Fickell talks Tressel, Taylor Swift, MMA octagons

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During the course of a rather impressive interview on the Dan Patrick Show in which he revealed the “interim” tag had been quietly lifted from his title — semantics, people; “At some point either during the season or after the season a decision will be made on who will be our coach going forward,” a school spokesperson told Marcus Hartman of the Buckeye Sports Bulletin— Ohio State head coach Luke Fickell also briefly addressed the reason behind a brief game of one-way “phone tag” with now-former OSU quarterback Terrelle Pryor.

And how he would fare in an MMA-style octagon against the other 11 coaches in the Big Ten.

As far as the former issue is concerned, Fickell noted during a press conference earlier this month — his first since taking over for Jim Tressel, who abruptly resigned on Memorial Day — that he had missed a call from Pryor shortly before the QB announced that he was leaving the school for the NFL’s supplemental draft.  When asked about that “miscommunication”, Fickle, by way of Scout.com, gave Patrick a very simple and very honest answer, one that millions upon millions of strapping American males have already used over the past couple of years.

“I was at the Taylor Swift concert so I didn’t have a chance to speak with him,” Fickell said, referring to the multiplatinum country music star who played at Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus on June 7.

Of course, this begs the question: why you gotta be so mean, coach?  Those words, they’re like swords and knives and weapons that you use against him, although Fickell once again reiterated that “we wish [Pryor] the best of luck and that we’re going to encourage him when we do talk to him about getting back and finishing his education.”

After talking about his relationship with Tressel — the two have spoken since the resignation but not face-to-face — the next logical step when interviewing a Div. 1-A head coach was taken by the imitable Patrick.

When Patrick asked him who would emerge victorious if all 12 Big Ten football coaches were put in an octagon – the signature ring of the mixed-martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship – there was no hesitation in the Ohio State head coach.

“Me,” he said immediately.

Asked to clarify why, the former Ohio state champion wrestler at Columbus DeSales explained, “I just know my abilities and I’ve got confidence in what I do. Eighteen years of wrestling probably does help a little bit in my book, but, hey, you’ve got to have confidence in what you do, right?”

Of course, given Fickell’s background, he would and should have confidence in his abilities.  However, would it be a false and shortsighted bravado?

Let’s take a look at Fickell’s Big Ten coaching competition, in ascending order, from “no chance in hell” to “give Fickell a run for his money” to “teach the lil’ whippersnapper some manners, capice?”:

11.) Ron Zook, Illinois — He’d land the best trainers, nutritionists and ring managers in the country ahead of the main event, then trip and break his nose, an arm and two ribs during the first 30 seconds of the fight.

10.) Mark Dantonio, Michigan State — A heart condition last year places the wily and savvy veteran farther down on the list than he probably should be.

9.) Kevin Wilson, Indiana — Screaming “Hoosier daddy!!!” as he entered the octagon would do nothing but push Fickell into a psychotic rage.

8.) Kirk Ferentz, Iowa — Fickell has nearly 20 years on the Hawkeyes coach.  Back in the day, however, we get the feeling Ferentz would punch his opponent in the throat within nanoseconds of the bell ringing, gouge his eyes for a minute or two, then call it a day by two-fisted shooting Budweisers from atop the cage.

7.) Pat Fitzgerald, Northwestern — If this were a real list, Coach Fitzgerald would be much higher.  Since it’s not, he’s stuck here.

6.) Brady Hoke, Michigan — He’s big, so this seemed to be a proper rough guesstimation of how he’d stack up against the other conference coaches.

5.) Danny Hope, Purdue — The mustache.  Enough said.

4.) Jerry Kill, Minnesota — Forget the glasses and eighth-grade-phys-ed-teacher look; the man’s surname is a verb that means “to deprive of life in any manner”.

3.) Bret Bielema, Wisconsin — Realistically, this would be Fickell’s toughest challenger based on size and pedigree; however, the Badgers’ head coach recently became engaged, which means — based on my own personal experience — his testosterone levels are at all-time lows.

2.) Bo Pelini, Nebraska — You’ve seen him on the sidelines, right?  Now, put him in a cage where only one person could walk out a winner.

1.) Joe Paterno, Penn State — Two words: he taught Chuck Norris and Jack Bauer — and ninjas — everything they know…

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.