O’Brien goes yard in Penn State presser

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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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Akron earns second-ever spot in MAC championship game

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Akron came into Week 13 needing to either win or rely on someone else to lose.  In the end, the Zips decided to just go ahead and punch their own ticket to the Motor City, thank you very much.

Jumping out to a 24-7 halftime lead Tuesday night, that margin proved to be more than enough for Akron as they easily cruised past rival Kent State in a 24-14 win.  Kent actually outgained its hosts 246-191, but a fumble return for a touchdown with less than 20 seconds left in the second quarter essentially sealed the win for Akron.

Both Akron and Ohio entered this week tied atop the MAC East at 5-2.  However, the Zips beat the Bobcats in Week 12, meaning Akron is the first MAC team to claim a spot in the conference championship game at Detroit’s Ford Field next weekend.

This will mark the Zips’s second-ever title-game appearance, with the first coming in 2005.  That season, Akron beat Northern Illinois 31-30 for its first-ever conference championship.

Akron will play either NIU (6-1) or Toledo (6-1) in this year’s title game, although it’s trending heavily toward the Rockets as they own the head-to-head with the Huskies.  So, the possibilities?

Toledo wins the West with either a win over Western Michigan OR an NIU loss. Northern Illinois needs to beat Central Michigan AND have Toledo lose to WMU at home to win the division.

Report: Florida appears ready to move on from Chip Kelly pursuit if deal isn’t consummated soon

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Florida’s search for a new head coach could very shortly be ready to take another twist.

Despite a certain former Head Ball Coach saying UF’s new head coach would be a current one, speculation on Jim McElwain‘s replacement has seemingly centered on Chip Kelly over the last few days. In fact, a group of UF officials headed by athletic director Scott Stricklin and president Kent Fuchs visited with Kelly in New Hampshire over the weekend to discuss the job.

While it walks, talks and smells like the university has targeted Kelly as its top choice, it appears they want an answer, one way or the other, from the former Oregon head coach sooner rather than later. From Yahoo! SportsPat Forde:

But with other potential candidates becoming available for discussion this weekend, Florida officials appear to be ready to move on shortly after Thanksgiving if a deal has not been struck with Kelly.

Potentially mucking up the works in Gainesville is UCLA, which fired Jim Mora Sunday and is also said to be targeting Kelly as a replacement.  In fact, it’s being reported that the Bruins’ search contingent has already met with Kelly.

UCF’s Scott Frost, who is believed to be Nebraska’s top choice when/when it moves on from Mike Riley, and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen are thought to be likely targets should either Kelly snub the Gators or they move on.

One very likely reason for UF’s reported urgency for a decision from Kelly is the revamped recruiting calendar. This year marks the first time that there’s an early signing period in football, with Class of 2018 recruits given a 72-hour window from Dec. 20-22 to sign their National Letters of Intent.

The sooner UF can wrap up its search, the sooner its new coach and his staff can try to hold together some semblance of a first recruiting class with the program – especially with two SEC programs, Tennessee and Ole Miss, already looking for a head coach while a couple of others (Arkansas, Texas A&M) could be on the hunt as early as this coming weekend as well.

Miami jumps Clemson, Wisconsin remains No. 5 in latest CFP rankings

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The third-to-last edition of the College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, and the only changes in the top 12 came at spot No. 2, where Miami jumped Clemson ahead of the pair’s ACC title clash on Dec. 2.

USC remained the highest-ranked Pac-12 team at No. 11, dimming any hopes the Pac-12 could back-door its way into the top four should chaos reign elsewhere. The Trojans were one spot ahead of TCU and two spots ahead of the Pac-12’s second-highest ranked team in Washington State. Central Florida again led all Group of 5 teams at No. 15.

Virginia Tech re-joined the rankings at No. 25, one spot behind the debut rankings for South Carolina.

The top 25:

1. Alabama
2. Miami
3. Clemson
4. Oklahoma
5. Wisconsin
6. Auburn
7. Georgia
8. Notre Dame
9. Ohio State
10. Penn State
11. USC
12. TCU
13. Washington State
14. Mississippi State
15. Central Florida
16. Michigan State
17. Washington
18. LSU
19. Oklahoma State
20. Memphis
21. Stanford
22. Northwestern
23. Boise State
24. South Carolina
25. Virginia Tech

Report: LSU victory would not save Kevin Sumlin’s job

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Kevin Sumlin said Tuesday afternoon he expects to be Texas A&M’s head coach in 2018. A report Tuesday night says otherwise.

Sumlin will be fired in the day or days following Saturday’s game with No. 20 LSU, win or lose, according to a report from the Houston Chronicle. The Aggies are 0-5 against LSU under Sumlin and double-digit underdogs for Saturday’s game in Baton Rouge. The Chronicle‘s report is not the first to proclaim Sumlin’s future firing, but it is the most definitive.

Sumlin is 7-4 (4-3 SEC) this season and 51-25 overall, a mark that ranks in the top-third of the SEC since joining the league in 2012 — but Sumlin is not paid to deliver top-third results. His program failed to live up to the standard set in that debut campaign, with an 11-2 mark, a win in Tuscaloosa, a Cotton Bowl blowout of Oklahoma and a Heisman Trophy for Johnny Manziel.

The Chronicle reported that Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher will be A&M’s top target to replace Sumlin.