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USC confirms hire of Deland McCullough as Trojans’ new RB coach

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While it took a few days to make things official, USC has confirmed the hire of Deland McCullough as the Trojans’ new running backs coach.

“We are thrilled to welcome Deland to the Trojan Family and fortunate to have him on our staff,” head coach Clay Helton said in a statement.  “He had great success recruiting and then developing prolific running backs at Indiana who were NFL ready.  The Indiana run game during his time was effective, efficient and productive.  He understands the running game and was himself a very skilled runner as a college and pro player.”

McCullough replaces Tommie Robinson, who was hired last month by former USC coach Ed Orgeron to fill the same position at LSU.

The trip West is a bit of a departure for McCullough as he’s spent nearly his entire coaching career — dating back to 2010 — at Indiana. Despite the unfamiliarity with Los Angeles, the young coach developed several quality runners with the Hoosiers, such as Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, and should be able to keep that impressive list of pupils growing with players like Ronald Jones II on the USC roster in 2017.

Alabama trio officially rolls early from Crimson Tide to NFL draft

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Not surprisingly, Alabama is losing handful of underclassmen to the NFL — albeit a smaller handful than some had projected.

At the schools annual press conference for junior NFL announcements, a trio of Crimson Tide football players — cornerback Marlon Humphrey, offensive tackle Cam Robinson, wide receiver ArDarius Stewart (pictured) — confirmed that they will be leaving Tuscaloosa and make themselves available for the April NFL draft.

Robinson has been an All-American the past two seasons after earning Freshman All-American as a true freshman in 2014.  He was a consensus All-American this season.  Humphrey was also a Freshman All-American his redshirt season in 2015 before joining Robinson this season as an All-American.

This season, Stewart led the Tide in receiving yards (864), receiving touchdowns (eight) and yards per catch (16).  His 54 receptions were second on the national title runners-up.  The 6-1, 204-pound receiver finishes his ‘Bama career with 129 catches, 1,713 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Both Robinson and Humphrey were given first-round grades from the NFL Draft Advisory Committee.  Stewart received an “other” grade.

There was some good news on the early-entry front as defensive backs Anthony Averett and Tony Brown, who both had considered leaving early, ultimately decided to return to Tuscaloosa for another season.

VIDEO: Another questionable missed targeting on Alabama knocks Mike Williams out (briefly)

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Clemson had a bit of an injury scare in the firsts quarter when wide receiver Mike Williams was knocked out of the game following a helmet-to-helmet hit, but a sideline report from ESPN’s broadcast says he has been cleared to return to the game.

Williams was on the receiving end of a helmet-to-helmet hit with Alabama’s Tony Brown, who came in late on a tackle effort. There was no foul called on the play for the hit, which was arguably a missed targeting call.

The hit occurred in the first quarter of the game, and was the second questionable targeting incident of the quarter by Alabama. Reuben Foster was flagged for a late hit on Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson on an earlier Tigers possession, but was not called for targeting. No review was called from the booth for targeting either.

USC offensive lineman Damien Mama first Trojan to declare for 2017 NFL Draft

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USC is no stranger to players leaving for the NFL early and suffered a defection from at least one key player in the wake of the team’s recent Rose Bowl triumph.

In an Instagram post on Friday afternoon, offensive guard Damien Mama announced that he would forgo his final year of eligibility and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. The school later confirmed his intentions shortly thereafter.

Mama started for parts of three seasons for the Trojans and likely projects as a middle- to late-round draft pick in the spring. He started 12 games this season for the team and earned All-Pac-12 second team honors.

The absence of Mama for next season means that USC will now have to replace at least three starters off an offensive line that protected young star quarterback Sam Darnold and paved the way for tailback Ronald Jones. Backup Chris Brown did rotate in at the spot quite a bit in 2016 so there shouldn’t be too much of a drop off for a team  that likely begins 2017 in the top 10 in all the preseason polls.

Mama’s announcement should be the first over the next several days for the Trojans, as star defensive back Adoree’ Jackson and wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster are also expected to decide whether to return to Los Angeles for another year or head to the pros.

No. 9 USC fights on for epic Rose Bowl victory over No. 5 Penn State in battle of thrilling comebacks

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PASADENA, Calif. — The Granddaddy of Them All lived up to the billing. And then some.

In one of the most thrilling Rose Bowls in the game’s illustrious history, USC capped a wild second half with a Matt Boermeester 46 yard field goal as time expired to top Penn State 52-49.

It was a result nearly everybody in the stadium would have expected given the way the game began, but few could have imagined would have played out the way it did in the game’s 103rd edition. After all, the Big Ten champions’ first two passes of the game resulted in a pair of awful interceptions. But — as usual this season — the Nittany Lions underwent yet another metamorphosis after a trip to the locker room and bounced back in the second half to set up an instant classic.

As bad as those first few plays were for the blue and white, everything went the opposite way to begin the third quarter as Penn State’s first three plays of the second half all resulted in a trio of miraculous touchdowns to completely flip the game. Tailback Saquon Barkley (194 yards, two scores) kicked things off by zigging and zagging 79 yards to the end zone for one of the best runs the hallowed ground has ever seen.

The Nittany Lions weren’t done yet. Wideout Chris Godwin hauled in his second  incredible touchdown of the day in even more impressive fashion than his first, tipping, and juggling, a pass to himself before going 72 yards to the end zone. The blue and white weren’t done yet, as Brandon Bell picked off USC quarterback Sam Darnold on the ensuing series and returned it down to the three yard line. Trace McSorley (254 yards, four touchdowns, three interceptions) punched it in on the next play to finish off a 28 point run for Penn State that sent the 95,128 into a frenzy in different ways depending on what color they were wearing.

The Trojans would not go quietly into the night and preceded to live up to their motto, fighting on to a big response when offensive MVP Darnold (453 yards, five touchdowns and a pick on the night) found the end zone on the ensuing possession by hooking up with ever-reliable receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster

After a whacky two point conversion brought USC to within a touchdown, McSorley and company responded right back by mounting a lengthy 82 yard scoring drive that capped off a run of seven touchdowns on seven series. They would get no further on the scoreboard however.

The two traded big plays back-and-forth (on both sides of the ball) in the final quarter before Darnold led a drive that very well could go down in the program’s illustrious history as one its finest moments, marching 80 yards in just three plays before finding Deontae Burnett in the back of the end zone to conclude a heroic 164 yard and three score effort for the young receiver.

The Trojans defense forced three fourth quarter punts and then picked off McSorley with just 27 seconds left in the game to set Boermeester up for his kick and complete the thrilling comeback for the ages.

It was a finish that was quite fitting given that the two teams were the hottest in the country coming in, having not suffered a loss since late September. The result ended most of the talk that Penn State deserved to be in the College Football Playoff in lieu of Ohio State and should do nothing to slow down talk that both the Nittany Lions and USC should enter the 2017 season in the top five of the preseason polls.

The end of the chilly Southern California night belonged to the Trojans though, who finished off a remarkable comeback of their own from a 1-3 start to the season to emerge as Rose Bowl champions.