Newcomers shine in Tide’s A-Day finale

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It’s bad enough for SEC foes that Alabama returns more than a dozen starters from its 2011 BcS title-winning team.

Now those same teams are faced with the prospect of having to deal with at least a couple of new recruits who may be ready to make an instant and immediate contribution as the Tide attempts pull off a repeat.

The hands-down star of the game was running back T.J. Yeldon, who was one of a handful of early enrollees for the Tide this past winter.  All Yeldon did was combine for 179 total yards — 88 rushing, 91 receiving — in helping lead the White team over the Crimson team, 24-15, in what’s officially called the Golden Flake A-Day Game.  Included in that total was a 50-yard touchdown reception from backup quarterback Phillip Sims.  For that performance, Yeldon was honored with the Dixie Howell Most Valuable Player of the Game Award

Additionally, fellow true freshman Chris Black caught a 44-yard scoring pass from Sims.  The catch-and-run by the wide receiver was the first of two scores on the day thrown by Sims.

“It’s really important. It doesn’t really matter about the game. It’s basically another practice for us. You basically just want to see consistency,” head coach Nick Saban said of the performance put out there by the new players in general. “How do they do consistently playing that position and doing their role and playing their role and those guys have done a great job. You couldn’t ask any more from them and like I said as a whole offense we have to keep progressing and we’re going to have some ups and downs right now. We’re learning some new plays and doing some different things but as long as we just come out and get better every day we’ll be fine.”

Unfortunately, the player to whom Sims looks up to on the depth chart didn’t fare as well.  While A.J. McCarron, who was quietly semi-spectacular in his first season as the Tide’s starter last season, matched Sims with a pair of touchdowns, he also threw three interceptions, including one on the first play from scrimmage.

Despite the uneven play from his starting QB and the stellar production from his true freshmen, Saban wasn’t getting too high or two low over either area, rather focusing on the improvement his squad made throughout the 15 spring sessions.

“One thing that never happens in college football is no one ever has a bad spring and no one ever has a bad spring game. We didn’t have one either,” Saban said in comments distributed by the team. “We had a lot of guys who made a lot of improvement this spring. We are still focusing on more and more guys knowing what it takes to win and the preparations, ability to adjust, play with poise, execute and do their job.

“None of that stuff happens by accident. It happens because of the way you prepare and the way you work. We will look and see how many guys have made progress in the regard. I think this game today was kind of a final exam for some of the players relative to spring practice. How much you improve, where you are in your development, are you ready to take responsibility for a role on the team.”

For those who are curious, the school detailed in its release that the format for this game was very similar to that of a regular season game: “he format for the A-Day game was much like a normal game, with a few minor variations primarily regarding the game clock. The game consisted of four 15-minute quarters with a running clock. The clock stopped only following scoring plays, penalties, and changes of possession. Regular clock rules were used during the final minutes of the second quarter and the fourth quarter.”

Incidentally, the game was played in front of 78,526 at Bryant-Denny Stadium, the fifth-largest attendance mark for an A-Day football game.  It was however, roughly 14,000 less than the record crowd that watched the Tide’s spring game last season.

(For all of CFT’s coverage of the 40-plus spring game action Saturday, click HERE.)

Lamar Jackson leapfrogged by Baker Mayfield as Bovada’s Heisman favorite

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So much for that wagering momentum, I guess.

Entering the 2017 season as not only the reigning winner but also as seemingly an afterthought, a pair of scintillating performances to open the year pushed Lamar Jackson to the head of Bovada.lv‘s Heisman Trophy pack.  Coming off a 26-point Week 3 loss to now-No. 2 Clemson in which he totaled nearly 400 yards of offense and three touchdowns, the Louisville quarterback has seen his odds lengthen a bit from 7/4 a week ago to 11/2 in Bovada‘s latest Heisman release.

Bovada’s new betting front-runner?  Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who went from 4/1 to 7/4.  Sam Darnold, 6/1, also saw his odds shorten slightly to a Jackson-match 11/2.

Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph, 10/1 in the previous odds release, is now at 9/1, same as the holding-steady-from-a-week-ago Penn State running back Saquon Barkley.

There’s also, interestingly, one true freshman on the board: J.K. Dobbins.  The Ohio State running back went from off the board to 40/1 odds.  His starting quarterback, J.T. Barrett, saw his odds go from 25/1 to 33/1.

Below is the latest set of 2017 Heisman Trophy odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv.

Illinois adds UCF grad transfer QB Pete DiNovo

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Illinois has an immediate addition to its quarterback room.  Or its wide receivers room, depending on how things play out.

Pete DiNovo confirmed to the Tampa Bay Times Monday that he has decided to transfer to the Illini.  The acknowledgment comes a month after DiNovo decided to transfer from Central Florida.

As a graduate transfer, DiNovo would be eligible to play immediately this season.  Per the player, a former high school teammate and former high school coach currently at Illinois played a role in his decision.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way everything turned out,” DiNovo told the Times. “I can come up here and learn from Lovie (Smith) and everyone else on the coaching staff.”

DiNovo began his Knights career as a quarterback — he replaced Blake Bortles as UCF’s starter before being quickly replaced himself — before being moved to wide receiver before being moved back under center this offseason.  How the Illini will use DiNovo, who has an eye on a career in coaching after his playing days are over, remains to be seen.

UTEP stays in-house to replace fired OC Brent Pease

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Not surprisingly, UTEP will stay in-house following its in-season dismissal of one of its coordinators.

The Miners confirmed Sunday that offensive coordinator Brent Pease had been fired.  A day later, the football program announced that Brian Natkin has been given the keys to the offense by Sean Kugler and will call the plays moving forward.

Natkin began the season as special teams coordinator and tight ends coach.  He was an All-American tight end at UTEP a decade-and-a-half ago and became a full-time assistant at his alma mater in 2011.

Through three games, UTEP ranks second-to-last nationally in total offense at 204.7 yards per game and in yards per play (3.89). The Miners are also 125th (out of 130 teams) in scoring at 13 points per game.

The promotion of Natkin also means there will be some additional adjustments to Kugler’s staff.  Wide receivers coach Chuck Veliz will take over Pease’s other role as quarterbacks coach, while safeties coach Don Yanowsky assume Natkin’s duties as special teams coordinator.

Natkin will continue in his role as tight ends coach.

Oregon State QB Jake Luton discharged from hospital after leaving Wazzu game on a stretcher

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Oregon State quarterback Jake Luton was taken away on a stretcher after a tackle left him motionless on the Reser Stadium turf on Saturday.

Family members were called to the field, where medical professionals stabilized an apparently unconscious Luton and removed his face mask. The game continued, of course, as Oregon State lost to Washington State 52-23 despite Luton’s 179 passing yards and 22 rushing yards.

Luton tweeted on Saturday night that he’ll “be back.”

Luton has since been discharged from the hospital, according to The Oregonian, though his father posted a message stating Luton was probably dealing with a “thoracic spine fracture.”

Oregon State is off Saturday before hosting Washington on Sept. 30.