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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Heisman Watch List

Heisman Trophy

And now we come to one of the most fruitless and frustrating portions of preview season: the preseason Heisman watch list.

Last year around this time, Johnny Manziel, fresh off becoming the first freshman to ever claim the Heisman, was being viewed as the co-favorite to become just the second-ever to stake his claim to a pair of stiff-armed trophies. AJ McCarron, still basking in the glow of becoming the first starting quarterback with back-to-back BCS title-game wins, was viewed as a potential challenger to Johnny Football. So too were Braxton Miller, Jadeveon Clowney, Teddy Bridgewater and a whole host of other players.

And then, of course, Jameis Winston happened. A 35-1 longshot last August, Winston went on to claim the 2013 Heisman in near-record fashion, joining Manziel as the only freshmen to win the award.

Winston, as you can expect, will be the favorite heading into the 2014 season. Is there, though, another Jameis out there this year? Let’s take a snapshot look at the reigning winner as well as 20 players, in alphabetical order so as not to (gasp!) offend anyone, who could snatch the trophy from the preseason front-runner.

JAMEIS WINSTON, FLORIDA STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 257-of-384 passing (66.9%) for 4,057 yards, 40 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 88 carries for 219 yards (2.8 yards per carry) and four touchdowns
QUICK HIT: There’s really not much to say here that hasn’t already been said.  Winston was the best player in college football last season, and also happened to play on the best team for good measure.  He’s lost a couple of weapons, but twice as many returned to go along with the obligatory growth of some of the younger skill players who should see their roles expand in 2014.  Also remember that Winston was in his first year as a starter; if his skill-set makes even a nominal jump, look out Archie Griffin… especially if he can avoid the negative off-field headlines.

AMEER ABDULLAH, NEBRASKA, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 281 carries for 1,690 yards (6.0 ypc) and nine touchdowns; 26 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Unbeknownst to quite a number of people I’d suspect, Abdullah, not Melvin Gordon (see below) or anyone else, led the Big Ten in rushing last season.  As you can see by his receiving numbers, he’s quite adept at coming out of the backfield as well.  If you’re looking for a Heisman darkhorse, you could do worse than focusing on Abdullah as he will be the focal point of the Cornhuskers’ offense yet again..

RAKEEM CATO, MARSHALL, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 298-of-499 passing (59.7 %) for 3,916 yards, 39 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 99 carries for 294 yards (3.0 ypc) and six touchdowns
QUICK HIT: The first of two players on this list from non-Power Five conferences, and the one who has the best chance of crashing the December New York City Heisman party as a finalist.  The 2013 stats speak for themselves, and should do nothing but improve in 2014.  What separates Cato from the rest of the “have-not” pack is his team: there’s a very good chance that Cato and the Herd roll through the regular season unbeaten, and do so very, very easily.  Will the fact that exactly zero of the 12 opponents come from Power Five conferences impact Cato’s chances?  Possibly, but if the quarterback jabs voters in the face with a left-right combo of stats and team success, they won’t have a choice but to pay attention.

MIKE DAVIS, SOUTH CAROLINA, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 203 carries for 1,183 yards (5.8 ypc) and 11 touchdowns; 34 receptions for 352 yards
QUICK HIT: One of the most underrated players in the country at any position, Davis will get the opportunity, especially early on, to carry more of the offensive workload as Dylan Thompson establishes his footing as the full-time starter for the first time.  As with Abdullah, his work in the passing game is an overlooked facet that provides an extra dimension for his offense — and another consideration for voters.

MELVIN GORDON, WISCONSIN, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 206 carries for 1,609 yards (7.8 ypc) and 12 touchdowns; one reception for 10 yards
QUICK HIT: Gordon may not have led his conference in rushing as mentioned earlier, but he did lead the country in yards per carry for those backs with at least 200 carries.  In fact, he was one of just two running backs in the country who had 200-plus carries and averaged over seven yards a carry, with the other being Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde (7.3).  With running mate James White (1,444 yards, 13 touchdowns) off to the NFL, the path is cleared for Gordon to double-up on his 2013 production — and I’m only slightly exaggerating.

TODD GURLEY, GEORGIA, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 165 carries for 989 yards (6.0 ypc) and 10 touchdowns; 37 receptions for 441 yards and six touchdowns
QUICK HIT: An injury cost this Bulldog three games in the month of October.  When healthy — and he’s expected to be just that to start the season — he’s arguably the most talented back in the country.  Add in Georgia being one of a handful of SEC teams breaking in new quarterbacks, and Gurley should be at or near the top of most Heisman watch lists throughout the season.

CHRISTIAN HACKENBERG, PENN STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 231-of-392 passing (58.9%) for 2,955 yards, 20 touchdowns, 10 interceptions; 49 carries for -68 yards (-1.9 ypc) and four touchdowns
QUICK HIT: One of just two true sophomores on this list, Hackenberg flourished under QB guru Bill O’Brien.  With O’Brien off to the NFL, how will Hackenberg handle new head coach James Franklin and an entirely different offensive system?  Based on watching a kid who just oozes talent and confidence, I’m guessing he’ll adapt just fine, thank you very much.

BRETT HUNDLEY, UCLA, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 248-of-369 passing (67.2%) for 3,071 yards, 24 touchdowns, nine interceptions; 160 carries for 748 yards (4.7 ypc) and 11 touchdowns; one reception for seven yards and a touchdown
QUICK HIT: All Hundley has done in two seasons as the Bruins’ starter is throw for over 6,800 yards and 53 touchdowns, all while completing a ridiculous 67-percent of his passes (nearly).  Oh, and he’s added more than 1,100 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns on the ground for good measure.  If he’d have been putting up those numbers for a team that played in a conference east of the Mississippi, you could be looking at the biggest challenger to Winston’s crown.  Instead, you’re looking at a player still fighting for the respect he richly deserves.  Hopefully voters look west and beyond their narrow focus on a certain Duck if Hundley continues to put up the numbers he has.

MYLES JACK, UCLA, LB/RB
2013 STAT LINE: 75 tackles, 11 passes defensed, two interceptions, one return touchdown; 38 carries for 269 yards (7.0 ypc) and seven touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Jack is the other of the two true sophomores.  As a true freshman, he was a two-way highlight machine, finishing fifth on the Bruins in tackles while landing behind only Hundley in rushing touchdowns.  If Jack goes both ways again this year — and that appears to be the plan — and does it all season, there’s little doubt he’ll be on the tip of many a Heisman voter’s tongue come November.

DUKE JOHNSON, MIAMI, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 145 carries for 920 yards (6.3 ypc) and six touchdowns; four receptions for 77 yards; 14 kick returns for 396 yards (28.3 yards per return)
QUICK HIT: A devastating ankle injury cost Johnson the final five games of last season and sidelined him for all of spring practice as well.  Johnson, at 100-percent, can put scores on the board rushing, receiving and in the kick-return game.  A healthy Johnson will be a factor in both the ACC and Heisman races, especially given the very unsettled nature of The U’s quarterback situation.

CHUCKIE KEETON, UTAH STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 136-of-196 passing (69.4%) for 1,388 yards, 18 touchdowns, two interceptions; 55 carries for 241 yards (4.4 ypc) and two touchdowns
QUICK HIT: The second of just two non-Power Five conference players on the list.  Also one of the ones coming off a significant injury, one suffered in the sixth game of the year that cost the Aggie senior more than half the season.  If he can get back to the form he displayed in 2012… if USU can maintain its presence as a 10-win(ish) mid-major… if he can put on a show in Knoxville against Tennessee in the opener… if those three things take place, you never know.  Watching a potential mid-major between Keeton and Cato develop would be fascinating, though.

TAYLOR KELLY, ARIZONA STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 302-of-484 (63.4%) for 3,635 yards, 28 touchdowns, 12 interceptions; 173 carries for 608 yards (3.5 ypc) and nine touchdowns
QUICK HIT: If I were a gambling man, I’d bet you I’d put a little bit of money on Mr. Kelly and his 100/1 odds for the 2014 Heisman.  Call it a hunch.  Kelly has been flying underneath the national radar the last two seasons; entering his third year as a starter, he’s ready to break out and become a household name.  Again, a hunch.

TREVOR KNIGHT, OKLAHOMA, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 79-of-134 passing (59%) for 819 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions; 67 carries for 445 yards (6.6 ypc) and two touchdowns
QUICK HIT: This one may be the first real stretch in the group, so much so that I think I just felt something pop.  Which Knight will show up this year, the one who had issues hanging on to the job in his first season as a starter or the one that torched Alabama for 348 yards passing and four touchdowns in the Sugar Bowl?  From this vantage point, I’ll say somewhere in between, with a big jump the deeper we get into 2014 and on into the 2015 season.

SEAN MANNION, OREGON STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE:
QUICK HIT: One of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country statistically in 2013, Mannion was hamstrung by one simple fact — his seven-win Beavers were just a fair-to-middling squad.  If OSU can get closer to 10 wins than five, and Mannion can put up similar numbers — won’t be easy with the loss of Brandin Cooks — he should be on the radar through October and on into November.

MARCUS MARIOTA, OREGON, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 245-of-386 passing (63.5%) for 3,665 yards, 31 touchdowns; four interceptions; 96 carries for 715 yards (7.4 ypc) and nine touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Simply put, Mariota is one of the best — THE best in my opinion — quarterbacks in college football.  You’ve heard all of the well-deserved superlatives, so there’s no need for me to drop to my knees as well.  He’ll be a factor in the Heisman race from Game 1 through Game 12 and on into the Ducks’ (expected) appearance in the Pac-12 championship game.

NICK MARSHALL, AUBURN, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 142-of-239 passing (59.4%) for 1,976 yards, 14 touchdowns, six interceptions; 172 carries for 1,068 yards (6.2 ypc) and 12 touchdowns; one reception for 35 yards
QUICK HIT: Marshall’s first season as a starter wasn’t statistically overwhelming, but it was deadly in its efficiency.  Marijuana citation aside, Marshall is said to have had a very good offseason, improving his throwing mechanics and becoming more and more comfortable in Gus Malzahn‘s offense.  If true, and if the passing aspect of his game improves, that could prove to be bad news for the SEC in general and the West specifically.

BRAXTON MILLER, OHIO STATE, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 162-of-255 passing (63.5%) for 2,094 yards, 24 touchdowns, seven interceptions; 171 carries for 1,068 yards (6.2 ypc) and 12 touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Miller improved in nearly every statistical category in his third season as a starter.  Entering his fourth year, it’s time for the 2013 preseason Heisman favorite to take the next step, which means becoming more of a passing quarterback and less of a running one.  A greater threat in the passing game while maintaining the “holy crap, he may take off” aspect of his run threat would prove to be a lethal combination that not many quarterback’s possess — and not many coordinators would stand a chance of counteracting.

TY MONTGOMERY, STANFORD, WR
2013 STAT LINE: 61 receptions for 958 yards (15.7 ypc) and 10 touchdowns; 36 kick returns for 1,091 yards (30.3 ypr)
QUICK HIT: Montgomery’s long-shot candidacy may have suffered a fatal blow before it even started as shoulder surgery leaves him questionable for the first two games of the year.  One missed game would all but end the candidacy; two missed games would kill it for a receiver.  Still, I felt, given the immense two-way talent Montgomery is, he at least deserved a mention.

BRYCE PETTY, BAYLOR, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 250-for-403 passing (62%) for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns, three interceptions; 94 carries for 209 yards (2.2 ypc) and 14 touchdowns
QUICK HIT: Along with Winston, Miller and Mariota, Petty is widely viewed as a quarter of the four-headed Heisman favorite.  While the passing yards and touchdowns certainly catch the eye, the fact that Petty threw just three picks in 403 attempts is enough to drop the jaw to the floor.  Art Briles‘ system just chugs along — at warp speed — year after year; don’t expect anything to change in Petty’s second year as the Bears’ triggerman.

KEENAN REYNOLDS, NAVY, QB
2013 STAT LINE: 68-of-128 passing (53.1%) for 1,057 yards, eight touchdowns, two interceptions; 300 carries for 1,346 yards (4.5 ypc) and 31 touchdowns
QUICK HIT: How could you not put a player like Reynolds on a list like this?  Yes, the Midshipmen have somewhat of a penchant for running the ball and utter disdain for throwing it, which means Reynolds won’t have the gaudy passing stats that catch a voter’s attention the way a set of jingling keys catches a toddler’s.  Still, any player with 31 rushing touchdowns — 31!!!!!! — in a single season deserves a shout-out.  Especially one who comes from one of our nation’s great service academies.

T.J. YELDON, ALABAMA, RB
2013 STAT LINE: 207 carries for 1,235 yards (6.0 ypc) and 14 touchdowns; 20 receptions for 183 yards
QUICK HIT: This bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands for a man his size.  He’s everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Five-Star Island.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

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JUCO WR Jarvis Baxter gets release from LOI at USF, walking on at Oklahoma

NCAA Football - Oklahoma vs Missouri - October 28, 2006

Junior college wide receiver Jarvis Baxter set his sights on joining the South Florida Bulls this fall, but academic concerns forced him to try and back out of a letter of intent. USF’s loss will be Oklahoma’s gain. Baxter will reportedly walk-on with the Sooners and report to fall camp this coming week.

According to a report from Scout.com, Baxter will meet the academic requirements to enroll at Oklahoma and intends to join the program on Tuesday when players report to camp in Norman. The academic hang-up with USF stemmed from having too many summer credits to count toward his GPA in Tampa. Those extra credits do count at Oklahoma.

“I talked with [Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley], and he said they have a walk-on spot at wide receiver open,” Baxter said to Scout.com. “I talked to my family about it and decided this would be the best thing for me to do.”

Baxter said he expects to have a chance to receive a scholarship this season. He will arrive at Oklahoma with three years to play two seasons for the Sooners.

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Jim Tressel predicts Terrelle Pryor will drop first pass in Browns practice in Ohio Stadium

Navy v Ohio State Getty Images

Former Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is currently hard at work learning a new position in an attempt to land a roster spot with the Cleveland Browns. It is somewhat similar to the experience of Braxton Miller right now at Ohio State, although Miller is guaranteed a roster spot in the fall. The same is not true for Pryor in the NFL. On Saturday, Pryor’s former Ohio State coach, Jim Tressel, paid a visit to Browns training camp.

As it just so happens, the Browns will be holding a training camp practice inside Ohio Stadium this month, which means Pryor will take the field in Columbus for the first time since unceremoniously being suspended by the program and deciding to enter the NFL supplemental draft following the infamous tattoo-gate scandal of 2011. That scandal ultimately cost Tressel a job as head coach as well and led to a postseason ban for Ohio State, served by Urban Meyer in his first year on the job rather than in the 2011 season. Asked about Pryor’s upcoming Ohio Stadium homecoming, Tressel said it was going to be a cool moment for him, although he also served up a not-so-flattering prediction (in good humor).

“You know that’s got to be thrilling to him. He loved that place and has carried a burden with him that didn’t end the way he wanted to,” Tressel said. “He’ll probably drop three passes in a row.”

In related Browns-Buckeyes news, current Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones stopped by practice on Saturday, sporting his 12-gauge t-shirt. Jones was there to support his friend and former high school teammate Shane Wynn (a former Indiana Hoosier).

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If you thought Auburn’s new scoreboard was impressive before…

The largest video scoreboard in the nation could be even more impressive from behind. While nothing is officially planned just yet, the construction of the new video scoreboard at Auburn has some envisioning even more video goodness to be enjoyed in the years to come. This time the video entertainment could be for the benefit of fans outside Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“In the future what we may end up doing is we may end up putting LED video boards back there so it’s not static signage,” Auburn athletic director Jay Jacobs said in a story published by Al.com. “So that we can do things like ‘Graduation today at a certain time’ or ‘congratulations to professor Smith for winning the Leischuck award,’ things like that because it’s such a big board and massive space. I didn’t want it just to be solid, I want it to be something that we can actually utilize.”

Yeah, sure you could do all sorts of cool things with that extra video space. You could also sell advertising. You will definitely sell extra advertising. In this day and age you have to utilize every square inch you possibly can to squeeze as much revenue out of a football program you can. While the murals of former players like Bo Jackson, Cam Newton and Pat Sullivan would be cool, they don’t provide nearly the amount of cash Dr. Pepper or Chick-fil-A would.

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Ole Miss OL Laremy Tunsil and stepfather agree to drop charges against each other

tunsil Getty Images

Temperatures may have reached  a boiling point between Ole Miss offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and his stepfather, but it seems the two have agreed to keep their family business in house instead of pursue legal action against one another. Domestic violence charges against each other are expected to be formally dropped on Monday, according to a report from Riley Blevins of  The Clarion-Ledger.

Per the information in the report out of Oxford, Mississippi, lawyers for both have mutually agreed to have their clients sign a dismissal from earlier this week, thereby requesting to a local judge to review and drop the charges previously filed. Tunsil reportedly punched his stepfather in defense of his mother. Tunsil’s stepfather, Lindsey Miller, claimed tensions rose when an argument over Tunsil’s connection to sports agents flared up. The NCAA has since opened an investigation into Tunsil’s alleged connection to agents.

Whatever happened is now behind both men, and hopefully things have been smoothed over. Ole Miss suspended Tunsil from the team while the legal process played out, but head coach Hugh Freeze has seemed understanding of the situation from the jump and should be expected to find it appropriate to welcome Tunsil back to the program as quickly as possible.

That is, of course, as long as the NCAA investigation does not yield any rules violations. For that to happen, the NCAA will have to find incriminating evidence through testimony from witnesses. Miller would seem to be the first person the NCAA would wish to speak to, but now that he and Tunsil have agreed to drop charges who knows how cooperative he would want to be with the NCAA.

Don’t expect much to come out of this mildly twisted saga.

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Michigan LB Joe Bolden has no regrets for Michigan State tent-spike

Gary Nova, Joe Bolden, Jake Ryan

It was all blown out of proportion, Michigan linebacker Joe Bolden says of his pregame driving of a tent spike into the field at Michigan State last fall. The pregame act did not go unnoticed by Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio, who took issue with it after the Spartans’ blowout victory over the Wolverines, for which former Michigan head coach Brady Hoke apologized.

“Simply motivation that backfired, got blown out of proportion in a way, so it is what it is,” Bolden said when asked about the incident during Big Ten media days this week.

Michigan State quarterback Connor Cook said Michigan State felt disrespected and he played with a bit of an extra chip on his shoulder as a result. Bolden understands that, but seemed to shrug it aside this week.

“Things were said, and somebody said they ran the ball when they wanted to take a knee, well, I’m a competitor, it’s a rivalry football game, I”m running the ball, too,” Bolden said. “If I’m a head coach I”m running the football. I have the utmost respect for coach Dantonio and his staff.”

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Mountain West Conference moves to 8-man officiating crews in 2015

Catherine Conti

There will be one more body on the field when you watch a Mountain West Conference game this season, and neither team will be flagged for too many men on the field. This week the Mountain West Conference confirmed the officiating crew will now consist of eight officials instead of seven. The conference experimented with the 8-man crew at times last season, and apparently it was deemed a successful trial run.

Love it. Absolutely love it,” Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun said, per The Denver Post. “I think there are certain expenditures you carry out that are prudent, that make sense, that make for a more quality game. That’s one of them. That’s a good investment.”

Coaches are not the only one applauded having more eyes on the field to monitor the game. The officials are on board as well.

“The last two years I was on a crew of eight officials and what it allowed me to do as a referee is as soon as the play ended go right to the offense and look for substitutions,” Greg Burks, an active official and Mountain West Conference coordinator of officials said this week (via The Herald Journal) said. “And what we found out — without naming the schools — is some of them every time they would go to the sidelines, they were substituting and gaining an advantage because the (opposing) defense wasn’t able to match up.”

It will be the job of the center judge to spot the football. The umpire will retrieve the football from the sideline. Meanwhile, the referee will be able to look at the offensive sideline to monitor substitutions. It should make for a smoother process for officials, with less scrambling around and juggling multiple procedures at once. Refs still need to work on getting everything to run smoothly though, but at least the Mountain West Conference will have a potentially seamless process.

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Penn State, Pitt ADs will discuss potential future of in-state series

Pitt Panthers Bill Fralic

New leadership and conference scheduling requirements and commitments may leave the door wide open for a long-term future for a Keystone State rivalry. Penn State and Pittsburgh have not played since 2000, but a four-game series will begin next season. Penn State Athletics Director Sandy Barbour said this week at Big Ten media days she is scheduled to discuss the future of the series with her counterpart at Pittsburgh, Scott Barnes, in the coming months.

“Scott Barnes, [Pitt’s] new AD, I’ve known for a long time,” Barbour said Friday, according to Audrey Snyder of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We’ve had a brief conversation. I think we’re scheduled here in the next month or so to talk about it. We’ve got a big puzzle in looking at our non-conference schedule, so we’ll see where that fits in.”

The Big Ten will be moving to a new conference-wide scheduling philosophy that will see all 14 members committed to scheduling one game per season against a power conference opponent. While not technically a requirement, it is one aspect of the new scheduling direction the Big Ten is taking a firm stance. The ACC requires all conference members to schedule one game against a power conference opponent each season as well. This would seem to make Penn State and Pittsburgh ideal and logical scheduling partners for years to come. But college football scheduling is not always so easy.

Pittsburgh will host Penn State in the 2016 season to open up a four-game series between the in-state power programs. The original deal in place was for a brief home-and-home series with each side getting a home game. That was later expanded to a four-game deal, and it is likely to remain that way for the time being. With future schedules arranged years in advance, it may not be likely to see Penn State and Pittsburgh put together any long-term or even brief series for a number of years down the road, as it is not likely either school will be overenthusiastic to schedule multiple power conference opponents in any given year if possible, at least on a regular basis.

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Jim Mora prefers using one QB, but not ready to anoint starter

Jim Mora

UCLA head coach Jim Mora faced plenty of questions about his quarterback situation at UCLA during Pac-12 media days, but he is far from prepared to settle on a starting quarterback for the start of the 2015 season. He must have been prepared for that given Brett Hundley left the Bruins a year early to enter the NFL Draft and Asiantii Woulard is hoping to be ruled eligible to play elsewhere this fall. The spring game yielded far too little confidence in any candidate to grab the starting nod months ahead of the season, so Mora is going to hold off on making any concrete decisions until he can get a better sense of who is ready to lead UCLA’s offense. One thing Mora does not plan to do is use multiple quarterbacks.

“I’d rather use one. I think that is the most beneficial way to build your team and consistency is to use one,” Mora said Friday during Pac-12 media day. “But we’ll see. My gut instinct is to name a guy and support the hell out of him. That’s what I’ve tried to do.”

So, who will that be? The three quarterback race is down to Jerry Neuheisel, Mike Fafaul and freshman Josh Rosen. Despite the high expectations for Rosen, Mora is not getting caught up in the hype just yet.

“He hasn’t taken a snap at this level. So I don’t want to put too many expectations,” Mora suggested. “I’ll let others put expectations on them. I think if Josh reaches his potential every day at the end of his time at UCLA we’ll look back and say he was a success.”

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LSU reinstates three players, including QB Anthony Jennings

Anthony Jennings

LSU has reinstated three players just days before fall practices are scheduled to open in Baton Rouge. Quarterback Anthony Jennings, defensive lineman Maquedius Bain and defensive back Dwayne Thomas will all be available to practice after being indefinitely suspended from the program.

LSU head coach Les Miles made the decision Friday afternoon with the indication the three players will undergo further in-house discipline. All three were suspended in response to an incident involving alleged unauthorized entry of an inhabited building. The alleged victim in that incident has since asked for the charges against the LSU football players to be dropped. That is exactly what has happened, allowing the door for Miles to welcome back all three, which he suspected might be the case.

No formal charges were filed against the three LSU players.

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Fitzgerald: Big Ten coaches voted unanimously against 9-game conference schedule

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In 2016 the Big Ten will expand its conference schedule from eight games to nine in a league-wide effort to enhance the overall strength of schedule for the conference. Apparently this is being done without approval from the 14 Big Ten head coaches.

Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald says, per Stewart Mandel of FOX Sports, the coaches in the Big Ten were unanimous in voting for an eight-game conference schedule.

This is certainly a reminder just who makes the big decisions in the Big Ten, and it sure is not the head coaches.

A nine-game conference schedule does help improve the conference’s overall schedule, but it also has its drawbacks as well. For starters, it allows for one fewer non-conference game on the schedule, which means less flexibility for scheduling options. On another hand, it also leads the Big Ten beating up on itself just a little more, potentially keeping a Big Ten member from reaching bowl eligibility.

The Big 12 and Pac-12 also use a nine-game conference schedule. The ACC and SEC remain firm on an eight-game conference schedule. The ACC, SEC and now the Big Ten all have a scheduling requirement to include a power conference opponent each season in addition to the conference schedule. The Big 12 and Pac-12 do not have such a scheduling requirement. The Big Ten will also eliminate FCS opponents from the non-conference schedule across the conference.

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Oregon State’s Gary Andersen says speed separates Pac-12 from Big Ten

Gary Andersen

Earlier in the day in Chicago new Nebraska head coach Mike Riley was asked about the difference between the Pac-12 and the Big Ten, to which the nicest coach in the world shrugged off the notion of the two conferences being too different. His replacement at Oregon State, former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen, has a different take on the subject.

“Well, the speed,” Andersen replied when asked the same question at the Pac-12 media day event Friday. “If you want to talk about something that is different. This is without question, and I’m looking from afar through a TV screen or a big jumbo screen we have in the offices that we watch film from and on the TV.

“[T]his league has what we like to call juice,” Andersen explained. “It is fast. There are a lot of guys that make one mistake and you’re going to pay the price quickly. On the defensive side it is the same way. There are elite pass rushers that are fast and quick. There are linebackers that can run on the back end that I believe can make up for a lot of problems that — it’s hard to solve with a pen in your hand, but genetics take over and make you some special plays.”

Prior to taking the Wisconsin head coaching job in 2013, Andersen was the head coach of Utah State. During his tenure at Utah State he coached against one Pac-12 team, in which he emerged victorious over Utah in 2012.  In his two seasons with the Badgers in Madison, Anderson lost on the road against Arizona State (in bizarre fashion). So he does have some first-hand experience coaching against the Pac-12 to compare with his brief experience in the Big Ten (which did not end well). Andersen also thinks the Pac-12 lacks credit as a tough conference, physically.

“I never hear people talking about this league is tough-minded. I know it’s not the class, flashy thing to talk about, right, anyway, with the offensive and defensive lines,” Andersen said. “But the fact of the matter is they’re well coached. They’re tough kids. They play with leverage and play with great technique. That is something that jumped out on me on film because I look for that stuff.”

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USC coach Sarkisian takes jab at Oregon’s uniforms

Steve Sarkisian

You have to imagine that being tabbed the preseason media favorite has USC head coach Steve Sarkisian feeling a little extra confident this week. On Friday he may have allowed his confidence to go slightly far in taking a mild-tempered shot at the Oregon Ducks. More specifically, Sarkisian took aim at Oregon’s multiple uniform combinations.

This is just a guess he is not referring to Appalachian State and their 21 new uniform combinations for the 2015 season. No, this was a direct shot at the Oregon Ducks, who have made suiting up ina  different uniform every week something any school looking to generate buzz or gain an edge in recruiting seeks to emulate.

Sarkisian has yet to defeat the Ducks since being named a head coach in 2009 at Washington. In fact, he has not really come close. Since 2009, Sarkisian has lost to Oregon all six times by an average of 25.8 points per defeat. USC seems to have things going in the right direction, and the preseason media poll in the conference certainly gives the Trojans a little extra boost. But until Oregon is dethroned, USC has something to prove on the field.

USC still must get out of a tough Pac-12 South, which saw Arizona State, Utah and UCLA all hand USC a loss in conference play last season. USC will visit Oregon on November 21 this season, in what could potentially be a PAc-12 Championship Game preview. That game will be played two weeks later.

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Pac-12 not looking to expand, if you were curious

Larry Scott

If you had any hopes the Pac-12 might be looking to expand in the future, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has some bad news.

“I do not see us expanding in the foreseeable future,” Scott said Thursday during Pac-12 media days. “We are delighted with 12 schools. It’s worked exceedingly well for us.”

There has not been much discussion about the conference contemplating expansion projects to grow beyond the current 12-school membership. Much of the hypothetical expansion conversation has centered on the Big 12, with 10 members. So forget about resurrecting those Pac-16 scenarios if you were holding out hope for such a thing. This may also be somewhat discouraging news for BYU fans as well, although getting the Cougars and Utah back in the same room would be entertaining.

The Pac-12 rebranded itself following the 2011 additions of Colorado and Utah. That was the same season Nebraska joined the Big Ten and BYU went independent. Texas A&M and Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC the following year as well. For now, the Pac-12 is just keeping the focus on improving from within, starting with conference scheduling.

“As a 12-team conference playing nine conference games, this is an interesting distinction between us and some other conferences,” Scott said. “This is why I’m confident standing up and saying no one has got a tougher schedule than the Pac-12, and the Pac-12 champion has got the toughest road, because there aren’t many misses that you can have within your conference.”

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Ohio State obtains trademark for Urban Meyer’s name

Urban Meyer

When Ohio State hired Urban Meyer to be the next head coach of the Buckeyes in the final stretch of the 2011 season, the Buckeyes knew expectations would be high. Meyer guided Ohio State to an undefeated season in his first fall in Columbus, led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship game and Orange Bowl in year two and to a Big Ten title and national championship in year three. Naturally, Ohio State is out to assure Meyer’s contract is protected so he does not go anywhere, and now it is looking to protect his likeness.

The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday the university has obtained a trademark for the name “Urban Meyer” from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Per the report, half of the royalties in trademark cases will go to the university and the other half will go to Meyer. Life is good for Meyer, even if he did have to suspend a few players for the 2015 season opener this week.

“It’s not uncommon for celebrities and people in the public to seek protection of their name and likeness,” said Rick Van Brimmer, director of trademark and licensing services at Ohio State. It is, however, the first time n Ohio State coach has had his name trademarked.

“Based on his celebrity status, there are people who have used it on product without permission and (we) have had to approach them,” he said. “This just affords us another level of legal protection.”

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BYU, UNLV to finish off home-and-home agreement in 2017

Brandon Baker, Nate Carter

College football scheduling can be difficult to juggle at times, but it seems BYU and UNLV are managing to find a landing spot for a game in 2017. The two schools will reportedly play at UNLV on November 11, 2017 to complete a previously arranged home-and-home series.

The game at UNLV was originally scheduled to be played this upcoming season, but the two agreed to push the game back to either 2016 or 2017 so BYU could work in a game this fall against Missouri. BYU will face the Mizzou Tigers in Kansas City on November 14, the original date for the BYU contest at UNLV.

BYU hosted UNLV in the first half of the home-and-home scheduling agreement. BYU won last season’s match-up by a score of 42-23.

As noted by FBSchedules.com, BYU’s 2017 schedule is now up to 11 opponents locked in, leaving room for one more to complete the schedule. The 2017 BYU schedule includes a season opener against LSU in Houston, a home date against old rival Utah and other games against Boise State, Mississippi State and Hawaii. With the Hawaii game coming on the road, BYU will be allowed to schedule a 13th game if so desired. BYU has two open weeks in the middle of September. With news breaking this morning the Big Ten will now recognize BYU as a power conference opponent to satisfy a new power conference scheduling requirement, could there be a Big Ten team to help fill the void? If so, that would give BYU games against three different power conferences in 2017.

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