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The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

Georgia v Clemson Getty Images

As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

And, yes I’m well aware of the fact that there are still games left to be played. Sorry, fans of Louisville, Florida State, et al…

WINNERS

Tajh throws Braxton a stiff-arm
Braxton Miller may have entered the season as the favorite to win the 2013 Heisman Trophy, but Tajh Boyd showed he will likely be a (big) part of the discussion all the way into December. In Clemson’s impressive 38-35 win over Georgia Saturday night, Boyd accounted for all five of the Tigers’ touchdown — three passing, two rushing. On a team level, it was one of the biggest wins of Dabo Swinney‘s tenure. On a personal level, it was Boyd shining on a national stage against a very, very, very good football team in the Bulldogs and a coming-out party for a player who, at least as far as this corner is concerned, doesn’t get the respect he deserves. After that virtuoso performance, there’s no longer an excuse for any lack of respect.

Moneybadger don’t give a %$#! either
All hail the new troll god!!! Love him or hate him, Johnny Manziel makes college football a better — and immensely more interesting — game when he’s part of it. While he wasn’t a part of it in the first-half thanks to a suspension, he returned in the second half of Texas A&M’s win over Rice, and not once but twice trolled the NCAA overlords over his recent off-field “issues.” In the first instance, Manziel seemed to indicate a Rice defender would not be getting the reigning Heisman winner’s Herbie Hancock anytime soon…

Manziel Signing GIF

 

… then seemed to make a money gesture to the sky following his first touchdown pass of the season…

Manziel Money GIF

 

Manziel, of course, was investigated by the NCAA after it was alleged that he was paid tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for his signature on photos, memorabilia, etc.

Don’t change, JFF. Don’t ever change. Well, mostly don’t change (see a little further below).

No Bret, no problem
There were some people — myself included — who felt that Wisconsin wouldn’t be the old Wisconsin we’ve become accustomed to in the first year of the post-Bret Bielema era in Madison. While that may or may not ultimately be the case, the Badgers put on one helluva ground show in the first game of the Gary Andersen era. UW had a trio of running backs — James White (11-143), Melvin Gordon (13-144), Corey Clement (16-101) — who each rushed for more than 100 yards, just the third time in school history that’s happened. Clement, incidentally, became the first true freshman at UW since P.J. Hill in 2006 to top 100 yards in his first game as a Badger. Yes, the opposition was “just” UMass, but Andersen and his Badgers showed that anyone who sleeps on UW does so at their own peril.

Butch JonesThank you, Lord
How thankful is the Tennessee fan base that Derek Dooley is no longer their head football coach? So thankful that they are offering up hallelujahs to the Big College Football Fan Upstairs for it. Literally. “Pregame prayer in Neyland [Stadium] thanked God for a new coach,” a tweet from govols247.com‘s Wes Rucker read. Butch Jones then proceeded to reward that faith as the Vols pounded overmatched Austin Peay 45-0. Yes, it was just a win over an FCS school, but it was also the Vols’ largest margin of victory since a 50-0 win over Tennessee-Martin in 2010 — the first game under Dooley, so maybe that’s not as good of omen upon further review. Still, it was a much-needed win for the fans on Rocky Top, one they will gladly take after three years of misery.

Right in his Scheelhaase
Normally when Illinois is mentioned in the Fifth Quarter, it’s part of the section right below this one. Not today, though. All Illini starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase did was throw for a career-high 416 yards — 340 in the first half — and two touchdowns in the 42-34 win over Southern Illinois. The win was satisfying for Scheelhaase personally as the quarterback has fought back from an injury-plagued 2012 season. It was also a critical one for the program. Even as the win was over an FCS opponent, it was a critical one as second-year head coach Tim Beckman has come under fire for a two-win 2012 season, with some saying this is a make-or-break season for the coach.

All hail your FCS conquerors

Scheduled as a guaranteed “W” in exchange for high six-figure or even low seven-figure payouts, most FBS teams feast on a steady early-season diet of FCS foes. Not in Week One, not this year. All told, a whopping eight FBS teams went down in flames over the past three days: No. 25 Oregon State (Eastern Washington), Kansas State (North Dakota State), San Diego State (Eastern Illinois; UConn (Towson), USF (McNeese State), Iowa State (Northern Iowa), South Alabama (Southern Utah) and Georgia State (Samford). We’ll let the latter two slide somewhat as they have just climbed from the FCS level to FBS status recently. The others? There’s no excuse for USF to lose by 32 points or San Diego State by 21. There’s no reason a ranked team like Oregon State should lose to a lower-level team, regardless of how good they are at that level. K-State? C’mon, I understand that NDSU is an FBS slayer, but there should still be no excuses in Little Manhattan. That said, and as was shown this weekend, there are some quality programs at that level. Schedule some of the upper-echelon teams at your own peril. And potential embarrassment.

Villanova, the Harlem Globetrotters of the FCS level
Villanova may not have been one of the FCS teams to pull off an upset, but they did have one of the plays of the year thus far. Facing a fourth down in their game against Boston College, ‘Nova lined up in punt formation… and proceeded to perform the ol’ double-snap fake-punt trick to score a touchdown. And, yes, it was as real and as spectacular as it sounds:

Villanova

 

49ers strike winning gold quickly
Since we’re on an FCS roll, let’s turn our attention to the Eastern part of the United States. In 2008, UNC-Charlotte announced that it would, for the first time ever, field a football team. Five years later, the 49ers made their debut… and it was smashing, with the 49ers putting a 52-7 woodshedding on visiting Campbell. The 49ers nearly doubled the opposition’s offensive production — 488 to 287 — and rolled to a 35-7 halftime lead. While an FCS team at the moment, the 49ers will move to the FBS level in 2015 as a member of Conference USA. While there may be many bumps in the road ahead, congratulations to head coach Brad Lambert and his coaching staff on such a scintillating start to the program.

LOSERS

Johnny Screwball?
As much as I really, really enjoy Johnny Manziel, the on-field preening and self-aggrandizing that costs his team needs to stop. And that comes from his head coach as well. In addition to his creative ways of taunting the NCAA noted above, Manziel was also flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct following his third touchdown pass of the second half, costing the Aggies 15 yards. He was removed from the game and didn’t return. “That was just a foolish penalty at the end. … I hoped that at this point he’d have learned something,” Kevin Sumlin said afterwards. “That wasn’t very smart. That’s why he wasn’t going back in the game, no matter what happened.” A&M declined to make Manziel available to the media following the win, likely a wise decision based on the fact that Manziel appeared to take out a whole offseason of frustration in his limited time on the field Saturday.

An offensive line, literallyAlabama head coach Saban questions a call from the referee in the second half of play against Virginia Tech at the Chick-fil-A  Kick-Off college NCAA football game in Atlanta
Having to replace three talented and veteran starters, it was a given that Alabama’s offensive line might take some time to gel as a unit. The fact that the Tide’s interior struggled as much as it did against a battered and beleaguered Virginia Tech squad, though, was surprising to say the least. In the first half, the Tide carried the ball 17 times — and gained just 30 yards. Toss in a pair of holding penalties and one sack of quarterback AJ McCarron, and it was a far from stellar effort from the line. For the game, the Tide rushed for just 96 yards on 38 carries, a paltry average of 2.5 yards per carry in the 35-10 win; last season, Alabama’s 5.6 ypc was tied for fourth in the country. It’s not a time to panic, but it is a little worrisome for Nick Saban and his offensive coaching staff with a road trip to College Station looming in a couple of weeks.

TC… you blew it
OK, maybe that’s a little strong, but why would Gary Patterson decide to punt the ball back to LSU, down 10, instead of trying to convert a fourth-and-2 with five minutes left? Yes, TCU was at its own 33-yard line, but when you’re down two scores you need to take the chance; miss it, game over. Punt it, game over. Go for it and make it, you still have life and plenty of time to extend the game and find some way to get the requisite two scores to either tie or win the game. As it played out, TCU simply couldn’t stop LSU post-punt as the Tigers put together three first downs in the final five minutes to seal a 37-27 win. A head-scratching end to what was a very good football game and a huge win for the Tigers, who very well could’ve just beaten the best the Big 12 has to offer.

Boy oh Boise
This very easily could’ve gone in the Winners section for Washington… but it won’t. Coming into the game ranked No. 19 in the country, Boise State proceeded to trip, stumble and bumble all over its junk in getting blown out by the Huskies 38-6. It was the Broncos’ largest margin of defeat since the first game of the 2005 season (48-13 to Georgia) and the fewest points scored since being shutout by another Pac-12 school (Washington State) in 1997. It was also just the third time since that Wazzu whitewash that the Broncos failed to reach double digits (2005, Fresno State; 2012, BYU). So, certainly, it was an epic beatdown for The Lil’ Program That Could, even as it came at the hands of a very focused and talented Huskies squad.

FCS foe hard on the Beaver
While we touched on this briefly up above, Oregon State deserves its own special calling out. In the Beavers’ embarrassing 49-46 loss to Eastern Washington, OSU became just the fourth ranked team ever to lose to an FCS team, joining Virginia Tech (James Madison, 2010), Michigan (2007) and Penn State (Cincinnati, 1983). Expected to possess a vastly improved defense, the Beavers surrendered an astounding 625 yards of total offense — 448 passing, 177 rushing. The Beavers can’t even blame turnovers as neither team coughed up the ball via either a fumble or an interception. No, this was simply an FBS team being outplayed at home by a squad from a lower level of football. And, whatever grief comes their way, it will be well-deserved.

Stoops, there it ain’t
Since being hired as Kentucky’s new head coach, Mark Stoops has made several big splashes along the recruiting trail. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, those splashes have yet to make an impact in the here and now. In Stoops’ head-coaching debut, the Wildcats traveled to in-state “rival” Western Kentucky and dropped a 35-26 decision to the Hilltoppers. And, in reality, the game wasn’t even that close as WKU held an 18-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. Eventually, the hiring of Stoops will pay big dividends on the field; for now, people around the country will simply lament the same ol’ UK football woes.

Kirk Ferentz, Money Fleecer Extraordinaire
This season, Kirk Ferentz will make nearly $4 million as Iowa’s head coach. He has a contract that runs through the 2020 season and would cost the university tens of millions to buy him out of. The past three seasons, the Hawkeyes win total has gone from eight to seven to four in 2012, the lowest number for a Ferentz-coached team since his second season in 2000 (3-9). So, with the heat rising from the outside, what do the Hawkeyes do? Go out and lose the opener at home to Northern Illinois on a last-second field goal, of course. Don’t fret for Ferentz, however; he possesses the type of job security that 99 percent of coaches can only dream of. Whether he deserves that type of security, though, is another matter entirely.

First-year head coaches
Just barely, new head coaches at their respective schools fall into this category. During the offseason, there were 31 coaching changes; through the first three days, 29 have already made their debuts, with 15 of them coming out sans a “W”: Cal, FIU, Georgia State, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, Nevada, New Mexico State, Purdue, USF, Southern Miss, Syracuse, Temple, Utah State and Western Michigan. Of course, that also means 14 came out with the coveted “W”: Arkansas, Arkansas State, Auburn, Boston College, Cincinnati, Kent State, North Carolina State, Northern Illinois, Oregon, San Jose State, Tennessee, Texas Tech, Western Kentucky and Wisconsin. Both Kentucky (WKU) and Louisiana Tech (NCSU) lost to teams in its first season under a new head coach. Colorado and UTEP can add to either side in the coming days, with the former opening the season against hated rival Colorado while the latter must wait until next weekend to open its season.

Oh, Pelini
With FAU trailing Miami 34-6 Friday and with just seconds left in the game, the Owls were facing a fourth-and-four at the Miami 25-yard line. At that point, FAU head coach Carl Pelini did, well, this:

 

[/facepalm]

Yes, Pelini called for his quarterback to spike the ball on fourth down. And, yes, Pelini was mortified upon realizing that he had called for a spike on fourth down. And, no, the gaffe had no impact on the game whatsoever, but it did add some embarrassment to a program that could use less of that, not more.

TOP 25 TOO-CLOSE-FOR-COMFORT
How ranked teams endured close shaves vs. unranked opponents

— No. 18 Nebraska 37, Wyoming 34: Last year, the Cowboys were ranked 70th in the country in total offense (390.6 yards per game); Saturday, the Cornhuskers allowed the Cowboys to roll up 602 yards. The Huskers led this one by 16 early in the fourth quarter before the Cowboys scored a pair of touchdowns — off NU turnovers — in less than five minutes, the final coming with 1:32 left. A failed onside kick, however, kept Nebraska from suffering its first season-opening loss in 29 years.

— No. 22 Northwestern 44, Cal 30: The Wildcats didn’t grab the lead for good until the middle of the fourth quarter against a surprisingly spry Bears team playing its first game under head coach Sonny Dykes. The closeness of the contest should catch the eye of Ohio State, which travels to Berkeley two weeks from yesterday.

CFT TOP FIVE
A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Monday if I, ya know, had a real vote instead of a measly and meaningless preseason poll.

1. Alabama — The two-time defending BCS champions looked positively subpar on offense but, thanks to stellar defense and special teams, easily held off an injury-ravaged Virginia Tech. Especially along the offensive line, The Tide has some issues that need shoring up prior to the Sept. 14 road trip to College Station. (Preseason: No. 1)
Next up: bye weekend

2. Clemson — You beat a Top-Five opponent, you shoot up quite a few spots. Is this the year that Clemson (finally) stops Clemsoning itself? The win over Georgia was a solid sign it may indeed be. Or they stub their toes against The Citadel. One of the two. (Preseason: No. 8)
Next up: vs. South Carolina State

Buffalo v Ohio State3. Ohio State — A rather uninspiring 20-point win over Buffalo and Clemson’s showing drops the Buckeyes down a spot. (Preseason: No. 2)
Next up: vs. San Diego State

4. Stanford — The Cardinal sat out opening weekend and won’t open their 2013 season until next Saturday. (Preseason ranking: No. 3)
Next up: vs. San Jose State

5. Louisville — The Cardinals don’t open their season until later on today against Ohio at home. While Mark Ennis might punch me in the tentacles for doing so, I’m just going to go ahead and chalk this one up as an impressive “W” for Charlie Strong‘s charges. (Preseason: No. 4)
Next up: vs. Eastern Kentucky

HE SAID IT
“I was overcome with emotion. I think my son made me soft. I bawled my eyes out.” — Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr, whose infant son was released from the hospital two days before the opener Thursday after spending the first three weeks of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit.

HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“That’s how he is. He’s a fiery guy and that’s what we love about him. He’s not quiet. He’s not shy. He’s going to be loud and aggressive, and that’s what makes him Johnny Football. We love it.” — A&M offensive lineman Cedric Ogbuehi, on the ongoing circus that is Johnny Manziel.

HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“I don’t care how quick the offense scores. They could score on one play every time. As long as they’re scoring, I’m all for that.” — Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, on the Buckeyes’ up-tempo offense.

YOU DON’T SAY?
Courtesy of the Ohio State sports information department: With 77 rushing yards, Braxton Miller eclipsed the 2,000-yard rushing mark in his career and now sits at 2,063. He is now 17 yards shy of Cornelius Greene’s Ohio State record of 2,080 yards rushing by a quarterback.

FOR STATISTICAL PURPOSES ONLY

— Clemson became the first non-SEC team ever to beat two Top-10 SEC teams in consecutive games, with the wins coming over No. 5 Georgia Saturday night and No. 8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl last New Year’s Eve.

— Northwestern linebacker Collin Lewis returned two interceptions for touchdowns (52, 40 yards) in the road win over Cal. Both of the pick-sixes came off deflections.

— Eastern Washington quarterback Vernon Adams accounted for 518 yards of total offense (411 passing, 107 rushing) and six touchdowns (four passing, two rushing) in the upset of Oregon State.

— McNeese State’s 53-21 win over USF was the largest margin of victory for an FCS program over an FBS program since Sam Houston State beat Louisiana-Monroe 44-12 back in 2001.

— In a wild 52-51 win over Rutgers Thursday night, Fresno State’s Derek Carr completed 52-of-73 passes for 456 yards and five touchdowns. His counterpart in that game, Gary Nova, threw for 348 yards and five touchdowns as well.

Virginia Tech v Alabama— Alabama’s Christion Jones became the first player at the FBS level since North Carolina’s Brandon Tate in 2006 to return both a punt and kickoff for a touchdown in the same game. According to the Alabama record books, which date back to 1944 the school stated, Jones is the first player in program history to accomplish that feat.

— Starting in place of ex-/future Notre Dame quarterback Everett Golson. Tommy Rees passed for 346 yards and three touchdowns in the Irish’s 28-6 win over Temple.

— In Marshall’s 52-14 win over Miami (Ohio), quarterback Rakeem Cato tossed five touchdown passes to four different receivers.

— SID Stat of the Day: Wisconsin has now won 16 consecutive season openers. That is tied with USC for the third-longest active streak in the country behind only Nebraska (28) and Florida (24).

— (First half) Johnny Manziel-less Texas A&M had its streak of scoring first in 17 straight games snapped in the win against Rice.

— In its first game with Bret Bielema on the sidelines, Arkansas had two 100-yard rushers in the same game (Jonathan Williams 151, Alex Collins 131) for the first time since 2007, when Darren McFadden rushed for 321 yards and Felix Jones rushed for 163 vs. South Carolina.

— Baylor outgained Wofford 692-233 in the Bears’ 69-3 win. Running back Lache Seastrunk rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 carries.

— Maryland had 399 yards of total offense in the first half of their game with FIU. Last season, the Terps accounted for 400 yards or more of total offense in just two of their games.

Duke Johnson rushed for a career-high 189 yards — on just 19 carries — in Miami’s 28-point win over FAU. Miami rushed for 303 yards as a team; the Hurricanes high-water mark last season was 248.

— Speaking of Duke, the Blue Devils posted the football program’s first shutout in 24 years with its 45-0 win over North Carolina Central.

Blake Bortles passed for 314 yards and three touchdowns in UCF’s 38-7 win over Akron Thursday.

— The 73 points Indiana scored in Thursday’s win over Indiana State was the second-most in school history (76). The 45 first-half points were the most ever for the program.

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Andre Carter returning to Cal as student assistant coach

Andre Carter

A decade and a half after leaving Cal, Andre Carter is returning to the Bears football program.

The school announced in a press release that Carter has joined Sonny Dykes‘ staff in the capacity of student assistant coach.  Carter will assist Fred Tate in coaching the Bears’ defensive line.

Carter enrolled as an undergraduate at Cal earlier this year to pursue his bachelor’s degree in American studies.

“We are thrilled that Andre has returned to Cal to get his degree,” head coach Sonny Dykes said in a statement. “We are also looking forward to Andre being able to impart the knowledge he gained both on and off the field during a standout collegiate and NFL career to our players. He knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level of football and will certainly be a positive influence on everyone in our program.”

Carter was a consensus All-American in his final season at Cal in 2000.  His final two seasons, he was a unanimous first-team All-Pac-10 selection as a defensive end.

The 13-year NFL veteran hopes this position will help launch a coaching career at either the collegiate or professional level.

“Returning to Cal to earn my degree has been a life-changing experience,” Carter said. “I have already accomplished what I wanted to in football by playing at the highest level but there will be no greater feeling than earning my degree from one of the nation’s top universities. That’s why I’m back. …

“I feel I can impart the current players with the right way to play the game and the desire you need to have to be successful. There’s no greater satisfaction than becoming a coach.”

(Photo credit: Cal athletics)

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After leaving Irish for WMU, Anthony Rabasa leaves Broncos too

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Getty Images

As it turns out, Anthony Rabasa‘s stay in Kalamazoo was an extremely brief one.

Rabasa had transferred into the Western Michigan football program July 30, P.J. Fleck announced at the time.  Less than four weeks later, Fleck confirmed that Rabasa has decided to leave the Broncos and head back to his home in Miami.

From the sounds of it, the defensive lineman is giving up football entirely.

“He got here and he realized he wanted to move on with his life,” Fleck said. “We support him 100 percent. He’s a great kid. It’s just that football here wasn’t meant to be for him. He wants to head back down to Miami and start a career, which I don’t blame him for. He was in a battle here against some guys that are playing well.”

As a graduate transfer from Notre Dame, Rabasa would’ve been eligible to play immediately in 2015.

A three-star member of the Irish’s 2011 recruiting class, Rivals.com rated him as the No. 11 weakside defensive end in the country and the No. 54 player at any position in the state of Florida. After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, he played in two games in 2012 and five in 2013.

He didn’t see the field at all for the Irish in 2014.

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Wolverine DT Bryan Mone likely lost for season with broken leg

Michigan v Indiana Getty Images

In the run-up to Jim Harbaugh‘s first game as head coach at his alma mater, Michigan has forced to deal with a significant health issue along its defensive line.

Harbaugh confirmed during a press conference earlier in the day that Bryan Mone sustained a broken bone in his lower leg during a recent practice session.  Harbaugh labeled the injury as “long-term,” intimating that the defensive tackle will likely be sidelined for the entire 2015 season.

It was a freak play,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve never seen it before in a practice or games.”

And just how did the freakish occurrence transpire? From mlive.com:

After Michigan’s defense blocked a field goal, Mone rolled out and attempted to block for Jabrill Peppers on a return attempt when his leg was rolled up, resulting in a broken bone in his leg.

Mone appeared in 12 games as a true freshman last season, making one start. He was projected to rotate at nose tackle this season.

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Five-star signee, Gators’ likely starting LT set to undergo surgery

Martez Ivey

On the same day Florida revealed that, as expected, they will go with two quarterbacks in the opener, they also revealed that one of the players who would’ve been charged with protecting them very well might not be available.

Prized 2015 recruit Martez Ivey has been dealing with an unspecified leg injury that dates back to his high school days.  The injury progressed to the point where medical intervention was necessary, with head coach Jim McElwain confirming that the offensive lineman will undergo arthroscopic surgery Friday.

With the season opener against New Mexico State nine days away, there’s no timetable for a return.

“This morning, Martez came in with a sore leg and we went and had it looked at,” McElwain said. “There was something existing there. We’ll get him in there and scope that tomorrow morning. Found a preexisting thing that was kind of bothering him. We’ll get that cleaned up.

“I have no idea exactly when his return will be. … He’ll be back. I don’t know how quickly or anything yet. But it’s not. … it doesn’t appear to be a season-ending thing or anything like that.”

The good news for UF is that, after the opener, they have games against East Carolina and Kentucky before its first “real” test of the season against Tennessee Sept. 26.  That game begins a stretch of five straight games against teams currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

The 6-5, 302-pound Ivey was one of the highest-rated recruits in the country last season, with Rivals.com rating the five-star lineman as the No. 1 tackle in the country; the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Florida; and the No. 4 player overall.  He’s been working with the first-team offense and had been widely expected to be the starting left tackle when the season opened.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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NCAA denies Ishaq Williams’ appeal, won’t play for Irish in 2015

Ishaq Williams AP

As it turns out, Notre Dame won’t have Ishaq Williams on the field this season after all.

That much was confirmed by Brian Kelly, with the Irish head coach announcing Thursday that Williams’ appeal to the NCAA that would’ve allowed him to play in 2015 has been denied.  Williams did not attend classes at ND or any other institution during the spring semester, leading in part to the NCAA issue.

That’s how Williams’ situation differed from KeiVarae Russell‘s.  Russell attended classes during that same period, and, after re-enrolling in school in late May, was cleared by the NCAA earlier this month to play in 2015.

Williams had been formally readmitted to Notre Dame around the same time as Russell, and Kelly seemed mildly optimistic the player would be back on the field this year.

Williams and Russell were suspended for the entire 2014 season because of the findings rendered in an academic fraud investigation. Five players were initially suspended, with only safety Eilar Hardy playing at all in 2014. Bowling Green announced late last month that Hardy had transferred into its football program.

The defensive lineman had played in 24 games the two seasons prior to his suspension and was expected to be a starter in 2014.  Had he been cleared by the NCAA, he would’ve been a significant contributor in the Irish’s line rotation.

As for Williams’ immediate future…

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‘Neck instability’ sidelines starting Vols S LaDarrell McNeil indefinitely

Alabama v Tennessee Getty Images

A suspension to one of Tennessee’s most productive offensive players wasn’t the only negative news coming out of Knoxville Thursday.

On the same day Pig Howard‘s one-game suspension was announced, head coach Butch Jones also revealed that LaDarrell McNeil will be sidelined indefinitely for what’s being described as ‘neck instability.”  Jones acknowledged that the safety could miss an extended period of time because of the issue.

“LaDarrell McNeil, this one came kind of out of nowhere,” Jones said. “Very, very unfortunate. I feel for him. He’s had some neck instability there, so he’s undergoing further examination. But he will be out an extended period of time, and it could be a lengthy period of time.”

247Sports.com‘s Wes Rucker writes that “Jones said McNeil’s ‘life after football’ was going to be the program’s priority,” adding that “[c]oaches using phrases like that can be an ominous sign for a player’s future on the field.”

Whether the senior defensive back will be sidelined temporarily or permanently, it will serve as a huge blow to the Vols’ defense.

The past three seasons, McNeil has played in 36 games. He started 31 of those contests, including 24 the past two seasons.

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Pitt loses RB Rachid Ibrahim to season-ending Achilles injury

Rachid Ibrahim, Kendall Fuller AP

An experienced member of Pittsburgh’s backfield has been put on the shelf courtesy of a non-contact injury.

First-year head coach Pat Narduzzi confirmed Wednesday that Rachid Ibrahim sustained an injury to his Achilles tendon in “one of those freak accidents that happens.” The injury, which occurred earlier this week, will sideline the running back for the entire 2015 season.

While he won’t have a concrete impact on the field this season, Ibrahim is already doing what he can to have an impact off of it.

He was choked up shortly after they told him what it was and what the recovery time was,” running backs coach Andre Powell said. “That afternoon, he was in meetings and he was talking in meetings and communicating with the young kids. He’s tough, he’s a leader, and he’ll fight through it.”

Used mainly as a third-down, change-of-pace back behind reigning ACC Player of the Year James Connor, Ibrahim was fifth on the team with 263 yards rushing last season, although his 8.0 yards per carry were tops on the team.  He also had 11 receptions for 73 yards coming out of the backfield.

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Erstwhile Irish RB Greg Bryant says he’s reopening recruitiment

Purdue v Notre Dame AP

It appears that Greg Bryant has all but closed the door on a return to South Bend next year.  Or any year after that, for that matter.

Earlier this month, and after he was suspended for the first four games, it was confirmed that Bryant had been declared academically ineligible and wouldn’t play at all in 2015.  While head coach Brian Kelly stated Bryant would be , the running back’s father stated that, even as he would be returning to classes at the school, he wouldn’t be reporting for summer camp.

However, the school part won’t come to fruition as Bryant posted on Instagram that he participated in his first practice Thursday at ASA Miami, a junior college in Florida and is coached by a former Notre Dame staffer.

Additionally, Bryant stated that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.  While that doesn’t necessarily preclude a return to the Irish, it appears he will be looking in other directions to restart his FBS career in 2016.

Below is his complete social media missive.

Had my first practice with my new team ASA Miami today and it went great! They gave me a opportunity to wear #1 this season! I’ll be keeping everyone updated with highlights and games. Opening up my recruitment so my next move will be my best move. Kinda feel like HIGHSCHOOL again getting offers and everything hahah. Highlights coming soon.

Last season as a true sophomore, Bryant’s 289 yards rushing were good for second on the team. Bryant was a five-star member of the Irish’s 2013 recruiting class and was rated as the No. 3 back in the country.

If he returns to the FBS level next year, Bryant would have two years of eligibility remaining.

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Dismissed by UNLV, ex-‘Bama RB Altee Tenpenny heads to FCS

Virginia Tech v Alabama Getty Images

Altee Tenpennyparted ways” with Alabama this past January, ultimately moving on to UNLV four months later.  Now, the running back is working on his third football program in the last eight months.

Earlier this month, Tenpenny was dismissed from the Rebels for violating unspecified team rules. Tenpenny would’ve been forced to sit out the 2015 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, but now he won’t even get the chance to restart his collegiate career with UNLV in 2016.

“It’s unfortunate, but we’ve got plenty of guys,” first-year Rebels head coach Tony Sanchez said at the time of the dismissal. “The young guys look fantastic. That had nothing to do with (the dismissal). At the end of the day, rules are the rules.”

Where he will get his chance to start over is at Nicholls State, which al.com is reporting is Tenpenny’s new college football home. Because the Colonels play at the FCS level, Tenpenny would be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Tenpenny was a four-star member of the Tide’s 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 8 back in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in the state of Arkansas; and the No. 53 player overall by Rivals.com. Despite that impressive recruiting profile, Tenpenny didn’t contribute more than a couple of cents during his brief stay in Tuscaloosa.

In two seasons with the Tide, Tenpenny totaled 218 yards on 48 carries in a backfield that’s loaded with more four- and five-star talent than any in the country.

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Shad Thornton, NCSU’s leading rusher, hit with two-game suspension

Tyler Hunter, Shadrach Thornton AP

In what’s become an annual tradition in Raleigh, North Carolina State’s top running back has once again found himself in his coach’s doghouse.

Dave Doeren announced Thursday that Shadrach Thornton has been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season.  The head coach declined to go into detail, allowing only that the issue responsible for the situation occurred six months ago.  The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he only outstanding legal charges against Thornton are minor traffic infractions.”

Because of the suspension, the senior back will miss the opener against Troy and the Week 2 matchup with Eastern Kentucky. He’ll return for the following week’s game at Old Dominion.

Thornton has led the Wolfpack in rushing each of the last three seasons, with his totals increasing from 694 yards to 798 to 907 last season. Earlier this month, he was named first-team All-ACC.

However, he’s had a hard time staying in the coaching staff’s good graces. In 2013, he was suspended for the opener after being charged with violence against a female. He was indefinitely suspended in December of that year for another run-in with the law, and reinstated in August of last year.

UPDATED 1:26 pm. ET: And now we have the alleged reason behind Thornton’s suspension.

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Vols suspend top receiver Pig Howard for opener vs. Bowling Green

Alton Howard, Cody Riggs AP

Tennessee’s lifting of the curtain on the 2015 season just got a little more interesting, at least offensively.

Thursday afternoon, head coach Butch Jones revealed that Alton “Pig” Howard has been suspended for the opener against Bowling Green.  The only reason given was unspecified violations of team rules, although Jones did allow that the issue that triggered the suspension dates back several months.

The wide receiver will be eligible to return for the Week two matchup with No. 19 Oklahoma.

The past two seasons, Howard has led the Vols in receiving with 54 and 44 receptions in 2014 and 2013, respectively.  He accounted for 1,006 receiving yards in that span, and has also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns.

Howard’s suspension isn’t the only situation UT is being forced to deal with at the position, either.

Croom caught 21 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns last season, the latter total tied for second on the team.  Perry was a three-star member of the 2015 recruiting class.

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Ohio the new home for ex-Iowa RB C.J. Hilliard

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl AP

When it was announced this past weekend that Cincinnati native C.J. Hilliard would be transferring from Iowa, the stated reason for the departure was a desire by the player to move closer to home.

In the end, that’s exactly what the running back did.

Earlier this week, head coach Frank Solich confirmed that Hilliard had transferred into his Ohio football program.  To satisfy NCAA transfer rules, Hilliard will be forced to sit out the 2015 season.

Hilliard will have three years to use three years of eligibility beginning in 2016.

“He’s with us now, and will be on our football team,” Solich said. “It’s good to have him aboard.”

A three-star member of the Hawkeyes’ 2014 recruiting class, Hilliard was rated as the No. 55 player at any position in the state of Ohio. He took a redshirt as a true freshman last season.

(Photo credit: Iowa athletics)

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CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: ACC Predictions

Clemson at Florida State

The ACC is starting to gain some confidence as a conference based on success in recent seasons. Florida State won a BCS title and Clemson defeated Ohio State in the Orange Bowl two postseasons ago. Last year the Seminoles were invited to the College Football Playoff and Georgia Tech topped the SEC’s Cinderella team from Mississippi State in the Orange Bowl, and Clemson smacked Oklahoma up and down the field in the Russell Athletic Bowl. The ACC will work the numbers to their liking to prove they are among the elite power conferences right now, but the numbers can just as easily tell a different story as well. Regardless, things look to be lining up for a fun season in the ACC with Clemson a preseason favorite of many, Florida State likely to remain in the hunt and Louisville proving to be a tough out. And then there is the ACC Coastal Division, where mediocrity across the division makes for another wide-open division race this fall.

Let’s put my money where my mouth is and go on the record with some predictions for the ACC this season. Feel free to hold me accountable at the end of the season when these surely go wrong.

ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Florida State (Last year: 13-1, lost to Oregon in College Football Playoff semifinal)
Florida State has entered the stage of program development where it is appropriate to suggest the program is reloading, rather than rebuilding. The Florida State offense returns just three starters from last year’s squad, but it does add Notre Dame transfer quarterback Everett Golson. With Dalvin Cook recently being found not guilty of battery charges, he should remain a featured asset in Florida State’s offense . Getting at Louisville in Tallahassee will be key, but the road game at Clemson could prove difficult. I have Florida State, Clemson and Louisville all ending the season with identical division records and splitting game sin the three-way head-to-head. This one comes down to the 27th ACC division tiebreaker, which may end up in Florida State’s favor when all is said and done.

2. Clemson (Last year: 10-3, beat Oklahoma in Russell Athletic Bowl)
The Clemson Tigers are returning perhaps the top quarterback in the conference with Deshaun Watson. Many are already pegging him as a strong Heisman Trophy contender, and having one of the top wide receiving units in the ACC will certainly help his case. The offensive line returns just two starters from last season though, and the entire offense has just four returning starters. The defense is in even more of a shaky ground with a pair of starters back in 2015. But place some trust in Brent Venables to have the defense up to speed enough to work things out along the way. An early Thursday night game at Louisville could be tricky, and the final game of the regular season at South Carolina is rarely easy. But Clemson gets Florida State at home in Week 10, by which most of Clemson’s concerns could very well have been put to rest.

3. Louisville (Last year: 9-4, lost to Georgia in Belk Bowl)
Another team that has a bunch of starters to replace, Louisville returns just seven starters from last season’s team. And things could very well get off to a bumpy start with Auburn in the season opener and Clemson just a couple of weeks later. But I think they manage to split those games, winning the important ACC Atlantic Division match-up on Thursday night in Week 3. The addition of defensive end Devonte Fields should be a really good addition to the defensive line. Louisville’s defense should be very good, and perhaps one of the best in the ACC, but the secondary will have to step up and make some plays if Louisville is going to make the kind of noise I expect from them this season.

4. Boston College (Last year: 7-6, lost to Penn State in Pinstripe Bowl)
Boston College is going to be one of those teams that gives opponents a tough game, but ultimately will not have enough offense to make the Eagles any serious threat in the ACC. The defense can hold its own, but Steve Addazio has just three returning starters this season. None of them are on the offensive line. I suspect Boston College will try trusting the running game with Jon Hilliman capable of going for 1,000 yards and 15 touchdowns this season. Things may very well improve at Boston College as the season progresses, but there is a brutal stretch that includes back-to-back road games at Clemson and Louisville and that is followed by a home game against Virginia Tech. Playing Notre Dame in Fenway Park late in the year should be interesting as well. Boston College should have what it takes to go bowling, and a return trip to the Pinstripe Bowl may not be unlikely.

5. North Carolina State (Last year: 8-5, beat UCF in St. Petersburg Bowl)
North Carolina State is a team many people think is capable of making some noise in the ACC this season, and they very well could. The reason is the Wolfpack return seven starters on offense and seven more on defense. If experience is the key, no team in the ACC Atlantic Division has more of it heading into the 2015 season. There is not one thing NC State does exceptionally well, but they are pretty well-rounded in all areas of the game. Jacoby Brisset is back to start at quarterback, after helping the team improve dramatically last season. Now we will see if he is capable of taking NC State to the next step forward. The Wolfpack should get off to a good start with a favorable schedule, but I’m seeing some bumps in the road once they get into ACC play. NC State gets Louisville and Clemson at home, which is good and easily a recipe for potential upset alerts. I still will go with the favorites for now.

6. Syracuse (Last year: 3-9)
It looks to be a long season at Syracuse. The move to the ACC has not shown much improvement in the recruiting game under Scott Shafer, who could very well be coaching for his job this season. Syracuse could get off to a quick 3-0 start this season, but even that might be difficult. Then LSU comes to the dome in Week 4. Syracuse will get a bye after the big game with the LSU Tigers, and a road trip to USF comes after that, but then ACC play resumes and Syracuse’s next win may not come until 2016 at that point.

7. Wake Forest (Last year: 3-9)
If you thought Syracuse had it rough, take a look at Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons will be a young team in 2015, giving head coach Dave Clawson some more expected growing pains this fall. Wake Forest could get off to a 2-1 start with wins over Elon and Army (losing to Syracuse), but it will be a long stretch of demoralization after that. If Wake Forest manages to get to four wins to improve on last season’s win total, that should be considered a solid victory for Clawson and company.

COASTAL DIVISION

1. Virginia Tech (Last year: 7-6, beat Cincinnati in Military Bowl – they also beat Ohio State, in case you forgot)
Virginia Tech has the best defense in the ACC this season, and that should be enough to push the Hokies ahead fo the rest of the seemingly always up-for-grabs Coastal Division. The biggest question for Virginia Tech is whether or not the offense can avoid giving it away. Having Marshawn Williams back and healthy at running back should help. I look for the Hokies to give Ohio State a respectable fight in the Labor Day season opener, bu the Buckeyes leave with revenge after last season’s meeting in Columbus. From there, things look good for Virginia Tech with no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the schedule. Pittsburgh and UNC are both at home too. The schedule and defense should come in handy this season in Blacksburg.

2. North Carolina (Last year: 6-7, lost to Rutgers in Quick Lane Bowl)
No offense in the ACC returns as many starters this season than the North Carolina Tar Heels. A total of 10 starters are back for UNC, including a healthy Marquise Williams at quarterback, but how much will he have to carry the offense this season? In addition to being the leading passer, Williams is also UNC’s leading returning rusher from a year ago (788 yards, 13 touchdowns). I’d like to see others take some of the pressure off Williams to do everything if UNC is going to make a serious run to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. Looking at the schedule, I see real potential for a possible 7-0 start, but I also see the possibility of a rough finish to the season. That would seem to be the opposite of what happened last season after UNC closed on a hot streak to overcome a dismal start to the season.

3. Pittsburgh (Last year: 6-7, lost to Houston in Armed Forces Bowl)
I seem to have said this the past couple of years and I will do so once more; Why not Pitt? Pat Narduzzi takes over the Pittsburgh program and that should help lock things down on defense, with seven returning starters. The former Michigan State defensive coordinator also inherits some of the top offensive players in the ACC with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and running back James Conner, but it will be up to quarterback Chad Voytik to keep things moving consistently for the Panthers. If the Panthers can get off to better than a 2-2 start (as I predict), they could make a run in the wide open division.

4. Miami (Last year: 6-7, lost to South Carolina in Independence Bowl)
Another year, another season of wondering if this could possibly be the year Miami finally plays in the ACC Championship Game. They have yet to do so since leaving the Big East to provide the ACC with more football balance, and it looks as though this could be another season that sees early promise and hype ultimately fizzle out in an up-and-down second half of the season. They have the quarterback in Brad Kaaya, but do they have the ability to pull it together everywhere else? I have Miami getting out to a nice little 4-0 start before visiting Florida State in Week 6. From there it should be on-off-on-off for the Hurricanes. That could put head coach Al Golden on as hot a seat as possible at the end of the season.

5. Georgia Tech (Last year: 11-3, beat Mississippi State in Orange Bowl)
The formula for Georgia Tech’s success never seems to change, although the effectiveness of it seems to have mixed results. Paul Johnson‘s offensive style picked up 11 wins last season and gave Florida State one of many close calls last season in the ACC Championship Game. Playing in this wide open division, you can easily make a case for Georgia Tech to make a return trip to Charlotte at the end of the season, and a steady defense helps support that argument. I just think there are some tough battles ahead this season with a road trip to Notre Dame followed by ACC contests against Duke, North Carolina, Clemson, Pittsburgh and Florida State all in a row. That can be a tough stretch for the Yellow Jackets, as could the final two games of the season, at Miami and home against Georgia. Georgia Tech will still be a decent team, but they may skate on thin ice en route to the postseason.

6. Virginia (Last year: 5-7)
Virginia has had a rough stretch under Mike London, and this might be the final straw for the head coach if things do not show potential moving forward. Unfortunately for London, there may not be much progress shown with a three-win season. Yet, I have them somehow managing to avoid last place and staying ahead of Duke? Strange, I admit, but I think Virginia manages to win a pair of home games in ACC play, against Syracuse and Duke, and that is good enough to sneak just ahead of the Blue Devils in the standings. It may not, however, be enough to assure London a job in Charlottesville next season. Early games against UCLA, Notre Dame and Boise State (and William & Mary) might be rough to watch at times.

7. Duke (Last year: 9-4, lost to Arizona State in Sun Bowl)
Do not be fooled by a last-place finish in the ACC Coastal. As you no doubt have learned by now, I view this division as a wide-open race, and I still predict Duke will be bowl-eligible this year. That will be because Duke has a very favorable schedule this season with likely wins in non-conference play and no Clemson, Florida State or Louisville on the conference schedule. Yet I still see Duke struggling to find much consistency in conference play. David Cutcliffe has done a remarkable job in Durham, but this year’s team may be lacking in enough playmakers outside of safety Jeremy Cash to find enough wins to make a run at the division.

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Florida State over Virginia Tech
After coming out on top of a clouded three-team tie in the ACC Atlantic Division, Florida State once again manages to win the ACC championship game for a fourth straight season. As will be the story all season, the Hokies defense keeps them in the game but the offense simply will not have enough firepower to get by a team with as much talent as Florida State. But will this Florida State team have done enough to convince the College Football Playoff selection committee it deserves a second straight invite to the postseason party?

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The Rosen One: Bruins hitch hopes to hyped QB cub as starter

Josh Rosen

If UCLA is to live up to the lofty post-Brett Hundley preseason expectations, the Bruins, at least offensively and initially, will do so with a very raw youngin’ under center.

Even as it involves a true freshman, Jim Mora confirmed what many had expected as he officially anointed Josh Rosen as his starting quarterback Wednesday night. Less than a year removed from high school, Rosen will make his first collegiate start Sept. 5 at home in the Rose Bowl against Virginia.

Rosen had been in a competition with redshirt juniors Jerry Neuheisel and Mike Fafaul, but it became apparent to the coaching staff throughout spring practice and on into summer camp that the trigger should be pulled on the young gun.

“At some point it just becomes apparent to you,” Mora said. “You get a gut feeling. You’ve seen enough. You say it’s time to make a decision and let’s go.”

When it comes to recruiting pedigrees, it’d be hard to find one more distinguished than Rosen’s.

A five-star 2015 recruit who enrolled early and went through spring ball, Rosen was rated as both the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country as well as the No. 1 player at any position in the talent-rich state of California. Overall, Rivals.com had the St. John Bosco product as the No. 2 player in the country regardless of position.

While Rosen’s FBS baptismal will come at home against a suspect Virginia, his feet will be really put to the fire by, after a Week 2 matchup against UNLV, a four-game stretch that opens with a defensively-stout BYU in the Rose Bowl followed up by back-to-back-to-back Pac-12 games against ranked opponents: at Arizona, home against Arizona State and at Stanford.

Even if Rosen struggles through that gauntlet, Mora has let it be known that this is the freshman’s offense and he doesn’t have to worry about looking over his shoulder.

“I made it very clear I’m a one quarterback type of coach,” Mora said. “I like to put a guy in that position, support the heck out of him, hope he has success, and rally around him if he’s struggling.”

(Photo credit: UCLA athletics)

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Ohio State loses Noah Brown for season with leg injury

Noah Brown

Locked and loaded for a run at a second consecutive national championship, Ohio State will enter the 2015 season a little less loaded at the wide receiver position.

Following up on reports of a “major” injury, OSU confirmed late Wednesday night that Noah Brown suffered an injury to his left leg during practice earlier in the day. While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t detailed, it was significant and serious enough that the sophomore receiver has already been ruled out for the entire 2015 season.

It’s believed that Brown broke his leg during the Wednesday practice session.  According to OSU’s release, he will undergo surgery Thursday to repair the damage.

Brown, who caught one pass last season, was expected to, at minimum, play a significant role as a third receiver and, potentially more substantially, earn a starting role in the Buckeyes’ receiving corps.  At least when it comes to the first game of the year, the road trip to Blacksburg — against the only team to defeat OSU last year — is pause for concern given the previously-announced attrition.

Earlier this offseason, it was announced that H-backs Jalin Marshall and Dontre Wilson, along with receiver Corey Smith, had been suspended for the opener against Virginia Tech.

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