South Florida-Western Kentucky should be an early bowl treat

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Two weeks from today, a game that should be among the best bowls of the season will take place. It’s one to mark down on your office calendar to throw on WatchESPN, or if you’re lucky enough to get the week off, make a point to have on TV.

Western Kentucky and South Florida kick off in the W̶i̶l̶l̶i̶e̶ ̶T̶a̶g̶g̶a̶r̶t̶  Miami Beach Bowl at 2:30 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 21. This is a plea to anyone who likes fun football to find a way to watch this game.

Western Kentucky beat Southern Mississippi in the Conference USA Championship Game last weekend, capping off an 11-2 regular season in which Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers averaged 44.2 points per game (4th among FBS teams). Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 71.8 percent of his passes (1st among FBS QBs) for 4,594 yards (2nd) and 45 touchdowns (1st). Junior running back Anthony Wales averaged 6.99 yards per carry (6th among FBS players with 100+ carries) in this pass-happy offense, which consistently fed junior receiver Taywan Taylor, who racked up 79 receptions (21st), 1,363 yards (4th) and 17 touchdowns (2nd).

And this isn’t necessarily a team that only looks good thanks to a weak C-USA schedule — SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s S&P+ numbers rate WKU as the 11th-best team in FBS. The Hilltoppers’ offense ranks 1st in efficiency, seventh in finishing drives and 11th in explosiveness. This is a top-five passing offense and a top-30 rushing offense, one which scored fewer than 35 points only twice this year (against Vanderbilt and LSU).

On the other sideline is a South Florida team coached by Taggart — who quickly built a solid foundation at WKU from 2010-2012 — who steered his team to a massive turnaround this fall. The Bulls lost three games in a row in the first quarter of the season, and while the opponents were Florida State, Maryland and Memphis, becoming bowl-eligible looked like a difficult task.

After that losing streak, though, the Bulls ripped off wins in seven of their final eight games, with the only loss in there to a very good Navy team. A 44-23 win over Temple nearly upended Matt Rhule’s bid for an conference title game appearance, and a 65-27 stomping of Cincinnati asserted South Florida as one of the better teams in the AAC.

South Florida is very much geared toward running the ball with sophomore running back Marlon Mack (193 carries, 1,273 yards, eight TDs) and quarterback Quinton Flowers (157 carries, 969 yards, 10 TDs). But Flowers has a penchant for throwing for big plays, too, throwing a dozen passes for 40 or more yards with 21 touchdowns against eight interceptions.

Both WKU and USF have decent-to-mediocre defenses — WKU’s ranks 53rd in S&P+, while USF’s is 39th — that may not provide a whole lot of resistance against the powerful offenses in this game. It’ll be played at Marlins Park during the afternoon on a Monday — insert your baseball joke here, mine is that the poor Marlins, with Giancarlo Stanton only playing half a season, hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors this summer — but from afar looks like one of the most entertaining games of bowl season.

 

Mississippi State mourns passing of De’Runnya Wilson, 25, whose death is being investigated as a homicide

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The extended Mississippi State football family is morning the tragic loss of one of its own.

According to the Associated Press, De’Runnya Wilson was found unresponsive inside of a Birmingham, Ala., home Tuesday evening by a relative.  The 25-year-old was subsequently pronounced dead of unknown causes.

The Birmingham Police Department, however, is investigating Wilson’s death as a homicide.

Wilson was a Mississippi State football player from 2013-15. Coming to the Bulldogs as a three-star wide receiver, Wilson, who had one minor off-field incident during his time in Starkville, totaled 1,936 yards and 22 touchdowns on 132 receptions.  The touchdowns are second all-time at the school.  In 2015, Wilson set career-highs in catches (60), yards (918) and touchdowns (10).

Following that 2015 season, Wilson, who was also Mr. Basketball in the state of Alabama as a high school senior, left his remaining eligibility on the table and entered the 2016 NFL Draft.  Wilson went undrafted, and subsequently spent time on the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad.  He was also attached to the Arena Football League’s Albany franchise.

On Twitter Tuesday evening, the Mississippi State football program mourned Wilson’s passing.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family,” the school tweeted. “Thanks for the many memories you gave us, “Bear.”

Jeff Brohm adds Marty Biagi to Purdue coaching staff

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The Purdue Boilermakers football team is the latest to make an addition to its coaching staff.

Tuesday afternoon, Purdue confirmed the speculation that had surfaced over the past couple of days by announcing the hiring of Marty Biagi by Jeff Brohm.  Biagi will serve as the Boilermakers’ special teams coordinator.  According to the school, he’ll also hold an unspecified, as of yet, role as defensive assistant.

“Marty is one of the leading coaches and brightest minds in the area of special teams,” the Purdue Boilermakers football head coach said in a statement. “We are very excited to have him here.”

Biagi has spent the past three seasons as the special teams coordinator at North Texas.  Twice, the school noted in its release, Biagi was a finalist for the FootballScoop.com Special Teams Coordinator of the Year.

From the school’s release:

The Mean Green scored six special teams touchdowns, blocked nine punts, four kicks and had 10 players recognized with All-Conference USA accolades during Biagi’s tenure. North Texas won nine games in both 2017 and 2018, appearing in the New Orleans Bowl and the New Mexico Bowl, respectively.

Biagi’s special teams unit at UNT finished in the top 20 in the Football Bowl Division in blocked kicks/punts all three seasons in Denton, tying for 11th in 2017 (4), for 19th in 2018 (3) and for sixth in 2019 (4).

One of those six special teams touchdowns came in a 2018 upset of Arkansas on a wild trick play during a punt return.

Prior to his time in Denton, Biagi was a special teams analyst at Notre Dame.  He began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Arkansas.

UNLV hires Stanford assistant Peter Hansen as DC

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Thanks to the Stanford Cardinal football team, Marcus Arroyo is closing in on filling out his first UNLV coaching staff.

Tuesday, UNLV announced the hiring of Peter Hansen as Arroyo’s defensive coordinator.  The longtime Bay-area coach will also be responsible for the Rebels’ inside linebackers.

Hansen served two different stints as part of the Stanford Cardinal football program over the past decade-plus.

In 2008, Hansen was part of the strength & conditioning staff.  From 2009-10, he was a defensive assistant.  After a stint in the NFL, Hansen returned to the Cardinal in 2013.  The past seven seasons, he was Stanford’s inside linebackers coach.

In between the two Farm stops, Hansen was a defensive assistant for the San Francisco 49ers.  He worked with both inside and outside linebackers during his two years with the NFL club.

Hansen, who played his college football and basketball at Arizona, was born in Palo Alto and began his coaching career at a high school in the city.  This will mark the assistant’s first coaching job outside of the Bay area.

Hansen and the rest of the Rebels defensive staff will have their work cut out for them.  At least, based on the campaign they will.

This past season, UNLV was dead last in the Mountain West Conference and 108th nationally as they gave up up 33 points per game.  In total defense, they were 13th in the conference and 105th in the country as they allowed 442.3 yards per game.  In passing defense, they were 13th and 104th.

With the Hansen hiring, Arroyo now has eight of his 10 on-field assistants in place.  The others already on the staff are:

  • Danny Langsdorf, quarterbacks coach/passing-game coordinator
  • Cameron Norcross, offensive line/running-game coordinator
  • Scott Baumgartner, running backs
  • Jordan Paopao, tight ends/special teams coordinator
  • Kenwick Thompson, linebackers
  • Damon Magazu, safeties
  • Tre Watson, cornerbacks

Boise State ‘weighing our options’ in regards to Mountain West membership

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The Mountain West landed a big TV deal earlier this month, a 6-year deal with FOX and CBS that will pay the conference $270 million in total.

Even better for the conference, it would be the last time Boise State would be treated as separate from the rest of the league.

Which was apparently news to Boise State.

“The Mountain West stated that this was the last time our deal would be negotiated separately,” the school said in its own statement following the conference’s announcement. “However, Boise State’s decision to join the conference was predicated on a number of negotiated provisions, including the right to separately negotiate material terms of media rights relating to our home games. This is stated in our conference agreement and cannot be changed by any vote of the membership or conflicting agreement. We will not support any change to this provision and are in the process of weighing our options to move forward.”

As we all remember, Boise State was set to leave the Mountain West for the Big East before it became clear the Big East they agreed to join was not the Big East they would actually join. That league eventually became the American Athletic Conference, and that league would undoubtedly be happy to have Boise State if this latest spat with the MW cannot be smoothed over.

Six years into the College Football Playoff system, only Boise State and Western Michigan have claimed the Group of 5’s New Years Six bid from the American, and between now and the new MW deal’s expiration in 2025-26, it would be an upset if anyone other than Boise State or the AAC won the bid.

Should the Broncos actually follow through with this threat, their Olympic sports would have numerous options between the WAC, the Big Sky and maybe even the West Coast Conference (which is made up entirely of private schools but may be willing to make an exception for a brand like Boise State’s), but football would have limited options. Boise State would look south to see BYU’s experience as an independent has not gone as planned, and Bryan Harsin is unlikely to find a Pac-12 or Big 12 invitation in the mail, no matter how fun that may be for all of us to watch.

So that pretty much leaves Boise State to try to make life work as the far, far westernmost output of the AAC or smooth things over with the MW.

Of course, none of this would happen until 2026 and who knows if we’ll even have conferences, or college football, or a planet in 2026.