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 Rosen gets the stats, Sam Darnold the win as No. 11 USC tops crosstown rival UCLA

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UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen grabbed all the gaudy stats, but USC signal-caller Sam Darnold managed the win.

The primetime battle of potential No. 1 overall picks in next year’s NFL Draft didn’t quite live up to the hype for fans or scouts alike, but the No. 11 Trojans completed their regular season on Saturday night with a hard-fought 28-23 win over their crosstown rivals at the L.A. Coliseum in a contest that was far from the shootout that was expected coming in.

Darnold had his moments behind center and flashed several reasons why NFL front office types are so enamored with him, hitting some nice touch passes over the middle and scrambling for numerous big plays outside of the pocket. The numbers weren’t quite up to his season standards with 264 yards through the air and no touchdowns but the redshirt sophomore did find the end zone on a scramble.

That he scored on the ground probably wasn’t too surprising given that UCLA is the worst rushing defense in the country but every yard had to be earned in the chippy rivalry game between the two schools 15 miles from each other. Running back Ronald Jones didn’t see as many carries as you would expect down the stretch but managed 122 yards and two scores to keep the chains moving on a pretty consistent basis.

The best play for the cardinal and gold might have actually come on special teams, as Michael Pittman used a little misdirection on a punt return to scoot 72 yards nearly untouched for a touchdown and the game’s first points.

As good as USC was at times on the night, they didn’t runaway with the win like many expected for a team on the fringes of playoff contention. A lot of that had to do with Rosen, who again kept his side in things with a 421 yard outing with three touchdowns and a pick — numbers that could have been even better if not for a few plays here or there. That aerial attack helped open things up for a normally dormant ground game, with Soso Jamabo rushing for 62 yards and Bolo Olorunfunmi adding another 56.

It wasn’t enough to bring the Victory Bell back to Westwood however, as the annual trophy will remain just south of downtown for the eighth time in the past decade. The Bruins still have a shot at going to a bowl game if they can beat fellow in-state rival Cal next weekend but their margin for error to reach the postseason is still incredibly slim given how improved the Bears are this year.

The Trojans meanwhile, finally get some well deserved rest after capping off an 8-1 campaign in conference play and a perfect record in the division. After a week of rest — the first of the year since they had no bye week — they’ll head to the Pac-12 championship game at Levi’s Stadium for a rematch with either Stanford or Washington State. The team remains way outside looking in with regards to the College Football Playoff chase at the moment but after a third straight win over their crosstown rival, that probably is the furthest thing on their minds as another picture perfect night in Los Angeles comes to a close.

Bryce Love (mostly) quiet as No. 22 Stanford retains control of the Axe

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Baker Mayfield‘s antics in Lawrence provided Stanford’s Bryce Love a sliver of an opportunity to climb back inside the minds of Heisman voters.

Unfortunately for him, Love’s injured ankle didn’t allow him to take advantage of that opportunity.

Love struggled for much of the night, posting a quiet (by his standards) night of 14 carries for 101 yards and a touchdown, as No. 22 Stanford topped California 17-14 in Palo Alto. His final carry of the night came with 14:16 left in the fourth quarter.

That’s not to say Love was totally quiet, though. Love broke free for a 57-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, giving Stanford a 17-6 lead at the time.

With Love hobbled, Stanford handed the keys of the offense over to quarterback K.J. Costello and backup running back Cameron Scarlett. Costello hit 17-of-26 passes for 185 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His touchdown, a 17-yarder to Kaden Smith, broke a 3-3 tie with 8:17 left in the first half and put Stanford up for good.

Scarlett carried 14 times for 61 yards, which doesn’t seem like much until you realize he toted the ball on 11 consecutive plays, which allowed the Cardinal to expire all of Cal’s timeouts and kill the final 7:25 remaining in a 3-point game.

Cal had chances to win the game, though. Matt Anderson had a 47-yard field goal doink off the upright in the second quarter, and Ross Bowers drove Cal into Stanford territory at the midway point of the fourth quarter before he was intercepted by Stanford’s Ben Edwards. Bowers finished the night hitting 20-of-29 passes for 182 yards, and Patrick Laird led all runners with 20 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown.

The win gives Stanford eight straight wins in The Big Game, the longest winning streak by either side in a rivalry that dates back to 1892.

The win means Stanford (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) can clinch the Pac-12 North if No. 14 Washington State beats No. 18 Washington in the Apple Cup on Saturday on Saturday. (Stanford completed Pac-12 play early in order to host No. 8 Notre Dame.) Cal (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) must win at UCLA on Friday to reach a bowl game in head coach Justin Wilcox‘s first season.

WVU QB Will Grier reportedly out several weeks with broken finger

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If you saw it live, or even on replay, you could sense this was coming.

In the first quarter of Saturday’s loss to Texas, Will Grier dove toward the left pylon in an attempt to get West Virginia on the scoreboard.  What was initially thought to be a touchdown was instead determined to be a fumble out of the end zone resulting in a touchback, giving the ball back to UT.  That was the least-distressing development on the play as, somehow, Grier got up from a dive with a finger on his right (throwing) hand pointing in a direction God never intended.

Asa result of that gruesome injury, Grier has been ruled out for several weeks, ESPN.com reported.  The same website is also reporting that Grier flew to Charlotte after the game and is expected to have surgery in that city Sunday.

A WVU official told CFT that a determination on Grier’s availability for a bowl game will likely be determined by when the game is played, meaning an official decision isn’t expected until next weekend at the earliest.

Grier, who has one more season of eligibility remaining, came into Week 12 second in the country in touchdown passes with 34.  With the Florida transfer sidelined for the foreseeable future, sophomore Chris Chugunov will get the start against fourth-ranked Oklahoma in the regular-season finale next Saturday.

After replacing Grier, Chugunov completed 14-of-26 passes for 189 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions in the 28-14 loss.

QB Justin Herbert returns to lineup for Oregon as Ducks bottle up Khalil Tate and Arizona

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Oregon has been listless offensively the past few weeks without starting quarterback Justin Herbert but his return to the lineup injected plenty of life into Willie Taggart’s team in a 48-28 win over Arizona that also made the Ducks bowl eligible at the same time.

Herbert’s numbers were not flashy or spectacular given the offense he plays in but they were a huge boost given how poorly backups played in his absence after breaking his collarbone early in the year. He finished the night with just 235 yards through the air (along with an interception) and a touchdown pass while also making an impact with his wheels, surprising nearly everybody in Autzen Stadium with a 40 yard scramble for a touchdown in the first quarter.

As nice as it was to have the signal-caller back, his teammate Royce Freeman did most of the heavy lifting as he no longer faced a loaded box full of defenders. The senior made his first trip to the end zone since September (coinciding with Herbert’s injury) to move past LaMichael James as Oregon’s all-time leader in total touchdowns. He also passed TCU legend LaDainian Tomlinson for 10th on the FBS career rushing yards list early in the game and managed to end the night with 134 on the ground and a total of four scores. Backup Tony Brooks-James added another 124 yards as the Ducks’ rushing attack was humming like days of old.

Perhaps the more eye-opening aspect of the victory was the UO defense though. The bottled up dynamic Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate better than just about any Pac-12 defense has this year and held him to only 32 yards rushing. Forcing the dual-threat star to become a passer was the game plan and the Ducks executed it at a high level, limiting him to 159 yards passing with a score and a pair of interceptions.

Running back Nick Wilson rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns but it wasn’t enough for the Wildcats, whose most notable play was probably a pick-six by Dane Cruikshank that was negated by a taunting penalty in the first half as he finger-waged his way to the end zone. The offense later punched it in but it was emblematic of a frustrating night for Rich Rodriguez and his coaching staff.

Both teams have gone through their up’s and down’s this season and while it looked as though Arizona was on the upswing entering Saturday night, perhaps it’s Oregon who can claim the same thanks to their starting quarterback looking healthy and as back in business.