LSU Tigers

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17:  College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Power Five conference races beginning to come into focus

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As we get set to embark on Week 8 of the 2016 college football season, we’re officially beyond the halfway point and closer to championship weekend than we are to opening weekend. And, with that, the Power Five conference races are starting to come into focus — but are far from finished.

This weekend, though, there are a handful of key matchups that could offer further clarity across the major conferences, although most, if not all, are still weeks away from being decided.

That said, here’s a look at where the Power Five conferences and, in four of the five cases, how their respective divisions stand before the eighth weekend of the regular season kicks off.

At 4-0, Clemson currently controls its own destiny in the division courtesy of the Oct. 1 win over 3-1 Louisville.  The U of L will be desperately rooting for Florida State, at 2-2 with one of those league losses coming at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the middle of last month, to knock off Clemson next Saturday as well as the Tigers tripping up in one of their other three remaining conference games (Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest) while also holding serve through the remainder of their slate.  FSU, with league losses to the U of L and North Carolina, will need a minor miracle to get back to the conference championship game.

Technically, 2-2 Wake Forest remains in contention, and still has games against Clemson and Louisville.  Then again, they’re Wake.

In all likelihood, the Coastal will come down to a three-team race: 3-1 North Carolina, 3-1 Virginia Tech and 2-1 Pittsburgh.  Tech has already beaten UNC, and will face Pitt next weekend.  The Tar Heels, meanwhile, own a win over the Panthers to go along with the loss to the Hokies.  Simply put, if Tech wins out (at Pitt, at Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia), they will claim the division and represent the Coastal against their Atlantic counterparts.

As you know, though, this division very rarely plays to the form it presents halfway through the conference season.

With all due respect to 2-1 Penn State, 3-0 Michigan and 3-0 Ohio State are on a collision course for an epic edition of the greatest rivalry in all of college football that will likely not only impact the division and the conference race but the College Football Playoff as well.  PSU could make me eat my words almost immediately as they play host to OSU in the always-dangerous white-out game later tonight; that said, if the Buckeyes can get past the Nittany Lions, they’ll have to traverse home games against Northwestern and Nebraska as well as road trips to Maryland and an abruptly vulnerable Michigan State before hosting UM.  The Wolverines get to host Illinois, Maryland and Indiana along with visits to rival Michigan State and Iowa before The Game.

Like the ACC Coastal, this division’s winner will very (?) likely come from a trio of teams: 3-0 Nebraska, 3-1 Iowa, 2-1 Northwestern.  The Cornhuskers already have a win over the Wildcats, while the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes on the road the first weekend of this month.  Nebraska will close out the season against Iowa, while the latter has one sizable advantage over the other two as they avoid Ohio State completely while the others will face the Buckeyes in Weeks 9 (Wildcats) and 10 (Cornhuskers).  Both of those games, incidentally, are in Columbus.

There’s a potential wrench that could be tossed into the race, it should be noted, as 1-2 Wisconsin still has games remaining against all three of the West teams mentioned above.  Sweep those and get a little additional help, and the Badgers could be right back in the discussion by the end of the regular season.

BIG 12
Next season, this conference’s champion will be decided by a league title game.  This season, the standard round-robin format will determine the champion, and, because of that and the way the schedule is constructed, this league is as convoluted as any in the sport.

Three members are undefeated at the moment in Baylor and Oklahoma at 3-0, West Virginia at 2-0.  Two others are 2-1 — Oklahoma State and TCU.  How convoluted is the current state of the Big 12 race?  Just two games have been played between those five teams thus far: Baylor beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma beating TCU.  A third will be played this weekend as the Horned Frogs will travel to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers in a contest that will allow a little — little — clarity when it comes to the conference race.

This could be the most simplistic of all the P5 divisions: barring something extraordinary taking place, the winner of this division will be decided in the Apple Cup between a 3-0 Washington and a 3-0 Washington State.  Or, at the very least, the winner will play in that rivalry game.  And, of all the developments thus far this season, that may be the most stunning.  To put a finer point on this divisional race, the team currently in third place at 2-2, 2015 Pac-12 champion Stanford, lost to both UW and Wazzu by a combined score of 86-22.

Utah and Colorado are tied atop this division at 3-1, with 3-2 USC still in the same neighborhood.  The Utes own a win over the Trojans, while the Trojans own one over the Buffs.  Utah and USC still have Washington on their schedule, while Colorado, which avoids UW, has to play a Washington State team that won’t face either of the other.  One date to circle on the calendar: Nov. 26, with the Utes traveling to Boulder to square off with the Buffs in the regular season finale.

A lot like the Big 12, this race likely won’t be decided until we get deep into November.

Despite its loss to 2-2 Tennessee, 3-1 Florida controls its own destiny in this division.  Win out, and the Gators will earn their second consecutive berth in the SEC championship game.  Their remaining league schedule?  The annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party grudge match with Georgia in Jacksonville, and road trips to No. 17 Arkansas and No. 25 LSU sandwiched around a home game against South Carolina.  UT, though, could easily win out as their lone remaining games consist of South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.  While the Gators are currently in control, their path to Atlanta is much steeper than that of the Vols despite currently sitting in the driver’s seat — and knowing full well that that come-from-ahead loss to UT is riding shotgun.

This might be the most fun division in all of college football.  Again.  Alabama and Texas A&M both sit at 4-0, while Auburn and LSU are at 2-1.  The really, really fun part?  Only A&M and Auburn have met already this year, a Sept. 17 win for the Aggies on The Plains.  The Tide and Aggies meet in a critical matchup this afternoon, but several more critical contests await the division in the coming weeks.

In other words, grab your popcorn.  This thing is far from decided — a sentiment that’s far from the exclusive property of this division.

Houston officials talking ‘reasonable’ extension for Tom Herman

ANNAPOLIS, MD - OCTOBER 08:  Head coach Tom Herman of the Houston Cougars looks on during a football game against the Navy Midshipmen at Navy-Marines Memorial Stadium on October 8, 2016 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
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With Big 12 expansion off the table, most observers see Tom Herman not being long for the Houston job.  Still, the university is doing, or will do, its best to hang on to a man who will be one of the hottest commodities on the next spinning of the coaching carousel.

UH athletic director Hunter Yurachek told the Houston Chronicle that he has had “very general discussions” with those above him about offering Herman another revamped contract.  In November of last year, UH Board of Regents approved a new contract for Herman that would bump his salary from $1.45 million this season to $3 million, easily the most of any head coach in the AAC.

Last month, Yurachek revealed that Herman’s contract would contain a provision that stipulates the coach would receive a $5 million bonus if the Cougars moved from the AAC to one of the Power Five conferences.  The two sides had signed a memo of understanding regarding the payment prior to the Big 12’s decision to stay at 10 members.

As for the parameters of any extension added to the current deal, and while he will attempt to make it difficult for Herman to leave, Yurachek stated that the school “has to be reasonable” given its current revenue streams from the AAC.

“We have what I consider to be one of the hottest coaching commodities in all of college football,” Yurachek said. “It’s my job to continue to do due diligence and work with (president Renu) Khator and (board of regents) chairman Tilman Fertitta and put together parameters for what potentially could be a new contract offer for coach Herman as we look toward the future and retaining him as head coach.”

It’s widely expected that Baylor and LSU — and Texas, too, if Charlie Strong is dismissed as some surmise — will heavily pursue Herman as the regular season winds down.

LSU’s Ed Orgeron: I’m no doctor but I think Leonard Fournette will play against Ole Miss

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers rushes against the Auburn Tigers at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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LSU’s star tailback Leonard Fournette has missed several games this season due to injuries but appears to be healthy enough to take the field this week as the Tigers’ SEC West schedule heats up.

“We’re thinking he can, but I thought he could play two, three weeks ago. I’m not a doctor, that’s for sure, but I think he’s going to play,” head coach Ed Orgeron said after LSU’s 45-10 win over Southern Miss on Saturday night. “(We’ll) see if he can practice on Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m not going to push him. If he’s not ready, he’s not ready. But the feeling is that he’s going to be ready, but we’re not for sure yet.”

The one-time Heisman Trophy favorite has had a lingering ankle injury dating back to fall camp that caused him to miss the second game of the season back in Week 2. Fournette returned to play in a loss to Auburn in late September but reaggravated the injury again to cause him to miss games against Missouri and Southern Miss.

While Fournette is undoubtedly one of the best players in college football when healthy, the team hasn’t lost much in the run game thanks to backup Derrius Guice. The sophomore rushed for 163 yards against Missouri after starting and added 162 more over the weekend.

You have to figure the plan all along was to get Fournette fully healthy instead of trotting him out against two very winnable teams the past few weeks. Orgeron is fighting hard to keep the head coaching position in Baton Rouge and will need all the firepower he can get offensively as the Tigers face a brutal stretch of five straight ranked teams in six weeks.

AP Top 25: Idle Michigan rises to No. 3, Clemson falls

FILE - In this June 8, 2016, file photo, Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh encourages high school football players in their speed drill at a Michigan Satellite Camp at Pearl High School in Pearl, Miss. Plenty of coaches use Twitter, whether they’re capitalizing on the new rule or communicating indirectly with fellow coaches. Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh called out Ohio State athletic director Gene Smith, Georgia coach Kirby Smart and Tennessee coach Butch Jones on Twitter during the offseason for their comments about his decisions to hold spring practice sessions in Florida and conduct satellite camps. (Elijah Baylis/The Clarion-Ledger via AP, File)
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The Michigan Wolverines did not play a single down this weekend, but that did not stop the Wolverines from moving up one spot in the poll. Michigan moved up one spot in the AP poll this week after Clemson struggled at home against North Carolina State. Alabama remains the top-ranked team in the poll this week, followed by Ohio State.

Alabama received 60 first-place votes in this week’s AP poll. Michigan was the only other team to receive a first-place vote, as they have received each week of the season so far from Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News. Nebraska moved up two spots within the top 10 this week, and Baylor moved up two spots to crack the top 10. Despite its second loss, Wisconsin remained in the top 10 after falling two spots.

West Virginia is on the move once again, jumping up eight spots to No. 12 in this week’s AP poll. At No. 14, Boise State is the second-highest-ranked Group of Five program this week. No. 11 Houston remains at the top of the Group of Five pack, despite a loss to No. 24 Navy.

New teams in the poll this week include No. 22 North Carolina and No. 25 LSU. Big drops were experienced by No. 18 Tennessee (down nine spots) and No. 23 Ole Miss (down 11 spots).

Miami and Virginia Tech each dropped out of the poll this week following losses.

AP Top 25 By Conference:

  • ACC – 4
  • American – 2
  • Big 12 – 3
  • Big Ten – 4
  • MAC – 1
  • Mountain West – 1
  • Pac-12 – 2
  • SEC – 8

Here is this week’s updated AP Top 25, with first-place votes noted:

  1. Alabama (60)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Michigan (1)
  4. Clemson
  5. Washington
  6. Texas A&M
  7. Louisville
  8. Nebraska
  9. Baylor
  10. Wisconsin
  11. Houston
  12. West Virginia
  13. Florida State
  14. Boise State
  15. Florida
  16. Oklahoma
  17. Arkansas
  18. Tennessee
  19. Utah
  20. Western Michigan
  21. Auburn
  22. North Carolina
  23. Ole Miss
  24. Navy
  25. LSU

LSU to wear memorial decals on helmets to honor Mike VI

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 06:  LSU mascot Mike VI, a Bengal/Siberian mixed tiger, is displayed on the field before the Florida Gators take on the LSU Tigers at Tiger Stadium on October 6, 2007 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
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LSU’s beloved live mascot may be gone, but he’s not been forgotten.

Earlier this week, Mike VI was euthanized following a months-long battle with a rare form of cancer.  In May, the 11-year-old tiger was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma and, while an experimental form of radiation initially shrunk the tumor in his head, the cancer subsequently spread to his legs, throughout his lungs and elsewhere.

Thursday, the school revealed that the football program will “celebrate the life” of the Bengal/Siberian mix, starting with wearing a helmet sticker for Saturday’s game against Southern Miss.

Despite PETA’s ongoing protests, LSU is currently searching for a new live tiger mascot and is expected to have one in place for the start of the 2017 season.