Lane Kiffin picks USC’s starting quarterback

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USC coach Lane Kiffin has finally picked a starting quarterback for his team.

It’s just that we won’t actually know who he is until next Saturday, when the Trojans host Washington State in their home opener.

“You guys will see on Saturday who he is,” said Kiffin on his Sunday night media conference call.

But we think we know right now who it’s going to be.

To recap, Cody Kessler and Max Wittek — both redshirt sophomores — were listed as USC’s co-starters headed into the Hawaii game. Kessler took the first snap and played the entire first half and the first series of the third quarter. He finished 10 of 19 for just 95 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Wittek took over from Kessler and ended up 5 of 10 for 77 yards. USC’s offense put up just 364 yards overall in a sluggish 30-13 win.

Close observers of USC have noted that the playcalling for Kessler and Wittek against Hawaii was markedly different, particularly in the passing game. Here are the passing charts* for each quarterback versus the Rainbow Warriors:

CodyKesslerPassingChartvHawaii2013_zpsd483a95f

MaxWittekPassingChartvHawaii2013_zps7f31ec09

As you can see, most of Kessler’s throws were safe throws to the flats. Only three passes went longer than 10 yards. Meanwhile, most of Wittek’s pass attempts were over 10 yards.

These charts probably betray Kiffin’s confidence in Wittek’s markedly stronger arm and, if we had to venture a guess, it tips his hand on which quarterback he plans on starting next Saturday. After all, a pro style system usually demands a pro style arm.

It wouldn’t be Wittek’s first start, though. He started the final two games of last season after Matt Barkley got hurt against UCLA. The results? Decidedly mixed. But Kiffin needs to go with the quarterback who he feels best fits his system if he is actually going to allow that quarterback to throw the ball downfield.

For now, all those signs point to that quarterback being Wittek.

* — Thanks to USC fan Chase Vergari for sending me these charts.

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.

Tennessee OG Jack Jones retires due to neck injury

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The playing career of Tennessee offensive guard Jack Jones has come to an unfortunate end. On Monday, Tennessee head coach Butch Jones announced Jones was stepping away from football as injury concerns with his neck continue to interfere with playing.

Jones played in the season opener against Georgia Tech in Atlanta but has essentially been out of action for the entire season after that. After consulting with doctors, Jones came to the decision to step away from football as it became clear playing football would only put his long-term health in jeopardy.

The loss of Jones leaves Tennessee’s offensive line depth thin down the stretch. It could be quite a bumpy finish to what has already been a turbulent season in Knoxville.

Urban Meyer may have successfully talked his way out of a night trap at Iowa

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Sitting from his office in Columbus, Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer has been able to see just how dangerous a night game at Iowa can be. Last season, Iowa upset Michigan with the first loss suffered by the Wolverines setting off a wild finale to the Big Ten season. Earlier this season, a night game at Iowa nearly caught Penn State before the Nittany Lions managed to get out of Kinnick Stadium with a last-second victory. Knowing the history of Kinnick Stadium at night, Meyer may have managed to successfully lobby himself from having to play a night game at Iowa.

Big Ten kickoff times for Week 10 have started to come together on Monday, with Minnesota announcing it will host Michigan in primetime on FOX. The decision to have the Gophers and Wolverines in primetime was a tad puzzling considering two of the other game son the Big Ten schedule that day. Penn State is playing at Michigan State and Ohio State is playing — you guessed it — at Iowa.

The Buckeyes will be playing at either noon or 3:30 p.m. eastern on November 4, with the Nittany Lions and Spartans likely to be slotted in the other timeslot. The speculation is the 3:30 p.m. ET slot will be reserved for the winner of this week’s Ohio State-Penn State matchup, as the game will likely begin to take more weight in the College Football Playoff picture on top of the Big Ten championship hunt.

Meyer addressed concerns about playing so many road games at night this season, and perhaps the conference is responding to his concerns. Ohio State has already played four primetime games, including three on the road (Indiana, Rutgers, Nebraska). If not for the World Series coverage this weekend, odds are good the home game against Penn State would have been a lock for primetime as well. Ohio State also played a primetime game earlier this year against Oklahoma. But Meyer’s chief concern was playing so many night games on the road, as it becomes quite tiresome for players.

Was Meyer looking forward all along to prevent Ohio State from having to play a night game at Iowa? Regardless of the motive, the Buckeyes will not have to test the fates under the lights at Kinnick Stadium in two weeks.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill apologizes for one-finger salute to Penn State crowd

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Over the weekend, Tennessee’s Rashaan Gaulden flipped a double-bird to fans at Alabama after the Vols scored a touchdown. It has quickly become one of the top images from the weekend, and Gauldin has apologized for his obscene gesture to the Alabama faithful. On Monday, another player on the road who decided to flip off the home fans has now apologized for his actions.

Michigan’s Lavert Hill was seen offering a one-finger salute to fans at Penn State after Michigan had suffered a 42-13 loss at Beaver Stadium. The image of Hill gesturing to the fans made the rounds, and now Hill has offered his own apology in a brief statement.

“I sincerely regret my inappropriate gesture at the end of Saturday’s football game. I let my emotions get the best of me and learned a valuable lesson,” Hill said in his statement. “I am truly sorry for this offensive gesture and vow that it will not happen again.”

Hill had committed to Penn State during the recruiting process before flipping to stay in state with the Wolverines. It was a rough night for former Penn State commits playing in a Michigan uniform on Saturday. Kicker Quinn Nordin, who committed to Penn State with an airplane music video but flipped to Michigan after Jim Harbaugh slept over has been rock solid with his kicking this season, but he missed his first kick Saturday night for an extra point.