Utes, Cyclones, UConn Huskies name starting QBs

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With the start of a new season less than two weeks away (fist pump), head coaches at various programs across the country are getting down to the business of naming a starter at the most important position on the field.

Kentucky and Purdue pulled the trigger on their starting quarterbacks Monday. They, though, weren’t the only ones.

In one of the more high-profile competitions left unsettled, Utah confirmed that the incumbent Travis Wilson had, to the surprise of some, fended off the challenge of Oklahoma transfer Kendal Thompson.

After starting the first three-quarters of the 2013 season, a concussion — technically, an intracranial artery injury — sidelined Wilson for the last three games and led to questions as to whether he would ever play the game again. Wilson, though, was cleared to participate in spring practice, albeit in non-contact mode, and was ultimately cleared medically for full contact.

His 16 interceptions last season were the second-most at the FBS level, leading some to believe Thompson would emerge from the summer camp fray as the starter.  In July, Wilson was cited for underage consumption of alcohol.

Neither of those, though, caused Wilson to be unseated.

“It was close,” Kyle Whittingham said of the competition. “It was just about a dead heat.”

The head coach also confirmed that Thompson will play, although he stressed that the Utes will not be a two-QB team; instead, they will be one that will look for opportunities to insert Thompson into the game and utilize a skillset that’s about 180 degrees from what Wilson brings to the table.

“It’s when we get the opportunity to put Kendal in and give him some work,” Whittingham explained. “He’s earned that right and you will see him play as well.”

Along with Utah, Iowa State and UConn both named starters at the position as well.

On the former front, ISU head coach Paul Rhoads confirmed that Sam Richardson will be his starting quarterback for the season opener against North Dakota State. Richardson was the starter for the first eight games of the 2013 season before he was benched — partly because of injury, partly because of ineffective play — in favor of Grant Rohach.

Those two were the main combatants this time around as well, with the coach citing leadership and Richardson’s quick acclimation to new coordinator Mark Mangino‘s offense as the data points that tipped the scales in the “incumbent’s” favor.

“Sam has displayed great leadership and that certainly includes poise in the pocket where he has been very much in control of our offense and of himself,” Rhoads said in a statement. “His understanding of the scheme and his decision-making has really grown in the last two weeks, and maybe as much as anything, he is throwing a great ball, an accurate ball, a tight ball and a catchable ball.”

On the UConn front, Bob Diaco announced that sophomore Casey Cochran had beaten out senior Chandler Whitmer for the Huskies starting job. The head coach said the difference between the two was “negligible,” but that the younger player’s leadership, oddly enough, was better than the veteran’s.

Whitmer started the first four games last season before being benched — in favor of true freshman Tim Boyle –after being the starter for every game in 2012, while Cochran started the last four games last year.

Boyle, who has been battling minor injuries throughout summer camp, is likely headed for a redshirt season.

Utah takes control of the Pac-12 South with dominating win over reeling USC

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There’s just one team among the six who occupy the division who has not yet represented the Pac-12 South in the conference title game. That might be about to change.

Utah beat up and bullied defending champion USC 41-28 on Saturday night in Salt Lake City — in a game that wasn’t even that close — as the Utes managed to wrestle control of the division standings and finally start looking like the team that was expected to play at this level.

The outing continued a string of encouraging performances for the Utes on offense as they may finally be able to say they’ve turned a corner on that side of the ball. QB Tyler Huntley had only a few misfires in throwing for 341 yards and four touchdowns in guiding the team to a win in what might be his best overall game so far as a starter. For good measure the dual-threat added a touchdown on the ground as well to go with his 33 yards rushing, forming a nice backfield tandem with running mate Zack Moss toting the rock 25 times for 136 yards.

Defensively the group was just as stout as we’ve come to expect from Kyle Whittingham. In addition to holding the Trojans to only 3.8 yards per play and 3-of-14 on third down, the Utes really only gave up one sustained scoring drive in the contest and should have had an interception that passed through the hands of two defenders on another score they allowed. If not for two turnovers that put them in bad spots, the runaway score could have been even more lopsided.

Equally to blame was the USC offense though. J.T. Daniels looked every bit like a true freshman QB on the road in going 6-of-16 for 89 yards, a score, and two picks. He missed most of the fourth quarter after leaving with a concussion and backup Matt Fink showed why he might be the go-to under center for the team next week with a 6-of-7 outing that included a late touchdown pass.

Of course, neither signal-caller had any sort of time to throw from the pocket and the team managed to rush for only 2.4 yards per carry to compound their issues.

The loss, especially in such demoralizing fashion, is sure to increase fan frustration in cardinal and gold with head coach Clay Helton. While the program was expected to undergo a bit of a rebuilding campaign, the team has struggled in all three phases and looked fairly overmatched against the better teams they’ve faced. If not for a controversial win over Washington State, the Trojans would all but be out of the league race and will need massive help to rally and make it back to Levi’s Stadium for the Pac-12 title game.

That will not be the case for the Utes, who control their destiny at the moment and face winnable games in the next two weeks against UCLA and Arizona State before a season-defining stretch against Oregon (at home) and at Colorado. While the early returns were not good for Utah as they got off to a slow start to 2018, it appears they’ve shook the rust off and are now firmly looking like the team to beat in the Pac-12 South.

Boiler up! Purdue blasts No. 2 Ohio State, 49-20, shaking up Big Ten picture

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After starting the season with three tough losses, the season looked bleak for Purdue. But the season has taken quite a dramatic turn for the Boilermakers after a 49-20 victory over No. 2 Ohio State became the fourth straight win in a row for Purdue. This one, highlighted by three fourth-quarter touchdowns by the home team, may have redefined the season not just for Purdue, but for Ohio State and the Big Ten as a whole.

Purdue quarterback David Blough passed for 378 yards and 3 touchdowns in the win, with Rondale Moore being on the receiving end of 170 yards and two touchdowns. Moore’s second touchdown was an incredible mix of determination and a poor display of tackling by Ohio State, essentially summing up the way this game came to a close in the fourth quarter.

Purdue running back D.J. Knox also had a big night for the Boilermakers by rushing for 128 yards and three touchdowns on 16 rushing attempts.

It may not have been a turning point, but the defining moment of the night for Purdue may have come at the end of the first half when Purdue ran a fake field goal play to pick up a first down in the closing moments of the first half. One play later, Blough completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Moore to push the Purdue lead to 14-3 just before halftime. The touchdown drive came immediately after Ohio State missed a field goal that could have cut Purdue’s lead to 7-6. It was a gutsy decision by Jeff Brohm, but one that may have been necessary.

While Ohio State’s defense could not slow down Purdue’s offense in the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes didn’t exactly go away quietly. Dwayne Haskins kept Ohio State in the game with a 431-yard performance and two touchdowns, including one on a fourth down play with under five minutes to play to cut the Purdue lead to 35-20. But even one of this season’s best offensive players in the Big Ten was prone to making a mistake. Haskins was picked off by Markus Bailey late int he fourth quarter, and the Purdue defender returned the interception 41 yards for one last exclamation point on the wild upset victory.

With the win, Purdue manages to stay right in the thick of the Big Ten West Division race. Northwestern, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Purdue all have just one conference loss, although Purdue’s only loss to this point has come against Northwestern. Purdue will also get Iowa and Wisconsin at home in November, and it has become clear this is not a place you want to travel to play right now. Purdue has not played in a Big Ten championship game, which is played in Indianapolis, but perhaps these Boilermakers have something special cooking right now. They absolutely cannot be dismissed in the West Division now.

Ohio State’s setback means the Buckeyes are now looking up in the Big Ten East standings for the first time this season. The team sitting above them just so happens to be Michigan, the last undefeated team in Big Ten play this season after the Wolverines took care of Michigan State earlier in the day. The fate of the Big Ten East could very well come down to the regular season finale between Ohio State and Michigan this year in Ohio Stadium, and Ohio State will clearly have some work to do if they are going to climb back to being the team to beat in the division they were expected to be.

It is still too early to go crazy over the College Football Playoff implications for Ohio State with this loss, because a one-loss Big Ten champion — be it Ohio State or Michigan — would still figure to have a solid chance of being one of the four teams selected at the end of the year. The first playoff rankings will come at the end of the month, but the Buckeyes will be sitting on this loss when those rankings make their debut, so they will not have a chance to redeem themselves in front of the watchful eyes of the selection committee.

Ohio State will look take next week off with a bye before looking for a rebound win on November 3 at home against Nebraska. Purdue will look to continue flexing against the Big Ten East Division next week when they travel to East Lansing to take on a beat-up Michigan State team.

The last time Purdue beat the No. 2 team in the country was October 6, 1984. The opponent that day? Ohio State.

Palouse Power: No. 25 Washington State’s magical Saturday continues with upset of No. 12 Oregon

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From GameDay to game time, dawn until dusk — and well afterward, no doubt — a magical Saturday in Pullman is now complete and the western hills of Washington may never be the same for it.

Though it wasn’t easy at times, No. 25 Washington State held the lead from start to finish of a 34-20 upset over No. 12 Oregon to set off a raucous celebration for the Cougars across Martin Stadium as Mike Leach’s band of underdogs temporarily took control atop the Pac-12 North and capped off a historic day for the school.

Following up a historic visit from ESPN’s College GameDay in the morning for the first time ever in the show’s history, the Palouse was rocking for one of the biggest games in years and the Cougars didn’t disappoint outside of an early interception on their first drive. Aside from that mistake though, QB Gardner Minshew was phenomenal running the Air Raid under the primetime lights and introduced the rest of the country to his amazing ‘stache and quick release with a 323 yard effort with four touchdowns and a final tally of two picks. While his opposite number came in as the darling of NFL scouts, it was the East Carolina graduate transfer who took center stage and was able to spread the ball around quite effectively with nine different players recording a catch.

His two teammates in the backfield also played a big role too as Max Borghi had 91 total yards (one receiving score) and starter James Williams added 95 more with a touchdown on the ground where he missed a good six tackles before diving past the pylon. All-in-all, an incredible effort for Wazzu on both sides of the ball even if things slipped a bit in the second half after heading into the locker room at the break up 27 points.

While the Cougars celebrated amid a full on field storming after the game, their opponents have to rue another missed opportunity to make a move in the conference just a week after celebrating a massive win of their own against Washington. QB Justin Herbert threw for only 270 yards and a touchdown (along with one on the ground) but essentially was the entire offense for the Ducks and was unable to lean at all on any sort of run game. CJ Verdell rushed for only 55 yards and star receiver Dillon Mitchell had one of his quietest nights of the year with just seven catches for 47 yards.

Factor in the loss to Stanford earlier on and the result likely ended any hopes of making it to Santa Clara for the conference title game for Mario Cristobal’s club and certainly put to bed that faint talk of the team being a College Football Playoff sleeper.

While it’s too early to start dreaming of a visit to Levi’s Stadium just yet for Leach’s squad, the team will make the trek to the Bay Area next weekend in a big test to see just how well they can handle this kind of success. The Cougars have now won four straight over Oregon and that Apple Cup to end the regular season is looming larger and larger both in the Pac-12 and nationally given the way October has shook up the standings in one of the wilder divisions in college football.

Coug fans can ponder all that later — Saturday night in Pullman was all about celebrating a day that will be fondly remembered in school history for years to come.

Earlham Quakers set D-III record with 51st straight loss

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One Div. III football program entered some very rarefied — and unwanted — air this weekend.

Saturday afternoon, Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference powerhouse Franklin had little problem in dispatching Earlham 64-20 to improve its record to 7-1. For Earlham, though, it was yet another lost Saturday.

The loss was the Quakers’ 51st in a row, setting the all-time Div. III record. The previous record was set by Minnesota’s Macalester College nearly four decades ago (1974-80).

Earlham’s last win? Oct. 26, 2013.

While Earlham set the Div. III record for consecutive losses, they have a long way to go to set the all-level mark. That “honor” belongs to Prairie View A&M, which lost 80 straight in a streak that began Oct. 28, 1989, and didn’t end until Sept. 27, 1998.

If there’s any silver lining for Earlham it’s that, after a week off, they’ll square off Nov. 3 with Defiance, which is 0-7 this season and has lost 10 straight dating back to last season.