arkansas State in a battle of Sun Belt unbeaten teams. Both are attempting to keep pace with conference newcomer Georgia Southern.

Georgia Southern is off to a 4-0 start in Sun Belt play, its first season in the conference. We’ll have to wait to see if the new FBS program can keep up that pace in the second half of the year, but it should be noted the Eagles are ineligible to represent the conference in a postseason bowl game. Because this is a transition season for Georgia Southern, it is ineligible for postseason play, although it can be recognized as the Sun Belt conference champion. With that caveat in play, the conference’s top bowl spot should be considered on the line tonight down in Lafayette.

Arkansas State appears to be entering tonight’s Sun Belt match-up on a bit of a hot streak with three straight wins. Among those wins is a victory over Utah State and another against Louisiana-Monroe. Casual viewers just catching Arkansas State for the first time tonight will likely become familiar with quarterback Fredi Knighten, a dual-threat option in the Red Wolves offense. Knighten has passed for seven touchdowns and run for six more. In his past two games, Knighten has accounted for a total of eight touchdowns.

Louisiana’s quarterback, Terrance Broadway, is also one to keep an eye on. As his last night might suggest, he could put on a memorable show. In a victory over Texas State a week ago, Broadway rushed for 101 yards to go with his 225 passing yards in a 34-10 victory on the road.

The winner of this particular match-up has gone on to win the Sun Belt Conference championship each of the past three years. Tonight’s game will be seen on ESPN 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET.

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Utah State loses QB Garretson to wrist surgery

Darell Garretson

This season has not been kind to Utah State quarterbacks. For the second time this season the Aggies are losing a starting quarterback due to injury. Darell Garretson, who had been starting in place of an injured Chuckie Keeton, will undergo wrist surgery. The recovery will keep him off the field for at least a few weeks, and a return before the end of the season is still possible. The timeline for his recovery though, is unconfirmed.

What we do know is Garretson will be out this weekend when Utah State plays UNLV in conference play. Craig Harrison is listed as the starting quarterback for this weekend’s game on the latest Utah State depth chart. Harrison has appeared in two games and completed five of 12 pass attempts for 28 yards. The senior played in eight games last season, completing 47.3 percent of his passes in a similar back-up role behind Keeton and Garretson.

Garretson injured his wrist in Utah State’s loss to Colorado State. He had a sling put on his arm and placed an ice pack on his wrist. Utah State still has six games left to play this season. If Garretson only misses three or four weeks, he would likely be available for the final game or two, depending on how quickly he recovers.

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Devin Gardner shrugs aside social media criticism and racism

Devin Gardner

Twitter is full of anonymous online bullies who feel it is their right to be able to say whatever they want at whomever they want. Athletes may be the most targeted among the Twitterspehere, and it gets ugly time and time again, especially when a player or team is not performing well. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has certainly seen his share of cyberbullying directed at him this season.

“I’ve been called the N-word so many times this year,” Gardner said in a profile story published by The Detroit News. “One guy told me I was the N-word, and said I know N-words can’t play quarterback. And I was like, are we not past this? Say what you want about my skill, but come on.”

Some athletes would shut down their online profiles when they come under such attacks, but Gardner does what he can to block it out. Some players are incapable of brushing off the criticism from Internet tough guys, but fortunately Gardner seems to have the right frame of mind when it comes to this sort of thing. In a sense, it is the way Gardner attempts to play through pain.

“You can’t not feel the pain,” Gardner said. “The thing is, it’s mind over matter. You have to ignore it. Try to ignore it. You can’t compare a sprain to a broken bone, but high-ankle sprains are pretty bad. They hurt pretty bad. The Ohio game was different. This game, too, if I had to run, I would have been able to do it. If I had to, if it was third and seven and they gave me a lane to run, I was going to do it.”

I don’t particularly understand the rationale that defends lobbing Twitter or Facebook insults at others, never mind high school and college athletes. Perhaps there are other ways to relieve tension that builds up watching sports.

Just a thought.

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Elbow injury likely ends season of Beavers starting wideout

Richard Mullaney, Davion Orphey

Unfortunately, the injury to one of Oregon State’s leading receivers was as bad as originally feared.

In the second half of last Thursday night’s double-overtime loss to Utah, Richard Mullaney suffered an elbow injury.  At the time, Mike Riley said the wide receiver would be “out for a while.”

A few days later, the head coach wasn’t nearly as “optimistic” as he was shortly after the loss.

“We’ll be lucky if we get him back before the end of the year,” Riley succinctly stated.

As Mullaney is the most experienced member of OSU’s receiving corps, the loss will be a significant one. And one that the coaching staff isn’t downplaying.

“I think everyone’s disappointed for Mullaney,” the player’s position coach, Brent Brennan, said. “He’s an awesome kid, he’s a good teammate, he’s been a good player.

“So that hurts us and we’re sad for him.”

Through six games, Mullaney is third on the Beavers in receptions (18) and receiving yards (216). With Mullaney out, redshirt freshman Jordan Villamin (6-115-2) will take over as a starting receiver.

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ACC, Notre Dame announce games through 2025

jack swarbrick  john swofford AP

Tuesday afternoon, Notre Dame further cemented its relationship with the ACC.

Both the school and the conference announced today the playing dates through the 2025 season, with the release stating that the announcement “formally [seals] the partnership that began this season.” The conference had previously announced games involving members of the league and the Irish through the 2016 season, meaning that this amounts to a nine-year extension of the scheduling arrangement.

“The football partnership between the ACC and Notre Dame is a terrific enhancement for all parties,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford. “Notre Dame not only adds to our league’s already highly ambitious schedules, it also provides the opportunity for almost all of our student-athletes to play against Notre Dame during their careers. When you add in the excitement that it brings to our fans, there’s no question that this partnership is significant.”

In six of the 12 years, Notre Dame will play five ACC schools. Three of the years — 2014, 2022, 2024 — will feature four games, while three other years — 2015, 2019, 2023 — will see six games.

With the exception of Boston College, Pittsburgh and Wake Forest, Notre Dame will play each ACC member four times — two at home, two on the road — in the 12-year span. The Irish will face BC, Pitt and Wake on five occasions. Three of the games against the latter will be played in South Bend and three of the games against the Panthers will be played in Pittsburgh, while the 2015 game against the former will be played in historic Fenway Park.

Both of the “home” games for Syracuse will be played at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ.

“Nine additional seasons of games against Atlantic Coast Conference opponents again adds both variety and quality to future University of Notre Dame football schedules,” said ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick in a statement. “Over those nine years, four ACC programs that have never played in Notre Dame Stadium (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech) will come to South Bend, and two others that have only played at Notre Dame one time (Wake Forest and Clemson) also will travel to our campus.

“On the other side of the coin, during that period we will take our team to four ACC campuses at which Notre Dame never has played football (Louisville, NC State, Virginia and Virginia Tech), plus three others (Clemson, Duke and Wake Forest) where our team has played only once.”

Below is the complete scheduling arrangement between the ACC and Notre Dame.

2014
1. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 9/27*
2. North Carolina at Notre Dame, 10/11
3. Notre Dame at Florida State, 10/18
4. Louisville at Notre Dame, 11/22

2015
1. Notre Dame at Virginia, 9/12
2. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame, 9/19
3. Notre Dame at Clemson, 10/3
4. Notre Dame at Pitt, 11/7
5. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/14
6. Notre Dame vs. Boston College (Fenway Park), 11/21@

2016
1. Duke at Notre Dame, 9/24
2. Notre Dame vs. Syracuse (MetLife Stadium), 10/1*
3. Notre Dame at NC State, 10/8
4. Miami at Notre Dame, 10/29
5. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/19

2017
1. Notre Dame at Boston College, 9/16
2. Notre Dame at North Carolina, 10/07
3. NC State at Notre Dame, 10/28
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame, 11/04
5. Notre Dame at Miami, 11/11

2018
1. Syracuse at Notre Dame, 9/22
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech, 10/13
3. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 10/20
4. Florida State at Notre Dame, 11/10
5. Notre Dame at Wake Forest, 11/17

2019
1. Notre Dame at Louisville, 9/2 (Labor Day)
2. Virginia at Notre Dame, 9/28
3. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech, 10/19
4. Virginia Tech at Notre Dame, 11/02
5. Notre Dame at Duke, 11/09
6. Boston College at Notre Dame, 11/23

2020
1. Notre Dame at Wake Forest
2. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
3. Duke at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame
5. Louisville at Notre Dame

2021
1. Notre Dame at Florida State, 9/6 (Labor Day)
2. Notre Dame at Virginia Tech
3. North Carolina at Notre Dame
4. Notre Dame at Virginia
5. Georgia Tech at Notre Dame

2022
1. Notre Dame at North Carolina
2. Notre Dame at Syracuse
3. Boston College at Notre Dame
4. Clemson at Notre Dame

2023
1. Notre Dame at NC State
2. Notre Dame at Duke
3. Notre Dame at Louisville
4. Wake Forest at Notre Dame
5. Notre Dame at Clemson
6. Pittsburgh at Notre Dame

2024
1. Miami at Notre Dame
2. Notre Dame at Georgia Tech
3. Florida State at Notre Dame
4. Virginia at Notre Dame

2025
1. Notre Dame at Miami
2. NC State at Notre Dame
3. Notre Dame at Boston College
4. Notre Dame at Pittsburgh
5. Syracuse at Notre Dame

* – Designated ‘home’ game for Syracuse
@ – Designated ‘home’ game for Notre Dame

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Auburn’s Jermaine Whitehead reinstated after four-game sabbatical

Arkansas v Auburn Getty Images

Just a little over a month after being forced to the sidelines, Jermaine Whitehead is back with his teammates.  When he gets back on the field for real game action, though, remains to be seen.

Tuesday morning, Gus Malzahn confirmed that the defensive back has been reinstated to the Auburn football team.  White head began practicing with the team Sunday.

Malzahn declined to say whether Whitehead will play in this Saturday’s game against South Carolina.

“He practiced with the team on Sunday, and he’s going to do everything he can to earn his (place) back on the field,” the head coach said. “I don’t know how long that will take, I don’t have a timetable on it, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Whitehead was indefinitely suspended back in mid-September, reportedly for getting into a verbal altercation with an assistant coach.  The suspension ultimately cost him four games.

Prior to his suspension, Whitehead had started the last 26 games at safety, and is still currently tied for the second on the team in interceptions with two. One of those picks was returned for a touchdown in the season-opening win over Arkansas.

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Saban downplays Kiffin’s return to Tennessee

Karma Is A Butch

Almost from the moment Alabama hired Lane Kiffin as its offensive coordinator this past January, Oct. 25 has been circled on many a Rocky Top fan’s calendar.

That’s the day Tennessee will play host to Alabama.  It’s also the day that will mark Kiffin’s return to Neyland Stadium for the first time since unceremoniously dumping the Vols in January of 2010 after one season to take the same job at USC.

As expected, the anticipation for Kiffin’s return to Knoxville is growing.  Just as expected, Kiffin’s boss is downplaying the return.

Saying “it’s only a distraction if you allow it to be a distraction,” Nick Saban tried to shift the focus from his coordinator to the team and the players.

“So if it doesn’t mean anything to us and we can stay focused on what we need to do to do what’s best for our team, then that’s the way you manage it, that’s the way you handle it, that’s the way we need to look at it,” Saban said of the hype surrounding Kiffin’s return. “So it doesn’t really mean anything to us. The game, our players, their players. That’s what means something to us and that’s what should mean something to every coach on our staff.”

Saban’s counterpart is of the same mindset when it comes to Kiffin.

“The game means everything to our football program and our fans because it’s the University of Alabama, not because it’s Lane Kiffin,” UT’s Butch Jones said. “Three-quarters of our team — he’s a great coach, but nobody knows who Lane Kiffin is. That’s for the fans.

“We have to concentrate on the game. We’re playing a great, great opponent, a top-five opponent. They played as inspired of a football game as I’ve seen in a very, very long time against Texas A&M. They’re a great football team.

“They’re a measuring stick for a lot of programs, so again, we have to focus on the task at hand.”

Jones and Saban are both correct. No current UT players were there under Kiffin, so to them it’s just another conference game. No coaches remain either.

The hype when it comes to Kiffin’s return is all about the fans. And politics, as it turns out.

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Video: mascots go B1G in “Shake It Off’ parody

Purdue v Notre Dame

I’ll go ahead and admit it: when I first saw the email from my boss alerting me to this, a very real and visceral cringe overwhelmed me.  As well as a bit of nausea and a little vomit in my mouth.

Then I clicked play and, well, it’s not bad.  In fact, it’s quite good, especially if you are, like me, a teenage girl at heart.

The “it” to which I’m referring is yet another parody video from the fine folks at the Big Ten, this one involving its mascots — with the exception of those from Maryland, Northwestern and Penn State — and Taylor Swift‘s popsy hit single “Shake It Up.”  While it’s not nearly as entertaining as two football players passed out in the drive-thru lane of a fast-food joint, it’s a good way to spend almost four minutes of your time awaiting the end of the work day.

Oh, and it’s also a good way to continue confirming that Purdue Pete is really creepy.

Regardless, enjoy if this is your type of thing…

 

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NCAA: SI’s Okla. St. allegations ‘fundamentally unfounded’

SI OSU Cover

Quite a few people got a chuckle over Sports Illustrated series on the Oklahoma State football program last September, with many — including those intimately connected to the schoolpanning the so-called exposé for containing much more fluff than actual substance.  SI is even being sued by one of the parties mentioned.

A little over a year later, The Association has agreed that there was little or no merit to the series.

In a joint statement released by the NCAA and OSU, and “[a]fter a thorough review by the NCAA Enforcement Staff and an outside consultant hired by Oklahoma State University,” it’s been determined that “allegations of misconduct in the Oklahoma State football program as reported by the media in September 2013 were fundamentally unfounded.” Investigators from both sides “reviewed approximately 50,000 emails and interviewed nearly 100 individuals involved with Oklahoma State’s football program, including current and former coaches, administrators, student-athletes, students and prospects.”

The statement did note that “a few individuals outside the university refused to cooperate.”

In the “exposé,” SI.com alleged that the Cowboys football program had been guilty of committing what would have been numerous major NCAA violations. The allegations included sexual favors for prospective recruits; rampant drug use and abuse; impermissible benefits being paid to players by boosters and coaches; and academic fraud.

Most of the allegations were alleged to have occurred during Les Miles‘ time as OSU head coach.

The joint investigation did uncover three Level II NCAA violations that were unrelated to the SI series. The NCAA defines a Level II violation as a “significant breach of conduct… that provides or are intended to provide more than a minimal but less than a substantial or extensive recruiting, competitive or other advantage. Level II violations are the second-most severe in the NCAA’s new-ish four-tiered violation system; you can click HERE for the penalty guidelines.

In a statement, OSU president V. Burns Hargis somewhat detailed what resulted in the Level II violations, a designation with which he and the university disagree.

“During the extensive inquiry, a few situations were identified which led to three allegations in a Notice of Allegations from the NCAA where it appears we may have misapplied our drug testing policy and on-campus recruiting practices,” Hargis’ statement read, in part. “While we question whether these matters warrant a Level II designation, as indicated by the Enforcement Staff in the Notice of Allegations, we have modified our policies and practices in these specific matters to ensure compliance. The institution will prepare a response to the allegations and appear before the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions in the near future. The Committee on Infractions will review the positions of the Enforcement Staff and the University on the nature of each allegation. We look forward to our appearance before the Committee on Infractions to present our positions.”

The Oklahoman went into further detail as to the three violations for which the athletic department will be compelled to appear before the COI at an undetermined time.

  • Failure to adequately apply the university’s drug policy on five occasions, out of 94 positive tests involving 60 athletes over a seven-year span, 2007-13. The report issued by Smrt said none of those failures applied to a “multi-year starter” and two of the players left OSU soon after the positive test.
  • The Orange Pride support program was organized through the football program, rather than OSU’s admissions office, which meant it was impermissible for Orange Pride members to talk with prospects or their parents about the university.
  • A charge of failure to monitor, pertaining to the first two allegations.

Mike Gundy was one of a handful of OSU officials to release a statement as well.

“In the aftermath of the Sports Illustrated series, the right thing to do was examine the program,” the head coach stated. “I have attempted to operate our program with integrity and have reinforced to our coaching staff the importance of compliance with NCAA rules. If we had any shortfalls, I wanted to know. While I am pleased, but not surprised, that the claims in Sports Illustrated were fundamentally unfounded, we continue to work with the athletics administration to ensure a clear understanding and application of our policies. From the moment I was chosen to coach my alma mater, I have made decisions to create a NCAA compliant environment, while ensuring student-athlete welfare. I love my players and want them to succeed in life by making good decisions and respecting the rules.”

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Hokies lose Luther Maddy for rest of 2014

Luther Madden, Shane Carden AP

A knee injury and subsequent surgery a month ago was expected to keep Luther Maddy out for 2-4 weeks.  Unfortunately for both the defensive tackle and Virginia Tech, that prognosis was wildly optimistic.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account Monday night, Maddy revealed that he will need to undergo go yet another surgery on his injured knee.  Because of that, Maddy will miss the remainder of the 2014 season.

One of the lone bright spots in the situation is that, while Maddy is a senior, he has yet to use his redshirt.  “I’ll redshirt this season and play another year at [T]ech,” Maddy wrote on social media.

“You won’t find anybody more focused,” the player added in regards to coming back next year.

Maddy originally suffered the injury in a Sept. 13 loss to East Carolina. He played a week later against Georgia Tech before undergoing the first medical procedure on his knee.

Over the past three-plus years, Maddy has started 33 of the 43 games in which he’s played.  After leading the Hokies with 13.5 tackles for loss, 6.5 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries in 2013, Maddy was named third-team All-ACC by the coaches.

In July, Maddy was named preseason first-team All-ACC.

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