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SAN ANTONIO - APRIL 07:  Actor/singer Justin Timberlake watches the game between the Memphis Tigers and the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2008 NCAA Men's National Championship game at the Alamodome on April 7, 2008 in San Antonio, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Justin Timberlake, Larry the Cable Guy stump for Big 12 candidacies of Memphis, UCF

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As you no doubt know by now, the Big 12 announced earlier this month that the conference will expand.  Wednesday night, a pair of entertainment heavyweights threw their celebrity behind two of the potential candidates.

A handful of teams have been mentioned as possibilities, from Houston to UConn to USF to BYU to Tulane to East Carolina to Cincinnati to Colorado State to Boise State.  Additionally, Memphis and UCF have been heavily speculated on for months, and they’re the two programs that have seen Memphis native Justin Timberlake and Nebraska fan Larry the Cable Guy, respectively, stumping for them within a couple of hours of each other.

It’s highly, highly doubtful that the celebrities throwing their support behind their favorites will have any impact whatsoever on the process or the Big 12’s ultimate decision. Still, it certainly can’t hurt in the court of public opinion.

A compendium of statements from presidents and ADs angling to join the Big 12

STILLWATER, OK - NOVEMBER 28 : A general view of a Big XII pylon during the game against the Oklahoma Sooners November 28, 2015 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Oklahoma State 58-23.(Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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The Big 12 Expansion Derby is officially on. As USA Today‘s Dan Wolken described it Wednesday, Big 12 expansion could turn into the most cutthroat thing in the history of college athletics. Considering the stakes, he may be right: grab one of the final remaining Power 5 life jackets and make $20-plus million a year, or watch the rescue boat leave you behind.

With that in mind, consider the statements offered by the various presidents and athletics directors angling for one of those life vests. There’s a lot of political speak in here, but also a lot of “forget about them, take us” hidden in between the lines.

Houston president Renu Khator“I am thrilled to have this opportunity to showcase the University of Houston. Our commitment to building a nationally competitive athletic program along with our academics and research is unwavering.  UH is a proud member of Phi Beta Kappa and over the last decade has achieved designation as a Carnegie Tier One research institution. Our student population has grown to more than 43,000, third largest in Texas, and our vibrant residential population is among the highest. I could not be more proud that our university represents the fourth largest city in the nation and that our standard for excellence is second to none.”

Houston AD Hunter Yuracheck“The concept of change is always exciting and the evolving landscape of collegiate athletics invokes great passion in the nation’s fourth-largest city. At the University of Houston we are certainly honored to be mentioned as a progressive institution that places a competitive emphasis on both academics and athletics. As a Tier One research institution and Phi Beta Kappa member, Houston has seen a reinvigorated spirit in Athletics. We have returned our proud University to the national spotlight and we aim to compete on the highest levels as we build Champions for Life. Our mission will not change.”

Memphis AD Tom Bowen: “We work each day to build a championship-caliber athletic department where our student-athletes succeed in the classroom, on the field of play and in the community. The University is prepared to take action when opportunities to increase the level of positive attention and exposure for our city, campus and Athletic Department are presented. The University of Memphis continues to gain national recognition for its advancements in research, teaching and student accomplishments, and the Athletic Department is one part of that winning combination.”

Colorado State AD Joe Parker: “We are very aware of the news from (Tuesday), though it does not change where we are at this moment. We are still focused on the things we’ve always talked about and that’s being the best version of Colorado State that we can be and striving to be the preeminent program in the Mountain West…. I’m energized by everything about CSU Athletics. We have a spectacular new on-campus stadium opening in a year, teams performing at a high level, student-athletes who are excelling in the classroom and coaches who are providing outstanding direction to our programs. We are extremely proud of the academic and research acumen of Colorado State University and feel very confident that Athletics can strongly complement CSU’s ability to project the overall positive message for the institution.”

Tualane AD Troy Dannen: “When I was introduced as athletic director last December, my goal was to ensure Tulane University was in a position, athletically, to take advantage of opportunities which may come our way. If an opportunity for candidacy in the Big 12 Conference presents itself, that is an opportunity we will certainly explore.Tulane’s greatest assets in this regard include our academic reputation, our standing among the nation’s top research institutions as a member of the AAU and our location in the one of the premier cities in the country, New Orleans.We have made over $120 million in capital investments to our athletics facilities over the last several years, and we have a veteran group of coaches on staff who have experienced competitive success at all levels. We are prepared to compete with, and against the top institutions in the nation.”

UNLV AD Tina Kunzer-Murphy: “The football stadium is a key for all of it. You know it. I know it. Everybody else who loves college football and the Rebels knows it. We’ve got at a lot of things where we’ve got to get better. I don’t think anybody can say they have it all together. UNLV brings a lot of benefits to a conference, and we have been good partners to the Mountain West, and in time we will have those conversations.”

UCF president John Hitt: “We ought to be considered very seriously. There ought to be a home for us in the Big 12. Whether there will be or not, we’ll see. But we’re going to do everything we can to be sure people make whatever decision they make based on good information.”

BYU AD Tom Holmoe: “We are obviously excited the leadership of the Big 12 has advised Commissioner Bob Bowlsby to review potential expansion candidates. BYU is known for its academic excellence and I believe we have an exceptional athletic program. As I’ve stated before, I would like to see our student-athletes compete at the highest level.”

It’s a go: Big 12 to pursue expansion

FORT WORTH, TX - OCTOBER 25:  The Big XII logo on a pylon at Amon G. Carter Stadium on October 25, 2014 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Presidents of American Athletic Conference and Mountain West schools, grab your phones. You’ve got some calls to make.

After a seemingly endless string of “will they or won’t they?” stories, brought on by the league itself, the Big 12 announced following a Board of Directors meeting Tuesday afternoon it has authorized commissioner Bob Bowlsby to pursue expansion candidates.

Not a lot of details are ironed out as of yet — this wouldn’t be the Big 12 if they were — but the concept is a go.

Oklahoma president and board chair David Boren said the Big 12 could become 12 again or balloon all the way up to 14.

While no one’s coming out and saying it now, the top candidates for expansion figure to be Cincinnati, Memphis, Connecticut, Houston, South and/or Central Florida, BYU and Colorado State in some order.

One thing that differentiates the Big 12 from others: Bowlsby has used the term “negotiate” when discussing the expansion process. With more interested parties than spots to give, the Big 12 can afford to be selective.

While no one attached firm dates to anything, the implication Tuesday was that this would be taken care of sooner rather than later.

One thing is certain: this is the Big 12 we’re talking about. No amount of craziness is off the table here.

 

Headed by ACC’s 15, record 88 player named to Wuerffel watch list

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Quarterback Danny Wuerffel #7 of the Florida Gators readies to throw during a game against the Kentucky Wildcats on September 28, 1996 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.  The Gators defeated the Wildcats 65-0.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Records were made to be broken, even this kind of a record, I guess.

Continuing the watch list avalanche is the Wuerffel Trophy, which announced 88 players have been recognized as part of the annual preseason grouping.  That number is a record for the award, which is named in honor of former Florida great Danny Wuerffel and is awarded to the FBS player that “best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement.”

The 2015 winner of the Wuerffel was Oklahoma’s Ty Darlington.

As far as the conference-by-conference breakdown?  From the release:

The Atlantic Coast Conference led all conferences with 15 players appearing on the 2016 watch list. Following the ACC are the SEC with 12 players, Conference USA with 10 and the Big 10 and Big 12 with 9 players each. The American Athletic followed with 8 players while the Sun Belt added 7, the PAC 12 submitted 6 and the MAC and Mountain West followed with 4 each. All FBS Conferences are represented on the list, as were Independent representatives BYU and United States Military Academy (Army) with 1 nominee each.

Below is the complete 2016 Wuerffel Trophy preseason watch list:

JK Scott, Alabama, Junior, P
O.J. Howard, Alabama, Senior, TE
Darian Small, Appalachian State, Senior, DL
Vilami “Laiu” Moeakiola, Arizona State, Senior, LB
Brooks Ellis, Arkansas, Senior, LB
Blaise Taylor, Arkansas State, Junior, DB
Andrew King, Army, Senior, LB
Daniel Carlson, Auburn, Junior, PK
Seth Russell, Baylor, Senior, QB
Mitchell Juergens, BYU, Senior, WR
Jonny Linehan, BYU, Senior, P
Jack Austin, California, Junior, WR
Jamal Covington, Charlotte, Senior, OL
Deshaun Watson, Clemson, Junior, QB
Sefo Liufau, Colorado, Senior, QB
Zack Golditch, Colorado State, Junior, OL
DeVon Edwards, Duke, Senior, DB
Zay Jones, East Carolina, Senior, WR
Jarrad Davis, Florida, Senior, LB
Shalom Ogbonda, Florida Atlantic, Senior, DL
Michael Montero, Florida International, Senior, OL
Alec Eberle, Florida State, Sophomore, OL
Jeb Blazevich, Georgia, Junior, TE
Keith Rucker, Georgia State, Senior, TE
KeShun Freeman, Georgia Tech, Junior, DE
Greg Ward, Jr., Houston, Senior, QB
Joe Spencer, Illinois, Senior, OL
Mitchell Paige, Indiana, Senior, WR
LeShun Daniels, Jr., Iowa, Senior, RB
Cole Netten, Iowa State, Senior, PK
Fish Smithson, Kansas, Senior, DB
Dante Barnett, Kansas State, Senior, DB
Antwan Dixon, Kent State, Sophomore, WR
Nick Cuthbert, Kent State, Senior, LB
Karmichael Dunbar, Louisiana, Senior, DL
Brandon Radcliff, Louisville, Senior, RB
Colin Jeter, LSU, Senior, TE
William Likely, Maryland, Senior, DB
Ryan Yurachek, Marshall, Sophomore, TE
Jake Elliott, Memphis, Senior, PK
Brad Kaaya, Miami, Junior, QB
Josiah Price, Michigan State, Senior, TE
Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee, Sophomore, QB
Damarius Travis, Minnesota, Senior, DB
Evan Engram, Mississippi, Senior, TE
Brandon Holloway, Mississippi State, Senior, WR/RB
Drew Brown, Nebraska, Junior, PK
Jeremy Maculey, Nevada, Senior, OL
Nick Weller, North Carolina, Senior, PK
Tony Adams, North Carolina State, Junior, OL
Drew Hare, Northern Illinois, Senior, QB
Matthew Harris, Northwestern, Senior DB
Jarrod Barnes, Ohio State, Senior, DB
Samaje Perine, Oklahoma, Junior, RB
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State, Junior, QB
Tyler Compton, Old Dominion, Senior, OL
Ryan Nall, Oregon State, Sophomore, RB
Adam Biniswaty, Pittsburgh, Senior, OL
James Conner, Pittsburgh, Junior, RB
Mike Caprara, Pittsburgh, Senior, LB
Darik Dillard, Rice, Senior, RB
Daniel Brunskill, San Diego State, Senior, TE
Tim Crawley, San Jose State, Senior, WR
Nick Mullins, Southern Mississippi, Senior, QB
Jason Emerich, Syracuse, Senior, OL
Aaron Curry, TCU, Senior, DL
Brendan McGowan, Temple, Senior, OL
Joshua Dobbs, Tennessee, Senior, QB
Trevor Knight, Texas A&M, Senior, QB
Felix Romero, Texas State, Junior, OL
Patrick Mahomes, II, Texas Tech, Junior, QB
Brad Spelman, Toledo, Junior, LS
John Johnson, Troy, Junior, WR
Marshall Wadleigh, Tulane, Senior, TE
Dane Evans, Tulsa, Senior, QB
Justin Holman, UCF, Senior, QB
Bobby Puyol, UConn, Senior, PK
John Plattenburg, USC, Junior, DB
Travis Seefeldt, Utah State, Senior, DL
Oren Burks, Vanderbilt, Junior, LB
Matt Johns, Virginia, Senior, QB
Sam Rogers, Virginia Tech, Senior, RB
Ryan Janvion, Wake Forest, Senior, DB
Jeff Lindquist, Washington, Senior, TE
Skyler Howard, West Virginia, Senior, QB
Forrest Lamp, Western Kentucky, Senior, OL
Marcus Ward, Western Kentucky, Senior, DB
Zach Terrell, Western Michigan, Senior, QB

2015 finalist Raekwon McMillan of Ohio State headlines Butkus Award watch list

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 12:  Max Wittek #13 of the Hawaii Rainbow Warriors looks to elude the defense of Raekwon McMillan #5 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in the third quarter at Ohio Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio. Ohio State defeated Hawaii 38-0.   (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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I’m running out of ways to lead these things, so let’s just get to it, shall we?

Tuesday, yet another watch list was released, with the Butkus Award unveiling its list of 51 linebackers to watch this season.  The Butkus Award, given out annually since 1985 to the nation’s best linebacker, is named in honor of former Illinois great Dick Butkus.

Last year’s award went to Notre Dame’s Jaylon Smith.  Raekwon McMillan, he of the getting-trucked-by-a-woman McMillans, made this year’s watch list after being a finalist for last year’s award.

The SEC led all conferences with 12 selections, followed by the Big Ten’s 10.  The Big 12 and ACC were next with six and five players, respectively, while the AAC and Mountain West led Group of Five leagues with four each.  That’s the same number as the Pac-12.

The Sun Belt was the lone FBS conference without a representative.

Alabama was the only school with three linebackers selected.  Houston, Kansas State, Louisville, Ohio State and Penn State, with two each, were the only other programs with more than one.

There is also one non-FBS watch lister: Nick DeLuca of FCS power North Dakota State.

Below is the complete 2016 Butkus Award preseason watch list:

Ryan Anderson, Alabama
Kendall Beckwith, LSU
Vince Biegel, Wisconsin
Dante Booker, Ohio State
Ben Boulware, Clemson
Tyus Bowser, Houston
Richie Brown, Mississippi State
Riley Bullough, Michigan State
Jason Cabinda, Penn State
Jeff Camilli, Fresno State
Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Jermaine Carter, Maryland
Zach Cunningham, Vanderbilt
Kevin Davis, Colorado State
Jarrad Davis, Florida
Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
Brooks Ellis, Arkansas
Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
Devonte’ Fields, Louisville
Salamo Fiso, Arizona State
Reuben Foster, Alabama
T.J. Holloman, South Carolina
Travin Howard, TCU
Shane Huber, UMass
Malik Jefferson, Texas
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Peter Kalambayi, Stanford
Harvey Kangi, BYU
Keith Kelsey, Louisville
Micah Kiser, Virginia
Elijah Lee, Kansas State
Raekwon McMillan, Ohio State
Matt Milano, Boston College
Charmeachealle Moore, Kansas State
Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame
Calvin Munson, San Diego State
Hardy Nickerson, Illinois
Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
T.J. Ricks, Old Dominion
Auggie Sanchez, USF
Michael Scherer, Missouri
Cameron Smith, USC
Steven Taylor, Houston
Austin Valdez, Bowling Green
Tanner Vallejo, Boise State
Azeem Victor, Washington
Anthony Walker, Northwestern
Nyeem Warman-White, Penn State
Tim Williams, Alabama
Eric Wilson, Cincinnati
Taylor Young, Baylor