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Pitt names ex-UMass head coach Mark Whipple as new offensive coordinator

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi is hoping that bringing back Mark Whipple to the city where he saw some of his greatest success will be just the trick to jump-starting the Panthers offense.

In a move announced by the school on Monday afternoon, the former UMass head coach was named Pitt’s next offensive coordinator as he replaces the recently fired Shawn Watson.

“Mark Whipple is truly one of the best teachers of offensive football in the country—college and pro,” Narduzzi said in a statement. “His track record working with quarterbacks is simply outstanding and I know that positional group will really grow under his influence. Mark will not only make a huge impact from an offensive standpoint, but his tremendous wealth of experience will benefit our entire program. I really value the fact that we are adding another staff member who has been a head coach. We are thrilled to welcome Coach Whipple and his family back to Pittsburgh.”

Whipple found plenty of success in the city as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback coach from 2004-06, mentoring Ben Roethlisberger as the team won Super Bowl XL. He also had stints with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns in the pros, as well as serving as OC/QB coach at Miami under Randy Shannon.

UMass and Whipple recently parted ways after the season following a 4-8 campaign, ending a second stint with the Minutemen that saw the head coach go 65-70 overall at the school and 16-44 the last five years as the program left the MAC and embarked on football independence.

While the overall record was not what Whipple or the school wanted, he did develop some prolific offensive weapons like Biletnikoff Award finalist Andy Isabella and had the team averaging 6.4 yards per play in 2018. That mark is significantly better than what Pitt did on their ACC Coastal title run during the same season, which saw the Panthers rank 97th in total offense nationally.

Notre Dame losing leading receiver Miles Boykin to NFL

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Notre Dame will need a new go-to wide receiver in 2019. As suspected would be the case, Miles Boykin is passing on his final season of eligibility to take his game to the next level. Boykin officially declared himself eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft with a statement shared on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.

“To my teammates and coaches, I’d never be in this position without the continuous support you’ve shown me over my career, ” Boykin said in his statement. “I’ll truly miss all of you, and I want to thank you all for believing in me.”

Boykin has already earned his degree from Notre Dame, which made his decision to turn pro a pretty likely one given the circumstances. Although he did have another year of eligibility at his disposal after not playing as a freshman, Boykin appeared to be a likely departure from South Bend at the end of this college football season.

Boykin was Notre Dame’s leading receiver this season with 872 yards and eight touchdowns. He caught five passes for 69 yards in his final game in a Fighting Irish uniform, a College Football Playoff loss to Clemson in the Cotton Bowl. Boykin’s best game of the season was either his two-touchdown performance at Virginia Tech with 117 receiving yards on eight catches or the game prior to that with 144 receiving yards on 11 receptions with one touchdown at home against Stanford. Both games helped make Notre Dame a legitimate playoff contender in early October.

Cheez-It Bowl sees nine glorious interceptions thrown, one TCU victory over Cal in the process

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The Pac-12 and Big 12 are filled with numerous high-flying offenses but Cal, under Justin Wilcox, and TCU, under Gary Patterson, have hitched their wagons to playing stout defense. The two programs met in the Cheez-It Bowl on Wednesday night in Phoenix and to nobody’s surprise, the pair combined for plenty of the latter and very little of the former as the Horned Frogs snuck out of the desert with a 10-7 win in overtime.

Let’s get this out of the way: this was far from the sharpest of games this postseason and might have been one of the ugliest college football games in all of 2018. There were nine — nine! — interceptions thrown and a combined seven sacks. It took heroic efforts for either side to rise above three yards a play and the two teams had a total of 15 punts between themselves.

So yeah, it was one of those games. That said, there was plenty of entertainment for the college football masochists out there.

TCU quarterback Grayson Muehlstein, whose play ironically had helped his team into this bowl game down the stretch, had a regrettable game throwing the football: completing seven passes to his own team and throwing four to the other side, including one on an absolutely dreadful double-pass trick play in the first half. He finished the evening with just 27 yards passing and just a few more in total if we’re being generous and including the eight yards he had on scrambles.

The Horned Frogs converted just three third down attempts all game long and really would have been dead in the water if not for tailback Sewo Olonilua, who had 194 yards on the ground and powered his way to the team’s lone touchdown. Things actually went from bad to worse in the fourth quarter when Muehlstein was briefly hurt, forcing Patterson to put in Justin Rogers — an emergency move if there ever was one because the freshman has been dealing with drop-foot from an injury he suffered in high school and is not fully mobile (Rogers completed one pass for one yard and took a sack while in the game).

Things were not terribly better on the Cal side of the field offensively either. Chase Garbers started the game and went 12-of-19 for 93 yards… but threw three picks himself and was replaced by Chase Forrest (71 yards, two INTs of course). Senior running back Patrick Laird was the team’s leading rusher for most of the game but left at halftime with a shoulder injury. Chris Brown did put up a team-high 57 yards in relief but yards and points were clearly hard to come by in this one.

Listen, this was no Pitt-Oregon State Sun Bowl from eons ago that ended 3-0 or that Virginia Tech-Wake Forest game that went to overtime sans points but boy did it come close to reach that elusive plane in college football lore. TCU got the victory in the end, however ugly, and we can all tell our kids years from now that yes, we too watched the lackluster Cheez-It Bowl unfold in all it’s glory late on a Wednesday night the day after Christmas.

Cal and TCU combine for six interceptions in low-scoring first half of the Cheez-It Bowl

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You’re not going to believe this, but two defensive-minded head coaches with two questionable offenses came together for a low-scoring and turnover-filled first half of a bowl game. Yes, TCU and Cal combined for five interceptions through two quarters of play at the Cheez-It Bowl as the Bears were narrowly able to take advantage of one of those takeaways in order to hit the locker room with a 7-0 lead in a, um, bizarrely entertaining postseason tilt.

Horned Frogs quarterback Grayson Muehlstein was responsible for three of those picks, one off an ill-advised trick play throwback pass (see below) and the other two of your more regular that’s-a-bad-throw variety. He closed out the half with just four completions to his own team for 10 yards and TCU was mighty lucky to only be down a score as a result. Tailback Sewo Olonilua wasn’t much better against a loaded box and had 70 yards on the ground as the home run hitter on the gridiron was bottled up well at the home of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

Cal signal-caller Chase Garbers chipped in with three more interceptions in the first half, two coming as part of four straight series with a turnover as the two sides played a bit of hot potato with the ball itself. At least the young QB was able to get a little rhythm before that stretch while throwing for 93 yards on 12 completions and running for the game’s lone touchdown. Running back Patrick Laird also chipped in with 29 yards rushing.

Needless to say, taking care of the football will no doubt be emphasized on both sides going forward and hopefully both offensive coordinators have something saved up that could jump-start their respective groups. The Cheez-It Bowl has been entertaining despite the low score and all the turnovers but hopefully for everybody involved, the level of play gets elevated in the second half of this Big 12-Pac-12 battle.

BYU’s Zach Wilson throws perfect game in rout of Western Michigan in Potato Bowl

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The term “perfect game” is a baseball term, but it seems justifiable to use it to describe the performance of BYU freshman quarterback Zach Wilson in BYU’s blowout of Western Michigan in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on Friday afternoon in Boise, Idaho. Wilson completed 18 of 18 passes for 317 yards and four touchdowns as BYU (7-6) blew away Western Michigan (7-6) by a score of 49-18.

Behind the confident passing of Wilson, BYU took over control of the game in the second half. After trailing the Broncos 10-7 at halftime, Wilson quickly got the Cougars on the move with a 48-yard pass to Neil Pau’u and later ended the drive with a touchdown pass to Dylan Collie to put BYU in front. They never looked back. Wilson connected with Collie again on BYU’s next offensive series to build on the lead. Wilson later tossed a 70-yard touchdown pass to Aleva Hifo to extend the lead to 28-10 as BYU was in the midst of scoring four touchdowns in the third quarter.

Wilson did throw an incompletion on BYU’s next possession, but a defensive holding penalty on Western Michigan wiped out the incompletion on the stat sheet to keep Wilson’s perfect afternoon intact. Wilson’s fourth touchdown pass brought him within one completion of tying the all-time record for most consecutive passes to start a bowl game of 19, previously set by Mike Bobo of Georgia (now the head coach of Colorado State) in the 1998 Outback Bowl.

Wilson’s day would come to an end without another pass attempt. With a 42-18 lead midway through the fourth quarter, BYU head coach Kalani Sitake opted to bring in senior quarterback Tanner Mangum to wrap up his collegiate career. While Wilson was stealing the show on offense, BYU’s Sione Takitaki was having himself a day on defense with 19 tackles in the game.

While the season may not have gone quite as well as some BYU fans would have hoped to see, the Cougars did end the season with a winning record and on a winning note after winning just four games in 2017. Wilson’s bowl performance will have optimism riding high in Provo for next season as well. The regular season will start with some stiff challenges once again next fall with a home game against Utah to open the year followed by a road trip to Tennessee and then a home game against USC and Washington in consecutive weeks.

Western Michigan will go back to the drawing board a bit to try putting together a better season. Since going to the Cotton Bowl with an undefeated regular season a couple of years ago, the Broncos have gone 13-12 the last two seasons under head coach Tim Lester. The Broncos lost four of their last five games with the loss in the Potato Bowl with a couple of blowouts and a victory over the MAC champion Northern Illinois making it difficult to project just what to expect from the Broncos next season. This was a game that just got out of hand for Western Michigan after halftime and Wilson was just on a different level passing the football for BYU.