Leading receiver returning to UCLA for another season

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Many FBS teams have to be concerned about losing players to an early jump to the NFL, but UCLA’s not one of them.  Well, at least not as far as one of its top offensive playmakers is concerned they won’t.

With speculation apparently swirling that he was leaving early, Jordan Payton confirmed Saturday that he will be returning to the Bruins for his senior season.  In fact, Payton claimed that leaving early for the NFL was never a part of his thought process when it came to his football future.

I’m coming back,” Payton told reporters after practice. “There were reports saying that I was leaving or something, but I’m coming back. Didn’t really even think about leaving, to be honest with you.”

As Payton isn’t being projected to be selected in the first couple of rounds of the 2015 draft, it’s likely a wise decision.

In 2014, Payton is leading all Bruins receivers with 63 receptions for 896 yards and seven touchdowns. Last season, he was third on the team in receptions (38) and receiving yards (440).

Jim Mora‘s Bruins won’t go completely unscathed on the early-entry front as the head coach confirmed earlier this month that star quarterback Brett Hundley will forego his remaining eligibility and enter the NFL draft.

USC’s Jake Olson named 2018 Walter Camp Award of Perseverance winner

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One of the most inspirational stories in college football the past few years has earned Jake Olson some much-deserved hardware.

Tuesday, the Walter Camp Foundation announced that Olson has been named as the recipient of the 2018 Walter Camp Award of Perseverance.  Olson, without sight in either eye since the age of 12, made history last year as a member of USC’s special teams by becoming the second legally-blind player to appear in an NCAA football game.

“Jake’s story is an inspiration to all, and our Foundation is honored to recognize him with the award of perseverance,” said Michael Madera, Walter Camp Foundation president, in a statement. “Jake has demonstrated courage and a strong will to succeed despite the challenges he has had to overcome.”

The award is merely a continuation of what’s been nearly a decade’s worth of touching moments for a remarkable young man.

In 2009, the Pete Carroll-led USC Trojans football team essentially adopted Olson, a teenage fan of the program at the time suffering from cancer of the retina in his right eye (he lost his left eye when he was less than one year old).  It was subsequently determined that Olson would need the right eye removed; on his final day of sight prior to the surgery that would leave him blind for the rest of his life, he chose to attend a Trojans football practice.

Fast-forward a few years, and Olson walked on to the USC football team as a long-snapper in 2015.  He took his first live-drill reps with the Trojans in September of that year, then snapped for the team in the 2016 spring game.  While he didn’t see any real-game action either year, in last season’s opener, at the end of USC’s closer-than-expected win over Western Michigan, Olson finally got to take his place on the field in an actual game with the rest of his special teams teammates as the long-snapper on an extra point — thanks in large part to a very classy assist from WMU head coach Tim Lester.

Olson remains a playing member of the Trojans football team, and is currently in his redshirt junior season.  He’s listed as the Trojans’ third-team long-snapper on the team’s most recent depth chart, although he hasn’t taken the field in a game this season.

As speculation swirls around Clay Helton, USC fans push for change

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To change or not to change, that is the question facing the USC administration when it comes to its head football coach. If they were to ask a growing segment of the fanbase, though, the answer would be resounding “yes!” to change.

In the days leading into this past Saturday’s rivalry game with UCLA, Clay Helton outwardly expressed confidence that he would return as head coach next season.  After coughing up a fourth-quarter lead in the loss to a Bruins team that came in at 2-8, Helton stated “that’s a great question for [athletic director Lynn] Swann” when asked if he thought he’d be returning in 2019.

The fanbase, on the other hand, is making its feelings loud and clear.

A petition appeared on Change.org earlier this week calling for the firing of Helton, although that one hasn’t gotten much traction.  Another, this one a fundraiser on GoFundMe.com, has started to take off as fans are looking to fly a banner over the USC campus before the Notre Dame game this weekend calling for the firing of Helton.  Additionally, the same group is seeking to take out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times calling for the same thing.

The $2,000 needed for the airplane and banner has easily been raised already; the newspaper ad will cost the group $20,000 and, as of this posting, they have raised just over $8,000 toward that goal.

“This is not designed to publicly humiliate Clay Helton,” the fundraising page stated. “The vast majority of USC fans like him as a person and wish it had worked out for him here and we will be rooting for him enthusiastically at his next destination. However, this job is beyond his capabilities at this point in his career and we are not doing anyone any favors by retaining him, including Clay himself. This is about bringing the USC administration’s attention to that fact.”

With the loss that dropped them to 5-6, USC now needs to beat third-ranked Notre Dame next week to become bowl-eligible.  The last time the Trojans failed to qualify for a bowl, outside of the NCAA-administered two-year bowl ban in 2010-11, was in 2000.  Following that 5-7 season, Paul Hackett was fired and Pete Carroll ultimately hired to replace him.

Prior to this year, Helton had won 10 and 11 games in his first two full seasons with the Trojans.

It remains unclear in which direction Swann and other USC administrators — and big-money boosters — will head, but one report has them keeping the status quo.

Should USC ultimately move on from Helton, James Franklin has already been mentioned as a possible replacement.  Tuesday, the current Penn State coach was asked about the potential opening.

“It’s that time of year where all this stuff happens,” Franklin said. “It’s that time of year. It’s the crazy, mad time of the year when these types of things happen. …

“As you guys know, like always, we’re focused on Maryland completely, 100 percent. I don’t think it’s even fair or right to be even talking about that job from everything I understand about it, but we’re completely focused on Maryland.”

Alabama RB Damien Harris (mild concussion) back at practice, status for Iron Bowl up in the air

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Alabama’s leading rusher is making progress, but whether it will lead to an Iron Bowl appearance remains to be seen.

Damien Harris sustained a hard hit early in the fourth quarter of UA’s win over Citadel and didn’t return.  Following the game, Nick Saban confirmed that the running back had sustained what he described as a “mild concussion.”

Harris didn’t practice Monday but was able to return Tuesday, albeit while wearing a non-contact jersey and limited to some individual drills.  With rival Auburn on tap this weekend, Harris’ status will likely be determined later in the week.

“As everyone knows, we have a concussion protocol,” the head coach said. “Because we have a baseline test on every player and when a player gets back to his baseline… this was called a mild concussion, and hopefully he’ll be back to his baseline soon and he can resume activity when that occurs.”

Through 11 games, Harris is the defending national champion’s leading rusher with 678 yards on the ground.  He had 83 yards on just seven carries against the Bulldogs, including a 73-yard run that ended with the head injury.

Najee Harris‘ 639 yards are second on the team.

Oregon, Oklahoma State line up home-and-home

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Oregon and Oklahoma State will conduct a home-and-home series in 2025-26, the schools jointly announced on Tuesday.

Oregon will host the Cowboys on Sept. 6, 2025, while Oklahoma State will return the favor on Sept. 12, 2026.

The schools have met once prior, a 42-31 upset Oregon win in the 2008 Holiday Bowl.

The Ducks also have a home-and-home with Boise State lined up for 2025-26, with hosting duties swapped from its Oklahoma State series. The Oklahoma State series also comes amid a phase of Big 12 non-conference games for the Ducks; they’ll play Texas Tech in 2023-24 and Baylor in 2027-28. Oregon also has future home-and-homes with Ohio State (2020-21) and Michigan State (2029-30), plus neutral site games with Auburn in Dallas to open 2019 and against Georgia in Atlanta to begin the 2022 campaign.

For Oklahoma State, the Oregon series are the only games on the books for 2025-26 at this point and also comes amid a run of home-and-homes against teams from out west. The Pokes, who hosted Boise State in September, begin a home-and-home with Oregon State next season, will pay a return visit to Boise State in 2021, and will play a home-and-home with Arizona State in 2022-23. The Oregon series is sandwiched between a home-and-home with Arkansas in 2024 and ’27.