CFT Previews: Three X-factors for the National Championship

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You know about Marcus Mariota and Cardale Jones. You know about Royce Freeman and Thomas Tyner and Ezekiel Elliott. You know about Urban Meyer and Mark Helfrich. You even know about Brutus and Puddles.

But here are three things you may not have considered that could paint the national championship trophy in scarlet and gray or apple green and electric yellow. We in the business like to call them X-factors.

1: Arik Armstead and Joey Bosa (and their friends). In a game that boils down to quarterback vs. quarterback, the team that makes the other guy’s signal caller most uncomfortable will likely win. Oregon pass rusher Armstead will look to get to Jones before he can get ahead of steam in the run game (or fire a 60-yard bomb to his plethora of speedsters on the outside). On the other side, constant pressure is the only proven antidote to beating Mariota in his three years as a starter.

2: Tyler JohnstoneIfo Ekpre-OlomuBralon AddisonDarren CarringtonDevon Allen and Pharoah Brown. Oregon obviously has fantastic depth to make it this far without the four listed above, but could there be a moment late in the game, with Ohio State fans joyous, Meyer cracking a smile and Puddles showing a longer face than normal, that you start to think, “Man, it’d be nice the Ducks had their top left tackle, top cornerback, top three wide receivers and/or top tight end, wouldn’t it?”

Chris Seisay did a fine job filling in for Ekpre-Olomu, and the Ducks limited Florida State’s Rashad Greene to six grabs for just 59 yards, but Ohio State’s receiving corps is better than the ‘Noles. The Oregon offensive line has charged along well without Johnstone this season, but they haven’t faced a defensive front as multi-faceted as Ohio State’s. Evan Baylis set career highs in the Rose Bowl with six receptions for 73 yards in the Rose Bowl, proving a capable replacement to Brown. But without Carrington, Allen and Addison (who hasn’t played at all this season), Oregon’s top remaining receiver is Dwayne Stanford, a sophomore who averaged 4.5 receptions for 44 yards in 13 games this season.

3: Sean Nuemberger and Aidan Schneider or Matt Wogan. These three anonymous gentlemen are your title game kickers. Ohio State has ridden with Nuemberger all year, to mixed results. The freshman has knocked in 13-of-20 field goals this year; he hit both of his tries in the Sugar Bowl but is just 5-of-10 from beyond 40 yards this season. Oregon has alternated between Schneider and Wogan this season, leaning on the former in the Rose Bowl. Schneider is 9-of-10 on the year, while Wogan is 7-of-9. Neither has been used a lot this season, and each squad’s dominance throughout the season means none of the three has been asked to make a game-on-the-line kick. Now there’s a greater than zero chance one of them will face that situation for the first time with a national championship on the line.

Iowa LB Aaron Mends to miss extended time with injury

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Talk about a hard-luck story.

After never starting a game at Iowa, Aaron Mends (pictured, blocking punt) had earned a starting job at outside linebacker during practice this spring.  With football being the cruel mistress that it can be at times, the Hawkeyes announced Friday night that Mends “will miss an extended period of time due to injury.” The program offered no details as to the specific nature of the injury, although it’s believed to involve the knee.

According to the school’s release, the fifth-year senior suffered the injury during the final week of Iowa’s spring drills.

Mends was a three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class.  He was the highest-rated linebacker in Iowa’s class that year.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Mends has played in 38 games the past three seasons.  A baker’s dozen of those appearances came during the 2017 season.

Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, James Franklin and Clay Helton among 15 CFB coaches attending NFL Draft

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We’re less than a week away from former college players officially finding out their new homes with the start of the 2018 NFL Draft and the excitement is palpable no matter if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan or somebody who dons the cardinal and gold of USC.

Naturally this is a big deal for the players’ former programs as well and their recent head coaches will be taking full advantage of the marketing opportunity to future recruits by stopping by the draft itself at AT&T Stadium for the festivities. The NFL released a list of 14 college football coaches and one recent one on Friday as being confirmed to attend the event and there are a few notable names beyond the big ones we’re used to seeing every year:

In addition, Stanford head coach David Shaw will serve as a draft analyst on NFL Network for a seventh year in a row and even ESPN’s College GameDay is getting involved with a pregame show outside the stadium they are quite familiar with from big games over the years.

Georgia DB Mark Webb tears meniscus in practice but expected back before fall camp

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Georgia’s injury luck this spring isn’t getting much better as the defending SEC champions move toward their annual G-Day spring game over the weekend.

Head coach Kirby Smart confirmed with reporters after Thursday’s practice that sophomore defensive back Mark Webb suffered a knee injury earlier in the week and tore his meniscus. He already had the knee scoped and is expected back before fall camp after the rather minor procedure.

Webb originally landed in Athens as a wideout but made the move to the secondary just as the season was getting going. He appeared in 13 games in 2017, mostly on special teams, but was expected to challenge for one of the starting spots at cornerback heading into the upcoming campaign.

The absence of Webb in the lineup for the final week of spring adds to a growing list of injuries for the team during practice as they do a little bit of roster building toward the future. Receiver Michael Chigbu’s career may be over due to lingering injuries and defensive back Divaad Wilson tore his ACL not long after enrolling this semester.

Safe to say that G-Day on Saturday might not be as physical as Smart and the coaching staff would otherwise like as a result of trying to keep the team healthy as they prepare to head into a big offseason.

Old Dominion announces remodel, expansion plans for S.B. Ballard Stadium

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Old Dominion is making sure the first word in the school’s name is not the first thing you think of when you are playing against the Monarchs, joining a long list of their FBS peers with some significant upgrades for their home venue over the coming years. In plans approved this week by the university, ODU released renderings and an updated timeline on a $65 million remodel of S.B. Ballard Stadium that is set to begin as soon as this summer.

“We are excited to begin Phase 1 reconstruction,” said Greg DuBois, the school’s vice president for administration and finance. “Fan comfort and high-quality amenities are the primary focus of this phase. The project will help us create the type of game-day experience fans want and will set us up for future expansions.”

The stadium, some 81-years-old, will undergo a nearly complete teardown over the next two years in order to transform the place most know as Foreman Field. Both the east and west stands will be demolished and rebuilt, complete with new seating and a new press box. There will naturally be more restrooms and concession stands as part of the plan that includes plenty more bells and whistles for the Conference USA program. Seating is expected to grow beyond 21,000 or so capacity the current venue seats.

While construction will get started in the coming months, the bulk of activity will take place after the 2018 campaign is wrapped up at home and before kickoff of the opener in 2019. The Virginian-Pilot reports that funding will not utilize state funds but that the school is requesting that the legislature approve an added $10 million to the cost structure as a result of rising prices beyond the original $55 million forecasted.

2018 will be just the 10th season for the Monarchs (and fifth in FBS) since the football program was reinstated and it goes without saying that the new digs will be some of the nicest in CUSA when all is said and done. Few programs have been able to successfully navigate the transition as well as ODU has and it seems an updated stadium in the near future is the reward for head coach Bobby Wilder and others in Norfolk.