Mississippi State was determined to find a new head coach very quickly after losing Dan Mullen to Florida.
And like when the Bulldogs initially hired Mullen, they were looking for a highly successful offensive coordinator who ran a modern scheme with a mobile quarterback.
Joe Moorhead just so happened to fit that bill.
Penn State’s celebrated offensive coordinator, who has helped lead the Nittany Lions to a dramatic national resurgence, is expected to become the next head coach at Mississippi State, according to multiple national reports.
As of Tuesday night, a deal had not been finalized. Moorhead could not be reached for comment.
College football insider Brett McMurphy first reported that the Bulldogs had settled on bringing in the Lions’ coordinator, who has overseen two of the most statistically impressive seasons in school history.
Under Moorhead’s watch, the Lions scored a full two touchdowns more per game in 2016 compared to 2015. The scoring average increased again in 2017, jumping from 37.6 to 41.6, the third highest total ever for the Lions, and best since 1994.
Barring any kind of surprising reversal, Penn State will be looking for its third offensive coordinator in four years. But unlike when head coach James Franklin replaced John Donovan with Moorhead, the scheme is expected to stay the same.
What remains to be seen is whether the Lions will look outside the program or promote an internal candidate like tight ends coach Ricky Rahne, who called plays for Penn State in the 2015 TaxSlayer Bowl following Donovan’s dismissal.
“He’s a future coordinator,” Franklin said of Rahne earlier this fall. “He’s been fiercely loyal, he’s a relentless recruiter. He just gets it.”
Moorhead’s name was linked to the Bulldogs on Monday night, a little over 24 hours after Mullen left to take over the Gators.
“I think it’s been interesting,” Moorhead said during his lone in-season interview at the end of September. “Like anybody in the world, people don’t like to be criticized and they like to be praised. But when you get caught up in it and allow it to affect who you are as a person, it becomes a distraction.
“I hang my hat on, everyday we’re gonna come in and take care of business. The things that come along with that after the season, we’ll address them then.”
Lions move up a spot
Penn State checked in at No. 9 in the penultimate College Football Playoff rankings, released Tuesday evening. The final poll will come Sunday following the conference championship games, with the 10-2 Lions in good shape to be selected for a New Year’s Six bowl game.
“Penn State has a quality resume, their two losses on the road by a total of four points,” selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt said.
The Lions jumped up one spot from the past two weeks, moving ahead of Notre Dame, which suffered its third loss of the season on Saturday by falling to Stanford. That outcome helped Penn State’s chances at landing in one of the at-large spots, as the Fighting Irish are now no longer a lock to claim one themselves.
Penn State could conceivably end up in any of the four non-Playoff bowls this year, though the Cotton, Peach and Fiesta would be the most likely, depending on how this weekend’s games play out. The committee will decide the matchups for each game.
“We’ll look at destination, location, as it relates to the higher-ranked teams that are there for our review, and we will put together the most attractive matchups for college football fans,” Hocutt said.
And that could even mean a Penn State rematch with USC in the Fiesta, should the Trojans beat Stanford on Friday night in the Pac-12 Championship game.
“If there was a rematch from last year, we may try to discuss it, but I wouldn’t say that we would … automatically steer away from a rematch that may have occurred in the last few years,” Hocutt said.
Big Ten honors begin
A three-day reveal of Big Ten postseason awards opened Tuesday with the announcement of the All-Big Ten squads on defense and special teams, with two Lions players getting top honors.
Senior safety Marcus Allen was named to the first team by Big Ten coaches, while Saquon Barkley got the nod as first-team kickoff returner by both coaches and media.
In all, 12 Lions were recognized on Tuesday — nine on defense, three on special teams.
Allen was a second-team selection by the media while linebacker Jason Cabinda and cornerback Amani Oruwariye made the coaches’ second team. Defensive end Shareef Miller was a third-team pick by the media.
Blake Gillikin was the second-team punter for both coaches and media. Punt returner DeAndre Thompkins got a second-team nod from the coaches and third-team from the media.
Honorable mentions included safety Troy Apke (media), Cabinda (media), cornerback Christian Campbell (coaches, media), defensive tackle Cutris Cothran (coaches), defensive tackle Parker Cothren (media), cornerback Grant Haley (coaches, media) and Miller (coaches).
Senior linebacker Brandon Smith was recognized as Penn State’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award honoree.
The conference’s award season continues with the reveal of the All-Big Ten teams on offense on Wednesday and all of the league’s individual awards on Thursday.
While coaches and media do not pick an all-freshman team, BTN.com did release its own list to start the week, with Lions pass-rush specialist Shaka Toney making the cut on defense.
Offensive lineman Will Fries, cornerback Tariq Castro-Fields, cornerback Lamont Wade and defensive linemen Shane Simmons and Yetur Gross-Matos were honorable mentions.
It was that first name that had a few Lions a little rankled because Fries didn’t make the team proper.
Tackles Ryan Bates and Andrew Nelson both strongly went to bat for Fries on Twitter, as he has become a full-time starter — doing it at both left tackle and right tackle — because of injuries to both veterans.
“Whoever makes this is a complete and utter idiot if they don’t have (Fries) on the Freshman All Big Ten Team,” Bates wrote.
Nelson responded to the tweet with a rare one of his own, writing, “Logging onto Twitter for the first time in years solely to agree that it’s an absolute crime to not have (Fries) on the Freshman All Big Ten Team.”