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Michigan-Notre Dame goes down as a classic

Denard Robinson, Ethan Johnson AP

There have been some great moments in the rivalry between Michigan and Notre Dame. Tonight’s hair-pulling, standing-two-feet-away-from-your-television 35-31 victory by the Wolverines in the first night game in the Big House might have been the best.

At the very least, the three touchdowns within the last 72 seconds made this game the best of Week 2, and it’s going to take an awful lot to top it as one of the best games of the season.

Of course, when talking about this victory, you have to mention Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, who despite his three interceptions, managed to win the game with his arm, not his legs. Robinson didn’t have a great night throwing the ball, but had three of his four touchdown passes and over 200 of his 338 yards through the air in the fourth quarter.

Some help from wide open receivers courtesy of the Notre Dame defense didn’t hurt either.

What did hurt the Irish, though, were turnovers. Five turnovers, to be specific. For the second straight week, Notre Dame outgained their opponent in total yards, but failed to capitalize on moving the ball. Tommy Rees, who was named the starting quarterback earlier this week, threw a couple of interceptions and the Irish put the ball on the ground three more times.

Brian Kelly and his team are finding that out the hard way that’ll cost ‘em; the Irish could very well be, and probably should be, 2-0 instead of 0-2.

(For Keith Arnold’s take on the Irish’s performance tonight, check out Notre Dame Central)

But even though the turnovers are something the Irish would like to forget, what college football fans everywhere should remember about this game were the big plays and the atmosphere of one of the greatest venues in American sports at night.

It was, through and through, what’s so great about college football.

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Duquesne football player (former Florida Gator) found dead

Chris Johnson

Some sad news to report on this Sunday. Duquesne’s Chris Johnson was found dead Friday morning. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports Johnson apparently died as a result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, according to a medical examiner. Johnson, 22 years old, previously played football at Florida before transferring to FCS Duquesne.

“Everyone associated with the Duquesne football program is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of Chris,” Duquesne football coach Jerry Schmitt said in a statement. “Chris was a passionate football player who was also a great teammate, who was loved by many. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Chris’ family at this difficult time.”

Johnson transferred to Duquesne in 2013. He completed his senior season in 2014. He played a role on special teams at Florida but took on a more significant role at Duquesne. He recorded 104 tackles and two interceptions in two seasons with the FCS program in western Pennsylvania.

Photo credit: Duquesne Athletics

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Pat Narduzzi thinks Pitt has what it takes to build its own Steel Curtain

Pat Narduzzi

There is no mistaking the identity new Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi is ready to mold is one based on stingy defense. Narduzzi’s defenses at Michigan State were among the best in the Big Ten and the country, and he hopes to duplicate that formula in the Steel City. What better place to do so than the home to one of the more iconic defenses in football history? Narduzzi believes the Pittsburgh area is a perfect place to implement his defensive system.

Each of the previous four season Narduzzi has been in charge of a top ten defense at Michigan State. The Spartans routinely played a physical style of defense that helped lead the program to a pair of Big Ten championship game appearances and win one Big Ten title and Rose Bowl. Narduzzi became one of the top assistants in the college football world and had chances to accept a head coaching offer before finally taking the plunge with Pittsburgh. To Narduzzi, Pittsburgh had the right ingredients to build the kind of football program he believes can succeed.

“That’s what we’ve been about at Michigan State,” Narduzzi said in an interview with USA Today. “It’s not been pretty, it’s just tough. That’s why I came here. That’s part of it. Besides all the players in the area and the surrounding areas, it’s the toughness. That’s how you build a football team, with toughness. That was one of the keys to coming here.”

Pittsburgh’s defenses was ranked 34th in the nation in total defense in 2014, and 33rd the previous season with Aaron Donald gobbling up defensive award after defensive award. Donald serves as a positive reinforcement that Pittsburgh can develop top defensive players, and that is something Narduzzi will certainly be mindful of. Narduzzi hopes to develop his program in the weight room to make Pittsburgh stronger on the field, especially on defense.

“I’d seen what [Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio] had done for all those years,” Narduzzi said. “What other blueprint do you use? What we do will be what we did there.”

If it was good enough for Michigan State, then it is good enough for Pittsburgh.

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Is Oregon a likable team?

This was an interesting question that popped up on Reddit on Sunday. Without Marcus Mariota, is Oregon a likable team?

The question was posed with a reference to how some perceived the College Football Playoff semifinal Rose Bowl match-up between Oregon and Florida State to be a battle of good and evil. Florida State had developed a bit of a negative reputation based on the off-field headlines involving Jameis Winston. The Seminoles were also the undefeated defending national champions, and some felt they had skated by all too often in 2014 to deserve a shot to compete in the playoff. On the other hand, Mariota was seen as the anti-Winston in terms of his behavior and likability in the eyes of the casual college football fan. There was a certain level of satisfaction when Oregon ousted Florida State by Florida State haters. But does that mean Oregon was a likable program? Or was Oregon simply doing the dirty work?

Outside of the Pac-12, I would guess, many college football fans seem to have a certain level of respect for the Oregon football program. The flashy uniforms certainly make them one of the more interesting and eye-popping programs, as well as the innovative offensive flair. As far as entertainment is concerned, Oregon has been the full package in recent seasons. Quick offense, new uniforms every week, lots of points and one of the better mascots around the country.

Others view Oregon as a symbol of the corporate influence in college football with its relationship with Nike. Oregon is the program that started the trend of multiple uniform combinations that many have tried to repeat in their own programs. Some believe Oregon is a sham program running a gimmicky offense that will dazzle on the scoreboard for 12 weeks of the season but ultimately prove to be inadequate against a legitimate opponent on the big stage (Auburn and Ohio State for example).

So I relay the question to you, the readers of College Football Talk. Do you find Oregon to be likable or not? What other programs do you think are likable, and which simply are not?

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DUI for Illinois football staff member leads to two-year probation

Wisconsin v Illinois

One member of the Illinois football staff will have to be on his best behavior for the next years. Ryan Cubit, director of student athlete development and son of Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit, was sentenced to two years of court supervision on Friday after pleading guilty to drunk driving charge from October. Essentially, this is a two-year probation.

For the next three months, Cubit will be forced to wear an alcohol-monitoring device. Cubit mus also serve 100 hours of community service and pay a $1,000 fine. Cubit pleaded guilty to the October driving under the influence charge in January.

Cubit had previously been cited for driving under the influence back in 2003, which a judge took into consideration before letting Cubit off with a probation punishment. Cubit had no other incidents on record between 2003 and 2014, which led the judge to let Cubit off with a lesser sentence and a stern warning that the next time Cubit is in court it will not go as smoothly.

Nobody was hurt when police initially cited Cubit for DWI in October. Cubit was stopped at a roadside safety check and police reported a BAC of 0.12.

Cubit remains a member of the Illinois football staff and there is no indication that will change as a result of this latest news.

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Report says UNC took advantage of grad school to extend eligibility of players

FSU v UNC X

Academic issues at the University of North Carolina continue to be dug up. This time it revolves around allegedly cutting corners to enroll players as graduate players in order to get them on the football field.

In the latest report compiled by The News & Observer, UNC kept several players eligible to play by placing them in graduate school by retroactively admitting some players and getting around other regulations for others between 2002 and 2010. The exact number of players supposedly kept eligible by this method is unconfirmed, although the report details the story of one football player and another basketball player at UNC. The information was shared to the North Carolina newspaper by a former graduate school admissions director, Cheryl Thomas, who also handed the documentation to support the claims over to the NCAA for review.

In one reported case, former UNC cornerback Michael Waddell (pictured) allegedly was placed in graduate school despite a low GPA, a lack of entrance exam score and being months past the deadline to be enrolled. Senior associate athletic director John Blanchard made a request to have Waddell admitted in the fall of 2003 before he was set to be ruled ineligible for a game against Syracuse. The request was made one day before UNC was scheduled to play Syracuse. Wadell had played in the 2003 season opener against Florida State the previous week. Blanchard’s request was reportedly submitted by UNC provost Robert Shelton, who passed on the request to graduate school dean Linda Dykstra.

Waddell went on to play his fourth year of eligibility at UNC before entering the NFL Draft. The News & Observer reports Waddell skipped classes and exams and failed out of UNC’s graduate school. But he was heading to the NFL anyway.

Thomas reportedly came forward with this information following the release of an investigative report on UNC’s affairs by Kenneth Wainstein last fall. Thomas claims to have submitted documentation to Wainstein, the NCAA and the commission that provides accreditation to UNC but three months have now passed and there has been no follow-up despite acknowledgment the documents have been received.

This latest story regarding UNC’s culture suggests UNC took advantage of graduate classes in order to extend a player’s eligibility, which supports to the idea UNC was putting athletics ahead of academics. For a university that is perceived to have gotten off lightly for past transgressions from the NCAA, this story will not sit well.

The NCAA continues to be investigating the issue of fake classes at UNC. How this relatively newer information will come into play is unknown at this point, although the NCAA did confirm to Thomas her information and documentation had been received.

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Oregon schedules three-game series with Hawaii

Marcus Mariota AP

While it’ll be too late for the reigning Heisman winner to enjoy, the flagship school in Marcus Mariota‘s home state and his former team will square off in a future series.

Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens confirmed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser that UO and Hawaii have reached an agreement on three future games.  The first two games will be played in Eugene in 2020 and 2023, while the finale will be played in Honolulu in 2024.

“With so many players on our roster coming from Hawaii, it makes a lot of sense for us,” Mullens told the Star-Advertiser.

The paper noted that, including Mariota, the Ducks had six players born in Hawaii on its 2014 roster.

Since Hawaii moved to the FBS/Div. 1-A level in 1974, they have faced Oregon three times, with the Ducks winning all three matchups.  Including the Rainbow Warriors’ days as an FCS/Div. 1-AA program, the Ducks lead the all-time series 4-3.

The last meeting between the schools came in 1994.

(Tip O’ the Cap: FBSchedules.com)

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QB Caleb Rowe, RB Wes Brown to sit for Terps this spring

Caleb Rowe, Wes Brown AP

Two important pieces of Maryland’s offensive puzzle will be sidelined as the Terrapins begin preparations for the 2015 season in earnest.

Friday, head coach Randy Edsall confirmed that both quarterback Caleb Rowe (pictured, right) and running back Wes Brown (pictured, left) will be non-participants in spring practice.  Both players are still in the process of rehabbing injuries.

The absence of Rowe is not at all surprising as he tore the ACL in his left knee during a practice this past October, the same knee he suffered the same injury in the same month back in 2012.  Rowe, who will enter summer camp as the favorite to win the starting job, is seeking another season of eligibility that would allow him to play again in 2016.

Brown, who overcame off-field missteps that cost him the entire 2013 season, underwent surgery for a torn labrum sustained in the Terps’ bowl game.  Last season, Brown was second in rushing touchdowns (six) and third in rushing yards (356).  He’s also a threat coming out of the backfield, catching 21 passes in his bounce-back season.

Rowe and Brown are just a portion of a lengthy list of Terrapin players who will be sidelined this spring.  From the Washington Post:

Also out is long snapper Christian Carpenter (back), defensive lineman Ruben Franco (labrum), safety Elvis Dennah (labrum), defensive back Alvin Hill (knee), as well as wide receiver Taivon Jacobs (knee) and defensive lineman Quinton Jefferson (knee). Hill, Jacobs and Jefferson could potentially participate in non-contact drills this spring, Edsall said.

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Ex-UK QB Maxwell Smith may have early lead for SDSU starting job

Alabama v Kentucky Getty Images

It hasn’t taken Maxwell Smith very long to make a name for himself at his new workplace.

In January of this year, it was confirmed that the quarterback would be transferring from Kentucky to San Diego State to finish out his playing career.  The grad transfer left the Wildcats in search of a place where he could contend for a starting job, and it appears he he may have just picked the right spot.

While the Aztecs have used just three of their allotted 15 spring practice sessions, the San Diego Union-Tribune writes that Smith has seemingly distanced himself from the other five competitors for the the starting spot.  From the Union-Tribune:

With six guys competing, it’s like they come and go through a revolving door in drills, but there’s little question for me who’s looked the sharpest: Kentucky graduate transfer Maxwell Smith.

At 6-feet-4, Smith is the most imposing of the bunch and he’s shown the best arm strength and accuracy. Most impressive has been his targeting on outside curl routes by receivers, with Smith zipping the ball into spots where only his wideouts can catch it. He looks very poised and capable. I don’t yet have a strong read on his mobility, and that might be a concern given the issues with the offensive line (more on that later).

Also competing for the job is Oregon transfer Jake Rodrigues, although the paper stated that he hasn’t had the best start to the spring.  That should be at least mildly concerning as Rodrigues has been in the offense for nearly a year, having left the Ducks for the Aztecs in May of last year.

The paper writes that “[o]ur standings after Week 1: Smith, [sophomore Christian] Chapman, [sophomore Nick] Bawden, Rodrigues, [JUCO transfer Adam] Wood and second-year walk-on Drew Anderson.”

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Departure, another injury further thins Stanford’s defensive line

Oregon State v Stanford Getty Images

Stanford’s defensive line was already stretched thin because of various issues this spring.  After today, that unit is positively waif-like.

Defensive end Solomon Thomas did not participate in the spring practice session Saturday because of what was later described as a jammed toe sustained this past week.  While Thomas was seen wearing a boot on his injured foot, he’s expected back at some point before the end of spring.

Additionally, defensive tackle Alex Yazdi (pictured, No. 79) has decided to “move on” from the football program, head coach David Shaw confirmed following practice. Whether the fifth-year senior, who played in five games last season, will transfer to another program for his final season of eligibility or has simply decided to give up playing the sport has not been determined.

The combination of attrition and injury — starting lineman Aziz Shittu is out for the spring as he continues to recover from a serious knee injury sustained last October — has left the line on the defensive side very depleted. How depleted?

That trio’s performance was enough to impress even their head coach.

“It is very, very difficult,” Shaw said in quotes distributed by the school. “I had the guys give an applause to the entire defensive line. For three guys to make it through a full practice with scrimmaging and all that stuff and 9-on-7 … They didn’t bat an eyelash, they didn’t back off, they hustled throughout the whole practice, and that’s what it takes.

“As tough as it is, nobody is going to feel bad for us. We’ve got to fight through it.”

Fortunately for the Cardinal, there are still six months before they travel to open the 2015 season against Northwestern.

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Richt: ‘QB as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia’

Belk Bowl - Georgia v Louisville Getty Images

Not only will Georgia enter spring practice for the first time in nearly a decade with an offensive coordinator other than Mike Bobo, the Bulldogs will also be searching for a new starting quarterback for the second time in as many years.

After Aaron Murray more than ably handled the job from 2010-13, the signal-calling baton was passed to Hutson Mason for the 2014 season.  With Mason’s eligibility expired, the new starter is expected to come from a group of three players: redshirt sophomore Brice Ramsey, redshirt freshman Jacob Park and redshirt junior Faton Bauta.

Ramsey served as Mason’s primary backup in 2014, completing 24 of 39 passes for 333 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. Bauta completed four of his five pass attempts in 2014, while Park, a four-star member of UGA’s 2014 recruiting class, took a redshirt as a true freshman.

Based on experience alone, Ramsey will enter the spring as the favorite to win the job. The Bulldogs’ head coach, though, made it perfectly clear that, in the first year under the highly-paid coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, the job is available to anyone for the taking.

“It’s just a lot of work to be done between now and that first game and a lot of competition to happen,” Mark Richt said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “You know, the quarterback position is as wide-open as it’s ever been since I’ve been at Georgia probably. It’s going to be an interesting battle I would say.”

It’s unknown if Richt will name a starter exiting a spring, or wait until the competition shakes itself out a little more during summer camp before pulling the trigger.

Regardless of who lands the job, they’ll be able to ease into the position as UGA will open the 2015 season at home against Louisiana-Monroe before traveling to Vanderbilt for the SEC opener the following weekend.  The next three games are at home, with a game against FCS-level Southern sandwiched between matchups with SEC East rival South Carolina and West heavyweight Alabama.

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Carl Lawson expected ‘to partake in a good bit’ of Auburn’s spring

Carl Lawson, Bo Wallace

When it comes to the health of Carl Lawson, all of the signs are pointing toward the positive.

Lawson sustained a torn ACL during spring practice last year and, after some initial optimism, did not play at all in 2014.  With the start of Auburn’s spring practice right around the corner, it appears that the defensive end will be nearly a full-go for the 15 sessions.

Nearly is the key word, though, as the Tigers are expected to take the cautious approach with the talented lineman.

“(The coaches) haven’t made those decisions. Our doctors will make those decisions,” new defensive coordinator Will Muschamp said according to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer when asked how much Lawson will participate. “He’s moving around extremely well. We expect him to partake in a good bit of spring. How much will be determined by our doctors.”

Having a healthy Lawson to start the 2015 season would certainly be a boon for Muschamp’s defense. In 2013 as a true freshman, Lawson was third on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss and second in sacks with four.  That performance led Lawson to being a consensus Freshman All-American.

The injury news along the Tigers’ defensive line wasn’t all positive, though, as Muschamp also acknowledged that end DaVonte Lambert will miss the whole of spring practice. Lambert was leading the Tigers defense in sacks when he sustained a season-ending knee injury that kept him out of both the Iron Bowl and the Outback Bowl.

The good news is that Muschamp stated that Lambert is expected to be completely healthy for the start of summer camp.

AU, incidentally, will kick off spring practice March 10.

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Hip injury to sideline UNC QB Marquise Williams for spring practice

Marquise Williams AP

The bad news for North Carolina is that one of the top quarterbacks in its conference will be sidelined for the foreseeable future.  The good news?  The start of a new season is more than six months away.

In a preview article posted on UNC’s official website, the Tar Heels revealed that Marquise Williams will not participate in any of the 15 spring practice sessions because of a hip injury.  When and how Williams sustained the injury was not disclosed.

You can breathe easy, Tar Heel Nation, as the school stated that Williams “will return full speed in August.”

As a redshirt junior last season, Williams was third among ACC quarterbacks in passing efficiency in throwing 21 touchdown passes against nine interceptions.  His 788 rushing yards were 12th among all quarterbacks nationally, while his 13 rushing touchdowns were tied for fourth at the position.  The 35 total touchdowns were tied for 11th in the country.

With Williams sidelined, Mitch Trubisky will get a sizable portion of the first-team reps.  Despite all of Williams’ accomplishments, Trubisky could use the opportunity gain an advantage in what’s being described as a quarterback competition.

“There’s a lot of continuity with ’Quise coming back,” quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf said. “Marquise is our starting quarterback, and it’s been that way since the middle of the season when he kind of took the reins and went with it. But that’s not going to eliminate the competition.”

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Antonio Crawford’s divorce from the ‘Canes is official

Miami v Boston College Getty Images

After nearly a week’s worth of speculation, Antonio Crawford‘s status at Miami has officially been clarified.

Saturday afternoon, Miami officials confirmed that Crawford is no longer a part of the Hurricanes football team.  The divorce comes exactly a week after the cornerback took to social media to vent his frustrations regarding his perception of how he was being treated by the football program.

While Crawford deleted the rant, it apparently didn’t sit well with the coaching staff.

To where the Tampa native will transfer for his senior season is unknown.

Crawford, a three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2012 recruiting class, started two of the 38 games in which he played the last three seasons.  Both of those starts came in 2013.

The defensive back likely would’ve entered summer camp as Miami’s top nickel corner.

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Badgers Settle on new RBs coach

Iowa Hawkeyes v Wisconsin Badgers

A couple of weeks after losing an assistant to an SEC school, it appears Wisconsin has found a replacement.

Citing a source close to the UW program, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported overnight that John Settle is set to be named as the Badgers’ new running backs coach.  Settle would assume the position vacated by Thomas, who left for the same joband a hefty raise — at Georgia earlier this month.

Settle is expected to arrive in Madison on Monday and begin work the next day.

When the move comes to fruition, it would serve as a campus reunion as Settle held the same job with the Badgers from 2006-10.  It would also serve as a working reunion as new UW head coach Paul Chryst had Settle on his 2014 Pittsburgh staff as running backs coach.

In between his UW and Pitt stints, Settle spent three years as an assistant in the NFL.

(Photo credit: Wisconsin athletics)

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TCU WR tweets he’ll finish career at Rutgers

SE Louisiana v TCU Getty Images

A wide receiver who began his collegiate career in the Big 12 will end it in the Big Ten, the player announced on social media Friday.

In a tweet posted to his Twitter account, TCU wide receiver Cam White announced that he would be transferring to Rutgers and finishing out his collegiate playing career with the Scarlet Knights.  Because he will be a graduate transfer, White will be eligible to play immediately for RU in 2015.

This upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

“I get to work towards my Masters at a great program academic wise man that’s a blessing,” White added in another tweet, although he does need to bone up on his Rutgers nomenclature.

Because of concussion issues, White did not play at all in 2014 for the Horned Frogs. In 2013, White was seventh on the team in both receptions (18) and receiving yards (182). The previous year was his best statistically, with his two receiving touchdowns fourth on the team and his 284 receiving yards good for fifth.

White was a three-star member of TCU’s 2011 recruiting class.

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