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Big Ten spring game wrap-ups

Tyler Ferguson AP

Some news, notes, quotes and other assorted tidbits from the three spring games contested across the Big Ten Saturday afternoon…

MICHIGAN STATE
To say that the Spartans’ quarterbacks struggled somewhat during today’s spring game would be an understatement of mammoth proportions.

MSU quarterbacks combined to go 22 of 53 for 386 yards, two touchdown and two interceptions.  Last year’s starter and presumptive front-runner for the job this season, Andrew Maxwell, completed just nine of his 20 attempts for 120 yards and the game-winning touchdown pass.  The strong-armed Connor Cook, who has gained some ground on Maxwell this spring, threw for 217 yards and a scoring toss but also completed less than 40 percent of his passes (10-26).  Redshirt freshman Tyler O’Connor completed five of six passes — three to his offensive teammates, two to his defensive teammates.

All in all, it was rough outing at a position where the Spartans may have more questions exiting spring than they did entering it.

Head coach Mark Dantonio said that the incumbent would top the depth chart entering summer, but stopped short of anointing him as the season-opening starter.

“I think you leave here at the end of spring saying that (Andrew) Maxwell comes into the summer camp number one based on knowledge and consistency in terms of performance.”

For his part, Maxwell feels as if he’s done enough to retain the job.

“I feel like I’ve done everything that I could do to make my case to the coaches to be the guy, and I feel like every day I came out and got better,” the player said. “I took a competitive mindset to every practice, and the ultimate decision is with Coach D.”

— The Spartans’ defense accounted for two touchdowns in the Green team’s 24-17 win over the White squad: a Chris Laneaux 25-yard interception return and a fumble recovery by Kyler Elsworth that was returned 41 yards.  On the other side of the ball, Aaron Burbridge caught five passes for 113 yards.

— Former MSU quarterback great Kirk Cousins, now Robert Griffin III‘s backup in Washington, returned to the East Lansing campus as color analyst for the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the game.  Based on Cousins’ comments, it doesn’t appear this will be his last rodeo in the booth.

“I want the football thing to last as long as it possibly can, but at the same time, in the offseason it makes a lot of sense to pursue other opportunities and prepare yourself for whenever football ends,” Cousins said. “And that’s why I’m here today, and it’s just a bonus I get to be back in familiar territory, watching the team that I love.”

— One of the coolest parts of the Spartans’ spring game was their helmets.  Specifically, the stickers on the back of the helmets honoring those who were killed or injured by the bombings at last Monday’s Boston Marathon.  Very classy gesture:

Michigan State Helmets

PENN STATE
If you were an individual looking for some clarity at the quarterback position coming out of the Nittany Lions’ spring game, you are likely somewhat disappointed at this point in time.

Following the game, head coach Bill O’Brien stated very firmly that neither Steven Bench nor Tyler Ferguson (pictured) had grabbed hold of the starting job and the competition would continue into the “voluntary” workouts and on into summer camp.  Both players completed nine of 15 passes, with Bench throwing for 99 yards and Ferguson 90.  Ferguson tossed two touchdown passes to Bench’s one.

As has been the case for most of the spring, the second-year coach was, for the most part, pleased with the duo’s performance.

“I thought they both (Bench and Ferguson) produced,” O’Brien said. “I thought both had some nice throws. Like everybody, coaches and players included, in every game you play, you wish you had some plays back. I’m sure they do too. I thought they both did some decent things out there today.”

In his post-game talk with reporters, O’Brien made it perfectly clear where the competition stands.

“I’d say, no, I’m not any closer as I sit here right now,” the coach said when asked about naming a starter. “Eventually, I’ll have to make a decision.”

O’Brien added that he will now go back and look at all of the spring practice tapes as they work toward naming a starter at the position.

The real competition, though, won’t begin until August; Christian Hackenberg, a five-star 2013 recruit rated as the No. 2 pro-style quarterback in this year’s class, will join the competition this summer, with most expecting the Virginia product to make a very serious run at the starting job as a true freshman.

— In front of 28,000 or so fans who braved the rain and snow and cold, the the Blue team (defense) dropped the White squad (offense), 67-47.  It was the second straight year the defense has “won” the spring game.

A big reason for the defensive win?  The Nittany Lions’ defense accounted for nine sacks, which counted four points apiece in the scoring system utilized by O’Brien.

— Youth was certainly served for the Nittany Lions as the school noted that all six players who ran, caught or threw a touchdown will be a freshman or sophomore this season.  Both of the front-runners for the starting QB job will be sophomores.

— Another of the young ones was running back Akeel Lynch, who led all rushers with 83 yards on his 13 carries.

— “I feel terrible because I love that city,” O’Brien said of the tragic events in Boston this past week. “I grew up 20 minutes north of that city and my brother Tommy is heavily involved in that city and so is my older brother and my dad and my mom so I feel terrible for them. … Boston is a very resilient city and we caught him last night so that was good.”

WISCONSIN
At the end of Gary Andersen‘s first spring as the Badgers’ head coach, and in the midst of a crowded quarterback competition, it was UW’s defense winning most of the plaudits in Madison Saturday afternoon.

Thanks to the “unique” scoring systems that are all the rage during spring games, the final score appears to be a high-scoring offensive affair: Cardinal 61, White 47.  The former team consisted of the Badgers’ defense, the latter the offense.

The game wasn’t a true measure of either unit, however, as Andersen lamented afterwards that “[w]e’re basically missing six starters right now on the defensive side that didn’t play a snap today, and four or five on the offensive side.”

Also, the fact that the game was televised on the Big Ten Network led Andersen to keep his team’s cards very close to his vest.

“I will say this: Defense today was very vanilla. Offensively, we were very generic, and defensively, we were very generic,” the former Utah State head coach said. “We did throw the ball, bottom line, and we did catch the ball better than we have all spring, and that was very encouraging.”

— The Cardinal team totaled 11 tackles for loss and seven sacks in the game.  As those plays were worth two points apiece, the defense scored 36 of its 61 points off those two types of plays.  They also earned 24 points off of eight three-and-outs.

— As far as the quarterback battle goes, two players, Joel Stave and Curt Phillips, received the vast majority of the reps.  Stave completed 15 of his 20 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown, while Phillips went 8-of-13 for 82 yards.  The other quarterbacks on the roster, including former Maryland Terrapin Danny O’Brien, attempted just three passes each.

— Running back Melvin Gordon, who will be charged with the task of replacing Montee Ball, ran for a team-high 74 yards and scored the game’s only touchdown on the ground.  He also added three catches for 35 yards.

— “Yeah, we’re in a good spot,” Andersen said when asked if his team is where he thought it’d be at the end of the spring.  “You’re never going to get everything you want. You’re never going to have it perfect. We wanted consistency. I think we got that. We wanted effort. I think we got that.”

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Reports: Coastal Carolina to join Sun Belt in 2017

The Great Wheel of Conference Realignment may have just taken its last spin. For now.

According to a report from ESPN’s Brett McMurphy and USA Today‘s Dan Wolken, Coastal Carolina is set to join the Sun Belt as the league’s 12th and final member. The Chanticleers were finalists alongside Eastern Kentucky for the conference’s last remaining spot.

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Eastern Kentucky is said to be further along than Coastal Carolina in terms of department-wide infrastructure, but the Myrtle Beach, S.C., school has two things the Colonels do not that are paramount in this particular game of thrones: recent football success and access to large sums of money, and not necessarily in that order. Coastal has both of those things thanks to Joe Moglia, the billionaire former banking executive that is now the Chanticleers’ head football coach; Moglia is 32-10 in three seasons as Coastal Carolina’s head coach, leading the club to the FCS quarterfinals in each of the past two seasons.

Coastal Carolina’s addition would allow the Sun Belt to split into two divisions and stage a football championship game. (Nevermind the fact that the NCAA will likely deregulate championship games before Coastal’s arrival.) Coastal Carolina would figure to fit into an East division alongside Appalachian State, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, Troy and South Alabama. Louisiana-Lafayette, Louisiana-Monroe, Arkansas State, Texas State, New Mexico State and Idaho figure to form a West division.

A formal announcement is expected Tuesday, where the school could stadium upgrades necessary for FBS admittance. Brooks Stadium holds 9,214; FBS teams are required to average at least 15,000 paid attendance over a rolling two-year period.

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Former Trojans DE Morgan Breslin suing USC over insurance claim

Morgan Breslin

Let’s put it this way: Pat Haden has had better fortnights.

With Steve Sarkisian‘s issues now in the rear-view mirror, there’s another issue popping up for the USC football program. Former defensive end Morgan Breslin has brought a lawsuit against his former school, claiming the school led him astray in choosing disability insurance.

A second team All-Pac-12 performer as a junior in 2012, Breslin’s senior season ended after undergoing surgery to fix a nagging hip injury in November of 2013. He had a cup of coffee with the San Francisco 49ers in 2014, but in effect his playing career ended with that surgery.

Before his senior season, however, Breslin worked with USC on purchasing a disability insurance program through AmTrust at Lloyd’s, a process in which he says was led by a university-appointed insurance broker.

With his career now over, Breslin went to collect on his policy, only AmTrust has denied the claim and has filed paperwork in an effort to declare his policy void. So now Breslin is suing USC for what he says was inadequate coverage.

“USC controls all communications between insurers offering athletic insurance policies and the student athlete who will buy the policy,” the suit states, via the Los Angeles Daily News. “This is done through USC’s Compliance Department and the training and medical staff.”

Breslin is in search of “unspecified damages.”

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Once more, with feeling: LSU tabs Brandon Harris as starting QB

Brandon Harris

As Decision Day (or Indecision Day, in the cases of Michigan, Ohio State and Alabama) comes to a close, we’ve got one more school making a decision on a starting quarterback, and it may be one of the biggest choices of the entire season.

LSU head coach Les Miles announced Monday evening sophomore Brandon Harris had beaten junior Anthony Jennings out for the Tigers’ starting quarterback job.

Harris posted a quarterback rating nearly 60 points higher than Jennings in 2014, albeit in a much smaller sample size. Harris completed 25-of-42 passes 452 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in eight appearances; Jennings connected on 111-of-227 throws for 1,611 yards with 11 scores against seven picks. Harris also averaged 6.1 yards a carry with three touchdowns on 26 carries, compared to Jennings’ 2.7 yards per pop and no scores on 108 attempts.

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Of course, the LSU quarterback’s job is not to be a Heisman Trophy contender. In fact, his job is to limit turnovers and get out of the way so that Leonard Fournette can batter his way into Heisman contention.

It’s not a stretch to say quarterback play could be the difference between an SEC (or national) championship and a last-place finish. LSU signal callers posted a collective 128.26 passer rating in 2014, worst in the SEC West. A similar performance likely results in a seventh-place finish in 2015.

LSU opens the season against McNeese State at 7:30 ET Saturday on SEC Network.

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Michigan declines to name starting QB in initial depth chart

Shane Morris

Like his colleagues in Tuscaloosa, Tallahassee and ColumbusJim Harbaugh is going to take as long as possible to declare a starting quarterback.

The Wolverines released their initial depth chart Monday in advance of their Thursday night opener at Utah, and senior Jake Rudock and junior Shane Morris share the first team spot. True freshman Alex Malzone and redshirt freshman Wilton Speight are still in a dead heat for the third spot.

Rudock, a transfer from Iowa, completed 213-of-345 passes (61.7 percent) for 2,436 yards (7.1 per attempt) with 16 touchdowns against five interceptions last year for the Hawkeyes. In limited action, Morris connected on 14-of-40 passes (35 percent) for 128 yards with no touchdowns and three picks.

Additionally, De’Veon Smith will start at running back, and Amara Darboh or Drake Harris will start at one receiver spot while Jehu Chesson or Grant Perry will share the other spot.

Michigan faces the Utes at 8:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1. The network is pulling out all the stops for Harbaugh’s debut.

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UGA names UVa transfer Greyson Lambert starting quarterback

Greyson Lambert, John Huff

You get a starting quarterback! And you get a starting quarterback! And you get a starting quarterback!

Following announcements at Texas, Florida State, Army and Ole Miss, Georgia head coach Mark Richt announced Monday Virginia graduate transfer Greyson Lambert will start for the Bulldogs on Saturday.

“There may be other or others who get in the game. But right now the thing that I know that he’ll start the game,” Richt said of Lambert, via the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Very, very close competition. Still being contested in my mind. But at this point we felt it would be wise to name a starter and get him ready to play in this ballgame. …  We’ll start playing ball that way and see how it goes.”

Richt said he and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer were “pretty sure” on Saturday, but gave themselves a couple of nights to let the decision marinate. Lambert and fellow signal callers Brice Ramsey and Faton Bauta were informed before Monday’s practice session. Richt, however, did not rule out letting either of the runners-up see action on Saturday. “So it was very close, but coach Schottenheimer and I have decided that it would be wise to decide on who it is right now so we could kind of get it over with, so to speak, and maybe within a day or two everybody can kind of settle down and play football, think about winning,” Richt said.

Lambert tossed 10 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a sophomore at Virginia last season. In what could be the best “go to class, son” message ever, Lambert moved from Virginia’s backup quarterback to Georgia’s starter over the course of one offseason.

“We didn’t invite (Lambert) blindly,” Richt said. “We watched his film and felt like he could function and do the things that we’re going to ask the quarterback to do here at Georgia. But we didn’t say: ‘He’s gonna come in and be our starter’ by any means. We told him he would compete for that job and legitimately have a shot to compete for that job.”

Georgia hosts Louisiana-Monroe Saturday in a noon kickoff on SEC Network.

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Jimbo Fisher names Everett Golson ‘Noles starting QB

Everett Golson

In news that we all expected upon his May announcement to transfer to Florida State, though we may not have expected to actually happen today given this afternoon’s piece of news, Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher revealed Monday evening that Notre Dame transfer Everett Golson will be the Seminoles’ starting quarterback in 2015.

“Everett’s going to be our starter,” Fisher said after Florida State’s Monday practice. “It’s a tougher decision because of how  well (Golson and Sean Maguire) were playing, not things they weren’t doing.”

Golson threw for 3,445 yards and 29 touchdowns in leading the Fighting Irish to the 2013 BCS National Championship game.

Florida State hosts Texas State at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.

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MAC coaches tab Northern Illinois, Bowling Green preseason favorites

MAC Championship - Bowling Green v Northern Illinois Getty Images

Seemingly about a month behind their colleagues from other leagues, the MAC’s 13 coaches have released their predictions for the 2015 season. And they don’t look that different from years past.

League coaches see Northern Illinois and Bowling Green clashing for the conference championship in what would be the third straight meeting between the two programs. Bowling Green upset Northern Illinois 44-27 in the 2013 MAC championship, and Northern Illinois returned the favor with a 51-17 whipping last season.

Northern Illinois has won the MAC West Division five years running and leads all active members with six all-time appearances in Detroit.

Toledo was a close second in the West with five first-place votes and 67 total points to the Huskies’ seven and 70, respectively. Western Michigan garnered one first-place vote and 55 total points.

In the East, Ohio came in second with 64 points, 25 behind Bowling Green, but fourth-ranked Massachusetts received the only pair of first-place votes not bestowed upon the Falcons.

Full rankings below:

East
1. Bowling Green – 89 total points (11 first-place votes)
2. Ohio – 64
3. Akron – 60
4. Massachusetts – 57 (2)
5. Buffalo – 43
6. Miami (Ohio) – 30
7. Kent State – 21

West
1. Northern Illinois – 70 (7)
2. Toledo – 67 (5)
3. Western Michigan – 55 (1)
4. Ball State – 36
5. Central Michigan – 32
6. Eastern Michigan – 13

The 2015 MAC championship will take place Friday, Dec. 4 at Detroit’s Ford Field.

 

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Starting Pitt DT Darryl Render not listed on depth chart

Darryl Render, Jordan Canzeri AP

It appears Pittsburgh will head into its opener without one of its key cogs in the middle of its defensive line.

Pitt Monday released its depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game against Bo Pelini and Youngstown State, and Darryl Render was not listed on it.  Instead, Render’s defensive tackle spot had K.K. Mosley-Smith and Michigan State graduate transfer Mark Scarpinato listed as co-starters.

Render has been dealing with an elbow issue and, given the fact that they’re facing an FCS program in the opener, the Panthers are likely erring on the side of caution.

Last season, Render started 11 of the 12 games in which he played.  The only regular season game he missed was the finale against Miami because of an ankle injury.

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Report: Starting UCLA CB Ishmael Adams arrested on robbery charge

UCLA v California AP

It appears UCLA may have a significant issue with which to deal in the week leading up to the opener against Virginia.

While the details are very scant at the moment, DailyBruinSports.com is reporting that Ishmael Adams was arrested after allegedly committing a robbery on campus.  To illustrate the serious nature of the charges Adams is facing, he’s being held in jail in lieu of a $100,000 bond.

UCLA has yet to comment on the potentially damaging development.

Adams has started all 26 games at cornerback the past two seasons, and last year he returned a pair of interceptions for touchdowns.  Speaking of returns, he’s one of the top return men in the country and conference: last year, he returned 21 punts for a 9.2 average (26th in the nation) and returned 26 kickoffs for a 22.7-yard average (ninth in Pac-12).

This offseason, he was named to the preseason watch lists for both the Thorpe Award and Hornung Award.

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Joe Moore Award created to honor best offensive line UNIT

UAB Blazers v Arkansas Razorbacks AP

Each year seemingly dozens of postseason awards are handed out to honor the best individual performances in college football.  This year, a group of teammates will be honored for their play.

Monday morning the creation of the Joe Moore Award was announced, an honor that will recognize “the nation’s Most Outstanding Offensive Line Unit.” The award is named in honor of Joe Moore, the former Notre Dame and Pittsburgh assistant who is widely regarded as one of the best offensive line coaches in the history of college football.

The JMA will “annually recognize the offensive line unit that best displays toughness, effort, teamwork, physicality, tone setting and finishing,” and will be voted on by a committee comprised solely of individuals who either played or coached the position.

“I am honored to be a part of the committee charged with selecting the recipients of the Joe Moore Award,” said former Wisconsin head coach and current UW athletic director Barry Alvarez in a statement. “Joe was the best teacher of offensive linemen who I’ve ever been around and no one got more out of his players than Joe did. It is only right that this award honors Joe’s name and his legacy.”

Semifinalist for the first version of the award will be announced Nov. 16, with the five finalists being unveiled Nov. 30. It will serve as the only college football award to honor an entire unit rather than just an individual.

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Les Miles hospitalized for ‘precautionary reasons’

Les Miles

Fortunately, the headline reads much worse than the actual situation.

Les Miles was expected to make an appearance for his first Monday press conference of the season this afternoon.  Instead, and after a bit of delay, it was athletic director Joe Alleva who showed up to reveal that Miles would not be available for the press conference because he is “under the weather.”

So much so, in fact, that he was hospitalized, although that was apparently simply done out of an abundance of caution.

To punctuate just how precautionary it was, Miles is expected to be back at practice at five ET this afternoon and meet with the media afterwards.

LSU opens the 2015 season this Saturday night against McNeese State.

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‘Bama, FSU not quite ready to pull trigger on naming starter at QB

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Texas did it, Ohio State won’t, while two other big-name programs have decided to push it back.

The “it” in this case is publicly naming a starting quarterback, and both Alabama and Florida State were afforded the opportunity at press conferences Monday to go public with a decision. In both cases, the respective head coaches declined.

On the Tide’s depth chart that was released today, all five of their scholarship quarterbacks were included on the two-deep: Jake Coker, Cooper Bateman and Alex Morris — in that order — were listed as the co-starters, with Blake Barnett and David Cornwell separated by a slash; some, it should be noted, have speculated that all five were listed as co-starters. At various points throughout summer camp, Coker, the FSU transfer, has been viewed by the media as the front-runner… as has Bateman… as has Morris.

Lat year, Nick Saban waited until a couple of hours before the opener against West Virginia to anoint Blake Sims as the starter over Coker. If Saban decides to go public with the choice, expect a similar timeline prior to this year’s opener against Wisconsin Saturday.

Conversely, FSU could make its decision as early as today.

Jimbo Fisher, who said he’s already made a decision, will opt between a pair of experienced/familiar options, last year’s backup Sean Maguire and Notre Dame grad transfer Everett Golson. Because of his experience with the Irish, some (most?) have pegged Golson as the likely starter. Still others have stated that, due to his familiarity with the system, Maguire is the man to beat.

So, what’s Jimbo’s timeline for a decision to clear up the clutter?

Fisher added that, once the decision is made, he’s sticking with it.

FSU will open the 2015 season at home against Texas State Saturday.

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Swoopes there it is: ‘Horns tap incumbent as starting QB

Tyrone Swoopes

Not surprisingly, Texas will begin the season with a familiar face under center.

Charlie Strong confirmed the expected at his Monday press conference, acknowledging that it’ll be Tyrone Swoopes who starts at quarterback when UT travels to South Bend for Saturday’s game against Notre Dame.  Swoopes had been in a battle with redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard, although most thought the nod would go to the incumbent.

In fact, Strong stated that he had known for a couple of weeks that Swoopes was his guy, but held off on publicly naming a starter to allow the competition to play out a little longer.

Taking over as the starter for a concussed David Ash last season, Swoopes started all but one game in 2014.  He had moments where he was brilliant — 300-plus yards passing Oklahoma, Iowa State and Oklahoma State — and others where he looked absolutely lost — 24-point bowl loss to Arkansas, four interceptions in a 38-point loss to TCU.  Those latter two performances came in back-to-back games to close out the season, leading Strong to open up the competition in the spring.

Swoopes exited the spring as the No. 1 quarterback, and maintained that position throughout summer camp.  As he had previously stated, Strong reiterated that both Swoopes and Heard will see the field.

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Urban won’t name Buckeyes’ starting QB before opener vs. Hokies

Ohio State Spring Game Getty Images

To find out just who has won Ohio State’s much-discussed quarterback competition, you’ll have to wait until shortly after 8 p.m. ET next Monday.

At his Monday press conference, Urban Meyer revealed that he will not publicly name a starting quarterback prior to the Labor Day opener against Virginia Tech. Instead, the coach said, “[w]e will announce the starter when the first guy takes the snap.”

What is known is that the starter will either be 2014 regular-season record-setter J.T. Barrett or 2014 postseason hero Cardale Jones. As for the competition itself, Meyer described it as “still really close;” if it weren’t, the fourth-year OSU coach said, he’d publicly anoint a starter. While Meyer won’t disclose it to the media, he said he’ll know by Wednesday whether it’ll be Barrett or Jones who starts against the Hokies.

Not surprisingly, Meyer hasn’t ruled out playing both quarterbacks. Interestingly, though, the competition will apparently remain open on into the regular season.

I’ll still say that it’s Barrett who takes the first snap against the only team that beat the defending national champions next season. After that, Barrett’s performance will dictate whether he holds on to the job.

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Leading rusher one of two Toledo starters suspended for two games

GoDaddy Bowl - Toledo v Arkansas State AP

The season has yet to kick off and Toledo has already a suffered a pair of significant blows, one on each side of the ball.

The football program announced Monday morning that senior defensive end Allen Covington and junior running back Kareem Hunt have been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season. Other than “violating team policy,” no reason for the twin punitive measures was given.

The players will miss Thursday’s opener against Stony Brook, as well as the following week’s home game against No. 18 Arkansas. Both will be eligible to return for the Iowa State game Sept. 19.

Of the two, the loss of Hunt will be the most damaging.

Last season, Hunt’s total of 1,631 yards rushing was tops in the MAC and good for 10th nationally. His 16 rushing touchdowns were tied for 14th in the country.

Covington’s four tackles for loss were tied for sixth on the Rockets last season. He was expected to start at one of the end spots on UT’s defensive line.

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