Mack Brown

With Mack not coming back, to whom does Texas turn?

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After months — hell, a couple of seasons — worth of speculation, Mack Brown‘s tenure at Texas finally and somewhat mercifully came to an end, with the longtime Texas head coach announcing Saturday night that he would be stepping down after 16 seasons in Austin.

While there’s still the matter of a bowl game to put an official end to Brown’s time with the Longhorns, the search to replace a man who had been on the job since 1998 has commenced in earnest.  Given the fact that UT is the most financially well-heeled football program in the country, don’t look for the university to target the hot coordinator du jour initially; rather, look for athletic director Steve Patterson and those who lord over him to chase a veritable who’s who of head coaches at both the collegiate and professional levels.

Despite appearances — and how laughably clumsy Brown’s departure played out in the media — Texas is still one of the top coaching jobs in any American sport let alone college football.  UT officials should have little problem attracting top-flight candidates from across the country in spite of themselves and their backroom politicking.

With that as a backdrop, here’s a look at some of the names of coaches who have either already been mentioned or could potentially be mentioned as replacements for Brown… and knowing full well that there’s a very real possibility that absolutely none of those mentioned will be the guy to actually replace Brown.

Nick Saban, Alabama
Whoops.  Sorry.  Force of habit.

Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
Armed with a contract extension that will make him one of the highest-paid head coaches at the FBS level, Fisher will lead his Seminoles into the BCS title game early next month against Auburn.  Fisher, who knows full well the weight that comes with replacing a legend, has seen his name pop up in connection to a potential opening at UT earlier this month, and look for the Longhorns to at least reach out him even as they could likely save themselves some time by not doing so.

Jim Harbaugh, San Francisco 49ers
Reportedly, Harbaugh is unhappy with ownership and could be open to a move back to the collegiate level.  The former Stanford head coach was asked earlier this week about interest in a potential opening at UT, and didn’t take kindly to the line of questioning.  It would seem unlikely that Harbaugh would drop back down to the collegiate level at this point in time, but Texas is one of the few programs in the country that could, to a point, go dollar-for-dollar with the NFL.

Mike Gundy, Oklahoma State
Out of all the names that will be mentioned, this is the one that would be both in the realm of possibility and considered a home-run hire by most.  Finishing up his ninth season with the Cowboys, Gundy showed last year by talking to Arkansas and Tennessee about their openings that he’s at least receptive to overtures from other schools.  Add in the tension with his bosses, and Gundy could very well be in play if/when Texas reaches out.  Weakening a conference rival would be an added bonus for UT.

Art Briles, Baylor
Like Fisher, Briles recently received a contract extension that would seemingly lock him down with the Bears for the foreseeable future.  Buyouts will be no hindrance in UT’s search, however, and Texas is expected to at least make a run at a coach who could very well do more for the football program than any other name on this list.

David Shaw, Stanford
Prying Shaw off The Farm would seem to be the dictionary definition of a pipe dream, but UT would be doing its program a disservice if they didn’t at least make a run at one of the best coaches at any level of football.  It’s likely Stanford need only worry about the NFL when it comes to retaining Shaw, although Texas could certainly make a convincing case if, as unlikely as it is, Shaw is willing to listen.

James Franklin, Vanderbilt
Reportedly a candidate for the USC job, Franklin will see his name connected to every significant opening until he actually leaves the Commodores.  Known as a master recruiter, what Franklin could do with the talent-rich state of Texas has to be intriguing on multiple levels to UT.  In his time with the Commodores, he’s led his team to three straight bowl appearance; prior to his arrival, Vandy had appeared in just four games in its century-plus existence.  While happy at Vandy, Franklin’s ears are open to any and all who want to discuss a move.

Todd Graham, Arizona State
Graham has shown, ahem, a propensity to be attracted to the next shiny coaching thing.  Born and raised in the state of Texas, Graham became a high school coaching legend in that state.  He left Rice after one season for Tulsa and bolted Pittsburgh after just one year for his “dream job” at Arizona State; do you think he wouldn’t at least be mildly interested in listening to overtures that would bring him home and result in him taking over the flagship football program in his state?

Kirby Smart, Alabama
If you can’t get Saban, why not target the man who has helped play a significant role in returning Alabama to national prominence?  Smart has been tied to several head-coaching vacancies over the past couple of years, but has yet to pull the trigger on getting out from under Saban’s shadow.  It’s only a matter of when and not if the defensive coordinator becomes a head coach.  If Texas goes for a first-timer to replace Brown, they could do a lot worse than Smart.

Josh Sweat should be good to go for FSU vs. UNC

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 24: Josh Sweat #9 of the Florida State Seminoles runs with a first half interception against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 24, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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Derwin James is still at least a couple of weeks or so away from returning from his injury, but Florida State will likely get a talented defensive player back on the field this weekend anyway.

When asked Thursday if defensive end Josh Sweat will be available for the North Carolina game this weekend, Jimbo Fisher responded, “oh yeah.” Sweat sustained a meniscus injury in practice leading up to the Louisville game in Week 3 and, after it limited him in that contest, underwent surgery to repair the damage shortly thereafter.

At the time, the prognosis for a return was 1-2 weeks. Sweat missed the win over USF last weekend, but could see the field this weekend as he’s practiced the past couple of days.

“Healing really well, looks great” Fisher said in quotes distributed by the team. “We’ll see [Friday] morning, but [the knee] looks great.”

Sweat started nine of 13 games as a true freshman last season, and started the first two games in 2016 before the knee issue surfaced.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.