Rumors fly that JoePa will retire after bowl game

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A couple of days before Penn State’s regular-season finale against Michigan State, Joe Paterno made it very clear that he intends on returning for the 2011 season.

“I’m looking forward to it,” the 84-year-old coach, whose three-year contract expires next year, said. “I think we can be a pretty good football team next year, and I’d like to be a part of it. … It’s been a good situation and I don’t see any reason to leave it right now.”

Those words put out there for public consumption, however, may belie what’s truly going on behind the scenes a month later.  The speculation has been ongoing for many days, if not weeks, and has now become too loud, too consistent and, most importantly, too voluminous to ignore.

If the rumblings are correct, Coach Paterno will lead Penn State in the Outback Bowl and then ride off into the retirement sunset.  Again.  Allegedly.

At least that’s what multiple sources in and around the athletic department are saying, all of whom state very emphatically that the wheels have been set in motion for Paterno to step down gracefully following the bowl game and for the school to commence a national search for someone currently outside of the football program to replace the living legend.  All point to significant health concerns as being the reason behind the rumored abdication of his Happy Valley throne.

Rumors of family and close friends filling up extra planes to be with him for the bowl game abound, as do the connotations drawn from Tom Bradley, his loyal and trusted assistant of 32 years, actively seeking the Temple opening ultimately filled by Steve Addazio.  One former Nittany Lion player still connected to the program suggested to CFT that Bradley’s involvement in the Owls hunt for a new head coach is the biggest sign yet that the end is near for Paterno.  “If Coach [Paterno] were going to be around, or if they were going to stay in-house [for a replacement], [Bradley] wouldn’t have been aggressively eyeballing [the Temple opening],” the ex-player, who requested his name not be used, explained.  Additionally, Paterno allegedly struggled mightily at the senior banquet at season’s end, with his players supposedly tweeting about their coach being “out of it” and Paterno referencing playing in a “Thanksgiving bowl game”.

It’s all been woven together into such a convincing and compelling argument that, this time, all of the talk of Paterno’s coaching death may not be exaggerated.

It should be very clearly and very plainly noted, however: we are not reporting that Paterno is stepping down/retiring/resigning after the bowl game.  Rather, we are merely pointing to innuendo that’s beginning to overwhelm the rumor mill and needs to at least be addressed.  In seeking to track down the veracity of these rumors, we reached out to the school for a comment.

“Coach Paterno has already publicly stated his plan to continue coaching and we have no comment on rumor or speculation to the contrary,” PSU Assistant Athletic Director/Communications Jeff Nelson told CFT in an email Wednesday evening. Interestingly, Nelson also pointed us to an Associated Press story in which the writer notes that Paterno was “spry-looking” following practice Wednesday.

In that AP article, Paterno was still talking about next year and still giving no hints that he was doing anything but returning.  Speaking to reporters as the Nittany Lions prepared for the Outback Bowl, Paterno said that the team would be using this game as a springboard for 2011, intimating once again that he would be involved.

“We’ve got a very young team,” Paterno said according to the Associated Press. “We’ve got about 60 kids here that are freshmen and sophomores. Some of them are pretty good athletes that need some work. So I think in that sense you’re hoping that you can get some things developed that are going to carry over to next year. But no matter what, you’ve got to play a team like Florida, you ought to try and win.”

Because of his age and longevity — Lyndon Johnson was sitting in the Oval Office when Paterno took over as Penn State’s head coach — speculation has swirled around an “imminent” departure for more than a decade.  This time around, though, there’s more smoke surrounding his status than there’s ever been, signaling there may be a very real fire burning underneath all of the innuendo.

Only time will tell whether or not this latest round of rumor mongering is yet another false alarm.  Or whether it’s a fully involved five-alarm blaze that won’t be extinguished until after the New Year.

Oregon State reportedly finds new head coach in Beau Baldwin

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As coaching vacancies are opening up, one report Friday night says Oregon State has filled their vacancy in the football program. Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin is reported to be slated as the next head coach of the Beavers, according to Football Scoop.

The hire is expected to happen quickly at the conclusion of this weekend’s Pac-12 action. Cal is playing UCLA Friday night in the season finale for the Bears, and Oregon State plays Oregon on Saturday.

Baldwin joined the Cal staff under new head coach Justin Wilcox after eight seasons as the head coach at Eastern Washington, one of the top FCS programs over that span. Baldwin will be no stranger to the Pac-12 North, having competed against a handful of Pac-12 opponents over the years and even winning. As a head coach at Eastern Washington, and before that at Division 2 Central Washington, Baldwin has a record of 95-35 with a national championship at Eastern Washington in 2010.

Oregon State’s head coaching position opened up on October 9 when Gary Andersen mutually agreed with the university to part ways, leaving behind a buyout as part of the agreement.

No. 25 Virginia Tech defeats Virginia for 14th straight year

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It’s been a long time since the last time Virginia handed their in-state rivals from Blacksburg a loss, and it will be at least another year more until they do so again. No. 25 Virginia Tech (9-3, 5-3 ACC) extended their winning streak against Virginia (6-6, 3-5 ACC) to 14 with a 10-0 win in Charlottesville on Friday night.

Josh Jackson‘s eight-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cunningham was the only touchdown scored in the game and padded a lead to 10-0 for Virginia Tech in the third quarter. A week after making big plays for a half against Miami, Virginia’s offense was finding little opportunity with the football. Virginia Tech held the hosts to fewer than 200 yards of offense.

The last time Virginia Tech lost to Virginia was in 2003. The Cavaliers upset the No. 21 Hokies 35-21 with a 28-7 advantage in the second half. Virgina Tech’s shutout of Virginia was the third shutout victory in the series for the Hokies since 2006, all with Bud Foster as defensive coordinator.

Both Virginia Tech and Virginia will be participating in the bowl season this year. What bowl games that are heading to remains to be determined.

Iowa clobbers Nebraska in what appears to be end of the road for Mike Riley

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The Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the weirdest teams to figure out this season. On Friday, the Hawkeye faithful were thankful the good Iowa showed up in Lincoln. Iowa (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) blasted Nebraska (4-8, 306 Big Ten) on the strength of a 28-point outburst in the third quarter of a 56-14 victory over the Huskers. For Nebraska, it was a fitting end to a disappointing season and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the Mike Riley era in Lincoln.

Iowa became the third team to win three straight games played in Lincoln, Nebraska in the last 40 years. Oklahoma and Texas are the only two programs to pull off that once-unthinkable feat. But since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and paired up with Iowa for a regular season rivalry in the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed their trips to Nebraska. This just happened to be the biggest blowout in the Big Ten series, and it came one year after Iowa blew out Nebraska by a 40-10 score the previous season. For those counting at home, Nebraska has now lost two straight games to Iowa by a combined score of 96-34.

Nebraska managed to show some fight late in their road game at Penn State last week, but Iowa was having none of that this week. The Hawkeyes out-gained Nebraska 505-267 in offensive yardage and Iowa forced three Nebraska turnovers while picking up 23 first downs and allowing just 12. Nebraska went the entire second half without scoring a point, while Iowa went on a roll. This game was tied 14-14 at halftime, believe it or not.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley took over the game for the Hawkeyes. Wadley rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those scores coming in the third quarter.

Iowa will now go to a bowl game, while Nebraska is tasked with figuring out what to do next. Unlike at Arkansas, where the plug was pulled on Bret Bielema minutes after losing a regular season finale at home, Mike Riley is still employed by Nebraska. But for how much longer? Rumors about where Nebraska is going next continue to swirl, with UCF head coach Scott Frost being a trendy name to attach to the Nebraska job (Frost just completed an undefeated 11-0 season at UCF), but there has been no official change just yet in Lincoln.

But with an AD change this year and the way this season devolved, Riley’s days are all but over in Lincoln.

No. 15 UCF remains perfect after wild win over USF clinches AAC East

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I’ll allow you to try catching your breath before we try to recap exactly what happened in the final minutes of the War on I-4 between two AAC championship contenders. No. 15 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) came out on the positive end of a wild and crazy ending to keep the regular season spotless in the loss column. UCF scored a go-ahead touchdown, gave up a tying touchdown, scored the game-winning touchdown and recovered a late fumble to close the books on a 49-42 victory over rival USF (9-2, 6-2 AAC) in the span of just two minutes.

UCF and USF combined for over 1,100 yards of offense in the back-and-forth game, but UCF scored three touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to get off to a fast start and find a way to grab the game by the horns and drive it home. McKinzie Milton passed for 373 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score to help the Knights outlast a valiant effort from Quinton Flowers and a record-setting day for USF wide receiver Tyre McCants. Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards and a score. McCants broke the USF record for most receiving yards in a game in the first half, but ended his day with 227 yards.

USF had their opportunities to win this game. The Bulls missed a field goal in the first half and Flowers threw his only interception late in the first half when it appeared the Bulls could have taken a lead into halftime. The fumble by Mitchell Wilcox came at the end of a play that was moving the ball across midfield in the final moments. USF, the preseason favorite in the AAC, will still be going to a bowl game and should be a threat to whomever they face, but two losses along the way prevented them from living up to the lofty expectations placed on them this season.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next week. The winner of that game will be nearly guaranteed a spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up as both teams are currently the highest-ranked teams in the playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season with a 40-13 victory in Orlando, but the Tigers have been playing much better since that game. The rematch should be much more competitive next week.

UCF wrapped up a perfect regular season on the same day No., 2 Miami suffered its first loss of the year. UCF is now the only undefeated team in the state of Florida this season.