Kiffin short-term fix, long-term danger for Trojans

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Within an hour of Lane Kiffin’s shocking announcement that he’s leaving Tennessee to return to Southern Cal, Scott Wolf of the LA Daily News announced that assistant coach Ed Orgeron was already working in Heritage Hall, likely chasing down Trojan recruits that were waving in the wind. Meanwhile, across the country WATE-TV in Knoxville reports that Oregeron was heard using the phones at UT to call committed recruits, offering them scholarships to USC before the deal to head to Southern Cal was even finished.

And so goes Lane Kiffin’s roller-coaster career. The youngest coach in major college football just got handed the keys to one of the nation’s premiere football programs, with his resume’s main bullet points being:

* Fired after 20 game and being called a “flat-out liar” by Raiders owner Al Davis.

* Committing six NCAA violations while going 7-6 in one season at Tennessee.

* Father is best friends with Pete Carroll.

Word began spreading at the AFCA Convention after Kiffin was seen huddling with his agents after sprinting out of an SEC meeting. A few short hours later, Kiffin’s contract with Southern Cal was complete. His hasty departure was met by widespread outrage in Knoxville, where students burned mattresses and swarmed the athletic department’s building, hoping to block Kiffin’s departure from campus. They also took to “The Rock,” a famed boulder on campus where students paint messages, filling it with disparaging comments and vulgar expletives as a sendoff to their departing coach.

Kiffin will be announced as the new head coach at a press conference tomorrow at Heritage Hall, introduced by athletic director Mike Garrett, along with his father and defensive coordinator, legendary NFL coach Monty Kiffin, and defensive line coach, recruiting dynamo Ed Orgeron. It’s been reported that the trio will be joined by current UCLA offensive coordinator Norm Chow, which would be the closest replica to the Trojans glory days as possible.

The hiring might be the best tonic to relieve Trojans’ fans worries and to stop the short-term bleeding that came with Pete Carroll’s surprising decision to go to the NFL less than a month before National Signing Day. Predictably, players were ecstatic about the news of Kiffin’s return to Southern Cal.

“It’s great news,” starting quarterback Matt Barkley said. “I remember meeting Kiff way back on the recruiting trail when I was a freshman.”

“This is really good,” running back Mark Tyler said. “I talked to him and Sark all the time when I was coming in. This is really good.”

Recruits will see coaches familiar with the inner-workings of theTrojan dynasty, hand-picked by Carroll as his protege when he came toUSC in 2001. Kiffin’s staff — led by the hard-charging Orgeron — will put a full court press on the fourteen committed recruits, and likely will gun just as hard after many of the top-flight recruits that Tennessee already has committed.

While the short-term might have everybody happy, the Trojans find themselves with a coach long on bluster and short on results. If the goal of hiring a Carroll disciple was the goal, then the search party found what they wanted. But make no mistake, a Beatles cover band isn’t the Beatles.

Kiffin may be good enough to save a recruiting staff, but eventually he’ll have to live up to the standard Pete Carroll set. Even worse, the decision to hire Kiffin is a slap in the face of the NCAA, an organization that finally weaved its way through four-years of roadblocks and wrong-turns on its quest to get to the truth behind USC’s sporting empire. Will the NCAA look at Kiffin’s hiring — the most rogue coach in college football — as a big F you?

We already know that Mike Garrett missed on his first targets — Mike Riley, Jack Del Rio, and probably a few others. The first time that happened, it netted him NFL castoff Pete Carroll and nine years of college football supremacy. Now he’s hoping to re-engineer those results, hoping Carroll’s former assistants will reach the same heights as their former leader.

While the decision might have been the perfect one to weather the current recruiting storm, it’s also spitting in the face of the organization that controls USC’s ability to survive. While the hiring of Kiffin and company might end up winning the Trojans the first Wednesday in February, they might have sealed their fate with the NCAA. 

Pitt leaves renewal of football series in Penn State’s hands

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Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.

“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”

The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.

Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).

It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.

Transferring BYU QB Kody Wilstead finds new home at Kansas JUCO

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With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March.  A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.

According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.  As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.

Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.

After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy ConnerJoe CritchlowHayden GriffittsBeau HogeTanner MangumBaylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.

Army’s Donovan Franklin tweets transfer to Kansas

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This is something you don’t see all too often.

Donovan Franklin (pictured, No. 26) tweeted out late Tuesday night that, “[a]fter careful consideration I am happy to announce that I have decided to continue my academic and athletic career at the University of Kansas.” Franklin had spent the past two years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, playing his college football for the Army Black Knights.

It’s unclear what led the slotback to leave the service academy and head to the Big 12 school.

Franklin was a two-star prospect coming out of high school in Maryland in Army’s Class of 2015.  After playing in two games in 2016, he carried the ball one time for seven yards this past season.

The 5-9, 185-pound Franklin was listed as a defensive back coming out of high school, and could assume such a role yet again with the Jayhawks.  That likely won’t happen this season, however, as it’s expected he will have to sit out the 2018 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules.