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Mike Norvell boosts Power Five stock as Memphis upends UCLA

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Entering this season, any list of Group of Five head coaches who could be targets of a Power Five search included Mike Norvell.  After today, the Memphis coach likely inched closer to the top of that particular class.

In a back-and-forth affair that featured a pair of ties and seven lead changes, a three-yard touchdown pass from Riley Ferguson proved to be the difference as Memphis outlasted No. 25 UCLA 48-45.  The Tigers remained a perfect 3-0 on the season, while the Bruins dropped its first game of the year after winning its first two, the first a scintillating come-from-behind win over Texas A&M in the season opener.

Memphis took its largest lead of the game early in the third quarter, with another Ferguson touchdown pass put the Tigers up 34-24.  For the game, Ferguson threw for 398 yards and a career-high six touchdowns.

After Josh Rosen tossed a pick-six to push the Tigers’ lead back out to 10 at 41-31, the junior quarterback tossed a pair of touchdown passes on two of the next three possessions to give the Bruins its last lead of the game at 45-41 and its first since late in the second quarter.

Rosen threw for a game-high 463 yards and four touchdowns, although his two interceptions were critical in the loss, a loss that continues a disturbing trend for the Bruins.

While Norvell’s stock is rising, the heat underneath his counterpart, Jim Mora, continues to climb.  Mora was one a handful of coaches who, entering the season, was viewed as being in a win-or-else situation.  Games such as this certainly won’t help make Mora’s case for continuing on in 2018.

Memphis senior WR Sam Craft out for the 2017 season due to torn ACL

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Memphis senior Sam Craft will not play football in 2017 after suffering a torn ACL during a practice earlier in the week. Memphis head coach Mike Norvellconfirmed the unfortunate injury news to reporters Saturday.

I absolutely hate it for the young man. He’s one of my favorites,” Norvell said following a scrimmage on Saturday, according to The Commerical Appeal. “He came in, had an incredible offseason, was having a great camp. And then just on a, basically a route on air, took a misstep. Definitely, our thoughts are with him.”

Craft appeared in four games in 2016 and caught 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. He missed a chance for more playing time after suffering a hamstring injury at the end of fall camp. He also had a back injury bring his 2016 season to an early end. Craft recently made a position change form running back to wide receiver this year, and his work as a wide receiver was praised by Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson.

“He was having an unbelievable camp. He was one of our best receivers, I would say,” Ferguson told reporters, again according to The Commercial Appeal. “My prayers go out to him. He’s still our brother. He’s still going to be with us throughout the whole process. It just hurts not being able to have him there.”

Craft was entering his fifth year of eligibility. It remains unknown at this time if he and Memphis will apply for a waiver for a sixth year from the NCAA. Given his injury history at Memphis, he would seemingly stand a decent chance of getting another year from the NCAA.

Davey O’Brien Award watch list highlighted by former finalists, semifinalists and SEC

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The Davey O’Brien Award (top quarterback) took the spotlight in the ongoing college football watch list tour on Wednesday morning. A total of 30 quarterbacks were named to the initial watch list for the award, including six from the SEC along with a few potential Heisman Trophy candidates and a Heisman Trophy winner.

Highlighting the watch list are two finalists from last season; Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield. Mayfield has been a two-time finalist for the award. Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett and Washington State’s Luke Falk are also on the watch list and are each two-time semifinalists for the award. Joining them on the watch list are former semifinalists Jake Browning (Washington), Sam Darnold (USC), Jalen Hurts (Alabama), Josh Rosen (UCLA), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State)m and Wilton Speight (Michigan).

While the SEC led the way with six watch list players, the ACC, Big 12, and Pac-12 each had four players named to the watch list. The Big Ten had three, with Penn State’s Trace McSorley joining Barrett and Speight.

Clemson’s Deshaun Watson won the Davey O’Brien Award each of the past two seasons, becoming the second two-time winner of the award (Oklahoma’s Jason White in 2003-04). A player does not need to be included on the watch list in order to win the award, but only quarterbacks from the 130 FBS programs are eligible.

2017 Davey O’Brien Award Watch List

Austin Allen, Arkansas
Josh Allen, Wyoming
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
Jake Bentley, South Carolina
Jake Browning, Washington
Shane Buechele, Texas
Sam Darnold, USC
Eric Dungey, Syracuse
Jacob Eason, Georgia
Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
Luke Falk, Washington State
Riley Ferguson, Memphis
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
Quinton Flowers, USF
Deondre Francois, Florida State
Jalen Hurts, Alabama
Lamar Jackson, Louisville
Daniel Jones, Duke
Tanner Mangum, BYU
Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Trace McSorley, Penn State
Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
Josh Rosen, UCLA
Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
Brett Rypien, Boise State
Brandon Silvers, Troy
Wilton Speight, Michigan
Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
Mike White, WKU
Logan Woodside, Toledo

The Davey O’Brien Award will be trim its watch list down to a handful of semifinalists on November 7. Finalists for the award will be unveiled two weeks later on November 21, and the winner will be announced on December 7 at the annual Home Depot College Football Awards show on ESPN.

SEC sets pace on Maxwell Award watch list as Big Ten looks to end 14-year drought

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Brace yourselves, everybody, because college football award watch list season is in full swing! The fun got underway on Monday with the release of the watch lists for the Bednarik Award and the Maxwell Award from the Maxwell Football Club.

The Maxwell Award has been awarded annually to the top overall player in college football since 1973. Though not won by the Heisman Trophy winner every season, the award has gone to the Heisman Trophy winner each of the past three seasons, including Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson last year. The Big Ten currently has the longest drought for a Maxwell Award winner among the Power 5 conferences. Penn State running back Larry Johnson was the most recent Big Ten player to win the award in 2002. Since then, the SEC (6), Big 12 (3), Pac-12 (2), and ACC (1) have all had at least one Maxwell Award winner since 2003. Notre Dame has also had two Maxwell Award winners in that span.

Quarterbacks and running backs dominate the watch list, with 34 passers and 33 rushers on the initial watch list. Since 1994, only Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o has managed to break up the run of quarterbacks and running backs winning the award.

This year’s Maxwell Award watch list is below…

RB Josh Adams, Notre Dame
QB Austin Allen, Arkansas
QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
RB Saquon Barkley, Penn State
QB J.T. Barrett, Ohio State
QB Jake Bentley, South Carolina
RB D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
OT Orlando Brown, Oklahoma
QB Jake Browning, Washington
QB Shane Buechele, Texas
RB Nick Chubb, Georgia
RB Justin Crawford, West Virginia
RB Damarea Crockett, Missouri
QB Sam Darnold, USC
QB Eric Dungey, Syracuse
QB Jacob Eason, Georgia
QB Jesse Ertz, Kansas State
QB Luke Falk, Washington State
QB Riley Ferguson, Memphis
QB Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State
DB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
QB Quinton Flowers, USF
QB Deondre Francois, Florida State
RB Royce Freeman, Oregon
RB Myles Gaskin, Washington
RB James Gilbert, Ball State
WR Janarion Grant, Rutgers
QB Will Grier, West Virginia
RB Derrius Guice, LSU
AP Quadree Henderson, Pitt
RB Kyle Hicks, TCU
QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama
QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville
RB Justin Jackson, Northwestern
S Derwin James, Florida State
QB Daniel Jones, Duke
DE Arden Key, LSU
WR Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
DE Harold Landry, Boston College
RB Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
RB Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
RB Bryce Love, Stanford
QB Tanner Mangum, BYU
QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
OT Mike McGlinchey, Notre Dame
QB Trace McSorley, Penn State
RB Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
RB Jalin Moore, Appalachian State
RB Ryan Nall, Oregon State
OT Cody O’Connell, Washington State
DT Ed Oliver, Houston
QB Jacob Park, Iowa State
QB Shea Patterson, Ole Miss
RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego State
RB Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
RB Larry Rose III, New Mexico State
QB Josh Rosen, UCLA
QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State
QB Brett Rypien, Boise State
WR Deebo Samuel, South Carolina
AP Jaylen Samuels, N.C. State
RB Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
RB LJ Scott, Michigan State
QB Brandon Silvers, Troy
RB Rodney Smith, Minnesota
RB Ito Smith, Southern Miss
RB Benny Snell, Kentucky
QB Wilton Speight, Michigan
QB Jarrett Stidham, Auburn
QB Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee
QB Clayton Thorson, Northwestern
RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa
RB Mark Walton, Miami
RB Chris Warren III, Texas
WR James Washington, Oklahoma State
RB Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
RB Mike Weber, Ohio State
QB Mike White, WKU
DE Christian Wilkins, Clemson
OT Connor Williams, Texas
RB Trayveon Williams, Texas A&M
QB Logan Woodside, Toledo
QB Malik Zaire, Florida

Anthony Wales runs Western Kentucky past Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl

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The Boca Raton Bowl boiled down, essentially, to one statistic: the ability of Memphis to stop the run. The Tigers ranked a respectable 44th in the country in rushing defense over their eight victories… and a dreadful 125th in their four losses, allowing an average of 372 yards and five touchdowns on 6.7 yards per carry.

Memphis couldn’t stop the run on Tuesday night, and Western Kentucky had its way with the Tigers, ending the best 2-year run in program history with a 51-31 victory.

Playing in his final collegiate game, Anthony Wales recorded the best night of his career. The senior rushed 35 times for a career-high 245 yards and three touchdowns, essentially breaking open what was a tight, 21-17 game himself. Wales’s first scoring dash came at the end of the first half put WKU up by 11 — Memphis would climb no closer than 13 the rest of the night —  his second score pushed the game into blowout territory and his final score, a 1-yard jaunt around right end with 2:18 remaining, ended any hope of a Memphis comeback.

Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White, playing back home in South Florida, was hyper-efficient as usual. White came into the night averaging 10.4 yards per attempt — which would be the most in FBS over the past three years if not for Baker Mayfield‘s 11.1 average — and improved upon that absurd number by completing 20-of-30 passes for 336 yards (that’s 11.2 yards per attempt) with three touchdowns against one interception. And White actually threw four touchdowns but had this beauty taken away by scoring technicality.

That’s offensive tackle Forrest Lamp finding the end zone on what was scored a 9-yard run, giving WKU a 14-10 lead it would not relinquish.

Memphis (8-5) struggled to run the ball, averaging only 2.5 yards on 31 carries, but Riley Ferguson still got his, completing 25-of-43 passes for 372 yards with four touchdowns and one pick.

The win closes a 2-year run under head coach Jeff Brohm — who has already left for Purdue; Nick Holt served as interim head coach on Tuesday — in which the Hilltoppers (11-3) posted a 23-5 overall record, a 17-1 mark against Conference USA competition, two C-USA titles and two bowl victories over American opponents. Those five losses: to No. 5 LSU in 2015, to No. 1 Alabama earlier this season, and losses of three, one, and three points.

What comes next will fall on the shoulders of new head coach Mike Sanford. Considering the trajectory of this program from Willie Taggart to Bobby Petrino to Brohm and now to Sanford, whatever comes next should still be pretty darn good.