With Kiffin canned, to whom does USC turn?

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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.

CHRIS PETERSEN
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.

JACK DEL RIO
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…

JEFF FISHER
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.

JAMES FRANKLIN
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.

STEVE SARKISIAN
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.

GREG ROMAN
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.

KIRBY SMART
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?

CHAD MORRIS
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.

KEVIN SUMLIN
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.

DAVID SHAW
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.

JON GRUDEN
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.

Alabama ties 1990-2000 Florida for longest winning streak vs. unranked opponents

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There’s that, I guess.

The outcome of top-ranked Alabama’s scrimmage game against FCS Mercer Saturday was never in doubt, with the lone question being the margin of victory.  The answer came in the form of a 56-0 Crimson Tide over the Bears that could’ve been exponentially worse as, after jumping out to a 35-0 halftime lead, Nick Saban took his foot off the overmatched program’s throats in the second half.

With the win, Alabama has now won 73 straight games against unranked opponents.  That ties the 1990-2000 Gators for the longest such streak since the Associated Press poll originated in 1936.

The last loss?  To Louisiana-Monroe in Tuscaloosa during Saban’s first season with the school.

‘Bama won’t get the opportunity to break the tie with Florida as the will face a ranked Auburn team in the Iron Bowl before very likely facing another ranked team/teams in a bowl/playoffs.

Minnesota QB Demry Croft posts negative QB rating in loss to Northwestern

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Even Blutarsky said “dayum” when apprised of this development.

In Week 11, Demry Croft was steady in both the passing (9-15, 105) and running (10-183) games as Minnesota dominated Nebraska in a 54-21 win.  Seven days later, the quarterback put together one of the worst statistical performances you’ll ever come across.

In a 39-0 whitewashing at the hands of Northwestern, Croft completed two of his 11 passes for 43 yards and three interceptions.  So, yes, he had more completions to Wildcats defenders than he did to Golden Gophers receivers.

Add it all up, and Croft posted a pass efficiency rating of minus-3.5.  Again, a negative.  Quarterback.  Rating.

Throw in minus-17 yards rushing, and with the full understanding there were at least a couple of drops by his receivers, Croft cobbled together one of the worst statistical days for a quarterback in college football history.

The loss means that 5-6 Minnesota needs to beat fifth-ranked Wisconsin in the regular-season finale next Saturday to become bowl-eligible. Northwestern, meanwhile, has won six straight and stands at 8-3 on the season, two wins in the Week 13 matchup with Illinois and a bowl game away from the fifth 10-win season in the football program’s history.

No. 5 Wisconsin muscles their way to 11-0 against No. 24 Michigan

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No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) moved one step closer to an undefeated regular season thanks to a strong second-half showing against No. 24 Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten). The Badgers struggled to get much of anything going on offense in the first half, but the plays seemed to come together in the second half en route to a 24-10 victory in Madison on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers scored 21-unanswered points to overcome a 10-7 deficit in the third quarter.

Michigan was on the wrong end of a controversial instant replay in the first half, but even if the correct call had been made in the review it would not have been enough to score the upset. The Badgers wore down Michigan in the second half and found some passing plays to use to their advantage off the arm of Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook completed just nine passes out of 19 attempts with one going for a touchdown and another deep ball providing a spark along the way. The recipe for a win, of course, remained running the ball. Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor ripped off 132 yards on 19 carries to power Wisconsin’s offense.

Michigan starting quarterback Brandon Peters was carted off in the third quarter with an apparent head injury. He did not return, and John O’Korn was tasked with taking over the offense for the remainder of the game. Had Peters not been injured, it may not have mattered. Wisconsin’s defense was still making plays when they needed and not allowing Michigan to seize control for extended periods of time.

The win keeps Wisconsin knocking on the door to the College Football Playoff. If the Badgers win their next two games, they will stand an excellent chance of getting to the playoff for the first time in school history. Wisconsin will wrap up the regular season on the road next week with the annual rivalry game with Minnesota. The Gophers were getting thumped by Northwestern and will need a long-overdue win against Wisconsin in order to become bowl-eligible. Wisconsin has not lost to Minnesota since 2003. After that, it will be a date in the Big Ten Championship Game against the champion of the East Division, which will more than likely be the team Michigan plays next week.

Michigan will be home in Ann Arbor for their rivalry game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will need the win in order to remain on the playoff radar heading into the Big Ten championship game. Jim Harbaugh has not beaten Urban Meyer yet.

No. 3 Miami scores 30 unanswered points to go 10-0 for first time since 2002

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The No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0 ACC) overcame a disaster of a first half to keep their undefeated season going. On Saturday against Virginia (6-5, 3-4 ACC), the Hurricanes looked sluggish for one half and allowed Virginia to capitalize on big plays to a 28-14 lead, but Miami roared back with 30 unanswered points to improve on the best start since the last time Miami played for a national championship. Miami topped Virginia 44-28.

Miami players got to wear the famous turnover chain twice in the game, but the biggest turnover may have come with Jaguan Johnson‘s 30-yard interception for a game-tying score in the third quarter. The pick-six knotted the game at 28-28 in a wild third quarter, and Miami never looked back from that point on. Miami took the lead late in the third quarter on a 44-yard field goal by and Malik Rosier and Travis Homer added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Hurricanes cemented the win.

Rosier was picked off twice in the game, but he ended his day with 210 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with 38 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. His Virginia counterpart, Kurt Benkert, actually had a fantastic afternoon with 28-of-37 for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Until the lone interception thrown by Benkert, he looked more than capable to lead Virginia to an upset on the road. But Virginia needed more out of the running game and could not keep the big plays coming in the fourth quarter as Miami was taking control of the game.

Miami’s 10-0 start is the best start for the Hurricanes since playing for the BCS national championship in the 2002 season. This is also Miami’s first double-digit win season since 2003. That makes this Miami’s first 10-win season since joining the ACC. And they may not be done just yet.

Before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game in two weeks, Miami will first make a business trip to Pittsburgh for the regular season finale against the Panthers. The Panthers were eliminated from postseason eligibility Saturday afternoon with a road loss to Virginia Tech, dropping Pitt to 4-7 on the year. Virginia will take on the Hokies next week in their regular-season finale on Friday night.