Rice Owls

Getty Images

Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

2 Comments

Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Stanford and Rice will open 2017 season in Australia on August 26

Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

It looks as though opening the college football season down under may become a new annual event. A year after Cal and Hawaii kicked off the 2016 season in Australia, Stanford and Rice are now locked in to open the 2017 season in the Sydney Cup. The game between the Owls and Cardinal will be played in Sydney on August 26.

“This is a unique opportunity for us, one that I’m not sure we will have again in the near future,” Rice Director of Athletics Joe Karlgaard said in a released statement. “The Pac-12 has been expanding its outreach in the Pacific Rim the last few years, and we are excited to partner with Stanford for the game in Australia this fall. For our football players, many of whom have never been abroad, this trip will be as much about experiencing a new culture as it will be about the game itself.”

Talks about opening the season in Australia have been going on for a while now. Rice will be the home team in the matchup, meaning they will lose a home game on their schedule in the upcoming season. However, a chance to play in Australia is a bit of a rare opportunity and may be worth it for the experience. Cost, on the other hand, is quite a different story. Rice will lose a home game against a quality Pac-12 opponent.

As noted before, this will be the second straight regular season meeting between the two schools after Stanford hosted Rice in the 2016 regular season finale.

DC Mark Banker one of two coaches no longer on Nebraska staff

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Once again, change has come to Mike Riley‘s Nebraska coaching staff.

In a press release Wednesday, Riley announced the departures of a pair of his assistants.  One of those was a forced departure as Riley confirmed that the contract of defensive coordinator Mark Banker is not being renewed.

Banker recently completed his second season coordinating the Cornhuskers’ defense.  All told, Banker has spent the past 17 of the past 18 seasons coordinating Riley’s defenses, including stops at both the collegiate (2003-14) and NFL (1999-2001) levels.

“I want to thank Mark for his hard work and contributions to our football program the past two years and for all of his service and dedication as a member of my other coaching staffs,” Riley said in a statement. “We will conduct a national search to find a great coach, teacher and recruiter as we continue our pursuit of championships.”

In addition to Banker, Riley announced that safeties coach Brian Stewart had left to pursue other opportunities.  That other opportunity is expected to be as the defensive coordinator at Rice.

Stewart was the defensive backs coach in 2015, then moved to cornerbacks in 2016.  He further moved to safeties in December last year following the addition of Donté Williams, who was hired to replace Bruce Read.  Riley fired Read as special teams coordinator shortly after the Cornhuskers’ regular-season finale.

“Brian Stewart has informed me of his plans to take a defensive coordinator position at another university,” Riley said. “Brian feels this is a great opportunity for him and his family and I respect his decision. We appreciate Brian’s contributions to our program the past two years and wish him the best of luck. We will work diligently to replace him with an outstanding coach, teacher and recruiter.”

Report: Rice, Stanford heading Down Under for 2017 opener

Getty Images
2 Comments

Rice and Stanford are scheduled to meet in Houston to open the 2017 season, but that meeting could be moved quite a bit away from Rice Stadium.

According to Mark Berman of the Fox affiliate in Houston, the Owls and Cardinal are set to move that game to Sydney, Australia.

It’s not yet known if the powers that be would move the game off its Sept. 2 date. Cal and Hawaii opened this season in Brisbane, Australia, and moved the game a week ahead of the rest of FBS to accommodate the transpacific travel.

In an odd scheduling note, Rice and Stanford will play two consecutive regular season games against each other. The pair closed their 2016 slate in Palo Alto, a 41-17 Cardinal win.

PJ Fleck tells Cubs to Row the Boat, and a brief look at longest conference title droughts in college football

Photo by David Banks/Getty Images
1 Comment

The World Series gets underway tonight in Cleveland. The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs are each looking to bring an end to a championship drought that dates back over 70 years. The Cubs are playing in their first World Series since 1945. The Indians have been back to the Fall Classic a small handful of times since last winning a World Series in 1948. There are three college football programs from the Power Five that have similar droughts they continue to look to end, as far as a conference championship is concerned.

No team has waited as long to win a conference title than Iowa State, who last saw a conference championship in 1912. That came in the old Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association. That conference would pave the path to the old Big Eight Conference, which of course later merged with departing members from the Southwest Conference. As the conference has evolved, Iowa State has struggled to compete for a conference crown.

The only two conference championship droughts comparable to the current droughts of the Cubs and Indians reside in the SEC. Mississippi State has not won a conference championship since 1941 (SEC), and Vanderbilt has to go all the way back to 1923 for its last conference title (Southern Conference). Playing in the same conference as college football powers like Alabama, LSU, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia over the years has not allowed for much opportunity for either SEC program, and that likely will remain the case for many years to come.

While not quite as long of a wait, Western Michigan looks to be on track to snapping their conference championship drought that goes back to 1988. The Broncos are undefeated and have a favorable schedule the rest of the way, aside from a regular season finale against Toledo. Western Michigan head coach PJ Fleck gave the Cubs a pep talk during a stop on SportsCenter this morning.

Row the boat, Cubs (or Indians, depending on your rooting interests)!

Longest Conference Title Droughts By Conference

ACC: North Carolina State (1979)

Big 12: Iowa State (1912)

Big Ten: Minnesota (1967)

Pac-12: Arizona (1993)

SEC: Vanderbilt (1923)

American: Temple (1967)

Conference USA: Rice (1994)

MAC: Ohio (1968)

Mountain West Conference: New Mexico (1964)

Sun Belt Conference: New Mexico State (1978)