WHO: 7-5 Michigan (Big Ten) vs. 7-5 Kansas State (Big 12)
WHAT: Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl (25th year)
WHERE: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.
WHEN: Dec. 28 at 10:15 p.m. ET
WHY: It seems like these two teams are headed in opposite directions. Kansas State won five of its last six and rebounded from a 2-4 start to finish up as one of the Big 12’s hottest teams. Michigan started 5-0 and then lost five of its last seven.
The Wildcats are looking for their first bowl win since 2002. They’ll rely on the two quarterbacks to get them there: Jake Waters is an adept passer (2,198 yards, 15 touchdowns) who has decent mobility while Daniel Sams is a powerful runner (784 yards, 11 touchdowns) who throws it on occasion. Add in diminutive running back John Hubert’s 968 rushing yards and wide out Tyler Lockett’s 71 catches for 1,146 receiving and this is an offense that can put up points in a hurry (it scored at least 31 in its last six games).
Michigan’s offense is less settled due to the loss of quarterback Devin Gardner to a turf toe injury. Freshman Shane Morris, who has thrown just nine passes this year, will make his first career start in his place. With such a young signal caller, you’ll probably see the Wolverines try to grind this one out on the ground. They’ve got a solid stable of backs to do that, including Fitzgerald Toussaint (646 yards, 12 touchdowns) and freshman power back Derrick Green, but they’ll miss Gardner’s mobility and moxie.
You have to give K-State the edge going in, at least until Morris proves he is up to the task of running the Wolverine offense. If Michigan’s defense can keep Waters and Sams in check, his first start might be a successful one. But the Wildcats are probably hungrier for the bowl win and they should take care of business.
PREDICTION: Kansas State 35, Michigan 17
Whether you chose to believe him or not, at least Philadelphia Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is officially on the record. During his regularly scheduled Monday press conference in Philadelphia, Kelly said he never met with anybody to discuss the previously vacant head coaching position at USC.
Alright then. So at least that’s that. (But what about his agent?)
USC filled the head coaching position this morning by officially announcing Clay Helton will remain the head coach after serving as the interim head coach following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian earlier this season. Kelly, the former head coach at Oregon, has had his name attached to multiple coaching rumors at the college level since he left for the NFL, including Texas and Florida before this position at USC opened. Kelly has stood firm on his public statements about not having any interest in a college job, but that never seems to silence the fun hypothetical discussions about his probable eventual return to college football.
As the coaching carousel continues to spin, it seems Tom Herman will rest comfortably in Houston for at least one more season. Herman reportedly has an agreement in principle on a new contract to remain the head coach of the Houston Cougars.
“We’ve agreed in principle is the best way to put it,” Herman said Monday during a press conference. “We’re working out the details.”
It was previously reported Houston had approved a significant pay raise for the first-year head coach, going up to $3 million with the reworked contract and making it a financial incentive to stay put as job offers flowed in. The push to make Herman the highest-paid coach in the Group of Five, passing Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville ($2.2 million). With a solid foundation for future success, at least in the American Athletic Conference and Group of Five picture, Houston’s financial commitment to Herman is a sign the program is ready and able to work as close to a power conference program as possible.
Herman’s name will continue to be one to watch in future coaching rumors, and in this world we should never say never to the possibility of Herman still being in play for a job elsewhere in this cycle of coaching changes. If Herman and Houston continue to win games, there is no question his stock will remain a valued commodity for power conference programs in the years to come.
Herman and Houston will host Temple this Saturday afternoon in the first American Athletic Conference championship game. The winner will be a lock for receiving the New Years Six bowl spot reserved for the highest-ranked Group of Five conference champion. Houston vs. Ohio State (Herman vs. Urban Meyer) is a real possibility in one of the New Years Six bowl games.
If there is one thing that can be said about USC hiring Clay Helton as head coach on a permanent basis, it is that it provides stability for the program moving forward. Current players have responded well to Helton. Future Trojans players are responding well to Helton on the recruiting trail. Former USC players? Well, that’s a different situation.
We saw some of this at Miami in recent years with former Hurricanes ripping now former head coach Al Golden. That was a bit of a different situation with Golden being a coach that went against the grain of all that was perceived to be representative of The U. Helton is different because he has been loyal to the program as an assistant coach during a turbulent time. He at least deserves respect of those following and those who have played for USC for that alone. The problem is Helton lacks the kind of appeal most wearing USC lenses expect from their coaching hire and it seems more likely to believe athletics director Pat Haden settled for Helton instead of being able to expand the coaching search and bring in a high-quality coach for the job.
There is one way to swing the emotions the other way for those unhappy with the decision. If USC beats Stanford to win the Pac-12 championship this week, that would be one step in the right direction for the Helton haters and the Haden skeptics (myself included). The pressure will be on more next season regardless of what happens this week in the Pac-12 championship game and whatever bowl game USC ends up playing. USC will be loaded with talent and will be a trendy pick to make a run in the Pac-12 and, perhaps, even the College Football Playoff.
The top coaching vacancy in college football has been filled. USC has announced it will remove the interim tag from Clay Helton and make him the permanent head coach moving forward.
Helton has gone 5-2 since taking over the program following the dismissal of Steve Sarkisian as head coach. The most recent win this weekend against UCLA both snapped a three-game losing streak to the crosstown rival Bruins and clinched USC’s first trip to the Pac-12 championship game as Pac-12 South Division champions. Helton has been with the USC program since 2010 under various assistant roles. He was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013 and named interim head coach that season following the firing of Lane Kiffin. He stayed on the staff following the hiring of Sarkisian from Washington.
Helton had become a clear player favorite in the program, as Helton calmed a troublesome environment of uncertainty in the middle fo the season and delivered a division championship. The only losses under Helton came on the road against Notre Dame in Helton’s first game as interim head coach and more recently at Oregon, a program that revived itself as well. If nothing else, Helton’s being named the head coach provides for some stability for the program, although there should be some questions moving forward whether it will be the right move or not in the long term. The USC job was thought to be the top job on the market and worthy of some high-caliber candidates. There had been rumblings USC reached out to Philadelphia Eagles coach Chip Kelly, a former Oregon coach of course, but the odds Kelly was going to leave the Eagles on his own a year after getting general manager power were always low.
USC will continue to bring plenty of pressure to win, and win big. Helton will continue to guide a roster packed with talent and getting back to full strength after a stretch of sanctioned seasons. If Helton does not win, he will quickly enter the hot seat conversation.
USC plays Stanford for the Pac-12 championship this week.