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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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Bobby Hauck resigns as head coach at UNLV

Bobby Hauck

There is now a third opening for a head football coach at a Football Bowl Subdivision school.

UNLV released a statement Friday that stated head coach Bobby Hauck resigned from his current position.

“Bobby Hauck submitted his resignation, effective Monday, and I have accepted it,” UNLV director of athletics Tina Kunzer-Murphy said in the statement. “No one has worked harder in trying to achieve consistent success with our football program than Coach Hauck and we thank him for his dedication and leadership. He and his staff have worked tirelessly in trying to achieve the results we all want to see but it unfortunately has not happened. We wish Bobby and his family the very best in their future endeavors.”

The decision comes 11 months after Hauck agreed to a controversial extension that raised his pay and added a year to his previous contract.

The extension was a reward for a 7-6 record during the 2013 campaign. Those seven wins more than tripled Hauck’s win total through his first three seasons with the program. It was also the school’s first non-losing season since 2003 when the Rebels finished 6-6 under the direction of John Robinson.

After another 2-10 season (with one game left to play), Hauck decided to step aside and let another coach attempt to resurrect the program.

“We were given an opportunity to get it done here at UNLV and we simply did not win enough games,” Hauck said. “It’s my responsibility to push the program forward and I wish we would have produced better results.

“I would like to thank our University leadership for their support of our program; in particular, President Don Snyder, Athletics Director Tina Kunzer-Murphy and Board of Regents Chair Kevin Page. In addition, I would like to thank our student body, alumni and community leaders for their support of Rebel Football.”

UNLV landed the top coach at the FCS level in Hauck during the previous coaching search. UNLV’s brass now has another major decision in front it to hire the right person for the job. It’s never been easy to win in Sin City. Harvey Hyde was the last head coach to own a winning record from 1982-85.

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Arizona Wildcats bear down, claim Pac-12 South crown over rival Arizona State

Rich Rodriguez, Todd Graham

A Pac-12 South division crown and The Territorial Cup will both reside in Tucson, Arizona this year.

The No. 11 Arizona Wildcats claimed a 42-35 victory over the No. 13 Arizona State Sun Devils in a chippy affair that proved to be a de facto Pac-12 South championship game.

With the UCLA Bruins’ loss, the balance of the Pac-12 South was still in question during the fourth quarter for the Wildcats and the Sun Devils.

Arizona already built a 35-21 lead with the fourth frame about to commence. Arizona State head coach Todd Graham decided to make a change at quarterback by swapping Taylor Kelly for Mike Bercovici. The move paid immediate dividends, but it didn’t prove to be enough.

A 20-yard touchdown reception by sophomore wide receiver Samajie Grant — his second of the contest — was the difference in the game.

With the victory, the Wildcats enter rare territory for the program.

Arizona will now face the No. 2 Oregon Ducks in next week’s Pac-12 Championship Game. It will be a rematch of its Oct. 2 meeting. The Wildcats arrived on the national scene with a 31-24 victory during the Thursday night contest.

The Ducks will be favored again when these two teams meet for the second time:

After failing at the University Michigan and being fired after three seasons, Rodriguez already turned around Arizona’s football program in the same amount of time. With another strong effort against Oregon, Rodriguez could achieve something very special in the desert:

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UCLA squanders Pac-12 South lead with loss to Stanford

Stanford v UCLA

The UCLA Bruins will not represent the South division in the Pac-12 Championship game. And the Bruins have no one to blame but themselves.

All Jim Mora‘s squad had to do was beat the underachieving 6-5 Stanford Cardinal. UCLA may not have beaten Stanford during the last six years, but this season was supposed to be different.

The Bruins were ranked eighth overall, and there were conversations during the week that UCLA could sneak into the backdoor of the College Football Playoff after three impressive victories against the Arizona Wildcats, Washington Huskies and the rival USC Trojans.

Stanford didn’t get the message.

The Cardinal played like the program it had been during previous seasons. David Shaw’s squad dominated at the point of attack and controlled the clock. This led to Stanford claiming a decisive 31-10 victory to extend their winning streak over UCLA to seven straight games.

UCLA took an early lead, though, when quarterback Brett Hundley completed a 15-yard pass to sophomore wide receiver Thomas Duarte. Stanford responded with a 10-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to tie the game 7-7.

However, the second quarter belonged to the Cardinal.

During the second frame, Stanford ran 19 plays on two drives and gained 167 yards. Both drives ended in touchdowns. With 21-10 halftime, the game was essentially over for UCLA.

Stanford extended its streak of outscoring UCLA to 14 straight halves when it scored 10 more points in the second half of Friday’s contest.

The biggest difference in the game proved to be the play of the quarterbacks.

While Hundley, a junior, celebrated with the seniors because he is expected to leave UCLA for the NFL, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan was the most impressive signal-caller on the field.

Hogan began the game 12-of-12 passing. He was efficient and particularly deadly on third down. Stanford’s junior quarterback finished the game 16-of-19 passing for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Hundley, meanwhile, never got into a groove and struggled to lead his offense before leaving the game with what appeared to be an injured throwing hand. During Hundley’s last game at the Rose Bowl, the quarterback was only 17-of-32 passing for a meager 146 yards and a touchdown.

Both teams are bowl eligible, but Stanford once again proved to the biggest obstacle for a team hoping to go to the Pac-12 Championship Game.

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Mizzou dashes UGA’s ATL hopes, heads back to SEC title game

Arkansas v Missouri

As it turns out, Georgia tripping all over itself in the latest edition of The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party was as costly as it gets for the Bulldogs.

The UGA faithful were rightly optimistic as Arkansas absolutely controlled Missouri in the first half, jumping out to a 14-6 lead that seemed bigger than what it actually was.  What it actually wasn’t, however, was a lead big enough as Mizzou came back in the second half to both win the game 21-14 and stake its claim to a second straight SEC East title.

Mizzou still trailed by that same first-half deficit of 14-6 heading into the fourth quarter.  A pair of touchdowns and a two-point conversion, however — Maty Mauk‘s four-yard touchdown pass with 12:41 left, Marcus Murphy‘s 12-yard touchdown run with 4:38 remaining — sent the Tigers to Atlanta.

That Mauk scoring toss, incidentally, was the first touchdown allowed by the Razorbacks defense since the Nov. 1 game against Mississippi State.

UA did have one last chance to tie the game late in the game.  However, Alex Collins‘ fumble was recovered by the Tigers with just over two minutes left and essentially ended the game.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that, despite the losing effort, you won’t see a more gutsy performance football-wise than what Brandon Allen laid on the field, especially in the second half.  UA’s starting quarterback was questionable heading into the game due to injury, and was visibly hobbled late in it.  He remained in the game, however, and should be applauded for the heart and guts he showed.

What should be questioned, however, is the decision of Bret Bielema and/or his offensive coordinator to throw on all but one down — a carry that ended in the fumble, oddly enough — of a final drive that began with over four minutes remaining and with his quarterback banged up.

Regardless, Mizzou’s win sends the Tigers to their second consecutive SEC championship game appearance in just their third year in the conference.  Thanks to Georgia’s inexplicable loss to Florida, UGA needed a Mizzou loss to send it back to the league title game for the third time in four years.

Just who Mizzou will play next Saturday in the Georgia Dome will be decided tomorrow.

In the SEC West, Alabama and Mississippi State are both 6-1, but the former holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over the latter.  Thus, if Alabama beats Auburn in the Iron Bowl, they clinch the West and will square off with Mizzou.  Also, if Alabama loses to Auburn and Mississippi State loses to Ole Miss, UA clinches the West.  The only way MSU can win the West is if they beat Ole Miss and Alabama loses to Auburn.

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A&M axes defensive coordinator Mark Snyder

Mark Snyder

And let the Will Muschamp Watch in College Station commence in earnest.

Less than 24 hours after Texas A&M closed out the regular season with a 23-17 loss to LSU, head coach Kevin Sumlin announced that the football program has, ahem, “parted ways” with defensive coordinator Mark Snyder.  Linebackers coach Mark Hagan will serve as the interim coordinator for the Aggies’ bowl appearance.

Snyder, who just completed his third season with the Aggies, will be due $700,000 in salary through March of 2016.

“Mark is an outstanding coach and an even better person, but he understands the production needed to be better on the defensive side of the football,” Sumlin said in a statement. “We wish he and his family all of the best moving forward.”

The fact that Snyder was jettisoned is far from surprising.  This season, A&M’s defense was 11th or worse among the 14 teams in the SEC in nearly every major statistical category.  Entering Week 14, the Aggies were 77th nationally and 11th in the conference — ahead of only Kentucky (30.1), Vanderbilt (32.4) and South Carolina (32.7) — in points allowed per game (27.7). When it comes to yards allowed, they were even worse: at 445.2 yards per game, the Aggies were dead last in the conference and 100th in the country.

“I appreciate the opportunity Kevin Sumlin gave me to come to Texas A&M and to work on his staff,” Snyder said in his statement. “I have been in the business a while now and understand it is a production-based business.”

As to where Sumlin will, or should, begin his search, look no further than the deposed Florida Gators head coach.  While his time in the Swamp was far from a success, Will Muschamp is still widely viewed as one of the top defensive coordinators in the country.  Until there’s a resolution one way or the other, it will be Muschamp’s name that’s first off the tongue of an Aggie fan — and should be first on Sumlin’s coordinator to-do list.

(Photo credit: Texas A&M athletics)

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Offensive fireworks send Marshall’s perfect season up in OT flames

And then there was one.

Entering Week 14, Marshall was one of just two undefeated FBS teams in the country.  The Herd had also just entered the Top 25 of the most recent College Football Playoff rankings.  All of that, though, came crashing down on the Herd as they dropped a wild 67-66 decision to visiting Western Kentucky in overtime.

The Herd sent the game into overtime on a touchdown with :39 seconds left, then scored a touchdown on its first overtime possession to take a 66-59 lead.  However, the Hilltoppers matched that touchdown and added a two-point conversion for the win.

Defense was merely a rumor in this game as the 133 combined points was the second-most ever for a game featuring at least one overtime, behind only the 2007 Boise State-Nevada in which 136 points were scored in the four-overtime affair.  The two teams combined for 1,438 yards of offense, behind the record of 1,640 set in 2001 during the San Jose State-Nevada.  Prior to this season, there had only been 40 games in the history of college football at the FBS/Div. 1-A level in which both teams gained more than 600 yards of offense.

One record that was set?  The most combined touchdown passes by two players in a single game, with WKU’s Brandon Doughty (eight) and MU’s Rakeem Cato (seven) combining for 15.

Marshall has already clinched the East division of Conference USA and will play in the league title game next Saturday.  A win Saturday would’ve ensured that that game would’ve been played in Huntington; now, the location is up in the air.  From the league’s official tiebreaker guidelines:

If Marshall loses to WKU on Friday and Louisiana Tech defeats Rice, both teams would have the same conference record (7-1). Marshall and Louisiana Tech do not play in the regular season, eliminating the head-to-head tie-breaker, the second tiebreaker after conference record. Therefore, the CFP ranking is the next tie-breaker. If neither team is in the top 25 of the CFP Rankings, average select computer ranking (Anderson and Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix and Wolfe) would be used to determine host.

The loss is also a blow to Marshall’s New Year’s Day bowl game aspirations, although not a fatal one — at least not yet.  The highest-ranked Group of Five team will earn a spot in one of the four marquee bowl games that aren’t a part of the CFP rotation this year; Marshall was No. 24 last week, while Boise State was No. 23.  It would seem likely that the Herd will drop out, although the Broncos could tumble out as well with a loss to Utah State Saturday.

Colorado State and Northern Illinois, which clinched the MAC West earlier today to move to 10-2 on the year, are also contenders for that lone Group of Five slot.

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Dawgs calling Hogs? Arkansas up on Mizzou at the half

Arkansas v Missouri Getty Images

The biggest fans of the Arkansas Razorbacks reside in Fayetteville and surrounding areas.  The second-biggest?  At least for this weekend, they reside in Athens, Georgia… and they’re extremely bullish on the Hogs right at the moment.

Through two quarters of play in Columbia, UA is taking it to SEC East-leading Missouri 14-6.  Brandon Allen, whose availability leading into the game due to injury was somewhat questionable, completed 7-of-10 passes for 77 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

While the Razorbacks’ defense saw its shutout streak end — they hadn’t allowed a point in the last two games — they did hold the Tigers to 121 yards of first-half offense, including just 22 on the ground and an average of 1.3 yard per carry.

If Missouri can mount a second-half comeback and win, it would be headed to its second consecutive SEC championship game.  If Mizzou loses, Georgia would claim the East based on the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Arkansas, incidentally, will get the ball on offense to start the second half.

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‘Huskers rally past Iowa… and save Pelini’s coaching skin in process?

Nebraska v Iowa Getty Images

Those sounds you may have heard toward the end of the second quarter of the Nebraska-Iowa game? It was a mob in Lincoln firing up their torches and sharpening their pitchforks.  Whether what happened over the next two-plus quarters — and extra time — has quieted the grousing and grumbling in the nation’s heartland, however, remains to be seen.

What is clear is that Nebraska mounted a massive comeback, in part because Iowa failed to capitalize on first-half opportunities… and then failed to put the game away late… and then stunned the Iowa City crowd in overtime to “steal” a 37-34 win.

The Hawkeyes took a 24-7 lead at the midway point of the second quarter, although the damage could’ve — and likely should’ve — been much, much worse. Twice in the first half, the Hawkeyes drove into the red zone, and inside the 10-yard line even, only to turn the ball over to the Cornhuskers. At worst the lead at that point should’ve been 30-7; at best, it would’ve been a seemingly insurmountable 38-7 deficit for the ‘Huskers on the road.

Instead, the ‘Huskers dodged those bullets and began firing some of their own. A touchdown with :20 left in the second quarter cut the lead to 24-14. NU then shut Iowa’s offense down for most of the second half while scoring 14 points on offense/special teams to take a 28-24 lead.

De’Mornay Pierson-El‘s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter was looking like the winning score until a Jake Ruddock five-yard touchdown pass to running back Jordan Canzeri with 1:49 remaining put the Hawkeyes back on top 31-28. Tommie Armstrong Jr. then led the ‘Huskers on a drive that was capped by a field goal to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Iowa’s possession in the first overtime resulted in a field goal.  On Nebraska’s possession, Armstrong Jr. tossed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Bell that, after a replay review, gave the Cornhuskers the come-from-behind win.

Despite the dramatic win that showed the tremendous heart on that squad, the questions surrounding Bo Pelini‘s future with the program will still swirl.

Nebraska improved to 9-3 on the season with a bowl game remaining. In each of Pelini’s previous six seasons in Lincoln, the ‘Huskers had lost four games; they’ve won 10 games in three seasons and nine in three others. Is that enough for the fan base and, more importantly, the administration?

It’s not that the Cornhuskers are a bad program under Pelini, it’s that they’re not even remotely the Cornhuskers of Tom Osborne.  Or, more to the point, they’re not even the Cornhuskers of Frank Solich.  In Osborne’s 25 seasons, NU never lost four games in a season and only lost three games in a season eight times.  Certainly Osborne is a lofty barometer for Pelini, but it’s not beyond the pale to think that the Cornhuskers should’ve returned to the national stage at some point during the current coach’s seven-year tenure.  Hell, Solich lost three or fewer games in four of his six seasons — either one or two losses in three of those years — and can claim one conference championship to go along with two other division titles; Pelini hasn’t even won a division title, let alone a conference one, in a tenure that’s one year beyond what Solich got from the university.

It wouldn’t be a shock to see Pelini remain with the Cornhuskers.  It also wouldn’t be a shock to see the two sides part ways.  Either way, it’s a situation that bears monitoring as the 2014 coaching carousel gets set to swing into high gear.

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NIU stakes claim to West divisional MACtion

MAC Logo

Northern Illinois came into Friday needing only a win over Western Michigan to secure a spot in the MAC championship game. As it turns out, the Huskies did just that.

Things looked bright for NIU early on as they scored on their first play from scrimmage, a 65-yard catch-and-run between quarterback Drew Hare and wide receiver Daniel Braverman that was 99-percent run. The Broncos, however, scored the next 21 points to take a 14-point lead deep into the second quarter.

From then on, though, it was all Huskies. NIU kicked a field at the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 21-10, then scored 21 second-half points to put the finishing touches on the 31-21 win.

The win means NIU will now face East winner Bowling Green in the MAC championship next Friday in Detroit.  The Huskies have now won five straight West division titles, and have won two of their last four championship game appearances.  They’ve appeared in five total in the 17-year history of the event.

WMU would’ve won the West with a win over NIU and a loss by Toledo this afternoon.  Toledo would’ve won the West with a win over Eastern Michigan and an NIU loss.

The Broncos have nothing to be ashamed of, however, as they went from 1-11 in 2013 to 8-4 in 2014 with a bowl game (probably) still in the offing.

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Ohio State issues statements on missing player

Kosta Karageorge II

As the search a missing Ohio State football player continues, the university has publicly addressed the situation for the first time.

Kosta Karageorge has not been seen since leaving his on-campus apartment very early Wednesday.  The search, which is now in its third day, involves the Columbus Police Department and the player’s family and friends, and came after the family filed missing person’s reports with three different police departments.

Karageorge, a senior walk-on, did not show for practice Wednesday or Thursday.  Karageorge’s head coach asked anyone with any knowledge of the defensive lineman’s whereabouts to contact authorities.

“Our thoughts continue to be with the family of Kosta Karageorge and we pray that he is safe and that he is found soon,” Urban Meyer said in a statement. “He is a young man who joined the football team in August and was a hard worker on the field and pleasant off the field. He has been an important player in practice for us, right up until the time he was reported missing. If anyone knows anything about his whereabouts, please help his family and contact the authorities.”

In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Karageorge’s sister, Sophia Karageorge, pointed to a history of sports-related concussions and sometimes becoming disoriented that has the family understandably worried. In that vein, the football program also released a statement attributed to the team’s physician, Dr. Jim Borchers.

“First and foremost, our primary concern is for the health, safety and welfare of Kosta,” the doctor said. “While we are not able to discuss or comment about the medical care regarding our student-athletes, we are confident in our medical procedures and policies to return athletes to participation following injury or illness.”

Again, anyone with any type of information on Karageorge’s whereabouts is being asked to call 614-747-1729.

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Marshall, WKU lighting up first-half scoreboard, stat sheet

Chris Thomas

It appears that Marshall is celebrating its rise to the Top 25 of the latest College Football Playoff rankings by giving its defense the weekend off.  And, in the spirit of sportsmanship, it appears the Herd’s opponent is following suit.

The two teams combined for a staggering 91 first-half points, with the 24th-ranked Herd trailing the 6-5 Hilltoppers 49-42 (not pictured).  They were a mere field goal away from tying the FBS record for most points in a half by both teams set during the North Texas-Navy game in 2007.  That game also set the record for most points in regulation by both teams at 136, a mark that is obviously in reach.

Another record that’s within reach?  Single-game total offense for both teams, set during the 2001 San Jose State-Nevada game (1,640); through two quarters, Marshall-WKU has seen 840, 462 for the latter and 378 for the former.

Of the 13  touchdowns scored in the game, 11 of them came on touchdown passes — six for WKU’s Brandon Doughty, five MU’s Rakeem Cato. The FBS record for a half is seven by several players, most recently by Hawaii’s Bryant Moniz in 201 vs. USC.

Marshall has already clinched the Conference USA East title and, with a win, would host the conference championship game next weekend in Huntington.

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Blech Friday: Hawkeyes atop ‘Huskers in first-half turnover fest

Iowa v Nebraska Getty Images

If you wanted to put a DVD in a time capsule to explain to future generations — or aliens — how Big Ten football is viewed by most of the country, the Black Friday Nebraska-Iowa would do the trick.

At the end of two quarters of play, the Hawkeyes lead the Cornhuskers 10-7 in Iowa City.  The game’s first touchdown, not so unexpectedly, came on a 17-yard interception return by Iowa’s John Lowdermilk in the middle of second quarter.  The only other touchdown, a five-yard pass from NU’s Tommie Armstrong Jr. to Ameer Abdullah with :20 seconds left, came after the sixth turnover of the half.

The offenses from both sides were, well, offensive for the better part of the first half.  Or, if you prefer, the defenses were stellar.  Either way, it was a half that made offensive aficionados cringe and/or throw up a little bit in their mouths.

Midway through the second quarter, the two teams combined for 150 yards of offense (Iowa 110, Nebraska 40); the Hawkeyes would finish the half with 178 yards and the Cornhuskers 92.  The Cornhuskers didn’t complete a pass until there were less than two minutes left in the second quarter, and 34 of their 49 first-half passing yards came on one play.

Iowa had five first-half possessions, and those ended with two interceptions, a fumble, a field goal and taking a knee at the end of the half.  Two of those turnovers, incidentally, came in the red zone, while the fourth of the four led to NU’s lone score.  The Hawkeyes also fumbled a punt back to the ‘Huskers to account for their four turnovers.

Nebraska had six possessions, those of which ended in a pair of punts, a missed field goal, the pick-six, another interception and the touchdown.

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Amidst SMU talk, Chad Morris says he’s ‘completely focused on SC’

Syracuse v Clemson Getty Images

Thanksgiving night, multiple media outlets reported that Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris has been tapped as SMU’s next head coach.  One website reported that Morris would make $3 million-plus annually on a multi-year contract, with the hiring expected to be announced the first week of December.

While that may ultimately be the case, none of the sides involved are inclined to confirm.

Clemson officials have not commented on the reports thus far, while SMU athletic director Rick Hart told USA Today in a text message late Thursday night that there is “no deal with anyone yet.”  For his part, Morris downplayed the talk while also stating that his focus is on the game at hand.

Unreal, everyone thinks they know,” the coordinator said in a text message to The Clemson Insider. “Sorry completely focused on SC.”

Clemson is putting its finishing touches on Saturday’s annual in-state rivalry game with South Carolina.

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Search for missing Ohio State football player continues

Kosta Karageorge III

The search for an Ohio State football player who has been missing since the middle of the week continues the day after Thanksgiving.

Kosta Karageorge, a walk-on reserve defensive lineman for the Buckeyes, has not been seen since leaving his on-campus apartment around 2 a.m. Wednesday morning.  Karageorge’s family has filed a missing person’s report, and the Columbus Police Department is involved in the search.  A report has also been filed with police departments in Grandview Heights and Upper Arlington.

According to Karageorge’s sister, Sophia, there were “some extenuating circumstances that night that lead us to believe he was upset” prior to him leaving his apartment. Karageorge did not show up for practice Wednesday or Thursday, which only adds to the family’s fears.

He never misses practice,” Sophia Karageorge told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’ve seen him go to wrestling practice with a broken foot. I’ve seen him sick as a dog go to practice. He’s always on schedule. He always has somewhere where he checks in.”

Kosta Karageorge IIThe Dispatch writes that Karageorge “was wearing black sweatpants over his jeans, black Timberland boots, a black hoodie with FOC on it and a black beanie on his head” when he left his apartment; the picture to the left is Karageorge shortly before his disappearance.  On OSU’s official website, Karageorge is listed as being 6-3, 273 pounds. He has a short beard and, according to the paper, he recently shaved his head.

Anyone with any type of information on Karageorge’s whereabouts is being asked to call 614-747-1729.

For those in and around Columbus, a cell phone trace by the Columbus PD showed Karageorge being in the area of W. 3rd and Elmwood avenues in Grandview Heights at around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. A motorcycle he owns remains at the apartment complex, while “he does not have his car on campus,” the sister said. Additionally, Karageorge is carrying no identification as his wallet is with his girlfriend.

Sophia Karageorge pointed to a history of sports-related concussions and sometimes becoming disoriented that has the family understandably worried.

“We’re very concerned that he’s not himself and that he maybe doesn’t know what’s going on,” the sister told the Dispatch. “Every time he’s had a concussion, he’s been evaluated and listened to his trainers. He’s been properly taken care of by OSU the entire time he’s been an athlete for them.

“But … his repercussions from them have been long-term or delayed later after the fact.”

Family and friends will be reassembling at 1 p.m. ET this afternoon to resume the search for Karageorge.

(All photos courtesy of the Karageorge family)

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Sorting through the Group of Five conference title scenarios

Tiebreaker

Not surprisingly, most of the college football world’ attention is focused on the Power Five conference teams and the College Football Playoff heading into the last full weekend of the 2014 regular season.

There are, though, other goings on in the sport, namely conference races for the other five conferences dubbed the Group of Five.  All five of those leagues have yet to see an undisputed 2014 champion decided; four of those, though, will crown a champ — or co-champ — this weekend, with the AAC being the lone exception (possibly).

With that as a backdrop, here are those various clinching scenarios for the Group of Five leagues:

AAC
Memphis sits at 6-1 with one conference game remaining (vs. UConn), while Cincinnati and UCF are each 5-1 with two games each left (at Temple and vs. Houston for the former, at USF and at East Carolina for the latter).  This conference, however, does not have a championship game, so its method for determining its champ is laid out in the league’s weekly notes package:

In the event of a tie for the American Athletic Conference title, any tied teams would be declared co-champions. There is no formal conference tiebreaker policy for this season. The College Football Playoff committee would be able to select any of the tied teams for a New Year’s bowl game, based on the committee’s rankings.

Memphis is the only team that could claim the outright championship in Week 14, and that would happen if it won and Cincinnati and UCF lost.  Memphis, with a win, is also the only AAC team that can claim at least a co-championship this weekend.

CONFERENCE USA
EAST
At 7-0, Marshall has already clinched a spot in the conference championship game.

WEST
This division is nearly as simple as the winner of the Week 14 game between Louisiana Tech (6-1) and Rice (5-2) will face Marshall.

Another issue for the conference to be decided is where the title game will be played.  If Marshall beats Western Kentucky Saturday, the Herd will host the Louisiana Tech/Rice winner in Huntington.  If Marshall loses and Rice wins, Marshall would again host.  If Marshall loses and Louisiana Tech wins?  I’ll go ahead and allow the conference to lay out the particulars:

If Marshall loses to WKU on Friday and Louisiana Tech defeats Rice, both teams would have the same conference record (7-1). Marshall and Louisiana Tech do not play in the regular season, eliminating the head-to-head tie-breaker, the second tiebreaker after conference record. Therefore, the CFP ranking is the next tie-breaker. If neither team is in the top 25 of the CFP Rankings, average select computer ranking (Anderson and Hester, Billingsley, Colley Matrix and Wolfe) would be used to determine host.

MAC
EAST
At 5-2, Bowling Green has already clinched a spot in the conference championship game.

WEST
Three teams at 6-1 all remain alive in the divisional race: Northern Illinois, Toledo and Western Michigan.  NIU and WMU play late Friday morning, while Toledo faces Eastern Michigan a couple of hours later.  What follows are the scenarios for each to claim the West:

Northern Illinois wins the West if… It beats Western Michigan; NIU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Toledo.
Toledo wins the West if… It beats Eastern Michigan, Northern Illinois loses; UT holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Western Michigan.
Western Michigan wins the West if… It beats Northern Illinois, Toledo loses.

MOUNTAIN WEST
MOUNTAIN
Boise State, Colorado State and Utah State are all 6-1 entering the last week of the regular season, with Boise State and Utah State playing late Saturday night and Colorado State traveling to Air Force.  Here are the clinching scenarios for each team:

Boise State wins the Mountain if… It beats Utah State; BSU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Colorado State.
Colorado State wins the Mountain if… It beats Air Force and Boise State loses to Utah State; CSU holds the head-to-head tiebreaker over Utah State
Utah State wins the Mountain if… It beats Boise State and Colorado State loses to Air Force.

WEST
With two teams at 4-3 (Fresno State, San Diego State) and two at 3-4 (Hawaii, Nevada), the West is a clusterf… well, you know.  So much so, in fact, that I’m just going to let the conference put this one into the barn:

  • Fresno State: wins the division with a win over Hawai‘i.
  • San Diego State: wins the division with a win over San José State and a Fresno State loss to Hawai‘i.
  • Hawai‘i: wins the division with a win at Fresno State and losses by Nevada (at UNLV) and San Diego State (vs. San José State).
  • In the event Fresno State loses to Hawai‘i, Nevada defeats UNLV and San Diego State falls to San José State, it will create a four-team tie atop the West Division standings at 4-4. In that scenario, Fresno State clinches the division based on the MW divisional tiebreaking procedures.

SUN BELT
As is the case with the AAC, there is no conference championship game in the SBC.  Georgia Southern (7-0) has already clinched a share of the 2014 title in its first season in the league, with a win over Louisiana Monroe Saturday giving them the undisputed title.  Louisiana-Lafayette can earn a co-championship with a win over Troy combined with a Georgia Southern loss.

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