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CFT Previews: Six pack of must-see games

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The directive said to write about a six pack of must-see games for the upcoming season, but since I’m the one doing the typing here, I’m going to alter the directive a bit and write exclusively about non-conference games here. Spoiler alert: Texas-OU, Michigan-Ohio State and Alabama-LSU are going to be important again this year.

Let’s talk, in no particular order, about the important games that don’t happen every year.

Miami vs. Florida (Aug. 24, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, at Orlando): We’re not just including this because it’s the first. This one has real, juicy football implications. Riding a 4-game winning streak to end last season, Florida has generated tons of optimism this season. Well, let’s see how long that optimism sticks around when the Gators’ re-tooled offensive line goes up against the nation’s No. 1 passing defense from a year ago. Remember, Florida scored 16.3 points per game in its three losses last season. On the other side of the ball, it’s redshirt freshman Jarren Williamsfirst start, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell wait for him to throw his first incompletion. If Williams succeeds, Miami could be a legit contender to Clemson in the ACC. If Florida prevails, Georgia could have a challenge in the East.

Auburn vs. Oregon (Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, at Dallas): It’s rare to see an entire conference put its reputation on the line in a single evening, and yet here we are yet again. Last year, Washington trekked south and east to face this same Auburn program, lost, and then watched the entire Pac-12 fade from the Playoff conversation the moment the Huskies’ Oct. 13 loss to Oregon went final. The calculus is simple: The Pac-12 is too treacherous, too even for any one team to go undefeated, and no 2-loss conference champion has ever made the Playoff, lest of all a 2-loss Pac-12 champion. Ipso facto, Oregon could be all but eliminated from the Playoff before September even begins.

Cincinnati at Ohio State (Sept. 7, noon ET on ABC): Let’s be honest, nearly ever player wearing Cincinnati red and black imagined themselves wearing Ohio State scarlet and gray instead. Here’s their chance to prove it. The Bearcats went 11-2 last season under head coach Luke Fickell — a Columbus native and a former Buckeye nose guard, graduate assistant assistant coach, co-coordinator, interim head coach and co-coordinator again who definitely saw himself becoming Ohio State’s head coach some day, most likely after Urban Meyer stepped away at some point in the distant future. While Fickell took what looked like the next step — proving he had the goods to be a head coach, at a program that recruited the same area as Ohio State — Ryan Day swooped in and took the job Fickell thought would be his. Now here’s his one and only chance to shove it in his former boss Gene Smith‘s face, in his stadium, on national TV. And, oh by the way, the game should be pretty good, too. Cincinnati could very well win the AAC this season and, if the reports about Justin Fields struggling to win the starting quarterback job are true, Ohio State could be vulnerable in Game 2 with a new quarterback and a new coaching staff. Consider this your season-shaking upset alert.

(This is the point where you’d expect me to include Texas A&M at Clemson, scheduled between these games on Sept. 7, but I’m not going to for this reason: Even if A&M beats Clemson, I don’t think the Aggies can make the Playoff; even if Clemson loses to A&M, I think the Tigers are going to the Playoff. Fun? Yes. Must-see? Eh.)

LSU at Texas (Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC): It’s two college football blue-bloods playing a clash of cultures that also happens to be a border war. It’s LSU’s first trip to Austin since 1954. It’s the ultimate Big 12 vs. SEC proving ground game. It’ll be played under the lights before a national audience. It’s everything a non-conference home-and-home series is supposed to be. Honestly, it might even be too much. Someone in the stands at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium might die on this sure-to-be-sweltering Austin night.

Outside of all that, it’s also a mighty interesting football game. LSU and Texas both fancy themselves as the next programs to step up and join the elite of the elite, with a chance to prove that by beating the other. Joe Burrow will showcase LSU’s new, we’re-really-doing-it-this-time spread offense against a talented secondary led by All-American candidate Caden Sterns, while Sam Ehlinger gets to make his Heisman case against the best defense’s he’s ever faced. Then there’s the storyline that LSU pursued Tom Herman before going after Ed Orgeron back in November of 2016. Again, it’s too much for a single non-conference game.

Notre Dame at Georgia (Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET on CBS): Don’t let anyone ever tell you Notre Dame isn’t relevant. The Irish’s first trip inside an SEC stadium since 2004 is enough to get CBS to lower Alabama-LSU from its No. 1 slot for the first time since 2010, and for good reason. This game is going to be a mad house. Both of these programs reached the Playoff in the past two years, and yet it seems like only one program’s trip seems to really count — the team in red and black. It seems TV executives have more faith in Notre Dame’s prospects than fans and writers. Well, there’s no surer route to changing minds than to go into the heart of the South and slay one of the SEC’s sacred cows.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Yes, we’re going back to the same well, but with a different angle. We’ll go more in depth on this tomorrow, but this one is about USC and head coach Clay Helton. Helton sits on the hottest seat in all of college football, and his first-half schedule does him no favors: vs. defending Mountain West champion Fresno State, vs. No. 23 Stanford, at BYU, vs. No. 15 Utah, at No. 12 Washington, at No. 9 Notre Dame. That’s four ranked (according to the Coaches’ Poll, which is all we have as of press time) teams and two of the most difficult Group of 5 opponents possible. If Notre Dame limps into South Bend at 2-3 or 1-4 and then loses to Notre Dame? Helton might be fired on the tarmac Lane Kiffin style, and then it’s off to the races for one of the most desirable jobs in the entire sport. If USC arrives 5-0 or 4-1 and then beats Notre Dame? Helton is good to go and USC bullets into a manageable second half schedule as a Pac-12 and Playoff contender.

Documents show UCLA AD Dan Guerrero will retire in June of 2020

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Given the development earlier this month, this is certainly an interesting twist in the UCLA-USC rivalry.

Sept. 9, it was confirmed that Lynn Swann had “resigned” as the athletic director at USC.  Exactly 10 days later, it’s being reported that Dan Guerrero will step down from his post as UCLA’s athletic director next summer.

Specifically, Guerrero will retire on June 30, 2020.  Guerrero’s contract currently runs through Dec. 31 of this year, with the university system’s regents approving Thursday to extend it out to his retirement date.

The 67-year-old Guerrero — he’ll be 68 on his retirement date — has served in his current post since April of 2002.  His most recent high-profile hire, head football coach Chip Kelly, hasn’t remotely matched the post-addition fanfare as the Bruins have posted a 3-12 record in one-plus season under Kelly.  That includes an 0-3 start to the 2019 season that already has fans of the program talking about how much it would cost to buy Kelly out.

Because of neck injury, Texas A&M RB Vernon Jackson ‘will probably never play again’

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The tumult Texas A&M has experienced in its backfield the past several months has taken yet another negative twist.

In April, Texas A&M’s Vernon Jackson posted on social media that he had “suffered a neck injury in practice… [that] could keep me from ever playing again.” Three months later, A&M would only confirm that the running back would be sidelined for the entire 2019 season because of the injury.

Wednesday night on his weekly radio show, Jimbo Fisher acknowledged that, because of the injury, “Vernon will probably never play again.” The specific nature of the neck issue has never been divulged.

According to the head coach, Jackson will remain on a medical scholarship and serve as a student coach with the football program.

“He wanted to be in coaching,” Fisher said according to the Dallas Morning News. “He’s a tremendous human being. We wanted him to be a part of our team. He’s become a student coach and learning all the things you got to be to do that.”

Jackson was a four-star member of the Aggies’ 2018 recruiting class.  As a true freshman, he appeared in 12 games, carrying the ball seven times for 49 yards.

The situation around Jackson, as well as a couple of other developments, has left the Aggies with just three healthy running backs heading into Week 4.

Starter Jashaun Corbin, who posted his first career 100-yard game in the 2019 opener, is out for the season after suffering a hamstring injury in the Week 2 loss to Clemson.  This week, Deneric Prince opted to place his name into the NCAA transfer database.

Isaiah Spiller‘s 246 yards (on just 28 carries) currently leads the Aggies.  His 8.8 yards per carry is seventh nationally among all players with at least 25 rushing attempts.

Braylon Edwards: Michigan ‘light years behind Ohio State’ right now

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There is some breaking news, y’all.

To say that Ohio State has owned the greatest rivalry in all of sports of late would be an understatement of mammoth proportions, with Michigan losing each of the last seven editions of The Game.  Taking it back further, the Buckeyes have won 14 of the last 15 and 16 of the last 18.

Throughout the offseason, and as OSU is in its first year of the post-Urban Meyer era, there’s has been many a discussion that this is the season that, finally, the Wolverines get over that Buckeye hump.  Michigan, though, has hardly looked the part thus far — they nearly lost to Army in the Big House in double overtime — while Ohio State has outscored its opponents 138-31 in starting 3-0 and still looks like the class of the Big Ten.

Enter Braylon Edwards, the former U-M receiving great who has never in the past been shy about criticizing his alma mater when he feels it’s warranted.  During a radio appearance this week, Edwards laid out his unvarnished opinion on how the Wolverines stand in comparison to their hated rivals.

“Falling [behind OSU]? We fell,” Edwards said by way of USA Today. “It’s past tense. We’re light years behind Ohio State right now.”

Edwards also had stern words for how the Wolverines approach The Game compared to the Buckeyes.

My biggest concern, if I’m being honest. Three-hundred-sixty-five days a year, [OSU is] breathing, living, hating – they can’t even say our name. They hate us so much. When they go into that game, that’s that old-school, 1960s football, Friday Night Lights in Texas – that’s the atmosphere. That’s what they bring to the table when they play us. You can feel it on them. You can almost smell the hate when you play against them.

… You approach certain teams differently. We got to start approaching that game from the standpoint that they do. I feel like when we go into that game, you’re looking at two different preparation systems.

The latest edition of The Game will be played Nov. 30 in Ann Arbor.  If U-M were to lose that game, the heat underneath Jim Harbaugh‘s seat, regardless of the record the first 11 games, will be cranked up exponentially.

Nick Saban says Alabama’s highest-rated 2019 signee has ‘basically quit’ the team

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I guess it’s time to close the books on this little mini-soap opera, at least for now.

Antonio Alfano was suspended for unspecified reasons and didn’t dress for Alabama’s Week 2 home opener against New Mexico State.  Last week, Nick Saban added a bit of mystery to Alfano’s status when he stated that the highly-touted defensive lineman has “kind of disappeared a little bit” before launching into an oral dissertation about failing to confront and learn from one’s mistakes.

On Twitter nearly a week ago, Alfano’s parents stated that, in large part because of an ailing grandmother, their son “has not attended classes or practices” for an unspecified period of time.  Against their wishes, the parents also confirmed that Alfano has entered the NCAA transfer database.

Wednesday, Saban offered up an update in which the head coach, very bluntly, stated that the defensive lineman has basically quit the team as he hasn’t shown up for football-related activities, classes or counseling for unspecified issues.  The player isn’t responding to attempts by the team to contact him, either, Saban added.

With his name in the transfer database, other schools can contact Alfano without receiving permission from Alabama.  The true freshman also, as the parents alluded to in their social media posts last week, can pull his name from the portal and remain with the Crimson Tide.

During summer camp, Alfano missed a couple of practices for what were described as personal reasons but ultimately returned to the team.  Even before the suspension, the lineman didn’t play in the season opener against Duke.

A five-star 2019 signee, Alfano was rated as the No. 1 strongside defensive end in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of New Jersey; and the No. 5 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  He was the highest-rated Crimson Tide signee during this most recent cycle.