With rumors swirling of Kelly’s departure, Oregon keeps its focus in Fiesta Bowl

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The Fiesta Bowl was, in fact, treated as a party — a going away party for Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Kelly’s name has become surgically attached to the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks. Both organizations are reportedly in Glendale, Ariz., for the bowl game in an attempt to steal Kelly away from Eugene and into the NFL. They’ll have Oregon’s permission to speak to Kelly too.

From the moment Kelly turned away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago, everyone — players, Oregon’s administrators, fans and media alike — knew this time was coming again. Hot coaching commodities have windows of opportunity and Kelly’s is wide open right now. The thought of Kelly departing Oregon for the pros surely weighed on those collective minds, and perhaps on Kelly most of all.

Yet through the distractions, Kelly did the one thing for which he’s best known: keeping his focus on the task at hand. “Win the day” is not just a cliché for the Ducks’ head coach. Neither is the “next man in” philosophy.  It’s what he personally practices and asks of everyone involved with the program. As a result, Oregon’s identity has been closer to that of a machine rather than a football team over Kelly’s four years as head coach of the Ducks.

The focus was apparent Thursday night when the No. 5 Ducks knocked off No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. On the opening kickoff, De’Anthony Thomas darted around defenders for a 94-yard touchdown run. Immediately, Oregon converted a two-point conversion by catching K-State off guard.

That’s focus (or, speed).

Up 22-10 heading into halftime thanks to a more Oregon-esque 45-second drive, Kelly still wasn’t satisfied. “I have to call a faster game,” Kelly said to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “That’s on me.”

That’s focus (or, logistics).

The Ducks then made excellent halftime adjustments along the offensive line and running back Kenjon Barner finished with 143 yards after a sluggish first two quarters.

That’s focus (or, great coaching).

These are just examples of why Oregon is going to be fine if Kelly leaves for the NFL. His players don’t fear his departure. In fact, they respect that their coach seeks to win at the highest of levels because it’s a quality they all possess as competitors. It helps that the university also has a plan. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is reportedly the next-in-line to grab the reins should Kelly take his final bow. Per USA Today‘s George Schroeder, Helfrich is a pure cut from Kelly’s philosophical cloth.

He can finish Chip’s sentences,” a source told Schroeder about Helfrich. “He’s been in that environment long enough (to succeed). It’s a leap of faith but it’s very similar – I’d almost argue that it was a bigger leap (promoting) Chip than with Mark.”

If it is a leap, it’s a calculated one. Oregon has a brand and an identity on and off the field matched by few in today’s college football environment. So whether it’s Kelly leading the Ducks on to the field or Helfrich, Oregon is in a position for continued success even with a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions looming.

If it is Helfrich? Well, Chip, it’s been fun. And a little too fast in every sense of the word.

Conference championship Saturday now locked in with confirmed kickoff times

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Feel free to update your planner accordingly, because the ACC and Big 12 championship games now have confirmed start times.

The Big 12 Championship Game will kick off Championship Saturday on Dec. 7 with a noon eastern kickoff. The game will be televised on ABC and will share a time slot with the MAC Championship Game (on ESPN or ESPN2).

The ACC Championship Game will once again be played in primetime with a 7:30 p.m. eastern start time scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 7 on ABC. It will once again go opposite the Big Ten Championship Game on FOX, although the ACC will get a half-hour jump on the Big Ten title game.

With the ACC and Big 12 now on the schedule, here is the updated look at the conference championship game schedule:

FRIDAY, DECEMBER 6

  • Pac-12: 8:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Santa Clara, CA)

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 7

  • Big 12: 12:00 p.m. ET, ABC (Arlington, TX)
  • MAC: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN 2 (Detroit, MI)
  • Sun Belt: 12:00 p.m. ET, ESPN or ESPN2 (TBD*)
  • Conference USA: 1:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network (TBD*)
  • American: 3:30 p.m. ET, ABC (TBD*)
  • Mountain West: 4:00 p.m. ET, ESPN (TBD*)
  • SEC: 4:00 p.m. ET, CBS (Atlanta, GA)
  • ACC: 7:30 p.m. ET, ABC (Charlotte, NC)
  • Big Ten: 8:00 p.m. ET, FOX (Indianapolis, IN)

* = The highest-seeded team in the conference hosts the conference championship game

Mark Dantonio responds to accusation made by former staffer

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A day after an alarming story accused Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio of recruiting a player he was warned could be a potential problem, Dantonio has responded alongside his lawyer. Dantonio defended himself against the claims of former assistant Curtis Blackwell and re-directed to previous comments Dantonio made regarding the player in question.

“The fact that Mr. Blackwell’s contract was not renewed has nothing to do with Auston Robertson,” Dantonio said in a statement on Friday. “Two years ago, I spoke at length about Auston Robertson when he was dismissed from the team in 2017. Rather than engage in a public argument with a former staffer, I refer you to those previous statements. Further, there have been multiple investigations into the program’s handling of sexual assaults, including Jones Day in 2017 and the NCAA in 2018, and they concluded that the program and myself committed no violations.”

Blackwell, a former Michigan State recruiting director, claimed he and multiple coaches asked Dantonio not to continue recruiting Robertson, who was guilty of misdemeanor battery in high school and later was arrested and charged with assault to his girlfriend just after his freshman season in East Lansing. Robertson was later removed from the program.

Dantonio concluded his statement by saying he will have no further comment due to ongoing litigation.

“Mr. Blackwell’s lawsuit concerns his allegations that his contract was not renewed because he refused to co-operate with investigations being conducted by the MSUPD and a law firm hired to evaluate the MSU football program’s compliance with sexual assault reporting policies,” Dantonio’s lawyer, Tom Kienbaum, said in a separate statement. “The lawsuit has nothing to do with the recruitment or actions of any student athletes, including Auston Robertson.”

Kentucky LB Kash Daniel will play after video of alleged intent-to-injure surfaced

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After video surfaced seemingly suggesting Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel tried to hurt a Florida football player last weekend, head coach Mark Stoops confirmed Daniel will be on the field again this weekend against Mississippi State. What has not been confirmed, however, is whether or not Daniel will start the game for the Wildcats.

Video footage from last weekend’s victory over the Gators appeared to show Daniel attempting to twist the ankle of Florida quarterback Kyle Trask at the bottom of a pile at the end of the play. Trask denied any intent to injure to Trask but did admit he gets caught up in some smack talk on the field, which of course is perfectly normal in sports.

Stoops said he has discussed the alleged incident with Daniel and the SEC office. Whatever came out of those discussions will remain behind closed doors, because Stoops has decided to keep that all in-house. So if Daniel is not on the field to start the game for Kentucky’s defense, this may not be a coincidence. However, regardless of what happens, Daniel will be playing against Mississippi State.

New Mexico State locks in bowl agreement with New Mexico Bowl

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New Mexico State may not have a rich bowl history, but the independent college football program has worked out an arrangement to secure a spot in a postseason bowl game in the next few years.

New Mexico State has reached an agreement with ESPN Events to reserve a spot in the New Mexico Bowl from 2020 through 2025, as long as the Aggies meet the NCAA bowl-minimum win total.

“New Mexico State University and our football program are excited to enter into an agreement with the New Mexico Bowl from 2020 through 2025,” New Mexico State Director of Athletics Mario Moccia said in a released statement. “The proximity of the game from our campus as well as Albuquerque and the surrounding areas having the largest population of NM State alumni in the country outside of Doña Ana County is a perfect opportunity for our football program and Aggie Nation.”

New Mexico State would face a team from either the Mountain West Conference or Conference USA. In addition, New Mexico State can be chosen to play in any other bowl game not owned by ESPN if an opportunity is available to them.

New Mexico State is an independent program, which makes them free to work out their own bowl deals. But because most bowl games have deals in place with conferences, there are typically few bowl spots to go around for independent programs (unless you happen to be Notre Dame).

The Aggies played in a bowl game at the end of the 2017 season, which was the first bowl game for the program since 1960.