Quick offseason schedule thoughts: American’s West can help shape conference image too

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The task of changing the way the American Athletic Conference is perceived does not fall just on the shoulders of the American’s East Division. The West has some chances to help give the conference a boost as well. And with Navy joining the division, the door to some more opportunities has been opened moving forward.

The schedules among the AAC’s West teams is littered with big road tests against power conference foes and even some home games. All provide a chance for the West to rise and defend the conference’s image. Last season saw Boise State of the Mountain West Conference come away with the guaranteed New Years Six bowl spot, thanks in large part to the perception of the Boise State program and relative strength of schedule of the Mountain West Conference as a whole. The American has an opportunity to climb to the top, but it will have to work to get there. With some bright new head coaches in place at Houston (Tom Herman), SMU (Chad Morris) and Tulsa (Philip Montgomery), the bar is being raised in the West.

After already going through some of the key games in the American Athletic Conference’s East Division, here is a look at some of the more notable opportunities to come for the schools in the West this season.

Tulane vs. Duke (September 5); Tulane at Georgia Tech (September 12): Tulane may be coming off a miserable debut season in the American Athletic Conference, but it can more than make up for it by getting the conference off to a great start against the past two ACC Coastal Division champions. It may be a tall order for Tulane at this point in time, but it has a better chance of resulting in some wins than SMU’s early-season match-ups with Baylor and TCU.

Houston at Louisville (September 12): Louisville looks to be an interesting team out of the ACC Atlantic Division this season. Could a home game against Houston sandwiched between Auburn and Clemson be a trap game? Oh yes, it certainly could.

Memphis at Kansas (September 12); Memphis at Bowling Green (September 19): Pairing these two games together for one reason. First, Memphis winning at Kansas may not score major points for the conference given the perception of the Jayhawks, but it would still go down as a road win against a Big 12 opponent. But Memphis then needs to avoid a loss to MAC threat Bowling Green. Remember, we are not only looking for victories against power conference opponents, but also against the best threats from other Group of Five conferences. Knocking off Kansas and Bowling Green, the defending MAC champions, would end up giving Memphis and the AAC a nice little boost in September.

Navy vs. Air Force (October 3); Navy at Notre Dame (October 10): Following similar logic as just above with Memphis, Navy has an excellent opportunity to score some big wins in back-to-back weeks. First Navy hosts Air Force, coming off a successful season and representing the Mountain West Conference. Again, victories against other Group of Five opponents can be huge in the end. And beating Notre Dame obviously carries some weight.

Memphis vs. Ole Miss (October 17): Oh, you thought we were done with Memphis? Think again. The Tigers host the SEC’s Ole Miss in mid-October. If Memphis can defend its home turf against a power conference opponent from the hyped SEC West, their work will largely be done representing the conference in 2015.

Like the East Division, if the West can somehow come away with a .500 mark out of this slate of games, that would be a tremendous victory for the conference and would bode well for the conference’s champion. Keep in mind the AAC will hold a conference championship game this season as well, giving it one more game to showcase the best it has to offer.

One thing that should also be noted is Navy will actually play one more game after the College Football Playoff selection committee is set to make its big bowl pairings. The Army-Navy Game is scheduled for the Saturday after the release of the CFB Playoff and New Years Six bowl pairings. The expectation is this can be worked around to avoid any controversial hassles, but after seeing Baylor and/or TCU get shortchanged in part because of playing one fewer game than everyone else, it is worth keeping in mind.

Report: Steve Spurrier Jr. leaving WKU for job at Wazzu

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With coaching holes throughout his Washington State staff to fill thanks to significant offseason poaching, Mike Leach has added a very famous college football surname.  Reportedly.

According to the Bowling Green Daily News, Steve Spurrier Jr. is leaving Western Kentucky to take a job under Leach at Wazzu.  The son of College Football Hall of Famer Steve Spurrier just completed his first season as the Hilltoppers’ quarterbacks coach.  He also held the title of assistant head coach under Mike Sanford.

It’s unclear what specific title Spurrier Jr. will hold at Wazzu.

Prior to his one season at WKU, and one season as an off-field staffer at Oklahoma, Spurrier Jr. had been an assistant on his father’s South Carolina staff for 11 seasons.  During his time with the Gamecocks, he served at various points as wide receivers coach (2005-15), passing-game coordinator (2009-11) and co-offensive coordinator (2012-15).

Spurrier Jr., who played wide receiver at Duke, has also spent time during his coaching career as receivers coach at Oklahoma (1999-2001) and with the Washington Redskins (2002-03).

Ex-Texas All-Big 12 defensive tackle takes DL coaching job at Baylor

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Baylor’s latest coaching addition is a very familiar name in the state of Texas.

BU confirmed Wednesday evening that Frank Okam has been added to Matt Rhule‘s coaching staff.  Okam, who was a Freshman All-American and two-time All-Big 12 defensive tackle at Texas from 2004-07, will coach the Bears’ defensive line.

“Frank is a living embodiment of everything the young men in our program should want to accomplish,” the head coach said in a statement. “He’s a college graduate, an All-American, a Big 12 champion, a national champion, a NFL draft pick and then he continued life after football earning his master’s degree from Rice and is now one of the top young football coaches in the country.

“We are excited to have Coach Okam on staff and for him to mentor our defensive line group and help take them to the next level.”

The 32-year-old Okam, who went to high school in Dallas, spent the past four seasons at Rice, the last two as the Owls’ line coach.  This will mark Okam’s first coaching job at a Power Five program.

Longtime ESPN play-by-play man Mike Patrick announces retirement

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ESPN’s roster of college football play-by-play announcers suffered a high number of attrition of late. Brent Musburger retired. Brad Nessler replaced Verne Lundquist at CBS. Sean McDonough moved to Monday Night Football. Now the dean of ESPN’s Saturday voices is going away, too.

Mike Patrick announced his retirement on Wednesday, ending a 32-year run that began in 1982, three years after the network launched.

“It’s wonderful to reflect on how I’ve done exactly what I wanted to do with my life,” Patrick said. “At the same time, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with some of the very best people I’ve ever known, both on the air and behind the scenes. While I’m not sure exactly what’s next for me, I’m looking forward to continuing my journey with new life experiences.”

His biggest assignment came as the voice of ESPN’s Sunday Night Football from 1987 until the package moved to NBC after the 2005 season, but outside of that he was one of the Worldwide Leader’s leading college sports voices. He was the lead voice on the network’s ACC basketball package, he called the Women’s Final Four for a decade and a half, and he was a leading voice on the College World Series and served as the play-by-play man for ESPN’s Thursday night and Saturday night packages, before ESPN turned its Saturday primetime window into the top package owned by the network.

You may remember this moment.

ESPN will say goodbye to Patrick through a pre-recorded tribute voiced by Rece Davis airing throughout the day on SportsCenter and a tribute during the network’s coverage of the Louisville vs. Duke basketball game tonight (9 p.m. ET).

Heisman winner Chris Weinke hired as Tennessee’s running backs coach

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It can be argued that the only reason Tennessee has a national championship is because of Chris Weinke. As we know, the Vols claimed the 1998 national championship by defeating Florida State in the 1999 Fiesta Bowl, the first national championship game of the BCS era. Tennessee won that game, 23-16, thanks in large part to a pick-six thrown by Marcus Outzen, a third-string quarterback forced into action due to an injury by the two signal callers ahead of him on the depth chart.

Here’s how a Sports Illustrated article described Weinke and that FSU team in its 1999 preview issue:

Don’t think of 1999 as a new season for Florida State, think of it as the resumption of an old one. Before quarterback Chris Weinke was dumped on his head and suffered a season-ending ruptured disk in his neck in a 45-14 win over Virginia last Nov. 7, no team in the country was playing better than the Seminoles, who had bounced back from an early-season defeat at North Carolina State. So how cruel was this? Upset losses suffered by Ohio State, UCLA and Kansas State sent 11-1 Florida State to the national title game in the Fiesta Bowl, but without its best quarterback. The Seminoles and backup signal-caller Marcus Outzen struggled on offense and lost to Tennessee.

Nevertheless, Tennessee won that season’s title, Weinke would lead Florida State to the 1999 national title and take the Heisman Trophy a year after that. The past is the past.

But now the past is the present, as the former Florida State quarterback on Wednesday was announced as Tennessee’s running backs coach.

“I’m excited to have Chris Weinke on our staff to coach running backs,” Vols head coach Jeremy Pruitt said in a statement. “He has played the game at the highest level and what he has accomplished on the field speaks for itself. He is also an outstanding coach and teacher of the game, coaching in the NFL, in college this past season and at the high school level. He has a great eye for talent and knows the game on the offensive side of the ball as well as anybody I’ve been around. He will be a great fit for our Tennessee program.”

Weinke entered the NFL as a 26-year-old and lasted seven seasons with the Panthers and 49ers before moving into coaching. He first worked as a trainer at IMG Academy, then moved onto coaching the high school program, where he went 19-2 as head coach and offensive coordinator. From there he deposited a stint as the Los Angeles Rams’ quarterbacks coach before spending the 2017 season as an offensive analyst at Alabama, where he hooked up with Pruitt.

Weinke will be charged with re-building the Vols’ backfield after losing John Kelly to an early entry into the NFL draft. Rising sophomore Ty Chandler is Tennessee’s leading returning rusher, carrying 71 times for 305 yards and two touchdowns in 2017.