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.

 

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.