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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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Bowling Green in first-half control of bowl rookie South Alabama

MAC Championship - Bowling Green v Northern Illinois

Entering the first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, both Bowling Green and South Alabama were looking to end losing streaks and build momentum for the 2015 offseason.  Through two quarters of play, the MAC school is well on its way to doing just that.

After jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead through the first half of the first quarter, the Falcons offense slumbered for a bit before reawakening in the second quarter long enough to take a 20-7 lead into halftime on the Jaguars.  In addition to it being the inaugural game for the Montgomery bowl, incidentally, it’s also USA’s first-ever postseason appearance in its third season as an FBS program.

Even given that, and the fact that the game was being played in USA’s home state, the first two quarters were all about BGSU.

James Knapke, who took over as the starting quarterback when Matt Johnson sustained a season-ending injury in the opener, passed for 230 first-half yards and a touchdown.  134 of those yards came in the first half, with 97 of those yards coming on two completions — one being a 44-yard touchdown pass to Roger Lewis that opened the scoring.

The Falcons’ defense, which had struggled during the three-game losing streak to close out the regular season, allowed the Jaguars’ offense to gain just 119 yards.  In its last three games, BGSU had given up nearly 1,500 yards in losses to Northern Illinois, Ball State and Toledo.

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UAB transfers land at Southern Miss, Troy

FBC- UH vs. UAB AP

The exodus of UAB football players continues unabated, with Southern Miss and Troy the latest landing spots for the erstwhile Blazers.

Friday evening, Troy announced that cornerback Lamarcus Farmer has signed a grant-in-aid agreement and will continue his playing career with the Trojans. A day later, kicker Nick Vogel confirmed to the Biloxi Sun-Herald that he has transferred to Southern Miss.

Both players, as has been the case with every other player who’s fled the shuttered UAB program, will be eligibility to play immediately in 2015. Of the two, Farmer comes into his new program with by far the more impressive pedigree.

After starting 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012, injuries the past two seasons helped limit the defensive back to just 10 total starts, five each in 2013 and 2014. The 2015 season will serve as Farmer’s final year of eligibility.

“Lamarcus is a veteran player and will come in and compete immediately in our program,” new Troy head coach Neal Brown said in a statement. “What happened at UAB is very unfortunate and we really feel for all of the players and staff who were effected by those events. We’re glad that Lamarcus has decided to join our family and we look forward to having his experience on the field.”

Vogel, meanwhile, did not see any action at UAB as a freshman in 2014. He is, though, expected to compete for kicking duties beginning in spring practice.

“I do believe that I will be able to contribute to the success of the team immediately and look forward to the opportunity to do so,” the kicker, who will have four years of eligibility remaining, told the Sun-Herald.

Oddly enough, and thanks again in part to the demise of UAB football, the two football programs announced Friday afternoon that they have reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series. Troy will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., on Sept. 17, 2016, for the first game of the series, while the Golden Eagles will make the return trip on Sept. 7, 2019.

Troy had scheduled to host UAB in 2015 and travel to Birmingham in 2016.

“I have to give [athletic director] John Hartwell a lot of credit for having a plan in place and locking down this series quickly after the news broke about UAB,” Brown said. “This is going to be an exciting series for our players and for our fans. From a recruiting and fan engagement standpoint, it is very beneficial for us to continue to play games within our geographic footprint.”

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Air Forces bakes Western Michigan for sweet 38-24 Potato Bowl victory

Zach Terrell, Jordan Pierce

Camouflaged in all blue from head to toe and standing on a drenched blue field, Air Force raced past Western Michigan for a 38-24 victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Though Western Michigan trailed from the 10:12 mark of the second quarter on, the game played closer than the final score. Trailing 23-10 entering the fourth quarter, Zach Terrell found Corey Davis for a 35-yard touchdown to pull the Broncos within 23-17 with 13:26 remaining. Western Michigan pushed Air Force 13 yards backward on the ensuing possession, and Daniel Braverman returned Will Conant‘s punt for a touchdown to seemingly give the Broncos a chance to take the lead. But the touchdown was pulled off the board for a block in the back that was ultimately irrelevant to the play (aren’t they all?) but illegal nonetheless. After an incomplete pass and a one-yard loss, Terrell scrambled forward on 3rd-and-11, but fumbled and Air Force’s Dexter Walker returned the loose ball for a 60-yard touchdown.

In a proverbial blink of an eye, a 24-23 lead turned into a 31-17 deficit and Western Michigan was baked, fried and scalloped.

Terrell through four straight incompletions on Western Michigan’s next possession, and Air Force turned a short field into a 38-yard touchdown drive, pushing the lead to 38-17. Terrell hit Davis for a 51-yard touchdown, his third of the day, with 3:16 remaining to provide the final score.

Air Force rushed for 284 yards and four touchdowns, led by Shayne Davern‘s 12 rushes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while college football’s 12th-leading rusher Jarvion Franklin was limited to 26 yards on 12 carries for Western Michigan.

With no help from his banged up running back, Terrell carried the Western Michigan offense as he completed 19-of-38 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 11 times for a team-leading 61 yards. Davis caught eight passes for 176 yards and his trio of scoring strikes.

The win is Air Force’s 11th bowl victory in program history, while Western Michigan falls to 0-6 all-time in bowl games.

Win or lose, both teams represent the best turnaround stories in college football outside of Fort Worth, Texas, for the 2014 season. Air Force turned a 2-10 record a year ago into a 10-3 finish in 2014, while Western Michigan jumped from 1-11 in P.J. Fleck‘s first season to 8-5 in his second campaign.

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Leading receiver returning to UCLA for another season

USC v UCLA

Many FBS teams have to be concerned about losing players to an early jump to the NFL, but UCLA’s not one of them.  Well, at least not as far as one of its top offensive playmakers is concerned they won’t.

With speculation apparently swirling that he was leaving early, Jordan Payton confirmed Saturday that he will be returning to the Bruins for his senior season.  In fact, Payton claimed that leaving early for the NFL was never a part of his thought process when it came to his football future.

I’m coming back,” Payton told reporters after practice. “There were reports saying that I was leaving or something, but I’m coming back. Didn’t really even think about leaving, to be honest with you.”

As Payton isn’t being projected to be selected in the first couple of rounds of the 2015 draft, it’s likely a wise decision.

In 2014, Payton is leading all Bruins receivers with 63 receptions for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he was third on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (440).

Jim Mora‘s Bruins won’t go completely unscathed on the early-entry front as the head coach confirmed earlier this month that star quarterback Brett Hundley will forego his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

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Dan Mullen goes yard with staff party sweater choice

Cousin Eddie

Other people can have “A Christmas Story” or “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or myriad others when it comes to Christmas movie classics.  For me, it doesn’t get any better this time of the year than “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

For those who haven’t seen it… shame on you; rectify that egregious error and invite the Griswolds into your home this holiday season.

In that vein, the Mississippi State football staff held its Christmas party Saturday night, and Dan Mullen‘s sartorial sweater splendor was, without a doubt, the highlight of the evening.  Well, it was at least the highlight of the evening that was posted to Twitter.

We were all witnesses to this masterpiece of greatness, which may or may not be SFW depending on your place of employment.

Bravo Coach Mullen, and whoever was responsible for that thing of beauty.  Bravo.

And, again, for those unfamiliar with the movie, click HERE for some perspective on Mullen’s choice of attire.  And then go out and watch the entire movie.

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Nick Saban gives impassioned defense for D.J. Pettway’s second chance

Auburn v Alabama Getty Images

In February of 2013, four Alabama football players, including D.J. Pettway, were arrested in connection with a pair of robberies and, following an initial suspension, dismissed from the football program.  Only Pettway, in December of last year, was ultimately permitted to return to the Tide.

The second chance caused enough of a controversy — Pettway had initially been charged with a pair of felonies that involved beating a UA student– the the university took the somewhat unusual step of releasing a statement from the school’s athletic director addressing the reinstatement.

Fast-forward almost exactly a year, and Alabama is one win away from an appearance in the national championship game, and Pettway has played a role in the Tide’s success as a rush defensive end.  Not only that, but Pettway has earned his degree in just three and a half years.  He’s obviously done well with his second chance, regardless of whether some people think he deserved it at the time based on the serious nature of the crime.

It’s those people, though, for whom Nick Saban had some very choice words as he stepped up to the pulpit following Saturday’s practice and delivered a passionate sermon on second chances.  From al.com‘s account of Saban’s speech:

“Where do you want them to be? Guy makes a mistake. Where do you want them to be? You want him to be [on] the street or do you want them to be here graduating?”

He made reference to Muhsin Muhammad, who got in trouble while playing for Saban at Michigan State but turned into a success story after his second chance.

“Everybody in the school, every newspaper guy, everybody was killing [Muhammad] because he got in trouble and they said there’s no way he should be on our team,” Saban said. “I didn’t kick him off the team. I suspended him. I made him do some stuff.”

The receiver enjoyed a 15-year career in the NFL. He created a charity foundation called “The M2 Foundation for Kids.” Saban noted that he has seven children, and his oldest daughter is at Princeton.

“So who was right? I feel strong about this now, really strong, about all the criticism out there of every guy that’s 19 years old that makes a mistake and you all kill them,” Saban said.

“Some people won’t stand up for him. My question to you is, ‘Where do you want him to be?’ You want to condemn him to a life sentence? Or do you want the guy to have his children going to Princeton?”

Regardless of where you stand on football players and second chances, that’s some powerful stuff right there from Coach Saban.

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Air Force leading Western Michigan 20-10 at halftime of Potato Bowl

Colton Huntsman

The story line of Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was Air Force’s experience and execution versus Western Michigan’s youth and ability. So far, experience and execution is winning out.

The Falcons lead Western Michigan 20-10 at the half.

Air Force has successfully bottled up the nation’s 12th-leading rusher (and second-leading freshman rusher) Jarvion Franklin, limiting him to just 21 yards and six carries to this point. Quarterback Zach Terrell has been forced to carry the Broncos attack through the air (7-of-15 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown) and on the ground (seven carries for 52 yards).

Western Michigan’s 10 points have come on a 22-yard field goal drive that began after recovering a Devin Rushing fumble on Air Force’s first snap, and six-play, 75-yard drive punctuated by a 47-yard scoring strike from Terrell to Corey Davis. Outside of that,

Outside of that, Western Michigan has generated 102 yards of total offense while registering seven first downs and two third-down conversions in seven tries.

Air Force has used its diverse rushing game to lead its offense, as six different ball-carriers have combined for 34 rushes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Shayne Davern has led the way with nine rushes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 6-3 lead and a 10-6 deficit into a 13-10 lead.

Kale Pearson has completed three of his four passes for 58 yards.

And in undoubtedly his best decision of the day, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun has camouflaged his troops in blue helmets, blue jerseys and blue pants on the trademark blue turf of Boise State’s Albertson’s Stadium.

Western Michigan will receive the ball to open the second half.

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No. 22 Utah runs over Colorado State to win Las Vegas Bowl

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - Utah v Colorado State Getty Images

Colorado State played Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl with head coach Jim McElwain watching from a proverbial plush leather recliner from Gainesville, Fla., and it showed. No. 22 Utah did everything it wanted on offense while stifling Colorado State’s potent passing attack for a 45-10 blowout victory.

Utah scored a Las Vegas Bowl-record 21 first-quarter points – thanks to 202 yards of total offense on 15 plays – to grab a 24-10 halftime lead and it the revved the engines (powered by Royal Purple, of course) from there, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to create the 45-10 final with 12:28 to spare.

The 35-point margin is the second-largest in the game’s 23-year history, trailing only Oregon State’s 55-14 smashing of New Mexico in 2003.

The combination of Travis Wilson and Davontae Booker proved too much for the Colorado State defense to handle. Wilson completed 17-of-26 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception and eviscerated the Rams’ rush defense – particularly in the red zone – to the tune of 91 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Booker added 26 carries for 162 yards and a 60-yard touchdown, which came one snap after Colorado State had pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and ended any semblance of momentum the Rams would enjoy on the afternoon.

Garrett Grayson completed 20-of-34 passes for 227 yards and an interception (he also caught Colorado State’s only touchdown, a 39-yard throwback from receiver Charles Lovett), and All-American wideout Rashard Higgins snagged seven passes for 109 yards, but Colorado State lost this game up front. The Rams were out-rushed 359-20.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, Utah’s first snap came from the Colorado State 47-yard line. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen dialed up an end around-turned-reverse-turned-throwback pass from Wilson to Kaelin Clay for a 36-yard completion, a Vegas-inspired gamble that got the Utes off to a hot start. Overall, Utah racked up 548 yards of offense on 77 plays (7.11 yards per play) with 29 first downs and nine third-down conversions in 14 tries.

Colorado State closes its season at 10-3 – its first 10-win season since 2002 and, much like that 2002 season, the Rams close the year by dropping their final two games – and will turn its full attention toward finding McElwain’s full-time successor.

Utah, meanwhile, wraps up its 2014 season at 9-4, its best showing since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The Utes will close the season ranked inside the top 25 for the first time since 2010, when they garnered a No. 23 ranking in the coaches’ poll.

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UW Huskies call report that Marcus Peters choked coach ‘bull****’

Ty Montgomery, Marcus Peters AP

Marcus Peters’ dismissal from Washington last month was preceded by a series of ugly incidents, something acknowledged by those around the football program.  What UW is taking issue with, however, is the latest specific report of ugliness.

According to NFL.com earlier this week, a veteran NFL scout quoted anonymously claimed that he had witnessed the cornerback choking an assistant coach after a verbal altercation turned physical.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offered up a similar report.

Those allegations are apparently not sitting well with at least one member of the UW coaching staff.

“It’s bull****,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski told the Seattle Times when asked about the allegations. “We had our issues with Marcus, but there was never any physical altercation. Not with this staff.”

Regardless of whether or not it’s true, it serves as yet another black mark for a talented but troubled player looking to move on to the next level.

Peters’ dismissal in early November came nearly two months after the corner, in an early-season game against Eastern Washington, was seen throwing his helmet and gloves on the ground and arguing with Washington assistants. First-year head coach Chris Petersen in turn slapped the player with a one-game suspension; suffice to say, that lesson didn’t take.

It was then reported that, in the span of five days beginning in late October, Peters got into a verbal altercation with coaches on the sidelines during the Week 11 game against Colorado; skipped practice three days later for unknown reasons; and, finally, was involved in yet another verbal altercation with an assistant during practice a day after that.

There’s little doubt that, when Peters can maintain his composure and get on the playing field, he was one of the most talented players at his position in the Pac-12.  He had started 22 of 23 games at corner for the Huskies prior to his suspension, and was named second-team All-Pac-12 following the 2013 season.  He was also named to a handful of midseason All-American teams this year as well.

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Illinois State rallies past New Hampshire, set to face North Dakota State for the FCS title

Illinois State University v University of Northern Iowa

It’ll be an all-Missouri Valley affair for the FCS championship.

North Dakota State punched the first ticket Friday night with a 35-3 win over Sam Houston State, taking a 7-3 halftime lead and exploding from there. The Bison will play for their fourth straight national championship – and three of them could come at the expense of Sam Houston State after beating the Bearkats in the 2011 and 2012 championship games.

On Saturday, Illinois State booked its ticket to the championship in epic fashion. The Redbirds trailed top-seeded New Hampshire 18-6 through three quarters, but notched touchdowns in successive drives – traveling 173 yards in 19 plays – to take a 21-18 lead.

New Hampshire had one chance to tie or take the lead, but its eight-play, 29-yard drive was halted at the Illinois State 46 when Sean Goldrich‘s 4th-and-3 pass to Kyon Taylor was stopped for no gain. Illinois State consumed the game’s final four minutes and eight seconds to punch its first ticket to the FCS title game. Quarterback Tre Robertson carried the Redbirds, completing 18-of-31 passes for 278 yards while also leading the club with 12 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown. His prolific effort overcame a lost fumble at the New Hampshire goal line in the first half.

Illinois State (13-1) and North Dakota State (14-1) finished the regular season as co-champions of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They did not meet in the regular season, and each suffered its lone loss on the road to Northern Iowa. Illinois State avenged its loss to the Panthers with a 41-21 win in a second-round playoff game on Dec. 6.

A win by North Dakota State will make the Bison the first FCS team to win four straight national titles since the subdivision was formed in 1978. Appalachian State also claimed three straight national titles from 2005-07.

The FCS National Championship will be held Saturday, Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

 

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Report: Ohio St. co-DC Chris Ash interviews for Colorado St. vacancy

Chris Ash, Tyvis Powell AP

Ohio State has already lost its offensive coordinator to a head coaching job.  Could a coordinator on the other side of the ball be next?

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, OSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash interviewed for the head-coaching vacancy at Colorado State.  Former USC associate head coach John Baxter interviewed for the job as well, McMurphy reported.

It’s unclear when the interviews took place.  It’s also unknown when CSU, in the midst of its bowl game against Utah Saturday afternoon, will pull the trigger on a hire as they’ve cast an expansive net searching for a replacement for Jim McElwain, who took the Florida job earlier this month.

This is Ash’s first season with the Buckeyes after leaving Arkansas, but his departure would be a significant one as he helped take a defense, particularly the secondary, that was extremely suspect in 2013 and turned it into one of the top units in the Big Ten.  Ash’s loss would be magnified as Tom Herman left his offensive coordinator post this past week to take over the Houston football program.

In addition to Ash and Baxter, there have been close to a dozen names mentioned in connection to the CSU opening, including Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo earlier this week.  Another name mentioned recently is that of Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, although it’s believed he might be the front-runner for the Pittsburgh job.

Interestingly, no current FBS defensive coordinators have been hired as head coaches during the 2014 spinning of the coaching carousel, although four coordinators on the other side of the ball and one wide receivers coach have claimed five of the 11 head coaching positions already filled.  CSU is one of three FBS programs still searching for a head coach, the others being Michigan and Pittsburgh.

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Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl victory is 10th win with 4th QB in 2014

Kent Myers

The New Mexico Bowl may have seen some crazy endings the past few years, but this year’s game went against that script. Instead, Utah State (10-4, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) recorded just the second 10-win season in program history with its third straight bowl victory with a 21-6 victory over UTEP (7-6, 5-3 Conference USA).

UTEP opened the scoring in the first quarter with a field goal on the game’s opening possession, but Utah State later scored a touchdown in the first quarter when quarterback Kent Myers broke off a 48-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for the lead. The Aggies punched in a second touchdown in the third quarter with Nick Vigil pushing one in from three yards out to cap a 75-yard drive. UTEP would add a late field goal.

UTEP’s chances to get the ball back for one last chance to tie things up took a critical blow when a kickoff following the second field goal by Jay Mattox went out-of-bounds, setting Utah State up in good field position. UTEP burned a timeout before the field goal try, which meant the decision not to go for the onside kick was a little extra confusing with under three minutes to play remaining. Utah State simply let running back Joe Hill carry the team the rest of the way with some big runs to run clock, including a touchdown run with 1:33 to play for the knockout blow.

Heading into 2015 the first big question for Utah State will be how does quarterback Chuckie Keeton look? Keeton’s return to the field in 2014 did not go according to plan, as he never seemed to be playing at full speed after a knee injury ended the 2013 season for him. The knee acted up again early in 2014, but he has one more year of eligibility to play. It would be wise to have Utah State proceed with extreme caution with Keeton in order to make sure he is ready for the rigors of the 2015 season.

Enough cannot be said about the coaching job Utah State head coach Matt Wells did this season. The Aggies won 10 games using four different starting quarterbacks along the way. That included a bowl game victory that even saw Myers receive some brief medical attention.

UTEP will look to find a way to build on the momentum the second half of the season saw on the field. The Miners win five of their final seven games of the regular season, although they fell a couple of games shy of the division title. The start to the 2015 season could be rough with three consecutive road games against Arkansas, Texas Tech and New Mexico State. UTEP will look to replace some key position players like quarterback Jameil Showers and receivers Jarred Shaw and Ian Hamilton, but the bulk of the offense should be in place. The defensive secondary will be hit hard as well, but the front of the defense should largely in good shape.

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No. 22 Utah handling Colorado State halfway through Las Vegas Bowl

Travis Wilson

No. 22 Utah used big plays and solid defense to build a 24-10 halftime lead over Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

This being Vegas, both teams’ first scores were set up by successful rolls of the dice. After taking possession of its own 47, Utah’s first play from scrimmage was an end around-turned-reverse-turned-throwback pass from Travis Wilson to Kaelin Clay, good for a 36-yard gain. Wilson rushed in two plays later to put the Utes up 7-0.

After forcing a three-and-out, Utah swiftly moved 71 yards in six plays, capped by a 16-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Delshawn McClellon to go up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.

Colorado State responded by moving 77 yards in five plays on the ensuing possession, scoring on a 39-yard pass from senior wide receiver Charles Lovett to quarterback Garrett Grayson.

Utah quickly seized back momentum, though, as Devontae Booker raced 60 yards to pay dirt on the next play from scrimmage.

Overall, Utah scored a Las Vegas Bowl-record 21 first quarter points by gaining 201 yards of total offense on just 15 plays.

Jared Roberts knocked in a 41-yard field goal at the 2:09 mark of the first quarter to pull the Rams within 21-10, and Andy Phillips answered with a 38-yarder at the 8:25 mark of the second quarter to push the lead back to 14. Phillips missed a 38-yard try on the final play of the half.

Wilson has completed 12-of-18 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding seven carries for 59 yards and a score. Combined with Booker’s 92 yards on 10 rushes, Utah is out-rushing Colorado State 203-13.

Grayson has completed 12-of-18 throws for 136 yards, and All-American receiver Rashard Higgins has notched four receptions for 83 yards.

Utah will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Utah State has edge in defensive New Mexico Bowl at half

Kent Myers

The Gildan New Mexico has served up some wackiness over the last few years, but this year’s game has been a much more defensive battle so far. Utah State holds the upper hand at the break, leading UTEP 7-3 at the half.

It may not matter who is playing quarterback for Utah State this season, because they just seem to make plays. Kent Myers, who started the season as Utah State’s fourth-string quarterback, gave the Aggies a 7-3 lead with a 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against UTEP in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Myers had to receive some medical treatment in the second quarter, but he returned to finish off Utah State’s final possession of the half.

UTEP got the scoring started early with a 32-yard field goal by Jay Mattox from 30 yards out to cap a game-opening drive of seven plays and 60 yards. The Miners were later stuffed on a fourth and four situation inside the Utah State 10-yard line. The Aggies capitalized on the game-changing sequence by sending Ronald Butler off to the races for a 61-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing possession. With time running short, the Aggies had to settle for a field goal attempt in the final seconds of the first half. The kick, after a UTEP timeout, was wide left.

The game has, for the most part, been pretty evenly played. One area UTEP has the clear advantage in is turnover margin. The Miners offense has not lost the football, but UTEP has forced two turnovers in the first half. Once UTEP gets their hands on the football though, they have been unable to cash in. Credit the Utah State offense for bailing out their offense.

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Ragin’ Cajuns win fourth straight New Orleans Bowl to start bowl season

C.J. Bates, James Butler

For the fourth straight season, the Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) season comes to an end by celebrating a victory in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns buckled down defensively to hold off Nevada (7-6, 4-4 Mountain West Conference) for a 16-3 victory. UL-Lafayette is the first school to ever win the same bowl game in four consecutive seasons.

UL-Lafayette jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter before Nevada got a handle on things defensively. The offense for the Wolf Pack could never really get going though. For the first time this season Nevada was held to fewer than 20 points, and it was the first time since losing to Florida State in 2013 (62-7) that Nevada was held to fewer than 10 points in a game.

UL-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway was accurate and effective with his passing against Nevada, completing 26 of 31 attempts for 227 yards and a touchdown. Running back Elijah McGuire led the Ragin’ Cajuns on the ground with 97 yards and was the team’s leading receiver with 54 receiving yards.

Not only is this the fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl victory in as many years for Louisiana-Lafayette, but this marks the fourth straight season with a record of 9-4 for the program, another tremendous credit to the work and model of consistency put together under the leadership of head coach Mark Hudspeth. The program had just four winning seasons dating back to 1990 before Hudspeth was named the head coach before the 2011 season. Hudspeth had his contract extended earlier this year, but he is going to remain one of the coaches to watch during next season’s coaching carousel unless he still moves somewhere during this season’s cycle. Pittsburgh and Michigan still have coaching vacancies to fill, as well as Colorado State.

Nevada’s last bowl victory came in the 2010 season in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Head coach Chris Ault did show signs of improvement with the Nevada a program this season though. Although it ended with a loss, Nevada doubled its win total from a year ago, at a time when the program was in the midst of some significant turnover and going through a realignment adjustment. One key offseason task for Nevada will be to find a replacement for quarterback Cody Fajardo. The senior was Nevada’s leading passer and rusher in the losing effort, and he had a rough finale as a college player. Nevada plays in a wide-open division in the Mountain West Conference, so it would not be a surprise at all to see Nevada bounce back next season and contend for the West Division.

With the Ragin’ Cajuns winning, the Sun Belt Conference gets off to a good start in the bowl season. The Sun Belt went 2-0 in its two bowl appearances last season. The Sun Belt has two more bowl games to be played this season, starting later today with South Alabama playing Bowling Green in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. Arkansas State will face Toledo on January 4 in the GoDaddy Bowl.

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