Northwestern shuts down No. 21 Stanford, 16-6

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Don’t call it an upset. Well, don’t call it a shocking upset. Northwestern (1-0) dominated No. 21 Stanford (0-1) in Evanston in the early afternoon timeslot, sending the Pac-12 contenders home with a 16-6 defeat. In a reverse of the expected outcome, it was Northwestern that took control in the trenches and used a physical style to its advantage instead of the program that has built a reputation for gaining a physical edge.

Stanford drove right down the field on the game’s opening possession but had to settle for a field goal. Field goals would be the only way Stanford could get on the board, adding a second midway through the fourth quarter off the leg of Conrad Ukropina. Northwestern’s offense had a much more productive afternoon. Quarterback Clayton Thorson had the biggest offensive highlight of the game with a 42-yard touchdown run right through the middle of the Stanford defense, giving the home team a 10-3 lead in the second quarter. Northwestern kicker Jack Mitchell had a busy game as well, kicking three field goals, including a 49-yard field goal after Stanford cut the game to a one-score game in the fourth quarter. No need to mock college kickers here.

Stanford quickly got away from establishing any semblance of dominance in the trenches as the battle-tested Northwestern defense (10 returning starters) took control of the game. After Stanford’s opening drive, the Wildcats forced two straight three-and-outs and another punt after that. Northwestern also won the turnover battle (1-0) and was slightly more disciplined than Stanford (four penalties to five for the Cardinal). Stanford head coach David Shaw stuck to a conservative game plan for much of the afternoon, which is pretty typical for the Cardinal, but trying to open things up a bit may have been a wise move for Stanford because Northwestern was covering everything coming right at them quite well.

Stanford quarterback Kevin Hogan completed 20 of 34 passes for 155 yards and one interception. That pick came in the final minutes of the game when Kyle Queiro jumped in front of a pass to the end zone as Stanford was threatening to cut the 16-6 lead down to a single score.

Northwestern will look to go 2-0 next week when the Wildcats stay home to host Eastern Illinois. Northwestern will pay a visit to Duke for another academic bowl. Duke opened its season with a blowout victory at Tulane Thursday night.

Stanford will return home next weekend to welcome UCF of the American Athletic Conference in Week 2. The Knights are also coming off an upset loss to open the season after being edged at home by FIU Thursday night. The two programs will be meeting for the first time, and neither was expected to be staring down an 0-2 record to start the season.

Nick Saban issues statement on DJ Durkin’s involvement with Alabama

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You had to know this was coming.

Earlier this week, a report surfaced that former Maryland head coach DJ Durkin has been helping Alabama in what was described as a “consultant-like capacity” ahead of its playoff game against Oklahoma later this month.  Given Durkin’s controversial exit from College Park, the report raised more than a few eyebrows.

In light of the mini-firestorm that erupted, Alabama Friday night issued a statement attributed to Nick Saban in which the head football coach of the Crimson Tide addressed the level of Durkin’s involvement with his football program:

DJ Durkin is spending a few days with our staff in Tuscaloosa from a professional development standpoint. He has not been hired in any capacity at The University of Alabama. He is simply observing our operation as many other coaches have done through the years.

Durkin, two members of the training staff and then-head strength & conditioning coach Rick Court were placed on administrative leave in early August after a bombshell report alleged mishandling of the medical event that preceded the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair and detailed what was described as a toxic culture within the football program.  That report described the toxic culture under Durkin as one based on fear, intimidation, belittling, humiliation and embarrassment.  Players were, allegedly, routinely subjected to what was described as extreme verbal abuse that included, in part, obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity.

On Oct. 30, it was confirmed that Durkin had been reinstated and would remain as the Terrapins head coach.  The next day, and amidst an avalanche of criticism from football playersstudent groups and high-ranking government officials, U of M, College Park president Wallace Loh announced that Durkin had been dismissed as the Terrapins head football coach.

Everybody deserves a second chance, although one can debate the merits of giving that second chance so close to a coach’s first chance cut short, in part, by the death of one of his football players.  Personally, I don’t know what length of penance should be served, but it just feels like less than two months is not nearly enough.

Dan Mullen says Florida has offered UCF 2-for-1 future football series

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As we entered the stretch run of games in late November this season, there was a growing interest in the potential for Florida and UCF to meet in a New Year’s Six game. While that didn’t end up playing out with the CFP Selection Committee sending the Gators to the Peach Bowl and the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl, it appears the two in-state rivals may still have the opportunity to meet on the field down the road.

Per the Tampa Bay Times, UF head coach Dan Mullen appears to confirm that discussions have taken place between the two programs about a future series and the ball is seemingly in UCF AD Danny White’s hands as to whether things will move forward.

“I think we offered them a two-for-one like we do with most schools in their position, which is actually really a good deal,” Mullen said. “They have the opportunity to have an SEC school play at their place. It would potentially be a big deal for them. I know I’ve done it that way.

“(UF athletic director Scott Stricklin) brought it up to them. If they want to try and toughen their schedule, that would be great, a good opportunity for them if they want take it. It’s up to them.”

Knights fans will probably scoff at having to do a 2-for-1 in order to get the Gators on the schedule but it’s a pretty familiar scheduling philosophy for Florida, which just recently made a tweak to their own 2-for-1 series with fellow AAC school USF. Few programs have had their schedule picked apart quite like UCF and while fans may not like making two trips to Gainsville, getting the Gators to come to Orlando would be a significant boost to a future slate of non-conference games.

Reports: Ex-WKU head coach Mike Sanford Jr. to become new Utah State OC

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Mike Sanford Jr. is back in the Mountain West.

The former Western Kentucky head coach will be returning to the familiar confines of the conference as the new offensive coordinator for Utah State, according to reports from both ESPN and FootballScoop.

Sanford, who is indeed the son of the former head coach of UNLV and Indiana State with the same name, was recently let go by the Hilltoppers after just two seasons in charge and a 9-16 overall record.

Despite the quick hook in his last gig, the younger Sanford does have a fairly lengthy resume that was likely appealing to new Aggies head coach Gary Andersen. Prior to going to WKU, he was offensive coordinator/QB coach at Notre Dame and served in the same capacity at his alma mater of Boise State. Prior to that, he spent several years at Stanford in a variety of offensive positions.

Sanford will replace David Yost, who is following Matt Wells to Texas Tech as offensive coordinator after guiding USU to several top 10 statistical marks nationally in 2018.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell declares for 2019 NFL Draft, will still play in Citrus Bowl

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One of the best players in Kentucky football history is skipping out on his senior year… but not before one last game with his teammates.

In a lengthy video posted to his Twitter account on Friday afternoon, Wildcats running back Benny Snell confirmed that he was entering the 2019 NFL Draft. In what is (strange to say nowadays) a surprising decision though, he will remain at UK and play in the Citrus Bowl against Penn State.

Snell was once an unheralded recruit but quickly turned himself into one of the best running backs in the SEC, playing a big role in leading the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games. The junior has rushed for over 1,000 yards each of the past three seasons and 3,754 yards on the ground in his career — a mark that he could boost in the bowl game to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.

As a result of his hard-running in key wins against Florida, Missouri and others, Snell was named a 2018 first-team All-SEC tailback this past season.