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The Fifth Quarter: Week 4 Rewind

Kansas State v Texas 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.

WINNERS

Mack’s back?
At least for the time being, the Longhorn Nation mob can put away its pitchforks and torches.  After a week that saw even more speculation about his job and the confirmation of rumors that Texas was indeed very interested in Nick Saban, Mack Brown was staring square in the face of Texas’ first 1-3 start since 1954.  Instead, the Longhorn players stepped above the ineptness of the past couple of weeks and moved to 2-2 with a 31-21 win over Kansas State.  Whether it was the increased heat on their coach or just the fact that the Wildcats aren’t that good, the players seemed to play with a spark, an enthusiasm, a sense of urgency that hasn’t been seen at all in 2013  Certainly one win doesn’t change all that’s gone wrong over the past three-plus years, and K-State 2013 is not the K-State of recent years, but it’s definitely a baby step in the right direction.

Hilluva football player
Forget about whether or not Jeremy Hill should even be on a football field; that’s another argument for another day.  When he is on the playing surface, the LSU running back is one helluva football player.  Hill rushed for a career-high 151 yards… and then headed back onto the field for the start of the third quarter.  Hill finished with 183 yards and three touchdowns in the Tigers’ 35-21 win over previously unbeaten Auburn.  The Bayou Bengals certainly have a stable full of high-quality runners, but Hill is clearly the class of the backfield and will continue to serve as an important piece of the offensive puzzle as LSU continues its run toward what should be another epic showdown with Alabama.

Johnny be good at football
If someone other than Johnny Manziel is going to win the 2013 Heisman, they’re going to have to rip it from his cold, dead hands.  Or something.  In less than three-and-a-half quarters of playing time against SMU, Manziel passed for 244 yards and a touchdown while rushing for another 102 and two more scores.  Through four games this season, Manziel has accounted for 1,483 yards of total offense (1,228 passing, 255 rushing) and 15 touchdowns; in the first four games of the 2012 season, the numbers were 1,460 (1,094 passing, 466 rushing) and 16 touchdowns.  Whether or not voters, given the Texas A&M’s rocky offseason, give him serious consideration again this December remains to be seen.  Based on his play on the field this year, though, he damn well should be given just that.

Arizona State v StanfordCardinal rules
Stanford got off to a rather ho-hum start to the 2013 season, beating San Jose State by 21 in the opener and then getting by Army by 14 in Week 2.  In its first true test of the year, however, Stanford got back to real Cardinal football in building up a 29-0 halftime lead before pushing it to 39-7 and ultimately cruising, relatively speaking, to a 42-28 win over No. 23 Arizona State.  As is ofttimes the case, the Cardinal did most of their damage on the ground in rushing for a season-high 238 yards, with three of their touchdowns on the day coming on the ground.  Stanford is nothing if not consistent as they’ve rushed for 197, 205 and now 238 yards in their first three games.  We’re still six weeks away from their colossal showdown with Oregon down on The Farm, and yes Stanford allowed ASU to make it closer than what it could’ve/should’ve been, but it appears the trajectory of both the Cardinal and the Ducks is pointing straight toward an instant classic.

Plow on, Badgers
If anyone thought Wisconsin would turn its back on its running ways under Gary Andersen, you couldn’t have been more wrong.  In the Badgers’ 41-10 win over Purdue in their Big Ten opener, UW ran for 388 yards and averaged 8.1 yards per carry.  UW came into the game fifth in the country averaging 337 yards per game, rushing for 393 and 387 yards in the first two games under Andersen; their low-water mark for the season has been 210 in the controversial loss to Arizona State last weekend.  The Badgers are now averaging eight yards per carry, a figure that’s third in the country behind a pair of teams that are in an offensive league of their own: Oregon (9.3) and Baylor (9.2).

Non-offensive fireworks
Iowa put up a season-high 59 points on the board in a romp over Western Michigan, and the offense was responsible for just 31 of them.  B.J. Lowery returned two interceptions for a touchdown, becoming the first player in Hawkeye history to perform that feat.  Not to be outdone, Kevonte Martin-Manley became the first Iowa player ever to return two punts for a touchdown in a single game.  Martin-Manley is just the third player in the long history of the Big Ten to do that.  Iowa is now 3-1 on the year, the fifth time in the last six seasons it has started a season at 3-1 or better.

Spunky punter
We here at CFT don’t normally refer to punters as “real” football players.  San Jose State’s Harrison Waid, though, might consider such a label fightin’ words… literally.  Waid took exception to being blocked by a Minnesota player following one of his punts and, in very non-punter-like fashion, went after the Gopher that laid him out.  While the SJSU coaching staff likely appreciated the fire shown by Waid, they probably didn’t like the fact that he was ejected from the game as a result of what was closer to a cat fight than actual fisticuffs.

BCS buster still alive
Thanks to losses through the first three weeks of the 2013 season by, among others, Boise State and Utah State, Fresno State was looking like the lone non-AQ school left that could crash the BCS’ postseason party.  The hopes of BCS busters across the country were looking even more dire Friday night as the Bulldogs sat at their own 13-yard line with just over seven minutes left and trailing the Broncos by six.  Five minutes and 87 yards later, Fresno State put a game-winning touchdown on the board that kept their perfect record — and BCS hopes — intact.  While there are still potential stumbling blocks along the way, such as back-to-back games against San Diego State and Nevada in a month as well as a possible conference championship game appearance — rematch with Boise? — Fresno State is looking like as good a bet as any of the non-AQ schools to finish the season unbeaten and put themselves in a position for a BCS bowl bid.

LOSERS

The Devin’s in the detailsMichigan v Connecticut
Devin Gardner has been in a very giving mood of late for Michigan.  Off the field, that’s a positive; on it, it’s a decidedly negative trait.  Through four games this season, the Wolverines’ starting quarterback has thrown eight interceptions in 92 attempts, including two more against UConn.  Last season, in his first year as a starter, Gardner tossed five picks in 126 attempts.  Gardner also coughed up a fumble early in the third quarter, one that was returned for a touchdown in the too-close-for-comfort win over the winless Huskies.  A bye week could be coming at the perfect time for UM in general and Gardner specifically.  As a team, the Wolverines must clean-up whatever has gone wrong in two very unimpressive and uninspiring wins the past two weeks.  As a player, Gardner needs to some how, some way extract his cranium from his rectum and start playing smart football, especially with the start of Big Ten play on the horizon.

This could leave a mark
Miami had little problem in dispatching heavy underdog Savannah State, but the cupcake win could have come at a steep cost.  In the middle of the first quarter, starting quarterback Stephen Morris suffered what was initially described as a lower-leg injury.  Morris did not return to the game, and it was later revealed that the initial diagnosis is a sprained ankle.  It’ unclear if that would be the dreaded high-ankle type of sprain, although head coach Al Golden sounded decidedly optimistic in his postgame talk.  What’s also unclear is whether Morris will be available for the USF game next week or, more importantly, the ACC opener against Georgia Tech the week after.  The only good news for the ‘Canes if Morris were to miss any playing time is that they have an experienced backup in Ryan Williams.

DOH!gorsen
What in the name of Red Bull shooters is going on in Morgantown?  While the Mountaineers started 2013 2-1, their two wins came against FCS programs, while they scored just seven points in a loss to Oklahoma.  That downward offensive trend spiraled further out of control after WVU was shutout in an embarrassing 37-point road loss to Maryland.  It was the first time a Mountaineers team had been shutout since 2001, Rich Rodriguez‘s first season at WVU.  The Mountaineers recorded the same number of turnovers (six) as first downs, and they completed a grand total of one pass to a wide receiver.  Yes, replacing a quarterback like Geno Smith and a playmaker like Tavon Austin is a tall task, but there’s no excuse for a Dana Holgorsen-coached team to get shut out.  It may not be on the national radar quite yet, but the howls from the locals around me here in the middle of WV calling for Holgorsen’s head are growing in frequency and intensity.  Holgorsen’s built his reputation on offense; his players had better start playing up to that résumé.

Marshall, Marshall, Marshall
Staying in God’s Country, what could have been for Doc Holliday‘s football program.  A pass that could’ve went the other way for a pick-six instead slipped through the hands of a Marshall defender and into the arms of a Virginia Tech receiver, tying the game at 21-all with just over three minutes left in the fourth quarter.  After Tech missed a pair of field goal attempts in the first two overtimes — and after the Herd had one of its FGs blocked in the second overtime — the Herd was in position to tie the game in the third overtime — the Hokies had scored a touchdown and a two-point conversion on their third possession of extra time — only to watch a blatant pass interference in the end zone go uncalled.  Add it all up and it was a heartbreaking 29-21, triple-overtime loss for the 2-2 Herd… and a huge escape for a very average Hokies football team.

Florida International v LouisvilleFIUBAR
In December of this year, FIU stunned most college football observers by firing head coach Mario Cristobal.  At the time, athletic director Pete Garcia defended the indefensible by claiming the program had “gone backwards over the last year and a half.”  So, how have the Panthers fared in their first season under new head coach Ron Turner?  FIU has lost their first four games by a combined score of 187-23, including the 72-0 whipping Saturday at the hands of Louisville.  Even more embarrassing for the Panthers is the fact that the officiating crew ordered a running clock in the second half in an effort to speed up the embarrassment.  Excellent work, Mr. Garcia.  You’ve turned around this FBS football program in much the same way you and Butch Davis turned around my Cleveland Browns early last decade.  You should be proud.

$avannah $tate
Over the past two seasons, Savannah State has been 60-point-plus underdogs to three FBS teams: Miami (Sept. 21, 2013), Oklahoma State (Sept. 1, 2012) and Florida State (Sept. 8, 2012).  The FCS program lost those three games by a combined score of 216-7… and that was with the FSU game featuring a running clock in the second half and weather ending the game in the third quarter as well as the Miami game Saturday having the fourth quarter shortened to 12 minutes.  For that trio of eviscerations, Savannah State added $1.235 million to its athletic department’s coffers; in 2010-11, the department’s total athletic budget across all sports was $5.1 million.  Sometimes when you lose, get a beatdown even, you win and win big.

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

– No. 3 Clemson 26, North Carolina State: Thanks to some very questionable officiating, the Tigers were able to get out of Raleigh with its fourth consecutive win to start the 2013 season.

– No. 9 Georgia 45, North Texas 21: The Bulldogs may have won going away thanks to ripping off 24 unanswered points, but they were actually tied with the Conference USA program at 21-all midway through the third quarter.

– No. 15 Michigan 24, UConn 21 — For the second straight week, the Wolverines not only allowed an inferior opponent hang with them, they were actually outplay for the better part of 60 minutes.  UM may be unbeaten at 4-0, but it’s as wobbly a 4-0 that you’ll ever see.

– No. 19 Northwestern 35, Maine 21: You beat an FCS team, even a previously unbeaten one like the Black Bears, by a mere two touchdowns when you’re ranked inside the Top 25, you deserve a mention for escaping.

– No. 22 Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 13: Were it not for an inexplicable trick play late in the third quarter by the Spartans, the Irish could’ve very easily been on the receiving end of its second loss of the season.

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.Colorado State v Alabama

1. Alabama — Call it a letdown coming off a huge win last week or having some pity on a former coordinator, but the Tide looked rather meh-ish in the 25-point win over Colorado State in their home opener.  Expect a much different Tide team as it faces a ranked SEC foe. (Last week: No. 1)
Next up: vs. No. 21 Ole Miss

2. Oregon — Despite a bye week, I believe the Ducks still somehow managed to put up 56 points with just 15 minutes of time of possession. (Last week: No. 2)
Next up:  vs. Cal

3. Clemson — You could feel and almost see the Clemsoning hanging in the Raleigh air Thursday night, but it never transpired.  Is this year different for the Tigers?  It’s certainly looking that way and holy hell I just jinxed it. (Last week: No. 3)
Next up: vs. Wake Forest

4. Ohio State — After four wins over creampuffs by an average score of 52-15, the Buckeyes have seen the preseason officially come to an end and will face its first real test of the regular season by opening up Big Ten play at home next Saturday. (Last week: No. 4)
Next up: vs. No. 24 Wisconsin

5. Stanford — I was very tempted to put LSU here following their win over previously-unbeaten Auburn, but the Cardinal’s win over an unbeaten and ranked Arizona State was enough to trump that in my mind. (Last week: unranked)
Next up: at Washington State

(Dropped out: No. 5 Louisville)

HE SAID IT
“I can talk about our crowd today for probably an hour in terms of the energy that they brought to the game, getting in there at an earlier time I think than we usually do; staying even when the game seemed very hard at times, and as disruptive a crowd as we’ve had here probably since the 2006 Louisville game. It was deafening loud.” — Kyle Flood, following Rutgers’ come-from-behind win over Arkansas.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“Obviously, I appreciate our fans. I’ve said it and I’ll say it again. We have great fans. I think everybody involved knows that what came out is not indicative of how I felt or how I feel about them. I think our fans understand that. They’re great fans. They’ve been around me for five years. I think they know who I am as a person.” — Bo Pelini, following a rather rough week for him and his Nebraska football program.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“That was a bizarre game.” — David Cutcliffe, after watching his Duke team lose a 58-55 first-round ACC hoops tourney game to Pittsburgh.

HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“We exposed them at times.” — Earnest Wilson III, after watching his Savannah State team get shellacked 77-7 by Miami.

HE SAID IT, LES MILES EDITION
“If not, a stiff dew was out there.” — The LSU head coach’s response to someone who asked him if it rained in Tiger Stadium.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK
As a loyal follower of everything and anything Duck Dynasty, I’m fascinated by how far the reach of that family-centric show has grown over the past year.  The latest example?  In the run-up to their game against Louisiana-Monroe — Duck Dynasty‘s Robertson clan hails from West Monroe La., with the elder statesman Phil a former starting quarterback at Louisiana Tech — Baylor posted the following photo on their Twitter account earlier this week:

Baylor Duck Dynasty

RGIII and Art Briles — looking eerily and creepily similar to Uncle Si sans eyeglasses, incidentally — sporting a flowing and glorious redneck face mullet?  Outstanding work, Baylor.  Outstanding.

SAY WHAT?
College football teams one-upping each other when it comes to helmet designs has officially jumped the shark.  Here’s a photo (via the Roanoke TimesAndy Bitter) of a future Virginia Tech helmet that’s currently in the design stage:

Virginia Tech Helmet Design

There’s no word yet on if the Flintstones and/or the Rubbles will serve as the honorary captains when/if those things debut.

TRUE STORY
Ohio State’s 76 points in the Week 4 scrimmage against FAMU were the most for the Buckeyes since an 83-21 win over Iowa in 1950.  The 76-point margin of victory was the largest for an OSU since downing Drake, 85-7, in 1935.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

– Through four weeks, there are 29 teams at the FBS level with perfect records, with six of them coming from the Pac-12 and four each from the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten and SEC.  Missouri, incidentally, is the lone SEC East team with no losses.  On the opposite end, 14 teams have yet to win a game.  Three of those hail from the American Athletic Conference: Temple, UConn and USF.  Iowa State is the only team from the so-called Big Five conferences that’s yet to win a game.

Pittsburgh v DukeTom Savage‘s six touchdown passes in Pittsburgh’s wild 58-55 win over Duke was the most for a Panthers’ quarterback since Tyler Palko tossed five way back in 2004 and tied an ACC record.  It was also the most since Pete Gonzalez set a school record with seven in 1997.  The 113 points scored by both teams was the highest total ever in a game involving Pitt.

– The 98-yard touchdown pass from Aaron Murray to Reggie Davis in the win over North Texas was not only the 100th of Murray’s career, but it was also the longest pass play in Georgia history.  It’s also tied for the third-longest passing touchdown in SEC history.  Murray’s 445 yards of offense — 408 passing, 37 rushing — moved the senior to No. 3 on the all-time SEC list for total offense with 11,352 yards.

Kenny Guiton set a single-game Ohio State record with six touchdown passes, and the senior did that in just the first two quarters.  It was the first time an OSU quarterback had thrown at least five scoring passes in a single game since Bobby Hoying in 1995.  Guiton has now tossed 10 touchdown passes the past two weeks; he had five career touchdown passes prior to his first career start against Cal last Saturday.

Derek Carr‘s 460 yards passing in Fresno State’s 41-40 win over Boise State Friday night was the fifth 400-yard-plus performance of his career, setting both the school and Mountain West records in the process.

– Nebraska’s Stanley-Jean Baptiste has intercepted a pass in four straight games, becoming the first Cornhusker player since Josh Bullocks in 2003 to accomplish that feat.  Baptiste’s 140 return yards on his picks are 47 shy of NU’s single-season record.

– In a losing effort to Minnesota, San Jose State’s David Fales threw for 439 yards and three TDs.  He had 296 in the first half alone.

–BYU quarterback Taysom Hill is completing just 35.1 percent (40-114) of his passes this season.   An 18-of-48 performance in the loss to Utah actually upped his completion percentage by nearly two percent.

– This is just weird: Alabama did not convert its first third-down try until there were three minutes left in the fourth quarter of their 31-6 win over Colorado State.  Up to that point, the Tide had been 0-8 on third down.

– Baylor is the first FBS team since Ohio State in 1996 to score 70-plus points in back-to-back games.  Baylor has scored 209 points through three games, the most to start a season at this level in the past 10 years.  They are also the first FBS/Div. 1-A team to score at least 60 points the first three games of the season since LSU in 1930.

– Unbelievably, Texas’ win over Kansas State was its first over the Wildcats since Oct. 3 of 2003.De'Onte Arnett

– Maryland has started a season 4-0 for the first time since 2001.  The Terps had won a total of six games in Randy Edsall‘s first two seasons at the school.

– Including the 17-14 loss to USC Saturday, Utah State’s last five losses have been by a combined total of 13 points.

– UCLA’s 692 yards of total offense in the 59-13 win over New Mexico State was a new school record.

– Kansas’ 13-10 home win over Louisiana Tech on a field goal as time expired was the Jayhawks’ first over an FBS team since Sept. 10, 2011, a streak of 21 straight games.  KU has not beaten a member of an AQ conference since dropping Colorado in November of 2010.  That was also the Jayhawks’ last Big 12 win; they haven’t beaten a current member of the Big 12, however, since defeating Iowa State in October of 2009.

– In its 35-point win over Tulane, Syracuse’s special teams blocked three kicks — two punts and a field goal attempt — and recovered a fumbled punt.

– In the first half of their pasting of Florida A&M, Ohio State ran 47 plays and scored 55 points; FAMU had fewer yards of total offense (54) than the Buckeyes had points, and was able to manage just a single first down in the first two quarters.  OSU was leading the FCS Rattlers 48-0 before FAMU was able to muster its initial first down.

– Minnesota totaled 14 rushing touchdowns in 12 games last season; after six in the 43-17 win over San Jose State, the Gophers have 16 rushing touchdowns in four games this season.

– Prior to their loss to Clemson Thursday night, North Carolina State had beaten the last three teams ranked inside the Top 20 that had ventured into Carter-Finley Stadium: No. 3 Florida State (17-16 on Oct. 6, 2012), No. 7 Clemson (37-13 on Nov. 19, 2011) and No. 16 FSU (28-24 on Oct. 28, 2010).

– The game against Rutgers in Piscataway Saturday was Arkansas’ first in the Northeast since 1940, a 27-7 loss to Fordham.

– Cincinnati and Miami (OH) were scoreless through more than 55 minutes of clock time before the Bearcats scored two touchdowns in the last 4:55 to claim the non-conference win.

Lee Corso BisonIN CLOSING…
Yes, it spoke volumes about the level of games across the country, but kudos to not only ESPN for taking their College GameDay show on the road to Fargo, but to the thousands of Fargoites in attendance who created such a tremendous atmosphere for a national television audience.  It was a great scene and great exposure for an FCS program like North Dakota State, which remains unbeaten and is coming off back-to-back national championships.  Well done by everyone involved.  Hopefully it won’t take another five years to get back to a lower-level campus.

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Johnny Majors, who once left Pitt for Vols, says Pitt is still a destination job

Johnny Majors

The University of Pittsburgh is in the midst of its fourth head coach search in five years, leaving the question of whether or not Pitt is still home to a destination job in college football to be answered. At least one coaching legend believes it is; Johnny Majors.

“It’s definitely a destination job, and I think it’s a job you can win the championship at, without question,” Majors while being interviewed by MLive.com. “If you have a strong, supportive, loyal president that wants to win at football as well as academics, and a strong A.D. that’s loyal and will support you, you can win championships at a place like Pitt.”

Majors, of course, coached at Pittsburgh two separate times. The first stint came from 1973 through 1976. His second tour of Pittsburgh came two decades later from 1993 through 1996. Majors won a national championship at Pittsburgh in 1976 (Pitt’s last claimed national title), after which he left the program to go closer to home to coach at Tennessee. So you can understand why his comments about Pitt being a destination job may come off a tad ironic.

Majors is not off-target with that last part of the comment though. Any job has the ability to be a long-standing destination job with the proper and supportive leadership in place on multiple levels. Right now Pittsburgh is looking for a permanent athletics director in addition to a head football coach, so there is undoubtedly some stability issues for the program to address. The same holds true at Michigan, with the Wolverines looking for a new AD and reportedly going all in on San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh .

In a way, every coaching job can be a destination job for the right candidate, and Pittsburgh is no different. Simply being in a power conference does not make any job a destination job for most, but it can be the right job for the right guy if the pair can be matched up.

Pittsburgh is looking to replace Paul Chryst, who accepted a head coaching offer from Wisconsin. Whoever becomes Pittsburgh’s next head coach will be the third coach hired to be head coach since the school parted ways with Dave Wannstedt, not including two interim head coaches.

What do you think? Is Pitt a destination job or not?

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Texas A&M brings down west end of Kyle Field

LSU v Texas A&M

Texas A&M took the next step in a massive renovation project on Kyle Field. The entire project is aimed to improve the facilities at Kyle Field and expand seating beyond 100,000 fans. The $450 million project is a two-year process and is expected to be completed in time for the start of the 2015 season after getting started last year. Work began immediately following the conclusion of Texas A&M’s 2013 home schedule.

Today called for the tearing down of the west end of the football stadium, which took place this morning.

Texas A&M tore down part of the east side last year as the renovation project got underway. Texas A&M has already installed a new video scoreboard, the largest in college football. The school also approved a $16 million budget to improve other football facilities including locker rooms and training rooms.

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Colorado State University-Pueblo wins first D2 national title

Jarrod Lacey

Saturday may not have been a great day for Colorado State, but another Colorado program achieved the ultimate glory on the field. Colorado State University-Pueblo shutout offensive juggernaut Minnesota State to win the Division 2 national championship. The ThunderWolves scored a 13-0 victory in Kansas City to win the first national championship in program history.

Colorado State-Pueblo scored 10 points in the second quarter, which proved to be more than enough with the way the defense played. Chris Bonner completed a touchdown pass of 18 yards to Paul Browning in the final minute of the first half to put the ThunderWolves up 10-0. Kicker Greg O’Donnell kicked two field goals. The story was the defense though, with Colorado State-Pueblo holding Minnesota State to just four third down conversions out of 16. Defensive end Darius Allen was all over the field to lead the defense. He ended the season with 15.5 sacks

The last time the Division 2 national championship was a shutout was in 1997 when Northern Colorado blew away New Haven, 51-0. Perhaps it is something in the water in Colorado. This was the first time since 1997 played for the Division 2 title. This was also the first appearance in the championship game for Minnesota State. The game was the lowest scoring Division 2 championship game since Brian Kelly‘s Grand Valley State team defeated North Dakota 10-3 in the 2003 championship game. The CSU-Pueblo program was relaunched in 2008 after a period of inactivity from 1985 through 2007. It did not take long to rebuild the program from scratch into a national title program.

Will Colorado State-Pueblo head coach John Wristen be the next coach to make a move up in competition? Wristen is now 68-16 in seven years as head coach with four straight Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference championships and playoff appearances. Now with a national championship on his résumé, perhaps Wristen will begin to gain some traction in some coaching carousel news.

Remember that another Division 2 coach from Colorado just got a new opportunity. Colorado School of Mines head coach Bob Stitt was recently named the head coach at Montana. Maybe the state of Colorado is becoming the next fertile ground for rising coaches.

As for that other Colorado State? The Rams went down in flames against Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl.

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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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