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Mike Williams, tough defense helps Clemson top Auburn

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Deshaun Watson’s Heisman Trophy campaign didn’t get off to the fast start he was likely hoping for but the Clemson quarterback probably doesn’t mind escaping Auburn with a 19-13 on Saturday night.

The victory by the Tigers (ACC edition) answered plenty of questions about the No. 2 team in the country and, perhaps more interestingly, gave us insight into just what kind of year the Tigers (SEC edition) face as the 2016 season gets underway.

There were not a ton of question marks about Clemson after all. But for everybody who wondered if Dabo Swinney and coordinator Brent Venables could reload on defense for the third year in a row, it appears the answer is a resounding yes. The Tigers were swarming from start to finish at Jordan-Hare Stadium, limiting Auburn to 262 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers.

Even more impressive was the emergence of Mike Williams. The wideout was injured in the team’s opener last year and missed the entire 2015 campaign as a result. He didn’t show any signs of rust though, ending the game as Watson’s favorite target with nine catches for 174 yards and making life miserable for Auburn defensive backs on every snap.

The feel good story of Week 1 helped the offense survive some rough patches against a fairly fast SEC defense, including turning the ball over twice and getting bogged down several times when entering Auburn territory. Still, the addition of Williams to go along with Watson and tailback Wayne Gallman (123 yards and a touchdown) gives Clemson perhaps the best trio in the country on offense.

While Auburn struggled on offense all night — using three different quarterbacks — the Tigers’ defense kept them in the game under the first outing with new coordinator Kevin Steele. The offense will be what keeps head coach Gus Malzahn, firmly on the hot seat on the Plains, up at night though.

Speaking of answers, the home team bizarrely had a chance to win the game at the end thanks to a miscue by Swinney. With just 47 seconds left on the clock, Clemson opted to go for it on 4th and 4 instead of attempting a field goal from the Auburn 17 yard line. Gallman failed to pick up the first down and the team promptly turned the ball over on downs.

Auburn got as close as the 40 yard line before Sean White launched a pair of Hail Marys into the end zone. Clemson knocked both down but it was certainly a nervous ending for both teams after such a tense — and at times inexplicable — game.

Mountain West commish says new TV deal could be done in next month

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TV revenues have skyrocketed for those schools in the Power Five and now it’s time for a few leagues in the Group of Five to get their turn at the table. Following large deals from the MAC and AAC in recent years, the Mountain West is the next man up and it appears as though a deal could be wrapped up soon.

Speaking to reporters at the conference’s basketball media day on Tuesday, commissioner Craig Thompson said he expects something to be announced at some point in the next 30 days or so on the media rights front. One sticking point for both the league and member schools? The number of late night kickoffs (often pushing past 7 or 8 p.m. local) involved in the deal, which is expected to carry a higher price-tag precisely because MWC schools can kickoff that late to fill such time slots on the TV schedule.

“Let me just say this, there will be 8 o’clock tipoffs and kickoffs,” Thompson said, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I know that’s a concern for everybody – for fans, administrators. If we can possibly get the number 7 in there it would be a real bonus.”

Late night kickoffs have been an issue for Pac-12 schools as well in recent years and their Group of Five neighbor understands just as much the tough calculus to make between a game starting at a reasonable hour and the bigger paycheck that awaits when filling a time slot too late for most.

Thompson declined to get into much in terms of what kind of dollars the conference is expecting but it would be a surprise if it’s not a hefty raise over their current deals with ESPN and CBS Sports. Interestingly the commissioner noted that for as successful as the MWC has been this year, the kind of on-field performance that comes with knocking off several of their Power Five brethren isn’t really a factor in negotiations. 

While there are a lot of unknowns as a result with the upcoming TV deal in terms of years, money and partners, it was already revealed earlier this year that Boise State’s sweetheart carve-out that pays the Broncos extra money will remain once the new contracts are signed. That carve-out dates back to when the school briefly left for the Big East but decided to remain in the MWC during one of the many rounds of conference realignment.

Industry observers and conference fans are anxiously awaiting details given how long the process has played out but it seems everybody won’t have to wait much longer before things become official out West. 

Reports: USF quarterback Blake Barnett to undergo season-ending surgery on ankle

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The Blake Barnett era at USF appears to be over.

According to a report from Bulls247 and others, the senior quarterback’s career will likely end at the school after he undergoes surgery on his ankle that will knock him out the rest of the 2019 season.

The signal-caller was originally injured in a loss to SMU last month and hasn’t played since with what was described as a high ankle sprain. He was the team’s starter both last season and at the beginning of this one but was eventually replaced by redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud after several tough performances.

While there’s still an outside shot that Barnett could receive a sixth season from the NCAA thanks to a medical redshirt in 2019, the chances of that happening are always anyone’s guess. He did play in just four games this season but already used his redshirt when transferring the first time from Alabama to Arizona State. He made his way to Tampa prior to the 2018 campaign and led the team to a 7-0 start before the wheels came off for Charlie Strong’s team.

A former five-star recruit who once started for the Crimson Tide over current Heisman favorite Jalen Hurts, Barnett has had a meandering career to be sure but has shown flashes at times with the Bulls. He threw for 3,139 yards across two seasons at USF, completing just under 60% of his passes while tossing 16 touchdowns against 13 interceptions.

Losing Barnett is a big blow to the team’s depth at the position the rest of the season as McCloud has seen limited playing time so far and backup Kirk Rygol is a walk-on. USF takes on Navy this Saturday in Annapolis in a critical game if the team wants to make a bowl game in 2019.

Oregon State moves forward with $175 million Reser Stadium renovation

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While you wouldn’t know it from some of their records on the gridiron, the Pac-12 has been on a football building spree. Just in the past few years, USC, Arizona State and Cal among others have finished off stadium renovations while Arizona and Utah are about to commence some of their own.

It appears you can add another Pac-12 program considering some upgrades too as The Oregonian reports that Oregon State has sent out a request for proposal on a renovation to the west side of Reser Stadium. 

The project, which is set to start after the 2021 season concludes, is expected to cost nearly $175 million and comes on the heels of two renovations to the east side and north end in the past 15 years. The hope is that most of the construction will be finished off prior to fall camp in 2023, though the expectation is that some “non-football areas” will take until the end of the year to complete. 

Capacity at Reser, currently 43,154 overall, is expected to dip as a result of the project, which will include the usual bells and whistles of more suites, a new press box and additional general usage spaces. A new visitors locker room and video board are also expected to be a part of the project, which the school hopes will allow for year-round usage instead of just six Saturdays in the fall. 

Though the Beavers record hasn’t been anything to write home about the past few seasons, Reser has typically been a tough place to play for Pac-12 opponents and one of the more unique places in college football given the setting. The west side is badly in need of an upgrade (originally built in 1953) though so hopefully the program balances the need to create a fun atmosphere with the more pressing issue of having a modern facility. Judging by the pricetag, they certainly are not skimping out on much.

Boise State AD taking very un-UCF-like approach to College Football Playoff

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The team that was the original BCS-buster actually appears very realistic about the chances of cracking the top four and making the College Football Playoff should they go undefeated.

In a sharp contrast to the stance taken by fellow Group of Five program UCF, Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey seems quite content to just make a New Year’s Six bowl in lieu of a semifinal game given the way the current system has been setup for teams such as his own.

“We don’t really focus that much on that sort of pie in the sky, be a part of the College Football Playoff and all that kind of thing,” Apsey told ESPN. “Because we know what we have to do in order to just be considered for that.

“If you have a 12-0 Boise State and, say, you have a 10-2 Alabama. … We beat everyone in our conference and we beat Marshall and we beat Portland State. I’ll be honest with you, I kinda get [selecting Alabama]. I really do.”

The Broncos are currently the highest ranked Group of Five team in the polls and are favored in all of their remaining games this season, starting with a trip to BYU on Saturday. Should they wind up running the table, their most likely destination is the Cotton Bowl. That seems fine by those on the blue turf, which is far from the kind of response that the Black Knights had when they went undefeated in the regular season the past two years and all but demanded a spot in the final four.

Interestingly, Apsey’s stance isn’t quite shared with his head coach — who has a talking point much closer to the one coming out of Orlando the past few years.

“I’ll continue to say that you’re an undefeated team, you deserve an opportunity to continue your season and play for a national championship,” Bryan Harsin said. “If you’re undefeated, you should have an opportunity to play for a national championship. Period. And regardless of perception, don’t care about that.”

Until the College Football Playoff eventually is expanded, it seems like a long shot for any Group of Five team to crack the top four in the final Selection Committee standings. Boise State brass isn’t throwing a huge fit over that fact, which is a welcome change for the team most likely to earn an exclusive ticket to join the New Year’s Six in 2019.