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Updated: Statements issued after Petrino fired from Arkansas

Bobby Petrino AP

UPDATED 10:34 p.m. ET: Here are Jeff Long’s opening remarks transcribed in their entirety, courtesy of The Times-Record:

“Last Thursday night, I met with you to share information that I had learned just hours earlier that Coach Petrino had not been forthcoming with me and with you about the circumstances of this motorcycle accident.

As you know, I placed Coach Petrino on administrative leave while I reviewed his contract related to the accident. I assured him and all of you that I would approach this task fairly and thoroughly. Since that time, I have spoken with key individuals that were involved in the accident and in what occurred afterwards, his passenger on the motorcycle, the individuals who transported him to Fayetteville and to the hospital, and several people who spoke with Coach Petrino before and after the accident.

I reviewed the manner, timing, and extend to which Coach Petrino shared information about the accident, both with men and with others, and to whom he was accountable. That includes among others, the members of the football program, our supporters, student-athletes, faculty, staff, and alumni of the university, and the public at large.

My review raised several concerns which led me to look beyond the accident itself. That included the professional and personal relationship he had with his passenger, Jessica Dorrell, the process and circumstances that influenced his decision to hire her as a direct report member of his staff and his candor and behavior of my staff.

Here are the key findings of my review:

Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and university about the circumstance related to this accident. He had multiple opportunities over a four day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to. He treated the news media and the general public in a similar manner. Coach Petrino’s relationship with Ms. Dorrell gave her an unfair and undisclosed advantage for a position on Coach Petrino’s football staff. She was one of 159 applicants for the job and Coach Petrino himself participated in the review and selection process without disclosing his relationship with her and that constitutes a conflict of interest under university policy.

During my review of this matter, Coach Petrino informed me that he give a large sum of cash, some $20,000 to Ms. Dorrell. Coach Petrino, however, failed to disclose this information to me prior to his recommendation to hire her into the football program.

Coach Petrino’s conduct regarding his account of the accident jeopardized the integrity of the football program. He made a choice to return to practice on Tuesday, to hold a press conference, and to demonstrate his physical resiliency and command of his program, all the time failing to correct his initial report that he was the only person involved in the accident. He made a conscious decision to speak and mislead the public on Tuesday. In doing so, he negatively and adversely affected the reputation of the University of Arkansas and our football program.

By itself, Coach Petrino’s consensual relationship with Ms. Dorrell prior to her joining the football staff was not against university policy. By itself, it is a matter between individuals and their families. However, in this case, Coach Petrino abused his authority when over the past few weeks, he made a staff decision and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program. In short, Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me and members or the athletics’ staff both before and after the motorcycle accident.

He used athletic department funds to hire for his staff a person whom he had an inappropriate relationship. He engaged in reckless and unacceptable behavior and put his relationship in the national spotlight. Coach Petrino’s conduct was contrary to character and responsibilities we demand of our head football coach. In fact, that is the very language that is included in his contract that he signed as the University of Arkansas

Consequently, this afternoon, I informed Coach Petrino that his employment with the university was being terminated immediately.”

—————–

UPDATED 10:05 p.m. ET: Bobby Petrino has released the following statement through his agent:

I was informed in writing today at 5:45 p.m. that I was being terminated as head football coach at the University of Arkansas.

The simplest response I have is: I’m sorry. These two words seem very inadequate. But that is my heart. All I have been able to think about is the number of people I’ve let down by making selfish decisions. I’ve taken a lot of criticism in the past. Some deserved, some not deserved. This time, I have no one to blame but myself.

I chose to engage in an improper relationship. I also made several poor decisions following the end of that relationship and in the aftermath of the accident. I accept full responsibility for what has happened.

I’m sure you heard Jeff Long’s reasons for termination. There was a lot of information shared. Given the decision that has been made, this is not the place to debate Jeff’s view of what happened. In the end, I put him in the position of having to sort through my mistakes and that is my fault.

I have hurt my wife Becky and our four children. I’ve let down the University of Arkansas, my team, coaching staff and everyone associated with the Razorback football program. As a result of my personal mistakes, we will not get to finish our goal of building a championship program. I wish that I had been given the opportunity to meet with the players and staff prior to this evening’s press conference and hope that I will be given the opportunity to give my apologies and say my goodbyes in person. We have left the program in better shape than we found it and I want the Razorback Nation to know that it is my hope that the program achieves the success it deserves.

My sole focus at this point is trying to repair the damage I’ve done to my family. They did not ask for any of this and deserve better. I am committed to being a better husband, father and human being as a result of this and will work each and every day to prove that to my family, friends and others.

I love football. I love coaching. I of course hope I can find my way back to the profession I love. In the meantime, I will do everything I can to heal the wounds I have created.

I want to thank Chancellor Gearhart, Jeff Long, the Board of Trustees, the University administration, faculty, staff, students, alumni and fans for the opportunity to serve as the head football coach at the University of Arkansas for the past 4 years. I was not given an opportunity to continue in that position. I wish that had been the case, but that was not my decision. I wish nothing but the best for the Razorback football program, the University and the entire Razorback Nation.

——————————-

After nearly a week of debating, we have our answer.

Multiple reports broke the news earlier this evening, but athletic director Jeff Long confirmed in a press conference that Bobby Petrino would no longer be the head coach of Arkansas effective immediately. Long cited a long and deliberate review in which he discovered coach Petrino had “knowingly misled the athletic department about the circumstances of the [motorcycle] accident.”

Additionally, Long said Petrino gave football employee Jessica Dorrell an “unfair and undisclosed advantage” for her new job. According to Long, nearly 160 people applied for Ms. Dorrell’s position, and only three were interviewed. Long said Petrino failed to disclose his relationship with Dorrell, which apparently was going on for a “significant period of time.”

Petrino and Dorrell also confirmed to Long that Dorrell received $20,000 in cash from Petrino. Long later told a local news outlet that the payment was not made with university money.

“Coach Petrino abused his authority and made choices that benefited him while hurting the program,” Long said. “No single individual is bigger than the team.”

Long added that he made the decision to fire Petrino on his own. He denied reports that Petrino was offered an opportunity to stay, and insisted Petrino was not given the chance to plead his case.

Long said Petrino was terminated with cause.

Petrino was in what was initially reported to be a one-man motorcycle accident last Sunday. However, a police report last Thursday confirmed that Dorrell was on the motorcycle with Petrino when it crashed. Dorrell works in the football offices at Arkansas as the student-athlete development coordinator and began her current job on March 28, just days before the accident.

Petrino had a 34-17 record in four seasons with the Razorbacks. A search for a new head coach will begin immediately.

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Alabama Class of 2015 receiver only eligible for 3 games this fall

No, we are not looking into the future at the 2015 Alabama outlook just yet, but this is a bit of an interesting story out of the state of Florida. One of Alabama’s recruits lined up for the Class of 2015, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, will only be eligible to play three games this fall for Monarch High School. The reason? An age restriction.

Ridley will be 19 years and nine months old following the third game of the season, which is the maximum age allowed for football players in the state of Florida by the Florida High School Athletic Association. That will allow Ridley to play in just three games this season for his high school in his senior season. His high school’s athletics director, James Klemke, told The Sun Sentinel there will be no appeal.

Ridley is a five-star wide receiver and top ten receiver nationally in the Class of 2015 according to Rivals. Ridley committed to Alabama in April as Alabama was already underway in organizing what will likely be another one of the top recruiting classes in the nation. Staying in shape after he is done playing football will be key. It does not appear there are any restrictions on working out with his high school team after his eligibility runs out, but expect Ridley to do whatever he will be able to in order to stay in as close to game shape as possible as he prepares to head to Alabama.

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Jimbo Fisher comfortable with receiver position

Christian Green, A.J. Highsmith, Ladarius Gunter

Florida State lost a pair of wide receivers in the first round of the most recent NFL Draft, so you might think the Seminoles have some big shoes to fill. They do, after losing Kenny Shaw and Kelvin Benjamin. Fortunately, head coach Jimbo Fisher has recruited well since taking over as head coach and has options ready to fill in. If the season were to start today, Rashad Greene and Christian Green. Fisher, though, has faith in all of the tools in his toolbox at the position.

“I feel very comfortable with eight guys in that rotation right now,” Fisher said, according to the Associated Press. ”That’s not playing them all, but I’d feel very comfortable if they had to go into the football game.”

Greene starting was a given, of course. Despite a paid of first-round receivers on the field, Greene was Florida State’s leading receiver in 2013 with 1,128 yards and nine touchdowns. Green finished the year sixth on the Seminoles with 157 yards on 13 receptions. Running back Devonte Freeman finished fifth on the team with 278 receiving yards as well.

Of course, having a Heisman Trophy winner at quarterback in Jameis Winston certainly helps the stability in the passing game as well. Florida State looks pretty stacked for the upcoming season, and the passing game should once again be effective and ready to break out some big plays along the way to a potential title defense.

Florida State opens the 2014 season in Arlington, Texas against Oklahoma State.

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ND Shamrock Series uniform shows switching to Under Armour was wise

Notre Dame 2014 Shamrock Series

Notre Dame has had a cringe-worthy history when it comes to the special Shamrock Series uniforms. Two years ago brought us one of the most bizarre helmet designs that looked more like a printing error with its asymmetry, and last season’s uniform was only a little better. With the season drawing near and Under Armour taking over as uniform apparel provider, there were many questions about how the new uniform partner would leave their stamp on the Shamrock Series uniforms after years of working with Adidas.

Score one in the win column for Under Armour, which has come a long way since throwing together this atrocity.

Notre Dame and Under Armour unveiled the new uniforms for the upcoming season, and did so in non-offensive fashion by keeping true to Notre Dame’s classic look for the home and away uniforms and a Shamrock series

This video suggests the designers are trying to tell a story with the new uniform, which seems to be a trend for uniform designers lately. You can buy into the whole storytelling concept as you see fit, but the Cliff’s Notes version probably simply states Notre Dame sticks to the blue, slaps on a matte logo on the golden dome, which now features a subtle touch of a diamond pattern. At a quick glance, Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series uniform looks like it should have been shipped to Pittsburgh for the Panthers, but this is far better than past iterations of the alternate look.

Under Armour has already left a solid impression on a classic look, something Adidas was never able to do with the Irish. What do you think about the new uniform for Notre Dame?

Photo via Notre Dame Athletics.

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It’s official: Braxton Miller to miss 2014 season

Braxton Miller AP

O-H!  UH-OH!!!

Unfortunately for Ohio State and the fans of its football team, their worst fears have been realized as OSU announced today that, as widely expected, starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the entire 2014 season.  Miller, the two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year reinjured his right(throwing) shoulder during practice Monday, with at least a couple of reports indicating that the he suffered a dislocated shoulder on a throw in which there was no contact.

“My thoughts and prayers are with Braxton and his family,” Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer said in a statement. “This is an unfortunate injury to a young man who means so much to this program and to Buckeye nation.”

Other than he reinjured the same shoulder, the school declined to acknowledge the specific nature of the injury. They did allow that it was a non-contact play and the injury will require surgery to repair.

There is not timetable as of yet for surgery or a return to football activities.

Former Ohio State All-American wide receiver Joey Galloway, who was at yesterday’s practice, “said the injury to Braxton occurred on a rollout throwing a short pass toward the sideline.”

“He didn’t even get hit,” a source told Pete Thamel of SI.com. “He threw and it’s just a freakish thing. Everyone is scratching their head on how it happened.” Thamel added that Miller suffered a torn labrum, not a dislocation of his shoulder.

The injury didn’t go unnoticed all across college football and by former teammates.  And Las Vegas.

There was some good news, at least for now, amidst the gloom as Miller revealed that he will return to the Buckeyes for the 2015 season.  Miller is a fourth-year senior and has yet to use a redshirt.

He’ll use one this year and then, if he does return — he could change his mind and enter the 2015 NFL draft — he’ll be a fifth-year senior who would be poised to again lead his beloved Buckeyes.

“I love Ohio State and Buckeye nation, and my goal is to come back from this injury stronger and better than ever,” said Miller, who is 26-8 as a starter, including 24-2 the past two seasons, in his statement. “I am on course to graduate in December and I want to attend graduate school, and then return to lead the Buckeyes next season. In the meantime, I want to give all the support I can to my coaches and teammates as they chase a championship this season.”

That’s the future, though. The present is what currently matters most to OSU.

JT Barrett

JT Barrett

With the end of Miller’s season officially finalized, the Buckeyes will turn to, at least initially, J.T. Barrett.  The redshirt freshman had been in a battle throughout spring practice and on into summer camp with sophomore Cardale Jones to be Miller’s backup, only just recently moving into the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Both Barrett and Jones received extensive work during the 15 spring sessions as Miller rehabbed the partially torn labrum he suffered in the Orange Bowl loss to Clemson, which was subsequently repaired in what at the time was described as minor surgery in late February.  That extra work for the two reserves continued into summer camp as Miller had been limited due to what was described as soreness in his shoulder.

While the pair have received additional reps because of Miller’s issues, it won’t help the game-day inexperience.  Barrett has never thrown a pass at the collegiate level, while Jones has thrown just two.

Despite the lack of on-field experience at this level, Barrett will enter the huddle with a fairly lofty recruiting pedigree and an assertive leadership style.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, Barrett was rated as the No. 7 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Easily the biggest knock on Barrett is his arm strength, or lack thereof.  His offensive coordinator/position coach, however, says the former Texas high schooler more than makes up for lack of a cannon on his shoulder in other facets of the game.

“Extremely cerebral. Very magnetic leader,” Tom Herman said earlier this month of a player who’s turned out to be his new starting quarterback. “I think the kids kind of gravitate towards him.

“We’ve got to work on strengthening his arm. He’s a distant third in terms of Braxton and Cardale in terms of just rearing back and trying to throw it through a wall. But he makes up for it in his anticipation and his accuracy and all that. You don’t have to have a howitzer to be successful in college football. I’m very pleased with his continuing growth.”

Cardale Jones

Cardale Jones

Jones, a three-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2011 recruiting class who delayed his enrollment at OSU for prep school, was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country that year.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman, then played sparingly in 2013; in 39 plays from scrimmage last season, Jones threw the ball twice (completing one for three yards) and ran 17 times (for 128 yards and a touchdown).

Meyer didn’t address just who will start the opener against Navy, although it was noted in the release that “[i]t was previously announced by Meyer on Saturday that Barrett, a 6-1, 225-pounder from Wichita Falls, Texas, had moved ahead of Jones for the No. 2 quarterback spot.”  Recently, Barrett has taken the lion’s share of reps with the first-team offense as he separated himself from Jones.

Taking all of that into account, there’s no reason to tap dance around it — losing Miller for the year is a significant blow to the Buckeyes and will certainly have an impact on the Big Ten Race.  It also may very well significantly impact the first year of the College Football Playoff as the Buckeyes, despite the Big Ten title-game loss to Michigan State, were the overwhelming favorites to claim the conference and emerge as the league’s playoff representative.  Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football; some would even argue that he’s the most irreplaceable and indispensable, given the unproven running backs in OSU’s stable and the coaching staff having to replace four of its five starting offensive linemen.

Even as it may seem like it in the here and now, the season’s not completely lost for the Buckeyes.  As, just to name a few, Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel,  Notre Dame’s Everett Golson and Florida State’s Jameis Winston have shown over the past couple of years, redshirt freshmen are perfectly capable of successfully leading their teams in their first seasons as starters.  One of those four (Winston) won a BCS title, while another (Golson) helped lead his team to the BCS title game.  Winston won the Heisman en route to the championship, while Manziel took home his while helping the Aggies win 11 games their first season in the SEC.  Mariota was first-team All-Pac-12 in 2012 as the Ducks won 11 games, including the Fiesta Bowl.

More than likely, the Ducks and Aggies would’ve qualified for the playoffs were that system around in 2012, the former in particular.

Then there’s this: USC’s Matt Leinart (2004), LSU’s Matt Flynn (2007) Alabama’s Greg McElroy (2009), Auburn’s Cam Newton (2010), Alabama’s AJ McCarron (2011) and Winston (2013) all won BCS titles in their first year as starters over the last decade.

Who knows, Barrett could make it three seasons in a row for the second-year freshman/first-year starter phenomenon that’s done nothing but grow over the past handful of years.  And, for now, that’s about all Buckeye Nation can hang their title hopes on.

Well, that and a schedule that features just one team at the moment ranked in the Top 25 — No. 8 Michigan State in East Lansing.  That’s easily OSU’s toughest road game of the year, with other games away from The Horseshoe consisting of against Navy (9-4 in 2013) (in Baltimore), Maryland (7-6), Penn State (7-5) and Minnesota (8-5).  Their home slate features matchups against Virginia Tech (8-5), Kent State (4-8), Cincinnati (9-4), Rutgers (6-7), Illinois (4-8), Indiana (5-7) and Michigan (7-6).

According to FBSchedules.com, Ohio State’s 2014 schedule is tied for fifth-toughest, with Oregon, among the teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 10.  The .569 winning percentage of its opponents top that of defending BCS champion Florida State (.550), Oklahoma (.477) and Alabama (.473).

In other words, it’s not the cakewalk some have perceived to be.  It’s not exactly a football death march either, which means that, depending on how fast Barrett — or Jones — get acclimated, all the gloom and doom currently hanging over the football program could give way to a postseason full of possibilities.  Or it’ll be 2011 all over again in terms of the won/loss ledger.  One of the two.

 

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Backup Auburn DE transferring to Arkansas State

Arkansas State

For the second time in a little more than a year, defensive end Chase Robison is relocating to play football. The Auburn backup will hope to play a more meaningful role at his new school, Arkansas State.

According to information from A-State Nation, via Twitter, Robison will enroll and join the football program. Because he sat out the 2013 season after transferring to Auburn from Texas Tech, he should be eligible to play right away this season for the Sun Belt Conference contender. He will also be playing at the same program his father, Lanier Robison, once played.

Robison was never able to work his way up the depth chart at Auburn, but at Arkansas State he may have an opportunity to compete for a starting job. The former three-star recruit in the Class of 2012, according to Rivals, was offered a scholarship by Arkansas State but decided to accept an offer from Texas Tech. Maybe the third spot in as many seasons will allow Robison some peace and stability.

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Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins could be back for spring ball

Virginia v Miami Getty Images

It has already been confirmed that one of Miami’s top players in its defensive secondary would not play at all this season.  Now we know when the player’s expected to resume football activities as well.

Miami announced Monday that Rayshawn Jenkins underwent successful surgery on his lower back Monday.  Because of the surgery, Jenkins’ 2014 season is already over before it began.

Jenkins is expected to be released from the hospital Wednesday, with rehab expected to take up to six months.  Such a timeline, though, would put the defensive back on track to return for the start of spring practice.

As a true sophomore last season, Jenkins started 12 of the 13 games he played at safety. His three interceptions were tied for second on the team, while he was a solo second with five passes broken up.

Jenkins, a three-star member of The U’s 2012 recruiting class, played in 10 games (two starts) as a true freshman that year.

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OSU’s CFP odds tumble on reports of Braxton’s season-ending injury

Braxton Miller AP

At some point this afternoon or this evening — maybe — Ohio State is expected to announce that starting quarterback Braxton Miller will miss the 2014 season with a shoulder injury.

In late July, Ohio State was the prohibitive favorite from the Big Ten to claim the College Football Playoff at 10/1; Michigan State was 25/1 while Wisconsin was 33/1.  Those odds for OSU were at 10/1 in January, prior to Miller’s “minor” surgery in February.

They were also, at 10/11, heavy favorites to win the Big Ten over the former (15/4) and the latter (9/2).

Now?  In the wake of Miller’s injury, reportedly one of the dreaded non-contact variety, the Buckeyes have tumbled in the eyes of Las Vegas.

“Ohio State was a major contender at 10-1 to win the National Championship and considering Braxton Miller was a frontrunner for the Heisman at 15-2, this injury has impacted their odds drastically going from 10-1 to 18-1 amidst the rumors of the injury and now are confirmed at 40-1,” Kevin Bradley, Bovada‘s sports book manager, said. “Michigan State and Wisconsin will now surpass them as favorites for the Big Ten and only time will tell if we are over-adjusting on the Buckeyes, even though they still have a fairly easy schedule.”

It’s far from surprising that the odds have plummeted as they have seeing as Miller is one of the most irreplaceable and indispensable players in college football.  It’s nonetheless startling to witness such a precipitous drop, less than two weeks before the start of the season, for one of the preseason favorites to claim one of the four spots in the newly-minted College Football Playoff.

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UMass, touted RB Drew Harris ‘part ways’

Drew Harris

In early June, UMass made what was considered by many to be one of its most important personnel addition of the offseason.  Just a month or so later? That important addition is no more.

According to MassLive.com, head coach Mark Whipple confirmed that Drew Harris is no longer a part of the Minutemen football program. There was no specific reason given for the abrupt divorce, although the head coach didn’t appear too happy when discussing it.

“He’s gone. He left. It just wasn’t a good fit,” Whipple said. “Personally, he was a good kid, but it just wasn’t a good fit for the program.”

Based on his pedigree, Harris was expected to make an immediate and significant impact this season.

The four-star recruit was rated as the No. 22 running back in the country in the Class of 2012. With offers from, among others, Arizona State, Arkansas, Georgia, Miami, Michigan State, Penn State, South Carolina and West Virginia, the Pennsylvania native signed with Virginia Tech. Unfortunately, Harris failed to qualify academically and spent 2012 and 2013 at a prep school and a New York JUCO, respectively.

To where Harris may ultimately end up next is unknown.

“We’ve got too many other issues to worry about things I can’t control,” Whipple said when asked what Harris next career move will be

There was some concern that Harris may not qualify academically at UMass, however, although it’s unclear if that aspect played a role in the departure.

(Photo credit: UMass athletics)

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Ex-Herd RB Grooms lands at Liberty

After a trio of legal issues over the past 15 months, Kevin Grooms was summarily dismissed by Marshall in late July. A couple of weeks later, the running back has found a new home.

In a press release, Liberty announced that Grooms has enrolled at the school and will be a member of the Flames football team. Despite the fact that Liberty plays at the FCS level, Grooms won’t be eligible to play immediately in 2014. He will have one year of eligibility remaining beginning in 2015.

Below is a statement attributed to head coach Turner Gill.

“Kevin sought out our football program because he is at a point in his life where he wants to make some positive changes. He believes Liberty University would provide the type of atmosphere that would allow him to be successful in this endeavor. He understands that he will be expected to grow academically, athletically, socially and spiritually. We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Kevin and be a part of his growth and maturity.

“While Kevin has enjoyed success both academically and athletically at Marshall, the thing that made Kevin attractive to us is the fact that he has had some adversity and he wants to make changes in his life. Liberty University is a place that has always offered young people a second change and we are excited to be a part of that process in Kevin’s life.”

Most of the adversity to which Gill refers was of the player’s own doing.

His departure from the Herd came a few hours after Grooms was arrested on a felony burglary charge as well as misdemeanors of domestic assault, petit larceny and fleeing on foot.

The arrest was Grooms’ third in a little over 15 months. In late April of last year, the back was charged with underage consumption of alcohol and obstruction. Seven months later, he was suspended indefinitely after he was arrested and charged with domestic battery and obstruction.

Head coach Doc Holliday reinstated Grooms before the start of spring practice, with the player exiting the 15 sessions as the clear starter at the position.

After redshirting as a true freshman — he was a three-star member of the Herd’s 2011 recruiting class coming out of high school in Hollywood, Fla. — Grooms led Marshall in 2012 with 737 yards rushing and eight touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. He was named Conference USA’s Freshman of the Year following that season.

Despite not playing the in the last three games last season due to a combination of injuries and his suspension, Grooms finished third on the team with 503 yards rushing and six rushing touchdowns.

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Ole Miss WR Sammie Epps charged with pot possession

Sammie Epps

An off-field incident could lead to on-field punitive measures for one of the newest member of the Ole Miss football team.

According to the Tupelo Daily Journal, wide receiver Sammie Epps was arrested late last week and slapped with a pair of misdemeanors.  Specifically, those were possession of marijuana and driving without valid license.

What led to the initial traffic stop by the Oxford Police Department wasn’t detailed.

We are aware of the matter and will address it once we have gathered more facts,” Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze said in a statement.

Epps was a three-star member of Ole Miss’ 2014 recruiting class who was rated as the No. 27 tight end in the country. The 6-5, 215-pound Epps was subsequently moved to receiver.

(Photo credit: Ole Miss athletics)

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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Pac-12 Predictions

Washington v Arizona State Getty Images

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Pac-12. 

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

PAC-12 NORTH

1. Oregon (Last year: 11-2; beat Texas at Alamo Bowl)
The Ducks have been on the cusp of elite status as a program for the past four seasons. It’s time for the program to get over the hump and win a national title. This year’s squad may have the best chance to capture the school’s first national championship. It all starts with the quarterback position. Marcus Mariota is the best signal caller currently playing collegiate football. Yes, that includes Florida State’s Heisman Trophy winner, Jameis Winston. Mariota may have hoisted the trophy last year if he didn’t suffer a knee injury late in the season which hampered his style of play. Mariota is extremely efficient as a passer, highly intelligent with his decision-making and a deadly athlete when he decides to run with the football. The Ducks also return key starters at vital positions. Cornerback Ifo Ekpre-Olomu and center Hroniss Grasu may have been the top players selected at their position in May’s NFL draft. Yet, they decided to return to Eugene.  The team’s leading rusher (Byron Marshall), tackler (Derrick Malone) and sack artist (Tony Washington) return as well. As Mark Helfrich enters his second year as head coach, there aren’t any excuses for the Ducks this season. It’s a national championship or bust. This is the year for Oregon to prove its more than a flashy offense and uniform trendsetters.

2. Stanford (Last year: 11-3; lost to Michigan State in Rose Bowl)
Cardinal faithful will almost certainly remind anyone who will listen that their team beat Oregon the past two seasons and claimed Pac-12 conference titles. However, the Cardinal simply aren’t as talented from top to bottom as the Ducks. The key players Oregon retained; the Cardinal lost. The team lost it’s leading rusher, tackler, sack artist and four of its starting offensive linemen. While Senior quarterback Kevin Hogan may be entering his second full season as the team’s starter, he’s a notch below the elite quarterbacks in the Pac-12 conference.David Shaw is one of the best coaches in college football. This team will continue it’s winning ways. But Stanford will likely take a slight step backwards as the Ducks reclaim the honor as the best team in the Pac-12 Conference.

3. Oregon State (Last year: 7-6; beat Boise State in Hawai’i Bowl)
College football’s leading-returning passer resides in Corvallis, Oregon. Quarterback Sean Mannion returns for his senior campaign after throwing for 4,662 yards and 37 touchdowns. But Mannion won’t have Biletnikoff Trophy winner Brandin Cooks to throw to anymore. And that ‘s a good thing. Mannion’s experience behind center is a major positive for the Beavers, but Oregon State head coach Mike Riley admitted the coaching staff became enamored with throwing the football due to their dynamic duo at quarterback and wide receiver. This season, the Beavers will be more balanced on offense and more closely resemble the team that went 9-4 in 2012 instead of the one that was 7-6 last season. Senior Terran Ward and junior Storm Woods combined for 1,060 rushing yards last season. They should receive bigger workloads. With a more balanced attack, the Beavers hope to avoid another five-game losing streak in Pac-12 play. The team seen during its 38-23 victory over Boise State in the Hawai’i Bowl is the one Pac-12 opponents should expect to face Saturdays this fall.

4. Washington (Last year: 9-4; beat BYU in Fight Hunger Bowl)
The University of Washington did the impossible; they pried Chris Petersen out of Boise and made him their new head coach. Petersen inherits a talented roster built slowly over time by previous head coach Steve Sarkisian. After three straight 7-6 seasons, the Huskies finally broke through with an 9-4 campaign in 2013. The team then lost it’s head coach, quarterback and workhorse running back. Change of that degree will likely cause the Huskies to take a small step back during the upcoming season. While Peterson was ultra-successful during his eight seasons at Boise State, his team stumbled last year and lost four games for the first time in eight years. The last coach to have that type of success at Boise then finish with a four-loss team before moving to the Pac-12 was Dan Hawkins. Furthermore, there are still questions at quarterback for the Huskies. Cyler Miles hasn’t shown he’s ready to take over the team. Until one of the quarterbacks does, the Huskies will have to rely on a talented defense, particularly a defensive line that features nose tackle Danny Shelton and defensive end Hau’oli Kikaha.

5. Washington State (Last year: 6-7; lost to Colorado State in New Mexico Bowl)
This will be Mike Leach‘s third year in Pullman, Washington. It was in Leach’s third year at Texas Tech he was able to lead the Red Raiders to a nine-win season. He won’t be as lucky with the Cougars. It’s taken Leach some time to implement the “Air Raid” offense that far north. This should be the first season in which it’s fully functional with senior Connor Halliday as the trigger-man behind center. However, the team’s defense struggled mightily in 2013 and finished 102nd overall. Leach’s run at Texas Tech was special, because he could out-scheme nearly everyone in the Big 12. But he could always rely on the talent he recruited in the state of Texas. The state of Washington doesn’t present the same level of talent. In three recruiting classes, only one former four-star recruit, wide receiver Gabe Marks, is expected to contribute for the Cougars this season. And that talent disparity will keep Wazzu toward the bottom of the Pac-12.

6. Cal (Last year: 1-11)
The hiring of Sonny Dykes as Cal’s head coach was an absolute disaster. The Golden Bears finished 1-11. They didn’t play any defense whatsoever. Players were leaving the program as soon as possible once the season ended. The only expectation for the team this season is to improve on last year’s record and actually win a conference game. Cal should be able to move the ball in Dykes’ version of the “Air Raid” offense. Quarterback Jared Goff enters his second season as starter after he put together a solid season as a true freshman. Plus, four of Goff’s top five receivers return. The Golden Bears will be able to throw the football, but the question is whether or not the defense will be able to stop anyone. History says no. Art Kaufman was hired as the team’s defensive coordinator this off season, and he has an uphill battle in front of him. Even when Dykes led Louisiana Tech to a 9-3 record, a national ranking and nearly defeated a Texas A&M team led by Johnny Manzielthe Bulldogs were the worst defensive team in college football. Dykes’ emphasis falls on the offensive side of the ball, and that is not going to change. It’s only a matter of time before Cal is looking for another head coach once the school’s new athletic director is named.

PAC-12 SOUTH

1. UCLA (Last year: 10-3; beat Virginia Tech in Sun Bowl)
Expectations are sky high at UCLA. And they should be. In two short years, Jim Mora has completely rebuilt the culture in Westwood. Plus, the Bruins are fortunate to have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation in Brett Hundley. If Hundley declared for the NFL draft this year, he would have been a first-round selection. He’s projected to be a Top 10 pick for next May. The quarterback is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to talent on this roster. Senior Jordan James and sophomore Paul Perkins return in the backfield after combining for 1,107 rushing yards in 2013. Devin Fuller is a dynamic play maker out of the slot. And the defense may be even more talented. The two-way superstar Myles Jacks is one of college football’s top linebackers and a pretty good running back too. Erik Kendricks is highly instinctive and a tackling machine. Sophomores Kenny Clark and Eddie Vanderdoes will be one year better and impossible to move along the defensive interior. And the secondary is experienced with Anthony Jefferson and Ishmael Adams returning. The No. 1 one goal for the Bruins will be to claim a Pac-12 championship, but this team has legitimate national championship potential. They simply have to get past Oregon and Stanford to prove they’re worthy of a berth in the College Football Playoff.

2. USC (Last year: 10-4; beat Fresno State in Las Vegas Bowl)
It’s hard to maintain momentum from one season to another. Although, USC appeared to regain its confidence and swagger as a program when it won six of its last seven games under the direction of interim head coach Ed Oregeron. Despite the team’s late season success, Oregeron wasn’t hired to become the team’s permanent head coach. Enter Steve Sarkisian, a former co-offensive coordinator under Pete Carroll. Despite sub-par seasons by USC’s standards in recent years, the team has two things in its favor. First, the talent from the top of the roster to the bottom is always among the best in college football. Second, the team’s depth will continue to improve as the bottom of the roster is rebuilt after being previously hamstrung by NCAA sanctions. The Trojans will be led by a strong defense which features the potential No. 1 overall pick in May’s NFL draft, defensive lineman Leonard Williams. The unit finished 13th overall in total defense last season. The offense, meanwhile, will continue to grow under the direction of offensive coordinator Clay Helton and junior quarterback Cody Kessler. The offense played at a much higher level once Lane Kiffin was fired and Helton became the primary play-caller. It was a smart decision by Sarkisian to retain Helton on his staff.  All the pieces are in place for the Trojans to become a factor in the Pac-12 again. USC faithful has to hope Sarkisian was the right hire to keep them in the national conversation.

3. Arizona State (Last year: 10-4; lost to Texas Tech in Holiday Bowl)
Since the Pac-12 South is generally considered the weaker division in the conference, it’s been somewhat overlooked that the Sun Devils played in the league’s championship game last year. Head coach Todd Graham has built a team that is known for its fast-pace offense and aggressive defense. In fact, Arizona State features the best quarterback-wide receiver tandem in the Pac-12 with Taylor Kelly behind center and Jaelen Strong creating mismatches for defenses. Kelly, in particular, has been one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the Pac-12 the past two seasons. And running back D.J. Foster is a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. Arizona State may even be able to challenge UCLA and USC atop the Pac-12 South, but the team’s previously devastating defensive front is being completely rebuilt. The team lost it’s top tackler, sack artist and two-time Pac-12 Defense Player of the Year Will Sutton to the NFL. Graham will continue to blitz every chance he gets, but he no longer has the talent to win individual match-ups on a regular basis. The offense will score points, but the defense will have trouble stopping anyone. 

4.  Arizona (Last year: 8-5; beat Boston College in AdvoCare V100 Bowl)
Is the year the Wildcats are ready to take the next step under head coach Rich Rodriguez? During his first two seasons with the program, Arizona finished with an 8-5 record. The problem with Rodriguez is the passing game and defense suffer from the coach’s insistence to implement his offensive scheme, which is a zone-read heavy. The x-factor this season will be whomever Rodriguez’s names as his starting quarterback. Last season, B.J. Denker didn’t provide any consistency throwing the football. It will either be redshirt freshman Anu Solomon or senior transfer Jesse Scroggins which takes over the offense. Solomon reportedly has a slight lead in the competition during fall camp. These two will have to be better dual-threats out of the backfield than Denker was. And the defense has to be better after surrendering 401.1 yards per game last season. If these two things happen, the Wildcats will finish higher in the standings than CFT currently projects. But, it’s unlikely.

5. Colorado (Last year: 4-8)
A 4-8 record for any other program would be a disappointment. Colorado, however, isn’t just any program. It’s a school that went through an ugly divorce with previous head coach Jon Embree. Four wins by first-year head coach Mike MacIntyre was actually a three-game improvement. MacIntyre has a history of rebuilding a program in a similar fashion. He took San Jose State from a one-win team to 10 wins in three seasons. While the growth at Colorado should be far more incremental, the Buffaloes will continue to improve under the current coaching staff. The team returns 16 starters, including quarterback Sefo Liufau, and has a manageable non-conference schedule. There are at least five games the Buffaloes could be considered the favorites to win. It will be up to the coaching staff and players to steal one or two more wins from Pac-12 opponents.

6.  Utah (Last year: 5-7)
Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham enters his 10th season with the program, and it could be his last if the Utes fall to the basement of the Pac-12 South. The problems start on the offensive side of the football. Whittingham used numerous different play-callers in recent years, but the Utes’ offense continued to sputter. Utah finished 76th overall in total offense during the 2013 campaign. Last season the defense wasn’t the team’s saving grace either. The Utes finished 60th overall in total defense. Whittingham will need key players to step up this season if the team has any hope of consistently competing in the Pac-12. Quarterback Travis Wilson has to improve after throwing 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions as a sophomore. Another 5-7 season or worse will likely signal change within the program.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Oregon over UCLA

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2014 lost to torn ACL, Buffs’ starting DB Jered Bell seeks sixth year

Colorado Arizona NCAA Football AP

While Colorado has seen the last of a starting member of its defense for 2014, they likely haven’t seen the last of him at the school.

Last week, Jered Bell suffered a torn ACL during practice that will cost him the entire 2014 season. Because he already missed the entire 2011 season with a torn ACL, the redshirt senior would make a solid candidate for a sixth season of eligibility.

That appears to be the tack the defensive back will take.

“It’s a shame being a guy with so much experience, good leader,”head coach Mike MacIntyre said. “I think he will come back (in 2015) for his sixth year. I believe that will all go through. He told me he wanted to if the knee heals right and (rehabilitation) goes as it should.”

Bell has played in 36 games when healthy for the Buffs, starting 14 of those contests. 11 of those starts came at free safety in 2013.

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Maryland announces ‘lifetime degree guarantee’ for athletes

Maryland Terps

Dubbing it “The Maryland Way Guarantee,” the University of Maryland is blazing a trail on which most, if not all, Power Five conference schools will ultimately travel.

The university announced Tuesday morning that, beginning in November of this year, it will offer a lifetime degree guarantee for student-athletes in all sports. Maryland is one of the first, if not the first, to offer such a guarantee in all sports, not just the revenue-producers in football and basketball.

The historic program coincides with the school’s official move from the ACC to the Big Ten last month.  It also comes a couple of weeks after a mediated settlement was reached in the lawsuits filed by both the school and its former conference.

“Our vision is to be the best intercollegiate athletic program while producing graduates who are prepared to serve as leaders in the local, state and global communities,” athletic director Kevin Anderson said in a statement. “We are confident ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will further demonstrate our commitment to our student-athletes’ pursuit of a college degree.”

The school described the parameters of the program as follows:

Beginning in November of 2014-15, ‘The Maryland Way Guarantee’ will provide all incoming student-athletes with a multi-year scholarship guarantee. Pursuant to this program, should a student-athlete exhaust his or her eligibility prior to graduating, Maryland will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation. If a student-athlete is injured and unable to compete, we will guarantee his or her aid will continue through graduation.

Additionally, Maryland will provide tuition, books and fees for any student-athlete who leaves the institution in good academic standing and returns to complete his or her degree.

Again, student-athletes will be permitted, at no cost to them, to return to the university and obtain their degree at any point in their life.  Previously, and as is the case all across the country in every sport, Maryland student-athletes were offered one-year scholarships, which were subject to renewal every year.

Kudos to Maryland for taking a step that the rest of the power conferences will eventually take as autonomy begins to take hold.

(Photo credit: University of Maryland)
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Four-star LSU signee in ‘final phases of admission process’

Travonte Valentine

It appears LSU’s long wait for the arrival of one of its top 2014 signees is all but over.

Travonte Valentine‘s high school, Mike Tunsil, confirmed to the Baton Rouge Advocate that his former player has been cleared by the NCAA and will play for the Tigers this fall. The defensive lineman had been awaiting clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Valentine is expected to arrive on campus Tuesday and begin practicing with his new teammates in the next day or two.

For its part, LSU would only state that “Valentine is going through the final phases of the admission process.” “He has not been cleared to join the football team,” the school added.

As noted by the Advocate, Valentine must go through the NCAA’s mandated four-day acclimation period and won’t be in full pads until his fifth day of practice.

A four-star member of the Tigers’ 2014 recruiting class, Valentine was rated as the No. 3 defensive tackle in the country and the No. 7 player at any position in the state of Florida.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 10 Stanford

Ty Montgomery

2013 record:11-3 overall, 7-2 in Pac-12 (1st overall in Pac-12)
2013 postseason: Rose Bowl vs. Michigan State (24-20 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 11/No. 10
Head coach: David Shaw (34-7 overall; 34-7 in three years at Stanford)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Bloomgren (4th season at Stanford)
2013 offensive rankings: 22nd rushing offense (207.4 ypg); 92nd passing offense (197.9 ypg); 69th total offense (405.5 ypg); 45th scoring offense (32.3 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: five
Defensive coordinator: Lance Anderson (8th season at Stanford)
2013 defensive rankings: 3rd rushing defense (89.4 ypg); 96th passing defense (253.8 ypg); 16th total defense (343.1 ypg); 10th scoring defense (19.0 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: seven
Location: Palo Alto, California
Stadium: Stanford Stadium (50,000; grass)
Last conference title: 2013

THE GOOD
The more things change, the more they stay the same. Everyone knows exactly what to expect of Stanford. The Cardinal will have a smash-mouth offense and a hard-nosed defense. Stanford overwhelms at the point of attack, and that won’t change any time soon. Stanford head coach David Shaw won’t allow the program to veer off course. When Shaw had to replace Derek Mason as defensive coordinator after four years with the program, the head coach promoted from within his coaching staff. Enter Lance Anderson as the new Willie Shaw Director of Defense. Anderson was originally hired when Jim Harbaugh took over the program. He’s coached the defensive line and linebackers. And now Anderson will provide stability to one of the most physical and intimidating defenses in the country. Continuity has become a staple of the Cardinal program.

THE BAD
There is no way to replace what Stanford lost when Trent Murphy, Shayne Skov and Ed Reynolds exhausted their eligibility and are now members of NFL teams. Skov led the team with 108 tackles. Murphy led the FBS with 15 sacks. And Reynolds was the team’s leader in the secondary. Junior Blake Martinez takes over for Skov, while senior A.J. Tarpley will become the leader of the defense. Senior Kevin Anderson will step in as Murphy’s replacement, but he only registered 1.5 sacks in 14 games last season. Kodi Whitfield will be the team’s new starter at safety. Each will live up to the team’s standards as well-coached and disciplined defenders, but it’s hard to imagine these three players replacing the production Stanford lost.

THE UNKNOWN
Since Harbaugh took over the program and Shaw replaced him, the big uglies have become Stanford’s calling card. Each week, whatever opponent Stanford plays absolutely knows they are going to get punched in the mouth by an overwhelming offensive line. Stanford plays with six or seven offensive linemen at any given time and situation. However, talent doesn’t always trump continuity up front. The Cardinal lost four of its five starting offensive linemen to the NFL after last season. Kyle Murphy (right tackle), Joshua Garnett (right guard), Graham Shuler (center) and Johnny Caspers (left guard) will replace Cameron Fleming, Kyle Danser, Khalil Wilkes and and David Yankey. The only mainstay is left tackle Andrus Peat, who just happens to be projected as first-round talent for the 2015 NFL draft.  Good offensive line play demands proper communication, technique and an understanding of what the man next to you is going to do each and every play. Stanford will once again feature a tremendously talented offensive line this season, but at what point during the season will this group completely gel and play at the level expected of them?

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. USC
This could easily be Oregon in this slot, but the Cardinal have beaten the Ducks two years in a row and the team will have the utmost confidence facing them again during the upcoming season. USC, meanwhile, was one of the Cardinal’s key losses last season. The Trojans were playing extremely well down the stretch and stole a 20-17 victory that was decided by a field goal with 19 seconds remaining in the game. The timing of Stanford’s meeting with USC this year is also important. The Cardinal hosts the Trojans the second week of the season with a national audience prepared to watch the game. The last time Stanford lost a game that early in the season was five years ago when it fell to Wake Forest 24-17. A win against the Trojans will help set the table in Pac-12 play and spur national conversation. A loss will likely place Stanford in the background as other teams programs roll through their early-season schedules.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: WR Ty Montgomery
Stanford doesn’t run an offensive scheme where a wide receiver (or any other skill position) will post the level of individual numbers necessary to win a Heisman Trophy. After all, Andrew Luck was the best  quarterback in the nation for two seasons, and he finished as the runner-up for the award twice. Montgomery, however, is one of the most dynamic offense weapons in college football. The wide receiver’s numbers are meager when compared to other receivers that play in spread offenses. Last year, Montgomery registered 61 receptions for 958 yards. While those numbers should be expected to improve during his senior campaign, Montgomery doubles as one of college football’s top kick returners. He was named a Walter Camp All-American as a kick returner. Stanford is expected to contend in the Pac-12 Conference again this season. Big plays from Montgomery in big moments might help Heisman voters overlook the fact he’ll never put up eye-popping numbers as a wide receiver. 

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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