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15 semifinalists unveiled for prestigious Walter Camp Player of the Year Award

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One of the most prestigious awards in college football has whittled down the list of players who will be able to claim the famed hardware this season.

Wednesday, the Walter Camp Foundation announced its 15 “Players to Watch,” essentially semifinalists, for its prestigious Player of the Year Award. The Camp Award is voted on by the 130 FBS head coaches/sports information directors and is the fourth-oldest award in the sport.

“It’s been another exciting college football season with many teams and players still in the hunt for national recognition,” Foundation president Michael Madera said in a statement. “We’ve identified some outstanding players and we know the final weeks of the regular season should be even more thrilling.”

Players on both sides of the ball are eligible, but just four defensive players made the cut — North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb, Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, Miami defensive back Jaquan Johnson and Washington defensive end Hercules Mala’afa. Six of the 15 semifinalists are quarterbacks, the other five are running backs.

Only two players from a Group of Five program, Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton and San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, are included.

Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, last year’s Camp winner, is a semifinalist once again.

Below is the complete “Players to Watch” list:

Josh Adams, RB, Junior, Notre Dame
Saquon Barkley, RB, Junior, Penn State
Bradley Chubb, DE, Senior, North Carolina State
Sam Darnold, QB, Sophomore, USC
Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Junior, Alabama
Baker Mayfield, QB, Senior, Oklahoma
Lamar Jackson, QB, Junior, Louisville
Jaquan Johnson, DB, Junior, Miami
Bryce Love, RB, Junior, Stanford
Hercules Mala’afa, DE, Junior, Washington State
McKenzie Milton, QB, Sophomore, UCF
Rashaad Penny, RB, Senior, San Diego State
Mason Rudolph, QB, Senior, Oklahoma State
Khalil Tate, QB, Sophomore, Arizona
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Freshman, Wisconsin

Khalil Tate saving Rich Rodriguez and putting Arizona in Pac-12 contention

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Those who have sacrificed their sleep on the weekends to watch a talented running back duo of Stanford’s Bryce Love and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny this season are already conditioned for this, but Arizona quarterback Khalil Tate has become one more reason to stay up late on Saturdays. Tate is close to carrying Arizona by himself as the main attraction in a much-needed turnaround season for Rich Rodriguez and the Wildcats.

After diminishing win totals each of the past two seasons, it was fair to suggest this was a critical season for Rodriguez in Tucson. And after a 2-2 start to the season that included some offensive struggles against Houston and Utah at home, Tate’s sudden rise could not have come at a better time. Since taking over at quarterback in early October against Colorado, Tate has been off and running, literally. Tate is essentially Rodriguez’s 2017 edition of Pat White.

Tate is Arizona’s leading rusher with 926 yards and eight touchdowns following his 146 rushing yards and a touchdown Saturday night against No. 15 Washington State in a 58-37 victory. Tate also had 275 passing yards and two scores through the air to lead Arizona to a blowout win with a strong second half.

Tate is playing his way into the Heisman Trophy mix against incredible odds, and it is easy to see why. He legitimately has a chance to break a big play every time he touches the football. And as the quarterback, he has his hands on the football every play Arizona runs. Tate is second in the Pac-12 in plays of 30+ yards with 12, trailing only Stanford’s Love. He is one of five players in the conference with a play of 80+ yards and he is the only Pac-12 player with 4 plays of 70 yards or longer (Washington’s Dante Pettis is second in the Pac-12 with two).

As we have noted before, Tate was not the starting quarterback for Arizona at the start of the season, making Tate’s sudden rise in the Pac-12 even more entertaining to those tuning in. This week Tate will be one of the reasons to stay up late once again as Arizona prepares for a road game at USC. With the Trojans also winning last night on the road against Arizona State, first-place is on the line for the Wildcats and Trojans, the last two teams in the Pac-12 South with just one loss in conference play.

If Tate can make similar plays happen against USC and Arizona can leave Los Angeles with a win and a head-to-head tiebreaker, Arizona will have an incredibly manageable path to the Pac-12 Championship Game. Taking down the Trojans will be no easy task, but neither will USC’s mission of stopping Tate.

USC hosts Arizona at 10:45 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 4. Put a pot of coffee on. It will be worth it.

San Diego State tops No. 19 Stanford despite stadium lights going out

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Head coaches always love to say they played lights out after a tough Saturday of college football. In the case of No. 19 Stanford and San Diego State they mean it quite literally.

With just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, the banks of lighting at decrepit old Qualcomm Stadium simply went out in a close, tense four point game. The inexplicable timeout was reminiscent of Super Bowl XLVII’s outage — only with slightly less on the line for either side. That brief moment of darkness turned out to be a moment of clarity for the Aztecs however, and allowed them to game plan an 11 play, 75 yard go-ahead scoring drive that sealed a 20-17 victory and made the team an immediate Group of Five bid contender.

The outage overshadowed the much anticipated duel between star tailbacks Bryce Love and Rashaad Pennywho both lived up to the hype as they carried their respective teams offensively deep into the night. Given the conservative nature of both head coaches, there was little issue with running the ball often and playing stout defense between two good teams but it certainly made for a rather unexciting contest when all was said and done.

Cardinal quarterback Keller Chryst was largely ineffective and had his worst outing as a starter, finishing with just eight completions for an unremarkable 56 yards and the game-sealing interception with 48 seconds left. If not for Love running behind that bruising offensive line (184 yards and two scores), things could have been even worse for the one-time title dark horse.

As good as Love was though, his counterpart for the Aztecs was just as good in a second consecutive Pac-12 win. Penny wound up with 206 all-purpose yards and one touchdown, the bulk coming on 175 ground-churning rushing yards. Quarterback Christian Chapman was efficient to bring balance to the offense — 187 yards and the game-winning touchdown toss — and put SDSU firmly in the mix for the Group of Five bid at the end of the year with a pair of major victories.

No charges filed against NC State players accused of sexual assault

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Serious allegations won’t linger for three current and two former North Carolina State football players, at least legally.

Friday, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman announced that her office will not pursue charges against Antoine Thompson, Kevince Brown, Isaiah Moore, Erin Collins and Xavier Lyas in connection to allegations of sexual assault stemming from an on-campus party in July. Three women who were at the party claimed that they were sexually assaulted in one way or another, including one who alleged she may have been raped by 7-10 unnamed men.

“Our office has undertaken a detailed review of the information provided from the investigation conducted by North Carolina State University police,” Freeman said. “The evidence does not support moving forward with a criminal prosecution. …

“Under North Carolina law, a conviction for second-degree rape or sexual battery requires a finding that force was used in the commission of the assault and that the assault was against the will of the victim, or that the victim was mentally incapacitated, mentally disabled or physically helpless at the time of the assault.

“Can we say that this is a situation that warrants a criminal prosecution where we can meet that threshold of beyond a reasonable doubt? In this case, we simply are not there.”

According to Freeman, her office reviewed statements made on both sides of the allegations as well as the statements of other witnesses, university security video footage, messages between the parties involved, and consultations with toxicology experts in deciding not to proceed with charges. Warrants to search the cars, rooms and phones of football players, and the information the executed warrants brought forth, were used in the decision-making process as well.

All five players were subject to disciplinary measures because of violations of State’s Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, not because of the allegations of sexual assault but, officially, for attending a party where alcohol and marijuana were present.

Thompson, a linebacker, and Brown, a defensive end, were dismissed from Dave Doeren‘s football team as a result of the off-field incident. Moore, a linebacker, and the two defensive linemen, Collins and Lyas, were indefinitely suspended. Despite the legal resolution, that trio will remain suspended until a Title IX investigation, which has already commenced, is completed.

“I continue to respect due process and these student-athletes remain suspended from competition until the conclusion of the University’s investigation,” the Wolfpack head coach in a statement. “As I said previously, I will be firm, but fair when it comes to discipline. We have a team full of young men committed to representing the University with integrity and respect.”

“We appreciate the hard work of University Police and the consultation of the District Attorney’s office,” said NCSU chancellor Randy Woodson. “The university’s student conduct review continues, and appropriate action will be taken if violations are found.”

North Carolina State dismisses two freshmen, suspends three others

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North Carolina State is the latest to feel the wrath of off-field tumult just ahead of the start of the 2017 season.

The football program announced Tuesday afternoon that two freshmen, wide receiver Antoine Thompson and defensive end Kevince Brown, have been dismissed from Dave Doeren‘s football program.  Additionally, a trio of additional freshmen, linebacker Isaiah Moore, defensive lineman Erin Collins and defensive lineman Xavier Lyas, have been indefinitely suspended by Doeren.  It’s believed those three will miss at least one game apiece.

The disciplinary measures stem from what were described as “violations of the Student Athlete Code of Conduct.”

The discipline also comes a month or so after an investigation into allegations of three separate sexual assaults at one on-campus party was launched.  According to the school, however, the dismissals and suspensions “are not regarding allegations of sexual assault.”

From WNCN-TV in Raleigh:

The five freshman football players were at the on-campus party in a student’s room at Wolf Village where alcohol and marijuana were present, the school said.

Investigators executed search warrants where they looked at cell phones, the residence and reviewed video from campus security cameras.

“We had five freshmen, two of whom have been dismissed, who made poor decisions that don’t align with the values of our program and each has been handled accordingly,” Doeren said in a statement. “Although I’ve disciplined these players for violations of the Student Athlete Code of Conduct, I want to make it clear that I respect due process in the University and legal proceedings. Our players understand that I’m going be firm, but fair when it comes to discipline.”

“The football players who violated the Student Athlete Code of Conduct and Football Team Rules have been disciplined by Coach Doeren, with my full support,” athletic director Debbie Yow said in hers. “Coach Doeren continues to responsibly manage difficult circumstances in an appropriate and forthcoming manner, which is greatly appreciated. Two have been dismissed from the team and are no longer enrolled at NC State, and three others have received suspensions from competition, as well as other discipline. These actions are not regarding allegations of sexual assault. We reserve the right to impose additional sanctions if new violations are discovered.”

All five players were three-star members of NCSU’s 2017 recruiting class.  Only three members of that class were rated higher than Thompson.