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Bob Stoops retiring as head coach at Oklahoma, effective immediately

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This is, to say the least, the most stunning development of the 2017 offseason.

First reported by The Oklahoman‘s Berry Tramel, Bob Stoops informed his Oklahoma football team at a meeting this afternoon that, effective immediately, he has decided to step down as the Sooners’ head football coach.  While the school has yet to acknowledge anything pertaining to its long-time coach, an official announcement is expected at some point this afternoon.

It’s unclear why Stoops would wait until less than two months before the start of summer camp and less then three months before the start of the 2017 season to make such a decision.  The coaching infrastructure already in place, though, should make for an easier transition.

That brings us to a replacement, with multiple reports indicating that 33-year-old OU offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley will be taking over for his boss.  Earlier this offseason, Riley was given a new contract that makes him one of the highest-paid coordinators in the sport.

The 56-year-old Stoops was set to enter his 19th season heading the program prior to the stunning development.  In his 18 seasons with the program, he guided the Sooners to a 190-48 record.  After a 7-5 first season, OU one 10-plus games in 14 of the next 17 seasons.  The Sooners won 11 games six times — including what turned out to be the last two seasons of Stoops’ tenure — 12 games five times and 13 games once.

Stoops won 10 Big 12 championships, including nine outright, during his time in Norman.  His 2000 squad won the lone national title of his tenure, going unbeaten in 13 games and capping the championship season with a 13-2 win over Florida State in the Orange Bowl.  That was the Sooners’ first since 1985.

Obviously, we’ll have more on this breaking story throughout the remainder of the day.

UPDATED 4:33 p.m. ET: Oklahoma has confirmed that Bob Stoops is retiring as the head football coach at OU after 18 seasons.

Below are the statements from the pertinent individuals involved in today’s shocking turn of events.

BOB STOOPS
“After 18 years at the University of Oklahoma, I’ve decided to step down as the head football coach. I understand there has been some speculation about my health. My health was not the deciding factor in this decision and I’ve had no incidents that would prevent me from coaching. I feel the timing is perfect to hand over the reins. The program is in tremendous shape. We have outstanding players and coaches and are poised to make another run at a Big 12 and national championship. We have new state-of-the-art facilities and a great start on next year’s recruiting class. The time is now because Lincoln Riley will provide a seamless transition as the new head coach, capitalizing on an excellent staff that is already in place and providing familiarity and confidence for our players. Now is simply the ideal time for me and our program to make this transition.

“The Bible says, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” I’m grateful for this season of my life, and feel I’ve fulfilled my purpose here at OU as its head football coach.

“I’m thankful that my career at Oklahoma was marked with consistent leadership in President David Boren and Director of Athletics Joe Castiglione. It’s extremely rare in college athletics to have no change in these leadership positions over a nearly 20-year span. I always appreciated the way both of them supported me and our program. They both played an enormous role in all our successes.

“I have been very fortunate to have such outstanding coaches in my time at OU. Our players have always benefitted from their strong leadership, on and off the field. I was also blessed with a strong support staff — strength and conditioning, equipment, sports medicine, academics, video — every aspect of our program was staffed with very talented people who took a great deal of pride in making Oklahoma football the best.

“I’m especially thankful for being able to coach so many talented young men over my 18 years here. It has been so rewarding to see these players come to OU and mature over a four or five-year career, and not just on the field. To play a small part in their growth is what I will always cherish the most.

None of my success would have happened without the best fans in the country. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated the 110 consecutive home sellouts. The passion of our fan base is unmatched, and their support has played a huge role in not only home games, but road games and all 18 of our bowl games, as well.

“Lastly, I’d like to thank my wife, Carol, and my daughter, Mackie, and my sons, Drake and Isaac. They have been a major part of this success. Being the wife or child of a coach is often tough, and they’ve all been strong through both good times and challenging times.

“The coaching life is like a relay race and I’m thankful for my turn and am confident as I pass the baton. Carol and I intend on staying in Norman — it is our home. I will be available to Coach Riley and the athletic department in any manner. Thank you all for a lifetime of memories we shared together of 10 conference championships, the 2000 national championship, strong relationships with players and coaches, and the great Oklahoma football fans. Boomer!”

OU PRESIDENT DAVID BOREN
“It was with sadness that I learned of the decision of Coach Bob Stoops to step down as head football coach at Oklahoma. Coach Stoops has made a critically important and lasting contribution to the OU football program. He has led to its restoration as one of the top programs in the nation. His success has helped provide the momentum for major new facilities like the improvements and expansion of the football stadium. Because of his unquestioned personal integrity and high standards, he is one of the most admired college football coaches in America.

“His decision to step down at this time was motivated partly by his belief that he has the right successor already in place in the program, Lincoln Riley, and he wanted to pass the leadership on at a time of strength for the program. His decision is typical of his unselfishness and always putting first the best interest of the players and program.

“I personally value him as a person and as a friend. I’m glad that Coach Stoops will remain an active member of our university family and will continue to serve the athletics department and be of help to our new head coach. The departure of Coach Stoops as head coach is a bittersweet time. I agree completely that we have exactly the right person already in place to take the helm. Coach Riley enjoys the complete confidence of the administration and university community. He has the talent and personal character to be a worthy successor to Coach Stoops.”

OU ATHLETIC DIRECTOR JOE CASTIGLIONE
“It is rare in today’s world that a president, athletics director and head football coach can work together for 18 successful seasons. Bob Stoops stands as one of the premier legendary figures in one of the most storied programs in college football history, yet he is still best identified by his humble nature and team approach that refused to get caught up in stature. That’s the reason Bob is such a great leader. He has great vision and great accomplishment, but it never changed who he is as a man and a coach.

“Working alongside him has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of my job. Few athletics directors get a coach who better combines success and cohesiveness like Bob Stoops. I can’t help but feel somewhat sad today because Bob has been such a constant in my life, and that’s why I am so thankful that he will remain with us. He will continue to do great things for OU.

“At the same time, I am thrilled that Lincoln Riley is in position to take over as the head coach. He is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in college football and there is no question in my mind that he is the complete package. Our program is in very good hands. Lincoln and I have a great relationship and I can’t wait to embark on this new era with him. I am sure our fans share my enthusiasm. We celebrate a tremendous legacy today and because of what Bob did here and the coach we have identified, we look forward to our future with great optimism.”

Clemson, Alabama top preseason AP Top 25

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This won’t come as a shock to you, but Clemson and Alabama will begin 2019 where they finished 2018 — as the top two teams in the nation. The two programs to win the sport’s last four national championships are overwhelmingly favored to extend their combined streak to five, with the three programs nipping at their heels — Georgia, Oklahoma and Ohio State — rounding out the top five.

Clemson’s nod as the No. 1 team ended Alabama’s streak of three consecutive years as the preseason No. 1. The Tide, however, continue their streak of 11 straight seasons inside the AP’s preseason top-5. Ohio State has started seven straight seasons inside the AP top-6.

At the bottom of the poll, Nebraska got by far the benefit of the doubt. The Huskers shook off their 4-8 record of 2018 to check in at No. 24, becoming the first team since Alabama in 2000-01 to lose eight games in one season and appear in the AP preseason Top 25 the next.

Michigan is also a big beneficiary, as the Wolverines leaped from No. 14 in the final 2018 poll to No. 7 today. Nine teams from the final AP top-10 of 2018 returned, as the Wolverines replaced Washington State, No. 10 to close 2018, who fell all the way to No. 23.

The full poll:

1. Clemson — 1,540 total points
2. Alabama — 1,496
3. Georgia — 1,403
4. Oklahoma — 1,331
5. Ohio State — 1,261
6. LSU — 1,199
7. Michigan — 1,164
8. Florida — 1,054
9. Notre Dame — 1,044
10. Texas — 1,005
11. Oregon — 860
12. Texas A&M — 852
13. Washington — 786
14. Utah — 772
15. Penn State — 651
16. Auburn — 578
17. UCF — 410
18. Michigan State — 377
19. Wisconsin — 370
20. Iowa — 330
21. Iowa State — 302
22. Syracuse — 209
23. Washington State — 200
24. Nebraska — 154
25. Stanford — 141

CFT Previews: A six pack of must-see games

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The directive said to write about a six pack of must-see games for the upcoming season, but since I’m the one doing the typing here, I’m going to alter the directive a bit and write exclusively about non-conference games here. Spoiler alert: Texas-OU, Michigan-Ohio State and Alabama-LSU are going to be important again this year.

Let’s talk, in no particular order, about the important games that don’t happen every year.

Miami vs. Florida (Aug. 24, 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, at Orlando): We’re not just including this because it’s the first. This one has real, juicy football implications. Riding a 4-game winning streak to end last season, Florida has generated tons of optimism this season. Well, let’s see how long that optimism sticks around when the Gators’ re-tooled offensive line goes up against the nation’s No. 1 passing defense from a year ago. Remember, Florida scored 16.3 points per game in its three losses last season. On the other side of the ball, it’s redshirt freshman Jarren Williamsfirst start, while N’Kosi Perry and Tate Martell wait for him to throw his first incompletion. If Williams succeeds, Miami could be a legit contender to Clemson in the ACC. If Florida prevails, Georgia could have a challenge in the East.

Auburn vs. Oregon (Aug. 31, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC, at Dallas): It’s rare to see an entire conference put its reputation on the line in a single evening, and yet here we are yet again. Last year, Washington trekked south and east to face this same Auburn program, lost, and then watched the entire Pac-12 fade from the Playoff conversation the moment the Huskies’ Oct. 13 loss to Oregon went final. The calculus is simple: The Pac-12 is too treacherous, too even for any one team to go undefeated, and no 2-loss conference champion has ever made the Playoff, lest of all a 2-loss Pac-12 champion. Ipso facto, Oregon could be all but eliminated from the Playoff before September even begins.

Cincinnati at Ohio State (Sept. 7, noon ET on ABC): Let’s be honest, nearly ever player wearing Cincinnati red and black imagined themselves wearing Ohio State scarlet and gray instead. Here’s their chance to prove it. The Bearcats went 11-2 last season under head coach Luke Fickell — a Columbus native and a former Buckeye nose guard, graduate assistant assistant coach, co-coordinator, interim head coach and co-coordinator again who definitely saw himself becoming Ohio State’s head coach some day, most likely after Urban Meyer stepped away at some point in the distant future. While Fickell took what looked like the next step — proving he had the goods to be a head coach, at a program that recruited the same area as Ohio State — Ryan Day swooped in and took the job Fickell thought would be his. Now here’s his one and only chance to shove it in his former boss Gene Smith‘s face, in his stadium, on national TV. And, oh by the way, the game should be pretty good, too. Cincinnati could very well win the AAC this season and, if the reports about Justin Fields struggling to win the starting quarterback job are true, Ohio State could be vulnerable in Game 2 with a new quarterback and a new coaching staff. Consider this your season-shaking upset alert.

(This is the point where you’d expect me to include Texas A&M at Clemson, scheduled between these games on Sept. 7, but I’m not going to for this reason: Even if A&M beats Clemson, I don’t think the Aggies can make the Playoff; even if Clemson loses to A&M, I think the Tigers are going to the Playoff. Fun? Yes. Must-see? Eh.)

LSU at Texas (Sept. 7, 7:30 p.m. ET on ABC): It’s two college football blue-bloods playing a clash of cultures that also happens to be a border war. It’s LSU’s first trip to Austin since 1954. It’s the ultimate Big 12 vs. SEC proving ground game. It’ll be played under the lights before a national audience. It’s everything a non-conference home-and-home series is supposed to be. Honestly, it might even be too much. Someone in the stands at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium might die on this sure-to-be-sweltering Austin night.

Outside of all that, it’s also a mighty interesting football game. LSU and Texas both fancy themselves as the next programs to step up and join the elite of the elite, with a chance to prove that by beating the other. Joe Burrow will showcase LSU’s new, we’re-really-doing-it-this-time spread offense against a talented secondary led by All-American candidate Caden Sterns, while Sam Ehlinger gets to make his Heisman case against the best defense’s he’s ever faced. Then there’s the storyline that LSU pursued Tom Herman before going after Ed Orgeron back in November of 2016. Again, it’s too much for a single non-conference game.

Notre Dame at Georgia (Sept. 21, 8 p.m. ET on CBS): Don’t let anyone ever tell you Notre Dame isn’t relevant. The Irish’s first trip inside an SEC stadium since 2004 is enough to get CBS to lower Alabama-LSU from its No. 1 slot for the first time since 2010, and for good reason. This game is going to be a mad house. Both of these programs reached the Playoff in the past two years, and yet it seems like only one program’s trip seems to really count — the team in red and black. It seems TV executives have more faith in Notre Dame’s prospects than fans and writers. Well, there’s no surer route to changing minds than to go into the heart of the South and slay one of the SEC’s sacred cows.

USC at Notre Dame (Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC): Yes, we’re going back to the same well, but with a different angle. We’ll go more in depth on this tomorrow, but this one is about USC and head coach Clay Helton. Helton sits on the hottest seat in all of college football, and his first-half schedule does him no favors: vs. defending Mountain West champion Fresno State, vs. No. 23 Stanford, at BYU, vs. No. 15 Utah, at No. 12 Washington, at No. 9 Notre Dame. That’s four ranked (according to the Coaches’ Poll, which is all we have as of press time) teams and two of the most difficult Group of 5 opponents possible. If Notre Dame limps into South Bend at 2-3 or 1-4 and then loses to Notre Dame? Helton might be fired on the tarmac Lane Kiffin style, and then it’s off to the races for one of the most desirable jobs in the entire sport. If USC arrives 5-0 or 4-1 and then beats Notre Dame? Helton is good to go and USC bullets into a manageable second half schedule as a Pac-12 and Playoff contender.

 

Liberty head coach Hugh Freeze recovering from potentially life-threatening staph infection

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It appears Hugh Freeze has dodged what could’ve been a fatal bullet.

Liberty announced Tuesday that Hugh Freeze was dealing with severe back spasms and had been unable to participate in practices since Sunday.  As it turns out, there was a significantly more serious underlying issue than simple back spasms as the first-year Flames head football coach told Chris Low of ESPN.com that he underwent emergency surgery at the University of Virginia Medical Center Friday “after a potentially life-threatening strand of staph infection entered his bloodstream.”

From Low’s report:

The doctors told me if it had been another 24 hours, that strand of bacteria could have gotten to my heart and that I would have been fighting for my life,” Freeze told ESPN. “It’s the way God works because there’s no doubt that bacteria would have killed me if President [Jerry] Falwell [Jr.] wasn’t so quick to make sure we got the right people involved.”

When Freeze first told Falwell about the excruciating pain he was experiencing in his back, one of the first calls Falwell made was to U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, one of the leading pioneers in neurosurgery. Carson spoke with Liberty professor Anthony Nobles, renowned in the medical device field, and the decision was made to transport Freeze from the hospital in Lynchburg to UVA Medical Center.

Falwell sent the Liberty plane to Scottsdale, Arizona, to bring in Dr. Dilan Ellegala, another leading neurosurgeon who developed his own ultrasonic technology (Sonospine) for spinal surgery, and Ellegala was the one who performed Freeze’s surgery at UVA Medical Center in Charlottesville.

The 49-year-old Freeze remains hospitalized and will continue so for the foreseeable future.  When he is released and resumes his football duties, he’ll likely have to coach from a golf cart as the Flames finish up summer camp; for Liberty’s opener against Syracuse Aug. 31, it’s expected Freeze will have to coach from the booth.

Hired by the Flames in December of last year, Freeze is set to enter his first season as the head coach at the football independent.  Freeze had been out of coaching for two full seasons following his unceremonious ouster as the head coach at Ole Miss in July of 2017.

Utah surprised another walk-on with a scholarship

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Utah and head coach Kyle Whittingham have been busy making some plans for surprise scholarship announcements. The latest recipient of a surprise scholarship? Mason Woodward, who had the luxury of receiving the good news from his wife.

The setup for the announcement had the athletic training staff line up on the field as Utah’s football practice was going on. Each member of the staff introduced themselves to the team, with Woodward’s wife, who was disguised as a trainer, being the last staff member to be introduced. She then delivers the news to Woodward, a senior running back.

Woodward walked on at Utah in 2016 and has played at both running back and on special teams. Special teams are where Woodward has spent most of his playing time on the Utes. He redshirted in 2016 and has appeared in games each of the past two seasons.

Utah previously surprised Malik Haynes with a scholarship using a pizza delivery to deliver the news.