Penn State hires James Franklin, best available coach, in spite of “crippling” sanctions

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The NCAA slammed the hammer on Penn State two summers ago with a four-year postseason ban, the massive loss of scholarships and tacked on an option for players to get a free transfer and a $60 million fine. At the time it was thought Penn State would never be the same again, and perhaps in a sense that will remain true. On Saturday Penn State proved the program will find a way to survive by hiring James Franklin, one of the best possible coaching candidates to be had in the most recent round of the college football coaching carousel.

The hire that had been reported for days finally became official Saturday morning after a compensation committee at Penn State voted on the contract offered to Franklin. Within the same hour Franklin met with his Vanderbilt football players and program to address them one final time. Franklin accumulated a 24-15 record at Vanderbilt over the last three seasons after leaving Maryland as an assistant coach. Franklin succeeds Bill O’Brien, who left Penn State to coach the Houston Texans.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to come home,” Franklin, a Pennsylvania native and former quarterback at East Stroudsburg University, stated. “I grew up watching Penn State football and now to be at the helm of such a storied program is a tremendous honor. It’s important to me to be a part of a University that strives for excellence in everything they do. When football student-athletes come to Penn State, they have a unique opportunity to receive a premium education while playing at the highest level of competition.”

O’Brien proved to be a solid hire for Penn State in one of the most difficult situations any football program has faced. O’Brien thrived by bringing a new look to the offense and standing up for the program in the face of tremendous adversity for the program. In two years O’Brien made the Penn State job a much more desirable and lucrative position by winning football games despite the sanctions. Two winning seasons kept Penn State’s head above water. It will now be Franklin’s task to lift the life-preserver out of the water.

Penn State still has two seasons left of NCAA sanctions, although he will have scholarships return to his new program ahead of schedule after some reconsideration from the NCAA in light of the most recent George Mitchell review. Penn State currently has two more years on their postseason ban, but there is always a chance the NCAA will scale that back at some point if the program and university continue to prove worthy of the consideration. Franklin will have to assume he inherits a two-year postseason ban but the groundwork is now laid for him to lead Penn State out of the mess left behind by the Jerry Sandusky scandal.

Details of the contract will be revealed at a later time. Franklin is scheduled to be formally introduced as the next head coach later Saturday afternoon. It is expected details of the contract will be shared at that time. A previous report suggested Franklin will make $4.5 million to become the second highest paid coach in the Big Ten behind Ohio State’s Urban Meyer.

Iowa LB Aaron Mends to miss extended time with injury

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Talk about a hard-luck story.

After never starting a game at Iowa, Aaron Mends (pictured, blocking punt) had earned a starting job at outside linebacker during practice this spring.  With football being the cruel mistress that it can be at times, the Hawkeyes announced Friday night that Mends “will miss an extended period of time due to injury.” The program offered no details as to the specific nature of the injury, although it’s believed to involve the knee.

According to the school’s release, the fifth-year senior suffered the injury during the final week of Iowa’s spring drills.

Mends was a three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class.  He was the highest-rated linebacker in Iowa’s class that year.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Mends has played in 38 games the past three seasons.  A baker’s dozen of those appearances came during the 2017 season.

Nick Saban, Urban Meyer, James Franklin and Clay Helton among 15 CFB coaches attending NFL Draft

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We’re less than a week away from former college players officially finding out their new homes with the start of the 2018 NFL Draft and the excitement is palpable no matter if you’re a Cleveland Browns fan or somebody who dons the cardinal and gold of USC.

Naturally this is a big deal for the players’ former programs as well and their recent head coaches will be taking full advantage of the marketing opportunity to future recruits by stopping by the draft itself at AT&T Stadium for the festivities. The NFL released a list of 14 college football coaches and one recent one on Friday as being confirmed to attend the event and there are a few notable names beyond the big ones we’re used to seeing every year:

In addition, Stanford head coach David Shaw will serve as a draft analyst on NFL Network for a seventh year in a row and even ESPN’s College GameDay is getting involved with a pregame show outside the stadium they are quite familiar with from big games over the years.

Georgia DB Mark Webb tears meniscus in practice but expected back before fall camp

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Georgia’s injury luck this spring isn’t getting much better as the defending SEC champions move toward their annual G-Day spring game over the weekend.

Head coach Kirby Smart confirmed with reporters after Thursday’s practice that sophomore defensive back Mark Webb suffered a knee injury earlier in the week and tore his meniscus. He already had the knee scoped and is expected back before fall camp after the rather minor procedure.

Webb originally landed in Athens as a wideout but made the move to the secondary just as the season was getting going. He appeared in 13 games in 2017, mostly on special teams, but was expected to challenge for one of the starting spots at cornerback heading into the upcoming campaign.

The absence of Webb in the lineup for the final week of spring adds to a growing list of injuries for the team during practice as they do a little bit of roster building toward the future. Receiver Michael Chigbu’s career may be over due to lingering injuries and defensive back Divaad Wilson tore his ACL not long after enrolling this semester.

Safe to say that G-Day on Saturday might not be as physical as Smart and the coaching staff would otherwise like as a result of trying to keep the team healthy as they prepare to head into a big offseason.

Old Dominion announces remodel, expansion plans for S.B. Ballard Stadium

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Old Dominion is making sure the first word in the school’s name is not the first thing you think of when you are playing against the Monarchs, joining a long list of their FBS peers with some significant upgrades for their home venue over the coming years. In plans approved this week by the university, ODU released renderings and an updated timeline on a $65 million remodel of S.B. Ballard Stadium that is set to begin as soon as this summer.

“We are excited to begin Phase 1 reconstruction,” said Greg DuBois, the school’s vice president for administration and finance. “Fan comfort and high-quality amenities are the primary focus of this phase. The project will help us create the type of game-day experience fans want and will set us up for future expansions.”

The stadium, some 81-years-old, will undergo a nearly complete teardown over the next two years in order to transform the place most know as Foreman Field. Both the east and west stands will be demolished and rebuilt, complete with new seating and a new press box. There will naturally be more restrooms and concession stands as part of the plan that includes plenty more bells and whistles for the Conference USA program. Seating is expected to grow beyond 21,000 or so capacity the current venue seats.

While construction will get started in the coming months, the bulk of activity will take place after the 2018 campaign is wrapped up at home and before kickoff of the opener in 2019. The Virginian-Pilot reports that funding will not utilize state funds but that the school is requesting that the legislature approve an added $10 million to the cost structure as a result of rising prices beyond the original $55 million forecasted.

2018 will be just the 10th season for the Monarchs (and fifth in FBS) since the football program was reinstated and it goes without saying that the new digs will be some of the nicest in CUSA when all is said and done. Few programs have been able to successfully navigate the transition as well as ODU has and it seems an updated stadium in the near future is the reward for head coach Bobby Wilder and others in Norfolk.