Report: Chip Kelly, Browns to meet Friday

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And the plot thickens.

Even before the 2012 version of Black Monday saw seven NFL head coaches whacked, Oregon’s Chip Kelly had been connected to a potential move up the football ladder.  This week, Kelly’s name has been attached to a handful of openings, particularly as it relates to coaching vacancies with the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles.

Kelly has continually brushed aside speculation regarding his coaching future, saying today that “I don’t expect anything” when it comes to fielding offers from NFL clubs before adding, “I do not know what the future holds.”

Based, on one report, that future includes feeling out at least one potential offer in very short order.

According to a report credited to “ESPN.com news services,” Kelly is scheduled to interview with the Browns Friday in Arizona.  The Eagles are expected to interview Kelly as well, although it appears Cleveland will get the first “shot” at prying Kelly away from the collegiate ranks.

Kelly is in Scottsdale putting the final touches on preparations for the Ducks’ Fiesta Bowl game against Kansas State.

New Browns owner and president Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner, respectively, are also in Arizona interviewing at least one other potential candidate, although Jason La Canfora of CBSSports previously reported that Banner’s presence is “primarily to make a pitch for Chip Kelly.”

One report has already pegged Kelly as the top choice of the Browns.  That’s believed to be the case when it comes to the Eagles as well.  Kelly has also been connected to the Carolina Panthers.

If both the Browns and Eagles swing and miss on Kelly — as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers did a year ago — each reportedly will turn their attention in part to Penn State’s Bill O’Brien and Syracuse’s Doug Marrone.  It had previously been reported that O’Brien is strongly considering at least listening to NFL teams interested in him.

UPDATED 6:34 p.m. ET: In addition to the Browns and Eagles, USA Today is reporting that Kelly will also interview with the Buffalo Bills.

Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead declares for NFL Draft

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After three seasons in a Pitt football uniform, safety Jordan Whitehead is ready to turn pro. Whitehead announced his intention to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft on Monday morning with a brief statement.

“After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to begin preparing for the next step in my career and enter the 2018 NFL Draft,” Whitehead said in a released statement, via Twitter. “It has been an honor and a privilege to play for this university, Coach [Pat Narduzzi], and this coaching staff for the past three years. I would like to thank them for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime, but feel I am ready to take the next step in achieving my dreams.”

The former ACC Rookie of the Year and three-time All-ACC player will be one of the top underclassmen at the safety position on the NFL Draft board in the spring. He is the second Pitt player to declare for the NFL a year early, joining wide receiver Quadree Henderson in doing so.

Whitehead had one interception and 60 tackles in nine games this season. Whitehead also picked up some assignments in the running game and special teams, showcasing his ability to contribute in a variety of ways for the Panthers, and that could be used to improve his draft outlook moving forward.

Phillip Fulmer says he’s ready to help Tennessee recruit again

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Former Tennessee head coach and recently-named athletics director Phillip Fulmer is ready to get back in the mix on the recruiting trail on behalf of the Vols. With a  new head coach in place (Jeremy Pruitt) and a new staff coming together in Knoxville, having Fulmer provide a couple nuggets of insight every now and then can come in handy. After all, Fulmer was recruiting as Tennessee’s head coach for a long time and he has come to learn a thing or two about the recruiting pipeline in Knoxville.

But Fulmer is preparing himself to go another step farther in the recruiting efforts, should he be needed. According to Michael Bratton of Saturday Down South, via Twitter, Fulmer says he has already passed the necessary NCAA testing to be cleared to officially recruit football players to Tennessee.

That is certainly interesting to see because it is not the norm for an athletics director to get involved in the recruiting efforts of a school beyond approving recruiting budgets and events. But if there is any doubt Fulmer has been itching to help get Tennessee back on track as an SEC contender, his move to land the AD role and quick action to clear himself to be able to recruit for the program should speak volumes about his commitment to improving the Vols on the football field even if he is no longer the head coach.

The only question left to answer here is just how involved Fulmer will actually be in the recruiting efforts, or if this is a short-term play as Tennessee builds a new staff just before an early signing period in college football.

Peach Bowl still in doubt for Auburn RB Kamryn Pettway

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The game is still a few weeks away, but Auburn running back Kamryn Pettway‘s availability will be in question every passing day until the Tigers kickoff against UCF in Atlanta. Asked about the possibility of having Pettway retrun from injury to play in the Peach Bowl against the undefeated AAC champions, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn said he simply cannot predict what will happen.

“I don’t know the answer to that quite yet,” Malzahn said last week, as noted by Gridiron Now. “It’s hard for me to answer that right now. Maybe as it gets a little closer, I can be a little more accurate.”

Pettway has been sidelined by a shoulder injury, which was expected to cost him a significant amount of playing time for the remainder of the season. However, Auburn never officially ruled Pettway’s season to be done as a result of the injury, which leaft the door open for a possible bowl appearance if Pettway is able to recover in time and be cleared to play.

Pettway has rushed for 305 yards and six touchdowns out of the Auburn backfield this season. Kerryon Johnson has carried the running game for Auburn this season, and Pettway’s potential return would be more of a complimentary role in a bowl game.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.