Pac-12 taps into former football stars to boost conference

Alika Jenner / Contributor
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The Pac-12 is tapping into former football stars such as Brock Huard, Toby Gerhart and Lincoln Kennedy as it explores ways to boosts the conference’s fortunes on the field and off.

The conference announced Monday the formation of the Pac-12 Football Alumni Council.

The group includes more than 20 players and coaches from Pac-12 schools, including some active NFL players such as San Francisco 49ers center Alex Mack (California), Detroit Lions tackle Tyrell Crosby (Oregon), Houston Texans receiver Brandin Cooks (Oregon State) and Arizona Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz (Stanford).

Led by Pac-12 Associate Commissioner and former NFL star Merton Hanks, the alumni council already has met twice.

A football think tank of sorts, the council has discussed a wide range of topics from football scheduling and recruiting to brand-building and marketing.

“We just have so many substantive changes that have to happen over the coming months and years ahead, that it would really be negligent if that group did not have a voice in those changes,” Hanks told The Associated Press.

The Pac-12 has not had a team selected to the College Football Playoff since 2016, and it has been shut out of the CFP in six of eight years.

Pac-12 Commissioner George Kliavkoff has stressed since being hired last spring that improving the conference’s football and maximizing CFP selections are his priority.

“Just the interactions I’ve had with him to this point have been very encouraging. I think for others on this council as well. I think they felt that same sense of purpose and urgency,” Huard said.

A former Washington quarterback who currently is calling games as an analyst for Fox Sports, Huard said his interactions with Kliavkoff have been encouraging and helped motivate him and others to get involved.

Huard said the council is more than ceremonial.

“It is much more about passion and wanting to see and hopefully help in some positive change,” he said.

Because college football is in the midst of massive changes, from conference realignment to playoff expansion and less restrictive transfer rules to athletes being paid endorsers, Huard sees an opportunity for the Pac-12 to improve its position quickly.

“I think there is more opportunity than there was five years ago to change your narrative and to do it in a hurry,” he said.

Huard said members of the council have discussed how they can personally engage alumni bases of Pac-12 schools and encourage them to be more involved with their favorite teams. They have talked about promoting programs with an eye on increasing attendance, and, maybe most importantly, working to get the word out to recruits in the Pac-12 footprint that they don’t have to leave the West Coast to play college football at the highest level.

“This is a group that’s serious about spending time to do what we can do to aid (the Pac-12),” Huard said.

Former Southern California All-American Tim McDonald, who played defensive back in the NFL for 13 years, said having former Pac-12 stars selling the conference to recruits can send a powerful message.

“There’s a lot that the Pac-12 has to offer,” McDonald said. “I just think we have lost too many kids.”

McDonald said aside from the two official meetings of the alumni council, he has had informal discussions with members about how they can fuel a Pac-12 turnaround. And the group is trying to get more Pac-12 greats involved.

“That’s the ultimate goal,” McDonald said. “We want that alumni crowd as big as possible at games to make sure the student-athletes feel us.”

The other members of the alumni committee include Scooby Wright and Brandon Sanders from Arizona; Eric Allen from Arizona State; Justin Forsett and Shane Vereen from Cal; Chad Brown and Mike Pritchard from Colorado; Mike Bellotti from Oregon; Steven Jackson from Oregon State; Toi Cook from Stanford; Johnathan Franklin and Marcedes Lewis from UCLA; Derrick Deese from USC; Steve Smith from Utah; Dana Hall from Washington; and Jack Thompson from Washington State.

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.