A.J. McCarron proves he’s more than a ‘game manager’

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Unfairly, Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was labeled a game manager. Coincidentally, he earned it in last season’s BCS championship game against LSU when he played solid, mistake-free football. With an All-American offensive line, a stable of elite running backs and a defense stocked with talent, the pressure’s never really been on the second-year starter to lead a two-minute drill or make the big throws.

But, eventually, it’s going to happen. Every team needs their quarterback to win at least one game for them. Down 17-14 to LSU Saturday night in Death Valley with 1:34 remaining, the Tide needed McCarron to be more than a game manager. And he was. A lot more. The junior completed four of five passes over 72 yards in 43 seconds, the final one a screen pass to running back T.J. Yeldon for 28-yard touchdown.

It was a perfect play call. Less than a minute later, No. 1 Alabama did what few teams have done against Les Miles: go into Baton Rouge at night and come out with a 21-17 win over the No. 5 Tigers.

John will have a special “Fifth Quarter” sifting through the aftermath of what was easily the best game of the day coming up here in a bit; this here is all about McCarron.

He wasn’t all great. McCarron was hot and cold all night and the Tide usually went as he did. In fact, if not for his game-winning drive, this would have been about the proverbial light coming on for Zach Mettenberger. The first-year starter for LSU played his best game of the season, throwing for 298 yards and a touchdown. It was the way college football pundits all over the country thought Mettenberger, the supposed “missing piece” for the Tigers, should have looked all year.

Mettenberger deserves a lot of praise for the way he played tonight, and if you’re going to assess who had the better game between the two QBs, Mettenberger would win that distinction. But McCarron won what really mattered, when it mattered. Now, and with all due respect to the likes of Tennessee and Mississippi State, the Tide have a victory over its first “real test” of 2012. There shouldn’t have been any mistake before, but there’s certainly none now: Alabama is playing like the best team in the country. Keep winning and a second consecutive BCS championship appearance — the third under Nick Saban — is guaranteed to be in play.

Who knows what challenges Alabama will face to get there — maybe they won’t — but they’ll have a chance as long as McCarron’s taking snaps.

After tonight, he’s going to be known as a game-changer.

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

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After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

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Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.

NCAA releases latest APR data, which means bonus money for many coaches

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It’s APR — academic progress rate — day around the NCAA which means a bunch of schools are celebrating how well their teams did in the classroom. While many programs are doing a fist pump over hitting certain thresholds, there are a number of head coaches who are picking up a nice check as the result of players staying eligible.

Like, six-figures worth of cold hard cash thanks to their players showing up to class and taking tests.

USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz knows coaches contracts better than anybody and has been tweeting out some of the bonus money that various coaches are getting as a result of APR scores. While a few amounts are somewhat modest, a few others are collecting a very, very nice check.

Lunch is on Paul Johnson today!

Northwestern led all football programs with a multi-year APR rate of 997, followed closely in the FBS ranks by Air Force, Vanderbilt and Duke among others. The overall average score for football teams across Division I ticked up two points to 964 for the 2016-17 school year. Student-athletes receive points for both staying eligible and staying in school, with a formula then determining the program’s single-year and multi-year scores.

Teams can be ruled ineligible for postseason play if their score is too low but only one program suffered that fate (Morgan State of the MEAC). Grambling also was hit with a Level One penalty for their APR score, which includes a reduction in practice time for the upcoming season. The lowest multi-year APR score for a FBS program belonged to Florida State with a 941.