Dana Holgorsen calls out WVU fan attendance

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At just about 11 pm for the past few nights, my Twitter feed has blown up with the same set of rumors.

“Source tells me Mike Slive is in Morgantown. WVU to SEC is a done deal.”

“Been told to expect an announcement about SEC membership tomorrow.”

And on and on it goes. As the great West Virginia sideline reporter Jed Drenning relayed, “Some moments are truly special. I’ll never forget where I was all 17 times West Virginia was officially-unofficially invited to the SEC.”

Indeed, the Mountaineer faithful have opined over the last several weeks that West Virginia would be a solid addition to the SEC as the league’s 14th member to the point of some truly believing everything they read. After all, did you not see College GameDay live from Morgantown? Did you not witness the 13,000 fans packing the Mountainlair plaza and the over 60,000 who crammed into Mountaineer Field sporting gold?

It was a big-time atmosphere. A cultural ying to the SEC’s yang. How could they say no?

But then, this past weekend, West Virginia laid an egg. A crowd of roughly 46,000 — 14,000 less than capacity — showed up to a cold, rainy and overall dreary afternoon to watch the Mountaineers lay 55 points on Bowling Green. Speaking with the media on Tuesday, coach Dana Holgorsen said that’s not acceptable.

“Whatever our expectations are with our players as far as preparing every week and going to the games and playing our best – I highly encourage our students and support to take the same approach. You only have seven opportunities a year.   What’s so hard about it? Was it too cold?  It wasn’t too cold for our players.  Wasn’t too cold for our coaches, managers or trainers.  They were out there.  So, why did we have 20,000 less people out there this week than last week?

“We’re all talking two weeks ago about how much difference the fans and crowds going to make to the LSU people. Well, LSU played well in front of 62,000 of our people and then turned around and went home and played a 1-4 Kentucky team at noon with 95,000 people there. You want to talk about an elite program?  That’s one.  I don’t know about this place.

“All I heard about was about how much this meant to everybody across the state of West Virginia and this was the NFL team here in town and we’re going to be there to support you. Having 40,000 people at a game isn’t doing that.  The only thing we can do about it is fix it.”

To be fair, it’s hard to get excited about playing Bowling Green and Norfolk State, the two home games that hosted crowds of 51,000 or less. It’s almost equally difficult to get amped for Big East conference play. There just aren’t any great teams or marquee games.

Asking people to come out in force for Cincinnati or UConn? Even AD Oliver Luck, a smart businessman, has to know that’s a stretch.

But Holgorsen was brought in for a reason: to re-energize Mountaineer Field after it was lulled to sleep over the past three years under Bill Stewart. So far, WVU’s offense has responded accordingly. Geno Smith is a top-five passer in college football and points are bountiful.

The WVU Mantrip, a new pre-game festivity created by Holgorsen, is an exciting way for fans to interact with their team before the game.

If West Virginia’s fans are as passionate and loyal as they claim to be, and if the quality of the product has been raised, then I agree with Holgorsen that there needs to be a reciprocating level from those in the stands. Holgorsen is candid, so it’s not really his M.O. to implore, but his sentiment is valid.

A consistent 60,000 in the stands won’t get WVU an invite to the SEC, but it will show they have the atmosphere to hang with it.

(Big thanks: WVMetroNews) 

Nick Saban’s hip-replacement surgery scheduled for Monday

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We already knew that one of the greatest college football coaches in the history of the game was set to undergo a rather invasive medical procedure. Now, we know exactly when it’ll take place.

This past weekend, Nick Saban confirmed that he’ll have hip-replacement surgery at an unspecified time this offseason. Friday, USA Today was the first to report a specific date as the Alabama head coach is set to go under the knife this coming Monday. According to the Tuscaloosa News, the surgery will be performed that morning by Dr. Lyle Cain of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.

The procedure is expected to sideline Saban for a period of 6-8 weeks, a timeline that will allow the coach plenty of time to recuperate and rehabilitate ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

That said, Saban’s biggest concern involves a sport that’s not football.

“The only thing I hate about it is, I’ll have to not play golf for six weeks or so,” Saban told USA Today. “… But this is the best time for me to do it. I do a lot of speaking and evaluating and film work and stuff like that, but we’re not practicing. Other than playing golf, I probably wouldn’t be very active. So this is the best time, and then it gives me a lot of summer to get back in shape.”

The 67-year-old Saban will be entering his 12th season with the Crimson Tide in 2019. “I don’t want to coach for one more year. I want to coach for a lot of more years,” the future College Football Hall of Famer said in explaining his decision to undergo the surgery at this point in time.

Jacksonville Jaguars taking over Gator Bowl operations as game faces financial difficulties

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NFL teams owning (or providing significant assistance) to a bowl game is nothing new in this day and age but you can add another to the list of operators as the Gator Bowl has turned to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to cut costs and help save the 75-year-old postseason game for several more years.

The Jacksonville Daily Record first made note of the moves, which were announced at the Jaguars’ annual state of the franchise presentation on Thursday. The team will formally take over “ticket sales and back shop operations.” The Florida Times Union also provided more context on the moves, which note that contracts expire after the upcoming game on everything from the TV deal with ESPN to title game sponsorship agreement.

“We’re in negotiations now for everything,” said Gator Bowl CEO Rick Catlett. “We got a good deal overall with the city [on the stadium], but not a great deal. We got to get the city to give us the same deal as Georgia-Florida with rent, concessions and parking. “We have to step up our game. We’re not going to be the Poulan Weed-Eater [Independence] Bowl. My instructions from our board is to move it forward or we’re done.”

Ticket sales and local revenue dropping were cited as the most pressing concerns to the financial health of the bowl, which is one of the oldest in the sport and has been held continuously since 1946.

It will be interesting to see if these financial trends continue for both the Gator Bowl and others at large. We’ve seen more and more bowl games get added to the docket in college football over the years but one of the mainstays to the lineup facing such challenges could be a warning that the system in the College Football Playoff era isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Five college football officials joining NFL ranks for 2019 season

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The NFL draft is this week and hundreds of college football players will formally be making the jump to the pros as a result. They won’t be the only ones going from Saturday’s to Sunday’s this fall however.

Per the NFL’s Twitter account dedicated to all matters officiating, five officials from the college ranks are being bumped up to crews in the league:

All five of the college football officials were part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program according to Football Zebras. The Memphis Commercial Appeal also notes that the five were also involved as officials in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football this spring. Based on that, it’s pretty clear that the group as a whole was really focused on moving up to the NFL at some point and now get the call up to the big leagues.

Florida, Texas reportedly planning home-and-home series

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Could it be? Could Florida actually leave the Sunshine State for a big non-conference game?

It might just be in the works.

In a nugget slipped into his column this week, plugged-in Austin American-Statesman writer Kirk Bohls notes that Texas and Florida are apparently working on a home-and-home series between the two very successful programs. Don’t get your hopes up just yet however — not just because the pairing might not happen but because it’s going to happen in the very distant future of 2030 and 2031.

We’re always supportive of big home-and-home matchups but like many out there wish things were a little closer than 11 years from now.

More notable than the date though is the fact that the Gators might actually leave the state for a true road game. That hasn’t happened in ages. Literally.

The last non-conference true road game that Florida played outside of the friendly confines of their own state came all the way back in 1991 against Syracuse (they lost). The Gators have typically stuck to lower level FCS/Group of Five opponents at home while also playing in-state rivals like USF, Miami and, of course, Florida State to fill out their non-conference slate.

That might all be about to change however as the team discusses things with the Longhorns. Let’s all hope that for the first time in 40 years that UF decides a non-conference road game might finally be worth it.