Is Bill O’Brien considering leaving Penn State for the NFL? Only he knows

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This time of year is always littered with coaching rumor after coaching rumor. Some are based on facts that may end up being credible (Mack Brown resigning at Texas?) while others are nothing more than coming up with a list of popular or trendy names and throwing them against a wall to see what sticks.

For the second straight offseason Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien is once again having his name thrown in to the mix for any number of possibilities that would require leaving State College, Pennsylvania for 2014. For a second straight year, O’Brien has been relatively mum on the subject to the point Penn State fans may start to get a little nervous.

As I have said before, O’Brien just feels like an NFL coach and I imagine one day we will be watching him coach on Sundays. When that happens is something I am not clear on, but I can see it happening someday. Though he has plenty fo college experience, O’Brien has said before coaching in the NFL is the top of the caching profession, and considering how much of a competitor O’Brien is I can see him working to one day get that opportunity as a head coach. He has been there as an assistant of course, and if he continues to build a winning program at Penn State in spite of once crippling sanctions, his profile will only continue to rise to those with bigger paychecks.

The latest buzz surrounding O’Brien and a possible return to the NFL was ignited by a report from CBSSports.com’s Jason La Confora, suggesting O’Brien has drawn interest from the Houston Texans and Minnesota Vikings. It would make sense O’Brien would be on the radar for either team. Both have young quarterbacks who could be a good project for O’Brien, who managed to somehow make Matt McGloin an NFL player. Imagine what he might be able to do with Christian Ponder or Case Keenum. That said, the report had some unstable reasoning such as more sanctions. In reality, Penn State had sanctions reduced by the NCAA, and there could be more reductions done at some point in the future.

With Penn State no longer in practices for any games, O’Brien’s availability has been reduced from the fall schedule. O’Brien has said before he is looking forward to continuing on at Penn State, but every coach would mutter that sentiment. His recent silence, as reported by veteran Penn State reporter David Jones of The Patriot News is rather intriguing.

“I’ve called and texted O’Brien for the past 24 hours asking him to put all the latest speculation to rest by coming out publicly and stating that he will return to coach Penn State next season,” Jones writes. “O’Brien is usually very good at getting back to me and he may at some point still. But up to this hour, he has not. Draw your own conclusions from that.”

This alone is not enough to suggest O’Brien is considering his options, but it certainly does not paint a pretty picture on him being a rock solid Penn State guy for now. Until he says anything on record, it is all just speculation and guessing for now, as it is with any coach at the college or pro level. O’Brien has not gone on record confirming his satisfaction being the head coach at Penn State the way Nick Saban had with Alabama, David Shaw has with Stanford or Gus Malzahn has with Auburn.

Allow me to go back to something I said earlier. If he keeps winning at Penn State, I can easily envision O’Brien one day coach in the NFL. But the situation has to be right for O’Brien. That situation is something only O’Brien and his family know for sure. Is Houston the right situation? Is Minnesota? What about Austin, Texas? Or is State College, Pennsylvania the right situation?

We do not know for sue, because O’Brien has not told us.

Citing love of teammates, Saquon Barkley says he’ll play in Penn State’s bowl game

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As was the case with one high-profile player on the West Coast earlier this month, another on the East Coast won’t be McCaffreying a bowl game.  Or Fournetting it for that matter.

Last season, running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, both at the time considered likely high first-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft, raised eyebrows and made headlines by skipping LSU’s and Stanford’s bowl games.  It led some to wonder whether this would, or even should, become the norm for players projected to be taken early in the next draft.

After Penn State beat took care of business against Nebraska in Week 12, running back Saquon Barkley took it as an affront that some had been suggesting that he would sit out the Nittany Lions’ bowl game to protect his stock as he expected to declare early.  If for nothing more, Barkley won’t do it out of love for his teammates.

That attitude merely serves as one of myriad reasons why NFL teams will absolutely fall further in love with the junior as the pre-draft process cranks into high gear.

No. 11 USC needs special teams trickery to help hold halftime lead over UCLA

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The city of Los Angeles came out to the Coliseum expecting a high-scoring blowout but what most of the crowd came to see was a good old fashioned Pac-12 slugfest between No. 11 USC and their crosstown rivals UCLA. In a battle between two of the best college quarterbacks in the country, it was the Trojans’ Sam Darnold who managed to secure the lead 14-7 going into halftime but needed a little help along the way from his teammates to get there.

The signal-caller in cardinal and gold finished the first two quarters with 132 yards passing in another efficient —  if unspectacular — performance behind center, combining with tailback Ronald Jones (88 yards, one touchdown) to help rack up most of the offense for the home team at the Coliseum. Despite being able to move the ball up the field fairly well, USC needed a little help from the third phase of the game in order to jump out in front on the scoreboard.

That came on an amazing special teams play in the first quarter that included a little trickeration on the part of the Trojans, shifting the return team to the right with a decoy return man while Michael Pittman fielded the punt along the left sidelines and went 72 yards nearly untouched for the touchdown.

The Bruins responded however and marched right down the field for a touchdown on a Josh Rosen pass. The potential first round draft pick had the better half of the two quarterbacks outside of a late strip sack, hitting several big plays down the field and finishing with 228 yards at the break. The running game wasn’t much to write home about to the surprise of nobody on the UCLA sidelines but it was an encouraging effort for a team that hasn’t had many the past few weeks.

We’ve seen some surprises on both sides of this rivalry game and it’s not hard to think we could be in for another close, fun second half based on how these two teams played the first two quarters. Whoever manages to make halftime adjustments will likely emerge victorious but both teams are very much in this game to the dismay of the home crowd.

Love quiet as Stanford leads Cal at the half

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Stanford is halfway to keeping its namesake Axe. The Cardinal leads Cal 10-6 at the break in Palo Alto.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie by moving 70 yards in 10 plays, the last 17 on a K.J. Costello pass to Kaden Smith. Costello hit 11-of-20 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception on the final play of the half.

Cal moved inside the Stanford red zone with a chance to tie, but the drive stalled at the 9-yard line and Matt Anderson booted a 26-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 10-6 with 2:43 left in the half.

On a night when he could win some points back in the Heisman race, Bryce Love has carried just six times for 17 yards.

Cal will receive to open the second half.

Report: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall a person of interest in Oregon State coach search

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This is an intriguing potential development.

With Gary Andersen abruptly and unexpectedly stepping down earlier this season, Oregon State finds itself on the hunt for a new head football coach.  On the same day the Beavers fell to 1-10 on the lost season, a new name surfaced as a reported possibility: Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

At least, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian, who lists Mendenhall as a person of interest in the search.  Canzano writes that Mendenhall “interviewed for the job in 2014 and was the runner-up when Andersen was hired,” then goes on to put him on OSU’s short list, along with Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.

Mendenhall, should he decide to jump ship, certainly has ties to that area of the country — and to the university.

Born in Utah, Mendenhall began his collegiate playing career at an in-state junior college before transferring to, you guessed it, OSU for his last two years of eligibility.  He then began his coaching career with the Beavers as a graduate assistant and defensive line coach in 1989-90.  He then returned to his alma mater in 1995 as line coach, spending the following season as defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.  Nearly a decade later, he became the head coach at BYU, spending 11 seasons with that program before abruptly leaving for the Virginia job after the 2015 season.

After going 99-43 with the Cougars, and after a 2-10 first season in Charlottesville, Mendenhall has the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.