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Northern Illinois clinches MAC West, keeps BCS hopes alive

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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.

Washington QB Jake Browning reportedly undergoes surgery on throwing shoulder

PULLMAN, WA - NOVEMBER 25:  Jake Browning #3 of the Washington Huskies looks to pass against the Washington State Cougars in the first half of the 109th Apple Cup at Martin Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Pullman, Washington.  (Photo by William Mancebo/Getty Images)
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Washington quarterback Jake Browning has undergone surgery on his throwing shoulder, according to a report from The Seattle Times.

The Times reports Browning injured his right shoulder during a 44-18 win over Arizona State on Nov. 18, though the exact nature of the injury is unknown. Washington kept the injury hidden during the season’s final stretch, as the Huskies claimed the Pac-12 championship and reached the College Football Playoff.

Browning played through the injury, hitting 21-of-29 passes for 292 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 45-17 drubbing of Washington State just six days later. Browning’s performance suffered from there, though. He hit only 9-of-24 passes for 118 yards (with two touchdowns and no picks) in a Pac-12 Championship win over Colorado, then completed 20-of-38 passes for 150 yards with a touchdown and two picks in a 24-7 loss to Alabama.

How much those subpar performances were caused by the injury or by the opponent — or, most likely, a combination of the two — will be left to mystery.

Browning was the nation’s second-most efficient passer in the month of September, No. 3 in October, No. 16 in November and No. 66 in December. He finished the year ranked seventh, hitting 62.1 percent of his tosses for 8.8 yards per attempt with 43 touchdowns against nine interceptions.

Huskies head coach Chris Petersen has a policy of not discussing injuries, but he let on to Brock Huard’s radio show earlier this month that Browning did not finish the season 100 percent.

“I do think he was fighting through some things as the season went on because he’s a tough guy,” Petersen told the show, via The Seattle Times. “We had to do some things. Let me say this: We’ve got some tough kids on our team. Those kids, they fight through some things, and we don’t talk about who’s hurt and all this stuff, but Jake’s a tough kid and I’ll just say that. He fought through some stuff.”

Browning’s recovery time is expected to be six weeks, the paper reports.

Oregon suspends strength coach in wake of player hospitalizations

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 6: Close-up of the Oregon Ducks 'Liquid Metal' helmet during the the game between the Oregon Ducks and the Washington Huskies on October 6, 2012 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon. Oregon won the game 52-21. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Three Oregon players were hospitalized after grueling winter workouts conducted by new strength coach Irele Oderinde, and now the school has suspended Oderinde for one month without pay.

The original report from The Oregonian, which the school later confirmed, saw at least one player contract symptoms of rhabdomyolysis, a soft tissue condition triggered by overwork that can lead to kidney damage. Other players showed signs as well, according to the report.

The sources said that some players “passed out” and others later complained of discolored urine, which is a common symptom of rhabdomyolysis. After testing, others were found to have highly elevated levels of creatine kinase, an indicator of the syndrome.

As a result, Oderinde has been suspended and head coach Willie Taggart has issued an apology. Oderinde previously worked for Taggart at South Florida.

“I have visited with the three young men involved in the incidents in the past few days and I have been in constant contact with their families, offering my sincere apologies,” Taggart said in a statement. “As the head football coach, I hold myself responsible for all of our football-related activities and the safety of our students must come first. I have addressed the issue with our strength and conditioning staff, and I fully support the actions taken today by the university.

“I want to thank our medical staff and doctors for caring for all of our young men, and I want to apologize to the university, our students, alumni and fans.

Added AD Rob Mullens: “The university holds the health, safety and well-being of all of our students in high regard. We are confident that these athletes will soon return to full health, and we will continue to support them and their families in their recoveries.”

Additionally, Oderinde will now report to director of performance and sport science Andrew Murray instead of Taggart.

Appalachian State, East Carolina announce 4-game series

GREENVILLE, NC - SEPTEMBER 05:  Devon Moore #20 of the Appalachian State Mountaineers is tackled by teammates Chris Mattocks #19 and Derek Blacknall #26 of the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on September 5, 2009 in Greenville, North Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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North Carolina’s eastern and western Group of 5 programs are going to rekindle their rivalry.

Appalachian State and East Carolina — or is that East Carolina and Appalachian State? — announced Tuesday plans to play a 4-game series in 2021 and then 2024-26.

The teams will meet on opening weekend (Sept. 4) of the 2021 season at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, then go home-and-home for the final three games of the series. East Carolina will host on Sept. 14, 2024, App State will take a turn on Sept. 6, 2025, and East Carolina will close the series on Sept. 5, 2026.

“On behalf of Appalachian State University, I would like to thank Will Webb, the Charlotte Sports Foundation, Jeff Compher and East Carolina University, the Carolina Panthers, and Bank of America Stadium for the opportunity to host a home game in downtown Charlotte,” App State AD Doug Gillin said in a statement Tuesday. “The chance for App State to host a home game in an NFL Stadium, in Charlotte where our largest alumni base is and against a program like East Carolina is a great opportunity for our students-athletes, alumni, and fans.”

“Both football programs have a rich history of success and outstanding fan support,” East Carolina AD Jeff Compher added. “I am especially excited for our future football student-athletes who will have an opportunity to play in such an exceptional NFL venue as Bank of America Stadium. We are grateful to Doug [Gillin] and our colleagues at Appalachian for working together in creating this four-game series.” 

The two teams have met 31 times previously, but only twice since 1979. East Carolina has won each of the recent meetings — 29-24 to open the 2009 season and 35-13 to open ’12, both in Greenville — and holds a 19-12 all-time advantage with wins in the last six and nine of the last 11 matches.

Arkansas promotes Paul Rhoads to defensive coordinator

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Paul Rhoads of the Iowa State Cyclones coaches from the sidelines in the second half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Ames, Iowa. The Oklahoma State Cowboys defeated Iowa State 35-31.(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Arkansas has promoted Paul Rhoads to defensive coordinator, the program has announced.

Like a college player going pro or a high schooler freshly offered a scholarship, Bret Bielema made the announcement through his Twitter account.

Rhoads ascends to the defensive coordinator spot after Robb Smith left the staff to take the same job at Minnesota. He spent the last season on staff as defensive backs coach, but he’ll have his work cut out for him as he moves to the big chair.

Arkansas concluded the 2016 season ranked 123rd nationally in yards per play allowed and 85th in scoring defense. The Razorbacks allowed 37.3 points per game and 7.87 yards per play in SEC games — which both stood as the worst in the conference.

Best known for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, Rhoads made his name in coaching as a successful defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh (2000-07) and Auburn (2008).