Bobby Petrino

It’s official: WKU joining C-USA in 2014


Bobby Petrino and the Hilltoppers are moving on up.

Following up on reports from this weekend, Conference USA has announced that Western Kentucky will become the league’s 14th member beginning in 2014.

“We welcome Western Kentucky to Conference USA,” commissioner Britton Banowsky said in a release. “The tradition of the University and its athletics success is truly remarkable. The men’s basketball program has made seven NCAA appearances since 2000, the women’s basketball program has advanced to three NCAA Final Fours and football went to a bowl game last season in just its fourth year in the FBS.”

WKU will replace Tulsa, which is reportedly on its way to the soon-to-be-renamed Big East. The Hilltoppers also follow Sun Belt members FAU, FIU, North Texas and Middle Tennessee to C-USA. Other members of C-USA will ultimately include former WAC schools Louisiana Tech and UT-San Antonio; new members Old Dominion and Charlotte; and current members Marshall, Rice, Southern Mississippi, UAB and Texas-El Paso.

“Today’s announcement that Western Kentucky University has accepted an invitation to join Conference USA is not a surprise given the communication that I have had with university officials and the rampant speculation over the past several months,” Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson said in an official release. “I remain confident that we have numerous options and that there are universities that have a strong desire to be members of the Sun Belt Conference.”

While not official, reports have indicated the Sun Belt will look to Liberty or James Madison as a replacement for WKU.

Not everybody seems happy about USC’s hiring of Clay Helton

Clay Helton

If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.

We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.

There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.

USC names Clay Helton permanent head coach

Clay Helton

The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.

Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.

Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.

USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.

USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.

Will Mark Richt coach again? “Oh yeah, no doubt”

Mark Richt

On Sunday the end of the line for Mark Richt at Georgia was finally reached. The Bulldogs and the head coach will go separate ways after a 15-season run in Athens, but this will not be the final stop for Richt as a head coach. On Monday, during a press conference with the media to address the coaching change, Richt was asked whether he will coach again.

“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Richt said in his response. “I’m going to listen to anybody that’s interested in talking to me,” Richt said when again asked about what’s next for the now former head coach of Georgia.

The press conference with Richt was a bit unusual for these types of settings. First, Richt continued to show his Georgia pride by wearing a black coat and red tie and had a Georgia pin on his coat. Second, he sat right next to Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, who offered no insight whatsoever on what’s next for Georgia. When asked about the coaching search or the status for assistants, McGarity continued to shift the focus on Richt.

Richt expressed his enthusiasm for getting to coach one final game for Georgia. He will coach Georgia’s bowl game, wherever that may be, giving him one last chance to end a season with a bowl victory, which he has done nine times previously.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.