NCF Nation: Rich Ellerson

3-point stance: Confusing end for Mack

December, 16, 2013
1. Mack Brown conducted his retirement press conference at the University of Texas on Sunday with the same charm and straightforwardness that he conducted so many of his big-stage moments. Brown said he began this season convinced that the Longhorns would return to national prominence. So did a lot of writers. It doesn’t surprise me that the writers had no inkling that the Longhorns wouldn’t be able to stop anyone. But Brown sounded just as surprised as the rest of us that his team stumbled. That’s a head-scratcher.

2. Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher, trying to explain what sets apart his Heisman trophy winner, quarterback Jameis Winston, from other redshirt freshmen. “He throws a touchdown, he has to understand why he did it so he can repeat it. … He always wanted to know why he had success, or why he had failure, so he could repeat it or fix it. And that’s very rare in a young player.”

3. Will Texas thrive under a new head coach? The cautionary tale is Tennessee, which forced out Phillip Fulmer, a future Hall of Famer, five years ago. Since then, the Volunteers have floundered under three head coaches (cumulative record: 28-34. Then there’s Army, which fired Rich Ellerson on Sunday after a 12th consecutive loss to archrival Navy. Ellerson is the third Black Knights head coach to be relieved of his duty without beating the Midshipmen. Army never should have run off Bob Sutton, now the Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator.

Eric LeGrand to take in Rutgers-Army

November, 6, 2012
Eric LeGrand will be at Rutgers on Saturday when the Scarlet Knights host Army, the programs' second meeting since that fateful day he was injured more than two years ago at MetLife Stadium.

The Black Knights' overwhelming response to LeGrand's spinal injury struck a cord with Rutgers ever since.

"Certainly because of the way Coach [Rich] Ellerson and their staff handed the situation, there will always be a very special tie and connection between Army football and Rutgers football," Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said.

Last year's meeting took place at Yankee Stadium, with LeGrand taking part in the pregame coin toss with Malcolm Brown, the player LeGrand tackled on his last college play.

That play occurred at the Army 25-yard line with 5:10 left of Rutgers' Oct. 16, 2010, win.

LeGrand is determined that that will not be his last appearance at the 25-yard line of MetLife Stadium.

"He's doing better," Flood said. "What does that mean from a tangible standpoint? I think that means he's getting a little bit better every day. We know this process for Eric is going to be a long process, but he'll be the first one to tell you that at the end of it he's going to come through.

"He's going to go back to Giants Stadium and lay down in that spot where it happened, and he's going to get up and he's going to walk off the field. Eric LeGrand is always going to be a tremendous part of our program at Rutgers."
They are fierce rivals, yes, but everybody who coaches at and plays for a service academy understands the difficulty of making a bowl game. So it should come as little shock that they applauded what happened last season -- when Army, Navy and Air Force all made bowl games for the first time in college football history.

"All three are phenomenal places. Each one has their own niche that our country badly needs," Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said. "We’re fortunate to have each one of these academies. When they all have winning seasons, that’s pretty cool stuff."

Now the big question -- can they do it again and again?

[+] EnlargeArmy quarterback Trent Steelman
Hunter Martin/Getty ImagesLast season Trent Steelman passed for 995 yards, rushed for 721 yards and led Army to its first bowl game since 1996.
"There are no guarantees in this, but I think that’s a realistic outcome when you look at who we are and our schedules and how well we’re playing," Army coach Rich Ellerson said. "It’s not hard to visualize that."

Navy and Air Force have been playing at high levels in recent years. The Midshipmen have been to eight straight bowl games; Air Force to four straight. It had been Army that lagged behind. But Ellerson has changed the culture at West Point, taking his Black Knights to a bowl game for the first time since 1996.

Is that enough to get the momentum going for Army? On paper, it appears that Army has the longest shot of the three service academies to make it back to a bowl game.

The defense lost six starters, including all-important nose guard Mike Gann and defensive end Josh McNary, who holds the school record for tackles for loss and sacks. The defensive line is more undersized than usual for a service academic, so the team is hoping its quickness and athleticism can make up for that. The Black Knights also lose leading tackler Stephen Anderson, who had 108 stops last season, and both starting safeties.

If you take a look at the Army schedule, you will find very few gimmes. Six of the 12 games feature bowl teams; only four of their FBS teams had losing records last season. The opening stretch is tough, starting with a game at Northern Illinois (11-3 last season), then home to San Diego State (9-4) and Northwestern (7-6). Army plays six straight games before getting a bye.

But if there is a bright spot for Army, it has to be on offense. Quarterback Trent Steelman and fullback Jared Hassin return, and they should given opposing defenses fits. Hassin ran for 1,013 yards last season and Steelman added 721 on the ground and 995 yards passing. Army does have to replace four starters on the offensive line, but Ellerson has been pleased with their progress.

Navy faces a rebuilding year as well, but the Midshipmen are a team that knows how to win and win consistently. They only return 10 starters -- and just three on defense. Navy lost its top four tacklers from a year ago -- Wyatt Middleton, Tyler Simmons, Aaron McCauley and Jerry Hauburger.

There are some bright spots returning, though. Defensive end Jabaree Tuani, their best defensive lineman, returns. Cornerback Kewsi Mitchell will anchor the defensive backfield, though just exactly where he will play remains up in the air. On the latest depth chart, he is listed as a possibility at rover, right and left cornerback.

Offensively, Ricky Dobbs is gone, but there isn't much concern about Kriss Proctor coming in to run the triple-option. Proctor has had extensive experience running the offense as a backup the past two seasons. Plus, he has fullback Alexander Teich to help him out. Teich had a breakout year in 2010, running for 863 yards and is in line to be a 1,000-yard rusher this season. Four of five starters on the offensive line return as well.

As for Air Force, the Falcons are the defending Commander-In-Chief Trophy winners after breaking the seven-year Navy streak. Air Force has to be the favorite to repeat as CIC champions because of everybody it has returning. In fact, the Falcons were picked to finish third in the Mountain West in the preseason media poll, and some have called them a darkhorse candidate to win the conference.

Air Force has the best quarterback of the service academies in Tim Jefferson, and the best return specalist in Jonathan Warzeka. The Falcons also have the most solid defense. Eight starters return on defense, including the team's top three tacklers from a year ago -- Jordan Waiwaiole, Jon Davis and Brady Amack.

All three programs need to get to six wins to be bowl eligible. If that happens again, Navy would head to the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman on Dec. 28 in Washington against a team from the ACC. Army would head to the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco against a Pac-12 team on Dec. 31. Air Force would go to a Mountain West tie-in.
For those who missed it, I did a spring rewind last week on Army and a video look at the chances that all three service academies will be bowl eligible in 2011.

Here is a part of the conversation I had with Army coach Rich Ellerson on the increased expectations for his team, which made a bowl game in 2010 for the first time since 1996.

How do you now deal with the higher expectations on your program?

Rich Ellerson: We understand the arrow’s up and nobody has higher expectations for these guys than these guys. We know we’re going to be green, but we know we’re going to be athletic. We may go through some growing pains. As we get to the season, we’ll expect to win. Having said that, we know we’re going to be coming out of the gate against some tough opponents to get this thing started. We’ll find out very quickly where we are, especially with some of those green guys on defense. Expectations remain very high offensively with the emergence of some of those guys on the line. Defensively, we’ll have to see how quickly those guys will grow into that role.

How has the culture changed now that you are in Year 3 of your program?

[+] EnlargeArmy head coach Rich Ellerson
AP Photo/Amy SancettaCoach Rich Ellerson said the culture has changed so that Army's players expect to win consistently.
RE: We expect to win, we expect to be successful. That’s the culture the last two graduating classes have articulated and made part of their legacy. That’s easier now because the rising seniors are guys that were plebs when this voice was evolving, so they can’t remember it was any other way, ever. There isn’t that element on the team that had to make an intellectual choice. This is now a cultural reality. It’s not something where guys had to suspend their other beliefs. They’ve now made that a permanent part of the culture. I don’t think this group will blink. They will have high expectations for themselves. We don’t expect anything else.

You mentioned the schedule: opening at Northern Illinois, followed by games against San Diego State and Northwestern and at Ball State. Since Army is in control of its schedule, do you prefer having tough games bunched at the beginning or more spread out?

RE: I would rather not do that, but these schedules were done years ago. I looked at this one when I first got here and we were trying to move some things and couldn’t do it. The schedules I get asked about are for 2018. I’ll be eating soup up in section 40 by then. You have to be careful when you’re scheduling people like Northern Illinois and San Diego State. San Diego State is a perfect example -- here we are on the East Coast and that looked OK and that was an opportunity to play out West. The last two times I played those guys at Cal Poly, we managed to beat them. I’ve always felt about San Diego State the way people feel about the University of Texas. It should be hard not to be successful there. That’s a great program and Rocky Long is as good as I know. …

The nature of college football is: Are you going to play Ball State when they’re 11-1 or 4-8? The good news is people aren’t as excited about playing us as they used to be. We’re one of those programs now.

Given your success last season, are you where you expected to be when you laid your goals out for this program?

RE: We’ve got lots and lots of work to do, especially with our service academy rivals. The internal way we had to move, how we’ve recruited, who we’ve recruited, how we’ve been able to develop the guys internally -- I couldn’t be more pleased with the culture that’s now in place and the prospects for our future. I’d like to win every week. That may not be in the offing, but that’s the expectation.

How much closer are you to your academy rivals?

RE: I don’t think we handled the stage very well last year. Well, we handled it well against Navy. We just weren’t good enough that day to win. The guys expected to win, and the guys were clearly capable of being successful but Navy played better. We really feel like we’re stepping out there and it’s going to be contended. We’re not going to roll those guys, but I don’t think they’re feeling like they’re going to roll us, either. This is going to be: buy your ticket and hold on to your hat. These are very good football teams.

Can all three academy teams be bowl teams every season?

RE: It has the potential to be that. There are no guarantees in this, but I think that’s a realistic outcome when you look at who we are and our schedules and how well we’re playing. It’s not hard to visualize that.

Army spring rewind

April, 28, 2011
Time to take a look at what Army learned during spring practice.

Unanswered questions: The biggest are on defense, where coach Rich Ellerson is still looking for somebody to step up in the interior of his defense to replace Mike Gann, a stalwart for the Black Knights last season. Injuries kept a few players off the field who would have contended for the starting job, and now Ellerson is going to have to rely on two-a-day practices to determine who is going to start. "The good news is you don’t need 1,000 turns in the spring," Ellerson said. "You break doing it. We can still evaluate those guys efficiently. The only challenge [is] do they exist? Do we have that guy or those guys? We’ll be OK, but we graduated a really good player in Mike Gann. Right now if we were going to play, I would say we have not replaced him yet." There are also questions in the linebacking corps. Steve Erzinger took reps at middle linebacker in place of the departed Stephen Anderson, but Ellerson is not sure whether that will be a permanent move.

Questions answered: Army lost four starting offensive linemen and its backup center, but Ellerson left spring feeling much better about this unit than he thought he would. Will Wilson impressed him at center while Joe Bailey and Matt Villanti also had good springs as they compete at right guard. Ellerson also said left tackle Brad Kelly took a giant step forward. "Everybody took a step forward from that group," Ellerson said. Jarrett Mackey had a good spring and will be able to step into the large shoes left by Josh McNary. With quarterback Trent Steelman sitting out the spring because of a shoulder injury, Ellerson got a good look at his quarterbacks and likes the depth he has with Max Jenkins and Jimmy Reitter.

Spring stars: Ellerson singled out a few players: Tyler Dickson at free safety, receiver Jared McFarlin and defensive linemen Corey Watts and Brian Zalneraitis and cornerback Casey Hughes.

Top five non-AQ stories of 2010

December, 31, 2010
Happy New Year to one and all! Now that we are on the final day of 2010, let us take a look at the top five non-AQ stories of the season:

1. Conference realignment. 2010 started with a triumvirate of three non-AQ teams leading the charge for national recognition: Boise State, TCU and Utah. But as 2010 closes, only Boise State will be left as a non-AQ team in the coming years. While the Broncos are moving on to the Mountain West, Utah is headed to the Pac-12 for 2011 and TCU will move to the Big East in 2012. You can best sum up the recent events with a tried and true motto: If you can’t beat them, absorb them!

Utah, Boise State and TCU have each gotten to two BCS games, and all three have created headaches for the BCS and AQ conferences because they each have gone undefeated in the regular season but been shut out of a chance to play for a national championship game. That has happened for three straight seasons now (Utah in 2008; Boise State, TCU in 2009; TCU in 2010). Now only Boise State is left to wander the road to inclusion with its cohorts in the Mountain West, WAC, MAC, Conference USA and Sun Belt. Meanwhile, we are left to wonder whether or not the WAC will survive with the Broncos, Nevada, Fresno State and Hawaii joining the Mountain West (Hawaii in football only).

[+] EnlargeBoise State's Kyle Brotzman
AP Photo/Cathleen AllisonBoise State kicker Kyle Brotzman missed a field goal attempt to win the game at the end of regulation against Nevada and an attempt to take the lead in overtime.
2. Boise State loses. This one qualifies as a bigger story than TCU making the Rose Bowl for one big reason -- the Broncos more than the Horned Frogs served a symbol of the non-AQ team trying to break the national championship glass ceiling this season. No non-AQ team brings out more vitriol than Boise State. Its critics see the Broncos as a bunch of whiners who play in a weak conference and have done nothing to deserve their national attention. Most everyone expected Boise State to move past TCU in the BCS standings when the season ended. But Nevada had other plans, and its stunning overtime win qualifies as the upset of the season.

3. TCU to the Rose Bowl. For the second straight season, the Horned Frogs went undefeated in the regular season and earned a BCS berth. Because of a caveat in the rules, the Horned Frogs ended up going to the most prestigious bowl game of them all: the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin. And this time, they get what they wanted last season -- a chance to play a big-time AQ program to prove they belong in the national conversation. TCU has more than playing for itself on the line in this game. It has the hopes of all non-AQs on the line as well. Of course, we have seen other non-AQ teams win their BCS games only to have nothing change. Utah and Boise State have BCS wins, but they have done nothing to alter the perception that they should remain outsiders.

4. Nevada. The Wolf Pack deserve it after upsetting Boise State to ruin the Broncos’ hopes of playing in a national championship game. They ended up with a share of the WAC title and the best season in school history. Let’s not forget Colin Kaepernick and all he has accomplished in his career, rewriting the school and NCAA record books along the way. Coach Chris Ault is set to get a contract extension, and his Pistol offense has swept the nation. So what Nevada did this season not only helped itself, but is helping plenty of other teams as well.

5. The service academies. This is the first year in history that all three service academies played in a bowl game. Not only that, this is the second time in history all three have finished with seven or more wins in the same season. Army coach Rich Ellerson deserves much of the credit here because he has been able to turn around a moribund team and make it competitive. Army cadets have been asked for years when this program would actually win some games. They now have their answer. When you consider the commitment of these young men, not just to football but to this country, all three academies deserve a salute for a job well done.

Others: Miami (Ohio) turnaround from 1-11 to 9-4; San Diego State turnaround from 4-8 to 9-4; Kellen Moore finishing fourth in the Heisman; Ohio mascot taking down Brutus the Buckeye; three MAC coaches go to AQ schools (Al Golden, Mike Haywood, Jerry Kill).
1. Kansas State wide receiver Adrian Hilburn got flagged for one quick salute to the crowd after scoring a touchdown with 1:13 to play in the New Era Pinstripe Bowl that pulled the Wildcats within 36-34 of Syracuse. Kansas State had to go for two points from the 17, and failed. If the standard is an excessive act that calls attention to the participant who committed it, then the Big Ten crew that flagged Hilburn committed the more egregious act. But if you saw the game, you don’t need me to tell you that.

2. Army’s 16-14 victory over SMU in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl means the Black Knights finished with a 7-6 record. You could talk all day about the rebuilding job that Rich Ellerson is performing at West Point. But let’s all salute Army, Navy (9-4) and Air Force (9-4) for having winning records in the same season for the first time since 1996. That is, unless there’s a Big Ten officiating crew lurking around.

3. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema sounded a genuine note of remorse that he couldn’t see his college coach, Hayden Fry of Iowa, be inducted into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame on Thursday. “He's the first man that believed in me in coaching,” Bielema said. “I walked on and I earned his respect right away. He didn't know my name. He called me 86. That was my jersey. At least he knew my jersey. But I began to work and he'd see me do things every day.”

Instant Analysis: Army 16, SMU 14

December, 30, 2010
Army beat SMU 16-14 in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. Here is a quick instant analysis:

How the game was won: SMU did itself in with way too many mistakes. Kyle Padron had three first-half turnovers -- two interceptions and a fumble -- that led to 10 points. His first was a fumble that Josh McNary returned 55 yards for a touchdown. Army did an excellent job getting pressure on him all day, forcing him into many of those mistakes. Padron regrouped and played a much better game in the second half, rallying SMU to two touchdowns. But Matt Szymanski missed a 47-yard field goal wide left with 4:05 to play that would have given the Mustangs the win. Couple that with a missed field goal in the first half, and you have a recipe for a loss. Army was unable to do much with the triple option in the second half, which is why the Mustangs had a chance. But give the Black Knights credit for taking advantage of the mistakes and posting the first winning season at the Academy since 1996.

Turning point: Down 16-14, SMU had a third-and-9 at the Army 33 with a little more than four minutes to go. Padron was flushed out of the pocket and nearly sacked, but the pressure only allowed him to throw a dump off pass to Darius Johnson for 3 yards. Rather than go for it, SMU decided to go for the 47-yard field goal attempt into the wind for Szymanski, who missed. That decided the game.

Stat of the game: Zero. Penalties and turnovers for Army in the game.

Player of the game: McNary. In addition to his fumble recovery returned for a touchdown, he led an aggressive defensive effort that continually harassed Padron all day. The Army defense came up big when it needed to to preserve the win.

What SMU learned: Padron has got to work on his consistency for SMU to take the next step. In this game and the Conference USA championship game, he made too many mistakes. The offensive line needs major improvement, too, because he was completely harassed and pressured in both those games. But June Jones had done a great job taking SMU to back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1984-85 and he does have a nice nucleus returning next season in Padron, Zach Line and Johnson on offense.

What Army learned: Army (7-6) not only beat a winning team for the first time this season, it won its first bowl game since 1985. Coach Rich Ellerson has done a terrific job turning around a program that had suffered mightily since its last winning season in 1996. The senior class made it a point to bring respectability back to West Point, and they did that and more. It was not good enough to make it to a bowl game for Army. The Black Knights wanted a win, and they deserved it against SMU. Trent Steelman and Jared Hassin return next season, so bigger things could be in store for the cadets.

What it means: All three service academies finish with seven or more wins for just the second time in history. It happened in 1963: Army, 7-3; Navy, 9-2; Air Force, 7-4.

Record performance: Army fullback Jared Hassin went over 1,000 yards on the season, the second Army sophomore to break the mark, joining Mike Mayweather in 1988. It is the 14th 1,000-yard season in Army history.


June Jones, Rich Ellerson go way back

December, 29, 2010
College football coaches run in a tight circle. When they meet on the field during pregame warm-ups, there is chit-chat and banter. But how often do we see the matchup set for Thursday?

Army coach Rich Ellerson and SMU coach June Jones played for Hawaii in the 1970s. But their relationship ran deeper than just teammate to teammate. Ellerson was the center and Jones was the quarterback, requiring a deeper knowledge and understanding of the other.

The two later served on the same coaching staff in Hawaii in 1983 before going their separate ways. They lead their teams into the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl with that bit of shared history and a great respect for the other.

“I've always been a fan of Rich and followed him,” Jones said earlier this month. “Dick Tomey hired me and gave me my first job. He also gave Rich his first job. We both have stolen a lot of things from Dick. I see a lot of that in the things he says. I see that in the way he plays defense still, the way that they play on offense. So there's going to be a lot of crossover between them.”

Ellerson has closely followed what Jones has done in resurrecting the SMU program. He recounted the time he was approached about the possibility of scheduling SMU.

“I didn’t say no. I said hell no,” Ellerson said to laughs. “I know June knows what he’s doing. I know he’s got great resources there.”

As for who Jones really is, Ellerson said, “June is not a lot different than he was back then. He has tremendous confidence in himself and what he’s doing. It’s not in a way that comes across cocky, but just confident and self-deprecating. He is a fascinating personality because he’s not a guy who lights up the room, but yet he’s still a magnet for people.”

Both Jones and Ellerson deserve credit for what they have accomplished at their respective schools. SMU is in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1983-84, and Army is making its first bowl appearance since 1996.

There is great interest in this game in the Dallas-Fort Worth area as well. SMU is playing at home because of renovations to the normal bowl site, Amon G. Carter Stadium on the TCU campus. The Mustangs sold out their allotment of 10,000 tickets and only standing-room only tickets remain. There also is a big military presence in the area, so the crowd should be well split, watching two old teammates trying to outwit the other.
SMU coach June Jones and Army coach Rich Ellerson go way back to their playing days in Hawaii, and the Mustangs are playing on their home field in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Thursday. But that is the only bit of familiarity in this game. The two teams run distinct offenses and are newcomers to the recent bowl scene. The Mustangs are in back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 1983-84, while Army is in a bowl game for the first time since 1996. SMU is not exactly thrilled about the opportunity to stay at home for its bowl game, so motivation could be a factor for the Mustangs.

WHO TO WATCH: SMU QB Kyle Padron. The last time we saw him, Padron was getting hammered into the ground by an aggressive UCF defense in the Conference USA championship game. He finished with 220 yards passing and completed a season-low 52.9 percent of his passes while throwing two interceptions. SMU needs a good game out of him because he makes the run 'n' shoot offense go. He did throw for more than 3,500 yards this season, so he has the talent.

WHAT TO WATCH: SMU defense versus Army triple option. SMU faced one triple-option team already this season -- losing 28-21 to Navy in October in a seesaw game. The Mustangs gave up 253 yards rushing, but were able to contain Navy in the first half, holding the Midshipmen without a point. But SMU had problems with the outside pitches, and you can bet that was a point of emphasis going into this game. The linebackers especially are going to have to stay disciplined and limit the big plays on the ground to contain this offense.

WHY TO WATCH: Classic matchup of passing versus running in this one should make it quite an interesting battle. Army has had a resurgent season, and SMU is making steady progress under Jones after the wasteland that defined the program following devastating NCAA sanctions in the 1980s.

PREDICTION:SMU 30, Army 20. The Mustangs have more talent and are more explosive on offense with the run 'n' shoot and that makes the difference in the game.

Two from Big 12 up for coaching honor

December, 13, 2010
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman and Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy are among 10 finalists for the Liberty Mutual Coach of the Year Award.

Fans can vote on the award's website for their favorite candidate, and the winner will be announced on January 10, 2011, just before the BCS National Championship Game.

Fan voting constitutes 20 percent of a coach's final score.

Various members of the College Football Hall of Fame will also vote on the award, and their votes count for 55 percent of a coach's score. Media voting constitutes 25 percent.

Here's Gundy and Sherman's competition:
  • Gene Chizik, Auburn
  • Mark Dantonio, Michigan State
  • Rich Ellerson, Army
  • Chip Kelly, Oregon
  • Doug Marrone, Syracuse
  • Tom O'Brien, North Carolina State
  • Nick Saban, Alabama
  • Jim Tressel, Ohio State
Army coach Rich Ellerson has agreed in principle to a two-year contract extension that will keep him with the Black Knights through the 2015 season, the school announced Tuesday.

In just his second season at the helm, Ellerson has led the Black Knights to their first bowl game since 1996, guiding Army to a berth in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl against SMU on Dec. 30. Army (6-5) concludes its regular season against rival Navy on Saturday in Philadelphia.

With a win in either of those final two contests, Ellerson would become the first Army head coach to win at least 12 games in his first two seasons since Tom Cahill won 16 games in 1966 (8-2) and 1967 (8-2).

Last season, Army went 5-7 and finished just one win shy of a bowl berth. The last bowl that featured Army was the 1996 Independence Bowl.

Lunchtime links

December, 6, 2010
It's the most wonderful time of the year ...

Unless you're Temple.

It's not the national championship, but the Rose Bowl is just dandy for TCU.

Meanwhile, part of Amon G. Carter was destroyed to make way for a rebuilding effort.

Boise State got the matchup it wanted against Utah in the MAACO Bowl in Las Vegas.

San Diego State is set to give coach Brady Hoke a new contract.

Northern Illinois coach Jerry Kill is headed for Minnesota, and there is not much more the Huskies could ask of their coach.

Middle Tennessee's seniors are thrilled for their bowl trip.

Toledo made it into the Little Caesars Bowl to help fill the seats.

SMU coach June Jones and Army coach Rich Ellerson go way back.

For bowl teams, the extra practice time is invaluable.

FIU is disappointed with how the bowl process went down.

Army reaches bowl goal

November, 17, 2010
Nearly every day in the offseason, as Army players did their daily workouts, they talked about one thing: getting back to a bowl game.

It had been 14 years since Army had a winning record and made a bowl. In that time, there were a lot of lean years and losing. But under coach Rich Ellerson, the mindset of the players and the program started to change. Last season, Army came up just short of making a bowl, with five wins.

[+] EnlargeArmy head coach Rich Ellerson
AP Photo/Amy SancettaArmy coach Rich Ellerson has the Black Knights bowl-eligible for the first time in 14 years.
Now in his second season, Ellerson has done what eluded so many coaches before him. His players believe. They are more disciplined. They can run the ball. They are tough. They are physical.

They are indeed bowl-eligible.

After clinching their sixth win of the season last week against Kent State, the scene in the locker room was euphoric.

“It was a fantastic experience, one that was filled with a bunch of joy and excitement knowing we had accomplished something that hadn’t been done here in almost 15 years,” fullback Jared Hassin said in a phone interview.

It also was incredibly meaningful to a group of players eager to restore the Army tradition.

“It’s as much of an honor as anything to be able to have brought that tradition back to West Point,” Hassin said. “As a team, our motto has always been bring it back, which stands for bringing the tradition back to the core of cadets, to the Academy. It’s always been on our minds. To finally have accomplished that is something that’s a huge honor for all of us.”

Especially for a group of seniors who had won three games in each season before Ellerson took over.

“We didn’t come in with a three-year plan or a five-year plan,” said Ellerson, a triple-option expert hired from Cal Poly. “We wanted to keep faith with the players that were in the program then. We were going to ask them to believe in some things and choose a path and put a voice on the program and prepare in a certain way. We expected to win from day one.

“Last year’s senior class, this year’s senior class, really a remarkable effort on their part because that was an intellectual choice they had to make to believe in what we were doing and how we were doing things and the voice we put on it. Now for the younger guys, there’s never been any other way. Those are the guys that broke through the glass and changed the expectations.”

Of course, the season is not over, not by a long shot. Army (6-4) faces two difficult games to close out the year -- against Notre Dame on Saturday at the new Yankee Stadium, and against Navy on Dec. 11 in Philadelphia.

The Black Knights also do not have an automatic bowl tie-in this season, but are backup options for the Armed Forces Bowl and Military Bowl. Still, it is hard to see a 6-6 Army team getting left out. The strides it has made this season are worthy of praise.

Trent Steelman has taken command of the triple-option offense as a sophomore. Hassin, a sophomore transfer from Air Force, has four 100-yard games this season. Those two have allowed Army to have one of the best rushing offenses in the country, ranking No. 8. Last week, Army scored 45 points on Kent State, its highest offensive output against an FBS team since a 48-29 win over Cincinnati on Oct. 9, 2004.

Another key reason for success -- turnover margin, something Ellerson has stressed since the day he arrived. Army is No. 5 in the country with an average turnover margin of 1.2 per game, with 22 turnovers gained and just 10 lost.

But if one thing is missing, it is consistency. Army has alternated wins and losses over the last six weeks, and three of its losses came by a touchdown or less. The Black Knights had leads late in all three of those games.

Notre Dame provides yet another challenge. If the way the Irish stopped the Navy triple option is any indication, things could go in favor of Army. Navy had 367 yards rushing in its 35-17 win. But the team is prepared to see a squad that has made the appropriate adjustments.

Still, it is nice to have bowl eligibility secured for the first time since 1996.

“We’ve got something done that was maybe becoming heavier than it needed to be,” Ellerson said. “That’s what I sensed, some of our guys were able to exhale and say, ‘We got that behind us. Wow, we’ve broken through and now who’s next?’

“They feel good about themselves, they love this football team, they love the game, they feel good about themselves and they’re anxious to test themselves again.”

3-point stance: Power shift in the SEC

October, 20, 2010
1. The shift of power in the SEC from the East to the West this season is stunning in scope. Four SEC East teams already have three losses; South Carolina and Vanderbilt have two. In 18 seasons, the East champ has had as many as two losses only four times. But there is hope. The SEC West once had a winner with three conference losses -- LSU in 2001. The Tigers upset No. 2 Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game, 31-20.

2. Army coach Rich Ellerson has performed a miracle in only a season-and-a-half at West Point. It’s not merely that the Black Knights are 4-3, it’s how they’ve done it. In the three seasons before Ellerson took over, Army had a cumulative turnover margin of minus-42. Since he has arrived, Army is plus-16, and leads the nation this season at plus-11. While we’re at it, kudos to Oregon State, the only team in the nation yet to lose a fumble.

3. North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson threw 379 passes before an interception from 2008 into 2009. That’s an NCAA record, and it was, figuratively speaking, a long time ago. Since the streak broke against Wake Forest in the fifth game of last season, Wilson has thrown 20 picks, including nine in the Wolfpack’s past four games. Yes, he has thrown 37 touchdowns over the same 16 games. But his reputation for accuracy has outlived his performance.