No. 18 ECU Pirates may stumble in polls despite 31-21 victory over UConn

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The No. 18 East Carolina Pirates secured a 31-21 victory over the Connecticut Huskies Thursday. But was it enough for the Pirates to remain the top non-Power Five program and the favorite to claim an appearance in a contract bowl?

Sometimes a win can be viewed as a loss.

The Pirates struggled against a Huskies squad that entered the game 1-5 and didn’t have a victory against a single FBS opponent this season. It wasn’t until six minutes left in the game that East Carolina finally pulled away from UConn.

When a non-power conference team trying to impress the College Football Playoff gets an opportunity to add style points to their resume on national television, it has to do so. East Carolina didn’t.

The Pirates moved the ball and racked up 580 total yards, but they weren’t able to complete drives most of the evening. UConn employed a bend-but-don’t-break, and the scheme worked.

If East Carolina isn’t putting up big scoring and yardage numbers, the team is nowhere near as impressive.

East Carolina’s primary competition as the top non-Power Five program is the Marshall Thundering Herd. Marshall is currently ranked 23rd overall in the AP Top 25. The Thundering Herd’s underwhelming schedule has prevented them from legitimately entering the national conversation. Yet, Marshall’s schedule doesn’t feature a team ranked lower than Connecticut.

Despite the lackluster effort, East Carolina did win the game. Ruffin McNeill‘s squad overcame adversity and was able to win a close contest even though everything didn’t go in their favor. The program still holds victories over the Virginia Tech Hokies and the No. 25 North Carolina Tar Heels.

Plus, very few teams feature a dynamic duo like quarterback Shane Carden and Justin Hardy. Carden was 38-of-64 passing Thursday for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hardy, meanwhile, grabbed 14 passes for 186 yards. The impressive effort moved Hardy into second place among the FBS’ all-time receptions list.

The Huskies deserve some credit for knocking down the Pirates a notch. First-year head coach Bob Diaco has his team playing hard, and they seem to be figuring some things out. The defense plays sound football, while the offense was finally able to move the ball in stretches against East Carolina.

In the end, East Carolina is still the top non-Power Five program in college football, but the margin between the top team and the second team is much closer after Thursday night’s effort.

Georgia LB Natrez Patrick sees pot charge dropped; status for playoffs still uncertain

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Finally, there is some positive news off the field for the Georgia football program, even as some clarity on one player’s status moving forward is still needed.

According to ESPN.com‘s Mark Schlabach, the Barrow County district attorney’s office has decided to drop a marijuana possession charge against UGA linebacker Natrez Patrick. Earlier this month, Patrick was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.  That was the junior’s third marijuana-related arrest and fourth pot-related incident in a little over two years.

Patrick was arrested in early October of this year on a charge of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana and ultimately served a four-game suspension.  In November of 2015, Patrick was arrested on a charge of misdemeanor marijuana possession and suspended for one game per university policy.  A year later, Patrick and a teammate, Roquan Smith, were investigated by police for alleged pot use although no charges were ever filed.

In this latest incident, Patrick was a passenger in a vehicle driven by teammate Jayson Stanley that was pulled over for speeding shortly after the Bulldogs won the SEC championship.

“When you get into someone’s car, you’re not going to search it to see if there’s marijuana in the car,” Patrick’s attorney, William Healan III, told Schlabach. “My client didn’t know the marijuana was there. If you’re sitting on a little piece of marijuana that you didn’t know was there, you’re not knowingly in possession of it.”

As for Stanley, he saw a driving under the influence charge dropped.  In exchange, the little-used wide receiver pleaded guilty misdemeanor possession of marijuana and speeding.

Despite the fact that the linebacker’s charge was dropped, Schlabach writes that “[i]t wasn’t immediately known whether Patrick would be available when the No. 3 Bulldogs take on No. 2 Oklahoma in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game… on New Year’s Day.” The Macon Telegraph, meanwhile, writes that when “[a]sked if this decision meant Patrick would not be considered a third-time offender under the UGA student-athlete handbook, athletics director Greg McGarity declined to comment.” Three drug-related offenses are grounds for dismissal according to university policy.

Patrick started seven of the nine games in which he played at inside linebacker this season.  Even as he missed nearly one-third of the regular season, Patrick is still sixth on the Bulldogs in tackles with 35.

Rice makes hiring of Michigan assistant Brian Smith as DC official

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Rice’s new head coach has officially plucked an assistant from Jim Harbaugh‘s Michigan coaching staff to fill a key position on his first with the Owls.

The Conference USA football program confirmed Wednesday night that Brian Smith has been named by Mike Bloomgren as his first defensive coordinator. Smith spent the past two seasons as the Wolverines’ defensive backs coach.

The stint in Ann Arbor was Smith’s first coaching job at a Power Five program. His first coaching job at the FBS level came at his alma mater UMass, where he was linebackers coach in 2004 and wide receivers coach in 2005.

In between those two collegiate stints, Smith spent eight seasons (2007-14) with the NFL’s New York Jets, beginning as a quality control/offensive coach before moving up to help with the secondary his last couple of seasons with the organization.

In addition to Smith, Bloomgren, who came to Rice earlier this month after serving as offensive coordinator at Stanford, also announced the hiring of North Carolina Central University head coach Jerry Mack as his coordinator on that side of the ball. Mack had previously coached at this level as wide receivers coach at Memphis (2011) and South Alabama (2012-13).

In his four years heading the FCS program, Mack guided the Eagles to a 31-15 record and three Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships.

Two-time winner Dabo Swinney one of seven finalists for Bear Bryant coach award

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Not surprisingly, yet another coaching award has a decidedly familiar feel to it.

Wednesday, a group of seven finalists were announced for the 2017 Paul “Bear” Bryant Coach of the Year Award, one of the nation’s top award for college football coaches. Named in honor of the Alabama legend, those seven finalists are:

  • Paul Chryst — Wisconsin
  • Clay Helton — USC
  • Scott Frost — Nebraska, for his work at UCF
  • Gus Malzahn — Auburn
  • Jeff Monken — Army
  • Kirby Smart — Georgia
  • Dabo Swinney — Clemson

Swinney is looking to become the first coach in the 32-year history of the award to win it three consecutive years, after becoming the first to win it in back-to-back years. In January of 2017, Swinney joined Boise State’s Chris Petersen (2006, 2009) as the only two-time winners.

In addition to Swinney, one other College Football Playoff semifinalist, Smart, is up for the honor.

Smart, Swinney, Helton and Frost all led their respective teams to conference championships, while Chryst and Malzahn made it to their league title game. Monken guided the service academy to its best season in over two decades and has the chance to, with a bowl win, become just the second Black Knights coach (Bob Sutton, 1996) to reach 10 wins in a single season.

Reports: LSU line coach leaving to become OC at BYU

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A little over two weeks after replacing a playing legend at the university, BYU appears set to look to the SEC for some offensive help.

FootballScoop.com was the first to report, with the Baton Rouge Advocate and Salt Lake Tribune among others subsequently confirming, that BYU is set to hire LSU offensive line coach Jeff Grimes as its new offensive coordinator.  Grimes, in his fourth season with the Tigers, spent three years (2004-06) as the line coach for the Cougars.

The 49-year-old Grimes replaces Ty Detmer, who was fired a little over two weeks ago after just one season as his alma mater’s coordinator.

It’s expected that Grimes will remain at LSU through the Citrus Bowl against Notre Dame New Year’s day before moving on to his new/old home.  This will mark Grimes’ first job as offensive coordinator at any level, although he served as running-game coordinator at Arizona State (2001-03) and Colorado (2007-08).

Even as Grimes’ move to BYU is not yet official, it appears LSU has already found a replacement.