Success at Utah keeps Kyle Whittingham coaching rumors alive and well

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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham has been in charge of the Utes program for over a decade since Urban Meyer left Salt Lake City for Gainesville. With Utah continuing to rise in the polls and look more and more like a solid playoff contender, could Whittingham now be seen as a possible leading candidate for some more high-profile jobs in this upcoming round of the coaching carousel, say at USC for example?

USC placed current head coach Steve Sarkisian on an indefinite leave of absence on Sunday and it seems there could be some drastic changes forthcoming for the Trojans in Los Angeles. If USC needs to find a new head coach, the program should be capable of attracting some very good candidates for the job, and some have already suggested the school will or should make a push for former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly, currently the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. There is little doubt Kelly would do some terrific things with USC, but it remains an unrealistic combination right now (Kelly has won 20 games his first two seasons in the NFL and still has the Eagles in striking distance of first place in the NFC East despite early struggles, and he just took on the role of general manager; he has some good power going for him in the NFL). Whittingham, though, appears to be a much more likely target for USC if a coaching search is to begin.

It is important to remember the differences between Meyer’s departure from Utah and Whittingham’s current standing with the program. When Meyer left Utah for Florida, the Utes were still a Mountain West Conference program that did not compare or compete with the amenities of power conference programs. While success could certainly be attained at Utah, the chances of taking the next step as a program and competing for a national title were minimal at best at Utah a decade ago. The times have changed though.

Today Utah is a member of the Pac-12 and as of now is the only undefeated team left in the conference. Utah’s high ranking in the polls now is perceived in a different way it may have been when Utah was in the Mountain West Conference. Fair or not, that is just the reality of the situation. You can make the argument Whittingham has anything and everything he needs to have a shot at winning big at Utah. The performance to date certainly helps back that up.

While facilities and conference allegiance have been improved, does Utah have staying power to be a perennial national title contender? Does Utah have the resources to pay Whittingham and his staff top dollar? Compared to some programs that could be in need of a new head coach elsewhere, Utah may still have some work to do.

Just within the last year Whittingham has been connected to one coaching rumor or another (Michigan, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh to name a few), and some even went so far to try and connect Whittingham to BYU, of all schools. This was nothing new. Whittingham had also been thought of as a potential coaching candidate at schools like Arizona and Penn State in recent years as well. Again though, those earlier coaching rumors occurred when Whittingham was in the Mountain West. Now, with Utah in the Pac-12, the playing field has been leveled a bit as he has adapted and grown the program to compete in his new conference.

A similar path has been taken by Gary Patterson at TCU. Patterson has guided TCU through multiple conference changes and finally has the Horned Frogs playing at a high level in the Big 12 as a conference and playoff contender. Patterson could have had almost any job he wanted as he continued to build TCU’s football program to this point, but he has opted to stay put and see to it TCU reaches the ultimate goals ahead of them. Perhaps the same will hold true for Whittingham as well.

There is nothing wrong with looking around and hearing what others have to offer. In fact, now might be a good time for Whittingham to entertain the possibility, because if Utah continues winning games he will have some leverage in his future whether he stays at Utah or not.

Minnesota regents approve new contract for P.J. Fleck

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As expected, Minnesota head coach P.J. Fleck now has a brand new contract to remain the head coach of the Golden Gophers. After agreeing to terms on a new deal and the school officially recognizing the new deal last week, just before a monster of a win for the program, the contract has been given the final green light to become officially official after the Board of Regents voted to approve the terms of the new contract.

As previously reported, Fleck will have a new seven-year contract good through the 2026 season and the terms of the buyout were significantly increased to fend off would-be suitors looking for a new head coach this year on the coaching carousel, and potentially in the next few years as well before the buyout drops off in price. Of course, any school with deep enough pockets willing to pony up to get Fleck to be their guy will still make a phone call or two, but Fleck appears to be settled in with Minnesota for the foreseeable future.

In addition to Fleck seeing his own pay increase, Minnesota’s regents also signed off on providing more combined salary for an assistant coaching staff with an extra $1.05 million being placed in the budget for assistant coaches.

Now that all of that contract business is squared away, Fleck can continue to focus on Minnesota’s next task on the field. This week, Minnesota heads on the road to face Iowa in a pivotal Big Ten West Division game. The Gophers remain undefeated and have climbed to No. 8 in the College Football Playoff ranking. A win on the road against Iowa could set Minnesota up for a regular-season finale riding an 11-0 record and the division already clinched for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game.

It’s no wonder Minnesota decided to lock down Fleck while they still could.

FAU TE John Raine awarded another year of eligibility

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We overlooked this one earlier in the week, but it’s a rather sizable piece of official news for Lane Kiffin‘s Florida Atlantic football program.

By way of the Palm Beach Post Tuesday, it has been confirmed that John Raine was recently awarded a fifth season of eligibility.  The ruling will allow the senior tight end to play for the Owls in 2020.

A broken ankle cost Raine all but four games of his true freshman season in 2016, paving the way for the NCAA to rule in his favor on his appeal for another year of eligibility.

“I’m super excited about it,” Raine told the Post about the NCAA’s approval of a medical hardship waiver. “I love being here; I love playing football.”

With two regular-season games plus a bowl remaining, Rainer has already set career-highs in receptions (26), receiving yards (426) and receiving touchdowns (five).  The touchdowns are tops on the Owls.

This weekend, a Notre Dame home game won’t be sold out for first time since 1973

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All good things, streaks in this particular case, must come to an end.

Saturday afternoon in South Bend, Notre Dame will play host to Navy in the 93rd renewal of their football rivalry.  And, according to the South Bend Tribune, the game won’t be played in front of a sellout crowd at Notre Dame Stadium (capacity: 77,622), which is actually a startling development.

This weekend, you see, will mark the first time since Thanksgiving Day 1973 (vs. Air Force) that the Fighting Irish haven’t sold out a home football game, snapping a streak of 273 straight sellouts.  Ahead of that streak being snapped, the Irish’s athletic director for the past dozen years, Jack Swarbrick, attempted to downplay the development.

From the Tribune:

It was never sort of important to me to keep it alive, but I understand why other people thought so. It’s a point of distinction to a lot of people and our fans.

“For me it’s always been: What’s the stadium environment like? Are we creating a great environment for our team and for our student-athletes? That you can say it’s also sold out is sort of a byproduct of that.

“But if my choice is (77,622) people in an environment that’s not really good versus 75,000 in a raucous environment, I’ll take the latter every time.

Notre Dame’s 237-game streak had been the second-longest active streak in college football behind Nebraska’s 373, which will move to 374 when Big Red hosts Wisconsin this weekend. The last time the Cornhuskers failed to sellout Memorial Stadium was during the 1962 season.

Four finalists named for 2019 Paul Hornung Award

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The field for the award that fetes the nation’s most versatile college football player has been whittled down significantly.

Earlier Thursday, the Louisville Sports Commission announced the four finalists for the 2019 Paul Hornung Award that have been chosen by the 17-member selection committee.  And (surprise!), all four of the finalists come from Power Five conferences: Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU), Joe Reed (Virginia) and Wan’Dale Robinson (Nebraska).

All four of the finalists come from the offensive side of the ball and have spent time as return specialists as well.  Because of injuries at the position, Bowden, listed as a wide receiver to start the season, has started the last three games at quarterback for UK, with the Wildcats going 2-1 in that span.

Reed is primarily a wide receiver and Edwards-Helaire a running back, while Robinson has split his time between both positions.

The 2018 winner of the Hornung Award was Purdue’s Rondale Moore, who likely would’ve been given serious finalist consideration again this year if not for his season essentially being derailed by a lingering hamstring injury.

For all of the statistical particulars for each candidate, click HERE the award’s press release: