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2016 early NFL draft entries fall just shy of ’14 record

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So close, yet so far.  Well, technically speaking it is.

With the deadline for early entry into the NFL draft in the rearview, the NFL announced Friday that 96 players “have been granted special eligibility for the 2016 NFL Draft” and will be eligible to be selected during the April 28-30 event in Chicago. While that’s significantly more than 74 draft-eligible sophomores and juniors who declared last year, it falls two shy of the record 98 who declared early for the 2014 draft.

For some perspective, the number of players combined who declared early for the 2007 (40) and 2008 (53) falls short of the number for this year alone.

Another 11 players with eligibility remaining “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements” and are thus eligible for the draft as well. Those 11 are…

2016 NFL Draft I

Of the 96 deemed by the NFL as having special draft eligibility granted, 48 played defense and 46 were from the offensive side of the ball. There were also two kickers in this category — Southern Oregon’s Aldrick Ross and British Columbia’s Quinn van Gylswyk.

A total of 18 defensive ends and tackles are included, while the secondary, combining both cornerbacks and safeties, has 17. On the offensive side, 16 running backs are in the group, joined by 12 offensive linemen and 10 running backs. Just four draft-eligible quarterbacks cannonballed into the pool: Cal’s Jared Goff, Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch.

The SEC, naturally, leads all conferences in NFL-designated special draft eligibility — The Shield differentiates this year between them and those who have eligibility remaining but earned degrees — with 25 players leaving early.  12 of the 14 teams in that conference have at least one player in the group, the lone exceptions being Kentucky and Missouri. Next up is the 15 of the Big Ten and Pac-12; the only other conference in double digits is the ACC (11).  The lone remaining Power Five conference, the Big 12, just missed with nine.

The most of any Group of Five league is the Mountain West’s four.  Two conferences, Conference USA and the Sun Belt, had no players granted special eligibility.

Individually, Ohio State saw seven players deemed to have met the NFL’s criteria for special eligibility, followed by UCLA with six and Clemson with five.  Below are the other individual schools with more than one player in this category:

4 — Notre Dame
3 — Arkansas, Baylor, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
2 — Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Cal, Indiana, LSU, Oklahoma, West Virginia

And, below this, are all of the 96 players with special eligibility for the NFL draft:

Bralon Addison, WR, Oregon
Dominique Alexander, LB, Oklahoma
Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson
Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State
Demarcus Ayers, WR, Houston
Peyton Barber, RB, Auburn
Vonn Bell, DB, Ohio State
Caleb Benenoch, OL, UCLA
Andrew Billings, DT, Baylor
Dariusz Bladek, OG, Bethune-Cookman
Joey Bosa, DE, Ohio State
Tyler Boyd, WR, Pittsburgh
Daniel Braverman, WR, Western Michigan
Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State
Artie Burns, CB, Miami
Kenny Clark, DT, UCLA
Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
Trenton Coles, DB, Duquesne
Alex Collins, RB, Arkansas
Maliek Collins, DT, Nebraska
Jack Conklin, OL, Michigan State
Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
Kamalei Correa, DL, Boise State
Su’a Cravens, LB, USC
Elijah Daniel, DT, Murray State
Kevin Dodd, DE, Clemson
Thomas Duarte, WR, UCLA
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Ohio State
Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia
Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Will Fuller, WR, Notre Dame
Jared Goff, QB, Cal
T.J. Green, S, Clemson
David Grinnage, TE, North Carolina State
Christian Hackenberg, QB, Penn State
Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
Jerald Hawkins, OL, LSU
Derrick Henry, RB, Alabama
Hunter Henry, TE, Arkansas
Willie Henry, DT, Michigan
Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford
Jordan Howard, RB, Indiana
Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor
Germain Ifedi, OT, Texas A&M
Myles Jack, LB, UCLA
Quinton Jefferson, DL, Maryland
Cardale Jones, QB, Ohio State
Cayleb Jones, WR, Arizona
Chris Jones, DL, Mississippi State
Jayron Kearse, DB, Clemson
Denver Kirkland, OT, Arkansas
Darius Latham, DL, Indiana
Kenny Lawler, WR, Cal
Shaq Lawson, DE, Clemson
Darron Lee, LB, Ohio State
Roger Lewis, WR, Bowling Green
Steve Longa, LB, Rutgers
Paxton Lynch, QB, Memphis
Jalin Marshall, WR, Ohio State
Alex McCalister, DE, Florida
Brett McMakin, LB, Northern Iowa
Keanu Neal, S, Florida
Yannick Ngakoue, DL, Maryland
Robert Nkemdiche, DL, Ole Miss
Marquez North, WR, Tennessee
Emmanuel Ogbah, DL, Oklahoma State
Paul Perkins, RB, UCLA
C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame
Jalen Ramsey, DB, Florida State
Alex Redmond, OL, UCLA
Hassan Ridgeway, DT, Texas
A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama
Demarcus Robinson, WR, Florida
Rashard Robinson, CB, LSU
Aldrick Rosas, K, Southern Oregon
Zack Sanchez, CB, Oklahoma
Isaac Seumalo, OL, Oregon State
Wendell Smallwood, RB, West Virginia
Jaylon Smith, LB, Notre Dame
Ronnie Stanley, OT, Notre Dame
Kelvin Taylor, RB, Florida
Ron Thompson, DE, Syracuse
Laquon Treadwell, WR, Ole Miss
Laremy Tunsil, OT, Ole Miss
Quinn van Gylswyk, K, British Columbia
Nick Vigil, LB, Utah State
Cleveland Wallace III, CB, San Jose State
Dwayne Washington, RB, Washington
Stephen Weatherly, LB, Vanderbilt
De’Runnya Wilson, WR, Mississippi State
Daryl Worley, CB, West Virginia
Scooby Wright III, LB, Arizona
Avery Young, OL, Auburn

Western Michigan WR Daniel Braverman going pro

COLUMBUS, OH - SEPTEMBER 26:  Daniel Braverman #8 of the Western Michigan Broncos tip toes along the sideline on his way to a 55-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter against the Ohio State Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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College football players leaving school early to try their craft professionally is not uncommon at all. What is a bit more uncommon, though, is a player at the Group of Five level bailing on college early.

Western Michigan wide receiver Daniel Braverman is braving — for lack of a better term — those waters, as the Broncos announced Wednesday.

“As educators we want all our student-athletes to live and experience their dreams,” head coach P.J. Fleck said. “The timeline for those experiences is based off individuals’ different circumstances. Whether I agree or disagree with student-athletes’ decisions to leave school early without their degree, it is my job to provide them with facts and data (big picture) about opportunities that come up in their lives. We are proud of Daniel for all he accomplished and we wish him the best.”

Braverman finished the season ranked second nationally with 108 grabs for 1,371 yards and 13 touchdowns. He reached double-digit catches in five of 13 games and 100-plus yards in eight of 13 opportunities, including a 13-catch, 109-yard effort against Michigan State and a 10-grab, 123-yard, one-touchdown performance at Ohio State.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 28 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

ANNAPOLIS, MD - NOVEMBER 14: Quarterback Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen scores his fourth touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter against the Southern Methodist Mustangs at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on November 14, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 28 bowl menu, which features Power Five teams from the ACC and Big Ten, one of which sports the dreaded “5-7” scarlet number.

WHO: Pittsburgh (8-4) vs. Navy (10-2)
WHAT: The 8th Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman
WHERE: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, Annapolis, Maryland
WHEN: 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Thanks in very large part to Kennan Reynolds, Navy was in the thick of the Group of Five’s race to a New Year’s Six bid before a loss to Houston in the next-to-last game of the regular season.  Still, the Midshipmen have won 10 games in a season for the first time since 2009 and just the fourth time in a history that dates back 123 seasons to 1891, and are one win away from setting the program’s record for wins in a single season.  Reynolds was the engine that made the service academy squad hum as he set an FBS record with 85 career rushing touchdowns and has the chance to match or surpass the FBS record for total touchdowns, 87, set by Louisiana Tech’s Kenneth Dixon earlier this postseason.  This game is your prototypical immovable object vs. unstoppable force as Pittsburgh is ranked 20th in rush defense (126.1) while Navy is third averaging 319.2 yards per game on the ground.  After beginning the season 6-1 and having their eyes set on an ACC Coastal title, Pitt, currently still coming to grips with star running back James Connor‘s cancer diagnosis, stumbled to a 2-3 finish, although that trio of losses “only” came by a combined 24 points.  In what’s literally a home game for the Midshipmen in the finale of Reynolds’ record-setting career — and with Ken Niumatalolo spurning BYU to remain at the academy while — the odds and trends are certainly stacked against the Panthers in their first bowl game under head coach Pat Narduzzi.
THE LINE: Pittsburgh, +3½
THE PREDICTION: Navy 27, Pittsburgh 17

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WHO: Central Michigan (7-5) vs. Minnesota (5-7)
WHAT: The 2nd Quick Lane Bowl
WHERE: Ford Field, Detroit, Michigan
WHEN: 5 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Nearly three-quarters of Central Michigan’s roster hails from the state of Michigan, so their reward for a seven-win season is a bowl game… in the state of Michigan.  That said, CMU is looking for its eighth win on the season, which would be its highest total since winning 12 in 2009, the last season under current Tennessee head coach Butch Jones.  The Chips also come into the game on somewhat of a roll, having won five of their last six, with the lone loss coming by five points to 10-2 Toledo.  As the Chips averaged just 3.1 yards per carry, any success offensively in this game will very likely be predicated on the arm of Cooper Rush, whose 3,703 yards passing were quietly second in the MAC and 11th nationally.  As for Minnesota?  I’ll repeat what I wrote about 5-7 San Jose State: I have zero desire to discuss a sub-.500 team that doesn’t deserve a bowl bid.  And this isn’t to pick on the Gophers; rather, this will be a running theme throughout these types of posts when it comes to 5-7 teams getting an unwarranted and undeserved invitation to the postseason. [/steps off soapbox]
THE LINE: Central Michigan, +6
THE PREDICTION: Central Michigan 38, Minnesota 24

WMU tops MTSU in another wild Bahamas Bowl

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This Bahamas Bowl is turning into quite the spectacle.

The first-ever Bahamas Bowl last year saw one of the wild finishes ever, with Central Michigan roaring back from a 49-14 third-quarter deficit only to see their comeback, aided by a Hail Mary + Laterals with no time left, fall short on a failed two-point conversion in Western Kentucky’s 49-48 win.  Exactly one year later, and while not nearly as dramatic, Middle Tennessee State and Western Michigan put on quite the show on the day before Christmas.

In a back-and-forth offensive affair that was sealed by, oddly enough, a defensive play, WMU outscored MTSU 21-7 in the fourth quarter to stake its claim to a 45-31 win in the second annual Popeyes Bahamas Bowl.  After rushing for 215 yards and four touchdowns on just 19 carries, Broncos running back Jamauri Bogan was named the game’s MVP.

Bogan’s fourth score of the day, which essentially wrapped up the win, came after a Rontavious Atkins interception with under six minutes remaining that was returned to the four-yard line. That and the second quarter, though, was about all of the defense that was played as offense ruled the day.

The two teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of offense — WMU 613, MTSU 442. Of the 10 touchdowns combined the teams scored, six of them were 44 yards in length or longer; three of those were sixty-plus yards and one came from 80 yards out.

Broncos quarterback Zach Terrell passed for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while Corey Davis, on eight catches, hauled in 183 receiving yards. Brent Stockstill, the MTSU head coach’s son, threw for 327 yards and three touchdowns in a losing effort. The freshman also set an FBS record during the course of the game.

WMU finishes the season at 8-5, the first time in the football program’s history that they’ve won eight or more games in back-to-back seasons. The win was also the program’s first in a bowl.

MTSU will finish the year 7-6.

With the Broncos’ win, the MAC is now 4-2 this postseason.  Conference USA, meanwhile, suffered its first loss after two wins.

CFT Previews: Your Dec. 24 Bowl Viewer’s Guide

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 05:  Donnel Pumphrey #19 of the San Diego State Aztecs runs with the ball in the first half against D.J. Dunn #34 of the Air Force Falcons in the Mountain West Championship game at Qualcomm Stadium on December 5, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Kent Horner/Getty Images)
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Taking a quick-hit look at the Dec. 24 bowl menu, which features a pair of games on islands and teams from four different conferences: AAC, Conference USA, MAC and Mountain West.

WHO: Middle Tennessee State (7-5) vs. Western Michigan (7-5)
WHAT: The 2nd Popeyes Bahamas Bowl
WHERE: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
WHEN: Noon ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: A 3-5 start to the 2015 season put Middle Tennessee State’s bowl eligibility in jeopardy, but Rick Stockstill‘s crew righted the ship and finished the regular season on a four-game winning streak.  Western Michigan was in control of its MAC West fate at 5-0 before back-to-back losses to Bowling Green and eventual division champion Northern Illinois essentially ended their conference title game hopes, although they did knock off Toledo in the finale to rip the West from the Rockets and hand it to the Huskies.  History is not on WMU’s side, however, as the Broncos have played in six bowl games previously… and lost all six.  What WMU does have on its side is a pair of receivers, Daniel Braverman (103-1,266-12) and Corey Davis (82-1,253-11), who combined for 185 receptions for 2,519 yards and 23 touchdowns. MTSU can move the ball through the air as well as Brent Stockstill has passed for 3,678 yards.  Offense should rule the day overall as both are prolific on that side of the ball — WMU’s 22nd nationally in total offense, MTSU 30th — while the Blue Raiders are in the middle of the pack defensively (51st in scoring defense).  The Broncos, meanwhile, are 78th in scoring.  With a win, WMU would win eight or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history; an MTSU win, meanwhile, would give that program exactly eight wins in three of the last four seasons.
THE LINE: Middle Tennessee State, +4½
THE PREDICTION: Western Michigan 37, Middle Tennessee State 34

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WHO: San Diego State (10-3) vs. Cincinnati (7-5)
WHAT: The 14th Hawaii Bowl
WHERE: Aloha Stadium, Honolulu, Hawaii
WHEN: 8 p.m. ET on ESPN
THE SKINNY: Very quietly, Mountain West champion San Diego State is one of the hottest teams in the country, with their nine-game winning streak tied with Alabama for the second-longest streak nationally behind Clemson’s 16 in a row.  In fact, one more win for the Aztecs would tie the single-season school record of 11 set back in 1969 under Don Coryell.  The 10 wins are already SDSU’s first double-digit win season since 1977 and just the fifth since becoming an FBS program.  Cincinnati, on the other hand, won back-to-back games just once this season, although they didn’t lose back-to-back games at all in 2015.  The Bearcats are also dealing with some internal strife as starting quarterback Gunner Kiel will not play because of what are being described as “personal reasons.”  The Bearcats, though, are prolific offensively, ranking 24th in the country with 36.1 points per game.  The problem is that San Diego State is among the stingiest in giving up points, with their 17 points per game positioning the Aztecs 10th nationally in that category.  SDSU has given up 20 or more points four times this season, and just once, in a 27-24 win over Air Force, during their winning streak.  That said, the key to the game could be Cincinnati’s run defense: UC is 106th in allowing teams to average 5.0 yards per carry, while SDSU’s Donnel Pumphrey‘s 1,554 yards are 10th nationally as he averages 5.5 ypc.
THE LINE: Cincinnati, +1½
THE PREDICTION: San Diego State 42, Cincinnati 28