Justin Pugh out with the Orange, in with the NFL

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In the latest in a string of announcements, Syracuse became the latest FBS-level program to lose an underclassman standout to the NFL.

The Orange announced via ye olde press release Thursday evening that standout offensive tackle Justin Pugh (pictured, No. 67) has decided to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the April draft.  The decision comes after an injury curtailed the early portion of Pugh’s 2012 season.

“Coach Marrone and Coach Adkins have been great throughout my career, including through this process,” Pugh said in a statement. “I wanted to be honest with everyone as I made this decision and they were the same with me. My Syracuse career was the best four years of my life. My teammates, coaches, the staff and the fans have been great. I would not change anything about my decision to attend Syracuse or my career. I am so happy I came to Syracuse University.  I will always be active in the Orange football program and the Syracuse community. I love the Orange. Go ‘Cuse.”

A shoulder injury not only knocked Pugh out of the whole of summer camp, it also kept him off the field for the first four games of the year.  Despite that, Pugh was named first-team All-Big East for the second season in a row.

All told, Pugh started 34 games the past three seasons.

“Justin is a big part of this program turning the corner,” said head coach Doug Marrone. “He came in with us four years ago and gave us everything he had. We are proud of him for earning his degree and for what he has accomplished on the field as a leader of this team. He has earned it. I believe he will be very successful at the next level and in everything he does outside of football. Justin will always be part of the Orange football family.”

Pugh becomes the first offensive lineman to officially declare early for the draft.  How’d I know that?  By clicking HERE, of course.

Citing love of teammates, Saquon Barkley says he’ll play in Penn State’s bowl game

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As was the case with one high-profile player on the West Coast earlier this month, another on the East Coast won’t be McCaffreying a bowl game.  Or Fournetting it for that matter.

Last season, running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, both at the time considered likely high first-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft, raised eyebrows and made headlines by skipping LSU’s and Stanford’s bowl games.  It led some to wonder whether this would, or even should, become the norm for players projected to be taken early in the next draft.

After Penn State beat took care of business against Nebraska in Week 12, running back Saquon Barkley took it as an affront that some had been suggesting that he would sit out the Nittany Lions’ bowl game to protect his stock as he expected to declare early.  If for nothing more, Barkley won’t do it out of love for his teammates.

That attitude merely serves as one of myriad reasons why NFL teams will absolutely fall further in love with the junior as the pre-draft process cranks into high gear.

No. 11 USC needs special teams trickery to help hold halftime lead over UCLA

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The city of Los Angeles came out to the Coliseum expecting a high-scoring blowout but what most of the crowd came to see was a good old fashioned Pac-12 slugfest between No. 11 USC and their crosstown rivals UCLA. In a battle between two of the best college quarterbacks in the country, it was the Trojans’ Sam Darnold who managed to secure the lead 14-7 going into halftime but needed a little help along the way from his teammates to get there.

The signal-caller in cardinal and gold finished the first two quarters with 132 yards passing in another efficient —  if unspectacular — performance behind center, combining with tailback Ronald Jones (88 yards, one touchdown) to help rack up most of the offense for the home team at the Coliseum. Despite being able to move the ball up the field fairly well, USC needed a little help from the third phase of the game in order to jump out in front on the scoreboard.

That came on an amazing special teams play in the first quarter that included a little trickeration on the part of the Trojans, shifting the return team to the right with a decoy return man while Michael Pittman fielded the punt along the left sidelines and went 72 yards nearly untouched for the touchdown.

The Bruins responded however and marched right down the field for a touchdown on a Josh Rosen pass. The potential first round draft pick had the better half of the two quarterbacks outside of a late strip sack, hitting several big plays down the field and finishing with 228 yards at the break. The running game wasn’t much to write home about to the surprise of nobody on the UCLA sidelines but it was an encouraging effort for a team that hasn’t had many the past few weeks.

We’ve seen some surprises on both sides of this rivalry game and it’s not hard to think we could be in for another close, fun second half based on how these two teams played the first two quarters. Whoever manages to make halftime adjustments will likely emerge victorious but both teams are very much in this game to the dismay of the home crowd.

Love quiet as Stanford leads Cal at the half

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Stanford is halfway to keeping its namesake Axe. The Cardinal leads Cal 10-6 at the break in Palo Alto.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie by moving 70 yards in 10 plays, the last 17 on a K.J. Costello pass to Kaden Smith. Costello hit 11-of-20 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception on the final play of the half.

Cal moved inside the Stanford red zone with a chance to tie, but the drive stalled at the 9-yard line and Matt Anderson booted a 26-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 10-6 with 2:43 left in the half.

On a night when he could win some points back in the Heisman race, Bryce Love has carried just six times for 17 yards.

Cal will receive to open the second half.

Report: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall a person of interest in Oregon State coach search

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This is an intriguing potential development.

With Gary Andersen abruptly and unexpectedly stepping down earlier this season, Oregon State finds itself on the hunt for a new head football coach.  On the same day the Beavers fell to 1-10 on the lost season, a new name surfaced as a reported possibility: Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

At least, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian, who lists Mendenhall as a person of interest in the search.  Canzano writes that Mendenhall “interviewed for the job in 2014 and was the runner-up when Andersen was hired,” then goes on to put him on OSU’s short list, along with Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.

Mendenhall, should he decide to jump ship, certainly has ties to that area of the country — and to the university.

Born in Utah, Mendenhall began his collegiate playing career at an in-state junior college before transferring to, you guessed it, OSU for his last two years of eligibility.  He then began his coaching career with the Beavers as a graduate assistant and defensive line coach in 1989-90.  He then returned to his alma mater in 1995 as line coach, spending the following season as defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.  Nearly a decade later, he became the head coach at BYU, spending 11 seasons with that program before abruptly leaving for the Virginia job after the 2015 season.

After going 99-43 with the Cougars, and after a 2-10 first season in Charlottesville, Mendenhall has the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.