Pittsburgh Panthers

In this photo taken Nov. 21, 2015, Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi, right, applauds a touchdown by his team next to James Conner in the first quarter of an NCAA college football game against Louisville in Pittsburgh. Conner spent the last three months weighing whether to return next fall or head to the NFL after a torn knee ligament ended his junior season before it really began. (Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP) MAGAZINES OUT; NO SALES; MONESSEN OUT; KITTANNING OUT; CONNELLSVILLE OUT; GREENSBURG OUT; TARENTUM OUT; NORTH HILLS NEWS RECORD OUT; BUTLER OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT
Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP

Pat Narduzzi believes Pitt RB James Conner will play in 2016

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The college football world was stunned when Pittsburgh running back James Conner, who missed the bulk of the 2015 season due to a knee injury, announced he is battling cancer. Despite his ongoing bout with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest, Conner is said to be in great physical shape and looks he could even be ready to play for the Panthers this fall once he beats cancer.

“I saw him yesterday in the hallway and he’s been working out with our kids to keep his sanity and he’s having fun doing it,” Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said recently to ESPN.com reporter James Shanker. “That’s the key is he’s having fun beating cancer and he’s got a great attitude and he looks good right now. He’s doing well and looks well. Doesn’t look like he lost weight. Looks like he could still play. He doesn’t look like he has cancer.”

Conner declared his intention to play football again when he announced his cancer to the world last December.

“I will play football again,” Conner said in early December. “I will be at Heinz Field again. I have the best coaches and teammates in the country. I thank God I chose Pitt because now I also have the best doctors in the country and together we will win. I know this city has my back.”

The former ACC Player of the Year is receiving financial support from Pitt to handle the costs of the treatments, which is allowed by the NCAA for special circumstances. This is certainly a special circumstance. Per NCAA rules, Conner and his family are required to have personal insurance but schools may pick up the tab for remaining costs not covered by the student’s insurance coverage. Pitt is able to lend its support because cancer is affecting Conner’s ability to play football.

The college football world will continue to root for Conner as he works his way back to the football field.

Illini grad transfer T.J. Neal to visit WVU, Auburn

LINCOLN, NE - SEPTEMPER 27: Linebacker T.J. Neal #52 of the Illinois Fighting Illini arches of running back Ameer Abdullah #8 of the Nebraska Cornhuskersduring their game at Memorial Stadium on September 27, 2014 in Lincoln, Nebraska.  (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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T.J. Neal does not yet know where he will continue his collegiate career, but it appears the linebacker has significantly narrowed the field.

A little less than two weeks ago, Neal, after being told by the coaching staff that they were planning to move him from middle to strongside linebacker, decided to transfer out of the Illinois football program.  As he will be a graduate transfer upon earning his degree in May, Neal will be eligible to play at another FBS program in 2016.

Enter West Virginia and Auburn, two teams which have been in contact with Neal and vice versa.  According to al.com, Neal will visit Morgantown this coming Monday, then head to The Plains a week later.

Upon the announcement of an impending departure, Illini head coach Bill Cubit said the Pennsylvania native “was talking about playing closer to home.”  Even as a move to Auburn would be the exact opposite of that, Neal seems genuinely excited over the prospects.

“Being able to play down there in Alabama, it’s like a dream come true,” Neal told Brandon Marcello of al.com. “From my high school, I never thought I’d play at a big-time school like Auburn. To have a chance now, it’s exciting to play against some of the top players in the country.”

According to blueandgoldsports.com, Penn State and Pittsburgh are/were also in play. It’s unclear if he’s visited or plans to visit those schools in his home state, although it was originally thought that the Nittany Lions could be high on Neal’s to-do list.

Not only is Neal a native of McKeesport, Pa., but Tim Banks, the Illini’s co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach the past four seasons, left in December to become the Nittany Lions’ coordinator.  PSU has also seen a pair of linebackers, Troy Reeder and Gary Wooten Jr., transfer out this month, meaning the opportunity for a starting job would certainly be on the table.

Regardless, Neal expects to make a decision shortly after the Feb. 15 visit to Auburn. He would then enroll in his new school of choice shortly after his graduation from Illinois.

Neal was a two-year starter for the Illini who finished second on the team in tackles (109) this past season.  He was named honorable mention All-Big Ten for his play in 2015.

Pitt LB Bam Bradley might miss spring because of shoulder surgery

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 17:  Khaynin Mosley-Smith #95, Shakir Soto #52 and Bam Bradley #4 of the Pittsburgh Panthers tackle Marcus Marshall #34 of the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Bobby Dodd Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The bad news for Pittsburgh is a key defensive piece could be missing this spring.  The good news is that it shouldn’t bleed into camp let alone the season.

While there’s nothing official from the school, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Bam Bradley (pictured, No. 4) underwent surgery on an injured shoulder shortly after the end of the 2015 season.  As a result, the linebacker is expected to miss the whole of spring practice, which is expected to commence next month.

The Tribune-Review adds that Bradley is expected to recover in time for the start of summer camp in August even if he’s sidelined for the spring.

After starting one game in 2014, Bradley started five of the first six games last season before the shoulder began hampering him.  Bradley’s five tackles for loss were good for fourth among Panther linebackers.

 

ACC releases 2016 football schedule

Elon v Duke
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A little over seven months before the start of the 2016 season, the ACC has finalized the schedules its member schools will face this upcoming year

The first conference game of the 2016 season will pit Georgia Tech against Boston College Sept. 3 at 7:30 a.m.  The early start time is due to the fact that the game will be played in Dublin, Ireland, the first time a league game has been played in that country. It is only the third ACC game played outside of the United States, and both of the others involved Clemson: vs. Wake Forest in Tokyo, Japan, in 1982 and vs. Duke in Tokyo in 1991.

The first games of the new season featuring ACC members will be played two days prior, with Louisville hosting Charlotte and Tulane traveling to Wake Forest Sept. 1.  As has become a tradition, the ACC will close out opening weekend with a Labor Day night game — Florida State vs. Ole Miss in the Orlando Kickoff game. The games in Ireland and Orlando are two of five neutral-site games involving ACC teams, the others being North Carolina vs. Georgia (Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game, Sept. 3, Georgia Dome; Virginia Tech vs. Tennessee (Bristol Motor Speedway, Sept. 10); and Syracuse vs. Notre Dame (MetLife Stadium).

The ACC also released some notes trumpeting the strength of the conference’s schedules:

ACC teams will play more games than any other Power Five conference:

— Against non-conference teams that are ranked in ESPN’s 2016 Too Early Top 25 rankings (12). The league will also play a higher percentage of its non-conference games against teams in the Way-Too-Early Top 25 (21%).

— Against non-conference teams that were ranked in the final Associated Press Top 25 (12). The league will again play a higher percentage (21%) of its non-conference games against these teams.

— Against non-conference teams that were ranked in the final Coaches poll (14) as well as a higher percentage (25%).

— Against more non-conference teams that went to bowl games in 2015 (27).

— Against FBS non-conference teams that won 10 or more games (15) as well as against FBS non-conference teams that won nine or more games (18).

ACC teams are also playing games against opponents which had a higher overall winning percentage (.562) in 2015 than any other Power Five Conference, and its FBS non-conference opponents had the second-highest winning percentage of any league (.559).

“Our programs continue to showcase our football strength with an appealing slate of games scheduled for 2016,” said ACC commissioner John Swofford in a statement. “In addition to a number of compelling conference matchups, we again have arguably the toughest non-conference schedule by any measure. With our depth, competitiveness and rivalries, ACC fans can look forward to another season of exciting games every week.”

The Syracuse-Notre Dame game in New Jersey is one of five contests for the Irish against ACC teams, the others being North Carolina State (Oct. 8), Duke (Sept. 24), Miami (Oct. 29) and Virginia Tech. The latter three games will all be played at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

And, finally, if you’re only going to circle one game on your ACC football calendar, make it this one: Clemson at Florida State, Oct. 29. Both of those teams, expected to enter the 2016 season in the Top 10, will be coming off bye weeks.

As for the rest of the newly-released slates, click HERE for a helmet schedule and HERE for a week-to-week schedule.

SEC, Ohio State tops on Carolina, Denver Super Bowl rosters

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29:  Former Tennesse quarterback Peyton Manning and current quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts is honored alongside his former college coach Phillip Fulmer before the start of the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks on October 29, 2005 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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Cam Newton may be hurtling toward history, but the former Auburn quarterback will not be the lone player representing the SEC in next month’s Super Bowl.  In fact, he’s far, far from it.

As you may have heard, Newton’s Carolina Panthers are set to square off with Peyton Manning‘s Denver Broncos in the 50th Super Bowl Feb. 3.  Manning and Newton are two of and FBS-best 30 former SEC players who are on the two teams’ rosters, which includes those on the 53-man, reserved/injured list, practice squad, reserved/suspended by commissioner and reserve/future squad.

The Pac-12 is next with 23, followed by the Big Ten (21) and ACC (17).  The final Power Five conference, the Big 12, has 10, three less than the Mountain West’s 13.  The AAC, with eight, is the only Group of Five league to come close to double digits.  The MAC, meanwhile, is the only conference to be shutout, while all of the other divisions in the NCAA combined for 18 players.

Nearly every SEC team is represented in this year’s big game, the lone exception being Vanderbilt.  Of the dozen schools in the Pac-12, only Arizona and Washington State are missing.  Both the ACC and Big Ten have 11 of their 14 teams in the game, the lone exceptions being Clemson, Louisville and Virginia Tech for the former and Illinois, Minnesota and Rutgers for the latter.

One of those B1G schools that’s in, Nebraska, has had at least one player on a Super Bowl roster for 23 straight years, the longest active streak for any FBS program.

Ohio State easily outdistances individual schools with seven, three more than the four each for Auburn, Georgia Tech, Oregon State and Tennessee.  Alabama, Arizona State, Colorado State, Georgia, Nevada, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, Oregon, Texas A&M, USC and Utah.

A total of 20 schools have two players each, including Coastal Carolina, the only non-FBS program in the group.  The other 19 includes Arkansas, Boise State, Duke, Florida, Florida State, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Mississippi State, Missouri, North Carolina, San Diego State, South Carolina, Stanford, Troy, Tulane, Washington and Wisconsin.