Speculation again connects Nick Saban to the Browns

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Unfortunately for an Alabama football team preparing for what could be a third BCS championship in four years, it’s back.

The “it” in the latest rumor mill churning is speculation connecting Alabama head coach Nick Saban to a return to the NFL in general and to the Cleveland Browns specifically.  In the months since confirmation surfaced in August that Jimmy Haslam was purchasing the Browns, the speculative thought process was the new owner would bring in Joe Banner as his new team president — he did — who would in turn hire Mike Lombardi as his new general manager — he might — who would in turn at least attempt to bring his old Cleveland buddy Saban in as head coach.

That was the under-the-surface speculation, anyway.  Which the Boston Globe decided Sunday to bring to the surface with some fire to go along with the smoke.

In the Globe‘s report that focuses mainly on a potential Lombardi return to football management, and citing two unnamed NFL sources, Greg Bedard writes that “Saban has let it be known that if he returns to the NFL… it would likely be with Lombardi playing Pioli to his Belichick.”  First and foremost, Saban has let it be known that he’d consider a return to the NFL, where he failed miserably in his only stint with the Miami Dolphins?  The fact that a move back to the NFL would be part of Saban’s thought process as he’s preparing for a fourth BCS title-game appearance stretches the bounds of reason to the point of breakage.

Secondly, this “situation” is dot-connecting at its best.

Saban, a defensive back at Kent State in his collegiate playing days, was part of the ill-fated early-90’s Browns organization that included Lombardi, Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick.  The latter two famously reunited in New England, with Pioli serving as “general manager” while Belichick held final say over personnel decisions during the Patriots’ run of Super Bowl success.  With Lombardi reportedly in play as the future GM in Cleveland, and with Banner preferring a head coach having final say on personnel, dangling the NFL/Browns/Lombardi/personnel carrot in front of Saban could be enough to prompt the best coach in the best situation at the FBS level to “take the plunge again,” Bedard reports.

Why Saban, who was 15-17 with the Dolphins before leaving for Tuscaloosa — after he wasn’t — would “let it be known” that he’s open to a departure back to the big-boy league is unclear.  It certainly wouldn’t be money; at nearly $5.5 million annually, Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football.  A chance at redeeming his only coaching failure at any level?  Perhaps, although there’s clearly no love lost between Saban and the next level.

What is crystal clear, though, is how Saban’s better half views any type of speculation that has her husband headed somewhere other than Tuscaloosa.

“To answer your question [of her Saban having any interest in rebuilding another college program or returning to the NFL] and get right to the point, no. We’re very comfortable here. We love it here. It’s a great fit for our family. It’s a good fit for me. As far as we’re concerned, this is where we’ll retire someday.

“As far as jobs go, this is it for us. I don’t mean to be presumptuous. I would have to talk this over with Nick, but as far as I’m concerned, this is it.”

Those were the comments made by Terry Saban, the coach’s wife, during a radio interview two days before the Globe‘s report reared its head.  “This is it” has a very definitive finality to it; to be fair, so did “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” two weeks before he was.

Because of that distant past, Saban could in the near future find himself in damned if he does, damned if doesn’t territory if the Globe‘s report and other speculation continues to grow legs.  Damned if he unequivocally denies the Browns speculation (PAWWWLLL, IT’S 2006 AGAIN!!! ROLLTIDE!!!), and damned if he doesn’t (PAWWWLLL, SILENCE IS THE FIRST ACT OF A TRAITOR!!! ROLLTIDE!!!).

All the while preparing his Alabama team for an unprecedented three titles in a four-year span in the BCS era.  “Troll Tide” indeed.

Oregon State reportedly finds new head coach in Beau Baldwin

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As coaching vacancies are opening up, one report Friday night says Oregon State has filled their vacancy in the football program. Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin is reported to be slated as the next head coach of the Beavers, according to Football Scoop.

The hire is expected to happen quickly at the conclusion of this weekend’s Pac-12 action. Cal is playing UCLA Friday night in the season finale for the Bears, and Oregon State plays Oregon on Saturday.

Baldwin joined the Cal staff under new head coach Justin Wilcox after eight seasons as the head coach at Eastern Washington, one of the top FCS programs over that span. Baldwin will be no stranger to the Pac-12 North, having competed against a handful of Pac-12 opponents over the years and even winning. As a head coach at Eastern Washington, and before that at Division 2 Central Washington, Baldwin has a record of 95-35 with a national championship at Eastern Washington in 2010.

Oregon State’s head coaching position opened up on October 9 when Gary Andersen mutually agreed with the university to part ways, leaving behind a buyout as part of the agreement.

No. 25 Virginia Tech defeats Virginia for 14th straight year

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It’s been a long time since the last time Virginia handed their in-state rivals from Blacksburg a loss, and it will be at least another year more until they do so again. No. 25 Virginia Tech (9-3, 5-3 ACC) extended their winning streak against Virginia (6-6, 3-5 ACC) to 14 with a 10-0 win in Charlottesville on Friday night.

Josh Jackson‘s eight-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cunningham was the only touchdown scored in the game and padded a lead to 10-0 for Virginia Tech in the third quarter. A week after making big plays for a half against Miami, Virginia’s offense was finding little opportunity with the football. Virginia Tech held the hosts to fewer than 200 yards of offense.

The last time Virginia Tech lost to Virginia was in 2003. The Cavaliers upset the No. 21 Hokies 35-21 with a 28-7 advantage in the second half. Virgina Tech’s shutout of Virginia was the third shutout victory in the series for the Hokies since 2006, all with Bud Foster as defensive coordinator.

Both Virginia Tech and Virginia will be participating in the bowl season this year. What bowl games that are heading to remains to be determined.

Iowa clobbers Nebraska in what appears to be end of the road for Mike Riley

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The Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the weirdest teams to figure out this season. On Friday, the Hawkeye faithful were thankful the good Iowa showed up in Lincoln. Iowa (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) blasted Nebraska (4-8, 306 Big Ten) on the strength of a 28-point outburst in the third quarter of a 56-14 victory over the Huskers. For Nebraska, it was a fitting end to a disappointing season and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the Mike Riley era in Lincoln.

Iowa became the third team to win three straight games played in Lincoln, Nebraska in the last 40 years. Oklahoma and Texas are the only two programs to pull off that once-unthinkable feat. But since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and paired up with Iowa for a regular season rivalry in the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed their trips to Nebraska. This just happened to be the biggest blowout in the Big Ten series, and it came one year after Iowa blew out Nebraska by a 40-10 score the previous season. For those counting at home, Nebraska has now lost two straight games to Iowa by a combined score of 96-34.

Nebraska managed to show some fight late in their road game at Penn State last week, but Iowa was having none of that this week. The Hawkeyes out-gained Nebraska 505-267 in offensive yardage and Iowa forced three Nebraska turnovers while picking up 23 first downs and allowing just 12. Nebraska went the entire second half without scoring a point, while Iowa went on a roll. This game was tied 14-14 at halftime, believe it or not.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley took over the game for the Hawkeyes. Wadley rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those scores coming in the third quarter.

Iowa will now go to a bowl game, while Nebraska is tasked with figuring out what to do next. Unlike at Arkansas, where the plug was pulled on Bret Bielema minutes after losing a regular season finale at home, Mike Riley is still employed by Nebraska. But for how much longer? Rumors about where Nebraska is going next continue to swirl, with UCF head coach Scott Frost being a trendy name to attach to the Nebraska job (Frost just completed an undefeated 11-0 season at UCF), but there has been no official change just yet in Lincoln.

But with an AD change this year and the way this season devolved, Riley’s days are all but over in Lincoln.

No. 15 UCF remains perfect after wild win over USF clinches AAC East

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I’ll allow you to try catching your breath before we try to recap exactly what happened in the final minutes of the War on I-4 between two AAC championship contenders. No. 15 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) came out on the positive end of a wild and crazy ending to keep the regular season spotless in the loss column. UCF scored a go-ahead touchdown, gave up a tying touchdown, scored the game-winning touchdown and recovered a late fumble to close the books on a 49-42 victory over rival USF (9-2, 6-2 AAC) in the span of just two minutes.

UCF and USF combined for over 1,100 yards of offense in the back-and-forth game, but UCF scored three touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to get off to a fast start and find a way to grab the game by the horns and drive it home. McKinzie Milton passed for 373 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score to help the Knights outlast a valiant effort from Quinton Flowers and a record-setting day for USF wide receiver Tyre McCants. Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards and a score. McCants broke the USF record for most receiving yards in a game in the first half, but ended his day with 227 yards.

USF had their opportunities to win this game. The Bulls missed a field goal in the first half and Flowers threw his only interception late in the first half when it appeared the Bulls could have taken a lead into halftime. The fumble by Mitchell Wilcox came at the end of a play that was moving the ball across midfield in the final moments. USF, the preseason favorite in the AAC, will still be going to a bowl game and should be a threat to whomever they face, but two losses along the way prevented them from living up to the lofty expectations placed on them this season.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next week. The winner of that game will be nearly guaranteed a spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up as both teams are currently the highest-ranked teams in the playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season with a 40-13 victory in Orlando, but the Tigers have been playing much better since that game. The rematch should be much more competitive next week.

UCF wrapped up a perfect regular season on the same day No., 2 Miami suffered its first loss of the year. UCF is now the only undefeated team in the state of Florida this season.