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The Fifth Quarter: Week 12 Rewind

Stanford Cardinal fans celebrate their NCAA football win over the Oregon Ducks in Eugene AP

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

BChaoS
Somewhere, Mike Slive is dancing on a couch.  Butt-nekkid.

Just one week ago, it appeared the SEC’s streak of six straight BcS championships was all but over.  Alabama’s loss left the heavyweight conference with no undefeated teams and seemingly on the outside of the crystal window looking in at three eligible unbeatens remaining.

Seven days later?  They’re right back in one of the two title-game driver’s seats.

No. 1 Oregon?  Dropped 17-14 by Stanford in overtime, in Eugene no less.

No. 2 Kansas State?  Humiliated 52-24 by a below-.500 Baylor squad.

Of course, the biggest winners of them all coming out of the stunning twin developments come from the SEC.  Provided Alabama, No. 4 in the last set of BcS rankings, handles business against lowly Auburn and Georgia, BcS No. 5, takes care of Georgia Tech, the winner of the SEC championship game will — rightly, I might add, given the turn of events in Week 12 — fill one of the two spots in the BcS title game.

The other spot?  On one level, it’s very simple.  If Notre Dame, comfortable winners over Wake Forest Saturday, beats a reeling USC squad next weekend, it will be the Irish charged with the task of knocking the SEC off its crystal perch.

If the Trojans pull off an upset for the ages?  It’s BcS chaos all over again.  Such a development would bring several teams back into the mix, including the two losers from tonight as well as Florida State and Florida, which will play each other in the regular-season finale to add yet another layer to what’s fast devolving into unchartered waters.

Hell, Oregon could even pull off an Alabama circa 2011: not play in its conference championship game — Stanford will represent the Pac-12 North if it beats UCLA next week — and still backdoor its way into the BcS title game depending on how things play out in front of them.

Undeniably, though, there’s one huge loser in all of this glorious late-season chaos: the Ohio State Buckeyes.  Along with Notre Dame, the Ohio State University is the last of the unbeatens and would be in position for its fourth title-game appearance in the BcS era were it not for NCAA sanctions that include a postseason ban for the 2012 season.  Hopefully, that 2012 Gator Bowl berth was worth it to Gene Smith & Company.

A close second to tOSU?  One line: North Carolina State 17, Florida State 16.  Oh, ‘Noles…

DAY OF CLINCHINGS
On the lighter side of college football news, and entering Week 12 of the 2012 season, just one conference or division champion — Georgia, SEC East — had officially been determined.  This weekend, a total of six division or conference champions were officially decided.  Below is a snapshot look at the teams that will be adding some hardware to their respective trophy cases in the coming days:

ACC Atlantic
After beating Clemson back in September, there was very little doubt No. 10 Florida State — even with an inexplicable loss to North Carolina State — would represent the Atlantic in the ACC championship game.  The Seminoles made it official Saturday as they overwhelmed undermanned Maryland 41-14.FSU will be appearing in their third ACC title game in the eight years the event has existed.  Just who the ‘Noles will play in that title game remains uncertain as Duke, Georgia Tech and Miami all remain in varying degrees of contention for the Coastal crown.

Big Ten Leaders
Ineligible for the postseason courtesy of NCAA sanctions, No. 6 Ohio State nonetheless claimed the Big Ten Leaders trophy on the strength of its overtime over Wisconsin.  The Badgers may have lost the battle but will end up winning the war, though; because of the Buckeyes’ sanctions, the Badgers will represent the division in the conference championship game in early December.

Conference USA West
With a two-game lead entering Week 12, Tulsa would’ve needed to lose its last three games to lose its stranglehold on the divisional lead.  The Golden Hurricane took that remote possibility out of play straight away thanks to a 23-21 win over UCF in a battle of Conference USA divisional leaders.  It marks the fifth time since Conference USA went to a two-division setup in 2005 that Tulsa has won or shared the West title.

MAC East
Thanks to its win over Bowling Green, which came into the game one game behind Kent State, the No. 25 Golden Flashes claimed the first MAC East title in the history of the football program.  Coupled with Northern Illinois’ win earlier in the week, the MAC becomes the first conference with its championship game slots officially filled: KSU-NIU Nov. 30 at Detroit’s Ford Field.

Pac-12 South
For the second consecutive season, a college football team from the city of Los Angeles will represent the South in the Pac-12 championship game.  Unbelievably, that team is again No. 17 UCLA and not No. 21 USC as the Bruins dropped their rivals for the first time since 2005 to the tune of 38-28.  Even sweeter, the win clinched the division title for the Bruins in their first season under Jim Mora Jr.  And, in an odd turn of events, the Bruins will go a long way in determining just who they will face in that championship game as they face Stanford next weekend.  If UCLA wins, they will face Oregon.  If UCLA loses, they will face… Stanford in a rematch six days later.  And the game would very likely be played on the Cardinal’s home turf.

WAC
In what will be the final season of the conference, the Utah State Aggies have staked its claim as the last champion of the soon-to-be-defunct conference.  And, in an odd twist, could very well have cost the remaining members a significant chunk of change.  In a matchup of the lone remaining WAC teams with unbeaten league marks, the Aggies outlasted No. 19 Louisiana Tech 48-41 in overtime.  The only problem with that?  LaTech was the lone hope for a BcS buster in 2012, meaning the loss has the potential to cost interested parties millions of dollars.  For some reason, we don’t think the Aggies give two spits right about now.

WINNERS

Les Miles

There are times in a man’s life when you just have to bow to another man’s greatness.  This press conference performance by LSU’s head coach is one of those times.  It’s an instant classic and must-see YouTube TV:

“THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS A FLOP THAT TAKES THE FIELD FOR OUR FOOTBALL TEAM… just so you know.”  Out-freaking-standing, Coach Grass-Eating Hat.  Out-freaking-standing.

Heismanziel
Given the level of competition, Johnny Manziel was almost pedestrian in No. 9 Texas A&M’s 47-28 cruise over FCS-level Sam Houston State, throwing for 267 yards and three touchdowns while running for another 100 and two scores on the ground in under three quarters worth of work.  So, how exactly did the redshirt freshman likely vault to Heisman front-runner status?  Three words: Collin Klein imploded.  While the senior threw for nearly 300 yards in the upset loss to Baylor, Klein also threw three picks and was largely held in check by a defense that came into the game ranked 118th in scoring defense.  It has all set the stage for something that’s never happened in the 78-year history of the Heisman a freshman, redshirt or otherwise, taking home the most prestigious award in the sport.  And, if the voting were held today, that’s very likely exactly what would happen.

Boy oh Boyd
Speaking of the Heisman, if this performance doesn’t push Tajh Boyd deep into the discussion, nothing will.  All the Clemson quarterback did Saturday was set a school and ACC record for touchdowns in a single game with eight — five passing, three rushing — as the No. 11 Tigers outlasted North Carolina State 62-48.  Boyd also set the single-game school record for yards of total offense with 529 yards, 426 passing and a career-high 103 rushing.  Coming into the game second in passing efficiency, Boyd did nothing to hurt that standing, and has earned the right to be thrown in with the Collin Kleins and Johnny Footballs when it comes to the race for the 2012 stiff-armed trophy.

Nearly Scarlet Knighted
While Rutgers didn’t join in on the day of clinchings, they continue to control their own conference destiny.  Thanks to a rough-on-the-eyes 10-3 win over Cincinnati, the No. 22 Scarlet Knights inched closer to clinching the football program’s first-ever Big East crown.  Two wins over the next two weeks will clinch the conference and a BcS berth, as would just a single win when coupled with a Louisville loss in one of the Cardinals’ last two games.  Of course, Rutgers’ task is made a bit more difficult as they will face Louisville in the final game of the regular season in what will very likely serve as a de facto Big East championship game.  After losing their head coach to the NFL in the offseason, however, Rutgers is sitting prettier than most thought they would this soon.

Damn good Gardner
Denard who?  Yes, the pregame Senior Day festivities were all about Denard Robinson, but the 60 minutes of game time afterwards belonged to and were owned by Devin Gardner.  Making his third straight start in place of an injured Robinson, Gardner accounted for six touchdowns — three rushing, three passing  — as the Wolverines steamrolled hapless Iowa 42-17.  It was No. 23 Michigan’s third consecutive win with Gardner under center and sets up a very intriguing regular-season finale against undefeated Ohio State, with the subplot being a pair of dynamic young dual-threat quarterbacks — Gardner and the Buckeyes’ Heisman candidate Braxton Miller — squaring off in The Game.

This is how we do it
Following an unceremonious exit from Boston College, Montel Harris, the leading rusher in that school’s history, landed at Temple to finish out his collegiate days.  After a relatively quiet start to his one-year Owls career — 597 yards, five touchdowns — Harris literally exploded Saturday afternoon.  In Temple’s 63-32 obliteration of Army, Harris rushed for a school- and Big East-record 351 yards and seven touchdowns.  The latter total was just one off the single-game FBS record.  And it wasn’t just Harris slicing an Army defense that came in ranked 105th nationally against the run, either, as the Owls rushed for 534 yards on 57 carries.

LOSERS

College football fans
After the ACC had approved a $50 million exit fee for any team seeking to leave his conference, commissioner John Swofford was supremely confident that the door had slammed shut on expansion.  A few months later, Swofford was wrong — and the game’s worse off for it.  To review, multiple media outlets reported Saturday afternoon that Maryland was in serious negotiations with the Big Ten about a move from the ACC, and that Rutgers would likely leave the Big East for the Midwest conference as well.  Of course, that will have a trickle-down effect as the ACC will likely pilfer the Big East for a replacement, with the Big East looking elsewhere to fill that hole and so on and so on and so on.  While the Big Ten looks to further fill its financial coffers by adding significant television footprints to the Big Ten Network, it’s the fans that once again come out on the short end.  The game has been a lot about the money in recent years; these moves, if they come to fruition, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s all about the money in big-time college football.  To hell with rivalries and geography and everything else that had made this the greatest sport in the country.  The bottom line is all that matters to the movers and shakers anymore, and it will prove to be the downfall of this once-great game.

HorSECrap slate
Exactly a week ago, the SEC (momentarily) saw its hopes for a seventh consecutive BcS championship severely diminished with Alabama’s upset loss to Texas A&M.  In honor of that near-death experience, nearly the entire conference decided to take Week 12 off.  Of the 11 games involving SEC teams this weekend, seven of them came against opponents from the FCS level.  Just three games were conference matchups — Arkansas-Mississippi State, Ole Miss-LSU, Tennessee-Vanderbilt — while just one team went outside the conference against a BcS-level school — Missouri hosting Syracuse.  Yes, the pastries that make up this week’s SEC menu are not much different from other conferences earlier in this season.  The fact that the snacking comes this late in the year, though, just leaves a bad taste all around.

Fall of the Spartans
When the 2012 season began, Michigan State was ranked 13th in the country and widely viewed, along with in-state rival Michigan, as the favorites to claim the Big Ten Legends division title.  After 12 weeks?  A postseason bowling trip is in doubt as the Spartans are just 5-6 overall and a lowly 2-5 in conference play.  In order to become bowl eligible, MSU will need next week to beat Minnesota, with whom they are tied in the divisional cellar.  As it stands now, this would serve as the worst season the Spartans have endured in Mark Dantonio‘s six seasons in East Lansing.  Even more head-scratching is the fact that such a subpar season comes on the heels of back-to-back 11-win years.

Re-Buff’d yet again
Entering this weekend, Colorado ranked 115th or worse — there are 124 teams at the FBS level — in total offense/defense and scoring offense/defense.  Saturday’s outcome will do little to help statistically what is arguably the worst member of a BcS conference as the one-win Buffaloes were pounded 38-3 by Washington, with the Buffs allowing 476 yards of offense while mustering just 141 of their own.  Eight of their 10 losses have come by 25 or more points — four by 44 or more — and their average margin of defeat is just over 33 points per game.  In just his second year, it’s hard to say if Jon Embree and his 4-20 record are on the hot seat or not.  If he is, and based solely on the on-field results, it would be far from a surprising development.

UC… what the F?
With a shot at clinching a division title, UCF instead decided to spit its bit as they Knights fell to Tulsa 23-21.  On the other hand, the Golden Hurricane wrapped up its division and a spot in the Conference USA championship game with the win.  The good news for UCF?  All it needs is to upend three-win UAB next weekend in order to secure a rematch with Tulsa.

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

– No. 8 LSU 41, Ole Miss 35: To be honest, I could care less about what happened during this game.  After the game was where all the necessary action was, as you can see by scrolling up several inches if you missed it.

– No. 12 South Carolina 24, Wofford 7: The Gamecocks were tied with the FCS-level school at seven-all early in the fourth quarter before pulling away with a 17-point mini explosion.  The combination of playing down to the level of competition and looking ahead to next weekend’s game against in-state rival Clemson were likely factors in this being a hell of a lot closer than what it should’ve been.

– No. 13 Oklahoma 50, West Virginia 49:  The Sooner’s last-minute win coupled with Kansas State’s stunning loss leaves OU just a K-State loss to Texas plus a Bedlam win over Oklahoma State from claiming the Big 12 championship and a BcS bowl berth.

– No. 23 Rutgers 10, Cincinnati 3: It was far from pretty, but the tight win over the Bearcats brought the Scarlet Knights one step closer to its first-ever Big East championship.

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. Notre Dame — As the only eligible unbeaten team left, they are the only option for the top spot.  Say what you want about their less-than-impressive resume’ and numerous close calls, but the Irish have done the one thing that no other team with a postseason shot has been able to do: avoid stubbing its toe.  Pretty or not, that’s all that matters. (Last week: No. 3)
Up next: at No. 21 USC

2. Alabama — Their pre-Thanksgiving nap, brought on by its FCS tryptophan feast, was rudely interrupted by the pair of upsets ahead of them that put the Tide right back on track for a second consecutive BcS title and third in four years.  After mauling Auburn in the Iron Bowl, trips to Atlanta and, possibly, Miami await. (Last week: No. 4)
Up next: vs. Auburn

3. Oregon — Let’s be clear on two fronts when it comes to the team from Eugene.  One, they lost to a really, really good Stanford team that took Notre Dame to overtime earlier in the year.  And, two, the Ducks are still a damn good team and would still be worthy of a title-game appearance, backdoor or not. (Last week: No. 1)
Up next: at No. 15 Oregon State

4. Ohio State — Ineligible or not, being one of the two remaining undefeated teams counts for something, even as arrogance on the part of university officials could cost Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes a shot at the crystal. (Last week: No. 5)
Up next: vs. No. 23 Michigan

5. Florida State — Since its inexplicable loss to North Carolina State Oct. 6, the Seminoles have steamrolled its next five opponents by an average of 25.6 points per game. (Last week: unranked)
Up next: vs. No. 7 Florida

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.

– USC’s Lane Kiffin: A little peacock birdie informed me last week that, if the Trojans did not beat cross-town rival UCLA and national rival Notre Dame, Kiffin would very likely be shown the door.  Saturday, the Trojans were embarrassed 38-28 by the little brother Bruins, becoming the first team since Auburn in 1984 to lose four games after being named the preseason No. 1.  Additionally, USC is in danger of becoming the first team since 1964 to end the season unranked after beginning at No. 1.  Following the loss to UCLA, Kiffin maintained that athletic director Pat Haden assured him he would return in 2013.  While that may very well end up being the case, there’s at least one Kiffin who will face the ax as defensive coordinator and Lane’s father Monte Kiffin is all but out.  Based on the preseason expectations, someone will have to fall on the sword, and who better than a 72-year-old assistant well on the downside of his career.

– Tennessee’s Derek Dooley: “The one thing Tennessee always does is kick the sh*t out of Vandy!”  Those were Dooley’s words in the locker room after the Volunteers beat the Commodores last season.  James Franklin‘s words (not really) to his team a year later?  “The one thing Vandy does is get Dooley’s sh*t kicked out the door!”  Or something like that as, with Vandy’s win over UT, the ‘Dores likely sealed Dooley’s fate in Knoxville.  Dooley was on the ropes prior to the game; Franklin and crew likely delivered the knockout punch.

HE SAID IT
“In other words, the bottom of the SAC.” — ESPN GameDay host Chris Fowler in describing Alabama’s Week 12 “competition,” Southern Athletic Conference member Western Carolina.

HELMET OF THE DAY
And by “Helmet of the Day” I mean “what in the name of common decency were you thinking/drinking/smoking, Virginia Tech?”

Holy Hokie helmet from hell…

YOU DON’T SAY?
USC’s Matt Barkley is first in the nation with 35 touchdown passes… and second in interceptions with 15.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– In West Virginia’s one-point loss to Oklahoma, wide receiver Tavon Austin rushed for 344 yards.  With 146 on kick returns and 82 receiving, the receiver accounted for a staggering 572 yards for the game.

– With a field goal early in the second quarter of Florida State’s division-clinching win over Maryland, Dustin Hopkins broke Boise State’s Kyle Brotzman‘s career record of 439 points by an FBS kicker.

– A first-half touchdown gave Wisconsin’s Montee Ball 78 for his career, tying former Miami of Ohio running back Travis Prentice for the most in FBS history.  The Badgers running back will have three games to break the mark.

John Simon totaled four sacks in Ohio State’s win over Wisconsin, a performance that likely locks up Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors for the senior.

– North Carolina State wide receiver Tobias Palmer set an ACC record for all-purpose yards with 496 — 277 on kickoff returns and 219 receiving — in the high-scoring loss to Clemson.

– Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel became the first freshman, and the fifth player overall, in FBS history to pass for more than 3,000 yards and rush for more than 1,000 in a single season.

– After entering Saturday’s action with just 11 touchdown passes in 10 games, Keith Price tossed a career-high five in the win over Colorado.  As the game came against the Buffaloes, however, we’re uncertain if that’s an official personal mark or not.

– Kent State’s Dri Archer rushed for 241 yards on 17 carries as the Golden Flashes clinched their first-ever MAC divisional title.  The junior scored on touchdown runs of 79 and 74 yards.

– Louisiana Tech’s Colby Cameron saw his single-season NCAA record of consecutive pass attempts without an interception come to an end at 444 with an interception late in the second quarter against Utah State.

Steve Spurrier has 64 career wins as South Carolina’s head coach, tying him with Rex Enright for most in school history.

– Northern Illinois quarterback Jordan Lynch totaled 569 yards of offense (407 passing, 162 rushing) in the Huskies’ win over Toledo Wednesday night that clinched the MAC West.  It marked the second time this season that Lynch, fifth in the country in rushing yards per game entering the weekend (134.2), had passed for more than 300 yards and rushed for more than a 100 in a single game.

– Army has a pair of 1,000-yard rushers in a single season — quarterback Trent Steelman and running back Raymond Maples — for the first time since 1984.  Steelman also has 44 career touchdowns, breaking the school record set by Glenn Davis back in the mid-40s.

– A 42-16 win over North Texas (sorry Ben) secured Louisiana-Monroe’s first winning season since moving to the FBS level in 1994.  The Warhawks had twice finished seasons at 6-6 (2007, 2009).

– Harvard has beaten Yale five straight times, the first time the Crimson have achieved that feat in a rivalry that dates back to 1875.

– Yulee (Fla.) High School running back and 2013 Alabama verbal commitment Derrick Henry rushed for 482 yards and six touchdowns — on an astounding 58 carries — in a playoff win Friday night, pushing his career rushing total to 11,254 yards.  That broke the national high school record of 11,232 yards set by Ken Hull of Sugarland (Tex.) way back in 1953.  Henry, who has rushed for over 100 yards in every single game of his high school career and has run for at least 200 yards every game this season, will have at least one more game to add to his record total.

SID NOTE OF THE WEEK
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron claimed sole possession of the school’s single-season passing touchdown record as he connected with Christion Jones on a 29-yard touchdown in the second quarter for his 21st on the year. He entered the game tied with Greg McElroy (2010) on the single season list.

SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE
UCLA is the only team to represent the Pac-12 South in the conference championship game.  Granted, it’s just two years into the event, but still…

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As BGSU, S. Alabama trade late bowl punches, Falcons left standing

If you like your after-dark football a little dangerous and a lot wild, the Camellia Bowl was served it up just right.

Seemingly in control at halftime, Bowling Green (8-6) watched as South Alabama (6-7), playing in its first-ever bowl game, whittled away at the deficit and actually took the lead late.  However, the Falcons matched the Jaguars’ late-game magic with some of its own, claiming a wild 33-28 win in the inaugural Camellia Bowl.

With 1:20 remaining in the game, a three-yard Terrance Timmons run gave USA its first lead of the game at 27-26.  However, on BGSU’s first play from scrimmage after that go-ahead score, James Knapke hit Roger Lewis on a 78-yard touchdown pass that, after a failed two-point conversion, gave the Falcons a five-point lead with 1:04 remaining.

On the very next play from scrimmage for USA, any hopes of another comeback were immediately thwarted as quarterback Brandon Bridge threw his second interception of the game.  All told, the Jaguars committed four turnovers.

Knapke finished the game with 368 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner.  Suffice to say, he was named as the Camellia Bowl’s most outstanding player.

BGSU and Knapke, though, would’ve saved themselves some angst at the end if they hadn’t botched a possession midway through the fourth quarter.

Up 27-21, BGSU moved the ball to the USA one-yard line thanks to a pass interference penalty in the end zone.  Three straight running plays up the middle gained exactly zero yards.  Instead of going for it on fourth down to essentially put the game out of reach, the Falcons attempted an 18-yard field goal… and promptly missed it.

Another source of angst for the winning squad?  Ronnie Moore, one of BGSU’s starting wide receivers, was ejected for targeting on a punt return early in the third quarter.  At the time of his ejection, Moore had five receptions for 61 yards and his team led 20-7; after that, the Falcons were outscored 21-13 and nearly coughed up the victory.

The game wasn’t without its bizarre moments on the sidelines, either.

Very early in the third quarter, an official was injured by something thrown from the stands as he was running down the sidelines.  In the fourth quarter, USA head coach Joey Jones, a former Alabama football player, sustained an injury to the nose after he was inadvertently kicked by one of his own players who had been tackled out of bounds.  Jones was shown during the broadcast bleeding rather profusely and being tended to by team medical personnel as he continued his coaching duties, with the speculation being that it was broken.

After midnight, and at least as far as college football goes, it doesn’t get much better than MACtion vs. Funbelt.

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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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