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Sparty clips Ducks, shows it’s firmly entrenched in playoff discussion

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If this game was a litmus test for Michigan State’s national stage worthiness, Sparty passed — by the skin of its teeth, some would say.  And notwithstanding some quizzical late-game playcalling, others would add.

Last year in Eugene, Oregon took a six-point halftime deficit and turned it into a 19-point runaway win.  A dozen months later, the Spartans took a seven-point halftime lead in East Lansing and turned it into a proclamation of sorts, with their 31-28 win vividly announcing that MSU will be in the College Football Playoff talk for the duration.

Sure, there are potential potholes along the way — like at Michigan, Nebraska and Ohio State in the coming weeks and months — but Sparty showed Saturday night that it can stand toe-to-toe with one of the best college football has to offer and not blink (much).  In fact, it can throw some knockout haymakers of its own — especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Leading 14-7 at the half, MSU pushed the lead out to 10 points twice in the second half, the second coming with 10:51 remaining in the fourth quarter.  The Ducks then pulled to within three at 31-28 with 3:25 remaining on a 15-yards touchdown pass from FCS transfer Vernon Adams to Byron Marshall.  Then came the quizzical, and on both sides.

On the first play of the ensuing possession and starting at their own 22-yard line, a five-yard loss was followed by two inexplicable Connor Cook pass attempts and two incompletions that stopped the clock.  The Spartans were only able to run a little over a minute off the clock, giving the ball back to the Ducks with just over two minutes remaining and just shy of midfield.  After getting the ball down to the MSU 33 and into field-goal range, and facing a third-and-six, Adams did something you simply can’t do in that situation, even in the face of the blitz: he took a sack.  Adams’ pass on fourth-and-16 fell incomplete, essentially icing the game for the Spartans.

Regardless of how it ended, it was a huge win for Mark Dantonio and his football program, one that should resonate with voters — and, more importantly, the playoff committee — when it comes to both squads.  Sparty in particular, though, showed the kind of resilience and resolve and talent that will serve them well as they face some stiff road trips on down the road.

All is not lost for the Ducks, mind you.  Should UO run the table and claim the Pac-12 title, they would certainly be deep in the discussion for a playoff spot — especially if MSU were to be able to run the table as well.

Former 49ers executive reportedly joining Jim Harbaugh in Ann Arbor

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Jim Harbaugh is reaching back to his NFL days for the latest hire at Michigan.

Veteran Bay Area journalist Tim Kawakami reports that recent San Francisco 49ers personnel executive Tom Gamble is headed to Ann Arbor to join the Wolverines staff.

According to the fine folks over at sister site ProFootballTalk, Gamble left the 49ers in February shortly after John Lynch was hired by the franchise as general manager. He worked with Harbaugh when their tenures with San Francisco overlapped in 2011 and 2012 before Gamble eventually departed for a two-year stint with the Philadelphia Eagles.

It’s unclear what role specifically Gamble will take with the Wolverines as Harbaugh already hired a new director of player personnel this year by bringing Sean Magee over from Navy. The former 49ers executive doesn’t have much college experience in the past few decades beyond scouting so it will be interesting to see what his official title at Michigan will be once formally announced by the school.

Either way, it seems like Harbaugh is fully investing in off-the-field roles like his peers at Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State and he is not shying away from reaching into the NFL ranks to do so.

Big Ten media poll picks Ohio State to win league, Wisconsin to capture West Division

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The Big Ten conference office turns their nose up at doing an official media poll to pick the winner of the league like all of their other peers in college football but the fine folks over at Cleveland.com have been filling in the gap for the past several years so fans, coaches and others can get a sense at which teams are the favorites to hoist the trophy at the end of the year.

The site just released the latest edition of their annual media poll and (surprise, surprise) Ohio State was picked by 29 of the 38 voters to win the Big Ten this season, including 34 first-place votes for the Buckeyes to capture the rugged East Division title. Penn State drew seven first place votes while Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan squad received just one person’s confidence in winning the division.

Wisconsin was the heavy favorite to represent the West in Indianapolis with 31 first place votes, followed by Northwestern (five) and Nebraska (two). Fittingly,  22 media members from around the league picked the Buckeyes to beat the Badgers in the conference championship game, compared to just three who reversed the outcome. Not surprisingly, 34 of the 38 voters said at least one Big Ten team will make this year’s College Football Playoff, with Ohio State being the overwhelming pick to represent the league with 26 votes.

A word of warning however as Cleveland.com notes that the poll has never successfully picked the Big Ten winner in six preseason polls and Ohio State has only ever won the conference when they were not the choice by the media.

Walter Camp releases 2017 Player of the Year Watch List

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Another day, another watch list for a major college football world.

The Walter Camp Foundation released their preseason watch list for the annual Player of the Year award and not surprisingly it has all of the usual stars from around the sport, including last year’s winner Lamar Jackson and the favorite for just about every award in 2017, USC’s Sam Darnold.

The foundation didn’t just stick with quarterbacks and pass rushers however, they also did the noble thing and included one kicker and one punter on their watch list. Kudos for recognizing that special teams players are watch list candidates too. The full list is below.

Quarterbacks

Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming, Jr.

Jake Browning, QB, Washington, Jr.

JT Barrett, QB, Ohio State, Sr.

Sam Darnold, QB, USC, Soph.

Luke Falk, QB, Washington State, Sr.

Quinton Flowers, QB, USF, Sr.

Deondre Francois, QB, Florida State, Soph.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Alabama, Soph.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville, Jr.

Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma, Sr.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State, Sr.

Trace McSorley, QB, Penn State, Jr.

Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA, Jr.

Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State, Jr.

Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky, Sr.

Running Backs 

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State, Jr.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia, Sr.

Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama, Jr.

Jarvion Franklin, RB, Western Michigan, Sr.

Royce Freeman, RB, Oregon, Sr.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU, Jr.

Justin Jackson, RB, Northwestern, Sr.

Jalin Moore, RB, Appalachian State, Jr.

Rashaad Penny, RB/KR, San Diego State, Sr.

Mark Walton, RB, Miami (Fla.), Jr.

Wide Receivers/Special Teams/Lineman 

Daniel Carlson, PK, Auburn, Sr.

Quadree Henderson, WR/KR, Pittsburgh, Jr.

Billy Price, OL, Ohio State, Sr.

Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama, Jr.

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State, Sr.

Mitch Wishnowsky, P, Utah, Jr.

Defense

Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama, Jr.

Rashan Gary, DT, Michigan, Soph.

Derwin James, DB, Florida State

Arden Key, LB, LSU, Sr.

Harold Landry, DE, Boston College, Sr.

Dexter Lawrence, DT, Clemson, Soph.

Tyquan Lewis, DL, Ohio State, Sr.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston, Soph.

Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson, Jr.

Lane Kiffin trolls Ole Miss with latest Twitter follows

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Lane Kiffin is back in the news for doing Lane Kiffin things.

Just hours after Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze resigned after discovery of phone calls to escort service, the Florida Atlantic coach decided to pop up into everybody’s timeline and subtly troll the Rebels with some recent Twitter followers. Some will interpret following the Ole Miss accounts as being a subtle way to send interest in moving to Oxford after the season but in reality this is more of Lane being Lane, especially considering his brother is wrapped up in the school’s NCAA infractions case.

We’re sure the rest of the SEC (outside of those in Oxford) will enjoy a little chuckle over the move but something says at least a few Ole Miss fans will now be intrigued about the prospect of Kiffin taking over the program.