Jerry Kill

Jerry Kill’s return to sideline sparks Gophers but Syracuse pulls out Texas Bowl win

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Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill returned to the sideline for the first time since September 28 and gave the Gophers an emotional boost, but Syracuse quarterback Terrell Hunt delivered the heroics with a late touchdown run up the middle with 1:14 to play. Hunt’s touchdown late in the fourth quarter gave Syracuse a 20-17 lead after being set up by a great punt return and the defense held on for the Teas Bowl victory by the same score.

Hunt passed for 188 yards and led the Orange with 74 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns. Hunt’s second touchdown run of the game came on a third and long inside the red zone and took advantage of a Minnesota defense that was selling out on the pass and sucked in to coverage, leaving the middle of he field wide open. Advantage, Hunt.

Minnesota scored two touchdowns in the first three minutes of the fourth quarter, both off the arm of quarterback Mitch Leidner, to turn a 14-3 deficit in to a 17-14 lead. Leidner’s first touchdown pass was a 20-yard pass to Maxx Williams and the second was a 55-yard strike down field to Drew Wolitarsky.

Syracuse had a chance to tie the game at 17-17 late in the fourth quarter, but a 44-yard field goal attempt by Riley Dixon sailed wide right. Minnesota’s ground game took over from there to run some clock, but Syracuse got one more chance and a great punt return by Brisly Estime put the Orange inside the red zone with time no longer a concern. Punter Peter Mortell did not get a great punt off his foot, but he did make what appeared to be a game-saving tackle. Minnesota’s defense came through with a defensive stand with their backs against the wall, but they could not keep Hunt from finding room right up the middle of the field as he ran in to the end zone for the late 20-17 lead.

Minnesota’s bowl losing streak extends to six games, with the last win coming in the 2004 Music City Bowl. Syracuse picked up their third straight bowl win over a four-year span. Syracuse had won two Pinstripe Bowls and joins ACC newcomer Pittsburgh by winning bowl game sin their first year in the ACC.

Despite the loss, Minnesota caps the most successful season under Kill by once again showing signs of improvement and a preview of things to come in 2014. The Gophers may not be a top Big Ten contender in 2014 but they will certainly not be a team that will be a pushover as they have been over the years for various programs. Next season the Gophers have a challenging Big Ten schedule with road games at Ohio State, Nebraska and Wisconsin in addition to a home game against Michigan. Minnesota also returns to Texas for a road game against TCU in mid-September and they open at home against one of the top FCS programs this season, Eastern Illinois.

Syracuse will have some challenges coming their way in 2014 as well. The Orange will host Louisville and Florida State and Duke at home in ACC play and Syracuse travels to Clemson and Pittsburgh. In non-conference action Syracuse will play Notre Dame in MetLife Stadium and will host Maryland, who moves from the ACC to the Big Ten in 2014.

San Jose State QB Malik Watson latest to take grad transfer route

SAN JOSE, CA - NOVEMBER 29:  The San Jose State Spartans marching band plays their fight song against the Fresno State Bulldogs in the second quarter on November 29, 2013 at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, California.  The Spartans won 62-52.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a college football player has decided to ply his final season of college football wares elsewhere.

The latest to take that tack is Malik Watson, who announced via Twitter that he has “decided that I will not be returning to San Jose State for my senior and will be seeking elsewhere to pursue my dream.”  As Watson will graduate from SJSU this May, he will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if he lands at another FBS school and enrolls in a grad program not offered at his former school.

Watson added that, as he awaits a new destination, he “will continue to train with my private QB coach in this meantime.”

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A California high school product who was born in Hawaii, Watson transferred from the junior college ranks to SJSU in 2014. After redshirting that first year, the 6-3, 208-pound Watson played in two games as the No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart.

In that time, Watson completed 9-of-15 passes for 59 yards and an interception. Of the 15 attempts, 14 came in the Week 3 loss to Oregon State.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.

Hip issue forces Mizzou RB Morgan Steward to retire

Morgan Steward
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Thomas Tyner isn’t the only Power Five running back forced to step away from the sport because of injury.

Back in November of 2014, Morgan Steward sustained a hip injury during the early portion of Missouri’s summer camp.  Specifically, the running back said at the time, “[m]y hip joint popped out of place, tore things around, pulled off some of the bone.”

Surgery that November sidelined him until camp the following year, but Steward managed to play the first three games of the 2015 season. Unfortunately, the back was shut down in late September for the remainder of the year; five months later, he’s being shut down permanently as Mizzou officials have confirmed that Steward will be forced to retire from the sport and end the playing portion of his football career.

A three-star member of the Tigers’ 2012 recruiting class, Steward ran for 84 yards and a touchdown as a redshirt freshman. Prior to the hip injury the following year, Steward was viewed as a back who could potentially shoulder a significant portion of the running-game load, rushing for 117 yards and three touchdowns in a scrimmage during spring practice in 2014. Post-injury, he ran for 18 yards in the three 2015 games.

The good news for Steward is that he has his degree from Mizzou in business communications.

Ole Miss QB Ryan Buchanan opts to quit football

FAYETTEVILLE, AR - NOVEMBER 22:  Ryan Buchanan #9 of the Ole Miss Rebels throws a pass in the fourth quarter of a game against the Arkansas Razorbacks at Razorback Stadium on November 22, 2014 in Fayetteville, Arkansas.  The Razorbacks defeated the Rebels 30-0.  (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
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Ole Miss had already lost one quarterback to a transfer the past couple of months.  Now, the Rebels are losing another via different means but essentially for the same reason.

In an interview with Scout.com, Ryan Buchanan confirmed that not only is he leaving the Ole Miss football team, but he’s leaving the sport, period.  Buchanan’s decision to step away from the game is actually the culmination of a process that began midway through a 2015 season that would see the Rebels win 10 games and a Sugar Bowl title.

“I came to the conclusion a few months ago that football would not be my future and it was time to start applying myself 100% to my future,” he said. “It’s time for me to find my passion beyond football.”

Buchanan, who said he briefly flirted with transferring to another school, informed head coach Hugh Freeze and his position coach, Dan Werner, of his decision a couple of weeks ago.

If Buchanan had decided to return to Oxford, he would’ve been no better than third on the depth chart. All-SEC quarterback Chad Kelly is firmly entrenched as the starter, while five-star 2015 signee and future at the position Shea Patterson is poised to be Kelly’s backup for a season before taking over the reins in 2017. There’s also no guarantee that the sophomore could beat out redshirt freshman Jason Pellerin for the No. 3 spot.

A four-star member of the Rebels’ 2013 recruiting class, Buchanan was rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Mississippi.  After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Buchanan attempted 22 passes and served as Ole Miss’ holder on kick attempts in 2014.  This past season, he attempted 13 passes, two of which went for touchdowns.

In early December, DeVante Kincade, a three-star recruit in Buchanan’s class, announced his decision to transfer from the Rebels.