BYU v Utah

DE Joe Kruger leaving Utah early for NFL

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For the seventh time (officially) since late November, an underclassman defensive lineman has left eligibility on the table for a shot in the professional ranks.

The latest to do the early deed is Joe Kruger, the Utah defensive end who announced Wednesday afternoon that he will not return to the Utes in 2013 and will instead make himself available for the April NFL draft.  The 6-7, 280-pound junior played in 37-of-38 games from 2010-12 with 14 starts. He started seven of the 11 games in which he played this season.

He led the team with six sacks in 2012.

“Joe and his family spent a lot of time making this decision and concluded that it’s in Joe’s best interest to forego his senior year of eligibility and enter the draft,” head coach Kyle Whittingham said in a statement. “Joe certainly has NFL potential and we wish him the best as he takes his game to the next level. The Kruger name has been synonymous with Utah football for a lot of years and we are very appreciative for all they have done for our program.”

Kruger’s brother Paul Kruger is a former Utes player and current Baltimore Raven.  He had another brother, Dave, who finished this past fall as a four-year starting defensive tackle.

Below is Kruger’s rather lengthy statement on leaving the Utes a year early:

“I am releasing this statement after much prayer, consideration and evaluation with my family in announcing that I have decided to forgo my final year of eligibility and enter the 2013 NFL draft.

“These past three years, I have been honored to be a part of a very special group of teammates and coaches at the University of Utah. I have cherished what has been my amazing college experience. The privilege to play under someone as great as Coach Kyle Whittingham has been a tremendous opportunity. The experience of playing together with my brother Dave has been priceless. Now it is my journey to pursue a lifelong dream, which is to become a professional football player in the National Football League.

“This decision is one of the toughest that I have ever had to make. As I reflect on the University of Utah, my teammates, all of my coaches, the football staff, and most importantly the Utah fans, I am filled with humility and deep gratitude. These past years at Utah have been a tremendous learning and growing experience for me. I want to thank everyone at the University and all the Utes everywhere for their support.

“It is my hope in making this decision that the fans, coaches, teammates, and the Utah athletic department will continue to support me and my family as I take this next step in attaining my goals.

“My heart belongs to Utah and I wish continued prosperity and success to my Utah Utes!”

Iowa State DB Mike Johnson suspended amid domestic violence arrest

AMES, IA - NOVEMBER 19: Wide receiver Keke Coutee #20 of the Texas Tech Red Raiders blocks defensive back Mike Johnson #3 of the Iowa State Cyclones as he rushed for yards in the first half of play at Jack Trice Stadium on November 19, 2016 in Ames, Iowa. (Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)
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Iowa State has suspended defensive back Mike Johnson after he was arrested Thursday on the accusation that he choked his girlfriend.

As reported by the Des Moines Register, Johnson and his girlfriend were fighting over social media posts and music playing over each other’s phones when each tried to reach for the other’s device. That escalated to the point where Johnson allegedly had both hands around the woman’s throat, to the point where told police she “saw stars” and had trouble breathing.

She also had, according to police, bite marks on her right cheek, on her neck and behind her left ear, a swollen upper lip and had what appeared to be dried blood on her. Johnson also said he was bitten during the altercation.

“We are aware of Mike Johnson’s arrest and allegations associated with his arrest,” head coach Matt Campbell told the paper in a statement. “Our program has zero tolerance for domestic violence. Mike has been suspended from all team activities, including practice, under the student-athlete code of conduct policy as we gather more information. His long-term status with the team will be determined once we gain more facts.”

Johnson posted 44 tackles, three pass breakups and 1.5 tackles for loss in 12 games last season.

Report: Former Pitt RB James Conner given clean bill of health

James Conner
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James Conner will head to next week’s Combine with a clean bill of health, according to a report Thursday from ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

“Pitt RB James Conner, who missed most of 2015 with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, received a clean scan today, a week prior to combine, per source,” Schefter tweeted.

Conner led the ACC in rushing in 2014, rushing for 1,765 yards and 5.92 yards per carry with 26 touchdowns in 2014, before a Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis caused him to miss all but one game of the 2015 campaign. (And in that one game, Conner still rushed for nearly 10 yards per carry and two touchdowns.)

He battled back to return to the field in 2016, again leading the Panthers with 216 carries for 1,092 yards and 16 touchdowns while finishing third on the club with 21 grabs for 302 yards and four touchdowns.

Conner will compete at the Combine for draft positioning with fellow running backs Leonard FournetteDalvin Cook and D'Onta Foreman, among others.

Willie Taggart no longer speaking with Oregon beat reporter

TAMPA, FL - SEPTEMBER 28:  Head Coach Willie Taggart walks the sidelines during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes on September 28, 2013 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Oregon strength coach Irele Oderinde is now back at work after serving a 1-month, unpaid suspension resulting from three players being hospitalized after Oderinde’s first supervised workout with the Ducks, but the story is not over in Eugene.

According to Oregon’s student paper The Daily Emerald, Taggart is no longer speaking with the reporter who broke the story, The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif.

“When you’re not fair and honest, then to me that’s personal,” Taggart told the paper. “When you do something that’s negative and it’s going to be personal, then I won’t have shit to do with you.”

Greif, for his part, stands by the story and says the paper will not issue a retraction, as Taggart requested:

“Though the description of the workouts is understandably subjective, ultimately what has never been in doubt is that three UO players were hospitalized after the first week of offseason workouts and received treatment for several days,” Greif said in an email to the Emerald.

Complicating matters for Taggart is that the university commissioned faculty athletics rep Tim Gleason, a journalism professor, to review the report. In speaking with players, coaches, trainers and AD Rob Mullens, Gleason found the report not to be inaccurate.

“It’s not an unfair characterization; it’s just that the way it gets interpreted is regrettable,” Gleason said. “In the shorthand of journalism, it resulted in an impression that may not have been completely accurate.”

Also contradicting Taggart are members of his own staff, who said off-the-record that the workouts were “military-style.” Greif quoted them anonymously when inserting that phrase into the piece:

Players this week were required to finish the same workouts, which were described by multiple sources as akin to military basic training, with one said to include up to an hour of continuous push-ups and up-downs.

It’s not clear where the story goes from here, except that Taggart made clear twice in his interview with the Emerald he has no plans to answer questions from Greif in the future.

Report: Ole Miss reportedly tried to bring Mississippi State down with it in NCAA probe

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 28:  Damore'ea Stringfellow #3 of the Mississippi Rebels is pursued by Mark McLaurin #41 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the second quarter of a game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Starkville, Mississippi.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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Ah, rivalries. The sibling-like struggle across the sport is what makes the college football world spin, and we got a great example of that in a report detailing Ole Miss’s response to its impending charges.

As we know, a key charge against Ole Miss was the Rebels’ attempted payment of a sum between $13,000 and $15,000 to a recruit that ultimately signed with Mississippi State, and the Rebels’ response was to turn around and bring their Egg Bowl rivals down with them.

According to Neal McCready’s inside-the-program accounting of the process for Rebel Grove, Ole Miss has a recording of Leo Lewis‘s mother asking other programs for money:

Ole Miss, per multiple sources, possesses a recording, and has given the SEC a copy, of Lewis’ mother asking Ole Miss for money and detailing incentives she received from other programs, including Mississippi State.

Considering the sourcing on this one, the phrase “including Mississippi State” is anything but an accident. It’s the college football version defense of the “Yes, Mom, I may have taken the booze from the cabinet, but Little Brother drank some of it, too!” defense.

To which the NCAA will likely respond: “But I haven’t spent four years investigating him.”

While the “they cheated too” last gasp of a defense likely won’t extend Ole Miss a stay of execution, you have to at least respect the Rebels for trying it.