USC gets their own Luck: Barkley to return for another year

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In early January of this year, Andrew Luck surprised some observers by announcing that he was eschewing a shot at a certain spot inside the Top Five of the NFL draft and returning to Stanford.

Nearly a year later, another Pac-12 school has officially become the beneficiary of an even more surprising decision by the leader of its offense.

With an ornate Christmas tree setting the seasonally-themed scene: Matt Barkley announced at an on-campus press conference Thursday afternoon the one gift Trojan fans have been wishing for over the past few months: the quarterback will be returning to USC for one more season.  Barkley told his coaches and teammates of the news of his decision earlier in the day, a decision that was made after extensive conversations with his family, school officials and other advisers from the professional level.

“I know in my heart that I have not yet finished my journey as a Trojan football player,” the junior said. “Our USC football team has been through some tough times and we have persevered.  But the 2012 team has some serious unfinished business to attend to, and I intend to play a part of it.

“So, yes, I have firmly decided to forego the NFL draft in 2012 and finish this exceptional and unique journey that I’ve had here at USC.”

Based on the early draft projections, Barkley was a near-lock to be one of the first 10 players selected in the April NFL draft and, pending the pre-draft workouts, perhaps even a top-five selection.  Instead, he’s returning to solidify his legacy as one of the greatest Trojans in the football program’s storied history.

With the decision, Barkley immediately becomes one of the front-runners for the 2012 Heisman Trophy — perhaps the front-runner pending the NFL decisions of 2011 winner Robert Griffin III and this year’s other finalists, all of whom are draft-eligible — thanks to a 2011 season that saw him pass for more than 3,500 yards, 39 touchdowns and just seven picks.

More importantly is what Barkley’s decision means for the Trojans as a team.  Add Barkley’s return with the fact that 16 other starters from a 10-2 squad are expected to return as well, and it will likely equal the Trojans starting the 2012 season deep inside the Top Ten of the major preseason polls.

And, with the school finally eligible following a two-year bowl ban, a run at a Pac-12 championship and berth in a BcS bowl are certainly not out of the question and should probably be expected.  In fact, and even with the final chapter of the 2011 season not yet written, the Trojans would have to be considered one of a handful of legitimate national title contenders eight months or so out from the start of next season.

Thanks to Barkley’s unexpected decision, such talk is far from premature, regardless how far the start of the 2012 season is off in the distance.

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Western Kentucky’s Joel Iyiegbuniwe declares early for draft

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There’s a new leader in the clubhouse for “Early Entrant With the Most Vowels in his Surname.”

On his personal Twitter account over the weekend, Joel Iyiegbuniwe announced that he is leaving Western Kentucky early and making himself available for the April NFL draft. The linebacker, a native of Bowling Green, Kent., stated that he came to his decision “[a]fter much thought, prayer and discussion with my family, coaches and advisors.”

This past season, Iyiegbuniwe led the Hilltoppers in tackles with 117, tackles for loss with 11.5 and forced fumbles with three. He was named first-team All-Conference USA following the regular season.

Including last season, Iyiegbuniwe had started 27 straight games at outside linebacker for the Hilltoppers.

Today is the deadline for draft-eligible players to inform the NFL of their intentions.

Kent State announces signing of ex-Auburn QB Woody Barrett

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One day after Woody Barrett announced that he has found a new college football home, the school has confirmed as much.

Kent State sent out a press release Monday evening acknowledging that Barrett has signed with the football program. After spending the 2017 season at a Mississippi junior college, the quarterback will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Counting this coming season, Barrett will have three years of eligibility remaining.

“We’re excited about Woody’s potential, his ability and his raw tools both throwing and running the football,” new Golden Flashes head coach Sean Lewis said in a statement. “And we’re excited to have him on campus to be training with our team as we get ready for spring ball.”

A four-star member of Auburn’s 2016 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 6 dual-threat quarterback in the country that cycle. He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then opted to transfer from the Tigers in May of last year, ultimately ending up at the JUCO level.

At Copiah-Lincoln Community College this past season, Barrett passed for 1,294 yards and eight touchdowns in nine games, adding another 485 and six on the ground.

Michigan confirms hiring of Sherrone Moore as TEs coach

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One hole on Jim Harbaugh‘s coaching staff has been filled.

The football program confirmed Monday that Sherrone Moore has been hired and will serve as Harbaugh’s tight ends coach. Moore will replace Greg Frey, who moved on to a job on Willie Taggart‘s staff at Florida State.

The 31-year-old Moore — he’ll turn 32 in early February — spent the past four seasons coaching tight ends at Central Michigan. This past season, he added the title of assistant head coach as well as taking over as the MAC program’s recruiting coordinator.

Moore began his coaching career as an offensive graduate assistant at Louisville from 2009-12. He was promoted to tight ends coach in 2012, spending that season as well as 2013 in that role.

NC State QB Jalan McClendon puts his name on graduate transfer market

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Ryan Finley announced earlier this month he will return to NC State for his senior season, which means his backup is leaving. Jalan McClendon revealed Monday he will pursue his options elsewhere for his final season of college football as a graduate transfer.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of this university,” McClendon said in a statement. “My teammates and coaches, the fans, the atmosphere, even the food! I appreciate everything that NC State has done for me and I wouldn’t take it back for anything.”

McClendon appeared in 20 games as a member of the Wolfpack, completing 26-of-47 passes for 262 yards with a touchdown and four interceptions while adding 46 carries for 223 yards.

“Jalan has been phenomenal throughout his career,” head coach Dave Doeren said in a statement.  “He’s been a great leader and a great teammate and has done everything we could’ve asked a young man to do. We wish him the best and will always consider him an important part of the Wolfpack family.”

McClendon was a 3-star recruit out of West Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte.