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The Fifth Quarter: Week 4 Rewind

Clemson v Florida State Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WINNERS

Guess who’s back… Back again…
Earlier this week on this lil’ ol’ website, the question was posed asking whether Florida State was back after years of keeping the national stage at arm’s length.  Consider that question answered in the affirmative.  And with (late-game) authority.  Early on, though, the Seminoles were staggering, with No. 10 Clemson holding a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter and seemingly having the No. 4 team in the country on the ropes.  Then, all offensive hell broke loose for the ‘Noles.  In a span of just under 17 minutes, FSU exploded for 35 points to send the crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium into a frenzy and, ultimately, home ecstatic with a resounding 49-37 thumping.  The win puts the Seminoles in the ACC driver’s seat — FSU will be significant favorites every single conference game the remainder of the season — and, depending on how things shake out above them, could find themselves in the same seat when it comes to the chase for the BcS title chase.  Of course, there are still several obstacles to navigate, none more obvious than themselves and shooting their own foot.  For now, though, every sign points to the Seminoles very much being back.

A RB graveyard in Corvallis
Apparently, Oregon State is the place where top-flight running backs go to die.  In two games this season, OSU has limited Wisconsin’s Montee Ball — third in the country last season in rushing yards — to 61 yards on 15 carries and UCLA’s Johnathan Franklin — the nation’s leading rusher entering this weekend’s game — to 45 yards on 12 carries.  Neither player scored a touchdown.  The Beavers turnaround in that phase of the game is nothing short of astounding.  Last season, OSU ranked 101st in the country, allowing 193.8 rushing yards per game in winning just three games; this season, OSU, 2-0 after their win over the No. 19 Bruins, is giving up just 53.5 yards per game.

Here he comes to Stave the day
The most notable change at the quarterback position this weekend came courtesy of Wisconsin, with the Badgers taking the reins of their offense out of the hands of Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien and handing them to Joel Stave.  And, at least for one game, the redshirt freshman made the UW coaching staff look like a bunch of Norman Einsteins.  In his first collegiate start, Stave threw for 147 yards — in the first half; the Badgers came into the game with UTEP averaging 156.3, a total “good” for 117th out of 124 FBS programs.  For the game, Stave threw for 210 yards — the return of wide receiver Jared Abbrederis certainly helped the first-time starter — as the Badgers held off the Miners 37-26.

Red-hot, dead sexy MACtion
MAC football: it’s not just for Wednesdays any more.  On Saturday, The Little Midwest Conference That Could finished the day with a 6-3 record in non-conference games.  It was the victories, however, that were the story of the day as four of those wins came against members of BcS conferences — Kansas, 30-23 losers to Northern Illinois; USF, 30-27 losers to Ball State; Iowa, 32-31 losers to Central Michigan; and UConn, 30-24 losers to Western Michigan.  Not only that, but Eastern Michigan hung with a ranked Michigan State team through three and a half quarters, as did Akron vs. Tennessee; in fact, the only blowout in MAC vs. BcS matchups Saturday was Virginia Tech’s 37-0 drubbing of Bowling Green.  Add in a 4-0 Ohio University team that should be ranked somewhere inside the Top 25, and it’s shaping up like the MAC could be the best football conference in that area of the country and yes I’m looking directly at you B1G.

AIRBHG on sabbatical?
You have no doubt heard of the curse of the Angry Iowa Running Back Hating God, with the Hawkeyes losing somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 players at the position to on-field injuries and/or off-field “issues” the past several years.  The fullback position is another animal entirely, as Mark Weisman proved Saturday afternoon.  The former walk-on rushed for a career-high 217 yards — the Hawkeyes as a team rushed for 215 — and scored three of Iowa’s four touchdowns.  In the end, however, the AIRBHG had the last laugh as Central Michigan, after recovering an onside kick with less than a minute left, kicked a 47-yard field goal with three seconds left to give the Chips a stunning 32-31 win over the Hawkeyes.

LOSERS

Mizzou’s rude welcome to SEC continues
Well, that’s no way to treat the new guy, is it?  After Georgia spoiled Missouri’s SEC coming-out party two weeks ago in a physical 21-point beatdown, South Carolina dominated the Tigers in every phase of the game, pushing and bullying its way to an easy 31-10 win.  That leaves Mizzou 0-2 in conference play, with games against old-man football teams such as Alabama and Florida among others remaining.  Granted, Mizzou has faced the two preseason favorites in the SEC East, but the Tigers had been hoping to send an early-season message to rest of the league.  They’ve actually done that, but it’s not the message they would’ve preferred: simply put, the Tigers aren’t nearly ready to compete with the best the East has to offer, let alone the best that the conference serves up annually.

The forward pass in South Bend
This all you need to know about the aerial circus, replete with clowns and a bearded lady, that reared its ugly head in South Bend Saturday: the last five passes Michigan attempted in the first half were all intercepted by Notre Dame — four by Denard Robinson, one by Vincent Smith.  All told, seven were intercepted between the two teams; the two by the Irish were courtesy of starter Everett Golson, who was promptly yanked in favor of Tommy Rees.  Fortunately for the Wolverines, that was the last of the picks, although Robinson was kind enough to lose a fumble on the first possession of the third quarter.  Unfortunately, the combination of the turnovers and the Irish defense was too much to overcome as the Wolverines fell to 2-2 with the 13-6 loss.

Ramblin’ Wrecked
For the second time in four weeks, Georgia Tech has lost an ACC heartbreaker, with this one likely costing the Yellow Jackets any slim hopes they’d entertained of making a trip to the conference championship game.  In today’s loss to Miami, Tech fell behind 19-0… only to score the next 36 points… only to see The U score the final 23 points, including a touchdown in overtime that gave Miami a 42-36 win.  That game-winning touchdown came after Tech, with the initial possession of the extra session and eschewing a chippie field goal attempt, failed to convert a fourth-and-one from the two-yard line.  Combine that with a three-point overtime loss to Virginia Tech in the season opener, and the Miami game was the back-end of a fatal one-two conference sucker punch to Tech’s gut.

No Moore equals much less for Boise
With the losses of Kellen Moore, Doug Martin and a whole host of other veteran starters, it was widely assumed that Boise State would struggle, especially on offense and early on in the season.  The struggles on that side of the ball, however, have been of a magnitude that no one could’ve reasonably predicted.  During the last three years with Moore under center, the Broncos never finished fifth in scoring and didn’t average less than 42 points a season.  Prior to the ugly win over BYU, BSU was 83rd in the country averaging 26 points per game, totals that will no doubt drop following their seven-point output against the Cougars.  Chris Petersen‘s track record says he will right the Broncos’ listing offensive ship; how soon that happens will determine whether the Broncos can once again crash the BcS postseason party.

Straight up the Wazzu
The highly-anticipated Mike Leach era at Washington State has been one long and  resounding thud.  A 24-point loss to BYU to open the season, then wins over FCS-level Eastern Washington and winless UNLV by a combined total of 12 points.  And then the biggest thud of all: a home loss to Colorado, a “football team” with an under-fire head coach and had just the week before given up 55 points and over 500 yards of total offense in the first half to Fresno State.  And had lost to Colorado State and FCS-level Sacramento State.  For Wazzu to lose a game against a team like that after leading by 17 in the fourth quarter is inexcusable and unacceptable, as explained by CFT correspondent Max Cady:

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 2 LSU 12, Auburn 10: Facing a road game against an opponent whose lone 2012 win came against Louisiana-Monroe in overtime, the Tigers escaped with win over Auburn.  It wasn’t pretty, but in the big conference picture, a win is a win is a win.  I wouldn’t think the Tigers would drop more than a spot in the polls, but you can never really tell which way the shifting voter winds will blow.

– No. 8 West Virginia 31, Maryland 21: I was on the fence about including this one, but the woeful state of Terrapin football proved to be the tipping point.  The Terps were actually tied with the Mountaineers in Morgantown midway through the second quarter and had outgained the explosive WVU offense by 70 yards.  WVU, as expected, pulled away for a double-digit win, but the fact that the Terps hung around for so long was eyebrow raising to say the least.

— No. 16 Ohio State 29, UAB 15: Trailing 9-0 late in the first half, and leading just 21-16 late in the fourth, Braxton Miller‘s second touchdown of the game — he now has 16 scores (seven passing, nine rushing) in four games — put the game away for the Buckeyes.  A perfect 4-0 in the first season under Urban Meyer, OSU will face its first real test of the season as they travel to East Lansing to face No. 21 Michigan State.

— No. 20 Louisville 28, FIU 20: The Cardinals trailed for the first time this season — 14-7 in the middle of the second quarter — before pulling away with 21 unanswered points in its fourth win to start the season.

— No. 21 Michigan State 16, Eastern Michigan 7: Like the Buckeyes, the Spartans were trailing a lesser opponent in the first half, with MSU actually trailing the Eagles late into the third quarter.  Based on this game and the overall start to the season, if MSU is the best the Big Ten has to offer then the conference is in for a very long, extremely embarrassing 2012 bowl season.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The Tide has outscored its opponents 168-21 in four games and likely won’t be tested for the first time this season — hello, Michigan!!! — until Oct. 27 against No. 23 Mississippi State.  Or the following weekend at No. 2 LSU. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: vs. Ole Miss

2. Florida State — An emphatic statement win indeed, one that’s been a long-time coming for the storied football program. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: at USF

3. Oregon — Take a Top-25 team to the woodshed?  Stay right where you are, courtesy of FSU’s own woodshedding of a ranked foe. (Last week: No. 3)
Up next: at Washington State

4. LSU — Win by two points over an unranked team, regardless of whether it’s on the road against a conference foe?  Take two steps back, please. (Last week: No. 2)
Up next: vs. Towson

5. Kansas State —  Go on the road and beat the No. 6 team in the country?  Go ahead and leapfrog numerous teams and right into this lil’ Top Five. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. Kansas

COACHING HOT SEAT
A weekly look at some of the current head coaches who could most likely be an ex-head coaches by season’s end — if not sooner.

— Arkansas’ John L. Smith: The past three weeks, Smith’s Razorbacks have lost to the Sun Belt’s Louisiana-Monroe; were woodshedded by Alabama in a shutout loss; and, Saturday, lost to Rutgers.  All of those losses came at home.  For all intents and purposes, Smith was a one-year rental to bridge the gap between the dismissed Bobby Petrino and a permanent replacement.  Based on the past three games, Smith has all but assured that will indeed be the case.  And will likely burn the bridge down in the process.

– Kentucky’s Joker Phillips: An ugly loss to Florida — which included Phillips sticking with in-over-his-head quarterback Morgan Newton, he of the three first-half interceptions — dropped the Wildcats to 1-3 on the season.  Phillips will be lucky to survive the entire season, let alone making it to 2013 on the Wildcats sideline.

— Auburn’s Gene Chizik: For the first time since 1998, the Tigers have started a season 1-3.  For the first time since 1980, AU’s started SEC play 0-2.  We’ll reiterate a stat that says it all about Chizik’s tenure at AU.  With Cam Newton as his quarterback, Chizik is 14-0; without Newton, Chizik is 17-13 overall and 7-11 in SEC play.  In his career, Chizik is 22-30 as a head coach when he’s Cam-less.  If there is such a thing, a two-point setback to the No. 2 team in the country would qualify as a good loss.  For a program like AU and in a conference like the SEC, claiming moral victories is a sure sign you’re headed in the wrong direction.

HE SAID IT
“I don’t need any questions today.” — South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, channeling his inner Lane Kiffin, after giving his opening statement and promptly walking out of his postgame press conference.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
Tennessee has always had beautiful athletes.” — Akron head coach Terry Bowden, following the Zips loss to the Vols.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— After missing on his first throw of the day, Connor Shaw completed the final 20 passes he attempted in South Carolina’s taming of Missouri.  The FBS single-game record, incidentally, is 26 in a row set by East Carolina’s Dominique Davis in 2011.  Shaw can break Davis’ record of 36 straight completions over two games next week against Kentucky.

EJ Manuel and Chris Thompson combined to account for 585 of Florida State’s 667 yards of total offense — 380 yards passing for Manuel; 103 yards rushing for Thompson; and 102 yards rushing for Manuel.

— Oregon State’s Sean Mannion set a career-high in passing with 379 yards in the Beavers upset of UCLA.

— Michigan State’s Le’Veon Bell rushed for a career-high 253 yards in the win over Eastern Michigan.

— West Virginia’s Tavon Austin, second in the country in receptions per game entering today’s tilt with Maryland, caught 13 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns in the Mountaineers’ 31-21 win over the Terps.

— A first-quarter fumble in the game against UTEP was the first fumble Montee Ball had lost during his career at Wisconsin.  The fumble came on his 655th carry as a Badger.  Ball ultimately left the game with a head injury in the first half and did not return.

Dustin Harris set a Texas A&M and SEC record with 246 yards worth of punt returns in the Aggies’ 70-14 win over South Carolina State.  He averaged nearly 31 yards on his eight returns, which included a 96-yarder for a touchdown.

— A first-half reception gave Syracuse’s Alec Lemon 140 for his career, breaking the school record of 139 previously held by Scott Schwedes (1983-86) and Shelby Hill (1990-93).

— Arizona took six trips into the red zone in its loss to Oregon, and failed to come away with any points on any of those visits.

— It took a little over 182 minutes of play this season for Iowa to record its first touchdown pass, a 10-yard toss from James Vandenberg to Kevonte Martin-Manley.  Army and UConn also threw their first touchdown passes of the season, leaving Air Force as the lone FBS team with no scoring plays through the air.

— Wake Forest’s run defense has given up a staggering 814 yards rushing the past two weeks — 385 in a loss to Florida State last weekend, 429 in a win over Army this weekend.  Last season, Alabama gave up just 938 yards in 13 games.  Speaking of which…

— An FAU touchdown with 2:46 left in the game was the first points No. 1 Alabama’s defense had given up since the third quarter of the season-opening win over Michigan, a span of 192:28.  This season, the Tide has outscored its four opponents 168-21.

— Nebraska scored 45 points and rolled up 362 yards of total offense in the first half alone of its blowout win over FCS-level Idaho State.  That number represented the most the Cornhuskers have scored in two quarters since scoring 52 points against Baylor in the first half in October of 2000.

– In Georgia’s 48-3 win over Vanderbilt, the 2012 Bulldogs became the first team in the program’s history to score 40-plus points in consecutive games.

— Ohio State’s win over UAB was the 400th for the Buckeyes in the history of Ohio Stadium.

— Florida’s win over Kentucky was the school’s 26th straight over the Mildcats.  In other streak news, Penn State has now won 30 consecutive games it’s played against Temple.

— On the strength of its 17-10 win over Syracuse, Minnesota has started a season 4-0 for the first time since 2008.  And, if you want to talk about the state of the Big Ten, digest this little nugget: the Gophers and Northwestern are the conference’s only unbeaten teams that are eligible for the 2012 postseason.  Ouch.  The good news for the Big Ten?  Conference play begins next weekend, so the league is guaranteed to win half its games nearly every weekend.

— With a 31-19 win over Colorado State, Utah State has started a season 3-1 for the first time since 1978.  Senior running back Kerwynn Williams rushed for a career-high 205 yards and scored two touchdowns in the victory.

— North Carolina’s seven sacks in a win over East Carolina was the most for a Tar Heels team since 2000.

— Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke (no relation) threw for 730 yards and accounted for 791 yards of total offense in a 64-61 win over New Hampshire.  Those totals are the most ever in a single game at the Div. 1 level — FBS and FCS — and the third-most at any level.

— Derrick Henry, the No. 1 “athlete” in the Class of 2012, set a state of Florida record with 502 yards rushing in his high school football game Friday night.  Henry, who decommitted from Georgia earlier this year and is now believed to be leaning toward Alabama, broke the record of 501 yards set by Shawn Smith of Tampa Bay Tech back in 1985.

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Oregon QB commit scores game-winning basket for wrong team

Seth Green

Minnesota native Seth Green is a four-star dual-threat quarterback on his way to Oregon in the Class of 2016. He also happens to be a pretty decent high school basketball player, as his 24-point performance over the weekend would suggest. But as can all too often be the unfortunate case for any talented athlete, it can be a mistake that ends up being the most notable moment for all the wrong reasons.

In a tight regional playoff semifinal game and 20 seconds to play between Green’s East Ridge High School and Cretin-Derham Hall, Green took an inbound pass and made his way down court for an uncontested lay-up. Normally that is a good play, but Green’s lay-up went into his team’s own basket, awarded two free points to Cretin-Derham Hall. The basket turned a one-point lead into a one-point deficit. Oops. Cretin-Derham Hall went on to win by a final score of 70-65.

“That will not define who Seth Green is,” Cretin-Derham Hall head coach Jerry Kline said after the game according to Star Tribune. “He’s a great player, a good kid, and I feel bad for him. He was going so hard and just feel for him at this time.”

The good news for Green is he has plenty of opportunities ahead of him. Perhaps one day, if he has not already, Green will get to start laughing about this unfortunate sequence of events.

Green is the 10th ranked dual-threat quarterback in the nation and the top prospect in the state of Minnesota according to Rivals.

Photo credit: Rivals

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Connor Cook sings praises of new crop of Michigan State receivers

Connor Cook

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook may be losing a few key targets from last season, but the veteran starting quarterback is getting a jump on speaking highly of his new go-to receivers in 2015.

Cook enters this spring looking to build chemistry with some new starting wide receivers. Michigan State loses its top two receivers from 2014, Tony Lippett (1,198 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns) and Keith Mumphery (495 yards, 3 touchdowns). This is the nature of the college game, of course, with players only able to stick around for so long before moving on in one capacity or another. Cook, preparing for his third season as the starting quarterback for the Spartans, knows there will be others ready to compete for an opportunity to start and play a key role in the Michigan State offense in 2015.

“Obviously losing [Tony Lippett] and [Keith Mumphery] are big losses, but we have some other (rising) senior leaders who are stepping up in Macgarrett Kings, Aaron Burbridge and AJ Troup, and then younger guys like R.J. Shelton, Matt Macksood and Tres Barksdale,” Cook said, as transcribed by MLive.com.

Kings is Michigan State’s top returning receiver with 404 yards and a touchdown last season. Burbridge caught 29 passes for 358 yards and a touchdown. Troup added 113 yards and two touchdowns as a junior. Shelton had 173 yards and two touchdowns in his sophomore season.Barksdale appeared in seven games and contributed two catches for 16 yards. Macksood, awarded a scholarship last spring. He appeared in seven games for Michigan State last season but not record any stats.

Ohio State continues to be the team to beat in the Big Ten, but Michigan State is not likely to be out of the running even after losing defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi to a head coaching job at Pittsburgh. With Cook in command of the offense, he will have solid protection from the offensive line. If the Spartans are to thrive and challenge Ohio State, Cook will have to get on track with his receivers and avoid shaky play as he experienced at times last season.

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What if college football had a College Football NIT?

Manhattan v Syracuse

The college football world went years and decades until finally making way for a four-team playoff format to crown major college football’s national champion. The College Football Playoff is the new crown jewel of the traditional bowl system. But what if there was a second mini-tournament embedded into the college football postseason? What about a third? Maybe expanding the College Football Playoff is not going to happen, but nobody has ever said anything about possibly adding a second tournament to the equation.

The idea popped up in my head today as Chelsea upended Tottenham Hotspur to lay claim to the League Cup. I may be a novice when it comes to soccer, but my understanding is the League Cup is a middle-tier level of competition, and is certainly below the more high-end championships soccer teams in Europe compete for. For those not familiar with soccer, there are multiple tournaments teams can participate in, even during the course of the team’s regular season. It is kind of neat, but the idea would not quite translate to college football with regular seasons already as packed as they are.

But what about the bowl season?

One of the biggest complaints about the college football postseason is the idea there are too many bowl games that nobody particularly cares about. What if those so-called meaningless bowl games were given a purpose? What if, for example, the winners of the New Mexico Bowl and the Las Vegas Bowl were given a chance later in the bowl season to compete in a third bowl game, whether in an existing bowl or in a brand new game in the lead-up to the College Football Playoff national championship game? Basketball does it with the NIT. Think of this as college football’s NIT.

I personally think the bowl system is fine the way it is, but if you are looking for a way to spice things up a little bit, and perhaps drive up television ratings for some of the lower-tier bowl games, why not give it a little more meaning? The College Football Playoff recorded monster television ratings. Implementing this sort of idea may not come close to rivaling that kind of viewership, but it could give the casual fan a little more interest in the GoDaddy Bowl or Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl (Yes, these are real bowl games).

I know I would watch, but I already do. Would you watch with a little more interest in a second College Football Playoff-type postseason tournament?

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Penn State’s $60 million fine about to be put to good use

Penn State Community Reacts As Trustees Fire Coach Joe Paterno Getty Images

The fine money paid by Penn State is ready to start being put to good use. It is just a matter of figuring out which organization gets what amount of money. With $60 million to distribute, there are plenty f worthy causes to help support.

“There’s certainly a tremendous need,” said Linda Rosenberg, executive director of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency in an Associated Press report. “In the area of child sexual abuse, I don’t know if there’s ever enough money to help support the need.”

As it stands now, Rosenberg’s agency is handling $48 million from Penn State’s fine money. Penn State is retaining $12 million. Penn State agreed to pay off a $60 million fine as dictated by sanctions levied against the program in 2012. The sanctions were the result of the findings from the Freeh Report following the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Although since then the consent decree has been vacated, Penn State committed to paying off the remainder of the fine assessed against it.

After the NCAA initially fined Penn State, state representative Jake Corman helped to push through the Higher Education Monetary Penalty Endowment Act in order to keep Penn State’s fine money within the state of Pennsylvania. The NCAA wanted the money to be spread nationally, sparking one of many legal battles that eventually went against the NCAA’s wishes.

According to the AP, Rosenberg says about half of the $48 million controlled by her agency is expected to be handed out in the form of grants over the next five years. A commission will be formed with the task to identify areas of need and solicit applications for grant support later this year. By October, grants may start to be issued.

There are a number of worthy foundations that can take advantage of this money that will be available, many connected to raising awareness and combatting child abuse, sexual abuse and more.

Sandusky was sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison for abusing 10 boys he met over 15 years through his charity for troubled children.

 

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Pete Carroll to get honorary degree from USC

USC v Stanford Getty Images

Last summer USC announced former head coach Pete Carroll will be inducted into the school’s athletics hall of fame. He will be going in with an honorary degree in hand.

Last week it was announced by USC the former head coach of the Trojans from 2001 through 2009, and current head coach of the Seattle Seahawks, will be given an honorary degree on May 15.  Carroll coached USC to national prominence before turning the Seahawks into a Super Bowl champion.Carroll will be honored for his achievements at USC and his efforts to improve the community. Carroll founded A Better LA, an organization committed to a gang-free Los Angeles. He founded a similar program in Seattle as well.

Carroll will be inducted to USC’s athletics hall of fame the following day, on May 16.

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Duquesne football player (former Florida Gator) found dead

Chris Johnson

Some sad news to report on this Sunday. Duquesne’s Chris Johnson was found dead Friday morning. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Johnson apparently died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a medical examiner. Johnson, 22 years old, previously played football at Florida before transferring to FCS Duquesne.

“Everyone associated with the Duquesne football program is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Chris,” Duquesne football coach Jerry Schmitt said in a statement. “Chris was a passionate football player who was also a great teammate, who was loved by many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris’ family at this difficult time.”

Johnson transferred to Duquesne in 2013. He completed his senior season in 2014. He played a role on special teams at Florida but took on a more significant role at Duquesne. He recorded 104 tackles and two interceptions in two seasons with the FCS program in western Pennsylvania.

Photo credit: Duquesne Athletics

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Pat Narduzzi thinks Pitt has what it takes to build its own Steel Curtain

Pat Narduzzi

There is no mistaking the identity new Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi is ready to mold is one based on stingy defense. Narduzzi’s defenses at Michigan State were among the best in the Big Ten and the country, and he hopes to duplicate that formula in the Steel City. What better place to do so than the home to one of the more iconic defenses in football history? Narduzzi believes the Pittsburgh area is a perfect place to implement his defensive system.

Each of the previous four season Narduzzi has been in charge of a top ten defense at Michigan State. The Spartans routinely played a physical style of defense that helped lead the program to a pair of Big Ten championship game appearances and win one Big Ten title and Rose Bowl. Narduzzi became one of the top assistants in the college football world and had chances to accept a head coaching offer before finally taking the plunge with Pittsburgh. To Narduzzi, Pittsburgh had the right ingredients to build the kind of football program he believes can succeed.

“That’s what we’ve been about at Michigan State,” Narduzzi said in an interview with USA Today. “It’s not been pretty, it’s just tough. That’s why I came here. That’s part of it. Besides all the players in the area and the surrounding areas, it’s the toughness. That’s how you build a football team, with toughness. That was one of the keys to coming here.”

Pittsburgh’s defenses was ranked 34th in the nation in total defense in 2014, and 33rd the previous season with Aaron Donald gobbling up defensive award after defensive award. Donald serves as a positive reinforcement that Pittsburgh can develop top defensive players, and that is something Narduzzi will certainly be mindful of. Narduzzi hopes to develop his program in the weight room to make Pittsburgh stronger on the field, especially on defense.

“I’d seen what [Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio] had done for all those years,” Narduzzi said. “What other blueprint do you use? What we do will be what we did there.”

If it was good enough for Michigan State, then it is good enough for Pittsburgh.

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Is Oregon a likable team?

This was an interesting question that popped up on Reddit on Sunday. Without Marcus Mariota, is Oregon a likable team?

The question was posed with a reference to how some perceived the College Football Playoff semifinal Rose Bowl match-up between Oregon and Florida State to be a battle of good and evil. Florida State had developed a bit of a negative reputation based on the off-field headlines involving Jameis Winston. The Seminoles were also the undefeated defending national champions, and some felt they had skated by all too often in 2014 to deserve a shot to compete in the playoff. On the other hand, Mariota was seen as the anti-Winston in terms of his behavior and likability in the eyes of the casual college football fan. There was a certain level of satisfaction when Oregon ousted Florida State by Florida State haters. But does that mean Oregon was a likable program? Or was Oregon simply doing the dirty work?

Outside of the Pac-12, I would guess, many college football fans seem to have a certain level of respect for the Oregon football program. The flashy uniforms certainly make them one of the more interesting and eye-popping programs, as well as the innovative offensive flair. As far as entertainment is concerned, Oregon has been the full package in recent seasons. Quick offense, new uniforms every week, lots of points and one of the better mascots around the country.

Others view Oregon as a symbol of the corporate influence in college football with its relationship with Nike. Oregon is the program that started the trend of multiple uniform combinations that many have tried to repeat in their own programs. Some believe Oregon is a sham program running a gimmicky offense that will dazzle on the scoreboard for 12 weeks of the season but ultimately prove to be inadequate against a legitimate opponent on the big stage (Auburn and Ohio State for example).

So I relay the question to you, the readers of College Football Talk. Do you find Oregon to be likable or not? What other programs do you think are likable, and which simply are not?

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DUI for Illinois football staff member leads to two-year probation

Wisconsin v Illinois

One member of the Illinois football staff will have to be on his best behavior for the next years. Ryan Cubit, director of student athlete development and son of Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, was sentenced to two years of court supervision on Friday after pleading guilty to drunk driving charge from October. Essentially, this is a two-year probation.

For the next three months, Cubit will be forced to wear an alcohol-monitoring device. Cubit mus also serve 100 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine. Cubit pleaded guilty to the October driving under the influence charge in January.

Cubit had previously been cited for driving under the influence back in 2003, which a judge took into consideration before letting Cubit off with a probation punishment. Cubit had no other incidents on record between 2003 and 2014, which led the judge to let Cubit off with a lesser sentence and a stern warning that the next time Cubit is in court it will not go as smoothly.

Nobody was hurt when police initially cited Cubit for DWI in October. Cubit was stopped at a roadside safety check and police reported a BAC of 0.12.

Cubit remains a member of the Illinois football staff and there is no indication that will change as a result of this latest news.

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Report says UNC took advantage of grad school to extend eligibility of players

FSU v UNC X

Academic issues at the University of North Carolina continue to be dug up. This time it revolves around allegedly cutting corners to enroll players as graduate players in order to get them on the football field.

In the latest report compiled by The News & Observer, UNC kept several players eligible to play by placing them in graduate school by retroactively admitting some players and getting around other regulations for others between 2002 and 2010. The exact number of players supposedly kept eligible by this method is unconfirmed, although the report details the story of one football player and another basketball player at UNC. The information was shared to the North Carolina newspaper by a former graduate school admissions director, Cheryl Thomas, who also handed the documentation to support the claims over to the NCAA for review.

In one reported case, former UNC cornerback Michael Waddell (pictured) allegedly was placed in graduate school despite a low GPA, a lack of entrance exam score and being months past the deadline to be enrolled. Senior associate athletic director John Blanchard made a request to have Waddell admitted in the fall of 2003 before he was set to be ruled ineligible for a game against Syracuse. The request was made one day before UNC was scheduled to play Syracuse. Wadell had played in the 2003 season opener against Florida State the previous week. Blanchard’s request was reportedly submitted by UNC provost Robert Shelton, who passed on the request to graduate school dean Linda Dykstra.

Waddell went on to play his fourth year of eligibility at UNC before entering the NFL Draft. The News & Observer reports Waddell skipped classes and exams and failed out of UNC’s graduate school. But he was heading to the NFL anyway.

Thomas reportedly came forward with this information following the release of an investigative report on UNC’s affairs by Kenneth Wainstein last fall. Thomas claims to have submitted documentation to Wainstein, the NCAA and the commission that provides accreditation to UNC but three months have now passed and there has been no follow-up despite acknowledgment the documents have been received.

This latest story regarding UNC’s culture suggests UNC took advantage of graduate classes in order to extend a player’s eligibility, which supports to the idea UNC was putting athletics ahead of academics. For a university that is perceived to have gotten off lightly for past transgressions from the NCAA, this story will not sit well.

The NCAA continues to be investigating the issue of fake classes at UNC. How this relatively newer information will come into play is unknown at this point, although the NCAA did confirm to Thomas her information and documentation had been received.

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Oregon schedules three-game series with Hawaii

Marcus Mariota AP

While it’ll be too late for the reigning Heisman winner to enjoy, the flagship school in Marcus Mariota‘s home state and his former team will square off in a future series.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens confirmed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that UO and Hawaii have reached an agreement on three future games.  The first two games will be played in Eugene in 2020 and 2023, while the finale will be played in Honolulu in 2024.

“With so many players on our roster coming from Hawaii, it makes a lot of sense for us,” Mullens told the Star-Advertiser.

The paper noted that, including Mariota, the Ducks had six players born in Hawaii on its 2014 roster.

Since Hawaii moved to the FBS/Div. 1-A level in 1974, they have faced Oregon three times, with the Ducks winning all three matchups.  Including the Rainbow Warriors’ days as an FCS/Div. 1-AA program, the Ducks lead the all-time series 4-3.

The last meeting between the schools came in 1994.

(Tip O’ the Cap: FBSchedules.com)

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QB Caleb Rowe, RB Wes Brown to sit for Terps this spring

Caleb Rowe, Wes Brown AP

Two important pieces of Maryland’s offensive puzzle will be sidelined as the Terrapins begin preparations for the 2015 season in earnest.

Friday, head coach Randy Edsall confirmed that both quarterback Caleb Rowe (pictured, right) and running back Wes Brown (pictured, left) will be non-participants in spring practice.  Both players are still in the process of rehabbing injuries.

The absence of Rowe is not at all surprising as he tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012.  Rowe, who will enter summer camp as the favorite to win the starting job, is seeking another season of eligibility that would allow him to play again in 2016.

Brown, who overcame off-field missteps that cost him the entire 2013 season, underwent surgery for a torn labrum sustained in the Terps’ bowl game.  Last season, Brown was second in rushing touchdowns (six) and third in rushing yards (356).  He’s also a threat coming out of the backfield, catching 21 passes in his bounce-back season.

Rowe and Brown are just a portion of a lengthy list of Terrapin players who will be sidelined this spring.  From the Washington Post:

Also out is long snapper Christian Carpenter (back), defensive lineman Ruben Franco (labrum), safety Elvis Dennah (labrum), defensive back Alvin Hill (knee), as well as wide receiver Taivon Jacobs (knee) and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (knee). Hill, Jacobs and Jefferson could potentially participate in non-contact drills this spring, Edsall said.

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Ex-UK QB Maxwell Smith may have early lead for SDSU starting job

Alabama v Kentucky Getty Images

It hasn’t taken Maxwell Smith very long to make a name for himself at his new workplace.

In January of this year, it was confirmed that the quarterback would be transferring from Kentucky to San Diego State to finish out his playing career.  The grad transfer left the Wildcats in search of a place where he could contend for a starting job, and it appears he he may have just picked the right spot.

While the Aztecs have used just three of their allotted 15 spring practice sessions, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that Smith has seemingly distanced himself from the other five competitors for the the starting spot.  From the Union-Tribune:

With six guys competing, it’s like they come and go through a revolving door in drills, but there’s little question for me who’s looked the sharpest: Kentucky graduate transfer Maxwell Smith.

At 6-feet-4, Smith is the most imposing of the bunch and he’s shown the best arm strength and accuracy. Most impressive has been his targeting on outside curl routes by receivers, with Smith zipping the ball into spots where only his wideouts can catch it. He looks very poised and capable. I don’t yet have a strong read on his mobility, and that might be a concern given the issues with the offensive line (more on that later).

Also competing for the job is Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues, although the paper stated that he hasn’t had the best start to the spring.  That should be at least mildly concerning as Rodrigues has been in the offense for nearly a year, having left the Ducks for the Aztecs in May of last year.

The paper writes that “[o]ur standings after Week 1: Smith, [sophomore Christian] Chapman, [sophomore Nick] Bawden, Rodrigues, [JUCO transfer Adam] Wood and second-year walk-on Drew Anderson.”

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Departure, another injury further thins Stanford’s defensive line

Oregon State v Stanford Getty Images

Stanford’s defensive line was already stretched thin because of various issues this spring.  After today, that unit is positively waif-like.

Defensive end Solomon Thomas did not participate in the spring practice session Saturday because of what was later described as a jammed toe sustained this past week.  While Thomas was seen wearing a boot on his injured foot, he’s expected back at some point before the end of spring.

Additionally, defensive tackle Alex Yazdi (pictured, No. 79) has decided to “move on” from the football program, head coach David Shaw confirmed following practice. Whether the fifth-year senior, who played in five games last season, will transfer to another program for his final season of eligibility or has simply decided to give up playing the sport has not been determined.

The combination of attrition and injury — starting lineman Aziz Shittu is out for the spring as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury sustained last October — has left the line on the defensive side very depleted. How depleted?

That trio’s performance was enough to impress even their head coach.

“It is very, very difficult,” Shaw said in quotes distributed by the school. “I had the guys give an applause to the entire defensive line. For three guys to make it through a full practice with scrimmaging and all that stuff and 9-on-7 … They didn’t bat an eyelash, they didn’t back off, they hustled throughout the whole practice, and that’s what it takes.

“As tough as it is, nobody is going to feel bad for us. We’ve got to fight through it.”

Fortunately for the Cardinal, there are still six months before they travel to open the 2015 season against Northwestern.

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Richt: ‘QB as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia’

Belk Bowl - Georgia v Louisville Getty Images

Not only will Georgia enter spring practice for the first time in nearly a decade with an offensive coordinator other than Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs will also be searching for a new starting quarterback for the second time in as many years.

After Aaron Murray more than ably handled the job from 2010-13, the signal-calling baton was passed to Hutson Mason for the 2014 season.  With Mason’s eligibility expired, the new starter is expected to come from a group of three players: redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, redshirt freshman Jacob Park and redshirt junior Faton Bauta.

Ramsey served as Mason’s primary backup in 2014, completing 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bauta completed four of his five pass attempts in 2014, while Park, a four-star member of UGA’s 2014 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman.

Based on experience alone, Ramsey will enter the spring as the favorite to win the job. The Bulldogs’ head coach, though, made it perfectly clear that, in the first year under the highly-paid coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the job is available to anyone for the taking.

“It’s just a lot of work to be done between now and that first game and a lot of competition to happen,” Mark Richt said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “You know, the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say.”

It’s unknown if Richt will name a starter exiting a spring, or wait until the competition shakes itself out a little more during summer camp before pulling the trigger.

Regardless of who lands the job, they’ll be able to ease into the position as UGA will open the 2015 season at home against Louisiana-Monroe before traveling to Vanderbilt for the SEC opener the following weekend.  The next three games are at home, with a game against FCS-level Southern sandwiched between matchups with SEC East rival South Carolina and West heavyweight Alabama.

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