Charlie Strong's full-fledged cleansing of the Texas football program is approaching double digits, as the first-year Longhorns coach confirmed the suspension or outright dismissal of eight players Sunday afternoon.
Strong announced the dismissals of wide receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, running backs Jalen Overstreet and Joe Bergeron and defensive back Chevoski Collins at his preseason press conference, per ESPN Texas:
Offensive lineman Desmond Harrison, wide receiver Daje Johnson and safety Josh Turner were also suspended indefinitely:
The punishments come after a rash of off-field incidents involving Longhorns players. Sanders and Meander were charged with felony sexual assault of the second degree and improper photography after allegedly attempting to film themselves raping a woman in June. The charges carry potential prison time of up to 20 years, and bail was set at $75,000 for each.
"We've been monitoring and addressing the situation with Kendall and Montrel since it was brought to our attention," Strong said in a statement, per ESPN.com. "It's been made clear to everyone on our team that treating women with respect is one of our core values, and I'm extremely disappointed that two young men in our program have been accused of not doing that."
Neither player has officially entered a plea, though each is expected to plead not guilty.
While the dismissals of Overstreet and Collins are more clouded in their reasoning, they had been in the works since last month. Taylor Gaspar of Orangebloods.com first reported that Collins and Overstreet were barred from Moncrief Complex, the athletics facility where Texas players work out. Strong did not indicate the reasoning behind their dismissal, though he did make a general statement about the "core values" of his program, per ESPN Texas:
Bergeron and Turner were initially dismissed together about a week ago for an undisclosed violation of team rules. Bergeron and Strong have been through a roller-coaster relationship, starting with the former's first exit from the program in spring practice. While it was thought that Bergeron had re-entered the discussion at running back and repaired his relationship with Strong, Sunday's announcement indicates something additional went on behind the scenes.
Bergeron will likely immediately transfer, as he has just one year of college eligibility remaining.
Turner, while suspended, has been allowed to stay on the team. ESPN.com's Jake Trotter reported that Turner and Strong met last Wednesday and hashed out an agreement to stay on the team. It was not made clear at this time how long Turner, Harrison or Johnson will be suspended.
A source told Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com that Harrison and Johnson were on their "last strike." The reasoning for their suspensions was not made public. Johnson was previously suspended two other times under former head coach Mack Brown for violations of team rules.
News of his latest exit comes as part of Strong's push toward more accountability in the locker room. A strident believer in a disciplined culture, the 54-year-old coach came over from Louisville promising on-field dominance and off-field class.
"They're searching for that. They want discipline," Strong told David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest. "They've heard so much about what they haven't done. Now, they want to prove to everyone that they can do it."
If Strong's trajectory at Texas matches his previous stops, Longhorn fans shouldn't have a problem with his tactics. The Arkansas native went a combined 37-15 in four seasons at Louisville, including a 23-3 mark the past two seasons. He also holds a 3-1 bowl record and won the 2013 Sugar Bowl.
Texas has not won a BCS bowl game since the 2009 Fiesta Bowl. The Longhorns are also coming off a stretch of finishing outside the final Top 25 rankings three of their last four years. Much like he did at Louisville, Strong has a long way to go in rebuilding the talent crop and creating a winner again at Texas.
But even if he doesn't find on-field success in 2014, these latest suspensions prove Strong's commitment to culture.
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"This is a fun, celebratory, fully immersive attraction that takes the college football fan into the game as never before."
That's the description of the new College Football Hall of Fame from John Stephenson, CEO of Atlanta Hall Management.
He's not lying.
The new 94,000-square-foot attraction opens in downtown Atlanta adjacent to Philips Arena and the Georgia Dome on Aug. 23—less than a week before the first of two Chick-fil-A Kickoff Games. The overwhelming theme of the facility is a new-school flavor of an old-school sport.
It's not your standard-issue museum—it's a fully-personalized, interactive, college football experience designed to offer unique experiences for visitors and new experiences on every visit.
Stephenson opened the doors of the facility to Bleacher Report for a sneak peek, and the experience was nothing short of magnificent.
When you walk through the doors of the Hall of Fame, there will be no confusion as to where you are. Designed like a tunnel coming out of the locker room, the round hallway is lined with screens that will display the sights and sounds of the pageantry of college football.
Great, right? What if you're an Auburn fan and Alabama's fight song is playing? What if somebody on the screen is "dotting the I" and you're wearing maize and blue?
Those scenarios are much less likely thanks to radio frequency identification (RFID) technology that will be embedded within your ticket. Much like the "MagicBands" at Disney World, every visitor to the Hall of Fame will have the opportunity to fully personalize their experience with their favorite teams.
Designed as a virtual hype-machine, the tunnel will make you want to run through a wall. There's good news, too, because one will be waiting right in front of you. Don't run through it, though, because the helmets of every college football team will come tumbling down.
The massive three-story helmet wall contains helmets that are lit in the front through the ear hole. Your favorite team will light up upon your arrival to the facility, which is a good thing, because it'd be like finding a needle in a haystack otherwise.
"Everyone knows the top teams, but this wall exemplifies just how important college football is to so many people," Stephenson said. "There are helmets up there that people won't even know."
What's more is that the lights on the wall of helmets is fully customizable. Logos of all kinds can be programmed to be illuminated with the helmets.
"If we're hosting an Alabama alumni club, we can put a giant script 'A' up there through the lighting system," Stephenson said.
Mixing Old with New
The Heisman Trophy? It will be in the Chick-fil-A "Why We Love College Football" section, along with other historic awards and the new College Football Playoff trophy.
What's next to them on the second floor is something incredibly unique.
A 52-foot-long touch-screen wall with 12 stations allow fans to view past highlights, traditions and pictures from their favorite teams. The station, like virtually everything else in the facility, is equipped with RFID technology, so you won't have to search for your favorite team. It'll already know.
Upon standing in front of the screen, you'll become immersed in the sights and sounds of your favorite team.
Will it get loud? Nope. Ultra-directional speakers that resemble large rain shower heads placed above each station shoot sound down to each station that's virtually inaudible if unless you're standing directly underneath.
Stephenson says the goal of the Hall of Fame is to protect and preserve the history of the game with exhibits like Red Grange's jersey and the evolution of equipment, while creating exhibits that can be routinely updated with new and different information—making it attractive for repeat visitors.
The theme continues in the Coca Cola Fans' Game Day section, which is a wing devoted to all of the great things in college football other than the game. Historic mascots, cheerleading uniforms, band uniforms, programs and tailgates of yesteryear litter the section.
Mixed in this exhibit and all exhibits are interactive features tailored for the individual fans. Want to sing karaoke to your team's fight song? Re-enact a radio call from one of college football's iconic plays? How about be the "guest picker" on ESPN's College GameDay? You can do it, and you have those videos instantly sent to an account you set up with your RFID for you to download from CFBHall.com once you get home.
It doesn't stop there.
Kia's Building a Champion section is devoted to the people who made the game great, with the most remarkable exhibit being an interactive version of John Heisman's playbook from 1905. The Heisman family allowed the Hall to scan each page of the book, which is featured in a station in front of a giant wall of cartoon images of coaches created by Mike Luckovich.
Do you want to learn the basics of Steve Spurrier's offense? Have Barry Switzer teach you the wishbone? Participate in a virtual Q&A with Peyton Manning? That's all possible through fully interactive displays.
The Xs and Os aspect of this section is fascinating. I ran one of Spurrier's plays at South Carolina, which was a four-wide set in which two receivers to the right run slants, the outside receiver on the left runs a hitch and the slot receiver on the left runs a corner. Spurrier (or whichever coach you select) goes through the concepts of the play, quizzes you on your memory and then shows you an example in a real game. In my case, it was a touchdown pass from Connor Shaw to Bruce Ellington in the 2014 Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin.
The actual Hall of Fame is a third-floor oasis where the game's greats are immortalized. There are no busts or plaques for those enshrined. Instead, flat screens on swivel stands allow fans to learn about each Hall of Famer through videos, biographies and images. Members of each Hall of Fame class are etched onto walls around the oval-shaped room, with giant screens above showing highlights of the Hall's members. Those highlights are—you guessed it—tailored to each visitor.
"If you're a Georgia or Auburn fan and you walk in this room, you'll see more highlights of the Bulldogs and Tigers mixed in with the other highlights of Hall of Famers," Stephenson said.
There are two main "event areas" of the Hall of Fame, a 45-yard-long football field with a giant HD screen and a 150-seat theater with a 40-foot by 10-foot 4K ultra high definition screen.
The field will primarily be used as a recreational area where kids can kick field goals, run through tackling dummies and throw passes; and the theater will show highlights of recent games in a 10-minute video in 4K ultra-high definition. The Hall has spent three years shooting and collecting more than 100 hours of 4K video at 25 games.
Both areas can be reserved by alumni groups for viewing parties or local corporations for events.
The versatility of each of these rooms allows the Hall to play host to a wide variety of events and keep the experience for the visitor up to date at all times, which is a primary focus of all exhibits.
The video experience is supplemented by 360-degree viewers that put fans on the field as their favorite team takes the field.
The new College Football Hall of Fame announced its formal name in July as the "College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience"—very appropriate.
It's truly an experience.
It's not a standard-issue museum, it's an interactive celebration of the past, present and future of the sport, with a mission to educate and entertain.
Judging from my brief tour, that mission will be accomplished.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. All stats are courtesy of CFBStats.com and all recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.
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With six of the Pac-12’s teams appearing in the preseason Amway Coaches Poll, it’s becoming apparent that the conference is on the rise and finally gaining national prominence.
Sitting near the top of the list at No. 4 are the Oregon Ducks, who return one key player that could put them in the conversation, not only for an appearance in the National Championship, but also for the team to have their first Heisman Trophy winner.
Marcus Mariota, the stud quarterback who has led the Ducks to a 23-3 record over the last two seasons in Eugene, deserves to not only get a candidacy nod for the prestigious trophy, but also to earn his place among the elite few who have actually won it.
Factors Against Mariota
It won’t be an easy road to the Heisman for Mariota.
The Pac-12 conference is as tough as ever, and the Ducks will face off against improving Washington and Washington State teams, as well as Stanford, which Mariota has yet to beat. Though their nonconference schedule features two likely wins against South Dakota and Wyoming, the Ducks also host Michigan State, a team that beat out Stanford last season in the 2014 Rose Bowl game.
Pulling off 11 wins is no easy feat for any team—and the Ducks were one of the few teams in the country to do so last season, but Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston ended up taking home the coveted Heisman trophy last year. His team had a perfect 13-0 record by the time the final six candidates were announced, and along with impressive stats, Winston was a shoo-in for the nomination.
At the same time last year, Oregon had dropped two games—one at Stanford, as well as a curious blowout loss at Arizona. Had Oregon won both of those games, the Ducks would not have only been in talks for an appearance in the National Championship, but Mariota likely would have been nominated as a Heisman finalist.
It may seem strange that losing only two games put Mariota out of the conversation, when former Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron was nominated as well. At the time, the Crimson Tide had only lost one game, but in some regards, McCarron’s stats weren't as impressive as Mariota’s.
In the chart below, compare McCarron’s and Mariota’s stats following the completion of the 2013 season, as both teams ended with an 11-2 record:
So why did Mariota get dismissed? Is there a bias against the Pac-12 when it comes to college football?
There were no players west of Texas nominated last year—another player who many thought deserved a nod and was snubbed was Arizona’s Ka’Deem Carey.
Heisman voters, mostly members of the media, are asked to vote on who they believe has been the most outstanding player—because of the difference in the number of voters in various regions of the country and due to the fact that East Coast viewers may not watch Pac-12 games (they are aired later in the day), Pac-12 players are likely missing out on votes.
If Mariota wants to stay in the Heisman conversation come December, he needs to make sure his stats improve over last year and that they don’t drop any regular-season games. The Ducks’ biggest threat on their schedule is likely Stanford, which has cost them their championship hopes the last two years.
It’s unlikely they will lose again to the Wildcats, considering Carey has since moved on to the NFL, and this year’s game will take place at home in Eugene—and because they never should have lost to a much less talented Arizona team in the first place.
Though anything can happen in college football, Mariota’s Heisman hopes should remain high as long as both he and his offensive line stay healthy and Oregon football continues to dominate as they have been for the last several years.
Why Mariota Will Win the Heisman Anyway
Despite the challenges, Mariota is set up to win in 2014.
As long as he can navigate past Michigan State and Stanford with wins, the Ducks should be able to easily win the rest of their games, which means he will remain in voters' minds for the Heisman candidacy.
Luckily, the Ducks miss South Division contenders USC and Arizona State during the regular season, which will be to their benefit, as both teams are on the rise and would make the Ducks schedule much more difficult.
Maybe one of the biggest question marks is the annual Civil War—which takes place this year in Corvallis, against hated rival, the Oregon State Beavers. Though the Beavers haven’t won since 2007, they nearly knocked off Oregon last year with a score of 35-36.
Every college football fan knows that these games can be tricky to judge, because anything can happen in a rivalry game, but continuing the trend of the last six years, Oregon should come out of this game victorious as well.
Mariota’s struggles last year against Stanford and Arizona, can be attributed to his knee injury, which plagued him during the second half of the 2013 season. It looks to have healed well, per a report from USA Today's Gary Horowitz that says he was at 100 percent during winter workouts earlier this year.
With a healthy Mariota and a healthy offensive line, the Ducks will maintain their spot at the top of the rankings, and Mariota will finish what could be his final year in Eugene with a Heisman trophy in hand.
And if all else fails, Oregon will still have the most innovative season tickets in college football—because who doesn't want a ticket that smells like hamburgers?
Stats courtesy of sports-reference.com.
Mike Martinez is a contributor for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter at @MikeMartinezBR
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College football fans can be pretty dedicated, especially in Texas, and this fan made sure to have something big for his wedding.
One Texas A&M fan got a massive cake in the shape of Kyle Field for his wedding, and judging from the picture above, whoever made it did an incredible job.
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