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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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History in the making: Ohio State in talks with Army to play future contest

Annual Army Navy Football Game

The Ohio State Buckeyes opened up their latest national championship campaign with a 34-17 victory over the Navy Midshipmen.

The next time the Buckeyes will face a service academy, though, won’t be until after the 2016 campaign.

Ohio State is currently in talks with the Army Black Knights to schedule a game at a future date.

Amazingly, these two programs have never met on the gridiron despite their long and illustrious histories.

While Army’s schedule remains flexible due to being an independent program, Ohio State will have to work around their conference schedule. Like Navy, Army will likely serve as a season-opening opponent. The first year both teams have an opening at the beginning of their schedules will be the 2017 campaign.

Army doesn’t have any current openings early in the season that coincide with Ohio State’s 2018 schedule.

The two sides also have openings at the start of the 2019 campaign.

Due to the size of Ohio State and the importance of home games for the Buckeyes’ athletic department, Army will almost certainly be a one- or two-game contract with the contests being played at Ohio Stadium.

The two sides still need to finalize an agreement, though.

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WKU loses two QBs, including former Tide transfer

Troy Jones

With record-setting quarterback Brandon Doughty returning for a sixth season, the players behind him at the quarterback position will, barring injury, have very little chance of seeing meaningful action in 2015.

With that as a backdrop, Western Kentucky confirmed Wednesday that a pair of quarterbacks are no longer a part of the football program, the Bowling Green Daily News is reporting.  JUCO transfer Troy Jones (pictured, under towel) and redshirt sophomore Parker McLeod are the two in question, although only one will continue his playing career.

According to the Daily News, Jones will be seeking a transfer for the 2015 season.  As Jones would be a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately at an FBS program.  However, it appears he will head to an FCS team, where he would also be eligible to play in 2015.

Jones threw four of the five non-Doughty passes for the Hilltoppers in 2014, completing two of them for 11 yards.  Those were the only passes of his WKU career.

Conversely, McLeod has decided to transfer to another school but will not play football.

McLeod was a three-star member of Alabama’s 2013 recruiting class.  After redshirting his true freshman season, he left Alabama in May of last year before landing at WKU two months later.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, he was forced to sit out the 2014 season.

(Photo credit: Western Kentucky athletics)

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Long-time Mizzou AD Mike Alden stepping down

Mike Alden

One of the longest-tenured athletic directors in the country has decided to call it quits.

In a press release late Thursday afternoon, Missouri announced that Mike Alden‘s last day on the job will be Aug. 31 of this year.  In his statement, Alden said that “[a]fter several months of contemplation, I have decided that it is time for a change, both for me and for the university I dearly love.”

A press conference will be held Friday morning and will feature Alden, president Bowen Loftin and Dean Michael Clay.

Even as Alden is leaving a post he has held since 1998, he won’t be leaving the university as he will transition into an instructor in the Positive Coaching Program in Mizzou’s College of Education.

While Alden can boast of numerous accomplishments during his nearly two decades as the head of Mizzou athletics, shepherding the Tigers into the SEC will likely be his lasting legacy.  After a trying first season, Mizzou has claimed back-to-back SEC East titles in football the past two seasons.

Beyond the on-field success, the move to the SEC will continue to pay financial benefits to the entire athletic department long after Alden steps down.

Mizzou I

Mizzou II

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E. Washington releases statement on Oregon QB transfer target

Eastern Washington v Washington Getty Images

Wednesday, reports surfaced that not only was Vernon Adams a potential transfer target for Oregon, but that the star FCS quarterback was a near-lock to move on to the Ducks.

A day later, EWU has addressed the Adams situation.  Sort of.

While not specifically mentioning his name, EWU released a statement Thursday acknowledging “[i]n the current situation that has arisen recently, we have granted the ability for our student-athlete to explore what opportunities may exist.” That student-athlete is, of course, Adams.

Adams will graduate from EWU this spring, and would thus be eligible to play immediately for UO in 2015. Given the fact that Marcus Mariota‘s early departure has created an experience (and talent) void at the position, and given Adams’ level of talent — he threw for over 400 yards against both Washington and Oregon State the past two seasons — there would be a very good chance that Adams could line up under center as the starter for the Ducks’ season opener.

And Oregon’s opponent Sept. 5? Eastern Washington, the team for whom the two-time Walter Payton Award finalist totaled 100 touchdowns the past two seasons. Based on the fact that they’d have to face the star right out of the gate, not many would begrudge EWU if they took a hardline stance on an Adams transfer to UO.

To their credit, EWU has shown that they’re putting the interests of the student-athlete ahead of the football program, which is a refreshing change regardless of the level.

Below is EWU’s statement, in its entirety:

The NCAA instituted the ability for student-athletes who finish their undergraduate degree the ability to complete their eligibility at another institution should they successfully enroll in a graduate program that does not exist at his/her current institution.

In regards to this rule, Eastern handles each situation on a case-by-case basis. We either allow or not allow a student-athlete to discuss the possibilities with a prospective institution, and then, should that option progress further, determine whether or not to release them to pursue the opportunity to complete their eligibility at another institution. In the current situation that has arisen recently, we have granted the ability for our student-athlete to explore what opportunities may exist.

When we recruit, retain and develop student-athletes, we first and foremost ask them to earn their college degree. Should they achieve that and have opportunities — whether based on current NCAA transfer rules or potentially in a professional setting — we do our best to try and support them in what is in the best interest of their future. Our desire is also for our student-athletes to complete their eligibility at Eastern, given the education, investment and support that our University community, athletic department and coaching staffs have provided them.

Given the current transfer rules that are in place and the desires of other institutions to utilize them to their advantage, we will continue to try and do what is in the best interests for our student-athletes, knowing that their education is our primary role.

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Offense, OCs big winners in latest spinning of coaching carousel

The 2014-15 spinning of the coaching carousel has nearly come to an end, with Central Michigan, thanks to Dan Enos‘ abrupt departure to become Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, the lone remaining FBS program without a head coach less than a week from signing day.

And, when it comes to this year’s spinning, if you were an offensive coordinator with head-coaching aspirations, you were in luck.  Or, hell, if you had an offensive background, period.

First off, there have been just 14 coaching changes (not including CMU) in 2014-15, compared to 19 in 2013-14, 30 in 2012-13 and 26 in 2011-12.  Of the 14 changes made thus far, five have schools have found replacements in current offensive coordinators: Colorado State’s Mike Bobo (Georgia), Houston’s Tom Herman (Ohio State), SMU’s Chad Morris (Clemson), Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery (Baylor) and Troy’s Neal Brown (Kentucky).  Additionally, Kansas hired Texas A&M’s wide receivers coach David Beaty as its new head coach.

Diving even further offensively, three 2014 FBS head coaches who took over different programs since the end of the season — Florida’s Jim McElwain, Nebraska’s Mike Riley, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst — had extensive experience as coordinators on that side of the ball prior to becoming head coaches.  Throw in Buffalo’s Lance Leipold – an OC prior to winning six Div. III titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater — and 11 of the 14 coaching changes involved individuals with extensive offensive backgrounds.

Given the fact that the college game is currently very much offensively-driven, the skewed hires toward that side of the ball aren’t all that surprising; just last year, 13 of the 19 hires were offensive-minded coaches, so it’s continuing to trend upward.  Still, it’s a stark reminder of just how skewed the game is in the here and now.

In fact, the only current defensive coordinator to land a head-coaching job this cycle was Pat Narduzzi, who left Michigan State for Pittsburgh.  Gary Andersen, who left as head coach at Wisconsin for the same job at Oregon State, had a defensive background in a previous coaching life as well.

The lone remaining new hire is Tony Sanchez, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School head coach hired by UNLV.  Sanchez was a defensive coach prior to becoming a high school head coach… but actually began his coaching career as an offensive assistant at that level.

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Report: UCLA’s Mazzone, USC’s Helton interviewed for Vols OC job

Noel Mazzone AP

We don’t know yet when Butch Jones will pull the trigger on his biggest coaching hire this offseason, but we do know some of the candidates who have caught his attention.  Reportedly.

According to Jimmy Hyams of radio station WNML in Knoxville, Jones has interviewed five outside candidates for the Vols’ vacancy at offensive coordinator: current Michigan administrator and former UM coordinator Mike DeBord, as well as 2014 coordinators Matt Canada (North Carolina State), Clay Helton (USC), Noel Mazzone (UCLA) and Kurt Roper (not retained at Florida). Additionally, UT wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is listed by Hyams as a candidate as well.

Hyams notes that Jones has interviewed those individuals in locations such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas.

Of the reported candidates, Mazzone and Helton would be the most noteworthy.

Mazzone has spent the past three seasons as the Bruins coordinator.  During those three seasons, the Bruins finished 37th (33.5 ppg, 2014), 21st (36.9 ppg, 2013) and 31st (34.4 ppg) in scoring; in the two years prior to Mazzone’s arrival, the Bruins were 88th (23.1 ppg, 2012) and 103rd (20.1 ppg) in that category.

Helton has spent the past five seasons as the Trojans’ coordinator/quarterbacks coach.  In his first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, Helton did not hold play-calling responsibilities.

Jones, incidentally, was on DeBord’s coaching staff at CMU from 2000-03.  DeBord has been out of the coaching game since serving as the tight ends coach of the Chicago Bears in 2012.  Hyams notes, though, that DeBord has NFL opportunities from which to potentially choose as well.

Whoever it is that Jones hires will replace Mike Bajakian, who left to to take the quarterbacks coach job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month.

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Tide makes Mel Tucker hiring official

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Three days after it was first reported, the lone hole on Nick Saban‘s Alabama coaching staff has been filled.

In a press release, UA announced that Mel Tucker has been hired as Saban’s defensive backs coach.  Tucker will also hold the title of assistant head coach.

Tucker has a history with Saban, who hired him as a grad assistant at Michigan State nearly two decades ago.

“He is an outstanding coach all the way around and really does an excellent job in terms of teaching the players,” Saban said in a statement. “When you look at his college and NFL experience, his resume is very impressive, and he’ll be a positive addition to our defensive staff. Mel’s experience with the secondary will allow us to move Kirby back to coaching the inside linebackers, which has been most effective for our defensive coordinator. We’re pleased and happy to welcome Mel and his family to Tuscaloosa.”

Tucker has been away from the college game for the last decade, having spent time on NFL staffs with the Cleveland Browns (2005-07, defensive backs; 2008, defensive coordinator), Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12, defensive coordinator) and Chicago Bears (2013-14, defensive coordinator).  His last job at the collegiate level came in 2004 as the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Prior to that, the Cleveland, Oh., native coached the secondary at OSU (2001-03), LSU (2000) and Miami of Ohio (1999).

“I’ve known Coach Saban since I was 17 years old and he recruited me when he was the head coach at Toledo,” said Tucker. “He gave me my first job at Michigan State and most of what I learned as a defensive backs coach came from him. He has always been extremely loyal to me and my family, and is a trusted friend and mentor.

“We’ve become big Crimson Tide fans through the years and our family actually went to the bowl games against Michigan State and Notre Dame. When I was invited to speak here at one of the coaching clinics, I really got to see first-hand how special the University of Alabama is and I’m honored to join Coach Saban’s staff. I have the utmost respect this program and what Coach Saban stands for as a man and as a coach.”

In addition to Tucker, UA also announce the hiring of former UAB assistant Jody Wright.  This is a return for Wright as he spent 201 as a graduate assistant with the Tide and 2011-12 as an offensive analyst.

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About-face: ACC to count BYU as Power Five opponent

BYU Stadium

Just last May, it was reported that the ACC would not consider BYU an option for its membership to satisfy the mandatory scheduling of at least one Power Five opponent per season.

Eight months later?  Never mind, apparently.

The same day that the ACC released its complete 2015 schedule, ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy reports that games against BYU will now count toward the Power Five non-league requirement for the conference. The league has yet to announce the reversal, for whatever that’s worth.

As it stands now, Virginia is the only ACC school with BYU on its future schedules, with games slated for 2019 in Charlottesville, 2020 in Provo. Whether this reported decision to allow BYU to meet the P5 scheduling requirement means future games between the football independent and ACC schools will start popping up remains to be seen.

Unless a change hasn’t been made public yet, the SEC still does not consider BYU meeting a scheduling requirement similar to that of the ACC’s. Of course, the Cougars have played just five games total against teams that were members of the SEC at the time the game was played, so it’s not as if there’s an extensive history between that institution and that conference.

Regardless, the ACC’s decision is a huge one for BYU as it will allow the football program to further bolster its schedule — and any potential playoff résumé — with quality Power Five opponents.  Short of landing a spot in one of those conferences — you have their digits, Big 12 — this is about as good as it gets for the Cougars.

(Photo credit: BYU athletics)

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Brandon Harris’ HS coach advised QB to ‘please get out of’ LSU

Brandon Harris

Here’s to guessing David Feaster‘s brutal honesty won’t ingratiate him too much to the LSU coaching staff.

Feaster is the head coach at Bossier City Parkway High School in Louisiana, the high school of LSU quarterback Brandon Harris.  After Harris’ true freshman season devolved into one of (mostly) sideline inactivity even as the quality of play at the quarterback position was suspect to say the least, Feaster encouraged his former player to leave the situation.

And by “leave the situation” I mean “get the hell out of Dodge before you do permanent damage to your collegiate career.” From the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s transcription of Feaster’s radio interview Wednesday.

“Please get out of there,” Feaster said he told Harris. “I wanted him to go to junior college. Go to a junior college, and because he’s a qualifier, he can just be there one year, leave at the midterm and restart the recruiting process all over again.”

“You’ve got the worst passing game in the country, and the best quarterback in the country sitting on the bench,” Feaster said. “Why don’t we even try him against Arkansas? He almost saved you against Mississippi State, did save you against New Mexico State. Why don’t we even give him a shot in some of these other games we can’t get a first down?”

There was speculation floating around that part of the reason for Harris’ inactivity over the last half of the season stemmed from what the Times-Picayune described as a lack of “dedication to studying tape and the playbook.”  On that front, Feaster lays the onus for the leak that cast his former player in an unfavorable light squarely on the LSU coaching staff.

“The stuff they’ve been saying has been lies,” Feaster said. “That he has trouble learning plays or checks, reading defenses, all that is bogus. He got there in January. They had plenty of time to go over the plays. I’ll just say that on his behalf, all that stuff is lies.

“He’s (Les Miles) the head coach, and he plays who he wants to. I don’t want people telling me who to play at QB either. But I don’t think they should be putting out false information about Brandon to make him look bad.”

Harris, of course, eschewed a transfer from LSU — “I couldn’t talk him into it,” Feaster said — and will, along with 2014 starter Anthony Jennings, compete for the starting job again beginning this spring. To Feaster’s credit, he did allow later in the interview that Harris is “right and I’m wrong” about wanting the quarterback to bolt after being on campus for less than a year.

In his first season in Baton Rouge, Harris played in eight games and started one. That lone start was, to say the least, a rough one, with Harris completing just 3-of-14 passes for 58 yards in a 41-7 loss on the road to Auburn. Harris attempted just one pass the remaining seven games, although that hasn’t seemed to dampen the former four-star recruit’s enthusiasm for the Tigers.

“Brandon is really enjoying LSU,” Feaster said. “He’s all in for it. He’s just going to try and compete. Maybe there’ll be a different set of criteria this year on how they choose their quarterback, and maybe he’ll get a shot.”

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ACC releases complete 2015 schedule

ACC Logo

With the start of the 2015 season less than eight months away — damn, that seems a long, long, long ways away — the ACC has gotten around to releasing its full schedule for the upcoming campaign.

The conference will have several high-profile games opening weekend, beginning with North Carolina-South Carolina Sept. 3 in Charlotte; continuing with Louisville-Auburn in the Georgia Dome for the Sept. 5 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game; and concluding with Virginia Tech-Ohio State Labor Day night, Sept. 7, in Blacksburg.  The Hokies were the only team to knock off the Buckeyes en route to OSU’s national championship.

Notre Dame will also be in the second year of its scheduling arrangement with the conference, with six games on the slate versus league foes. Clemson (Oct. 3), Virginia (Sept. 12) and Pitt (Nov. 7) will host the Irish, while Georgia Tech (Sept. 19) and (Wake Forest (Nov. 14) will travel to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Additionally, the Notre Dame-Boston College game will be played in Boston’s Fenway Park, and will be considered a home game for the Irish.

In the release announcing the 2015 slate, the ACC touted its schedule as one of the toughest in the country, at least on paper. Let us count the reasons why:

  • ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Too Early Top 25 rankings for 2015 (12) than any of the other Top Five Conferences. The ACC’s total is also more than double the number of games played by the next closest Power Five league.
  • ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power Five Conference teams (38%) than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams are also playing games against opponents who had a higher FBS (.536) and overall (.536) winning percentage in 2014 than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams will also play 24 games against non-conference opponents that played in bowl games in 2014. That total is the second-highest total of any Power Five Conference.

“This year’s ACC Football schedule once again showcases that collectively our league is arguably playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the country,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “In addition to the nonconference games, we have a tremendously competitive league schedule which provides our teams and fans with great games each week of the season.”

For the complete 2015 ACC schedule, click HERE.  For the complete helmet or logo versions, click HERE or HERE, respectively.

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Grantham confirms Raider interview, but will stay at Louisville

Miami v Louisville

As it turns out, Louisville won’t need to embark on a search for a new defensive coordinator after all.

Late Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the Oakland Raiders, which had previously targeted Todd Grantham, had offered their coordinator job to the current UofL coordinator.  In a statement subsequently released by the school, Grantham confirmed that he did interview for the NFL post.

He also confirmed, though, that he would be returning to the Cardinals for the 2015 season.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed for the defensive coordinator position with the Oakland Raiders, but I’m committed to the University of Louisville,” Grantham said in a statement. “I said when I came to Louisville that I thought we could win a national championship, and we are building toward that goal with the success we had this season.

“Coach Petrino and Tom Jurich have given me a great opportunity and I’m grateful for their commitment. My family loves it in Louisville, and I think we are establishing something special here with head coach Bobby Petrino and our staff. Our main objective over the next week is to finish strong in recruiting and continue to bolster this signing class.”

In his first season at Louisville in 2014, Grantham’s $975,000 salary was sixth amongst assistant coaches nationally and third in the ACC. It’s unknown at the moment if he’ll receive a bump in pay to repay his commitment to the university.

Under Grantham in 2014, the Cardinals were tied for 24th in the country in scoring defense at 21.8 points per game. The year prior to Grantham’s arrival, they were second at 12.2 ppg.

“We’re very pleased and happy that Todd is going to be staying at the University of Louisville,” Petrino said in his statement. “He’s done a fabulous job with our defense that ranked in the top 10. He’s one of the finest assistant coaches in the country, and you expect excellent coaches like Todd to get opportunities in the NFL. I’ve always had respect for the job that Todd has done throughout his career, especially this past year at Louisville, and we’re happy that he has and family will continue to be members of the Cardinals’ family.”

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Lincoln Riley to make $1 million over two years as Oklahoma’s OC

Lincoln Riley

In a fairly news-y day for the Sooners from Oklahoma, it was revealed Wednesday that new offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley has inked a two-year contract that will pay him $500,000 annually. His contract was approved during an OU Board of Regents meeting.

Thanks to Guerin Emig of the Tulsa World, we know Riley will be the Big 12’s second-highest paid offensive coordinator in the Big 12. Texas’ Shawn Watson made $650,000 in 2014 to lead the league. Departed Baylor offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery made $504,645 this fall.

Riley’s half-a-million dollar salary would have tied him for 66th nationally among all college football assistants last fall according to the USA Today coaching salary database. He ranked 244th at just north of $278,000 at East Carolina in 2014.

Riley will be Oklahoma’s second-highest paid assistant, trailing defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. Previous offensive coordinator Josh Heupel earned $605,000 in 2014.

 

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Jimbo Fisher’s new contract includes a mighty large buyout

Jimbo Fisher

We’ve known of Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher‘s new eight-year contract for more than a month now, but on Wednesday we learned the details of the head Seminole’s new deal.

Thanks to an open records request by the Tallahassee Democrat, Florida State revealed that Fisher will earn $5 million a year in 2015, and the coach will receive a $100,000 a year bump through the 2022 season. Fisher, who earned $3.6 million in 2014 according to the USA Today coaching salary database, joins Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Texas’ Charlie Strong and Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh in college football’s $5 million club.

Of course, the most important figure in any coaching contract is the buyout. And there is a significant one here. Fisher would owe a cool $5 million should he leave before Dec. 31, 2016, a more manageable $3 million if he left between Jan. 1, 2017 and Dec. 31, 2018, and a minuscule $1 million thereafter.

Fisher is eligible for bonuses ranging from $50,000 for reaching a non-College Football Playoff bowl game to $250,000 for reaching certain team GPA or other off-the-field benchmarks. He’ll make $200,000 if the ‘Noles win a national championship. Fisher will also receive a $1.2 million longevity bonus should he remain in Tallahassee through the life of the contract.

The new deal also provides an extra $750,000 for Fisher’s assistants. The group earned nearly $3.4 million in 2014, good for 12th nationally and third in the ACC. The new pool would rank them just behind Auburn for fifth nationally.

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Report: OU to delay Memorial Stadium expansion, school president denies it

Oklahoma State v Oklahoma Getty Images

Oklahoma is planning on postponing the major renovation project to Gaylord Family-Memorial Stadium announced last summer. Or, they’re not. One or the other.

A report from SoonerScoop.com released Wednesday stated Oklahoma had informed contractors and architects that it is placing the $370 million project on hold due to “market related” factors. More specifically, the price of oil has dropped precipitously, directly impacting many of the Sooners’ big money donors. The report outlined that OU’s fundraising arm has struggled to secure sales of new suites, which would underwrite a large portion of the renovations.

The Sooners’ limp finish to the 2014 season certainly didn’t help, but SoonerScoop writes that competitive factors aren’t holding up the project. “The football outlook has barely entered into the discussion at all,” a source told the site. “It seems everyone knows upgrades like this are important in keeping us competitive.”

Another reason, the report states, that the project will go on hold has been Oklahoma president David Boren‘s drive to secure funding for OU’s Residential College, a sort of academic utopia mimicking schools back east and across the pond. “The new housing facilities will be designed as living/learning communities that would, by their nature, build strong communities and identities and become the cornerstone of the undergraduate experience,” said a university press release. “They will be patterned on those at Harvard, Yale, Oxford and Cambridge.”

As fate would have it, the report went live as Boren spoke to reporters at an OU Board of Regents meeting.

Well, then.

To its credit, SoonerScoop is standing by its reporting.

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Boren said that Oklahoma is “shovel ready,” and that he is slated to discuss the project with the Regents at their March meeting.

One thing is certain with stories like this: either the renovations will happen, or they won’t. We’ll find out soon enough.

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Central Florida, Florida Atlantic schedule home-and-home

George O'Leary

Central Florida and Florida Atlantic each have short histories as FBS programs. FAU played its first season in 2001, and UCF joined FBS way back in the ancient days of 1996. As such, two programs one would think tussle on a semi-annual basis have only played once, a 33-29 Knights win back in 2003.

That is about to change.

The schools announced a home-and-home series for 2018 and 2019 on Wednesday. Florida Atlantic will visit Orlando on Sept. 22, 2018, and Central Florida will return the favor on Sept. 7, 2019.

A home-and-home with Florida Atlantic means Central Florida will have played a Sunshine State opponent in non-conference play every year from 2005-19, save for a one-year break in 2010.

Each program has played Florida twice. Central Florida has played Florida State once and Miami twice, while Florida Atlantic has faced FAU once and never played Florida State.

Here’s hoping UCF’s sideline cabana is still around in 2018.

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