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.

No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03:  The Clemson Tigers take the field during the ACC Championship against the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 3, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes an 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

San Diego State runs past Wyoming for second straight Mountain West title

San Diego State's Donnel Humphrey runs for a touchdown during the first half against Wyoming in an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Laramie, Wyo. (AP Photo/Michael Smith)
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They say revenge is a dish best served cold. San Diego State checked off both boxes on Saturday night.

The Aztecs captured their second straight Mountain West championship and avenged an earlier loss with a 27-24 win over Wyoming in freezing conditions up in Laramie.

The San Diego State ground game was clicking all night long in a game where it was difficult to get much of anything through the air. Star tailback Donnel Pumphrey finished with 110 yards and a touchdown, passing former Texas great Ricky Williams to become the second leading rusher in FBS history late in the third quarter. The senior trails only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne by 108 yards on the all-time list with a chance to top his mark later this month in what will likely be a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey’s backup Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either, picking up a team-high 117 yards on the ground and finding the end zone twice. It was a good thing both players were humming in the backfield as quarterback Christian Chapman managed only 85 yards on six completions.

The SDSU defense also came to play in one of their best performances in a while. They picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice, recovered a fumble late in the second half and bottled up the prolific runner Brian Hill to the tune of just 93 yards.

The Cowboys made a run to close the gap to just a field goal in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get over the hump for their second win in as many weeks over the Aztecs for a first ever Mountain West title.

Instead it was Rocky Long’s San Diego State squad that could lay claim to being the best in the conference this season for the second year in a row.