Ohio State Introduces Urban Meyer

Big Ten spring storylines

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Thanks in large part to the biggest “free-agent signing” in college last year, Wisconsin staked its claim to a win in the first-ever Big Ten championship game.  With Russell Wilson one-and-done in Madison, however, the conference generally and the Leaders (chuckle) division specifically are up for grabs yet again.

The only certainty for the 2012 race to Indianapolis?  Ohio State won’t be involved, thanks to its well-publicized NCAA issues.

The story of the conference headed into the spring is, of course, a pair of newcomers.  Bill O’Brien takes over a Penn State football program tainted by the Jerry Sandusky child-sex abuse scandal, while Urban Meyer returns to his home-state Buckeyes after hitting the pause button on his coaching career following the 2010 season.

Below are a handful of Big Ten storylines we’ll pay at least some attention to this spring:

Leg up in the Legends?
While Michigan State claimed the division’s spot in the first Big Ten title game, it will likely be its in-state rival that will carry the frontrunner tag heading into the upcoming season.  And why not?  All Brady Hoke did in his first year at Michigan was lead the Wolverines to the most wins (11) since 2006, taking an immense first step in erasing the stench left behind by the RichRod regime.  Beginning in the spring, though, Hoke must find and identify new playmakers at the wide receiver position.  Additionally, Denard Robinson must find a way to reduce his turnovers, although a second year in the same system could very well alleviate that issue on its own.  Fortunately — and by “fortunately” I mean “get down and thank the Good Lord Greg Robinson is not around” — the defense is in the very capable hands of Greg Mattison and, even with some attrition in the trenches, should be a strength of the 2012 edition of the Wolverines.

Monumental change in Happy Valley
For the first time since Lyndon Baines Johnson was sitting in Oval Office, a head coach not named Joe Paterno will direct the Nittany Lions football program through spring drills.  Charged with the task of replacing a coaching legend is Bill O’Brien, who will not only be taking over a program rocked by scandal over the past several months, but will be a head coach for the first time at any level of football.  With O’Brien at the helm, one will actually watch the Nittany Lions field a (gasp!) modern style of offense, replete with passing and excitement and the like.  While keeping some continuity on the defensive side of the ball by retaining Larry Johnson Sr. cannot be understated, all eyes in the spring will be on the number of footballs piercing the Happy Valley air.  Just who will be doing the majority of the flinging remains to be seen; Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden will once again battle for the starting job, with Paul Jones possibly getting himself into the mix as well.  While that crucial battle will begin in the spring, it likely won’t be finished until deep into summer camp.

(Insert “Urban development/renewal” pun here)
Penn State’s not the only Big Ten school preparing to cannonball into 21st century offensive football.  Urban Meyer will bring his version of the spread offense to the Buckeyes, implementing the new system after bringing an SEC mindset to the recruiting game.  Unlike the Nittany Lions, however, there is no question who will be the new offense’s triggerman as true sophomore-to-be Braxton Miller has all of the tools to flourish under the tutelage of Meyer and his offensive coaching staff.  Certainly there are other questions that need answered — filling holes on the offensive line chief among them — and there’s no postseason to play for, but the foundation laid by Meyer & Company this spring will certainly benefit the program in 2013 and beyond.  Provided another sabbatical is not in the offing, of course.

Uncertainty under center
Just because Wisconsin and Michigan State met in the first Big Ten title doesn’t make them the favorites for a return engagement in the second.  A big reason why?  Replacing the talent and experience lost at the quarterback position.  The Badgers, of course, will be looking for a replacement for Russell Wilson, and could very well turn its attention to the East Coast yet again for a QB solution; UW is reportedly one of the handful of schools Danny O’Brien is considering as he transfers from Maryland.  The Spartans, on the other hand, will definitely look from within for a replacement for Kirk Cousins, who started the past three seasons and was widely considered MSU’s heart and soul.  Barring an unexpected development, Andrew Maxwell,  a four-star member of the Spartans’ 2009 recruiting class, is Cousins’ heir apparent.  Whether he’s ready for his new, more visible role remains to be seen.

No. 4 Washington crushes No. 8 Colorado for Pac-12 title and all but secures a playoff berth

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Myles Gaskin #9 of the Washington Huskies runs with the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium on December 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Ticket punched? It looks that way out West.

No. 4 Washington stated their case for the College Football Playoff in impressive fashion on Friday night by blowing out No. 8 Colorado 41-10 to capture the program’s Pac-12 championship since 2000.

The Huskies struggled to move the ball against the stingy Buffs defense for most of the first half but broke things open with 24 consecutive points in the third quarter. That run was fueled in part by back-to-back interceptions from the defense to start the half, which clamped down on the South Division champions like they were the Colorado of old.

Quarterback Jake Browning had one of his worst outings of the season despite having the stage he needed to possibly get invited to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. The signal-caller finished just 9-of-24 for 118 yards but did throw two touchdowns on the night, one of which was a remarkable escape job from a sack before finding wideout John Ross for a 19 yard score.

Washington didn’t need their passing game with as effectively as they ran the ball however. Myles Gaskin picked up 159 yards on the night while backup Lavon Coleman added another 101 on the ground in addition to finding the end zone.

Colorado quarterback Sefo Liufau was knocked out of the game with a lower leg injury in the first half but emerged from the locker room to start the third quarter. He promptly struggled upon his return, throwing an interception off a receiver’s hands that was returned for a score and tossing another on the next series. He finished the game with as many passes completed to the Buffs as he did to the Huskies.

To add injury to insult to Colorado and put a slight damper on their Cinderella season, the performance from Levi’s Stadium probably cost the Buffs a shot at the Rose Bowl. The selection committee could still keep them above red-hot USC in the rankings but based on the result in the title game, it seems likely that the Trojans will be smelling the roses in 2017.

Washington’s postseason destination won’t be known until Sunday either but they can rest easy after that outing in knowing they will all but assuredly go to either the Peach Bowl semifinal or stay closer to home for the Fiesta Bowl semifinal in the playoffs.

That will be a celebration for another day however, as all Chris Petersen and the Huskies could do on Friday was hoist a conference title and savor being champions of the Pac-12.

Colorado QB Sefo Liufau hurt as Washington takes halftime lead in Pac-12 title game

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 02:  Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies runs with the ball against the Colorado Buffaloes during the Pac-12 Championship game at Levi's Stadium on December 2, 2016 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Colorado’s unlikely road to the Pac-12 title may have gotten a little bit harder on Friday night.

Buffaloes starting quarterback Sefo Liufau suffered a lower leg injury midway through the first quarter and missed most of the half as the unlikely South Division champions trailed Washington 14-7 in the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Liufau eventually headed to the locker room before the whistle at the end of the second quarter but it’s possible he will return to the game.

Backup Steven Montez did lead the team down on a scoring drive shortly afterward (capped off by a Phillip Lindsay touchdown run) but was under pressure on nearly every snap by the Huskies’ pass rush.

His counterpart similarly didn’t have much luck against Colorado’s stingy defense either. Washington signal-caller Jake Browning finished the half just 4-of-12 for 38 yards but the Huskies didn’t bat much of an eye by doing what they wanted on ground — rushing for 148 yards behind the tough running of both Myles Gaskin and Lavon Coleman.

It should make for a fantastic second half from the Bay Area as both teams harbor hopes of making it into the College Football Playoff after capturing a Pac-12 title.

Row The Boat! Western Michigan captures MAC title over Ohio and states Group of Five case

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Trevor Sweeney #25 of the Western Michigan Broncos celebrates causing a first half fumble on a kick return with teammate Leo Ekwoge #33 while playing the Ohio Bobcats during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Still perfect. Still rowing.

Western Michigan completed a dream undefeated regular season on Friday night and captured the school’s first MAC Championship since 1988 with a 29-23 win over Ohio.

The Broncos led from wire-to-wire on Friday night but struggled to complete drives with touchdowns against a stingy Bobcats defense on a night where they needed all the style points they could get. WMU is the College Football Playoff’s highest ranked Group of Five team but are in a neck-and-neck battle with Navy for a bid to the Cotton Bowl this season.

Even if the final margin wasn’t what head coach P.J. Fleck wanted, he nevertheless was excited at the way his team played defensively in holding Ohio to just 213 yards on the night. The normally prolific offense had their moments too, with quarterback Zach Terrell finishing with 301 yards, two scores and two interceptions.

One of those touchdown passes from Terrell went to wide receiver Corey Davis, who continued to press his case that he’s a first-round pick in the spring. The pass-catcher scored the team’s first touchdown back in the second quarter on a 70-yard scamper and the all-time leader in FBS receiving yardage finished his MAC career with 155 yards on nine catches.

The Bobcats tried to use their normal formula of running the ball and playing defense to control the clock but failed to do much of the former. The team finished with just 37 yards on the ground (and 251 overall) but did manage to make things interesting with three second half touchdowns and a late drive that could have taken the lead but instead ended with a game-sealing interception.

That wasn’t exactly the kind of high-flying #MACtion game the conference record 45,615 fans at Ford Field were looking for, with many of them sporting WMU colors as the school looks ahead to Sunday and whether or not they’re headed to a New Year’s Six Bowl at the end of the month.

On Friday night however, they just had to soak in the remarkable run the Broncos are on and row that boat all the way to a championship.

Report: Les Miles not in the mix in Purdue head coaching search

BATON ROUGE, LA - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Les Miles of the LSU Tigers look on during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Tiger Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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One of the bigger storylines of this offseason is the annual coaching carousel and where former LSU head coach Les Miles will land.

The longtime coach has stated he wants to coach again in 2017, and has plenty of credentials — over 100 wins, SEC and national championships — but where he will find a fit is one of the bigger mysteries.

A lot of folks have noted that he could be in the running for the Purdue job (Miles is a Big Ten man at heart) but it appears that will not be the case. According to Sports Illustrated’s Pete Thamel, a source told him to cross Miles’s name off of Purdue’s list.

There are not a ton of big openings at the moment so with the Boilermakers reportedly off the table, it might be a long offseason for the former LSU coach. Western Kentucky’s Jeff Brohm and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck have been the two biggest names mentioned with the Purdue search but it appears unlikely any movement happens before this weekend.

Thamel also mentions Miles could be in the mix at Houston, which would be fascinating given his years at Oklahoma State and over a decade spent a few hours East in Baton Rouge. Either way, it looks like the carousel has a few more spins left in it this month.