Jim Mora

USC and UCLA face off in battle for Los Angeles

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It’s been quite a while since USC and UCLA both fielded quality football teams for their annual crosstown showdown.

The last time this classic rivalry featured both teams with at least eight wins was back in 2005, when USC was 11-0 and the Bruins were 9-1.

The stakes aren’t quite as high this time, but Saturday’s game between No. 22 UCLA (8-3) and No. 23 USC (9-3) at the Coliseum promises to be a good one.

The Trojans are one of the hottest teams in the Pac-12 thanks to a five-game win streak that includes a huge upset of then-No. 5 Stanford. Ed Orgeron is 6-1 as USC’s head coach since taking over for the fired Lane Kiffin and could make a great case to be elevated to permanent coach with a win over the Bruins.

UCLA has lost to three teams ranked in the top 13 and missed out on a chance to win its third-straight Pac-12 South title when it lost to ASU last week. But the Bruins can notch their second-straight nine-win season by beating the Trojans. It could also beat USC in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1997-1998.

The outcome of this game will effect the battle for recruiting supremacy in the Los Angeles area. The two schools consistently duke it out for top talent in the region and USC has been dominant in this regard for the better part of the last decade. But UCLA head coach Jim Mora Jr. has turned things around in Westwood and he can continue to make inroads by beating the Trojans.

For UCLA to win, it will need a big game from sophomore quarterback Brett Hundley, who has passed for 2,637 yards and 22 touchdowns to go with 507 rushing yards and seven scores. He’s got several weapons to throw to and a talented back to hand off to in Myles Jack, but the Bruins won’t be able to do much without a quality effort from a very young offensive line. USC’s front seven is as good as there is in the conference, so if Hundley is running for his life, then things won’t end well for the Bruins.

USC also needs a good game from its quarterback, sophomore Cody Kessler. His improvement has mirrored that of his team’s and he has 2,449 yards and 15 touchdown passes so far. Tailback Javorious Allen has been on fire of late, rushing for 439 yards and nine touchdowns in the past four games. UCLA’s brilliant linebacker corps will be key in stopping the USC offensive game plan, which relies on a physical ground game and a short passing attack.

The Trojans were left for dead earlier this season but could wind up with 10 wins despite a coaching change, NCAA sanctions and a ton of injuries. UCLA is still hoping for its first 10-win season since 2005, but will need to beat USC to get there.

Above all, the city is at stake, as well as bragging rights for the year to come.

Mark Dantonio ‘disappointed’ watching Connor Cook’s draft free fall

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans look on during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Spartan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Maryland 24-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Every year a player falls unexpectedly in the draft, and this year’s poster boy, aside from Laremy Tunsil‘s gas mask bong and Confederate flag imbroglio, on that front was Connor Cook.

The former Michigan State quarterback was thought by some to have a chance at landing toward the end of the first round, with most seeing him scooped up before the end of the second round. Instead, Cook watched as 99 other players, including six fellow quarterbacks, were selected before hearing his name called by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round.

It was a mighty tumble for a prospect whose biggest flaw, according to draftniks, was leadership — he famously wasn’t elected as a captain of the Spartans in the preseason, which some considered quite revealing, and damning, for a three-year starter at quarterback.

As hard as it was on Cook, it was just as hard on his former head coach. After watching Cook lead his Spartans to a 34-5 record as a starter the last three years, Mark Dantonio found it difficult to digest his former player’s free fall.

“I was probably living through the entire thing, as well, watched the entire draft,” Dantonio said by way of mlive.com. “I was disappointed. I think that Connor is an excellent football player. He’s done a tremendous job for us here and for his football team, and a lot of that success that we’ve had can be credited to his play and his leadership on our football team. …

“I think it did wear on him as time went on, but he tried to continue to stay above it. I remember when Kirk Cousins was drafted and he was really disappointed in the fact that he had gone in the fourth round and they had drafted a guy in the second round and the first round, and what did that do for his future.”

Speaking of Cousins, the Washington Redskins quarterback who supplanted former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as the starter, he offered up some encouragement to his fellow Spartan.

Four Auburn Tigers arrested for pot possession

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 28:  Richard Mullaney #16 of the Alabama Crimson Tide fails to pull in this reception against Carlton Davis #18 of the Auburn Tigers at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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With another weekend in the books, it’s time to, once again, reset ye olde arrest ticker.

The latest football program to send the tracker back to double zeroes is Auburn, with the Opelika-Auburn News reporting that four Tigers football players, defensive end Byron Cowart, defensive back Carlton Davis, wide receiver Ryan Davis and defensive back Jeremiah Dinson, were arrested by the Auburn police department late Saturday night.  According to the News, all four were arrested on a single charge each of second-degree possession of marijuana.

The papers write that “[s]econd degree marijuana possession is listed under Alabama Code – Section 13A-12-214 as a person who commits the crime if said person possesses marijuana for personal use only.”

Head coach Gus Malzahn told the News that he is “aware of the situation and we will handle this matter appropriately.”

The defensive back Davis is the most noteworthy of the pot-smoking foursome.  As a true freshman in 2015, he started at corner for the Tigers and led all SEC freshmen with three interceptions.  He was named to the SEC All-Freshman team at the end of the season.

Cowart, a five-star 2015 signee, played in all 13 games as a true freshman, while Dinson played in nine games in his first season with the Tigers.  The receiver Davis, also a true freshman, didn’t have a reception in 2015 but ran the ball twice for 20 yards.  Davis’ first college carry went for 28 yards.

ESPN tabs seven Big Ten games for primetime kickoffs

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 05:  A view of the logo during ESPN The Party on February 5, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for ESPN)
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Mark your calendars, because these are only five months away! (/sobs)

ESPN on Monday announced seven Big Ten games that’ll kick off in primetime, either on ABC, ESPN or ESPN2, this upcoming season. Not surprisingly, six of the seven feature either Ohio State or Michigan. The list:

Oct. 8: Michigan at Rutgers (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 15: Ohio State at Wisconsin (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 22: Ohio State at Penn State (8 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Northwestern at Ohio State (5:30 p.m. ET)
Oct. 29: Nebraska at Wisconsin (7 p.m. ET)
Nov. 5: Nebraska at Ohio State (8 p.m. ET)
Nov. 12: Michigan at Iowa (7 p.m. or 8 p.m. ET)

Noticeably absent from this list is Michigan State, though the Big Ten has a deal with Fox, too, meaning the Spartans will almost certainly play in primetime at some point this season. Plus, Ohio State and Michigan equal ratings, no matter how good either team is (and both are expected to be pretty good this season, of course).

 

ECU transfer QB Kurt Benkert moves on to Virginia

In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2015 East Carolina quarterback Kurt Benkert rolls out to pass during NCAA college football practice in Greenville, N.C. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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On April 25, East Carolina announced that Kurt Benkert had decided to transfer out of the Pirates football program.  Less than a week later, the quarterback has found himself a new football home.

On Twitter Sunday afternoon, Benkert confirmed that he will be enrolling at Virginia and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Cavaliers.  Beckert also acknowledged his decision in a text message to 247Sports.com.

“I’m really excited to be here,” Beckert said in a portion of the brief text.

As Beckert is headed to UVa. as a graduate transfer, he will be eligible to play for the Hoos immediately in 2016.  Not only that, but he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

Beckert was named the Pirates’ starter in early August of 2015, but sustained a right knee injury a couple of weeks later that knocked him out for the entire season.  In Charlottesville, Beckert will join a competition that includes returning starter Matt Johns and Texas/Arizona transfer Connor Brewer.