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The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

And, yes I’m well aware of the fact that there are still games left to be played. Sorry, fans of Louisville, Florida State, et al…

WINNERS

Tajh throws Braxton a stiff-arm
Braxton Miller may have entered the season as the favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but Tajh Boyd showed he will likely be a (big) part of the discussion all the way into December. In Clemson’s impressive 38-35 win over Georgia Saturday night, Boyd accounted for all five of the Tigers’ touchdown — three passing, two rushing. On a team level, it was one of the biggest wins of Dabo Swinney‘s tenure. On a personal level, it was Boyd shining on a national stage against a very, very, very good football team in the Bulldogs and a coming-out party for a player who, at least as far as this corner is concerned, doesn’t get the respect he deserves. After that virtuoso performance, there’s no longer an excuse for any lack of respect.

Moneybadger don’t give a %$#! either
All hail the new troll god!!! Love him or hate him, Johnny Manziel makes college football a better — and immensely more interesting — game when he’s part of it. While he wasn’t a part of it in the first-half thanks to a suspension, he returned in the second half of Texas A&M’s win over Rice, and not once but twice trolled the NCAA overlords over his recent off-field “issues.” In the first instance, Manziel seemed to indicate a Rice defender would not be getting the reigning Heisman winner’s Herbie Hancock anytime soon…

Manziel Signing GIF

 

… then seemed to make a money gesture to the sky following his first touchdown pass of the season…

Manziel Money GIF

 

Manziel, of course, was investigated by the NCAA after it was alleged that he was paid tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for his signature on photos, memorabilia, etc.

Don’t change, JFF. Don’t ever change. Well, mostly don’t change (see a little further below).

No Bret, no problem
There were some people — myself included — who felt that Wisconsin wouldn’t be the old Wisconsin we’ve become accustomed to in the first year of the post-Bret Bielema era in Madison. While that may or may not ultimately be the case, the Badgers put on one helluva ground show in the first game of the Gary Andersen era. UW had a trio of running backs — James White (11-143), Melvin Gordon (13-144), Corey Clement (16-101) — who each rushed for more than 100 yards, just the third time in school history that’s happened. Clement, incidentally, became the first true freshman at UW since P.J. Hill in 2006 to top 100 yards in his first game as a Badger. Yes, the opposition was “just” UMass, but Andersen and his Badgers showed that anyone who sleeps on UW does so at their own peril.

Butch JonesThank you, Lord
How thankful is the Tennessee fan base that Derek Dooley is no longer their head football coach? So thankful that they are offering up hallelujahs to the Big College Football Fan Upstairs for it. Literally. “Pregame prayer in Neyland [Stadium] thanked God for a new coach,” a tweet from govols247.com‘s Wes Rucker read. Butch Jones then proceeded to reward that faith as the Vols pounded overmatched Austin Peay 45-0. Yes, it was just a win over an FCS school, but it was also the Vols’ largest margin of victory since a 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin in 2010 — the first game under Dooley, so maybe that’s not as good of omen upon further review. Still, it was a much-needed win for the fans on Rocky Top, one they will gladly take after three years of misery.

Right in his Scheelhaase
Normally when Illinois is mentioned in the Fifth Quarter, it’s part of the section right below this one. Not today, though. All Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did was throw for a career-high 416 yards — 340 in the first half — and two touchdowns in the 42-34 win over Southern Illinois. The win was satisfying for Scheelhaase personally as the quarterback has fought back from an injury-plagued 2012 season. It was also a critical one for the program. Even as the win was over an FCS opponent, it was a critical one as second-year head coach Tim Beckman has come under fire for a two-win 2012 season, with some saying this is a make-or-break season for the coach.

All hail your FCS conquerors

Scheduled as a guaranteed “W” in exchange for high six-figure or even low seven-figure payouts, most FBS teams feast on a steady early-season diet of FCS foes. Not in Week One, not this year. All told, a whopping eight FBS teams went down in flames over the past three days: No. 25 Oregon State (Eastern Washington), Kansas State (North Dakota State), San Diego State (Eastern Illinois; UConn (Towson), USF (McNeese State), Iowa State (Northern Iowa), South Alabama (Southern Utah) and Georgia State (Samford). We’ll let the latter two slide somewhat as they have just climbed from the FCS level to FBS status recently. The others? There’s no excuse for USF to lose by 32 points or San Diego State by 21. There’s no reason a ranked team like Oregon State should lose to a lower-level team, regardless of how good they are at that level. K-State? C’mon, I understand that NDSU is an FBS slayer, but there should still be no excuses in Little Manhattan. That said, and as was shown this weekend, there are some quality programs at that level. Schedule some of the upper-echelon teams at your own peril. And potential embarrassment.

Villanova, the Harlem Globetrotters of the FCS level
Villanova may not have been one of the FCS teams to pull off an upset, but they did have one of the plays of the year thus far. Facing a fourth down in their game against Boston College, ‘Nova lined up in punt formation… and proceeded to perform the ol’ double-snap fake-punt trick to score a touchdown. And, yes, it was as real and as spectacular as it sounds:

Villanova

 

49ers strike winning gold quickly
Since we’re on an FCS roll, let’s turn our attention to the Eastern part of the United States. In 2008, UNC-Charlotte announced that it would, for the first time ever, field a football team. Five years later, the 49ers made their debut… and it was smashing, with the 49ers putting a 52-7 woodshedding on visiting Campbell. The 49ers nearly doubled the opposition’s offensive production — 488 to 287 — and rolled to a 35-7 halftime lead. While an FCS team at the moment, the 49ers will move to the FBS level in 2015 as a member of Conference USA. While there may be many bumps in the road ahead, congratulations to head coach Brad Lambert and his coaching staff on such a scintillating start to the program.

LOSERS

Johnny Screwball?
As much as I really, really enjoy Johnny Manziel, the on-field preening and self-aggrandizing that costs his team needs to stop. And that comes from his head coach as well. In addition to his creative ways of taunting the NCAA noted above, Manziel was also flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following his third touchdown pass of the second half, costing the Aggies 15 yards. He was removed from the game and didn’t return. “That was just a foolish penalty at the end. … I hoped that at this point he’d have learned something,” Kevin Sumlin said afterwards. “That wasn’t very smart. That’s why he wasn’t going back in the game, no matter what happened.” A&M declined to make Manziel available to the media following the win, likely a wise decision based on the fact that Manziel appeared to take out a whole offseason of frustration in his limited time on the field Saturday.

An offensive line, literallyAlabama head coach Saban questions a call from the referee in the second half of play against Virginia Tech at the Chick-fil-A  Kick-Off college NCAA football game in Atlanta
Having to replace three talented and veteran starters, it was a given that Alabama’s offensive line might take some time to gel as a unit. The fact that the Tide’s interior struggled as much as it did against a battered and beleaguered Virginia Tech squad, though, was surprising to say the least. In the first half, the Tide carried the ball 17 times — and gained just 30 yards. Toss in a pair of holding penalties and one sack of quarterback AJ McCarron, and it was a far from stellar effort from the line. For the game, the Tide rushed for just 96 yards on 38 carries, a paltry average of 2.5 yards per carry in the 35-10 win; last season, Alabama’s 5.6 ypc was tied for fourth in the country. It’s not a time to panic, but it is a little worrisome for Nick Saban and his offensive coaching staff with a road trip to College Station looming in a couple of weeks.

TC… you blew it
OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but why would Gary Patterson decide to punt the ball back to LSU, down 10, instead of trying to convert a fourth-and-2 with five minutes left? Yes, TCU was at its own 33-yard line, but when you’re down two scores you need to take the chance; miss it, game over. Punt it, game over. Go for it and make it, you still have life and plenty of time to extend the game and find some way to get the requisite two scores to either tie or win the game. As it played out, TCU simply couldn’t stop LSU post-punt as the Tigers put together three first downs in the final five minutes to seal a 37-27 win. A head-scratching end to what was a very good football game and a huge win for the Tigers, who very well could’ve just beaten the best the Big 12 has to offer.

Boy oh Boise
This very easily could’ve gone in the Winners section for Washington… but it won’t. Coming into the game ranked No. 19 in the country, Boise State proceeded to trip, stumble and bumble all over its junk in getting blown out by the Huskies 38-6. It was the Broncos’ largest margin of defeat since the first game of the 2005 season (48-13 to Georgia) and the fewest points scored since being shutout by another Pac-12 school (Washington State) in 1997. It was also just the third time since that Wazzu whitewash that the Broncos failed to reach double digits (2005, Fresno State; 2012, BYU). So, certainly, it was an epic beatdown for The Lil’ Program That Could, even as it came at the hands of a very focused and talented Huskies squad.

FCS foe hard on the Beaver
While we touched on this briefly up above, Oregon State deserves its own special calling out. In the Beavers’ embarrassing 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, OSU became just the fourth ranked team ever to lose to an FCS team, joining Virginia Tech (James Madison, 2010), Michigan (2007) and Penn State (Cincinnati, 1983). Expected to possess a vastly improved defense, the Beavers surrendered an astounding 625 yards of total offense — 448 passing, 177 rushing. The Beavers can’t even blame turnovers as neither team coughed up the ball via either a fumble or an interception. No, this was simply an FBS team being outplayed at home by a squad from a lower level of football. And, whatever grief comes their way, it will be well-deserved.

Stoops, there it ain’t
Since being hired as Kentucky’s new head coach, Mark Stoops has made several big splashes along the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, those splashes have yet to make an impact in the here and now. In Stoops’ head-coaching debut, the Wildcats traveled to in-state “rival” Western Kentucky and dropped a 35-26 decision to the Hilltoppers. And, in reality, the game wasn’t even that close as WKU held an 18-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Eventually, the hiring of Stoops will pay big dividends on the field; for now, people around the country will simply lament the same ol’ UK football woes.

Kirk Ferentz, Money Fleecer Extraordinaire
This season, Kirk Ferentz will make nearly $4 million as Iowa’s head coach. He has a contract that runs through the 2020 season and would cost the university tens of millions to buy him out of. The past three seasons, the Hawkeyes win total has gone from eight to seven to four in 2012, the lowest number for a Ferentz-coached team since his second season in 2000 (3-9). So, with the heat rising from the outside, what do the Hawkeyes do? Go out and lose the opener at home to Northern Illinois on a last-second field goal, of course. Don’t fret for Ferentz, however; he possesses the type of job security that 99 percent of coaches can only dream of. Whether he deserves that type of security, though, is another matter entirely.

First-year head coaches
Just barely, new head coaches at their respective schools fall into this category. During the offseason, there were 31 coaching changes; through the first three days, 29 have already made their debuts, with 15 of them coming out sans a “W”: Cal, FIU, Georgia State, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, Purdue, USF, Southern Miss, Syracuse, Temple, Utah State and Western Michigan. Of course, that also means 14 came out with the coveted “W”: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Boston College, Cincinnati, Kent State, North Carolina State, Northern Illinois, Oregon, San Jose State, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin. Both Kentucky (WKU) and Louisiana Tech (NCSU) lost to teams in its first season under a new head coach. Colorado and UTEP can add to either side in the coming days, with the former opening the season against hated rival Colorado while the latter must wait until next weekend to open its season.

Oh, Pelini
With FAU trailing Miami 34-6 Friday and with just seconds left in the game, the Owls were facing a fourth-and-four at the Miami 25-yard line. At that point, FAU head coach Carl Pelini did, well, this:

 

[/facepalm]

Yes, Pelini called for his quarterback to spike the ball on fourth down. And, yes, Pelini was mortified upon realizing that he had called for a spike on fourth down. And, no, the gaffe had no impact on the game whatsoever, but it did add some embarrassment to a program that could use less of that, not more.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

– No. 18 Nebraska 37, Wyoming 34: Last year, the Cowboys were ranked 70th in the country in total offense (390.6 yards per game); Saturday, the Cornhuskers allowed the Cowboys to roll up 602 yards. The Huskers led this one by 16 early in the fourth quarter before the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns — off NU turnovers — in less than five minutes, the final coming with 1:32 left. A failed onside kick, however, kept Nebraska from suffering its first season-opening loss in 29 years.

– No. 22 Northwestern 44, Cal 30: The Wildcats didn’t grab the lead for good until the middle of the fourth quarter against a surprisingly spry Bears team playing its first game under head coach Sonny Dykes. The closeness of the contest should catch the eye of Ohio State, which travels to Berkeley two weeks from yesterday.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The two-time defending BCS champions looked positively subpar on offense but, thanks to stellar defense and special teams, easily held off an injury-ravaged Virginia Tech. Especially along the offensive line, The Tide has some issues that need shoring up prior to the Sept. 14 road trip to College Station. (Preseason: No. 1)
Next up: bye weekend

2. Clemson — You beat a Top-Five opponent, you shoot up quite a few spots. Is this the year that Clemson (finally) stops Clemsoning itself? The win over Georgia was a solid sign it may indeed be. Or they stub their toes against The Citadel. One of the two. (Preseason: No. 8)
Next up: vs. South Carolina State

Buffalo v Ohio State3. Ohio State — A rather uninspiring 20-point win over Buffalo and Clemson’s showing drops the Buckeyes down a spot. (Preseason: No. 2)
Next up: vs. San Diego State

4. Stanford — The Cardinal sat out opening weekend and won’t open their 2013 season until next Saturday. (Preseason ranking: No. 3)
Next up: vs. San Jose State

5. Louisville — The Cardinals don’t open their season until later on today against Ohio at home. While Mark Ennis might punch me in the tentacles for doing so, I’m just going to go ahead and chalk this one up as an impressive “W” for Charlie Strong‘s charges. (Preseason: No. 4)
Next up: vs. Eastern Kentucky

HE SAID IT
“I was overcome with emotion. I think my son made me soft. I bawled my eyes out.” — Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, whose infant son was released from the hospital two days before the opener Thursday after spending the first three weeks of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“That’s how he is. He’s a fiery guy and that’s what we love about him. He’s not quiet. He’s not shy. He’s going to be loud and aggressive, and that’s what makes him Johnny Football. We love it.” — A&M offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi, on the ongoing circus that is Johnny Manziel.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I don’t care how quick the offense scores. They could score on one play every time. As long as they’re scoring, I’m all for that.” — Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, on the Buckeyes’ up-tempo offense.

YOU DON’T SAY?
Courtesy of the Ohio State sports information department: With 77 rushing yards, Braxton Miller eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in his career and now sits at 2,063. He is now 17 yards shy of Cornelius Greene’s Ohio State record of 2,080 yards rushing by a quarterback.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– Clemson became the first non-SEC team ever to beat two Top-10 SEC teams in consecutive games, with the wins coming over No. 5 Georgia Saturday night and No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve.

– Northwestern linebacker Collin Lewis returned two interceptions for touchdowns (52, 40 yards) in the road win over Cal. Both of the pick-sixes came off deflections.

– Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams accounted for 518 yards of total offense (411 passing, 107 rushing) and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in the upset of Oregon State.

– McNeese State’s 53-21 win over USF was the largest margin of victory for an FCS program over an FBS program since Sam Houston State beat Louisiana-Monroe 44-12 back in 2001.

– In a wild 52-51 win over Rutgers Thursday night, Fresno State’s Derek Carr completed 52-of-73 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns. His counterpart in that game, Gary Nova, threw for 348 yards and five touchdowns as well.

Virginia Tech v Alabama– Alabama’s Christion Jones became the first player at the FBS level since North Carolina’s Brandon Tate in 2006 to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. According to the Alabama record books, which date back to 1944 the school stated, Jones is the first player in program history to accomplish that feat.

– Starting in place of ex-/future Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Tommy Rees passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the Irish’s 28-6 win over Temple.

– In Marshall’s 52-14 win over Miami (Ohio), quarterback Rakeem Cato tossed five touchdown passes to four different receivers.

– SID Stat of the Day: Wisconsin has now won 16 consecutive season openers. That is tied with USC for the third-longest active streak in the country behind only Nebraska (28) and Florida (24).

– (First half) Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M had its streak of scoring first in 17 straight games snapped in the win against Rice.

– In its first game with Bret Bielema on the sidelines, Arkansas had two 100-yard rushers in the same game (Jonathan Williams 151, Alex Collins 131) for the first time since 2007, when Darren McFadden rushed for 321 yards and Felix Jones rushed for 163 vs. South Carolina.

– Baylor outgained Wofford 692-233 in the Bears’ 69-3 win. Running back Lache Seastrunk rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.

– Maryland had 399 yards of total offense in the first half of their game with FIU. Last season, the Terps accounted for 400 yards or more of total offense in just two of their games.

Duke Johnson rushed for a career-high 189 yards — on just 19 carries — in Miami’s 28-point win over FAU. Miami rushed for 303 yards as a team; the Hurricanes high-water mark last season was 248.

– Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils posted the football program’s first shutout in 24 years with its 45-0 win over North Carolina Central.

Blake Bortles passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns in UCF’s 38-7 win over Akron Thursday.

– The 73 points Indiana scored in Thursday’s win over Indiana State was the second-most in school history (76). The 45 first-half points were the most ever for the program.

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As BGSU, S. Alabama trade late bowl punches, Falcons left standing

If you like your after-dark football a little dangerous and a lot wild, the Camellia Bowl was served it up just right.

Seemingly in control at halftime, Bowling Green (8-6) watched as South Alabama (6-7), playing in its first-ever bowl game, whittled away at the deficit and actually took the lead late.  However, the Falcons matched the Jaguars’ late-game magic with some of its own, claiming a wild 33-28 win in the inaugural Camellia Bowl.

With 1:20 remaining in the game, a three-yard Terrance Timmons run gave USA its first lead of the game at 27-26.  However, on BGSU’s first play from scrimmage after that go-ahead score, James Knapke hit Roger Lewis on a 78-yard touchdown pass that, after a failed two-point conversion, gave the Falcons a five-point lead with 1:04 remaining.

On the very next play from scrimmage for USA, any hopes of another comeback were immediately thwarted as quarterback Brandon Bridge threw his second interception of the game.  All told, the Jaguars committed four turnovers.

Knapke finished the game with 368 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-winner.  Suffice to say, he was named as the Camellia Bowl’s most outstanding player.

BGSU and Knapke, though, would’ve saved themselves some angst at the end if they hadn’t botched a possession midway through the fourth quarter.

Up 27-21, BGSU moved the ball to the USA one-yard line thanks to a pass interference penalty in the end zone.  Three straight running plays up the middle gained exactly zero yards.  Instead of going for it on fourth down to essentially put the game out of reach, the Falcons attempted an 18-yard field goal… and promptly missed it.

Another source of angst for the winning squad?  Ronnie Moore, one of BGSU’s starting wide receivers, was ejected for targeting on a punt return early in the third quarter.  At the time of his ejection, Moore had five receptions for 61 yards and his team led 20-7; after that, the Falcons were outscored 21-13 and nearly coughed up the victory.

The game wasn’t without its bizarre moments on the sidelines, either.

Very early in the third quarter, an official was injured by something thrown from the stands as he was running down the sidelines.  In the fourth quarter, USA head coach Joey Jones, a former Alabama football player, sustained an injury to the nose after he was inadvertently kicked by one of his own players who had been tackled out of bounds.  Jones was shown during the broadcast bleeding rather profusely and being tended to by team medical personnel as he continued his coaching duties, with the speculation being that it was broken.

After midnight, and at least as far as college football goes, it doesn’t get much better than MACtion vs. Funbelt.

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Bowling Green in first-half control of bowl rookie South Alabama

MAC Championship - Bowling Green v Northern Illinois

Entering the first-ever Raycom Media Camellia Bowl, both Bowling Green and South Alabama were looking to end losing streaks and build momentum for the 2015 offseason.  Through two quarters of play, the MAC school is well on its way to doing just that.

After jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead through the first half of the first quarter, the Falcons offense slumbered for a bit before reawakening in the second quarter long enough to take a 20-7 lead into halftime on the Jaguars.  In addition to it being the inaugural game for the Montgomery bowl, incidentally, it’s also USA’s first-ever postseason appearance in its third season as an FBS program.

Even given that, and the fact that the game was being played in USA’s home state, the first two quarters were all about BGSU.

James Knapke, who took over as the starting quarterback when Matt Johnson sustained a season-ending injury in the opener, passed for 230 first-half yards and a touchdown.  134 of those yards came in the first half, with 97 of those yards coming on two completions — one being a 44-yard touchdown pass to Roger Lewis that opened the scoring.

The Falcons’ defense, which had struggled during the three-game losing streak to close out the regular season, allowed the Jaguars’ offense to gain just 119 yards.  In its last three games, BGSU had given up nearly 1,500 yards in losses to Northern Illinois, Ball State and Toledo.

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UAB transfers land at Southern Miss, Troy

FBC- UH vs. UAB AP

The exodus of UAB football players continues unabated, with Southern Miss and Troy the latest landing spots for the erstwhile Blazers.

Friday evening, Troy announced that cornerback Lamarcus Farmer has signed a grant-in-aid agreement and will continue his playing career with the Trojans. A day later, kicker Nick Vogel confirmed to the Biloxi Sun-Herald that he has transferred to Southern Miss.

Both players, as has been the case with every other player who’s fled the shuttered UAB program, will be eligibility to play immediately in 2015. Of the two, Farmer comes into his new program with by far the more impressive pedigree.

After starting 11 games as a redshirt freshman in 2012, injuries the past two seasons helped limit the defensive back to just 10 total starts, five each in 2013 and 2014. The 2015 season will serve as Farmer’s final year of eligibility.

“Lamarcus is a veteran player and will come in and compete immediately in our program,” new Troy head coach Neal Brown said in a statement. “What happened at UAB is very unfortunate and we really feel for all of the players and staff who were effected by those events. We’re glad that Lamarcus has decided to join our family and we look forward to having his experience on the field.”

Vogel, meanwhile, did not see any action at UAB as a freshman in 2014. He is, though, expected to compete for kicking duties beginning in spring practice.

“I do believe that I will be able to contribute to the success of the team immediately and look forward to the opportunity to do so,” the kicker, who will have four years of eligibility remaining, told the Sun-Herald.

Oddly enough, and thanks again in part to the demise of UAB football, the two football programs announced Friday afternoon that they have reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series. Troy will travel to Hattiesburg, Miss., on Sept. 17, 2016, for the first game of the series, while the Golden Eagles will make the return trip on Sept. 7, 2019.

Troy had scheduled to host UAB in 2015 and travel to Birmingham in 2016.

“I have to give [athletic director] John Hartwell a lot of credit for having a plan in place and locking down this series quickly after the news broke about UAB,” Brown said. “This is going to be an exciting series for our players and for our fans. From a recruiting and fan engagement standpoint, it is very beneficial for us to continue to play games within our geographic footprint.”

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Air Forces bakes Western Michigan for sweet 38-24 Potato Bowl victory

Zach Terrell, Jordan Pierce

Camouflaged in all blue from head to toe and standing on a drenched blue field, Air Force raced past Western Michigan for a 38-24 victory in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.

Though Western Michigan trailed from the 10:12 mark of the second quarter on, the game played closer than the final score. Trailing 23-10 entering the fourth quarter, Zach Terrell found Corey Davis for a 35-yard touchdown to pull the Broncos within 23-17 with 13:26 remaining. Western Michigan pushed Air Force 13 yards backward on the ensuing possession, and Daniel Braverman returned Will Conant‘s punt for a touchdown to seemingly give the Broncos a chance to take the lead. But the touchdown was pulled off the board for a block in the back that was ultimately irrelevant to the play (aren’t they all?) but illegal nonetheless. After an incomplete pass and a one-yard loss, Terrell scrambled forward on 3rd-and-11, but fumbled and Air Force’s Dexter Walker returned the loose ball for a 60-yard touchdown.

In a proverbial blink of an eye, a 24-23 lead turned into a 31-17 deficit and Western Michigan was baked, fried and scalloped.

Terrell through four straight incompletions on Western Michigan’s next possession, and Air Force turned a short field into a 38-yard touchdown drive, pushing the lead to 38-17. Terrell hit Davis for a 51-yard touchdown, his third of the day, with 3:16 remaining to provide the final score.

Air Force rushed for 284 yards and four touchdowns, led by Shayne Davern‘s 12 rushes for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while college football’s 12th-leading rusher Jarvion Franklin was limited to 26 yards on 12 carries for Western Michigan.

With no help from his banged up running back, Terrell carried the Western Michigan offense as he completed 19-of-38 passes for 297 yards and three touchdowns while rushing 11 times for a team-leading 61 yards. Davis caught eight passes for 176 yards and his trio of scoring strikes.

The win is Air Force’s 11th bowl victory in program history, while Western Michigan falls to 0-6 all-time in bowl games.

Win or lose, both teams represent the best turnaround stories in college football outside of Fort Worth, Texas, for the 2014 season. Air Force turned a 2-10 record a year ago into a 10-3 finish in 2014, while Western Michigan jumped from 1-11 in P.J. Fleck‘s first season to 8-5 in his second campaign.

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Leading receiver returning to UCLA for another season

USC v UCLA

Many FBS teams have to be concerned about losing players to an early jump to the NFL, but UCLA’s not one of them.  Well, at least not as far as one of its top offensive playmakers is concerned they won’t.

With speculation apparently swirling that he was leaving early, Jordan Payton confirmed Saturday that he will be returning to the Bruins for his senior season.  In fact, Payton claimed that leaving early for the NFL was never a part of his thought process when it came to his football future.

I’m coming back,” Payton told reporters after practice. “There were reports saying that I was leaving or something, but I’m coming back. Didn’t really even think about leaving, to be honest with you.”

As Payton isn’t being projected to be selected in the first couple of rounds of the 2015 draft, it’s likely a wise decision.

In 2014, Payton is leading all Bruins receivers with 63 receptions for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he was third on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (440).

Jim Mora‘s Bruins won’t go completely unscathed on the early-entry front as the head coach confirmed earlier this month that star quarterback Brett Hundley will forego his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

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Dan Mullen goes yard with staff party sweater choice

Cousin Eddie

Other people can have “A Christmas Story” or “Miracle on 34th Street” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” or myriad others when it comes to Christmas movie classics.  For me, it doesn’t get any better this time of the year than “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.”

For those who haven’t seen it… shame on you; rectify that egregious error and invite the Griswolds into your home this holiday season.

In that vein, the Mississippi State football staff held its Christmas party Saturday night, and Dan Mullen‘s sartorial sweater splendor was, without a doubt, the highlight of the evening.  Well, it was at least the highlight of the evening that was posted to Twitter.

We were all witnesses to this masterpiece of greatness, which may or may not be SFW depending on your place of employment.

Bravo Coach Mullen, and whoever was responsible for that thing of beauty.  Bravo.

And, again, for those unfamiliar with the movie, click HERE for some perspective on Mullen’s choice of attire.  And then go out and watch the entire movie.

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Nick Saban gives impassioned defense for D.J. Pettway’s second chance

Auburn v Alabama Getty Images

In February of 2013, four Alabama football players, including D.J. Pettway, were arrested in connection with a pair of robberies and, following an initial suspension, dismissed from the football program.  Only Pettway, in December of last year, was ultimately permitted to return to the Tide.

The second chance caused enough of a controversy — Pettway had initially been charged with a pair of felonies that involved beating a UA student– the the university took the somewhat unusual step of releasing a statement from the school’s athletic director addressing the reinstatement.

Fast-forward almost exactly a year, and Alabama is one win away from an appearance in the national championship game, and Pettway has played a role in the Tide’s success as a rush defensive end.  Not only that, but Pettway has earned his degree in just three and a half years.  He’s obviously done well with his second chance, regardless of whether some people think he deserved it at the time based on the serious nature of the crime.

It’s those people, though, for whom Nick Saban had some very choice words as he stepped up to the pulpit following Saturday’s practice and delivered a passionate sermon on second chances.  From al.com‘s account of Saban’s speech:

“Where do you want them to be? Guy makes a mistake. Where do you want them to be? You want him to be [on] the street or do you want them to be here graduating?”

He made reference to Muhsin Muhammad, who got in trouble while playing for Saban at Michigan State but turned into a success story after his second chance.

“Everybody in the school, every newspaper guy, everybody was killing [Muhammad] because he got in trouble and they said there’s no way he should be on our team,” Saban said. “I didn’t kick him off the team. I suspended him. I made him do some stuff.”

The receiver enjoyed a 15-year career in the NFL. He created a charity foundation called “The M2 Foundation for Kids.” Saban noted that he has seven children, and his oldest daughter is at Princeton.

“So who was right? I feel strong about this now, really strong, about all the criticism out there of every guy that’s 19 years old that makes a mistake and you all kill them,” Saban said.

“Some people won’t stand up for him. My question to you is, ‘Where do you want him to be?’ You want to condemn him to a life sentence? Or do you want the guy to have his children going to Princeton?”

Regardless of where you stand on football players and second chances, that’s some powerful stuff right there from Coach Saban.

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Air Force leading Western Michigan 20-10 at halftime of Potato Bowl

Colton Huntsman

The story line of Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl was Air Force’s experience and execution versus Western Michigan’s youth and ability. So far, experience and execution is winning out.

The Falcons lead Western Michigan 20-10 at the half.

Air Force has successfully bottled up the nation’s 12th-leading rusher (and second-leading freshman rusher) Jarvion Franklin, limiting him to just 21 yards and six carries to this point. Quarterback Zach Terrell has been forced to carry the Broncos attack through the air (7-of-15 passing for 126 yards and a touchdown) and on the ground (seven carries for 52 yards).

Western Michigan’s 10 points have come on a 22-yard field goal drive that began after recovering a Devin Rushing fumble on Air Force’s first snap, and six-play, 75-yard drive punctuated by a 47-yard scoring strike from Terrell to Corey Davis. Outside of that,

Outside of that, Western Michigan has generated 102 yards of total offense while registering seven first downs and two third-down conversions in seven tries.

Air Force has used its diverse rushing game to lead its offense, as six different ball-carriers have combined for 34 rushes for 186 yards and three touchdowns. Shayne Davern has led the way with nine rushes for 92 yards and two touchdowns, turning a 3-0 deficit into a 6-3 lead and a 10-6 deficit into a 13-10 lead.

Kale Pearson has completed three of his four passes for 58 yards.

And in undoubtedly his best decision of the day, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun has camouflaged his troops in blue helmets, blue jerseys and blue pants on the trademark blue turf of Boise State’s Albertson’s Stadium.

Western Michigan will receive the ball to open the second half.

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No. 22 Utah runs over Colorado State to win Las Vegas Bowl

Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl - Utah v Colorado State Getty Images

Colorado State played Saturday’s Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl with head coach Jim McElwain watching from a proverbial plush leather recliner from Gainesville, Fla., and it showed. No. 22 Utah did everything it wanted on offense while stifling Colorado State’s potent passing attack for a 45-10 blowout victory.

Utah scored a Las Vegas Bowl-record 21 first-quarter points – thanks to 202 yards of total offense on 15 plays – to grab a 24-10 halftime lead and it the revved the engines (powered by Royal Purple, of course) from there, scoring three unanswered touchdowns to create the 45-10 final with 12:28 to spare.

The 35-point margin is the second-largest in the game’s 23-year history, trailing only Oregon State’s 55-14 smashing of New Mexico in 2003.

The combination of Travis Wilson and Davontae Booker proved too much for the Colorado State defense to handle. Wilson completed 17-of-26 passes for 158 yards with a touchdown and an interception and eviscerated the Rams’ rush defense – particularly in the red zone – to the tune of 91 yards and three touchdowns on 11 carries. Booker added 26 carries for 162 yards and a 60-yard touchdown, which came one snap after Colorado State had pulled within 14-7 midway through the first quarter and ended any semblance of momentum the Rams would enjoy on the afternoon.

Garrett Grayson completed 20-of-34 passes for 227 yards and an interception (he also caught Colorado State’s only touchdown, a 39-yard throwback from receiver Charles Lovett), and All-American wideout Rashard Higgins snagged seven passes for 109 yards, but Colorado State lost this game up front. The Rams were out-rushed 359-20.

After forcing a three-and-out to open the game, Utah’s first snap came from the Colorado State 47-yard line. Offensive coordinator Dave Christensen dialed up an end around-turned-reverse-turned-throwback pass from Wilson to Kaelin Clay for a 36-yard completion, a Vegas-inspired gamble that got the Utes off to a hot start. Overall, Utah racked up 548 yards of offense on 77 plays (7.11 yards per play) with 29 first downs and nine third-down conversions in 14 tries.

Colorado State closes its season at 10-3 – its first 10-win season since 2002 and, much like that 2002 season, the Rams close the year by dropping their final two games – and will turn its full attention toward finding McElwain’s full-time successor.

Utah, meanwhile, wraps up its 2014 season at 9-4, its best showing since joining the Pac-12 in 2011. The Utes will close the season ranked inside the top 25 for the first time since 2010, when they garnered a No. 23 ranking in the coaches’ poll.

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UW Huskies call report that Marcus Peters choked coach ‘bull****’

Ty Montgomery, Marcus Peters AP

Marcus Peters’ dismissal from Washington last month was preceded by a series of ugly incidents, something acknowledged by those around the football program.  What UW is taking issue with, however, is the latest specific report of ugliness.

According to NFL.com earlier this week, a veteran NFL scout quoted anonymously claimed that he had witnessed the cornerback choking an assistant coach after a verbal altercation turned physical.  The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offered up a similar report.

Those allegations are apparently not sitting well with at least one member of the UW coaching staff.

“It’s bull****,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski told the Seattle Times when asked about the allegations. “We had our issues with Marcus, but there was never any physical altercation. Not with this staff.”

Regardless of whether or not it’s true, it serves as yet another black mark for a talented but troubled player looking to move on to the next level.

Peters’ dismissal in early November came nearly two months after the corner, in an early-season game against Eastern Washington, was seen throwing his helmet and gloves on the ground and arguing with Washington assistants. First-year head coach Chris Petersen in turn slapped the player with a one-game suspension; suffice to say, that lesson didn’t take.

It was then reported that, in the span of five days beginning in late October, Peters got into a verbal altercation with coaches on the sidelines during the Week 11 game against Colorado; skipped practice three days later for unknown reasons; and, finally, was involved in yet another verbal altercation with an assistant during practice a day after that.

There’s little doubt that, when Peters can maintain his composure and get on the playing field, he was one of the most talented players at his position in the Pac-12.  He had started 22 of 23 games at corner for the Huskies prior to his suspension, and was named second-team All-Pac-12 following the 2013 season.  He was also named to a handful of midseason All-American teams this year as well.

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Illinois State rallies past New Hampshire, set to face North Dakota State for the FCS title

Illinois State University v University of Northern Iowa

It’ll be an all-Missouri Valley affair for the FCS championship.

North Dakota State punched the first ticket Friday night with a 35-3 win over Sam Houston State, taking a 7-3 halftime lead and exploding from there. The Bison will play for their fourth straight national championship – and three of them could come at the expense of Sam Houston State after beating the Bearkats in the 2011 and 2012 championship games.

On Saturday, Illinois State booked its ticket to the championship in epic fashion. The Redbirds trailed top-seeded New Hampshire 18-6 through three quarters, but notched touchdowns in successive drives – traveling 173 yards in 19 plays – to take a 21-18 lead.

New Hampshire had one chance to tie or take the lead, but its eight-play, 29-yard drive was halted at the Illinois State 46 when Sean Goldrich‘s 4th-and-3 pass to Kyon Taylor was stopped for no gain. Illinois State consumed the game’s final four minutes and eight seconds to punch its first ticket to the FCS title game. Quarterback Tre Robertson carried the Redbirds, completing 18-of-31 passes for 278 yards while also leading the club with 12 carries for 95 yards and a touchdown. His prolific effort overcame a lost fumble at the New Hampshire goal line in the first half.

Illinois State (13-1) and North Dakota State (14-1) finished the regular season as co-champions of the Missouri Valley Football Conference. They did not meet in the regular season, and each suffered its lone loss on the road to Northern Iowa. Illinois State avenged its loss to the Panthers with a 41-21 win in a second-round playoff game on Dec. 6.

A win by North Dakota State will make the Bison the first FCS team to win four straight national titles since the subdivision was formed in 1978. Appalachian State also claimed three straight national titles from 2005-07.

The FCS National Championship will be held Saturday, Jan. 10 in Frisco, Texas (1 p.m. ET, ESPN2).

 

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Report: Ohio St. co-DC Chris Ash interviews for Colorado St. vacancy

Chris Ash, Tyvis Powell AP

Ohio State has already lost its offensive coordinator to a head coaching job.  Could a coordinator on the other side of the ball be next?

According to Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com, OSU co-defensive coordinator Chris Ash interviewed for the head-coaching vacancy at Colorado State.  Former USC associate head coach John Baxter interviewed for the job as well, McMurphy reported.

It’s unclear when the interviews took place.  It’s also unknown when CSU, in the midst of its bowl game against Utah Saturday afternoon, will pull the trigger on a hire as they’ve cast an expansive net searching for a replacement for Jim McElwain, who took the Florida job earlier this month.

This is Ash’s first season with the Buckeyes after leaving Arkansas, but his departure would be a significant one as he helped take a defense, particularly the secondary, that was extremely suspect in 2013 and turned it into one of the top units in the Big Ten.  Ash’s loss would be magnified as Tom Herman left his offensive coordinator post this past week to take over the Houston football program.

In addition to Ash and Baxter, there have been close to a dozen names mentioned in connection to the CSU opening, including Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo earlier this week.  Another name mentioned recently is that of Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi, although it’s believed he might be the front-runner for the Pittsburgh job.

Interestingly, no current FBS defensive coordinators have been hired as head coaches during the 2014 spinning of the coaching carousel, although four coordinators on the other side of the ball and one wide receivers coach have claimed five of the 11 head coaching positions already filled.  CSU is one of three FBS programs still searching for a head coach, the others being Michigan and Pittsburgh.

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Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl victory is 10th win with 4th QB in 2014

Kent Myers

The New Mexico Bowl may have seen some crazy endings the past few years, but this year’s game went against that script. Instead, Utah State (10-4, 6-2 Mountain West Conference) recorded just the second 10-win season in program history with its third straight bowl victory with a 21-6 victory over UTEP (7-6, 5-3 Conference USA).

UTEP opened the scoring in the first quarter with a field goal on the game’s opening possession, but Utah State later scored a touchdown in the first quarter when quarterback Kent Myers broke off a 48-yard touchdown run down the left sideline for the lead. The Aggies punched in a second touchdown in the third quarter with Nick Vigil pushing one in from three yards out to cap a 75-yard drive. UTEP would add a late field goal.

UTEP’s chances to get the ball back for one last chance to tie things up took a critical blow when a kickoff following the second field goal by Jay Mattox went out-of-bounds, setting Utah State up in good field position. UTEP burned a timeout before the field goal try, which meant the decision not to go for the onside kick was a little extra confusing with under three minutes to play remaining. Utah State simply let running back Joe Hill carry the team the rest of the way with some big runs to run clock, including a touchdown run with 1:33 to play for the knockout blow.

Heading into 2015 the first big question for Utah State will be how does quarterback Chuckie Keeton look? Keeton’s return to the field in 2014 did not go according to plan, as he never seemed to be playing at full speed after a knee injury ended the 2013 season for him. The knee acted up again early in 2014, but he has one more year of eligibility to play. It would be wise to have Utah State proceed with extreme caution with Keeton in order to make sure he is ready for the rigors of the 2015 season.

Enough cannot be said about the coaching job Utah State head coach Matt Wells did this season. The Aggies won 10 games using four different starting quarterbacks along the way. That included a bowl game victory that even saw Myers receive some brief medical attention.

UTEP will look to find a way to build on the momentum the second half of the season saw on the field. The Miners win five of their final seven games of the regular season, although they fell a couple of games shy of the division title. The start to the 2015 season could be rough with three consecutive road games against Arkansas, Texas Tech and New Mexico State. UTEP will look to replace some key position players like quarterback Jameil Showers and receivers Jarred Shaw and Ian Hamilton, but the bulk of the offense should be in place. The defensive secondary will be hit hard as well, but the front of the defense should largely in good shape.

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No. 22 Utah handling Colorado State halfway through Las Vegas Bowl

Travis Wilson

No. 22 Utah used big plays and solid defense to build a 24-10 halftime lead over Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl.

This being Vegas, both teams’ first scores were set up by successful rolls of the dice. After taking possession of its own 47, Utah’s first play from scrimmage was an end around-turned-reverse-turned-throwback pass from Travis Wilson to Kaelin Clay, good for a 36-yard gain. Wilson rushed in two plays later to put the Utes up 7-0.

After forcing a three-and-out, Utah swiftly moved 71 yards in six plays, capped by a 16-yard scoring strike from Wilson to Delshawn McClellon to go up 14-0 midway through the first quarter.

Colorado State responded by moving 77 yards in five plays on the ensuing possession, scoring on a 39-yard pass from senior wide receiver Charles Lovett to quarterback Garrett Grayson.

Utah quickly seized back momentum, though, as Devontae Booker raced 60 yards to pay dirt on the next play from scrimmage.

Overall, Utah scored a Las Vegas Bowl-record 21 first quarter points by gaining 201 yards of total offense on just 15 plays.

Jared Roberts knocked in a 41-yard field goal at the 2:09 mark of the first quarter to pull the Rams within 21-10, and Andy Phillips answered with a 38-yarder at the 8:25 mark of the second quarter to push the lead back to 14. Phillips missed a 38-yard try on the final play of the half.

Wilson has completed 12-of-18 passes for 124 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding seven carries for 59 yards and a score. Combined with Booker’s 92 yards on 10 rushes, Utah is out-rushing Colorado State 203-13.

Grayson has completed 12-of-18 throws for 136 yards, and All-American receiver Rashard Higgins has notched four receptions for 83 yards.

Utah will receive the ball to open the second half.

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Utah State has edge in defensive New Mexico Bowl at half

Kent Myers

The Gildan New Mexico has served up some wackiness over the last few years, but this year’s game has been a much more defensive battle so far. Utah State holds the upper hand at the break, leading UTEP 7-3 at the half.

It may not matter who is playing quarterback for Utah State this season, because they just seem to make plays. Kent Myers, who started the season as Utah State’s fourth-string quarterback, gave the Aggies a 7-3 lead with a 48-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against UTEP in the Gildan New Mexico Bowl. Myers had to receive some medical treatment in the second quarter, but he returned to finish off Utah State’s final possession of the half.

UTEP got the scoring started early with a 32-yard field goal by Jay Mattox from 30 yards out to cap a game-opening drive of seven plays and 60 yards. The Miners were later stuffed on a fourth and four situation inside the Utah State 10-yard line. The Aggies capitalized on the game-changing sequence by sending Ronald Butler off to the races for a 61-yard gain on the first play of the ensuing possession. With time running short, the Aggies had to settle for a field goal attempt in the final seconds of the first half. The kick, after a UTEP timeout, was wide left.

The game has, for the most part, been pretty evenly played. One area UTEP has the clear advantage in is turnover margin. The Miners offense has not lost the football, but UTEP has forced two turnovers in the first half. Once UTEP gets their hands on the football though, they have been unable to cash in. Credit the Utah State offense for bailing out their offense.

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