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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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Vandy QB Patton Robinette cleared to play, won’t start against Missouri

Patton Robinette

Four quarterbacks have played for the Vanderbilt Commodores this season. Sophomore Patton Robinette has proven to be the most effective during the limited time he’s been at the helm of the offense.

However, Robinette is recovering from a concussion and won’t start Saturday against the Missouri Tigers despite being cleared to play.

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason already made 10 changes at the quarterback position through seven games. Freshman Wade Freebeck started last weekend against the Charleston Southern Buccaneers. Freedbeck was 5-of-7 passing for 20 yards before suffering a finger injury during the Commodores’ narrow 21-20 over the FCS program.

Freshman Johnny McCrary took over for Freebeck and played relatively well. The two then competed during practice this week to be the team’s starter. McCrary eventually won the opportunity to start this Saturday.

“When I step on the field, I can only do my best,” McCrary told The Tennessean‘s Adam Sparks Wednesday. “If my best isn’t good enough, I’ll take myself out of the game. You can tell if you’re not moving this team, but I want to stay tough and maybe something special will happen.”

If McCary doesn’t play at his best, he won’t have to pull himself. Mason has proven he’s more than willing to make changes at the position. Now that Robinette is healthy, McCrary could very well be on a short leash.

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UPDATE: Syracuse football is under NCAA investigation

Scott Shafer

Syracuse is the latest football program to find itself in the clutches of the NCAA.

While the Orange’s basketball team was believed to be the focus of an ongoing investigation, there are concerns regarding the football program, too.

Syracuse.com’s Nate Mink reported the investigation could affect multiple areas within the school’s athletic department.

“The Syracuse football program is part of the wide-ranging NCAA investigation into the school’s athletic department,” sources told Mink.

“The information shows that the NCAA inquiry that has swirled around the basketball team for two years is more involved, and that the football team is part of the investigation and potentially exposed to penalties. It’s unclear if other teams are involved.”

If the Orange football team was to receive any type of sanctions, possible infractions apparently didn’t occur during Doug Marrone‘s tenure. Marrone served as the Orange’s head coach from 2009-12. The current head coach of the Buffalo Bills spoke with Fink about possible reasons behind the investigation.

“There’s nothing that I know about that we did that wasn’t either punished or put forth,” Marrone said.

“One thing I did, if we made a mistake, an incidental contact or something, I just always reported it. It’s not worth it. This way I can sleep at night.”

Syracuse officials are expected to meet with the NCAA in Indianapolis at some point before the end of the month.

UPDATE (8:45 ET): ESPN.com’s Brett Murphy reported Syracuse officials will go to Indianapolis on Oct. 30-31 to face the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions.

While the basketball program is the primary target of the investigation, the football program might not escape unscathed.

“The football team is also facing allegations involving extra benefits, but only for a two-or-three-year stretch around 2004 or 2005,” a source told McMurphy.

The time period falls between Syracuse’s transition from Paul Pasqualoni to Greg Robinson as the team’s head coach. The Orange were 7-16 during those two campaigns.

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Maryland approves policy to link coaches’ bonuses to academic success

Randy Edsall

Some institutions are serious about keeping the student in student-athlete.

The Maryland Board of Regents unanimously voted in favor of a policy “denying bonuses to coaches and athletic directors whose players don’t measure up academically”, according to the Baltimore Sun.

“I think this is another step for Maryland to be in the vanguard on issues of intercollegiate athletics,” former U.S. Rep. Tom McMillen, who is a member of the Board of Regents, told the Sun. “They were a leader on guaranteed scholarships and now they are a leader in academic accountability.”

Maryland approved a “lifetime guarantee degree” in August. At that time, athletic director Kevin Anderson said, “Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities. We are confident ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes’ pursuit of a college degree.”

The school’s commitment — which extends to Towson, Coppin State and UMBC — took a logical step by making its coaches more accountable for the academic performance of their athletes.

The coaches’ bonuses will ultimately be tied to the school’s yearly Academic Progress Rate. To determine a school’s APR, as defined by the NCAA, “a score of a thousand means every student-athlete on that team stayed eligible and returned to school. You begin losing points for students who are not eligible and/or are not retained.”

During the 2012-13 seasons, the Maryland Terrapins received a score of 950, which would have been worst among Big Ten schools. Clearly, there is room for improvement from Maryland head coach Randy Edsall.

This decision also becomes a recruiting advantage for the Terrapins. With the school’s added emphasis on education and new demands on its coaches, parents can see how dedicated the university is to each student-athlete. Education is at the forefront for Maryland, and it will only help the school’s athletics.

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Two Georgia Tech starters ruled out for Pitt contest

Zach Laskey, Akeem Langham

Saturday’s meeting between the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets and Pitt Panthers is a crucial match up in the ACC Coastal division. Both teams are trying to stay within striking distance of the Duke Blue Devils.

The Yellow Jackets will have to do so without their starting right tackle. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Chris Griffin has been ruled out for Saturday’s contest.

The redshirt freshman started all seven games on the strong side this season, but he’s currently dealing with a shoulder injury.

With Griffin out of the lineup, another redshirt freshman, Eason Fromayan, is expected to slide into the starting lineup. Fromayan already started one game this season at left tackle when Bryan Chamberlain was unable to play in the Duke contest due to an ankle injury.

Griffin isn’t the only starter that’s been ruled out for the upcoming game. Starting B-back (fullback) Zach Laskey is also dealing with a shoulder injury and won’t be able to play against Pitt.

Laskey is a key component in Georgia Tech’s triple-option attack, which is currently ranked fourth overall in rushing yards per game. The fullback is the team’s second-leading rusher with 595 yards on the ground.

Seniors Synjyn Days and Matt Connors should be able to fill in for Laskey and provide the presence needed to keep the Yellow Jackets’ inside running attack viable. Without the mid-line option, the Panthers will have a much easier time defending the outside runs or pitches by quarterback Justin Thomas.

These injuries will only help a Pitt defense that ranks 18th in the nation against the run.

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Indiana prepares for life without RB Tevin Coleman, who is considering NFL draft

Tevin Coleman

Running backs such as Georgia’s Todd Gurley, Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon and even South Carolina’s Mike Davis are all expected to bypass their senior seasons and enter April’s NFL draft. A surprise name could enter the equation.

None of those talented backs lead the FBS in rushing, though. Indiana’s Tevin Coleman does.

Coleman’s 1,192 rushing yards and 8.8 yards per carry makes the running back one of the most explosive players in all of college football. Due to this season’s success, Coleman, a junior, now appears to be leaning toward entering the NFL draft.

“There’s been scant news directly from the source but people close to the Indiana Hoosier program are planning for the departure of Tevin Coleman at seasons end,” DraftInsider.net’s Tony Pauline reported.

From a football perspective there is very little reason why  Coleman should return this season. He’s already one of the top running backs in the country, and his body hasn’t taken much of a beating after sharing the backfield most of his career. It’s an opportunity to strike while the iron is hot instead of adding more wear and tear to his body.

While the Hoosiers couldn’t replace what Coleman brought to the team the past two seasons (including 23 rushing touchdowns and counting), they can continue to sprinkle freshman running back Devine Redding into the rotation to make sure he’s ready to take over a much bigger role once Coleman and senior D’Angelo Roberts are no longer with the program next season.

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Ex-UM WR Csont’e York will serve seven days in jail

Csont'e York

Before Csont’e York can go on to the next chapter of his football-playing career, he’ll have to atone for some of his past transgressions.

According to the Detroit Free Press, the former Michigan wide receiver was sentenced to, among other things, 365 days in jail — he’ll have to serve seven — in connection to the incident that he led him to becoming the former Michigan wide receiver. In late September, York pleaded guilty to one count of aggravated assault and one charge of assault and battery. In exchange for that plea deal, another assault and battery charge was dropped.

In mid-July, York became involved in a verbal disagreement outside of a drinking establishment in Ann Arbor. Security video that was released Aug. 12 showed York sucker-punching 22-year-old male, who suffered a broken jaw as a result.

York was initially suspended by the football program in early August.  Six days after the video was released, York was dismissed by the Wolverines.

The victim in the case requested that York not be sentenced to jail. The judge had other ideas.

“I feel very strongly that some jail term is appropriate to hold you accountable so you can reflect on your actions and see that your behavior will not be tolerated,” Judge Elizabeth Pollard Hines said in sentencing York according to the Free Press. “In balancing all those factors — accountability, rehabilitation, considering protecting the community and the wishes of victim in this case — I’m going to sentence you to 365 days in jail. I’m suspending the rest, and you will serve seven of those days.”

The paper writes that “[t]he seven-day sentence will be split, with four days occurring immediately, then York being released and returning to jail Oct. 31 for the final three days.”

In addition to the jail time, York was sentenced to 24 months probation; $540 in court fines and costs; and payment of victim medical expenses that currently total $2,134.70. Even more damaging financially for York is that he will also be held responsible for any future unpaid medical expenses connected to the assault, which the judge said could exceed $70,000.

York has transferred to Toledo although he’s not yet a part of the Rockets football team. That’s expected to occur as early as spring practice next year.

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Bear Bryant Award releases 20-coach watch list

AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION GUS MALZAHN

In this latest watch list, it’s all about the Big 12 and SEC, with a healthy sprinkling of the Pac-12 for good measure.

The Bear Bryant Award announced Friday a watch list for its annual Coach of the Year that consists of 20 coaches from seven of the 10 FBS conferences.  It’s mainly, though, a list consisting of coaches from the leagues mentioned in the lede.

The Big 12 and SEC lead all conferences with five coaches apiece, while the Pac-12 is right behind with four.  The Big Ten, with two, is the only other conference with more than one, with the AAC, ACC and Conference USA hitting that singular number.

Six of the coaches on this year’s initial watch list were on last year’s as well: Baylor’s Art Briles, Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, Oregon’s Mark Helfrich, Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, Alabama’s Nick Saban and Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops.  Malzahn, incidentally, won last year’s award.

As for this year’s contenders?  If it were up to me, and at the moment, I’d split the award right down the middle and hand one piece to East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen.

That said, below are the 20 members of the Bear Bryant Award watch list.  Bitch, whine and/or moan about who’s on it/not on it below that:

  • Art Briles, Baylor
  • Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
  • Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
  • Huge Freeze, Ole Miss
  • Todd Graham, Arizona State
  • Mark Helfrich, Oregon
  • Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
  • Doc Holliday, Marshall
  • Brian Kelly, Notre Dame
  • Gus Malzahn, Auburn
  • Ruffin McNeill, East Carolina
  • Dan Mullen, Mississippi State
  • Gary Patterson, TCU
  • Bo Pelini, Nebraska
  • Mark Richt, Georgia
  • Rich Rodriguez, Arizona
  • Nick Saban, Alabama
  • Bill Snyder, Kansas State
  • Bob Stoops, Oklahoma
  • Kyle Whittingham, Utah

 

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SMU AD: ‘no discussion of compensation with potential candidates’

Kliff Kingsbury, Mack Brown

You have to love the twists and turns of a coaching search with a high-profile name connected to it.

In a report taking a look at potential candidates to become the permanent successor to June Jones as head coach that we mentioned Thursday, Dallas Morning News writer Bill Nichols set the Twitterverse ablaze with the following: “SMU officials have already had preliminary discussions with former Texas coach Mack Brown, floating $4 million annually over eight years.”

That came a short time after the former UT head coach’s attorney confirmed that SMU had approached his client about a return to the sidelines.  Brown himself, currently serving as a college football analyst on ESPN, said a week earlier that he will decide in December if his coaching career is done.

The hubbub over the $4 million-per-year- report, however, prompted SMU athletic director Rick Hart to take to his Twitter account to shoot it down.

“While it is not our policy to comment during a search process, the attention a recent report has attracted dictates it be addressed. While we have a great deal of respect for Mack Brown, no one associated with our search has contacted him or his representatives. To that end, there has been no offer or discussion of compensation with any potential candidates.”

So, in summation…

He was approached [by SMU], I was approached, but he’s not interested in coaching anywhere right now.” — Mack Brown attorney Joe Jamail, Oct. 5.

[N]o one associated with our search has contacted him or his representatives.” — SMU athletic director Rick Hart, Oct. 24.

Yep, love the contradictory statements as part of these searches too.  Then again, maybe the well-heeled boosters and political figures connected to the university’s athletic department are merely circumventing official channels, and those in charge of the search are simply unaware of what’s going on behind doors that are closed to even them.  In Texas, anything and everything is possible.

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Wyoming has fingers crossed for injured second-leading rusher

D.J. May

Last week it was a suspension.  This week, it’s an on-field matter that leaves one of Wyoming’s top running back’s future uncertain.

Earlier this week rumors begin to circulate that D.J. May suffered some type of injury during practice. The school sent out a press release Thursday stating that “May did suffer an injury to a knee in Wednesday’s practice,” but that “[d]octors have not yet evaluated tests on the severity of May’s injury.”

As of early Friday afternoon, there was still no definitive word on May’s status moving forward.

May’s 260 yards and two rushing touchdowns remain second on the Cowboys this season. His two receiving touchdowns are tied for second on the team as well.

Mays was suspended for last Saturday’s overtime loss to San Jose State for violating unspecified team rules.

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Season, college career of starting UConn corner over

Connecticut v Central Florida Getty Images

UConn’s loss to East Carolina Thursday night came at a much steeper cost than just in the won-loss column.

By way of John Silver of snyuconn.com, head coach Bob Diaco confirmed Friday that Byron Jones will miss the remainder of the 2014 season because of injury.  The cornerback aggravated a lingering shoulder injury in the loss, and will undergo season-ending surgery in short order.

“Byron was playing through a small issue there,” Diaco said. “That, then exacerbated himself last night to the point that it needs to be addressed. If it doesn’t get addressed it will be something else. Right now, [it's] an isolated thing that needs to be fixed.”

Because Jones is a senior who has already used his redshirt, and will not be eligible for a medical waiver, his collegiate career has come to a close.

Jones started all seven games this season, and started 39 in his career. This season, his two interceptions are the only two picks for the Huskies defense.

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UNC’s Elijah Hood again listed as doubtful

Liberty v North Carolina Getty Images

For the second consecutive game, it appears North Carolina will be sans one of the most productive members of its backfield.

On its weekly injury report, UNC lists running back Elijah Hood as doubtful for Saturday’s game against Virginia.  Thus far, the nature of Hood’s injury hasn’t been disclosed.

Hood was also listed as doubtful heading into last Saturday’s game against Georgia Tech, and ended up not playing against the Yellow Jackets.

Prior to the GT game, Hood had been tops among Tar Heel backs with 199 yards rushing.  His four rushing touchdowns are currently tied for the team lead.

The true freshman was a five-star member of UNC’s most recent recruiting class and was rated as the No. 4 back in the country.

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Judge who will conduct Winston hearing identified

Florida Supreme Court

The “when” of Jameis Winston‘s student conduct hearing is still to be determined.

One “who,” however, has been determined.

According to WCTV in Tallahassee, retired Florida Supreme Court chief justice Major Harding has been selected to preside over the hearing as what’s described as an “independent observer.”  Two other former state court justices, Joseph Hatchett and Charles T. Wells, were in the group of three candidates considered by the Florida State quarterback and his accuser.

Each side was able to strike one of the three from consideration.  If both struck the same judge, FSU would pick from the remaining two.  It’s unknown exactly how Harding came to oversee the hearing.

Harding did confirm to the television station that he has “been chosen to oversee a student conduct hearing, but says no student’s name has been provided to him.”

ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach provided a brief description of each judge in his confirmation of the earlier report on Harding.

Harding, 79, was a state Supreme Court justice from 1991 to 2000. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he is a graduate of Wake Forest and Virginia’s law school. Harding, who is currently a practicing attorney with the law firm Ausley McMullen in Tallahassee, began his career as a jurist in Florida with a 1968 appointment as a Duval County Juvenile Court judge. When he was appointed to the state’s Supreme Court, he was the dean of the Florida Judicial College and chair-elect of the Florida Conference of Circuit Judges, according to his bio on the law firm’s website.

Hatchett, 82, was the first black man appointed to a federal appeals court in the Deep South, by President Jimmy Carter in 1979. Wells, 75, a graduate of the University of Florida and UF law school, was the Florida Supreme Court’s chief justice from 2000 to 2002. He presided over the 2000 U.S. presidential election recount cases involving the hanging chads on Florida’s ballots.

At the hearing, whenever that may be if it even happens at all, Winston could be charged with up to four student code of conduct violations in connection to the alleged sexual assault of an FSU student in December of 2012.

Winston, as long as he is still a student at the university, will be compelled to attend the hearing. He will not be required, however, to answer questions even as he is permitted to give an opening statement and cross-examine witnesses. Unless given explicit permission by whomever is overseeing the hearing, his attorney, David Cornwell, will not be allowed to speak or argue on his client’s behalf.

Provided it doesn’t interrupt the hearing process, Winston can consult with Cornwell, who will presumably be the one “advisor” permitted at the hearing.

Cornwell has publicly expressed concern over the process, saying earlier this month, “I’m not walking this kid into a firing line without the necessary weapons.”  That tack’s being viewed by some, including the accuser’s attorney, as taking on the feel of “a stall.”

(Photo credit: Florida Supreme Court)

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A&M drops Ducks, adds future Clemson series

12th Man AP

The scheduling gods taketh… and then they giveth right back.

Thursday, Twitter was all, well, atwitter when it was reported that Texas A&M had backed out of its home-and-home series with Oregon that had been scheduled for 2018 and 2019. “Typical SEC school, ducking tough non-conference games,” some derisively said, never mind the fact that A&M already has Notre Dame, Clemson, UCLA and Arizona State on its future slates.

A short time later, however, both A&M and Clemson announced that they had agreed to a future series, with the Tigers replacing the Ducks in 2018 and 2019. Clemson will travel to Kyle Field on September 8, 2018, while TAMU will head to Memorial Stadium on September 7, 2019.

“We are excited to play the Clemson Tigers, who have been on Texas A&M’s non-conference schedule previously, A&M athletic director Eric Hyman said in a statement. “As a fellow land-grant institution, Clemson is very similar to Texas A&M with a great football tradition and passionate fans. This will be a great non-conference series for both schools.”

According to FOXSports.com, Hyman “exercised a clause from the contract A&M and the Ducks… that said they could get out deal if A&M changed conferences.” The original series between A&M and UO was agreed to in 2009, prior to the Aggies’ departure from the Big 12 for the SEC.

Hyman further explained that the reason for dumping Oregon came down to simple math as it relates to home dates in 2018 and 2019.

“Our goal is to play seven home games at Kyle Field each season,” the release quoted Hyman as saying. “Playing at Oregon in 2018, combined with the Arkansas game in Arlington, would leave us with only six home games that season. In even-numbered years such as 2018, we only have three SEC home dates as long as we continue to play Arkansas in Arlington.”

And, for those who are wondering, this is not a case of UO being hard to deal with either.  Also from the release:

Texas A&M offered to switch the home-and-home dates with Oregon on the original contract, but Oregon faces the same situation with only four Pac-12 home games in even years with five on the road.

Clemson and A&M have met four times previously, with the last coming in 2005. The Aggies own a 3-1 edge in the series.

“We are looking forward to playing Texas A&M as the two schools share a rich military heritage and of course passionate fan bases,” Hyman’s Clemson counterpart, Dan Radakovich, said. “We know our fans make Clemson a great game day experience and the Aggie fans make Kyle field also one of the great venues in all of college football.”

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Ground and pound: Hurricanes establish identity during 30-6 victory over Hokies

Al Golden, Duke Johnson

The Miami Hurricanes made a statement Thursday against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

While the program may never return to the winning ways it once experienced while Al Golden is at the helm, the program finally gravitated toward an identity that’s long been forgotten. The vaunted Miami teams from the 1980’s and the early 2000’s used to physically dominate opponents. They did that Thursday night in Blacksburg.

Miami (5-2) captured a dominant 30-6 victory over Virginia Tech (4-4).

When Golden was the head coach of Temple from 2006-10, the Owls climbed their way out of football purgatory by running the football effectively week in and week out. The talent level at Miami supersedes anything Golden had at Temple, but the team’s approach against the Hokies was reminiscent of those Owls.

There was nothing fancy about what Miami did to Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes lined up and jammed the ball down the Hokies’ collective throat. Two running backs combined to run for an impressive 364 yards.

Junior running back Duke Johnson ran like a man possessed. Johnson set a career high with 249 rushing yards on 29 carries.

Sophomore Gus Edwards took over in the second half and managed 115 yards.

The Hurricanes were so dominant in the trenches, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was only asked to throw the ball 16 teams. He completed seven of those passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Plus, Miami played well on the defensive side of the football.

The Hurricanes shut out the Hokies through the first half of play, before Virginia Tech decided to ride freshman running back Marshawn Williams. Willams carried the ball 21 times for 100 yards. The young back also fumbled twice.

With the ACC Coastal division being wide open, the Hurricanes may have found its identity at the right time. At 2-2 in the division, Miami is now a half game behind the Duke Blue Devils going into this weekend’s games. But Miami holds the head-to-head edge.

If Miami plans to make a run in their division, its ball-control offense will be needed over the next two weeks against the North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 2 Florida State Seminoles.

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No. 18 ECU Pirates may stumble in polls despite 31-21 victory over UConn

Ruffin Mc Neill

The No. 18 East Carolina Pirates secured a 31-21 victory over the Connecticut Huskies Thursday. But was it enough for the Pirates to remain the top non-Power Five program and the favorite to claim an appearance in a contract bowl?

Sometimes a win can be viewed as a loss.

The Pirates struggled against a Huskies squad that entered the game 1-5 and didn’t have a victory against a single FBS opponent this season. It wasn’t until six minutes left in the game that East Carolina finally pulled away from UConn.

When a non-power conference team trying to impress the College Football Playoff gets an opportunity to add style points to their resume on national television, it has to do so. East Carolina didn’t.

The Pirates moved the ball and racked up 580 total yards, but they weren’t able to complete drives most of the evening. UConn employed a bend-but-don’t-break, and the scheme worked.

If East Carolina isn’t putting up big scoring and yardage numbers, the team is nowhere near as impressive.

East Carolina’s primary competition as the top non-Power Five program is the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. The Thundering Herd’s underwhelming schedule has prevented them from legitimately entering the national conversation. Yet, Marshall’s schedule doesn’t feature a team ranked lower than Connecticut.

Despite the lackluster effort, East Carolina did win the game. Ruffin McNeill‘s squad overcame adversity and was able to win a close contest even though everything didn’t go in their favor. The program still holds victories over the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Plus, very few teams feature a dynamic duo like quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden was 38-of-64 passing Thursday for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy, meanwhile, grabbed 14 passes for 186 yards. The impressive effort moved Hardy into second place among the FBS’ all-time receptions list.

The Huskies deserve some credit for knocking down the Pirates a notch. First-year head coach Bob Diaco has his team playing hard, and they seem to be figuring some things out. The defense plays sound football, while the offense was finally able to move the ball in stretches against East Carolina.

In the end, East Carolina is still the top non-Power Five program in college football, but the margin between the top team and the second team is much closer after Thursday night’s effort.

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