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.

 

Oregon LB arrested for removing parking boot dismissed by Ducks

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In April, Fotu Leiato was arrested on a couple of charges related to the illegal removal of a parking boot from his vehicle.  A month later, we’ve learned Leiato was given the boot from his current football program for good measure.

247Sports.com was the first to report that Leiato has been dismissed by first-year Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.  Further to the point, the linebacker’s dismissal came a day after his April arrest but the news didn’t surface until Thursday.

In the April incident, Leiato was arrested on charges of second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree theft and criminal trespassing.  That was actually his second arrest this year as he was charged with misdemeanor trespassing in January.

The combination of the two arrests led Cristobal to pull the trigger on a dismissal.

Coming to Eugene as a three-star safety, Leiato played in 37 of 38 games the past three seasons.  The Washington native earned the first start of his collegiate playing career during the 2017 season.

The senior had been in line to earn a starting job exiting spring and heading into the summer phase of the offseason.

LB Darrin Kirkland announces transfer from Tennessee

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Darren Kirkland‘s injury-plagued time on Rocky Top has come to an end.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday evening, Kirkland announced that he has decided to transfer out of first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt‘s Tennessee football program.  The linebacker gave no specific reason for his decision to move on from the Volunteers.

“Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart,” Kirkland wrote. “These moments have been priceless and I’m a better player and man from this experience.”

As a graduate transfer, Kirkland would be eligible to play for another FBS program in 2018.  Not only that, but he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining counting this year.

A four-star 2015 signee, Kirkland started 10 games as a true freshman and then another six in a sophomore campaign marred by a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss four games.  In summer camp last year, he suffered a knee injury severe enough to sideline him for the entire 2017 season.

The rehab from that injury kept Kirkland from being a full participant in Pruitt’s first spring practice this year.

North Texas dropping $625,000 to install new turf that naturally includes new design

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Seth Littrell has done a great job turning around the program at North Texas but fans getting a look at the 2018 edition of his team will notice something right away that’s different when they take the field for the home opener: new turf. The Denton Record Chronicle reports that UNT is ponying up $625,245 for the latest “FieldTurf CoolPlay” turf at Apogee Stadium.

“We are excited about the turf,” Littrell said recently, according to the paper. “It was much needed. That turf has been used a lot and has gotten worn down. The new field will improve safety and will be a great resource for our kids.”

The old turf had a good run at the stadium after being installed back in 2011 but obviously the summer heat and 300+ pound bodies playing football will cause a little wear and tear. The Record Chronicle says that “North Texas” and “Mean Green” will be the end zones text while the midfield school logo will include a “dark green outline of the state of Texas.”

Completion of the project is expected to be done well in time for the first game against SMU in September. The school has released some shots of Apogee Stadium without the old turf and it certainly looks kind of wild to see a stadium sans a playing field:

Kansas State AD open to scheduling Nebraska in the future

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Conference realignment ended a bunch of big rivalries, from the major (Texas-Texas A&M) to the mundane. Former Big 8 and Big 12 rivals Kansas State and Nebraska were somewhere on the middle of that scale after playing each other in football for decades. While nobody is clamoring for the two to get together quite like they are the Longhorns and Aggies, there’s plenty who would still love to see them schedule a non-conference series given how close Lincoln and the Little Apple are to each other (135 miles across the border).

Wildcats athletic director Gene Taylor has been in the job just over a year and it seems like he’s very aware of the scheduling situation between the two schools and is open to getting something done eventually. He was asked about adding the Cornhuskers to the slate in a Q&A on the school’s website and had this to say:

“That is a school that makes a lot of sense,” said Taylor. “We are pretty well-scheduled out in football with our one Power Five opponent, but we do play them in baseball and have had conversations in men’s basketball. If the opportunity were to arise, they are someone we would certainly entertain if it made sense for us.”

KSU is fully booked on the scheduling front through 2022 but have been open to adding home-and-homes with former Big 12 opponents with Missouri on tap for 2022/23 and Colorado on 2027/28. They’ve got a Power Five opponent on the docket until 2031 so it seems like the team wouldn’t be able to get something done with Nebraska until after then. That is, to say the least, a long ways away.

Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to meet in a bowl game at some point over the next few years. The Cornhuskers and Wildcats last met in 2010 in a series that is heavily weighted to Big Red. At least Taylor is leaving the door open and leaving a chance of the two programs hooking back up on the gridiron.