The theme for Saturday, Sept. 1 in Happy Valley: change, to the fullest extent.
For the first time in over four decades, Joe Paterno wasn’t roaming the home sideline at Beaver Stadium. The Jerry Sandusky scandal changed everything in at Penn State all the way down to the decision to put names on the backs of the classic blue and white uniforms.
The NCAA sanctions, the departures by running back Silas Redd (among others) — it wasn’t what Bill O’Brien envisioned when he took over the program.
But things actually started out promising enough for the Nittany Lions against Ohio. Though just a touchdown favorite, Penn State’s offense immediately looked like an improved unit from a year ago despite losing Redd and not having a proven quarterback. Then, halftime came and everything changed. PSU’s 14-3 lead slipped away. The Nittany Lions offense stalled and everything began looking like a reincarnation of 2011.
Penn State never scored another point and lost to a good Ohio team 24-14. It was truly a story of one half going in the exact opposite direction of the other.
And that was against Ohio — again, a good team, but a beatable one. Penn State travels to Virginia next before facing Navy and Temple. PSU might earn a couple of wins there before Big Ten conference play begins later this month. This has the potential to be a long and difficult season for the Nittany Lions.
The defensive front seven is good, but they can’t be on the field for over half the game. If the offense can execute like it did in the first half, Penn State can go over .500 this year. If the offense plays like it did in the second half, this team will struggle to win five games.
I have little Doubt O’Brien can get things done at Penn State over the long haul — there were flashes early — but consistency already looks like it’s going to be a problem for this team.
There may be two head coach openings in the AAC eventually this offseason but for now, there’s just one at USF.
That’s the result of Tulsa confirming to the Tulsa World that head coach Philip Montgomery would return to the Golden Hurricane in 2020 despite going 4-8 this past season.
“This football program has enjoyed a lot of success over the last 15 years in particular — 10 bowl games in the last 15 years — but we haven’t been bowl-eligible the past three consecutive years,” AD Derrick Gragg said Thursday. “Everyone involved finds that unacceptable.
“Going forward, we do feel confident that Philip Montgomery is the coach who can get us back to championship-level football. He’s had the program at that level and competed for a division championship (in 2016). But we expect to be bowl-eligible at the base of it as far as a goal program-wise.”
While you famously are what your record says, there’s little doubt that Tulsa was way more competitive than their four wins showed. They were a few missed field goals away from knocking off both Memphis and SMU, each of which won 10 teams this year. They also upset UCF at home and thumped East Carolina to close out 2019 on a high note.
Montgomery has two seasons left on his contract and buying him out of those would have proven to be expensive for a school that generally doesn’t have a ton of money to spend. The stronger showing this season combined with the buyout figure likely made it a pretty easy decision to keep the coaching staff in place going forward.
As Gragg noted though, the bar has already been set for 2020 at a bowl game or bust going forward.
When you’re spending $17+ million to buyout the head coach, what’s another six-figures?
That’s the case at Florida State, where the school on Thursday released their contract with the search firm DHR International to reporters. As noted by the Tampa Bay Times, that includes a $100,000 flat fee as part of the deal and an interesting clause that states they’ll get a free search if, for any reason, the next head coach is let go within the two years.
The firm was retained by university brass last month to assist with the replacement of recently fired head coach Willie Taggart.
“Glenn (Sugiyama) has been outstanding in assisting with our coaching search,” FSU athletic director David Coburn said in a statement. “We appreciate his professionalism, and we have benefitted from the breadth of his relationships throughout the industry. His work has been invaluable.”
Unlike many of his peers going through searches, Coburn has little experience in athletics prior to taking his current position and the high profile nature of replacing Taggart makes the use of a search firm quite understandable — even with the hefty fee in place.
Various reports in and around Tallahassee have pointed to Memphis head coach Mike Norvell as one of the favorites to take over the program following the AAC title game on Saturday.
Most of the political world may be focused on the upcoming Democratic debates this month but for a slice of the college football world, no debate looms larger than the one concerning who gets the automatic Group of Five bid to the New Year’s Six.
AAC commissioner Mike Aresco has been on a media blitz recently to sump for his league the past two weeks, appearing on a variety of outlets as diverse as Bloomberg to the regular national radio and talk shows that dot the landscape. His message is a pretty simple one that he backs up with plenty of strength of schedule arguments but is essentially: the winner of Saturday’s Memphis-Cincinnati game should get the invite regardless what happens elsewhere.
The Tigers have been the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s top-ranked Group of Five team recently and likely sit with a win-and-in scenario. The question is though, what happens if the two-loss Bearcats emerge victorious?
That’s what fans of Boise State and Appalachian State are hoping for as both, if they win their respective conference title games, will be positioned to grab the bit in a close race with the AAC winner.
Now it appears that both the MWC and Sun Belt commissioners are joining Aresco in getting their talking points out in hopes that they somehow make their way to the committee’s ears.
“I am disappointed that Appalachian State is not ranked higher,” Sun Belt commish Keith Gill told The Athletic this week. “They are 11-1, 6-0 on the road, the only Group of 5 team to beat two Autonomy 5 teams on the road, and I believe that their body of work deserves more respect.”
“We just let the results kind of speak for themselves,” MWC counterpart Craig Thompson added. “I think we’ve done enough. When it really gets down to it, it’s the people in the room at the Gaylord in Texas (the CFP committee) that’ll make the determination. So as long as we’re stating our case, everything else is kind of superfluous. It really doesn’t matter what others think. It’s those people that are raising their hand”
While neither are quite beating the drum like their AAC counterpart, it’s clear there’s going to be plenty of campaigning for the elusive spot — and the hefty revenue bump that comes with it — from now until Sunday.
This college football season has been a bit different from most thanks to a combination of two factors that have very little to do with the play on the field: a new rule allowing players to redshirt despite playing in four games and the NCAA transfer portal.
Amid a flurry of player movement as a result of those two, on top of unique situations like Houston’s D’Eriq King deciding to take a redshirt in what amounts to a lost year for the Cougars, it seems the powers at be are already eyeing tweaking the current status quo. West Virgnia AD Shane Lyons chairs the NCAA Division I Football Oversight Committee and remarked on a local radio show that adjustments to the current set of rules are likely to be discussed during meetings at the NCAA convention in January.
“I don’t think it’s a good optic for college sports,” Lyons said, according to the West Virginia MetroNews. “The way it looks, a student-athlete is potentially quitting on his team.
“It’s something the committee will look at in their January meeting to make any adjustments as necessary.”
Despite the redshirt rule originating from coaches themselves, in practice it has proven to be problematic for many because players have either removed themselves from action in order to save up a season and play elsewhere or simply entered the transfer portal. Such roster management concerns have led to plenty of criticism about the unintended consequences of the changes and now it appears the adults in the room are getting together to come up with a few changes to defeat the reasoning behind both rules.
We’ll see what happens between now and the January meetings but the days of going four-and-out for some might be coming to an end with the 2019 season.