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Northwestern enters November in first place in Big Ten West after win over Wisconsin

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Following a 31-17 victory at home over Wisconsin (5-3, 3-2 Big Ten), Northwestern (5-3, 5-1 Big Ten) will turn the calendars to the final month of the regular season with a chance to win the Big Ten West Division for the first time. The division is now officially in their control with just three Big Ten games remaining on the schedule.

Clayton Thorson struggled in the passing game at times but managed to do enough damage on the ground with two rushing touchdowns and a 27-yard run to help set up a score in the third quarter as he escaped from under pressure closing in on him to take advantage of a wide open right side of the field. It was the kind of gritty performance that bodes well for Northwestern, especially against a Wisconsin team playing without starting quarterback Alex Hornibrook and on a day where the fumble issues of Jonathan Taylor led to some self-inflicted wounds for the Badgers.

With Hornibrook out of the game due to not being medically cleared out of concussion protocol, Jack Coan made his first career start for the Badgers and was rarely asked to make too much happen through the air. Wisconsin relied on their running game with Taylor, Garrett Groshek and Alec Ingold leading the attack. But northwestern’s defense was ready for the challenge and played well at home to preventing Wisconsin from gaining an edge. If anything, Northwestern’s own running game leveled the playing field with  Isaiah Bowser continuing to fuel the Wildcat’ running game, with Thorson complimenting the effort.

Northwestern took a 24-10 lead into the fourth quarter and essentially put the finishing touch on the win shortly after Coan fumbled the football deep in the Wisconsin end early in the fourth quarter. The fumble recovery by Northwestern, the third of the day, was followed by a touchdown run by Bowser to build a 21-point lead.

The win moves Northwestern to 5-1 in the Big Ten West, which now includes head-to-head wins against Purdue and Wisconsin. Having played one more conference game than the rest of the division, the Wildcats will own no less than a half-game lead in the division after all games have been played on Saturday (Purdue was playing at Michigan State at the same time and Iowa was kicking off against Penn State later in the afternoon). Northwestern will host Notre Dame next week (looking to play spoiler against the Irish?) but the next Big Ten test for the Wildcats will come in two weeks on the road at Iowa. That game should be of much significance, as a win could potentially put Northwestern one giant step closer to playing in the Big Ten championship game at the end of the season. Northwestern has the road game at Iowa and then a road trip to Minnesota and a home game against Illinois to wrap up the regular season and the Big Ten schedule. It may all come down to what happens in that Iowa game for Northwestern.

Wisconsin, the runaway favorite in the Big Ten West and picked to win the Big Ten and play in the playoff by some in the preseason, now needs a good amount of help if the Badgers are going to make a third straight trip to the Big Ten championship game. At 3-2 in the Big Ten, Wisconsin will look for a rebound win next week at home against Rutgers before two straight road games at Penn State and Purdue. But Wisconsin now needs to finish ahead of Northwestern in the standings to avoid losing out on a head-to-head tiebreaker. That may be wishful thinking at this point.

“Unfortunate injury” sends LSU freshman offensive lineman to possible season-ending surgery

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LSU head coach Ed Orgeron fears he may have just lost one of his promising new offensive linemen for the 2019 season before it ever gets started. Kendall Thomas will have surgery following an injury suffered in practice last week, Orgeron announced. While Orgeron did not officially say Thomas has been lost for the year, he suggested that may be the result.

“I don’t know if he’s out for the year, but I know he’s getting surgery,” Orgeron said, according to The Advocate. “I think he probably he is. I haven’t heard the final result on that, but he is getting surgery.”

Orgeron called the injury an unfortunate injury due to how it happened. Thomas reportedly had been hit from behind. He had just returned to practice after missing some earlier practices due to a minor injury experienced during camp, although the details of that injury were not revealed.

Thomas was a blue-chip recruit in LSU’s Class of 2019 according to 247 Sports. The recruiting outlet ranked Thomas, a Baton Rouge native, as the fourth-best offensive guard in the nation and the fourth-best player in the state of Louisiana. His commitment to LSU was a strong gain for the Tigers as Orgeron looks to lock down the state’s top prospects on the recruiting trail. Thomas had been committed to the Tigers since July 2016. He was expected to step right into a key role on the offensive line this fall.

If Thomas is out for the year, he can use the 2019 season as a redshirt year. That would give him four years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2020. If he does return in 2019 and plays in four games or fewer, he can also preserve his redshirt year under the NCAA’s revised redshirt rule that went into effect last season.

Oregon suffers two more injury woes at wide receiver

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It has been a rough few days for the Oregon wide receiver unit in camp. A pair of injuries to wide receivers have hampered the possible depth just a little bit to start the new college football season. Freshman wide receiver JR Waters underwent surgery for a foot injury and Mycah Pittman suffered a shoulder injury during a scrimmage this weekend, according to reports from The Oregonian.

Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal confirmed Waters will be out of action for the next four to six weeks. That timeline will keep Waters out of the mix for the season opener against Auburn in Arlington, Texas in Week 1. Being out for four weeks would make the earliest possible return for Waters come in Week 3 against Montana or the following week for the Pac-12 opener at Stanford. Being out for six weeks would mean Waters may be back for the beginning of October when Oregon hosts Cal on Oct. 5). Oregon has a bye week before facing Cal in Eugene.

Pittman’s status is unknown at this time. The Class of 2019 addition landed on his shoulder during the scrimmage while completing a catch, which Cristobal made sure to note when addressing the injury with the media. Whether he misses any practice time or game time once the season starts has not been discussed at this time.

Earlier this month, Oregon lost receiver Brenden Schooler for 6-8 weeks due to a foot injury. He is recovering from surgery to address the injury. With an NFL-hopeful quarterback in Justin Herbert leading the offense, the Ducks will hope to have their top targets on the field as quickly as possible before it potentially ends up costing them something on the field.

The last time the Pittsburgh Panthers won the national championship…

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In the year the nation celebrated its bicentennial, the Pitt Panthers heading into the college football season with some lofty expectations. Head coach Johnny Majors had one of his best teams and the Panthers started the year ranked in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1960. It was a long time coming, but with Tony Dorsett at running back and a defense equipped to make their own steel curtain similar to the glory days of the Pittsburgh Steelers at the time, the Panthers were ready to pounce on a national title.

The 1976 season opened with a bang. No. 9 Pitt defeated No. 11 Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana by a score fo 31-10 on national television. The new polls bumped the Panthers up to No. 3 and the national title race was officially on for the Panthers. A blowout win at Georgia Tech and a home-opening victory over Temple moved Pitt to 3-0 with the defense allowing no more than 14 points in each of the first three games of the season. The defense had their hands full on the road against Duke, but the Blue Devils were unable to ruin a magical run.

After things went off the rails a bit on the road against Duke, Pitt continued their undefeated run with the defense anchoring down the rest of the way. Only three teams managed to score in the double digits against the Panthers after Oct. 2, and Dorsett went on a run to take home the Heisman Trophy along the way.

Dorsett cleaned up on the award circuit in 1976. In addition to the Heisman Trophy, Dorsett took home the Maxwell Award, Walter Camp Award and the UPI Player of the Year. Dorsett rushed for 2,150 yards in the 11-game regular season to finish his collegiate career with 6,082 rushing yards. At the time, that stood as the new NCAA career rushing record and it lasted until 1998 when Ricky Williams of Texas eclipsed the record mark.

The strength of schedule argument was not a great one for the Panthers in 1976 with the regular season being bookended by the only ranked opponents on the schedule (the previously mentioned Irish and No. 16 Penn State in the regular-season finale). A 24-7 victory over the rival Nittany Lions capped a perfect regular season for No. 1 Pittsburgh, setting them up for a chance to play for the first national title in school history since 1937. In an era long before the College Football Playoff, or even the BCS, Pitt was pair3d up with No. 5 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Rose Bowl featured No. 2 Michigan and No. 3 USC, and the Cotton Bowl got to feature No. 4 Maryland against No. 6 Houston. That left the Sugar Bowl to feature the top-ranked Panthers and No. 5 Georgia, champions of the SEC. Dorsett once again shined and helped Pitt remain undefeated to claim its first national title since 1937. Leading 14-0 in the second quarter, Dorsett took off to put Pittsburgh up by three touchdowns with a run off to the right side of the field. There was no coming back from that for the Bulldogs.

Generations have come and gone since Pitt’s national championship victory, and the landscape of Pittsburgh football has certainly evolved along with the entire college football landscape. Here’s a look at what was going on the last time the Panthers won it all.

Last National Championship: 1976 (43 years and counting)

Who was President?

Gerald Ford was in his final year in the White House. With Bob Dole as his running mate, Ford would lose the 1976 presidential election to Jimmy Carter.

Current president Donald Trump was a year away from marrying his first wife, Ivana Zelníčková. In 1976, Trump began his run in Manhattan real estate with a 50 percent stake in the Commodore Hotel, paid for in largely by a loan from his father Fred Trump.

What was on TV?

Heeeeeyyyyyyy. The Fonz was leading the TV ratings with Happy Days being the nation’s top-rated TV show, followed by Laverne & ShirleyM*A*S*H was in its prime during the middle of its run on TV as well.

America was also tuning into shows such as The Six Million Dollar Man and Three’s Company.

Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michael went on the air to try getting The Beatles together for a reunion. His (satirical) efforts would go unrewarded, although the offer of $3,000 for the reunion was fun while it lasted. 1976 was the second year Saturday Nigth Live was on the air live from New York.

1976 also marked the second year on the air for popular game show Wheel of Fortune. But one other popular game show that went on the air for the first time in 1976 was Family Feud.

Cable network Showtime went on the air for the first time, although only in California.

What movies were hot?

Yo, Adrian!

Sylvester Stallone was a big winner on the big screen in 1976 with “Rocky.” Not only did “Rocky” revolutionize the training montage, but the film went on to dominate the top spot in the box office and win an Academy Award. And before we can continue, it is mandated that we must share one training montage.

There were certainly some other notable movies in 1976 as well, including “Taxi Driver” and the first remake of “A Star is Born.” Alfred Hitchcock’s final film, “Family Plot” was release din 1976 to bring a close to the legendary filmmaker’s career. It was also the end of an era for John Wayne, who appeared in his final film, “The Shootist.”

As far as sports movies go, “Rocky” led the way, but we also got “The Bad News Bears” on the big screen too.

Filming on a science fiction movie also began in 1976 directed by an early George Lucas. That movie would end up being “Star Wars.”

What else happened in 1976?

The conference championship picture in 1976 was messy around the country. Other than the ACC (Maryland) and Pac-8 (USC), there were split conference titles all over the place. The Big Eight had a three-way tie with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado. The Big Ten title was split between Michigan and Ohio State. Georgia and Kentucky shared the SEC title, and Houston and Texas Tech split the Southwest Conference title. BYU and Wyoming shared the WAC championship and Brown and Yale split the Ivy League championship.

Current Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi was 10 years old. Current Alabama head coach Nick Saban was coaching up the linebackers at his alma mater, Kent State, in his fourth season as an assistant head coach. Former Pitt tight end Mike Ditka was in his fourth season as an assistant coach with the Dallas Cowboys. He would be named head coach of the Chicago Bears six years later.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were the reigning Super Bowl champions heading into the 1976 season after their victory over the Dallas Cowboys, but the Oakland Raiders were on their way to a Super Bowl title over the Minnesota Vikings during the 1976 season. The NFL also expanded with the addition of the Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Each has won a Super Bowl more recently than Pitt own the national title.

The Big Red Machine of the Cincinnati Reds swept the New York Yankees in the World Series. Also taking place in Yankee Stadium that year was Muhammad Ali topping Ken Norton in 15 rounds for the World Heavyweight title.

Can Pitt still be it?

After winning it all in 1976, Majors returned to his alma mater of Tennessee to serve as the head coach of the Vols until 1992. His replacement, Jackie Sherrill, kept the good times rolling for the Panthers from 1977 through 1981 but Sherrill failed to get some of the best teams in program history to celebrate another national title. Pitt has not won a major bowl game since the 1981 season. Majors eventually returned to the Panthers in 1993 after being forced to resign at Tennessee, giving way to offensive coordinator Phillip Fulmer. The glory days of Pitt football had already vanished and could never be recaptured in the short return of Majors. A record of 12-32 was a far cry from the first stint of Majors, and he moved on to serve in a different role in the athletics department.

Since finishing the 1981 season at No. 4 in the final AP poll, the Panthers have finished in the AP top 25 just six times. Just once in that span have the Panthers reached the 10-win mark in any given season. Despite playing for its first ACC Championship last season, the ceiling has been lowered dramatically for the Panthers. Can Pitt climb back to national relevance? Nothing is impossible, but the game has changed and in many ways, Pitt has lost some advantages other programs have to offer from facilities to gameday atmosphere and more. Pitt has sprinkled in some good moments that have played a role in the national title picture (just ask West Virginia) but envisioning the Panthers going on a run like they did from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s may be foggy at best.

Wisconsin QB decision still looming with season approaching

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One of the biggest questions for Wisconsin in 2019 as the Badgers look to climb back to the top of the Big Ten West is who will be the starting quarterback. With the new season now two weeks away in Madison, head coach Paul Chryst isn’t ready to spill the beans on that topic. However, although he may have a better feel for the direction he intends to go, Chryst may not feel the urge to share the news publicly.

According to Wisconsin beat reporter Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal, Chryst may make his call following a closed scrimmage scheduled for Monday.

The top two leading candidates for the job are Jack Coan and freshman Graham Mertz. Coan has been expected to be the likely replacement for Alex Hornibrook in Madison this season after Hornibrook left Wisconsin and transferred to Florida State, but the arrival of one of the top quarterback recruits has kept the competition ongoing until a decision needs to be made. Coan played in five games for Wisconsin last season, in which he completed 60.2 percent of his pass attempts for 515 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions.

Mertz likely is the long-term solution for Wisconsin, but the question of how ready he is for the college game is the concern. This is especially the case given Wisconsin has a difficult Big Ten schedule on tap that begins with a game against the Michigan Wolverines in September.

It’s also entirely possible Chryst uses the early non-conference games to give both options a chance to play and use the bye week in Week 3 as the deadline to make a final decision. Such a move is not too uncommon even if it is the less ideal path to reaching a final decision. But the age of freshmen being unable to step in and have an impact on the field is a thing of the past. If Mertz can step in and make some noise, he could end up being the guy for the Badgers as early as this season. For now, Coan is probably still the leader in the clubhouse, even if that means there is a short leash.

Wisconsin opens the 2019 season on the road on Friday, Aug. 30 with a game at USF in Tampa. Wisconsin’s home opener will be played the following weekend on Sept. 7 against Central Michigan.