'Saturday Storylines' — Debuts for Barkley and Paulus

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In the game of the day, how will Virginia Tech’s young trio of running backs do when facing Alabama’s staunch run defense led by nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody? Freshman Ryan Williams will start in place of injured Darren Evans, but he’ll be fighting for carries with fellow freshman David Wilson and sophomore Josh Oglesby.

While Georgia head coach Mark Richt puts his 10-2 road record versus ranked teams on the line at No. 9 Oklahoma State, two of the nation’s best wide receivers will be on display. Cowboy junior Dez Bryant deservingly gets a lot of love, but there aren’t many out there with more potential than Bulldog sophomore A.J. Green.

Will Michigan be able to leave its troubles behind (at least for three and a half hours) and find solace on the field at the Big House? Perhaps, but it would be a lot easier if they didn’t find Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller and the rest of the Broncos out there waiting for them.

The Syracuse football program doesn’t deserve any or our attention, but former Duke point guard Greg Paulus’ debut as a one-and-done starting quarterback will be fascinating. One thing’s for sure, Minnesota is more than happy to see him back there taking snaps.

Just like Paulus, Matt Barkley hasn’t played in a real football game since high school . . . but he’ll turn 19 on Tuesday. For the first time in USC’s storied football history, a true freshman starts at quarterback. Trojan boss Pete Carroll certainly has figured out a way for us to care about a game involving San Jose State.

After seeing Boise State basically go 13-0 on Thursday night (yes, they’ve got that many regular season games), No. 20 Brigham Young knows it must beat Oklahoma to keep pace with the Broncos in the hunt for a BCS berth. Both teams have four new starters along the offensive line to protect their prized passers. Max Hall figures to be in more jeopardy than Sam Bradford, but all of it will make for good TV.

Although denying any involvement (yeah, right), Notre Dame got that pesky billboard taken down. Supporters hope that isn’t the only defensive action taken by the Irish this week. Self preservation while facing Nevada’s pistol offense could prove to be much tougher than practicing censorship.

There are several new quarterbacks taking over the reigns at high profiles programs in Week 1. Most notably they are: Jarrett Brown (West Virginia), Joe Cox (Georgia), Blaine Gabbert (Missouri), Greg McElroy (Alabama) and Dom Natale or Tom Savage (Rutgers). In some cases, they’re filling the cleats of an all-timer at their school. That’s never an easy assignment, no matter who you line up against.

Is Ole Miss ready for its close-up? Much has changed in the last year for the Rebels. Are they ready for the spotlight that comes along with a target? Sunday’s short drive up to underrated and over-motivated Memphis will provide the initial indication.

Labor Day finds a pair of programs that have been working overtime to get back to national prominence. The Florida State-Miami series used to reside at the top of the college football pantheon. The Seminoles and Hurricanes are both on the climb back up and will eventually get there, but the one that uses the other as a stepping stone earns a crucial recruiting advantage in the region.

Mike Weber to leave Ohio State early for NFL, but will play in Rose Bowl

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Mike Weber has officially decided to ply his football wares at the next level, but not until his last season at this level has played out.

After going back and forth on the subject for the past couple of months, Weber announced on Twitter Sunday that he has decided to leave Ohio State early “and will live the dream I’ve had since 5 years old. I will be declaring for the 2019 NFL Draft.” Additionally, the running back confirmed that he will play in the Rose Bowl against Washington New Year’s Day.

A highly-touted 2015 signee whose OSU career got off to a bit of a bumpy start off the field, Weber has rushed for 2,580 yards (15th all-time at the school) and 24 touchdowns the past three seasons.  The Detroit, Michigan, native’s 1,096 yards as a redshirt freshman led the Buckeyes, while his nine rushing touchdowns tied for the team lead that same season.

Weber’s 858 yards and five touchdowns in 2018 are currently second on the team.

UCF’s 25-game winning streak now longest in all of college football

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When we say a streak, a stat, a side of the ball is the best in college football, typically it’s implied such a statement applies only to FBS. The game’s highest division gobbles up 99.9 percent of the attention, and with good reason — that’s where 99.9 percent of the best players live.

But when we say UCF’s 25-game winning streak is now the longest in college football, it’s actually true now.

Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) knocked off Mount Union (Ohio) 24-16 in the Division III National Championship on Friday night, in the process ending the Purple Raiders’ 29-game winning streak and handing UCF the crown.

According to a CFT study, half of the nation’s 10 longest winning streaks reside in the FBS, and with good reason. While the other divisions funnel all their best teams into one bracket in order to find the very best team, FBS puts only four teams in its tournament, allowing UCF to put together two straight unbeaten seasons (minus one game) without competing for the national championship.

Top 10 College Football Winning Streaks
1. UCF — 25 games
2. North Dakota State (FCS) — 20
3(t). Alabama — 15
3(t). Mary Hardin-Baylor (Division III) — 15
3(t). Morningside (NAIA) — 15
3(t). Valdosta State (Division II) — 15
7(t). Clemson — 13
7(t). Notre Dame — 13
9. Princeton (FCS) — 10
10. Army — 8

Certainly the Knights would trade their 25-game winning streak for a shot at Alabama, Clemson and the like, but their consolation prize is the longest winning streak in all of college football — for as long as they keep winning.

Oregon lands commitment from nation’s No. 2 player

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Mario Cristobal got the biggest win of his Oregon head coaching tenure on Saturday, the Ducks don’t play again until New Year’s Eve.

Oregon landed the commitment of 5-star defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux on Saturday, a 6-foot-4, 239-pound defensive end out of Oaks Christian in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Thibodeaux announced his pledge on ESPN during halftime of Utah State’s New Mexico Bowl drubbing of North Texas.

Thibodeaux is rated the No. 1 player in ESPN’s rankings and No. 10 by Rivals and 247Sports. Those rankings put him at No. 2 in the 247Sports Composite rankings, trailing only IMG Academy defensive end Nolan Smith, a Georgia commit.

Oregon beat out Alabama, Florida and Florida State for Thibodeaux’s services.

“There were a lot of reasons why I chose Oregon,” Thibodeaux said, via 247Sports. “I have a great comfort level with the coaching staff and I know I can go in there and get developed. I’ve known coach (Keith) Heyward since I was just a freshman and I really like coach Joe (Salave’a, DL coach) a lot. He’s a great coach, one of the best coaches in the country and I can’t wait to learn from him.

Thibodeaux will be only the third 247Sports Composite top-2 player to sign with a Pac-12 school in the past decade, following USC’s Matt Barkley in 2009 and UCLA’s Jalean Phillips in 2017. As a cautionary tale for all in Eugene, neither player really lived up to his respective billing. Barkely did not lead USC back to the elite of college football and has thrown just 174 passes as a mid-round NFL draft pick, while Phillips is reportedly leaving the team after two seasons at UCLA.

With Thibodeaux now in the fold, Oregon’s 2019 class now ranks No. 5 nationally in the 247Sports Composite team rankings, a 20-man class that includes 11 4-stars and now a 12th blue chip player in Thibodeaux.

Morningside College claims first NAIA national title

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A 16-yard touchdown pass from Trent Solsma to Connor Niles with 1:29 remaining handed Morningside College its first NAIA national championship on Saturday, capping a 35-28 win over Benedictine in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Morningside College is located Sioux City, Iowa, while Benedictine College is in Atchison, Kan.

The Solsma-to-Niles connection was massive for Morningside. Solsma completed 19-of-36 passes for 292 yards and four touchdowns and two interceptions, with the bulk of the damage going to Niles, who caught seven passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns.

The game started with a Shaefer Schuetz 26-yard touchdown pass for Benedictine, as the Ravens held leads of 7-0, 14-7 and 20-14 — all in the first half. But the Morningside defense stepped up in the second half, allowing the Mustangs to take control of the game with two Solsma touchdown passes, the first an 80-yarder to Niles, then a 19-yard score to Reid Jurgensmeier, putting Morningside in front 28-20 at the 9:53 mark of the third quarter.

Benedictine forged the game’s third tie with a 1-yard Frank Trent rush with 5:49 remaining in the fourth quarter, then had a chance to take the lead again after forcing a Morningside punt, but a holding call killed the Ravens’ drive and then disaster struck when a botched punt snap handed Morningside the ball at the Benedictine 18-yard line with two minutes remaining. On a 3rd-and-8 from the 16, Solsma found Niles for the winning score.

“It was going to him no matter what,” Solsma said. “He’s made big plays his entire career. This was no different.”

Niles’ catch, the last of his career, saw him finish with 6,175 career receiving yards, the most in NAIA history.

“I just remember catching it and then going to my knees,” Niles said. “After that, it was all cameras and teammates mobbing me. This is absolutely amazing.”

Morningside had been on the cusp of their first national title for the majority of the decade; the Mustangs lost the NAIA title game in 2012 and then fell in the NAIA semifinals in four of the past five seasons. The semifinal round saw Morningside avenge its 2016 and ’17 playoff losses to the University of Saint Francis — who would go on to win those seasons’ national titles — in a 34-28 overtime thriller.

“I’ve been motivated to not let this season end,” Morningside head coach Steve Ryan said. “The toughest part for me was that, at the end of the night, the year would be over. I’m so proud of what they’ve accomplished. It ended the way we were hoping … I’m ecstatic.”