UPDATE: UAB athletic director doesn’t commit to Blazers football over long haul

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We can all fondly remember Roddy White, Darrell Hackney and Joe Webb making plays on the football field for the UAB Blazers.

No, not all of us?

Well, some of us remember those quality players bringing some excitement to Blazers football. Unfortunately, the legacy they tried to build in Birmingham, Ala. may never be realized.

After starting the program in 1991, the Blazers fell on hard times recently and haven’t won more than five games since 2004. Despite new head coach Bill Clark having the program pointed in the right direction with a 5-4 record this season, it may not be enough amid growing concerns the school will cease football activities in 2016.

UAB president Ray L. Watts felt the need to address the rumors Thursday by releasing a statement clarifying the school’s plans and confirm no decision has been made regarding the football program:

“More than a year ago, UAB began the most comprehensive campus-wide strategic planning process in our history, calling for the 10 schools, College of Arts and Sciences, Honors College, Information Technology, Research Administration, and other units to develop individual strategic plans, set priorities and implement long-term goals.

“Within that framework, the Athletic Department is conducting a full strategic review of its programs. The Athletic Department has engaged outside experts and is exploring a full range of options – not all of which will be implemented – to reach its desired results of sustained excellence.

“Not surprisingly given the size of the program, one area of focus involves evaluating the investments in football and the resources necessary to achieve and sustain excellence now and into the future. We’ve been working for many months on this data driven process, and it would be counterproductive and inappropriate to speculate on outcomes based on an incomplete process — not just related to athletics, but across the campus.”

The one point Watt didn’t address was the future of the program. He simply remained non-committal.

Everything currently points toward the university ending football operations. After all, Clark’s contract only runs through 2015, and the athletic department has yet to schedule a non-conference game for 2016 and beyond.

Blazers faithful may need a Hail Mary to keep the program alive.

UPDATE (9:00 p.m.):  First, UAB president Ray L. Watts felt the need to address growing rumors that the university will end its football program in 2016. A day later, UAB athletic director Brian Mackin was compelled to do the same in a statement, via Al.com:

“Like all areas across our campus, the Athletic Department is working on a strategic plan to maximize our resources and drive excellence.  This process is critical to ensuring the best days of UAB Athletics are yet to come for our students, alumni, fans and community. Coming out of this process, we will know what it takes — from the institution, as well as supporters including our donors — to best support our programs. My staff and I, and our consultants — Carr Sports Consulting, a trusted adviser and expert in college athletics — have invested a great deal of care in undertaking a department-wide strategic plan.  As we close in on completing this initiative, we will make informed decisions that are supported by data and expert analysis.  It would be premature to speculate about pending results, but I firmly believe this approach will lead to the most exciting era in UAB Athletics.”

Like Watts, Mackin never committed to the football program. In fact, his most telling statement was mentioning the school is “working on a strategic plan to maximize resources.” Since the school received a $1.5 million from BBVA Compass to build a new soccer stadium on campus, it doesn’t bode well for the football program.

UTSA QB Bryce Rivers announces transfer

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Go ahead and add another quarterback to the transfer market.

UTSA quarterback Bryce Rivers announced his intent to transfer on Saturday night. “After long talks with close friends and family, I think it is in my best interest to transfer from UTSA,” Rivers wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account.

A San Antonio native, Rivers backed up senior starter Dalton Sturm in 2017, appearing in just three games and throwing eight passes. He competed with junior Cordale Grundy for the starting role heading into 2018 but lost that battle.

By appearing in just three games, Rivers could use this season as a redshirt and play elsewhere as a redshirt junior in 2020.

Jim Harbaugh: “I’m staying at Michigan.”

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Rumors popped up in the past week — from no less a source than former Ohio State wide receiver Cris Carter — that Jim Harbaugh was open to returning to the NFL. Tired of banging his head against the scarlet and gray wall in the Big Ten, the story went, Harbaugh would pack up his bags and leave Ann Arbor for a second time.

He was intrigued by the chance to coach Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, the rumors said. Maybe he’d cross Lake Erie and coach the Browns. Or maybe Dolphins owner and Michigan booster Stephen Ross could lure him to South Beach.

The story is wrong, Harbaugh said.

Speaking to ESPN on Sunday, Harbaugh said this:

“This is a choreographed message that comes up at this time every year before signing day. It’s people spreading messages to further their own personal agenda.

“But I’m on record right here, right now: I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying at Michigan. We have big plans here, and there’s a lot we want to accomplish.”

There are ways to deflect coaching rumors without outright confirming or denying them, but this isn’t that. It’s hard to be any more unequivocal than, “I’m staying at Michigan.”

Four years into his return to Michigan, Harbaugh has undeniably improved the program from where he found it, going 38-13 with two top-15 finishes and another on the way, though hasn’t lived up to the expectation that he’d wrest control of the Big Ten away from Urban Meyer and return the maize and blue to national prominence.

With Meyer leaving Columbus, the second stage of Harbaugh’s Michigan tenure will see even more pressure to push the Wolverines past the Buckeyes, once and for all. And it appears Harbaugh is open to the challenge.

Kyler Murray wins Heisman Trophy as Oklahoma goes back-to-back

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For the second year in a row, an Oklahoma Sooners quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy. Quarterback Kyler Murray was named the winner of this year’s Heisman Trophy on Saturday night in New York as he edged out Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa for the award down the stretch of the season.

Murray took on the starting role this season following in the footsteps of 2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, who left Oklahoma a year early to be the first pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Already with a shot at baseball locked up with the Oakland Athletics, Murray was committed to playing at least one more year of football before getting set on his baseball career. Even though a game was played by his head coach leading up to the start of the season, Murray was clearly going to be the starting quarterback for Oklahoma this season, and he did not disappoint.

Murray passed for 4,053 yards and 40 touchdowns with seven interceptions and rushed for 892 yards and 11 touchdowns in leading Oklahoma to the Big 12 championship and a spot in the College Football Playoff for the second straight year. The only game in which Murray failed to throw for at least 200 yards was a September home game against Army, but Murray produced three quick touchdown drives in a game that saw Army dominate the time of possession and not give Murray many chances. In that game, Murray completed 11 of 15 passes for 165 yards and he carried the football seven times for 71 yards with four combined touchdowns. Oklahoma held the football for just 15:19 in that game, a 28-21 overtime victory against a determined Army that found an advantage against Oklahoma’s defense.

The lack of solid defensive play put plenty of pressure on Murray all season long to find ways to put points on the board. Because Oklahoma’s defense was a constant weakness that could be exposed, Murray had to keep up the pace and rarely was given a chance to take a foot off the gas pedal. Whatever works in Norman, right?

On Thursday night at the Home Depot College Football Awards Show in Atlanta, Murray received the Davey O’Brien Award as the nation’s best quarterback, but Tagovailoa took home the Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Maxwell Award. The last Walter Camp Player of the Year not to win the Heisman Trophy was Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o in 2012. The last Maxwell Award winner not to win the Heisman Trophy was Alabama’s AJ McCarron in 2013. The last time a player won the Walter Camp Player of the Year and the Maxwell Award but did not win the Heisman Trophy was 2012, when Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel took the Heisman but Te’o took the other two individual awards.

Murray’s Heisman Trophy victory moves Oklahoma into a tie for first place with Notre Dame and Ohio State on the list of all-time Heisman Trophy winners. All three schools now have seven Heisman Trophy winners each. USC would also be tied for first place but the Trojans officially only have six Heisman winners with the 2005 Heisman won by Reggie Bush vacated from the record book. Now the Trojans are alone in second place, officially speaking. Murray’s Heisman Trophy means Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley now has two Heisman Trophy winners in his first two seasons as a head coach.

The stage is now set for a playoff showdown between this year’s Heisman Trophy winner and first runner-up as Alabama and Oklahoma will play in the Orange Bowl semifinal in the College Football Playoff in a few weeks. According to research by Associated Press college football reporter Ralph Russo, this will be the seventh bowl game featuring the Heisman winner and runner-up dating back to 1975.

Here is how the voting went down, with Murray running away from Tagovailoa with 517 first-place votes to Tagovailoa’s 299. Murray won the award by a total of 296 points.

Army makes it three in a row over Navy in annual Army-Navy Game

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For the third-straight year, Army (10-2) got to sing second after the Army-Navy Game. Army notched its third consecutive victory over Navy (3-10) with a 17-10 victory in Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.

Army scored a touchdown on the opening possession with Kelvin Hopkins completed a big pass on an early third down and ending the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run with a 51-yard run by Kell Walker between those two plays. The defense took care of things from there as neither team managed to get much going on offense for the majority of the game, but Army’s defense had the stronger outing in holding Navy to just 77 yards of offense through the first three quarters of play. Navy also had four turnovers, including a costly fumble by senior Garrett Lewis deep in the Army end in the fourth quarter.

Lewis would make up for his fumble on Navy;’s next possession. After forcing Army to go three-and-out following the Navy turnover, Lewis capped a quick drive with a one-yard push for a touchdown. Malcolm Perry ignited the drive right from the start with a 43-yard run from the Army 48-yard line. Now with a spark of life, Navy’s defense forced Army to punt the ball away again on the ensuing possession after a three-and-out, giving Navy the ball at their own 34-yard line to start the drive. But a false start penalty on a 3rd & 7 backed Navy up five more yards and a third down pass was broken up on the sideline. Knowing that a punt may not give Navy a chance to get the ball back, Ken Niumatalolo wisely chose to go for it on 4th & 12, but Zach Abey had the ball knocked out of his hand by Kenneth Brinson, who recovered the loose ball on the ground at the Navy 22-yard line.

The running trio of Walker, Hopkins and Darnell Woolfolk powered Army for much of the game, doing enough damage to give Army a two-score lead and running clock, although Navy eventually started to lock in a bit better.

The win for Army gives the Black Knights the first back-to-back 10-win seasons in school history, and now Army has a chance to record the first 11-win season in school history with an upcoming bowl game. The job continuing to be done by Army head coach Jeff Monken remains one of the best in the nation. Monken took over an Army team that had won more than three games just twice since 2006 and was in the midst of an extended 14-game losing streak to Navy. It took a few years, but Monken now has Army situated in the better spot with a top 25 team and back-to-back 10-win seasons, but the three-game winning streak over Navy is what Army fans will get to brag about for the next 365 days.

Army now has its longest winning streak against Navy since winning five straight meetings between 1992 and 1996.

Army’s season will see one more game played with the Black Knights heading to the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas. Army will play one of Navy’s AAC West Division foes, the Houston Cougars, in the Armed Forces Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 22. Houston leads the all-time series with Army, 5-2, with the most recent game being played when both teams were members of Conference USA in 2004.

Navy’s season is now officially over. The Midshipmen are staying home for the bowl season for the first time since 2011 and just the second time since Paul Johnson coaches his first season in Annapolis in 2002. Navy’s 2019 season opener will be played on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 against Holy Cross.

Next season’s Army-Navy Game is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. It will once again be played in Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.