New England Patriots offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach O'Brien looks on during the first quarter of their NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills in Foxborough

O’Brien goes yard in Penn State presser


Prior to the start of Bill O’Brien‘s introductory press conference, Big Ten Network analyst Gerry Dinardo said, in not so many words, that it’s not normally important to win a press conference but that this was not one of those times.

If it was important for O’Brien to come away from the dais with a win — here’s a hint: it was — consider it mission accomplished.  Will that “W” earned on a podium, though, translate into on-field success?  That remains to be seen.

Regardless, if words and how they were presented won the BcS trophy, O’Brien would’ve hoisted the coaches’ crystal at the end of his 35 minutes in front of the media.  The 15th head coach in Nittany Lions history — and the first new coach since after the 1965 season — hit on several key points, from embracing the man he replaced to his football philosophy both offensively and defensively to recruiting to the making of his first coaching staff.

It was the latter point that was among the most interesting and important facets of his half hour-plus introduction.  O”Brien said he would work quickly to assemble assistants, stating that he would like to have the staff put together within the next 2-3 days.  One assistant is already on board: Larry Johnson Sr., PSU’s defensive line coach, has committed to return to the program.

The magnitude of retaining Johnson cannot be understated.  One, Johnson is a tremendous recruiter and, with O’Brien reiterating that he will remain with the New England Patriots through the playoffs in his role as offensive coordinator, he will play a significant role in keeping PSU’s 2012 recruiting class intact.  And, two, it may help assuage the anguish being felt by some over the fact that someone from “outside the family” was taking over the football program; Johnson has been at the school since 1996, so former players such as LaVar Arrington, who were very publicly critical of the move, may step back a bit from their initial negative reactions with Johnson transitioning to the new regime.

The criticism wasn’t something that O’Brien shied away from, either, reading a letter directed at former players he penned last night.  The move came off as sincere, heartfelt and likely struck a chord with those either on the fence over his hiring or outright against it.  Of course, actions speak louder than any words moving forward, but it was still a start that gets the program moving forward.

“I’m the leader of this family now,” O’Brien said. “I can’t wait to get going on this, get everyone headed in the right direction.”

The university confirmed that O’Brien signed a five-year contract that will be worth $2.3 million annually and will include built-in five-percent raises per year.  In 2011, Joe Paterno was scheduled to earn $1.02 million, so obviously the price of doing business since Penn State’s last hire more than four decades ago.

That cost was due in large part to the Jerry Sandusky scandal and the reticence of some “more qualified” candidates reportedly shying away from a job that just a year ago was considered one of the prime pieces of coaching real estate in the country.  O’Brien acknowledged that he was stepping into a tough situation but that he’s the right man for the job.

“I have a lot of confidence in my ability to lead us through what some say is a tough time…” he said. “I am mentally tough. … I can’t wait to get started.”

So, does saying all the “right” things or spreading the “right” message or “winning” an initial press conference portend great things for the Nittany Lions under O’Brien?  No, not in the least.  There was one certainty that came out of the press conference, though: a sizable portion of the Penn State fan and alumni base likely feels a whole hell of a lot better about the O’Brien hire than they did even 24 hours ago.

And, at this point in time, that’s something the university in general and the football program desperately needed.

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3 TDs from Skyler Howard give WVU 21-10 halftime lead on TCU

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 24: Quarterback Skyler Howard #3 of the West Virginia Mountaineers throws a pass against the Brigham Young Cougars during the first half at FedExField on September 24, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Looking to prove they are every much worth respecting, West Virginia is off to a good start at home against TCU in Big 12 play this afternoon. The Mountaineers took advantage of a special teams mistake by TCU on the opening kickoff and now hold a 21-10 lead at halftime.

Deante Gray had the ball knocked out of his hands on TCU’s opening kickoff return. West Virginia recovered the loose ball and setup the offense from the TCU 17-yard line. Skyler Howard completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Daikiel Shorts on a third and short for an early 7-0 lead. TCU’s first offensive possession did not last long, with an interception by Rasul Douglas giving West Virginia a second straight offensive opportunity on TCU’s side of the field, but West Virginia missed a field goal on the possession.

Howard completed a second touchdown pass later with a 22-yard play to Shelton Gibson to put West Virginia up 14-0. TCU got on the board on the ensuing possession with a field goal at the end of an 11-play drive. After a three-and-out by the Mountaineers offense, TCU pulled even closer with a 12-play drive capped by a Kenny Hill touchdown pass to Jaelen Austin. West Virginia wasted little time rebuilding the lead with Howard’s third touchdown pass of the half, this time to Gary Jennings.

West Virginia’s Elijah Battle was ejected from the game in the second quarter following the latest in a long string of controversial targeting penalties around college football.

No. 6 Texas A&M scores late to cut into No. 1 Alabama’s lead at halftime

AUBURN, AL - SEPTEMBER 17:  Texas A&M Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin reacts during an NCAA college football game against the Auburn Tigers on September 17, 2016 in Auburn, Alabama. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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Alabama controlled the first half of play in their usual dominating fashion… right up until the final minute of the first half in their latest SEC West showdown.

Texas A&M cut into the Tide’s lead with an eight play, 80 yard touchdown drive just before halftime to head into the locker room down just 13-7 in a game much more lopsided than the score would indicate.

Prior to their final drive of the half, the Aggies couldn’t get much of anything going offensively and were averaging under three yards a play as Alabama’s defense dialed up the pressure and had several bone-rattling hits. Quarterback Trevor Knight made a huge run on 4th down as the clock was running out however to setup an eventual touchdown pass to Josh Reynolds that gave the visitors plenty of hope at the midway mark.

On the flip side, Crimson Tide left tackle Cam Robinson won most of his reps against Aggies star pass rusher Myles Garrett (who appeared banged up) in a marquee matchup for the dozens of NFL scouts on hand. Quarterback Jalen Hurts looked good running the ball and hitting intermediate throws but made a freshman mistake when tossing an interception right to linebacker Claude George during the second quarter to halt a drive.

While a nice development for the A&M defense on the play, they did lose a key player in Donovan Wilson as the result of targeting on the interception return and the Aggies offense promptly threw a pick on their first play after the turnover to give the ball right back.

Alabama had several other chances to extend their lead in this one during the first half but couldn’t quite take advantage thanks to some miscues that Nick Saban will no doubt be looking to correct in the locker room. Maybe the late score was just enough for Texas A&M to think they can make this a game in the second half but it should be a fun finish in Tuscaloosa either way for this top 10 matchup.

LOOK: Lamar Jackson strikes classic in-game Heisman pose

LOUISVILLE, KY - OCTOBER 22:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals throws a pass during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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When we ultimately exit Week 8, Lamar Jackson will be far and away the favorite to take home the 2016 Heisman Trophy, and for good reason.

Jackson currently has 35 touchdowns in seven games. Entering Week 8, there were only 10 FBS teams with more touchdowns than the Louisville quarterback has all by himself. He’s already broken the school’s single-season touchdown record, and there are still five regular season games plus the postseason remaining.

In the romp over North Carolina State Saturday, Jackson accounted for five of those touchdowns, three passing and two rushing.  He also totaled 483 yards of offense, the fifth time this season he’s gone for 400-plus in a game.

The true sophomore — think about that for a moment, and then shudder if you’re a defensive coordinator on the U of L’s 2017 schedule — is on pace for a historical season, one for the ages that will be the stuff of lore for years to come. And, to that point, he’s now got a picture to go with it that’s worth much more than a thousand words.

Yeah, I’m thinking that photo will get some run, especially come mid-December

UCF still has no use for faux rivalry with UConn, walks off field without ‘Civil Conflict Trophy’

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Normally when one side wins a rivalry game, they can’t wait to get their hands on the traveling trophy and hoist it high as they head off the field.  Of course, in order, for there to be a rivalry, both sides have to agree that, well, there actually is a rivalry.

Last year, to the surprise — and chagrin — of UCF, UConn abruptly revealed that there were “just 130 days until the next Civil Conflict” with @UCF_Football!”  The university even had a trophy created for the rivalry.  All of that was news to the Knights as they stated at the time that they “have no involvement with the trophy or creating a rivalry game with UConn.”

Fast-forward nearly a year and a half, and the, ahem, Civil Conflict was back on as UCF traveled to East Hartford to tangle with UConn for the fourth meeting in a storied series that began in 2013.  Four quarters later, the Knights walked off the field with a 24-16 win… and without the trophy.

Oh, UConn, this is not a good look. This is just sad.  And embarrassing.  If you have any dignity or self-respect left, give it up already.