Mark Richt tackles ‘winning at all costs’ issue in college football

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And, given the slew of NCAA run-ins at multiple big (and not-so-big) programs over the past year, there’s certainly a lot of it in the sport.

At fan Q&A last week, Georgia coach Mark Richt addressed the controversial issues of grayshirting and oversigning — two very common practices in the SEC that have been a part of the “win at all costs” mentality in college football.

Then again, last time I checked, the SEC has won the past five BCS National Championships.

While oversigning has become a frustrating, hot-button issue for certain college presidents (and NBC bloggers alike), several coaches within the SEC have practiced it ritualistically.

Richt, when asked about oversigning, said he feels he’s an anomaly.

“If you bring them [recruits] in in the summer, and you work them and you let your strength staff work with them, and you kind of decide which ones you like the best, and you tell five of them, ‘Hey we know we signed you, and we expected you to be able to come in, we don’t have space for you, we’re really sorry about that but we don’t have space for you – you’re gonna have to leave and come back in January.’

“I think that’s an awful thing to do, I think that’s the wrong thing to do. And it’s nothing that we’ve done since I’ve been at Georgia.”

The NCAA limit per signing class is 25, but that does not include early enrollees. For the record, Georgia has signed more than the allotted 25 players three times over the past decade (Rivals.com).

But while Richt insists he’s never ousted a kid in Athens simply because there wasn’t enough space, he did mention he’s endorsed another common, and certainly polarizing, practice: grayshirting.

“Not that we haven’t grayshirted, or talked to guys about grayshirting,” Richt said. “If you tell five of those guys ‘Hey we’ve got 20 spaces. I can sign 25. There’s a good chance that by school starts there’ll be room for you, because of the attrition that happens every year everywhere you go. If there’s space for you, you come in with your class. If there’s not space for you, are you willing to come in in January?’

“If you tell them on the front end and they know that, everyone understands that, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. And that’s how we go about it if we’re going to talk to a guy about grayshirting.”

Richt is one of the classiest guys in college football, no doubt. His team has struggled recently on the field and his players have had their fair share of the off-the-field issues, but there’s still something to be said for trying to go about things the right way.

And barring some Tressel-like scandal, it appears Richt, whether he has a job after next year or not, is content to at least try and win without the cost of throwing a select group of his kids under the proverbial bus.

“There’s been a bit too much of the winning at all costs in college football,” Richt said. “And I hope the tide turns in the other direction.”

Admirable, to be sure.

But, unfortunately, as long as billions of dollars in television deals, booster donations and coaching (and player?) salaries are poured into the sport, it won’t.

Defense comes up big to help Middle Tennessee grab Camellia Bowl lead at halftime over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State started off the Camellia Bowl on Saturday night in about the worst way possible with a pair of first quarter interceptions but leaned heavily on their stout defense to manage their way to a 21-10 lead over Arkansas State at halftime in a somewhat low-scoring affair few could have seen coming between these high-scoring offenses.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill tossed an interception on the team’s opening drive of the game but managed to bounce back and throw for  80 yards and a touchdown after another slow start for the veteran signal-caller. Luckily the team’s defense pitched a goal line stand after his first pick and proved to be similarly stout after his second to keep the team in things after such a rough start against the Sun Belt power.

Mistakes proved to be costly for the Red Wolves throughout the night on both sides of the ball as a roughing the punter ruined a potential stop early and led to MTSU tailback Terelle West running right off his left guard for a 45 yard touchdown and a quick lead for the Conference USA squad who wasn’t doing much to move the ball outside of that big play.

The wildest sequence of the bowl season (so far) happened in the closing minutes of the first quarter however, leaving fans, officials and coaches all confused at what exactly just happened. Stockstill appeared to find a receiver over the middle and on the door step of the end zone but ASU’s Justin Clifton had other ideas — stripping the ball and appearing to run it back (with help) for a touchdown. The call went through a lengthy review process that wound up giving Clifton an interception and his offense the ball back at their 18 yard line instead but they ended up punting it away for 61 yards to cap off a truly bizarre few minutes.

Arkansas State quarterback Justice Hansen had some decent numbers (151 yards passing, one rushing TD) but things just weren’t clicking for what had been the Sun Belt’s most prolific offense during the regular season. The signal-caller fumbled shortly before halftime, which allowed D.J. Sanders to rumble 54 yards with a fumble recovery touchdown that extended MTSU’s lead. The Red Wolves did manage to mount a scoring drive on the next possession to get right back in the game but they’ll need to show more down the stretch if they want to reach the eight win mark for the sixth time in seven seasons.

It’s had a few strange moments but the conclusion to the first Saturday of the bowl season is shaping up rather nicely down in Montgomery, Alabama. However both sides in this one will be sure to focus on correcting a bunch of mistakes after that somewhat whacky first half.

Marshall pushes bowl winning streak to six in escaping with win over Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl

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The Streak lives.  Barely.

Marshall (8-5) came into Saturday’s Gildan New Mexico Bowl having won five straight bowl games.  Exiting Albuquerque, Marshall will head back to Huntington armed with a six-game postseason winning streak as they escaped with a 31-28 win over Colorado State (7-6).

The first half was all about the passing of quarterback Chase Litton.  The second half was all about the running game — with a little Litton sprinkled in as well.

Up 21-14 at halftime, Tyler King outran the CSU defense to score on a 90-yard touchdown run very early in the third quarter to give MU a 28-14 lead that had the feeling of putting the game out of reach.  King finished the win with 106 yards rushing, one of two Thundering Herd running backs to top the 100-yard mark as Keion Davis chipped in with a team-high 141 yards.  Davis himself scored on a 68-yard touchdown in the second quarter to give the Herd its halftime lead.

After throwing for 177 in the first half, Litton finished with 262 through the air.  Tyre Brady, who caught six passes for 165 yards and a touchdown, was named the Player of the Game.

Entering the fourth quarter, MU held what walked, talked and looked like an extremely comfortable 31-14 lead.  CSU, however, cut the lead to 31-28 midway through the quarter on a pair of Nick Stevens touchdowns (one passing, one rushing).  Getting the ball back with just over six minutes remaining and pinned back on their own 16-yard line, the Rams, who caught a break when a fumble recovered by the Herd was negated by defensive holding, couldn’t reach midfield on their last drive as their hopes for a come-from-behind win were extinguished after turning the ball over on downs.

(That Michael Gallup catch to briefly extend that last drive, though.  Wow.)

While Marshall extended its winning streak — Doc Holliday is 5-0 as head coach — Colorado State extended a skein in the opposite direction as the Rams have now lost four bowl games in a row.

FCS title game set: defending champ James Madison vs. five-time champ North Dakota State

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If everyone is being honest with themselves, and aside from the opposing fans, this is the matchup we were all looking for.

Friday night, No. 2 North Dakota State (13-1) routed No. 6 Sam Houston State (12-2) 55-13 to claim one spot in the 2017 FCS championship game.  One day later, top seed James Madison (14-0) easily took care of business against No. 5 South Dakota State (11-3), claiming the other spot with a methodical 51-16 semifinal woodshedding.

The top two seeds in this years tournament will now square off Jan. 6 in Frisco, Tex., for the 2017 FCS championship.

James Madison is the reigning national champion, claiming the school’s second-ever title with a 28-14 win over Youngstown State last season.  North Dakota State, meanwhile, will be looking to get back to the trophy mountaintop after they won a record five straight championships from 2011-15.

The Bison will likely be shorthanded for that contest, however, as their two starting cornerbacks — Jalen Allison and Jaylaan Wimbush — suffered knee injuries in the semifinal win while their second-leading rusher, Ty Brooks, suffered a shoulder injury.  Despite the game being nearly three weeks away, all three are expected to be sidelined for the contest.

Oregon rolls snake eyes in Mario Cristobal’s Las Vegas Bowl debut

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With Justin Hebert in the lineup, Oregon’s offense was one of the best in college football, racking up 50 points and 580 yards per game. The Ducks had Hebert in the lineup on Saturday, but the Oregon attack looked nothing like it had under Willie Taggart in Mario Cristobal‘s head coaching debut.

Oregon committed four turnovers, was doubled up on first downs, was out-gained by nearly 200 yards, did not cross the 50-yard line until more than midway through the third quarter and its offense did not score until the fourth quarter in a deceptively-close 38-28 loss to No. 25 Boise State in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Boise State jumped out to a 24-0 lead, and hopped on the Ducks from the jump. The Broncos’ defense posted a three-and-out to open the game, then rolled down the field, going 67 yards in 13 plays and concluding with a nifty 1-yard Ryan Wolpin run.

Boise State forced another three-and-out on Oregon’s next possession and again moved into scoring territory when the Ducks scored their best play of the game, as cornerback Arrion Springs baited Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien into throwing an end zone interception.

It didn’t matter, though, because Oregon running back Tony Brooks-James was forced into a fumble by the Broncos’ Leighton Vander Esch, and Rypien erased his mistake with a 26-yard scoring strike to Cedrick Wilson

The first quarter closed with another minus-territory fumble, as this time Hebert lost the ball as he was being sacked at his own 21 but Boise State could not capitalize when Haden Hoggarth missed a 42-yard field goal.

After another Oregon punt, Hoggarth pushed Boise’s lead to 17-0 by converting a 39-yard field goal at the 8:59 mark of the second quarter.

Hebert followed up his fumble with two consecutive interceptions, with the second pick being returned 53 yards for a touchdown by Kekaula Kaniho, pushing the lead to 24-0 with 5:11 left in the first half.

Boise State had a chance to close the half with a 31-0 lead, but instead let Oregon back in the game with two disastrous plays inside the final minute. First, a Statue of Liberty play backfired when Rypien’s exchange bounced off Alexander Mattison‘s face mask and Oregon’s Troy Dye picked it up and raced 86 yards for the Ducks’ first touchdown with 37 ticks left in the half. Then, after a 67-yard completion to Wilson, Rypien’s pass into the end zone was intercepted and returned for a 100-yard touchdown by Oregon’s Tyree Robinson with seven seconds left, giving Oregon 14 defensive points in a 30-second span.

The Broncos accepted the ball to open the second half and managed to complete this drive, moving 75 yards in a dozen plays, finding pay dirt on a 13-yard strike from Rypien to Alec Dhaenens to push their advantage to 31-14. The score remained there for the next quarter as the teams traded punts on six consecutive possessions until Oregon’s offense finally affected the score with an Oregon-esque 8-play, 78-yard drive that spanned less than two minutes. Hebert hit Brenden Schooler for a 24-yard score to bring the Ducks within 10 with 10:07 to play, then took over at his own 42 just over a minute later with a chance to pull his club within three, but he was sacked for a loss of 10 yards on a third down from the Boise State 42, forcing a punt. 

Boise State used the extra chance to put the game out of reach, slicing 86 yards in 11 plays, punctuated by another 1-yard Wolpin run with 2:22 to play. Hebert pulled Oregon back within 10 with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jaylon Redd with 1:12 left, but the Ducks could not recover the ensuing onside kick. He finished the game an up-and-down 26-of-36 for 233 yards with two touchdowns, two interceptions, one fumble, and four sacks. Even with those four sacks, Hebert rushed nine times for a team-leading 16 yards, as the Ducks were out-gained 112-52 on the ground.

Rypien completed 21-of-38 throws for 362 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and Wilson caught 10 passes for 221 yards and one score.

The win pushed Boise State to 4-0 in the Las Vegas Bowl, the best mark by any team in the history of the 26-year-old game, and to 3-0 all-time against Oregon. It also gave Boise State its 11th season of 11-plus wins over the last 16 years. This marked the sixth time Boise State has closed one of those 11-plus win seasons with a bowl victory over a Power 5 opponent, and the first since Bryan Harsin closed a 12-2 debut season of 2014 with a 38-30 Fiesta Bowl win over Arizona. That number trails only Ohio State for the most in FBS since 2002.

Oregon, meanwhile, concluded its season of multiple changes at 7-6. Saturday’s loss was not without precedent, though. Cristobal became the second consecutive coach to lose his debut in the Las Vegas Bowl, joining Major Applewhite, who dropped his Houston debut in a 34-10 rout to San Diego State last season. There was also another Oregon coach who began his tenure with an inauspicious loss to Boise State. He coaches at UCLA now.