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Big Ten coaches on hot seat: Record revenues mean those big buyouts don’t mean quite as much

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Media days are on the horizon in just a few short weeks but we still have plenty of time left as our long national nightmare — the college football offseason — winds down. The lack of games on the TV and between the lines isn’t going to hamper us from talking about the sport that never stops at a place like CFTalk however.

As part of our continuing series taking a look at coaching hot seats at the FBS level, we’re taking a trip to the northern regions and hitting the Big Ten. The conference has seen some massive changes recently, starting at the commissioner level and filtering on down to major news regarding the retirement of Urban Meyer at league stalwart Ohio State. Mix in a handful of veterans entering key situations in 2019 and a number of head coaches aiming to rebound from a disappointing 2018 and there’s a fascinating mix across the 14 programs.

Left unsaid for some? Those record revenues from media rights deals mean buyout money is increasingly easy to find after this year and well beyond.

You can check out the hot seat status of head coaches in the ACC and Big 12 too if you’re interested but without further ado, a look at the various stages of hot seats in the Big Ten:

The new guys

Mike Locksley (Maryland)

Ryan Day (Ohio State)

Feeling Heat

Chris Ash (Rutgers)

Ash has seen public support from his athletic director but a 7-29 record — with just three conference wins in three seasons — is going to draw plenty of heat to the job you’re doing and especially so given how the Scarlet Knights seemed to regress during last year’s 1-11 campaign. He still sports a pretty hefty buyout going forward but it’s more manageable after 2019 and the program can only be stuck at the back of the bus for so long before change is needed. There’s optimism in Piscataway that things will be better — and they better be or else one of the hardest gigs around will be open again.

Warming up

Tom Allen (Indiana)

The Hoosiers are not prone to rush into any big changes when it comes to their football program and have shown more patience than most when it comes to their head coaches on the gridiron. While that means Allen is more likely than not given runway past his upcoming third season, a bowl game appearance is generally the bar to clear for most and IU has come up short the last two years — with some maddeningly close losses to boot. He’s only won four games in Big Ten play after being elevated to the full-time gig and it doesn’t help that others like Purdue and Minnesota have started to make strides after having down years.  There’s plenty of support from above but another mediocre campaign will start to weigh on fans who are pining for more consistency in the league.

The Great Unknown 

Mark Dantonio (Michigan State)

Dantonio has won over 100 games with the Spartans and is as much the face of the program as any other coach in the Big Ten save perhaps Kirk Ferentz at Iowa. But there are a few factors that put him in a strange no man’s land. The first is off the field, where he’s dealt with a ton of issues the last few years and that’s been coupled with the school’s overarching Larry Nassar scandal that has seen a near complete leadership changeover the past 18 months. Then there’s the on-field stuff, which saw an impressive bounce-back in 2017 give way to a huge disappointment in 2018. Reshuffling the coaching staff isn’t exactly the kind of move the fan base wanted this offseason and a hard to watch offense remains an issue for MSU getting back to 2013/15 levels. While the upcoming season isn’t make-or-break exactly, it could go a longways in determining what the future holds in East Lansing long term for Dantonio and others.

Safe and secure 

P.J. Fleck (Minnesota)

Fleck was brought on to help turnaround the Gophers and has made some progress after two seasons, leading the team to a bowl win last year and generally upping the energy around the football team in the Twin Cities. It helps being in the division they are in of course but doing things like returning Paul Bunyan’s Axe to Minneapolis for the first time since 2003 is a nice sign of progress. There’s still work to be done of course but Fleck seems more inclined to leave on his own compared to being fired for anything that happens on the field right now.

James Franklin (Penn State)

It speaks to the high level of expectations that have been established in State College under Franklin that the recent 9-4 campaign was a bit disappointing for the Nittany Lions. Still, the team has posted big wins on the field, is competitive year-in and year-out for the division and Big Ten titles and generally back to operating on the Penn State level we’re used to under their head coach. There’s still a part of the fan base that feels more can be done though and some of those feelings were brought up again after some offseason rumors linking Franklin to a not-open USC gig. He’s got the support of his AD, has recruiting humming along nicely and, while it’s not a picture perfect marriage, things are still very good at the moment at PSU.

Jim Harbaugh (Michigan)

The perception of Harbaugh outside the Michigan administration is a bit different from inside it, where he continues to enjoy broad support and belief in the job he’s doing. Outside of Ann Arbor though, the doubters are there in droves — some thanks to his antics away from the lines and others as a result of that 2-6 mark against rivals MSU and Ohio State. The loud noises they make have seemingly obscured the fact that he’s won 10 games three of his first four years and has led the Wolverines to a pair of New Year’s Six bowls. He’s going to be the coach of the maize and blue for as long as he wants for the most part but even he understands that the seat is going to be hotter externally than internally, especially given the results against the Buckeyes the last few times out.

Scott Frost (Nebraska)

There was nobody celebrated more for returning home than Frost was when he agreed to take over the program he led to the national title many moons ago. While it’s still probably safe to say that honeymoon period is ongoing between Big Red and their head coach, the feeling has cooled a bit after such a disappointing debut campaign saw the team miss out on a bowl game and start out 0-6. Still, there’s plenty of faith that he can get things turned around on both sides of the ball and have the Cornhuskers making the trip to Indianapolis sooner rather than later.

Paul Chryst (Wisconsin)

College Football Playoff expectations in 2018 gave way to plenty of disappointment last year but the program’s native son is still in as good of a situation as any in the league. He’s 42-12 overall with the Badgers and has the team on a level of consistency that few have matched. There’s still some hoping Wisconsin can truly break through into the nation’s elite after so many close calls but nobody inside or outside of Madison is arguing with the job that Chryst has done so far.

Jeff Brohm (Purdue)

After turning down his alma mater of Louisville, it’s safe to say that Brohm is as committed to his program as any coach in the league. Of course, it helps to command an elite salary as a result of that offseason wooing but few in the business have handled a situation better while also producing results on the field. While his overall 13-13 record at the school doesn’t tell the whole story, the Boilermakers are thrilled with the way this hire has turned out and hopeful for even more wins going forward.

Frozen solid

Kirk Ferentz (Iowa)

Ferentz isn’t just the dean of the Big Ten coaches, he’s the dean of all of college football thanks to a tenure that dates back to 1999. Though he’s won just one division title in the past decade, the consistency the Hawkeyes have shown under his watch has been remarkable and a good reminder as to why he’s been where’s at for so long. His contract (and resulting buyout) is always great talk for fans and the media but it’s been pretty clear the last few years that Ferentz will  be the one to decide when it is time to move on and nobody else.

Pat Fitzgerald (Northwestern)

One of the Wildcats’ most recognizable football players of all-time seems like a lifer in Evanston right now, especially given the school’s humongous facilities upgrades the past few years. Guiding the team to the Big Ten title game was an impressive accomplishment last season and there’s hope that the program can even make the jump to another level going forward too. It’s often been said that the Chicago Bears is probably the only gig that would be enough to pry Fitz out of his current one but even that seems like a stretch to say as he enters season No. 14.

After announcing move to Baylor, Temple transfer TE Kenny Yeboah flips to Ole Miss

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A couple of weeks ahead of National Signing Day for high schoolers, the Ole Miss football program is the beneficiary of a different type of flip.

In late December, Kenny Yeboah announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from Temple to Baylor. Three weeks after that, however, Matt Rhule took the head job with the Carolina Panthers, and was quickly replaced by LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda late last week.

Coincidentally or not, Yeboah utilized the same social media website a day after Aranda was confirmed as Rhule’s replacement to announce that he has decommitted from Baylor and instead plans to sign with the Ole Miss football team. The tight end would be coming to the Rebels as a graduate transfer.

“With ALOT… of thought and prayer.  And talking it over with my parents, thinking deeply about my decision,” Yeboah wrote in his post. “We have concluded that I should decommit from Baylor [U]niversity. …

“After much thought and prayer. I have decided to earn my [master’s] in Health Promotions at Ole Miss University to play for Coach Lane Kiffin and his great staff.  I know this is a great opportunity for me. …

“I can’t wait to begin my new journey and grind with my teammates.”

For what it’s worth, Ole Miss hasn’t yet officially announced Yeboah’s addition to the roster.

A two-star 2016 signee, the 6-5, 240-pound Yeboah took a redshirt as a true freshman with the Owls. His head coach that season? Matt Rhule.

The past three years, Yeboah caught 47 passes for 538 yards and six touchdowns. In 2019, he set career-highs in receptions (19), receiving yards (233) and receiving touchdowns (five).

With two in a mid-November win over Tulane, the Allentown, Penn., product became the first tight end in school history with a multi-touchdown game.

Alabama transfer Scott Lashley headed to Mississippi State

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If you had the Alabama Crimson Tide football team in the “Next FBS School Featured in a Portal Post” lottery, collect your winnings. And if you had him staying in the SEC West as well?  Play the lottery.

An Alabama Crimson Tide football official confirmed this weekend that Scott Lashley was officially listed in the NCAA transfer database. Subsequent to that, it was reported that Lashley had already decided to transfer to Mississippi State.

According to 247Sports.com, Lashley is expected to begin classes at MSU this coming week.

Lashley graduated from Alabama last month. That will give the 6-7, 307-pound offensive tackle immediate eligibility at Mississippi State.  The upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

A four-star 2016 signee, Lashley was rated as the No. 20 offensive tackle in the country and the No. 8 player regardless of position in the state of Mississippi. The past three seasons, Lashley appeared in a total of 19 games.

Eight of those appearances for Lashley came at right tackle in 2019. Earlier this month, the Tide’s starting right tackle, Jedrick Wills Jr., announced he was leaving early for the NFL.  It had been expected that Lashley would compete for the starting job vacated by Wills.

Lashley is the second Tide player this month to enter the portal and then quickly move on to another school. Two weeks ago, Jerome Ford signaled his intention to leave Tuscaloosa by entering the database. Last week, the running back moved on to the Cincinnati Bearcats.

Virginia Tech joins Ball State in losing WR Damon Hazelton to transfer

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When it comes to Damon Hazelton, the Virginia Tech football team has some transfer company.

Back in May of 2017, the Virginia Tech football team announced that Ball State transfer wide receiver Damon Hazelton had been officially added to the roster. Three years and two on-field seasons later, however, Hazelton took to Twitter to announce that he will be transferring from the Hokies as well.

“Want to say thank you to Virginia Tech, coaches and community for giving me the opportunity to contribute to this University athletically and earn my degree,” the receiver wrote. “It has been an unbelievable time here. To all my brothers and teammates, I love each and every one of you and know this year will be nothing short of amazing.”

As he indicated in his post, Hazelton will be leaving as a graduate transfer.

After sitting out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Hazelton led the Hokies in catches (51), yards (802) and touchdowns (eight) in 2018. This past season, he again led the Hokies in receiving touchdowns (eight), while he was second in yards (527) and tied for second in receptions (31).

Including his time at Ball State, Hazelton has totaled 1,834 yards and 20 touchdowns on 133 catches. The 2020 season will be his final year of eligibility.

After Tulane flirtation, Texas Tech QB Jett Duffey moving on to Central Michigan

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For Jett Duffey, the past few weeks have been interesting. To say the least.

In mid-December, the Texas Tech quarterback entered the NCAA transfer database. Nearly four weeks later, Duffey announced on a Twitter account that has since been deleted that he would continue his collegiate playing career at Tulane.

Three days later, however, Jett Duffey announced on that same since-deleted account that he was withdrawing his commitment to the Green Wave and reopening his recruitment. In a text message to ESPN.com‘s Adam Rittenberg, though, the graduate transfer revealed that he will now transfer to Central Michigan.

From ESPN’s report:

According to a report from Nola.com, Duffey was originally planning to transfer to Tulane but was denied academic admission. A source told ESPN that Duffey would meet the requirements for admission at Central Michigan.

At this point, Jim McElwain‘s CMU football program hasn’t confirmed the transfer’s addition to the roster.

Jett Duffey, a three-star 2016 signee, started 11 games during his time with the Red Raiders. Eight of those starts came over the last eight games of the 2019 regular season.

In 10 games total this past season, Duffey passed for 2,840 yards, 18 touchdowns and five interceptions in completing just over 65 percent of his 367 pass attempts. He threw for 300-plus yards in five straight games and seven times overall in 2019, including a season-high 424 in the early October win over Oklahoma State; his career-high is 444 against Texas in November of 2018.

In 2018, Duffey became the first Red Raider quarterback to lead the team in rushing (339 yards) since Joe Barnes in 1973. This past season, he ran for 212 yards.