Mistakes cost USC as UCLA wins Pac-12 South


For the second year in a row, UCLA, not USC, will represent the Pac-12 South division in the conference championship. But unlike 2011, the Bruins didn’t back their way in (thanks, NCAA!) with a .500 record and a coach on his way out.

No, No. 17 UCLA beat No. 21 USC fair and square in the Rose Bowl 38-28 — the first win by the Bruins the rivalry since 2006. UCLA has now won at least a share of the Pac-12 South and will represent the division in the conference championship game in two weeks. UCLA also got revenge for a certain 50-0 thumping it received last year from USC.

USC actually outgained UCLA in total yards (513 to 406), but Matt Barkley threw two interceptions — the Trojans had three for the day — and special teams was a problem with a missed extra point and two missed field goals (one was blocked). If USC had those seven points on the board, it’s worth noting that the Trojans were in UCLA territory and within field goal range at the end of the game.

Barkley also went down with an apparent shoulder injury late in the fourth quarter and did not return. The senior quarterback gave a gritty performance, but it wasn’t enough to give the Trojans the win.

Speaking of Barkley, I’m in no position to say if his decision to come back or not was a mistake because his opinion is the only one that matters on that subject, but it would be flat wrong to think this season hasn’t been a disappointment for USC . Assuming our math is correct, USC would be the first preseason No. 1 team to lose four games that year since Auburn in 1984 and could be the first preseason No. 1 team to finish unranked since Ole Miss in 1964.

The theme for USC — and Barkley specifically — this year has been taking care of “unfinished business”, yet there will be no Pac-12 championship or Rose Bowl for the Trojans in the first year removed from a postseason ban. And if USC continues to slide next week against Notre Dame, you have to seriously wonder what Lane Kiffin‘s job status is going to be. Sure, one would think the scholarship restrictions at USC (also courtesy of the NCAA) would actually give Kiffin a little wiggle room in terms of the W’s and L’s, but Kiffin’s had one too many distractions this year with jersey swapping and game ball deflating. That’s not even mentioning stupid stuff like lying about where you voted your team in the coaches’ poll or walking out of a press conference like a child.

None of those things have been a huge deal by themselves, but collectively they become annoying. When you don’t win (enough), people’s (boosters?) patience begins to run thin on reckless abandon because, who knows, it might be manifesting itself into things like excessive penalties. Those can result in losses too.

Of course, much of this might be forgiven if USC comes out next week and eliminates any chance of Notre Dame reaching the BCS championship game. If the Trojans can’t beat the Irish — even worse, if they get blown out — it could force USC athletic director Pat Haden to further ponder the direction of the program. Or, it means defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has to go and Merry Christmas, dad! 

Either way, this could all make way for a new titan in Los Angeles. Like, say, UCLA.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.

Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.

But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.

“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”

The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.

According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.

Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”

Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.

If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.

Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.

“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”

Added Feldman:

Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).

Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.

Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.

“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.

“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.

“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”

Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.

Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.

From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:

Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much.  Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.

Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.

For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.

And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.