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Mike Belotti: Mariota will be better than Newton in NFL

Oregon v Colorado Getty Images

Former Oregon coach Mike Belotti has very high opinion of current Ducks quarterback Marcus Mariota.

Belotti told a local Charlotte radio station on Tuesday that the Heisman Trophy contender will be a better NFL quarterback than Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ current starter.

“I think he’ll be a fine quarterback at the (NFL) level, much like a Kaepernick-type guy … better than Carolina’s quarterback right now,” Belotti told WFNZ-FM’s “The Drive” on Tuesday.

Belotti cited Mariota’s work ethic and how he is a student of the game, while noting that Newton gets by mostly on his athleticism and physical tools.

“Cam has never had to work as hard, and I think he is finally now starting to get it and spend time in the classroom with the coaches. A lot of things come really easy to Cam. I think he still thinks he can just go out there and do it,” Bellotti said.

“I think Marcus is a combination of the athlete and the student.”

Belotti also believes Mariota is superior as a runner to Robert Griffin III.

“I don’t know if he is quite as good a pure passer (as Griffin), but he is a better combination because RGIII is more of a sprinter as opposed to a football runner and so he puts himself in situations where he can’t protect himself,” Bellotti said.

Whatever one’s opinion is on the matter, there’s a good chance that Mariota could soon have one very important thing in common with both Newton and Griffin III — a certain stiff-arm trophy, perhaps?

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NCAA approves new roughing the passer penalty for hits below knees

Tennessee v Florida

Hitting a quarterback below the knees in passing situations will result in a 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer according to a new rule approved by the NCAA’s Playing Rules Oversight Panel. The new rule will go into effect this fall around the country.

One of the first questions that may come to mind is just what qualifies as a passing situation in a game where passing has become more and more frequent? Will every pass play by considered a passing situation, or just plays that come on third and long or perhaps even second and long? Fortunately the NCAA laid out the basics for when this penalty will come into play.

According to the NCAA, “the rule specifically covers a scenario in which a quarterback is in a passing posture with one or both feet on the ground.” When in this situation, no defensive player rushing unabated can hit the quarterback at the knees or below the knees. In addition, a defensive player may not roll or lunge and forcibly hit the quarterback in the knee or below. So a defender already on the ground may not roll into the quarterback.

There are exceptions to the rule though. A quarterback who takes off to run, no matter where located on the field, is no longer considered in a passing situation so he would be vulnerable. If a defender is already engaging in wrapping up the quarterback for a tackle, the passing situation is considered over. Any defender blocked into a passer is also in the clear as far as a penalty is concerned, but this means officials will have to keep a close eye on the entire play to determine if a player hitting below the knee was pushed into the passer or if the dive or lunge was initiated by the defender.

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Florida State expresses disappointment in New York Times story

Florida State Spring Game

Florida State University issued a statement in response to a story published by the New York Times on Wednesday. The university expressed disappointment in the story that profiles the timeline of the response taken by the university and Tallahassee police in an investigation for an alleged sexual assault committed by quarterback Jameis Winston.

According to the statement released by Florida State, many of the responses provided during the process of writing the story were not included in the final copy that was released. Among the many points made by the university in an outline of issues with the story include is a statement that Florida State does not tolerate sexual assault, state and federal privacy laws restrict what the university can do on certain student matters, and the university must balance the duty to investigate with the general welfare of the alleged victim. By leaving out information Florida State feels were justified to include in telling what it believes to be the full story, the New York Times has done a disservice to its readers and the Florida State community, the statement says.

“Like all other colleges and universities, FSU is faced with a balancing act when following the “Dear Colleague” letter,” the statement by Florida State opens.

“Given the inherent tension within the “Dear Colleague” letter, FSU seeks to empower victims by giving great weight to their wishes when it comes to counseling, academic accommodations and supporting them through criminal or university proceedings,” the statement continues. “In a great number of cases, the victims make it quite clear that they don’t want to file a police report or pursue a Code of Conduct process.”

You can read the full statement released by Florida State as well as the full outline of points the university feels were missing from the New York Times story.

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‘Cuse confirms Terrel Hunt will remain QB starter

Terrel Hunt AP

Not that there was much mystery involved to begin with, but the question marks surrounding the quarterback position at Syracuse have been answered.

As expected, offensive coordinator George McDonald has confirmed to ESPN.com that Terrell Hunt will remain the Orange’s man under center.  While Hunt ended last season in that position, the competition was open once again this spring.

McDonald said Hunt’s growth throughout the spring locked down the job once again for the player.

“He’s had a really good spring,” McDonald said of the incumbent. “He’s doing a lot of things he wasn’t able to do last spring. For him, the game that made him a lot more comfortable was the Minnesota game. He’s really built off that game. He’s playing at a different level this spring.”

Hunt ultimately started the final 10 games of the 2013 season after Oklahoma transfer Drew Allen, who started the first three, was benched for poor performance.  In addition to throwing for over 1,600 yards and 10 touchdowns, Hunt was also second on the team with 500 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground.

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LSU, ‘Cuse officially set future home-and-home

1965 Sugar Bowl

After a month or more of speculation, the long wait for official word on a future series between programs from the ACC and SEC is finally, thankfully over.

Syracuse confirmed via a release Wednesday that it will play a future home-and-home series against LSU.  The Orange will host the Tigers Sept. 26, 2015, in the Carrier Dome, while ‘Cuse gets the “pleasure” of traveling to Death Valley to face the Bayou Bengals Sept. 9, 2017.

“We are thrilled to enter into this home-and-home agreement with a premiere program like LSU. Student-athletes come to Syracuse to play on the biggest stage possible, and this gives our coaches and young men the chance to battle one of the standard-bearers of the SEC on our home turf,” said athletic director Dr. Daryl Gross in a statement. “It is a complicated process to arrange games of this magnitude, and I couldn’t be happier for our fans and for all who will be involved in this upcoming series.”

The two football programs have never met during the regular season, but have squared off twice in the postseason. The first meeting came in the 1965 Sugar Bowl (LSU, 13-10) and the second and last came in the 1989 Hall of Fame Bowl (Syracuse, 23-10).

And, while I’m here, Syracuse introduced some new uniforms this afternoon as well.  So, instead of wasting any additional space on uniform news, here they are. Enjoy:

Syracuse Unis

(Program photo credit: Allstate Sugar Bowl)

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SMU’s two-way threat, Kevin Pope, granted medical waiver

Central Florida v SMU

After going both ways for the latter portion of the 2013 season, Kevin Pope will get the opportunity for a repeat in 2014.

SMU announced in a press release that the running back/linebacker “has been granted a medical hardship waiver by the American Athletic Conference and will return to the field in 2014.”  Pope played in just one game in 2010 before an injury that originated in high school not only sidelined him for the remainder of that season but for all of 2011 as well.

That one game Pope played in 2010 came as a running back.  He was shifted to linebacker and played in 24 games at the position the past two seasons, including 11 starts in 2013.  The final two games of last season, however, Pope saw action as both a linebacker and running back, carrying the ball 11 times for 89 yards.  He also caught five passes for 61 yards out of the backfield.

Exiting spring practice this year, Pope was listed as the Mustangs’ No. 1 running back.

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Report: four-star 2013 DB bolts Buckeyes

Jayme Thompson

Kentucky was on the wrong end of a transfer earlier today, but the Wildcats could become the beneficiaries of another school’s loss at some point in the not-too-distant future.

While the school has yet to officially announce the move, defensive back Jayme Thompson is expected to transfer out of the Buckeyes football program.  No reason for the impending departure was given.

According to Rivals.com, Thompson will visit the UK spring game, which will be played Sat., April 26.  In addition to the Wildcats, Louisville, Penn State, Rutgers and West Virginia — Thompson verbally committed to WVU before flipping to OSU — are reportedly potential destinations as well.

The Toledo, OH, high schooler was a four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class, rated as the No. 29 safety in the country and the No. 11 player at any position in the state of Ohio.  He missed all of the 2013 season due to a broken ankle, but had participated in spring practice this year.

(Photo credit: Ohio State athletics)

UPDATED 2:46 p.m. ET: Tidying up a couple of loose ends, Ohio State has confirmed that Thompson has been granted a released from his scholarship.  Additionally, in a statement to Rivals.com, Thompson’s father acknowledged his son’s departure.

“We would like to thank The Ohio State University for the opportunities they have given my son, Jayme, and our family,” the statement from Deon Thompson began. “Jayme is leaving the program in good academic standing, and we look forward to the next chapter of Jayme’s education and football playing career.”

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Tweet leaves TCU as latest to see QB transfer

TCU Football Media Day head shots

Quarterbacks across the country are taking cabin fever to the extreme and fleeing their football homes in relatively large numbers this Wednesday afternoon.

The latest to be hit by attrition at the position is apparently TCU, with Tyler Matthews seeming to confirm via a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account that he has decided to pack up leave the Horned Frogs football program.  It should be noted, though, that the school has not yet addressed, at least publicly, Matthews’ status for the upcoming season and beyond.

It’s unknown why Matthews would decide to leave the program as the sophomore was engaged in a competitive spring battle with last year’s part-time starter, Trevone Boykin, for the starting job.

Despite Boykin’s struggles — when he was the starter — last season that led to the competition this spring, Matthews rarely saw the field in 2013 as a redshirt freshman and did not attempt a pass.  Prior to redshirting as a true freshman in 2012, Matthews was a four-star member of that year’s class and was the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the country.  He was the No. 1 prospect at any position in the state of Kansas that year, and heading back to his home state is certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

Interestingly, TCU is already a rumored landing spot for Matt Joeckel, who it was announced earlier today was transferring from Texas A&M.

(Tip O’ the Cap: frogsowar.com)

(Photo credit: TCU athletics)

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Losing USC QB battle won’t lead to Max Browne transfer

Max Browne AP

(Writer’s note: For now at least.)

Late last night, Steve Sarkisian did what’s long been expected and officially tapped the incumbent, Cody Kessler, as USC’s starting quarterback.

Because his prime competition for the job, Max Browne was a high-profile recruit — he was Rivals.com’s No. 1 quarterback in the Class of 2013 — who could be in for a second consecutive season of inactivity, the “T” word came front and center when it came to Browne’s future with the Trojans.  According to the player, however, that’s not an option for him — ever.

I’m staying put,” Browne said when asked about a potential transfer. “I’m here for good.”

Sarkisian attempted to soften the sting of losing the battle, telling the media “I think Max is going to be a star.”

That’s all well and good in the here and now, but the future doesn’t look very promising for Browne at USC, at least as far as seeing the playing field goes.  Including 2014, Kessler still has two years of eligibility remaining.  As a redshirt sophomore last season and tasked with the responsibility of replacing longtime starter Matt Barkley, Kessler performed exceptionally well as he completed just over 65 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns against just seven interceptions.

Another factor that could lead to an about-face from Browne?  Ricky Town, the top quarterback in the Class of 2014, verbally committed to play for the Trojans this past January and is expected to be a part of USC’s recruiting class next year.

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Another SEC QB transfer as Jalen Whitlow leaves Kentucky

Jalen Whitlow AP

‘Tis the season for quarterbacks fleeing SEC football programs en masse, apparently.

Shortly after Texas A&M confirmed that Matt Joeckel, a potential starter in 2014, was leaving the Aggies, Kentucky announced that Jalen Whitlow, a bonafide starter in 2013, has decided to do the same when it comes to the Wildcats.  Whitlow started 15 games the past two seasons, including eight in 2013, and entered spring practice, at least as far as the media and the fans were concerned, as UK’s unquestioned starter under center.

However, at a press conference shortly after the surprising announcement of Whitlow’s impending departure, head coach Mark Stoops confirmed that the decision was made after the player was talked to about changing positions.  Specifically, the coaching staff asked Whitlow to move to wide receiver.  The quarterback declined, instead opting to move on elsewhere for his remaining two seasons of eligibility.

We respect Jalen and his decision as we want the best for him,” Stoops said in a statement released prior to his talk with the media. “I thank Jalen for his contributions to the team. I want everyone to understand how hard he has worked and the effort he has given since our staff has been here.”

The past two seasons, Whitlow has thrown for 1,831 yards and 10 touchdowns.  He also contributed nine touchdowns on the ground.

Coming out of high school in Prattville, Ala., Whitlow was rated as a three-star recruit and listed as an “athlete” by Rivals.com.

I appreciate the University of Kentucky and what the coaching staff and administration have done for me,” the player said in his statement. “I also thank the community and the fan support I have received here. I wish the coaches and my teammates the best of luck.”

With Whitlow no longer a part of the equation, UK’s group at the position will include the veteran but oft-injured Maxwell Smith; Patrick Towles and Drew Barker, four-star members of UK’s 2012 and 2014 recruiting classes, respectively; and redshirt freshman Reece Phillips.

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QB Matt Joeckel transferring from A&M

UTEP v Texas A&M

And then there were two.

What started as a three-man competition to replace Johnny Manziel has officially been whittled by one, with Texas A&M announcing Wednesday morning that Matt Joeckel has decided to transfer from the Aggies.  The school stated via Twitter that head coach Kevin Sumlinand A&M Football wish Matt Joeckel all the best next season, Joeckel graduated & will pursue his final season at another school.”

Matt is a great Aggie and he has decided to transfer,” Sumlin said in a statement subsequently released by the school. “We wish him all the best.”

As Joeckel has already graduated from A&M — earned a business degree last December — he’ll be permitted to play immediately at an FBS program in 2014 if that’s the path he chooses for his final year of collegiate eligibility.

Joeckel, the brother of former A&M All-American and 2013 No.2 overall NFL draft pick Luke Joeckel, served as Manziel’s primary backup in 2013 and entered spring practice with a significant edge in experience over his two competitors.  A three-star member of the Aggies’ 2010 recruiting class, Joeckel was the No. 29 pro-style quarterback in that class coming out of high school in Arlington, Tex.

“I  have loved my four and a half years at Texas A&M,” Joeckel said. “I am glad I had the opportunity to play for Coach Sumlin, Coach (Jake) Spavital and the rest of the coaches. I am proud to have my degree from the Mays Business School and I’ll always consider myself a member of the Aggie family.”

With Joeckel out of the mix, the onus for replacing Manziel falls squarely on the shoulders of Kenny Hill and/or Kyle Allen.

Hill showed flashes last season that lead some to believe he could, like Manziel two years ago, surprise observers as spring practice commenced.  Also like pre-Heisman Manziel, unfortunately, Hill has an off-field legal issue with which to deal.  Late last month, Hill was arrested and charged with public intoxication, resulting in an indefinite suspension from the football program.

Allen comes into the battle with the high-profile pedigree, a five-star member of the Aggies’ 2014 recruiting class rated as the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 7 player at any position.  An early enrollee who is participating in spring practice, Allen has been impressive in his own right.  Add in Joeckel’s transfer and Hill’s arrest, and Allen could be in position to take over the A&M offense as a true freshman in 2014.

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40th postseason game, Orlando’s Cure Bowl, officially announced

Cure Bowl Logo

Yippie!?!?

Following up on the reports from Tuesday, the American Athletic Conference and the Orlando Sports Foundation announced the creation of what’s being called the Cure Bowl.  The AAC will face a member of the Sun Belt Conference in December 2015 at the newly-renovated Citrus Bowl.

One of the few redeeming qualities for yet another game added to an already bloated postseason slate is that this one will have strong ties to charitable organizations working to find a cure for breast cancer.

We are pleased to partner with the Cure Bowl and commend the organizers for their dedication and commitment to such a worthy cause while also supporting youth organizations in Central Florida,” said AAC commissioner Mike Aresco in a statement. “By adding the Cure Bowl to our already strong bowl lineup, we continue to meet our goal of providing a competitive game and a desirable destination for our student-athletes, coaches and fans.”

Barring any contraction between now and then — highly unlikely, unfortunately — the Cure Bowl will bring the total number of FBS bowl games to a whopping 40.  In 1995, just 18 bowl games were played after that season.  Or, to put it into even more perspective, there’s this little historical nugget from al.com:

The number of bowl games increased from six to 11 between 1955 and 1975. Then they went from 11 to 18 from 1975 to 1995. During the 16-year Bowl Championship Series era, the amount of bowls increased from 20 to 35.

There were 35 bowls played in the 2013-2014 postseason cycle, with 79 teams reaching the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility.  There will be four additional bowl games added for the 2014 season, bringing the total to 39 the year prior to the Cure Bowl’s arrival.

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Prosecutor decries police handling of Winston rape probe

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Getty Images

William Meggs, the Florida state’s attorney charged with handling the investigation into the allegations of rape made against Jameis Winston last year, did not hide the fact that, in his opinion, the initial investigation was not handled properly by the Tallahassee Police Department.

In a New York Times “expose” published Wednesday morning, Meggs was on the offensive yet again.  Meggs assailed the TPD probe on multiple fronts, from failing to readily identify a witness — who also happened to be one of Winston’s teammates — to apparent nonchalance when it came to a crucial tip involving a taxi cab to its handling of Winston in the early stages of the investigation.

On the night in question, in December of 2012, Winston and at least two of his teammates, Chris Casher and Ronald Darby, were at a Tallahassee bar named Potbelly’s.  It was there that the three met up with the alleged victim, had a few drinks and then took off in a taxi with the woman.  At some point a few hours, a 911 call was made, alleging she was raped.

It was the investigation — or lack thereof — that has Meggs speaking out more than four months after his office decided against filing charges against Winston.  And, in somewhat of an unexpected turn, Meggs made his strongest comments to date on the case:

– On the TPD failing to find Casher, who allegedly videotaped a portion of the encounter, in a timely manner, possibly leading to the loss of key evidence:

In the recent interview, Mr. Meggs said he was surprised that the police had not quickly found Mr. Casher. “How long does it take to identify a freshman football player — about 10, 15, 16 seconds?” he asked, adding, “Anybody that looked at this case would say you get a report at 2 in the morning, by noon you could have had the defendant identified and talked to.”

Casher allegedly deleted the video “a couple of days” after Winston’s encounter with the alleged victim, well before he was ever contacted and interviewed by police.

– One of the three football players used an FSU ID to get a discounted fare for the taxi.  TPD investigators failed to find the driver of the cab, as well as failed to secure videotape from myriad security cameras positioned in and around the Tallahassee bar that could have shed some light on the incident:

“I am convinced that we would have identified the cabdriver that night and had an interview with him,” Mr. Meggs said. “Don’t know what we would have learned, but we would have learned the truth. I am also convinced that had it been done properly, we would have had the video from Potbelly’s.

By the time the prosecutor [Meggs] asked for that video, the tape had long since been recycled.

– The TPD’s initial encounter with Winston regarding the allegations came via the telephone, which allowed the player the opportunity to “lawyer up” before he could be questioned:

Mr. Meggs said he was shocked that the police investigator’s first attempt to contact Mr. Winston was by telephone. “He says, ‘I have baseball practice, I’ll get with you later,’” Mr. Meggs said. That call allowed Mr. Winston to hire a lawyer who told him not to talk.

“It’s insane to call a suspect on the phone,” Mr. Meggs said. “First off, you don’t know who you are talking to.” He said he would have gone straight to the baseball field. “If you walked up to Jameis Winston in the middle of baseball practice and said, ‘Come here, son, I need to talk to you,’ he would have said, ‘Yes, sir.’”

In summation, Meggs stated that the TPD “just missed all the basic stuff that you are supposed to do” during the course of an investigation of this type, although he stopped well short of accusing the department in general and the investigating officer specifically of willful misconduct because of Winston’s status as a Seminoles football player. Meggs was also quick to caution, as the Times wrote, that “a better investigation might have yielded the same result,” which was no charges being filed against Winston.

In mid-November, after reports of the probe had surfaced publicly, Meggs vowed that his office would get to the bottom of the allegations, a report of which had only recently been forwarded to him by the TPD — 11 months after the alleged rape and only after an open records request from news organizations seemingly forced the department’s hand.  Three weeks later in a press conference announcing no charges would be filed against Winston, Meggs said his investigation didn’t find enough evidence to prove that the sexual encounter between the player and the alleged victim was not consensual.

A short time later, the attorney for Winston’s accuser called for an investigation into the TPD’s handling of the case.  The feds have also reportedly gotten involved on the university side of the situation, with reports coming to light earlier this month that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

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Trojan Man: Cody Kessler named starting QB at USC

Cody Kessler

USC head coach Steve Sarkisian officially named Cody Kessler as the starting quarterback for the Trojans in 2014. The announcement was made via Twitter, although it is hardly a surprise.

The decision was probably not a hard one to make for the new USC head coach. Kessler played in all 14 games for USC last season (USC played a 13th regular season game at Hawaii, thus allowing them to play 14 games without playing in a conference championship game) and he led the Trojans with 2,967 passing yards and 20 touchdowns to just seven interceptions.

Kessler was the perceived favorite for the starting job this fall anyway (he appears on the cover of USC’s spring prospectus), but once Max Wittek left the program it seemed like just a matter of time before the decision became official. Kessler was going up against redshirt freshman Max Browne this spring and USC will add one of the top quarterback recruits in the Class of 2015 with Ricky Town, a five-star quarterback according to Rivals.

USC’s spring game will be played this Saturday, April 19.

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Report: Former Duke QB to visit Fresno State

Brandon Connette

Former Duke quarterback Brandon Connette is looking to move closer to his family back home for his final year of eligibility. Fresno State needs a starting quarterback. The two could be a match just waiting to seal the deal according to a report.

Connette will visit Fresno State next week and is expected to make a transfer official as soon as possible, according to Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com. Connette will be eligible to play right away this fall if he transfers because he is scheduled to graduate from Duke this spring. After scoring 27 touchdowns for the Blue Devils in a season that ended with an appearance in the ACC Football Championship Game and Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M, Connette is simply looking to get closer to home after his mother underwent surgery in December to remove a brain tumor.

As far as football is concerned, Connette could benefit from getting a chance to play in Fresno State’s system as well. He may not be the next Derek Carr, who leaves Fresno State having rewritten the record book during his collegiate career, but a chance to open things up in the passing game in Fresno State’s offense could help improve in the passing game.

Connette appeared in 13 games for the Duke Blue Devils in 2013. He completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 1,212 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was intercepted six times but also was a solid contributor on the ground with 337 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns. He could bring some of that to Fresno State as well. Fresno State has just five offensive starters returning in 2014. Connette would not be a complete plug for the Bulldogs, but he would be a solid addition to an offense looking to replace big players at key positions on offense.

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Louisville relaxes depth concerns with addition of safety James Sample

Bobby Petrino

Louisville is gearing up for the first season in program history as a member of the ACC. They will do so with a new face in the defensive backfield looking to lock down on opposing receivers. On Tuesday Louisville confirmed the addition of safety James Sample, previously of Washington.

Sample will come to Louisville and be eligible to play right away because he played at the junior college level in 2013. Sample played for Washington in 2011 and 2012 before leaving the program after two injury-riddled seasons. He was a four-star prospect when he was recruited by Steve Sarkisian at Washington, but things just never quite seemed to work out with the Huskies. At Louisville he hopes to be able to stay on the field and make an impact right away. New Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino is happy to have Sample aboard.

“James is an outstanding football player who will help us fill a void on our football team,” Petrino said in a statement released by the university. “He has outstanding size at the safety position and will add immediate depth to this position on our football team.”

Louisville had a need to get deeper at safety, and Sample should help with that need. The Cardinals lose Hakeem Smith to graduation and Calvin Pryor declared early for the 2014 NFL Draft. Smith holds the school record for career starts and Pryor started 32 games, so starting experience in the middle of the defensive backfield is raw for Louisville. The Cardinals have some other options to work with as well. Gerod Holliman is a potential starter with veteran experience behind him. Redshirt freshman Chucky Williams is also expected to be competing for a starting job this fall. The Cardinals lost Terrence Ross to a knee injury last fall, but he could work his way back into the mix as well if healthy.

Sample will have two years of eligibility remaining at Louisville.

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