The road to the Mountain West title ran through the blue turf and that’s exactly where No. 25 Fresno State wanted it. Even if the final result took a little longer than expected.
The Bulldogs ended a 10-game losing streak on No. 22 Boise State’s home field and won for the first time ever on the artificial surface at Albertsons Stadium as they topped their Milk Can rivals 19-16 in overtime amid rain, snow and wind on Saturday night to capture the 2018 Mountain West Championship.
The conditions, which ranged from light rain early to full on snowstorm in the middle to windy and cold by the end, certainly were a factor in slowing down both offenses and playing right into the hands of two stout defenses. Each side did mount several lengthy drives but turnovers (two for Fresno State, a fumble for Boise State setting up a touchdown the other way), fourth down stops and a handful of missed field goals and extra points all put a damper on things as the two division winners slugged their way into free football.
The Broncos pinned much of their game plan on the shoulders of tailback Alexander Mattison, who fought for every inch of his 200 yards as part of a workhorse-like 40 carries. His efforts helped take the pressure off senior QB Brett Rypien, who started the game strong but later struggled to throw the ball as he finishes his career at the league’s most famous venue with a pedestrian 125 yards passing and one touchdown to top target Sean Modster.
It was the Bulldogs though, who just kept fighting and avenged two earlier losses in the past two months to their conference rivals. Signal-caller Marcus McMaryion only threw for 170 yards and a touchdown but helped on the game-winner in the extra frame with an option toss to Ronnie Rivers, who scooted into the corner of the end zone to set off a raucous celebration from the visitors. Even on a night where the offense wasn’t quite its usual self, it was appropriate that the team gutted things out to hoist the MWC trophy for the first time since 2013.
It also caps one of the most remarkable turnaround stories in all of college football, topped only by what has happened over in Orlando with UCF in recent years. Fresno State was 1-11 two years ago when head coach Jeff Tedford took over and have since gone 21-6 the past two seasons with just a pair of losses in the Mountain West during the regular season. In addition to capturing their first ever win on the blue turf since it was installed in Boise, the victory on Saturday night was also the program’s first in the city of Boise since 1984 and avenges two earlier losses to the Broncos in the past 12 months.
While the undefeated Knights earlier win against Memphis in the AAC title game will rule out any hopes of making into the Fiesta Bowl of the New Year’s Six, a very well deserved berth in the Las Vegas Bowl will likely be the next destination for the Bulldogs. After vanquishing their demons to the North, perhaps it will be easy to double down on 2018 and celebrate the team’s trophy in style down on the Strip later this month.
The offensive side of Nick Saban‘s Alabama coaching staff has been ravaged by poaching over the past few weeks. As of Wednesday night, it appears the defensive side won’t go unscathed this offseason either.
According to Matt Zenitz of al.com, Crimson Tide defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi interviewed for a job with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns this week. Zenitz didn’t specify for what position Lupoi interviewed with the Browns, which officially filled its defensive coordinator position earlier this week.
However, a subsequent report not only identified the position for which Lupoi interviewed, but that the erstwhile Tide coordinator has accepted the job.
Lupoi, one of the best recruiters in the sport, has spent the past five seasons on Saban’s staff. After serving as a defensive analyst his first two years, he was the Tide’s outside linebackers coach in 2016 before taking over as coordinator for Jeremy Pruitt, who left to take the head job at rival Tennessee.
Prior to Alabama, Lupoi was the defensive line coach at Washington (2012-13) and Cal (2008-11).
The Browns recently named Freddie Kitchens as its latest head football coach. Kitchens, for those of you who don’t remember, was a three-year starter at quarterback for Alabama in the mid-nineties.
Saban, for those of you who don’t remember, was the defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns from 1991-94 under Bill Belichick before taking the head job at Michigan State.
Mike Locksley is turning to a former head coach to become his first offensive coordinator at Maryland.
As first reported by InsideMDSports, the new Terps OC will be none other than former East Carolina head coach Scottie Montgomery. The move by Locksley comes a few days after fellow former Alabama assistant Josh Gattis reportedly spurned Maryland to take the same job at Michigan.
Montgomery’s track record as an assistant is certainly a bit better than what he did with the Pirates after going 9-26 overall in three seasons in charge of the program. While ECU’s offense did put up some impressive numbers at times (as well as produce players like Gardner Minshew II before he transferred to Washington State), Montgomery is probably best known for his work on the Duke staff under David Cutcliffe.
The 40-year-old started out as a wide receivers coach at his alma mater before eventually becoming OC of the Blue Devils, with a short stint in the NFL mixed in.
The good news for Locklsey and Montgomery is that they do have talent to work with in College Park even after missing out on grad transfer QB Jalen Hurts. The Terps are set to return both Tyrrell Pigrome and potentially Kasim Hill at quarterback as well as a slew of speedy backs and receivers.
It only took a few hours of getting thrown under the bus by fans and the national media, but cooler heads have prevailed in Norman.
Not long after it surfaced that graduate transfer Austin Kendall was being blocked by Oklahoma from being immediately eligible at West Virginia in 2019, USA Today reports that the Sooners have relented and the quarterback will indeed be able to play right away with the Mountaineers.
Kendall arrived at OU as part of the class of 2016 and saw limited playing time behind back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners at his position in Kyler Murray and Baker Mayfield. While it’s possible he could have stuck around to be the starter for the team in 2019, former Alabama starter Jalen Hurts announcing he was transferring in as a graduate transfer earlier on Wednesday all but put an end to that line of thought.
The reversal from Lincoln Riley and Oklahoma’s athletic department shows once again that schools have little to gain by even threatening to block a player from transferring. At some point a college football program will learn that it invites nothing but bad press in the short term over somebody who is leaving town anyway. At least everybody came to that same conclusion this time around before Kendall and his family had to call up a lawyer or two to reach the same end point.
Oh and by the way, Kendall will be back in Norman with the Mountaineers on October 19 during the upcoming season for what figures to be a Big 12 game with more than the usual on-field storylines coming in.
The calendar says January and the national title game was just last week but it’s never too early to start thinking about spring football around the college landscape.
The folks at Iowa State certainly are.
In a release from the school issued on Wednesday, the Cyclones confirmed that they would not be playing a spring game in 2019 and will now go two years between any potential showcases to cap off their prescribed 15 practices.
“As a result of the uncertain weather conditions we face each spring in Iowa, plus the site preparation work that will begin this Spring for the new Sports Performance Center project, Coach Campbell and I have decided to not schedule a spring football game,” Iowa State Athletics Director Jamie Pollard said in a statement. “Similar to last year, Coach Campbell and his staff can use that day to conduct a 15th spring practice which they feel is more beneficial for the overall development of the student-athletes and the football program.”
Though there are indeed plenty of reasons why a program might join the growing trend of skipping out on playing a spring game, it’s certainly disappointing for many ISU fans to go two years without being able to see their team in action and what new faces might end up contributing in the fall. Weather concerns are nothing new in Ames though, as an actual non-conference game in 2018 was cancelled and replaced with an FCS foe in December, to say nothing of last year’s spring game getting called off due to the elements.