Utah v USC

Utes, Cyclones, UConn Huskies name starting QBs

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With the start of a new season less than two weeks away (fist pump), head coaches at various programs across the country are getting down to the business of naming a starter at the most important position on the field.

Kentucky and Purdue pulled the trigger on their starting quarterbacks Monday. They, though, weren’t the only ones.

In one of the more high-profile competitions left unsettled, Utah confirmed that the incumbent Travis Wilson had, to the surprise of some, fended off the challenge of Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

After starting the first three-quarters of the 2013 season, a concussion — technically, an intracranial artery injury — sidelined Wilson for the last three games and led to questions as to whether he would ever play the game again. Wilson, though, was cleared to participate in spring practice, albeit in non-contact mode, and was ultimately cleared medically for full contact.

His 16 interceptions last season were the second-most at the FBS level, leading some to believe Thompson would emerge from the summer camp fray as the starter.  In July, Wilson was cited for underage consumption of alcohol.

Neither of those, though, caused Wilson to be unseated.

“It was close,” Kyle Whittingham said of the competition. “It was just about a dead heat.”

The head coach also confirmed that Thompson will play, although he stressed that the Utes will not be a two-QB team; instead, they will be one that will look for opportunities to insert Thompson into the game and utilize a skillset that’s about 180 degrees from what Wilson brings to the table.

“It’s when we get the opportunity to put Kendal in and give him some work,” Whittingham explained. “He’s earned that right and you will see him play as well.”

Along with Utah, Iowa State and UConn both named starters at the position as well.

On the former front, ISU head coach Paul Rhoads confirmed that Sam Richardson will be his starting quarterback for the season opener against North Dakota State. Richardson was the starter for the first eight games of the 2013 season before he was benched — partly because of injury, partly because of ineffective play — in favor of Grant Rohach.

Those two were the main combatants this time around as well, with the coach citing leadership and Richardson’s quick acclimation to new coordinator Mark Mangino‘s offense as the data points that tipped the scales in the “incumbent’s” favor.

“Sam has displayed great leadership and that certainly includes poise in the pocket where he has been very much in control of our offense and of himself,” Rhoads said in a statement. “His understanding of the scheme and his decision-making has really grown in the last two weeks, and maybe as much as anything, he is throwing a great ball, an accurate ball, a tight ball and a catchable ball.”

On the UConn front, Bob Diaco announced that sophomore Casey Cochran had beaten out senior Chandler Whitmer for the Huskies starting job. The head coach said the difference between the two was “negligible,” but that the younger player’s leadership, oddly enough, was better than the veteran’s.

Whitmer started the first four games last season before being benched — in favor of true freshman Tim Boyle –after being the starter for every game in 2012, while Cochran started the last four games last year.

Boyle, who has been battling minor injuries throughout summer camp, is likely headed for a redshirt season.

Win over Grambling approved, Cal officially becomes bowl eligible

Jared Goff
Associated Press
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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.


Tulane reportedly set to fire head coach Curtis Johnson

Curtis Johnson
Associated Press
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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.

Reports: Michigan DC D.J. Durkin a “strong candidate” for Maryland vacancy

D.J. Durkin
Associated Press

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.”

Added Feldman:

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.”

Illini to decide on fate of interim head coach Bill Cubit by Sunday

Bill Cubit
Associated Press

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.