Jim McBride’s four items of interest on this week’s college football landscape:
With Mariano Rivera (injury) watching from the dugout and Jose Valverde (performance) reduced to spectator status, there is a dearth of standout closers on the scene this fall. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees. The junior quarterback has come on in relief three times this season and nailed down a win for the Fighting Irish every time. In his latest appearance, Rees relieved an injured Everett Golson and led his squad to a game-tying field goal and an OT touchdown in a victory over Stanford. He previously came on to help deliver wins over Purdue and Michigan. So, what’s the secret to success for Rees, who has started 17 games in his career? “The best way I can describe it is, you really don’t have time to think,’’ he said. Works for me.
Coach of the Year candidates are all over the map — from the East (Rutgers’s Kyle Flood) to the South (Florida’s Will Muschamp) to the Midwest (Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly) to the West (Oregon’s Chip Kelly). But perhaps the most deserving candidate at the season’s midpoint is Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. Faced with the daunting task of rebuilding a program left in ruins by the Jerry Sandusky sexual-abuse scandal, O’Brien — despite the defection of several high-profile players — has the Nittany Lions (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten) playing at a high level. They could be Ohio State’s major roadblock on the way to the Leaders Division title. The Lions, currently riding a four-game winning streak, face Iowa (4-2, 2-0) Saturday. O’Brien has deflected any praise to his players, particularly senior leaders Michael Mauti (linebacker) and Michael Zordich (fullback).
No raves for rant
Speaking of coaching honors, Wyoming’s Dave Christensen is the leader in the clubhouse for Hot Head Coach of the Year. Christensen went on a rant last week following the Cowboys’ 28-27 loss to Air Force. Christensen met Air Force coach Troy Calhoun after the game and questioned whether Falcons QB Connor Dietz was genuinely hurt when he left the game during a late drive. Christensen was upset that the Falcons had time to strategize while Dietz was attended to. Dietz’s sub scored the winning TD. “In this game, we’re supposed to be ethical, and that’s not ethical,’’ Christensen said. Seemingly coming to his senses, he later apologized, saying he let his “passion for our football program . . . get the best of me.’’ Agreed.
Aftershocks are sure to be felt throughout Maine (and New Hampshire, too) when the Black Bears host the Wildcats in Orono, Maine, Saturday in the 100th meeting between the neighboring rivals. While their feud isn’t as legendary as the Hatfields and the McCoys, the winner does get to take ownership of the Brice-Cowell Musket. The gun is named in honor of former Maine coach Fred Brice and ex-UNH boss William Cowell. The Wildcats lead the all-time series, 48-43-8, and have dominated lately, winning eight of the last nine games. It shouldn’t come as a surprise. Coach Sean McDonnell’s Wildcats have been a model of consistency for some time, having been ranked in the top 25 for 120 straight weeks — a run that began Sept. 13, 2004. Most impressive.