Bill O'Brien, Paul Jones, Steven Bench

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


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’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.

Power Five conference races beginning to come into focus

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 17:  College Football Playoff National Championship Trophy presented by Dr Pepper is seen at Tiger Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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As we get set to embark on Week 8 of the 2016 college football season, we’re officially beyond the halfway point and closer to championship weekend than we are to opening weekend. And, with that, the Power Five conference races are starting to come into focus — but are far from finished.

This weekend, though, there are a handful of key matchups that could offer further clarity across the major conferences, although most, if not all, are still weeks away from being decided.

That said, here’s a look at where the Power Five conferences and, in four of the five cases, how their respective divisions stand before the eighth weekend of the regular season kicks off.

At 4-0, Clemson currently controls its own destiny in the division courtesy of the Oct. 1 win over 3-1 Louisville.  The U of L will be desperately rooting for Florida State, at 2-2 with one of those league losses coming at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the middle of last month, to knock off Clemson next Saturday as well as the Tigers tripping up in one of their other three remaining conference games (Syracuse, Pitt, at Wake Forest) while also holding serve through the remainder of their slate.  FSU, with league losses to the U of L and North Carolina, will need a minor miracle to get back to the conference championship game.

Technically, 2-2 Wake Forest remains in contention, and still has games against Clemson and Louisville.  Then again, they’re Wake.

In all likelihood, the Coastal will come down to a three-team race: 3-1 North Carolina, 3-1 Virginia Tech and 2-1 Pittsburgh.  Tech has already beaten UNC, and will face Pitt next weekend.  The Tar Heels, meanwhile, own a win over the Panthers to go along with the loss to the Hokies.  Simply put, if Tech wins out (at Pitt, at Duke, Georgia Tech, Virginia), they will claim the division and represent the Coastal against their Atlantic counterparts.

As you know, though, this division very rarely plays to the form it presents halfway through the conference season.

With all due respect to 2-1 Penn State, 3-0 Michigan and 3-0 Ohio State are on a collision course for an epic edition of the greatest rivalry in all of college football that will likely not only impact the division and the conference race but the College Football Playoff as well.  PSU could make me eat my words almost immediately as they play host to OSU in the always-dangerous white-out game later tonight; that said, if the Buckeyes can get past the Nittany Lions, they’ll have to traverse home games against Northwestern and Nebraska as well as road trips to Maryland and an abruptly vulnerable Michigan State before hosting UM.  The Wolverines get to host Illinois, Maryland and Indiana along with visits to rival Michigan State and Iowa before The Game.

Like the ACC Coastal, this division’s winner will very (?) likely come from a trio of teams: 3-0 Nebraska, 3-1 Iowa, 2-1 Northwestern.  The Cornhuskers already have a win over the Wildcats, while the Wildcats beat the Hawkeyes on the road the first weekend of this month.  Nebraska will close out the season against Iowa, while the latter has one sizable advantage over the other two as they avoid Ohio State completely while the others will face the Buckeyes in Weeks 9 (Wildcats) and 10 (Cornhuskers).  Both of those games, incidentally, are in Columbus.

There’s a potential wrench that could be tossed into the race, it should be noted, as 1-2 Wisconsin still has games remaining against all three of the West teams mentioned above.  Sweep those and get a little additional help, and the Badgers could be right back in the discussion by the end of the regular season.

BIG 12
Next season, this conference’s champion will be decided by a league title game.  This season, the standard round-robin format will determine the champion, and, because of that and the way the schedule is constructed, this league is as convoluted as any in the sport.

Three members are undefeated at the moment in Baylor and Oklahoma at 3-0, West Virginia at 2-0.  Two others are 2-1 — Oklahoma State and TCU.  How convoluted is the current state of the Big 12 race?  Just two games have been played between those five teams thus far: Baylor beating Oklahoma State and Oklahoma beating TCU.  A third will be played this weekend as the Horned Frogs will travel to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers in a contest that will allow a little — little — clarity when it comes to the conference race.

This could be the most simplistic of all the P5 divisions: barring something extraordinary taking place, the winner of this division will be decided in the Apple Cup between a 3-0 Washington and a 3-0 Washington State.  Or, at the very least, the winner will play in that rivalry game.  And, of all the developments thus far this season, that may be the most stunning.  To put a finer point on this divisional race, the team currently in third place at 2-2, 2015 Pac-12 champion Stanford, lost to both UW and Wazzu by a combined score of 86-22.

Utah and Colorado are tied atop this division at 3-1, with 3-2 USC still in the same neighborhood.  The Utes own a win over the Trojans, while the Trojans own one over the Buffs.  Utah and USC still have Washington on their schedule, while Colorado, which avoids UW, has to play a Washington State team that won’t face either of the other.  One date to circle on the calendar: Nov. 26, with the Utes traveling to Boulder to square off with the Buffs in the regular season finale.

A lot like the Big 12, this race likely won’t be decided until we get deep into November.

Despite its loss to 2-2 Tennessee, 3-1 Florida controls its own destiny in this division.  Win out, and the Gators will earn their second consecutive berth in the SEC championship game.  Their remaining league schedule?  The annual World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party grudge match with Georgia in Jacksonville, and road trips to No. 17 Arkansas and No. 25 LSU sandwiched around a home game against South Carolina.  UT, though, could easily win out as their lone remaining games consist of South Carolina, Kentucky, Missouri and Vanderbilt.  While the Gators are currently in control, their path to Atlanta is much steeper than that of the Vols despite currently sitting in the driver’s seat — and knowing full well that that come-from-ahead loss to UT is riding shotgun.

This might be the most fun division in all of college football.  Again.  Alabama and Texas A&M both sit at 4-0, while Auburn and LSU are at 2-1.  The really, really fun part?  Only A&M and Auburn have met already this year, a Sept. 17 win for the Aggies on The Plains.  The Tide and Aggies meet in a critical matchup this afternoon, but several more critical contests await the division in the coming weeks.

In other words, grab your popcorn.  This thing is far from decided — a sentiment that’s far from the exclusive property of this division.

Starting corner among three indefinitely suspended by Aztecs

SAN DIEGO, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Derek Babiash #31 of the San Diego State Aztecs tackles Jordan Veasy #15 of the California Golden Bears during the first quarter of a game at Qualcomm Stadium on September 10, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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San Diego State ran its Mountain West winning streak to 14 straight with 42-3 throttling of San Jose State Friday night, but it wasn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows in the postgame for the Aztecs.

Following the win, Rocky Long confirmed that cornerbacks Derek Babiash and Billy Vaughn Jr. and defensive lineman Fred Melifonwu have been indefinitely suspended from the football program.  Unspecified violations of team rules was the only reason given.

It doesn’t, though, sound like the trio will be back anytime soon, if at all.

“We’ve got to get all the facts together,” the Aztecs head coach said. “Once we have all the facts, a decision will be made permanently.”

While Babiash and Vaughn are listed as co-starters on the depth chart, it’s Babiash who started the first six games of the season prior to his suspension.  Babiash is also tied for the team lead in interceptions with three.

Melifonwu, listed third on the depth chart at one end position, has played in four games this season.

Dead Ducks? Oregon off to worst start in three decades

BERKELEY, CA - OCTOBER 21:  Darren Carrington II #7 of the Oregon Ducks can not catch a ball while covered by Marloshawn Franklin Jr. #18 of the California Golden Bears at California Memorial Stadium on October 21, 2016 in Berkeley, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Regardless of how you slice it, the state of the Oregon Ducks football program could be summed up in a single word: shambles.  And, as a result, Mark Helfrich‘s coaching seat is scorching hot.

Friday night, Oregon roared back from an early 21-0 deficit to take Cal to overtime, to double overtime before falling 52-49 in Berkeley.  It was a spirited comeback by Oregon, but also symbolic of how far the mighty Ducks have fallen: a moral victory against Cal of all teams when once an on-field victory was guaranteed.

Now, nothing is guaranteed for the Ducks unless it’s a los as they have fallen to 2-5, the school’s worst start to a season since 1986.  They have also lost five straight games, the longest in-season losing streak since it lost six in a row to close out 1991.

It’s the defense, though, that’s offensive.

The Ducks have allowed 600 or more yards of offense in three straight games.  According to ESPN, they had allowed 600-plus yards in just three games the last eight years coming into the season.  At bare minimum, first-year defensive coordinator Brady Hoke should be concerned for hs immediate future in Eugene.

Long-term, however, all eyes are on Helfrich, including John Canzano of The Oregonian:

Helfrich’s seat is hot. Everyone knows it. We also recognize that despite immense resources, amazing facilities and a decade-long running head start the Oregon football brand is now broken. An insider at Oregon said after the Ducks surrendered 70 points to Washington that the university couldn’t afford to be patient if it wanted to avoid losing as many as 10,000 season-ticket holders for next season.

Helfrich has now lost nine games in a little over a season and a half.  In four full seasons under Chip Kelly, the Ducks lost a total of seven games.  Chip’s ghost looms large over the football program, as does mega-booster Phil Knight.

The Nike founder visited with athletic director Rob Mullens during last night’s game.  Here’s to guessing there’ll be plenty more meetings between the two in the coming days and weeks as they map out the future of Ducks football — and whether Helfrich will be a part of it.

Jordan Westerkamp to miss second straight game for Nebraska

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMBER 10: Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp #1 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers grabs a touchdown pass against linebacker D.J. May #7 of the Wyoming Cowboys at Memorial Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Wyoming 52-14. (Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images)
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For the second consecutive week, Nebraska will be without one of the most experienced and productive members of their passing game.

Late this past week, Mike Riley officially ruled Jordan Westerkamp out of Saturday’s game against Purdue. The wide receiver sustained an injury to his back during the Week 5 win over Illinois, and was briefly hospitalized after being hit by an Illini defender.

He missed last Saturday’s win over Indiana because of the injury

The good news is that not only does the head coach expect Westerkamp to return to practice this coming Tuesday, but it’s very likely that, barring a setback, he will play in the key Week 9 Big Ten West matchup with Wisconsin in Madison. The Cornhuskers currently lead the division at 3-0, while the Badgers, at 1-2, are looking to remain within shouting distance.

At the time of the injury, Westerkamp led the Cornhuskers in receiving touchdowns (four) and tied for the team lead in receptions (13). His 228 receiving yards were second behind Alonzo Moore‘s 310.

Last season, Westerkamp led the ‘Huskers in all three of those categories.