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CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Big 12 Predictions

WVU vs Marshall

As the 2014 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the Big 12 Conference.

And while we’re at it, check out our CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository for our team’s looks at the upcoming season.

BIG 12

1. Oklahoma (Last year: 11-2; beat Alabama in Sugar Bowl)
Will the real Oklahoma Sooners please stand up? Questions surround one of the most talented teams in college football. Will Trevor Knight be the quarterback that shredded Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, or will he revert to the player that couldn’t initially beat out Blake Bell (who converted to tight end) to become the team’s starting quarterback? Will wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham receive a waiver from the NCAA to play this season? How will the Sooners overcome the losses of their top tackler, Frank Shannon, and five-star freshman Joe Mixon? And, historically, the Sooners have a penchant to disappoint after being named a preseason Top 5 team. The program will enter this season ranked fourth overall in the AP Poll and third in USA TODAY’s Coaches Poll. Despite these questions, the Sooners are still the favorites to win the Big 12. Oklahoma returns eight starters to a defensive unit that was the Big 12’s best last season. The group is led by outside linebacker Eric Striker, who is one of the most feared defenders in the country. Knight is the key on offense, but the quarterback will benefit from an experienced and talented offensive line. Both of the team’s starting offensive tackles as well as left guard Adam Shead return for another season. The Sooners’ ability to win up front on both sides of the ball will give them a decided advantage each week. Oklahoma will need it, because the team may have to go undefeated to be a part of the inaugural College Football Playoff.

2. Baylor (Last year: 11-2; lost to UCF in Fiesta Bowl) 
Despite Oklahoma’s status as the favorite to claim a Big 12 crown, it’s a wide-open race and the Bears have just as much chance to win a conference title. Whereas the Sooners will rely heavily on a strong defense and an improving offense, the Bears will continue to score points in bunches and hope they can stop opponents at least once or twice per game. The biggest advantage the Bears have among their conference rivals is the play of quarterback Bryce Petty. Petty threw for 4,200 yards, 32 touchdowns and only three interceptions during his first full season as a starter. Petty should be even better during his second season as he continues to grow in all phases of the game. The Bears also lay claim to the most talented group of skill position players in the conference. Five of the team’s top six receivers from last year return, while running Shock Linwood will get an opportunity to show how explosive he is as the team’s new starting running back. The Bears will score points in bunches. It will fall on the defense to makes sure they don’t surrender more points than the team’s offense can score. College football is more offensive driven than its ever been, but we’ll give Oklahoma a very slight edge over Baylor due to the old adage, “Defense wins championships.”

3. Texas (Last year: 8-5; lost to Oregon in Alamo Bowl)
Everything Texas does this season will be under a microscope. New head coach Charlie Strong will be scrutinized at every turn. How the team responds to Strong, both on and off the field, will be compared to the program’s former coach, Mack Brown. Strong has already made a statement during the offseason by suspending or dismissing numerous players. Everyone will be anxious to see whether or not this new-found discipline in the locker room will eventually translate to the field. In four seasons with the Louisville Cardinals, Strong was 37-15 overall with an impressive Sugar Bowl victory over the Florida Gators in 2012. What Strong inherits in Texas is a far more talented roster than he ever had in Louisville, and his Cardinals finished No. 1 overall in total defense last season. Strong, a former defensive coordinator, should be giddy with the talent he now has on the defensive side of the football. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown and defensive end Cedric Reed are as good of an inside-outside defensive line tandem as can be found in college football. On offense, meanwhile, the team will will rely on quarterback David Ash again. Believe it or not, Ash is the most experienced quarterback in the Big 12. But this will be a run-first team with the talented Malcolm Brown and the recovering Jonathan Gray running behind a big and athletic offensive line. Texas has enough to compete for a Big 12 championship if it finally puts everything together on both sides of the football.

4. Texas Tech (Last year: 8-5; beat Arizona State in Holiday Bowl)
The Red Raiders did their best disappearing act a year ago. Kliff Kingsbury‘s squad started 7-0 and was ranked as high as 10th overall before the team faded down the stretch. Texas Tech lost five straight to end the team’s regular season but bounced back with a 37-23 victory against the Arizona State Sun Devils in the Holiday Bowl. The losing streak showed the Red Raiders weren’t ready to play against the big boys of the Big 12. However, the win in the bowl game showed the team’s resiliency and growth during the month the team had to regroup and grow with the extra practices. And the Red Raiders will continue to build their program under Kingsbury. The biggest growth should come on the offensive side of the ball. Texas Tech already had the best passing offense in the conference last year, and it should be even better in 2014. Davis Webb enters his first full season as starter. Webb threw for over 400 yards in four games and finished with 20-to-9 touchdown-interception ratio. Both of his offensive tackles and center return along the offensive line. And each of the wide receivers expected to start received plenty of playing time last season. The defense is another matter altogether, but this is a team built to win games with its passing game and offensive explosiveness. Kingsbury has made his mark in a very short time as a head coach, and his team should be expected to impress during his second season with the program.

5. Kansas State (Last year: 8-5; beat Michigan in Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl)
Everyone will know whether or not the Wildcats are for real this season by Sept. 18. On that day, Kansas State will host the Auburn Tigers. The clash of styles will make for an highly intriguing game. The reason this game is so important for the Wildcats is because the teams they lost to last season either ran the ball very well or operated with tempo on offense. The Tigers do both, and they do both very well. The game is Manhattan, and Kansas State will be prepared very well by the ageless Bill Snyder. This is a program that is built around playing fundamental football and winning close games. Three top offensive linemen may have left the program after last season, but the team should still be very good up front with B.J. Finney at center and Cody Whitehair at left guard. They’ll be blocking for a quarterback, Jake Waters, who will be going into his second season as the team’s starter. And Tyler Lockett is one of the most dynamic wide receivers and return men in the nation. This is a team that could very well finish much higher or lower in the standings. It’s all dependent on whether or not the ball bounces in their favor, because they don’t have a player the caliber of Collin Klein to carry the team to the top of the conference.

6. TCU (Last year: 4-8)
It’s been a rough transition to the Big 12 for the Horned Frogs. The team is 11-14 since making the move. The program lost a combined 13 games the previous six seasons. However, this year’s squad is regarded as the most talented since it entered the league. Last season, the Horned Frogs’ defense played at a high level and finished second in the league. The biggest story line of the offseason, though, was the potential return and eventual dismissal of Devonte Fields. The defensive end was voted the Big 12’s preseason Defensive of the Year even after missing nine games last season due to injury. Fields, who was named the Big 12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2012, was a game-changing talent and his presence on the field will be missed greatly. The team also lost one of the best cornerbacks in school history when Jason Verrett graduated and went on to become a first-round selection in May’s NFL draft. Despite these losses, this unit is still talented, particularly at linebacker. Both Jonathan Anderson and Paul Dawson return. And head coach Gary Patterson always has that side of the football prepared to play at a high level. It’s on the offensive side of the football the Horned Frogs are expected to experience the most growth. While a starter has yet to be named at quarterback, Trevone Boykin should be more comfortable behind center after starting nine games last year and Matt Joeckel is a talented transfer from Texas A&M. The team can always lean heavily on its skill positions. Running backs Aaron Green and B.J. Catalon as well as the team’s top receiver, Josh Doctson, are back. TCU may not return to the level of winning it experienced prior to becoming a member of the Big 12, but the team should be much better than 4-8 during the upcoming season.

7. Oklahoma State (Last year: 10-3; lost to Missouri in Cotton Bowl)
It’s difficult to place the Cowboys this low in the standings. After all, the program has won at least 10 games three of the last four years. It’s been seven years since Oklahoma finished this low in the Big 12 standings. The biggest concern for this team is experience. Both sides of the ball will be overhauled after losing a total of 14 starters. It isn’t just how many starters the Cowboys lost, but who they lost. Justin Gilbert was an elite cornerback and returner. Defensive tackle Calvin Barnett could be dominant at times. The team’s top three tacklers from last season are gone. Three of the team’s top four receivers graduated. And the offensive line will have four new starters, while senior Daniel Koenig will transition from right to left tackle. Head coach Mike Gundy will still find ways to manufacture points due to his dynamic offensive scheme, but this is simply too much talent for a team to lose and still hope to be legitimate contenders.

8. Iowa State (Last year: 3-9)
Three years ago, Iowas State head coach Paul Rhoads was considered one of the top coaching candidates in college football. The Cyclones rewarded him with a 10-year contract worth $20 million. The Cyclones are 9-16 since then, and the team is coming off a 3-9 season. Two of those wins came at the end end of the season when quarterback Sam Richardson wasn’t in the starting lineup. Yet, Richardson won this summer’s quarterback competition. The rest of last year’s starting offense remains virtually intact. Plus, Richardson will now have a legitimate No. 1 target at wide receiver in freshman Allen Lazard. Despite the positives on the offensive side of the ball, the Cyclones’ defense was the worst in the Big 12 last season. The program simply doesn’t have the athletes on that side of the ball to compete against the explosive offenses they face this season.

9. West Virginia (Last year: 4-8)
It’s a make-or-break season for West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. The team has gotten progressively worse each season Holgorsen has been at the helm of the program and tensions are building in Morgantown. Holgorsen’s entire program is built around his offense. An offense which disappointed in 2013 and finished 62nd overall in yardage per game. That level of production simply isn’t good enough when the defense continues to be an issue for the Mountaineers. The defensive coordinator position has been a revolving door under Holgorsen’s supervision. Former Penn State coordinator Tom Bradley was hired as a senior associate head coach during the offseason. Bradley’s inclusion to the staff is a last-ditch attempt to get a woeful defense on track. If it doesn’t and Holgorsen can’t revive his offense — and it doesn’t seem likely — there will be major changes within the program.

10. Kansas (Last year: 3-9)
At this point, what is there to say about Charlie Weis‘ tenure at Kansas? It’s a failed experiment. Yes, the team improved by two wins during Weis’ second season and finally captured a conference victory for the first time in three years. But Weis’ plan to inject talent into the roster with a plethora of junior college additions and transfers didn’t do nearly enough to close the gap with the rest of the teams in the Big 12. All is not bleak, though. The Jayhawks return 17 starters. The team has officially given the reins to quarterback Montell Cozart, who decided to stay in-state to be the future of Jayhawks football. His growth at the position will play a major part in Kansas’ improvement this season. The team also has a solid edge-rushing duo in junior Ben Goodman and senior Michael Reynolds. Overall, It’s difficult to win at this basketball school. And it’s even more difficult to establish a long-term winning culture. After a quick peak at the schedule, it’s hard to project this team winning more than three or four games even in a best-case scenario.

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Iowa WR breaks Odell Beckham’s Guinness world record

Iowa v Minnesota

Iowa’s Tevaun Smith didn’t just one-up New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. a day after he set a world record. The junior from Toronto, Canada easily surpassed Beckham’s mark and caught nearly as many one-handed passes in a minute than he did all season.

Beckham originally set the record Thursday by making 33 catches without a drop in 60 seconds. Smith, who caught 43 passes for 596 yards last season, decided he was up to the task with 41 one-handed snags.

The Iowa Hawkeyes athletic department recorded the record-breaking event, via ESPN:

After being challenged, Beckham will surely attempt to break the new record.

“The type of person I am, I love breaking records, no matter what it is,” Beckham said Thursday in an interview with CBS New York. “I look forward to breaking and going above and beyond what somebody else has done.”

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FCS coaches not sure Vernon Adams can transition from EWU to Oregon

Eastern Washington v Washington

There is very little Vernon Adams can prove with another year at Eastern Washington.

During his time as a member of the Eagles, the quarterback has proved he’s one of the elite players at the FCS level of play, and he helped lead his team to three straight playoff appearances.

In 37 career games, Adams threw for 10,438 yards, 110 touchdowns and 31 interceptions. Plus, the quarterback ran for 1,232 yards and 11 more touchdowns.

However, none of this means he’s ready to make the leap from the FCS level to play for the Oregon Ducks, who just played in a national championship game.

Adams is still entertaining the idea of transferring, though, as he prepares to visit Eugene this weekend.

“I’m not saying I’m leaving Eastern, but I’m just going to check it out and see what they have to say,” Adams told The Spokesman-Review‘s Jim Allen.

FCS coaches believe Adams can play at the level, but it may not be the right time for the quarterback to make the move.

“If I was advising him, I’d say he should stay,” Sam Houston State’s K.C. Keeler told The Oregonian‘s Andrew Greif.

Keeler once coached Joe Flacco at Delaware before eventually becoming the Bearkats’ head coach. Sam Houston State even faced Eastern Washington to open its 2014 campaign.

“I walked out of that saying I don’t think I’ll see a better quarterback in the country and in my time coaching, I can’t list a whole lot better than I just saw,” Keeler said. “I have no reservation saying he’ll go into the Oregon locker room and that he’ll be as talented as anybody. It’s just there are a lot of things that go into being a starting quarterback.

“I’m disappointed he’s leaving because I think what players have to understand is bigger is not better, better is better. He’s developed an unbelievable following at Eastern Washington and I’d be disappointed he’s leaving our level. I’m not excited that he’s trying to bump up to a higher level. The more he plays, the better he’s going to get, and I don’t know if that’s the situation at Oregon.”

One obstacle Adams will face if he does decide to transfer is waiting to become part of the Ducks program until this summer. The quarterback is on track to graduate in June, which means he wouldn’t be able to participate in Oregon’s spring ball.

“I think there’s a real risk for Vernon Adams to do that,” former Oregon receivers coach and current Montana coach Robin Pflugrad said. “Can Vernon Adams do it? I’m a firm believer he can having seen him and having watched him from afar. It’s just going to be a totally different challenge for him and some of that is mental.”

The coaches were in agreement on one thing. If Adams does transfer to Oregon, they’ll be rooting for him to succeed.

“We’d cheer for him and a lot more than when he was playing against us, too,” Montana State’s Rob Ash said.

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Touted 2014 JUCO transfer leaving K-State for EKU

With National Signing Day five days away, here’s your daily reminder that recruiting hype doesn’t necessarily translate into on-field success.

D’Vonta Derricott was a four-star JUCO member of Kansas State’s 2014 recruiting class, rated as the No. 3 outside linebacker prospect coming from that level of football. Derricott never saw the field in 2014, taking a redshirt for his first season in Manhattan.

As it turns out, Derricott won’t ever see the field for K-State as he has decided to transfer, announcing via Twitter Thursday that he’s moving on to Eastern Kentucky.  According to the Manhattan Mercury, Derricott had been removed from K-State’s Alamo Bowl roster, although head coach Bill Snyder seemed to indicate that the door was at least slightly open for a return.

Because EKU plays at the FCS level, the linebacker will be eligible to play immediately in 2015. Counting this season, he will have two years of eligibility remaining.

(Photo credit: Kansas State athletics)

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Two more opt to transfer from Michigan

Michigan v Nebraska Getty Images

The work week began with word that a Michigan player has decided to leave Ann Arbor.  As it turns out, it’ll end the same way.  Times two.

First off, on Instagram Friday, Russell Bellomy announced that he will transfer out of the UM football program. In a very heartfelt statement, the quarterback asked that “you respect my decision and support me in whatever I do.”

Below is the statement, in its entirety.

“To those of you that know me well, I always try my hardest never to get emotional; however, I write this with a heavy heart. My heart is packed full of experiences, acquaintances and irreplaceable memories that I will reminisce on for the rest of my life. I love each and every one of my teammates, both former and present, and I hope y’all know that every day I busted my butt for you and the benefit of UM.

“I will receive my degree at the end of this semester and have decided to sign my release that enables me to play my 5th year as a graduate student at another university. I pray that you respect my decision and support me in whatever I do, because this was not an easy process. I am forever grateful to have attended and played for UM and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. “For I know the plans I have for you…” #GoBlueAlways”

As noted in the statement, Bellomy will be a graduate transfer, which means he would be eligible to play in 2015 if he decides to move on to an FBS program. The release granted by Michigan, which Bellomy showed on his social media post, allows him to transfer to any school not on the Wolverines’ schedule.

Russell Bellomy Release

Bellomy, a three-star member of the Wolverines’ 2011 recruiting class, played in six games during his time at UM, completing 4-of-23 passes for 46 yards and four interceptions.  Three of those interceptions came in a 23-9 loss to Nebraska in October of 2012, a game in which he was forced into action because of an elbow injury to starter Denard Robinson.

A short time later, teammate and defensive end-turned-tight end Keith Heitzman did the same thing as Bellomy, and on the same website to boot.

“The past few years have been an unforgettable journey full of ever lasting memories, both exciting and saddening. I have experienced the spoils of winning and the heartbreak of losing. I have always blamed my struggles on external factors and never realized that all of this was part of the process of becoming a Michigan man. It has been the most challenging yet rewarding 4 years of my life and for that I will be forever grateful.

“However, this moment right now has manifested itself into the toughest experience as of yet. I have signed my release form allowing me to talk with other schools for the potential to transfer. As of right now I will leave this great institution in the spring with a degree in hand and friendships that will last a lifetime. I have to make the best possible decision for me, therefore, I feel like I need to explore my options. I have to thank all the fans for their continued support through the turbulent times over these past few years and promise that Michigan is destined for greatness in the future. #forevergoblue”

Last season, Heitzman caught two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown in playing in all 12 games.  Heitzman was a three-star member of UM’s 2011 recruiting class, and will be eligible to play immediately at an FBS school because he will be a grad transfer.

Monday, it was reported that running back Justice Hayes would be leaving as a graduate transfer. Prior to that, and between the firing of Brady Hoke and the hiring of Jim Harbaugh, linebacker Michael Ferns and offensive lineman Kyle Bosch left the program as well. Both of those players ultimately landed at West Virginia.

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Report: Clancy Pendergast is front-runner for Utah DC job

California v Washington State Getty Images

After a year away from the game, it appears Clancy Pendergast could be back in it if he so desires.  Reportedly.

Accord to Scott Wolf of the Los Angeles Daily News*, Pendergast has emerged as the front-runner for the defensive coordinator job at Utah.  The Utes have been without a coordinator on that side of the ball for well over a month after Kalani Sitake left for the same post at Oregon State.

Pendergast was last on the sidelines as the coordinator at USC in 2013, his lone season with the Trojans.  He wasn’t retained as part of Steve Sarkisian‘s new coaching staff.  For the three years before that, he served in the same position at Cal.

Prior to that, Pendergast had spent 15 seasons as an assistant at the NFL level.  During his stint as coordinator with Arizona (2004-08), the Cardinals earned the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl berth following the 2008 season.

As LSU searched for its new coordinator, Pendergast was interviewed as a potential replacement for John Chavis before hiring Kevin Steele away from Alabama.

(*Yes, I’m well aware of all y’all’s feelings toward Mr. Wolf.  Please, save yourself the breath and keystrokes.  Thanks in advance.)

 

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Brady Hoke reportedly not in the mix for CMU job

Brady Hoke AP

We still don’t know who will be Central Michigan’s next head football coach.  We can, though, apparently cross off one of the rumored candidates for the job of the school’s coaching to-do list.

Citing an individual with knowledge of the discussions, Mark Snyder of the Detroit Free Press is reporting that Brady Hoke is not in the mix for the CMU job.  Snyder writes “[t]hough CMU considered Hoke… it was not a fit* between the two sides.”

Hoke, of course, was fired as Michigan’s head coach in early December. Prior to his time at UM (2011-14) and San Diego State (2009-10), Hoke served as the head coach at Ball State of the MAC from 2004-08.

The CMU job came open Jan. 22 when Dan Enos abruptly stepped down to become the offensive coordinator at Arkansas. The Chips are currently the only FBS team without a head coach.

Athletic director Dave Heeke stated that he would employ a search firm to aid in the search and would like a replacement in place by signing day Feb. 4; that seems highly unlikely, although not impossible.

Aside from Hoke, other rumored candidates have included Detroit Lions special teams coordinator John Bonamego, Tennessee wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni, Ferris State head coach Tony Annese, Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler, Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal and Illinois defensive coordinator Tim Banks among many, many others.

(*Allow me to get ahead of this: In the comments section, feel free, if it makes you feel better, to let the hefty jokes rain down like beads at Mardi Gras.)

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Title run to net OSU $3 million bump in merchandise royalties

American Money AP

Ohio State’s run to the College Football Playoff championship will have a trickle-down effect economically for the university as a whole.

According to the Columbus Dispatch, OSU officials expect to see an increase of $3 million over last year’s figures when it comes to the sale of licensed merchandise. While the paper writes that “[t]he percentage gain isn’t close to what OSU saw in 2002 when the Buckeyes beat Miami for the national crown, when royalties doubled to $5 million that year over the year before,” it is a figure that will benefit many.

Oddly enough, the greatest financial benefit won’t end up in the athletic department coffers. From the Dispatch:

For every dollar that goes into the licensing office, 55 cents goes to academic affairs, which handles scholarships, libraries, ongoing programs and the university’s 14 college units; 15 cents goes to the athletics department; 15 cents goes to the alumni association; and 15 cents goes to the student life program and its 1,000 student organizations.

That means that just $450,000 or so will go to the athletic department, while the remaining $2.55 million will be directed toward entities that benefit the present and past student populations.

The title run will also continue benefiting small businesses that sell Buckeye gear.

“People were energized long before the game, and people are still coming through the door,” Lori Leavitt Watson, vice president of one such business, told the Dispatch. “This has legs for us.

“What that (championship) does is people are willing to spend money. We had two people call and say they had planned on restringing their flag poles in the spring, but now? Nope. ‘We’re going to do it now, and we want that flag right now.'”

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Arian Foster says he accepted ’40, 50 grand’ from Vols boosters

Tennessee v South Carolina Getty Images

It’s not exactly a shock that Arian Foster stated during an interview Friday that he had accepted money from boosters during his time playing running back at Tennessee; in a documentary that aired in 2013, Foster acknowledged as much.

This time around, though, Foster got into specific dollar amounts, which always piques the interest of some.

During the radio interview with Dan LeBatard Thursday, the current Houston Texans running back was asked about receiving what would be impermissible cash benefits from UT boosters while he was a player.  From the Knoxville News:

“You have people help you out here and there,” Foster said Thursday on the Dan LeBatard show. “Boosters and alumni and ex-players, they all know how it is, man. It’s hard living check to check when you don’t have enough money to go out to the movies or any kind of leisure activity. And you’re not allowed to get a job. Especially when I was in college, they were a lot more stringent on those rules, so at any given chance I got the opportunity, I took a free handout. Absolutely.”

LeBatard pushed Foster for an exact dollar figure. Foster guessed that it was “40, 50 grand throughout my entire career.”

Foster was in Knoxville from 2004-08. His coach during that time was Phillip Fulmer, who released a statement after Foster’s comments in the 2013 documentary became public.

“As the head coach at Tennessee for 17 years, I took great pride in having a program that was NCAA compliant, as did our staff and administration,” Fulmer said at the time. “If we knew of a violation, big or small, we reported it.”

Foster’s comments come amidst a push, especially amongst the Power Five conferences, to put some of the billions of dollars the sports makes back into the pockets of the players in the form of bridging the cost-of-attendance gap. They also come one day after Seattle Seahawk defensive end Michael Bennett called the NCAA “one of the biggest scams in America.”

UPDATED 3:04 p.m. ET: That certainly didn’t take long.

Shortly after we posted the above, UT fans took to Twitter to blast Foster for his admissions during the radio interview yesterday.  At first Foster took this tack…

… and then, as the rhetoric from the other side began to ratchet up, he changed course…

… and ultimately landed here:

Grab your popcorn and head on over to Foster’s Twitter feed HERE.  This could be fun for an hour or two.

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Ezekiel Elliott tops, OSU QB trio among early Heisman favorites

If you thought the third-string quarterback who helped propel Ohio State to a three-win postseason run that culminated in a national championship, and who eschewed early entry into the NFL draft, would be the current Heisman front-runner, you’d be wrong.

Instead, it’s his backfield mate Ezekiel Elliott, who Bovada.lv has installed as a 6/1 favorite to win the 2015 Heisman Trophy.  Considering Elliott’s late-season run, his placement as the front-runner is hardly a surprise.

Over the last three games, which included wins in the Big Ten championship game and the College Football Playoff semifinal and championship games, Elliott, just a sophomore, carried the ball 76 times for 696 yards and eight touchdowns.  That’s more rushing yardage than Wake Forest (479) and Washington State (478) totaled the entire season.  His eight rushing touchdowns in that three-game span were more than Wake (four), Wazzu (five) and Kent State (six) had in 12 games in 2014.

The last running back to win the Heisman was Alabama’s Mark Ingram in 2009.

As for the player alluded to in the lede?  Cardale Jones is at 14/1, tied with a pair of running backs — Alabama’s Derrick Henry, Oklahoma’s Samaje Perine — and behind seven other players.  Right behind Jones are the other parts to OSU’s upcoming three-headed quarterback battle: J.T. Barrett at 16/1, Braxton Miller at 18/1.

Getting back toward the top, a pair of SEC players are right on Elliott’s heels, with Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, a midseason Heisman favorite last year before fading, and LSU freshman running back sensation Leonard Fournette at 7/1.  TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin is not far behind the top three at 15/2.

There are no finalists for the 2014 version of the award on the initial 2015 odds list as all three — Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Wisconsin running back Melvin Gordon, Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper — all left early for the NFL.

Below are the complete set of 2015 Heisman Trophy odds, again courtesy of Bovada.lv:

2015 Initial Bovada Heisman Odds

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Awaiting a UAB resurrection, Bill Clark won’t coach in 2015

UAB Blazers v Arkansas Razorbacks

After killing off the program late last year, there’s a growing sense of hope that football will be reinstated at UAB.  Maybe.

In that vein, the man who led the Blazers to a mini-renaissance, only to see it mercilessly executed, is lying in wait for what many are projecting to be a resurrection.

Speaking to Kevin Scarbinsky of al.com, Bill Clark stated that he’s had several opportunities to coach elsewhere since the sport was controversially axed in early December. Clark wouldn’t divulge any particular programs, but did allow that there were head-coaching as well as assistant offers on the table.

He turned them all down, in part because he wants to see how the situation at UAB plays out — “My heart is still at UAB. I love those people” — and in part because he’ll be fully vested in the state’s retirement system within a year.

Despite the program going on the chopping block, the 46-year-old Clark will still be paid the final two years of his contract, which will allow him to hit the 25-year mark of the state’s vesting threshold later in 2015.

Football-wise, Clark labeled it a “definite possibility” he’d return to the Blazers if the program was reinstated. There was, though, one potentially significant qualifier when it comes to a return.

“There’s a glimmer of hope for me and a lot of folks,” he said. “I love Birmingham and I love the state of Alabama, but a lot of things would have to happen, and it would have to be done correctly.”

The intimation from Clark is that the financial commitment from the school would need to be very tangible as the Blazers would essentially be a start-up program again as nearly every player of merit has fled the university to continue their playing careers elsewhere. Commitment outside of the financial from the administration would also seem to be paramount, although the program would seemingly have the backing of some well-heeled boosters who were ready to step in and save the sport in the first place. Even the faculty at the school would be behind a revival.

The situation’s gotten to the point where a state lawmaker is “seeking a ‘full, thorough, independent’ review of the University of Alabama System Board of Trustees to investigate accusations of board interference involving UAB athletics,” which serves as yet another suggestion that an about-face may be in order — and Clark may be the man to lead it.

In 2014, Clark’s first season at the school, the Blazers posted a 6-6 mark, the first time the team had finished a season with at least a .500 record since 2004. That’s the last time UAB was bowl-eligible, although the Blazers weren’t invited to play in a bowl game at the conclusion of this past season.

Last year was just the fourth time in the program’s 19-year history that the Blazers finished .500 or better, with the other two coming in 2000 and 2001.

Based on his lone season, and his loyalty to the school, Clark deserves the first crack at making it five. That’s the least the university could do if the sport’s reinstated.

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Hacked off: Mora Twitter issues continue

UCLA v Washington State Getty Images

Either Jim Mora or the person responsible for the UCLA head coach’s Twitter account needs to pick up a copy or of “Twitter for Dummies.”

Mora’s Twitter account was originally abandoned earlier this month after a tweet war erupted in the wake of the post-bowl handshake imbroglio with kindly Bill Snyder.  Mora then moved to a private Twitter account before resurrecting the old one, as BruinsNation.com explained.

The account then posted the following photo late last night, one in a series of screen snaps astutely compiled and saved by the same SBNation.com website:

Mora Tweetgate I

That would be a Bruins uniform photoshopped onto the body of Maea Teuhema, a five-star 2015 recruit Mora and the Bruins are trying to flip away from LSU. That would also be an NCAA no-no as coaches are not permitted to acknowledged unsigned prospects in such a manner.

In a gallant attempt to cram the toothpaste back into the tube, one in which we harken back to the golden age of “the dog ate my homework” excuses, the account went here with its explanation:

Mora Tweetgate II

As of now, if you attempt to access Mora’s Twitter account, you get the following

Mora Tweetgate III

When it comes to social media in general and Twitter specifically, Mora might want to take to heart the (paraphrased) sage advice Brian Fantana gently offered Champ Kind: “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you sit this next one out, stop tweeting for a while.”

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Tweet reaffirms top QB Kyler Murray’s commitment to A&M

Kyler Murray

Things seemingly got a little dicey on the quarterback recruiting front for Texas A&M and its faithful over the last week.

Kyler Murray, one of the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the Class of 2015, has been a long-time verbal commitment to Texas A&M, his father’s alma mater. Then came a tweet from Murray’s personal Twitter account in which he showed a picture of a Texas Longhorn jersey while on a surprise visit to Austin.

Just as quickly as the recruit caused a rise in Aggie Nation’s collective blood pressure via Twitter, Murray, following an in-home visit from A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, brought it back down on the same social media website Thursday night with a short and simple missive less than a week before National Signing Day.

In an interview with ESPN.com a short time later, Murray explained that the face-to-face with Sumlin yesterday reaffirmed his commitment to the Aggies.

Texas A&M is where my heart is at,” Murray said late Thursday night. “Coach [Charlie] Strong and Texas is a great opportunity, but I felt that A&M was the place for me. Not because of my dad having played there, but just the right place for me. …

“It went well. All my questions were answered. I just can’t wait to get this all over with and get back to playing ball.”

To further buttress Murray’s commitment, an in-home visit from Strong that had been expected Friday won’t take place after all.

Murray would/will be a four-star member of A&M’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 5 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the No. 9 player at any position in the state of Texas by Rivals.com.  It’s at this point in the program where we note that verbal commitments are non-binding and nothing is official until the Herbie Hancock is put on paper next Wednesday, but it doesn’t appear as if Murray will be flipping at any point in the near future.

A&M, though, is not completely out of the woods when it comes to procuring Murray’s talents for at least the next three years, although the competition could come from another sport.

Meanwhile, baseball is a threat to A&M… when it comes to Murray. As an infielder with power at the plate, he projects as a potential first-round selection in the June amateur draft, and he’ll likely have to decide between signing a pro baseball contract or playing college football.

If he does play football, he has said he intends to play baseball as well at the college of his choosing.

It’s highly likely Murray will opt for football with baseball as a secondary collegiate option ala Jameis Winston, especially given the new MLB restrictions on amateur spending, but it’s a situation that bears keeping at least one eye on when June rolls around.

(Photo credit: Rivals.com)

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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 Getty Images

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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