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.

CFB Hall of Fame Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera, dubbed Señor Sack, passes away

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Former Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera passed away on Tuesday. He suffered a perforated bowel while attending a social services function on Friday night and his family was preparing to move him to hospice care when he passed on Tuesday morning. “Gabriel went home to the Lord at 9:25,” Rivera’s wife, Nancy, told KENS-TV in San Antonio.

A San Antonio native, Rivera played defensive tackle at Texas Tech from 1979-82, where he earned All-American status after recording 62 tackles and five sacks as a senior. “He was one of the most dominating defensive lineman to ever play the game and a loyal Red Raider throughout his life,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement.

Selected 21st overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1983, Rivera, dubbed “Señor Sack,” recorded two sacks in his first six games, but was left paraplegic after getting in an automobile crash in October.

“From the accident in ‘83, it took maybe five, six, eight years to get control,” Rivera said in 2012. “At one time, I just changed my life and started going forward. I was mad at the world, mad at God and stuff.”

He moved home to San Antonio after the injury, where he remained and raised a family until his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and Texas Tech’s Ring of Honor and had his No. 69 jersey retired in 2014.

Rivera was 57 years old.

Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) to play for Mallory Cup

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The Mid-American Conference has a proud history of fostering future College Football Hall of Fame coaches. From legends such as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler to modern day titans such as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, the MAC has served as the launching pad of coaching greatness for generations. But despite all that talent, only one coach won the MAC at two different schools: Bill Mallory.

Mallory went 39-12 as Miami (Ohio)’s head coach from 1969-73 — he took over for Schembechler, who left for the Michigan job — and led the RedHawks to a perfect 11-0 season, a No. 15 final AP ranking and a win over Florida in the Tangerine Bowl in ’73. That success led him to Colorado, but he was let go after the 1978 season. After sitting out the ’79 campaign, Mallory got back in at Northern Illinois, guiding the Huskies to a 25-19 mark from 1980-83. His 1983 team went 10-2, beat Cal State Fullerton in the California Bowl and won the Huskies’ first of four MAC titles.

Mallory parlayed that 1983 season into the Indiana job, where he remained until his 1996 retirement. In 27 years as a head coach, Mallory went 168-129-4, including a 64-31 record in nine combined seasons in the MAC.

To honor his May 25 passing, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) announced Monday they will play for the Mallory Cup moving forward. The first such game will take place on Nov. 14 in DeKalb, Ill.

“Bill Mallory was a special coach and a great man who left a lasting legacy in the Mid-American Conference and certainly at NIU and Miami,” NIU AD Sean Frazier said.  “The Mallory Cup honors a man whose impact on both programs should and will be remembered each time our teams meet on the football field.  We’re happy to work with our colleagues at Miami on this initiative and invite all fans to be here at Huskie Stadium on November 14 for the first Mallory Cup game.”

“Miami is proud to partner with Northern Illinois University in the creation of the Mallory Cup,” added Miami AD David Sayler. “It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful man and coach that has meant so much too so many. Although Miami and NIU will not play every year in football, it is good to know that when we do, Bill Mallory will be honored and remembered for the tremendous legacy he has left here in Oxford and in DeKalb.”

The Huskies and RedHawks have played 17 times in a series that dates back to 1970. NIU holds a 9-8 advantage; Miami won seven of the first nine meetings, but Northern Illinois has taken seven of the last eight, including the most recent match-up by way of a 45-12 decision on Oct. 17, 2015.

Four-star QB-turned-minor league baseball player narrows football choices to Auburn, LSU, NC State

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And then there were three.

Earlier this month, Cord Sandberg announced his retirement from baseball after a six-season career spent entirely in the minor leagues.  Simultaneously, the four-star member of Mississippi State’s 2013 recruiting class announced that he would be resuming his football career, confirming that he had received a scholarship offer from Auburn and a pair of offers to be a preferred walk-on at two other SEC schools — Florida and LSU.  The Gators are coached by Dan Mullen, who was the head coach of the Bulldogs when Sandberg signed with MSU in February of 2013.

That led to some assuming UF perhaps had the inside track for Sandberg.  That assumption turned out to be inaccurate as the quarterback confirmed to Rivals.com that he has narrowed his football to-do list to Auburn, LSU and North Carolina State.  Sandberg will take an official visit to each of those schools this month before making a decision, with the recruiting website reporting that he will make trips to NC State July 25-26, Auburn July 26-28 and LSU July 28-29.

Sandberg had previously stated that he wanted to enroll in classes no later than Aug. 20, meaning a decision on his next school should come shortly after his final visit later this month.  Given that the 23-year-old Sandberg hasn’t played the sport since high school, it’s widely expected he’ll take a redshirt this coming football season; he would then have four years of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2019 season.

“I have definitely enjoyed my conversations with those coaches staffs and I feel good about those situations,” Sandberg told the site. “I can see myself enjoying going to school for 3-4 years in those towns. …

“I feel comfortable with the conversations I’ve had with all of those guys and what my role would be playing quarterback at all of those schools.”

In addition to the schools already mentioned, UCF and UCLA also expressed interest/extended offers.

Coming out of high school in Bradenton, Fla., in 2013, Sandberg was rated as the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country. Only three signees in MSU’s class that year were rated higher than Sandberg — defensive end Chris Jones, safety Ashton Shumpert and wide receiver Fred Ross.

In nearly 500 games at the minor league level, Sandberg, a center fielder, was a career .243 hitter with 29 home runs and 173 RBI. He finished with a slash line of .243/.298/.348.

Mike Gundy confirms QB Taylor Cornelius is ‘our guy’ heading into camp

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In the race to replace Mason Rudolph under center, there’s a clear leader in Stillwater.

Exiting spring practice, it was widely thought that Taylor Cornelius was the odds-on favorite to claim Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback job.  At the Big 12 Media Days Tuesday, Mike Gundy confirmed as much, stating that Cornelius “is our guy” heading into summer camp.

A former walk-on, Cornelius will enter the 2018 season as a fifth-year senior.

“When we came out of spring, we felt very comfortable with Taylor,” the OSU head coach said. “He’s been with us a number of years, he understands our offense. We’re confident in his abilities.”

While Cornelius is the favorite now, he will have a fight on his hands to remain the starter for OSU’s opener Aug. 30 against Missouri State.

After not taking part in spring practice, Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders will enter the fray in early August. Brown comes to OSU as a graduate transfer from Hawaii, where he was a two-year starter for the Rainbow Warriors.  Sanders was a four-star member of the Cowboys’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No.8 dual-threat quarterback in the country on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

During his time with the Cowboys, Cornelius has thrown for 220 yards on 15-of-24 passing.  Six of those completions, 10 of the attempts and 148 yards came during a 2017 season in which he served as Rudolph’s primary backup.