Rose Bowl Game presented by Vizio - Wisconsin v Oregon

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

Bovada installs Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as a 1/25 Heisman favorite

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 26:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs  for a touchdown during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Thanks to Louisville bumbling and stumbling its way to two losses to close out the regular season, there were some who thought the race for the Heisman Trophy might be back open after belonging to Lamar Jackson for the majority of the season. While that notion is patently ridiculous, at least one sportsbook is at least considering the far-flung possibility.

Thursday night, Bovada.lv, after a brief shutdown, once again released what will likely be its final set of Heisman odds, with the Cardinals quarterback the overwhelming favorite at 1/25. For you neophyte gamblers in the audience, that means a bettor would need to wager $25 in order to win just $1.

This comes a week and a half after Bovada‘s email release contained the following note where their Heisman odds normally would’ve been: “The Heisman odds are currently off the board as the odds are astronomical in favor for Lamar Jackson. The Oddsmakers are currently in discussions on if they’ll be re-opened.”

The four other finalists, announced over the weekend, were included in Bovada’s latest set of odds.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson 7/1
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield 50/1
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 50/1
Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook 66/1

The 2016 Heisman Trophy will be handed out Saturday night in New York City.

Major Applewhite, not Lane Kiffin, named Houston’s head coach

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Here’s a stunner.

The past several days, all the signs seemingly had been pointing to Lane Kiffin as the replacement for Tom Herman at Houston. Instead of the Alabama offensive coordinator, however, the football program shocked some by staying in-house.

Friday morning, athletic director Hunter Yurachek announced that UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has been named as his new head football coach. This will be Applewhite’s first head-coaching job at any level.

One thing Yurachek noted was Applewhite’s deep ties to the state of Texas, something that Kiffin lacks.

“When we set out on our search for the new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach with great integrity who believed in our mission and truly believed in our student-athlete experience,” said Yurachek in a statement. “We had our sights set on a focused competitor who has demonstrated success and possesses a deep connection to college and high school football in the great state of Texas. As this process was completed, it was clearly evident the only individual to offer our position to was Major Applewhite and he was indeed the right man to lead our program.”

Applewhite has been UH’s coordinator the past two seasons. Prior to that, nine of his first 11 seasons as a coach were spent in the state of Texas, including two separate stints at the University of Texas.

From 1998-2001, Applewhite was a quarterback for the Longhorns.

“My family and I are excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a tradition rich program and continue our lives in one of the greatest cities is the nation, a city we love,” said Applewhite. “The student-athletes truly are the backbone of every great program and as they’ve demonstrated over the past few years, we have an exceptional group of young men in our program, and we’ll continue to add men with great character and a competitive drive in our recruiting.

“Living in the best state for high school football is a true blessing and advantage for our program and I cannot be more thankful for the support of our outstanding high school coaches from throughout the state.”

UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who interviewed for the position as well, had been named as the Cougars interim head coach. Applewhite, however, will coach the team in the Las Vegas Bowl, with Orlando staying on to coordinate the defense. Whether Orlando will remain on after that remains to be seen, although retaining the coordinator will be a priority for the first-time head coach.

Orlando, however, could follow Herman to Texas when it’s all said and done.

Western Michigan closing in on contract extension for P.J. Fleck

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 02: Head coach P.J. Fleck asks the fans for quiet during the first half while playing the Ohio Bobcats during the MAC Championship on December 2, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With no Power Five jobs open at the moment, and the most attractive Group of Five opening on the verge of being closed, all signs are pointing to P.J. Fleck staying in Kalamazoo for at least one more season. If that’s the way things ultimately shake out, Fleck will find himself a little bit more secure financially.

Citing a source with direct knowledge of the situation, the Detroit News is reporting that Fleck and Western Michigan are engaged in what’s described as “active negotiations” on a new contract. It’s expected the extension will be finalized in the not-too-distant future.

Just how big of a financial boost Fleck would receive is unclear. Without bonuses factored in, Fleck’s total compensation for 2016 is $820,000, the highest figure for a MAC head coach by nearly $150,000 (Toledo’s Jason Candle, $675,000). It’s doubtful WMU would reach the AAC’s financial stratosphere for coaching salaries — with the departures of Houston’s Tom Herman and Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, at $2 million, is the league’s highest-paid — but something along the line of the $1.3-$1.5 million Fresno State, Colorado State and Boise State of the MWC paid their coaches this season could very well be in order.

Given the notoriety the football program’s success brought the university, Fleck would certainly be worthy of a significant bump in pay. From the News‘ report:

WMU donors have been working on coming up with the funds to help retain the 36-year-old Fleck.

Donors believe he’s worth the money, given all the national exposure he’s brought the university — including a visit from ESPN’s “College GameDay,” multiple features on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” and even a trip by Fleck to Bristol, Connecticut, to participate in ESPN’s so-called “Car Wash” during WMU’s bye week.

Sports Illustrated, the Washington Post and other national outlets have written extensive features on WMU and Fleck this season.

Of course, WMU could find themselves in the very same situation a year from now, Fleck drawing interest from other programs, even without a repeat of a 2016 season that has the Broncos 13-0 and in a New Year’s Six bowl for the first time. It appears highly unlikely that Fleck could be pried away by another Group of Five job or even an ordinary Power Five position (hello, Purdue).

If, say, Notre Dame comes open next year? That’s when you say your goodbyes to the young head coach and wish him well.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.