Bob Diaco

Analyzing Bob Diaco and the uphill climb at UConn

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Kevin Ollie succeeded in pulling off an improbable run to a national championship last night for UConn basketball, but on the gridiron Bob Diaco has a much steeper climb just to get the Huskies back to respectability.

Diaco, who took over the program in December after spending the last four seasons as Notre Dame’s defensive coordinator, is tasked with the challenge of getting a team that floundered to a 13-23 record after longtime coach Randy Edsall left for Maryland. UConn football is still in its relative infancy, only being revived at the Division I level in 2000.

But Edsall showed winning in Storrs isn’t impossible — from 2007-2010, UConn won 33 games and made an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl — though it certainly is difficult. Connecticut and the Northeast aren’t fertile recruiting grounds, and that shows in UConn’s recruiting class rankings in the Rivals era:

2002: No. 104
2003: 88
2004: 99
2005: 80
2006: 86
2007: 65
2008: 71
2009: 76
2010: 84
2011: 102
2012: 78
2013: 65
2014: 117
Average ranking: 85.77

In 2014, the state of Connecticut produced just two three-star recruits (who didn’t sign with UConn). Massachusetts offers some more fertile recruiting territory, though Diaco will have to pry the state’s top players away from Boston College (which signed six of Massachusetts’ top 10 players in 2014).

But Diaco does have good recruiting connections in the Northeast and is a native of the talent-rich state of New Jersey. While at Notre Dame, Diaco signed a number of highly-recruited players from the area he’ll have to hit hard at UConn:

New Jersey: ATH Rashad Kinlaw (3 stars), S Elijah Shumate (4 stars), WR Bennett Jackson (3 stars)
New York: DL Jarron Jones (4 stars), DE Ishaq Williams (5 stars)
Massachusetts: OL John Montelus (4 stars)

Not all these guys panned out — Kinlaw, for one, was just kicked off Notre Dame’s football team last week — but Jackson was a two-year starter and senior captain as a cornerback, while Jones and Williams are likely starters on this year’s Irish squad.

Notre Dame, of course, is an easier sell to recruits that UConn. But plenty of Irish players loved playing for Diaco, raving about his energy on the practice field and enthusiasm for player development.

It’ll take a few years to find out if Chef Diaco’s cake at UConn tastes good (seriously, he loves that cake analogy). But if he can start pulling talent from the areas he did while at Notre Dame, he’ll at least give his proud basketball school some hope on the football field.

Baylor signee Kam Martin commits to Auburn over TCU

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 06:  Fans of the Auburn Tigers cheer play against the Chattanooga Mocs November 6, 2010 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
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Another former Baylor Bear has found himself a landing spot, although this time it’s not rival Texas that’s the beneficiary.

On Twitter overnight, Kam Martin announced that he has committed to play his college football for the Auburn Tigers. The running back’s decision came shortly after the Texas native took a visit to The Plains.

Martin opted for Auburn over TCU.

“The main reason I committed to Auburn was because it’s family, man,” Martin told SEC Country in an interview after announcing his decision. “Those guys did everything that I wanted to hear and everything speaks for itself. It’s the SEC, one of the biggest fan bases in the nation and I just want to be a part of something big and special.”

Martin was one of five 2016 Baylor signees who were granted releases by the university from their National Letters of Intent last week.  A four-star 2016 signee according to 247Sports.com, the 5-10, 178-pound Johnson was rated as the No. 7 all-purpose back in the country; the No. 39 player at any position in the state of Texas; and the No. 268 player overall on that recruiting website’s composite board.

As is the case with other 2016 Bears signees who have fled Waco, Johnson will be eligible to play immediately in 2016.

Penn State, Auburn agree to home-and-home series in 2021, 2022

ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 1:  Quarterback Zack Mills #7 of the Pennsylvania State University Lions runs with the ball while defended by defensive tackle Spencer Johnson #53 of the Auburn University Tigers during the Capital One Bowl at Florida Citrus Bowl Stadium on January 1, 2003 in Orlando, Florida.  Auburn defeated Penn State 13-9.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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In Auburn’s 113-year history, it’s never played a Big Ten opponent in a regular season game. That’ll change in five years.

Penn State and Auburn announced Monday morning a home-and-home series to take place in 2021 and 2022. The first game will be played in State College on Sept. 18, 2021 and the return will take place at Jordan-Hare Stadium on Sept. 17, 2022.

“This is another great opportunity for our players and fans to be part of something special,” Auburn Director of Athletics Jay Jacobs said. “Bringing together elite programs rich in tradition is what college football is all about. We look forward to this home-and-home series with Penn State.”

Making matters betters is the home-and-home nature of this series, instead of playing it as a neutral site one-off to begin a season. Those games are fun (and, far more importantly, generate a ton of revenue) but having Penn State travel to Alabama and Tigers fans going to State College is a far better experience for traveling fanbases.

Auburn and Penn State have met twice before in bowl games, with the most recent meeting a 13-9 Tigers win in the 2003 Capital One Bowl.

Penn State also added a 2021 home game against Ball State on Monday, per ESPN’s Brett McMurphy.

Notre Dame WR Torii Hunter will still play football after signing with Los Angeles Angels

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 31: Torii Hunter Jr. #16 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass and is tackled by Avery Williams #2 of the Temple Owls on October 31, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Temple Owls 24-20. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame rising redshirt junior wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr.‘s status with Brian Kelly’s football team won’t change after he signed with the Los Angeles Angels over the weekend.

Hunter is Notre Dame’s leading returning receiver after catching 28 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns last year. But even though he now has a professional baseball contract, his focus will remain on football and the beginning of preseason camp in August.

Hunter, the son of former Minnesota Twins, Angels and Detroit Tigers All-Star/Gold Glover Torii Hunter Sr., was a 23rd-round pick in this year’s MLB Draft.

Thankful that they were there to experience this with me yesterday! I’m officially an Angel!✊🏾👼🏾

A photo posted by Torii Hunter Jr. (@thunterjr_) on Jun 26, 2016 at 4:27pm PDT

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Hunter, an outfielder, was primarily used as a pinch runner and defensive replacement for Mik Aoki’s Irish baseball team this spring. He worked a crazy schedule (“what is sleep?” he asked) to split time between baseball, spring football and classwork in March and April and hit .182/.308/.182 in 11 at-bats.

Hunter’s baseball highlight came at Florida State, though, a few days after he made a spectacular catch reeling in a Malik Zaire deep ball in Notre Dame’s Blue and Gold Game.

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Justin Thomas-Thornton tweets decision to transfer from Auburn

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 22: Auburn Tigers mascot Aubie greets fans during Auburn's Tiger Walk prior to their game against the Samford Bulldogs on November 22, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
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Auburn could be the beneficiary of an offensive transfer in the not-too-distant future, but the football program has apparently sustained a loss on the other side of the ball.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account Sunday, Justin Thomas-Thornton revealed that he will be “pursuing my collegiate football and academic endeavors elsewhere.”  The defensive lineman gave no reason for his decision to leave The Plains.

Thomas-Thornton, a four-star 2014 signee, played in the 2015 opener against Louisville, but didn’t see any other action the remainder of the year.

If Thomas-Thornton opts for another FBS program, he will be forced to sit out the 2016 season. He’d then be left with two seasons of eligibility that he’d be able to use beginning in 2017.