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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
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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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Unable to enroll at UVa., 2015 signee T.J. Griffin headed to Herd

T.J. Griffin

On the same day Virginia confirmed the murky status of one of its 2015 signees, said signee has reportedly already found a new home.

Head coach Mike London revealed in a statement that the university has granted T.J. Griffin a release from his U.Va. National Letter of Intent signed this past February. Griffin was denied admission at UVa., but the football program wanted the defensive back to go the prep school route and return to Charlottesville next year.

Instead, Griffin decided to leave for an FBS opportunity elsewhere.

“We have granted T.J. Griffin a release from his letter of intent to allow him to enroll at another institution this fall,” London’s statement began. “He contacted me with the request and explained his reasons for not wanting to enroll at a prep school this fall. I understand his personal situation and want to do what is best for this young man and his family. We wish him the best in the future.”

And, reportedly, Griffin’s immediate future will include joining a team that plays in Conference USA.

Marshall has yet to officially announce Griffin’s addition to the roster, although that appears to be a mere formality as other media outlets are reporting that’s where he’ll land as well.

Griffin was a three-star member of the Cavaliers’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 70 cornerback in the country and the No. 26 player at any position in the state of Virginia. As noted in the embedded tweet, Griffin will be eligible to play immediately for the Herd in 2015.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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Daxx Garman buried third on Terps’ QB depth chart

West Virginia v Oklahoma State Getty Images

When Daxx Garman transferred into Maryland from Oklahoma State, many, perhaps most, assumed the quarterback would be sitting atop the depth chart entering the 2015 season. Instead, he’s buried on it.

Friday, the Terps released a depth chart ahead of the opener with Richmond and, in what some might consider an upset, Perry Hills was listed as the starter. Caleb Rowe sits in the prime backup spot behind Hills, which means Garman will enter the upcoming season No. 3 in the quarterback pecking order.

The positioning likely serves as a bitter pill for Garman to swallow as this is his final season of eligibility.

Last season, Garman, who began his collegiate career at Arizona, started eight games for Oklahoma State before going down with a concussion in mid-November. Mason Rudolph, Garman’s replacement, showed more than enough promise in his three starts that he was the unquestioned starter in spring practice, triggering Garman’s transfer to the Terps in May.

Garman, and even Rowe were considered by many to be the favorites entering summer camp, but it was Hills who’ll exit it with the starting job. Hills won the job as a true freshman in 2012 and started the first seven games that season before missing the final five due to a torn ACL. He took a redshirt the following season, then played in three games last year.

Rowe, meanwhile, tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012, and sat out the spring. Rowe, who will entered spring as the favorite to win the starting job, was granted another season of eligibility earlier this year that allow him to play again in 2016.

Hills, Garman and Rowe were listed as co-starters entering summer camp this year.

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Sun Belt reportedly down to Eastern Kentucky and Coastal Carolina for 12th spot

Karl Benson

Who’s ready for some conference realignment news! Anybody? Nobody? Bueller?

The Sun Belt is looking for a 12th member and has zeroed in on either Eastern Kentucky or Coastal Carolina for that coveted final spot, according to Dan Wolken of USA Today.

“They have enough votes,” an unnamed source told Wolken. “They have already visited the campuses.”

Commissioner Karl Benson declined to speak for the piece, but he has acknowledged conversing with both schools previously.

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Adding either school would allow the Sun Belt to immediately schedule a conference championship game, though conference title games are expected to be deregulated by the NCAA in 2016.

Eastern Kentucky is said to be more FBS-ready on Day 1 (Coastal’s football stadium seats less than 10,000 people, for starters), but Coastal Carolina is coached by billionaire former Ameritrade CEO Joe Moglia and, if the last five years have taught us anything about conference realignment, the prospect of future money tends to send common sense waiting at the door in these scenarios.

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Ohio State lists J.T. Barrett, not Cardale Jones, as team captain

barrettclose Getty Images

It may mean absolutely nothing. It may mean everything.

Either way, the only thing it really means is that one will walk out for the opening coin toss and one will not.

Amid a newsy Friday evening, Ohio State announced J.T. Barrett will represent the quarterback room among the Buckeyes’ six 2015 captains.

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“This was the most players I’ve seen receive votes for captains,” head coach Urban Meyer said. “We had 14 players receive votes, but these six separated themselves. This is one of the great accomplishments these young men will experience, to be elected by their peers. And it is very well deserved.”

For the “it means nothing” camp: Connor Cook is not one of Michigan State’s captains this season, which will clearly not stop him from starting at quarterback this fall.

For the “it means everything” camp: How many teams really choose their backup quarterback as team captain?

Either way, Meyer will likely keep his actual starting quarterback decision under wraps until the Buckeyes take the field at Lane Stadium on Labor Day evening. Or maybe he told us all we need to know tonight. It’s a riddle wrapped in an enigma, I tell you.

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LSU OC Cam Cameron diagnosed with prostate cancer, plans to coach in 2015

Sam Houston State v LSU

LSU offensive coordinator has been diagnosed with prostate cancer but plans to coach in 2015, it was revealed Friday night. Ross Dellenger of the (Baton Rouge) Advocate was the first to report the news.

Cameron has already undergone treatment for the disease, saying only “minor limitations” have gotten between him and the job, but painted a picture that his diagnosis was already in the rearview mirror.

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The Tigers, unfortunately, experienced a very similar bit of bad news at this time just four years ago.

Just weeks before the 2011 season, then-offensive coordinator Steve Kragthorpe was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He vacated his offensive coordinator post to offensive line coach Greg Studrawa and remained on as quarterbacks coach. Following the 2012 season, Kragthorpe moved off the field and into a special assistant to the head coach/chief of staff role, where he’s remained ever since.

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LSU opens the 2015 season at home versus McNeese State next Saturday.

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Tim Beckman responds to Illinois firing, calls allegations “utterly false”

Tim Beckman

Illinois athletics director Mike Thomas felt strongly enough about the results of an investigation into his head football coach’s performance to fire him months before the study was even complete. Thomas said Friday investigators had spoken with more than 90 witnesses and reviewed more than 200,000 documents.

Tim Beckman thinks it’s all a pack of lies.

The now former Illinois head coach released a statement Friday evening.

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While nothing he can say at this point will get him his job back, it’s obvious what Beckman is doing here: setting the stage for a lawsuit in which he comes for the $3.1 million due on the final two years of his contract and (however futilely) attempts to clear his name in pursuit of other coaching jobs.

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Oregon lists EWU transfer Vernon Adams as starting QB

Eastern Washington v Washington Getty Images

It didn’t come with a grand proclamation (at least not yet) or a trumpeting of horns, just a line on a depth chart, mixed in with dozens others like it. Yet it is significant all the same: Oregon has listed Vernon Adams as its starting quarterback for the Eastern Washington game next Saturday.

Adams, of course, just arrived from Eastern Washington. As in, two weeks ago.

Oregon announced the addition of the record-setting EWU quarterback as a graduate transfer on Feb. 11, but Adams couldn’t join the Ducks’ roster until he completed his undergraduate coursework. That didn’t happen until Aug. 13.

Adams needed all of two weeks to beat Jeff Lockie out for Oregon’s QB1 job.

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In 37 career games at Eastern Washington, Adams threw for 10,438 yards with 110 touchdowns against only 31 interceptions while adding 1,232 yards and 11 scores on the ground. A 6-foot powder keg of extreme confidence, Adams has a knack for saving his best performances for the biggest of stages. He threw for 425 yards and three touchdowns (with two picks) in a loss to eventual FCS runner-up Illinois State in the FCS playoffs last December, a performance only surpassed by his spotless 475-yard, seven-touchdown effort in a 59-52 loss to Washington in September.

In a game only surpassed by Washington at Boise State in terms of awkward Week 1 reunions, Adams’ first game as Oregon’s quarterback will be against Eastern Washington next Saturday in Eugene.

Adams’ former head coach, Beau Baldwin, spoke out against the graduate transfer rule that allowed Adams to leave and play immediately at Oregon. “It’s not what the rule is intended for,” Baldwin said. “… Ultimately we feel like, you know what, we were also the ones who developed [Adams] from a level where obviously out of high school he wasn’t at that level.”

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Arkansas TE C.J. O’Grady arrested on DWI charge

Dennis Johnson

In his entertaining and insightful profile of Bret Bielema‘s Arkansas program, Sports Illustrated‘s Pete Thamel noted that Razorbacks players found themselves in handcuffs only once every 483 days since Bielema’s arrival. Time to reset the clock.

Hogs tight end C.J. O’Grady was stopped early Friday morning for the lack of a working taillight on his scooter and subsequently arrested for driving while intoxicated and being a minor in possession of alcohol, according to the Associated Press.

O’Grady, speaking through slurred speech and emitting an odor of alcohol, reportedly registered a blood alcohol content of 0.099, topping the legal limit of 0.08 and well above Arkansas’s 0.02 limit for minors.

A native of Fayetteville, O’Grady is a freshman hailing from Fayetteville High School. He was released from jail and is due back in court Sept. 28, the Monday after Arkansas’s date with Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

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Purdue puts two-game cap on Gelen Robinson’s suspension

Gelen Robinson, C.J. Beathard AP

Earlier this month, Darrell Hazell confirmed Gelen Robinson would miss at least two games and up to four following an offseason arrest.  In the end, the punishment meted it is at the lower end of the spectrum.

The Purdue head coach revealed Thursday that Robinson will be suspended for the two-game minimum.  Purdue begins the 2015 season with a road trip to defending Conference USA champion Marshall and follows that up with a home game against FCS Indiana State.  The defensive end will be eligible to return for the Sept. 19 game against Virginia Tech in West Lafayette.

In late June, Robinson was arrested on charges of operating a vehicle with a blood alcohol content of 0.15 percent or more and illegal possession of an alcoholic beverage.  The charges triggered a violation of a prior diversion agreement with the courts.

As a true freshman last season, Robinson played in 10 games. His four tackles for loss were sixth on the team, while his two sacks were good for fourth.

Entering summer camp, Robinson, the son of Boilermaker basketball great Glenn Robinson, was viewed as a likely starter at end.

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A week before opener, Tim Beckman fired as Illini’s head coach

Tim Beckman AP

In the end, Tim Beckman‘s hot seat turned into an electric chair before the season even kicked off.

In a surprising move given only its timing, Illinois announced that Beckman has been dismissed as its head football coach.  The move comes exactly one week before the Illini open the 2015 season against Kent State.

The firing also comes more than three months after a former player accused the coach of “misuse and abuse of power,” while another stated shortly thereafter that Beckman “takes the cake as the worst coach I ever met.”  Athletic director Mike Thomas initially supported the beleaguered head coach, but the preliminary results of an external review into the accusations forced Thomas into pulling the trigger now instead of later.

“The preliminary information external reviewers shared with me does not reflect our values or our commitment to the welfare of our student-athletes, and I’ve chosen to act accordingly,” Thomas said in a statement. “During the review, we have asked people not to rush to judgment, but I now have enough information to make this decision in assessing the status and direction of the football program.”

The results, while preliminary, are damning, and show exactly why Thomas and the university had to make the move in the here and now. From the release:

During a preliminary briefing from the external reviewers, Thomas said he learned of efforts to deter injury reporting and influence medical decisions that pressured players to avoid or postpone medical treatment and continue playing despite injuries. He also said in some instances student-athletes were treated inappropriately with respect to whether they could remain on scholarship during the spring semester of their senior year if they weren’t on the team.

“Both of those findings are unsettling violations of University policy and practice and do not reflect the culture that we wish to create in athletic programs for our young people,” Thomas said. “I expect my coaches to protect players and foster their success on and off the field.”

Beckman has been fired for cause, meaning he will not receive the $3.1 million remaining on the last two years of his original five-year contract or the $743,000 called for if his contract had been bought out.

Replacing Beckman on an interim basis for the entire 2015 season is offensive coordinator Bill Cubit.  The release stated that “the external review did not indicate any findings related to Coach Cubit.”

In three seasons with the Illini, Beckman compiled a 12-25 overall record and a 4-20 mark in Big Ten play. He likely would’ve been fired after the 2014 season, but the Illini managed to win their final two games to earn a bowl bid.

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Louisville’s stadium expansion to push capacity past UK’s

PJCS expansion

That title, however, comes with an asterisk.

First, though, Louisville officials announced at a press conference that the home of the football Cardinals, Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, will undergo what’s projected to be a $55 million expansion.  The expansion will add approximately 10,000 new seats — the release explains “1,000 modern club seats, 65 new premium loge level boxes, and 10 exclusive field level suites” will be part of new seating — which will push the capacity of PJCS to around 65,000.

Additionally, the football facility will see a significant upgrade as well as part of the renovation.

The Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex, which currently sits in the north end zone, will undergo a major expansion and facelift. The team’s weight room and conditioning center will double in size, creating a total of 20,000 square feet of work space for training, conditioning, and therapeutic support. A spacious player’s lounge, improvements for coaches’ offices and the team locker room, and expansive theatre-style meeting areas will also be among the enhancements for student-athlete development.

“We are extremely excited to launch this project and I know our fans are thrilled as well,” said athletic director Tom Jurich in a statement. “We worked extremely hard on this one to assure the timing was right before we moved forward. We feel that we have a plan in place that will excite our fans and continue to advance our program, which has truly gained a national stage with our university’s move to the ACC.”

Upon completion, PJCS will have a capacity greater than in-state rival Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium (61,000). Now the asterisk: Capacity had actually reached nearly 68,000 at Commonwealth in the late nineties prior to a current renovation that will actually reduce seating to the aforementioned 61,000.

Getting an attendance one-up on their rival, though, wasn’t part of the thought process, at least not publicly.

Whether or not UofL fans can consistently fill the additional seats remains to be seen.

(Photo credit: Louisville athletics)

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Lawyer for Jameis Winston’s accuser hired by Baylor rape victim

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The high-profile Baylor rape case has added a prominent new character, the Dallas Morning News is reporting.

According to the paper, nationally-known Title IX attorney John Clune of Colorado has been hired by the victim and her family to “investigate a number of issues surrounding the case,” including Baylor’s handling of it. A jury found earlier this week found that former Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu had raped a former BU women’s soccer player in October of 2013, five months after his dismissal from Boise State.

Clune subsequently confirmed to the News in a phone conversation, as well as in a statement, that he is involved in the case.

“We are glad to see that President Starr and Baylor have chosen to conduct their own investigation and look forward to learning the outcome of that process,” Clune said in the statement. “Regardless of what facts these investigations may bare, there is a significant teachable moment here for all in higher education and we are hopeful that Baylor University embraces that great opportunity.”

A Waco attorney, Bill Johnston, is assisting Clune and his firm in their own investigation of BU’s handling of Ukwuachu.  It’s unclear if the attorneys’ investigation will extend to Boise State as well.

The hiring of Clune is perceived to be the precursor to civil action being pursued by the victim, although it’s highly unlikely the university would ever allow any lawsuit to see the light of day in a courtroom and would instead aggressively seek an out-of-court settlement.

Clune is likely most known as the attorney representing the woman who accused former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston of raping her in 2012.  He also represented a woman in a civil suit who claimed three Oregon basketball players raped her; that case resulted in an out-of-court settlement for the alleged victim in which she received $800,000 as well as free tuition and housing while UO admitted no wrongdoing.

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CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

TCU at Baylor

The Big 12 was left on the outside looking in of the College Football Playoff party a year ago, but it looks as though the odds are good the conference is not left out this season. TCU opens the 2015 season as the second-ranked team in the major polls and the Horned Frogs are joined by Baylor as popular picks to make a playoff push in 2015. But what about Oklahoma and Texas you ask? This year should see some improvements with both blueblood programs, although progress at each will be measured differently.

It is time for me to go on the record with some Big 12 predictions. Let’s just say I have a weird gut feeling about some of these.

1. TCU (Last year: 12-1, beat Ole Miss in Peach Bowl)
TCU returns a loaded offense with 10 starters coming back in 2015 from last season’s surging offense. That includes quarterback Trevone Boykin, who may be my top contender in the Heisman Trophy race this season thanks to his experience and supporting cast. TCU needs to replace just one offensive lineman, which puts TCU ahead of the curve compared to the rest of the conference. The schedule does have its challenges ahead of the Horned Frogs, including a season opener on the road against a solid Minnesota squad and road trips to Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. But I think TCU can manage to get away with wins in all three. In fact, I see TCU winning every game on the schedule this season, which would be a remarkable feat for this program on the rise. Most importantly, if TCU does live up to this prediction, there is not a shot they miss out on the playoff at the end of the season. None. There are some questions on the defensive side of the football, but I trust Gary Patterson will be able to address those concerns enough to get by while the offense is cooking.

2. Oklahoma (Last year: 8-5, lost to Clemson in Russell Athletic Bowl)
I feel rather optimistic about the Sooners this season, although I wonder why I feel this optimistic. Heck, I’ve even calling for Oklahoma to win a road game at Baylor. Call it gut instinct if you will. Oklahoma lost every game against a ranked opponent last season and holes were exposed by Baylor and Clemson. But Oklahoma hung in there with Kansas State and TCU and the Sooners have the best running back in the conference with Samaje Perine. I’m looking for a big year from Perine, if the rebuilt offensive line can help him out. I think Oklahoma gets off to an OK start, with the game at Tennessee a toss-up (I have it marked as a loss right now). I think Bob Stoops comes through with some solid performances to surprise some along the way to a second place finish in the Big 12.

3. Kansas State (Last year: 9-4, lost to UCLA in Alamo Bowl)
Here is what I have come to learn about Kansas State over the years. Bill Snyder is a good coach and finds a way to put together a solid team more often than not. You can look at Kansas State on paper and suggest there is no reason to be too excited about the Wildcats in 2015, and that is fine. Snyder will find a way to make it all come together, and he will have three fairly easy games and a bye week at the start of the season to get it all worked out before jumping into Big 12 play. That could get off to a rough start as well, but the bye week before hosting Baylor could be huge. I think Kansas State finishes strong in Big 12 play after the bye week.

4. Baylor (Last year: 11-2, lost to Michigan State in Cotton Bowl)
This one is sure to raise some eyebrows, and I fully understand. Baylor is seen by many as a Big 12 favorite and legitimate playoff contender. Eight starters are back on offense, and nine more on defense. If not for a slip up at West Virginia last season, Baylor would have been in the playoff with an undefeated record. Just like last season, the margin for error is extremely thin for the Bears. This may be a solid test for Art Briles, as he looks to work his quarterback magic once more with Seth Russell taking over a talented offense. With an experienced offensive line protecting him and Corey Coleman and KD Cannon as targets and running back Shock Linwood in the backfield, things should look pretty good for Baylor, right? I’m going with the gut instinct again here to explain why I have Baylor down so low in the Big 12 standings. I think Baylor gets off to a great start, but hits a road block after the second bye week. I’m putting Baylor down for back-to-back losses against Kansas State and Oklahoma and one more two weeks later against TCU. But they may be the best three-loss team in the nation.

5. Texas (Last year: 6-7, lost to Arkansas in Texas Bowl)
When Charlie Strong was hired as the head coach of Texas I said it might take a few years for him to have the Longhorns ready to compete for a Big 12 title. Entering year two, I think we start to see some signs of progress. With a couple of coaching changes on the staff, the hope is the offense begins to show some more consistency and efficiency. The Longhorns have to decide whether to go with Tyrone Swoopes or Jerrod Heard at quarterback and replace both starting tackles on the line, but things should start looking a little more stable on offense. After experiencing a setback in the season opener in South Bend against Notre Dame, the Longhorns rebound before hitting TCU and Oklahoma before the bye week. We will see this season there is still work to be done for Texas to compete against the best fo the conference, but it should start proving to us things are getting better.

6. Oklahoma State (Last year: 7-6, beat Washington in Cactus Bowl)
Another relatively low expectation for the Cowboys compared to many of the preseason previews out there. The big hang up for Oklahoma State for me will be the schedule. The road game at Texas I think ultimately goes down as a loss as the Longhorns look to make a bit of a statement. A road trip to West Virginia could go down as a loss as well, and TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma could all be home losses as well. Oklahoma State is probably more likely to go 1-2 in those big three games in the last half of the season, but I have them as losses right now.

7. West Virginia (Last year: 7-6, lost to Texas A&M in Liberty Bowl)
West Virginia should once again be somewhere in the middle of the Big 12, and will be one of those teams capable of pulling an upset. West Virginia will not be a pushover and should have some back-and-forth games, but the Mountaineers are not quite equipped to make a run at the Big 12 title. They are dangerous though as long as Dana Holgorsen is commanding the offense and a defense returning nine starters (including safety Karl Joseph). West Virginia’s biggest weakness is in the trenches. There won’t be enough of a push from the defense and the offensive line may not be the most dependable. The start of Big 12 play could be rough (at Oklahoma, vs. Oklahoma State, at Baylor, at TCU after bye).

8. Texas Tech (Last year: 4-8)
The bets thing about Texas Tech is Kliff Kingsbury and his swagger. But good looks do not translate to wins on the football field, and Texas Tech is the textbook example of that right now. I have little faith in Texas Tech’s ability to be consistent enough on offense and I have even less confidence in Texas Tech’s defense to stop anything. Sure, shootouts may be fun to watch at times, but the Red Raiders need a lot of things to start turning around if we are ever going to see this program recapture the magic the Mike Leach era offered at times.

9. Iowa State (Last year: 2-10)
You may not find a harder working two-win team in the country than Iowa State. Yes, it could be another long season for the Cyclones, and that could place head coach Paul Rhoads in some unfortunate territory at the end of the season, but there should be some bright spots for Iowa State along the way. Wide receiver Allen Lazard will be tough to slow down and could have a big season. And hey, they’re not Kansas.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
I have Kansas down for one win this season and even that might be a stretch. New head coach David Beaty has his work cut out for him, but at least he is bringing some passion to the rebuilding project in Lawrence. He will need it with just three starters returning on each side of the football field, and his quarterback was injured in spring practice. If Kansas does not beat South Dakota State in week one (not a given by any means), then the Jayhawks will be staring down an 0-12 record this season.

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Sam Ukwuachu’s dad: Art Briles didn’t know of son’s past violence

Oklahoma State v Baylor Getty Images

The he said/he said when it comes to the disturbing Sam Ukwuachu situation has added yet another layer.

Ukwuachu transferred to Baylor in May of 2013 after being dismissed by Boise State, and was found guilty earlier this week of the rape of a BU student that happened five months after he moved on to the Bears.  It surfaced during the rape trial that, while at Boise, Ukwuachu was involved in at least one episode of violence involving his then-girlfriend, which some have surmised triggered his dismissal by BSU.

Art Briles claimed that Chris Petersendid not disclose that there had been violence toward women, but he did tell me of a rocky relationship with his girlfriend which contributed to his depression.”  Petersen countered that, in the phone conversation described by the BU head coach, he “thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”

Petersen’s statement never mentioned specifically whether or not violence was discussed between the two coaches; in fact, Boise released a statement in the aftermath of the dispute that “Ukwuachu’s dismissal from the Boise State football team had nothing to do with accusations of any sexual assaults or with accusations that he physically assaulted any women.”

In the latest twist, Ukwuachu’s father, Felix Ukwuachu, stated during a radio interview that he heard the conversation between Petersen and Briles from the former’s perspective. And, according to the dad, Briles’ version of the events that preceded his son’s arrival in Waco is accurate. From KWTX.com‘s account of the radio spot:

Felix Ukwuachu, said in an interview with KWTX at his home in Houston, that he took a bus to Boise in May 2013 in order to pick up his son and met with Petersen who told him he was going to recommend the player to his “friend Art Briles.”

And he said he was in an outer office when Petersen placed the call.

“We could hear the whole conversation,” he said.

“Petersen said ‘Samuel is a dynamic player, a good boy’ (and) said he would be pleased if you take him into your school,” Felix Ukwuachu said.

Petersen “did not let Samuel go because of sexual abuse or any kind of abuse,” Ukwuachu said.

“Samuel was depressed, Samuel was homesick it was making him…think suicidal thoughts, so we decided that we told him you have to come home,” he said.

“Samuel was in good standing with University of Boise State, Boise state,” he said, and a transfer document that Baylor released confirmed that.

The fact that Briles and now the elder Ukwuachu claim Petersen vouched for the player in setting up the transfer might raise at least one eyebrow. In a damning report published shortly before the Ukwuachu, Texas Monthly wrote that “the two programs had some communication regarding Ukwuachu in which Boise State officials expressed reticence about supporting the player’s efforts to get back on the field.”

Then again, a report surfaced this week that then-Florida head coach Will Muschamp decided against pursuing Ukwuachu “after a Boise State athletic department employee detailed Ukwuachu’s troubles with a girlfriend.” That employee relayed allegations of physical abuse of his then-girlfriend while at Boise. Some have questioned how Muschamp allegedly could’ve known of violence in Ukwuachu’s past and Briles specifically and BU in general didn’t.

Ukwuachu was sentenced to 180 days in jail and 10 years of probation.

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Devlyn Cousin takes to social media to announce Cyclones departure

Devlyn Cousin

A little more than a week before Iowa State opens its season, the Cyclones’ depth along the defensive line has taken a bit of a hit.

On social media, Devlyn Cousin announced that he has decided to transfer out of the ISU football program and continue his playing career elsewhere. No reason was given for the abrupt departure.

Paul Rhoads subsequently confirmed the lineman’s departure.

“Devlyn and I met last night and he informed me of his decision to leave the football team and his intention to transfer to a school that is a better fit for him,” the head coach said in a statement. “He is going to stay in school at Iowa State for the rest of the fall semester and we will help him in the transfer process. We wish him success in his future.”

Cousin played in 16 games the past two seasons after redshirting as a true freshman in 2012.  He started two of those contests, with both starts coming in 2014.

In December of last year, Cousin was arrested and charged with simple serious domestic assault and obstruction of emergency communication after a verbal altercation with his girlfriend turned physical.  While he was indefinitely suspended, he ultimately was reinstated and entered summer camp No. 2 on the depth chart at tackle.

(Photo credit: Iowa State athletics)

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