Three years after the NCAA hammer, Penn State still alive and well

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Three summers ago Penn State’s football program was thought to be wiped as much from existence as a program can get this side of the SMU death penalty. The NCAA dropped a three-ton anvil on the program following the release of the Freeh Report related to the university’s handling of former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and his sickening crimes against children both on and off campus; a $60 million fine, a four-year postseason ban, 112 victories vacated, a loss of scholarships ultimately limiting the program to 65 available scholarships instead of the NCAA limit of 85, five years of probation and the possibility of further NCAA investigations following criminal proceedings related to Penn State officials. A lot has changed since that July morning in 2012. Through it all, Penn State has managed to not only survive but also find a path moving forward with great promise.

NCAA president Mark Emmert suggested Penn State had a culture problem on its hands, where the football way of life trumped all other facets of the university. Some applauded Emmert and the NCAA for going all in on Penn State. Others believed the NCAA should have gone further. Others felt it was too harsh a punishment or the NCAA had no jurisdiction on the Penn State shortcomings. Everyone had a side on this subject, and many have stuck to those opinions over the years. Whatever your opinion was at the time, things looked bleak for the future of Penn State football.

The NCAA assigned former Senator George Mitchell to monitor and keep tabs on Penn State by way of an annual progress report. Through Mitchell’s reports, the NCAA saw fit to cut back on some of the sanctions dropped on the program. First the NCAA handed back a handful of scholarships. It later lifted all scholarship restrictions as well as the final two years of the postseason ban. Finally, the program was relieved of all NCAA sanction terms earlier this year with all vacated wins going back on the books, although Penn State remained committed to fulfilling its intent to pay off the $60 million fine, with that money being put to good use to promote the awareness of child and sexual abuse in Pennsylvania.

New head coach Bill O’Brien, the former offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, served admirably in his role as head coach and should someday be recognized for the job he did in his two years in State College. O’Brien took over a program some deemed toxic and was soon hampered even more with the sanctions. O’Brien could have whined about the situation left and right, but instead he kept the program moving forward with whatever players chose to stay with him. Yes, some players took advantage fo a free transfer opportunity from the sanctions (most notably running back Silas Redd to USC), and some recruits opted to go elsewhere. O’Brien worked with what he had, and decided to fight for the players who remained committed. Names were placed on the jerseys to recognize those who stayed. Some schools say those who stay will be champions. Penn State’s 2012 squad may not have won a championship, but it was honored on the inside of Beaver Stadium alongside past memorable teams like the Big Ten champions of 2005 and 2008, the undefeated 1994 team and the national championship squads of the 1980s. Penn State’s 2012 team had a championship mentality and personality.

O’Brien left after two years at Penn State to become the head coach of the NFL’s Houston Texans. O’Brien always seemed like a coach looking for an NFL opportunity, and few begrudge him for leaving the program when he did. This is because he made sure the program would be as ready to take the next steps forward as possible under grave circumstances. Penn State hired Vanderbilt’s James Franklin, who is now in the midst of doing just that with a full allotment of scholarships and no sanctions to work around. Depth is rebuilding, and the pride in the program remains. It may even be stronger than ever before, as the football program has ironically played a role in bringing the community together in a new way. This season Penn State will strip the names off the jerseys in another show of moving forward while embracing the tradition of the program.

Penn State’s football program may very well have been the product of a football culture gone overboard to some degree, but it also plays a role in the rebuilding the faith of a fractured community. There is still work to be done in State College, Pennsylvania and the pains suffered by the victims of Sandusky may never heal, but the football program can serve as an outlet to promote awareness of child and sexual abuse in the community. Lessons can be learned from the Penn State saga, and ultimately that is more valuable than any win experienced on the field.

Justin Fuente announces Bud Foster’s replacement as Virginia Tech DC

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While most of the focus on the Sunday after the regular season is reserved to teams finding out their postseason destination, Virginia Tech took the time to focus on the future beyond the next month.

Hokies head coach Justin Fuente confirmed that the was staying in-house to find Bud Foster’s replacement as the program’s defensive coordinator, tapping safeties coach and former player Justin Hamilton for the role.

“Justin has earned this opportunity to lead our defense and our football team,” Fuente said in a statement. “Everyone in our program has a great deal of respect for him and his abilities. Coach Foster has reiterated to me on several occasions that Justin is ready for this next step in his coaching career. I feel the same way and am convinced he’s exactly the right fit for this role at Virginia Tech. Coach Hamilton is a talented coach and recruiter with a deep passion for both the game and Virginia Tech. He possesses a great knack for connecting with our players. His voice carries tremendous weight on the field and in the locker room because he’s worn that helmet and experienced many of the same things the young men in our program are going through.”

Hamilton returned to Blacksburg last year in an off the field role before joining the coaching staff. He was a player at a number of spots under Frank Beamer and Foster from 2002-05 before spending some time in the NFL. Hamilton’s coaching career began at Virginia Military Institute and Virginia-Wise from 2011-2017.

There had been plenty of speculation that Fuente would tap ex-Missouri head coach Barry Odom as DC after the two had the same arrangement together at Memphis but it appears those rumors did not bear fruit.

Fuente also confirmed that running backs coach Zohn Burden and cornerbacks coach Brian Mitchell will not return to the Virginia Tech coaching staff.

Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons wins 2019 Butkus Award as college football’s best linebacker

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It’s a pretty good day for Isaiah Simmons.

The Clemson linebacker woke up Sunday as an ACC Champion, found out later he was going to the College Football Playoff as the No. 3 seed and was also was named the winner of the 2019 Butkus Award as the best linebacker in the country.

“Simmons is one of the most versatile athletes to play the linebacker position. He’s an exceptional athlete with unique length and makes plays at all three levels, with terrific rush ability, blitz timing, cover skill and tackling range. He’s a modern-day linebacker with special match-up skills. For as good of a football player as he is, he’s a better person and will represent the Butkus Award with class,” a release confirming the news said.

The Kansas native has 93 tackles, seven sacks, a fumble and two interceptions on the season.

Simmons beat out Cal’s Evan Weaver, Wisconsin’s Zach Baun, Texas Tech’s Jordyn Brooks and Penn State’s Micah Parsons for the award.

LSU linebacker and top 10 pick Devin White won the trophy last year.

New Year’s Six matchups, full College Football Playoff top 25 unveiled

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The College Football Playoff is set, now it’s time for the rest of the postseason picture to shake out.

The CFP Selection Committee followed up the announcement of the Peach Bowl (No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma) and Fiesta Bowl (No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson) semifinals with the rest of the New Year’s Six matchups and there are some enticing games to take in over the coming month. Making some tough decisions and throwing in a handful of surprises, here’s the full lineup of the major bowl games:

College Football Playoff Semifinals — December 28, 2018

  • Peach Bowl: No. 1 LSU vs. No. 4 Oklahoma
    4 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Fiesta Bowl: No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Clemson
    8 p.m. ET, ESPN

New Year’s Six

  • Cotton Bowl: No. 10 Penn State vs. No. 17 Memphis
    December 28, 2019, 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Orange Bowl: No. 9 Florida vs. No. 24 Virginia
    December 30, 2019, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Rose Bowl Game: No. 6 Oregon vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
    January 1, 2020, 5 p.m. ET, ESPN
  • Sugar Bowl: No. 5 Georgia vs. No. 7 Baylor
    January 1, 2020, 8:45 p.m. ET, ESPN

The College Football Playoff National Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, January 13, 2020. Kickoff in that one is slated for 8 p.m. ET on ESPN from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, La.

The Selection Committee also released their final set of rankings for the 2019 season. They will not release a top 25 after the bowl games — as that’s left for the AP and Coaches Poll — so the members on the committee are done with their duties this year. In what is sure to be a controversial ranking (or two) for some schools, here’s the order they put teams in:

  1. LSU
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Oklahoma
  5. Georgia
  6. Oregon
  7. Baylor
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Florida
  10. Penn State
  11. Utah
  12. Auburn
  13. Alabama
  14. Michigan
  15. Notre Dame
  16. Iowa
  17. Memphis
  18. Minnesota
  19. Boise State
  20. Appalachian State
  21. Cincinnati
  22. USC
  23. Navy
  24. Virginia
  25. Oklahoma State

Report: South Carolina making ex-Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo the Gamecocks’ new OC

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South Carolina fans will soon be able to yell ‘Run the dang ball Bobo!’ next fall.

According to the Post and Courier, Will Muschamp is set to hire ex-Colorado State head coach Mike Bobo as the Gamecocks’ new offensive coordinator “barring a last-minute change of heart.”

Receivers coach Bryan McClendon is expected to remain on staff after serving as OC this past season while Bobo is likely to fill the role vacated by recently fired QB coach Dan Werner.

Bobo is no stranger to South Carolina or SEC fans, having spent eight seasons as the coordinator at his (and Muschamp’s) alma mater of Georgia. He won two conference titles and five division titles while with the Bulldogs and spent 15 years on staff in Athens.

The Rams and Bobo announced they had mutually parted ways after the end of the regular season last week after the head coach spent five seasons in Fort Collins.