American Athletic Conference

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Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson, Bryce Love among Lombardi Award candidates

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The college football season may be in the books for the 2017 season, bu there is still a piece of hardware to present to one of the sport’s top players from the most recent season. On Monday, the Lombardi Foundation unveiled a list of 21 players named as a candidate for the Lombardi Award for the 2017 season. This year, the award is open to players of any position based on performance, leadership, character and resiliency and the list of candidates includes a number of names you should be familiar with.

2017 Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield, 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, Bryce Love, Saquon Barkley, Roquan Smith, and J.T. Barrett are all among the players nominated for the award. The list of 21 candidates will be whittled down to seven finalists by a select panel of award voters this week, and four of those finalists will be invited to the Lombardi Honors presentation for the awarding of the Lombardi Award. The seven initial finalists will be announced this coming Monday, January 22.

Saquon Barkley, Penn State (RB)
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State (QB)
Bradley Chubb, N.C. State (DE)
Tyrell Crosby, Oregon (OT)
DeShon Elliott, Texas (S)
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama (S)
Shaquem Griffin, UCF (LB)
Lamar Jackson, Louisville (QB)
Derwin James, Florida State (S)
Joel Lanning, Iowa State (LB/QB)
Bryce Love, Stanford (RB)
Hercules Mata’afa, Washington State (DE)
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma (QB)
Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame (G)
Ed Oliver, Houston (DT)
Da’Ron Payne, Alabama (DT)
Rashaad Penny, San Diego State (RB)
Roquan Smith, Georgia (LB)
Vita Vea, Washington (DT)
James Washington, Oklahoma State (WR)
Christian Wilkins, Clemson (DT)

Alabama’s Jonathan Allen won the award for the 2016 season.

Ken Niumatalolo pulls name from Arizona search

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You can say he wasn’t offered the job, you can say he passed on it — either way, Ken Niumatalolo isn’t leaving Navy for Arizona.

SI’s Bruce Feldman and ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg tweeted as much on Sunday.

Niumatalolo later confirmed as much in a text message to ESPN’s Heather Dinich, saying, “After much prayer and pondering, it has become crystal clear the USNA is a special place with special people and I LOVE IT HERE!!! Plus I have unfinished business to finish.”

This is the second time in three years Niumatalolo has heavily flirted with leaving the Naval Academy only to ultimately remain in Annapolis. He did the same “I’m passing/We never offered you” dance with BYU, leading the Cougars to hire Kalani Sitake.

It’s hard to believe the Niumatalolo-Arizona courtship wasn’t heavily impacted by a since-deleted tweet Wildcats quarterback Khalil Tate fired off on Friday, saying he didn’t come to Tucson to run the “tripple (sic) option.” There is thought within the coaching community that Niumatalolo run the triple option at Navy because it’s the attack best suited for the Midshipmen’s program and the type of players it can recruit and, thus, he would modify his offense at a new school.

But then again, until Niumatalolo actually leaves Navy, how could anyone possibly know? Since 1995, Niumatalolo has spent all but three seasons in Annapolis.

Regardless of the circumstances, Niumatalolo’s return is a good thing for Navy. At 84-48, he is the most successful coach in the Academy’s modern history. His 2015 season, in which the Middies went 11-2, won the AAC West and finished the year ranked No. 18 in the polls, is the Academy’s best since a No. 2 finish in 1963, when the club was quarterbacked by Heisman winner Roger Staubach.

With Niumatalolo out of the picture, expect Arizona to move on to its next candidate quickly, perhaps as early as today.

 

Scott Frost admitted he thought UCF didn’t have a chance vs. Auburn (he was wrong)

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Nebraska head coach had one last task to complete with UCF before moving on to Lincoln full-time, and it was one he did not feel would end well. In the postgame celebration in the locker room as UCF celebrated their Peach Bowl victory over Auburn to complete a 13-0 season, leading UCF a case to claim a national championship, Frost reportedly admitted to his UCF players he was skeptical about their chances of winning the game.

“Coming back and trying to help you win this thing, if I’m keeping it real, I didn’t think we had a damn chance because of all the circumstances surrounding it,” Frost reportedly told his team, according to The Orlando Sentinel. “But you guys found a way to dial it in, you found a way to play harder than them.”

The quote comes from a featurette video produced by UCF honoring the latest accomplishment. You can hear the quote in the last couple of minutes of the video.

In the video, Frost tells UCF players he will be heading off to Nebraska to try and put together another group of players that have a similar bond to the ones UCF had during their undefeated run. UCF has hired former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel to be the next head coach, while Frost is now working at Nebraska.

Florida politician stumps for UCF and USF to the Big 12

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Remember when the Big 12 was flirting with possible expansion and toying with the minds of alleged Big 12 candidates before ultimately sweeping the rug out from under the schools lobbying for inclusion in the conference? Among the list of potential targets were UCF and USF, and now a Florida politician is looking to capitalize on the success of each school’s recent football season in an attempt to win some brownie points from voters.

Republican Representative Bobby Olszewski has written a letter to Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby, making sure the commissioner of the conference has not forgotten just how valuable the additions of UCF and USF could, in theory, be for the Big 12. The focus, of course, comes in with the all-important television ratings.

“More than ever during the college football season, we saw how important television ratings are to bowl games, the conferences, and the College Football Playoff,” Olszewski writes. “With UCF and USF representing the greater Central Florida and Tampa Bay media markets, our annual “War on I-4″ was one of the top television rated games this season en route to a 123 and 10 win season respectively for the UCF Knights and USF Bulls as well as both with top 25 final rankings.”

There have been no hints of possible expansion for the Big 12 on the horizon since the conference last openly discussed the idea, and the success of UCF and USF is not going to be enough to attract the Big 12 to re-opening the discussion again just yet. There may come a time when the Big 12 feels the itch to expand again, but the last time it discussed the idea it led to a complete meltdown. The Big 12 is doing just fine right now, but it could also be the conference in most need of some upgrades if the realignment fun does kick up again. And when it does, expect UCF and USF lobbyists pushing for the elusive Big 12 invite once again.

Helmet sticker to SB Nation.

Bob Stoops’ WR son will be preferred walk-on at Oklahoma

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Despite having a Power Five scholarship offer in his hip pocket, Drake Stoops and his very familiar surname have decided to stay home.

Drake Stoops, the son of former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops and a 2018 prospect, announced on Twitter that he has committed to play his college football for the Sooners. The younger Stoops is coming to his dad’s old stomping grounds as a preferred walk-on.

Coming out of Norman North High School, Stoops is listed as a three-star recruit by 247Sports.com. The same recruiting website has the 5-11, 175-pound receiver rated as the No. 20 player at any position in the state of Oklahoma.

Iowa, to which he took an official visit in early December, had offered Stoops a scholarship, and it was thought he could possibly be headed to the Hawkeyes before he made the decision to be a walk-on at OU. Air Force, Arkansas State, Memphis, Ohio and Western Kentucky were the group of Five programs that offered him as well.

According to the Oklahoman, “Stoops’ twin brother, Isaac, is a two-star recruit and has an offer from Army, as well as preferred walk-on offers from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Nevada, Northwestern and Kentucky. He has yet to announce his college decision.”