Bob Bowlsby

Big 12’s strength needs to show to silence championship game criticism

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The Big 12 should either be forced to play a conference championship or every other conference should quit feeling threatened by the conference’s lack of a championship game, depending on whom you ask. The debate is one that may not have a definitive answer and should be one to pay attention to during the dawn of the College Football Playoff era.

Since dropping in membership from 12 to 10 after multiple realignment changes in recent years, the conference lost the ability to play a conference championship game under NCAA guidelines. The conference’s membership has been in unison in its stance by saying the Big 12 is perfectly fine not playing a conference championship game and selling the idea of a true conference champion with a nine-game conference schedule that pits every school against one another. While the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will host conference championship games this season, the Big 12 is hoping the overall quality of depth in the conference will be enough to convince the playoff’s selection committee to strongly consider the Big 12 champion for the four-team playoff.

“The only thing that you really have to do after adopting ‘One True Champion’ as your moniker is you have to go out and win some games,” Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a story from the Associated Press. “We want to win national championships.”

Will the non-existence of a conference championship game continue in the Big 12 in the long run? Odds are it will change at some point, whether by expansion or receiving permission from the NCAA to hold a game with 10 members. The idea has been discussed and once it is determined having a championship game gives playoff candidates an edge over a Big 12 contender, the push from the Big 12 membership to return to a championship game will be vocal. I have thought that for a while, and Stewart Mandel of FOXSports.com today agreed with that premise in his mailbag post today.

“Certainly if that happens you can count on the Big 12 bringing back its championship game as soon as possible,” Mandel said when asked about this very topic.

If you are wondering just how much of a big deal this conversation can be, you need to look back to the end of the wild 2007 season.

Ohio State, in 2007, ended its regular season ranked fifth in the country after beating rival No. 24 Michigan 14-3 in the final game of the season. With no conference championship game at the time, Ohio State was sitting on the outside looking in on the BCS Championship race with no more opportunities to make a dent. As it turned out, not having to play a 13th game may have served Ohio State well. In the time since Ohio State wrapped up its 2007 regular season, everything that needed to happen for the Buckeyes to play for the BCS championship seemed to fall into place.

A week after Ohio State edged Michigan, top-ranked LSU lost a shootout against Arkansas, knocking the Tigers out of the pole position for the BCS Championship Game. West Virginia, the following week needing a win to likely clinch a spot in the BCS Championship Game, was upset by Backyard Brawl rival Pittsburgh, 13-9. That same day saw Missouri playing for the Big 12 championship needing a win to clinch a spot in the BCS Championship game. The Tigers lost to Oklahoma. In the SEC Championship Game, LSU was given a chance to get back in the hunt with a win against Tennessee. Ranked fifth in the AP poll, LSU beat the Vols by a touchdown. LSU and Ohio State advanced to the BCS Championship Game as a result of all of this madness.On this day the college football world saw the benefits and risks of playing a conference championship game, as well as the benefit of not playing one (Ohio State).

Should the Big 12 bring back a conference championship game? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments below.

Arizona signee My-King Johnson set to become FBS’ first active openly gay scholarship player

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Head coach Rich Rodriguez of the Arizona Wildcats watches from the sidelines during the Territorial Cup college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona signee My-King Johnson probably caught most Wildcats’ fans attention with his impressive name when it was listed among the 23 signees for the football program on National Signing Day.

The 6-3, 225 pound defensive end’s name is set to become a little more well known however.

In a story on Saturday in the Arizona Daily Star, Johnson confirmed that he would become the first active openly gay scholarship player in FBS when he enrolls over the summer down in Tucson.

“I do feel like when I say that, it can put a target on my back,” Johnson told the paper about going public with his sexuality. “But whatever.”

Johnson is far from the only gay athlete to play major college football but does appear to be one of the first to go public on the matter prior to suiting up for a major program. Missouri’s Michael Sam came out once he entered the NFL Draft. Just up the road in Tempe, where Johnson went to high school, Arizona State walk-on Chip Sarafin told his teammates in 2014.

From the Daily Star:

When Johnson told UA assistant Vince Amey about his sexuality while being recruited, the coach’s reaction — “We want you to be a Wildcat” — was exactly what he wanted to hear.

Johnson picked the Wildcats despite offers from numerous FBS programs, including many in the Pac-12. Perhaps coincidentally, he really jumped on the radar of the coaching staff when he sacked quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, an Arizona signee himself (and the son of head coach Rich Rodriguez), three times in a high school game.

It certainly seems as though Johnson is very comfortable telling his story to a wider audience than just his teammates and coaches by doing the interview with the Daily Star and the environment down in Tucson has been very welcoming to all the new attention that it will bring. As the Wildcats begin spring practice this month, chances are the coaching staff is probably just as excited about the prospect of Johnson making an instant impact on defense this fall after seeing plenty of issues on that side of the ball during a 3-9 campaign in 2016.

Central Michigan AD taking same position at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - NOVEMBER 25:  Wide receiver Samajie Grant #10 of the Arizona Wildcats celebrates after scoring on a two yard rushing touchdown against the Arizona State Sun Devils during the fourth quarter of the Territorial Cup college football game at Arizona Stadium on November 25, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Arizona has its replacement for former athletic director Greg Byrne.

Central Michigan AD Dave Heeke is set to take the same position in Tucson with the Wildcats, the school announced Saturday afternoon.

“I couldn’t be more excited to be part of the Arizona Athletics family. It is truly an honor to be named the new Vice President for Athletics and have the opportunity to return to the prestigious Pac-12 Conference,” Heeke said in a release. “I want to thank Dr. Hart and those involved with the search process for their confidence in my ability to lead one of the premiere athletics departments in the country. This program is about excellence and we will continue to focus on achieving at the very highest level athletically and academically, while creating the finest experience in the country for our student-athletes.

Heeke has been in Mount Pleasant since early 2006 and found plenty of success with the MAC school across numerous sports. In football, he notably hired Butch Jones to replace Brian Kelly when the latter left for Cincinnati and has seen the Chippewas make a bowl game eight times during his tenure.

While he is a Michigan native, he’s no stranger to the way things operate out West having spent 18 years at Oregon. While he held a variety of roles in Eugene, he eventually became a senior associate athletic director with the Ducks before departing for CMU.

Arizona had a vacancy in their athletic leadership ever since Byrne left to become Alabama’s AD not long after the national title game in January.

UTEP’s Theron Aych named new receivers coach at Arizona

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Wide receiver Trey Griffey #5 of the Arizona Wildcats catches the ball in front of defensive back Jaterious Pouncey #48 of the Grambling State Tigers for a 34 yard touchdown in the third quarter at Arizona Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
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Spring practice is already underway in Tucson but it took until the end of this week for Arizona to finally have a complete offensive coaching staff.

The Wildcats announced on Saturday that Theron Aych would be taking over as the team’s new receivers coach, filling a vacancy created when Tony Dews left for West Virginia.

Aych helped provide a nice boost to the Miners’ passing game in his one season in El Paso and spent five seasons at Division II Angelo State prior to that. He served as the offensive coordinator and assistant head coach with the Rams during his five-year stint before moving up to the FBS level.

The Pac-12 is no new experience for Aych though, as he served as a graduate assistant at Washington over a decade ago.

Aych should have his work cut out for him this spring with the team featuring plenty of young players at the receiver position while also dealing with the loss of standouts like Trey Griffey and reliable veteran Nate Phillips both gone.

Colorado rounds out new defensive staff with hire of former Purdue DC Ross Els

EUGENE, OR - NOVEMBER 22:  Head coach Mike MacIntyre of the Colorado Buffaloes looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks at Autzen Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Eugene, Oregon. The Ducks defeated the Buffaloes 44-10.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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Just in the nick of time, Mike MacIntyre has rounded out his new defensive staff for the 2017 season.

The Buffaloes announced on Friday evening that former Purdue defensive coordinator Ross Els would be joining the program and serving as inside linebackers coach. The release notes that Els’ paperwork was completed in time for him to join the team for their second practice of spring ball.

“Coach Ross Els brings a lot of energy,” MacIntyre said.  “He has great experience as a coordinator, positions coach and special teams coach, and we’re really excited about having his expertise in those phases in our program.”

Els adds plenty of experience to Boulder, having coached linebackers at New Mexico State, Ohio and Nebraska. In addition, he was the Boilermakers’ defensive coordinator  and safeties coach last season.

The move completes the staff for the Buffs after seeing a number of coaches depart to Oregon with former coordinator Jim Leavitt.