Longest, continuous intersectional rivalry in college football. Check.
Gold helmets for both teams. Check.
Navy with a better record than Notre Dame. Check.
No, really. That last fact probably wasn’t what one would expect when glancing at the Navy schedule before the season. When the Irish and the Midshipmen face off in Jacksonville, Fla., Saturday, Navy will carry a 5-2 record into the game.
Notre Dame, which in August figured to hear its name listed near the top of the College Football Playoff rankings that were announced Tuesday, is 3-5.
“It’s not one of their better years, but it’s still Notre Dame,” Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo said of the 90th meeting with the Irish.
“Brian Kelly is one of the best coaches in college football and he has really good players. “We know who they are and this is going to be an uphill battle for us. Hopefully we’ll be ready to compete and find a way to get a W against a team that we’ve had a hard time beating over the years.”
The Midshipmen are playing in the Sunshine State for the second consecutive week. Last Friday, they lost at South Florida in an American Athletic Conference game. Navy fell behind 28-0 and rallied before losing 52-45. After losing at Air Force earlier in the season, the Midshipmen bounced back to upset No. 6 Houston.
The game is being played at Everbank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars. That plus the recruiting exposure in Florida are two of the pluses for Navy. Moreover, Niumatalolo hopes that even though it’s a neutral site his team will get plenty of support.
“Jacksonville is a Navy town. That’s the whole premise behind it,” he said. “We’re excited to be playing in a pro stadium in a Navy town.”
Best at Boise State
Boise State receiver Thomas Sperbeck is well known by his teammates for his athletic ability. He was a high school quarterback and came to the Broncos as a safety.
Yet, the 6-foot, 180-pound senior has made his mark as a wide receiver, becoming the school’s career leader in receiving yardage with 3,139 yards. He has gained 3,099 of those yards in the last three seasons.
“I don’t really know how he does it. He’s just a ballplayer,” Boise State quarterback Brett Rypien said.
“Sperbeck, he’s the guy in the Mountain West Conference that doesn’t get near enough credit,” Utah State coach Matt Wells said. “He does everything. He throws every trick pass and catches every trick pass that somebody else wants to throw. He’s involved in everything. The guy could probably be the backup quarterback.
“I love that kid, watching him (play).”
UConn changes coordinators
Making an in-season staff change, especially at the coordinator position, is typically a sign of desperation. Connecticut was a bowl team last season, but with a 3-6 record, the chances of bowling this season are slim. Still, coach Bob Diaco shuffled his staff this week.
He promoted running backs coach David Corley to offensive coordinator with Frank Verducci stepping down to coach tight ends/tackles. The Huskies have been offensively challenged, averaging just 18.3 points a game to rank 126th in FBS scoring.
“It’s difficult to make a change at any time,” Diaco said. “(Corley’s) suggestions this year and been spot-on. “They’ve been some of the better moments in games, some of the better plays in games. His suggestions in-game that I listen to have been on-point, and he has a good feel for that.”
The change comes on a short week — the Huskies host Temple Friday. Reading between the lines, it appears that Diaco is looking ahead to 2017.
“I don’t want to hold him completely accountable for the final four weeks with three games, under the circumstances,” Diaco said. “No matter if it’s four days, four weeks or four years, he’s going to be a star in our profession. He’s going to be an icon in our profession, but he’s not a magician.”
Gunner Kiel sighting
Gunner Kiel’s career as a college quarterback will end this season. After the starting the season as Cincinnati’s third-team quarterback, he became the starter two weeks ago and led the Bearcats to a victory over East Carolina.
In his two starts, Kiel has thrown for six touchdowns. His journey to this point has been circuitous and curious. He was Cincinnati’s starter the last two seasons but lost the job before the start of this season.
Kiel was considered the second-best quarterback prospect in the 2012 class behind Jameis Winston. He verbally committed to Indiana, then verballed with LSU before signing with Notre Dame. Kiel redshirted the season Notre Dame reached the BCS championship game. Then he transferred to Cincinnati and made his college debut in 2014.
Solace for Solich
Let’s give it up for Frank Solich. He was in an impossible situation in his first coaching gig, taking over for Nebraska legend Tom Osborne. Solich, though, in his six seasons took the Cornhuskers bowling each year. It just wasn’t enough.
After sitting out the 2004 season, Solich took the job at Ohio University in 2005. He is 86-64, including this season’s 6-3 record that has the Bobcats bowl eligible. That makes eight of the last nine seasons Ohio will play in a bowl. Solich has led his team to a bowl in 14 of the 18 seasons he has coached.
Pumphrey on pace
San Diego State running back Donnel Pumphrey continues to pile up the yards. The senior is on pace to finish on top of the NCAA career rushing yards list. He needs 657 yards to surpass the 6,397 yards by Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne.
If the Aztecs play six more games (the Mountain West Conference championship game and a bowl game), Pumphrey would need to average 109.5 yards per game to surpass Dayne. Pumphrey is the leading rusher in the FBS, averaging 183.6 yards per game. With 1,469 yards, Pumphrey could surpass 2,000 yards.
- Middle Tennessee (6-2 overall, 3-1 in Conference USA) clinched bowl eligibility with Saturday’s 42-35 victory at Florida International. The Blue Raiders also can brag this week that they have the best record in the state. Memphis is 5-3, Tennessee is 5-3 and Vanderbilt is 4-4.
- Sun Belt look-ahead: Appalachian State, which was won 23 of its last 27, plays host to Texas State (2-5, 0-3) Saturday. If the Mountaineers (6-2, 4-0) win, that will set up a crucial road game at Troy on Nov. 12. The Trojans (6-1, 4-0) have a non-conference game with Massachusetts Saturday. Troy’s only loss came at Clemson.
- Pick Six. Western Michigan’s Darrius Phillips has three interceptions and he’s housed all three. His third pick six came Tuesday night when he returned an interception 75 yards in the Broncos’ 52-20 victory over Ball State.
- Special shout out to the American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Week. UCF junior linebacker Shaquem Griffin had 14 tackles, 2.5 sacks, 3 tackles for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery against Houston. Griffin leads the AAC with 8.5 sacks despite playing with a significant handicap discussed in this TodaysU.com story.
Said and done
BYU offensive lineman Tuni Kanuch on the 4-4 Cougars going into Saturday’s game at Cincinnati:
“We’re competitors. No one wants to lose, even if you’ve had upsets or been upset before. We want to win. We’ve worked too hard all year to give up just because we lost a couple of games. They were really close games, so we know we can play ball. We played a lot of good teams. We have one of the hardest schedules I’ve ever seen. We have losses that we’re sad about, but we’re not ashamed of how we play.”