Washington Huskies

TUCSON, AZ - OCTOBER 11:  Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox of the USC Trojans during warm ups to the college football game atagainst the Arizona Wildcats  Arizona Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Cal officially names Justin Wilcox as new head coach of the Bears

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It’s been in the works for several days but finally became official on Saturday afternoon: Justin Wilcox is the new head coach at Cal.

“It has been a dream of mine to lead a college football program and there’s no better place than here at Cal where I got my start and at a school that means so much to me,” Wilcox said in a statement. “I would like to thank Director of Athletics Mike Williams and his staff for putting their trust in me with the Cal football program. I’m looking forward to getting to know our team and hiring our staff, and we will get to work immediately recruiting student-athletes of high character who are good fits for Cal both academically and athletically. I can’t wait to get started.”

This is Wilcox’s first head coaching position but will be his second stint in Berkeley after coaching linebackers at the school from 2003-2005. He most recently spent the past season as the defensive coordinator at Wisconsin but has plenty of Pac-12 experience from stops at Washington, USC and as a player at Oregon.

Just minutes after the news was officially released about Wilcox, West Virginia also announced that that former Bears offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was taking the same position in Morgantown. As a result, it will be interesting to see what kind of staff Wilcox puts together over the coming weeks as recruiting ramps up in the days and weeks leading up to National Signing Day.

Washington DT Vita Vea returning for another season with the Huskies

EUGENE, OR - OCTOBER 08:  Defensive lineman Vita Vea #50 of the Washington Huskies looks on prior to the game against the Oregon Ducks on October 8, 2016 at Autzen Stadium in Eugene, Oregon.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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After a magical season that culminated in a Pac-12 championship and berth in the College Football Playoff, Washington was not surprisingly hit hard by several underclassmen declaring for the 2017 NFL Draft this offseason.

Not everybody is leaving Seattle however, and the school confirmed to the Seattle Times that mammoth defensive tackle Vita Vea would be back in the fold next season for his redshirt junior year and not opt to declare for the draft.

Vea was a second-team All-Pac-12 selection in 2016 but may have developed into the Huskies’ most important player on defense with his blend of size and quickness in the interior of the line. He recorded 39 tackles and five sacks last season, getting to quarterback Jalen Hurts once in the team’s Peach Bowl loss to Alabama on New Year’s Eve.

While Chris Petersen and company will have to replace several starters from last year’s stingy defense, getting Vea back for another season is a huge coup as he should be the bedrock for another run at the playoffs in 2017.

Deshaun Watson claims back-to-back Manning Awards

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Deshaun Watson #4 of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a touchdown by running back Wayne Gallman #9 (not pictured) during the fourth quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Deshaun Watson may be off to the NFL, but he’s taking one more piece of collegiate hardware with him.

Thursday, the Allstate Sugar Bowl announced that Watson, one of 10 finalists, has been named as the recipient of the 2016 Manning Award.  The Clemson quarterback won the Manning after the 2015 season, making him the first player to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

The other finalists for this year’s Manning Award were: J.T. Barrett (Ohio State), Jake Browning (Washington), Sam Darnold (USC), Luke Falk (Washington State), Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Lamar Jackson (Louisville), Patrick Mahomes II (Texas Tech), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma) and Zach Terrell (Western Michigan).  Seven of those 10 finalists (Barrett, Browning, Darnold, Falk, Hurts, Jackson, Mayfield) will return in 2017 with another opportunity to claim the Manning.

The award, named in honor of the quarterbacking Mannings — Archie, Peyton and Eli — is the only one to take into account a player’s performance in the postseason.  And what a postseason performance it was for Watson.

In the national championship game win over defending champ Alabama, Watson accounted for 463 yards of offense and four touchdowns against the vaunted Crimson Tide defense.  It was the perfect ending for a stellar collegiate career.

“Over the years, we have seen so many tremendous performances in the postseason, and this year we saw Deshaun Watson turn in an amazing two-game playoff performance,” said Archie Manning in a statement. “When the Allstate Sugar Bowl created the Manning Award in 2004, one of the key components was to recognize achievements throughout the entire year, including bowls, and now the playoff. This year is a prime example of why we do that.”

A Heisman finalist each of the past two seasons — some would say if the Heisman followed the Manning lead and voted after the postseason he would’ve won at least one — Watson also claimed the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas quarterbacking awards.  He also won the former in 2015.

Alabama opens as Bovada’s early 2017 title favorite

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  Quarterback Jalen Hurts #2 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates after throwing a 68-yard touchdown pass during the third quarter against the Clemson Tigers in the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Alabama may have seen their dynasty temporarily derailed Monday night in Florida, but at least one wagering establishment expects Nick Saban to get it back on track post-haste.

Bovada.lv released its opening set of 2017 national championship odds very early Tuesday afternoon, with the bookmaker installing Bama as a 4/1 favorite coming off the loss to Clemson.  Last year at this time, coming off their fourth title in seven years, the same book had the Crimson Tide as a 7/1 favorite.

The team ‘Bama beat, Clemson, is at 16/1, tied with ACC Atlantic rival Louisville and behind six other teams besides the one they beat on the field last night — Florida State (7/1), Ohio State (15/2), Michigan (9/1), Oklahoma (9/1), USC (9/1) and LSU (12/1).  The other 2016 playoff team, Washington, is at 40/1, the same as 4-8 Notre Dame and behind the likes of Texas (28/1) and Miami (33/1).

Boise State, at 75/1, was the highest favorite amongst Group of Five programs.

Below are the complete list of 2018 title odds for the championship following the 2017 season, again courtesy on Bovada.lv:

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A Look Ahead: CFT’s Way-Too-Early 2017 Heisman Trophy Projections

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10:  Lamar Jackson of the Louisville Cardinals poses for a photo after being named the 82nd Heisman Memorial Trophy Award winner during the 2016 Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Marriott Marquis on December 10, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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We’re nearly eight months from the start of the 2017 season, but it’s never too early to peer into the crystal ball and see how the initial stages of the Heisman Trophy race may shake out.

Of the Top 10 (and ties) in the 2016 Heisman voting, just three will return for the 2016 season: Louisville quarterback and winner Lamar Jackson, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Washington quarterback Jake Browning.  It’s fitting that all three of those returners play under center as, since 1986, 20 Heisman winners were quarterbacks.  Since 2000, it’s 14 of 17 at the position.

At least at first blush, it doesn’t appear 2017 will be much different from the previous three decades, although “just” five of our 11-man list play quarterback.  With that in mind, below is our initial Heisman favorites list, listed in order from the favorite on down.

(Writer’s note: class designation is based on what the player will be in 2017.)

Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual - USC v Penn StateSAM DARNOLD, USC, QUARTERBACK, REDSHIRT SOPHOMORE
Yep, I’m buying in.  I’m buying into USC being the No. 1 team in the country heading into the offseason, and I’m buying into Darnold being the real deal.  Can you really blame me?  Taking over for the since-transferred Max Browne in Week 4, and after a loss in that first start on the road against Utah, Darnold and the Trojans won nine games in a row to close out the 2016 season, with the rising redshirt sophomore playing a pivotal role.  In those nine winning starts, Darnold passed for more than 300 yards four times and more than 400 in one (the virtuoso performance in the dramatic Rose Bowl win).  He threw at least two touchdowns in each of the wins — tossed five each in back-to-back wins vs. Arizona and Cal — and was only picked off eight times in 344 pass attempts in his 10 starts.  The stage never seemed too big for him; in fact, his performance throughout suggested he could be ready for a much bigger stage in 2017.

BAKER MAYFIELD, OKLAHOMA, QUARTERBACK, FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR
In 2015, Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting but didn’t get a trip to New York City as a finalist.  In 2016, Mayfield was third in the voting and made it the Big Apple as one of the five finalists.  The next progression, naturally, is to finish runner-up to (fill in the blank), right?  Or, possibly, become the first Sooner since Sam Bradford in 2008 to claim the trophy.  The bad news for Mayfield is the fact that OU’s top two rushers from 2016, Joe Mixon and Samaje Perine, left early for the NFL, seemingly leaving a significant offensive burden on Mayfield’s right arm.  That could also serve as good news for Mayfield as, potentially leaning more on the passing game, the stats that led him to being a finalist this season (3,965-40-8, 71% completion percentage) could be even gaudier next.  A road trip to Columbus for matchup with Ohio State in early September could portend just what direction Mayfield’s 2017 Heisman campaign heads.

JAKE BROWNING, WASHINGTON, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
Who says nobody loves the Pac-12, what with two of the top three hailing from that conference?  It still baffles me as to how the Huskies sophomore didn’t get more postseason love, though, be it from the Heisman voters or pretty much any other award.  As a true sophomore, all Browning did was finish second in the nation in touchdown passes with 43 in, along with the defense, leading UW to its first-ever College Football Playoff appearance.  All that led to was a pat-on-the-back sixth-place finish in the 2016 Heisman voting.  With a third offseason under Chris Petersen tucked neatly under his belt, I’m expecting a huge leap this season for the rising junior — and for this to be his last season as he makes the early leap into the 2018 draft as one of the top quarterbacks available.

LAMAR JACKSON, LOUISVILLE, QUARTERBACK, JUNIOR
If returning, the defending Heisman Trophy winner deserves to be on any and all preseason watch lists, especially one that comes out three-quarters of a year before the next season starts.  Thanks to history, though, they don’t necessarily have to be high up on the list.  You all know the breakout stats from Jackson’s breakout 2016, so there’s no reason to rehash them here.  The pertinent numbers?  Zero, for the number of Heisman winners who have gone back-to-back since Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in the mid-seventies became the first and only to win a pair of the trophies.  1979, representing the year Billy Sims of Oklahoma finished second in the voting one year after winning it, the only player to ever accomplish that.  Finally we come to the number (?) 3rd, which represents the fact that, outside of Sims, no other reigning Heisman winner finished better than that position the following year.  So, heading into the postseason, I’m going to slot Jackson into the No. 4 hole and see if he can prove me and others — and history — wrong.

Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl - Washington v AlabamaDamien Harris/Bo Scarbrough, ALABAMA, RUNNING BACK, JUNIOR/REDSHIRT JUNIOR

The last running backs to win the Heisman Trophy were Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry, who both just happened to play their college football for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide.  When Henry won his award in 2015, he was a junior.  In 2017, Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough will be junior running backs who play their college football for the University of Alabama and… wait a minute I’m sensing a pattern here.  Harris finished the season as the Tide’s leading rusher, but it was Scarbrough that took on a larger role late in the season.  Coming off a knee injury that cost him two games, Scarbrough totaled 63 carries the last four games.  Harris, meanwhile, carried the ball 31 times in that same span.  If one can separate himself from the other — you’d have to say Scarbrough has the decided edge to be the bellcow heading into the offseason — either could find himself in the thick of the Heisman race deep into the upcoming season.

Saquon Barkley, PENN STATE, RUNNING BACK, JUNIOR
There might not have been a more underrated Power Five back in the country than Barkley.  His 1,496 yards on the ground were second in the Big Ten and 14th nationally, while his 18 rushing touchdowns were tied for seventh in the country.  The sophomore capped off his breakout season with 194 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the Rose Bowl loss to USC.  It was an odd season for Barkley, though, as he had just one 100-yard game in the first five (105 yards vs. Kent State), then in the next four ran for 200-plus twice and 167 in another one.  Between that stretch and the bowl game, however, he failed to run for more than 92 yards in any of the four games, which included a 14-yard game against Michigan State.  If Barkley can find some consistency this coming season, he should be on voters’ radars throughout.  Surely Barkley’s teammate, quarterback Trace McSorley, will get some Heisman run, but this back is more than deserving of some recognition.

Derrius Guice, LSU, RUNNING BACK, JUNIOR
I’m betting that, a little bit on down the road, you could win your fair share of bar bets by asking who was LSU’s leading rusher during Leonard Fournette‘s final season in Baton Rouge.  Of course, it was Fournette… who, in large part because of a lingering ankle, finished second on the team with 843 yards before jumping early to the NFL.  Guice, naturally, finished first on the Tigers with 1,387 yards, and put up 15 rushing touchdowns for good measure.  For running backs with 150-plus carries, Guice’s 7.6 yards per carry was second in the country.  With a new offensive coordinator in Matt Canada who rather enjoys the running game — Pittsburgh was 21st this past season, North Carolina State 31st the year before with him as coordinator — Guice could be poised to do something that much-hyped Fournette never did: make his way north to New York City as a Heisman finalist.

Iowa State v Oklahoma StateJames Washington, OKLAHOMA STATE, WIDE RECEIVER, SENIOR
Yes, just three “wide receivers” — Nebraska’s Johnny Rodgers (1972), Notre Dame’s Tim Brown (1987), Michigan’s Desmond Howard (1991) — have claimed this particular honor, and that was due in very large part to their prowess in the return game; Washington has returned five kickoffs (for 81 yards with a long of 27) the past three seasons, and there are no plans to turn him into a return specialist in 2017.  Yes, he returned for his senior season along with quarterback Mason Rudolph, whose name will most likely litter these types of lists because, well, he’s a quarterback and a very productive one at that.  But, back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, 10 touchdowns and a per catch average of just a shade under 20 yards shows the type of explosiveness that could, if they broaden their horizons a bit, open the eyes of some voters.

JALEN HURTS, ALABAMA, QUARTERBACK, SOPHOMORE
Personally, I don’t ever see a quarterback from a Nick Saban-coached Alabama team winning the Heisman, but Hurts deserves at, the very least, a nod.  As a true freshman, Hurts (and his defense and running backs) led the Crimson Tide to another SEC championship and an appearance in the national championship game.  He took relatively good care of the ball, tossing nine interceptions in his 382 pass attempts; just two of those came in the last five games, with four of those contests involving ranked teams.  The Texas native led the Tide with 13 rushing touchdowns, and was second in yardage to Damien Harris.  Again, a ‘Bama quarterback with Saban as the coach will likely never put of the kind of numbers that catches the eyes of voters, but the dual-threat game he brings to the table plus the fact that his team is perpetual national title contenders will likely have him as part of the stiff-armed discussion for as long as he remains in Tuscaloosa.

ED OLIVER, HOUSTON, DEFENSIVE TACKLE, SOPHOMORE
A player from a Group of Five program hasn’t won the Heisman in nearly three decades, since BYU quarterback Ty Detmer in 1990.  A defense-only player has never claimed the stiff-armed trophy.  So why even bother listing Oliver?

Yeah, he’s good.  Here’s to hoping the voters actually watch what’s going on this upcoming season on both sides of the ball.