Posted on: January 13, 2011 6:33 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2011 10:51 pm

UConn hires Paul Pasqualoni over Mark Whipple

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Earlier, we reported that there were strong indications that Connecticut was looking to hire ex-Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple as its new head coach. And while Whipple did end up being one of the finalists for the job vacated by Randy Edsall two weeks ago, the Boston Globe reported today that UConn has hired former Syracuse head coach Paul Pasqualoni instead.

Pasqualoni, 61, compiled a 107-59-1 record at Syracuse from 1991 to his firing in 2004, and while those numbers are fine -- winning 100 games at the I-A level is no trivial feat -- TNIAAM rightly notes that the program diminished in quality under him; two of Pasqualoni's 10-win seasons came in his first two seasons with the team, and his only three non-winning seasons were his last three. Since his firing, Pasqualoni has been an assistant in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys , then the Miami Dolphins , then the Cowboys again (briefly) this season.

What this means for Whipple is unclear, other than that he won't be on the sidelines at Connecticut this season; he was not retained by new Miami coach Al Golden after Randy Shannon was fired, so it's not as if Whipple's still got a job to come home to. Whipple was a successful head coach at Massachusetts and other smaller programs, and he has assistant experience both at Miami and in the NFL. His skill set is still impressive, and at 53, he's got plenty of miles left on him. It's just up to him to convince a new team that his Hurricanes' offensive struggles were aberrations and not indications of larger strategic shortcomings in Whipple's game-planning.

Posted on: September 27, 2010 8:00 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2010 11:53 pm

For the Big Ten, the fight begins this weekend

Posted by Adam Jacobi

Big Ten Conference play begins this weekend*, and the race for the conference title is either already over (Ohio State) or wide open (the six other teams seemingly capable of winning the conference). We'll quickly find out whether many of the presumptive challengers to the Buckeyes' supremacy have what it takes to put together a great season. Considering the questions surrounding so many of them, the answer seems to be "maybe, but it's unlikely." In no particular order ...

Michigan (4-0): On one hand, Denard Robinson is a near-lock for Heisman candidacy this December; his stat lines are other-worldly, and there are few defenses in the conference that seem capable of containing this Michigan offense. But that defense. Ye gods, the defense. Michigan allowed 37 points to FCS stalwart UMass, and has given up more points thus far than every Big Ten team except Minnesota. Can Robinson and his teammates outscore enough conference opponents to justify the team's No. 19 ranking? They'll find out soon enough against Indiana this weekend; the Hoosiers have scored more than 40 points a game this season and have talent everywhere on offense.

Iowa (3-1): The good news: the Iowa Hawkeyes look materially better than last season, as wins that were close last year are blowouts now. Ricky Stanzi is far more efficient as a passer, and the only interception he's thrown all season came on a deflection. The bad news: the Hawkeyes have three kickers, which is to say they have none, and their cornerbacks are still rather suspect. And good heavens, that Arizona game. Iowa committed mistake after mistake in the first half, found themselves down 20 points at the break, then imploded on the offensive line with the game on the line. So what's there to make of the Arizona game? Was it an aberration, or is Iowa merely a bully of plainly inferior competition? Penn State comes to town this weekend, and intends to find out exactly how good the Hawkeyes actually are.

Wisconsin (4-0): No undefeated Big Ten team is more of an enigma than Wisconsin, who looks like it should be a Rose Bowl contender on paper -- and may very well be so -- but has underwhelmed against FBS competition. The Badgers needed a blocked extra point and a miraculous tackle at the 1-yard line at the end of the first half to help preserve a 20-19 win against Arizona State, and only beat an unimpressive San Jose State team 27-14. Yes, they won 70-3 over Austin Peay. Whatever. Wisconsin has the hogs up front and the stable of running backs (led by All-American candidate John Clay) to run over just about anybody in the conference, and Scott Tolzein is having another impressive and efficient season. Their defense isn't a weakness, and they get Ohio State (whom they've usually given fits) in Madison. But lo and behold, they face Michigan State in East Lansing this week, and it's basically a toss-up. Which Wisconsin will show up this Saturday -- and this season? 

Penn State (3-1): Joe Paterno made waves when he installed true freshman Rob Bolden at quarterback to begin the season, and for the most part, the decision has worked out; Bolden hasn't looked great, but he's playing with a maturity beyond his years, and he's certainly not a weak link in the offense. That weak link, however, would be the offensive line; Penn State hasn't blown anyone off the ball with any regularity yet this season, and that includes the likes of Youngstown State and Temple. That Penn State is still ranked after its somewhat underwhelming non-conference schedule demonstrates the deep level of trust voters have in JoePa to field a competitive team, and that's a trust that's rarely betrayed. Still, the Nittany Lions had better start playing like a quality team very soon, or they could find themselves in line for something like the Texas Bowl.

Northwestern (4-0): The Cardiac 'Cats have the inside track to a 6-0 record right now; they're two-thirds of the way there at 4-0, and their next two opponents are absolute doormats Minnesota and Purdue. Quarterback Dan Persa is one of the highest rated passers in the NCAA, and he's also Northwestern's leading rusher. That's sort of a bad thing. In fact, Persa and his stable of running backs all average less than 4 yards per carry, and they haven't even faced great rush defenses: of their three FBS opponents, only Central Michigan is in the top half of the nation's rush defenses. Let's face it: if you can't run on Vanderbilt (143 yards on 46 carries most certainly does not qualify), you can't run on most of the Big Ten. Can Persa keep up his efficient passing in the conference season, or is that 6-0 start going to turn into 8-4 and a mediocre December bowl bid?

Michigan State (4-0): Here's what's scary: The relatively underhyped, unheralded Michigan State squad could end up being better than all the teams mentioned above. Kirk Cousins is 17th in passing efficiency in the FBS. True freshman Le'Veon Bell is a dynamo in the Spartans' backfield (and pancaked two defenders at once on MSU's game-winning fake field goal). Also, unlike Michigan, MSU doesn't have a giant honking RED ALERT attached to its defense. Oh, and the Spartans miss Ohio State on this year's schedule. Ten wins or more for Sparty? It's happened all of once (1999) since the NCAA went to 11-game regular seasons, but it could easily happen this year. Or MSU could revert to its usual self and drop four or five games in the conference. We'll start finding out when the Spartans and Badgers lock horns -- if, y'know, ancient Greek warriors and badgers had horns -- this Saturday.

So who's legit and who's not? To be honest, right now, nobody really knows. That's why this weekend's going to be vitally important for all the teams mentioned above. No more excuses, no hiding behind cupcake schedules; it's Big Ten season now.

*It's worth pointing out that the Big Ten is still something of a dinosaur in this respect; it's the only conference with an eight-game schedule that has yet to begin conference play. Sure, thanks to bye weeks, Indiana and Illinois each still have a non-con to squeeze in during the conference slate, but that's it; for the rest, it's the tried and true formula of out-of-conference, in-conference, bowl. A bit stale, to be sure, but it's somewhat nice to not have your conference title hopes completely ruined before it's even October; Georgia, after all, has already gone 0-3 in the SEC. Hopeless in September. That's no way for a fan to be, is it?

Posted on: September 18, 2010 1:39 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2010 3:32 pm

Michigan struggling, but up 21-17 at half

Posted by Tom Fornelli

They tried to warn us, they really did.  Massachusetts defensive back Ke'mon Bailey said they were "about to shock the world," but I don't think there were many who took Bailey's threats all that seriously.

Well, we may be now.  UMass currently trails Michigan 21-17 at halftime in the Big House.

The Wolverines may have a four-point lead at the moment, but things could be a lot worse.  After trailing 10-7 in the second quarter, the Wolverines defense allowed the Minutemen to put together another long drive late, led by running back Jonathan Hernandez , to take a 17-7 lead with 1:17 left in the half.

Fortunately for the Wolverines, the wheels started to come off the UMass bandwagon shortly after that.  Denard Robinson hit Darryl Stonum for a 66-yard touchdown pass on the Wolverines first play from scrimmage following Hernandez's second touchdown to cut the lead to 17-14.  UMass got the ball back with a minute left, and was putting together a nice little drive when Jordan Kovacs stripped John Griffin of the football and Michigan recovered.

Robinson then led a quick five-play 55-yard touchdown drive in only 29 seconds, hitting Stonum for their second touchdown connection of the half, though this one was only 9 yards.

Robinson finished the half with 195 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception, while picking up another 65 yards with his legs.  Still, Michigan is going to have to find a way to stop Jonathan Hernandez in the second half, as the running back picked up 75 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries in the first half.

Whatever happens in the second half of this game, it's going to be a lot more interesting than anyone was expecting.  Well, anyone but Ke'mon Bailey.

UPDATE: Michigan scored on their opening drive of the second half thanks to a 34-yard touchdown run from Michael Shaw.   It's now 28-17 and the folks in Ann Arbor are breathing a bit easier.

UPDATE: Michigan would hold on to win -- barely -- by the score of 42-37.   Can't imagine Rich Rodriguez will be all that happy with the effort of his defense in this game.  Playing like that won't cut it once conference play begins.

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Posted on: September 18, 2010 12:54 pm
Edited on: September 18, 2010 1:12 pm

UMass up 10-7 early in the Big House

Posted by Tom Fornelli

Can a quarterback win the Heisman Trophy if his team loses to UMass?

Not a question asked very often, but early in the second quarter in Ann Arbor the Michigan Wolverines are trailing the Minutemen 10-7.  UMass put together an impressive opening drive, only to end up with three points.  They were then able to force Michigan's first turnover of the season on their first defensive series when Denard Robinson made an ill-advised pass into double coverage.

Michigan would get the ball back and Robinson would atone with a 43-yard pass to Kelvin Grady to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Michael Shaw to give Michigan a 7-3 lead.

Unfortunately for Big Blue, their defense is having trouble getting off the field.  UMass followed up the Michigan touchdown drive with a nine-play 67 yard touchdown drive of their own, capped off by a 10-yard run by Jonathan Hernandez.   To make matters worse, Michigan went backwards on their next series and just had to punt the ball back to the Minutemen.

It's clear early that this is not going to be an easy win for the Wolverines.

UPDATE: Michigan was able to drive down the field and get into scoring position, but missed field goals still don't count for points.  UMass still leads 10-7 with 4:45 left in the first half.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com