UConn Huskies

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Despite report to contrary, president David Boren says Oklahoma hasn’t made up mind on Big 12 expansion

NORMAN, OK - NOVEMBER 10: President of the University of Oklahoma David Boren and Head Coach Bob Stoops of the Oklahoma Sooners talk before the game against the Baylor Bears November 10, 2012 at Gaylord Family-Oklahoma Memorial Stadium in Norman, Oklahoma. Oklahoma defeated Baylor 42-34. (Photo by Brett Deering/Getty Images)
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It wouldn’t be the Big 12 without a little drama, now would it?

Tuesday, Pete Thamel of SI.com reported it’s believed that Oklahoma president David Boren, long thought to be a major proponent of expanding the Big 12 beyond 10 teams, “has reversed course on his view of expansion.” This report comes nearly two weeks after T. Boone Pickens‘ BFF infamously — and very surprisingly — tapped the expansion brakes.

“I wouldn’t take expansion as a given,” Boren said Sept. 14. “I wouldn’t take it as a sure thing.”

According to Thamel’s report, it appears that BYU, long a favorite of Boren, and the uproar over its honor code has caused Boren, and thus the university, to shift gears when it comes to expansion. Additionally, OU’s regents are reportedly not in favor of expansion and are pressuring Boren “to convey that message.”

That shift, at least what he’s putting out there for public consumption, is news to Boren.

“I do not know where the speculation came from,” Boren said in a statement to ESPN.com, “but Oklahoma has not yet taken a position on expansion.”

It was thought that expansion could be decided at a meeting of chancellors and presidents in Irving, Tex., in the middle of next month, although that could be pushed to the end of the year, if not the beginning of 2017. A total of 11 schools made the cut as “finalists” should the Big 12 expand, with those nearly dozen schools presenting their cases over the past couple of weeks.

Of the 11, seven come from the AAC — Cincinnati, Houston, SMU, Tulane, UCF, UConn, USF — two from the Mountain West — Air Force, Colorado State — and one from Conference USA — Rice. The lone remaining school, BYU, is a football independent.

UConn head coach Bob Diaco defends an indefensible play that resulted in loss to Navy

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 13:  Bob Diaco of the Connecticut Huskies reacts during a game with the Boise State Broncos at Rentschler Field on September 13, 2014 in East Hartford, Connecticut. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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A day before the Dallas Cowboys went down in defeat by not running the ball out of bounds as the clock was winding down, the UConn Huskies experienced a loss in similar fashion. With no timeouts remaining and just 17 seconds to play, UConn head coach Bob Diaco called for his offense to run up the middle against Navy from the one-yard line. Navy stuffed the run and UConn was unable to get another play off, losing to the Midshipmen in American Athletic Conference play 28-24.

You would think a coach would use the benefit of hindsight to say he should have tried a passing play in that situation, thus resulting in a touchdown or a stoppage of the clock to run one final play. Not Diaco. He defended the bonehead play.

The offensive team wanted to run the ball, wanted to run the ball in,” Diaco said Tuesday, in a comment that reads as though the inmates are running the asylum. ”I think if the players believe they can execute a play, isn’t that better than believing they can’t execute a play?”

Uh, NO!

I am sure Diaco is a fine gentleman and I concede he probably knows more football than I will ever know, but there is a very simple answer to that question and it is a resounding “Nope.” Diaco is the head coach being paid money to give the Huskies the best possible chance to win. Running up the middle against Navy with no timeouts to spare and just 17 precious seconds remaining in the ballgame is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea and Diaco should be the one telling his players there is no chance they are going to run in that situation. If it were the final play of the game, sure, why not.

Diaco attempted to defend his decision by pointing out the Seattle Seahawks and Pete Carroll were ripped for a similar situation in the Super Bowl two years ago, when Russell Wilson was picked off by the Patriots instead of handing off to Marshawn Lynch. You see, that’s the difference right there. If UConn had a player like Marshawn Lynch to hand off to, maybe they win. Do you see Marshawn Lynch on the UConn roster? Because I do not.

Maybe things would be different if UConn didn’t just have to sneak by their FCS opponents from Maine in the opener. Maybe the feeling would be different if Diaco was riding the emotions of a team that had clear physical advantages and an established pedigree for overpowering their opponents, but this isn’t Alabama. It’s UConn. Even if UConn scored on the play, it still would have gone down as a poor playcall that turned out to be nothing more than lucky. Had the play worked, Diaco would have earned the trust of the players and vice versa. Now, everyone looks rather foolish.

Diaco and other head coaches are paid too much money to let the players decide what to do next. The next time Diaco is presented with such a situation, here’s hoping he lets everyone know who is in charge. Otherwise, it might cost the Huskies another win.

Report: Memphis no longer a candidate for Big 12 expansion

MEMPHIS, TN - OCTOBER 17:  Daniel Montiel #80 celebrates with Paxton Lynch #12 of the Memphis Tigers after a touchdown against the Ole Miss Rebels at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Memphis, Tennessee.  The Tigers defeated the Rebels 37-24.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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The Big 12’s list of potential expansion candidates appears to have shrunk by one notable name according to a recent ESPN report on Friday.

Sources told the network that the University of Memphis is the latest school to get cut from the Big 12’s list, which once numbered as many as 22 schools but is now down to a reported 11. The omission of the Tigers is bound to raise a few eyeballs as the athletic department has made significant strides in recent years and has the backing of powerful local booster Fred Smith and his FedEx empire.

The ESPN report noted that the 11 schools will begin meeting in Dallas with Big 12 officials starting next week, with a possible decision on expansion coming as soon as a board of directors meeting on October 17.

In addition to the notable names like Memphis and Boise State who are out of the running to join the Big 12, the names of the schools that could get an invite is just as notable. The usual suspects of BYU, Cincinnati and Houston were among the names ESPN reported are in the final 11, along with Air Force, UCF, UConn, Colorado State, Rice, South Florida, SMU and Tulane.

Interestingly, the report also said Memphis offering to take less revenue from the Big 12 actually may have hurt the school in the long run because the league wanted teams that could strengthen the conference as opposed to being “propped up” by an invite.

The entire Big 12 expansion process is seemingly never-ending but it appears that things are starting to move along now that the list of prospective schools has been riddled down. It remains anybody’s guess as to whether the Big 12 even expands at all, or whether they add two or four teams. Given how the process has played out so far, it might be wise to expect the unexpected.

Just ask Memphis.