Penn State, UGA young guns give ray of hope for future

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Coming into the season, John Brantley replacing Tim Tebow at Florida was the overriding storyline when it came to quarterbacks who would be starting full-time for the first time in their collegiate careers in 2010.

Brantley’s debut Saturday afternoon was, shall we say, less than stellar.  Another pair of first-time starters, however, showed against admittedly inferior competition that fans can be comfortable in the knowledge that there’s quality upside at the position.

Both Penn State’s Robert Bolden and Georgia’s Aaron Murray were on center stage this afternoon, the former as a true freshman and the latter as a redshirt freshman.  And both, statistically speaking, were outstanding.

In Bolden’s case, it’s one of the more amazing stories of the young season.  The true freshman was unable to enroll early and thus didn’t participate in spring practice this year, instead arriving in the summer after his competition for the job got what was thought to be a significant leg up the previous six months.  That was strike one.  Strike two was the fact that Joe Paterno had never in his 44 previous years in Happy Valley started a true freshman at quarterback in the opener.

Instead of looking and taking a called strike three, Bolden took his rips at the plate and eventually went yard in summer camp, drawing raves for his outstanding preseason performance and, against many long odds, officially beating out three other challengers for the job earlier this week.  And in his first start, Bolden showed exactly why the Penn State coaching staff had no other choice but to put a college quarterbacking virgin under center.

In PSU’s 44-14 win over Div. 1-AA Youngstown State, Bolden was 21-of-29 for 239 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.  In the portions of the game I was able to catch, the only thing more impressive than the freshman’s cannon for an arm was decision-making ability that belied his youthfulness.  As I wrote on Twitter (follow us, while we’re here), the kid just looks like a quarterback and a future star at the position.

Oh, and Bolden accomplished all of this while playing in the shadow of the graduated Darryl Clark, one of the most underrated college QBs of the last decade.

While not nearly the “rags-to-riches” story that was Bolden, Murray was impressive in his own right given where he’d come from.  Redshirted last season, Murray entered spring practice in a three-way battle for the starting job.  Exiting spring, and following the dismissal of one of the challengers, Murray had a stranglehold on the job.

At least for one day, Murray repaid that confidence.

On their way to an easy win over Louisiana-Lafayette — UGA was up 55-7 with less than seven minutes left as this is being written — Murray completed 17-of-26 passes for 194 yards, three touchdowns and an interception.  Additionally, Murray rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown in roughly three quarters of work before giving way to Hutson Mason.

As for Brantley, well, he didn’t get inured by one of Mike Pouncey‘s wayward shotgun “snaps”.  That’s one of the more positive things you could say about that debut.  Bogged down by that head-scratching issue, as well as drops and a general offensive malaise for most of the game, Brantley’s stats were very pedestrian: 17-of-25, 114 yards and two touchdowns in the closer-than-it-looked 34-12 win over Miami of Ohio.

There’s little doubt Brantley possesses nearly every physical tool you want in a college QB.  Now, it’s just a matter of working out the kinks and synching up an offense that’s spent the past three years leaning heavily on the departed Tebow.  At least, that’s what head coach Urban Meyer & Company are banking on.

Again, it was just the first of many, many games for these three players.  Much like you shouldn’t put too much stock in the “greatness” of Bolden and Murray considering their level of competition, one shouldn’t look for a roof from which to cannonball off of if you’re part of Gator Nation.

All three players hold tremendous promise.  It’s just after one game, the hope is shining a little bit brighter for two of ’em.

Nebraska WR Jordan Westerkamp set to return after two-game absence

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp #1 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass against linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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When undefeated and seventh-ranked Nebraska takes the field for its biggest game of the 2016 season thus far, it’ll do so with one of the most experienced and productive pieces of its passing game back in action.

Jordan Westerkamp sustained an injury to his back during the Week 5 win over Illinois, and was briefly hospitalized after being hit by an Illini defender. The wide receiver missed the Week 7 win over Indiana and the Purdue win the following Saturday because of the injury.

This week, however, Westerkamp practiced without any type of restrictions ahead of the Week 9 game against No. 11 Wisconsin in Madison. Westerkamp, who stated his injuries included tiny fractures on the transverse process in his spine as well as what was described as a deep muscle bruise, confirmed the obvious, that he will suit up for the Cornhuskers and play against the Badgers in the huge Big Ten West matchup.

“It’s been good,” Westerkamp said, by way of the Omaha World-Herald, of his return to practice. “My confidence is at an all-time high and we’re ready to go get back with the team and kick butt this Saturday.”

At the time of the injury, Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers in receiving touchdowns (four) and tied for the team lead in receptions (13). His 228 receiving yards were second behind Alonzo Moore‘s 310.
Last season, Westerkamp led the ‘Huskers in all three of those categories.

‘Due to some choices and decisions he’s made,’ Florida RB Mark Thompson won’t play vs. UGA

GAINESVILLE, FL - SEPTEMBER 17: Mark Thompson #24 of the Florida Gators in action during the second half of the game against the North Texas Mean Green at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Gainesville, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Sounding very similar to a disappointed parent, Florida has announced that one of their kids will be in timeout instead of on the field this weekend.

Ahead of Saturday’s annual rivalry game with Georgia, Florida announced via Twitter that running back Mark Thompson not only won’t play this Saturday but won’t even make the trip to Jacksonville for The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.  Why? “[D]ue to some choices and decisions he’s made.”

The school, obviously, will not go into any further details as to the issue or issues that will sideline the player.

Thompson, a 6-2, 237-pound redshirt junior, is currently third on the Gators in rushing yards (262) and second in rushing touchdowns (two). This is the back’s first season in Gainesville after transferring in from the junior college ranks earlier this year.

Big 12 eschews two-division setup; instead, top two teams to play in league title game

WVU vs Marshall
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The Big 12 earlier this month eschewed expansion.  A short time later, they’ve done the same for splitting up the conference.

The league announced late Friday morning that, when the conference championship game returns for the 2017 season, there will be no split into two five-team divisions.  Instead, the teams with the best and second-best record in conference play will square off in the conference championship game.

Each conference member will continue to play nine league games every season, one against each other member.

“There are a number of advantages to matching our top two teams,” said commissioner Bob Bowlsby in a statement. “Given our round-robin, nine-game scheduling model, it is expected the Big 12 champion will be uniquely positioned for College Football Playoff consideration. I would argue there will be no path more difficult than our champion’s, where it will have played every team in the Conference, faced at least one Autonomy Conference non-conference opponent, and then plays in our championship game.

“The guaranteed No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup will be a great game for our fans, and it’s hard to imagine a stronger position for a conference champion.”

The release gave no indication as to how three-way ties would be handled, although CFP rankings would likely come into play.  The decision to not split into two divisions likely won’t sit well with the league’s coaches, however, even as it’s arguably the wisest decision the conference has made in years.

The conference also revealed that the site of the 2017 conference championship game “will be announced in the coming weeks.” AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, is widely believed to be the front-runner for at least the first renewal, and is viewed as the far and away favorite if the league opts to “anchor” the game at one site for a period of years.

USC cruised to win over a ‘tired, beat-up’ Cal team as Sonny Dykes chastises scheduling ‘travesty’

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 27:  Running back Ronald Jones II #25 of the USC Trojans scores a touchdown to take a 14-0 lead over the California Golden Bears during the first quarter at Los Angeles Coliseum on October 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 schedule makers started the final nail in Cal’s Week 9 coffin. USC’s offense proceeded to drive it all the home.

Behind a career night for both Ronald Jones and Sam Darnold, the Trojans jumped out to a 28-10 halftime and ultimately cruised to a 45-24 win. Both Jones and Darnold set career highs on the night, the former with 223 yards rushing and the latter five touchdown passes.

Those two players were part of an offense that rolled up a season-high 629 yards of offense.  It was the schedule, though, that saw a significant amount of the focus on the game, especially in the days leading up to it and the immediate aftermath.

Cal’s last game was Friday, Oct. 21.  USC’s last game?  Oct. 15, meaning the Bears, on five days rest, were facing a team coming off a bye, and facing them on the road no less.

“It’s one of those deals where you go, ‘How in the world could this ever happen? How could somebody let this happen?'” head coach Sonny Dykes said in the middle of the week. “It has been a disaster, it’s been a mess. … It’s incredibly hard on our kids.”


“We looked like a tired, beat-up football team. I think it’s a travesty whoever scheduled this game. I hope the Pac-12 doesn’t do that again to any other school. It’s not right for the kids.

“Everybody talks about student-athlete welfare, but they need to put their money where their mouth is.”

Leave it to the esteemed Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News to sum up what most non-USC fans are thinking about the situation the Bears were placed in.

Hopefully this player safety issue — and that is, ultimately, what this is all about — is rectified by the Pac-12 and, as Dykes alluded, never repeated. For a conference that’s been (rightly) praised for their initiatives in the past, they certainly dropped the scheduling ball on this one.