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  • Taking your questions on the return of DJ Durkin to Maryland's sideline, the status of Clay Helton at USC and what Alabama's offense going against LSU will teach us.
By Andy Staples
October 31, 2018

(Editor's note: One day after the school reinstated DJ Durkin, Maryland ​President Wallace D. Loh terminated the head coach.)

The Maryland Board of Regents made a head-scratching decision, and you have questions…

From @HistoryOfMatt: #DearAndy, will Maryland players realize how much power they have to enact change the board was too cowardly to undertake and rise up to act as one and refuse to play (or enough so that the Terps can’t play) to boycott the return of DJ Durkin? Can’t play games without players.

That depends on how the Maryland players feel about this situation. Remember, many Maryland players and their families came to Durkin’s defense during the investigation into Maryland’s football culture. While ultimately Durkin’s tenure is probably doomed because the scandal will make it difficult for him to recruit, there is no reason to worry about a player mutiny if most of the current players are either in favor of him or ambivalent about him.

Missouri players showed in 2015 how powerful a college football team could be if the players act as a bloc. The Tigers threatened to boycott games if certain issues on campus weren’t addressed, and suddenly everyone wanted to negotiate. If the Maryland players decide en masse that they don’t want Durkin, all they have to do is threaten not to show up to the Michigan State game and he’d be gone. The first time the team didn’t show up for practice, the bargaining table would be open for business. Maryland wouldn’t risk fouling up the Big Ten’s media rights deals by not giving ESPN a game for which it paid handsomely. Because the NCAA only allows schools to bring in 25 new football players each academic year, the school couldn’t afford to kick everyone off the team unless it wanted a Necessary Roughness scenario.

But the Terps would have to want to do that. Three players reportedly walked out of Durkin’s first team meeting since his reinstatement and several others have tweeted their displeasure, but that’s a far cry from an entire team. And while the players could get what they want, most players don’t want to get involved in a massive controversy. They’d rather just play. But if enough players feel strongly about an issue, you’ll see a team flex its influence again someday. If enough Maryland players are truly angry enough about Durkin’s reinstatement, that day would come this week.

From @johnnyxwar: Best guess on who replaces Helton at USC.

Slow down, Johnny. It’s not a foregone conclusion that Helton is gone even though the on-field comparison to Jim McElwain’s tenure at Florida looks more accurate every day. Following Saturday’s loss to Arizona State that snapped USC’s 19-game home win streak, Helton made two drastic changes that appear aimed at preserving his job past this season.

Helton demoted offensive coordinator Tee Martin, and Helton will call plays himself from this point forward. Helton also fired offensive line coach Neil Callaway, whose group has underperformed all season. Callaway is one of Helton’s best friends, and that particular firing had to be difficult. Helton told reporters he did it now instead of at the end of the season because he couldn’t look Callaway in the eye knowing he’d need to be fired in a month.

Will this work? Maybe. Running backs coach Tim Drevno, who was run out of Michigan this past offseason because the position group he coached (offensive line) wasn’t improving, will take over the offensive line. (And while recent history hasn’t been kind, Drevno has put some very good offensive lines on the field in the past. But so had Callaway.) Helton will call the plays, so perhaps the offense will be less one-dimensional. The Trojans have three winnable games (at Oregon State, Cal, at UCLA) before they close the season with a Notre Dame team that might be trying to lock down a playoff berth. If USC loses any of those winnable games, Helton could be in trouble.

Then we could talk replacements. The best personality/scheme/recruiting fit for USC would be Penn State coach James Franklin, but he’s also a Pennsylvania guy who is building a quality program in State College and may have no interest in moving. The hottest names for the next coaching carousel (Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Iowa State’s Matt Campbell) don’t seem like fits. Brohm’s offense would be fun, but would he turn down alma mater Louisville if mama called? Campbell, meanwhile, feels earmarked for the next great Big Ten job that opens.

Another guy who would have been perfect for the USC job is the guy who had it for the final few months of 2013. Ed Orgeron should have gotten the full-time job instead of Steve Sarkisian. Now, he’s the perfect guy for LSU.

From @DBU31: Does Tua sit after the second quarter or the third quarter?

This question is poking fun, but I am legitimately curious about how Alabama’s offense performs in the LSU game. Why? Check this graphic.

Those rankings use yards per play, which is a far more useful statistic than total defense, which is effectively worthless in the era of varied tempos. And those numbers mean that Alabama has only played bad defenses. They have yet to even play a decent defense. LSU, which ranks 24th in the country in this category (4.8 yards) has an above average-to-good defense. We’ll find out if the Crimson Tide offense is actually as superhuman as it has looked so far this season. My suspicion is it will still look fairly amazing. After all, we saw Tua Tagovailoa and his cast of skill position freaks handle Georgia’s excellent defense in the second half and overtime of the national title game. We just haven’t seen it this season with this exact group because the best defenses Alabama plays are on the back end of the schedule.

If Alabama’s offense shreds LSU’s defense, it might be time for everyone but Clemson to abandon all hope. But if LSU can slow the Tide, the field might just have a chance.

From @DearOldCrimson: Is Utah going to win the South? The conference?

Utah and Washington State are the hottest teams in the Pac-12, and they certainly seem headed for a rematch of a 28–24 Washington State win in Pullman on Sept. 29. Utah has evolved since the start of the season. The Utes have scored at least 40 in their past four games. The last time they pulled off that feat was 2004, when Urban Meyer was the head coach, Dan Mullen was the offensive coordinator and Alex Smith was the quarterback.

At the start of the season, I worried about Utah’s ability to win the South because the Utes had the toughest North draw. But even though Utah lost to Washington and Wazzu, the schedule shouldn’t impede it from winning its first division title since joining the league. Wins at Arizona State on Saturday and at Colorado on Nov. 17 would clinch the division regardless of the result of the Oregon game on Nov. 10. But with the Ducks in freefall, Utah stands a good chance of winning its final four regular-season games and clashing with the North champ (probably Washington State or Washington) in the Pac-12 title game.

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