Weekend Preview: LSU has what it takes to battle Alabama, BCS busters and more

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The biggest games of the week may have been played Thursday night, but the Saturday line-up  is not all that shabby either.

Alabama vs. LSU

Nobody has been safe in the SEC this season. Everybody has taken a loss except for one team, Alabama. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa the Crimson Tide host LSU. The SEC West match-up may not have quite the same magnitude recent meetings have had, but with the season winding down there is no good time to take a loss now for Alabama. Of course, that hasn’t exactly hurt them before. Could this year turn out to be different? Alabama cannot risk it to find out.

LSU is one of the few teams to have been able to handle the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won five of the last six games in Alabama. Alabama’s only win at home against LSU since 1999 came in a 24-15 victory in 2009. So, does LSU have a chance at knocking of Alabama once more? Why wouldn’t they?

LSU has all of the ingredients they need to pull the upset. the Tigers have one of he top quarterbacks in the SEC (Zach Mettenberger), a power running game led by one of the top rushers in the SEC (Jeremy Hill) and one of the top defenses in the SEC. The problem for LSU is Alabama has all of those things as well.

A loss for Alabama may put a temporary dent on the bus to the SEC Championship, but no matter what happens it appears The Iron Bowl with Auburn is going to be huge.

ACC Championship Chase

Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) is in a good spot in the BCS championship, but still must make sure to finish the year strong in ACC play. Florida State will look to avoid a huge upset Saturday when they travel to Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4 ACC). This should be a game that sees some big numbers put up by the Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston (Marcus Mariota‘s performance Thursday likely results in Winston leading the pack). Letting up at this point in the year is probably not wise for Florida State as there are other undefeated teams on the prowl for a trip to Pasadena. Don’t count on Florida State having a sluggish afternoon.

While Florida State may have the Atlantic Division pretty much wrapped up, the Coastal Division is still up for grabs. Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC), despite losing running back Duke Johnson in the loss to Florida State last week, still sits in a good spot in the division. The Hurricanes host Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2)  Saturday in what may be the biggest hurdle the rest of the way before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game. Stephen Morris will have to be smart with his pass selection because the Hokies have one of the tougher defenses in the ACC. Without Johnson, the Hurricanes will look to Dallas Crawford, who should be more than capable of handling the responsibilities.

BCS Buster Watch

Entering the week Fresno State (8-0, 5-0 MWC) remains in the perfect position for a BCS bowl berth. The Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the BCS rankings and ahead of the top contenders in The American (we’ll get to that conference in a moment). As long as Derek Carr can lead the Bulldogs to a road win at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2 MWC) Fresno State should remain in a good spot with time winding down in the regular season.

Northern Illinois (9-0, 5-0 MAC) dropped a spot in the BCS standings to 18th overall, but the Huskies still remain in striking distance of making a return trip to the BCS stage. As long as Fresno state keeps winning though, it will be tough to see Northern Illinois sneak in one more time.

Chasing The American Dream

The American Athletic Conference championship picture will be a bit more clear after this weekend. The key game to pay attention to will feature Central Florida (6-1, 3-0 AAC) and surprising Houston (7-1, 4-0 AAC). UCF is ranked 21st in the BCS rankings, which is vital to Fresno State and Northern Illinois, but the Knights and Cougars will battle for the pole position for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. If Central Florida wins this weekend, the berth will be their’s to blow having already beaten Louisville this season. A Houston win could open up a bit of a complicated situation in the conference. Houston visits Louisville next week. If Houston wins this weekend and Louisville defeats Houston next week, a three-way tie at the top of the conference would be left to untangle. But let’s worry about that later if we need to. The big key this weekend is whether or not Central Florida wins. A win could make a case to bump the Knights up in the rankings, either closing the gap on Fresno State and NIU or passing them altogether.

The quarterback battle between Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Houston’s John O’Korn should be an entertaining one. Bortles will also be put to the test though, with Houston leading the nation in turnover margin with a +20, highlighted by 17 interceptions.

Two hires complete Tom Allen’s Indiana coaching staff

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Once again, the Indiana Hoosiers football coaching staff is whole.

Sunday afternoon, the Hoosiers announced the additions of two assistant coaches for Tom Allen. Jason Jones will serve as safeties coach, while Kevin Wright will coach tight ends.

Allen and Jones have a prior working relationship, having served on the same coaching staff at Ole Miss.

“I have so much respect for Jason,” the Indiana Hoosiers football head coach said in a statement. “I was fortunate to work with him for two seasons at Ole Miss. He has worked in the SEC and the Big 12, and he was a part of one of the top defenses in the country last year. Jason’s a great football coach and is the kind of husband, father and man I want in this program.”

Last year, Jones was the cornerbacks coach at Florida Atlantic.

“I am so thankful to Coach Allen for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this great staff,” Jones said. “IU impressed me so much last season, and I can’t wait to contribute to even more success. I am excited and ready to get to work.”

Wright is a 20-year coaching veteran, with 13 of those years in the state of Indiana and the last five at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

“I’ve known Kevin for many, many years” Allen said. “He’s been one of the most successful high school coaches in the country and has done a tremendous job working with some of the top talent in the country at IMG. Kevin allows us to expand our recruiting base and continue our success in the state of Florida. He’s a great fit for our program in so many ways, and we are excited to welcome Kevin and his family to IU.”

These hirings came a month after a new seven-year deal for Allen was announced.

North Carolina new home for All-American FCS kicker

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The North Carolina football program is the latest to dip into the FCS ranks for some talent. Placekicker talent, but still.

Sunday afternoon, the North Carolina football program announced that Grayson Atkins is transferring to the Tar Heels. Atkins spent the past three seasons at Furman.

According to UNC, Atkins will graduate from the FCS school in the spring.  He’ll then join the North Carolina football program in the summer.

As a graduate transfer, Atkins will have one season of eligibility remaining.

Below are Atkins’ particulars, as relayed by UNC’s release:

An Inman, S.C. native, Atkins converted on 33-of-41 field goal attempts and 132-of-138 PAT attempts during his three seasons at Furman. He earned first-team All-America honors as a junior and second-team honors as a sophomore. Atkins was also named All-Southern Conference twice. His 231 career points rank 10th on Furman’s career scoring list and fifth on the kick scoring list. Combining the end of his junior season and the beginning of his senior season, Atkins made 18 consecutive field goals, which is a Furman and Southern Conference record.

As a junior in 2019, Atkins earned first-team AFCA FCS Coaches’ All-America honors to go along with All-America honors form the Associated Press and STATS FCS. He converted on 13-of-15 field goal attempts and 48-of-50 PATs. Atkins made all six field-goal attempts under 40 yards and went 7-of-9 on attempts from 40 or more yards including a 55-yarder. In addition to his first-team All-SoCon honors as a placekicker, Atkins earned second-team accolades as a punter after averaging 43.5 yards per punt.

This past season, sophomore Noah Ruggles made all 45 of his extra-point attempts for the Tar Heels.  He also hit on just 19 of his 27 field-goal attempts.

Florida transfer Chris Bleich moves on to Syracuse

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This development involving a now-former Florida Gators football player flew under our radar last week, so we’ll rectify that with an early-morning post to start this work week.

Chris Bleich started eight of the first nine games at right guard for Florida this past season, with the lone start he missed being due to blisters on his foot. However, the redshirt freshman had begun to lose playing time due to performance even as he maintained the starting job in name.

With his grip on the position loosening, though, Bleich decided to take his leave of the Gators in early November.  Florida Gators football head coach Dan Mullen subsequently confirmed the departure.  Mullen also confirmed that unspecified family issues at home triggered the decision.

In the latest Bleich development, Syracuse announced late this past week that the lineman has been added to the Orange’s roster. In its release, the football program stated that “Bleich must sit out the 2020 season due to NCAA transfer regulations unless granted immediate eligibility.”

It’s expected that Bleich will seek a waiver from the NCAA that would allow him to play this coming season.

Bleich was a three-star member of Florida’s 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 13 player at any position in the state of Pennsylvania. The 6-6, 330-pound lineman played in just four games as a true freshman, and was able to preserve a year of eligibility by taking a redshirt that season.

If Bleich is granted a waiver, he’ll have three seasons to play three years.  If not, he’ll sit out 2020 and then have two years of eligibility starting in 2021.

Oregon State adds second Power Five transfer WR, this one from Florida State

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A personnel loss for Florida State will apparently be a gain for the Oregon State football program.

Last month, Tre'Shaun Harrison placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. This past week, it was reported that Harrison has been added to the OSU student directory.

According to Oregon Live, “Harrison and his mom took a visit to Corvallis from January 3-5 and the trip left him encouraged about a future with the Beavers.”

As of yet, the Oregon State football program has not addressed any roster development involving Harrison. Barring the unexpected, the receiver will have to sit out the 2020 season. That would then leave him with two years of eligibility starting in 2021.

A four-star 2018 signee, Harrison was rated as the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Washington. Harrison was originally committed to Oregon before flipping and following Willie Taggart to FSU.

In 2019, Harrison caught 27 passes for 289 yards and two touchdowns.  He was third on the Seminoles in both catches and yards.

Harrison is the second Power Five wide receiver transfer added by the Oregon State football program this month. After opting to leave Washington, Trey Lowe ultimately moved on and transferred to OSU. Like Harrison, Lowe will have to sit out the upcoming season.