With rumors swirling of Kelly’s departure, Oregon keeps its focus in Fiesta Bowl

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The Fiesta Bowl was, in fact, treated as a party — a going away party for Oregon coach Chip Kelly.

Kelly’s name has become surgically attached to the Cleveland Browns and Philadelphia Eagles in recent weeks. Both organizations are reportedly in Glendale, Ariz., for the bowl game in an attempt to steal Kelly away from Eugene and into the NFL. They’ll have Oregon’s permission to speak to Kelly too.

From the moment Kelly turned away the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago, everyone — players, Oregon’s administrators, fans and media alike — knew this time was coming again. Hot coaching commodities have windows of opportunity and Kelly’s is wide open right now. The thought of Kelly departing Oregon for the pros surely weighed on those collective minds, and perhaps on Kelly most of all.

Yet through the distractions, Kelly did the one thing for which he’s best known: keeping his focus on the task at hand. “Win the day” is not just a cliché for the Ducks’ head coach. Neither is the “next man in” philosophy.  It’s what he personally practices and asks of everyone involved with the program. As a result, Oregon’s identity has been closer to that of a machine rather than a football team over Kelly’s four years as head coach of the Ducks.

The focus was apparent Thursday night when the No. 5 Ducks knocked off No. 7 Kansas State 35-17. On the opening kickoff, De’Anthony Thomas darted around defenders for a 94-yard touchdown run. Immediately, Oregon converted a two-point conversion by catching K-State off guard.

That’s focus (or, speed).

Up 22-10 heading into halftime thanks to a more Oregon-esque 45-second drive, Kelly still wasn’t satisfied. “I have to call a faster game,” Kelly said to ESPN’s Holly Rowe. “That’s on me.”

That’s focus (or, logistics).

The Ducks then made excellent halftime adjustments along the offensive line and running back Kenjon Barner finished with 143 yards after a sluggish first two quarters.

That’s focus (or, great coaching).

These are just examples of why Oregon is going to be fine if Kelly leaves for the NFL. His players don’t fear his departure. In fact, they respect that their coach seeks to win at the highest of levels because it’s a quality they all possess as competitors. It helps that the university also has a plan. Offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich is reportedly the next-in-line to grab the reins should Kelly take his final bow. Per USA Today‘s George Schroeder, Helfrich is a pure cut from Kelly’s philosophical cloth.

He can finish Chip’s sentences,” a source told Schroeder about Helfrich. “He’s been in that environment long enough (to succeed). It’s a leap of faith but it’s very similar – I’d almost argue that it was a bigger leap (promoting) Chip than with Mark.”

If it is a leap, it’s a calculated one. Oregon has a brand and an identity on and off the field matched by few in today’s college football environment. So whether it’s Kelly leading the Ducks on to the field or Helfrich, Oregon is in a position for continued success even with a hearing with the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions looming.

If it is Helfrich? Well, Chip, it’s been fun. And a little too fast in every sense of the word.

Receiving star of Western Kentucky’s spring game enters NCAA transfer database

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As one of five wide receivers signed as part of Western Kentucky’s 2019 recruiting class, Manny Allen was a breakout star during the Hilltoppers’ spring game earlier this offseason. Now, it appears the receiver is seriously considering plying his football wares elsewhere.

According to 247Sports.com, Allen’s name is now listed in the NCAA transfer database, a move that allows other football programs to contact the player without receiving permission from WKU. Allen, of course, could also pull his name from the portal and remain with the Hilltoppers.

Conversely, the university can pull Allen’s scholarship during the semester in which he entered the portal.

Allen was a three-star member of WKU’s most recent recruiting class who put pen to paper during the December early signing period, which allowed him to participate in spring practice with his new teammates. Prior to signing with WKU, Allen, who at one point was rated as a four-star prospect by 247Sports.com, had committed to Louisville (August of 2017), Nebraska (April of 2017) and USC (January of 2017).

A native of California, Allen was the highest-rated of the five receivers signed by the Hilltoppers this cycle.

During WKU’s spring game, Allen was on the receiving end of a pair of touchdown passes.

Status of Southern Miss’ leading receiver still up in the air

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Whether Southern Miss has a very key cog in its passing attack remains, at least for now, very much undecided.

In late January, it was reported that Quez Watkins had been forced to withdraw from Southern Miss and enroll at a junior college in an effort to get his academic house in order. According to Patrick Magee of the Biloxi Sun Herald, there is some positive news on the Watkins front as he writes that the wide receiver “is back on campus and taking classes at USM this summer.”

Magee adds that, “[i]f the redshirt junior hits all his marks in the classroom, he’ll be ready to take the field for the 2019 season.”

That said, the football program is still awaiting official word on Watkins’ status for the 2019 season, word that may not come until, at its outer reaches, sometime in August.

As a redshirt sophomore last season, Watkins led the Golden Eagles in receptions (72), receiving yards (889) and receiving touchdowns (nine). Watkins’ nine scores accounted for nearly half of the team’s 19 touchdowns through the air.

BREAKING! Baker Mayfield still not a fan of Texas Longhorn football — or UT QB Sam Ehlinger

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We’ve reached that point of the college football offseason where a former college football player spitting vitriol in the general direction of a former college football rival is a prominent part of the news cycle.

Or, put another way: You can take the player out of college football, but you can’t take the rivalry out of the player.

As a Heisman-winning quarterback at Oklahoma, Baker Mayfield went 3-0 as the starter under center against OU’s hated rival Texas. Even after his collegiate career culminated with a Heisman Trophy, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2018 NFL draft wasn’t averse to throwing up a Horns Down gesture at the Longhorns…

In the here and now, Mayfield is set to enter his first full season as the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns. Also in the here and now, Mayfield is also/still not averse to teaching impressionable and aspiring young football players the proper permutations of a perfectly-executed Horns Down.

Doubling down on that Horns Down lifestyle a week later, Mayfield, during an interview with a Norman radio station Wednesday, scoffed in the general direction of the “Texas is back” sentiment that surfaced following UT’s win over Georgia in last year’s Sugar Bowl.

“They said that when they beat Notre Dame a couple years ago [in 2016] and they won two or three games after that. I’m sick of that crap,” Mayfield, a Lake Travis High School product, said, before going on to excoriate UT starting quarterback Sam Ehlinger, a product of Lake Travis rival Westlake who has been a previous target of the Heisman winner’s jabs.

“He couldn’t even beat Lake Travis, so I don’t really care. His opinion on anything winning [doesn’t matter],” Mayfield said of Ehlinger during the interview. “Westlake is a great program, but the two best quarterbacks to come out of there are Drew Brees and Nick Foles. Sam can stay down there in Texas.”

“That will stir the pot. He doesn’t like me and I hope he knows I don’t like him either,” Mayfield added.

For those keeping score at home, the Ehlinger-led Texas Longhorns will face the Mayfield-less Oklahoma Sooners Oct. 12 in the 115th renewal of the Red River Shootout this season.  That next day, Mayfield’s Cleveland Browns will play host to the Seattle Seahawks, so it’s highly unlikely you’ll see the Horns Down agitator at the State Fair of Texas that weekend.

Probably.

Three-star 2019 Michigan State signee signs MLB contract

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Michigan State has become the latest FBS program to lose a player, albeit not through what’s become the standard portal exit.

In December of last year, Jase Bowen signed on as a member of MSU’s 2019 recruiting class and had intended to play both football and baseball for the Spartans.  Earlier this month, however, Brown was selected with the 334th overall pick (11th round) by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Major League Baseball draft.

On his Twitter account Wednesday evening, Bowen, a shortstop in the stick-and-ball sport, indicated that he has signed with the MLB club and will be, at least for now, eschewing a collegiate football career.

“Michigan State will always hold a special place in my heart, but today a childhood dream of mine came true,” Bowen wrote as he shared photos of himself signing his professional baseball contract.

Coming out of high school in Toledo, Bowen, who had been committed to play baseball at Notre Dame before interest in him as a football prospect ratcheted up, was a three-star recruit who was rated as the No. 25 football player at any position in the state of Ohio.  Bowen was the lowest-rated of the three receivers MSU added in the most recent signing cycle.

It should be noted that, should Bowen’s MLB career not play out in the manner in which he hopes, he could always return to the collegiate level and play football, at either MSU or elsewhere.