An expression of thanks to college football’s opening weekend

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The offseason — all 234 days of it (yes, I counted) — is officially over. We can stop writing about the off-the-field muck and speculating about who’s going to end up in what conference.

Well, for now, anyway.

Tonight through Monday, we can finally get around to concentrating on exactly why we gather on this here site every day:

To watch sweaty college kids knock the sense and literacy out of each other.

It’s glorious.

And, for that, I want to say thank you to a certain few that make college football one of the greatest sports ‘Merica has to offer.

First of all, thank you, Wisconsin. How could we not mention you first? We get to kickoff the 2011 season with you and your premier college town. Your beer-and-bratwurst-guzzling students, fans and marching band are the definition of what college life should be. National Lampoon made a huge mistake filming “Animal House” in Eugene and not Madison. You’re what every fan base should strive to be. Or strive to avoid on game day. Either one.

Thank you, Boise State. You’re the team everybody loves to hate. You keep college football interesting by defeating “big boy” opponents and sparking months of BCS debate before promptly nullifying it all by losing to Nevada. Your clearly unfair home field advantage, which, strangely enough, was only publicly lamented over after you started winning, has caused hoards of people to pay an unhealthy amount of attention to field pigment. You’re a good, well-coached team, and I hope you beat Georgia Saturday night. The chaos that follows will be delightful.

Thank you, Texas, for being a prime example of capitalism in action. You’ve a taken a bulk of the blame for the Big 12’s recent stability woes for it, though. And why? You’ve spent your entire existence pushing the Longhorn brand, and now it’s paid off as one of the most recognizable and profitable in all of sports. Yet, others classify you as greedy. Who do they think they are? I know what they are: communists.

But, seriously, don’t broadcast high school games.

Thank you, Nike. I don’t care what anybody says about your relationship with the University of Oregon and their 500 million uniform combinations. Talk about recruiting advantages; you got inside the head of the 17-year-old recruit and figured out what they really wanted: to look good. The game has evolved, and you caught on to it before anyone else did.

Thank you, SEC, for being the self-proclaimed center of the college football universe. But instead of pointing out all your faults, let’s concentrate on what you really bring to the game of football. Let’s just forget the whole Texas A&M drama for a moment. And the Cam Newton saga. And LSU’s off-the-field troubles. And oversigning. And your tree-poisoning fans. Let’s concentrate on the fact that you are the top conference in college football and there are few things I enjoy more than sitting down on a Saturday night to watch an SEC game under the lights. Your tradition and pageantry is only surpassed by your competitiveness and ability to cheat*.

(*note: ACC, I suggest taking notes)

And, while we’re at it, thank you, Pac-12. Your commissioner Larry Scott is a bottom line genius. When it comes to exposure and marketing his product, the dude gets it, hands down. I know your conference is dealing with some NCAA issues at USC and Oregon, but you can always fall back on your tremendous academic institutions. However, you did not manage to keep Andrew Luck from shaving his hobo beard. For that, you will be subject to a year’s worth of my most blatant East Coast bias.

Thank you, outspoken, quirky coaches. Les Miles; Steve Spurrier; Joe Paterno — you guys are the best. Do not change a thing.

Finally, thank you, Eric LeGrand and former Syracuse punter Rob Long. Your stories of courage in the most extreme adversity has been an inspiration to us all. You both refused to give up, and all of us should get out of bed a little easier every day knowing our situations could be much, much worse. You’ve also shown us there is far more to this life than football.

Thank you all for what you bring to college football and I can’t wait to see what this year has to offer. It’s been a long offseason for all of us, but it’s behind us now.

Time to sit back, relax and enjoy the game.

UAB to hire ex-NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer as head coach

Matthew Diggs/USA TODAY NETWORK
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UAB has hired former NFL quarterback Trent Dilfer as its next head coach on the eve of his high school team’s state championship game, the university’s athletic director announced.

The 50-year-old Dilfer won a Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens in 2000 during a 14-year NFL career. He’s making a big leap to the college ranks after leading Lipscomb Academy in Nashville, Tennessee, to three state title games in four seasons as head coach.

That includes one scheduled for Thursday morning against Christ Presbyterian Academy, meaning Dilfer would have to hustle back to Chattanooga after his introductory news conference. He takes his first college job with lofty ambitions for a program set to leave Conference USA for the American Athletic Conference starting next season.

“Having the opportunity to lead such a quality program like UAB is one that I am beyond excited about,” Dilfer said in the school’s news release. “The investments the university has made for UAB football aligns with my vision of taking this program to new heights as we join the American Athletic Conference and compete annually for the highest prize of playing in the College Football Playoff.”

A former first-round draft pick for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1994, Dilfer retired in 2008 and went into broadcasting, working for ESPN as an NFL analyst until 2017.

At the same time, Dilfer became involved in the Elite 11 quarterback camp for the top high schools prospects in the country.

Lipscomb Academy, a private Christian school, is 12-0 this season and 25-1 the past two years. Dilfer has led Lipscomb to a 43-10 record overall.

“Trent is a proven winner on and off the field at all levels and will be a tremendous leader for our program,” UAB athletic director Mark Ingram said. “He is a Super Bowl-winning quarterback who played the game at its highest level for many years, and he has coached some of the top quarterbacks who are currently NFL franchise players.

“Trent’s goals and vision for our program is to lead UAB to the College Football Playoff and we have no doubt that he is the right coach to lead our transition in the American Athletic Conference.”

Early in the 2021 season, Dilfer issued a public apology after a video on social media showed him pushing and shouting at one of his players. The player was the son of a former NFL teammate of Dilfer’s, kicker Phil Dawson.

Dilfer replaces Bill Clark, who stepped down in August, citing back issues.

Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was named interim coach and led the Blazers to a 6-6 record this season. UAB is set to play Miami (Ohio) on Dec. 16 in the Bahamas Bowl.

No terms were announced pending formal approval of Dilfer’s contract from the Board of Trustees.

UNC’s Drake Maye rides star-making season into ACC title game

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Drake Maye has put up big numbers all season for No. 24 North Carolina. Now he has a chance to lead the Tar Heels to something more: an Atlantic Coast Conference championship.

The second-year passer has played so well that he stirred national buzz as a potential Heisman Trophy candidate. Those hopes dwindled after two straight losses for some late-season adversity, but he can still lead the program to its first ACC title in more than four decades against No. 10 Clemson in Charlotte.

“It’s just literally a dream of going out in an NFL stadium, playing against a team the caliber of Clemson – it gets you anxious,” Maye said. “At the end of the day, it’s why you play the sport of football.”

North Carolina (9-3, 6-2 ACC) opened the season with uncertainty about how much they’d get at quarterback after the departure of star quarterback Sam Howell to the NFL. But Maye beat out Jacolby Criswell in a preseason position battle, then looked nothing like a youngster in his first season as a starter.

He leads the Bowl Subdivision ranks in total offense (373.0 yards per game) and is tied for fourth in FBS with 35 touchdown passes, just two behind national leaders C.J. Stroud of Ohio State and Clayton Tune of Houston.

Maye has also thrown just five interceptions on 440 attempts – a rate of 1.1% in an aggressive offense that pushes the ball downfield – and leads his team in rushing yards.

Clemson coach Dabo Swinney knows plenty about Maye. The Tigers recruited him out of Huntersville, a town about 20 minutes north of Charlotte. Swinney said he expected Maye would end up with the Tar Heels as an instate product.

Maye did so after reversing a commitment to Nick Saban at Alabama.

“He is a very creative player, and a very confident and poised player,” Swinney said.

Maye led UNC to its first-ever 6-0 road record this season – all by seven or fewer points – and the last Coastal Division title in the league’s final year in the two-division format with a win at Wake Forest. But the Tar Heels have followed with losses to Georgia Tech on Nov. 19 and rival North Carolina State.

Those losses were the only games this season Maye hasn’t thrown at least two scoring passes.

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo pointed to N.C. State’s veteran defense giving alternating looks to Maye. Sometimes it was applying more rush pressure to force Maye to get the ball out of his hands. Other times, it was dropping eight players into coverage to force Maye to be patient without as many deep looks.

“Our successful drives, I thought we did a great job of being patient,” Longo said. “And on the drives where we didn’t, I thought we weren’t patient. Maybe we forced a ball or we didn’t adjust our route the way we need to or hit the run where we needed to.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we get some of that from Clemson,” Longo continued. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we see that more in the future because it’s a way to maybe minimize explosive plays.”

UNC hasn’t won an ACC title since 1980, back when eventual NFL star Lawrence Taylor was the Tar Heels’ All-American linebacker. That was three years before Maye’s father Mark began his career as UNC’s quarterback and eight years before Mack Brown‘s first coaching tenure began in Chapel Hill.

If Maye can lead the Tar Heels past the Tigers, he’ll have a championship run of his own to brag about with his brothers.

One older brother, Cole, was part of Florida’s run to the NCAA baseball title in June 2017. That came roughly three months after another brother, Luke, hit the last-second jumper to send UNC to the Final Four and ultimately win the NCAA men’s basketball title on the way to becoming an unexpected star.

“Team success at the end of the day is what counts in the family, that we brag about,” Maye said. “So I think an ACC championship, that’s a pretty big deal.”