Tag Archives: AAC Football

The University of Central Florida Is The Self-Proclaimed College Football National Champion

Going undefeated is an impressive accomplishment. It doesn’t matter if it’s achieved in a Power-5 conference or if that gauntlet is run to perfection in a mid-major conference. That’s what Scott Frost accomplished in his final season as head coach of the University of Central Florida football team.

The Golden Knights perfect record was capped off with a 34-27 win over Auburn. While this was a truly great achievement, it by no means makes Frost and UCF national champions. But don’t tell that to UCF.

Their passionate fan-base believes that going undefeated makes you the rightful owner of the national championship. This drum was beaten to death before the bowls even kicked off. Alabama getting into the playoff over UCF was seen as the heist of the century. Who’d Alabama play they asked? Who’d Alabama beat they asked?

As far as who Alabama played in comparison to UCF, well, Alabama’s strength of schedule was superior to UCF’s. Frost may not believe that it was right, but it was true. Sure, Alabama’s SOS gets an immediate pump from playing in a Power-5 conference. You know what I have to say about that? Too bad. Life isn’t fair.

And who did Alabama and UCF beat? UCF beat one committee ranked team in Memphis and played just one Power-5 team in Maryland. Alabama had the already stated luxury of playing in a Power-5 conference with a Power-5 schedule. And I’ve heard the argument that Power-5 teams don’t want to play UCF in Orlando. That being the case, one of the big boys doesn’t have to play UCF on its home turf, however, that doesn’t mean that UCF should use that as an excuse to not play those teams at all. Perhaps if UCF had scheduled someone other than a lousy Maryland team from the Big Ten, the committee would have treated a potential one-loss UCF team the same as a one-loss Alabama team. There’s really only one way to find that out. Schedule a potential loss and run the table in the AAC. Do that and get back to me.

Let’s also keep something else in mind when elevating UCF to its mythical national championship. The Golden Knights and the supporters of UCF are making their argument based in part on beating a team from the SEC in its bowl game. But just a minute. Let’s press pause on yet one more argument in defense of UCF’s national championship hardware. We’ve been told throughout bowl season that the dominance of the SEC is mere perception and the SEC isn’t that strong from top to bottom. If we assume that to be fact then UCF’s win over Auburn doesn’t mean nearly as much as we’re being told.

UCF, Frost, and outraged fans across America can’t have it both ways yet here they are attempting to do so.

The Golden Knights can have a parade and can raise a national championship banner. AD Danny White can even give the entire coaching staff national championship bonuses. But it doesn’t change the fact that UCF didn’t win the national championship. UCF won the Peach Bowl and Alabama will play Georgia in the REAL national championship.

I applaud UCF and Frost for the great season that the Golden Knight’s fans were treated to. UCF has numerous players who will play on Sundays and nobody can ever take away the 12-0 record. But concocting national championship banners and having a parade in honor of a self-appointed championship cheapens what Frost and his team accomplished.

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E-mail Seth at seth.merenbloom@campuspressbox.com 

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

It’s Not Too Early (or Too Late) to Make Houston’s Case for the College Football Playoff

Oklahoma and Houston kicked off an incredible college football opening weekend that was full of big matchups and surprise results. In case you missed it, Tom Herman’s 15th ranked Houston Cougars dismantled the Sooners, 33-23, after outscoring Oklahoma 30-13 in the final three quarters. It was an impressive performance by a team considered an 11.5-point underdog, but on a weekend full of upsets and surprises, this outcome should come as a shock to no one. As a matter of fact, college football fans making their playoff picks better believe Houston is a legitimate contender not just to make the playoff, but to contend for a national championship.

What we saw Saturday was Houston picking up right where it left off in 2014, defeating its fifth straight ranked opponent after a 38-24 Peach Bowl victory over then-ninth-ranked Florida State last season. We saw Greg Ward Jr. continue to run Herman’s high-tempo, spread offense to near-perfection, passing for 321 yards, the third-highest total in his career, and two touchdowns. Sophomore RB Duke Catalon made the most of his touches, rushing 22 times for 88 yards and catching four passes, one for a touchdown. While junior WR Steven Dunbar had a career day with seven catches for 125 yards. Although, Linell Bonner arguably had the best catch of the day.

This offensive performance doesn’t come as a surprise, though. Herman’s offenses have been successful everywhere he’s gone. Last season, Houston scored the tenth most points per game of any team in the FBS. In 2014, Ohio State ranked fifth in points per game with Herman as its offensive coordinator, and don’t forget that it was Herman’s offensive leadership that helped lead the 2014 Buckeyes to a Big Ten and National Championship with a third-string quarterback.

It’s the other side of the ball that may surprise some people.  Defensively, the Cougars ranked 16th amongst all FBS schools in opponents’ points per game last season. They definitely showed the same kind of dominance Saturday, holding Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma offense to 23 points, 20.5 less than the 43.5 points per game the Sooners put up last season. After returning seven of their top 11 defensive players from last season, there is no doubt the Cougars will continue to make things difficult for opposing offenses.

Houston will spend this season navigating through a fairly simple American Athletic Conference schedule, avoiding upsets from pesky conference foes like Cincinnati, Connecticut, Tulsa, and SMU, before a home matchup with Louisville on Thursday, November 17. If they can get by Louisville, which they will, they shouldn’t have an issue in their final two matchups with Memphis and the AAC East Division champion in the AAC Championship game. That would give Houston a resume with two or three quality wins, no losses, and a conference championship.

At this point, it looks like Alabama is a good bet to make the College Football Playoff. Joining them will likely be the ACC champion, which is sure to be Clemson or Florida State, and the Big Ten champion, which will either be Ohio State or Michigan, although Michigan State has an outside chance at the conference crown. That leaves the fourth spot up for grabs, and unless Stanford can run the table in the Pac-12 or Texas continues to roll after an impressive offensive performance against Notre Dame in week one, an undefeated Houston will be a no-brainer to fill it.

The potential playoff matchups are incredibly exciting as we could see a Tom Herman-Urban Meyer reunion. While Meyer may have the upper hand due to experience, both teams will be familiar with the other’s offense, creating quite the spectacle. We could also see Houston go up against Alabama, a team that Herman has experience beating after the Buckeyes won a 42-35 shootout in the 2014 CFP semi-final. Houston’s physical defense would match up well against Clemson or Florida State, and while Stanford’s offense may put up a ton of points, Houston would have no problem keeping up on the offensive side of the ball if the Cardinal somehow make the playoff.

Some may call it a reactionary pick based on one game and one result, but it’s not.  It’s a pick based on a coach and his team’s upward trend and consistent success. It’s a storyline worth following and it’s a bet worth placing. Houston will rock through their schedule and will roll right into the College Football Playoff, whether you like it or not.

E-mail Evan at or follow him on Twitter@skilliter.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

The Cartel and the Mid-Majors, Why Scheduling Matters

Imagine pulling for a team that can’t possibly win a championship, and not just because they aren’t good enough.  In College Football, it might literally be impossible to even qualify for a championship based on the company we keep.  Because of that, and that alone, it falls on the schedule-makers at Nobody U to make said program outside the Cartel relevant to the national conversation.

That’s not to say any of the participants from “non-qualifying” conferences ever really diluted the product, quite the opposite, in fact.

Boise State was the nation’s only unbeaten team from the 2006 season. The Broncos had to ‘settle’ for that historic Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma.   Meanwhile, one-loss Florida took down Ohio State in the bigger game on that same field in Arizona a week later.  After Boise State’s 43-42 overtime win over Oklahoma, their quarterback was asked if they deserved a title shot, and he said he thought so.  He wasn’t wrong, but he wasn’t quite all-the-way right either.

That perfect Boise State squad scheduled Division I-AA Sacramento State, a 10-win Oregon State team, Wyoming, and Utah in a down year, out of conference. None of their Western Athletic Conference rivals were ranked at the time of their game against the Broncos or the end of the season, so it was very difficult to argue their body of work against that of Ohio State’s or Florida’s for a spot in the two-team playoff.  Being undefeated basically became the standard for the Broncos, but even non-league wins over Oregon, Virginia Tech, and Georgia were not enough for National Championship consideration.  Playing other mid-majors in 8 or 9 contests per year, it impresses no one.

What are the contenders in the American, Conference-USA, MAC, Mountain West, and Sun Belt doing to chase down more than just small conference glory? What type of 2016 schedule might qualify these nobodies for the very exclusive tournament that College Football uses to crown its champion?

American Athletic Conference

The geography of this league lends itself to some really good non-conference games, as SMU gets backyard games with TCU and Baylor, but the team with a schedule worthy of national consideration is Houston.  Sure, they’re playing Lamar, and I will not support any playing of FCS opponents by teams that want to be the best of the FBS, but I’ll let it go for Oklahoma and Louisville.  The Sooners and Cardinals will both play Houston in Houston, which should be good enough if they survive the AAC.

Conference USA

Texas-San Antonio (UTSA) is going to attract the big boys to the Alamo Dome, but they will usually have to reciprocate with a road game. This year, they host Arizona State in September and take a trip to College Station, where Texas A&M will host them in November.  Don’t expect competitive games.  I might like Marshall’s gauntlet of ACC adversaries, if they weren’t coming immediately after an opening slate of Morgan State and Akron. Like Marshall, Western Kentucky will be taking on Louisville, but we’re focused on their Week 2 matchup. They’ll tussle with Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, so should there be a running of the table, the Hilltoppers may get to dance.

Mid-American Conference

There might be a case to be made for Northern Illinois, but Bowling Green accompanies their visit to Columbus to play Ohio State with solid mid-major matchups against Middle Tennessee State and Memphis. They’ll see both NIU and Toledo in conference play, games they need to win for anyone to take them seriously, especially if Ohio State doesn’t boat-race them in the opener.

Mountain West

Boise State will make headlines in some markets with their Pac-12 opponents, at home against Washington State and in Corvallis versus the Oregon State Beavers, but BYU may give them their biggest challenge. However, it is the much traveled Hawaii Rainbow Warriors that play Cal, Michigan, and Arizona.  Those are all long-ish to long road trips against 2016 teams that are much better than their 2015 counterparts.

Sun Belt

If I skipped this section or listed FCS schools in this paragraph, would you even notice?

On a serious note, Troy plays Clemson, which is cool, but it’s off-set it is by playing the dregs of the FBS in Idaho. Austin Peay and Southern Miss don’t move the needle for me either, looking at the Trojans schedule. However, our eye is on Appalachian State.  The team best known for upsetting Michigan in 2007 is going FCS-free in ‘16, visiting the best Tennessee Volunteers team anyone has seen in years, and they convinced The U to come to Boone, North Carolina. The Mountaineers have already won, if you ask me.

At the end of the day, if we’re talking about those four lines and those two semi-final games, to open our game’s championship up to the anyone outside of the Cartel, it’s probably Houston.

E-mail Jeff at jeff.rich@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @ByJeffRich.

(featured photo via Sporting News.com)

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The MAChelorette: Three Schools Courting the AAC

With news out of the Big 12 re-energizing the tectonics of a precarious college football landscape, America’s two favorite reality shows are upon us once again: conference realignment and the Bachelorette.

The Power 5 may add as many as four schools in this new round of expansion, beginning a domino effect that ultimately lands at the foot of the Mid-American Conference. The American Athletic Conference stands to lose members of its own to the Big 12, meaning it may look to conferences like the MAC to replenish its twelve team structure. Of course, this is all purely speculative, but what else is the preseason for?

Frankly, MAC teams should be desperate to improve their standing in an ever-changing college football world. These programs are desperate to find a loving marriage with a shiny, new conference, much like JoJo in the final episodes of ABC’s hit reality show.

Here we have three Mid-American Conference programs poised to join the ranks of the American Conference, hoping to receive a rose reciprocating their affections. Well, that and a $126 million TV deal.

Northern Illinois

A fringe contender for Big 12 expansion, the Huskies have their hearts set realistically on a romance with the American Athletic Conference. And why wouldn’t they? In the past twelve seasons, Northern Illinois has attended a remarkable 10 bowl games, including a berth in the 2012 Orange Bowl. The program struck gold with Jerry Kill and Dave Doeren, launching the program to a decade of mid-major success unrivaled by any MAC foes. From a purely football standpoint, Northern Illinois is a no-brainer. The problem is with NIU’s other athletic programs, which are, as a whole, consistently subpar.

With that being said, NIU athletic director Sean Frazier adds important credibility to the school’s expansion bid. Frazier, a hotshot AD rumored to be in consideration for recent openings at Missouri, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Illinois, and Minnesota, among others, should appeal to AAC leaders taking a gamble on programs of lesser prestige.

DeKalb, Illinois is certainly no Houston or Cincinnati, but NIU would stretch the AAC’s footprint further Midwest and towards Chicago. The university announced plans to renovate Huskie Stadium in 2014, expanding seating options and, hopefully for the Huskies, AAC appeal.

Northern Illinois is one of the hottest Group of 5 football programs in the country, but is it hot enough for the American Athletic Conference?

VERDICT: First-impression rose. Don’t overthink this, AAC. NIU is by far the sexiest football program in the room, and they’ve proven it on the gridiron. Don’t listen to the grumbling critics of Rod Carey, don’t worry about NIU’s wrestling team, or anything like that.  Choose the Huskies now, fall in love later.

Buffalo

Being the only MAC program that resides in a major media market, there’s reciprocal benefit to the Bulls joining the American. While Buffalo anticipates expansion beneath the umbrella of a $126 million TV deal, the conference reclaims a revenue-critical section of the Northeast it could be losing with the departure of Connecticut. (Does this sound like Temple? It should sound like Temple.)

Granted, after back-to-back losing seasons, Buffalo’s football pedigree certainly leaves a lot to be desired. But keep in mind, this is a conference featuring UCF, a team that turned in one of the FBS’ two winless seasons last year (looking at you, Kansas). Add that to Buffalo’s MAC championships in both men’s and women’s basketball, and suddenly the Bulls look adequately prepared to compete in an improved conference. Buffalo would also boost the AAC’s academic standing, an addition sure to make the hearts of Tulane and Navy swoon.

What’s not to love about the Bulls?

VERDICT: Buffalo receives a rose. What they lack in name brand and football prowess, they make up for in large-market attraction. College football is a material world.  Who says the American Athletic Conference can’t be a material girl?

Toledo

The Rockets represent a perfect mixture of Buffalo and NIU. Toledo boasts well-rounded athletics with a capable football program, an urban location, and access to Ohio’s fertile recruiting grounds- especially critical if the AAC loses Cincinnati. Their attendance ranked second in the conference last season as the Glass Bowl stands among the MAC’s finest stadiums.

Still, Toledo football hasn’t won a conference title since 2004. While they’ve competed in six bowl games since then- and won four of them-, the American Conference won’t be looking for above average MAC programs. They’ll be looking for the best, which Toledo simply hasn’t been. Furthermore, academics prove to be a struggle for Toledo, ranking near the bottom among current conference members.

Despite their flaws, do the Rockets have the moves to secure a date with the AAC?

VERDICT: No dice. Sorry Toledo, sometimes love hurts. The MAC prides itself on stability, and if it’s any consolation, there’s nothing wrong with keeping a stable girl. Pick yourself up and wipe those tears away- there’s #MACtion to be played.

E-mail Cole at cole.hankis@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @cole_hankins.

Photo courtesy of Chad Cooper – Flickr

The American Athletic Conference’s Best Football Games of 2016

The AAC has been looked at as little more than a mish-mash of former Big East teams. One season has changed all that. Nobody expects them to move up to the level of a Power 5 conference, but they can’t be looked at as mere push-overs.

Last season, Houston achieved program-altering success and that momentum, along with their schedule, gives them an outside shot at the Playoff in 2016. It wasn’t just the Houston Cougars earning the AAC respect. Temple, Navy, and Memphis were all in the Top 25 at one point during the season. While a couple of those teams may fall back a bit with the loss of quarterbacks, other teams are primed to improve and make sure Houston doesn’t just waltz through the conference schedule.

Who will those teams be? There are some early season games among the ten best that may show which AAC team can challenge the Cougars for the top spot.

10. Temple vs. SMU (Saturday, October 1)

The conference opener for both teams, Temple will try to pick up where it left off last year. A year ago, SMU put up 40 against a Temple defense that allowed the second fewest points in the conference. The Mustangs still fell 60-40.

9. Cincinnati vs. Houston (Thursday, September 15)

Cincinnati was a disappointing 4-4 in the conference last year but was 5-1 at home, where they’ll get the Houston Cougars this year. The Bearcats only lost by three at Houston last year, and this Thursday home game early in the year will give them a chance to derail Houston’s conference and playoff hopes. This match-up will also provide the AAC’s two best quarterbacks in Greg Ward Jr. and Gunner Kiel.

8. SMU vs. TCU (Friday, September 23)

SMU didn’t exactly put a scare into TCU last year, but a 56-37 final made it closer than the Horned Frogs would have liked. Now the Mustangs get Gary Patterson’s crew at home, and we’ll have a good chance to see how far Chad Morris can bring his team in his second year as head coach.

7. Connecticut at South Florida (Saturday, October 15)

South Florida won seven of its last eight regular season games last year. Included in that stretch was a one-score victory over UConn. If the Huskies are going to improve on their six-win season and stay in the race for the AAC West, it starts here.

6. Temple at Connecticut (Friday, November 4)

This will be a big game in the AAC West race. Connecticut’s offense was abysmal last year, but Huskie fans hope there will be improvement with ten starters back. Temple will be trying to replicate the success of their 10-win 2015 after having just 12 total in the previous three seasons.

5. Houston at SMU (Saturday, October 22)

This should be a fun one. SMU struggled in Chad Morris’ first year as head coach but it shouldn’t take him long to get the offense rolling. The defense will have problems stopping Houston’s Greg Ward Jr. led offense, but the Cougars lost all four starting defensive backs so this game should see plenty of points.

4. Temple vs. South Florida (Friday, October 21)

The East division is Houston and everyone else this year, but the West will be up for grabs. This game could determine who plays the Cougars in the conference championship game. Temple and South Florida were the two best teams in the West last year and the winner of this one will have a leg up in the division race.

3. Houston vs. Connecticut (Thursday, September 29)

Houston gets Connecticut on a Thursday night at home, where they will try to avenge their only loss from the 2015 season. It won’t be easy though, with the Huskies returning a conference-high 16 starters.

2. Houston vs. Louisville (Thursday, November 17)

The Cougars get another chance to make a statement with this oddly scheduled non-conference game late in the year. If the Cougars lose to Oklahoma in the opener, no one will give them much credit unless they show up big in this one. This might be the best defense Greg Ward Jr. and company face all year.

1. Houston vs. Oklahoma (Saturday, September 3)

Houston heads into 2016 with a ton of hype after going 13-1 with a win over Florida State in 2015. We’ll see if they can sustain that success right off the bat when they play the Sooners in the season opener. With Greg Ward Jr. back, the offense should hold its own. This game will be about which rebuilt defense can get enough stops (Noon est, ABC/ESPN).

E-mail Jason at or follow him on Twitter @JLindy87

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Bright Future Ahead for a Pair of AAC Foes

Last season was a year of great triumph for both the Memphis Tigers and Houston Cougars college football programs. While Memphis’ season ended in bitter fashion with a 31-10 Birmingham Bowl loss to Auburn and the departure of first-round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch, the Cougars carried their regular season momentum into the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl by upsetting ACC powerhouse Florida State 38-24.

The two American Athletic Conference rivals finished the season with a combined record of 22-5, which included a 35-34 home victory for Houston in their lone head-to-head matchup. The future is bright for both schools, but for drastically different reasons.

Firstly, the Memphis Tigers will begin the new season with a pair of fresh faces leading the way. On December 3, the Tigers replaced departed coach Justin Fuente, who took the head coaching position at Virginia Tech, with Mike Norvell, who most recently served as the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. In addition to the change at head coach, the Tigers were in desperate need of a new face at quarterback with the departure of Paxton Lynch, currently of the Denver Broncos.

Norvell was able to deliver with the acquisition of third-ranked junior college quarterback Riley Ferguson, who signed with the Tigers just weeks after Norvell’s hiring. Ferguson averaged nearly 327 passing yards per game last season for Coffeyville Community College in North Carolina. Memphis will begin the season on the first Saturday of September against Southeast Missouri State of the Ohio Valley Conference.

While Memphis looks to begin a new chapter in its history with a pair of fresh faces, the Houston Cougars will look to build off of last season’s historic run with Heisman Trophy hopeful Greg Ward, Jr. leading the way for Tom Herman’s high-octane offensive attack. The Cougars remained in the national championship picture a season ago until their lone loss of last season, which came at the hands of conference rival Connecticut in their third to last contest of the year.

Despite the departures of running back Kenneth Farrow and wide receiver Demarcus Ayers to the NFL, the Cougars will undoubtedly possess one of the most prolific offenses in the nation with Greg Ward Jr. leading the way and Tom Herman continuing to add to his already impressive coaching resume.

Houston will begin its new campaign in a showdown with Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners on September 3. American Athletic Conference fans will have to wait until the final week of the season to see the to see the Cougars battle the Tigers in what should be a game with conference championship implications.

E-mail Alec at alec.kwait@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter @alec_kwait

Image: Flickr/Lindsey Turner

Big 12 Expansion Could Mean Realignment in the AAC

Heading into the 2015 season, there was a lot to be excited about for fans of the University of Memphis football program. Quarterbacked by eventual first round NFL draft pick Paxton Lynch, the Tigers got off to a blistering start, beginning the year with eight straight victories, including one against the then thirteenth ranked Ole Miss Rebels. Despite the hot start, the Tigers fizzled down the stretch, losing four of their last five contests, including a Birmingham Bowl loss to Auburn in what many proclaimed to be Paxton Lynch’s worst game of his terrific Memphis career. One reason many speculate as to why this game went so poorly is the departure of head coach Justin Fuentes, who replaced Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech. Fuentes’ record of 26-23 turned the program around, as their combined record was 5-31 in the four years before Fuentes’ hiring. Memphis replaced Fuentes with Mike Norvell, who served as the offensive coordinator for Arizona State for the last four seasons.

One of the losses the Tigers suffered last season was to conference rival Houston, who enjoyed a fantastic 13-1 campaign under first-year head coach and former Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman. The Cougars possessed one of the most potent offensive attacks in the country, suffering only one loss on the season to Connecticut. Led by junior dual-threat quarterback Greg Ward, the Cougars averaged over forty points per game en route to their 13-1 record. Their season ended on a storybook note, as the Cougars soundly defeated ACC powerhouse Florida State 38-24 in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl.

With the recent success of American Athletic Conference programs such as Houston and Memphis, the Big 12 has taken notice and shown interest in adding the schools to its conference. This follows a recent trend in college athletics, where members of a “Power Five” conference look to add schools from other conferences.  The interest is mutual, as on February 24, University of Memphis president David Rudd wrote a letter to president Gordon Gee of West Virginia, David Boren of Oklahoma, and Ken Starr of Baylor that stated Memphis will make an investment of $500 million on both academic and athletic facilities. Enclosed in his plan, Rudd included a statement from FedEx chairman Fred Smith who voiced his support of the potential move to the Big 12. Smith also stated that FedEx would be interested in sponsoring a Big 12 championship game, something the conference is currently without as a result of conference realignment.

Realignment is not a new concept to the American Athletic Conference. Originally, the AAC was derived from the Big East Conference, who’s split in 2013 led to the formation of the modern day AAC. While losing Memphis and Houston would most likely not spell doom for the AAC, the recent success of both programs on the gridiron has raised the eyebrows of many, including West Virginia president Gordon Gee.

Gee has also expressed interested in exploring the possibility of adding the University of Houston to the Big 12, as Gee is one of three Big 12 presidents on the committee designed to consider possible conference realignment. Despite the Big 12’s interest in Memphis and Houston, they have also reached out to the University of Central Florida and Colorado State University about possibly joining the conference. While no decision is imminent, Big 12 presidents and athletic directors will congregate to discuss various topics including expansion on May 31 in Irving, Texas.

Email Alec at alec.kwait@campuspressbox.com or follow him on Twitter at @alec_kwait.

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ACC Links: A Busy Off-Season Proves there is No Downtime in the ACC

It may be the off-season for both college basketball and college football, but there is still plenty of news to talk about in the ACC. Georgia Tech has hired a new head men’s basketball coach, the face of Duke basketball, Grayson Allen is returning next year, the Virginia baseball team is finding out that it’s tough being the hunted team, the Master’s had a nice ACC flavor to it this year and D’Brickashaw Ferguson is retiring from the NFL.

Georgia Tech Hires Pastner As New Men’s Basketball Coach

Georgia Tech announced the hiring of Memphis head Coach Josh Pastner as its new men’s basketball coach, replacing Brian Gregory. Gregory compiled a record of 76-86 and Tech won just 27 of its 88 ACC games during his tenure. Tech has struggled to find a worthy successor to legendary coach Bobby Cremins, who retired in 2000 after 19 years at the helm of the men’s program. Pastner becomes the 14th head coach in Georgia Tech men’s basketball history.

Grayson Allen Returns to Duke for Another Trip

In something of a surprise, talented but controversial Duke guard Grayson Allen has announced that he will return to Duke for his junior season, joining what is judged to be the nation’s best recruiting class for a run at the national title. Allen, who averaged 21.5 points per game for the Blue Devils last season, made as much news for his on-court behavior as for his all-league play, and in the process became the latest Duke player criticized for play beyond the bounds of sportsmanship. Duke also announced that freshman starting point guard Derryck Thornton is leaving the program. Not to worry Duke fans, five-star point guard Frank Jackson is a member of the incoming class.

National Champion Hoos Struggling for Consistency

The reigning NCAA baseball champion Virginia Cavaliers are struggling for consistency just one year after besting Vanderbilt in a thrilling three-game series to capture the program’s first-ever national championship. The Cavaliers currently sit at 20-14 overall and 7-8 in league play after dropping two of three at Boston College this past weekend. Pitching, long a program strength under head coach Brian O’Connor, has been the team’s weakness this season. The Cavaliers currently sport a team E.R.A. of 4.19, the highest of any of O’Connor’s Virginia teams. At this point Virginia, college baseball’s winningest program since 2009, looks to be in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in thirteen seasons.

ACC Well-Represented in the Masters Field

U.S. Amateur runner-up and current UVA junior Derek Bard was among nine golfers from six ACC schools in this year’s Masters field, the most of any conference. Five ACC alumni have won a total of eight green jackets, led of course by Wake Forest’s Arnold Palmer’s four. Bard, who posted a two-day

total of +9 and missed the cut, nevertheless enjoyed the experience tremendously and told reporters that being paired with 2008 Masters Champion Trevor Immelman was a particular thrill, as was playing a practice round with 1987 champion and Georgia Tech alum Larry Mize. Ferguson’s NFL Retirement a Harbinger?

The mounting evidence that concussions have a cumulative and deleterious effect on players is starting to drive otherwise healthy players into retirement. The latest to announce something to that effect is Jets’ ten-year veteran and UVA graduate D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson, who missed only one play in his professional career and never once appeared on the Jets’ inury list and doesn’t think he ever has had a concussion, nevertheless attributed his decision to retire to worries about the cumulative effects

D’Brickashaw Ferguson’s NFL Retirement a Harbinger?

The mounting evidence that concussions have a cumulative and deleterious effect on players is starting to drive otherwise healthy players into retirement. The latest to announce something to that effect is Jets’ ten-year veteran and UVA graduate D’Brickashaw Ferguson. Ferguson, who missed only one play in his professional career and never once appeared on the Jets’ inury list and doesn’t think he ever has had a concussion, nevertheless attributed his decision to retire to worries about the cumulative effects of a long professional career spent knocking heads against opposing linemen.

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl: #18 Houston vs. #9 Florida State

In what seems to be a mismatch of sorts, #18 Houston of the American Athletic Conference (12-1) squares off against #9 Florida State of the ACC (10-2) in the Chik-Fil-A Peach Bowl.

Houston Cougars:

The Cougars had an impressive 2015 campaign. Finishing with a record of 12-1 and #18 ranking, things are starting to look up for a ball club that finished 8-5 the last two seasons.  The Cougars have potent offensive attack led by Mr. Do-it-all, Greg Ward, Jr.

Bright Spot:

Greg Ward, Jr. is sunlight bright for this Houston team. He leads the team in both passing (2,590) and rushing yards (1,041). He literally makes this team go.  Ward’s favorite target, receiver Demarcus Ayers, will see plenty of passes his way if the Cougs plan on keeping stride with the Seminoles.

Low-Light:

You can’t really knock a team for the conference in which they reside. Houston steam-rolled the competition this year, except for the hiccup of a loss at UConn. Despite the loss, Houston hasn’t really faced competition the likes of Florida State. The downside of playing such inferior opponents is that they don’t quite give you an accurate read on how good your football team is. I guess we’ll soon see.

Florida State Seminoles:

The Everett Golson experiment is over. Taking the reins of the offense is Sean Maguire. Despite the change at quarterback, Florida State has continued to perform at a high level. After the departure of Heisman winner, Jameis Winston and a slew of extraordinary talent, it was generally expected that there would be a bit of a drop off, offensively that is. However, with a running back like Dalvin Cook in your back field, it certainly took the pressure of either quarterback of having to carry the team.

Bright Spot:

Finishing seventh in the Heisman voting, Dalvin Cook was FSU’s MVP. Though Cook missed a game with an injury, he still managed to break the FSU single season rushing record held by Warrick Dunn. Cook ended his regular season rushing for 1,658 yards and 18 touchdowns.

Low-Light:

Coming into this season, Notre Dame transfer, Everett Golson was tabbed to be the one to help shorten the gap left by Heisman winner Jameis Winston. Golson started off the season fairly strong. As the season progressed, Golson regressed. He wasn’t the turnover machine he was his final season at Notre Dame, but he lacked the pizazz that once garnered him such praise earlier on in his collegiate career. Golson was eventually replaced by junior Sean Maguire. So far, this has proved to be the best course of action for Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles.

X-Factor:

Both teams are explosive offensively. However, only one team has a top 20 defense. I’ll let you guess which. You know what they say, offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships. Well, in this case, bowl games.

Prediction:

Florida State wins handily, 34-17.

Birmingham Bowl: Auburn vs. Memphis

Paxton Lynch

Do you know who that is? It is the name of the player you will be hearing the most about coming into this game. He is the quarterback for Memphis and he could be the best QB in college football. He will, most assuredly, be the first signal caller taken in the NFL Draft this spring.

Let’s love him a bit more.

Lynch has completed 280 of 407 pass attempts this season, for 3,670 yards and 28 touchdowns. He has thrown only 3 interceptions. Lynch has a 166.8 efficiency rating and his completion percentage is 69%. And get this, he is 6’7” and 245 pounds.

Thus, here is Bird’s strategy for Auburn to win the football game. KEEP THE BALL AWAY FROM PAXTON LYNCH! Brilliant, huh?

And how does one keep the ball away from Memphis and Lynch? By running the heck out of it.

Now here is where that proposition gets dicey. The strength of the Memphis defense is stopping the run. They allow only 137.8 rushing yards per game. Auburn runs the ball for 191.8 yards per game. Mark this as a critical matchup. The Memphis D-line vs. the Auburn O-line. Something’s gotta give. Or not.

Memphis Tigers

These two sets of felines have met only twice on the gridiron. Who do you think leads the series? If you said Auburn, you were wrong. Memphis beat Auburn both times they faced off. In 1975 Memphis State, as she was called back then, beat Auburn, 31-20, at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The following year Auburn fell 28-27 at the Liberty Bowl in the Bluff City.

Memphis is a member of the American Athletic Conference. These Tigers finished the 2015 regular season with a 9-3 record and they were 5-2 (third) in conference play.

Their interim head coach is Darrell Dickey. Also, a new head coach has been hired. Waiting in the wings is Mike Norvell, who was previously the offensive coordinator and Deputy Head Coach at Arizona State. That’s what they call them out there. Deputies. It’s the west. Norvell will be the youngest head coach in FBS football. He is 34 years old. I have a son older than that. When I was 34, number 34 was winning a Heisman Trophy at Auburn. You know who that was.

Now back to Memphis. There are a lot of great songs about Memphis. No, the football team. Short-term memory.

Pass the Geritol, please.

Offense? They average 510.4 yards per game and 42.7 points per game. Like I said, keep the ball away from Paxton Lynch and that juggernaut of an offense! Covering Mose Frazier would be a good place to start. Frazier nabbed 66 passes for 750 yards and 4 TD’s.

When Memphis runs the ball, Doroland Dorceus is their ‘go-to’ guy. He ran for 613 yards at 4.3 yards per rush.

And, by the way, Lynch is very good at extending plays with his legs. Keep the ball away from Paxton Lynch!

Auburn Tigers

We’re not going to say, keep the ball away from Jeremy Johnson or Sean White. We don’t know, just yet, who the starting quarterback will be for Auburn, but, suffice it to say that neither will strike fear in the hearts of the Memphis faithful the way Lynch will in Auburn Tiger fans.

But…BUT… whichever of those two guys Gus Malzahn and Rhett Lashlee starts, he better manage a good game, not turn it over, and make good decisions. If the Auburn QB does not do these things, then the burnt orange and navy blue will, likely, suffer through a long afternoon at 400 Graymont Ave W, Legion Field.

Auburn’s QB numbers are pedestrian. Johnson is 94 of 156 (60.3%) for 1,043 yards. White has thrown 130 times and completed 75 (57.7%) of those for 1,064 yards.

What MUST Auburn do to be successful on offense? That’s right! They MUST run the football and run it well. The guys who can get that done? Peyton Barber and Jovon Robinson. Barber has run the ball for 976 yards at 4.3 yards per carry. Robinson, who hails from Memphis, is averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He has 513 rushing yards.

When Auburn does throw, their most popular target is Ricardo (The Prayer at Jordan-Hare) Louis. Louis has hauled in 45 passes for 699 yards. He is averaging 15.5 yards per catch.

The AU Tigers’ D has been a bit porous but they had begun to gel, somewhat, as the regular season came to an end. They allowed 421.8 yards per game. Opponents rushed for 189.7 per contest (WAAAAAY TOO MUCH) and passed for a 232.2 yard average in each game (WAAAAAY TOO MUCH).

Johnathan “Rudy” Ford lead all Tiger tacklers with 113. That was also good for second place in the SEC.

Placekickers

Daniel Carlson (Auburn) and Jake Elliott (Memphis) are excellent placekickers. Oddly enough, they both hit 22 of their 26 field goal attempts. If it comes down to a last second field goal both schools are, obviously, in great shape there.

What To Expect

A shootout? Possibly. But nothing like the 55-52 pinball game that Virginia Tech and Tulsa found themselves embroiled in recently. It should be something more like the 37-29 Nebraska win over UCLA.

Memphis is going to get some passing yards. Auburn is going to get some rushing yards.

Both sets of Tigers will score some points. The question is, who gets the most points? That is who always wins the football game. Every time. Book it. Done deal.

In the end, Auburn (6-6, 2-6 SEC) has more talent, SEC talent at that, and really wants to send this group of seniors, who have NEVER won a bowl game, out with a win. I like what I’m hearing from the practice filed concerning Auburn’s work ethic, attitude, and effort.

The Tigers of Lee County Alabama subdue the Tigers of Shelby County Tennessee.

Prediction. Auburn 34, Memphis 24.

Here is the link to the Birmingham Bowl website.

http://www.birminghambowl.com