Zach Mettenberger,  Jeremy Hill

Weekend Preview: LSU has what it takes to battle Alabama, BCS busters and more

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The biggest games of the week may have been played Thursday night, but the Saturday line-up  is not all that shabby either.

Alabama vs. LSU

Nobody has been safe in the SEC this season. Everybody has taken a loss except for one team, Alabama. Saturday night in Tuscaloosa the Crimson Tide host LSU. The SEC West match-up may not have quite the same magnitude recent meetings have had, but with the season winding down there is no good time to take a loss now for Alabama. Of course, that hasn’t exactly hurt them before. Could this year turn out to be different? Alabama cannot risk it to find out.

LSU is one of the few teams to have been able to handle the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. LSU has won five of the last six games in Alabama. Alabama’s only win at home against LSU since 1999 came in a 24-15 victory in 2009. So, does LSU have a chance at knocking of Alabama once more? Why wouldn’t they?

LSU has all of the ingredients they need to pull the upset. the Tigers have one of he top quarterbacks in the SEC (Zach Mettenberger), a power running game led by one of the top rushers in the SEC (Jeremy Hill) and one of the top defenses in the SEC. The problem for LSU is Alabama has all of those things as well.

A loss for Alabama may put a temporary dent on the bus to the SEC Championship, but no matter what happens it appears The Iron Bowl with Auburn is going to be huge.

ACC Championship Chase

Florida State (8-0, 6-0 ACC) is in a good spot in the BCS championship, but still must make sure to finish the year strong in ACC play. Florida State will look to avoid a huge upset Saturday when they travel to Wake Forest (4-5, 2-4 ACC). This should be a game that sees some big numbers put up by the Heisman front-runner Jameis Winston (Marcus Mariota‘s performance Thursday likely results in Winston leading the pack). Letting up at this point in the year is probably not wise for Florida State as there are other undefeated teams on the prowl for a trip to Pasadena. Don’t count on Florida State having a sluggish afternoon.

While Florida State may have the Atlantic Division pretty much wrapped up, the Coastal Division is still up for grabs. Miami (7-1, 3-1 ACC), despite losing running back Duke Johnson in the loss to Florida State last week, still sits in a good spot in the division. The Hurricanes host Virginia Tech (6-3, 3-2)  Saturday in what may be the biggest hurdle the rest of the way before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game. Stephen Morris will have to be smart with his pass selection because the Hokies have one of the tougher defenses in the ACC. Without Johnson, the Hurricanes will look to Dallas Crawford, who should be more than capable of handling the responsibilities.

BCS Buster Watch

Entering the week Fresno State (8-0, 5-0 MWC) remains in the perfect position for a BCS bowl berth. The Bulldogs are ranked 16th in the BCS rankings and ahead of the top contenders in The American (we’ll get to that conference in a moment). As long as Derek Carr can lead the Bulldogs to a road win at Wyoming (4-4, 2-2 MWC) Fresno State should remain in a good spot with time winding down in the regular season.

Northern Illinois (9-0, 5-0 MAC) dropped a spot in the BCS standings to 18th overall, but the Huskies still remain in striking distance of making a return trip to the BCS stage. As long as Fresno state keeps winning though, it will be tough to see Northern Illinois sneak in one more time.

Chasing The American Dream

The American Athletic Conference championship picture will be a bit more clear after this weekend. The key game to pay attention to will feature Central Florida (6-1, 3-0 AAC) and surprising Houston (7-1, 4-0 AAC). UCF is ranked 21st in the BCS rankings, which is vital to Fresno State and Northern Illinois, but the Knights and Cougars will battle for the pole position for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. If Central Florida wins this weekend, the berth will be their’s to blow having already beaten Louisville this season. A Houston win could open up a bit of a complicated situation in the conference. Houston visits Louisville next week. If Houston wins this weekend and Louisville defeats Houston next week, a three-way tie at the top of the conference would be left to untangle. But let’s worry about that later if we need to. The big key this weekend is whether or not Central Florida wins. A win could make a case to bump the Knights up in the rankings, either closing the gap on Fresno State and NIU or passing them altogether.

The quarterback battle between Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Houston’s John O’Korn should be an entertaining one. Bortles will also be put to the test though, with Houston leading the nation in turnover margin with a +20, highlighted by 17 interceptions.

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.