Northwestern unveils plans for new football stadium

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports
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EVANSTON, Ill. – Northwestern unveiled plans Wednesday to build a new Ryan Field and replace the current 97-year-old football stadium with a state-of-the-art facility featuring a reduced seating capacity and greater emphasis on the fan experience.

The school said the stadium would seat 35,000, down more than 12,000 from the current Ryan Field, and feature a canopy designed to keep noise and light focused on the field. It would include cutting-edge technology and scoreboards, as well as concessions with food from local restaurants.

Northwestern said the stadium would achieve Gold LEED certification, and “set a new standard” for accessibility. The plan calls for plazas outside, a community park and other green spaces that could be used year-round.

Northwestern said it is also considering hosting “a limited number” of concerts.

The project that athletic director Derrick Gragg called “transformational” was made possible a year ago by a $480 million donation from the family of Patrick and Shirley Ryan that was the largest in school history. Some of that money is also funding academic ventures. The school said the Ryans have committed to increasing the donation to ensure the funding for the stadium and plazas does not come at the cost of “research, scholarship, student aid, tuition or staff and faculty support.”

It’s not clear where the football team would play during construction, assuming the city of Evanston, Illinois, approves the project. The school said it is “exploring all options.”

The current Ryan Field opened in 1926 and expanded in 1949 and 1952. The stadium underwent an extensive renovation in 1997 supported by a gift from the Ryans.

In recent years, Northwestern has also constructed a sparkling lakefront practice facility and overhauled its basketball arena.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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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
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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.