John L. Smith officially out as Hogs’ head coach

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After back-to-back September weekends that saw Arkansas lose to Louisiana-Monroe and get blown out by Alabama at home, it was widely assumed and presumed that there was no chance John L. Smith would be back as the Razorbacks’ head coach.

The day after UA’s season came to an end with its eighth loss in 12 games, the John L. era in Fayetteville is officially over.

In a press release, Arkansas athletic director Jeff Long announced that he has informed Smith that the school “would be making a change in leadership within our football program.”  Smith was hired in the wake of the Bobby Petrino scandal and was given a short leash from the get-go; Smith signed a 10-month contract after leaving his alma mater Weber State, where he had just been hired as head coach for less than five months before leaving for the Hogs in April.

“I am very grateful to Chancellor (David) Gearhart and Jeff Long for the opportunity they gave me to return to the University of Arkansas and coach this football team,” Smith said in a statement. “I have enjoyed guiding this group and I am extremely proud of how everyone in our program stuck together and showed tremendous character by competing throughout the season. Everyone on our staff has my appreciation as they all believed in our goals and stayed committed to the development of these young men.

“I would like to thank the Razorback fans for demonstrating their support for these student-athletes and this coaching staff during a challenging time. I enjoyed every day of this experience and this profession has been and will continue to be rewarding to me. During my time here, it has been incredible to be a part of helping this program grow and I wish everyone involved nothing but success in the future.”

As for which direction Arkansas will turn for a permanent replacement for Petrino, several names have already been bandied about even before Smith’s official dismissal.  From ESPN broadcaster Jon Gruden to Arkansas State’s Gus Malzahn to Louisiana Tech’s Sonny Dykes, there is no shortage of reported contenders for the position.

While obviously not getting into specifics, Long stated that the new leader of the Razorbacks football program would possess “honesty and integrity.”  In other words, the anti-Petrino.

“Last April, when I appointed Coach Smith for the 2012 season, I indicated I thought this would provide us the opportunity to take the time necessary to identify the right coach for the future and to do so in a time that would allow us to attract quality candidates,” Long’s statement read. “Our new coach will be an individual who shares the passion for success our fans do and who is willing to work relentlessly to achieve our goals.  It will be someone who embraces the expectations of winning a national championship and succeeding in the classroom with discipline, honesty and integrity. The leader of our student-athletes will continuously stress academic accountability and the value of earning a degree from the University of Arkansas. Our new coach will embrace what this program means not just to the university, but to the entire state of Arkansas and will share the vision for the future success of Razorback Football.”

There is no timeline for the announcement of the new hire, although Long said back in mid-October that he would like the coach in place by early December.

UNC and Minnesota line up future home-and-home deal

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While one football series between an ACC and Big Ten team may be hard to come by, North Carolina and Minnesota have put together a future home-and-home scheduling agreement to look forward to. The Tar Heels and Gophers will meet for the first time on the football field in 2023 and follow up with a second game in 2024, the schools announced on Wednesday.

North Carolina will host Minnesota on Sept. 16, 2023. The two schools will then open the 2024 season at Minnesota, either on August 31, 2024 or for a Thursday opener on August 29, 2024.

The ACC and Big Ten each require their members to play one game against another power conference opponent each season. North Carolina already satisfied that requirement in 2024 with a season-opener against South Carolina scheduled to be played in Charlotte, NC, but the 2024 game fulfills the power conference scheduling requirement for the Tar Heels. The home-and-home series will also satisfy Minnesota’s obligation to the Big Ten scheduling policy for both seasons (Minnesota is getting an exemption for 2018 and 2019 due to previous scheduling arrangements being in place prior to the Big Ten’s stance on strength of schedule in non-conference play.

Pitt leaves renewal of football series in Penn State’s hands

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Ever since the in-state rivalry between Penn State and Pitt came to a temporary end in 2001, it has been a struggle to get the two schools back on the field for any stretch of time. With the third in a four-game series upcoming this fall, Pitt is hoping to find a way to continue playing the Nittany Lions on future schedules, but the offer is now apparently in Penn State’s hands awaiting a response.

Pitt athletic director Heather Lyke told reporters Wednesday she has proposed a four-year series beginning in 2026 to her Penn State counterpart, Sandy Barbour, but Penn State has not responded to the offer.

“We’re going to wait a tad more patiently, but not much,” Lyke said, according to Trib Live. “We can’t. We have people who want to play us and good opportunities to play what would be a very attractive game.”

The four-game series currently ongoing between the Panthers and Nittany Lions comes to a close after their meeting in the 2019 season in Happy Valley. According to FBSchedules.com, Penn State will not have another opening for a non-conference game until 2021. That is also the first season Pitt will have scheduling availability for non-conference matchups. Both schools already have power conference opponents lined up through 2025 as well, perhaps eliminating the desire to add another power conference opponent to the schedule.

Both Penn State and Pitt have scheduling requirements for non-conference play from the Big Ten and ACC, respectively, to include at least one game against another power conference opponent. It seems like a natural solution for Penn State and Pitt to agree to a long-term scheduling commitment to satisfy their respective conferences’ scheduling requirements, but the old issue has always come down to the financial incentive of a game. With Penn State playing in a larger stadium, it would be losing out on potential revenue that could be gained by an extra home game when possible. And playing road games at Pittsburgh only helps another program in the state by filling the seats more than any other home game on Pitt’s schedules in just about any season (Notre Dame and West Virginia would be other candidates to help Pitt fill Heinz Field).

It took so long just to get the two schools together for a two-year series, which was later expanded to a four-year arrangement. Don’t count on this in-state rivalry being renewed for quite some time after the 2019 season.

QB Blake Barnett reportedly transferring from Arizona State

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Quarterback Blake Barnett is now on the graduate transfer market. According to Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter, Barnett will find a new program to wrap up his college football career as a graduate transfer. South Florida is reportedly set to get an official visit from the former Sun Devils and Alabama quarterback.

Barnett started his football career at Alabama, where he sat out the 2015 season as a freshman. During his redshirt freshman in 2016, Barnett appeared in just three games as Jalen Hurts rose to become Alabama’s starting quarterback that would lead the Tide for the next two seasons (until halftime of last season’s national championship game). Barnett transferred to Arizona State, leaving behind a seemingly tumultuous relationship with Nick Saban, and played in just two games for the Sun Devils last fall, while Manny Wilkins established himself as the quarterback for former head coach Todd Graham.

A former four-star recruit out of high school, Barnett has played in just five games and completed 14 of 24 pass attempts for 259 yards and two touchdowns with an interception. Barnett’s latest transfer news comes a day after former UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen took a swipe at Barnett, who was ranked ahead of Rosen in various recruiting rankings out of high school.

“Blake Barnett was the Elite 11 MVP,” Rosen said, per SEC Country. “He was the dude that was going to go to ‘Bama, win a couple championships, call it quits and go to the league as the first overall pick. You don’t really hear about him too much.”

As a graduate transfer, Barnett will be eligible to play immediately this fall.

Transferring BYU QB Kody Wilstead finds new home at Kansas JUCO

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With eight quarterbacks on the roster, Kody Wilstead opted to leave the Cougars in mid-March.  A little over a month later, Wilstead has found a new home, albeit a little further down on the college football ladder.

According to the Deseret News, Wilstead has signed to play at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas.  As Coffeyville is a junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

It’s expected that Wilstead will spend at least one season at the JUCO level before looking at making a move back up to the FBS.

Wilstead, a three-star 2015 signee, took a redshirt as a true freshman last season after serving an LDS mission the previous two years.

After Wilstead’s departure, the seven remaining Cougar signal-callers are, in alphabetical order, Stacy ConnerJoe CritchlowHayden GriffittsBeau HogeTanner MangumBaylor Romney and Zach Wilson. Mangum, last year’s starter, is recovering from an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in November of last year but remains on track to return for the start of summer camp in August.