Ray Graham

CFT 2014 Preseason Preview: Key transfers

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The lifeblood of a college football program comes through recruiting, but there are times when recruiting requires making sales pitches to experienced college football players as well. Seniors looking for a chance to compete for a starting job in the final year or years of eligibility can turn into great stories at any school, and this season is no exception.

We already took a look at some of the impact freshmen and the top Heisman Trophy candidates this season, but here is a look at some of the names you may already be familiar with looking to take advantage of a clean slate with a new program.

MICHAEL BREWER, VIRGINIA TECH, QB
With Virginia Tech looking for a new starting quarterback to replace Logan Thomas, the Hokies could be hoping Texas Tech transfer Michael Brewer emerges as the best available option. The spring game failed to answer the question under center so the addition of Brewer figured to spice things up a bit. By all accounts it appears Brewer is making his case for playing time this fall as well, taking over the top spot in the depth chart during fall camp. Brewer appeared in just four games last season for Texas Tech, completing seven of his 10 pass attempts for 65 yards and a touchdown. He graduated this spring, making him eligible to play this fall for the Hokies.

JACOBY BRISSETT, NC STATE, QB
A change of scenery could be just what Jacoby Brissett needed after a disastrous 2012 season at Florida. With Jeff Driskel taking on the starter role for the Gators, Brissett made the decision to transfer to NC State, where head coach Dave Doeren will finally get a chance to coach him after attempting to recruit the quarterback to Wisconsin out of high school. Fortunately for NC State, Brissett’s desire to transfer to Miami was blocked due to a lack of room on the roster at the position in January 2013. Little did Miami know at the time the potential need for a transfer option  in 2014 (more on that later). Brissett played in five games in 2012 for Florida, completing 65.7 percent of his pass attempts for 249 yards and a touchdown. Brissett will be the starting quarterback for NC State, and he will have a stable of healthy receivers and good running back depth surrounding him on the field.

JACOB COKER, ALABAMA, QB
Looking to find his third starting quarterback in six seasons, Alabama head coach Nick Saban may not have been able to find a more suitable option through a transfer than Jacob Coker. Coker came to Alabama from Florida State, looking to get out from under the tremendous shadow cast by Jameis Winston. He does so with the personal endorsement of Seminoles head coach Jimbo Fisher. Coker could likely be a starter on just about any team in the country, but it is not a guarantee just yet Coker will be the Tide’s starter just yet. Coker will have to beat Blake Sims for the job and Saban is known to let these competitions play out as long as he needs before coming to a final decision, even if it means a week or two into the season.

BRANDON CONNETTE, FRESNO STATE QB
An opportunity to play his final year of eligibility closer to home and his ailing mother landed Brandon Connette at Fresno State. Leaving a promising and developing Duke program was surely a tough decision, but as far as football is concerned Connette appears to be landing in another good position as well. Connette is competing for the starting job at Fresno State, offering a bit of a different style than the Bulldogs had grown accustomed to under Derek Carr the last few years, but it is what Connette offers with his feet that could be beneficial for the Bulldogs in their quest to repeat as Mountain West Conference champions. Connette rushed for 14 touchdowns for Duke last season, a big reason why Duke was able to clinch the ACC Coastal Division and play for the conference championship. He may not wing it like Carr, but he did throw for 1,212 yards on 145 pass attempts last season, including 13 touchdowns.

DEE HART, COLORADO STATE RB
Colorado State has some big shoes to fill at running back after Kapri Bibbs rushed for 1,741 yards and 31 touchdowns last season. It is clear the Rams like to run the football, so bringing in a running back from Alabama is certainly a good way to go for head coach Jim McElwain, the former Alabama assistant who secured a new contract recently. Dee Hart, who is looking for a more prominent role in an offense rather than part-time work in the crowded and deep Alabama backfield, arrives at Colorado State and should slide right into the starting role right away. Hart, who has battled through various knee injuries already, had just 22 carries in 2013 and with T.J. Yeldon leading the way for the Crimson Tide it looked as though getting many snaps was out of the question for Hart in Tuscaloosa this season. That should not be the case at Colorado State.

JAKE HEAPS, MIAMI QB
Perhaps the third time will be the charm for Jake Heaps. The former BYU and Kansas quarterback has arrived at Miami and may have done so at just the right time. With an injury to projected starting quarterback Ryan Williams in the spring, Al Golden left the door open for all possibilities to plug the hole, including transfer options. That left an option on the table for Heaps to find a better situation for the remainder of his eligibility. He was once a highly rated recruit but has struggled to match that expected potential. With the right pieces around him, like running back Duke Johnson, Heaps could finally be ready to enjoy some stable success on the football field this fall. Heaps is currently one of the top two candidates for the starting job at Miami.

MATT JOECKEL, TCU, QB
The former back-up to Johnny Manziel at Texas A&M decided it was best to try and compete for a starting job at another program rather than go through another round at Texas A&M. That led senior Matt Joeckel to TCU, where he is eligible to play right away this fall and making his case for the starting job. Joeckel is in the thick of the competition at TCU with Trevone Boykin, who has started 15 games for the Horned Frogs. TCU head coach Gary Patterson could have some options though, with the possibility of moving Boykin to receiver and allowing more time under center for Joeckel addressing two areas of need with one decision.

GUNNER KIEL, CINCINNATI QB
Despite Cincinnati working incumbent starter Munchie Legaux back from injury, it looks like the new guy may be the number one option to lead the American Athletic Conference favorites. Gunner Kiel, who transferred to Cincinnati from Notre Dame, put on quite the show in Cincinnati’s spring game and brings plenty of potential to the passing game for the Bearcats. Kiel sat out the 2013 season due to transfer rules and is now poised to take on the role of starting quarterback for a contender in the AAC as well as for a spot in a big revenue bowl.

WES LUNT, ILLINOIS QB
Illinois offensive coordinator Bill Cubit thinks the Illini can have the best offense in the Big Ten this season. That may not be totally unrealistic with the addition of quarterback Wes Lunt, from Oklahoma State. Lunt arrived at Oklahoma State with loads of hype and potential as an early enrollee looking to succeed Brandon Weeden in 2012, but injuries quickly erased those plans in Stillwater. As he struggled to regain a footing on the depth chart, it became necessary to look for other options to compete for a starting job. Illinois had the need to improve at the position, and Lunt has become the top candidate for the starting job this summer.

JAKE MCGEE, FLORIDA TE
This one came as a bit of a surprise, and is a pretty significant blow to Virginia. Jake McGee was Virginia’s leading receiver last season, and after transferring to Florida he fills a position in need of a major upgrade at Florida. Tight ends at Florida combined for four receptions for 42 yards last season. McGee had a little over 10 times as many catches for the Cavaliers in 2013 and should immediately give Jeff Driskel a competent target in the field. The two have already been developing some chemistry in fall camp, with highlight plays apparently giving the offense a lift. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper intends to make McGee a significant part of the rejuvenated Florida offense.

RUSHEL SHELL, WEST VIRGINIA RB
Going from one end of the Backyard Brawl to the other, Rushel Shell transferred from Pittsburgh to West Virginia last summer. After sitting out the 2013 season, Shell is ready to go and make his case for playing time in a West Virginia offense in need of some physicality. Head coach Dana Holgorsen has said Shell has some of the best skills at the position this camp. In 2012, at Pittsburgh, Shell backed up Ray Graham but still accounted for 641 rushing yards and four touchdowns. West Virginia was seventh in the Big 12 in rushing offense in 2013. Shell could help the Mountaineers improve on the ground as a key contributor.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

CFT Predicts: the ACC

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As the 2013 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we examine the ACC.  

While we’re at it, be sure to check out our other conference predictions: SECBig Ten, Pac-12

Atlantic Division

1. Clemson (Last year: 11-2; beat LSU in Chick-fil-A Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The Tigers shook their ‘Clemsoning’ curse and previous Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia by going 11-2 and beating LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.

So why are they ranked here?
Offense, offense, offense. And some offense sprinkled in. Quarterback Tajh Boyd is a legitimate Heisman candidate and he’ll have Sammy Watkins to throw to for a third straight year. Watkins had a bit of a sophomore slump in 2012 — at least by his standards — because of a variety of issues, from a suspension to injuries, but he still finished second on the team in receiving yards. His touchdown production should rise again after getting in the end zone just four times.

Anything else?
The defense improved under first-year coordinator Brent Venables. With as good as the Tigers offense projects to be, there’s more wiggle room on that side of the ball. Also, can Clemson finally beat South Carolina after dropping four straight games?

2. Florida State (Last year: 12-2; beat NIU in Orange Bowl) 
What happened last season?
The ‘Noles won the ACC and beat NIU in the Orange Bowl. They also pulled their annual head-scratcher by losing to North Carolina State. The circle never ends, it seems.

So why are they ranked here?
Talent isn’t a question Tallahassee, but there are a lot of new faces. Redshirt freshman Jameis Winston has a ton of upside at the quarterback spot, it just remains to be seen at this point how he handles his first year as starter. Wide receiver depth is becoming an issue too. The defensive line loses two pass rushers in Tank Carradine and Bjoern Werner, but that’s an area stacked — almost unfairly — with capable players.

Anything else?
Florida State had a whopping 11 NFL draft picks in April, but Jimbo Fisher also had to replace roughly half his coaching staff. That’s a lot of turnover and it’ll be interesting to see how players and coaches jell this year.

(more…)

Rushel Shell transferring to West Virginia

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Rushel Shell’s long, winding journey since leaving Pittsburgh has finally come to a conclusion.  Well, at least for now.

Anyway, the running back confirmed to ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy that he will be transferring to West Virginia to continue his playing career.  Shell’s mother also confirmed to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that her son is headed to the Mountaineers.

Shell will be compelled to sit out the 2013 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules but will have three years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2014.

For the record, WVU has yet to confirm Shell’s addition to the roster.

“Things went really well down at WVU,” Shell told McMurphy. “I enjoyed every moment of it. We toured the campus and facilities and I got a chance to hang out with other recruits and players on the team.

“They made my visit terrific and made me feel like family.”

In early April, Shell announced that he would be transferring from Pitt.  While it was initially thought Shell would transfer to UCLA — after being barred from playing for Arizona Statethose plans fell through and the player was subsequently connected to Kentucky and Ohio State along with WVU.

A report also surfaced in June that Shell was considering a return to the Panthers, although the team quickly put the stop to any such talk.

As the primary backup to Ray Graham last season, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns as a true freshman.  Both of those totals were good for second on the team, and tops among returning backs.

He was rated as the No. 6 running back in the country in the Class of 2012 by Rivals.com.

Shell is the second transfer back WVU has picked up this offseason.  In June, Charles Sims announced that he was signing with the Mountaineers after leaving Houston.  Unlike Shell, however, Sims will be eligible to play in 2013 as he’s already received a degree from UH.

Kentucky, Ohio State and WVU reportedly on Rushel Shell’s transfer list

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Since returning to Pitt is not an option for Rushel Shell, the former Panthers running back now must find a new home.

Speaking to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Shell’s mother said her son has a strong interest in, and received his release to play for, the following schools: Kentucky, Ohio State, and Pitt’s (former) Backyard Brawl rival, West Virginia. The plan, Toni Zuccaro told the paper, is for Shell to visit all three schools over the summer and make a decision before the start of fall camp.

Shell’s mother also confirmed the reason her son wavered on his decision to transfer to UCLA was because he wanted to be closer to his 16-month-old twin daughters. While Zuccaro didn’t have many flattering things to say about Pitt, she said UCLA’s coaches were more understanding of her son’s wishes.

If Shell transfers to any one of the three programs reportedly on his short list, he will have to sit out the 2013 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules unless he receives a special waiver. Shell is apparently okay with that and not interested in transferring down to the FCS or Division II level. He will have three years of eligibility remaining.

Ohio State and WVU offered Shell out of high school, and a pair of former Pitt players, Chris and Demitrious Davis, transferred to Kentucky earlier this month.

As the primary backup to Ray Graham last season, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns.  Both of those totals were good for second on the team, and tops among returning backs.

Returning to Pitt reportedly not an option for Rushel Shell

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Apparently, at least as far as Rushel Shell is concerned, you can’t return home again.

Sunday, it was reported that the running back had undergone a change of heart and would not be transferring to UCLA after all.  Additionally, there were reports that Shell had decided to stay at Pittsburgh, from where he had decided to transfer in early April.

To quote Lee Corso, not so fast my friends.

Shell will not be returning to #Pitt, according to a source with knowledge of the situation,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette‘s Sam Werner tweeted a short time ago.  Werner added that, per his source, the Panthers “never seriously entertained the option of Shell returning.”

Around the time of Shell’s transfer, it was thought that he would move on to Arizona State and join former Pitt head coach Todd Graham.  It’s unclear if that remains an option — he had been restricted from going to ASU — for a player who would likely have to sit out the 2013 season if he moves to an FBS program.

Cal was also considered a viable option for Shell at one point as well.

As the primary backup to Ray Graham last season, Shell rushed for 641 yards and four touchdowns.  Both of those totals were good for second on the team, and tops among returning backs.