Pac 12, Big 12 heavyweight battles will help frame BCS picture

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So you say the weeknight college football action has been kind of lame this season? Well then this is the Thursday night you have been waiting all year for, and it was worth the wait. Tonight will feature two of the biggest games of the year in the Pac 12 and Big 12, and the conference championship picture in each should come in to focus at the end of the night. But what about the BCS picture? Well, that could start to clear up a little bit or end up getting a little more complicated.

With Oregon (8-0, 5-0 Pac 12), Stanford (7-1, 5-1 Pac 12) and  Baylor (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) all ranked in the BCS top ten and in action, this Thursday night will pack plenty of punch to provide an alternative to whatever the NFL has to offer.

Stanford vs. Oregon

This is the biggest game between Oregon and Stanford since, well, last year. Once again, the top two teams in the Pac 12 will square off in a Pac 12 North battle that will likely determine which school gets home field advantage in the Pac 12 championship game. The winner also remains in the BCS championship picture while the loser may have to settle for a trip to the Rose Bowl. Quite the consolation prize though, right? Stanford scored an overtime victory in Eugene last season to shatter Oregon’s BCS championship dreams. Can they do it again?

There are only a handful of teams in the country that play a style of defense that should be able to slow down Oregon’s high-scoring offense. Alabama and Florida State may have it. So does Stanford. The Cardinal may play the best defense there is in the Pac 12, but even they will have to bring a strong performance at home to slow down the Ducks. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota is currently in a two-man race for the Heisman Trophy with Florida State’s Jameis Winston, but a strong performance at Stanford could help him pull back ahead after Winston has seized the momentum. Will Mariota have a Heisman moment?

Stanford’s defense will be the biggest factor in this game. If they can tame the Ducks and let Tyler Gaffney lead the Stanford ground game to control the clock, the Cardinal will be in good shape. Stanford has already thrown a brick wall at some potent offenses this season — Arizona State, Washington, UCLA — and they play confident when they face Oregon. Oregon’s last game against UCLA showed they can be contained but it is difficult to keep them down for long, and points can come in a hurry.

The road team has won this match-up each of the past two years, with home field advantage in the Pac 12 championship game going to the winner each time. The stakes are as high as they can get for the Pac 12 considering a spot in the BCS championship game is still on the line as well. A win likely nudges Orgeon past Florida State, and Stanford is the best one-loss team in the country according to the BCS standings.

Baylor vs. Oklahoma

For as good as Baylor has been under Art Briles, the Bears may still be looking for the win that puts them over the edge from very good to Big 12 team to beat. On Thursday night, Baylor will get that opportunity that has been building over the last few years in Waco. Baylor is battling a stigma that suggests the Bears are all about the offense and little else. That may not be true though. While the Bears offense is on record pace this season, the defense has allowed just 13.9 points per game. Is this Baylor defense the most unheralded defensive unit in the country? They could very well be.

Only two teams have scored more than 14 points against Baylor (Kansas Sate, West Virginia), although it is fair to argue their opponents have not been all that outstanding. Still, Baylor ranks sixth in the nation ins scoring defense. The Bears are also fourth in the Big 12 in rushing defense and first against the pass (sixth in the country), which may be a bit surprising considering teams often have to try catching up by throwing more often to attempt to keep pace Baylor offense. On Thursday night the Bears look for their best win of the season when they host Oklahoma, a one loss team still in the discussion for a Big 12 championship and one that could start to build a case as the best one-loss team in the country if things fall in to place.

But the story here is Baylor. If Ohio State was left at the rest stop on the BCS highway, Baylor never made it out of the driveway. But that could change in a hurry. Yes, Baylor likely still needs some help given the strength of schedule to this point, but the Bears have a back-loaded conference schedule that will see games against three currently ranked teams (Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Oklahoma State) and another with a winning record (Texas) in addition to a rivalry game against struggling but defensively sound TCU on a neutral field. With players like Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk on offense and a defense that has played better than given credit for, maybe this Baylor team still has some tricks to show off.

 

Walk-on UCLA TE Greg Dulcich rewarded with scholarship on his birthday

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Courtesy of UCLA football, those weary of the misery that’s engulfing our country at the moment can find a reason to smile a little in this post.

Greg Dulcich would’ve been entering his third season as a walk-on for the UCLA football team. The key phrase there, of course, is “would’ve been.” Late last week, the Bruins announced that Dulcich has been placed on scholarship.

Arguably the best part? The announcement came on the redshirt sophomore’s birthday.

Dulcich received the news from UCLA football head coach Chip Kelly. Following the phone call, the in-self-isolation tight end celebrated with family.

From the Los Angeles Times:

When I hung up the phone,” Dulcich said, “it was pretty loud in here.”

He sprinted over to the dining room to give his mom a hug before his siblings converged for what Dulcich described as “a big ol’ family hug.” They celebrated over a birthday dinner of chili cheese dogs and chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, the dessert made just the way Dulcich likes it.

Kelly made it clear to Dulcich that the scholarship was not a birthday present so much as a reward for all of his hard work. Dulcich caught a 20-yard touchdown pass last season against San Diego State and has made the Athletic Director’s Honor Roll, requiring at least a 3.0 grade-point average, during every quarter since his arrival.

“He was pretty adamant about making me feel like I earned it,” Dulcich said, “and that was really cool of him to put it like that.

The past two seasons, Dulcich has appeared in 14 games for the UCLA football team. Because he played in just three games during the 2018 season, he was able to take a redshirt and save a season of eligibility.

In that action, the California native has caught nine passes for 111 yards and a touchdown. Eight of catches, 105 of the yards and the lone score came this past season.

Tulane shows off fresh new turf for football season

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We don’t know, officially, when college football will return to our lives. When it does, Tulane will have a brand new playing surface waiting to be broken in.

Tulane shared a look at the updated turf in Tulane’s Yulman Stadium, complete with the signature fighting green wave logo sitting at midfield. But the most noticeable update is a consistent green pattern as opposed to the alternating shades of green on the previous turf. The ends zones also have a fresh coat of paint, doing away with the white checkerboard pattern and replacing it with a light blue backdrop with “Green Wave” painted in green and outlined in white in each end zone.

The loss of the checkerboard end zones is slightly upsetting, but overall this is a worthy upgrade. Keeping the midfield logo was essential, and the blue end zones are certainly a pleasant upgrade.

Tulane is coming off a 7-6 season capped by a victory in the Armed Forces Bowl. After back-to-back winning seasons and bowl victories, Tulane and head coach Willie Fritz will hope to take advantage of their new turf and take the next step toward playing for the American Athletic Conference championship in 2020.

Despite New York shutting down construction, work on Syracuse’s Carrier Dome continues

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Like many states around the country, New York has issued a state-wide shutdown of all non-essential businesses. The updated order from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has included a ban on non-essential construction projects, which is notable to Syracuse University. Just weeks after deflating the roof of the Carrier Dome for the final time as renovations were underway, whether or not the Carrier Dome classifies as essential construction or not is still being debated.

As noted by Syracuse.com, stadiums did not fall under the list of construction projects that could be considered essential. Essential projects have included those on roads, bridges, transit, utilities, hospitals and affordable housing, just to name a few. Clearly, the Carrier Dome does not fall under any of those categories. But, of course, that has not stopped some officials from stating the construction on the Carrier Dome should be allowed to continue.

The Dome project should be exempt,” Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said recently, according to Syracuse.com. “I already had a call with the state on this. Regardless on the Dome project, it has to be exempt because that big metal structure on the Dome isn’t secure. They’re still putting it up. We’re not going to stop construction and have 50 mph winds present another public health challenge. I called the state and just put everybody on notice on that. I talked to the contractor.”

Syracuse will be replacing the roof after a new railing support system is in place. The renovations to the Carrier Dome are priced at $118 million and the original plans were to have the project completed in full by 2022, although some parts of the renovations were likely to be completed in time for the 2020 college football season. Whether that will remain the case or not remains to be seen as the entire sports world and beyond has been put on ice amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Minnesota coach PJ Fleck has encouraging words for everyone during COVID-19 pandemic

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If there is one coach in college football that can be trusted to find the silver lining in times like these, it has to be Minnesota head coach PJ Fleck. Always one of the most uplifting and positive-thinking coaches sin the game, Fleck shared a message to everyone that may help you feel at least a little better about everything going on right now with the COVID-19 pandemic taking a toll on our lives.

In an interview last week with Pat Mcafee on his YouTube show, (The Pat McAfee Show), Fleck was asked what his message would be to people if they need a little bit of encouragement. Naturally, Fleck was up to the task;

“[There] are no problems, only situations, and from a situation creates opportunity,” Fleck said. “So for us, it’s about how we’re going to be able to respond to this, how are we going to be able to get back to this norm? everybody wants to keep chasing this norm. When’s normal coming back? I got news for you. Normal’s not coming back!”

Even as someone who is optimistic that things will return to “normal,” I can’t help but think Fleck is probably correct in this line of thought. He continued.

“Whatever your view of normal is, it’s not coming back. There are going to be ways and things that we implement that becomes the new norm,” Fleck explained. “But if you’re afraid of that, who says the new norm can’t be better? Why can’t our world be better? Why can’t our nation be better? Why can’t we continue to grow? Why can’t we be intentional with our intentions to make this a better world after we get through this? Who’s to say it has to be worse?”

“We all have a role in this, and we can all row the boat together,” Fleck said, working in his own personal motto that has worked so well for him over the years for good measure. “We can all look at our problems, look at them as situations and create these opportunities that make this world better. Here’s the one thing. We all affect this. every single one of us have an impact of how we actually change the future of this nation.”

I don’t know about you, but I feel a little better moving forward. Maybe we need to hear from Fleck every day until things do return to whatever the newly established “normal” shall be.

Here is the video clip of Fleck’s interview, via McAfee’s Twitter account;