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WVU’s season-opening opponent sees starting QB suspended

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In what could be a make or break year for head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia may have caught a bit of a break to open the 2015 season.

Georgia Southern announced Wednesday that starting quarterback Kevin Ellison has been declared academically ineligible and will miss the first two games of the 2015 season.  The Sun Belt Conference school opens the year in Morgantown against WVU Sept. 5, following that up with a home game against Western Michigan Sept. 12.

Provided there are no further academic missteps, Ellison will be eligible to return for the Sept. 19 game against Citadel.

While Ellison passed for just 1,001 yards for the run-heavy Eagles, his 1,096 yards rushing were second on the team behind Matt Breida‘s 1,485 yards.  He ran for more than twice as many touchdowns (12) as he passed for (five), while his 172 carries were 44 more than his passing attempts.

Ellison, a second-team All-SBC selection, was one of just five FBS quarterbacks — Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (1,191), Boston College’s Tyler Murphy (1,184), Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas (1,086) and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo (1,046) being the others — to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2014.  Ellison, Reynolds and Thomas all return for at least another season in 2015.

As for WVU’s rush defense, a similar one that will be going up against a GSU team that was second nationally at 381.1 yards per game?  The Mountaineers were 63rd in the country last year, giving up 168.2 ypg on the ground.

Before heading to NFL Combine, Winston and Petty get advice from Harbaugh

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The NFL Combine gets started today with college football’s best NFL prospects getting set to show off and work out in front of the eyes of the league’s top scouts and coaches from every NFL franchise. It’s a pretty big deal, and there is no real down time for players. Aside from workouts and getting measurements taken, players are interviewed by coaches and franchise executives as teams look for the next players to draft in the upcoming NFL Draft. Being prepared for the grueling event is critical for some players, and getting advice from those who have been through the process is always wise.

This morning, before heading to Indianapolis, Florida State’s Heisman Trophy quarterback Jameis Winston and Baylor’s record-setting quarterback Bryce Petty did just that up in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh provided some insight and advice for both players Tuesday morning from inside Schembechler Hall.

Winston is expected to be one of the top players drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft. Petty may be the third quarterback drafted behind Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota, but could be in need of a strong showing at the combine to improve his draft stock.

Harbaugh has some fresh NFL insight of course, as the former head coach of the San Francisco 49ers, and his previous work with players like Andrew Luck and Colin Kaepernick command respect from a pair of quarterbacks looking to take their game to the next level. Noticeably, although more likely just ironically, absent from this picture? Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner.

Offenses struggle in Shrine Game as USF kicker wins MVP

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If you thought yesterday was the first Saturday without college football since August, then you were not paying attention to the college football all-star schedule. The 90th East-West Shrine Game was played in St. Petersburg, Florida, with the East team winning by a score of 19-3. As the score might suggest, there was not a whole lot to be seen in this one, but it served as an opportunity for some NFL-hopefuls to show what they can do to NFL Scouts.

USF kicker Marvin Kloss won game MVP honors with his display of field goal kicking. Kloss notched field goals from 47 yards, 39 yards, 30 yards and a short 19-yard field goal to lead the way for the East team’s victory.

Georgia quarterback Hutson Mason was the most consistent of the quarterbacks in the game, completing seven of eight passes for 71 yards for the East. Duke’s Anthony Boone completed four of his eight passes for 49 yards and Old Dominion’s Taylor Heinicke struggled with just two completions out of nine passes and an interception. Louisville running back Dominique Brown scored the game’s only touchdown late in the fourth quarter and he was the game’s leading rusher with 70 yards.

Arizona State quarterback Taylor Kelly was the leading passer for the West, completing seven of 13 passes for 65 yards. Kelly also led the West in rushing with 23 yards. Nevada’s Cody Fajardo and South Carolina’s Dylan Thompson combined to complete three of 12 passes for 10 yards. Both Fajardo and Thompson were intercepted as well, with each intercepted by FAU safety Damian Parms. The West offense was held to just 93 yards of offense, and completed just three of 133 third-down conversion attempts.

The offenses for both teams clearly struggled, which helped the defenses look even better in the all-star game. Kentucky defensive end Za’Darius Smith came away as one fo the more impressive defensive standouts in the game with his ability to bring pressure on West quarterbacks.

One of the most dazzling plays in the game may have been pulled off by Colorado punter Darragh O’Neill. O’Neill leaped and snagged with one hand a high snap in the back of his end zone before getting off a punt. It was quite the effort, and a cause for celebration for punters everywhere watching.

With the Shrine Game now in the books, as well as the NFLPA Bowl that was played at the same time out west, the focus now shifts to the Senior Bowl this week. The Senior Bowl is the top-level college all-star game with the best of the best, so the level of play should be a little more entertaining that what the Shrine Game had to offer this season. The Senior Bowl will be played Saturday in Mobile, Alabama.

Ragin’ Cajuns win fourth straight New Orleans Bowl to start bowl season

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For the fourth straight season, the Louisiana-Lafayette (9-4, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) season comes to an end by celebrating a victory in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. The Ragin’ Cajuns buckled down defensively to hold off Nevada (7-6, 4-4 Mountain West Conference) for a 16-3 victory. UL-Lafayette is the first school to ever win the same bowl game in four consecutive seasons.

UL-Lafayette jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter before Nevada got a handle on things defensively. The offense for the Wolf Pack could never really get going though. For the first time this season Nevada was held to fewer than 20 points, and it was the first time since losing to Florida State in 2013 (62-7) that Nevada was held to fewer than 10 points in a game.

UL-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway was accurate and effective with his passing against Nevada, completing 26 of 31 attempts for 227 yards and a touchdown. Running back Elijah McGuire led the Ragin’ Cajuns on the ground with 97 yards and was the team’s leading receiver with 54 receiving yards.

Not only is this the fourth consecutive New Orleans Bowl victory in as many years for Louisiana-Lafayette, but this marks the fourth straight season with a record of 9-4 for the program, another tremendous credit to the work and model of consistency put together under the leadership of head coach Mark Hudspeth. The program had just four winning seasons dating back to 1990 before Hudspeth was named the head coach before the 2011 season. Hudspeth had his contract extended earlier this year, but he is going to remain one of the coaches to watch during next season’s coaching carousel unless he still moves somewhere during this season’s cycle. Pittsburgh and Michigan still have coaching vacancies to fill, as well as Colorado State.

Nevada’s last bowl victory came in the 2010 season in the Fight Hunger Bowl in San Francisco. Head coach Chris Ault did show signs of improvement with the Nevada a program this season though. Although it ended with a loss, Nevada doubled its win total from a year ago, at a time when the program was in the midst of some significant turnover and going through a realignment adjustment. One key offseason task for Nevada will be to find a replacement for quarterback Cody Fajardo. The senior was Nevada’s leading passer and rusher in the losing effort, and he had a rough finale as a college player. Nevada plays in a wide-open division in the Mountain West Conference, so it would not be a surprise at all to see Nevada bounce back next season and contend for the West Division.

With the Ragin’ Cajuns winning, the Sun Belt Conference gets off to a good start in the bowl season. The Sun Belt went 2-0 in its two bowl appearances last season. The Sun Belt has two more bowl games to be played this season, starting later today with South Alabama playing Bowling Green in the Raycom Media Camellia Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. Arkansas State will face Toledo on January 4 in the GoDaddy Bowl.

Nevada off to slow start vs ULL in New Orleans Bowl

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Playing in its fourth consecutive R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, the UL Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns showed plenty of comfort and poise playing in the Superdome, but after jumping out to a 10-0 lead the Cajuns have simmered and allowed Nevada to get back in the mix.

On the game’s opening possession, UL Lafayette marched right down field on the Wolf Pack with a 77-yard drive ending with a Terrance Broadway touchdown pass to C.J. Bates for the early 7-0 lead. They added a field goal on the next drive in the first quarter while Nevada’s offense was sputtering and slow to get rolling. This has been the story for UL Lafayette in previous trips to the New Orleans Bowl under head coach Mark Hudspeth.

Broadway completed his first 11 passes of the game before throwing one out-of-bounds. At the half, Broadway has completed 15 of 17 passes for 123 yards.

The second quarter started to swing the momentum toward the others sideline though. Nevada’s defense started to clamp down on their opponents, forcing a pair of three-and-outs and changing the field possession game. The offense did its part as well as Cody Fajardo started to get in a rhythm. However, the Wolf Pack could only manage to put a single field goal on the board. A fumble deep in ULL territory killed one scoring threat, and a crucial false start penalty on the one-yard line may have prevented Nevada from punching in a touchdown.

Nevada has been a good second half team this season. Nevada averages 19.4 points per game in the second half, ranking ninth in the country.