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UCF, Lane Kiffin, Neal Brown among college football underdogs celebrating NCAA Tournament madness

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The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been a joy to watch over the course of the first few days. Highlighted by some significant upsets and some thrilling finishes, this year’s tournament has everybody talking, including college football coaches. This is especially true for college football’s non-power conference programs, who seem to be celebrating the upsets performed early on by schools like Marshall, Loyola-Chicago and, of course, UMBC.

UCF took to Twitter to extend congratulations to the University of Maryland Baltimore County after the 16-seed Retrievers became the first team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s history to upset a No. 1 seed, in which UMBC throttled No. 1 Virginia by 20 after an unbelievable second-half performance that left Virginia clueless how to respond.

UMBC has been the story of the first round for the historic upset of the Cavaliers, but FAU head coach Lane Kiffin claims he picked UMBC to win the game. In fact, Kiffin showed off a bracket in which he picked UMBC to win it all. Of course, such a bracket cannot be taken too seriously, especially after closer inspection reveals Kiffin went heavy with the underdog mentality throughout his bracket. Perhaps such a bracket strategy plays into the kind of mentality Kiffin is attempting to build at FAU.

Troy coach Neal Brown also used the UMBC upset to make a case for the Group of Five representation in college football to get more of a fair shake in the sport of college football.

Brown is not the only person to have this thought, although the idea has just as many on the other side of the fence as well. The College Football Playoff is a much smaller system to determine a college football champion and expansion is a hot-button topic of conversation for a variety of reasons. The current format allows for one guaranteed spot in a major bowl game for the highest-ranked conference champion from the non-power conferences, but undefeated UCF was still left out of the College Football Playoff last season and it may be a long time before a non-power conference champion gets a shot at the playoff.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach has proposed a 64-team college football playoff, but the most likely step for expansion of the playoff system will double the field to eight teams. That would still likely leave out some top non-power conference options, but it would leave the door open just a little wider for a team like UCF last year.

Mel Tucker’s first Michigan State coaching staff is officially complete

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And just like that, Mel Tucker‘s first coaching staff at Michigan State football has been filled.  Officially.

Earlier Friday, reports continued to surface that Tucker was looking to swipe Scottie Hazelton from Kansas State.  Later on in the evening, MSU confirmed that Hazelton has been added to Tucker’s staff.

The veteran of nearly a quarter-century in the coaching profession will serve as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator.

“Scottie definitely has the mentality you’re looking for in a defensive coordinator,” the new Michigan State football head coach said in a statement. “He’s a leader with an infectious personality and he’s an excellent teacher. He’s learned from some of the great defensive minds in the game throughout his career. Scottie has been a defensive coordinator multiple times, including at the Power 5 level, he’s coached in the NFL, and he’s been on a staff that won a national championship. I couldn’t be more excited about hiring Scottie as our defensive coordinator to lead our outstanding defensive staff.”

Hazelton spent the 2019 season as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.  He’s also been the coordinator at Wyoming (2017-18) and Nevada (2013) at the FBS level.

With Hazelton’s hiring, all 10 of Tucker’s on-field assistants for his Michigan State football staff have been hired.

The weekend before last, it was confirmed that Ron Burton and Mike Tressel would be retained.  Shortly thereafter, Chris Kapilovic officially followed Tucker to MSU from Colorado.  Two Wednesdays ago, former first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Courtney Hawkins returned to East Lansing to coach the same position he played for the Spartans.  A day laterJay Johnson was confirmed as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Harlon Barnett was brought back as defensive backs coach.  A day after that, Tucker pried Ted Gilmore away from Wisconsin to serve as MSU’s tight ends coach.

February 24, Ross Els (special teams coordinator) and William Peagler (running backs coach) were added as well.

Oklahoma State could be landing spot for LSU transfer WR Dee Anderson

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Could one soon-to-be-former LSU football player be leaving the SEC for the Big 12? According to one of his social media accounts, that’s certainly a possibility.

Prior to the start of summer camp, Dee Anderson was indefinitely suspended because “[h]e had some conditioning stuff to get done.” That suspension extended into the regular season as the wide receiver missed the first two games of the year. In mid-September, LSU football head coach Ed Orgeron confirmed that the suspension would remain in place for the rest of the year.

Three months later, Anderson entered the NCAA transfer database. The redshirt junior receiver graduated from the university in mid-December.

Since then, news on a potential landing spot for Anderson has been scant. Thursday morning, however, Anderson posted a GIF on his personal Twitter account of Oklahoma State mascot Pistol Pete. That, of course, intimates that the Cowboys are in play.

Adding to the OSU intrigue, a former high school teammate of Anderson is Cowboys running back LD Brown. According to Pokes Report, “Brown said things looked really good in terms of Anderson ending up at Oklahoma State.”

Anderson was a four-star member of the LSU football 2016 recruiting class. His first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Anderson saw sporadic action. The 6-6, 229-pound Texas native then caught 20 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Prior to the conditioning issue, Anderson had been expected to be a significant contributor in the passing game this season.

Anderson would be eligible to play at any FBS school in 2020 as a graduate transfer. The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

The addition would help backfill a position that’s been hit with attrition of late.  This current cycle, a total of four OSU receivers have left.

Penn State AD hired search firm to negotiate new James Franklin contract

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Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour appears to really be a fan of a particular search firm. So much so she hired one to do part of her job and recommended them to a rival school to boot.

Those are a few of the takeaways after reporter Andy Wittry decided to dig a little deeper into the recent Michigan State coaching search. This included a freedom of information request for emails to Spartans athletic director Bill Beekman that uncovered several gems.

While there were the notable ‘fan suggests hiring XYZ coach’ type emails, there was also a note that Barbour sent along to her counterpart in East Lansing:

“Sorry to hear about Coach Dantonio’s decision to retire,” the Nittany Lions AD wrote. “As I think we’ve discussed in the past, we have been partnered with Chad Chatlos and Ventura Partners for the last three plus years, utilizing them as our search consultant on all head coaching searches as well as a number of upper level administrator hires.

“Although we have not had to do a football search at Penn State during my time, frankly Chad and I have prepared for a football search on several occasions and he most recently served as our negotiator for Coach Franklin’s latest extension. He is/was fantastic.”

MSU did use a search firm to eventually hire Mel Tucker and spent six-figures with DHR International.

Beyond it being fascinating (and to some PSU fans, perhaps concerning?) that one AD would recommend a particular person to work with to a division rival, it’s notable that Penn State brought in outside help to lock their head coach up with a new deal.

The school confirmed on Feb. 26 that James Franklin had agreed to an extension worth over $35 million over the next six years.

While it’s no shock to see a search firm involved in finding a new coach, it’s a bit unique to bring one in for a renegotiation with a current coach — something most AD’s handle internally with an opposing agent.

The close ties with Chatlos and Ventura Partners is also interesting given that Collegiate Sports Associates was the search firm that wound up helping the university find Barbour for her current role. Typically that leads to a bit of a quid pro quo where the same firm is used for other searches but the Nittany Lions have instead gone exclusive with another.

Take note, as well, that Barbour said she has prepared for a football search on several occasions. Perhaps that little nugget is the result of Franklin’s name popping up in connection to spots like Florida State and USC in recent months.

Instead he appears to be sticking around Happy Valley for several years to come with that hefty new salary that was recently negotiated.

Mel Tucker reportedly hiring Kansas State’s Scottie Hazelton as new Michigan State DC

New Michigan State DC Scottie Hazelton
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One of the best beards in college football is headed to Michigan State.

No, not the one on the face of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, but rather that of Kansas State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Per The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the Wildcats assistant is leaving for the same position in East Lansing on Mel Tucker’s newstaff.

Hazelton spent just one season in the Little Apple after being hired by KSU’s Chris Klieman. The two briefly overlapped on the defensive staff at North Dakota State before reuniting in the Big 12.

In addition to a productive tenure leading the Bison’s defense at the FCS level, Hazelton has put together quite a diverse coaching career. That’s included coordinator stops at the NAIA, Division II and Division III levels as well as a season at Nevada in 2013 and a run at Wyoming from 2017-18. He also coached linebackers at USC in 2012 and did the same for the Jacksonville Jaguars during Gus Bradley’s tenure in Duval.

Now Hazelton will link up with Tucker as the final member of the MSU assistant ranks. The head coach has quite a large salary pool to work with and you can probably assume that had something to do with luring a Power Five DC so late in the typical hiring season. At K-State, Hazelton made $550,000 last year according to USA Today.

Either way, the bearded new defensive coordinator won’t have long to get acclimated to East Lansing as the Spartans begin spring practice on March 17.