Oregon v Virginia

Heisman race beginning to take shape

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Maybe the Heisman can’t be won in September, but it can certainly be lost. Two weeks into the season, we’re beginning to see the first signs that the race is taking shape.

Braxton Miller’s candidacy hangs by a thread. Marcus Mariota is surging. Aaron Murray survived an elimination game. Todd Gurley impressed against a tough defense. Tajh Boyd underwhelmed. Teddy Bridgewater continued to dominate lesser foes. The Baylor duo of Bryce Petty and Lache Seastrunk are now hanging around the periphery of the race.

All the signs point to what should be a particularly intriguing campaign.

Here’s quick rundown of what happened this weekend with some of the main contenders:

Braxton Miller –– Miller, the front runner headed into the season, missed most of Ohio State’s game with San Diego State, which puts his Heisman hopes in serious jeopardy. Missing one game — and maybe more — will affect his overall numbers and make it difficult to have Heisman-worthy production at season’s end. If he doesn’t have a big game next week against Cal, he’s done.

Marcus Mariota — The Oregon quarterback shined in a rout of Virginia, passing for 199 yards and rushing for 122 while totaling three touchdowns. It seems likely that Mariota is headed for a huge season and as the quarterback for a team contending for the national title, he might soon replace Miller as the front runner in this race.

Aaron Murray — Murray had his back against the wall and he came through with a great game in a win over South Carolina. He was 17 of 23 for 309 yards and four touchdowns while making some really clutch throws. If he can have this kind of game against LSU and lead UGA to the SEC East title, he’s probably a lock to get to New York.

Todd Gurley — The sophomore running back also had a good game against South Carolina, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries. He’s on the verge of firmly establishing himself as the top running back candidate in the race.

Tajh Boyd — The Clemson quarterback threw for 169 yards on 14 of 23 passing against South Carolina State. No touchdown passes and just a touchdown run was a disappointing result considering he needs to have huge numbers at season’s end to win the trophy. There is plenty of time for him to make up for this lackluster production, but this game makes it a bit harder.

Teddy Bridgewater — The junior ripped Eastern Kentucky for 397 yards and four touchdowns on 23 of 32 passing. His numbers after two week are stellar, though it came against weak competition. Still, he’s doing exactly what he needs to do to stay in Heisman consideration.

Bryce Petty — He may not be a real candidate just yet, but he’s playing like one. He went 13 of 16 for 338 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo and also scored once on the ground. His production should be fantastic this season and if Baylor contends for the Big 12 title, then he should emerge as a contender.

Lache Seastrunk — If Gurley gets a running back challenger, it should be Seastrunk, who had 150 yards and three touchdowns in one half’s work against Buffalo. He’ll need to catch fire and approach the 2,000-yard mark to have a real shot at Heisman glory, but it seems possible in that Baylor offense.

I think there’s a good chance the Heisman winner and most of the finalists comes from this group, though I’m not discounting the possibility that other candidates may emerge. There’s still a long way to go and a lot can happen in this crazy sport.

Oregon St. assistant Brent Brennan hired as head coach at San Jose St.

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After a few years away, Brent Brennan is coming back to one of his college coaching homes.

San Jose State announced Wednesday afternoon that the 43-year-old Brennan has been hired as the program’s new head football coach.  Brennan will replace Ron Caragher, who was dismissed late last month after four seasons with the Spartans.

From 2005-2010, Brennan was an assistant at SJSU under both Dick Tomey and Mike MacIntyre.

“We want to recruit high-character young men that are tough and love to play football and also take their academics seriously,” Brennan said. “We’re going to help them grow from young men into men and put a product on the field that anybody who has a connection with Spartan football can be proud of.”

In between stints at SJSU, Brennan spent the 2011-16 seasons at Oregon State.  He coached wide receivers in each of his seasons with the Beavers.

This will be Brennan’s first head-coaching job at any level.

“We are thrilled to have Brent back at San José State. He is an exceptional football coach and one of the most respected recruiters in the country. His coaching background and ties to San José State make Brent a perfect fit,’ athletic director Gene Bleymaier said.

The Spartans went 4-8 in Caragher’s last season.

Oregon makes hiring of Willie Taggart official

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Head coach Willie Taggart of the South Florida Bulls during a 3rd quarter timeout against the Florida State Seminoles at Raymond James Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Jason Behnken / Getty Images)
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And now it’s officially official.

Wednesday morning, myriad reports surfaced that Oregon was set to name Willie Taggart as its next head coach.  A few hour later, the Ducks confirmed that they have plucked Taggart from USF to replace the dismissed Mark Helfrich.

Taggart, who will be introduced at a press conference Thursday, will be the first of the 33 head coaches at UO to be African-American.

“We are thrilled to welcome Willie, his wife, Taneshia, their sons, Willie Jr. and Jackson, and their daughter, Morgan,” UO athletic director Rob Mullens said in a statement. “Willie places an emphasis on ensuring a positive student-athlete experience and on winning, and his previous stops have proven his success at both. We have a very bright future under his leadership.”

In his fourth season with the Bulls, Taggart has seen his win total increase every year, going from two in his first season in 2013 to four to eight to a 10-win season this year that has another game to go. Taggart won’t this season through, however, as USF announced that co-offensive coordinator T.J. Weist has been named as the Bulls’ interim head coach and will guide the team through their preparation for the Birmingham Bowl matchup with South Carolina.

Taggart has also been the head coach at Western Kentucky. After a 2-10 start, he guided the Hilltoppers to a pair of seven-win seasons before leaving for the Bulls.

The 40-year-old assistant also comes to Eugene with experience in the Pac-12, serving as an assistant under Jim Harbaugh at North rival Stanford from 2007-09.

“I am grateful for the trust that President Schill and Rob Mullens have put in me to be the next head coach of the Oregon football program, and I thank them for the opportunity,” Taggart said. “Oregon has a strong national presence and a proud recent history of playing among the nation’s elite, and I look forward to the challenge of upholding the excellence. I can’t wait to get started.”

Taggart will be taking over a program that went from winning 13 games and appearing in the first-ever College Football Championship game following the 2014 season to nine wins in 2015 before bottoming out out with a 4-9 campaign in Helfrich’s third and final year at the helm.

LSU DC Dave Aranda becomes highest-paid assistant ever

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When it was revealed that Dave Aranda would likely remain at LSU when Ed Orgeron was named the permanent head coach, it was thought the defensive coordinator could become the highest-paid assistant in college football.  Wednesday, that became a reality.

LSU announced earlier today that Aranda has signed a new three-year contract that runs through March of 2020 and includes the additional title of associate head coach.  The deal will also be worth  total of $5.5 million — $1.8 million in 2017, with bumps to $1.85 million and $1.9 million the last two years of the deal.

“My family loves Baton Rouge. We are excited to build on what we’ve started. LSU is a special place,” Aranda said in a statement. “Our outstanding student-athletes, the passion of our fans, the first class facilities and the commitment to excellence from the administration makes LSU one of the premier programs in college football and I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

The deal still needs the approval of LSU’s Board of Supervisors, although that’s expected to be a mere formality.

The $1.8 million will, at least at the moment, make Aranda the highest-paid assistant coach in the history of college football, trumping the $1,6 million Will Muschamp pulled in as the defensive coordinator at Auburn in 2015.  The highest-paid assistants in 2016 were Texas A&M DC John Chavis ($1.56 million), Clemson DC and Broyles Award winner Brent Venables ($1.43 million) and Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin ($1.4 million).  Aranda was fourth at $1.315 million per the USA Today salary database.

At the end of the regular season, Aranda’s Tiger defense was sixth nationally in scoring (16.4 points per game) and 13th in total defense (323.0 yards per game).  The former was second in the SEC behind Alabama, the latter third behind ‘Bama and Florida in the conference.

The leader of the Tide defense, Jeremy Pruitt, was 12th in the country in pay at $1 million and will likely be in line for a raise at season’s end.

Michigan’s Jake Butt named Mackey Award TE of the Year

COLUMBUS, OH - NOVEMBER 26:   Jake Butt #88 of the Michigan Wolverines is tackled by Marshon Lattimore #2 of the Ohio State Buckeyes after catching a pass during the first half of their game at Ohio Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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For the second time today, a Michigan Wolverine has taken home a major college football award.

This morning, the Paul Hornung Award announced Jabrill Peppers as its 2016 winner.  Not long after, the John Mackey Award named Peppers’ teammate Jake Butt as the 2016 recipient of its award, handed out annually to the nation’s top tight end.

Butt was a semifinalist for the 2015 award won by Arkansas’ Hunter Henry.  He’s the first Michigan player to win the Mackey.

“It’s a great honor first and foremost, especially for this team,” a statement from Butt began. “One thing Coach [Jim] Harbaugh says, ‘A rising tide raises all ships.’ So it’s great to win this award. I want to thank the guys in this group; this is our award, really it’s not a one-man award. I really thank everyone on this team, this coaching staff, my position coach Jay Harbaugh, my family and everyone that’s helped me achieve this great award. I’m really appreciative of that.”

Butt’s 3.6 receptions per game tied for 10th amongst tight ends.  he was one of three finalists for the award, and was joined by Alabama’s O.J. Howard and Clemson’s Jordan Leggett.