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Mid-season Biletnikoff check: Who’s leading the pack?

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Last season, USC’s Marqise Lee won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation’s finest wide receiver, beating out quality players such as Terrance Williams of Baylor, Stedman Bailey of West Virginia, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, Cobi Hamilton of Arkansas and Austin Hill of Arizona.

With this year halfway over, we’ve got another fine group of receivers vying for the award. Here are the top five candidates for the Biletnikoff at the mid-season point:

1. Brandin Cooks, Jr., Oregon State — If the Biletnikoff was handed out today, Cooks would probably run away with it. Through six games, the junior already has 63 catches for 944 yards and 11 touchdowns. He’s caught at least two touchdown passes in five of his outings this year. He’s on pace to challenge the NCAA record for most receiving yards in a season (2,060) set by Trevor Insley of Nevada in 1999. Can he keep it up? With the meat of OSU’s schedule approaching, it’s going to be tough. Barring a collapse on his part, though, he has to be considered the heavy favorite to win his school’s second Biletnikoff, with Mike Haas being the other in 2005.

2. Antwan Goodley, Jr., Baylor — After catching a combined 19 passes his first two seasons, Goodley has burst onto the scene this year, emerging as the main deep threat in Baylor’s explosive offense. Goodley has 26 catches for 679 yards and six touchdowns and is averaging an incredible 26 yards per reception. The junior leads the nation with five receptions of 60 yards or more and has two of 70 or more. With his combination of speed and strength, he’s looking like a potential high NFL draft pick next spring.

3. Mike Evans, So., Texas A&M — We all saw the way Evans dominated against No. 1 Alabama, catching seven passes for 279 yards, including a 95-yard touchdown run late in the game.  The 6-5 sophomore is Johnny Manziel’s No. 1 target, with 32 receptions for 737 yards and five touchdowns and a 23 yards-per-catch average so far.

4. Jared Abbredaris, Sr., Wisconsin — Abbredaris has an amazing knack for getting open and has become the heart and soul of the Badgers offense. His resume this year includes a 10-catch, 207-yard effort against Ohio State. On the season, he’s got 35 catches for 646 yards and five touchdowns.

5. Paul Richardson, Jr., Colorado — Richardson has overcome a knee injury to become one of the best receivers in the country. He’s perhaps the lone bright spot on what is shaping up to be another dismal Colorado team. On the season, he has 35 catches for 660 yards and five touchdowns. He’s slowed down a bit after opening the year with two 200-yard receiving games.

Honorable mention: Jeremy Johnson, SMU; Tevin Reese, Baylor; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Jaelen Strong, Arizona State; Odell Beckham, LSU.

Report: ex-USC QB Max Browne to visit Pitt

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 10:  Max Browne #4 of the USC Trojans looks to pass the ball against the Utah State Aggies at Los Angeles Coliseum on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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The scramble to land graduate transfers at the most important position on a football field is slowly beginning to heat up.

According to a report from 247Sports.com, former USC quarterback Max Browne will pay an official visit to Pittsburgh this weekend. 2016 starter Nathan Peterman‘s eligibility has expired, which will open up a competition for the Panthers beginning in the spring.

It’s also expected that the former USC signal-caller will visit North Carolina at some point in the not-too-distant future, although that is likely dependent on whether current Tar Heels starter Mitch Trubisky leaves early for the NFL as some expect.

A Notre Dame grad transfer with starting experience, Malik Zaire, has also been connected to both of the ACC schools. Wisconsin could have an interest in Browne and Zaire as well.

A five-star 2013 signee, Browne confirmed months of speculation a week ago that he would indeed be transferring from the Trojans.

Browne began the 2016 season as the starter, but lost his job to Sam Darnold after the Trojans stumbled out of the gate at 1-2. With Darnold under center, USC finished the regular season on an 8-1 run and won their last eight after losing Darnold’s first start by four points to Utah.

Browne spent the 2014 and 2015 seasons as Cody Kessler’s primary backup.

Mizzou backup QB Marvin Zanders tweets he’s transferring

COLUMBIA, MO - OCTOBER 11: Truman the Tiger leads the Mizzou fans in cheers while the Missouri Tigers take on the Georgia Bulldogs on October 11, 2014 at Faurot Field/Memorial Stadium in Columbia, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
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It looks as if Drew Lock will have a new backup when the 2017 season rolls around.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday night, Marvin Zanders announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Missouri football program. The redshirt sophomore said he’s leaving to pursue other opportunities that will further his education and playing career, although where that will be is still to be determined.

Zanders was a three-star 2014 signee who played in just one game in 2015 after redshirting as a true freshman. As Lock’s primary backup in 2016, Zanders played in a total of eight games. In limited action, he completed 10 of 12 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. He also ran for 198 yards and a pair of scores.

The decision of Zanders to move on leaves the Mizzou quarterback cupboard somewhat bare at the moment.

Mark Dantonio won’t lose long-time assistant to head-coaching job at Div. II school

DETROIT, MI - NOVEMBER 12: Head coach Mark Dantonio of the Michigan State Spartans leads his team onto the field before a college football game against the against the Rutgers Scarlet Knights at Spartan Stadium on November 12, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)
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At least for now and when it comes to one particular assistant, Mark Dantonio won’t have a hole to fill on his Michigan State coaching staff.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Spartans offensive line coach Mark Staten was one of five finalists for the head-coaching job at Div. II Northern Michigan. On his Facebook page Thursday, by way of ESPN.com, Staten indicated that he will be staying at MSU.

Left unsaid is whether Staten withdrew from the search process because he wanted to remain in East Lansing or if he became aware the program had decided to go in a direction that didn’t include him.

Decision was made after a lot of prayer, talking with family, friends and mentors. I appreciate all of those involved as I will continue to battle on as a Spartan. God Bless and Go Green!

Staten has been a part of Dantonio’s coaching staff for the past 13 seasons, the first three at Cincinnati and the last 10 at MSU. He’s been the Spartans’ line coach for the past five years.

Charlie Strong, Temple have reportedly spoken as USF talk heats up

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Head coach Charlie Strong of the Texas Longhorns at Cotton Bowl on October 11, 2014 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Temple lost its head coach to an FBS program in the state of Texas. Could the Owls find his replacement in the form of the former head coach at that state’s flagship university? Or, as is looking more and more likely, could they “lose” him to a fellow AAC school?

According to at least one report the former could be the case as the Philadelphia Inquirer, citing a source familiar with the situation, reported that Strong and Temple officials have spoken about the vacant head-coaching job. How strong, so to speak, the former Louisville and Texas head coach’s interest is in the AAC football program is something the source couldn’t gauge, the Inquirer noted.

That said, “[t]hey had a conversation with Strong, that is a fact,” the source said.

The strongest, so to speak, competition for Strong may very well be coming from USF, with Roy Cummings of Florida Football Insiders reporting that “[i]t is believed that USF has already begun negotiating a contract with Strong.” A subsequent report from the Tampa Bay Times noted that USF spent Thursday in heavy pursuit of Strong.

The 56-year-old coach had previously been connected to the USF job, and his deep ties to the fertile recruiting grounds in the state that makes a marriage almost a no-brainer for both sides.

Strong was fired by the Longhorns in November after going just 16-21 during his three seasons in Austin. UT currently owes Strong roughly $11.2 million as part of his buyout. Per the terms of his contract, Strong must make “reasonable efforts” to obtain another job. If he does, USA Today wrote, “Texas’ obligation to him will be offset by an amount equal to 50% of the total compensation Strong receives from his new job.”

Matt Rhule, who left Temple for Baylor earlier this week, was paid just north of $1 million for his final season with the Owls, a figure that was eighth amongst AAC coaches. Willie Taggart, who created the USF vacancy by leaving for Oregon, was the fifth-highest paid coach in the conference at $1.7 million.

Strong’s salary final salary of $5.2 million was sixth nationally.