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!”

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze resigns after discovery of phone calls to escort service

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Forget about Hugh Freeze being on the hot seat in Oxford. He won’t even be coaching a single game for the Rebels this fall.

Hugh Freeze resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss suddenly on Thursday evening, just a week after SEC Media Days. The resignation is effective immediately, and the school has announced co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Luke will take over the head coaching responsibilities for the upcoming season as the interim head coach. It should be expected Ole Miss will conduct a search for a new full-time head coach as soon as possible, but an official hire being made before the start of the season remains in question.

The resignation comes after the school discovered a phone call to an escort service coming from his school-issued cell phone. And it apparently was not an accidental wrong number either.

According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Ole Miss reviewed phone records tied to Freeze as far back as 2012. Earlier in the day, USA Today reporter Dan Wolken reported Freeze had made a phone call to the number associated with a female escort service. The phone call in the report occurred in January of 2016. How many phone calls were discovered by Ole Miss is at this time unknown. Once confronted with the phone numbers by Bjork, Freeze is said to have offered his resignation. Whether he voluntarily offered to resign or if he was pushed to resign by the school may never be known for sure, but given the heat on Freeze already following recent headlines it may be pretty easy to see how this all played out behind closed doors.

It has been a troublesome summer for Freeze. Just last week, he was targetted in a lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, and Freeze has had to deny any members of his staff knowingly violated any NCAA rules following an investigation into the program. Freeze was previously targeted in a lawsuit filed by the stepdad of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil just months after the NCAA discovered 13 violations against the Ole Miss program under the leadership of Freeze last year.

In five seasons at Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25 and coached Ole Miss to a 2-1 record in postseason bowl games. Along the way, he recruited some of the best classes in school history, although how he and his staff managed to do so has been the subject of plenty of scrutinies and the findings continue to come together to suggest foul play was used. Calls to escort services will not help that look at all. Before being hired at Ole Miss, Freeze coached Arkansas State to a 19-3 record in 2011.

Luke, an Ole Miss alum from the Class of 2000, joined the Ole Miss coaching staff in 2012 with Freeze.

Todd Graham subtly names Manny Wilkins starting QB at ASU, says Barnett will have to win the job

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Arizona State picked up a nice addition to the depth chart with the addition of quarterback Blake Barnett this past winter. Barnett was given the chance to be immediately eligible to play for Arizona State this season rather than have to sit out a season, but he will have to get to work in order to win the starting job with the Sun Devils if Todd Graham‘s latest comments are accurate.

Speaking to media today at a facilities tour, Graham was asked about the quarterback competition. Graham not-so-subtly named Manny Wilkins the team’s starter for the 2017 season, barring any other changes between now and the start of the season.

“I didn’t make an announcement, I just didn’t want our opponent know who was going to play but I thought our opponent knew, I think everybody knew,” Graham said, referring to a season-opening game against New Mexico State. “We have a returning starter and he’s the starting quarterback until someone beats him out.”

Perhaps most notably, one of the quarterbacks who will look to knock Wilkins off the top of the depth chart will be Barnett, the transfer from Alabama who was a major recruit for the Crimson Tide not so long ago. Barnett started the  2016 season as Alabama’s official starter but lost the full-time job to Jalen Hurts right out of the gate with a shaky performance in the season opener while Hurts put on a show (and led Alabama to the national championship game). Barnett then opted to leave the program in search of a new opportunity to compete for the starting job.

“Right now, we have a starting quarterback and Blake knows he has to beat him out,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to see that competition and a very physical, Sun Devil tough training camp.”

Report: Alabama RB B.J. Emmons, CB Aaron Robinson leaving program

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The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be hurting on the depth chart as a result, but two players are leaving the program in search of other opportunities. Running back B.J. Emmons and cornerback Aaron Robinson are both leaving Tuscaloosa, according to a report from AL.com.

As the news was breaking, multiple reports say Emmons has enrolled at Hutchinson Community College. Emmons missed some games last season due to a foot injury, but he is expected to be back to 100 percent health this fall. Of course, at Alabama, the running back position is stacked and difficult to get much playing time to begin with. Robinson was also expected to be a backup for Alabama this fall after working with the second team unit in the spring.

Emmons was Alabama’s fifth-leading rusher in 2016 with 173 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Robinson appeared in 13 games and recorded five total tackles as a freshman.

Both Emmons and Robinson will be eligible to play for another FBS program starting in 2018 after sitting out the 2017 season, due to NCAA transfer rules. They are eligible to play at a lower division school this fall, whether it is an FCS or lower program or a junior college. The junior college route appears to be the path Emmons is taking by enrolling at a community college.

Fifth member of Jim McElwain’s first recruiting class at Florida to transfer

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Florida’s secondary continues to face some depth concerns ahead of the 2017 season. The depth chart lost Chris Williamson, multiple reports confirmed today, who is opting to transfer to a new school.

The former four-star defensive back was recently guided through a position change to pad the depth at the safety position this spring. Williamson has spent the past two seasons in Gainesville and has appeared in 14 games with one start. He came to Florida as part of the first recruiting class signed by Gators head coach Jim McElwain in 2015, and he is now the fifth player from that class to transfer, according to Inside the Gators.

From Inside the Gators;

Williamson is the fifth player from Jim McElwain’s inaugural recruiting class at Florida in 2015 to transfer from the program, joining running back Jordan Cronkrite (USF), offensive lineman Brandon Sandifer, tight end Daniel Imatorbhebhe (USC) and tight end/linebacker Camrin Knight (Georgia State).

The news of Williamson’s intent to transfer comes on the same day Florida revealed it will be without safety Marcell Harris for the 2017 season. Harris suffered a torn Achilles tendon that will force the fifth-year senior to miss the entire 2017 season.

Williamson will have to sit out the 2017 college football season if he transfers to another FBS program, according to NCAA transfer rules. He will be eligible to play immediately this fall if he transfers to a program at the FCS level or below.