Michigan State has been climbing a bit of an uphill battle on their way to a Big Ten championship last season. Always flying under the radar and playing with a chip on their shoulders, the Spartans opened some eyes last season by coming together to make a run for the Big Ten title by overcoming rough play early on, handing Ohio State their first loss under Urban Meyer and then shutting down Stanford in a defensive battle in the Rose Bowl. Now on top of the Big Ten, will the Spartans be able to stay there? If nothing else, quarterback Connor Cook is full of confidence heading in to the spring.
“Heading into 2014, our expectations are so high that I feel like anything less than a Big Ten championship and a Rose Bowl would be a failure,” Cook told Bruce Feldman in an interview for CBSSports.com. “But it’s different now. I feel like we’re going to have more of a swagger heading into this season.”
Michigan State will be moving to a new division in the fall as the Big Ten expands. The Spartans will remain in the same division as in-state rival Michigan, but will also be in the fray with Ohio State, Penn State, Indiana and newcomers Maryland and Rutgers. The increased exposure in the east could not have come at a better time for the program as they currently hold the Big Ten’s title belt. And if they can get out of the Big Ten’s East Division, the odds may be pretty good they can play their way right back to Pasadena, or perhaps enter the College Football Playoff discussion.
“We won the Rose Bowl. We know what we’re capable of.,” Cook explained. “It’s everyone’s dream to win a national championship, and we feel like we can do that but you just have to take it one step at a time. The main goal at our program, which is what it is every year, is to win the Big Ten championship. If you win that, you’re in a BCS bowl. But it’s still the main goal is to win the Big Ten championship and then really everything else will take care of itself.”
Cook also discussed his trianing and how he is preparing for the upcoming season with Feldman, as well as a number of other topics. You can read the full interview on CBSSports.com.
Earlier today we had the report that Cal, they of the normally bowl-eligible six wins on the season, were not actually bowl eligible. The hang up was due to some NCAA red tape on how many scholarships Grambling, a 73-14 victim to the Bears on opening Saturday, had actually awarded this year.
Why the number of scholarships awarded by an opponent of a 6-5 team could determine what glorified exhibition said 6-5 could or could not play is a matter for another time, but the fact is it mattered.
But according to a report from Kevin Gemmell of ESPN.com, the Bears received approval to count the win toward their total, meaning Sonny Dykes and company will go bowling for the first time since 2011.
“We have conferred with both Grambling and the NCAA,” Cal spokesman Wes Mallette told ESPN. “As anticipated, Grambling has confirmed their football program has met the 90 percent financial aid requirement over the rolling two-year average. Therefore, Cal football’s win over Grambling counts toward bowl eligibility. Cal football is bowl eligible.”
The Bears have a chance to become bowl eligible the old fashioned way with a win over Arizona State Saturday in Berkeley.
The end of the college football regular season brings with it bowl bids, conference championship entries and rivalry games. Along the way, though, come end-of-season firings. So many end of-season firings.
According to a report from Dan Wolken of USA Today Wednesday night, the first one is already on the books. Or at least close to it.
Wolken reports Tulane is set to part ways with head coach Curtis Johnson following the Green Wave’s Friday finale against Tulsa “barring a last-minute change of direction.”
Johnson is 15-33 in nearly four complete seasons at Tulane, reaching a high point of a 7-6 mark wtih a New Orleans Bowl appearance in 2013 but winning two, three and three games in his other three campaigns.
If and when the move becomes official, Tulane will become the 15th FBS school to change head coaches this season, matching the total number of changes during the 2014-15 cycle.
Wolken reports Tulane will hire a new athletics director within the next week, and once that hiring is complete the school will then embark on hiring Johnson’s replacement.
Michigan defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin has emerged a “strong candidate” for the Maryland job, according to reports from Yahoo‘s Pat Forde and Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman Wednesday.
“Durkin, 37, met recently with Maryland officials, sources said,” Forde wrote. “No job offer was made, but the interview went well, sources said.”
Durkin is in his first season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator, helping the 9-2 Wolverines jump from 14th to third nationally in yards per play allowed (4.77 to 4.15) and 27th to sixth in scoring defense (22.4 to 14.9).
Prior to working on Jim Harbaugh‘s staff, Durkin served as Will Muschamp‘s defensive coordinator at Florida for two years, and as his special teams coordinator for two years before that. He previously worked at Stanford, Bowling Green (his alma mater) and Notre Dame.
Should he be offered and accept the job, Durkin would immediately become Big Ten East rivals with his mentor Harbaugh.
“This week is so important to our guys, my 100% focus is on this game and our players — that’s what this profession is all about. You’ve got to make sure you’re taking care of the job you have week in and week out. It’s a tough task, especially with this team we have this week,” Durkin told the Detroit Free Press when asked about the reports.
“My goal is to get the best game plan possible together for Ohio State and have our guys go play well. To answer rumors or speculation right now and put something to it, my total focus is 100% on Ohio State and nothing else.”
Illinois will decide whether or not to retain interim head coach Bill Cubit for the full-time job by Sunday, interim AD Paul Kowalczyk told WSKJ-FM Wednesday.
“We need to make that call and figure out which way we’re going for everyone’s sake,” Kowalczyk said, via the Chicago Tribune. “For me, it’s posthaste.”
Illinois closes its regular season Saturday against No. 16 Northwestern in Champaign. The Illini are 5-6 on the year and, for what it’s worth, Cubit desperately wants the job.
Also worth noting: the athletics department is operating under a total state of dysfunction in the wake of AD Mike Thomas‘s firing.
From 670 The Score in Chicago on Wednesday:
Sources tell 670 The Score that as overwhelmed university officials are dithering and providing little guidance, the group of trustees, boosters and alums left to run things can’t yet agree on much. Some want to hire a search firm with a spotty recent track record, others want to form their own search committee, while another faction thinks they need to act faster by using their own contacts to target specific AD and coaching candidates right now and just get moving.
Any support for retaining Bill Cubit is getting strong push-back from those who don’t believe he wasn’t aware of Tim Beckman’s aberrant behavior, and from some who feel strongly about making a more dynamic hire.
For those keeping score at home: Illinois is dealing with a power vacuum of trustees, boosters and alums battling for control while an interim chancellor and interim athletics director work to reach a resolution on an interim football coach.
And the coaching carousel starts spinning in full four days from now.