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Arizona State caps off thrilling fourth quarter rally to keep Territorial Cup over Arizona

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To say it’s been a disappointing season in Tucson is a bit of an understatement. Quarterback Khalil Tate entered 2018 on a Heisman Trophy push and new head coach Kevin Sumlin had many believing that a Pac-12 South title could be had in a wide-open division.

Well, just when you thought the team couldn’t go lower, they sunk even further in a stunning 41-40 loss to Arizona State on Saturday afternoon that will keep the Territorial Cup in Tempe as a result.

The Wildcats had led from the beginning of the game and entered the fourth quarter with a healthy 16 point lead and plenty of momentum. Tate, who has looked much healthier in the back end of the season than the beginning, was electric running around at times — throwing for three touchdowns and 282 yards while adding 46 more on the ground all told.

What he gave, however, Tate also took away. The signal-caller threw an interception in the fourth quarter and added a fumble on a handoff that was just the kind of match needed to spark a 19-point ASU rally down the stretch. Both of the turnovers came near his goal line that the Sun Devils then converted each into points the other way. By the time Eno Benjamin crossed the goal line with 3:08 left to put Herm Edwards’ crew in front, the meltdown in the desert was fully complete.

It’s not like the visitors from Tempe were doing all that much to take control of things before then either. QB Manny Wilkins threw for only 265 yards and a touchdown while nearly becoming the team’s leading rusher as well with 57 yards and another score. Benjamin finished the game with 80 hard-fought yards and three scores while it was a fairly quiet effort in potentially N'Keal Harry‘s final game after the top wideout caught four passes for 55 yards.

That’s not to say it will be Arizona State’s final game of the season as they moved to 7-5 in Edwards’ first season with a bowl game still to play. While the overall record for the Sun Devils was nearly identical to their mark last year, they did check off a few boxes with a big non-conference win over Michigan State earlier on and, more importantly, retain the Territorial Cup for another year.

As for Arizona, they will find themselves wondering what happened to their season as they let another victory slip through their hands to fall to 5-7. Not only will that keep the Wildcats out of a bowl game but it should prompt plenty of second-guessing in Tucson after a disastrous up-and-down campaign that was once filled with such promise.

Oregon State moves forward with $175 million Reser Stadium renovation

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While you wouldn’t know it from some of their records on the gridiron, the Pac-12 has been on a football building spree. Just in the past few years, USC, Arizona State and Cal among others have finished off stadium renovations while Arizona and Utah are about to commence some of their own.

It appears you can add another Pac-12 program considering some upgrades too as The Oregonian reports that Oregon State has sent out a request for proposal on a renovation to the west side of Reser Stadium. 

The project, which is set to start after the 2021 season concludes, is expected to cost nearly $175 million and comes on the heels of two renovations to the east side and north end in the past 15 years. The hope is that most of the construction will be finished off prior to fall camp in 2023, though the expectation is that some “non-football areas” will take until the end of the year to complete. 

Capacity at Reser, currently 43,154 overall, is expected to dip as a result of the project, which will include the usual bells and whistles of more suites, a new press box and additional general usage spaces. A new visitors locker room and video board are also expected to be a part of the project, which the school hopes will allow for year-round usage instead of just six Saturdays in the fall. 

Though the Beavers record hasn’t been anything to write home about the past few seasons, Reser has typically been a tough place to play for Pac-12 opponents and one of the more unique places in college football given the setting. The west side is badly in need of an upgrade (originally built in 1953) though so hopefully the program balances the need to create a fun atmosphere with the more pressing issue of having a modern facility. Judging by the pricetag, they certainly are not skimping out on much.

Boise State AD taking very un-UCF-like approach to College Football Playoff

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The team that was the original BCS-buster actually appears very realistic about the chances of cracking the top four and making the College Football Playoff should they go undefeated.

In a sharp contrast to the stance taken by fellow Group of Five program UCF, Boise State athletic director Curt Apsey seems quite content to just make a New Year’s Six bowl in lieu of a semifinal game given the way the current system has been setup for teams such as his own.

“We don’t really focus that much on that sort of pie in the sky, be a part of the College Football Playoff and all that kind of thing,” Apsey told ESPN. “Because we know what we have to do in order to just be considered for that.

“If you have a 12-0 Boise State and, say, you have a 10-2 Alabama. … We beat everyone in our conference and we beat Marshall and we beat Portland State. I’ll be honest with you, I kinda get [selecting Alabama]. I really do.”

The Broncos are currently the highest ranked Group of Five team in the polls and are favored in all of their remaining games this season, starting with a trip to BYU on Saturday. Should they wind up running the table, their most likely destination is the Cotton Bowl. That seems fine by those on the blue turf, which is far from the kind of response that the Black Knights had when they went undefeated in the regular season the past two years and all but demanded a spot in the final four.

Interestingly, Apsey’s stance isn’t quite shared with his head coach — who has a talking point much closer to the one coming out of Orlando the past few years.

“I’ll continue to say that you’re an undefeated team, you deserve an opportunity to continue your season and play for a national championship,” Bryan Harsin said. “If you’re undefeated, you should have an opportunity to play for a national championship. Period. And regardless of perception, don’t care about that.”

Until the College Football Playoff eventually is expanded, it seems like a long shot for any Group of Five team to crack the top four in the final Selection Committee standings. Boise State brass isn’t throwing a huge fit over that fact, which is a welcome change for the team most likely to earn an exclusive ticket to join the New Year’s Six in 2019.

NCAA says targeting penalties down 32 percent in 2019 compared to last season

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Years of emphasizing a different way to tackle in order to avoid targeting penalties might finally be paying off on the field.

According to the NCAA, targeting penalties are down sharply in the first half of the 2019 FBS regular season — dropping some 32% compared to the same time period in 2018. A total of 132 targeting penalties were flagged through the first seven weeks this year, with 83 upheld after video review compared to 171 total and a whopping 122 enforced last season.

“The main reason is that coaches and players have responded,” national coordinator of football officials Rogers Redding told the Associated Press. “We anecdotally see player behavior changing, although we can’t prove it. This is difficult to quantify, but it comes from several (officials) coordinators and me, based on years of experience with this rule.”

The NCAA passed several rules changes prior to the 2019 campaign related to the targeting penalties, including requiring that any targeting foul which cannot be confirmed by video review to be overturned. While Redding noted that there would have been some calls last season that would have been overturned given those changes, there still would have been sharp drop off year-over-year even when factoring in such targeting calls being waved off. Players will continue to be ejected from the game and miss the next half of football if targeting is upheld but a new change also makes such calls even costlier for repeat offenders, as three targeting penalties in one season will force a player to miss their next full game.

Ever since it was introduced, the targeting penalty has been among the most controversial aspects of the game for players, coaches and fans. It appears the message is finally getting through for some however as everybody has gotten used to the changes in recent years.

Report: Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead emerges as Rutgers’ top target

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It’s not often an SEC head coach is connected to a gig like Rutgers but the Scarlet Knights’ coaching search could result in a win-win for everybody involved if a report is to be believed out of New Jersey.

According to NJ.com, “Mississippi State head coach Joe Moorhead has emerged as a top candidate, according to persons with knowledge of the decision-making process.”

Moorhead is in his second season in Starkville, posting an 11-8 record overall with the Bulldogs. Known as an offensive guru dating back to his success at Penn State, Fordham and other stops, MSU’s lackluster offense the past two years has already led to some angst among the fan base even prior to the team losing last weekend to Tennessee.

Such a slow start in the SEC has led to plenty of speculation that move back to the comforts of the Northeast could make a lot of sense for the head coach, Mississippi State and the Power Five school with an opening in the region — Rutgers. Moorhead is a Pittsburgh native who had plenty of success in the nearby Bronx as a head coach and established himself as a key recruiter in the area while making the move to the Nittany Lions from 2016-17.

“Coaching in the SEC for about a year-and-a-half now in a lot of ways has been a humbling experience,” Moorhead said this week. “I don’t think you get to this point where I am without a certain level of success, and of confidence, but this game and the SEC, it has a way of keeping you honest.’’

Per contract figures obtained by NJ.com, Moorhead’s buyout runs roughly $1.95 million if the Scarlet Knights want to bring him to Piscataway. He is set to make over $3 million each of the next four seasons in salary as well — figures the Big Ten school likely would have to exceed in order to lure him away.

Chris Ash was fired by Rutgers at the end of September after a 1-3 start this season and named tight ends coach Nunzio Campanile as the interim head coach. Expectation has been that the school is going to pony up a significant sum to lure somebody with experience to helm one of the most difficult jobs in the country and Moorhead certainly could qualify.

Former Rutgers head coach Greg Schanio has also been mentioned as a top candidate to return to the program but luring Moorhead to the state university could be an even bigger win for everybody involved.