Venric Mark, Chris Frierson

Northwestern suspends senior RB for first two games


Northwestern running back Venric Mark only played in three games last season and missed the final six games. The Wildcats are going to be without their talented running back for just a little bit longer.

According to a release from the school, Mark has been suspended for the first two games of the upcoming season due to a violation of team policy.

“I made a mistake and am prepared to deal with the consequences of that,” Mark said in the statement. “There’s no one that holds me to a higher standard than the one I hold myself to, so nobody is more disappointed than I am. First and foremost, I feel like I let my teammates down, and that feels the worst. I’m grateful to have another season to compete with this team. My focus moving forward is on working as hard as I can in camp and supporting my teammates in practice and on gamedays so that we can achieve our goals this season.”

Mark is a valuable weapon in the Wildcats’ offense and special teams. In 2012, Mark ran for 1,366 yards, and he was named a first-team All-American as a punt returner by the Football Writers Association of America. He adds a completely different dynamic to the Wildcats offense due to his explosiveness and shiftiness.

The Wildcats have two key non-conference games to open the season that Mark will miss. Northwestern opens the season against the Cal Golden Bears on national television, and the Wildcats face the always-pesky Northern Illinois Huskies a week later. Mark’s absence will be felt during those two games.

Fortunately, the Wildcats have experienced depth at running back. When Mark was hurt last season, Treyvon Green stepped in and led the team in rushing with 736 rushing yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Green will be asked to carry the load again until Mark returns Sept. 20 against the Western Illinois Leathernecks. And then the Wildcats will have an impressive two-head monster at running back when they enter Big Ten play a week later.

USC’s Max Tuerk already questionable for Notre Dame game

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 11:  Center Max Tuerk #75 of the USC Trojans prepares to snap the football during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.  The Trojans defeatred the Wildcats 28-26.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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As if the questions about the head coach’s future aren’t enough, now USC could have a rather significant issue in the middle of its offensive line to deal with as well.

Early in the first quarter of what would turn out to be an embarrassing loss to Washington Thursday night, Max Tuerk sustained a sprained knee. Upon further examination, it was determined that the veteran center would be unable to return to the game.

Not only that, Tuerk, who was wearing a brace on his right knee following the loss, is already labeled as questionable for what it in every sense of the phrase a must-win game for Steve Sarkisian against Notre Dame eight days from now.

With Tuerk sidelined for the remainder of the game, he was replaced by Toa Lobendahn. It’s unclear which direction the Trojans would go if Tuerk is a no-go this weekend, although Khaliel Rodgers, who had been dealing with a personal issue, has been Tuerk’s backup.

Tuerk has started 38 games in his Trojan career — 18 at center, 14 at left guard, five at left tackle, one at right tackle. Lobendahn started all 13 games as a true freshman last season, the first eight at left guard and then five at right tackle.

Was Washington loss the beginning of the end of the Steve Sarkisian era at USC?

Steve Sarkisian

Steve Sarkisian’s win totals in his six previous seasons are both a positive and a negative.

On one hand, he resurrected a moribund Washington program that went 0-12 under Ty Willingham in 2008 and took them to four consecutive bowl games from 2010-2013. He won nine games his last year in Seattle, then led a talented-yet-thin USC team to a nine-win season and AP No. 20 finish in 2014.

Those are good accomplishments. But the flip side of the argument is Sarkisian has never won double-digit games in a season, something that’s a necessity to keep one’s job at USC. The Trojans’ 17-12 loss to Washington last night — at home, no less — means the road to 10 wins and a Pac-12 title will be awfully difficult.

And worse yet, there are plenty of arguments to be made Sarkisian doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt and a little more time in Los Angeles to turn things around (#SarkAfterDark, his drunken rant at a booster event, certainly doesn’t help). The reaction from national media to last night’s loss looked like this:

Mandel, in his column, argued USC is right where it was two years ago with Lane Kiffin as its coach. And there’s this embarrassing thought, that looks more and more like a truth, for Pat Haden:

This one, however, was the most damning by far for many reasons, most notably that it came at the hands of Sarkisian’s old team. The sense among many Washington fans nearly two years ago was that the Huskies managed to upgrade coaches when the school lured Chris Petersen from Boise State upon Sarkisian’s departure to USC.

They were right.

USA Today’s Dan Wolken similarly wrote that USC needs to drop Sarkisian and bring in Chip Kelly from the Philadelphia Eagles.

This is the state of USC, and it may not get better. The Trojans start a brutal three-game stretch next Saturday at Notre Dame in primetime, then welcome Utah to Los Angeles the next week. A Halloween trip to Berkeley to face Jared Goff and Cal finishes it up. There’s a very real chance USC, for all its talent and all its hype, limps into November with a 4-4 or 3-5 record.

Sarkisian will have to engineer and sustain a major turnaround in these coming weeks, otherwise he’ll give Haden all the ammo he needs to unceremoniously jettison him after two years.