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Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

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Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Sports Business Journal: Big 12 expansion not sitting well with Fox, ESPN

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Could the Big 12’s expansion plans actually hurt its relationship with college football’s most important TV partners?

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported Monday morning that, actually, the answer to that question could be yes.

Ourand reports ESPN and Fox are non-plussed with the thought of the 10-team conference adding the likes of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and/or UConn, programs which would “water down the Big 12 and make it less valuable.”

ESPN and Fox would owe the Big 12 a combined $20 million per team added to the conference — so $40 million for two teams or $80 million for four teams. The Big 12’s TV deal with both networks runs through 2024-2025.

Read Ourand’s full story here.

The question now becomes for the Big 12: Is the short-term financial windfall worth damaging its relationship with ESPN and Fox?

Both networks easily could walk away from renewing with the conference — or put in a lowball offer —  after 2025 if they feel the quality of play decreased because of, for example, Houston and Cincinnati’s presence. That’s a significant risk for Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 to take, especially without the safety net of a conference network (as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will all have by 2019).

But nine years is a long time in today’s media landscape. If the TV rights bubble is already beginning to burst, what will rights payouts look like in 2025? Will cable TV still hold a certain level of importance with alternative offerings proliferating over the the last few years? Will ESPN and Fox even be the best destinations for distributing the Big 12’s product?

In a sense, it’s a risk either way. The Big 12 may very well damage beyond repair its relationship with ESPN and Fox over expansion, but it also may not matter when those networks’ contracts are up. But in the short term, it’ll be fascinating to see how — or if — ESPN and Fox are able to influence the Big 12’s expansion efforts, given that, to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.C.F. (Cash Rules Everything Around College Football).

 

Deshaun Watson earns Manning Award as nation’s top QB

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Late last night, Dabo Swinney took home honors as the Bear Bryant Coach of the Year.  A day later, a player who was instrumental in the Clemson head coach’s 2015 success has been honored as well.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl announced Thursday that true sophomore Deshaun Watson has been awarded the Manning Award, given annually to the nation’s top quarterback.  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.

There were 11 other finalists for this year’s trophy: Brandon Allen (Arkansas), Trevone Boykin (TCU), Connor Cook (Michigan State), Brandon Doughty (Western Kentucky), Kevin Hogan (Stanford), Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), Paxton Lynch (Memphis), Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Dak Prescott (Mississippi State), Keenan Reynolds (Navy) and Greg Ward, Jr., (Houston).

“We are honored to present this year’s Manning Award to Deshaun Watson,” Archie Manning said in a statement. “Deshaun led his team to a perfect regular season and then an impressive win in the Playoff Semifinal before his 478-yard performance in the national championship. He may not have won the title but he showed the world what an outstanding talent he is and what a tremendous competitor he is.”

Watson, a consensus All-American and Heisman finalist, becomes the third player from the ACC to win the Manning, joining Boston College’s Matt Ryan (Boston College, 2007) and Florida State’s Jameis Winston (2013).

North Dakota State QB Carson Wentz ready to prove doubters wrong

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Just days after helping FCS power North Dakota State win its fifth straight national championship, with a victory over Jacksonville State, Bison quarterback Carson Wentz had the opportunity to discuss his rising NFL Draft stock with Dan Patrick on The Dan Patrick Show (simulcast on NBC Sports Network). Wentz was asked about his return from injury, his height and more by the veteran sports radio host.

“What the writers have to say, it is what it is. You try not to focus on that, everyone has a different angle, a different approach,” Wentz said. “What really matters is what the teams think of you, what the scouts and the ownership thinks of you. I’m not concerned with what writers have to say to be honest with you.”

Wentz said the best thing that’s been said about him is that he is a winner, which is always a nice character trait to have when looking to make a splash in the NFL. On the flip side, Wentz said he is no fan of the FCS bashing done by some. Asked if he feels he belongs in the conversation along with players like Jared Goff of Cal and Paxton Lynch of Memphis, Wentz said “I definitely believe in that group, no doubt about it.”

Wentz will get a chance to play with some of the top seniors in college football later this month at the Senior Bowl.

Arkansas chugs past K-State in Liberty Bowl blowout

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With a pair of first-half rushing touchdowns, Alex Collins had already done his part to stake Arkansas to a 31-23 lead over Kansas State in the Liberty Bowl.

But then he did this, and that was basically that.

The junior’s 14-yard touchdown charge staked the Razorbacks to a 38-23 lead with 12 minutes remaining, effectively putting Kansas State away for good en route to a 45-23 victory.

Collins closed the day, and possibly his collegiate career, with 23 carries for 185 yards and three touchdowns. His three scores gave him 20 on the season, an Arkansas single-season record, and his 3,703 career rushing yards are the second-most in Hogs history. Brandon Allen added 315 passing yards with a touchdown and an interception, Kody Walker rushed 11 times for 56 yards and a score, and Jared Cornelius produced 62 yards and a score on four total touchdowns. The only negative of the afternoon came when Dominique Reed left the game on a stretcher after corralling a 15-yard reception, but ESPN reported Reed could speak and had feeling in his fingers while leaving the Liberty Bowl floor on a stretcher.

The Wildcats started strong, intercepting Allen on the first possession of the game and turning the pick into a 27-yard touchdown drive and an early 7-0 lead, but K-State quickly fell in a whole when the Razorbacks’ next three possessions turned into scoring marches of 72, 24 and 64 yards.

After trailing 24-13 at the half, Kansas State produced a nifty touchdown when Kody Cook found fullback Winston Dimel wide open for a 48-yard touchdown scamper, pulling the deficit to 24-20, but Arkansas again answered with two straight touchdown drives — this time traveling 82 and 78 yards — the last of which was capped by Collins’ bowling ball impression.

Arkansas put the exclamation point on the win when nine consecutive running plays turned into an 80-yard touchdown drive.

The Razorbacks out-gained Kansas State 569-242 and held a 30-13 edge in first downs. Cook hit 12-of-24 passes for 163 yards with a score and a pick, and Charles Jones led the Kansas State rushing attack with six carries for 40 yards — 35 of which came on one run.

The win allows Arkansas to close on a high note for the second consecutive season. After a 2-4 start, the Hogs won six of their final seven games, the one loss being a 51-50 setback to Mississippi State, for an 8-5 record. The loss dropped Kansas State to 6-7 for the season.