Updated: Penn State kicker next to depart, heads to Texas

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It’s been making its way through the rumor mill for some time, but the departure of Penn State kicker Anthony Fera is about as official as it can be without a statement.

Orangebloods.com was on the story last night that Fera, a second-team All-Big Ten selection last year, was heading to Texas. ESPN’s Joe Schad was one of several to report the same thing this morning and the school confirmed Fera was on roster Thursday afternoon.

It feels weird typing this, but Fera is probably the biggest loss for Penn State behind Silas Redd, who transferred to USC earlier this week — that is if you want to put rankings on these kinds of things. Fera was the guy or the Nittany Lions’ kicking game last year, averaging over 40 yards per punt and making 14-of-17 field goals.  He was also a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award.

Likewise, because it feels weird typing this too, Fera’s addition is huge for Texas. The Longhorns struggled in the kicking game this spring and Mack Brown has already been upgrading that department with former Duke punter Alex King earlier this summer.

Fera’s departure marks the sixth Penn State player to have transferred out of the program in the past several days.

Updated 5:45 p.m. ET: Here are Fera’s comments upon joining the Longhorns:

“The past few weeks have been extremely difficult as I’ve wrestled with the decision on my future. It’s been tough to endure, not only for me, but for my entire immediate family back in Texas, and the Penn State football family I have grown so fond of over the past three-and-a-half years. It has been hard to separate the two as my family and I have been accepted and treated so wonderfully by everyone in the Penn State community. For that, we are all truly grateful.

“The decision to remain at Penn State has been complicated due to an illness in my family. Shortly before I arrived on campus, the most important person in my life was diagnosed with MS (multiple sclerosis), making it more and more difficult to travel each weekend from Texas to see me play. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and I’ve been afforded the opportunity to give back to my family and make their lives a little easier by transferring to a university much closer to home, The University of Texas.

“I love Penn State University, my teammates, my coaches – both present and past – along with all of the great fans who have supported me and my teammates over the years. I made a promise to Coach Paterno and my family the day I arrived on campus to obtain a degree from Penn State University, which with the cooperation of the folks at Texas, I plan to fulfill over the next year. I will always proudly say that I am a Penn State alum!

“A new chapter in my life begins next week, and I am very excited to play for such a well-respected coach in Mack Brown, and a Longhorn football program that is traditionally one of the finest in the nation. My family and I had a chance to visit Austin and get to know the coaches and some of the players last weekend. It is a wonderful place and we had a great time. I feel like I can have another extended family in Austin, and I’m really looking forward to being a part of the team and campus community.

“I cherish my time at Penn State, but look forward to challenges ahead and the ability to compete on the playing field and in the classroom at another tremendous institution in The University of Texas. I want to wish Coach (Bill) O’Brien and his entire staff, my fellow teammates, and all of Nittany Nation the very best this upcoming season. I will be giving my all to the Longhorns, but will always be pulling for my friends and Nittany Lions family as well.”

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas to give Todd Orlando raise to $1.7 million per year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: ‘Resource issues in ACC vs. SEC’

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.