Former USC coach Clay Helton hired to helm Georgia Southern

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
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Georgia Southern hired former Southern California coach Clay Helton on Tuesday, seven weeks after USC fired him.

Helton was the first coach fired this season, and was two games into his eighth season at USC. The 49-year-old was 46-24 with the Trojans, including a Rose Bowl victory after the 2016 season and a Pac-12 title in 2017.

“I am very humbled to be named the head football coach at Georgia Southern University,” Helton said in a statement. “The passion and love its alumni and fans have for the University are second to none. Georgia Southern has always prided itself on the highest levels of success, and I welcome those expectations.”

Georgia Southern fired coach Chad Lunsford after a 1-3 start to the season. The Eagles (2-6, 1-4 Sun Belt) are last in the Sun Belt’s East Division heading into Saturday’s game against No. 21 Coastal Carolina.

Georgia Southern won six national titles when it competed in Division I-AA, before moving up to the NCAA’s top college football tier in 2014 and joining the Sun Belt. For years, the Eagles were known for their triple-option offenses under coaches like Paul Johnson and Willie Fritz.

Helton was offensive coordinator at USC before being named interim coach when Steve Sarkisian was let go during the 2015 season, and eventually promoted to head coach. He brought stability to a program that had gone through almost a decade of turmoil.

The Trojans had two good seasons with Sam Darnold at quarterback to start Helton’s tenure. But he couldn’t sustain the success, and for more than three years his status at USC seemed tenuous. After a blowout loss at home to Stanford on Sept. 11, Helton was fired.

“Clay is renowned for not only his coaching abilities but for the person that he is,” Georgia Southern athletic director Jared Benko said in a statement. “He’s an elite offensive mind who has produced record-setting offenses and high NFL Draft picks everywhere he’s coached.”

Baylor-Houston postponed day before game

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Baylor’s season opener against Houston, scheduled less than a week ago, was one of two Bowl Subdivision games postponed Friday – the day before before they were supposed to play.

Florida Atlantic’s opener against Georgia Southern was postponed earlier in the day, following the results of FAU’s COVID-19 testing Thursday. In both cases, the schools involved said they would try to find make-up dates.

The postponements illustrate the uncertainty surrounding college sports. The number of FBS games postponed or canceled because of COVID-19 issues since Aug. 26 is 16 and the pandemic’s impact is being felt in other sports; one of college basketball’s premier tournaments is moving from Hawaii to North Carolina and the NCAA delayed the start of the basketball season to Nov. 25.

Athletes are scrambling too: Minnesota star receiver Rashod Bateman has re-joined his team after opting out of the season, and hopes to be able to play when the Big Ten starts in late October. A similar return played out earlier this week at Ohio State.

The Pac-12 could be next to get back in the game. The conference’s university presidents met Friday. A statement from the league said the CEO Group had “an informative and productive meeting.”

“We plan to reconvene this coming Thursday, Sept. 24 to make a decision regarding possible return to play prior to January 1,” the group said in a statement. “The health and safety of our student-athletes and all those connected to Pac-12 sports will continue to be our number one priority in all of our decision making.”

In putting off its opener, Baylor said it was unable to meet COVID-19 roster thresholds set by the Big 12. The school did not provide specifics on the players or positions affected by the coronavirus or the number of players who were quarantined due to contact tracing; on Monday, it said it had six active cases across its athletic programs and that 23 total cases were being monitored.

Baylor is scheduled to open its Big 12 season next week against Kansas. The Big 12 said that game is still on for now, but Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told SicEm365 Radio in Waco, Texas, he had not yet spoken to Kansas athletic director Jeff Long.

“Within this particular position group we can’t take on any more water,” Rhoades said.

The Big 12 said a minimum 53-player roster is necessary to play a game, and must include at least seven offensive linemen, four defensive linemen and one quarterback.

On Friday, the Southeastern Conference released similar thresholds with one key difference. The SEC said it would only count scholarship players among those minimums. The Big 12’s minimums include walk-ons.

“We’re heartbroken from this postponement,” said Dave Aranda, the former LSU defensive coordinator still waiting to make his debut as Baylor’s coach. “While we’ve been eager to play football this fall, we have all made a commitment to only do so with the highest level of safety and care for our student-athletes.”

The game between Baylor and Houston was scheduled only a week ago after the former Southwest Conference rivals both had their original openers put off because of the virus.

Baylor was supposed to play last Saturday against Louisiana Tech, which had widespread COVID-19 positive tests.

Houston was scheduled to play Friday night against Memphis, but the American Athletic Conference postponed that game last weekend after the Tigers had numerous players test positive.

Houston has now had four games postponed or canceled, including one against Washington State originally scheduled for Sept. 12 that was lost when the Pac-12 initially decided to play only conference foes. The Pac-12 subsequently postponed the fall season altogether but is now reconsidering, with a possible late October or early November start.

The Cougars are scheduled to play North Texas next week.

“We’re extremely disappointed for our student-athletes, coaches and staff,” Houston AD Chris Pezman said. “They all have consistently done the right thing and worked tirelessly to be prepared for this game.”

Virus scraps Florida Atlantic-Georgia Southern

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Florida Atlantic postponed its football opener Saturday at Georgia Southern because of a coronavirus outbreak.

The two schools hope to reschedule, FAU said Friday.

Eleven people in the FAU program tested positive for the coronavirus earlier this week. The school declined to specify how many of the positive tests involved players, coaches or staff.

FAU’s first two games were canceled months ago because of the pandemic.