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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Iowa linebacker announces transfer

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Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz has been known to have a program that could play some solid defense more often than not, but the depth at linebacker just got a bit more shallow this Memorial Day weekend. Redshirt sophomore Anthony Garbutt has announced he is leaving the program.

“After prayer, consulting with my family and Coach Ferentz, I have made the decision to leave the University of Iowa,” Garbutt announced in a statement on Twitter. “I am thankful for my years as a Hawkeye and will continue to support the franchise.”

Garbutt went on to announce he will make a decision after going through a recruiting process. No timeline for his decision was announced.

Garbutt still has three more years of eligibility remaining, although he has already burned one redshirt year after joining the Class of 2015 at Iowa. If he transfers to another FBS program, he will have to sit out the upcoming 2017 season and lose a year of eligibility in the process. He would be available to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a lower division football program.

Report: Navy’s football stadium will host NHL outdoor game between Caps and Leafs

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The NHL has enjoyed the success of their growing number of outdoor games. What started out as an attempt to steal the New Years Day spotlight from the college football bowl season has grown to include additional outdoor games around the country in February and March as part of the league’s Stadium Series. With an abundance of outdoor games, finding new venues to host the outdoor games offers new opportunities to showcase a wide range of stadiums. Navy is now set to get in on the NHL outdoor fun.

The Associated Press reports Navy’s Navy-Marine Corp Memorial Stadium will be used for one game in the NHL’s Stadium Series on March 3, 2018. The Washington Capitals will “host” the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 34,000-seat venue in Annapolis, Maryland. A formal announcement is expected to be made on Monday, Memorial Day. It’s also the same day the NHL kicks off the Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators and commissioner Gary Bettman gives his annual state of the league address.

The New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres were previously slated to play in the NHL Winter Classic in Citi Field, home of baseball’s New York Mets.

Heinz Field, the home of the Pitt Panthers, was used to host the 2011 Winter Classic between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, becoming the first college football stadium to host an outdoor NHL game. Of course, Heinz Field is also home to the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, so this college stadium host came with an asterisk. Heinz Field hosted a Stadium Series game this past February between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

Michigan’s Michigan Stadium hosted the Winter Classic in 2014 between the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. TCF Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Golden Gophers, hosted a game in the NHL’s Stadium Series in 2016 between the Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.

There are still a good handful of stadiums worth considering for future NHL outdoor games, especially in the Big Ten. Penn State’s Beaver Stadium has long been suspected of being a potential target for an outdoor game, but any plans involving Beaver Stadium may have to wait until after the stadium’s facilities are upgraded as part of the school’s upcoming athletics department renovation. Ohio State’s Ohio Stadium could also be an attractive candidate for an outdoor game in the future as well.

A couple other venues for possible Stadium Series game sin the future should include the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Rose Bowl. The NHL has already played an outdoor game in Dodger Stadium, back in 2014, so the league is not afraid to play outside in LA (and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara hosted a game in 2015). If they return, playing in either historic stadium would seem to make sense, although it is possible the NHL would prefer to wait until the new home of the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams and Chargers is completed before making a trip to LA again.

Alabama DB Tony Brown has chance to prove he’s fastest NCAA athlete in nation

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Forget the 40-yard dash. Alabama defensive back Tony Brown is setting his focus on the 100-meter dash.

Brown, a track star in addition to being a fixture on the Alabama defense, qualified for the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in the 100-meter dash after finishing in the top 10 at the NCAA East Regional at Kentucky. Brown is a two-time All-American on the track.

Let this serve as another example of the caliber of athletes Nick Saban is bringing in to his program. Recruiting analysts have been noting for years the importance of recruiting athletes with skills in more than one sport, and Alabama has that with Brown. Brown was one of the nation’s top hurdlers in high school, and that success on the track has continued in Tuscaloosa.

Brown brings the pain on the football field too, of course. Just ask former Clemson wide receiver Mike Williams what kind of damage Brown can bring.

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SEC commissioner Greg Sankey still not a fan of early signing period

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The SEC will gather in Destin, Florida this week for the annual spring meetings. This will be the first time the conference has come together since the adoption of an early signing period in college football, which is something that has not been well-received by some in the SEC. Among the dissenters in the early signing period conversation has been SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who says he is still no fan of the new recruiting calendar.

I still don’t think that’s best,” Sankey said in an interview with the Associated Press last week.

“I think the early signing date has an impact on high school football,” Sankey said. “I think moving the recruiting calendar has an impact on high school football. I think we all have to be concerned about football and its strength and health at every level. Whether it’s a minority voice or a singular voice, I think those are important issues to consider.”

The stance by some around the SEC against the idea of the early signing period is notably different compared to just a few years ago. At the spring meetings in 2014, the SEC football coaches voted unanimously in favor of an early signing period starting on the Monday after Thanksgiving. Former SEC commissioner Mike Slive, however, expressed his preference to keep the only signing day in February.

As far as the voice coming from the commissioner’s office in the SEC is concerned, the narrative has not changed following the changing of the guard.