October 31st

If you can’t leave ’em, sue ’em!

Colorado and Nebraska were required to give 24 months’ to the Big 12 if they wanted to leave the conference. Colorado gave two year’s notice, but Nebraska was willing to pay a penalty to leave a year early. In the end, both teams left after a year, sacrificing television revenue to get out of the conference a year early.

The Big East, in an attempt to keep teams from leaving, instituted a 27-month waiting period. West Virginia, though, wants to become a member of the Big 12 next fall.

The solution?

Sue ’em.

West Virginia filed a civil lawsuit against the Big East on Monday, squarely blaming commissioner John Marinatto for the instability of the conference.

In the 14-page suit filed in Monongalia County Circuit Court in West Virginia, the university claims it should not be held to the 27-month waiting period required of all departing teams. West Virginia alleges, “The Big East Conference and its commissioner, through their actions, breached their contract to WVU and nullified and voided the bylaws.”

The reason the Big East breached its contract? West Virginia alleges that nothing was done to protect the remaining six football playing schools once Pitt, Syracuse and TCU left. That created such instability, that the lawsuit alleges Cincinnati, Rutgers and UConn engaged in discussions with the ACC, SEC, Big 12 and Big Ten.

The Big East’s response?

“We are disappointed that West Virginia has adopted this strategy and cannot imagine why it believes it does not have to respect and honor the bylaws it agreed to as a member of the Big East,” Marinatto said in a statement Monday. “Based on an initial review of the lawsuit, it is clear that the allegations and claims in it are false and inaccurate.

“Certainly there is nothing in it that would justify WVU’s not fulfilling its obligations. To put it simply, a contract is a contract.”

Best bet: West Virginia will play in the Big 12 in 2012. It’s just a matter of how many $$$$ it will take to get out.

Stay tuned.

October 28th

West Virginia accepts invitation to join Big 12

The Big 12 welcomed West Virginia from the Big East and bid goodbye to Missouri before the Tigers even had a chance to finalize their move to the Southeastern Conference.

Now that the poaching of the Big East seems to be over, the beleaguered league is not backing down. It has been busy courting six schools and says it was braced for the latest loss. And despite what the Big 12 says, the Big East plans to keep West Virginia for two more years — just as it has vowed to keep Pittsburgh and Syracuse away from the Atlantic Coast Conference until 2014.

The Big 12 leaders voted to add West Virginia, rather than closer Big East rival Louisville, on Friday morning.

“The addition of West Virginia, while expanding the reach of the Big 12, brings an impressive institution with esteemed academics and a proud athletic tradition into the Conference. This is another step in building a strong foundation for the future of the Big 12,” said Oklahoma State University president Burns Hargis, the chairman of the Big 12 board of directors.

West Virginia is one of the founding members of the Big East’s football conference, created in 1991. Of the eight original members, only Rutgers remains.

So, will Missouri finally get its long-awaited invitation to join another league, this time the SEC?

Late Thursday night, the SEC inadvertently posted on its website that Missouri was joining the league. The conference said no agreement has been reached with the school, but it was yet another sign it’s just a matter of time before the Tigers follow Texas A&M.

And, for the Big East?

Along with Louisville and Rutgers, the remaining Big East football schools are South Florida, Connecticut and Cincinnati.

Louisville men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino said Friday that Marinatto was disappointed in WVU’s decision.

“I told him to stop taking that attitude,” Pitino told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. “If Louisville had left the Big East was over. Nobody was going to come in. I told him to be fired up and go get those teams.”

The teams Pitino is referring to are potential Big East invitees Boise State, Air Force, Navy, BYU, Central Florida, Houston and SMU. Pitino said Marinatto has visited with or spoken to officials from each of the schools about joining the conference.

The Big East plans to announce Central Florida, Houston and SMU as future members of the conference, likely in 2013, as early as Tuesday, a source told ESPN. Navy and Air Force are being more deliberate and methodical in the process, but the conference is hopeful both soon will follow, along with Boise State

The Big East also has eight members, including Notre Dame, that don’t compete in the league in football. Most are small private schools with strong basketball programs such as St. John’s, Georgetown and DePaul.

DePaul AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto said there are no plans for the basketball schools to split from the football schools.

“I would say at this point we have not gone down that path,” she said.

If the Big East can’t complete its expansion goals and crumbles, it could leave Notre Dame’s much-treasured football independence in doubt and start a whole new round of shuffling.

Which means that the Boise State and the Mountain West Conference …

According to the Idaho Statesman … Big East Commissioner John Marinatto and Senior Associate Commissioner Nick Carparelli met with Boise State President Bob Kustra and other school officials for two hours in Boise Thursday, hoping to convince the Broncos that the rebuilding Big East is the right place for their highly ranked (and coveted) football program. It was the second meeting between Kustra and Big East officials in five days, following a Sunday talk in Washington, D.C.

In the current conference landscape, Boise State is one of the few difference-makers available to the rebuilding Big East, hence the heavy wooing and the disregard for geographical boundaries. Though no invitation was extended Thursday, one is surely coming.

All the Big East can do is show BSU projections and offer guesses — educated ones, but guesses ultimately — at what its new configuration will be worth to television networks. Can the Big East’s new television deal deliver $8 million or $10 million or $12 million annually to its football members? Or will the number be significantly lower for a league that adds BSU, Air Force and Navy as football-only members and Central Florida, Houston and SMU as full members?

The Mountain West’s television contract will bring the Broncos about $1.4 million this year, so if the Big East can deliver on those high-end numbers for an eight-year contract, then the Broncos’ decision is an easy one.

They’re going East.

Which leaves the Mountain West looking for answers … and perhaps a new partner.

While multiple college football teams across the country have stated that they will change conferences in the coming years, both the MWC and Conference USA have agreed in principle to join forces for a possible 22-team football conference, which could happen as early as 2012. The announcement came via teleconference on Oct. 14.

“Conference USA makes the most sense right now in terms of where their geographics are located,” said UNLV Athletic Director Jim Livengood. “If you look at the 12 schools in Conference USA and the 10 schools in the Mountain West, our demographics are really very, very close.”

Among those demographics, Livengood noted the size of student bodies from all schools involved, the number of athletic programs and the amount of money spent on football.

“I’m not saying all of those [factors] match up,” he said. “But with those 22 schools, there’s really kind of a homogeneous look at than the other three conferences that are non-AQ’s right now: the Mid-American, the Sun Belt and the WAC. We probably don’t match up as well with schools in those conferences.”

If all 22 teams are not members of either conference when they merge, the plan is to continue moving forward with however many teams there are.

The bottom line for Colorado fans … the cheering you hear emanating from the north is coming from Ft. Collins.

Not only is the Mountain West positioning itself to lobby for an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl, but the competition has all left the conference.

The Mountain West has been around since 1998. Since then, the conference title has been won by BYU (gone this year), Utah (gone this year), TCU (gone next year), and, in all likelihood in 2011, Boise State (gone next year). The only other team to ever win a Mountain West Conference title in football?

Yup. Colorado State.

Air Force? Nope. New Mexico. Nope. Wyoming? Nope. UNLV? Nope. San Diego State? Nope.

Fresno State, Hawai’i, and Nevada are scheduled to join next year. All are decent teams, but none are of Boise State’s caliber (or, for that matter, the caliber of Utah, BYU, or TCU).

On Friday, West Virginia joined the Big 12 … and the Colorado State Rams are direct beneficiaries.

October 27th

NCAA approves sweeping changes

On Thursday, the Division I Board of Directors approved a package of sweeping reforms that gives conferences the option of adding more money to scholarship offers, schools the opportunity to award scholarships for multiple years, imposes tougher academic standards on recruits and changes the summer basketball recruiting model.

“It was one of the most aggressive and fullest agendas the board has ever faced,” NCAA President Mark Emmert said. “They moved with dispatch on it, and I think they’re taking positive steps for schools and student-athletes.”

Highlights of the NCAA vote:

• Conferences can vote to add $2,000 in “full cost-of-attendance” money to scholarship offers.

• Individual schools can choose to award multiyear scholarships. Scholarships may not be revoked based on athletic performance.

• Schools that fail to meet the Academic Progress Rate cutline will be ineligible for postseason play, including bowl games. The cutline will be increased from the current 900 to 930 in four years. (Colorado, at 925 this past year, would not have qualified. However, the past two years have seen significant improvement in the school’s APR score, and, as it is a four-year rolling average which is counted, the score should improve over the next few years). Emmert said if the new rule had been used last year, seven men’s basketball teams and eight football teams would have been ineligible for the postseason. And there’s almost no way out for teams who don’t make the grade. “You can appeal, but we are going to be very, very strict about appeals,” said Walt Harrison, chairman of the committee on academic performance. “So we really don’t expect waivers to be a major factor.”

• Eligibility requirements increased from a 2.0 GPA to 2.3 for incoming freshman and 2.5 for junior college transfers. Junior college transfers will only be allowed to count two physical education credits toward their eligibility. This helps level the playing field a bit for Colorado, as the University does not allow junior college transfers to count any physical education credits. (Take that, Kansas State!).

• For basketball recruiting, coaches added four evaluation days in April, previously a dead period, but went from 20 days to 12 in July. Coaches can make unlimited calls or send unlimited texts to prep recruits after June 15 at end of their sophomore year.

Schools must infer the cost of additional funding and it will have to be doled out equally to men’s and women’s athletes because of Title IX rules. While BCS schools have the money and are expected to swiftly approve additional funding, it may prove too costly for non-BCS schools.

There are fears it will increase the disparity between the haves and the have-nots and could prompt another round of conference realignment.

The board also approved a measure that will give individual schools the authority to award scholarships on a multiple-year basis.

Under the current model, those scholarships are renewed annually and can be revoked for any reason. If adopted, schools could guarantee scholarships for the player’s entire career and would be unable to revoke it based solely on athletic performance. Scholarships could still be pulled for reasons such as poor grades, academic misconduct or other forms of improper behavior.

October 26th

Music hasn’t stopped on the latest round of musical chairs

Perhaps if they just took out a map …

The same “sources” which had West Virginia being invited to join the Big 12 as early as Tuesday have now back-tracked.

West Virginia has been notified by the Big 12 Conference that its expansion process is on hold, a school source told ESPN’s Joe Schad on Wednesday.

The Big 12 is waiting on Missouri formally to withdraw from the conference and that there has been some late “hard lobbying” by Louisville for Big 12 inclusion, the source told Schad.

West Virginia had been told that the Big 12 was willing to announce it would be adding the Mountaineers regardless of the timing of the departure announcement of Missouri, but for now at least, that has changed, the source said.

Earlier Wednesday, the West Virginia Gazette reported that the Big 12 Board of Directors has what the newspaper called “put the brakes” on plans to expand. The report comes after West Virginia issued a Tuesday night statement saying no news conference had been scheduled to announce a move to the Big 12, and that a visit by Big 12 officials to the West Virginia campus, scheduled for Wednesday, also has been called off.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that West Virginia was in a “holding pattern.”

The New York Times reported Wednesday that U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, had lobbied Big 12 officials including David Boren, the president of the University of Oklahoma and a former senator, to include Louisville in expansion plans. The Times quoted a person with direct knowledge of the plans as saying: “I think it’s 50-50 right now between West Virginia and Louisville.”

One possible holdup is that Missouri, expected by many to join the SEC, has yet to formally withdraw from the Big 12. Last week, the Missouri Board of Curators authorized school chancellor Brady Deaton the right to make a final call on whether to leave the Big 12.

“We’re not looking at a long time frame,” Deaton said on Friday. “We want to confirm where we are & as rapidly as possible.”

October 25th

Washington State looking at $80 million stadium expansion

See what a little extra television revenue can do?

The Seattle Times is reporting Washington State University regents will be asked next month to approve the plans for $80 million worth of improvements to Martin Stadium, with a portion of the money to come from the Pac-12’s new television contract that dramatically increased revenues to each team.

The regents will hold a special meeting Tuesday to review plans for the privately funded stadium project, which includes a larger press-box structure filled with luxury seating. Regents will be asked at their Nov. 18 meeting to give final approval to the project.

Construction would begin Nov. 21, with the project scheduled for completion next season.

Martin Stadium, with about 35,000 seats, is the smallest football facility in the Pac-12.

The new construction, known as the Southside Project, is not intended to increase capacity but to dramatically expand the number of premium boxes and luxury seats that can be sold for higher prices. The new press-box structure would run across nearly the entire south side of the stadium.

A second construction project, called the West End-Zone Project, would create a football operations center in the stadium, providing offices for coaches, meeting space and other amenities. Design and cost estimates for that project should be available next summer and will need separate approval.

Oregon’s Cliff Harris suspended … again

At least Cliff Harris allowed the Buffs to avoid their first home shutout since 1986 …

Harris was suspended by the No. 7 Ducks just hours after he was cited for driving on a suspended license, driving without insurance, and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Harris, who was also cited by state police in June for driving 118 mph on Interstate 5, is not allowed to participate in any football-related activities for now.

An All-American who broke up 23 passes and averaged 18.8 yards per punt return last season, Harris faces fines in excess of $952. The car he was driving, which police say belongs to a relative, was impounded.

Harris has nine tackles in six games this season for the Ducks (6-1, 4-0 Pac-12.) He also has an interception and nine punt returns for 68 yards.

In Oregon’s 45-2 victory over Colorado last weekend, the Buffaloes tackled Harris on a punt return in the end zone for a safety. He was also flagged before the game started for taunting, which allowed Colorado to kick off from the 45 to start the game.

As a sophomore last season, Harris set an Oregon record with four punt returns for touchdowns.

Sophomore running back leaves USC

According to ESPN, much-hyped USC running back Dillon Baxter no longer is a member of the team but is still enrolled at the school.

Baxter, a sophomore, did not make the trip with the Trojans to South Bend for USC’s game against Notre Dame last week, instead heading home to San Diego for the weekend. He skipped a practice last week because of what was called a “family issue,” and arrived late to another session because of what was called an “academic issue.”

“The decision has been made for Dillon Baxter to focus on his academics,” USC head coach Lane Kiffin said in a statement Tuesday. “As he does so, he will not be part of our football program.”

During his first practices in spring 2010, Baxter was an immediate sensation, prompting Kiffin to compare him on multiple occasions to former USC star running back Reggie Bush.

But he eventually found himself in Kiffin’s doghouse. During that summer, he was suspended for the season opener for an unspecified off-field issue, and he also missed a November game against Oregon State after he was found to have accepted a golf-cart ride from a student-agent, in violation of NCAA rules.

In June 2010, after USC was hit with NCAA sanctions including a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships over three years, Baxter told a school compliance official that he had been illegally contacted by coaches from various programs across the country, leading USC to report the violation to the NCAA.

When it turned out to be false, then-athletic director Mike Garrett was forced to send a letter of apology to the five schools named by USC in its filing to the NCAA.

Still, Baxter was expected to have a major role in the USC offense as a true freshman, but he gained only 252 total rushing yards on 59 carries, and scored one touchdown.

Baxter was a top recruit in the Class of 2010 out of San Diego Mission Bay High, was recruited by Florida, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee, among others.

West Virginia to the Big 12 … whether or not Missouri leaves?

The only school scorned as often as Missouri in the last two years of NCAA musical chairs has been West Virginia. A member of the Big East, which has lost Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, while gaining – then losing – TCU, West Virginia has been looking for a soft landing. The Mountaineers, though, have been spurned by the SEC and ignored by the ACC.

Which leaves West Virginia with … the Big 12.

According to ESPN, The Big 12 has told West Virginia it will be accepted into the conference pending formal approval, which could happen as soon as later Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday, multiple media reports said that West Virginia was headed from the Big East to the Big 12.

West Virginia will be accepted into the conference as a replacement for Missouri, which the conference believes is departing for the SEC. However, according to the source, West Virginia’s acceptance into the Big 12 was not contingent upon Missouri leaving the Big 12 for the SEC.

The Big East could try to keep West Virginia for up to 27 months and negotiations on that point would figure to ensue.

At a Big 12 board of directors meeting on Monday, the conference urged Missouri to stay — and Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton, who had been given permission by the university’s governing body to make decisions on the future of the university’s athletic program, did not inform the conference that Missouri intended to leave.

But late Monday, Deaton gave some clue as to Missouri’s intentions, giving a statement to KOMU-TV in Columbia, Mo., in which he wished the Big 12 “the best and all of that.”

Stay tuned …

October 24th

Utah also in search of an offense

Without former CU commit Jordan Wynn to run its offense, the Utah Utes have been grounded.

Since replacing the injured Wynn midway through the Washington game on October 1st, quarterback Jon Hays has led the Utah offense to just five touchdowns in the last 3 1/2 games.

In Saturday’s 34-10 loss to California, the Utes managed just 178 yards and 11 first downs. Before scoring a touchdown on their final drive of the game, they punted six times and turned the ball over on four occasions as quarterback Jon Hays struggled mightily in his third career star. He was intercepted three times and fumbled once.

Nine Utah series consisted of five plays or less. Five produced single-digit yardage and two wound up in the negative. The Ute ground game was pretty well grounded. The Utes had minus-3 yards rushing before picking up 16 on their final drive of the game. John White IV capped things off with a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:06 left to play.

According to Kurt Kragthorpe of the Deseret News, there are five issues contributing to the Utes’ 0-4 record in Pac-12 play:

1. The quarterbacking » It all starts with that position, although it may not end there. Jordan Wynn played decently at USC and was showing good signs against Washington before a shoulder injury sidelined him for the season. Now, Utah’s QB situation is beyond ridiculous.

2. The Norm Chow factor » The Utes’ offensive coordinator cannot be blamed for the QB mess he inherited, but he’s not qualifying for any genius label, either. This is a tough year for gurus. Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, the country’s highest-paid assistant coach, is being exposed without Cam Newton. Auburn is 93rd in total offense. Chow’s offense is 108th and fading, and he’s making a lot of money, too. Of course, that’s partly because UCLA is paying him not to coach there.

3. The talent level » The Utes are not being physically overwhelmed, although they’re not matching up as well as expected. The lack of a passing threat puts tremendous strain on the offensive linemen, but those guys should perform better.

4. The different circumstances » Urban Meyer and Whittingham went 7-3 against teams in the former Pac-10 from 2003-09, but it’s apparent that edges in preparation and motivation played into that. The Utes wanted to prove themselves against teams at that level. Now, they’re being treated as equals, which works against them.

5. The future » Funny, but I don’t remember Whittingham’s “That’s not reality” commentary in the promotional material that resulted in 98 percent of Ute fans renewing their season tickets in a tough economy. This will become an intriguing case study if Utah is unable to right itself. Ultimately, fans must decide whether the Utes’ first Pac-12 season is misleading, or if this is what the future looks like.

Utah hosts Oregon State this weekend. If the Utes can’t handle the Beavers, Kragthorpe believes, “the Utes may not beat anybody — except fellow newcomer Colorado.”

Ouch.

Missouri still a member of the Big 12

Intermim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas The Kansas City Star that Missouri did not submit a letter of conditional withdrawal nor did it notify the Big 12 on Monday of its plans to leave the Big 12. “The conference encouraged Missouri to stay in the Big 12,” Neinas added, referred to a statement to be released by the league on the Big 12 Board of Directors meeting on Monday in Dallas.

When asked if following its release Neinas could be asked for further guidance, Neinas said: “You could, but I won’t give you any.”

The news was a mild surprise since Missouri chancellor Brady Deaton was expected to use the opportunity to inform the rest of the conference of the school’s planned departure.

October 21st

Neuheisel safe … for now

The dreaded “vote of confidence”?

After the meltdown by the UCLA Bruins on Thursday night, the heat on head coach Rick Neuheisel’s seat has gotten a lot warmer.

Arizona, with a new head coach and a 1-5 record, dominated UCLA, 48-12, in a game which was 42-7 at halftime. The Bruins entered the game with a 3-3 overall record, and with a 2-1 record in the Pac-12. With USC ineligible for the South division title, and with the other three teams in the South winless in conference play (Colorado and Utah 0-4; Arizona 0-4), the thought was not only that Neuheisel could save his job, but that the Bruins might even compete to be the South’s entrant in the inaugural Pac-12 title game.

Now … not so much.

The tattered UCLA defense isn’t getting better, giving up a season-high 573 total yards to a team that entered the game on a five-game losing streak and just fired its coach. The Bruins’ sporadic offense can’t find any consistency, rushing for only 37 yards against a team that came into the game ranked No. 100 in the nation in rushing defense.

Yet, as we speak, Neuheisel still has a job.

“Rick is my coach,” UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said. “I don’t know who is talking about him being relieved early, but it’s certainly not me. He’s a great Bruin. I want to see him succeed.

“We’ll evaluate at the end of the year, like we always evaluate, and make determinations what we’re going to do at that point. But right now, all this talk about him staying or him going, that does nothing for our team that is trying to regroup and go out there every week and play hard and try to win football games.”

Can Neuheisel right the ship, and keep his job into 2012?

The Bruins are 3-4, and it would seem that a 6-6 record and a bowl bid would be a minimum requirement for the head coach to be asked to stick around.

What’s left for UCLA …

The next two games are at home, against Cal and Arizona State. The Cal game is winnable, and the Bruins have an extra two days to prepare. The Arizona State game? Probably not.

Two of the final three games are on the road, with trips to Salt Lake City and across town to face the Trojans sandwiched between the home finale against Colorado.

Let’s write off the games against Arizona State and USC. That means that UCLA, to finish 6-6, would have to beat Cal, Utah, and Colorado.

The CU/UCLA game on November 19th could well turn into a referendum on whether Neuheisel will return as head coach in Westwood.

A chance for some delicious irony for the Buff Nation?

We’ll see …

 

October 18th

Big East still looking (south)west … Missouri heading to SEC

The Big East wants to remain “Big”.

Dumped by Pittsburgh and Syracuse (for the ACC) and snubbed by TCU (for the Big 12), the remnants of the Big East are trying to scrape together 12 teams for a viable conference.

Officials at Houston and SMU have both been contacted by Big East commissioner John Marinatto and have been told the league wants to discuss with them further about joining the league, sources told CBSSports.com.

The Houston Chronicle reported Monday night that Houston had been extended an invitation. However, league sources said no official invitations have been extended to any teams. The Big East also released a statement Saturday that no invitations have been extended.

Marinatto will be on a teleconference with the media Tuesday afternoon to discuss league expansion.

On Monday night, the Big East’s presidents and chancellors voted unanimously to increase the league’s exit fee to $10 million, but the increased fee is contingent on Navy and Air Force joining the league as football only members, sources told CBSSports.com.

The increased exit fees from $5 million to $10 million for the football schools were something Navy and Air Force wanted before committing to the Big East.

Navy, Air Force and Boise State are interested to joining the Big East because of the league’s automatic qualifying BCS status, but wanted a bigger financial commitment from the remaining members (Cincinnati, UConn, Louisville, Rutgers, South Florida and West Virginia).

Sources said Houston and SMU – along with UCF – are prepared to accept an invitation to join the Big East as all sports members once an official invitation is extended.

Stay tuned …

Meanwhile, in Columbia

Have the Tigers … finally … been invited to the prom?The New York Times is reporting Missouri’s decision to officially apply for membership in the Southeastern Conference is “inevitable and imminent.”

The newspaper, citing an official familiar with school decisions involving conference affiliation, reported Monday night that Mizzou officials expect to get enough votes among SEC presidents to become a member, although the school would still need to be formally invited to join the conference.

Missouri curators, who must approve any change in conference alignment, are scheduled to next meet at the University of Missouri, Kansas City on Oct. 20-21.

While interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said last week he expects Mizzou to stay in the league and SEC commissioner Mike Slive has said the conference has no immediate expansion plans, The Times reported the Tigers could join the SEC as early as next year.

UCLA and Arizona feel Buffs’ pain

While up to 15 players will be unavailable for Colorado this weekend, the Buffs are not completely alone in losing key players.

Arizona safety Adam Hall was out for the first five games of the season with a knee injury, then re-aggrivated the injury against Oregon State, and is likely done for the year.

Meanwhile, UCLA also lost a safety. UCLA senior safety Tony Dye has missed the past three games because of a a lingering neck injury. He might miss the remaining six. Coach Rick Neuheisel said Dye, who has not played since the Texas game Sept. 17, might apply for a medical redshirt if the stingers in his neck do not subside.

Players are eligible for a medical redshirt so long as they appear in fewer than 30 percent of a team’s games and do not play past the midway point of the season.

October 17th

Oregon mum on injuries to star players

What is the status of Oregon offensive stars LaMichael James and Darron Thomas?

Chip Kelly ain’t tellin’.

The Oregon head coach, noted for playing coy with his injury reports, has not disclosed the status of his star running back, LaMichael James, and his star quarterback, Darron Thomas. James went down with a dislocated elbow weekend before last, and did not play last weekend against Arizona State. Then Thomas went down with a knee injury against the Sun Devils, and did not return.

Asked about his quarterack, all Kelly would say was, “Darron’s attitude is great.” For his part, Thomas said that his injuries were not serious. The Oregon senior quarterback said he could have returned to Saturday’s game against Arizona State at Autzen Stadium after injuring both knees but remained out as a precautionary measure. “I’m going to be all right,” he said. “I just want to let everybody know.”

As for his return, all LaMichael James said was that he expected to be on the field soon.

Not that the loss of either player will make a great deal of difference against Colorado on Saturday.

When backup quarterback Bryan Bennett took the field Saturday night, Oregon trailed Arizona State, 24-21. By the end of the quarter, the Ducks were leading 35-24 after Bennett had led the Ducks on two scoring drives. He finished the game having completed 2 of 5 passes for 22 yards and rushing for 65 yards on five carries as the Ducks went on to a 41-27.  The numbers weren’t exactly eye-popping but they came from effective execution that one would expect from a seasoned veteran, not someone who had only seen limited action in blowout victories over Nevada and Missouri State.

Did Oregon miss LaMichael James? Not really. His backup, junior Kenjon Barner, torched a good Arizona State defense for 171 yards on 31 carries. Not the 200+ that James had been averaging over his past three games, but more than enough to satisfy the Ducks.

The only reason for Thomas and James to see the field on Saturday against Colorado?

To pad their stats …

October 14th

Mountain West and Conference USA form an alliance

According to ESPN, the Mountain West Conference and Conference USA have agreed to form an association for football, hoping the move will help solidify both leagues and increase their chances at obtaining a automatic qualifying bid for the Bowl Championship Series

The two conferences made a joint announcement Friday, and had a conference call scheduled for later in the evening, at which it was expected more details on the structure of the alliance would be revealed.

The role of a conference is to provide its members with the best possible environment in which to conduct their intercollegiate athletics programs,” Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement. “Rather than await changes in membership due to realignment, it became clear the best way to serve our institutions was to pursue an original concept.

“The Mountain West and C-USA share a number of similarities, and the creative merger of our football assets firmly positions our respective members for the future.”

Added C-USA commissioner Britton Banowsky: “The potential of this association is very exciting. By taking an innovative approach, we feel we can offer tremendous opportunities for exposure and stability without breaking up the regional rivalries that truly make up the college football tradition.”

The current 22 members of the MWC and C-USA are located in 16 different states. Their football-only association would not affect their status within the NCAA structure.

Boise State invited to join the Big East

So, you thought TCU in the Big East was an odd fit …

CBSSports.com is reporting that the Big East, once divided on whether to invite Boise State, is now united on extending an invitation to the Broncos, along with Air Force, Navy and Central Florida.

Boise State, Air Force and UCF have indicated they are receptive to joining the Big East. Navy is prepared to also commit once a higher exit fee has been established, sources said. The official invitations to UCF, Boise State, Air Force and Navy could be extended as early as next week. 

Big East representatives, including Commissioner John Marinatto, will meet with UCF officials today in Cincinnati. On Thursday, Boise State and a Big East representative spoke via telephone about the Broncos joining the Big East.

The addition of Boise State would be significant in helping the Big East retain its status as an automatic qualifying BCS league when the new BCS cycle begins in 2014.

The Broncos, ranked No. 5 in this week’s AP poll, are among college football’s winningest programs, with a 71-5 record since 2006.

With the expected addition of Boise State, Air Force, Navy and UCF and the defections of TCU, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, that would leave the football membership at 10 schools, two shy of the 12 members the league said on Monday it was seeking.

Houston, SMU and Temple are being considered for the final two spots. However, one source said Houston and SMU are expected to get the final two spots because of Villanova’s concerns about adding Temple into the league.

Boise State, Air Force and Navy would join as football-only members. UCF, Houston and SMU would join as full members.

Stay tuned …

Pac-12 Coaches on the “hot seat” – Neuheisel not given the dreaded “vote of confidence”

With Arizona pulling the plug on head coach Mike Stoops after a 1-5 start, will another Pac-12 coach fall before the end of the 2011 season?

Cal’s Jeff Tedford officially joined the hot seat club on Thursday night, after the Golden Bears fell to USC for the eighth year in a row. The 0-3 start to Pac-12 play is the worst in the ten-year tenure for Tedford, whose Bears failed to make the post-season last fall after a 5-7 finish.

Oregon State’s Mike Riley won a brief reprieve last Saturday, with a win over Arizona (which finished off Mike Stoops). Still, the 11th-year head coach has some work to do to convince the powers that be in Corvallis that he should be around for year No. 12. The Beavers are 1-4 on the season, after a 5-7 record last year. With rival Oregon a top ten contender year in and year out, how long will mediocrity be acceptable for Oregon State?

The coach “most likely not to succeed” at the beginning of the 2011 season was Washington State’s Paul Wulff. The Cougars had won only three games over the past two seasons, and were 5-32 in the first three years under Wulff. This fall, though, the Cougars have already matched the win total for the past two years, with a 3-2 overall record. Not much will be expected of Washington State when they play Stanford this weekend, and the Cougars still have games against ranked Oregon and Arizona State on the schedule, but a five or six win season is not out of the question. Will that be enough to keep Wulff employed for a sixth season?

And then there is the Buff Nation’s favorite Pac-12 coach, Rick Neuheisel. Now in his fourth year in Westwood, Neuheisel has compiled an overall record of 18-25, including a 3-3 mark in 2011. A 28-25 win over Washington State brought some measure of peace for Neuheisel, but a bowl game seems to be a necessity for him to remain at head coach. On Thursday, UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero was asked in a radio interview about Neuheisel’s job security. Said Guerrero: “In intercollegiate athletics, we’re pretty much all day-to-day. That’s the reality of our situation. … We’re certainly not where we want to be as a program, there’s no question about that. We’re certainly not a top-25 team. We’re not there yet.” Guerrero was then asked if UCLA, which is 3-3, had to earn bowl eligibility for Neuheisel to remain the coach. “I’m not going to be definitive about anything,” Guerrero said, but I would say that if we didn’t get into a bowl this year, everyone would be very disappointed.”

UCLA’s last home game is against Colorado on November 19th (before heading cross town to face USC). If the Bruins have five wins heading into the game against the Buffs, look for an all-out assault in an attempt to get to six wins and bowl-eligibility. If the win total is four, the Buffs could be in position to end Neuheisel’s career at UCLA.

October 12th

Oregon running back LaMichael James doubtful for Arizona State

UPDATE (10/14) – OregonLive.com is reporting that it “more than likely” that James will not play against Arizona State on Saturday …

While Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has yet to make an official announcement concerning running back LaMichael James, his quarterback may have let the cat out of the bag.

Thomas told OregonLive.com that the Ducks were “practicing, getting ready, trying to push a little harder, knowing we’re going to be without LaMichael.”

Thomas said he wasn’t concerned about not having James, a junior who is fifth on the Pac-12’s all-time rushing list. “I’m all right,” he said. “We’ve got Kenjon (Barner) in the backfield with me. He is a step behind LaMike, doing the same things. We’ve got Tra Carson doing well for us. I can’t wait to see him play. And De’Anthony (Thomas), everybody knows about De’Anthony.”

James dislocated his right elbow in last Thursday’s 43-15 victory over California. He said on Tuesday that he still was hoping to play against ASU.

But James left the Casanova Center after practice with his arm braced.

Next two Buff opponents pride themselves on quick play

The Colorado/Stanford game took only 2:53 in real time to complete, the 11st-quickest game for the Buffs since 1990.

While the games have coming up the next two weeks against No. 8 Oregon and No. 18 Arizona State might not finish as quickly, they will be fast.

Oregon has a lightning quick attack which has defenses faking injuries in order to slow down the Ducks’ offense … and Arizona State is trying to emulate that offense.

“There’s a little bit of peer pressure,” Arizona State offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone told StatePress.com. “I’ve known (Oregon head coach) Chip (Kelly) for a long, long time. We’re good friends. A lot of this stuff, I watch him and a lot of stuff he watches me. Right now he’s going faster than I’m going, so I need to go faster.”

While Mazzone hopes to coach his group into moving at a quicker pace, he will always observe and learn from his counterpart. For Mazzone, there is a lot to like about the Ducks’ offense.

“His speed at what he plays at,” Mazzone said. “It’s pretty simple. He’s got a great plan every week. Then they execute it at a real fast pace which is very impressive.”

Arizona State has also been very impressive. The Sun Devils are 25th in the nation in passing offense, posting almost 300 yards per game. Arizona State quarterback Brock Osweiler is 23rd in the nation in total offense, leading an offense which has out-scored the opposition 212-117 so far this season.

The two teams in the conference not named Stanford face off in Eugene Saturday night on national television. The game starts at 8:15 p.m. MT, beginning long after the Colorado/Washington game has concluded.

If the Buffs’ chartered flight back from Seattle is on time, the Buffs’ coaches and players will be able to sit back and watch their next two opponents knock heads when they get home.

Unless the Ducks and Sun Devils play too “fast” …

Arizona makes the “Bottom Ten” – Colorado on the waiting list

It’s just a matter of time …

With three more difficult games in October standing before the 1-5 Colorado Buffaloes, it may be just a matter of time before the Buffs re-enter the infamous “Bottom Ten”. The Bottom Ten column is penned each week by ESPN”s Mark Schlabach, and includes the nine worst team in Division 1-A, along with an honorary member, which is listed at Number 5 each week.

This week’s honorary member is Arizona, which is also 1-5 and fired its head coach this week. At the bottom of the column, however, Schlaback lists the “Waiting List”, and 1-5 Colorado is on that list …

It may just be a matter of time before the Buffs rejoin the Bottom Ten – and not just as a weekly honorary member.

Once upon a time (in the early 1980’s), Colorado was a mainstay in the Bottom Ten, then penned by Steve Harvey. Once, when Colorado, Air Force, and Colorado State were bad in the same season, they were ranked 1,2 & 3 in the bottom of the barrel list. (A little trivia – Colorado State, in 1981, became the first team in NCAA history to finish 0-12. Teams only played 11 games back then, but the Rams got a 12th game because they took a trip to Hawai’i, and were thus allowed a 12th game).  

October 11th

Missouri not going anywhere … for now

Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Missouri, which actually started all the conference realignment with its open courtship of the Big Ten in early 2010, is once again … not going anywhere.

Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Neinas said Tuesday that the league is set with 10 teams for 2012 with the addition of TCU, even though Missouri is exploring a possible departure to the Southeastern Conference.

“If Missouri was going to change horses, it wouldn’t be for 2012 anyway,” Neinas said.

The Big 12 has given no deadline for a decision from Missouri, though Neinas said there would need to be some determination by the end of the current academic year. The school has not ruled out remaining part of the Big 12.

Neinas said the Big 12 needs to know what Missouri plans to do before the league can fully evaluate whether to stay at 10 members or expand back to 12.

“We can’t address the 10 vs. 12 until we determine that Missouri is going to be one of the 10,” he said. “There’s no consensus at the present time between the conference members as to 10 or 12.”

“We’ll give Missouri time to evaluate its situation, and have an opportunity to look at the Big 12 Conference and perhaps get a better understanding of where we’re going,” Neinas said. “I think we’re on the verge of making some good progress.

“We’re in process of solidifying the conference, and I think that’s already been proven,” he said. “There are a lot of positives the curators of Missouri have a chance to listen to.”

Neinas said he recently had a cordial conversation about Missouri with SEC commissioner Mike Slive, who he has known for a long time.

“I said basically, if you’re going to extend an invitation to Missouri, let me know,” Neinas said.

According to Neinas, Slive said no invitation had been extended to Missouri and that the SEC commissioner “didn’t indicate one way or another” if that would happen. SEC leaders met Monday for their regularly scheduled fall meeting but took no action on expansion.

October 1oth

Misery Loves Company – Arizona and Utah

While it may feel that the Buffs are destined to finish last in a conference for the first time since 1915, a look at the Pac-12 South standings indicates that the Buffs, at 1-5, 0-2, are still holding steady in fourth place.

Behind the Buffs are Utah, 2-3, 0-3, and Arizona, 1-5, 0-4.

Can Colorado still manage to find a way to avoid the Pac-12 South cellar?

Arizona

UPDATE: Mike Stoops fired as the head coach at Arizona.

Coach Mike Stoops has been fired halfway through his eighth season at Arizona.

Athletic director Greg Byrne announced Stoops’ dismissal at a news conference Monday evening, two days after the Wildcats lost their fifth straight game, 37-27 at previously winless Oregon State.

“It’s just a lot of things, overall where we are at with our program,” Stoops told ESPN.com’s Ted Miller on Monday.

Stoops had a 41-50 record with the Wildcats. He was co-defensive coordinator on his brother Bob’s staff at Oklahoma before he was hired at Arizona.

His 2010 team started the season 7-1 but lost its last five, including a 36-10 blowout to Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl.

The Wildcats, after a 37-27 loss to Oregon State last weekend, have now lost ten straight games to FBS teams (the only win this fall came against Northern Arizona from the Big Sky Conference).

“The Cats have been consistently unprepared, unmotivated, at the start of games this season,” wrote Anthony Gimino for TucsonCitizen.com. “They have trailed by double-digits in the first half in each of the past five games. (Head coach Mike) Stoops says he doesn’t have an explanation for the slow starts. If not him, who?”

“The defense can’t stop anybody, abysmal against the pass and the run. The special teams … well, the less said, the better.”

Sound familiar?

Gimino goes on. “When the Wildcats had a chance to answer their critics with a game at previously winless Oregon State, they did all of the stupid stuff they have been doing against elite teams — and then some. Instead of hitting the accelerator and turning the corner, they stayed the course and skidded off a cliff.

“The Oregon State game was supposed to be Arizona’s rescue shot. Get back on the fairway. Try to get to par — 6-6 — for the season.

“Now, what’s left?

“Ticket sales from here to the end of the season will be non-existent. Who is going to show up for UCLA on a Thursday night? Who wants to be at the season-ender vs. Louisiana-Lafayette? Even with a decent second half of the season, Arizona football will be a tough sell for next year … Time is running out for Stoops to show he can take the program to a higher level, and reasons to believe are few.”

Injuries and poor recruiting classes have also taken a toll in Tucson (no, I’m not channeling cubuffs.com).

“There is no real mystery to Arizona’s 10-game losing streak against BCS schools.” wrote Greg Hansen for the Arizona Daily Star. “This is what happens after two or three thin recruiting seasons in the Pac-12. You get beat up and nobody takes mercy on you.”

” ‘We’ve gotta play who we’ve got,’ defensive coordinator Tim Kish said after a bad Oregon State team beat Arizona 37-27.

“When UA cornerbacks Shaquille Richardson and Trevin Wade were injured Saturday, Arizona’s replacement was senior cornerback Lyle Brown, who entered the season with five career tackles.

“Brown is typical of the type of replacement on Arizona’s depth chart. He agreed to play at Montana when he completed his high school career in Colorado, but thought he could do better and wound up playing at Glendale Community College.

“He ultimately became a nonscholarship player at Arizona and now occupies a place of importance on its roster.

“This isn’t how Oregon does it.”

No, it isn’t … but it is how it is being done at Colorado (at least this year).

Utah

UPDATE: Junior quarterback Jordan Wynn, a former Colorado commit, is out for the season. Wynn, injured against Washington, will have surgery on his left shoulder.

It will be the second surgery in less than a year for the junior, who had surgery in December on his right shoulder.

Wynn finishes the year 66-for-116 for 727 yards and six touchdowns with two interceptions. Wynn often struggled throwing long due to lingering effects of his December surgery and now faces another long recovery following the repair to his non-throwing arm.

“Obviously this is disappointing news for Jordan and the entire team,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “Jordan worked incredibly hard to come back from his shoulder surgery last winter and we are confident he will take the same approach with his rehab this time around. The good news is that he is eligible for a redshirt season.”

—-

“Now that Utah’s football season is reduced to a fight for bowl eligibility, how likely are the Utes to succeed in that quest?”, wrote Kurt Kragthorpe for the Salt Lake City Tribune, in an article entitled “How bad can this season get for the Utes?”

Wrote Kragthorpe: “The Utes (2-3) must win four of their remaining seven games to qualify for a ninth consecutive bowl game. Failing to do so in this first Pac-12 season would hurt the program’s credibility, especially considering Utah was given a very favorable opportunity with five (of nine) conference games at home and Stanford and Oregon missing from the schedule.

“(Utah head coach Kyle) Whittingham has proven his ability to salvage seasons. But even a 6-6 record is no guarantee at this point, with the Utes having lost all three league games (including two at home) and quarterback Jordan Wynn out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

“Breaking down the schedule, the Utes logically should beat Oregon State, UCLA and Colorado at home. They should pick off at least one road win against Pittsburgh, California, Arizona and Washington State, giving them the required six victories.

“Yet all seven of those games appear tougher for Utah than they did a month ago, don’t they? The Pac-12’s downtrodden teams are improving and nobody’s sure what to think of the Utes.”

There … feel any better, Buff fans?

Just get through October in one piece, Buffs, and salvage the season in November …

October 6th

TCU a short-term member of the Big East

Texas Christian University, which is playing its last season as a member of the Mountain West Conference, will have a short entry in its media guide about the school’s history as a member of the Big East:

2011 – Joined Big East; left conference without ever playing a game; paid $5 million exit fee in order to join Big 12.

Now, starting in 2012, TCU will be a member of the Big 12, bringing the total teams in the conference back up to ten after the exodus of Texas A&M to the SEC.

Meanwhile the Big East, already on life support with the pending moves of Pittsburgh and Syracuse to the ACC, has lost another key component of what had been seen as a potentially bright future for the conference.

Are we done yet?

Perhaps not.

Missouri still wants someone to love them.

Missouri’s seven voting curators agreed unanimously Tuesday night to give chancellor Brady Deaton authority to look elsewhere rather than immediately commit to the Big 12 Conference. Spurned by the Big Ten last summer in favor of Nebraska, the Tigers still seem to believe that they are a wanted commodity.

If Missouri does get invited to join the SEC (hardly a lock), then the Big 12 is looking at other options to bolster its numbers and restore its cache. West Virginia, BYU, and Louisville are mentioned most often as additional teams which could bring the Big 12 back up to 12 should Missouri join Colorado, Nebraska, and Texas A&M as former members.

October 3rd

Jordan Wynn out at least 2-3 weeks … maybe longer

Utah starting quarterback Jordan Wynn will miss at least two-to-three weeks with the injury to his left, non-throwing shoulder he suffered over the weekend in a loss to Washington.

It’s not even certain Wynn, who was a Colorado commit two years ago before defecting to the Utes, will be back at that point. Said a statement from the school: “He will be re-evaluated at that time to determine if he is ready to return.” The statement didn’t identify the nature of the shoulder injury.

A writer for the Salt Lake City Tribune speculated, though, that Wynn may be out longer than 2-3 games: “The Utes haven’t released details of the injury so this is speculation on my part, but if the joint is as unstable as Whittingham indicated it was following Saturday’s game, it could be difficult for Wynn to rehab the shoulder well enough to return. There is a mental aspect to the injury too, which is a bigger concern given Wynn’s history with injuries. How willing would he be to stand in the pocket if in the back of his mind he is worried about getting hurt again? We all know Wynn’s throwing motion has been affected by the injury to his right shoulder suffered last year. Now, with two damaged shoulders, how good can Wynn really be this year? These injuries just might be too much for him to overcome, both physically and mentally.”

Wynn will be replaced by junior Jon Hays. He transferred to Utah this summer after the team he initially signed with out of Butte College — Nebraska-Omaha — dropped its football program.

Hays has played in two games this season, playing out the fourth quarter of Utah’s rout of Brigham Young on Sept. 17 and playing the entire second half of last week’s loss to Washington. He’s completed 10 of 17 passes for 156 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His backup will be true freshman Tyler Shreve.

The Utes (2-2 overall, 0-2 Pac-12) play host to Arizona State ( 4-1, 2-0) on Saturday in a key South Division game. They play at Pittsburgh on Oct. 15 and at California on Oct. 22.

Texas forced to play nice

Welcome to reality, Bevo.

The remaining Big 12 schools have taken a major step toward staying together by agreeing to equally distribute Tier I and II television revenues, a deal that will be complete with all nine institutions’ individual approval, ESPN is reporting.

The conference, after going through a second straight year of dealing with at least one defection from its membership, announced that its board of directors had adopted the plan Monday after discussing it over the weekend.

The football and men’s basketball revenue from Tier I and Tier II contracts will take effect once each of the nine schools commit to a grant of rights for at least six years.

Tier I includes nationally televised games on a broadcast network such as ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox. All cable football, ESPN basketball and Big 12 network games produced by ESPN Regional fall under Tier II.

The deal doesn’t forbid schools from keeping their own network rights (Tier III), which would mean Texas can keep any revenue earned from the Longhorn Network, which is co-owned and operated by ESPN. All of the remaining schools have some sort of local deal, whether it’s a network or a web outlet or a locally syndicated package. However, the likelihood is that all but one or two football games per year will be Tier I or Tier II for Texas, limiting the extra dollars the Longhorns can generate from football.

Once the remaining nine schools sign off on the grant in rights then the league will begin pursuing expansion. An expansion committee is scheduled to discuss possible teams. The Big 12 originally had a list of Arkansas, BYU, Pitt, Louisville and West Virginia when Texas A&M left before Oklahoma president David Boren said the Sooners would look at other options. The Sooners’ main option was snuffed out when the Pac-12 decided it would not expand.

Arkansas has said it would remain in the SEC. Pitt is now off to the ACC in 2012 or ’13. For the Big 12 expansion pool, that leaves BYU, an independent in football with all other sports in the WAC; Big East teams Louisville, West Virginia and possibly Cincinnati and South Florida; Boise State and Air Force out of the Mountain West; and TCU, now in the MWC but bound for the Big East in 2012.

The question that remains for the Big 12 though, is how many teams to add. That hasn’t been answered yet, according to sources. The ideal number is believed to be 10, assuming Missouri stays, with the possibility of going to 12. The TCU question will be an interesting one for Texas since adding TCU would open up the politics for Conference USA members in Texas such as SMU to push for inclusion.

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