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2014 CFT Preseason Preview: Playoff Primer & Predictions

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As you may have heard, we’re on the verge of a new era in college football.

Yes, 2014 will mark the first season since 1997 not played under the old and almost universally despised — and, thankfully, very much dead — Bowl Championship Series that had been used to determine an FBS champion.  Conversely, it will mark the first-ever four-team playoff dubbed, appropriately enough, the College Football Playoff, a system unveiled in June of 2012.

There are many questions and some trepidation as we enter a new frontier for the sport, one which will play for the right to hoist the Dr Pepper College Football Playoff trophy at season’s end..

Below I’ll attempt to answer some of those questions — and alleviate some of the fear and angst to some degree — some may have over the most exciting development in the game since the forward pass was legalized.  Take a deep breath, though; this is a long one.

WHAT
The College Football Playoff, a four-team — for now — mini-tournament that will feature two semifinal games played under the flag of a pair of so-called “contract bowls” and “host bowls,” with a stand-alone contest, having no ties to a current bowl other than potentially the venue, serving as the championship game.  A 13-person committee will determine the four playoff participants and seed them as well, with the No. 1 seed facing the No. 4 seed in one semifinal and the Nos. 2 and 3 squaring off in the other.

And, for those who are wondering: there is no rule that would prevent a team from one conference facing a team from the same conference in a semifinal game.  Nor is there a hard, fast rule that would preclude a rematch from the recently-completed regular season in a semifinal.  Of course, it’s possible the committee could steer the selections away from such scenarios — even by way of seeding — but there is no concrete rule in place that would prevent it.

Case in point on rematches and two playoff teams from one conference in one fell swoop?  Those associated with the CFP have already stated that, if this new system were in place last year, Florida State (#1 seed), Auburn (#2), Alabama (#3) and Oregon (#4) would have been the four playoff teams.  In other words, the SEC would’ve had two teams, including a non-champion, while the champions from the other two Power Five conference — Big Ten (Michigan State) and Big 12 (Baylor) — would’ve been shut out.  At least one Power Five conference will miss the playoff every year, and, as evidenced by last year, possibly two.  After X amount of time and missed playoffs, expect a conference or conferences to begin making noise very publicly about expanding the field to at least eight — and pushing their agenda that the system should consist of each Power Five conference champion to go along with three wildcards.

The initial phase of the CFP is a contract for 12 years in length — through the 2025 season — and for just four teams for those dozen seasons. However, many observers expect that, due to the lure of the almighty dollar and pissed-off leagues, the playoff will be expanded to eight teams at some point before the end of the 12-year contract.  If it doesn’t expand prior to the end of the first contract, just about anyone connected to the sport firmly believes it will be expanded for the beginning of the second contract.

MoneyAll three of the CFP games will be televised annually on ESPN, which paid in excess of $7 billion — that’s billion with a “b” — for the rights to the playoff for the entire length of the contract.  Roughly 75 percent of that money will go to the Power Five conferences and Notre Dame, which will split their cut up amongst their various members.  While the Non-Power Five conferences — the AAC, Conference USA, MAC, MWC and Sun Belt along with independents Army and BYU (Navy’s moving to the AAC in 2015) — will receive just a 25-percent(ish) cut of the billions, they will receive roughly five times as much per league as they did under the BCS.

In the first year of the CFP, the Power Five conferences are expected to make $50 million each, while the Non-Power Five conferences will share $75 million; in the final year of the BCS, those “mid-major” conferences split $15 million.  Over the course of the 12-year contract, the top five conferences are expected to receive an average of $90 million annually from the CFP.  By Year 12 of the first contract, the Power Five conferences are expected to see revenue in excess of $150 million per league.

Such a figure would be the starting point for Year 1 of the second contract, a starting point that would increase dramatically with the addition of four more teams and four additional (quarterfinal) games.

WHO
The “who” is the key, the linchpin, to the whole process.  How successful the CFP can end up being will in large part be determined by how the committee as a whole leaves its collective biases — or at least most of them, and as much as humanly possible — at the meeting room door.

As mentioned above, the committee that will select the four teams will consist of 13 members.  Five of those members will be current athletic directors from each of the Power Five conferences — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, with Arkansas’ Jeff Long serving as the chairperson.  Below is the entire 13-member committee and their respective affiliations, with tenure expiration listed in parentheses:

*Jeff Long, Arkansas athletic director (February 2018)
*Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin athletic director (February 2017)
— Lieutenant General Mike Gould, former superintendent of the United States Air Force Academy (February 2016)
Pat Haden, USC athletic director (February 2016)
Tom Jernstedt, former NCAA executive vice president (February 2018)
*Oliver Luck, West Virginia athletic director (February 2017)
Archie Manning, former Ole Miss quarterback (February 2017)
Tom Osborne, former head coach and athletic director at Nebraska (February 2016)
*Dan Radakovich, Clemson athletic director (February 2018)
Condoleezza Rice, Stanford professor, former Stanford provost and former United States Secretary of State (February 2017)
Mike Tranghese, former Big East commissioner (February 2016)
Steve Wieberg, former college football reporter, USA Today (February 2018)
Tyrone Willingham, former head coach Notre Dame, Stanford and Washington (February 2018)

Earlier we mentioned committee members leaving their biases at the meeting room door; there are provisions in place that should, in theory, aid in that part of the process.  Specifically, a recusal policy, the terms of which the CFP describes as “a recused member shall not participate in any votes, nor be present during deliberations involving the team’s selection or seeding, but may answer factual questions about the institution from which the member is recused.”

Condoleezza Rice

Condoleezza Rice

Of course, all five current athletic directors — denoted by asterisks above — will be recused when the conversation turns to their respective football programs.  Additionally, the following recusals were announced earlier this month:

– Lieutenant General Mike Gould, Air Force: the former superintendent of the Colorado Springs service academy.
Archie Manning, Ole Miss, former Rebels star quarterback who still maintains deep ties to the school and the football program.
Tom Osborne, Nebraska: former head coach and athletic director for the Cornhuskers
Condoleezza Rice, Stanford, current professor and former provost at the university

There is no conference-wide recusal policy, meaning that, for example, Long would be permitted to stay in the room if Alabama is being discussed.

Additionally, the 13 committee members receive no pay for their services, which will consist mainly of watching football and committee meetings.  The first in-person set of meetings will be Oct 27 (Monday) and Oct. 28 (Tuesday), with the first set of what are described as “interim rankings” released Oct. 28.  In-person meetings will be held every Monday and Tuesday thereafter, with the final set of meetings coming after the conclusion of the regular season, conference championship games included but excluding the Dec. 13 Army-Navy game.  The final set of rankings, including the seedings of the four playoff teams, will be released Sunday, Dec. 7.  There’s even a specific time for the release: 12:45 p.m. ET that Sunday afternoon.

The committee will also be responsible for slotting teams into the remaining four contract or host bowls that aren’t part of the semifinals a particular year.  The contract bowls are: Rose (Pac-12 vs. Big Ten), Sugar (SEC vs. Big 12) and Orange (ACC vs. Big Ten, SEC or Notre Dame). The three host bowls are: Fiesta, Cotton and Chick-fil-A. If a conference champion from one of the contract bowls does not qualify for the playoff, they will be automatically slotted into their respective postseason game, provided it’s not a semifinal game that year. If conference champions from the contract bowls — more years than not this will involve multiple leagues — qualify for the playoffs, the committee would choose replacement teams.

The team with the highest CFP seeding will be placed in the closest semifinal game to it geographically.  For example, if Florida State is the No. 1 seed this year, they would go to the Sugar Bowl as that bowl is closer to Tallahassee than the Rose Bowl.  Same for a team like Alabama.  Should, say, Oregon earn the top seed, they would play at the Rose Bowl against the No. 4 seed, with the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds going to the Sugar Bowl.

As for the host bowls, the CFP “Frequently Asked Questions” describes it best, including how one Non-Power Five member will play in one of the marquee bowl games every year:

The highest ranked champion of the other five Football Bowl Subdivision conferences (the American Athletic, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West and Sun Belt), as determined by the selection committee, will play in one of the six New Year’s bowls. Other available berths will be awarded to the teams ranked highest by the committee. The committee will assign teams to bowls.

When the Fiesta, Cotton and Atlanta bowls are not hosting semifinal games, their participants will come from three sources: (1) The highest ranked champion among the five conferences listed in the paragraph above, (2) conference champions that are displaced when their contracted bowls host semifinals and (3) the remaining teams ranked highest in the committee’s rankings.

How will the committee fill the slots in the marquee bowls? Again, from the FAQ:

The committee will assign teams to the non-playoff bowls to create the most compelling match-ups, while considering other factors such as geographic proximity, avoiding rematches of regular-season games and avoiding rematches of recent years’ bowl games.

Cowboys StadiumWHERE
The semifinals will rotate through six bowl games: the Rose (Pasadena, Cal.), Orange (Miami, Fla.), Sugar (New Orleans, La.), Fiesta (Glendale, Ariz.), Cotton (Arlington, Tex.) and Peach (Atlanta, Ga.). When those games don’t host a semifinal, they will serve as the so-called “marquee bowls.” The semifinals this season will be the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, with the semifinals moving to the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl for the 2015 season and the Fiesta Bowl and Peach Bowl for the 2016 season before rotating back to the first two semifinal bowl games for the 2017 season.

The championship game will be bid out and played all across the country. The first stand-alone title game will be played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys and the Cotton Bowl. University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., was awarded the 2015 title game (played in 2016) while Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. submitted the winning bid for 2016 (played in 2017).

An announcement on the host stadiums for the 2017 and 2018 seasons likely won’t be made until sometime after the first CFP championship game is played in early 2015.

WHEN
The semifinal games will both take place either December 31 or January 1 of their respective years and on the same day, with the former serving as game days for the 2015, 2016, 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022, 2024 and 2025 seasons and the latter for the 2014, 2017, 2020 and 2023 seasons.  For the 2014 season, the Fiesta, Orange and Peach bowls will be played Dec. 31, while the Cotton Bowl will be played Jan. 1, prior to the two semifinal games.

The Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl, incidentally, will be played on Jan. 1 every year, which is why most of the semifinal games will be played Dec. 31.

Below are the future dates for the 12 CFP championship games that have already been scheduled.  One thing to note is that every title game through this 12-year cycle will be played on a Monday night:

Jan. 12, 2015
Jan. 11, 2016
Jan. 9, 2017
Jan. 8, 2018
Jan. 7, 2019
Jan. 13, 2020
Jan. 11, 2021
Jan. 10, 2022
Jan. 9, 2023
Jan. 8, 2024
Jan. 13, 2025
Jan. 12, 2026

WHY
Manziel Money GIF
Money

HOW
Hope you brought a lunch, because the “How” could take a while.

First of all, we’ll give you the CFP’s official qualifier/disclaimer as to the selection process in which the four playoff teams will be decided:

Ranking football teams is an art, not a science. Football is popular in some measure because the outcome of a game between reasonably matched teams is so often decided by emotional commitment, momentum, injuries and the “unexpected bounce of the ball.” In any ranking system, perfection or consensus is not possible and the physical impact of the game on student athletes prevents elaborate playoff systems of multiple games. For purposes of any four team playoff, the process will inevitably need to select the four best teams from among several with legitimate claims to participate.

Now, with that out of the way, on to the meat & taters of the process.

As I noted up above somewhere, the committee will hold meetings every Monday and Tuesday and release a Top 25 every week, with the first set of rankings scheduled to be released Oct. 28. “How exactly will the committee arrive at its weekly Top 25?” you may be asking yourself. I’m glad you asked.

1. Each committee member will create a list of the 25 teams he or she believes to be the best in the country, in no particular order. Teams listed by three or more members will remain under consideration.
2. Each member will list the best six teams, in no particular order. The six teams receiving the most votes will comprise the pool for the first seeding ballot.
3. In the first seeding ballot, each member will rank those six teams, one through six, with one being the best. The three teams receiving the fewest points will become the top three seeds. The three teams that were not seeded will be held over for the next seeding ballot.
4. Each member will list the six best remaining teams, in no particular order. The three teams receiving the most votes will be added to the three teams held over to comprise the next seeding ballot.
5. Steps No. 3 and 4 will be repeated until 25 teams have been seeded.

It should be noted that, at no point in that five-step process, are committee members permitted to include any team from which they are recused on any of the lists mentioned above.

Of course, there were also notes attached to the five-step voting process (notes A-C dealt with recusals):

D. Between each step, the committee members will conduct a thorough evaluation of the teams before conducting the vote.
E. After the rankings are completed, any group of three or more teams can be reconsidered if more than three members vote to do so. Step No. 3 would be repeated to determine if adjustments should be made.
F. After the first nine teams are seeded, the number of teams for Steps No. 2, 3 and 4 will be increased to eight and four, respectively.
G. At any time in the process, the number of teams to be included in a pool may be increased or decreased with approval of more than eight members of the committee.
H. All votes will be by secret ballot.

There is one more important aspect of the CFP process that I haven’t mentioned yet which supersedes just about everything else mentioned thus far: criteria utilized by the committee members in their rankings. As previously noted, ranking football teams is more art than science, but there is some specific data on which the committee will lean.

The official CFP protocol states that the committee “will be instructed to place an emphasis on winning conference championships, strength of schedule and head-to-head competition when comparing teams with similar records and pedigree (treat final determination like a tie-breaker; apply specific guidelines).” Why pedigree — i.e. history, and whether said history is positive, negative or somewhere in between — should have anything to do with a specific year is a significant unknown.

Bill Hancock

Bill Hancock

Additionally, a company called SportSource Analytics will be providing the committee with an expansive and extensive statistical database on which to rely. Harkening back to the dark and dreary days of the BCS, CFP executive director Bill Hancock has stressed that analytics — i.e. computers — will not be a part of the equation. Rather, the committee will be receiving raw data that they, not a computer or company, will analyze and interpret for themselves.

“There’s no analytics,” Hancock said. “Obviously, the word analytics is in the company name, and they might be doing analytics for other clients, but not for us. There’s some hangover from the BCS days of people wanting the data to be manipulated or compiled. But we wanted just raw data. That’s what we asked for, and that’s what they’re giving us.”

In a similar vein, one piece of data that the committee is not permitted to take into account? Polls that are released before any games have been played, which means, technically, the Associate Press and coaches’ polls cannot be a part of the discussion. For that, we should all be thankful.

One piece of data that will be taken into account? “[R]elevant factors such as key injuries that may have affected a team’s performance during the season or likely will affect its postseason performance.” In other words, if a star quarterback goes down early and that injury contributes to a loss or two but the team finishes strong down the stretch, that team will remain under consideration for a playoff slot. Conversely, if a star player or players goes/go down with an injury late in the season, that would be a factor that would permit the committee to disregard that team regardless of the record.  That’s a slippery slope, one that could come back and bite the committee specifically and the CFP as a whole.

Also, the CFP explains that “[c]omparative outcomes of common opponents (without incenting margin of victory)” will be a principle that guides the committee.

The SwamiPREDICTIONS
So, with the minutia out of the way, on to the stuff that will cause the most bitching and/or whining and/or moaning: predictions!!!

If you look at most of these types of predictions, there is pretty much a consensus on three teams most feel will be a part of the four-team playoff field: last year’s BCS champion Florida State, Oregon and Alabama.  After that, it runs the gamut from Michigan State to Oklahoma to 2013 BCS runnerup Auburn to UCLA to South Carolina to Baylor as possibilities nationally.  Ohio State would’ve been a part of the discussion as well prior to The Injury, and could very well be a part of it by season’s end if they can get past MSU in East Lansing.

Below are how the four of us here at CFT see the first College Football Playoff playing out, with seeds, explanations and everything!  Enjoy, and unload on all/some/one of us below that:

KEVIN MCGUIRE
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oklahoma
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oregon
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama

Florida State enters the season as the team seemingly best equipped for a national title run. Now knowing what it takes to win, the Seminoles bring back a Heisman Trophy quarterback and a roster as deep as almost any in the country thanks to years of solid recruiting under Jimbo Fisher. In the same light, you have Alabama looking to prove it can plug in pieces to Nick Saban‘s program thanks to years of recruiting victories building a massively deep roster. No quarterback? Not yet, but somehow Saban will find a way. Oklahoma surged at the right time last season and enters the 2014 season a favorite in the Big 12, a conference not particularly deep in talent and obstacles this fall aside from a potent Baylor squad. Oklahoma should manage to wiggle out of the Big 12 and sneak in front of any champion from the Big Ten. The same holds true for Oregon, with the Ducks coming off a “down” year in Eugene, which seems silly to say when you look back at the 2013 season. The Ducks took a minor step back in a year of coaching transition, but Year 2 under Mark Helfrich should be better. When it comes down to the match-ups, I think Alabama is better suited for a rematch with the Sooners, if not just better prepared for it, and Florida State’s style will find a way to slow down Oregon’s offensive schemes, setting up what would be an epic Florida State-Alabama match-up for it all.

BRENT SOBLESKI
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Wisconsin
Championship: Florida State vs. Oregon

To be the man, you got to beat the man. And Florida State is the team with the target on its back this season. The Seminoles should be ready for the challenge due to the amount of talent returning to this year’s roster. Florida State will likely cruise through the regular season and retain the No. 1 seed. It doesn’t mean the ACC’s best will be the best team in the country this season. Alabama and Oregon will be nipping at their heels. Alabama is always stacked and the SEC’s champion is essentially guaranteed to get a spot in the College Football Playoff. Oregon, meanwhile, will continue to put up points and receive elite play from its quarterback, Marcus Mariota. The fourth spot is completely up for grabs between the the champions of the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. The Big Ten, in particular, is wide open after the devastating injury to Ohio State’s Heisman hopeful Braxton Miller. The Badgers should make a very good impression at the start of the season when they face the LSU Tigers, and their schedule should allow them to remain undefeated in Big Ten play before participating in the conference’s title game. Florida State would easily overpower the Badgers in the Sugar Bowl, though. And Oregon has the edge on offense and athleticism against the Crimson Tide. When the Ducks and Seminoles meet, the two best quarterbacks in college football will be on the field with the opportunity to will their team to the first national championship decided by the College Football Playoff.

JJ STANKEVITZ
Rose Bowl: #2 Alabama vs. #3 Oregon
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship: Florida State vs. Alabama

I really struggled with the No. 4 team here. I like UCLA more than Oklahoma, but UCLA plays a far tougher schedule with more than enough chances for a slip-up beyond Oct. 11’s showdown with Oregon. Braxton Miller‘s injury puts a serious dent in the Big Ten’s chances of getting a team in unless Michigan State can go to Eugene and win in Week 2. The rest of the SEC — Auburn, South Carolina, LSU, Georgia, Ole Miss, etc — might eat itself alive. This isn’t to say I don’t like Oklahoma, but the Sooners get Baylor, Kansas State and Oklahoma State at home and don’t have to worry about a conference championship game. Their path to the final playoff spot is far easier than other teams in the mix, so I’m going with them along with the ACC, SEC and Pac-12 champions.

JOHN TAYLOR
Rose Bowl: #2 Oregon vs. #3 Alabama
Sugar Bowl: #1 Florida State vs. #4 Oklahoma
Championship:  Florida State vs. Oregon

Heading into the season and at least on paper, most observers agree that Florida State, Oregon and Alabama, in some order, are the class of college football.  With Ohio State losing Braxton Miller to a season-ending injury, the fourth spot would now seemingly be up in the air.  I almost pulled the trigger on the biggest beneficiary of Miller’s injury, Michigan State, for the fourth seed before settling for an Oklahoma team that smacked Alabama around in the Sugar Bowl.  Well, that and I don’t see the Spartans getting past the Ducks early this season, which, combined with a Wisconsin loss to LSU, could damage whoever emerges as the champion of the Big Ten in the eyes of the playoff committee.  One additional note on potential semifinalists: if you’re looking for a conference that might have two teams represented in the CFP, look at the Pac-12, not the SEC.  Oregon is seemingly a given, and don’t sleep on UCLA.  They are a very, very underrated squad who could sneak in ahead of some of the other teams being mentioned as viable candidates for CFP spots — especially if the committee practices what it’s preaching in the preseason.  In the end, I see both Florida State and Oregon, the two most-talented squads in the country, trumping whichever team it is they face in the semifinals, setting the stage for an epic first-ever College Football Playoff title game.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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Arizona State QB Taylor Kelly expected to start vs. Washington

Taylor Kelly, Jake Gallegos

There is no Wally Pipp situation breaking out in Tempe.

At his weekly press conference on Monday, Arizona State head coach Todd Graham told the assembled media he expects Taylor Kelly to resume his roll atop the quarterback depth chart Saturday versus Washington.

Kelly hasn’t seen the field since leaving the Sun Devils’ Sept. 13 win over Colorado early with a foot injury.

Backup Mike Bercovici finished that game and started the next three. He threw for 488 yards and three touchdowns with two costly interceptions as the Sun Devils were bludgeoned over the head for a 62-27 loss to UCLA on Sept. 25, but the junior has rebounded nicely since then. He hit 27-of-45 passes for 510 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-34 stunner over USC, and threw for 245 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s 26-10 win over Stanford.

Most importantly, Bercovici has not thrown an interception in 50 combined attempts over the last two seasons.

Alas, Kelly was the entrenched starter heading into this season, and the entrenched starter he will remain.

For the season, Kelly has completed 42-of-68 passes for 625 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions while rushing 19 times for 168 yards and two more scores.

The 14th-ranked Sun Devils will visit Washington at 10:45 p.m. ET on ESPN this Saturday.

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Purdue loses linebacker Robinson to torn ACL

Sean Robinson, Malcom Agnew

Purdue senior linebacker Sean Robinson has played his final game of the 2014 season. Boilermakers head coach Darrell Hazell announced Monday Robinson tore his ACL in his right knee in a game earlier this season.

Robinson’s ACL was torn back on October 4 against Illinois. He recorded five tackles in the game before having to leave for medical treatment. He did not play in either of Purdue’s two most recent games, against Michigan State or Minnesota. Hazell said Robinson will undergo surgery later this month, on October 28.

Robinson was Purdue’s fourth-leading tackler this season with 42 tackles, including 27 solo tackles.

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Sorry Florida fans, Muschamp not going anywhere (yet)

Will Muschamp

As the season got off to a poor start in Gainesville, Florida, athletics director Jeremy Foley issued a statement saying the performance of head coach Will Muschamp and the direction of the football program would be evaluated at the end of the regular season. That still appears to be the case despite one of the worst losses the Gators have experienced in some time at the hands of Missouri.

“At the beginning of the season we said we would evaluate the season as it plays out,’’ Foley said in a statement released on the school’s athletics website. “We will continue to do so. Our sole focus right now is supporting our coaching staff and players as they prepare for Georgia.”

Florida’s 42-13 loss at home to Missouri dropped the Gators to 3-3 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. Florida still has games against Georgia in two weeks and Florida State at the end of the regular season. Coming off a blowout loss and going into a bye week feels about as good a time as any for a school to make an in-season coaching change. As it appears Muschamp will manage to hold onto the job, it would appear Muschamp will remain on the sideline in charge of the Florida program through the end of the regular season.

Making a change in season likely does nothing in terms of making changes for the future, other than showing fans change is coming. Florida should be attractive enough as a football program to lure just about any coach it would have its sights on, even with a potential vacancy opening up at a school like Michigan. There could be some former Florida assistants worth keeping an eye on as well, such as Dan Mullen at Mississippi State and Steve Addazio at Boston College. Charlie Strong is another former Florida assistant as well, and is currently the head coach at Texas. Would Strong leave Texas for Florida?

We will see where Florida goes from here, but for now, the program is in the hands of Muschamp.

At least for another week or two.

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Media doesn’t learn lesson, Jimbo Fisher cuts interview short

Jimbo Fisher, Jameis Winston

Florida State is coming off its biggest win of the year, against Notre Dame. The Seminoles are now staring down a possible 12-0 regular season and third straight ACC championship en route to a spot in the first College Football Playoff. They will do so while facing all sorts of drama off the field surrounding Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Jameis Winston. The focus on Winston may be getting to head coach Jimbo Fisher. Fisher lashed out at media coverage of his program a week ago, and today he decided to cut an interview short after fielding too many questions about Winston.

Asked if there was any update on the university disciplinary hearing for Winston, Fisher attempted to shift the focus to Louisville in a similar fashion to how he did last week with Notre Dame.

“We’re moving on with Louisville and talking about the other things,” Fisher said. “Everything should be great.”

Fisher soon got hot under the collar and brought an end to the interview opportunity once questioned about his reputation.Fisher put his integrity on the line with his public defense of Winston, saying there was no crime committed because Winston was never charged. Coaches will come to the defense of their players, so this is not exactly going against the grain for Fisher, but to do so in such an adamant fashion and direct blame on media coverage opens Fisher up to possible warranted criticism if Winston is found guilty of violating the university code of conduct.

“I don’t want to get into this,” Fisher said. “These questions weren’t supposed to be asked today.”

If not today, Fisher, when would work best for you?

Fisher put his integrity on the line with his public defense of Winston, saying there was no crime committed because Winston was never charged. Coaches will come to the defense of their players, so this is not exactly going against the grain for Fisher, but to do so in such an adamant fashion and direct blame on media coverage opens Fisher up to possible warranted criticism if Winston is found guilty of violating the university code of conduct.

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Ohio State assistant Larry Johnson not bitter, looks forward to return to Penn State

Larry Johnson

Former Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson has no bitter feelings about his previous employer, and he is looking forward to returning to Beaver Stadium this week.

Johnson is now a member of the Ohio State coaching staff. Urban Meyer was quick to pounce on Johnson after the longtime Penn State assistant stepped away form the program. Johnson had interest in the head coaching vacancy after Bill O’Brien left Penn State to coach the Houston Texans in the NFL, but Penn State opted to go with James Franklin. With Franklin bringing as much as his staff as possible from Vanderbilt, Johnson saw the writing on the wall and decided to move on from Penn State. Franklin made it clear from the day he was hired he is extremely loyal to his guys. That should have suggested Johnson was not coming back.

“I had a great time in 18 years at Penn State,” Johnson said Monday in a conference call with the media. “Made great friends and the great players I coached and have been a part of their lives for a long time. It’s a new job and a new place and a new school. So, I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Ohio State visits Penn State this weekend in a primetime Big Ten contest at Beaver Stadium. For the first time, Johnson will be coaching from the visiting sideline.

Penn State was hit hard by NCAA sanctions in recent years, but Johnson stepped up to keep things afloat as much as he possibly could. Johnson was named the interim head coach after O’Brien left for the NFL, but because this happened after the season Johnson’s job was more to keep the roster stabilized and keep the recruits calm. Johnson could have left Penn State a handful of times before for a more prominent role on a coaching staff as a defensive coordinator, but he stuck by Penn State through some tough times on and off the field. After giving the program as much as Johnson had, you could understand if Johnson had some hard feelings about Penn State after not being given a chance to be the head coach or even defensive coordinator, but he says that is not the case.

“There was no bitterness when I left,” Johnson said on Monday. “It was my decision to leave, it was my time to move on. I felt that, with Coach Franklin coming in with a new staff, he had a lot of guys he really liked a lot and I just felt it was the right thing to do to have a chance to step away from it for a while. It was a tough decision to make. But, looking back, it was the right decision to make. So, I have no bitterness at all.”

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Alabama starting center set to return this week

Florida v Alabama

Alabama certainly came back with a strong showing against Texas A&M after critics nitpicked a 14-13 victory over Arkansas enough to set head coach Nick Saban off. Now, as the Crimson Tide get set to travel to Tennessee, the offensive line should get a little stronger. Center Ryan Kelly will return to the starting line-up in the middle of the offensive line this week, according to Saban.

Kelly missed the last two games for Alabama with a minor knee sprain. While out of action, Alabama used redshirt freshman Bradley Bozeman in the middle of the line. As reported by Al.com, Kelly was dressed for Alabama’s game against Texas A&M but was not used. Also, starting right tackle Austin Shepherd injured his ankle or knee during the win over the Aggies that took him out of the game. He is expected to skip practice on Monday but should return after Monday.

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Clemson loses leading rusher to torn ACL

Clemson v Boston College

Clemson managed to avoid an upset at the hand of Boston College, but came at a cost. Freshman running back Adam Choice has been lost for the season after tearing his ACL on Saturday.

The injury occurred early in the game, on Clemson’s second offensive possession of the game. Choice will now rehab and work to return to the field in 2015. It should be expected Clemson will go light on him in the spring as a precaution, but if all goes well Choice will be back in the mix in 2015 for the Tigers. Choice ends his freshman season with 218 rushing yards and one touchdown.

With Choice now done for the season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney will be quick to try and get Tyshon Dye plugged in on offense. Dye tore his Achilles back in February. Dye has been practicing with the team recently and he made the trip up to Boston last weekend. Swinney says Dye is in good shape and said Sunday Clemson is close to getting Dye back on the field. Without Choice, Dye’s return may be accelerated if it does not pose a threat to his health.

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Texas Tech’s leading receiver treated for laceration from off-campus melee

Jakeem Grant, Lloyd Carrington

Texas Tech wide receiver Jakeem Grant was injured in an off-campus alumni gathering gone bad with a shooting and melee incident early Sunday morning. He was treated for a laceration and released at a nearby hospital, but his status with Texas Tech’s football program is unknown or unconfirmed at this time.

According to the information in a report by The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, more than 20 rounds were fired from multiple weapons early Sunday morning, but the details of the incident appear to be hazy right now due to the number of people potentially involved. An officer providing details for the report suggested there is no way to tell right now what may have caused the laceration Grant was treated for. As of now, no arrests have been made for the incident that is currently being reviewed by authorities.

Through seven games, Grant is the leading receiver for Texas Tech with 629 receiving yards and five touchdowns. His 50 receptions this season lead the team.

UPDATE (11:55 a.m. ET): Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury said on the weekly Big 12 conference call he is hopeful Grant will be able to play this weekend. Texas Tech will visit TCU this weekend.

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No update on QB Trevor Knight form Bob Stoops

Trevor Knight

Oklahoma quarterback Trevor Knight was forced to be taken out of Saturday’s game against Kansas State, but he did return. On Monday, during the weekly Big 12 coaches conference call, Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops had no updates to share on Knight’s status moving forward.

Knight returned to Saturday’s game with a brace on his left arm. He was seen testing the flexibility in his elbow before heading to the locker room after being knocked out by Kansas State’s defense. Knight had taken off to run with the football when he stretched for some extra yards with a head-first dive. He landed on his left arm and required some medical attention that forced him to sit out the remainder of the offensive possession, but he returned the game after a brief absence. He was intercepted deep in his own side of the field, which Kansas State returned for a short touchdown, but he answered back on the next possession with a quick two-play, 69-yard touchdown drive.

Oklahoma is off this week. The Sooners return to Big 12 play next week with a road game at Iowa State.

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Heisman trust ‘erroneously’ removed integrity from Mission Statement after website redesign

Heisman Trophy

There was a bit of a kerfuffle earlier this month when Sports Illustrated noticed the word “integrity” was no longer part of the Heisman Trust’s Mission Statement. Now we know why: A mix-up in a redesign of the Heisman’s website.

“During the website creation process ‘integrity’ was erroneously omitted from the Trust mission statement by staff without Trust authorization,” Heisman Trust president William J. Dockery told Sports Illustrated.

Seems to me like that’s a pretty significant omission, especially at a time in which Jameis Winston’s integrity is being questioned and the Heisman front-runner was suspended for signing autographs for money.

But breathe easy, folks. The word integrity is back in the first line of the mission statement, which is now updated to read:

The Heisman Memorial Trophy annually recognizes the outstanding college football player whose performance best exhibits the pursuit of excellence with integrity. Winners epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust ensures the continuation and integrity of this award. The Trust, furthermore, has a charitable mission to support amateur athletics and to provide greater opportunities to the youth of our country. Our goal through these charitable endeavors is for the Heisman Trophy to symbolize the fostering of a sense of community responsibility and service to our youth, especially those disadvantaged or afflicted. All assets of the Trust beyond the expense of maintaining the annual presentation of the Heisman Memorial Trophy are reserved for such charitable causes. The Trustees, who all serve pro bono, are guided by a devotion to college football and are committed to community service and the valued tradition which the Trophy represents.

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The Will Muschamp era at Florida summed up in one stat

Will Muschamp AP

Florida held Missouri to 119 yards of offense on Saturday. Maty Mauk completed six of 18 passes for 20 yards while Mizzou combined to rush 31 times for 99 yards, barely a three-yards-per-carry average.

The final score: 42-13 Mizzou.

Three years ago, Florida State gained 95 yards on the Gators in the Swamp. E.J. Manuel completed six of 13 passes for 65 yards while the Seminoles rushed 46 times for 30 yards.

The final score: 21-7 Florida State.

Now take a look at this:

No doubt Will Muschamp will make an excellent defensive coordinator for someone when his time at Florida is up. And that time, one would think, will be up soon.

Hat-tip to Dan Wolken’s misery index for pointing out the stat.

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Archie Manning takes leave of absence from College Football Playoff selection committee

Logo No. 2 of four AP

Archie Manning will take a leave of absence from the College Football Playoff selection committee following complications stemming from a knee replacement surgery and will not participate in picking the four teams for the inaugural tournament this year.

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen was the first to report Manning’s decision to step down.

“It is an honor to serve on this committee, and I enjoy the group and was looking forward to the opportunity ahead,” Manning said in a statement. “My health had to be my primary concern and I intend to be up and about as soon as possible.”

Manning, the former Ole Miss quarterback and 1969 SEC Player of the Year, was one of 13 members of the selection committee, which will release its first top 25 rankings Oct. 28.

“We will miss Archie,” executive director of the College Football Playoff Bill Hancock said. “He has such a great knowledge of college football and history with the game, but we all understand his reason for taking a leave. I wish him all the best and look forward to his return in 2015.”

The College Football Playoff selection committee will not add a new member and will move forward with 12 members this year. The other members: Jeff Long (chair), Barry Alvarez, Mike Gould, Pat Haden, Tom Jernstedt, Oliver Luck, Tom Osborne, Dan Radakovich, Condoleezza Rice, Mike Tranghese, Steve Wieberg and Tyrone Willingham.

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Carson-Newman coach Ken Sparks ties Bear Bryant for sixth all-time with 323 wins

Ken Sparks

The football programs at Carson-Newman University and the University of Alabama have next to nothing in common beyond playing the same sport.

Until now.

Carson-Newman, a Division II school in Johnson City, Tenn., stormed back from a 35-27 halftime deficit to defeat Tusculum College 55-35 on Saturday, giving head coach Ken Sparks his 323rd all-time win. The victory moves Sparks – now 323-87-2 at Carson-Newman, a job he’s held continuously since 1980 – into a tie for sixth-place on the all-time victories chart with legendary Kentucky, Texas A&M and Alabama head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who went 323-85-17 from 1945 to 1982.

“I told (my players) if anybody wanted to talk about the number of victories that I had, you tell them that I didn’t play a play,” Sparks told the Associated Press.

Sparks, 70, is now within striking distance of the top five, trailing legendary Mount Union coach Larry Kehres by just 10 victories. Saint John’s head coach John Gagliardi holds the all-time wins record at 489, followed by Grambling’s Eddie Robinson (408), Howard, West Virginia and Florida State coach Bobby Bowden (377), pre-modern era titan Glenn “Pop” Warner (336) and Kehres (332).

Sparks was diagnosed with prostate cancer over the summer of 2012, and earned his 300th career victory in his first game after the diagnosis.

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Upon further review, ACC defends offensive pass interference penalty against Notre Dame

Notre Dame at Florida State

Just as surgeons are highly unlikely to announce they botched it, officials are very reluctant to announce one of their one got it wrong. Especially in a high-profile case like the decisive call that took Notre Dame’s would-be game-winning touchdown off the board Saturday night at Florida State.

NDFSU

In the wake of the call, the ACC trotted coordinator of football officials Doug Rhoads out to explain the ruling.

“Offensive players on passing plays are restricted from going downfield and blocking anytime from the snap,” he said. “If the ball is first touched behind the line of scrimmage then that would be legal and it’s okay, but if it’s touched beyond the line then it’s offensive pass interference.”

Instead of kicking an extra point to take a 34-31 lead over second-ranked and defending national champion Florida State, Notre Dame faced a fourth-and-goal from the 18-yard line. Fighting Irish quarterback Everett Golson was pressured by Seminoles defensive back Jalen Ramsey, and his hurried pass sailed through the back of the end zone untouched. Final score: Florida State 31, Notre Dame 27.

Rhoads’ explanation isn’t going to make the loss any easier to swallow for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly. In fact, Kelly said he had less clarity about the penalty a day later than he did when the flag first hit the Doak Campbell Stadium grass.

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Criticism of USC DC Justin Wilcox reportedly at core of spat between LenDale White and Pat Haden

LenDale White carries the ball Getty Images

“You can win championships for this program,” former USC running back LenDale White told the Los Angeles Times Saturday, “but you can’t voice your opinion.”

That opinion White is talking about is the opinion the former Trojan holds of USC defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. White tweeted the following during last Saturday’s game with Arizona, which USC eventually won on a last-second missed field goal.

Fast forward to Saturday. According to InsideSoCal.com, athletics director Pat Haden – no stranger to sideline drama - confronted White about his tweets, and the two began arguing. Following USC’s 56-28 defeat of Colorado, White tweeted the following:

The USC athletics department denies Haden kicked White out of L.A. Coliseum. Reached on the field following the game, White told the L.A. Times, “I’ve never met some of these coaches. I’ve never been a part of them. I am a Trojan 20,000%. I back them 120%. I just get emotional during football games. I’m sorry.”

Minutes later, White had changed his mind. “I feel that exact same way as I did last week,” White said, before the paper quoted him shouting, “Fire Sark tonight.” Again, this was minutes after USC won a conference game by 28 points. It’s also worth noting Sarkisian was USC’s quarterbacks coach during White’s freshman and junior seasons.

“I think LenDale is a passionate guy,” head coach Steve Sarkisian said of his former running back. “He loves USC. We all want to win. We are all passionate about what we do. It is what it is.”

Indeed, Mr. White. Indeed.

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