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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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Miss. St.’s Deshun Dixon arrested on drunk-driving charge

A young girl looks at a Danish fans drin AP

With another weekend in the books, another college football player has gotten the proverbial book thrown at him.

The Starkville Daily News is reporting that Mississippi State’s Deshun Dixon was arrested over the weekend and charged with driving under the influence.  The arrest occurred very early Sunday morning, although no further details have been made available.

MSU’s only comment on the development is no comment.

Dixon, the younger brother of MSU all-time leading rusher Anthony Dixon, spent three years playing minor league baseball (2010-12) before joining the Bulldogs as a walk-on this spring.  He’s currently listed as a freshman “athlete” on the program’s online roster.

In addition to Anthony Dixon, Deshun Dixon is also the brother of current MSU tight end Rashun Dixon.  That particular Dixon spent six years playing minor league baseball before joining the Bulldogs last July.

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VIDEO: Oregon athletes say thank you to Marcus Mariota

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On the field, no one did it better under center for Oregon than Marcus Mariota.

He was a first-team All-Pac-12 selection each of the last two years, and left the Ducks holding the all-time school record for, among others, total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns.  He stands as the conference’s all-time leader in total touchdowns and the league’s single-season leader for passing yards and passing touchdowns.  He staked his claim to a slew of awards including the Walter Camp, Maxwell, Davey O’Brien, Manning and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm as well as being the first-ever UO player to be the recipient of the Heisman Trophy.

Off the field he may have been even more impressive as there might not have been a more likable or respected player in all of college football.

And, for all of that, the university is grateful.  In particular, his former fellow student-athletes at the school, who put together a “thank you” video and released a couple of days before Mariota is expected to be selected no lower than No. 2 in the NFL draft.

 

Simple and extremely well done.  Bravo, young men and women.

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SEC coaches won’t be permitted to accept Harbaugh’s camp invite

Michigan Football Spring Game

Not that we really expected any different outcome, but coaches in the Southern part of the country won’t be permitted to accept Jim Harbaugh‘s offer of Northern hospitality.

Late last week, in the midst of criticism from others in his profession over the controversial move of guest coaching at satellite camps across the country, Harbaugh took to Twitter to invite all college football coaches to a Michigan camp this summer.  Even as “guest coaches,” SEC coaches are barred by their conference from attending such camps more than 50 miles from their campus and, unfortunately, that will remain the case.

Well that’s a buzzkill.  The thought of Nick Saban or Les Miles or Steve Spurrier guest coaching in Ann Arbor is enough to make a grown man giddy.

Oh well, maybe next year — unless that loophole’s closed across the board as some are pushing for, that is.

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FSU gets Winston accuser’s lawsuit moved from Orlando to Tallahassee

Jameis Winston; David Cornwell AP

After seeking and failing to get a lawsuit filed against tossed, at least for now, Florida State has claimed one legal victory.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the lawsuit filed against the university by Erica Kinsman, the former FSU student who accused Jameis Winston of raping her, has been moved from a federal court in Orlando to one in Tallahassee.  The U.S. District Judge in Orlando, Gregory Presnell, agreed with FSU’s contention that he had no jurisdiction over the school.

Kinsman’s lawyers had argued against the change of venue, with the alleged victim claiming she fearful of her safety if the case was moved to Tallahassee.  She also feared she couldn’t get a fair trial in the same city in which Winston had starred for the Seminoles.

In January of this year, Kinsman filed the lawsuit, seeking a trial by jury and damages, against the university’s trustees.  In the suit, it was claimed that the university was responsible for Title IX violations because of a ‘clearly unreasonable response'” to the sexual assault allegations and “allowing a ‘hostile educational environment.'”

Winston was never charged criminally in connection to the allegations of sexual assault. The lawsuit was filed nearly three weeks after Winston was cleared in the school code of conduct hearing, which was also connected to the rape allegations.  The accuser appealed that ruling, but it was subsequently upheld.

In April of last year, attorney’s for the accuser blasted the university for either delaying or outright terminating a Title IX investigation into the allegations. Five months later, it was reported that the university had reopened the investigation.

Winston’s adviser subsequently released a scathing statement claiming that the accuser was the one dragging her feet when it came to the federally-mandated investigation.  That adviser, David Cornwell, also accused the alleged victim’s camp of seeking $7 million from Winston to keep quiet.

Also in April of last year, it was reported that the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights has launched its own investigation into FSU’s handling of the case.

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Surgery in the offing for Jayhawk QB Michael Cummings

Michael Cummings (14)

The quarterback position at Kansas took a significant shot over the weekend.  Just how significant remains to be seen.

As previously reported, Michael Cummings sustained a knee injury in Saturday’s spring game.  Two days later, KU announced that Cummings will undergo surgery in the not-too-distant future to repair the damage.

The specific nature of the injury wasn’t detailed, nor was a timeline for a return given.

“Michael sustained a left knee injury that is going to require surgery,” Jayhawk head coach David Beaty said in a statement. “Following his surgery he will work diligently, alongside our medical staff, to get back to the field as quickly as possible.”

While quarterbacks were off-limits for contact, Cummings was inadvertently tackled by a teammate on the play that led to the injury to his left knee.

“It was a complete freak accident,” said Cummings in his statement. “I have reviewed the film from Saturday and Michael Glatczak (the player who made the tackle) was being blocked down the field and had his back to the action for almost the entire play. At the last second he turned to make the tackle without having any idea who was carrying the ball. He is a great kid, a great teammate and again it was just a very unfortunate accident.”

Or maybe not.

Cummings started the last seven games at quarterback for the Jayhawks and accounted for a total of 13 of KU’s 25 offensive touchdowns — nine passing, four rushing. Provided he’s healthy, Cummings will enter summer camp as the front-runner for the starting job.

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After leaving A&M, LaQuvionte Gonzalez lands at Kansas

Chick-fil-A Bowl - Duke v Texas A&M Getty Images

Last Monday, LaQuvionte Gonzalez took to Twitter to announce he was transferring from Texas A&M. A week later, Gonzalez took to the same social media platform to announce where he will continue his collegiate playing career.

In a tweet, Gonzalez revealed that he has decided to transfer to “the University of Kansas.” After sitting out the 2015 season t satisfy NCAA transfer bylaws, the wide receiver will have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2016.

A big reason for Gonzalez’s decision to move on to the Jayhawks is David Beaty. In his first year as KU’s head coach, Beaty spent three years (2012-14) as A&M’s wide receivers coach and, in addition to serving as his position coach, helped recruit Gonzalez to the Aggies.

A four-star member of A&M’s 2013 recruiting class, Gonzalez was rated as the No. 30 player at any position in the state of Texas and the No. 234 player overall byRivals.com.

As a true freshman in 2013, Gonzalez was fifth on the team with 21 receptions and 240 receiving yards.  His production took a precipitous drop in 2014, however, as he finished with just five receptions for 77 yards.

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Alabama, Auburn, Ohio State big early favorites for Week 1

Nick Saban AP

Only a little over four months until college football. That’s practically nothing! It’s only one-third of the year!

Fortunately, we have some stuff to talk about this Monday morning involving that first week of the season. The 5dimes sportsbook released some fresh Week 1 odds, with the following highlights:

Ohio State – 20.5 @ Virginia Tech
TCU – 19.5 @ Minnesota
UCLA – 16 @ Virginia
Alabama – 12.5 vs. Wisconsin (Arlington, Texas)
Auburn – 12.5 vs. Louisville (Atlanta, Ga.)
Notre Dame -12.5 vs. Texas
South Carolina – 7.5 vs. North Carolina
Texas A&M – 5.5 vs. Arizona State
Utah – 3.5 vs. Michigan

There’s plenty of time for transfers, injuries and suspensions to affect these lines. Ohio State and Virginia Tech may have opposite trajectories right now, but the Buckeyes being nearly a three-touchdown favorite on the road against a Power Five opponent stands out.

On the other end of the spectrum, Jim Harbaugh certainly won’t have an easy debut heading to Salt Lake City. And while Texas is still grinding through a rebuild, Notre Dame only has beat two Power Five teams at home by more than 12 points in the last three years (Michigan 2014, Wake Forest 2012).

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Urban Meyer collects another Buckeye national title trophy

MacArthur Bowl

After being feted at the White House and showing off multiple title rings and myriad other events, one more celebratory festivity was held as Ohio State officially closes the book on the 2014 season and shifts its full focus to 2015.

At the College Football Hall of Fame in Atlanta Sunday, head coach Urban Meyer was officially presented with the MacArthur Bowl, handed out annually by the National Football Foundation to the FBS champion.  The Buckeyes, thanks to their 42-20 win over Oregon in the first-ever College Football Playoff title game this past January, are the 57th team to be presented the trophy since it was first handed out in 1959.

It also marked the fourth MacArthur Bowl for the OSU football program, joining the 2002, 1970 and 1968 teams.  Meyer also won two (2006, 2008) during his time at Florida.

“On behalf of the Ohio State University I want to thank Chick-fil-A… obviously the National Football Foundation and Steve [Hatchell] and then this beautiful Hall of Fame for having us here,” Meyer said in quotes sent out by the NFF. “It should be a tradition for the head coach to come celebrate at this incredible facility with fans. I want to thank our players, we had an incredible group and they should be here. They are part of history. We really try to develop a program where the players love each other and it’s a family atmosphere.

“The 2014 Buckeyes, that was a real team. How did they overcome adversity? Because they cared for each other. I’m honored to be here and on behalf of Ohio State, my football players and coaching staff to accept this incredible award. It has incredible history and we’ll forever be grateful to be on the side of this beautiful trophy.”

And, yes, this particular trophy is named in honor of the famed Army general.

Ohio State closed out the last of its spring practice sessions last weekend, setting an all-time spring game attendance record in the process.  OSU will open up its defense of the 2014 title with a road trip to Blacksburg against Virginia Tech, the only team to beat the Buckeyes in 2014.

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James Franklin to throw out first pitch at Yankees game

New Era Pinstripe Bowl - Boston College v Penn State Getty Images

The head football coach at Penn State will offering his ceremonial services to a stick-and-ball sport in the near future, the school announced this past week.

In a press release, Penn State revealed that James Franklin will throw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium Tuesday prior to the start of the New York Yankees-Tamp Bay Rays game. The contest will essentially serve as a Penn State night at the Bronx stadium, with Nittany Lions fans able to purchase tickets for up to 50-percent off.

This will actually serve as Franklin’s second on-field trip to that particular ballpark in less than four months.

In late December, Penn State squared off with Boston College in the fifth annual Pinstripes Bowl at Yankee Stadium. The Nittany Lions were able to claim an overtime win after the Eagles’ kicker misfired on an extra point attempt in the first overtime session.

“It’s such an awesome opportunity to throw out the first pitch and take in a Yankees game at such an iconic stadium,” Franklin said in a statement. “The Yankees’ staff was great to work with and hosted a first-class event in the Pinstripe Bowl. The experience our student-athletes, coaches and staff had at Yankee Stadium in December was second to none. I am looking forward to taking the mound, maybe I will try to get some pitching advice from Masahiro Tanaka or Michael Pineda.”

Franklin and his Nittany Lions concluded spring practice last weekend with the third-highest attendance total for a spring game this year, and will open the coach’s second season in Happy Valley Sept. 5 at Temple. The home opener comes a week later against Buffalo of the MAC.

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WVU reportedly the new home for Miami’s Antonio Crawford

A.J. Blue, Antonio Crawford

Antonio Crawford might be in for what some people would call “a culture shock.”

Following a couple of weeks worth of speculation, Miami confirmed in late February that Crawford was no longer a part of the Hurricanes football program.  Crawford had aired his grievances with his position on the roster on social media, which hastened the parting of ways.

Nearly two months later, the defensive back and Tampa native has reportedly taken his football talents from near South Beach to Morgantown.

Crawford, a three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2012 recruiting class, started two of the 38 games in which he played the last three seasons.  Both of those starts came in 2013.

The defensive back likely would’ve entered summer camp as Miami’s top nickel corner, a role he had manned the past two seasons.  Instead, after sitting out the 2015 season, he’ll have one final season of eligibility in 2016.

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Jaxon Hood making way back to Sun Devils?

Weber State v Arizona State Getty Images

Because of what were described as personal issues, Jaxon Hood twice left the Arizona State football program shortly before and then during the 2014 season.

While he’s not returned from the second sabbatical, he could in the near future. Maybe.

On his protected Twitter account Friday, Hood proclaimed “I’m back” and “[t]he road to greatness continues.” When a writer who covers the Sun Devils wrote on Twitter that “Hood’s tweets insinuate nothing about playing football” and that the tweets “[c]ould mean anything in [his] personal life,” Hood responded.

Hold the bus on the Welcome Wagon, though.

The Arizona Republic, citing a source with knowledge of the situation, is reporting that Hood is not officially back with the football team. As of early Sunday afternoon, Hood was not listed on ASU’s online roster, although head coach Todd Graham said late this past week that he wouldn’t rule out an eventual return.

Such a development would be a positive one for ASU’s defensive line rotation.

In starting 12 games as a true freshman in 2012, Hood earned numerous Freshman All-American honors. He was the starter at nose tackle in 2013, then started the first eight games of the season before missing the remainder of the year with his second bout with personal issues.

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Ex-Okla. St. WR Ra’Shaad Samples reportedly transfers to Houston

Oklahoma State v Mississippi State Getty Images

Nearly two months to the day after Ra’Shaad Samples‘ decision to transfer from Oklahoma State went public, the wide receiver has found a landing spot.

Citing sources with knowledge of the situation, Mark Berman of KRIV-TV is reporting that Samples has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at Houston.  The school has yet to officially announce the addition of Samples to the roster, although that’s expected to happen at some point this week.

Because of NCAA transfer rules, Samples will be forced to sit out the 2015 season.  He’ll then have two seasons of eligibility remaining beginning in 2016.

A four-star member of OSU’s 2013 recruiting class coming out of high school in Dallas, Samples was rated as the No. 33 receiver in the country and the No. 32 player at any position in the state of Texas. Along with fellow receiver Marcell Ateman and defensive back Jerel Morrow, Samples was the highest-rated member of that year’s Cowboy class.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Samples played in six games in 2014. In that limited action, he caught three passes for 11 yards.

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Report: FSU not expecting NCAA penalties for Jameis’ crab hook-up

Jameis Winston

At least as far as Florida State is concerned, the athletic department is going Lt. Drebin on the latest Jameis Winston revelations — alright, move on, nothing to see here.  Please disperse.

In an interview with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh that appeared on an ESPN NFL draft special last week, the former FSU quarterback, for the first time, stated publicly that he had received a seafood hook-up from an individual who worked at a Tallahassee grocery store. Winston went on to claim that he had gotten a similar hook-up from the Publix employee on at least one other occasion prior to that.

While Winston’s former head coach Jimbo Fisher stated that FSU’s compliance department had previously looked into the issue but felt like it was an isolated incident, athletic director Stan Wilcox subsequently released a statement saying “we will work in partnership with the NCAA to determine whether a violation occurred.”

According to the Tallahassee Democrat, which cites a source close to the football program, the school “does not expect any NCAA violations to stem from the latest revelation in Jameis Winston’s shoplifting incident.” Wilcox declined to respond to the Democrat’s report, but did state that he doesn’t expect the situation be a drawn-out one.

Winston was issued a citation late last April for shoplifting crab legs from a local Publix store. At the time, Winston claimed to police he had simply forgotten to pay for the seafood.

After leaving the Seminoles early for the NFL, Winston is widely expected to be the top pick in the upcoming draft.

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Blind USC walk-on hopeful will need NCAA waiver

Jake Olson Pete Carroll

Leave it to the NCAA and its policies to be the buzzkill, at least temporarily, as it concerns a potentially heartwarming story.

Last week it was reported that high school senior Jake Olson will attempt to become a walk-on at USC this year. Olson is a young man who, in addition to being a USC super fan, lost his eyesight to a rare form of cancer a few years ago and was essentially adopted by the Trojans football program in general and former head coach Pete Carroll specifically.

Flipping a middle finger in the general direction of his blindness, Olson became a long-snapper on his high school football team. He became so adept at that particular skill, in fact, that current USC head coach Steve Sarkisian very firmly stated that, when it comes to Olson snapping in a game for the Trojans, “it will happen” someday.

Before someday comes, though, Olson will have to navigate some NCAA obstacles.

Olson, you see, is one of this year’s recipients of a Swim With Mike scholarship, a handful of which are awarded annually from the Physically Challenged Athletes Scholarship fund at USC. Because that scholarship is considered an athletic one, the Orange County Register explains, Olson would count as one of the 85 scholarship players for the Trojans. From the Register‘s report:

The way the NCAA determines counters, football supersedes all other sports. According to bylaw 15.5.9.1, even a student-athlete “who was not recruited and/or offered financial aid to participate in football and who competes in football and one or more (other) sports shall be counted in football.”

Schools in the Football Bowl Subdivision have annual caps of 25 “initial counters” (incoming freshmen and transfers) and 85 total scholarships. USC has reached its limit of initial counters for 2015 – the first year it has been able to add a full recruiting class since 2011 because of NCAA sanctions.

The university will seek a waiver from the NCAA that would allow Olson to be a counted as a non-scholarship walk-on and not count against the 85-man limit.

As it turns out, there are other potential “issues” for which the family is being proactive and very upfront about in working with the school’s compliance officials. “Jake is a published author, makes motivational speeches and is involved in a charitable foundation – all of which the Olsons plan to vet through USC’s compliance department,” the Register writes.

“Jake has aspirations to walk on to the team and play football at USC,” Jake’s father, Brian Olson, told the paper. “There has to be a process of approaching the NCAA. We’re putting faith in the process that there’s a positive outcome for Jake. We’ll take it as it comes.

“It’s nothing negative. It’s just the way things are at the college level.”

The Register is of the belief that it’s unlikely the NCAA will deny Olson the waiver. Hopefully, the NCAA gets it right this time.

(Photo credit: openyoureyes.org)

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Big Ten, SEC each draw 400,000+ fans in spring football

Ohio State Spring Game Getty Images

When it comes to spring football, the Big Ten and SEC tend to rule the attendance game. It only makes sense with the largest stadiums in the country mostly residing within the Big Ten or SEC, not to mention some of the top brands in the game. Both conferences went over the 400,000 fan mark this year in the conference-wide spring game attendance figures.

Both conferences closed the books on spring practices Saturday with Tennessee and Arkansas the last two SEC schools to play a spring game and Iowa, Michigan State and Wisconsin closing out the Big Ten spring schedule. When all was said and done, the Big Ten edges the SEC in spring attendance by roughly 2,000 fans.

The Big Ten’s spring total added up to 410,943 fans. That includes a new national record set by Ohio State (99,391) and three other schools with over 60,000 fans (Nebraska, Penn State, Michigan). Michigan State also set a new school record with 48,000 fans on Saturday. Illinois, Maryland and Northwestern are not included in that total due to not keeping track or recording a spring game attendance.

The SEC ended the spring with 408,599 fans coming out to SEC stadiums. The Big Ten numbers were top heavy, but there was a little bit more even distribution of fans throughout the SEC, with the notable exception of Vanderbilt. It should be noted Kentucky and Texas A&M did not play a spring game or record any spring attendance numbers. It should be expected Texas A&M be a solid spring draw next year after the completion of renovations on Kyle Field (better than Jerry World?). That could be enough to push the SEC in front of the Big Ten if we assume most of these attendance numbers are roughly the same in 2016.

Numbers are still coming in for the Big 12 and Pac-12, but none of the other power conferences will even sniff 200,000 fans this spring. It’s just a different routine in the Big Ten and SEC every spring, and the attendance numbers show it.

Source: 2015 Spring Football Attendance

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