Alabama, Auburn prepared for monumental Iron Bowl

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Is this the biggest Iron Bowl in the history of Alabama and Auburn football? It may be, at least in the past 40 years. A trip to Atlanta is on the line in this year’s Iron Bowl. For the first time since the SEC split in to two divisions and introduced a conference championship game, the SEC West representative will be determined solely by the outcome of the Iron Bowl, the annual match-up between Alabama and Auburn. The stakes could not be any higher, not when the winner will also have a legitimate shot at advancing to the BCS Championship in Pasadena in addition to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Something is going to have to give on the field this weekend too. Auburn has the SEC’s top rushing offense, averaging 320.27 yards per game this season. Only one time this season has Auburn been held under 200 yards on the ground (Mississippi State). The Tigers have also rushed for 37 touchdowns this season. Tre Mason leads the charge with 1,153 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Marshall compliments the running game with 823 yards and nine touchdowns. Auburn has had their way with opponents with their running game, but this weekend the Tigers will go up against the SEC’s best rushing defense.

Alabama’s defense has stymied opposing offenses to just 91.27 yards per game and just five times has an opponent scored a touchdown on the ground against the Crimson Tide, and no team has done so more than once in a game at all this season. Auburn has rushed for at least four touchdowns in each of their previous six games.

Alabama has been following a path to Pasadena since wrapping up a BCS championship victory over Notre Dame in Miami last season. Auburn, on the other hand, has appeared out of nowhere in the rear view mirror in the last few weeks and now is signaling to pass. Of course, Alabama’s running game has been pretty solid this year as well, averaging 211.4 yards per game and recording 25 rushing touchdowns. the sophomore duo of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake has accounted for over 1,600 yards and 20 of those touchdowns.

The running games of both teams should take center stage in this year’s Iron Bowl, but many eyes will be on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. In recent weeks a number of Heisman candidates have stumbled down the stretch btu McCarron continues to be a steady player, if not impressive. Is McCarron a worthy Heisman candidate? It is a tough sell to hop entirely on that ship, but if McCarron can go in to Auburn and put together the kind of numbers he had earlier in the season against Texas A&M in leading Alabama to a win, perhaps it will be easier to believe McCarron is a legitimate candidate. There is nothing wrong with being the kind of trusty and dependable and proven winner McCarron has become, but there is still something to prove before getting firmly behind the McCarron for Heisman bandwagon that seems to have developed over the last week or so.

As mentioned before, the winner of this game will be crowned SEC East champion and move on to Atlanta next week to face Missouri or South Carolina. A Missouri win against Texas A&M will send Missouri to the conference championship game, while a loss to Johnny Manziel and the Aggies will send South Carolina back to Atlanta for the first time in three seasons. The winner will also remain in contention for a BCS championship shot. The Crimson Tide would be a lock as the top-team team in the country from the beginning of the year through now if they manage to win this weekend and again in the SEC championship game. Auburn, ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could put together a solid case for jumping over an undefeated Ohio State team. It would be quite the debate, at least.

The way things are lining up though, it may be possible both Alabama and Auburn are playing in BCS bowl games in January. That is a feat that has not happened in the BCS era.

Michigan State RB Connor Heyward reverses course, pulls name from transfer portal

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Mel Tucker appears to have picked up his second personnel win as the Michigan State football head coach.

In September of last year, running back Connor Heyward took the first step in leaving the Michigan State football team by entering his name into the NCAA transfer database.  A little over four months later, after Mark Dantonio‘s abrupt retirement, Tucker took over in East Lansing.

On Twitter a week after Tucker came back to the Spartans, Heyward announced in a tweet that he has reversed course and will pull his name from the portal.  And, in his social-media missive, the running back credited Tucker for the personal reversal.

“After talking with [athletic director Bill] Beekman and Coach Tucker, I have decided to take my name out of the transfer portal and return to Michigan State University,” Heyward wrote. “It has been a long process, but I know this is home in my heart.

“I’m looking forward to what the future holds.  I can’t wait to get back to work with my brothers.

“Go Green!”

A three-star member of Michigan State’s 2017 recruiting class, Heyward was rated as the No. 72 player regardless of position in the state of Georgia.  In 2018, Heyward led MSU in rushing yards (529), rushing touchdowns (five), carries (118), all-purpose yards (1,065) and kick returns (13 for 287 yards; 22.1 avg.).  That year, he was named as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.

This past season, Heyward ran for 79 yards on 24 carries.

All told, Heyward has ran for 618 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries.  He’s also caught 43 passes for another 314 yards and two touchdowns.

Because he played in just four games in 2019, Heyward will be permitted to take a redshirt for last year.  That would make him a redshirt junior for the 2020 campaign and leave him with two years of eligibility to use.

USC officially replaces FCS school with San Jose State for 2021 game

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USC football has officially returned itself to elite scheduling company.

In July of last year, USC football angered a sizable portion of its fan base as well as former players by announcing that it had scheduled a 2021 game against UC-Davis.  The Trojans had been one of three FBS programs that had never scheduled a game against an FCS team.

Wednesday, however, new athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed that the Trojans are on the verge of canceling that football game and replacing it with another.  Thursday night, USC football made it official as both they and San Jose State confirmed a Sept. 4, 2021, game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

San Jose State had originally been scheduled to face Georgia on that date.  Last week, however, UGA canceled the game in order to play Clemson in that season’s opener.  For that cancellation, San Jose State will receive $1.8 million from UGA.

“Facing USC in Los Angeles is a great opportunity for our student-athletes and fans,” SJSU athletic director Marie Tuite said in a statement. “Southern California is an important footprint for us in recruiting and we’re very excited to add this game to our 2021 football schedule.”

Tuite was also very complimentary of her UGA counterpart for his transparency throughout the process.

“I’d like to thank Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity for being transparent with us during the process,” said the AD. “I’ve experienced the atmosphere in Athens on gameday and it’s a special place. Maybe one day in the future the Spartans will make the trip.”

As for USC football, they officially rejoin Notre Dame and UCLA as the only FBS schools that have never played a game against an FCS team.  They are, however, in denial about never having scheduled an FCS school.

Be that as it may, USC will pay UC-Davis $750,000 for the game-that-was-never-scheduled-but-actually-was.

USC and San Jose State have met four times previously, with the Trojans winning all four of those matchups.  The two schools are also scheduled to play in 2024.

Clemson, Georgia paying seven-figures to make 2021 opener happen

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Clemson and Georgia are both spending money to make money.

In the wake of the two schools announcing a highly anticipated 2021 season opener in Charlotte, news has now surfaced at just how badly the two programs wanted to play each other.

The total tab: roughly $2.9 million.

That’s the combined amount the Tigers and Bulldogs will be paying to get out of their previously scheduled Group of Five games set for the same date.

Per the Greenville News, Clemson is ponying $1.1 million to cancel their contract with Wyoming. The Athletic reports Georgia is cutting a $1.8 million check to San Jose State.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” UGA head coach Kirby Smart said in a release announcing the game. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. will host the regional rivals on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Georgia and Clemson have met 64 times over the years, most recently in 2014. The 2021 date is a one-off but the programs are still scheduled to meet five more times between 2021 and 2033. This includes the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and a pair of home-and-home series scheduled for 2029/2033 (in Death Valley) and 2030/2032 (between the hedges).

The Tigers will also take on fellow SEC program South Carolina in those years and will host UConn and FCS South Carolina State to round out their 2021 non-conference slate. The Bulldogs have their annual game against Georgia Tech plus UAB and Charleston Southern in 2021 as well.

Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer says he could have coached Vols again but it ‘didn’t appeal’ to him

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Could Tennessee have had Phillip Fulmer back on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium coaching again?

There was speculation that he could have done just that from the moment he took over as athletic director at the school. Actually having it happen in Knoxville though? It apparently was not on the table due more to the necessity of Jimmy and Joe’s as opposed to X’s and O’s.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Tennessean about his on-going tenure as AD, Fulmer was asked if he ever considered putting the whistle back on for the team he led to the national title over two decades ago. Though it crossed the minds of many at the school, it didn’t for the man himself thanks largely to the rigors of the profession changing from 2008 to now.

“No. I mean, that energy level that it takes to do that. Could have coached and wanted to coach, that’s two different things, right?” Fulmer told the paper. “I certainly could have come coached the team or whatever, but the recruiting and the staffing and all those things, I’ve done my time, and I had a great run. That didn’t appeal to me, nor did I ever lose confidence that Jeremy (Pruitt) was going to do it.”

While that latter line is notable for the team’s current head coach after a historically bad start to the 2019 season, don’t gloss over his earlier comments. In fact, it says plenty about the situation on Rocky Top in recent years that Fulmer directly confirms that he “could have” come down from the AD box to the sidelines.

The only thing that stopped him? Not optics, but just the time a head coach has to devote to things like recruiting. While there’s no doubt that is pretty much a 24/7 operation nowadays at SEC schools like Tennessee, it’s interesting that was one of the few things preventing a move many in orange and white clamored (or at least expected) to see at some point.

Instead, Fulmer will have to make do with his 152–52 overall record at the school and a national title in the 1998 season. That forever cemented his status in Knoxville as one of the program’s greats and it appears he’s content to let things end there despite not having the ending he wanted back in the day.