ACC in survival mode, Big East teams jockey for second place

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Please excuse me while I continue to play this broken record. The ACC and Big East teams have not been what you would call “quality” conferences this year. Not one of the six computers have the ACC ranked higher than fifth, or the Big East higher than seventh out of the 11 conferences and group of Independents. Currently, just three ACC teams are ranked in the BCS Top 25.

Not much can be said for these two groups of schools, other than they need to play better on the field. With that said, the races for the respective conference titles are extremely close.

No. 16 Florida State (4-0) currently leads the ACC Atlantic division, but has yet to play the three teams that are directly on its heels–North Carolina State (2-1), Maryland (2-1), and Clemson (2-2). A slip up against one of those teams paired with said team winning out would send it to the conference title. Over in the Coastal division, No. 23 Virginia Tech (4-0) is the leader with No. 22 Miami (FL) (3-1) right behind it. Georgia Tech (3-2) would need to win out to take the division, meaning it would need to defeat Virginia Tech next Thursday, followed by wins over Miami and Duke. It certainly would not be an understatement to say that the majority of the ACC teams are in survival mode right now.

The Big East teams currently find themselves in a similar boat, but to be fair there is a lot more football to be played amongst them. Pittsburgh (2-0) is presently wearing the conference crown, but five teams are behind the Panthers with a lone loss, most notably Syracuse (5-2, 2-1). While this weekend’s slate of games may not make you smile or get you excited, they will certainly clear up the BCS picture for the time being.

Clemson at Boston College (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Clemson -7

THE PLOT: Oh, the tale of two stories. These two teams have brought us a lot of great games the last few years. While an exciting game may still be within the realm of possibility, it is unlikely.

Boston College is riding its worse losing streak since 1998, having lost its past five games since opening 2-0 with wins over Weber State and Kent State. The Eagle offense will likely be dismal on Saturday, seeing as it’s currently 112th in the nation right now. If Boston College wants to win this game, it will need the nation’s fourth ranked rush defense to pressure Tiger quarterback Kyle Parker to make every play…

…which will probably not be enough. Clemson has played tremendous football and may be one of the nation’s more underrated teams. The Tigers lost by just three points to the No. 1 team in the country back in Week Three in an overtime thriller. The other two losses for Clemson came from No. 22 Miami (FL) and at North Carolina by 14 total points.

THE PICK: I fully expect Clemson to reciprocate what it did last weekend against Georgia Tech: shut down the run completely, limit scoring opportunities, and make the opposing quarterback pass the football —Josh Nesbitt had 19 pass attempts last week for the Yellow Jackets, marking that his fourth highest total in 28 career games. Boston College cannot throw the football, so running it will be the Eagles sole option, which they aren’t great at either.

With the emergence of Andre Ellington, Parker may not need to be Clemson’s top player on Saturday. The Tigers get their first road win this weekend.

THE SCORE: Clemson 24, Boston College 13

——————–

No. 22 Miami (FL) at Virginia (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Miami (FL) -15

THE PLOT: Other than the ‘Canes’ two big losses, Miami has played perfect football. Randy Shannon has his squad lined to be in its first ACC title game ever.

The Cavaliers are 1-4 against FBS opponents this year with its best game being a 48-21 win over Eastern Michigan 14-17 loss at USC. Virginia is 0-3 in ACC play, losing the three games by an average of 22 points.

THE PICK: Miami’s next big game is a November 20th home game against Virginia Tech. It’s way too early for the ‘Canes to be looking ahead and get caught in a trap game. Miami takes this one easily and Jacory Harris regains the attention of a few analysts.

THE SCORE: Miami 38, Virginia 7

——————–

Louisville at Pittsburgh (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: Pittsburgh -9

THE PLOT: Pittsburgh’s play the past two weekends has been impressive. The Panthers outscored their first two Big East opponents–which entered their game with Pittsburgh with a combined record of 8-3–by a combined score of 86-35. Dave Wannstedt has people in Pennsylvania forgetting all about the first three weeks of Pittsburgh’s season; something that seems to have been mastered by the Wannstache.

Louisville, on the other hand, has been rather consistent all season. The Cardinals are sitting at 4-3 with a 1-1 conference record, but could easily be undefeated. First-year coach Charlie Strong‘s efforts have been magnificent, considering the Cardinals have won just 15 total games the past three years. Louisville’s three losses have been a seven-point drop to Kentucky to open the year, a seven-point margin at No. 25 Oregon State, and an eight-point loss to Cincinnati two weeks ago.

THE PICK: This game will be the closest since 2007, with the team playing the best football coming out on top. That team is Pittsburgh.

THE SCORE: Pittsburgh 24, Louisville 20

——————–

Syracuse at Cincinnati (12:00 ET)

THE LINE: N/A

THE PLOT: This Big East matchup features two teams that have literally switched spots in the conference standings since last year. I must have said that a few times now, so why don’t I trade mark it?

Cincinnati fans and team members alike have got to be disappointed with its season this year. Watching Brian Kelly bolt for Notre Dame was not terrifying. The Bearcats still had Zach Collaros…Now Cincinnati sits at 3-4 with a 1-1 conference record.

Syracuse may be the best story in college football this year–sorry Auburn. The Orange are second in the Big East standings at 2-1, and 5-2 overall. Doug Marrone has put together Syracuse’s best season since 2004 in just his second year. The Orange’s great season was highlighted with a 19-14 win over then-No. 20 West Virginia last weekend. With a win like that on its resume, Syracuse proved it can win any of the games left on its schedule, especially following a 45-14 beat down.

THE PICK: I like Syracuse a lot, and I do think they can win a few more games this year. I cannot argue that the Orange have played a better season of football than Cincinnati thus far, but for some reason I cannot give this one to Marrone’s group.

Cincinnati still possesses one of the better dual threat quarterbacks in the country. The one question will then be, “What is the status of Collaros since his injury against South Florida?” If he is healthy and plays, I think the Bearcats win this one. If Collaros i
s a no-go
, then Syracuse
might steal its second consecutive tough road win, but that’s still a tall order.

THE SCORE (With/without Collaros): Cincinnati 31/20, Syracuse 14

LAST WEEK Straight up: 1-2Vs. spread: 1-2

OVERALLStraight up: 21-7  Vs. spread: 11-16-1

(I failed to predict scores before Week One, but if you would like to count my predictions on Week One from an outside source, you can add the following: Straight up 2-1, Vs. spread 0-3.)

(Odds courtesy of SportsBook.com by way of our friends at NBCSports.com.)

State legislators looking to wipe New Mexico, NMSU debt in hopes of decreasing ‘money games’

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Politics and football are colliding in the state of New Mexico. Luckily for the two FBS programs in the region, that could wind up working out quite well.

As detailed by the Albuquerque Journal, lawmakers recently made a few changes to their annual state budget. One item that made it into the lengthy bill this year? A measure that could result in millions of debt being wiped from New Mexico and New Mexico State’s ledgers.

Per the Journal:

The language in the budget prohibits the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University from using any state money – which includes money appropriated from the Legislature as well as any other state money that ends up in the athletics departments’ coffers – to pay back the accumulated deficits.

At UNM, that totals a nearly $4.4 million debt the Athletics Department has run up with the main campus through years of overspending.

At NMSU, the debt is $3 million.

The heart of the matter? Not just making sure the universities take proper accounting steps with their athletic departments but the play of both the Lobos and Aggies on the field.

Namely, their reliance on so-called ‘money games.’ Also termed ‘buy games’ or ‘guarantee games,’ these are when Group of Five programs get paid millions to essentially be fodder for larger Power Five programs during the non-conference slate.

While there have been cases of the ones getting the checks still emerging with a surprise victory or two, typically these are pretty lopsided affairs. They happen a lot and have turned into a way of life at programs like in the state.

Now there’s hope that by cancelling some debt, the two teams won’t have to take on such games as often.

“I’m sick and tired of both universities having to take money games. We’re not competitive, and we’re getting crushed, but they’ve got to play those games to get enough money for their athletics departments,” State Sen. John Arthur Smith told the paper.

Both teams lost games by over 50 points on the road in such games last season. Their future schedules also contain plenty more. UNM will travel to USC and Mississippi State in 2020 for example. FBS independent NMSU starts the season off at UCLA and concludes it by going to Florida in late November.

There’s still plenty of work left to be done before things change on the field and with the state budget but perhaps this is the start of some interesting financial relief for two programs that have some of the toughest roads to wins in all of major college football.

Clemson linebacker tears ACL for a third time

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Clemson coaches will hope that the third time really is the charm for unlucky linebacker Bryton Constantin. 

The redshirt freshman was just recently set to return to the football field this spring. Instead, he will apparently head back under the knife after injuring his knee for a third time. He confirmed the diagnosis on Twitter late last week.

Constantin was one of the nation’s top recruits at his position coming out of Baton Rouge, La. and picked the Tigers as part of the class of 2019. However, he never made it onto the field. He originally tore his ACL playing basketball in high school last February. Then he re-injured it in September after getting on campus.

The former four-star was expected to be eased into spring practice next month at Clemson but obviously those plans are out the door. Given the timetable for such injuries plus his history, the 2020 season could be too. 

This is a Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables defense however so there’s at least enough depth at the position to lean on for a team likely ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. James Skalski is a returning starter in the middle while Mike Jones Jr., Jake Venables and Baylon Spector all have experience on the outside. The team does need to replace likely top five pick Isaiah Simmons but do add several talented freshmen to the group that is coming back from a disappointing loss in the national title game. 

Still, just about everybody on the roster would have loved if Constantin could have worked his way in the mix given his earlier knee injuries. That won’t be the case though as the youngster hopefully undergoes ACL surgery for a third and final time in the coming weeks.

Texas reportedly suspends WR Kennedy Lewis for spring practice

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Texas head coach Tom Herman has been busy this offseason remaking his coaching staff. That doesn’t mean he’s kept an eye on what his players have been doing however.

According to Orangebloods.com’s Anwar Richardson, the program has suspended wideout Kennedy Lewis. The redshirt freshman will miss spring practice with the team but appears to be in line to return in time for summer workouts. 

Provided, of course, he does what he needs to in order to get back in the graces of Herman and company. There was no word on what Lewis did to get the (temporary) boot. 

Either way, it’s a missed chance for Lewis to make an impression for Texas’ rich new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The Longhorns are also looking for several new targets for QB Sam Ehlingher this spring given that seniors Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay both are off to the NFL. The youngster was expected to be one of those in the mix behind the likes of Jake Smith and Brennan Eagle to see some serious playing time.

Now that’s not longer the case.

Lewis arrived on the 40 Acres as a three-star recruit prior to last season. He made it into two games and took a redshirt, recording just a single catch against Rice for 37 yards.

Now, others like Josh Moore and Marcus Washington figure to get extra reps when the ‘Horns opens their 15 practice slate next month.

New three year deal at Auburn for Chad Morris winds up saving Arkansas money

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Arkansas has had to tap the well for buyout money quite a bit in recent years. The good news for the school however is that those checks will be a little smaller than first thought going forward.

That’s the result of ex-head coach Chad Morris’ new deal at Auburn. Terms were released to the media last week of the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and per AL.com, that will result in a three-year contract worth roughly $735,000 annually. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot for an SEC coordinator, you’d be right. It’s especially true given how much rival Alabama is prepared to pay their OC, Steve Sarkisian, given recent reports.

However, Morris isn’t just being paid by Auburn. Arkansas still owes him millions in buyout money. 

The figure was originally on the order of $10 million after he was fired midseason by the Hogs last year. That total was spread out over the next four years. However, Morris had an offset in his deal so the amount the Tigers are paying him will mitigate down that total from Fayetteville some. 

Morris will still wind up taking home nearly $2.5 million each of the next four years. Thanks to the AU deal however, the amount coming from UA will drop to nearly $1.7 million from now until 2022.

The new coordinator deal is also fully guaranteed between Morris and the Tigers. If he’s fired, the school owes him every penny. If he leaves for another job that isn’t a head coaching gig, he would owe everything left as a buyout.

Either way, Morris is both reunited with his old friend Gus Malzahn on the Plains and a very rich man. At least for folks at Arkansas, that arrangement will at least save them some money even if their ex-coach is at a division rival.

The Hogs also recently stopped paying former head coach’s Bret Bielema’s buyout last year as part of some legal wrangling. As a result, the nearly $22 million the program was set to be on the hook for in just the past three seasons is actually quite a bit less than first thought. 

That all might not help take the sting out of the lack of victories in Fayetteville but it certainly will help the ol’ check book if nothing else.