BCS Championship coaches took different routes to Pasadena

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Jimbo Fisher and Gus Malzahn were each hired to do one thing; restore the pride in their respective programs. Each wasted little time in building a national championship contender, although they took different paths to getting to Pasadena, California for the chance to bring their programs t the top of the college football world.

Fisher is a branch off of the Nick Saban coaching tree. He served as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at LSU under the current Alabama head coach, but he remained in Baton Rouge when Saban decided to answer a call from the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. Now under Les Miles, Fisher made a name for himself as LSU’s offensive guru and helping to make quarterback JaMarcus Russell a top NFL draft pick (kindly forget how that all played out). As Fisher built up his resume at LSU, it was becoming clear Fisher was going to be given a chance to serve as head coach one day.

That path to becoming a head coach hit a road block in 2006. Fisher interviewed for an opening at the UAB, but his contract offer was vetoed by the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees. Saban, now back in the SEC after flaking out with the Dolphins, wanted to bring Fisher back on to his staff at Alabama. Fisher instead took an offer from Florida State to perform the same coaching duties, but this was more than a simple lateral move. Florida State went the extra yard to name Fisher the coach-in-waiting under Bobby Bowden. Bowden announced his resignation at the end fo the 2009 season. Fisher got to work right away by re-energizing a sleeping giant of a program. Fisher’s leadership in recruiting efforts showed immediate results and Florida State started building the foundation for long-term dominance in the ACC that had long been absent in Tallahassee.

The results of that first recruiting class under Fisher will now get a chance to demonstrate how far the program has come. Six starters for the Seminoles on Monday night were a part of the first recruiting class under Fisher as head coach. that includes strong safety Terrence Brooks, linebackers Christian Jones and Telvin Smith as well as wide receiver Kenny Shaw and fullback Chad Abram.

In Fisher’s first year on the job at Florida State, Auburn was making a run for the first BCS championship in school history. Gene Chizik had surprised many by building a championship caliber program at Auburn, but the biggest asset on the sidelines was perceived to be offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, who had served his time as a high school coach and college assistant coach at multiple stops. Malzahn quickly became a hot commodity as Cam Newton was playing his way to a Heisman Trophy in Malzahn’s offensive system. During that championship season for Auburn, Malzahn was named the top assistant coach in college football with the Broyles Award. Now a highly attractive option as a head coach, Auburn offered Malzahn a nice raise to keep him around.

Over time it was clear Malzahn was not going to be sticking around for long as an assistant coach. Whether it was a conflict of power or just a matter of getting out and giving head coaching a shot, Malzahn jumped at the opportunity to coach Arkansas State in 2012. It worked out extremely well for Malzahn, leading the Red Wolves to a  9-3 record and a Sun Belt Conference championship. As Auburn continued to falter the pressure was on Auburn to make a coaching change. That meant the end of the line for Chizik, leaving the door wide open for the assistant who was adored for his work within the program.

Malzahn was named the head coach of Auburn in December 2012, and he quickly went to work to put together a staff he felt comfortable working with. Although the optimism was high for the new Malzahn era at Auburn, few could have imagined how rapid the turnaround would be. Auburn was 3-9 in 2012 and immediately turned in a 13-1 season under Malzahn, knocking off rival and top-ranked Alabama in unbelievable fashion, running away with the sEC championship against Missouri and getting a chance to lay claim to one last BCS title on behalf of the time SEC.

On Monday night, the two paths will cross in what could easily be an epic showdown between two of college football’s top coaches today.

Dabo Swinney says he and Kelly Bryant discussed transferring after QB’s benching

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No. 3 Clemson has formally, finally benched senior quarterback Kelly Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence. Football-wise, it’s the smart decision. Lawrence has thrown 60 passes through the Tigers’ first four games to Bryant’s 54, but Lawrence’s six extra passes have gone for 139 more yards and seven more touchdowns. Plus, Lawrence will be around for the next two-to-three seasons; Bryant will not.

But there is a human element to this equation that made this this obvious decision so gut-wrenching for all involved. Like Jalen Hurts at Alabama, Bryant has been the Good Soldier for Clemson. In fact, the Clemson quarterback conundrum is actually more extreme than Alabama’s. Bryant waited two years behind Deshaun Watson, led Clemson to wins in 16 of his 18 starts, including an ACC championship and a College Football Playoff appearance last season, and still lost his job to a younger player.

It’s no accident this decision came when it did. Thanks to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, players can now compete in up to four games and not lose their entire season. Clemson is at that point this season. Bryant is a senior, meaning the next game he plays for Clemson clinches this as his last season. Or, if Bryant sits the rest of this year, he could transfer anywhere he wants and get to play his senior year again in 2019.

And it appears Clemson will leave that option open for him.

“Certainly if he walked in here today and said, ‘Hey coach, I don’t want to play the rest of the year unless you’ve got to have me,’ well ‘Ok, if that’s what you want to do I’m all for it.’ I love Kelly,” Dabo Swinney told The State. “I would be disappointed in that because we need him. But I wouldn’t judge him for that.”

Clemson quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter broke the news to Bryant on Sunday, and Bryant had a long conversation with Swinney on Monday, after which the head coach gave his quarterback the rest of the day off.

And Swinney confirmed, in so many words, that transferring was part of that long discussion.

“We talked about lots of things. It was a deep, long, emotional conversation,” Swinney said. “It’s something that we needed to talk through and go from there.”

If indeed Bryant sits the rest of this season and transfers, his name will shoot to the top of the quarterback transfer market for 2019.

Penn State loses RB Mark Allen to season-ending injury

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While not nearly as big of a name as its upcoming opponent, Penn State too has suffered a sizable personnel loss.

At a media briefing Tuesday, James Franklin announced that Mark Allen will be sidelined for the remainder of the season because of injury.  The running back did not play in last Friday night’s win over Illinois.

Per the head coach, Allen suffered the unspecified injury during practice in the week leading up to the Week 4 game against the Fighting Illini.

As Allen is a fifth-year senior, the injury could very well be career-ending, at least at the collegiate level.  He could apply for a sixth season of eligibility with the NCAA, although it’s uncertain if that’s a tack he’ll ultimately take.

This season, Allen is fourth on the Nittany Lions with 99 yards rushing and a pair of rushing touchdowns.  In the week prior to suffering his injury, Allen ran for a career-high 62 yards in a Week 3 blowout of Kent State.

All told, Allen has rushed for 353 yards and four touchdowns during his time in Happy Valley.

SEC fines Kentucky $100,000 after fans stormed field following win over Mississippi State

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Here’s to guessing this is one six-figure check Kentucky won’t mind cutting.

Following the win over then-No. 14 Mississippi State Saturday night, a win that pushed the now-No. 17 Wildcats to 2-0 in SEC play for the first time since 1977, joyous fans of Big Blue Nation stormed the field at Commonwealth Stadium in celebration.  Tuesday afternoon, the SEC announced that, as expected, UK has been fined $100,000 for a violation of the league’s access to competition area policy that was enacted in 2004.

It was the football program’s second such violation of that policy, with the first coming after a win over South Carolina in 2014.  A third violation, and any subsequent violations for that matter, would result in a fine of $250,000 for the university.

The money generated by the fines, incidentally, is placed into the SEC’s Post-Graduate Scholarship Fund.

“The Conference has unanimously approved a policy requiring fines be applied when spectators enter the playing field after a game,” said SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement. “Fans are expected to remain in the stands and avoid the safety concerns associated with rushing on to the playing field. We want exciting experiences around SEC games, but also seek to maintain a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, spectators and officials.”

In addition to the best start in conference play in over four decades, their 4-0 record to date is also its best start to a season since 2008.  Of course, earlier this year, they also beat Florida to snap a 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

Sunday, Kentucky entered the Associated Press Top 25 for the first time in a decade.

San Diego State to be without leading rusher for up to six weeks

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The spate of big-name running backs going down with a significant injury continues unabated, with San Diego State the latest FBS program to suffer such a fate.

During the second quarter of SDSU’s win over Eastern Michigan this past Saturday, Juwan Washington went down with some type of upper-body injury.  While head coach Rocky Long was initially optimistic that the injury wasn’t too severe, a team official confirmed to the San Diego Union-Tribune that the running back has been diagnosed with a broken clavicle.

The injury is expected to keep the junior sidelined for up to six weeks.

SDSU is on a bye in Week 5, so such a timeline means Washington would likely miss games against Boise State (Oct. 6), Air Force (Oct. 12), San Jose State (Oct. 20), Nevada (Oct. 27) and New Mexico (Nov. 3).  He would then, again based on the six-week timeline, be healthy enough to play in the Nov. 10 game against UNLV.

Through four games for the 3-1 Aztecs, Washington leads the team with 513 rushing yards and has scored five of their six touchdowns on the ground.  Chase Jasmin (233 yards) is their second-leading rusher, and has scored the only other rushing touchdown.