Weekend Preview: Red River Rivalry remains a tradition like no other

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No sport does tradition quite like college football, at least in this admittedly biased college football writer’s opinion. This weekend we get a glimpse of one of the great traditions in the sport with a side of deep-fried, well anything probably. The Texas State Fair is on my bucket list and is highlighted by the annual meeting between Oklahoma and Texas. The fanfare that surrounds the game may only be rivaled by a few others in the sport. The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party and the Army-Navy Game are two that quickly come to mind.

Neutral site games may not be quite the novelty they once were, thanks to multiple games played in Atlanta and Arlington purely for a big-ticket event to please television partners, but the Red River Rivalry is something else that brings everything back to pure basics. The venue is the historic Cotton Bowl, full of history and lacking the modern-day luxuries many fans seem to take for granted. Yet, it is the perfect setting for one of college football’s classic rivalries.

The Red River Rivalry highlights the action this weekend, but so much for the focus on what it could mean in the Big 12 race. Instead the narrative will focus on the future of head coach Mack Brown.

Mack’s last stand?

The annual Red River Rivalry game remains one of the top traditions the college football regular season has to offer, and thankfully it managed to survive the wreck left by realignment over the past few seasons. But the big question this year will be whether or not Texas head coach Mack Brown can manage to save his job with a win against the Sooners. Oklahoma has roughed up the rival Longhorns each of the past two seasons and bring a three-game winning streak in to the early afternoon Big 12 clash. Since 2000, the Longhorns have lost nine out of 13 meetings. Although Texas enters this year’s edition with a 2-0 record in Big 12 play, there is much speculation that Brown could be coaching in his final Red River Rivalry game.

Texas may need to win to help save Brown’s job for next year, but a hard-fought contest with the Sooners is all most Texas fans hope to see given the recent history in this series. That could be a realistic expectation. Oklahoma seems to have turned a corner with Blake Bell taking over at quarterback, starting with a win at Notre Dame, but this Oklahoma team may not be as strong as they have been so Texas should manage to prove they at least belong on the same field. Proving that should start with protecting the football. Texas has had 10 turnovers in the last three meetings at the Texas State Fair.

Is Georgia ripe for an upset?

Georgia looks to be one of the top one-loss teams in the country, having only been defeated by an undefeated Clemson team currently sitting in the top five of the rankings on the road in the first game of the year. Since then the Bulldogs have come through in the clutch to beat South Carolina, LSU and Tennessee. In those times of need Georgia has been able to turn to quarterback Aaron Murray, who has delivered when needed time and time again and earned a spot in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy. This week, however, will Murray be able to rally Georgia to another SEC win with a number of players out of action?

Running back Todd Gurley is expected to be back for the Bulldogs as they host Missouri, who comes to Sanford Stadium with a perfect 5-0 record. His running mate, Keith Marshall, suffered an ACL injury last weekend and is done for the year. Receivers Michael Bennett (knee) and Justin Scott-Wesley (ACL) are also out of the mix this weekend. The injuries have been piling up for Georgia but they have managed to get by. Could Missouri be the team who end that winning streak? Missouri should be able to put up some points. The Tigers have scored at least 40 points in all but one game this season, and they scored 38 points the one game they did not.

Big road test for Oregon 

One of the more bitter rivalries that few seem to recognize is the one between Washington and Oregon. Fortunately this game will receive an afternoon time slot, so everyone can get a chance to check out the animosity for themselves. Oregon has certainly been piling up points this season but they face their first real test when they visit Washington Saturday afternoon. The Huskies are coming off their first loss of the season but put up a respectable fight against Stanford on the road last weekend. Returning home to what should be a raucous crowd thirsty for a win against Oregon should be a good setting for Washington. Oregon has won each of their last three trips to Seattle, and the Ducks have won nine straight in the series for the longest winning streak in the series.

Who should be on upset alert?

Other than the teams already mentioned above, who else might want to be on high alert this weekend?

LSU: You could make a case that LSU is the best one loss team in the country, if not for Georgia. The Tigers host the Florida Gators this weekend. Florida’s defense may be capable of giving LSU some problems, and if LSU’s offense is sluggish at any point, Florida could steal a rare victory for a road team in Baton Rouge.

South Carolina: The constant question regarding the status of Jadeveon Clowney is a bit overdone at this point, but his impact on the field is still respectable even if the numbers suggest otherwise. The Gamecocks are on the road this weekend at Arkansas for the first of three straight road games.The Razorbacks are in the midst of a brutal stretch of their schedule but pack a running game that could make things interesting.

Northwestern: After hanging with Ohio State last weekend, the Wildcats are on the road for another tough Big Ten match-up. Northwestern travels to Madison, Wisconsin to take on the Wisconsin Badgers. The only games Wisconsin has lost this season have come on the road, at Ohio State and Arizona State (who could forget that cray ending?). As usual, the Badgers can run the football very well with sophomore Melvin Gordon rushing for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns so far.

Michigan: The Wolverines have struggled at times this season, including in games against Akron and Connecticut. Could Michigan be walking in to the lion’s den this weekend in Beaver Stadium? Well, technically, probably. Penn State was roughed up by Indiana, of all teams, last week and look to bounce back in a strong way. The depth concerns at Penn State may get a lift from one of the top crowds in Beaver Stadium in the Bill O’Brien era, but will it be enough to rattle Michigan?

Michigan to visit South Africa later this year

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After visiting Italy and France over the past two springs, Michigan is taking a break from Europe and hitting South Africa in 2019. Wolverines director of football operations Mark Taurisani made the announcement through his Twitter account on Tuesday.

Jim Harbaugh started the field trips (which are funded by Michigan donors) as part of an educational experience for Wolverines players. The 2017 Italy trip was incorporated with Michigan’s spring practice, but the Wolverines did not practice in France last year and will not practice in South Africa this year, either.

Specific dates and tour sites have not been announced. The Wolverines will leave after the completion of the spring semester, which concludes after Michigan’s April 13 spring game.

Michigan lands All-MAC graduate transfer from Central Michigan

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As a Detroit native, Mike Danna has probably spent his entire life hoping and wishing and believing he could play at Michigan. While playing at Warren De La Salle Collegiate High School, he probably thought it. Throughout the recruiting process, when Michigan didn’t offer him and he signed at Central Michigan, he probably thought it.

Now he’ll get a chance to prove it.

Danna on Tuesday announced he was leaving CMU to spend his final college season with the big boys in Ann Arbor.

The 6-foot-2, 257-pound defensive end won the Herb Deromedi Award as CMU’s most valuable player after collecting 66 tackles, a team-high 15 TFLs and 9.5 sacks. He was named a First Team All-MAC honoree and a Pro Football Focus First Team All-American as well.

In three seasons as a Chippewa, Danna posted 151 tackles, 28 TFLs, 15 sacks and four forced fumbles.

While he may or may not start, Danna will be a significant contributor for the Wolverines in 2019. Michigan loses starting ends Chase Winovich (graduation) and Rashan Gary (draft), so Danna will team with senior Josh Uche (who led the team with eight sacks last season) and sophomore Aidan Hutchinson.

Miami to reportedly play Miami in 2023

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College football is notoriously hard to predict, but go ahead and mark this prediction down in ink: in the 2023 season, Miami will beat Miami.

Miami (Florida) will host Miami (Ohio) in 2023, according to FBSchedules. Neither school has announced the game as of this writing. The game will be played Sept. 2, 2023 at Hard Rock Stadium in Coral Gables, Fla.

In what has been previously dubbed the Confusion Bowl, the two Miamis have played three times previously, with the Hurricanes winning each time. All three games were in Miami, Fla., and green-and-orange Miami won by scores of 27-13 in 1945, 20-17 in 1946 and, most recently, 54-3 in 1987.

Miami (Ohio) will net $1.5 million for the trip, according to FBSchedules.

Miami (Fla.) has a home game with Texas A&M and a visit to Temple lined up elsewhere for 2023, while Miami (Ohio) will visit Cincinnati and host Liberty.

Brian VanGorder replaces Carl Pelini as Bowling Green DC

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After a little over two months on the job, one of the most glorious mustaches in all of college football has earned a promotion.

Tuesday, Bowling Green announced that Brian VanGorder has been named as first-year head coach Scot Loeffler‘s defensive coordinator.  In mid-December, the MAC school announced VanGorder’s hiring as linebackers coach and associate head coach.

VanGorder replaces Carl Pelini, who left last month to pursue another coaching opportunity.

VanGorder has served as a coordinator for a significant portion of the last decade, including stops at Louisville (2018), Notre Dame (2015-16), Auburn (2012) and the Atlanta Falcons (2008-11).  Prior to his one-year stint at Louisville, VanGorder served as a defensive analyst at both Georgia (2016, after he was fired by Notre Dame) and Oklahoma State (2017).

Interestingly, Bowling Green will travel to South Bend Oct. 5 this year to take on Notre Dame.

With VanGorder’s promotion, the Falcons also announced that Jim Herrmann has been hired to replace the new defensive coordinator as linebackers coach.  Herrmann will also carry the title of associate head coach.

Herrmann has spent the past baker’s dozen seasons as linebackers coach at the NFL level, with stops with the Indianapolis Colts (2016-18), New York Giants (2009-15) and New York Jets (2006-08) dotting his résumé.  His last college job at this level came during a lengthy stint at his alma mater Michigan (1985-2005).  The last nine years of his time in Ann Arbor, Herrmann worked as the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator.