Northwestern drops Miss. St. for first bowl win in over six decades

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In the first of three New Year’s Day bowl games pitting Big Ten schools against SEC teams, Northwestern gave an early shot in the arm to a conference that’s seen more downs than ups in a rough 2012 season.  And, in the process, accomplished something that hasn’t happened since Harry S. Truman was sitting in the Oval Office.

Thanks in large part to utter quarterback ineptness on the part of its opponent, No. 21 Northwestern took an early two-score lead before pulling away late in a 34-20 Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State.  The Wildcats, who entered the game No. 15 in the country in rushing yards per game, did the majority of their scoring damage on the ground as they ran for three touchdowns on the day.

The win marked Northwestern’s first in a bowl game since January of 1949.  It also snapped the football program’s nine-game losing streak in the postseason, dating back to the Wildcats’ 20-14 Rose Bowl win over Cal exactly 64 years ago today.

“I’m just so ecstatic for this football program,” an emotional NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald said immediately after the game. “This was the one last negative we needed to erase.”

That decades-long streak was stopped thanks in large part to Tyler Russell.  The Bulldogs starting quarterback entered the Gator Bowl having thrown just six interceptions all season long; 28 pass attempts later, Russell added four to that total in a single game.  His third pass of the game was intercepted by NU’s Quentin Williams (pictured) and returned 29 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead that the Bulldogs could never completely overcome.

Russell’s miscues resulted in 17 points for Northwestern, clearly the difference in the game.  While Northwestern threw three interceptions of their own, MSU was able to convert those turnovers into just three points thanks to a Wildcats defense that, in addition to the four picks, sacked Russell four times and limited him to just 106 yards on 12-of-28 passing.

Northwestern finishes the season at 10-3, the program’s first year with double-digit wins since 1995 under Gary Barnett.  Mississippi State, on the other hand, limped, staggered and stumbled to the end of an eight-win season.  After beginning 2012 7-0, the Bulldogs lost five of their last six games by an average of 21.4 points per game.

Nick Saban thinks skipping bowl games could lead to recruits doing same thing in high school

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Grand Poobah of college football and Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had some interesting ideas about the sport over the years that conflict with the general consensus of his peers. The latest subject to fit that mold? How players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping their bowl games could filter down to the high school level with recruits.

“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.'”

The Crimson Tide coach is referencing not only the two tailbacks skipping bowl games but also the possibility that upcoming December signing date could be moved up on the calendar. Big 12 commissioner (and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee) Bob Bowlsby said at his conference media days that the date for signing could be changed or even extended to a longer signing period as part of ongoing discussions about the recruiting process.

Talk of players signing with a college prior to their senior season in high school has not been broadly talked about by coaches or administrators but it does seem like everything is on the table when it comes to NCAA reforms in this area. It remains to be seen if any recruit will actually go as far as sitting out a full year in order to protect himself from injury in order to play in college… just as it remains questionable as to whether Fournette and McCaffrey’s decisions will develop into a broader trend at the college level.

Coaches are no fans of dramatically altering the status quo and it seems Saban is among the group who want to stem the postseason defection of players before things turn into a regular occurrence at any level of football.

Coastal Carolina coach Joe Mogila has precautionary surgery on trachea

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Coastal Carolina is one of the newest members of the FBS ranks and the program’s first ever Sun Belt conference media day was supposed to be one of the highlights for the school transitioning the ranks in college football. Unfortunately for the Chanticleers, their head coach won’t be able to make it following a health scare.

The Sun Belt released a statement Friday afternoon saying that Coastal Carolina assistant Jamey Chadwell will represent the team at media day after head coach Joe Mogila “had a precancerous nodule on his trachea and doctors wanted it removed as a precaution.”

The 68-year-old Mogila is perhaps best known to those outside the sport for his time on Wall Street, including a productive stint as CEO of the company now known as TD Ameritrade. He got the itch to coach college football however and has been in charge of the Chanticleers since 2012, leading the program to a 51–15 record at the FCS level.

Chadwell was named CCU’s offensive coordinator this past January after previously serving as head coach at Charleston Southern. Neither the school or the conference indicated any timetable for Mogila’s recovery but based on the release it seems the operation was a success and the coach is now recovering.

Coastal Carolina opens the season on September 2nd against UMass in what will be the school’s first game as a FBS program.

So it begins… Ole Miss recruit decommits after Hugh Freeze departure

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It didn’t take long before Ole Miss to suffer on the recruiting trail from the abrupt departure of Hugh Freeze as head coach on Thursday evening.

In what was probably only a matter of time (just a few hours as it turns out), Rebels 2019 Houston (Tex.) cornerback recruit Bobby Wolfe confirmed to ESPN that he had decommitted from the program on Thursday night following Freeze’s resignation. Several other recruiting services also confirmed the news and noted that many of Ole Miss’ 2018 commitments are starting to have second thoughts about the situation in Oxford.

That the team is struggling to pull in recruits like they were in Freeze’s heyday when the Rebels were a regular in the top 10 of the recruiting rankings is not exactly surprising. Even before the head coach was shown the door, the school was dealing with the fallout from an ongoing NCAA infractions case and are facing the possibility that their bowl ban will extend beyond the self-imposed sit-out of the 2017 season.

With Wolfe no longer committed, Ole Miss doesn’t have a single 2019 pledge according to 247Sports and has just 10 players in the 2018 class — all of whom are three-stars or lower — that currently sits 11th in the conference team rankings. As for the Texas cornerback, he recently picked up an offer from SEC rival LSU and had Baylor extend a verbal scholarship offer not long after re-opening his recruitment.

Former 49ers executive reportedly joining Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor

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Jim Harbaugh is reaching back to his NFL days for the latest hire at Michigan.

Veteran Bay Area journalist Tim Kawakami reports that recent San Francisco 49ers personnel executive Tom Gamble is headed to Ann Arbor to join the Wolverines staff.

According to the fine folks over at sister site ProFootballTalk, Gamble left the 49ers in February shortly after John Lynch was hired by the franchise as general manager. He worked with Harbaugh when their tenures with San Francisco overlapped in 2011 and 2012 before Gamble eventually departed for a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s unclear what role specifically Gamble will take with the Wolverines as Harbaugh already hired a new director of player personnel this year by bringing Sean Magee over from Navy. The former 49ers executive doesn’t have much college experience in the past few decades beyond scouting so it will be interesting to see what his official title at Michigan will be once formally announced by the school.

Either way, it seems like Harbaugh is fully investing in off-the-field roles like his peers at Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and he is not shying away from reaching into the NFL ranks to do so.