CFT Previews: Allstate Sugar Bowl

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WHO: No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)
WHAT: The 80th Allstate Sugar Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET Jan. 1 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There is more on the line for the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Big Ten Conference during the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide than simply an appearance in the first national championship game decided by a playoff system.

A win provides validity to the both the Buckeyes and the Big Ten. A loss only adds to the narrative that the Big Ten Conference and its teams are nothing more than second-class citizens in the hierarchy of college football.

“Everyone’s gonna try to make it something bigger,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett told USA TODAY‘s Michael Schroeder. “Everyone is gonna try to lump everybody into the Big Ten and the SEC.”

What generally separates the SEC from the other leagues around the country is the quality depth of talent each of its teams claim, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines. The Buckeyes haven’t faced anything quite like Alabama’s defensive line this season.

Alabama’s starting nose tackle, A’Shawn Robinson, is listed at 320 pounds. Jarran Reed, who is one of the nation’s top run defenderd, plays defensive end and nose tackle at 315 pounds. Plus, backup nose tackle Brandon Ivory, a senior, also weighs 310 pounds.

Among Ohio State’s five toughest opponents this season — the Virginia Tech Hokies, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers — only one starting defensive lineman weighed over 300 pounds.

Alabama’s overall size and athleticism along its defensive front seven will be difficult for the Buckeyes to handle.

If Ohio State’s offensive line can hold up against that defensive front and get Alabama’s linemen running laterally,  it will open up Urban Meyer‘s entire offense.

First, the Buckeyes’ running game is built around its zone blocking. Running back Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. The speedster amassed 220 rushing yards against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. Penetration is the key to stopping the Buckeyes’ blocking scheme, though. If Elliott runs free like he’s did during the previous three contest then it will make it easier on quarterback Cardale Jones.

Jones will be making his second career start in one of the biggest games in college football history.

The redshirt sophomore was nearly perfect during his starting debut in the Big Ten Championship Game. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown tosses.

Ohio State’s ability to keep Jones clean in the pocket will be vital as the Buckeyes’ wide receivers, particularly senior Devin Smith, attempt to exploit an uncharacteristically porous Alabama secondary. The Crimson Tide is currently ranked 57th overall in pass defense.

But it all starts up front. If Ohio State can slow Alabama’s defensive front and vice versa, the ripple effects will be felt throughout the entirety of the contest.

THE PREDICTION: Alabama 35, Ohio State 28

 

Rutgers hires search firm to help find new football coach

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Rutgers has officially been in the market for a new head football coach for over a week, and now the school is going to get some help from a search firm.

Rutgers announced a new partnership with Ventura Partners on Monday. The firm will help Rutgers in searching for a new head football coach and may assist in helping to hire other new leaders in the future as Rutgers looks to revitalize their entire athletics department.

“We are excited to be working with Ventura Partners,” Rutgers Director of Athletics Pat Hobbs said in a released statement on Monday. “They provide a unique range of services, including talent acquisition and development. We will begin working together immediately to ensure excellent leadership for our football program. They will also be working with us throughout the engagement on strengthening our human resources and providing market data and intelligence.”

Rutgers fired Chris Ash as head coach on Sept. 29, which is a costly move thanks to a previous contract extension. The Scarlet Knights have since been dealing with a handful of players redshirting the remainder of the season and an abysmal performance on the road against Indiana in which the team gained just 75 yards of offense while giving up over 500 yards to the Hoosiers.

Mike Aresco expects to hear update on AAC championship game waiver “in the next month”

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With the upcoming departure of UConn from the American Athletic Conference, the staus of the AAC Championship Game is officially in question. Without 12 football-playing members, the AAC does not satisfy the NCAA requirement to play an official conference championship game without a waiver. Not wanting to give up the title game just a few short years after implementing it (and accepting the extra revenue generated in the TV contract), AAC commissioner Mike Aresco is hoping to get some positive word on a waiver request sometime soon.

How soon?

It looks like we may have an update on this situation within the month. The sooner, the better.

UConn is leaving the AAC after this current football season, and Aresco has made it clear the conference still wants to continue playing its conference title game. The current plan is for the AAC to scrap the two-division format entirely and pit the two best teams in a conference championship game at the end of the regular season (an idea that would work well in almost every conference, by the way). The AAC reportedly field a formal waiver to allow for the championship game to live on back in August.

The Big 12 currently only has 10 members and has been granted permission to field a conference championship game on top of the round-robin schedule played during the season. If the Big 12 can have a conference title game without 12 members, then the AAC should be getting confirmation their conference championship game will continue too. But waiting for the official word is needed before the conference can start making plans for 2020 and beyond.

At this point, there remains no sign the conference is looking to add a 12th member for football, which would negate the need for a waiver. But if the waiver is denied, for some reason, then expect the AAC expansion rumors to start flying once again.

Michigan Class of 2018 four-star TE Mustapha Muhammad enters NCAA transfer portal

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The NCAA transfer portal has been busy this Monday. Add Michigan tight end Mustapha Muhammad as one of the latest entrants into the transfer portal. Muhammad made the transfer portal news himself with an announcement on his Twitter account Monday afternoon.

Muhammad is a redshirt freshman. He will have to sit out the 2020 season if he lands at another FBS program, and he will have two years of eligibility remaining beginning 2021. By entering the transfer portal, Muhammad is free to have contact with any other football program looking to recruit him out of Ann Arbor. The Texas native signed with Michigan over offers from Ohio State, Alabama, and Clemson, among others. Unfortunately, the highly rated recruit hasn’t been able to establish a key role in the Michigan offense early on, even with the Wolverines offense looking for playmakers.

Michigan’s tight end position appears to be settled with Nick Eubanks and Sean McKeon reaching the midway point of the season as Michigan’s leading tight ends when it comes to receiving yards. Eubanks is fifth on the team overall with 128 receiving yards and a touchdown. McKeon has added 96 yards and two touchdowns. Both players are seniors, however, but Michigan also has redshirt freshman Luke Schoonmaker as an option at the tight end position moving forward.

Oregon DB Kahlef Halassie steps into transfer portal

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Oregon defensive back Kahlef Hailassie is now officially on the market. Hailassie announced on his Twitter account on Monday afternoon he has officially entered his name into the NCAA transfer portal.

A sophomore and a member of Oregon’s Class of 2018, Hailassie is now eligible to have contact with any other college football program that may be interested in recruiting him to their program. when he committed to the Ducks out of high school, Hailassie chose Oregon over offers from Colorado and Washington State, among others. Hailassie had previously committed to Colorado during his recruiting process, only to de-commit shortly after an official visit to Boulder.

Hailassie played in just three games this season before being sidelined with an injury. Because he has played in fewer than four games, Hailassie can use the 2019 season as a redshirt year. Hailassie played in all 13 games for Oregon as a true freshman in 2018, recording one tackle as a reserve player and a special teams player. Hailassie will have to sit out the 2020 season if he ends up at another FBS program, which would make him eligible to return to the field with two full years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2021.