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AAC releases 2016 conference schedule

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The American Athletic Conference released its 2016 conference schedule highlighted by, oddly enough, non-conference games that pit league gem Houston against Oklahoma (on opening day at Houston’s NRG Stadium) and Louisville (in Houston on Nov. 19).

Those two games, more than any others, will sink or swim the conference’s chances of not only grabbing the Group of Five spot in the New Year’s Six, but a spot in the College Football Playoff itself.

The 2016 conference slate kicks off with Navy meeting Connecticut on Sept. 10 and concludes with the second annual AAC title game on Dec. 3 at a to-be-determined campus site.

The AAC led the way in scheduling Power 5 opponents — highlighted by a Week 3 schedule that will see the entire East Division punching up a weight class — and includes the likes of Florida State, Maryland, N.C. State, Virginia, Syracuse, Kansas, TCU and Oklahoma (for all intents and purposes) visiting AAC campuses.

View the full AAC slate here:

 

Nebraska picks up Tulane transfer QB Tanner Lee

NEW ORLEANS, LA - SEPTEMBER 03:  Tanner Lee #12 of the Tulane Green Wave throws under pressure from Duke Blue Devils at Yulman Stadium on September 3, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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More times than not, it seems, it’s a Group of Five program that’s the recipient of a Power Five transfer, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. This time around, though, the signal-calling script has been flipped.

On his personal Twitter account Saturday night, Tanner Lee announced that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at Nebraska.  This decision comes a little over three weeks after Lee announced his decision — on Twitter — to transfer from Tulane.

LSU had also been a consideration for Lee.

As it stands now, Lee would be forced to sit out the 2016 season if he lands at Nebraska — or any other FBS program for that matter — and would then have one season of eligibility left that he could use in 2017. However, Lee is reportedly seeking a sixth season of eligibility from the NCAA; if that’s granted, his playing window would extend through the 2018 season.

While at Tulane, Lee started 10 games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, then started nine more in 2015.  In those two seasons, he threw 23 touchdowns vs. 21 interceptions.  While it counts sack totals, Lee ran for minus-287 yards during his time with the Green Wave.

SEC, Ohio State tops on Carolina, Denver Super Bowl rosters

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29:  Former Tennesse quarterback Peyton Manning and current quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts is honored alongside his former college coach Phillip Fulmer before the start of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks on October 29, 2005 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Cam Newton may be hurtling toward history, but the former Auburn quarterback will not be the lone player representing the SEC in next month’s Super Bowl.  In fact, he’s far, far from it.

As you may have heard, Newton’s Carolina Panthers are set to square off with Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos in the 50th Super Bowl Feb. 3.  Manning and Newton are two of and FBS-best 30 former SEC players who are on the two teams’ rosters, which includes those on the 53-man, reserved/injured list, practice squad, reserved/suspended by commissioner and reserve/future squad.

The Pac-12 is next with 23, followed by the Big Ten (21) and ACC (17).  The final Power Five conference, the Big 12, has 10, three less than the Mountain West’s 13.  The AAC, with eight, is the only Group of Five league to come close to double digits.  The MAC, meanwhile, is the only conference to be shutout, while all of the other divisions in the NCAA combined for 18 players.

Nearly every SEC team is represented in this year’s big game, the lone exception being Vanderbilt.  Of the dozen schools in the Pac-12, only Arizona and Washington State are missing.  Both the ACC and Big Ten have 11 of their 14 teams in the game, the lone exceptions being Clemson, Louisville and Virginia Tech for the former and Illinois, Minnesota and Rutgers for the latter.

One of those B1G schools that’s in, Nebraska, has had at least one player on a Super Bowl roster for 23 straight years, the longest active streak for any FBS program.

Ohio State easily outdistances individual schools with seven, three more than the four each for Auburn, Georgia Tech, Oregon State and Tennessee.  Alabama, Arizona State, Colorado State, Georgia, Nevada, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M, USC and Utah.

A total of 20 schools have two players each, including Coastal Carolina, the only non-FBS program in the group.  The other 19 includes Arkansas, Boise State, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, North Carolina, San Diego State, South Carolina, Stanford, Troy, Tulane, Washington and Wisconsin.

Smart, Richt currently pace all new head coaches in recruit rankings

CORAL GABLES, FL - DECEMBER 04:  New University of Miami Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt makes the 'U' sign after he was introduced at a press conference at the school on December 4, 2015 in Coral Gables, Florida.  (Photo by Joe Skipper/Getty Images)
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In somewhat of an ironic twist, the head coach who was forced to leave Georgia and the coach who replaced him are doing quite well on the recruiting trail at their new programs.  In fact, they’re doing better than any other who found a landing spot in the 2015-16 spinning of the coaching carousel.

As it stands now, Miami’s Mark Richt has the 19th-ranked recruiting class according to Rivals.com, the second-best of any of the  27 head coaches hired in the past three months.  The best?  Georgia, which has the No. 15 class thanks in part to Kirby Smart, Richt’s successor in Athens.

UGA right now, though, and fully understanding that there are nearly two weeks left until National Signing Day, is nine spots behind the No. 6 class Richt signed in 2015.  The U, meanwhile, was ranked 26th for Al Golden‘s last class, a full seven spots behind were Richt stands now.

Not surprisingly, a significant number of programs have seen their recruiting rankings dip from a year ago.  One of the most glaring is that of USC.  Despite offensive coordinator Clay Helton taking over as interim head coach in mid-October and then taking over permanently in late November, USC has just the 23rd-ranked class; last year at this time, the Trojans were well on their way to having Rivals’ No. 1 class under Steve Sarkisian.

Of the 27 head coaches new to their teams, 17 have classes that are ranked lower than their predecessors from a year ago.  The biggest drop belongs to Seth Littrell‘s North Texas (127th currently, 90th in 2015), while that ignominious honor for Power Five programs goes to Dave Odom and Missouri (59th, 27th).

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Matt Campbell has taken his new team on one of the biggest rises, lifting Iowa State from No. 69 under the departed Paul Rhoads to No. 52.  Interestingly, Campbell’s successor at Toledo, UT offensive coordinator Jason Candle, has the Rockets at 73rd, 17 spots higher than his predecessor’s 90th-ranked class of a year ago.

Below are the 27 newest head coaches, with where their teams rank now in the recruiting rankings compared to a year ago:

2016 New HC Recruit Rankings

Spinning of 2015-16 coaching carousel comes to a halt (probably)

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Clay Helton of the USC Trojans before the game against the Arizona Wildcats at Los Angeles Coliseum on November 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The 2015-16 head-coaching carousel began spinning August 28 of last year with Illinois’ firing of Tim Beckman. Exactly 141 days later, the hiring of Frank Wilson by UT-San Antonio has brought it to a halt. Probably.

Barring an unexpected firing by an FBS program or an NFL team swooping in to steal a coach, it’s come time, I think, to sit back and take a look at how this year’s version of the carousel has shaken out.

All told, 26 FBS teams will head into the 2016 with head coaches who did not begin the 2015 season in that capacity — Bill Cubit, the Illini’s interim coach after Beckman’s firing, was ultimately named as the permanent head coach and would be considered a 27th. That’s a significant jump from the recent past, with 2013 yielding 19 changes and “just” 15 in 2014. Of this cycle’s changes, 13 came at Power Five programs — nine as the result of dismissals, four because of retirements.

That, of course, means 14 openings came from the Group of Five schools; not surprisingly, the Power Five movement had an impact on that group as four G5 head coaches left for the same job with P5 teams, while another, Ball State’s Pete Lembo, left to become an assistant at a P5 program. Six of the remaining holes were created by firings, while two more jobs in that group came open because of retirements. The lone remaining? Willie Fritz left Georgia Southern to take over at Tulane.

Of the openings, eight were filled by coaches who were defensive coordinators in 2015, and another eight by offensive coordinators.  That is quite the turnaround from a year ago, when just one DC, Michigan State’s Pat Narduzzi to Pittsburgh, became a head coach, while five of their offensive brethren landed head-coaching jobs.

The next group could be called the Noah’s Ark of the carousel, coming from their 2015 jobs in twos: interim head coaches (Cubit, USC’s Clay Helton), FCS head coaches (Louisiana-Monroe’s Matt Viator, Texas State’s Everett Withers) and running backs coach (Bowling Green’s Mike Jinks, Wilson).

Finally, one NFL assistant made the move back to the collegiate ranks: Mike Neu, who left the New Orleans Saints to take over for Lembo at Ball State.

And with that, I (probably) wash my hands of the ’15-’16 carousel, knowing full well that it’ll all begin again another 10 months or so — or seven months, if another program decides to pull a preseason Illini.