Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Northern Illinois clinches MAC West, keeps BCS hopes alive


Northern Illinois has clinched a spot in the MAC Championship Game for a fourth straight season after picking up a 35-17 victory at Toledo Wednesday night. Huskies quarterback Jordan Lynch passed for 202 yards and rushed for 161 yards and three touchdowns to lead Northern Illinois to a big second half to wrap up the MAC West division title.

With Northern Illinois up four, the Huskies took over from inside their own one-yard line. The field position battle would not come in to play, much to the disappointment of Toledo, as Lynch led the Huskies on a 15-play drive for a touchdown going from one end of the field to the other, literally. Lynch completed three of four pass attempts and rushed seven times for 62 yards and a touchdown on the biggest drive of the game. The score gave the Huskies a 28-17 lead and Toledo went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. From there, NIU put the game at a distance by marching right back down field again and capping the drive with a James Spencer touchdown, his second of the night.

Northern Illinois went to the BCS last season but still needs a little bit of help to make a return trip this season despite currently being ranked in a position that would typically send the Huskies to a BCS game. Norther Illinois still needs to pass Fresno State in the BCS rankings, because only one team from a non-AQ conference will be eligible for a BCS spot under the BCS rules. The Huskies (and Fresno State) are both ranked ahead of Central Florida, who appears to be heading to an American championship. If Fresno State or Northern Illinois can finish ahead of Central Florida, the highest ranked conference champion from a non-AQ conference will receive an automatic BCS bid.

With the win, Northern Illinois becomes the first MAC team to reach four straight conference championship games since Marshall played in six straight from 1997 through 2002. No MAC West team has ever played in four straight championship games and the Huskies look to become just the second team to win three straight conference championships.

Northern Illinois will play either Buffalo or Bowling Green in the MAC Championship Game in Detroit. Buffalo won Tuesday night and Bowling green faces Eastern Michigan this weekend. Buffalo hosts Bowling Green on Friday, November 29 in a game that will determine who advances to Detroit to face the Huskies.

Not everybody seems happy about USC’s hiring of Clay Helton

Clay Helton

If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.

We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.

There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.

USC names Clay Helton permanent head coach

Clay Helton

The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.

Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.

Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.

USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.

USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.

Will Mark Richt coach again? “Oh yeah, no doubt”

Mark Richt

On Sunday the end of the line for Mark Richt at Georgia was finally reached. The Bulldogs and the head coach will go separate ways after a 15-season run in Athens, but this will not be the final stop for Richt as a head coach. On Monday, during a press conference with the media to address the coaching change, Richt was asked whether he will coach again.

“Oh yeah, no doubt,” Richt said in his response. “I’m going to listen to anybody that’s interested in talking to me,” Richt said when again asked about what’s next for the now former head coach of Georgia.

The press conference with Richt was a bit unusual for these types of settings. First, Richt continued to show his Georgia pride by wearing a black coat and red tie and had a Georgia pin on his coat. Second, he sat right next to Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity, who offered no insight whatsoever on what’s next for Georgia. When asked about the coaching search or the status for assistants, McGarity continued to shift the focus on Richt.

Richt expressed his enthusiasm for getting to coach one final game for Georgia. He will coach Georgia’s bowl game, wherever that may be, giving him one last chance to end a season with a bowl victory, which he has done nine times previously.

Kentucky QB Patrick Towles to transfer

Patrick Towles

Kentucky quarterback Patrick Towles will transfer, he announced in an Instagram post Sunday afternoon.

Towles leaves school as Kentucky’s sixth-most prolific passer, completing 427-of-759 passes for 5,099 yards with 24 touchdowns and 24 interceptions.

Once compared to Ben Roethlisberger, Towles’ career peeked in a 2014 game with then-No. 1 Mississippi State, as he completed 24-of-43 passes for 390 yards with two touchdowns in a 45-31 loss to the Bulldogs.

But Kentucky stumbled down the stretch, starting 5-1 and finishing 5-7, and Towles stumbled through a 2015 campaign in which he threw nine touchdowns against 14 interceptions.

He’d been passed by freshman Drew Barker by the end of the season, and threw only four passes in a loss to Louisville on Saturday.

A junior, Towles will complete his political science degree in December and be eligible for immediate playing time at a new destination in 2016.