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Tag:Conference USA
Posted on: January 19, 2012 11:20 am
Edited on: January 19, 2012 11:26 am
 

PHOTO: Southern Miss enters Miss. billboard wars

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

Southern Miss has no doubt always felt a little overlooked when it comes to Mississippi college football, what with the state's two SEC schools taking up so much airspace even when -- as was the case this year -- it's the Golden Eagles winning conference titles and Rebels and Bulldogs combining to win one league game* that wasn't at the expense of the other.

So on the one hand, getting involved in the ongoing billboard wars between Ole Miss and Mississippi State isn't going to accomplish anything tangible other than adding to the USM budget. But on the other: the warm-and-fuzzy intangible benefits of wedging your way into said wars for some entirely deserved crowing? Those are well worth however much this cost:

Ole Miss and Mississippi State fans will no doubt say they could care less what the Golden Eagles are bothering to put up (whether they do or not), but it's hard to imagine a Southern Miss fan looking up at that and not smiling from ear-to-ear ... which is why Eye on CFB is hoping the state's billboard wars drag on for, oh, about as long as your average Middle Ages England-France conflict.

*Against Kentucky, no less. HT: SBNation.

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Posted on: January 17, 2012 1:53 pm
 

Report: Ex-Mizzou QB Tyler Gabbert to UCF

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

After a handful of false starts, former Missouri quarterback Tyler Gabbert has reportedly found his next FBS program.

Per the Orlando Sentinel, Gabbert is transferring to UCF and will join the Knights as a sophomore with three years of eligibility remaining. A native of Ballwin, Mo., Gabbert is currently taking classes at a St. Louis community college, the Sentinel reported.  

Gabbert began his college career in Columbia, following in his famous five-star brother Blaine Gabbert's oversized footsteps. A prized four-star recruit himself, Tyler redshirted during the 2010 season and was expected by many to take over for his brother come the 2011 campaign. But Gabbert lost out on the Tigers' starting job to James Franklin in spring practices and -- not wasting any time -- elected to transfer in May. He committed himself to Louisville in June (enough so that Charlie Strong issued a tweet welcoming him to the Cardinal program) only to ultimately choose not to enroll there, either.

His decision to finally land at UCF, though, may prove to be a win-win for both sides. The Knights are desperate for quarterbacking depth following the transfer of Jeff Godfreywith incumbent starter Blake Bortles the only scholarship quarterback currently on the UCF roster. At the very least, Gabbert should offer them a high-quality insurance policy in the event of an injury to Bortles.

As for what Gabbert gets out of the move to UCF, though impressive in his 10 appearances, Bortles is only a true sophomore himself and could conceivably cede the starting position -- or at least the occasional snap -- to a prospect of Gabbert's talents. Despite a lackluster 2011 season as Godfrey and Bortles played tug-of-war under center, the Knights still boast one of the deepest rosters in Conference USA and could give Gabbert an excellent chance at guiding a bowl-bound offense or even a league title-winning team if he can beat out Bortles.

That's a big "if," but on paper, it seems to be worth the gamble for both Gabbert and George O'Leary's recovering program.

Check out all the news here at Eye on CFB on the non-BCS conferences by clicking here.

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 4:31 pm
Edited on: January 17, 2012 10:46 am
 

Maryland hires Houston DC Brian Stewart

Posted by Chip Patterson

Less than a week after announcing the "mutual" exit of Todd Bradford, Maryland has found the next defensive coordinator for Randy Edsall's staff.On Tuesday, the school announced the hiring of Houston defensive coordinator Brian Stewart..

"I'm very pleased to have Brian come on board," Edsall said in the official release. "He is a proven defensive coordinator at both the collegiate and professional level. All of his experience will help us move forward as we look for him to implement his aggressive style. He will also be a great addition to our recruiting efforts."

Stewart, 47, spent the last two seasons as Kevin Sumlin's defensive coordinator at Houston. The Cougars used a 3-4 scheme under Stewart, and were 18-8 in his time on staff. Stewart spent eight seasons as an assistant in the NFL, highlighted by a two-year stint as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator in 2007-2008. He has primarily worked with defensive backs, the same position he played at Northern Arizona.

"I'm excited to join Randy's staff," Stewart said. "I admired what he did at UConn and saw the beginning of that transformation while I was at Syracuse. We've taken similar career paths as secondary coaches and then coordinators. It will be an exciting new challenge implementing our defense in the ACC, a very competitive league and one of the traditional BCS conferences."

Maryland ranked 74th nationally in passing defense (237.4 yards per game) and dead last in the ACC in total defense. The aggressive offseason plans to rebuild around head coach Randy Edsall have included changeovers at both coordinator positions. Mike Locksley was announced as the Terrapins offensive and recruiting coordinator in December, and now Stewart joins the staff with two weeks left until National Signing Day. Stewart's NFL experience will no doubt be a selling point for prospects as the Terps look to lock up a talented group of local prospects in the final days of recruiting.

For more information on the Maryland coaching changes, follow Terrapins RapidReports

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Posted on: January 16, 2012 2:06 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2012 2:18 pm
 

Sumlin hire a sign of King's quest for equality


Posted by Bryan Fischer

When milestones are being broken and they lack notoriety, does that make them less of a milestone?

It's an intriguing question to ask on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with regards to the hiring of African-American head coaches in college football.

In the case of new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin, perhaps it is best to see the arrival of yet another black coach - to the SEC no less - not as a milestone in itself but rather as a significant sign of progress with how far the sport has come. King's famous "I have a dream" speech 49 years ago called for racial equality along with an end to discrimination and, when looking at this hire, that seems to be truer now than it was just three or four years ago.

"I think it's significant progress," Sumlin said last week at the AFCA Coaches Convention about the lack of race being brought up with regards to his hire. "I can remember four or five years ago when I was hired at Houston, 'The first... the first... the first...' I said at the press conference that my hope five, six, seven years from now that it wouldn't even be a topic of discussion."

As Birmingham News columnist Jon Solomon notes, The Associated Press didn't mention Sumlin becoming the first black head football coach at Texas A&M until the 11th paragraph. While it's certainly possible Sumlin's hire might have brought up the discussion behind closed doors in College Station, there was no dwelling on his skin color when making the hire in public. Race was mentioned in passing because it wasn't a positive or negative in filling the job because Sumlin was judged on his merits as a head coach.

"They only talk about coaches two ways, moving on and getting hired or moving out and getting fired," he said with a chuckle. "When it gets to those deals now, race isn't part of the discussion."

Kentucky head coach Joke Phillips (above) played Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin in 2011 in the first ever meeting of two black coaches in the SEC. (US Presswire)
Sumlin will be the SEC's third black head coach when A&M moves to the league officially, joining Kentucky's Joker Phillips and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. Last season he was one of 19 Division I (excluding historically black institutions) minority coaches, up from just 11 in 1996. Beyond just numbers increasing, more and more assistant coaches are getting looks at top jobs around the country and it's not limited to smaller schools. Stanford's David Shaw took over for Jim Harbaugh and led the Cardinal to a BCS bowl while Franklin improbably took the Commodores to a bowl game in his first year with essentially the same squad that went 2-10 prior to his arrival.

That Sumlin moves from Conference USA to the nation's best league without much fanfare is much different from when Mississippi State hired Sylvester Croom and a positive sign that perceptions have changed just as reality has. Former Arkansas coordinator Garrick McGee took the head job at UAB to become the first black head coach at a major school in the state of Alabama, just as Sumlin became in the state of Texas. The moves are notable in their significance but also significant because they have not been noted with the attention they would have had not too long ago.

Unlike the NFL, where the Rooney Rule (instituted in 2003) has mandated teams interview minorities for openings, college hires have been left up to athletic directors and presidents' discretion. Though they are not forced to, many are giving some of the 479 black assistants in college football (as of the 2010-11 season) an interview without so much as a second thought about their race because of what they've accomplished on the field.

"I think any success I've had or can have helps the process," said Sumlin, proudly pointing out the SEC logo on his Texas A&M polo. "I think it's important that it is something that isn't being talked about. That is real progress."

Though the stark contrast between the number of black players in Division I (46%) and head coaches (less than 20%) remains a wide gulf, it is becoming less noticeable with each passing offseason. According to the NCAA, not only has there been increases in opportunities for coaches, but there has also been a broader distribution of those opportunities in other areas such as athletic administration and at the coordinator level.

In the case of Sumlin and others over the past few years, the best stat about them is that they are not talked about as one. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, that is certainly something to note as a sign of progress and a true milestone in the sport.
 

Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:55 am
Edited on: January 5, 2012 11:57 am
 

BBVA Compass Bowl Key Matchup



Posted by Bryan Fischer


A look at the key matchup that could determine the BBVA Compass Bowl.

SMU quarterback J.J. McDermott vs. Pittsburgh's secondary

Live by the quarterback, die by the quarterback. That seems to be SMU's M.O. this season with difficulties winning games when McDermott turns the ball over. Obviously you don't want your signal-caller giving the ball away to the other team and putting more pressure on your defense but it seems as though the Mustangs have a particularly hard time rebounding.

Now, the Pitt secondary isn't littered with NFL talent but they've done a solid job this season. They held explosive West Virginia to just 244 yards through the air and allowed only 12 touchdowns through the air against FBS competition. They're helped out by a pretty good pass rush and generally force teams to make it a point to run the ball. Jarred Holley is the leader of the group and should roam around to cover SMU receivers and help support against the run, making him a busy man.

Behind McDermott, SMU has had over 300 yards passing just once in the second half of the season and he had a 6-11 touchdown-to-interception ratio during the stretch run. Against a solid Pitt defense, he's going to have to step his game up to say the least. The running game has found some success but June Jones playcalling obviously calls for a successful short and intermediate passing game and that will mean McDermott has to play within the offense and not take too many chances because the Panthers can give him fits.

Both teams are better than their record suggests but the BBVA Compass Bowl should come down to McDermott taking advantage of the time off to come out sharp and well prepared. If he's on, SMU should be able to beat their BCS AQ opponent and allow Jones to win another bowl game in a place where those wins are few and far between.


Posted on: January 5, 2012 11:08 am
 

Keys to the game: BBVA Compass Bowl

Posted by Bryan Fischer

SMU WILL WIN IF: The Mustangs have no problem throwing the ball around in June Jones' offense but, this year, that has led to plenty of turnovers and they're going to have cut those down if they want to win this game. SMU is dead last in turnover margin - and it's not very close - and throws interceptions as much as they do slant routes (19 on the season). Pitt has shown flashes of being a good team despite their 6-6 record and if they keep getting extra chances to score, should find the end zone enough to win the game. But, if SMU can hold onto the football and the offense is sharp as it can be, a bowl trophy should find its way to the hilltop.

PITTSBURGH WILL WIN IF: Quarterback Tino Sunseri has to step his game up and come through with some efficient drives. Pitt was the definition of average this season with their record, an up-and-down ride through the year that did see them lose several close games and win a few others they could have lost. With running back Ray Graham out, the offense has stalled after going one-dimensional and Sunseri has been making mistakes that just make you scratch your head. The defense will have its hands full with SMU's offense so the team needs the offense to move the ball and limit mistakes and turnovers. Play within themselves and Pitt should end the season on a high note and give something new head coach Paul Chryst can build on.

X-FACTOR: Is either team motivated to be in Birmingham? SMU had their coach flirt with other schools in the offseason and Pitt makes a return trip to this bowl after an average season and their coach informing them via text message that he was headed to warmer climates. They're playing in one of those games in the lull between the title game and other BCS bowls so it's possible both teams come out lackadaisical and uncaring. Add in the fact that just about every coach for the Panthers is either gone or has an interim tag and you don't know how they're going to come out of the tunnel and play. Whoever does come out sharp and executes will likely end up taking home whatever type of trophy BBVA can come up with.

Posted on: December 30, 2011 4:06 pm
 

QUICK HITS: BYU 24, Tulsa 21 at Armed Forces Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen



BYU WON: Riley Nelson 
hasn't put up the kind of stats BYU quarterbacks have historically/traditionally put up, but after two-thirds of a season as a starter, he's already etched himself into Cougar lore as one of the clutchest signal-callers the school has seen. After a season full of late-game heroics, Nelson did it again, taking over at the Tulsa 48 and guiding his team to the game-winning touchdown with just 11 seconds to play. That score came on a two-yard throw to receiver Cody Hoffman -- his third touchdown reception of the game -- after Nelson faked a clock-stopping spike a la Dan Marino. 

The Cougars trailed 14-3 20 minutes into the game but held the high-powered Golden Hurricane to just one touchdown over the final 40, and only 268 total yards for the game overall.

WHY BYU WON: Because Tulsa just couldn't keep their boot on the Cougars' throat. BYU was just this side of gawdawful in the first half, with Nelson erratic, the defense up-and-down, and the run game ineffective. When the Cougars punted the ball back to the Golden Hurricane with less than a minute left in the first half -- their fifth punt in seven possessions, with one of the others ending in a Nelson pick -- it appeared they would head into the half down 11 and with Tulsa in firm control. But punt returner J.D. Ratliff fumbled the punt under pressure, and the Cougars cashed in with a one-play, 17-yard touchdown "drive."

Thanks to G.J. Kinne executing a clinical 58-yard TD drive of his own early in the fourth, the Golden Hurricane were again in position to put the victory securely in their grasp when a BYU running-into-the-kicker call gave them the ball with a 21-17 lead and under 6 minutes to play. Instead they went a meek three-and-out (just as they had before the penalty), the next time they got the ball bask it was with a three-point deficit and only 11 seconds left. BYU was the better team on the stat sheet (with a 343-268 total yardage advantage), but the Cougars still never would have won this game without Tulsa's willingness to help them out at exactly the moments BYU needed that help the most.

WHEN BYU WON: When Nelson's fake spike threw the Golden Hurricane defense off just enough for Hoffman to come open in the front corner of the end zone. With so little time remaining, Tulsa's only hope was a crazy last-second lateral play that didn't make it past midfield.

WHAT BYU WON: Their first bowl game as an independent, a final 10-3 record that cements the program's continued relevance without a conference affiliation, and a bundle of optimism entering Nelson's senior year. It wasn't always pretty, but Bronco Mendenhall will surely take it.

WHAT TULSA LOST: Their fifth game of the season, which isn't so bad considering the first three came to Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Boise State. But if the 2011 Golden Hurricane were ever going to be anything other than just another pdecent Conference USA team, they needed to stay beat (or at least stay competitive with) Houston or win this very winnable bowl game. That they didn't do either means that it's been a nice enough debut season for Bill Blankenship, but not one anyone's going to remember as ultimately "special."

FINAL GRADE: The two teams combined for 611 yards of offense, or some 160 fewer than Baylor managed last night alone. Though the ending offered plenty of drama, the first 59 minutes offered far more in the way of punts, turnovers, and generally disorganized, sloppy offensive play. Kudos to a pair of defenses that showed up to play, but from an aesthetic standpoint -- especially in the immediate wake of the all-timer at the Alamo Bowl -- this was a snooze. C+.

Posted on: December 27, 2011 1:49 pm
 

Keys to the Game: Armed Forces Bowl

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

BYU WILL WIN IF: Riley Nelson 
is who we think he is. The Cougar junior quarterback took over with his team down late (and down big) to in-state upstart Utah State Sept. 30, engineered a dramatic last-minute comeback, and never looked back. Over BYU's final eight games Nelson threw 16 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions, averaged a sterling 9.1 yards an attempt, and added an average 5 yards per his 75 rushing attempts for good measure. The catch is that he did this against the weaker two-thirds of the Cougar schedule; only two of those eight games came against competition outside the WAC or FCS, and one of those two -- vs. TCU -- was Nelson's worst outing of the season (51.7 completion percentage, 2 picks). The good news for BYU is that on paper, Tulsa's closer to the Idahos and Hawaiis of the world than TCU. The Golden Hurricane finished 118th in the FBS in pass defense, and though some of that was a schedule that handed them games against Landry Jones, Kellen Moore, Brandon Weeden and Case Keenum, much of it was also allowing 10 yards an attempt to North Texas and more than 9 to UCF. If Nelson is the quarterback he appeared to be over the closing stretch of the season, there's going to be plenty of opportunities for the Cougars to rack up major yards -- and points -- through the air.

TULSA WILL WIN IF: they can put a metric ton of points on the board. Who has the better defense in this matchup isn't really much of a question -- BYU's D ranks 16th, Tulsa's 89th -- but the Golden Hurricane have played a much tougher schedule and still boast the better offense at 454 yards per game and 6.18 per-play. Though the Hurricane defense has had its moments in 2011 (holding SMU to a single touchdown in a 38-7 laugher, most notably), the formula for Tulsa is the same as it's been ever since Gus Malzahn dropped in in 2007--ride the no-huddle offense to 35-45 points, and dare the opposing offense to execute well enough to do the same. And solid Cougar defense or not, with quarterback G.J. Kinne (2,859 yards, 8.0 YPA, 25-to-12 TD-to-INT ratio) and the tailback tag-team of Ja'Terian Douglas and Trey Watts (1,744 combined yards), the Hurricane have the horses to make it happen. This game isn't likely to become a slugfest, and if it somehow is, it's even less likely Tulsa wins it. But the Golden Hurricane proved over the course of whipping their first seven Conference USA opponents that a shootout tilts the odds heavily in their favor instead.

THE X-FACTOR: This doesn't shape up as the sort of game that would become a field goal kicking contest, but if it does, BYU's the team more likely to suffer for it. Sophomore Justin Sorenson hit just 14 of his 24 attempts this season while Tulsa boasts one of the nation's best placekickers in senior Kevin Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was named first-team All-C-USA after connecting on 15 of his 17 attempts, and if the game hangs one kick, seems a much better bet to pull through than Sorenson.

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