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Hackenberg sets Penn State freshman passing record in win

Christian Hackenberg, Pat O'Connor AP

Penn State fans are dreaming big when it comes to freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg. In just his second start for the Nittany Lions, and his first in Beaver Stadium, the five-star recruit set a new freshman passing record by passing for 311 yards in Penn State’s 45-7 victory over Eastern Michigan on Saturday.

Zack Mills previously held the freshman passing record for Penn State, with 280 yards in two different games in 2001 (Ohio State, Southern Mississippi). Hackenberg passed for one passing touchdown and was intercepted once, but progress is already visible under center.

Hackenberg completed 23 of 33 pass attempts and settled down after getting off to a rocky start in his first home game at Penn State. Hackenberg was throwing passes above his receivers early and he lost a fumble when a ball slipped out of his hand. Eastern Michigan scooped up the football and returned it for a touchdown, the only time the Eagles scored. Bill O’Brien stuck with the freshman though, showing faith that he would settle down if given time. It paid off this weekend.

Hackenberg was replaced by junior college transfer Tyler Ferguson with the game all but decided in the fourth quarter. Penn State improved to 2-0, reversing the outcome of the first two games a season ago. Next week Penn State hosts Blake Bortles and Central Florida.

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Leukemia fighter, frosh DB to serve as captain in Chips’ bowl game

Derrick Nash

If you recall, last May we made mention of a heartwarming story coming out of Central Michigan.  Shortly after signing with CMU in February of 2013, Derrick Hunt was diagnosed with leukemia and was told that he’d be forced to sit out that season.  Hunt vowed to return to the playing field, while the university vowed to honor his scholarship.

The running back did return, playing in the spring game earlier this year.  Unfortunately, the leukemia returned as well, forcing the player to miss a second straight season as he underwent additional chemotherapy.  As the Chips prepare to play Western Kentucky in the Popeyes Bahama Bowl Christmas Eve, though, Hunt will be a part of the team in the postseason.

According to the school, Nash will serve as the honorary captain for the Chips in their postseason game.  Head coach Dan Enos said in a statement that the NCAA, as well as his doctors, signed of recently on allowing Nash to perform the ceremonial duties.

And, it should be noted, get that free trip to the Bahamas he’s earned.

“We had to file a waiver with the NCAA to clear him just to invite him on the trip,” Enos said. “When we got the waiver that we could bring him that was a real blessing. Then we didn’t know if he was going to be able to go and to have his doctors clear him to go was another blessing.

“Our team loves him, he’s part of our family. He’s been through a lot obviously and I think our team loves to have one of our own as a captain, but a guy like Derrick who we draw so much strength from just watching how courageous he is every day and what an inspiration he is to our entire program.”

Both the player and the football program are hopeful he can return to the playing field in 2015 in something other than an honorary role.

(Photo credit: Central Michigan athletics)

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Report: Harbaugh’s family, friends encouraging him to take UM job

Jim Harbaugh AP

The will-he-or-won’t-he spinning of the Wheel of Harbaugh has taken yet another turn, perhaps the most interesting and dramatic one in this whole extended soap opera.

According to Adam Schefter of ESPN.com, and citing sources close to the situation, the family and friends of San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh “have been encouraging him to take the Michigan [head coaching] job, but he is torn because his heart is in the NFL.” Perhaps most importantly, and especially if the coach’s household hierarchy is anything like mine, “Harbaugh’s wife also is said to be open and on board to him going back to Ann Arbor if that’s what he wants.”

It’s previously been reported/speculated that Harbaugh’s wife would be against a move from California to Ann Arbor; if Schefter’s report is accurate, that would remove one potential obstacle.

Schefter’s report comes two days after a report surfaced that Michigan was prepared to over Harbaugh a contract in the neighborhood of $8 million annually over six years. Thursday, Harbaugh declined to answer when asked directly if his alma mater had offered him a contract.

Harbaugh’s father could also be a family member who’s nudging his son in the direction of the Wolverines.

There is an undisputed emotional connection for Harbaugh, who played at Michigan, is an iconic figure there, and has been hearing from family and friends about returning as the prodigal son. Harbaugh’s father, Jack, is influential with his son and he has made it known that he likes and admires Michigan’s interim athletic director, Jim Hackett, whom he got to know in the mid 1970s, when he was coaching the defensive backs at Michigan while Hackett was playing center at the school.

Harbaugh would like to make his decision after the NFL season ends, after what Schefter describes as “the players’ getaway day on Monday, Dec. 29.” Certainly if UM knew, with absolute certainty, Harbaugh will take the job, they would be more than willing to wait. Should there be any doubt — and apparently there is in the mind of the man who’s reportedly their top candidate — can the university really afford to put its search on hold awaiting an answer?

That’s the $8 million question… or $8 million-plus if you’re of the mindset that Harbaugh and/or his agent are merely using UM to drive up his NFL price.

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Report: starting DE among four Fresno St. players suspended for bowl

Ikaika Woolsey, Maurice Poyadue

Fresno State will head into the postseason with depleted strength at a couple of positions thanks to off-field issues.  Reportedly.

Citing sources within the program, the Sacramento Bee is reporting that defensive end Maurice Poyadue, wide receiver Myles Carr and linebackers Xavier Ulutu and Michael Lazarus have been suspended for the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl against Rice. The suspensions stemmed from the catch-all “violation of athletic department policy.”

The most notable of the suspensions is that of Poyadue as he has started the past seven games of the 2014 season.  He’s played in all 13 games this season as well after playing in 12 games as a redshirt sophomore in 2013.

Likewise, Ulutu has played in every game this season, although those appearances came as the No. 2 inside linebacker.  Lazarus, listed behind Ulutu on the depth chart, has played in seven games.

Carr, a redshirt sophomore, has not caught a pass this season after playing in five games in 2013.

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Kentucky makes hiring of WVU OC Shannon Dawson official

Photo credit: West Virginia Athletics

Two days after it was initially reported, and a day after Dana Holgorsen confirmed it, Kentucky has made it official.

In a press release, UK announced that Mark Stoops has hired Shannon Dawson as his new offensive coordinator.  In addition to coordinator, Dawson will serve as the Wildcats’ quarterbacks coach.

Dawson will replace Neal Brown, who was named as Troy’s head coach late last month.

“I’m very excited to bring Shannon Dawson to the University of Kentucky,” Stoops said. “He has done a great job in helping build programs to success on every level. I’ve been impressed with the balance of West Virginia’s offense and how difficult they are to defend. I love the continuity he will bring to what we’ve been doing as we build on the progress we’ve made so far.

“In learning more about Shannon, I’ve found out what a strong leader he is and heard nothing but good things about him throughout our profession.”

As he will with the Wildcats, Dawson served as the Mountaineers’ coordinator and quarterbacks coach the past two seasons. He was named WVU’s coordinator in 2012, his second season in Morgantown. Unlike at WVU, however, Dawson will have play-calling responsibilities at UK.

WVU, incidentally, was Dawson’s first full-time job at the FBS level.

(Photo credit: West Virginia athletics)

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Ex-Wake QB Travis Smith transfers to EMU

Travis Smith

With John Wolford, a true freshman, seemingly entrenched as Wake Forest’s starting quarterback, Travis Smith took his leave of the football program in mid-September.  Three months later, the quarterback officially has a new home.

Friday afternoon, Eastern Michigan announced that Smith is one of eight players, mostly from the JUCO ranks, who have been added to the football program.  Smith is already enrolled in classes at EMU for the winter semester.

The rising sophomore will participate in spring practice and, because of when he left Wake, will be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Smith, who didn’t see the field during his very brief stint with the Demon Deacons, was a three-star member of Wake’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 24 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  Following his senior season in high school, he was named the Gatorade Michigan Player of the Year.

(Photo credit: Wake Forest athletics)

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QB Tanner McEvoy to go both ways for Badgers in bowl game

Tanner McEvoy, John Lowdermilk, Desmond King AP

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Prior to transferring to Wisconsin from South Carolina via the JUCO ranks, Tanner McEvoy was a quarterback. In 2013, McEvoy was moved to safety, a position he played all season last year for the Badgers. In 2014, he moved back to quarterback and started five games under center to start the year and played in the last eight at that position to end the year.

With the postseason on the horizon, and the Badgers still licking their wounds from the defensive beatdown they received in the Big Ten championship game, McEvoy is headed back to the defensive side of the ball. As well as remaining on the offensive side.

I’ll be going both ways,” McEvoy said. “I just love playing. Wherever I can get on the field, that’s what I’m here to do and help this team win. So I’m excited to be able to get more reps out there and just help these guys get a bowl victory and send the seniors off the right way.

“As long as I get on the field and help the team win, that’s my goal.”

McEvoy began practicing again with the defense Tuesday. Thursday, he worked with the first-team defense at both safety and linebacker.

Despite the defensive work, there wil still be opportunities for McEvoy offensively.  Even after Joel Stave reclaimed the starting job, McEvoy saw extensive action as the running threat at the quarterback position, finishing the 2014 regular season with 574 rushing yards and six rushing touchdowns.  His 8.8 yards per carry was tops on the team.

UW will face Auburn in the Jan. 1 Outback Bowl.

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Jimbo, on Jameis’ football future: ‘it would not shock me either way’

Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston signs autographs

For two very basic and simple reasons, most people have assumed throughout the year that Jameis Winston‘s second season as Florida State’s starting quarterback will be his last.

One, he was viewed by many (most?) as a likely Top 10, if not Top Five, selection in the 2015 NFL draft… provided teams could get past the off-field noise.  Which, of course, brings us to the second reason, that being the deafening and voluminous amount of noise that has come with being Winston at the collegiate level.  Winston is under more of a focused microscope on a college campus — autographs, student code of conduct hearing — than he would be in an NFL city, the theory goes, so he’d better off taking his leave of the amateur ranks and heading to the pros, where he’d at least get paid for the media headaches.

On the flip side, Winston said as recently as July off this year that playing two more years at the collegiate level, 2014 and 2015, wasn’t out of the question.  And that came a month after Winston’s dad was quoted as saying his son would remain with the football Seminoles for two more seasons.

Fast-forward to today, and the NFL question when it comes to Winston still lingers.  As he’s preparing FSU for its semifinal showdown with Oregon New Year’s Day, Jimbo Fisher, he of a new contract (almost), was asked about Winston’s future.  As has been the case every other time the subject’s been broached, Fisher says no decision has been made.

“I understand if he wants to go, when a guy’s that high and you’re doing what you do,” the head coach said. “But remember, he’s a very, very good student. He’s very smart. He loves baseball. He loves his time in college. He loves all the interaction of this, believe it or not. So it would not shock me either way.”

While most view, or viewed, Winston’s jump to the NFL as a fait accompli, it may not be the lock that it once was.

Winston is coming off a regular season that, at least statistically, paled into comparison to a 2013 season that ended with him holding the Heisman Trophy.  His performance on the field has led some to question whether his stock is falling.  And then there’s the very off-field noise that most had as being the impetus for him leaving early.

In September, ProFootballTalk‘s Mike Florio opined that Winston is “running out of chances to convince the NFL he can come in and be that player who is the leader of your team both in the locker room and in the public eye.”  A month later, FOXSports.com‘s Jay Glazer reported that “general managers are moving Winston down their potential draft boards — or off them completely.”

Winston certainly has a big decision to make over the next month, although it may not be as clear either way as some thought a few months ago.

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Gator QB Treon Harris charged for not having driver’s license

Florida v Florida State Getty Images

New Florida head coach Jim McElwain has his first off-field “incident” with which to deal, and it just so happens to involve his starting quarterback.  According to the Gainesville Sun, Treon Harris was charged with operating a motor vehicle without a valid license.

Not only that, the Sun reports, the true freshman has never had a driver’s license. Harris’ attorney, Huntley Johnson, tells the paper that his client is in the process of getting his license and he expects the charge to be dropped once that occurs.

“That’s the way it’s usually handled in a case like this for a citizen, and he’s a citizen,” Johnson said.

There’s also this:

It’s believed this charge will have zero impact on Harris’ postseason availability, and he’s still expected to start in the Birmingham Bowl against East Carolina.  That, though, is far from official as the university will look into the incident.

Harris started the last five games of the 2014 season after taking over for Jeff Driskel following a late-October loss to Missouri.

In early October, Harris was suspended indefinitely after he was accused of sexual assault.  Less than a week later, he was reinstated after the accuser dropped the complaint.

UPDATED 2:12 p.m. ET: As it stands right now, UF confirmed this afternoon, there has been no change to Harris’ status for the Gators’ upcoming bowl game.

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Georgia lands UAB’s leading tackler

UAB v Ohio State Getty Images

For once, it’s not South Alabama that’s the beneficiary of a UAB transfer.

While Georgia has yet to confirm the addition, Jake Ganus took to Twitter Friday to announce that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career with the Bulldogs.  The linebacker has one year of eligibility remaining, plus he has yet to use his redshirt season.

He will be eligible to play immediately in 2015.

Ganus started every game for the Blazers in 2014, leading the team in tackles with 70.  He was also tops in tackles for loss with 16.5 and second in sacks with six.

Over three seasons, Ganus started 33 of 36 games.

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Strong, ‘Horns have Texas-sized recruiting day

Charlie Strong AP

We don’t normally do much on the recruiting front here at CFT, but this is something that caused us to perk our heads up and take notice.

One of the reasons Charlie Strong was hired by Texas was for his recruiting chops as well as his coaching ability.  Friday morning, those chops were on full display.

Within minutes of each other, Mesquite (Tex.) Poteet High school teammates Malik Jefferson and DeAndre McNeal announced in a ceremony at their school that they have verbally committed to play their college football for Strong at Texas. And, at least as far as UT is concerned, it’s a very big deal, especially as it pertains to Jefferson.

A five-star recruit in the Class of 2015, Jefferson is rated as the No. 1 outside linebacker in the country; the No. 2 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 22 player overall in the country. Perhaps even bigger for Strong and UT is the fact that they beat out, among other finalists, Texas A&M.

Amidst the #WRTS hashtags and “swagcopters” from their in-state recruiting rivals, this was a significant development for Strong.

That, though, is not to downplay the addition of McNeal.  A three-star recruit according to Rivals.com but a four-star by others, McNeal is rated as the No. 24 athlete in the country.  McNeal also held an offer from A&M, and visited College Station in late October.

While not allowed to address specific recruits, Strong took to Twitter acknowledge a moment that may — or may not — signal a turnaround in Austin.

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Les Miles talks ‘distraction’ of Michigan speculation

Arkansas v LSU Getty Images

On Monday, Les Miles went on the record with LSU beat reporters denying that he has any interest in the Michigan job… without permitting the denial to be captured on video or audio recording devices.

Three days later, Miles publicly addressed UM’s rumored interest… without actually denying any interest on his part.

During a Thursday appearance on SiriusXM’s College Football Playbook show — seriously, so to speak, get satellite radio for that channel alone — the LSU head coach was, of course, asked about the situation earlier in the week and the manner in which he handled it. Miles said he addressed it, such as it were, because he didn’t want the speculation to become a distraction for a Tiger team prepping for the Dec. 30 Music City Bowl.

“What happened there was, it became such a constant question, there was not a … I couldn’t put it behind us,” Miles said according to mlive.com. “Our football team’s preparing to play a significant game against Notre Dame, and I certainly didn’t want a distraction in any way.”

Shortly thereafter, though, Miles seemed to intimate that UM’s search for a new head coach would go on without him, much as it did in January of 2011.  And in December of 2007.

“The only thing I can tell you is that I’m so for Michigan,” he said. “They have a process, they’re going to go through it. They’re going to get a great coach.

“I wish them the very best.”

UM’s search for a new head coach is in the middle of its third week.  At least for now, a significant focus of that search appears to be on reeling in Jim Harbaugh and bringing him back to Ann Arbor. Should that effort fail — and most indications are that it will — there’s a very good chance the university could circle back to the coach in Baton Rouge and make another run at bringing Miles back to his college home.  Whether that effort would be as fruitless as the university’s first two attempts remains to be seen, although history suggests it very much would.

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The 10 hottest – and 10 cheapest – tickets of the 2014-15 bowl season

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Rutgers v Notre Dame Getty Images

Hugh Kellenberger of the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger did a wonderful thing. As the paper’s Ole Miss beat writer, he wondered how much the average price of a ticket to the Rebels’ Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl against TCU was going for on the secondary market. He found his answer – $84.15 – and then wondered how that ranked against the other 37 bowl games.

So he looked it up.

He found that three bowls stand above the rest: the Rose and Sugar bowls, and the Pinstripe Bowl – pitting nearby and postseason-starved Penn State against nearby and excited-to-play-Penn-State Boston College. Kellenberger also found that three bowls were drawing so little interest that they didn’t show up at all on the secondary market: the New Mexico, Famous Idaho Potato  and Bahamas bowls.

Every other bowl game has tickets for sale on line, and the demand varies wildly.

Ten Hottest Tickets
1. Sugar Bowl: Ohio State vs. Alabama – $239.25
2. Rose Bowl: Oregon vs. Florida State – $149
3. Pinstripe Bowl: Penn State vs. Boston College – $132.12
4. Holiday Bowl: Nebraska vs. USC – $98.84
5. GoDaddy Bowl: Toledo vs. Arkansas State – $97.68
6. Outback Bowl: Auburn vs. Wisconsin – $92.01
7. Peach Bowl: TCU vs. Ole Miss – $84.15
8. Poinsettia Bowl: Navy vs. San Diego State – $75.45
9. Boca Raton Bowl: Marshall vs. Northern Illinois – $72.45
10. Las Vegas Bowl: Utah vs. Colorado State – $70.89

Ten Cheapest Tickets
1. Orange Bowl: Mississippi State vs. Georgia Tech – $5.25
2. Cactus Bowl: Washington vs. Oklahoma State – $9.25
3. Russell Athletic Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Clemson – $13.95
3. Hawaii Bowl: Fresno State vs. Rice – $13.95
5. Alamo Bowl: Kansas State vs. UCLA – $15.12
6. Citrus Bowl: Missouri vs. Minnesota – $16.29
7. Liberty Bowl: Texas A&M vs. West Virginia – $18.82
8. Armed Forces Bowl: Houston vs. Pittsburgh – $20
9. Camilia Bowl: South Alabama vs. Bowling Green – $22.14
10. Sun Bowl: Arizona State vs. Duke – $22.80

Seeing a so-called New Year’s Six Bowl like the Orange Bowl No. 1 on the list is shocking at first, but it does make some sense. Georgia Tech doesn’t travel well, sure. And, yeah, Mississippi State isn’t a short drive to Miami, and the Bulldogs must view the Orange Bowl as a consolation prize after heading into their last game in line for a semifinal berth.

But, still, worse than the Hawaii Bowl?

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P.J. Fleck signs six-year extension at Western Michigan, is now the MAC’s highest-paid coach

P.J. Fleck

Just a year after posting a 1-11 debut, P.J. Fleck is set to become the highest-paid coach in the Mid-American Conference.

The Broncos announced a six-year contract extension, keeping Fleck signed through the 2020 season, worth $800,000 annually, plus incentives. The new contract will make Fleck the MAC’s highest-paid coach, nearly 45 percent higher than second place Frank Solich ($554,500), according to the USA Today coaching salary database.

Fleck was mentioned as a possible candidate for openings imagined (Illinois) and real (Pittsburgh).

“This is a wonderful time to finalize this contract extension and thank Coach Fleck for his commitment to the Bronco program,” said WMU President John M. Dunn said in a statement. “Success on the playing field, achievement in the classroom and engagement with the community have been the team’s hallmarks over the past year. The pride and excitement generated by our scholar- athletes, their coach, assistant coaches and staff are reflective of the very best in collegiate athletics. Using any measure, this is a successful program and one we want to continue and build upon for years to come.”

Western Michigan posted a seven-win improvement in 2014, leaping from 1-11 to 8-4 and a berth in Saturday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl versus Air Force. The Broncos finished one game shy of sharing their third MAC West Division championship. Combined with a number of facilities updates, Western Michigan is making a significant investment to a program that still looking for its first bowl victory and has won just one MAC title in the last 44 years.

Fleck signed what has been called the highest-rated recruiting class in MAC history in 2014 and could be even better in 2015.

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WVU QB Clint Trickett returns to practice, will play vs. Texas A&M

Clint Trickett

West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett has returned to practice after leaving the Mountaineers’ 26-20 loss to Kansas State on Nov. 18.

“Clint’s done such a good job for us over the course of the year,” head coach Dana Holgorsen told the Associated Press. “He’s responsible for us being in a bowl game — did nothing to change what I think of him as far as the starting quarterback. We know what kind of kid he is, what kind of competitor he is.”

However, Trickett will not automatically resume his starting role upon his return. Sophomore Skyler Howard finished the K-State game strongly, hitting 15-of-23 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and led West Virginia to a 37-24 win over Iowa State in the regular season finale by throwing for 285 yards and three touchdowns and rushing for 69 more yards.

“With that said, Skyler’s improving, he’s taking a lot of reps these last three weeks. I anticipate to have both ready to go and we’ll probably make a game-time decision on who starts and what the rotation will be.”

The most likely scenario is that both quarterbacks play in their Liberty Bowl date with Texas A&M depending on the situation. Trickett is the more accomplished passer, but Howard (12 rushes for 107 yards this season) is the greater threat to run the ball. Trickett completed 281-of-419 passes for 3,285 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season.

West Virginia will face Texas A&M at 2 p.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 29 (ESPN).

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Mariota, Gordon headline Phil Steele All-America team

Marcus Mariota

Everyone has an All-America team these days. Heck, now that they’ve got some free time I hear the folks at Serial are going to pump out their own 2014 All-America team next week.

However, in crunching out their own list of 25-odd players, no one crunches more data than Phil Steele. The man is already a quarter of the way through his initial work for the 2015 season.

Anyway, on to current matters, the 2014 Phil Steele All-Americans can be found below. Second through 27th-team All-Americans can be found here.

Offense
QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon
RB Melvin Gordon, Wisconsin
RB Tevin Coleman, Indiana
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
WR Rashard Higgins, Colorado State
WR Rashad Greene, Florida State
TE Maxx Williams, Minnesota
C Reese Dismukes, Auburn
OL Spencer Drango, Baylor
OL Jake Fisher, Oregon
OL Tre’ Jackson, Florida State
OL Brandon Scherff, Iowa

Defense
LB Hau’oli Kikaha, Washington
LB Scooby Wright, Arizona
LB Eric Kendricks, UCLA
LB Bernardrick McKinney, Mississippi State
DB Landon Collins, Alabama
DB Gerod Holliman, Louisville
DB Senquez Golson, Ole Miss
DB Kurtis Drummond, Michigan State
DL Joey Bosa, Ohio State
DL Malcom Brown, Texas
DL Nate Orchard, Utah
DL Shane Ray, Missouri

Specialists
K Brad Craddock, Maryland
P Tom Hackett, Utah
KR Mario Alford, West Virginia
PR Tyler Lockett, Kansas State

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