Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images

Pitt, Nebraska (and LSU?) among power conference teams with uphill battle to bowl season

2 Comments

We are getting close to the end of September, which is the time I start taking a look at the challenges some teams will face just to get to a bowl game at the end of the year. Scanning the power conferences, there are a number of programs already on the verge of facing a bowl-less season, some more obvious than others.

Florida State starting the season 0-2 certainly looks to be in some trouble considering the Seminoles still have game sot play against Clemson and Louisville and Miami, in addition to a non-conference game against Florida at the end of the season. But I still think FSU manages to scratch together six wins by the end of the season, so I see no reason to push a panic button there just yet. But there are some ACC schools entering some rough territory.

In putting together this list, I avoided the usual suspects like Kansas and Purdue (wait, they may actually go this year) and instead focused on teams that can generally be counted on to be involved in a bowl game somewhere. I found three teams that have dug a rough hole, two who could face a difficult conference slate, and one that is two games above .500 but could stumble down the stretch. Here they are, in no particular order.

Here they are, in no particular order.

PITTSBURGH (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • RICE
  • at Syracuse
  • NC STATE
  • at Duke
  • VIRGINIA
  • UNC
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI

The Panthers defense continues to get lit up by opponents and after going 1-3 to start the year the Panthers are now facing quite an uphill battle just to get to the postseason. Pit still has a scheduled back-loaded with a road game at Virginia Tech and a home game against Miami, but before that the Panthers will host an NC State team that just won in Tallahassee and a Virginia team that may be improving if a road trip to Boise State is any indication. A road trip to Duke is no walk in the park and even Syracuse just gave LSU a mild scare in Baton Rouge.

NORTH CAROLINA (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Georgia Tech
  • NOTRE DAME
  • VIRGINIA
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI
  • at Pittsburgh
  • WESTERN CAROLINA
  • at NC State

If the Panthers have an uphill battle, then the Tar Heels may be scaling a mountain with their remaining schedule. UNC has to play on the road against Virginia Tech and equally desperate Pitt, and they also are on the road against Georgia Tech this week before hosting Notre Dame next week. Ending the season in Raleigh is tricky too. Like Pitt, the question is what five games on the remaining schedule can Tar Heel fans place much faith in going their way to go bowling this season?

TEXAS (1-2)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Iowa State
  • KANSAS STATE
  • Oklahoma
  • OKLAHOMA STATE
  • at Baylor
  • at TCU
  • KANSAS
  • at West Virginia
  • TEXAS TECH

The Longhorns were off this week to regroup a bit after a hard-fought loss on the road against USC, but can Tom Herman find five wins in Big 12 play? Texas will obviously have to battle Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks, and now a road trip to TCU looks to be a little extra challenging, as does a late season road trip to Morgantown. And don’t forget about Kansas, because, well, you know. Picking up five wins in Big 12 play seems attainable, but there is a very slim margin for error.

NEBRASKA (2-2)
Wins needed: 4
Remaining schedule:

  • at Illinois
  • WISCONSIN
  • OHIO STATE
  • at Purdue
  • NORTHWESTERN
  • at Minnesota
  • at Penn State
  • IOWA

The Cornhuskers only need four games, but this is a team that lost at home against NIU and struggled against Rutgers in back-to-back weeks, and the crossover conference schedule does Nebraska no favors with Ohio State and Penn State appearing on the schedule that already includes division games with Wisconsin and Iowa. And this road game at Purdue looks to be more of a hurdle than most would have anticipated. This season may come down a must-win game at Minnesota.

LSU (3-1)
Wins needed: 3
Remaining schedule:

  • TROY
  • at Florida
  • AUBURN
  • at Ole Miss
  • at Alabama
  • ARKANSAS
  • at Tennessee
  • TEXAS A&M

Are we reaching to suggest that a 3-1 team is facing an uphill battle to the postseason? Maybe… not? Have you seen anything you are overly excited or optimistic about out of LSU so far this season? I think the last two weeks have soured my take on the Tigers, and I entered the season not very high on them, to begin with. Now, in conference play, I sincerely think LSU could be in for a battle just to go to a bowl game. The good news for LSU is they face some teams in hot seat situations like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas A&M to close out the year and all three of those games should be considered wild cards and toss-ups for all teams involved. The four-game stretch including three road games at Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama has to see LSU grab one win if the Tigers are going to reach the postseason. And remember, because of the hurricane fiasco with last year’s schedule, LSU is playing the Gators in Gainesville this year instead of at home.

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

Getty Images
2 Comments

After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

Getty Images
3 Comments

Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

Getty Images
4 Comments

If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.

NCAA releases latest APR data, which means bonus money for many coaches

Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s APR — academic progress rate — day around the NCAA which means a bunch of schools are celebrating how well their teams did in the classroom. While many programs are doing a fist pump over hitting certain thresholds, there are a number of head coaches who are picking up a nice check as the result of players staying eligible.

Like, six-figures worth of cold hard cash thanks to their players showing up to class and taking tests.

USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz knows coaches contracts better than anybody and has been tweeting out some of the bonus money that various coaches are getting as a result of APR scores. While a few amounts are somewhat modest, a few others are collecting a very, very nice check.

Lunch is on Paul Johnson today!

Northwestern led all football programs with a multi-year APR rate of 997, followed closely in the FBS ranks by Air Force, Vanderbilt and Duke among others. The overall average score for football teams across Division I ticked up two points to 964 for the 2016-17 school year. Student-athletes receive points for both staying eligible and staying in school, with a formula then determining the program’s single-year and multi-year scores.

Teams can be ruled ineligible for postseason play if their score is too low but only one program suffered that fate (Morgan State of the MEAC). Grambling also was hit with a Level One penalty for their APR score, which includes a reduction in practice time for the upcoming season. The lowest multi-year APR score for a FBS program belonged to Florida State with a 941.