Lane Kiffin

With Kiffin canned, to whom does USC turn?


Shortly after Arizona State had put the finishing touches on an yet another embarrassing loss for the storied USC football program, the questions surrounding the future of head coach Lane Kiffin once again surfaced. Less than three hours later, at 4:28 a.m. PT, the athletic department posted the following on its Twitter account:

“Breaking news: Lane Kiffin has been relieved of his duties as USC’s head football coach per AD Pat Haden.”

And with that, the Kiffin Era in Los Angeles came to a (merciful) end in an LAX parking lot.

Despite extremely punitive NCAA sanctions slapped on the program… despite very steadfast support from his athletic director… the physical act of canning the 38-year-old Kiffin was the easy part.  Beginning in 2012 and after being picked by many as the No. 1 team in the country heading into the new season, the admittedly undermanned Trojans have stumbled and tripped their way to a 10-8 record, including a 5-6 mark in Pac-12 play.  Oregon and Stanford have far surpassed USC in the Pac-12 football pecking order; perhaps more importantly, hated cross-town rival UCLA has done the same.

No, the hard part will be just who Pat Haden hires to replace the man hired by his predecessor.  Haden was tabbed by his alma mater in August of 2010 to replace Mike Garrett, and this will easily be the biggest hire the former Rhodes Scholar makes and will leave the most lasting impact on his résumé.

The good news for Haden specifically and the Trojan fan base in general is that USC still has a helluva lot to offer any potential Kiffin replacement.  From sparkling new facilities to well-heeled boosters to a fertile recruiting base to lasting brand name, USC remains one of the top jobs at the FBS level.

With just a couple of hours to digest the stunning (but yet not-so-stunning) news, here’s a quick-hit look at just whose name will be mentioned — realistically or not — as Kiffin’s replacement, knowing full well that the actual permanent successor likely won’t come from this initial pool of possibilities.

Regardless of how big of a pipe dream this may be, anyone and everyone knows full well that USC officials will back the Brinks truck up to the Broncos head coach’s door and dare him not to answer.  Prior to Kiffin’s hiring, Petersen was reportedly contacted by USC about their opening and rejected the overtures.  In December of 2011, Petersen reportedly rejected UCLA — for a second time — when they offered him $4 million annually at a time he was making just over $1.5 with the Broncos.  Petersen has had myriad opportunities to leave Boise, and has yet to take the financial bait.  Don’t expect him to do it this time, either.  Probably.

The former USC All-American’s name is already being bandied about as perhaps the top candidate to replace Kiffin.  Currently the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos, Del Rio was also mentioned as a possibility to replace Pete Carroll.  Del Rio has never been a coach — head, assistant or otherwise — at the collegiate level and it would be stunning if the Trojans went in this direction.  Speaking of which…

Another former USC All-American, Fisher’s name, as expected, surfaced (again) earlier this month even before Kiffin was officially booted in an LAX parking lot.  Like Del Rio, Fisher has never been a coach at the collegiate level.  Would Fisher give up a head coaching job in the NFL to return home and rescue his college program?  Don’t look for USC to even give him an opportunity to make such a choice despite a segment of the fan base that would love to see it happen.

Four names in, and this might be the most realistic and viable option.  While Franklin has very few ties to the West Coast — one year at Washington State (1998) and one at Idaho State (1999) — he’s one of the best young head coaches in the game and turned Vanderbilt into a competitive football program in the best football conference in the country, no small feat that won’t go unnoticed by those at this level looking for a new coach.  Franklin is one of the top recruiters in the game, and has done well on that battlefield in the SEC; one could imagine what he would do on the fertile California recruiting grounds with “less-intense” competition plus his ties in that arena to the South.

Sarkisian is just 30-25 in his four-plus years at Washington, but he has the Huskies undefeated and ranked (at the moment) No. 16 in the country.  He was a USC assistant for seven of the eight years prior to his hiring by UW and grew up in Torrance, Calif., less than an hour’s drive to Los Angeles.  It would be beyond surprising if Haden didn’t at least reach out to Sarkisian let alone not make a full-blown effort to land him.

Roman was the offensive coordinator at Stanford for two seasons before following Jim Harbaugh to the San Francisco 49ers.  He has previously been linked to openings at Cal and Penn State.  With the success Harbaugh had in the Pac-12, and with Roman playing a role in it, this could be a direction in which Haden turns.  Keep an eye on this name.

As far as coordinators, it wouldn’t take long to call roll on those more respected than Alabama’s defensive (co-) boss.  He’s had numerous opportunities to leave Nick Saban’s side the past couple of years but has remained in Tuscaloosa as the situation simply wasn’t right.  Smart’s entire coaching career has been east of the Mississippi; would the bright lights of LA scare him off if the Trojans came knocking?

If Haden is looking to go outside the box, you wouldn’t get much further out than this.  Not only has the Clemson offensive coordinator never been a head coach at the collegiate level, he didn’t take his first college job until 2010 at the age of 42 after a highly successful run as a high school coach in Texas.  Despite that lack of experience, Morris is one of the brightest and most respected offensive minds in college football — Urban Meyer tried to lure him to Ohio State upon his hiring — and has turned the Tigers’ offense into one of the nation’s best.  With college football leaning more and more toward up-tempo offense, especially in the Pac-12, kicking the tires on Morris might make sense on some level.

Mike Riley
USC’s offensive coordinator from 1993-96, the 60-year old Riley has spent the past 11 seasons as the head coach at Oregon State.  While it would seem unlikely that a coach of his age would make a move, he did reply “you never know” when the Los Angeles Daily News asked a couple of years ago about a potential return to the Trojans.  That same paper is already listing Riley as a possibility, although that would be hard to see becoming a viable option if for nothing more than the age factor.

I’m not saying USC will reach out to the Texas A&M head coach, but I’m saying they damn well should.  And they’d better do it before the NFL gets its hooks into one of the brightest coaches at the FBS level.  It won’t be easy for anyone to pry Sumlin out of College Station, though, as A&M officials will rightly do anything and everything to blunt even flirtatious overtures let alone full-blown pursuits.  It wouldn’t seem like Sumlin would leave an SEC job to plow new ground out west, but stranger things have happened.

See above.  The Stanford head coach’s name has already been mentioned as longshot possibility, although it seems more likely that he would leave The Farm for the NFL rather than another college job.

In accordance with federal and state regulations, we’re required to include Chucky on any and all lists related to major head-coaching vacancies.  Seeing as his wife was not a cheerleader at USC, though, we highly doubt this one has a torso much less legs.

Todd Graham drops ‘chicken****’ on Mike Leach in postgame handshake

RAMOT HASHEVIM, ISRAEL - OCTOBER 26: Israeli egg farmer Dan Aronheim sprays pesticide to kill the flies that breed in the mounds of feces under the cages of his 3,500 Highline breed egg-laying chickens in his small family farm October 26, 2005 in Ramot Hashevim, in central Israel. The livelihood of thousands of small farmers is being threatened by the migration of the H5N1 Avian Flu virus from the Far East to Western Europe. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)
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At least postgame, #Pac12AfterDark lived up to its NSFW billing.

Last season, Washington State’s Mike Leach accused his counterpart at Arizona State, Todd Graham, of stealing signs.  Ahead of the Cougars’ Week 8 trip to Tempe to face the Sun Devils, Leach again broached the sign-stealing allegations; that broaching earned Leach a reprimand and a $10,000 fine from the Pac-12.

While Graham had personally stayed relatively mum on the subject, the coach’s athletic director stated they fully supported the conference’s actions as “[o]ur professional integrity was questioned for two straight years by Mike Leach’s irresponsible comments and we will not allow that to happen.” Graham may have been relatively mum during the week, but, in the aftermath of Wazzu’s 37-32 win Saturday night, the coach apparently could no longer bite his tongue.

Leach, of course, was asked about the situation in his postgame presser.

Pirate’s gonna pirate, regardless.

Defense a mere rumor as Oklahoma outlasts Texas Tech in record-setting shootout

LUBBOCK, TX - OCTOBER 22: Patrick Mahomes II #5 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders passes the ball during the first half of the game against the Oklahoma Sooners on October 22, 2016 at AT&T Jones Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
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Certainly there are deceased defensive purists who are rolling over in their graves at the moment.  In fact, there are likely amongst-the-living defensive purists who are currently digging six feet down, jumping in and rolling over just to prove a point.

To what are we referring?  Oklahoma 66, Texas Tech 59 in a game that spanned just four quarters.  Didn’t even go into a single overtime let alone multiple ones to at least buttress the video game-like numbers.  They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so screen snaps of the offensive carnage are just visually staggering in their breadth and scope:



Where to start?

Well, the teams collectively broke the NCAA record for combined offensive yards in a single game, with their 1,708 yards — exactly 854 for each, incidentally — easily surpassing the 1,640 of San Jose State and Nevada in 2001.  The combined 1,279 yards passing also broke the record of 1,261 yards set during the 2014 Washington State-Cal game.

That Pac-12 game also produced the individual passing record, with Wazzu’s Connor Halliday throwing for 734 yards; Tech’s Patrick Mahomes matched that record in this wild affair.  Mahomes’ 88 pass attempts were just one off the record of 89 set by Halliday in 2013.

Add in 85 yards rushing, and Mahomes became the first player in FBS history to account for more than 800 yards of offense in a single game. The previous record was Halliday’s 751 two years ago.

On the OU side, quarterback Baker Mayfield, who transferred from Lubbock to Norman, set a Sooners record with his seven touchdown passes.  The 1,383 combined yards for Mayfield and Mahomes is an FBS record as well.

Additionally, running back Joe Mixon, with 262 yards rushing and 114 receiving, became just the third FBS player in at least 15 years to go for 250-plus in the former category and 100-plus in the latter.  Dede Westbrook also caught nine passes for 202 yards, making Oklahoma the fifth team in FBS history and first since Oklahoma State in 2008 to have a 300-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in the same game.

The Sooners also became the first FBS team with a 500-yard-passer, 200-yard rusher and 200-yard receiver in a single game.

I’m quite certain that there are myriad school and conference and national records that I missed, but, yeah, you get what was a very offensive point.  And, for that, there’s just no defense.

Leonard Fournette sets school record as LSU runs all over Ole Miss

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22:  Leonard Fournette #7 of the LSU Tigers runs past Zedrick Woods #36 of the Mississippi Rebels for a 76-yard touchdown during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for LSU and Leonard Fournette but the two reunited in a big way on Saturday night to run right over Ole Miss in a 38-21 win that put the rest of the SEC back on notice about the team from Baton Rouge.

Fournette needed just eight carries to set a new LSU school record for rushing yards in a game and finished the night with a whopping 284 yards on just 16 carries. The one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner scored three times as well and each one was a highlight in itself: from 59 yards out, another from 76 yards and a final one from 78 yards to embarrass the Ole Miss defense.

Backup Derrius Guice saw his string of 100 yard games come to an end after filling in nicely for Fournette but he did rush for 57 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Danny Etling didn’t have to do much as a result of that attack, throwing for 204 yards, a score and an interception.

Ole Miss was a controversial selection in the top 25 this week at 3-3 entering the game and failed to live up to the hype by dropping their second in a row. Chad Kelly was rattled on just about every throw, finishing with only 209 yards and a touchdown while throwing two picks and getting sacked twice. He didn’t get much help from the Rebels defense either, which was flattened by Fournette and gave up 515 total yards.

The win was LSU interim coach Ed Orgeron’s third in a row and gives the team plenty of momentum heading into their bye week. A home night game against No. 1 Alabama awaits after that and it’s not a stretch to say that the school would make him the permanent head coach if the win streak stretches to four.

There’s a long time between now and then however, but at least on Saturday night LSU looked a lot like the team that was ranked in the top 10 of the preseason polls and had a Heisman Trophy candidate in the backfield.

Blocked field goal gives Penn State huge upset over No. 2 Ohio State

STATE COLLEGE, PA - OCTOBER 22:  J.T. Barrett #16 of the Ohio State Buckeyes is hurried by Brandon Bell #11 of the Penn State Nittany Lions in the first half during the game on October 22, 2016 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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James Franklin was on the hot seat with many Penn State fans earlier this season. After Saturday night, he might be getting a contract extension.

The Nittany Lions gave their head coach his first signature win in State College in front of a White-Out crowd in Happy Valley as they upset No. 2 Ohio State 24-21 with a wild fourth quarter and some clutch plays down the stretch.

Penn State hung around most of the game and came up with a timely score just about every moment when it looked like they were going to lose control to their highly ranked division rivals. Case in point was right before halftime when quarterback Trace McSorley (who completed just eight passes on the night) led a 74 yard touchdown drive in just 65 seconds to pull to within 12-7.

Nothing caused the crowd to erupt quite like what the defense did in the fourth quarter however. Ohio State appeared to be driving to all but wrap up another tough road win with just over four minutes left in the game when they ran the field goal unit onto the field to attempt a 45-yarder.

The kick came off a little low though and junior safety Marcus Allen entered PSU lore by getting just enough of the ball to block it. Grant Haley found himself in the right place, at the right time, and promptly scooped and scored from 60 yards out to cause pandemonium among the Nittany Lion fan base.

Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett didn’t quite get going like he did last week against Wisconsin but was solid as the only reliable source of offense for the Buckeyes. The quarterback finished with 245 yards passing and a touchdown but was sacked five times in the second half as he failed to rally the team many expected to roll through the rest of the season undefeated.

The loss snaps a 20 game road winning streak for Ohio State and throws all sorts of postseason scenarios out the window. To start with, rival Michigan should ascend to No. 2 in the polls come Sunday and instantly become the favorites in the Big Ten.

The Buckeyes can still win their division, and even make it back into the running for a College Football Playoff semifinal, but the night belonged to what Penn State did in a marquee win for their head coach and their program on Saturday night.