Pete Carroll forced to focus on 2010

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Hopefully we won’t get washed out by a raging sea of Mountain Dew, but we’re off to venture into the frenetic head of Pete Carroll.

Could it be that the confident coach who endlessly preaches his “Win Forever” philosophy is really focused on winning next year? Is he actually capable of rational thought and making concessions of any sort? Could this be why Carroll has anointed true freshman Matt Barkley to be his starting quarterback this season?

Yup.

USC’s schedule is brutal, especially on the road. In Week 2 the Trojans play at Ohio State. Oh sure, they’ll walk into the Horseshoe with their usual sweatsuit swagger, but their demeanor upon leaving could be the polar opposite.

Five weeks later, USC visits South Bend to face Notre Dame . . . and if you believe some of the older folks amongst us, the Irish are back.

Even the Pac-10 portion of the schedule is rough. USC’s chief challengers, California and Oregon, have the luxury of home-field advantage over the Trojans this year.

Could it be that Carroll knows the hurdles might be set too high in 2009? Is that why he campaigned so darn hard to keep Mark Sanchez in school for a fifth year?

Without an experienced signalcaller, did he feel that an early season visit to Columbus would mark the end to his team’s annual national title aspirations? If so, that explains his selfish behavior at the press conference Sanchez called to announce that he was going pro.

So, now if things don’t go well — which at USC means you go 10-2 or 9-3 and claim just a share of your eighth consecutive Pac-10 title — Carroll has the ready-made excuse of having had a raw rookie at quarterback.

Much has been made of Barkley being named the starter over Aaron Corp, who is entering his third year at USC, and rightfully so. The timing of the announcement, a couple days before a mock game, was odd. Carroll’s statement: “He’s the starting quarterback at USC — it’s not a one-game deal,” was odder.

However, the fact of the matter is that the uber-talented Barkley was going to overtake Corp at some point this season. That was a given, especially since the schedule is as unforgiving as the people who surround the Trojan program. So, Carroll was probably thinking, “Why not now? … Corp can be the next Matt Cassel.”

That way the freshman won’t be a freshman for long, gaining valuable experience with each and every interception.

Then, this time next year — when the national landscape won’t be inhabited by any Tebows, Bradfords or McCoys — USC, with seasoned Barkley at the controls, will be ready to do something really special (something it hasn’t done since 2004). The Trojans’ 2010 schedule certainly is aligned with the stars.

USC opens the campaign with a Thursday night game at Hawai’i (the Trojans have already made plans to celebrate their blowout victory by continuing their stay on Oahu for a full day before flying out on Saturday). The 2010 non-conference schedule also includes hosting Virginia and a visit to Minnesota. And, of course, the Trojans take their turn, welcoming Notre Dame, Cal and Oregon to the fortress that is the Coliseum.

It’s a far cry from what USC is faced with this year . . . and Pete Carroll knows it.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.