Getty Images

Divergent paths of Jake Coker, Connor Cook converge in Texas

3 Comments

ARLINGTON, Texas – Near the end of Alabama’s post-game press conference after its 38-0 win over Michigan State in the 80th Cotton Bowl, head coach Nick Saban had a moment when he wasn’t being asked a question.

With glasses perched at the end of his nose, the 64-year-old coach looked at a stat sheet and saw quarterback numbers that may have surprised some, but not the winner of four national titles on the verge of a potential fifth.

On the right side of the sheet were the stats for Alabama, which has been led by senior quarterback Jake Coker.

Coker, a 2014 transfer from Florida State, had just played his 31st college game and started just his 13th.

It was Coker who got the ball rolling toward Alabama’s first official Cotton Bowl win since 1982 and kept it rolling. Halfway through the second quarter, a 50-yard toss to freshman receiver Calvin Ridley set up a one-yard touchdown run from Heisman winner Derrick Henry.

Two quarters later, Coker, who had never set foot on the field for a bowl game, had 286 yards and two touchdowns on 25 completions and five misses. The game’s  Most Outstanding Offensive Player helped send Alabama to the National Championship Game against undefeated Clemson.

But Saban wasn’t surprised.

“He’s pretty much done a good job all year long in terms of whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Saban said. “He’s not a selfish guy at all. He never complains about when we don’t throw it down the field enough. He just tries to do what he can do for his team.”

That includes contributing to the first Cotton Bowl shutout since 1963 and continuing an 11-game win streak that began after Coker didn’t start against Ole Miss and failed to mount a comeback in the 43-37 loss.

“I think that’s why he was elected captain by his teammates and he’s respected so much because of his toughness and his competitive spirit and how he’s a real team guy,” Saban said. “Tonight he had to make the plays because they were there, and he certainly made them. But I think in each game that we’ve asked him to do that, he’s come through for us very nicely.”

Both of Coker’s touchdowns went to Ridley, who now has seven TD catches on the year. His 1,031 yards gives him the single-season receivers mark for freshman at Alabama.

“Calvin did a great job of just getting up and making plays,” Coker said, sitting to the left of Saban. “It makes things a lot easier on me, a lot easier than it should be. He’s one heck of a player. And so are all the other guys out there, man. They just got up and made plays and made me look better than I should have.”

They made him look better than the quarterback that had sat in his seat just minutes before.

On the left side of the state sheet Saban gazed at was the state line for Michigan State’s Connor Cook.

365 days ago, Cook sat before the Cotton Bowl media following “one for the ages.”

The junior quarterback had orchestrated MSU’s three touchdown fourth quarter to storm back and defeat Baylor 42-41. It was the Spartan’s fourth bowl win in as many seasons, which came after losses in their previous seven bowl games.

Cook, the winningest Michigan State QB at 34-5, was part of three of those, including MSU’s first Rose Bowl win since 1988, a 24-20 victory over Stanford.

A full calendar year after its triumph over Baylor, Cook and his Spartans were on receiving end of the first Cotton Bowl shutout in more than 50 years. It was a long night for a quarterback who had seen and accomplished more than any of his predecessors.

“There’s no comparison the feeling that I had last year to this year,” Cook said after going 19 of 32 for 210 yards, two interceptions and four sacks. “You can’t compare the two at all. So, obviously, last year was — everyone was so happy. Everyone was on cloud nine, a 20-point comeback in the fourth quarter. That was something for the ages. So everyone was stoked about that.”

No one was stoked on the night MSU was shut out for the first time in 195 games (vs Michigan, 2000). But there were no words of bitterness coming from Cook, just those of humble gratitude for being part of the ride. A ride that led to Michigan State being one game away from competing for its first outright championship.

“Looking back, we’ve been so fortunate to play in so many big-time games, to win so many games,” Connor said. “The ride has been so fun. And the last thing I want to do is look at the downside and say, ‘Our last game as Spartans we lost.’ We want to be positive people. We want to look at the bright side. We’re just so lucky to play for Coach (Dantonio) and all the other coaches.”

It was a ride that saw Cook help make MSU the best program in the state after years of playing second fiddle to the University of Michigan, which had spiraled during Cook’s time under center in East Lansing.

“Walking in as a freshman, I would have never experienced or never expected to have an experience like this,” Cook said. “I saw Kirk Cousins and I thought I would be lucky to play one season. So to be able to play in all the games we’ve been able to play in, you just got to look at the bright side and all the positives.”

Earlier in the week, Cook said his pre-game ritual was to listen to John Mayer music.

One of Mayer’s biggest hits is “Waiting on the World to Change.”

The song was released in 2006, the year before Mark Dantonio’s first season as head coach. In title alone, the song could have been the theme for Spartan faithful who were waiting for their school’s time to come.

Seven years later, Cook started his first game.

Then Michigan State’s world changed.

Buffalo again extends Lance Leipold’s contract

Buffalo Bulls football
Getty Images
Leave a comment

For the Buffalo Bulls football program, it’s lather, rinse, repeat on the contractual front.

In February of 2019, Buffalo announced a new five-year contract for Lance Leipold.  A year and a couple of weeks later, the Bulls have announced that Leipold has agreed to a new five-year contract.

Leipold is now signed through the 2024 season.

“I’d like to first thank President Satish Tripathi and Mark Alnutt for this extension for our staff,” the Buffalo Bulls football head coach said in a statement. “We greatly appreciate the continued support of our administration in our pursuit of MAC championships and bowl appearances.”

Leipold just completed his fifth season with the Bulls.

In 2019, Buffalo claimed the program’s first-ever bowl win.  The Bulls also set a program record with 10 wins the year before, breaking the old mark of eight set twice (2008, 2013).  Some of the luster was taken off that historic campaign, though, as Buffalo suffered a come-from-ahead loss to Northern Illinois in the conference championship game and then coughed up four fumbles in a Dollar General Bowl loss to Troy.

Buffalo has won 24 games over the last three seasons, the second-most of any school in the Mid-American Conference over the same time and the most wins over a three-year span in school history.

“I’m very appreciative of Lance Leipold’s unwavering commitment and dedication to building a championship-caliber football program here at UB,” Alnutt said. “This program has seen outstanding growth and success both on and off the field during his tenure. I’m excited to work with Lance and his staff as we continue this positive trajectory for many years to come.”

Contractual details of the extension have not yet been revealed.  In 2019, Leipold’s $615,000 in guaranteed compensation was fifth among the 12 MAC coaches listed in the USA Today coaches salary database.

The announcement of the contract extension comes two days before the Buffalo Bulls football team kicks off its sixth spring practice under Leipold.

Ex-Rice football player pleads guilty in death of former teammate Blain Padgett

Rice football
Getty Images
Leave a comment

A former Rice football player has acknowledged his role in the death of an ex-teammate.

In early March of 2018, Rice football player Blain Padgett was found dead in his apartment after he failed to show for a football workout and a wellness check was performed. In late June, the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the 21-year-old defensive end’s death was caused by the toxic effects of carfentanil, which was described as being designed originally as an elephant tranquilizer.

Seven months later, former Owls defensive lineman Stuart Mouchantaf was charged with manufacturing or delivery of a controlled substance in connection to Padgett’s death.  Authorities allege that it was Mouchantaf who sold Padgett the pills that directly led to his death.  That charge was a second-degree felony that carries a penalty ranging from five years to 99 years or life in prison.

Thursday, however, Mouchantaf pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute causing death and possession with the intent to distribute causing death.  Mouchantaf will be sentenced May 14.  He is facing 20 years-to-life and a fine of up to $1 million.

The 27-year-old Mouchantaf was a defensive tackle at Rice from 2012-15 after beginning his collegiate career at Blinn College.

In 2016, the 6-5, 250-pound Padgett was second on the team in tackles for loss with 5½ and led all Owls defensive linemen with 41 tackles.  He played in just three games in 2017 before going down with a shoulder injury. He also played in eight games as a true freshman in 2015, Mouchantaf’s last season with the Owls.

“You’ve got to remember he played football with Blain for one year, so we saw him on the football field,” Wyndi Marsh-Padgett, Blain’s mother, told the Houston Chronicle. “It’d be different if we didn’t know him at all. It’s hard to see him and think about. He has family. …

“We just miss [Blain] terribly. Miss him every day.”

Four-star 2020 recruit and Florida commit Marc Britt flips to Ole Miss

Ole Miss football
Getty Images
3 Comments

Just a couple of months into his tenure as the Ole Miss football head coach, Lane Kiffin is already leaving his recruiting mark.

In November of last year, Marc Britt committed to play his college football at Florida.  The Early Signing Period came and went without the four-star 2020 prospect signing with the Gators.  On National Signing Day earlier this month, Britt didn’t put his Herbie Hancock on a National Letter of Intent with UF either.

A little over two weeks later, at a signing ceremony at his Miami high school, though, Britt confirmed that he had flipped his commitment to Ole Miss football.

Ole Miss football has not yet confirmed Britt’s signing.  Kiffin, though, has been retweeting reports of Britt’s flip on his personal Twitter account as well as the recruit’s own tweets.

Britt is a four-star 2020 recruit.  Coming out of high school in Miami, he’s rated as the No. 44 player regardless of position in the state of Florida.  247Sports.com’s composite has him listed as the No. 9 athlete in the country. Only two signees in the Rebels’ class this year are rated higher than Britt.

At this point, it’s unclear whether Britt will start his collegiate career as a wide receiver or a defensive back.

Ole Miss football currently has the No. 34 recruiting class in the country.  That would also be 12th in the 14-team SEC.

Re-Buff’d? Eric Bieniemy reportedly pulls name from Colorado search

Colorado football
Getty Images
2 Comments

We don’t know yet who will be the next Colorado football head coach.  We do know (again), though, who it won’t be.

When Mel Tucker left for the Michigan State head job earlier this month, it triggered an unexpected coaching search at Colorado.  Current Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator and former Colorado football Eric Bieniemy was immediately considered the front-runner, although speculation of late had him staying in the NFL.

Overnight, Mike Klis of the NBC affiliate in Denver reported that Bieniemy “notified his alma mater Wednesday night he would no longer seek the job.” ESPN‘s Adam Schefter subsequently confirmed that Bieniemy has withdrawn his name from consideration.

Klis wrote that, “[a]lthough Bieniemy never formally interviewed for the CU head job, he and school officials stayed in contact either personally or through his agent, even while he and his family kept a long-scheduled, 5-day vacation.”

The 50-year-old Bieniemy was a running back with the Buffaloes in the late eighties, finishing third in the Heisman Trophy voting his senior season.  He began his coaching career at his alma mater as running backs coach in 2001-02.  He returned to Colorado football in 2011-12 as offensive coordinator.

Since 2013, Bieniemy has been a member of the Chiefs coaching staff.

So, to where does Colorado football now turn?  Air Force’s Troy Calhoun has seemingly taken the front-runner mantle in some corners — he interviewed for the CU job this week — while former Arkansas and Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema is in the mix as well.  Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian also interviewed for the job this week.  Like Bieniemy, the former USC and Washington head coach has opted to remain in his current job.

Since being rebuffed by both Sarkisian and Bieniemy, it’s believed that Colorado has decided to expand its search for the next head football coach.  That, of course, would mean the search could drag on into next week.