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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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UPDATE: SMU ‘floating $4 million annually’ to entice Mack Brown

Mack Brown

If SMU fails to land Mack Brown as its next head coach, it won’t be for lack of trying.  Or financial incentive.

In a piece detailing just who may emerge as legitimate candidates for the Mustangs job opened by June Jones’ abrupt retirement two games into the 2014 season, Dallas Morning News writer Bill Nichols dropped the intriguing nugget below a handful of paragraphs into the article:

And basketball’s quick ascension under Larry Brown seems to have galvanized the school’s football commitment.

Thus, it’s not shocking that SMU officials have already had preliminary discussions with former Texas coach Mack Brown, floating $4 million annually over eight years, sources say. Brown, 63, fits the Larry Brown model — a national championship winner who can land star prospects on name alone.

A $4 million-per-year commitment would more than double Jones’ 2013 salary of $1.9 million. The healthiest salary for an AAC head coach in 2013 was the $3.7 million earned by Louisville’s Charlie Strong, who, oddly enough, replaced Brown in Austin. Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville made $3.1 million at Cincinnati last season, while Strong’s successor at the UofL, Bobby Petrino, will average $3.5 million annually on a seven-year contract.

In his final season at Texas, Brown pulled in just over $5.4 million.

All of the discussion involving Brown, SMU and salary, though, is wholly dependent on whether the coach wants to return to the sidelines.

Earlier this month, the former UT head coach’s attorney confirmed that SMU had approached his client about a return to the sidelines. While acknowledging that Brown misses coaching, the attorney, Joe Jamail, flatly stated that “he’s not interested in coaching anywhere right now.”

Brown, currently serving as a college football analyst on ESPN, himself said a week earlier that he will decide in December if his coaching career is done.

Should Brown decide to take over the reins at SMU, he’d be stepping into an on-field mess.  The Mustangs’ offense has scored 39 points in six games this season; 14 teams are averaging at least that many points per per game.  UConn is the second-lowest scoring team in the country, and they’ve nearly doubled up SMU’s output (77 points in seven games).

To add insult to offensive injury, the Mustangs rank dead last in points allowed at 48 per game.  Not so unexpectedly, they are 125th out of 125 teams in total defense (548.8 ypg) and next-to-last in total offense (249.2 ypg, ahead of only Wake Forest’s 206.7).

On the flip side, the Mustangs qualified for four straight bowl games from 2009-12 before missing out with a 5-7 record in 2013, so there is a recent track record of both some modicum of talent and success.  Still, it’s a significant rebuilding effort for anyone who takes over, let alone an individual who will turn 64 prior to the start of the 2015 season.

UPDATE (11:50 p.m.): The SMU Mustangs may or may not have contacted Mack Brown. While the university may be committed to improving its football program, the first step is actually talking with those candidates who might be interested in the current opening.

USA TODAY‘s Dan Wolken tweeted that there has yet to be any contact between Brown and SMU:

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Ground and pound: Hurricanes establish identity during 30-6 victory over Hokies

Al Golden, Duke Johnson

The Miami Hurricanes made a statement Thursday against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

While the program may never return to the winning ways it once experienced while Al Golden is at the helm, the program finally gravitated toward an identity that’s long been forgotten. The vaunted Miami teams from the 1980’s and the early 2000’s used to physically dominate opponents. They did that Thursday night in Blacksburg.

Miami (5-2) captured a dominant 30-6 victory over Virginia Tech (4-4).

When Golden was the head coach of Temple from 2006-10, the Owls climbed their way out of football purgatory by running the football effectively week in and week out. The talent level at Miami supersedes anything Golden had at Temple, but the team’s approach against the Hokies was reminiscent of those Owls.

There was nothing fancy about what Miami did to Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes lined up and jammed the ball down the Hokies’ collective throat. Two running backs combined to run for an impressive 364 yards.

Junior running back Duke Johnson ran like a man possessed. Johnson set a career high with 249 rushing yards on 29 carries.

Sophomore Gus Edwards took over in the second half and managed 115 yards.

The Hurricanes were so dominant in the trenches, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was only asked to throw the ball 16 teams. He completed seven of those passes for 92 yards and a touchdown.

Plus, Miami played well on the defensive side of the football.

The Hurricanes shut out the Hokies through the first half of play, before Virginia Tech decided to ride freshman running back Marshawn Williams. Willams carried the ball 21 times for 100 yards. The young back also fumbled twice.

With the ACC Coastal division being wide open, the Hurricanes may have found its identity at the right time. At 2-2 in the division, Miami is now a half game behind the Duke Blue Devils going into this weekend’s games. But Miami holds the head-to-head edge.

If Miami plans to make a run in their division, its ball-control offense will be needed over the next two weeks against the North Carolina Tar Heels and No. 2 Florida State Seminoles.

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No. 18 ECU Pirates may stumble in polls despite 31-21 victory over UConn

Ruffin Mc Neill

The No. 18 East Carolina Pirates secured a 31-21 victory over the Connecticut Huskies Thursday. But was it enough for the Pirates to remain the top non-Power Five program and the favorite to claim an appearance in a contract bowl?

Sometimes a win can be viewed as a loss.

The Pirates struggled against a Huskies squad that entered the game 1-5 and didn’t have a victory against a single FBS opponent this season. It wasn’t until six minutes left in the game that East Carolina finally pulled away from UConn.

When a non-power conference team trying to impress the College Football Playoff gets an opportunity to add style points to their resume on national television, it has to do so. East Carolina didn’t.

The Pirates moved the ball and racked up 580 total yards, but they weren’t able to complete drives most of the evening. UConn employed a bend-but-don’t-break, and the scheme worked.

If East Carolina isn’t putting up big scoring and yardage numbers, the team is nowhere near as impressive.

East Carolina’s primary competition as the top non-Power Five program is the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. The Thundering Herd’s underwhelming schedule has prevented them from legitimately entering the national conversation. Yet, Marshall’s schedule doesn’t feature a team ranked lower than Connecticut.

Despite the lackluster effort, East Carolina did win the game. Ruffin McNeill‘s squad overcame adversity and was able to win a close contest even though everything didn’t go in their favor. The program still holds victories over the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Plus, very few teams feature a dynamic duo like quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden was 38-of-64 passing Thursday for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy, meanwhile, grabbed 14 passes for 186 yards. The impressive effort moved Hardy into second place among the FBS’ all-time receptions list.

The Huskies deserve some credit for knocking down the Pirates a notch. First-year head coach Bob Diaco has his team playing hard, and they seem to be figuring some things out. The defense plays sound football, while the offense was finally able to move the ball in stretches against East Carolina.

In the end, East Carolina is still the top non-Power Five program in college football, but the margin between the top team and the second team is much closer after Thursday night’s effort.

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Miami RB Duke Johnson explodes as Miami leads Virginia Tech 24-0 at halftime

Brad Kaaya, Duke Johnson

Welcome to the Duke Johnson show.

The Virginia Tech Hokies simply had no answer for Miami’s running back. Johnson accumulated 185 total yards through two quarters of play as the Hurricanes lead the Hokies 24-0 at halftime.

Miami came into Thursday night’s contest with the intention of establishing the run game, and Al Golden‘s squad did so in spectacular fashion.

As the Hurricanes dominated an undersized Virginia Tech defensive front, Johnson continued to churn out yardage. The junior running back accumulated 148 rushing yards on 19 carries.

The dagger at the end of the first half also came from the running back.

Already leading 17-0, Miami drove the ball to Virginia Tech’s 22-yard line with the clocking ticking within 15 seconds remaining before the horn for halftime blew. With the clock still running, the Hurricanes snapped the ball and freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya found Johnson open out of the backfield for his second touchdown in the half.

While the Hurricanes’ offense running all over the Hokies, Miami’s defense completely shut down the Hokies’ rushing attack. Virginia Tech ran the ball eight times for minus-13 yards.

Because of the Hokies’ inept running game, quarterback Michael Brewer suffered. When forced to throw, Brewer couldn’t step up and make a play. Virginia Tech’s signal-caller finished the half 7-of-12 passing for 49 yards.

The Hokies should expect the same approach from the Hurricanes in the second half. Golden may decide to lighten Johnson’s load (after he establishes a new career high), but Virginia Tech will then get a steady dose of sophomore Gus Edwards.

If Frank Beamer‘s squad has any chance of coming back in tonight’s game, Brewer must take his game to another level. That may be asking too much of the junior quarterback.

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No. 18 ECU Pirates lead UConn 14-7 as Carden, Hardy post memorable halves

Shane Carden

The first half of Thursday’s meeting with the Connecticut Huskies had it all for East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden.

Carden already threw the ball 39 times as the No. 18 East Carolina Pirates built a 14-7 over the Huskies at halftime. Carden is well on his way to eclipsing his season high of 48 passes.

The quarterback also doubled his season total for interceptions by throwing an ill-advised pass into the end zone. UConn senior cornerback Byron Jones came down with the ball.

The senior signal-caller also threw a pair of touchdowns. The first of which was a highlight reel reception by senior wide receiver Justin Hardy. Hardy dove in the end zone and bobbled the ball before he finally came down with the 13-yard touchdown reception (see: below).

The catch wasn’t Hardy’s only memorable moment of the evening. The prolific pass-catcher also climbed another rung on NCAA’s all time receptions ladder. Hardy became the NCAA’s third all-time leader in receptions during the first half. The talented wide receiver already made six receptions for 90 yards.

While the Pirates continued to throw the ball over the field, the Huskies prevented the big play. Despite surrendering 302 yards of total offense through two quarters, Connecticut is within striking distance due to Easter Carolina’s miscues.

Connecticut has been able to throw the ball better than expected. Senior quarterback Chandler Whitmer is 7-of-10 passing for 96 yards. But the Huskies stalled on offense numerous times due to penalties and an inability to run the ball.

For the Huskies to remain in the game, they’ll need to shorten the second half. Carden can’t be allowed to throw the ball 25 times in one quarter like he did in the opening frame. A commitment to the running game will help keep the Pirates offense off the field, while the Huskies try to to muster enough offense to garner their first win over an FBS opponent this season.

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Marshall hires PR firm to help with possible College Football Playoff berth

Marshall v Florida International

A year ago, the Marshall Thundering Herd would be known as a “BCS Buster.” Instead, Doc Holliday‘s squad is attempting to be this year’s dark horse choice to become one of four teams invited to the inaugural College Football Playoff.

The Thundering Herd (7-0) is one of three undefeated teams, and the program is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. With only five games left on the regular season schedule, Marshall has plenty to overcome to be named one of college football’s Top 4 teams.

But the university and Conference USA won’t go down without a fight.

“Marshall University and Conference USA have hired an LA-based public relations firm to assist with their case to be selected to the first College Football Playoff,” Tess Quinlan of USA TODAY Sports reported.

“Brener Zwikel & Associates, which counts the Rose Bowl, Los Angeles Dodgers and Speedo as clients, sent out a release Thursday highlighting the Thundering Herd’s undefeated record, standing in the Amway Coaches Poll and their non-Power Five conference affiliation.”

The Thundering Herd’s schedule is expected to hold the program back despite a potential undefeated campaign. Marshall won’t face a single ranked opponent this season and their biggest win could eventually come in the Conference USA Championship Game.

However, the school features one of college football’s most exciting offenses and an electric quarterback.

Marshall’s offense is ranked second overall behind the Baylor Bears. The Bears only average 4.1 more yards per game than the Thundering Herd. And senior quarterback Rakeem Cato accumulated 2,135 total yards and 24 total touchdowns through seven games.

While it’s unlikely a strong public relations effort will be enough to push the Thundering Herd into this year’s College Football Playoff, the hire won’t be for naught. Marshall still trails the No. 18 East Carolina Pirates as the top program not affiliated with a Power Five conference. The highest-rated team outside of the Power Five automatically receives a bid to one of the remaining contract bowls.

Marshall’s ability to pass East Carolina in the rankings is far more important and achievable than chasing a spot in the College Football Playoff.

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Report: Syracuse football is under NCAA investigation

Scott Shafer

Syracuse is the latest football program to find itself in the clutches of the NCAA.

While the Orange’s basketball team was believed to be the focus of an ongoing investigation, there are concerns regarding the football program, too.

Syracuse.com’s Nate Mink reported the investigation could affect multiple areas within the school’s athletic department.

“The Syracuse football program is part of the wide-ranging NCAA investigation into the school’s athletic department,” sources told Mink.

“The information shows that the NCAA inquiry that has swirled around the basketball team for two years is more involved, and that the football team is part of the investigation and potentially exposed to penalties. It’s unclear if other teams are involved.”

If the Orange football team was to receive any type of sanctions, possible infractions apparently didn’t occur during Doug Marrone‘s tenure. Marrone served as the Orange’s head coach from 2009-12. The current head coach of the Buffalo Bills spoke with Fink about possible reasons behind the investigation.

“There’s nothing that I know about that we did that wasn’t either punished or put forth,” Marrone said.

“One thing I did, if we made a mistake, an incidental contact or something, I just always reported it. It’s not worth it. This way I can sleep at night.”

Syracuse officials are expected to meet with the NCAA in Indianapolis at some point before the end of the month.

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Michigan lowers student-ticket prices for 2015 season

Minnesota v Michigan

The Big House’s student section should be completely full during every game next season.

After recent complaints by the student body, the University of Michigan decided its in the school’s best interests to decrease the prices of student tickets for the 2015 campaign.

This season, a season ticket purchased by a student was $280. Next season, the prices will be dropped to $175 per season ticket.

“We’ve been listening,” Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon told The Michigan Daily Thursday. “We really learned that two really important components to re-engaging with our students in trying to create a more robust, more enthusiastic and larger student section for next year’s football season was price and strength of schedule.

“A nearly 40-percent reduction in ticket prices is, I think it’s fair to say, unprecedented.”

However, it’s not quite to the price level demanded by the president of Michigan’s central student government, Bobby Dishell, a week earlier at Michigan’s Board of Regents meeting.

During’s Dishell’s address to the board, he said Michigan’s “athletic department has broken its trust” with students. Another student representative respectfully asked for Brandon’s resignation.

Dishell appears happy with the change, though.

“It’s been great working together,”  Dishell told The Michigan Daily. “We realized that the University takes need into account when you’re coming here, so your experiences here should also take that into account.”

As the future of the football program remains in turmoil, it appears to have regained the trust of its students and may avoid seeing empty seats at Michigan Stadium.

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Hackenberg, other Nittany Lions deliver pizzas to ‘Nittanyville’

Christian Hackenberg AP

Christian Hackenberg may not be delivering on the field the way he did as a true freshman last season, but he sure is off of it.

(Waiting for the groaning to die down… waiting… still waiting… and we’re good)

This week, students at Penn State have set up camp in “Nittanyville” ahead of Saturday’s primetime showdown with Ohio State in Happy Valley.  And by “this week” I mean “several days ahead of the contest.”

As is ofttimes the case with individuals in that age group, they came down with a serious case of the munchies.  And, thanks to the Nittany Lions’ starting quarterback and some of his teammates, said craving was sated Wednesday night.

Before you ask, I have no idea who paid for the pizzas.  And, for video of the special delivery that we can’t embed here, click HERE.

The Nittany Lions, incidentally, will be looking to snap a two-game Big Ten losing streak when they host the 13th-ranked Buckeyes.  And Hackenberg will be looking to bounce back from both a rough first half of the 2014 season (five touchdowns, seven interceptions compared to 20-10 a year ago) and his worst day yardage-wise a year ago (112 in a 63-14 thrashing by OSU in Columbus).

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Butch Jones playing coy with Justin Worley’s availability for ‘Bama

Justin Worley, Robert Nkemdiche AP

Earlier this week, Butch Jones seemed to indicate that there was little doubt his starting quarterback would be healthy enough to play this weekend.

With the Alabama game getting closer on the horizon?  Yeah, not so much.

Justin Worley was knocked out of the Week 8 loss to Ole Miss with a shoulder injury.  While Worley has practiced since, the Vols’ head coach intimated during his radio show Wednesday night that it’s up in the air whether or not Worley plays in the rivalry game.

It’s ongoing right now,” Jones said when asked for an update on Worley’s status. “We’ll have to make a decision here later in the week with Justin’s status. The great thing for us is the way we practice all of our quarterback get equal reps in practice.”

That said, it’s widely expected Worley will be on the field and under center when the Vols square off with the Tide in Neyland Stadium.  Should the unexpected happen and Worley is shelved, either Josh Dobbs or Nathan Peterman would assume the position.

Regardless of just who is under center, though, the UT offensive line, with all new starters from last year’s unit, needs to do a better job of protecting the quarterback.  The 30 sacks surrendered by the Vols is second only to SMU’s 35 as the most at the FBS level this season.

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Northwestern CB retires… after learning he has one kidney?

Alonzo Moore, Dwight White AP

This is something you don’t hear or read about every day.

In a press release Thursday, Northwestern announce that Dwight White has decided to retire from the game of football.  No specific reason, injury, medical or otherwise, was given, although the cornerback said in a statement that the “decision I’ve had to make [is] for my long-term health.”

According to InsideNU.com, however, the reason for the decision is that the player has one less significant organ than most.

OK then.

“We love Dwight and we’re proud to have him as a part of the Wildcats football family,” head coach Pat Fitzgerald said in a statement. “It’s disappointing to lose a great teammate from the field but I’m excited he’s able to remain involved in the program, and I’m looking forward to his continuing development as a student, a leader and a professional at Northwestern.”

After starting six of the 12 games in which he played in 2013, White was being looked upon as a significant contributor to the Wildcats’ secondary this season. After playing in the season opener, White was subsequently announced the following week as being out with an undisclosed injury. He hadn’t seen the field since.

“I would like to thank my family, friends, coaches, teammates and especially the Northwestern Sports Medicine staff for all of their support,” the final portion of White’s statement read.

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Five-person committee to steer SEC search for Slive replacement

Mike Slive

Just a little over a week after Mike Slive not-so-unexpectedly announced he would be stepping down as the commissioner of the SEC next year, the conference has taken the next expected step in securing a replacement.

The SEC announced in a press release Thursday that it is set to launch its search for Slive’s successor.  As part of that search, Vanderbilt chancellor Nicholas S. Zeppos, current chair of the SEC’s presidents and chancellors, has appointed a five-person committee charged with the task of hiring the eighth commissioner in the conference’s history. The Fab Search Five are:

  • Dr. David Gearhart, Arkansas chancellor
  • Dr. Judith Bonner, Alabama president
  • Dr. Eli Capilouto, Kentucky president
  • Dr. Mark Keenum, Mississippi State president
  • Dr. R. Bowen Loftin, Missouri chancellor.

Dr. Gearhart’s will serve as the committee’s chairperson.

“The SEC has enjoyed an era of unprecedented success under Mike Slive and at the same time has been a leader in dramatic change in the landscape of college athletics under his direction,” Zeppos said in the statement. “It is critical to have an efficient transition of leadership in order to continue our success on the fields of play as well as to identify a staunch advocate for academic achievement, integrity and sportsmanship. Our objective is to seamlessly maintain our conference’s participation in shaping the future of intercollegiate athletics.”

It’s widely believed that the SEC’s current chief operating officer, Greg Sankey, is the current favorite to take over for Slive.  Before what many assume to be the inevitable happens, though, the committee will undertake a search that’s national in scope.

As for a timeline, there’s not one specific in nature.  The release, though, stated that “the presidents and chancellors hope to select the new commissioner in a timely manner to allow a transition period before Slive’s retirement on July 31, 2015.”

By most accounts, the conference would like to have the successor in place around the first couple of months of the new year to allow for as smooth a transition as possible.

“The SEC has enjoyed an era of unprecedented success under Mike Slive and at the same time has been a leader in dramatic change in the landscape of college athletics under his direction,” Zeppos said. “It is critical to have an efficient transition of leadership in order to continue our success on the fields of play as well as to identify a staunch advocate for academic achievement, integrity and sportsmanship. Our objective is to seamlessly maintain our conference’s participation in shaping the future of intercollegiate athletics.”

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Texas OC, Okla. St. trade lawsuits over play-calling duties

Joe Wickline AP

Just who is calling plays for Texas in 2014 is at the heart of a pair of lawsuits that have begun their journeys through the legal system.

Oklahoma State filed a lawsuit Oct. 17 (case summary HERE) against former OSU assistant and current Texas co-offensive coordinator Joe Wickline in which the university essentially accuses Wickline of lying about the duties his new position entails.  Wickline left the Cowboys in January to become the Longhorns’ co-offensive coordinator along alongside Shawn Watson; in that role, Wickline would reportedly hold play-calling responsibilities.

That latter aspect is key as, the Austin American-Statesman wrote, “Wickline would owe OSU the balance of his contract unless he was named offensive coordinator ‘with play-calling duties’ or went to the NFL.” The balance of that contract is nearly $600,000, which OSU is seeking in its lawsuit.

The impetus for this legal back and forth appears to have been triggered, in part, by Wickline’s new boss. Back in mid-March, ESPN.com wrote, “[UT head coach Charlie] Strong changed course publicly, clarifying that Watson and Wickline would share play-calling duties and that ‘the one final voice will be Shawn.'”

Six days later, Wickline was sent a letter from OSU athletic director Mike Holder that contained the following passage.

“Further, it has now come to our attention that you do not have ‘play-calling duties,'” Holder wrote in a letter dated March 24. “Instead, it appears that your head coach has confirmed that Shawn Watson, not you, will be calling the plays. Thus, in reality it appears you unilaterally and voluntarily terminated the Contract to make a lateral move and as such a waiver of the liquidated damages clause of the Contract is not triggered.

“While OSU wishes you every success in your endeavors and burgeoning career, it is paramount to OSU that contract terms be taken seriously and that they be strictly enforced in the interest of professionalism. Accordingly, OSU will insist upon payment of the liquidated damages clause of the Contract.

It’s readily apparent that Wickline does not hold sole play-calling duties at UT. Based on multiple media accounts, Wickline’s OSU contract also didn’t specify that he must maintain sole play-calling responsibilities or be liable for damages. It’s that distinction that will likely be the crux of the battle should the lawsuits ever see the light of day in a courtroom.

Wickline’s lawsuit, meanwhile, was filed Monday and claims “tortuous interference” on the part of OSU. The coach’s suit makes the claim that his former school’s action “is baseless and its sole purpose is to interfere with coach Wickline’s ongoing employment relationship with UT and the UT contract.”

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Pac-12 paces Lott IMPACT quarterfinalists

Ifo Ekpre-Olomu

You know you how you can tell another season is quickly beginning to wind down?  Awards begin to whittle their lengthy preseason watch lists down to quarterfinalists or semifinalists.

The first to get down to its quarterfinalists was the Lott IMPACT Trophy, which announced its group of 20 Wednesday.  There were two quarterfinalists from a year ago that made the cut this time around: Oregon cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks.

The Pac-12 led all conferences with seven players selected.  The ACC and SEC had four players apiece, while the Big Ten and Big 12 had two each.  There were no players from the Non-Power Five conferences as Notre Dame claims the remaining player.

Washington was the only school with two players included.

Linebackers and defensive ends had the most players for positions with eight and six, respectively.  Cornerbacks, safeties and defensive tackles accounted for two apiece.

The Lott Trophy, named after Hall of Famer Ronnie Lott, is presented annually to the player who best embodies the award’s six tenets — Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity. Last year’s winner was UCLA linebacker Anthony Barr.

Eight semifinalists for the award will be announced Nov. 11. In a release, the award states that “four finalists will fly to Newport Beach for a black-tie gala at the Pacific Club on Dec. 14 where the winner will be announced.”

Below is the complete list of 20 Lott IMPACT quarterfinalists.

Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson
Shilique Calhoun, DE, Michigan State
Henry Coley, LB, Virginia
Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Ronald Darby, CB, Florida State
Michael Doctor, LB, Oregon State
Bud Dupree, DE, Kentucky
Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, CB, Oregon
Randy Gregory, DE, Nebraska
David Helton, LB, Duke
A.J. Johnson, LB, Tennessee
Eric Kendricks, LB, UCLA
Hau’oli Kikaha, DE, Washington
Ryan Mueller, DE, Kansas State
Jordan Richards, S, Stanford
Deterrian Shackelford, LB, Ole Miss
Danny Shelton, DT, Washington
Eric Striker, LB, Oklahoma
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Leonard Williams, DT, USC

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‘Extremely doubtful’ Wyoming’s injured leading tackler returns in ’14

Mark Nzeocha, Taylor Graham

Wyoming’s defense will likely have to play the remainder of the 2014 season without one of its leaders on that side of the ball.

Mark Nzeocha suffered what appeared to be a knee injury during last Saturday’s overtime loss to San Jose State. While head coach Craig Bohl wouldn’t specify the exact nature of the injury, he was decidedly pessimistic about the senior linebacker’s availability moving forward.

“The outlook for him to be playing the rest of the year would be extremely doubtful,” the coach said.

Nzeocha currently leads the Cowboys in both tackles (59) and passes broken up (five). He’s tied for the team lead with two sacks and he’s second in tackles for loss with three.

With Nzeocha sidelined, seniors Devyn Harris or Jordan Stanton will likely serve as his replacement.

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