Kenjon Barner: ‘I was very close’ to leaving for NFL

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It was expected that Oregon running back LaMichael James would decide to declare for the NFL draft, a decision that was only prolonged until after the Rose Bowl.

What wasn’t anticipated was the departure of quarterback Darron Thomas to the NFL. And, had Chip Kelly gone to Tampa Bay as the head coach, the Ducks would have in all likelihood fallen from preseason favorites to contend for another Pac-12 title.

As it is, the Ducks still have Kelly and running back Kenjon Barner, who announced earlier this month he would return for another year. Oregon fans know they caught a break keeping one; turns out, they might have caught another break with the other.

Appearing on ESPN’s College Football Live, Barner said that his decision to shun the NFL for one more year was perhaps a lot more difficult than originally assumed.

“I was very close — I was extremely close,” Barner said about going to the NFL.

When asked what made him come back to Oregon, the junior running back offered the following reply:

I made a promise to my mom when I first came to school. I promised her that before I left here that I would finish out my degree. The opportunity presented itself to go to the next level, and obviously that’s something I want to do. I had a great conversation with coach Kelly and coach (Gary) Campbell, and I was just praying about it … and ultimately making the right decision in coming back to finish my senior year.”

Kelly has done as good a job as any coach in college football when it comes to actually plugging in any player to his system with minimal drop-off. Barner has already has 1,856 rushing yards over his three-year career in Eugene. Combine his productivity with new quarterback Bryan Bennett — we’re assuming Bennett will take control of the offense despite what Kelly will eventually say in spring practice — and Oregon looks like they’re in another good position for 2012.

It’s keeping Kelly around that now has the main focus of the school.

(Tip of the cap: Eugene Register-Guard

Nick Saban, on QB controversy: ‘there isn’t one’

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Consider The Nicktator perturbed.  Again.

Jalen Hurts (pictured, right) helped lead Alabama to the national championship game as a true freshman last season and is seemingly the Crimson Tide’s unquestioned starter as we trudge toward summer.  Five-star 2017 signee Tua Tagovailoa (pictured, left), however, had an impressive first spring in Tuscaloosa, capped off with an excellent showing in the annual A-Day game this past weekend.

The true freshman passed for 315 yards and three touchdowns in what amounted to a glorified scrimmage, while the incumbent threw for 301 yards and a pair of scores.  Hurts also tossed the lone interception between the two on the day.

Tagovailoa’s showing throughout the 15 spring practice sessions had led some to wonder whether there could be a quarterback controversy brewing at ‘Bama.  According to Nick Saban, that’s just the media being the media.

“Jalen Hurts played a lot of good football for us last year, and he’s certainly made a lot of progress this spring,” the head coach said by way of al.com. “Even though all of you in the press are trying to make a quarterback controversy out of nothing, which is what you’re doing right now, there isn’t one.”

LOOK: Jim Harbaugh hooks Pope Francis up with Michigan helmet, pair of Jordans

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There’s a series of words I’d never imagined I’d string together in a headline.

As you may have heard, Jim Harbaugh has taken his Michigan football team to Italy for an offseason European vacation.  As part of the trip, the team is in the Vatican City today and took in the Pope’s Wednesday address to the masses in St. Peter’s Square — the players and athletic director Warde Manuel sat amongst the crowd while the head coach and his wife were seated on the same stage as Pope Francis.

Following the address, and after a wait of nearly a half-hour, Harbaugh was able to meet with and speak to His Holiness.  The coach didn’t come empty-handed, either, as Pope Francis was gifted with a Michigan football helmet and a pair of Air Jordans.  Michigan-themed, of course.

“This is as good as it gets,” Harbaugh said according to mlive.com after his meeting with the pope. “This has been the experience of my lifetime.”

Tulane turns to Jonathan Banks as starter at QB

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Last season, there was just one FBS team — Army and its triple-option (967) — that passed for fewer yards than Tulane’s 1,360.  Tulane’s team passing efficiency rating of 93.12 was 128th of the 128 teams at this level of football.  Their completion percentage of 42.2 was, again, 128th in the FBS.  Their 5.3 yards per attempt was… 127th.

This season, the Green Wave’s passing hopes in a run-heavy offense will likely land on the shoulders of a junior college transfer.

Throughout the spring, Jonathan Banks had taken the majority of reps with the first-team offense.  Tuesday, Willie Fritz confirmed that Banks will be his starter under center heading into summer camp and, presumably, for the program’s season opener against Grambling at home Sept. 2.

At least for now, Banks has staked his claim to the job after a competition that included Glen Cuiellette and Jonathan Brantley, the starter and backup, respectively, last season.

“He did a good job this spring picking things up,” the head coach said according to nola.com. “We evaluated practices 1 through 15 and I thought, for a guy coming into a new situation, he did a very good job. He provides us with both a passing and a running threat, which in our offense you need to have.

“We’re excited about his development.”

Drew O’Bryan leaves Western Kentucky, drops down to FCS level

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Another day, another FBS player has transitioned away from his first college football home.

On his personal Twitter account recently, Drew O’Bryan acknowledged his decision to transfer from Western Kentucky. Additionally, he announced his next destination for good measure — Eastern Kentucky.

The linebacker said he made the decision “[a]fter talking with my family and many prayers.”

As EKU plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, O’Bryan will be eligible to play immediately for the Colonels in 2017.

O’Bryan was a two-star member of WKU’s 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 18 player at any position in the state of Kentucky. He took a redshirt as a true freshman.