Jay Ajayi

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Boise State

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West (2nd in Mountain division/tied 3rd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl vs. Oregon State Beavers  (38-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Bryan Harsin (7-5 overall; first season at Boise State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sanford (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 33rd rushing offense (198.3 ypg); 27th passing offense (277.7 ypg); 20th total offense (476 ypg); 19th scoring offense (37.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Marcel Yates (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (164.2 ypg); 88th passing defense (249.2 ypg);  75th total defense (413.4 ypg); 50th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Boise, Idaho
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
The Broncos’ skill positions are talented and athletic. Quarterback Grant Hedrick returns at the team’s starting quarterback. Hedrick played in all 13 games last year and threw 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Hedrick is rejoined in the backfield by running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished second in the Mountain West Conference last year with 1,425 rushing yards. And the team’s top two receivers from last season, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, are also back. Miller finished last year strong with 540 receiving yards in the final four games, including a 206-yard effort against the Oregon State Beavers in the Hawai’i Bowl. The Broncos had to reshuffle their offensive line in the off season, but if they can keep Hendrick upright the Broncos will be able to score plenty of points.

THE BAD
During Chris Petersen’s eight-year tenure as head coach, last season’s defense was by far the worst unit statistically. On top of that, the unit lost a dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence to the NFL. And key pieces such as Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, Kharyee Marshall and Tyler Gray left after exhausting their eligibility. Last year’s group had to grow after returning four starters from the 2012 campaign. The silver lining to last year’s defensive struggles is this year’s unit is far more experienced entering the season. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has eight returning starters. Yates returns to Boise State after a two-year stint as Texas A&M’s co-defensive coordinator. The Aggies finished 109th in total defense last season.

THE UNKNOWN
Boise State has a new football coach for the first time since 2006. Now that Petersen finally accepted one of the rumored jobs he was so often linked to — in this case, the Unversity of Washington — the school turned toward one of its prodigal sons, Bryan Harsin. Harsin, a graduate of Boise State, served on the Broncos’ staff from 2001-10 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at the University Texas. Harsin used Texas as a stepping stone to get his first head coaching gig at Arkansas State. Harsin spent one year leading the Red Wolves, and the team finished 7-5. Harsin is a young coach that hasn’t had much time to establish himself or an identity, and Boise State took a chance in hiring him. If Harsin blossoms like Petersen did when given the opportunity, the Broncos will continue to be successful. Otherwise, a step back will take the program out of the national spotlight.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ole Miss, Aug. 28
The Broncos built their reputation over the past decade by stepping up big in spotlight games. For most teams, the first game of the season usually isn’t considered a “must win” contest. Most teams aren’t in the Broncos’ situation. For the Broncos to return to national prominence, they’ll need to prove they can beat a talented SEC squad during a national televised game to start the season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Jay Ajayi
It’s been five years since a running back won the Heisman Trophy, and only two workhorses have been handed the hardware since the turn of the century. In a sport that is consistently more about spreading defenses and throwing the football, elite running backs tend to get overlooked. Ajayi, however, is a dark horse candidate to win the award due to a nose for the end zone and punishing running style. The 216-pound back is the nation’s fifth-leading returning rusher with 1,425 yards in 2013. Ajayi is also tied for first among returning backs with 18 rushing touchdowns. Boise State has multiple games slotted in prime time. If Ajayi shines in the spotlight and the Broncos make another run toward a major bowl appearance, Ajayi could work his way into legitimate Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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.

Mark Richt continues to be the classiest of acts in college football

Mark Richt gestures after being introduced as the new University of Miami NCAA college football head coach, Friday, Dec. 4, 2015,  in Coral Gables, Fla.  (AP Photo/Luis M. Alvarez)
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In my seven-plus years at CFT, I’ve never been shy in expressing my absolute and utter respect for Mark Richt, whether it was for an honorable against-the-grain stance on transfers or honoring a high school football player who tragically drowned before he could become a walk-on at Georgia or myriad other things.  Sunday, Richt solidified that respect.

As you may know, Richt and UGA parted ways this offseason, with the head coach ultimately moving on to Miami to take over his alma mater’s football program.  As expected, his departure from Athens was classy.

Just as expected, one of Richt’s returns to his old stomping grounds further showed his class.

Not to be outdone, Richt’s replacement showed his class as well.

Bravo to both head coaches.  Sometimes, most times, being classy is the absolute right move — even as Richt’s successor could take some lessons from his predecessor when it comes to transfers.

Ohio State draftees to sign contracts worth in excess of $110 million

Urban Meyer
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Forget about going shirtless at a satellite camp or a sleepover or climbing up a tree or any of the like; this is what you call a recruiting pitch.

During the course of the three-day NFL draft, a dozen former Ohio State Buckeyes were drafted.  While OSU failed to break its own record for most picks in a single draft, the 12 selections in the first four rounds were the most ever.

And, not surprisingly, those players are going to get paid.

According to PennLive.com‘s David Jones, those players will sign contracts that could be worth a total of $120 million.  Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch has the number pegged slightly lower at $111,462,707.  Either way, that’s a lot of cash — and a lot dollar signs for Urban Meyer to flout in front of potential recruits.

Of course, not all of that money is guaranteed, although the guaranteed dollars involved aren’t too shabby either.  From the Dispatch:

Just the signing bonuses alone, which range from Bosa’s projected $17,017,226 to Jones’ $383,393, have an expected total of $60,526,660. Unless a player does something to cause his contract to be voided, signing bonuses are theirs to keep.

Regardless of how you spin it, former Buckeyes did quite well financially the last couple of days.  And, as Jones alludes to when it comes to James Franklin and Penn State specifically and the Big Ten in general, Meyer and the Buckeyes are in an entirely different zip code than the rest of the conference — a fact that will no doubt come up on the vast expanses of the recruiting trail.

The good news for Franklin and Penn State: They had three of those 11. The bad news for them and everyone else in the league: Urban Meyer is probably preparing a recruiting flyer right now with a 9-figure dollar amount printed in big bold numbers.

Veteran NFL assistant reportedly to fill Alabama’s coaching vacancy

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Buffalo Bills
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On the same day some details emerged on an Alabama assistant’s “resignation,” that assistant’s potential replacement has been identified.

Citing unnamed sources, al.com is reporting that Karl Dunbar is expected to be hired as the Tide’s new defensive line coach.  Dunbar would replace Bo Davis, who “resigned” Friday amidst allegations of potential NCAA violations.

Dunbar served as Nick Saban‘s strength & conditioning coach at LSU from 2001-02, and then returned to Baton Rouge as Les Miles‘ line coach in 2005 after spending two years (2003-04) in the same position at Oklahoma State.

Most of Dunbar’s coaching career, though, especially recently, has come at the NFL level.

From 2006-11, Dunbar was the line coach for the Minnesota Vikings, and then held the same job with the New York Jets from 2012-2014.  Hired by Rex Ryan to coach the Buffalo Bills’ line in 2015, Dunbar was fired in March of this year.

Dunbar is a former NFL defensive lineman who played for Arizona in 1994-95, when Ryan was one of his Cardinals assistant.