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Arkansas, Notre Dame announce future home-and-home

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For those clamoring for a Lou Holtz Bowl, here ya go.

Both Arkansas and Notre Dame announced early Thursday afternoon that the two athletic departments had reached an agreement on a future home-and-home series.  The Razorbacks will travel to South Bend on Sept. 12, 2020, to open the series while the Fighting Irish will head to Fayetteville Oct. 4, 2025.  Both schools will receive an allotment of 7,500 tickets for their respective road trips.

The 2020 game will be the first-ever meeting between the two football programs.

“It’s remarkable to think our historic programs have never met, but we are excited that this will change in the near future as we add the University of Notre Dame to our football schedules in 2020 and 2025,” said UA athletic director Jeff Long in a statement. “This series will benefit our football program, our University and the Southeastern Conference, but more importantly it is an opportunity for our football student-athletes to compete against one of college football’s storied programs while providing a premier match-up for our fans. This series will provide a once-in-a-lifetime road trip and another memorable football Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

“Whenever we have an opponent come to Notre Dame Stadium for the first time, there’s another layer of interest in the game. The same is true for our program and fans when we play away from home at a first-time venue,”Long’s counterpart, Jack Swarbrick, said. “That is especially likely to be true of these games given the quality and tradition of the two programs.”

Provided it goes off as announced, the series with Arkansas would leave three SEC schools that have never played Notre Dame in football — Auburn, Kentucky and Mississippi State.

Notre Dame has three future games with two SEC schools scheduled, at home against Georgia this coming season as well as a home-and-home with Texas A&M (2014 at College Station, 2025 in South Bend).  There most recent game against a team from that conference came against LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl; the last regular season matchup was versus Tennessee in 2005.

“This two-game series will provide our program with another opportunity to play a top-caliber foe from the Southeastern Conference,” said Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “Coach (Bret) Bielema is a tremendous coach and his teams have always played a physical style of football. I know our team and fans will be excited to play the Razorbacks.”

“Ever since I became a head coach I’ve wanted to get Notre Dame on the schedule and when it became a possibility we were 100 percent in on getting a home-and-home done,” head coach Bret Bielema said. “I’m excited for our program, but I’m also excited for our fans to experience a game at Notre Dame and then come back and show what an amazing home atmosphere we have.”

Holtz was Arkansas’ head coach from 1977-83.  From 1986-1996, Holtz held the same job at Notre Dame.  His 1988 national championship was the last for the Fighting Irish.

His 60 wins are the third-most in Razorbacks history, while his 100 wins while with the Fighting Irish are second only to the legendary Knute Rockne’s 105.

Pitt starting left tackle Brian O’Neill declares for NFL draft

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One of the individuals who put the fat guy in Fat Guy Touchdown has decided to move on to the next level.

Brian O’Neill announced in a statement sent out via the Pitt sports information department that he has decided to make himself available for the 2018 NFL draft. After discussing his option with his family and coaches, O’Neill stated “I believe this is the best course of action to achieve my ultimate goal.”

The offensive lineman took a redshirt as a true freshman in 2014, which left him one more season of eligibility he could’ve used.

The last three seasons, O’Neill started 37 games in a row for the Panthers.  After starting 24 games in a row at right tackle — his first start was on the opposite side — he started all 12 games at left tackle this past season.

O’Neill’s claim to national fame, though, was his 24-yard touchdown run on a backward pass (pictured) that helped earn him the second-annual Piesman Trophy Award in 2016.  That same season, he scored a five-yard touchdown on an end-around.

Below is O’Neill’s statement, in its entirety:

After careful consideration over the last few weeks, I have decided to enter the 2018 NFL draft. I do not take this decision lightly; therefore, I took an extensive amount of time discussing the situation with my family and coaches. Ultimately, I believe this is the best course of action to achieve my ultimate goal.

“Looking back on the past four years, I consider myself one of the luckiest guys in the world. As an incoming freshman, I was welcomed with open arms into this team, school and community. I am extremely proud to have earned my degree and will always call the University of Pittsburgh home.

“I am forever grateful to a number of individuals instrumental in my development as a player and person. Coach Narduzzi and Coach Peterson’s support and guidance has been incredible. I am truly appreciative for them and all my teammates and coaches. Additionally, I maintain a special appreciation for Coach Dave Andrews, Coach Dave Bucar and Mark Diethorn. I will never be able to thank all the people who have helped me throughout the past several years, but their support does not go unnoticed.

“Moving forward, there is nothing more important to me than representing my family, teammates, coaches, and this great University in a first-class manner. The entire Pittsburgh community has been great to me – thank you!

“As always, Hail to Pitt!!!

Toledo, Jason Candle reach agreement on new deal through 2023

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Jason Candle was one of the hot commodities during the early spinning of the 2017-18 coaching carousel.  With said spinning winding down, Candle has remained put — albeit with a (surprise surprise!) revamped deal.

Toledo confirmed Friday afternoon that it has reached an agreement on a two-year contract extension with its head football coach.  Candle is now signed through the 2023 season, with his original deal running through 2021.

It’s believed that the new deal will make him the highest-paid coach in the MAC, although the financial details have not yet been released.

“We are very pleased to extend Jason Candle’s contract through the 2023 season,” said athletic director Mike O’Brien in a statement. “Jason is unquestionably one of the finest football coaches in the country. He is a tremendous leader and teacher of young men. His focus on leading us to a MAC Championship never wavered, and he has a strong determination to elevate our football program to even greater heights. We look forward to his leadership for many years to come.”

In nearly two full seasons with the Rockets, Candle has guided UT to a 20-6 record (he’s 21-6 overall at the school as he coached the team in the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl).  This season, they’ve gone 11-2, winning their first outright division title since 1998 and first conference championship since 2004.

“I’m very appreciative of the support and confidence that President (Sharon) Gaber and Mike O’Brien have shown in my staff and me,” said Candle. “The success of our program is the result of the unified effort of our players, coaches, staff and everyone in Rocket Nation who supports us. To be a MAC Champion is a tremendous accomplishment of which we can all be proud. At the same time, we are even more focused on our mission of continuing to build on our program’s tradition of success. I’m proud to be a Rocket and proud to represent this great University and great city.”

Toledo will face Sun Belt co-champion Appalachian State in the Dollar General Bowl Dec. 23.

Report: Departing Oregon State WR Seth Collins facing assault charge

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Earlier today we noted that Seth Collins would be, for a second time, leaving Oregon State. As it turns out, there’s little more going on off the field than was originally known.

According to The Oregonian, Collins was arraigned in court Thursday on one count of fourth-degree assault.  The arraignment came the same day as OSU confirmed that the wide receiver had asked for and been granted a release from his scholarship.

The alleged incident that led to the charge occurred in early October at a Corvallis apartment complex and allegedly caused physical injury to the 19-year-old alleged victim, Makaela Martinez.  From the newspapers report:

Lt. Dan Duncan of the Corvallis Police Department said Martinez reported the incident at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 8. Duncan said that Martinez had a “swollen and cut” lip, according to the police report, and said that she had been struck in the face.

[Collin’s attorney Jennifer] Nash said Collins did not know Martinez. She said an altercation started at the party due to an unnamed intoxicated male who was “out of control.” Nash said Collins was not intoxicated and got involved in the altercation, for which Martinez was a bystander.

“(Collins) was trying to help someone else and this situation happened,” Nash said.

A university source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the incident, said Collins took Martinez’s phone as she recorded the incident on video. Martinez is not enrolled at Oregon State, according to the school’s online directory.

At the time of Collins’ release, he was under suspension by the football program because of the incident, and had been for nearly a month.  Collins missed the first three games of the 2017 season because of a finger injury and returned to play the next three, then was sidelined indefinitely in early October because of what the football program described at the time as a health-related issue.

“OSU athletic department spokesman Steve Fenk said the timing of Collins’ [health-related] absence and the date of the alleged assault were coincidental,” The Oregonian wrote.

The transferring Collins has one year of collegiate eligibility, which he intends to use at another football program, although this off-field incident could cause him some damage in that endeavor. “The filing of charges against him in this manner could have a huge impact on his future,” his attorney said.

Ragin’ Cajuns confirm hiring of Sun Devils OC Billy Napier as head coach

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This phase of The Grand Experiment at Arizona State is officially an abject failure.

In hiring Herm Edwards, it was known that ASU was looking to retain both of Todd Graham‘s coordinators in an effort to ease Edwards’ return to coaching after a decade-long absence.  Earlier this week, the new Sun Devils head coach confirmed that defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was leaving the staff because of what were described as “family matters.” Overnight, reports surfaced that offensive coordinator Billy Napier had been offered the head-coaching job at a Sun Belt Conference program and was likely to accept it.

Friday afternoon, that likelihood became a reality as Louisiana announced that Napier has been named as the Ragin’ Cajuns next head football coach.  Napier replaces Mark Hudspethfired earlier this month after seven years with the program.

The football program will officially introduce their new coach at a Monday press conference.

“My family and I are excited and humbled for the opportunity to serve Cajun Nation and our Louisiana football program,” Napier said. “We will make it a priority to bring in the best talent from the state of Louisiana and the nation.”

Napier just completed his first season at ASU.  Prior to that, he spent five seasons as the wide receivers coach at Alabama.  Next Sept. 29th, Napier’s Ragin’ Cajuns squad will square off with… the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa.

With Napier’s hiring, Kent State is the lone FBS program without a head coach.