James Willis reverses course, spurns FSU to stay at UL-L

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It’s not often that a coach at a non-Big Five Conference football program turns down an offer from one in a power FBS league.  Thursday, James Willis did just that.

Wednesday, Louisiana-Lafayette defensive coordinator informed his boss, Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Mark Hudspeth, along with his players that he was leaving to take the linebackers coach job at Florida State.  Willis was set to replace Charles Kelly, who was promoted to coordinator after Jeremy Pruitt left for the same job at Georgia.

After some soul-searching overnight and a morning conversation with Hudspeth, however, Willis did an about-face and decided to remain at UL-L.

In confirming that he was staying with the Ragin’ Cajuns, Willis, formerly an assistant at both Alabama and Auburn, issued as heartfelt of a statement as you’ll find in this kind of situation.

“My decision to leave the Ragin’ Cajuns program has weighed heavily on me since I announced my decision to the players last night. After some soul-searching over night, I spoke with coach Hudspeth earlier today about this, and he invited me to remain with the Cajuns.

“It was hard to tell that group of young men, who just 12 months earlier had welcomed me into the program, that I was leaving. I could see the disappointment in their eyes when we talked. We asked them to buy into the system that we were teaching and the result was a Sun Belt Conference title.

“After thinking about things further, I feel I owe the players more than just one season after they responded so well to our philosophy. Professionally, I believe it is in my best interest of my coaching career to remain a coordinator instead of stepping back to become a position coach.”

Very, very classy, coach.  And essentially unheard of as well.

2013 was Willis’ first season with the Ragin’ Cajuns, leading a UL-L defense that was third in the Sun Belt — up from eighth the year prior to his arrival — and played a significant role in the football program’s second SBC co-championship.

(Photo credit: Louisiana-Lafayette athletics)

Arizona State, Mississippi State ink home-and-home

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Arizona State and Mississippi State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series to be played in 2024-25. Arizona State will host the first game in Tempe on Sept. 7, 2024, and the clubs will meet in Starkville on Sept. 6, 2025.

The Sun Devils and Bulldogs have never met previously.

The Arizona State trip is not Mississippi State’s only upcoming trek from the Deep South to the Southwest. The Bulldogs also lined up a visit to Arizona in 2020 and Texas Tech in 2029. Mississippi State will open the 2024 season against Eastern Kentucky and visit Southern Miss the week after its Arizona State visit, on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs have no other games lined up in 2025 as of yet, according to FBSchedules.

Likewise, Mississippi State is not the Sun Devils’ lone upcoming SEC opponent. Arizona State has a home-and-home with LSU on the docket for 2026-28, per FBSchedules. The Mississippi State games complete both of the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedules for these respective seasons. Arizona State opens with Wyoming and visits Texas State in 2024, and hosts Northern Arizona and Texas State in 2025.

UCLA lands Texas Tech graduate transfer OL Justin Murphy

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Help is on the way for Chip Kelly‘s offensive line. One graduate transfer offensive lineman has the Bruins on his list, but another has already pulled the trigger for UCLA.

Texas Tech graduate transfer Justin Murphy on Tuesday committed to UCLA in a post on his Twitter account.

A native of Belton, Texas, Murphy signed with Texas Tech in 2014 and made four starts at right guard as a redshirt freshman. He again started four games at right guard in ’15 before moving out to tackle, where he started another four games. But after battling a series of knee injuries, Murphy announced in the middle of the 2016 season he had medically retired from the game.

After sitting out 2017, Murphy announced in March he planned to make a comeback.

UCLA remarkably started the same offensive linemen in all 13 games last season, but tackle Kolton Miller entered the NFL draft, guard Najoee Toran and center Scott Quessenberry graduated.

Toledo posts, then deletes, tweet offering to change mascot to Shrek

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There are plenty of annoying trends on Twitter, but perhaps the worst is the “I’ll do X if this gets retweeted X-thousand amount of times.” I blame Wendy’s.

But blanket policies are never a good way to go through life, and an exception was made on Tuesday when Toledo offered to change its mascot from a rocket to Shrek with 500,000 retweets.

Sadly, some dreams are simply too beautiful to live in this fallen world, and the tweet was outed to be a hoax. “We are definitely not changing the school mascot to Shrek,” Toledo media relations specialist Christine Billau told USA Today. “The tweet was meant to be fun, but it caused too much of a distraction.”

Meanwhile, Bowling Green gleefully hopped on the dog pile with both elbows pointed out.

UMass grad transfer lineman narrows choices to Auburn, UCLA, USC

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It’s not yet known to where Jack Driscoll will transfer, but the field has been significantly narrowed.

Earlier this offseason, Driscoll decided to transfer from UMass.  Tuesday, the offensive tackle confirmed to Rivals.com that he’s down to three schools as a potential landing spot — Auburn, UCLA and USC.

Neither football program will have to wait long for a decision as Driscoll expects to make an announcement Wednesday.  Driscoll had taken an official visit to all three of the campuses prior to whittling down his transfer to-do list.

“It will come down to one of those three schools,” the lineman told AuburnSports.com. “I feel like all three of the schools would be a good fit.”

Driscoll will graduate from UMass early next month, and will be eligible to play immediately in 2018 at whichever program he selects.  The upcoming season will be the first of two years of eligibility the 6-5, 294-pound lineman has remaining.

After starting eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, with most of those starts coming at left guard, he started all 12 games in 2017.  All of those starts this past season came at right tackle for the football-independent Minutemen. He was named to Phil Steele’s All-Independent first team while he earned second-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors for good measure.