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No. 5 USC opens flat against Cal and it’s all tied up in Berkeley at halftime

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Imagine telling somebody before the season that No. 5 USC would dominate Stanford in the trenches during a blowout, but struggle against the other Bay Area team in a nail-bitter. Up is down, down is up in the Pac-12 apparently.

The Trojans came out flat to start their annual weekend trip to the Bay Area and needed a few defensive stands to keep the score locked at 13-all on a warm California day between the two in-state rivals.

Quarterback Sam Darnold (157 yards, one touchdown) did his Heisman campaign no favors, tossing his seventh interception of the season (after just nine in all of 2016). Things could have been worse for the signal-caller and his inexperienced receiving corps too as the Golden Bears nearly grabbed two others. Part of the issue could be that his terrific tailback Ronald Jones II failed to make the trip up for the game with an injury and true freshman Stephen Carr (36 yards) was forced to carry much of the load.

Cal’s offense had its own moments but was just 2-of-8 on third down conversions to help stall some early momentum. QB Ross Bowers threw for 124 yards but it was big running back Vic Enwere who was the star of the show with 42 yards on the ground and a touchdown he punched in on 4th and goal. The real story for the home team was the continued play of their defense however, pressuring Darnold on a number of snaps, forcing two turnovers and covering exceptionally well downfield to limit big plays.

The performance through two quarters will lead many to question whether USC really should be ranked in the top five and considered the Pac-12 favorite but the cardinal and gold could turn things around with a trip to the locker room and some adjustments. Still, it’s hard not to be impressed with Justin Wilcox’s squad giving everything they can to another big name opponent in Berkeley this month.

Ex-Minnesota QB Demry Croft appears headed to FCS school

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A little less than three weeks after leaving Minnesota, Demry Croft appears to have found a new college football home.

In a tweet posted to his personal Twitter account Saturday afternoon, Croft seemed to indicate that he has decided to transfer to Tennessee State to continue his playing career.  As TSU plays at the FCS level, Croft will be eligible to play immediately in 2018.

Including next season, he has two years of eligibility remaining.

This season, Croft, who started the last six games of 2017,  completed 42 percent of his 122 passes for 674 yards, four touchdowns and seven interceptions. His 87.6 pass efficiency rating is not amongst the top 126 quarterbacks in the country.  Perhaps the most noteworthy moment of his Gophers career was posting a negative quarterback rating in a mid-November loss to Northwestern two weeks before he decided to transfer.

Conversely, though, he was good with his feet as his 309 yards rushing and four rushing touchdowns were fourth and third on the team, respectively.

Troy leading North Texas halfway through an entertaining New Orleans Bowl

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Brandon Silvers hit his first 11 passes and Troy threatened to blow the game open early, but North Texas found its footing at fought its way back into the New Orleans Bowl. As it stands, Troy holds a 22-20 lead at the break.

Troy accepted the ball to open the game and promptly rolled 80 yards in nine plays, capped by a 1-yard Josh Anderson scoring run. The Trojans immediately pushed the lead to two scores when North Texas quarterback Mason Fine was sacked and fumbled at his own 14, setting up Anderson’s second touchdown run of the first half of the first quarter. Silvers hit John Johnson for a 2-point conversion to stake the Trojans to a 15-0 lead at the 9:21 mark of the opening frame.

The Mean Green went three-and-out on their next possession but, facing the prospect of getting buried for the game in just the first quarter, the North Texas defense rose up when Joshua Wheeler sacked Silvers on third down at the Troy 39. The UNT offense awoke with an 11-play, 75-yard drive culminating in a 12-yard pass from Fine to Rico Bussey, Jr.

Anderson immediately responded with a 55-yard run on the final play of the first quarter, and Silvers completed the drive four plays later with a 7-yard strike to Damion Willis at the 14:24 mark of the second quarter. North Texas attempted to return service with another touchdown, but Fine under-threw a wide open Bussey on 3rd-and-2 from the Troy 31 and his fourth down pass to Michael Lawrence was dropped.

Troy threatened to push its lead to three touchdowns on its next drive, moving to the North Texas 22, when disaster struck — a snap went over Silvers’s head and was scooped up by the Mean Green’s Colton McDonald, who returned the loose pigskin 56 yards for a touchdown. Fine’s 2-point conversion rush failed, but North Texas was still within 22-13 with 5:49 left in the first half.

North Texas had a golden opportunity to pull within one score of the Trojans when Kishawn McClain intercepted Silvers at the UNT 46 on Troy’s first play of the ensuing possession, but the Mean Green were forced to punt after just one first down.

But North Texas forced its third straight stop, this drive ended by another Wheeler sack, and Fine capitalized with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Lawrence with 49 seconds left before the break to pull the Mean Green within two. Fine completed 13-of-23 passes in the half for 146 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The Mean Green have mustered just 15 yards on 14 carries.

Silvers closed the half hitting 16-of-21 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and a pick, and Anderson led all rushers with 13 carries for 90 yards and two touchdowns.

North Texas will receive to open the second half.

Colorado State suspends three ahead of New Mexico Bowl matchup with Marshall

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Especially in the backfield, Colorado State will be at less than full strength for half of its postseason game.

CSU announced Saturday afternoon that it has suspended three players — running backs Rashaad Boddie (pictured, being tackled) and Marvin Kinsey and defensive back Robert Awunganyi — for the first half of today’s New Mexico Bowl matchup with Marshall.  The only reason given was an unspecified violation of team rules.

The most noteworthy name in the trio is Boddie, whose 254 yards rushing are third on the Rams while his four rushing touchdowns are third as well.  Kinsey’s 124 yards rushing are fifth on the team.

Awunganyi has not played a down this season.

As noted by the Denver Post, CSU will also be without linebacker Josh Watson for the first half as well.  The redshirt junior currently leads the Rams in tackles with 103.

Ninth player has left Lovie Smith’s Illinois team since end of season

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You’d be hard-pressed to find a Power Five program harder hit when it comes to roster attrition than Illinois.

The latest departure from Lovie Smith‘s football program is Dominic Thieman, with the wide receiver taking to Twitter to announce that he has decided to transfer from the Fighting Illini. As a true sophomore, Thieman will have two years of eligibility remaining at another FBS school after he sits out the 2018 season.

Thieman, a three-star 2016 signee, was fifth on the team in receptions this past season with 11 and sixth in receiving yards with 144. He’ll finish the Illini portion of his collegiate playing career with 17 catches for 176 yards.

According to the Chicago Tribune‘s Shannon Ryan, Thieman is the ninth player on scholarship to leave Smith’s program since the end of the 2017 regular season. Among those who have been confirmed as departees are the highest-rated signee in the Illini’s 2015 recruiting class and one of its most talented players on the defensive side of the ball.