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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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Pat Narduzzi plans to transform Pitt into a version of Michigan State

Pat Narduzzi

Pat Narduzzi received his first opportunity to be a head coach from the Pitt Panthers. He has no qualms about stealing the blueprint from his old Michigan State boss, Mark Dantonio, and bringing it to the Steel City.

“I think there’s a lot of things we do well at Michigan State, so I would say you will see Michigan State of the city of Pittsburgh, really,” Narduzzi told the ‘Griff and Grinz’ Show on Lansing’s 92.1 FM The Team, per MLive.com’s Mike Griffith.

“Why would you change the blueprint of what Coach Dantonio has done there?” he asked. “There will be tiny little things here and there, but the blueprint has been set. I’ve been in the program for 11 years with Coach Dantonio, and I know how we’ve done it and built it, and I think that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Dantonio’s formula is simple:  play fundamentally-sound and physical defense with a ball-control offense. The Michigan State program has also been highly successful developing its talent despite lesser recruiting classes.

However, Narduzzi agreed he wouldn’t bring any fellow Michigan State coaches with him to Pittsburgh.

“That’s probably the hardest job I’ve had so far, putting together a staff and getting the right people,” Narduzzi said. “Too often you see guys, (like) Charlie Strong in one year at Texas, he’s already fired two guys and you look throughout the country and after one year, boom, they (assistants) can be gone.”

The former defensive coordinator also confirmed that he’ll have some input in Jim Chaney‘s offense.

“My initial intentions are to let it go, but through this last month, I’ve talked to a ton of head coaches that say, ‘Hey Pat, keep your hands on it early, then let it go — don’t let it go and have to come back in,’ which makes a whole lot of sense,” Narduzzi said. “My job is still to coach all the coaches and make sure practices are run the way we want them to be run and organized.”

Now that the coaching staff is set, Narduzzi doesn’t plan on making many changes during his tenure.

“Continuity has been a big thing for me at Michigan State and Cincinnati,” he added. “One of the reasons Pitt was such an attractive job is because it’s a job where assistant coaches can come and be happy as long as the head coach stays there.”

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Seahawks Michael Bennett: ‘NCAA is one of the biggest scams’

NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks Team Media Availability

A pair of Seattle Seahawks didn’t pull any punches when they were asked about the plight of student-athletes and what they believe is the NCAA’s exploitation of young men and women.

Defensive end Michael Bennett and cornerback Richard Sherman were asked about their college days during Thursday’s Super Bowl media day, and their replies couldn’t have been more biting.

“I think the NCAA is one of the biggest scams in America,” Bennett told ESPN.com’s Terry Blount. “These kids put so much on the line. They [the NCAA] say, ‘We give you a free degree.’ That’s like me owning a restaurant and saying, ‘I’ll give you a free burger.’ It makes me so mad and irate. Universities need to do more for the student-[athletes].”

Sherman’s speech revolved around the daily habits of a college athlete.

“I don’t think college athletes are given enough time to take advantage of the free education they’re given,” Sherman said. “It’s frustrating because a lot of people get upset with student-athletes and say you’re not focused on school and not taking advantage of the opportunity you’re given.

“I would love for a regular student, for just one semester, to have a student-athlete schedule during the season and show me how you balance that. Show me how you would schedule your classes when you can’t schedule classes for 2 to 6 o’clock on any given day.

“Show me how you’re going to get all your work done when you get out [of practice and meetings] at 7:30 or so and have a test the next day and you’re dead tired from practice and you still have to study and get the same work done.”

Plenty of “regular students” put in the same amount of time — if not more — than a typical student-athlete.

Furthermore, student debt is at all-time high. But, go on, Mr. Sherman.

“I tell you from experience that one time I had negative 40 bucks in my account,” Sherman added. “It was in the negative more times than positive. You have to make a decision whether you put gas in your car or get a meal.

“People say you get room and board and they pay for your education. But to [the school officials’] knowledge, you’re there to play football. Those are the things coaches tell you every day. Luckily I was blessed to go to Stanford, a school primarily focused on academics. But as [former Stanford coach] Jim Harbaugh would attest, we were still there to play football.”

There is no denying that college football is in a transitory stage. Last year’s ruling in the Ed O’Bannon case irrevocably changed what the meaning of “student-athlete” can actually be. The NCAA also granted the Power Five conferences autonomy that will allow those schools to better service the needs of their student-athletes.

Bennett wasn’t finished ripping the system, though.

“I think there are very few schools that actually care about the players,” Bennett said. “Guys break their legs and they get the worst surgery they could possibly get by the worst doctors with the worst treatment.”

However, the former Texas A&M Aggie provided a solution that would ease his concerns.

“I think the NCAA should come up with a plan for college athletes to receive some of the money they bring into the schools. My school, Texas A&M, I think makes $50 million just on jersey sales. So I would say pay $60,000 [to student-athletes] for every year you stay in college. Keep that in a 401(k). After you graduate, hold that money until you are a certain age and then you get the money.”

Some day this might happen. It may be closer to happening than it isn’t. Until then, scholarship athletes still receive an education without paying or paying very little to gain such an invaluable asset.

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Baylor adds alumni locker room to facilities

Baylor locker room

Every program is looking to gain an edge.

Facility improvements have become the newest arms race in college football. Programs are willing to invest millions of dollars in order to entice the nation’s top recruits.

What better way to get players to come to your program than to grant them access to those players that already made it to the NFL?

Nearly every top prospect dreams of playing in the NFL. The lure of being around professional athletes can certainly sway impressionable young men. And programs are taking advantage of that edge.

Baylor is the merely the latest to build an alumni locker room in its new Simpson Athletic and Academic Center.

“The purpose is to bring some of our pro players back to campus when they have an opportunity during the offseason and train at Baylor, which we know they like they to do,” Baylor deputy athletic director Todd Patulski said in an interview with the school’s official athletic site. “They consider this their home, and the coaching staff is their family. This provides a great opportunity for them to put their duffel bag in and get workouts in. … All these guys really find opportunity to come back.

“They know the coaches, they know our strength coaches, and they believe in them. When you’re in the offseason and have an opportunity to come back and feel comfortable and work out with the rest of the guys, that’s just a great thing. It’s comforting. We’ve put a lot of kids in the NFL, and it’s becoming more and more of a demand. This is a great opportunity to create a space for them.”

While Patulski framed his answer by saying it’s a great opportunity for the professional athletes, it’s really beneficiary for the program, its players and even potential players.

(Photo courtesy of Baylor athletic department)

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Report: NC State’s Matt Canada receives extension, Vols still searching for OC

Matt Canada

The grass isn’t always greener in the SEC.

North Carolina State offensive coordinator Matt Canada was among three finalists to replace Mike Bajakian as the Tennessee Volunteers next offensive player-caller.

ESPN’s Brett McMurphy reported that Canada pulled his name out of consideration Thursday.

The reason behind Canada’s decision was simple. North Carolina State decided to extend a new contract, according to SI.com’s Pete Thamel.

With Canada out of the conversation, the Volunteers will likely concentrate on three candidates to become their next offensive coordinator. A report surfaced earlier Thursday that UCLA’s Noel Mazzone, USC’s Clay Helton and former Michigan coordinator Mike DeBord interviewed for the position.

Scout.com’s UCLA affiliate, Bruin Report Online, reported Mazzone didn’t interview with the Volunteers, though.

If the latter report is correct then Helton and DeBord remain in consideration. Helton is the likely the favorite since DeBord hasn’t been on the sidelines for two years nor called plays since 2006.

North Carolina State, meanwhile, retains an innovative play-caller. During his two seasons with the Wolfpack, Canada’s offense averages 406.12 yards per game.

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UPDATE: Long-time Mizzou AD Mike Alden stepping down, Mike Slive speaks

Mike Alden

One of the longest-tenured athletic directors in the country has decided to call it quits.

In a press release late Thursday afternoon, Missouri announced that Mike Alden‘s last day on the job will be Aug. 31 of this year.  In his statement, Alden said that “[a]fter several months of contemplation, I have decided that it is time for a change, both for me and for the university I dearly love.”

A press conference will be held Friday morning and will feature Alden, president Bowen Loftin and Dean Michael Clay.

Even as Alden is leaving a post he has held since 1998, he won’t be leaving the university as he will transition into an instructor in the Positive Coaching Program in Mizzou’s College of Education.

While Alden can boast of numerous accomplishments during his nearly two decades as the head of Mizzou athletics, shepherding the Tigers into the SEC will likely be his lasting legacy.  After a trying first season, Mizzou has claimed back-to-back SEC East titles in football the past two seasons.

Beyond the on-field success, the move to the SEC will continue to pay financial benefits to the entire athletic department long after Alden steps down.

Mizzou I

Mizzou II

UPDATE [7:30 p.m. ET]: The University of Missouri officially became a member of the SEC in 2012. Three years later, the Tigers football team already owns two SEC East championships.

The school has proved to be a tremendous addition to the conference, and SEC commissioner Mike Slive acknowledged the role Mike Alden played in the transition:

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History in the making: Ohio State in talks with Army to play future contest

Annual Army Navy Football Game

The Ohio State Buckeyes opened up their latest national championship campaign with a 34-17 victory over the Navy Midshipmen.

The next time the Buckeyes will face a service academy, though, won’t be until after the 2016 campaign.

Ohio State is currently in talks with the Army Black Knights to schedule a game at a future date.

Amazingly, these two programs have never met on the gridiron despite their long and illustrious histories.

While Army’s schedule remains flexible due to being an independent program, Ohio State will have to work around their conference schedule. Like Navy, Army will likely serve as a season-opening opponent. The first year both teams have an opening at the beginning of their schedules will be the 2017 campaign.

Army doesn’t have any current openings early in the season that coincide with Ohio State’s 2018 schedule.

The two sides also have openings at the start of the 2019 campaign.

Due to the size of Ohio State and the importance of home games for the Buckeyes’ athletic department, Army will almost certainly be a one- or two-game contract with the contests being played at Ohio Stadium.

The two sides still need to finalize an agreement, though.

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WKU loses two QBs, including former Tide transfer

Troy Jones

With record-setting quarterback Brandon Doughty returning for a sixth season, the players behind him at the quarterback position will, barring injury, have very little chance of seeing meaningful action in 2015.

With that as a backdrop, Western Kentucky confirmed Wednesday that a pair of quarterbacks are no longer a part of the football program, the Bowling Green Daily News is reporting.  JUCO transfer Troy Jones (pictured, under towel) and redshirt sophomore Parker McLeod are the two in question, although only one will continue his playing career.

According to the Daily News, Jones will be seeking a transfer for the 2015 season.  As Jones would be a graduate transfer, he’d be eligible to play immediately at an FBS program.  However, it appears he will head to an FCS team, where he would also be eligible to play in 2015.

Jones threw four of the five non-Doughty passes for the Hilltoppers in 2014, completing two of them for 11 yards.  Those were the only passes of his WKU career.

Conversely, McLeod has decided to transfer to another school but will not play football.

McLeod was a three-star member of Alabama’s 2013 recruiting class.  After redshirting his true freshman season, he left Alabama in May of last year before landing at WKU two months later.  Because of NCAA transfer rules, he was forced to sit out the 2014 season.

(Photo credit: Western Kentucky athletics)

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E. Washington releases statement on Oregon QB transfer target

Eastern Washington v Washington Getty Images

Wednesday, reports surfaced that not only was Vernon Adams a potential transfer target for Oregon, but that the star FCS quarterback was a near-lock to move on to the Ducks.

A day later, EWU has addressed the Adams situation.  Sort of.

While not specifically mentioning his name, EWU released a statement Thursday acknowledging “[i]n the current situation that has arisen recently, we have granted the ability for our student-athlete to explore what opportunities may exist.” That student-athlete is, of course, Adams.

Adams will graduate from EWU this spring, and would thus be eligible to play immediately for UO in 2015. Given the fact that Marcus Mariota‘s early departure has created an experience (and talent) void at the position, and given Adams’ level of talent — he threw for over 400 yards against both Washington and Oregon State the past two seasons — there would be a very good chance that Adams could line up under center as the starter for the Ducks’ season opener.

And Oregon’s opponent Sept. 5? Eastern Washington, the team for whom the two-time Walter Payton Award finalist totaled 100 touchdowns the past two seasons. Based on the fact that they’d have to face the star right out of the gate, not many would begrudge EWU if they took a hardline stance on an Adams transfer to UO.

To their credit, EWU has shown that they’re putting the interests of the student-athlete ahead of the football program, which is a refreshing change regardless of the level.

Below is EWU’s statement, in its entirety:

The NCAA instituted the ability for student-athletes who finish their undergraduate degree the ability to complete their eligibility at another institution should they successfully enroll in a graduate program that does not exist at his/her current institution.

In regards to this rule, Eastern handles each situation on a case-by-case basis. We either allow or not allow a student-athlete to discuss the possibilities with a prospective institution, and then, should that option progress further, determine whether or not to release them to pursue the opportunity to complete their eligibility at another institution. In the current situation that has arisen recently, we have granted the ability for our student-athlete to explore what opportunities may exist.

When we recruit, retain and develop student-athletes, we first and foremost ask them to earn their college degree. Should they achieve that and have opportunities — whether based on current NCAA transfer rules or potentially in a professional setting — we do our best to try and support them in what is in the best interest of their future. Our desire is also for our student-athletes to complete their eligibility at Eastern, given the education, investment and support that our University community, athletic department and coaching staffs have provided them.

Given the current transfer rules that are in place and the desires of other institutions to utilize them to their advantage, we will continue to try and do what is in the best interests for our student-athletes, knowing that their education is our primary role.

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Offense, OCs big winners in latest spinning of coaching carousel

The 2014-15 spinning of the coaching carousel has nearly come to an end, with Central Michigan, thanks to Dan Enos‘ abrupt departure to become Arkansas’ offensive coordinator, the lone remaining FBS program without a head coach less than a week from signing day.

And, when it comes to this year’s spinning, if you were an offensive coordinator with head-coaching aspirations, you were in luck.  Or, hell, if you had an offensive background, period.

First off, there have been just 14 coaching changes (not including CMU) in 2014-15, compared to 19 in 2013-14, 30 in 2012-13 and 26 in 2011-12.  Of the 14 changes made thus far, five have schools have found replacements in current offensive coordinators: Colorado State’s Mike Bobo (Georgia), Houston’s Tom Herman (Ohio State), SMU’s Chad Morris (Clemson), Tulsa’s Philip Montgomery (Baylor) and Troy’s Neal Brown (Kentucky).  Additionally, Kansas hired Texas A&M’s wide receivers coach David Beaty as its new head coach.

Diving even further offensively, three 2014 FBS head coaches who took over different programs since the end of the season — Florida’s Jim McElwain, Nebraska’s Mike Riley, Wisconsin’s Paul Chryst — had extensive experience as coordinators on that side of the ball prior to becoming head coaches.  Throw in Buffalo’s Lance Leipold – an OC prior to winning six Div. III titles at Wisconsin-Whitewater — and 11 of the 14 coaching changes involved individuals with extensive offensive backgrounds.

Given the fact that the college game is currently very much offensively-driven, the skewed hires toward that side of the ball aren’t all that surprising; just last year, 13 of the 19 hires were offensive-minded coaches, so it’s continuing to trend upward.  Still, it’s a stark reminder of just how skewed the game is in the here and now.

In fact, the only current defensive coordinator to land a head-coaching job this cycle was Pat Narduzzi, who left Michigan State for Pittsburgh.  Gary Andersen, who left as head coach at Wisconsin for the same job at Oregon State, had a defensive background in a previous coaching life as well.

The lone remaining new hire is Tony Sanchez, the Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School head coach hired by UNLV.  Sanchez was a defensive coach prior to becoming a high school head coach… but actually began his coaching career as an offensive assistant at that level.

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Report: UCLA’s Mazzone, USC’s Helton interviewed for Vols OC job

Noel Mazzone AP

We don’t know yet when Butch Jones will pull the trigger on his biggest coaching hire this offseason, but we do know some of the candidates who have caught his attention.  Reportedly.

According to Jimmy Hyams of radio station WNML in Knoxville, Jones has interviewed five outside candidates for the Vols’ vacancy at offensive coordinator: current Michigan administrator and former UM coordinator Mike DeBord, as well as 2014 coordinators Matt Canada (North Carolina State), Clay Helton (USC), Noel Mazzone (UCLA) and Kurt Roper (not retained at Florida). Additionally, UT wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni is listed by Hyams as a candidate as well.

Hyams notes that Jones has interviewed those individuals in locations such as Los Angeles, Oakland, Las Vegas.

Of the reported candidates, Mazzone and Helton would be the most noteworthy.

Mazzone has spent the past three seasons as the Bruins coordinator.  During those three seasons, the Bruins finished 37th (33.5 ppg, 2014), 21st (36.9 ppg, 2013) and 31st (34.4 ppg) in scoring; in the two years prior to Mazzone’s arrival, the Bruins were 88th (23.1 ppg, 2012) and 103rd (20.1 ppg) in that category.

Helton has spent the past five seasons as the Trojans’ coordinator/quarterbacks coach.  In his first season under new head coach Steve Sarkisian, Helton did not hold play-calling responsibilities.

Jones, incidentally, was on DeBord’s coaching staff at CMU from 2000-03.  DeBord has been out of the coaching game since serving as the tight ends coach of the Chicago Bears in 2012.  Hyams notes, though, that DeBord has NFL opportunities from which to potentially choose as well.

Whoever it is that Jones hires will replace Mike Bajakian, who left to to take the quarterbacks coach job with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers earlier this month.

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Tide makes Mel Tucker hiring official

Miami Dolphins v Chicago Bears Getty Images

Three days after it was first reported, the lone hole on Nick Saban‘s Alabama coaching staff has been filled.

In a press release, UA announced that Mel Tucker has been hired as Saban’s defensive backs coach.  Tucker will also hold the title of assistant head coach.

Tucker has a history with Saban, who hired him as a grad assistant at Michigan State nearly two decades ago.

“He is an outstanding coach all the way around and really does an excellent job in terms of teaching the players,” Saban said in a statement. “When you look at his college and NFL experience, his resume is very impressive, and he’ll be a positive addition to our defensive staff. Mel’s experience with the secondary will allow us to move Kirby back to coaching the inside linebackers, which has been most effective for our defensive coordinator. We’re pleased and happy to welcome Mel and his family to Tuscaloosa.”

Tucker has been away from the college game for the last decade, having spent time on NFL staffs with the Cleveland Browns (2005-07, defensive backs; 2008, defensive coordinator), Jacksonville Jaguars (2009-12, defensive coordinator) and Chicago Bears (2013-14, defensive coordinator).  His last job at the collegiate level came in 2004 as the co-defensive coordinator at Ohio State.

Prior to that, the Cleveland, Oh., native coached the secondary at OSU (2001-03), LSU (2000) and Miami of Ohio (1999).

“I’ve known Coach Saban since I was 17 years old and he recruited me when he was the head coach at Toledo,” said Tucker. “He gave me my first job at Michigan State and most of what I learned as a defensive backs coach came from him. He has always been extremely loyal to me and my family, and is a trusted friend and mentor.

“We’ve become big Crimson Tide fans through the years and our family actually went to the bowl games against Michigan State and Notre Dame. When I was invited to speak here at one of the coaching clinics, I really got to see first-hand how special the University of Alabama is and I’m honored to join Coach Saban’s staff. I have the utmost respect this program and what Coach Saban stands for as a man and as a coach.”

In addition to Tucker, UA also announce the hiring of former UAB assistant Jody Wright.  This is a return for Wright as he spent 201 as a graduate assistant with the Tide and 2011-12 as an offensive analyst.

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About-face: ACC to count BYU as Power Five opponent

BYU Stadium

Just last May, it was reported that the ACC would not consider BYU an option for its membership to satisfy the mandatory scheduling of at least one Power Five opponent per season.

Eight months later?  Never mind, apparently.

The same day that the ACC released its complete 2015 schedule, ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy reports that games against BYU will now count toward the Power Five non-league requirement for the conference. The league has yet to announce the reversal, for whatever that’s worth.

As it stands now, Virginia is the only ACC school with BYU on its future schedules, with games slated for 2019 in Charlottesville, 2020 in Provo. Whether this reported decision to allow BYU to meet the P5 scheduling requirement means future games between the football independent and ACC schools will start popping up remains to be seen.

Unless a change hasn’t been made public yet, the SEC still does not consider BYU meeting a scheduling requirement similar to that of the ACC’s. Of course, the Cougars have played just five games total against teams that were members of the SEC at the time the game was played, so it’s not as if there’s an extensive history between that institution and that conference.

Regardless, the ACC’s decision is a huge one for BYU as it will allow the football program to further bolster its schedule — and any potential playoff résumé — with quality Power Five opponents.  Short of landing a spot in one of those conferences — you have their digits, Big 12 — this is about as good as it gets for the Cougars.

(Photo credit: BYU athletics)

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Brandon Harris’ HS coach advised QB to ‘please get out of’ LSU

Brandon Harris

Here’s to guessing David Feaster‘s brutal honesty won’t ingratiate him too much to the LSU coaching staff.

Feaster is the head coach at Bossier City Parkway High School in Louisiana, the high school of LSU quarterback Brandon Harris.  After Harris’ true freshman season devolved into one of (mostly) sideline inactivity even as the quality of play at the quarterback position was suspect to say the least, Feaster encouraged his former player to leave the situation.

And by “leave the situation” I mean “get the hell out of Dodge before you do permanent damage to your collegiate career.” From the New Orleans Times-Picayune‘s transcription of Feaster’s radio interview Wednesday.

“Please get out of there,” Feaster said he told Harris. “I wanted him to go to junior college. Go to a junior college, and because he’s a qualifier, he can just be there one year, leave at the midterm and restart the recruiting process all over again.”

“You’ve got the worst passing game in the country, and the best quarterback in the country sitting on the bench,” Feaster said. “Why don’t we even try him against Arkansas? He almost saved you against Mississippi State, did save you against New Mexico State. Why don’t we even give him a shot in some of these other games we can’t get a first down?”

There was speculation floating around that part of the reason for Harris’ inactivity over the last half of the season stemmed from what the Times-Picayune described as a lack of “dedication to studying tape and the playbook.”  On that front, Feaster lays the onus for the leak that cast his former player in an unfavorable light squarely on the LSU coaching staff.

“The stuff they’ve been saying has been lies,” Feaster said. “That he has trouble learning plays or checks, reading defenses, all that is bogus. He got there in January. They had plenty of time to go over the plays. I’ll just say that on his behalf, all that stuff is lies.

“He’s (Les Miles) the head coach, and he plays who he wants to. I don’t want people telling me who to play at QB either. But I don’t think they should be putting out false information about Brandon to make him look bad.”

Harris, of course, eschewed a transfer from LSU — “I couldn’t talk him into it,” Feaster said — and will, along with 2014 starter Anthony Jennings, compete for the starting job again beginning this spring. To Feaster’s credit, he did allow later in the interview that Harris is “right and I’m wrong” about wanting the quarterback to bolt after being on campus for less than a year.

In his first season in Baton Rouge, Harris played in eight games and started one. That lone start was, to say the least, a rough one, with Harris completing just 3-of-14 passes for 58 yards in a 41-7 loss on the road to Auburn. Harris attempted just one pass the remaining seven games, although that hasn’t seemed to dampen the former four-star recruit’s enthusiasm for the Tigers.

“Brandon is really enjoying LSU,” Feaster said. “He’s all in for it. He’s just going to try and compete. Maybe there’ll be a different set of criteria this year on how they choose their quarterback, and maybe he’ll get a shot.”

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ACC releases complete 2015 schedule

ACC Logo

With the start of the 2015 season less than eight months away — damn, that seems a long, long, long ways away — the ACC has gotten around to releasing its full schedule for the upcoming campaign.

The conference will have several high-profile games opening weekend, beginning with North Carolina-South Carolina Sept. 3 in Charlotte; continuing with Louisville-Auburn in the Georgia Dome for the Sept. 5 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game; and concluding with Virginia Tech-Ohio State Labor Day night, Sept. 7, in Blacksburg.  The Hokies were the only team to knock off the Buckeyes en route to OSU’s national championship.

Notre Dame will also be in the second year of its scheduling arrangement with the conference, with six games on the slate versus league foes. Clemson (Oct. 3), Virginia (Sept. 12) and Pitt (Nov. 7) will host the Irish, while Georgia Tech (Sept. 19) and (Wake Forest (Nov. 14) will travel to Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Additionally, the Notre Dame-Boston College game will be played in Boston’s Fenway Park, and will be considered a home game for the Irish.

In the release announcing the 2015 slate, the ACC touted its schedule as one of the toughest in the country, at least on paper. Let us count the reasons why:

  • ACC teams will play more games against teams that are ranked in ESPN’s Too Early Top 25 rankings for 2015 (12) than any of the other Top Five Conferences. The ACC’s total is also more than double the number of games played by the next closest Power Five league.
  • ACC teams also are playing a higher percentage of Power Five Conference teams (38%) than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams are also playing games against opponents who had a higher FBS (.536) and overall (.536) winning percentage in 2014 than any other Power Five Conference.
  • ACC teams will also play 24 games against non-conference opponents that played in bowl games in 2014. That total is the second-highest total of any Power Five Conference.

“This year’s ACC Football schedule once again showcases that collectively our league is arguably playing the toughest nonconference schedule in the country,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “In addition to the nonconference games, we have a tremendously competitive league schedule which provides our teams and fans with great games each week of the season.”

For the complete 2015 ACC schedule, click HERE.  For the complete helmet or logo versions, click HERE or HERE, respectively.

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Grantham confirms Raider interview, but will stay at Louisville

Miami v Louisville

As it turns out, Louisville won’t need to embark on a search for a new defensive coordinator after all.

Late Wednesday afternoon, it was reported that the Oakland Raiders, which had previously targeted Todd Grantham, had offered their coordinator job to the current UofL coordinator.  In a statement subsequently released by the school, Grantham confirmed that he did interview for the NFL post.

He also confirmed, though, that he would be returning to the Cardinals for the 2015 season.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to have interviewed for the defensive coordinator position with the Oakland Raiders, but I’m committed to the University of Louisville,” Grantham said in a statement. “I said when I came to Louisville that I thought we could win a national championship, and we are building toward that goal with the success we had this season.

“Coach Petrino and Tom Jurich have given me a great opportunity and I’m grateful for their commitment. My family loves it in Louisville, and I think we are establishing something special here with head coach Bobby Petrino and our staff. Our main objective over the next week is to finish strong in recruiting and continue to bolster this signing class.”

In his first season at Louisville in 2014, Grantham’s $975,000 salary was sixth amongst assistant coaches nationally and third in the ACC. It’s unknown at the moment if he’ll receive a bump in pay to repay his commitment to the university.

Under Grantham in 2014, the Cardinals were tied for 24th in the country in scoring defense at 21.8 points per game. The year prior to Grantham’s arrival, they were second at 12.2 ppg.

“We’re very pleased and happy that Todd is going to be staying at the University of Louisville,” Petrino said in his statement. “He’s done a fabulous job with our defense that ranked in the top 10. He’s one of the finest assistant coaches in the country, and you expect excellent coaches like Todd to get opportunities in the NFL. I’ve always had respect for the job that Todd has done throughout his career, especially this past year at Louisville, and we’re happy that he has and family will continue to be members of the Cardinals’ family.”

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