Florida schools, South Carolina move home games ahead of Ian

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Three Sunshine State universities took steps to salvage home football games as Hurricane Ian approached.

Florida moved its game against Eastern Washington from Saturday to Sunday. Central Florida did the same with its game against SMU. South Florida relocated its Saturday game against East Carolina from Tampa, Florida, to Boca Raton.

Although South Carolina is a safer distance from the major storm, the Gamecocks didn’t want to wait to make a decision regarding their game against South Carolina State. Those schools will now play Thursday night, two days earlier than previously scheduled and at least a day before Ian reaches the area.

Stetson canceled its home game against San Diego scheduled for Saturday in the Pioneer Football League.

No. 23 Florida State and 22nd-ranked Wake Forest, meanwhile, are “closely monitoring” the storm while expecting to play as planned in Tallahassee.

“We remain confident that we will be able to safely host Saturday’s football game against Wake Forest at its scheduled kickoff time,” FSU athletic director Michael Alford said Wednesday.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson was cautiously optimistic.

“It’s one of those deals that you certainly hope that the ACC office makes the right decision,” Clawson said. “And if they don’t, we will. We’re not going to travel down there and put anybody at risk. … Obviously, this is in the league’s hands and Florida State’s hands. We would hope that they make the right decision. But if we feel there’s any danger to our players going down there, we’re not going to go.”

The storm is expected to hit the state’s southwest coast Wednesday. It tore into western Cuba on Tuesday as a major hurricane, with nothing to stop it from intensifying into a catastrophic Category 4 storm before it hits Florida, where officials ordered 2.5 million people to evacuate before it crashes ashore Wednesday.

Universities across the state closed campuses for the week. But football is big business and a much-needed revenue source for many. Playing the cross-country game at Florida guarantees Eastern Washington $750,000, a significant payday for a school with an athletic budget around $17.5 million.

South Carolina State also relies on its “paycheck game” from South Carolina.

“There’s no perfect plan, but we’re trying to put together the best thing for our team at this moment,” South Carolina coach Shane Beamer said.

The Gamecocks last moved a game due to weather in 2016, playing a scheduled Saturday game on Sunday.

The NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers relocated their football operations to the Miami area Tuesday in preparation for Sunday night’s game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Buccaneers are expected to practice at the Dolphins’ training complex in Miami Gardens starting Wednesday. So far, there has been no change for the game, which is scheduled for Sunday night at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

“We are not discussing any potential (relocation) sites,” the NFL said Wednesday in a statement. “We continue to monitor the storm and are in constant communication with the clubs and local authorities. Decision could be made as late as Friday.”

The Dolphins play at Cincinnati on Thursday night. They changed their travel plans for Wednesday and are leaving a few hours earlier than originally scheduled, in anticipation of severe weather.

Also in Tampa, the Rays have other concerns besides clinching an AL wild card. As they opened a three-game series in Cleveland, players and coaches were keeping an eye on the impending hurricane. The Tampa Bay-St. Petersburg area was last directly hit by a hurricane in 1921.

“Watching the news, watching the computer,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said. “I know the Bay area has been pretty fortunate over many, many years now, but just thinking about everybody there and hopefully people have done right to prepare and wherever it goes, it doesn’t hit as hard as the speculation.”

Meanwhile, the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning postponed preseason games scheduled to be played at home Wednesday against Carolina and Thursday against Nashville.

The NBA’s Orlando Magic called off practice on what would have been their second day of training camp Wednesday, and said their plans for Thursday were uncertain. Forecasters say Orlando – in the central part of the state – could see flooding and, at minimum, tropical storm conditions as Ian nears the coast.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.