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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.

Arizona State confirms Boise State’s Zak Hill as new OC

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At the end of the regular season, Herm Edwards fired the bulk of Arizona State’s offensive staff. Nearly two weeks later, the reshaping of the assistants on that side of the ball has commenced in earnest.

Following up on speculation that had been growing in recent days, ASU on Saturday announced that Zak Hill has been hired as Edwards’ new offensive coordinator. Hill will replace Rob Likens, who was a part of the post-regular-season purge.

“Zak is very well versed in offensive football,” the head coach said in a statement. “He comes from winning programs and he played the quarterback position. I like that. He’s good at building an offense around the personnel that he has available to him. He will force the defense to adjust with multiple formations and personnel groups. His style fits the DNA of what we want on our coaching staff. He’s an excellent teacher.”

The past four seasons, Hill served as the coordinator at Boise State. Prior to that, and aside from a one-month stop at Hawaii, Hill spent seven seasons as the passing-game coordinator and quarterbacks coach at FCS power Eastern Washington.

“I am really excited about this opportunity and I truly believe it is a great situation for me at ASU,” Hill said. “I appreciate Coach Edwards believing in me and having the trust to bring me on and I am thankful to Ray Anderson and the Sun Devil administration for their support in making this happen. I am really excited to get down there and I know we have some exciting weapons on offense. I look forward to putting together an explosive, fun offense that our fans will love to watch.”

“I am humbled at this opportunity. I also want to thank everyone at Boise State for a great four years and I am grateful for all the support I have received from Bronco Nation,” he added. “I would especially like to thank Coach Harsin for his leadership and my years at Boise State and the opportunity he afforded me to grow as a coach.”

In addition to Hill’s, uhhh, addition, ASU also confirmed Derek Hagan and Prentice Gill as offensive assistants. Their specific titles and responsibilities were not detailed.

Hagan, who played wide receiver for the Sun Devils and was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame in 2015, was an offensive analyst at ASU this past season. Gill served in the same role at Oregon.

Dabo Swinney lays out new responsibilities for offensive staff

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Jeff Scott spent a dozen years at Clemson, including the last five seasons as co-offensive coordinator, before taking the head job at USF earlier this month. Despite his importance to Dabo Swinney‘s success, there won’t be too much change for the defending national champions moving forward.

Friday, Swinney confirmed that he will not be filling Scott’s co-coordinator position and will instead allow Tony Elliott to serve as the sole coordinator. Elliott and Scott have shared coordinating responsibilities each of the past five seasons.

Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter will maintain his current responsibilities as well as add the title of passing-game coordinator.

Additionally, Tyler Grisham, who played for the Tigers from 2005-08, has been promoted to wide receivers coach, a responsibility previously held by Scott. Grisham had been serving as an offensive analyst for the program.

“We have a good plan for all that stuff and have a great group of people here,” the head coach said. “We’re excited about getting it all settled out.”

Swinney also reiterated that, as had previously been laid out, Scott will return to the team next Thursday and will remain through however long the Tigers’ postseason run lasts. Clemson will face Ohio State Dec. 28 in one of the two College Football Playoff semifinals.

Ohio State’s Justin Fields the way-too-early 2020 Heisman favorite

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You say the tears aren’t even dry yet from Joe Burrow‘s acceptance speech and we’re already looking ahead to 2020?  You’re damn right we are.

Saturday night, Burrow claimed the 2019 Heisman Trophy in record-smashing fashion, with the quarterback becoming just the second LSU Tiger to claim the most prestigious trophy in the sport.  Quarterback Justin Fields finished third in the voting, one of three Ohio State Buckeyes to land in the top six in the voting.

Speaking of Fields, one online sportsbook has the sophomore listed as a 5/2 favorite to win the 2020 Heisman Trophy.  Fellow sophomore Trevor Lawrence of Clemson is right behind him at 3/1.

The next closest is Alabama quarterback Mac Jones at 7/1.

A handful of the players who finished in the Top 10 in the voting — Ohio State defensive end Chase Young, Ohio State running back JK Dobbins, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa — have eligibility remaining, but are expected to leave early for the NFL draft.  If any of them opt to remain in school, that would obviously change the odds moving forward.

USC transfer QB Jack Sears appears headed to San Diego State

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Jack Sears may have left USC, but it doesn’t appear he’ll end up leaving the state of California.

After finding himself fourth on the quarterbacking depth chart, Sears announced on his personal Twitter account in late August that he had decided to enter the NCAA transfer database.  A little over three months later, and after a flirtation with Oregon State, the Los Angeles Times is reporting that “Sears has committed to San Diego State as a graduate transfer who would enroll during the spring semester.”

As a graduate transfer, Sears would be eligible to play for the Aztecs in 2020.  He would also have another season of eligibility he could use in 2021 as well.

As of yet, the Mountain West Conference school hasn’t confirmed Sears’ intentions.

Sears was a four-star member of the Trojans’ 2017 recruiting class, rated as the No. 4 pro-style quarterback in the country.  After redshirting as a true freshman, Sears completed 20-of-28 passes for 235 yards and a touchdown the following season.