Houston benches QB John O’Korn for versatile backup Greg Ward, Jr.


There were a chorus of preseason whispers about Houston as a possible American Athletic Conference champion and New Year’s Six bowl representative from the Group of Five, and the man who was going to take the Cougars there – sophomore quarterback John O'Korn.

O’Korn earned AAC Rookie of the Year honors after stepping into the starting role following David Piland‘s abrupt retirement due to concussion issues by completing 58 percent of his passes for 3,117 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, aiding the Cougars to an 8-5 finish and an appearance in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Houston was pegged third in the AAC this year but that has not gone to plan – at all. Houston opened the season and brand new TDECU Stadium with a 27-7 loss to UTSA in which O’Korn tossed four interceptions, and things haven’t gotten much better from there. For the year O’Korn is completely a shade under 52 percent of his passes for 188.8 yards per game with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. After throwing a pick every 25.9 throws as a freshman, O’Korn’s interception rate has more than doubled to one oskie for every 11.1 attempts.

Head coach Tony Levine replaced O’Korn during the Cougars’ 17-12 loss to Central Florida after he connected on just 12-of-26 passes for 98 yards with no scores and two interceptions for the versatile sophomore Greg Ward, Jr. – have you ever heard a more perfect NASCAR name in your life? – who completed 10-of-17 passes for 116 yards with no interceptions in the loss.

The loss dropped Houston to 2-3 on the season.

On Sunday, Levine announced that the arrangement will continue into the Memphis game on Saturday

“This decision is more of a reflection how Greg performed in his last game,” Levine told the Houston Chronicle.

Ward switched from quarterback to wide receiver in the spring in an effort to see the field and get out from under the seemingly entrenched O’Korn, though he has had a package of plays at quarterback. Thus far in 2014 Ward has completed 11-of-20 passes for 124 yards, rushed 16 times for 53 yards and a touchdown, caught 15 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown and returned nine punts for 93 yards.

“All I’m trying to do is help my team win,” Ward told the paper. “The decision they made is what we’re all living with and we’re moving on from here.”

The move had to be made if Houston has any hope of rectifying a season rapidly moving from struggling to sinking. Houston ranks 78th nationally in scoring offense, while Saturday’s opponent Memphis places 22nd in scoring defense.


Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.