With rumors swirling of Kelly’s departure, Oregon keeps its focus in Fiesta Bowl

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The Fiesta Bowl was, in fact, treated as a party — a going away party for Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Kelly’s name has become surgically attached to the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks. Both organizations are reportedly in Glendale, Ariz., for the bowl game in an attempt to steal Kelly away from Eugene and into the NFL. They’ll have Oregon’s permission to speak to Kelly too.

From the moment Kelly turned away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago, everyone — players, Oregon’s administrators, fans and media alike — knew this time was coming again. Hot coaching commodities have windows of opportunity and Kelly’s is wide open right now. The thought of Kelly departing Oregon for the pros surely weighed on those collective minds, and perhaps on Kelly most of all.

Yet through the distractions, Kelly did the one thing for which he’s best known: keeping his focus on the task at hand. “Win the day” is not just a cliché for the Ducks’ head coach. Neither is the “next man in” philosophy.  It’s what he personally practices and asks of everyone involved with the program. As a result, Oregon’s identity has been closer to that of a machine rather than a football team over Kelly’s four years as head coach of the Ducks.

The focus was apparent Thursday night when the No. 5 Ducks knocked off No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. On the opening kickoff, De’Anthony Thomas darted around defenders for a 94-yard touchdown run. Immediately, Oregon converted a two-point conversion by catching K-State off guard.

That’s focus (or, speed).

Up 22-10 heading into halftime thanks to a more Oregon-esque 45-second drive, Kelly still wasn’t satisfied. “I have to call a faster game,” Kelly said to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “That’s on me.”

That’s focus (or, logistics).

The Ducks then made excellent halftime adjustments along the offensive line and running back Kenjon Barner finished with 143 yards after a sluggish first two quarters.

That’s focus (or, great coaching).

These are just examples of why Oregon is going to be fine if Kelly leaves for the NFL. His players don’t fear his departure. In fact, they respect that their coach seeks to win at the highest of levels because it’s a quality they all possess as competitors. It helps that the university also has a plan. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is reportedly the next-in-line to grab the reins should Kelly take his final bow. Per USA Today‘s George Schroeder, Helfrich is a pure cut from Kelly’s philosophical cloth.

He can finish Chip’s sentences,” a source told Schroeder about Helfrich. “He’s been in that environment long enough (to succeed). It’s a leap of faith but it’s very similar – I’d almost argue that it was a bigger leap (promoting) Chip than with Mark.”

If it is a leap, it’s a calculated one. Oregon has a brand and an identity on and off the field matched by few in today’s college football environment. So whether it’s Kelly leading the Ducks on to the field or Helfrich, Oregon is in a position for continued success even with a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions looming.

If it is Helfrich? Well, Chip, it’s been fun. And a little too fast in every sense of the word.

Rutgers avoids scholarship reductions, other harsh sanctions as NCAA issues ruling

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The Rutgers football program can officially breathe a huge sigh of relief.

As the culmination of a two-year investigation into the football program, the NCAA on Friday announced its final ruling on a case involving Rutgers.  Despite a failure to monitor charge, the NCAA essentially accepted the sanctions the university had previously self-imposed on itself for violations ranging from academic improprieties to drug-testing irregularities to lack of oversight in the recruiting ambassador program.

Below are the original penalties self-imposed by the program:

  • a 1-year probation period
  • a $5,000 fine
  • a reduction of 10 off-campus recruiting days (five in the fall of 2017-18 and five in the spring)
  • a limit of 36 official visits hosted, 26 lower than the limit
  • a 1-week ban on initiating phone calls, contact on social media and written correspondence to recruits

The only change made by the NCAA was bumping the probation period from one year to two.  Additionally, former head coach Kyle Flood, now an assistant with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, received a one-year show-cause.

The NCAA had particularly pointed words for Flood.

“The former head coach took a casual approach to compliance as it relates to the host program,” the panel said in its decision. “He exercised little, if any, oversight of the group, permitting recruiting staff to administer the program with no supervision. As the individual who had ultimate oversight of all aspects of the football program, it is implicit that the head coach was also responsible for the actions of football hosts and, ultimately, the violations they committed.”

In September of 2015, Flood was suspended for three games in the wake of a university investigation into his alleged actions.  The probe centered on an email that Flood sent from a private email account to an RU faculty member regarding the eligibility of one of his former football players.

That situation was highlighted in the committee’s decision:

In the last instance of not following university policy, the former head coach contacted a student-athlete’s instructor, contrary to university policy, to arrange for extra coursework after the conclusion of the term so the student-athlete could pass the class and be eligible for the fall 2015 season. After contacting the instructor and before meeting with her, the former head coach reached out to an academic support administrator, who warned against contacting the instructor. The former head coach stated he was unaware of university policy prohibiting him from contacting faculty members.

The former head coach provided the student-athlete with an impermissible academic extra benefit when he contacted the instructor to arrange extra coursework, an arrangement that is not available generally to the student body. The instructor ultimately did not accept the extra coursework, and the student-athlete was ineligible for the fall 2015 season.

The NCAA kicked off its probe of the football program in the spring of 2015, prior to Flood’s suspension.  The head coach, along with athletic director Julie Hermannwas dismissed in late November of 2015.

Ex-A&M AD: ‘I had nothing to do with’ Kevin Sumlin’s massive contract extension

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If you’re a fan of honesty — or at least one man’s version of what he honestly thinks is reality — this one’s in your wheelhouse.

In 2012, the first season for both Kevin Sumlin in College Station and Texas A&M in the SEC, the Aggies went 11-2 overall and 6-2 in conference play, largely behind the play of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. In February of 2013, and after Sumlin had been mentioned in connection to a couple of NFL jobs, a six-year, $30 million contract extension was approved by the university.

Since that reworked contract and the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into the football program? A&M has gone a middling 35-20 and, more importantly, just 15-17 in conference play. More to the point, the Aggies have finished fourth, sixth, fifth and fourth the past four seasons in the even-more hyper-competitive SEC West. An even finer point? They are 9-15 against divisional foes in that same span.

Following the historic season-opening collapse to UCLA in the 2017 opener, one A&M regent — part of the same body that approved the extension — very publicly called for the immediate firing of Sumlin, who was still the seventh-highest-paid head coach in college football in 2016. That came on the heels of Sumlin’s boss, athletic director Scott Woodward, very publicly putting his head football coach on the hot seat this offseason by stating that Sumlin “knows he has to win and he has to win this year.”

This week, Woodward’s predecessor, Eric Hyman, washed his hands of the contract that’s seemingly saddling the university, telling Mac Engel of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that, in essence, he had absolutely nothing to do with the contract extension. At all. That those above his paygrade gave him his marching orders when it came to the new deal.

From Engel’s piece:

Was That Contract Hyman’s decision?

“No. I had nothing to do with it,” Hyman told me in an interview on Wednesday morning at a Starbucks near his home in Fort Worth.

“I have done this job a long time and I don’t blame Kevin Sumlin. If someone is going to give you $5 million a year for six years, it would have been stupid of him to turn it down,” Hyman said. “But the contract was given to me, and it was ‘This is what we are going to do.’ I looked at myself and I was stunned.

“I had no say so over it. I’ve been doing this job for a long time. I had worked with Steve Spurrier for years, and he was paid a heck of a lot less than Coach Sumlin. And he won national championships after conference championships. And then you are making this commitment to a person, and again I don’t blame Kevin, that’s never won a conference championship.

“When the original contract was given to me, if Kevin were to leave the next day there was no buyout provision.

There’s literally no gray area there. If Hyman’s version of events is correct, and A&M is forced to oust Sumlin at some point in the next couple of months, any financial ramifications the university faces can be placed squarely at the feet of those who forced the contract on Hyman.

As for those financial ramifications? It would reportedly cost A&M in excess of $11 million to get rid of Sumlin.

About-face: Derrius Guice will play vs. Syracuse after all

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Never mind, I guess.

Wednesday night, Ed Orgeron flatly stated on his radio show that Derrius Guicewill not play this week” against Syracuse because of a left knee injury sustained in Saturday’s embarrassing loss to Mississippi State. Thursday, there was a complete 180-degree reversal.

“We got some good news today, at the beginning of the week, Derrius was ruled out, up to yesterday he wouldn’t be able to play,” Orgeron said according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. “He came to us today and said ‘Coach, I’m feeling better, I want to practice.’ He practiced pretty good today so he’s going to get some snaps. He will play.”

OK then.

Through three games, Guice leads the Tigers with 300 yards rushing and is tied for tops on the team with four rushing touchdowns. His rushing yards are currently fourth in the SEC; last season, his 1,387 yards were tops in the conference.

Pitt FB/TD machine George Aston set to return vs. Georgia Tech

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One of the most efficient touchdown producers in college football in 2016 that you were probably completely unaware of appears ready to make his 2017 debut.

A vague lower-extremity injury knocked George Aston out of most of not only summer camp but also Pittsburgh’s first three regular-season games as well. With Georgia Tech on the horizon in Week 4, the fullback is listed as probable on the team’s official injury report released Thursday.

For a team that has scored just four offensive touchdowns in two games against FBS competition, Aston’s potential return could serve as somewhat of a boon for that side of the ball.

Last season, Aston totaled 75 yards on 22 carries as well as 169 yards on 22 receptions. In those 44 touches, Aston totaled 10 touchdowns — five on the ground, five through the air.

Saturday’s game will serve as the ACC opener for both Pitt and Tech.