CFT Previews: The Russell Athletic Bowl

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WHO: No. 17 Clemson (9-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-4)
WHAT: The 25th Russell Athletic Bowl
WHERE: Citrus Bowl Stadium, Orlando, Fla.
WHEN: 5:30 p.m. ET Dec. 29 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: The story lines here are obvious – the quarterbacks and the defensive coordinators. Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Clemson is without Deshaun Watson after the freshman underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL. He played in the Tigers’ 35-17 win over South Carolina, and the program’s original plan was to play him in the bowl game and schedule surgery for January, but head coach Dabo Swinney decided the Russell Athletic Bowl wasn’t worth risking a potential All-American’s career over, so the surgery date was moved up. This leaves Clemson with senior Cole Stoudt, an on-again/off-again signal caller who actually finished the regular season as the club’s leading passer. Stoudt began the season as the starter but somehow got worse as the season progressed, and by November he could barely complete a pass against ACC defenses. That’s not an exaggeration. Stoudt went a combined 4-of-13 for 16 yards with four interceptions against Georgia Tech and South Carolina.

On the other sideline, Oklahoma is going through the opposite situation. Trevor Knight is set to return after leaving the Sooners’ 48-14 loss to Baylor with transient quadriplegia. Freshman Cody Thomas replaced Knight and completed 23-of-50 passes for 292 yards with two touchdowns and three picks in two games and change running the Sooners’ offense. And, really, Thomas’ running of the Sooners offense was simply throwing the ball to give Samaje Perine a rest from running over defenders who happened to be in front of him. The FBS single-game rushing record holder carried 85 times for 791 yards and 10 touchdowns since that Baylor loss, but left the Oklahoma State game early with a sprained ankle. In a related story, Oklahoma’s offense sputtered toward the end what turned out to be a horrific loss to Oklahoma State in the regular season finale.

Finally, the defensive coordinators. Brent Venables was an original member of Bob Stoops’ staff at Oklahoma, coming aboard as co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach working with co-defensive coordinator/defensive backs coach Mike Stoops. When Mike Stoops landed the Arizona job in 2004, Venables took sole control of the Sooners’ defense and ran it aplomb. But when Stoops was canned at Arizona, he returned to Oklahoma and all of a sudden Venables was off to Clemson. In the three seasons since, Clemson has fielded a better defense than Oklahoma. Oklahoma has ranked 78th, 52nd and 33rd in yards per play allowed under Stoops, while Clemson has placed 69th, 23rd and first under Venables.

All in all, the Russell Athletic Bowl sets up to be an evenly matched game. Do you like Oklahoma with a healthy Perine and a returned Knight against one of the nation’s best defenses, or a shaky Stoudt playing without Chad Morris against a mediocre Oklahoma defense?

THE PREDICTION: Oklahoma 24, Clemson 21

Third Virginia Tech transfer this offseason lands at Maryland

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Blacksburg has become quite the fertile recruiting ground for Mike Locksley’s first-year Maryland football program.

In January, wide receiver Sean Savoy completed his transfer from Virginia Tech by moving on to Maryland; four months later, Savoy’s former teammate, Josh Jackson, became his current teammate yet again as the quarterback moved to the Terrapins from the Hokies. Wednesday, Dejuan Ellis indicated that he will join those former teammates as he too has decided to transfer to the Terps.

The wide receiver had opted to transfer from the Hokies earlier this offseason.

Ellis was a three-star member of Tech’s 2018 recruiting class. The Owings Mills, MD, native took a redshirt as a true freshman.

It’s believed the receiver will be forced to sit out the 2019 season, leaving him with three years of eligibility moving forward.

Another family takes issue with Michigan’s handling of a transfer

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Here we go. Again.

Quite the kerfuffle was kicked up earlier this month when Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell and the family of James Hudson, who transferred from Michigan to UC late last year, accused the offensive lineman’s former school in general and its head football coach specifically of not doing enough — or doing the absolute bare minimum — when it came to an immediate-eligibility waiver being sought by the player. Despite the citing of mental health issues, that appeal was denied.

Earlier this week, it was reported that Myles Sims had his appeal for a waiver for immediate eligibility at Georgia Tech denied as well. The defensive back had transferred to Tech from Michigan earlier this offseason.

In a conversation this week with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sims’ parents laid the onus for their son’s denial squarely at the feet of the University of Michigan, intimating, as Hudson’s family did, that U-M did the absolute bare minimum when it came to the waiver process. Even worse, Sims’ family claimed U-M misled the NCAA by providing inaccurate information.

From the Journal-Constitution:

They also believe that a statement from Michigan regarding his transfer – a required part of the application process for a waiver – included inaccurate information about his reasons for leaving that could have damaged his chances for receiving a waiver.

“The disappointment is in knowing that they included just a few words outside of what we said to mislead the NCAA in their decision-making,” Katrina Sims, Myles’ mother, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Tuesday. “Whether that weighed in heavily or not on the documentation that we provided, we take issue with that.

The newspaper also wrote that “[a] Michigan team spokesman stated that the school, as is the case with all transfers leaving the school seeking waivers, did not oppose Sims’ waiver request and followed standard policy.”

I don’t know who’s right or who’s wrong in these situations, but I do know it’s something that will be discussed on the recruiting trail and used by rival schools in luring and/or flipping potential prospects.  So, do the bare minimum in such situations at your own peril.

Lack of class credits behind eligibility issue as Quintez Cephus returns to football practice at Wisconsin

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Now we officially know the rest of the story. How it will ultimately all play out, though, is decidedly uncertain.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison announced Monday that Quintez Cephus had been reinstated and is again a student in good standing at the school, two weeks after being found not guilty on a pair of sexual assault charges and almost immediately seeking reinstatement.  Initially, there was some uncertainty when it came to the wide receiver’s status with the football team; in a statement released a few hours after the reinstatement affirmation, UW confirmed that Cephus had indeed rejoined the Badgers team.

The school did note in that release, though, that they “are working through eligibility issues before he can participate in a game.” Wednesday, the same day Cephus returned to practice with the rest of his Badger teammates, Paul Chryst expounded on the eligibility issue, telling reporters that it revolves around the lack of class credits, which stemmed from his expulsion from the school before the spring semester this year ended.

At this point, whether the credit issue can be successfully navigated before the Badgers’ open the 2019 season the weekend after next remains to be seen.

Two days after very loudly proclaiming his innocence and announcing he was taking a leave of absence from the Wisconsin football team, Cephus was charged in late August of last year with felony sexual assault of an intoxicated victim and felony sexual assault.  The criminal complaint filed against him stated that he allegedly “sexually assaulted two drunken women at once in the bedroom of his apartment in April” of 2018.

It took a jury of his peers less than 45 minutes to acquit him on both of those counts earlier this month.

Cephus was initially suspended by the Badgers football program before being expelled by the university last semester.  In October of last year, Cephus sued the University of Wisconsin-Madison in U.S. District Court, claiming that the school violated his constitutional rights.  That suit was dropped in March of this year.

In 2017, and despite missing the last five games because of a broken leg, Cephus led the run-centric Badgers in receiving touchdowns with six and yards per catch at 16.7.  His 501 receiving yards were good for second, while his 30 receptions were third on the team.  Because of the off-field situation that led to the suspension, Cephus didn’t play at all in 2018.

Including this season, Cephus has two years of eligibility he can use.

RB who transferred from UTEP to Georgia Southern this offseason reverses course, returns to Miners

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Who says you can’t go home again, even in the same offseason?

Joshua Fields left UTEP earlier this offseason and, in June of this year, enrolled in classes at Georgia Southern as he was set to continue his collegiate playing career with the Eagles. It was also reported that the running back would seek a waiver from the NCAA that would grant him immediate eligibility at the Sun Belt Conference school.

Fast-forward two months, though, and it’s now being reported that Fields has decided to reverse course and return to the Miners. That development came a couple of days after the Eagles confirmed in a statement that Fields was no longer a part of the program.

Joshua left the team early in camp. We wish him the best of luck moving forward.

According to the El Paso Times, Fields initially left the Miners because of a family member’s health issue, “but those circumstances changed and now he is back with his family in El Paso.” The Times also reports that Fields should be eligible to play for UTEP this season, presumably because he never attended classes at GSU despite enrolling at the university.

Clarification on his status could come as early as Thursday.

In 2017, Fields’ 362 yards rushing (on 89 carries) were tops on the Miners. According to the school at the time, Fields was the first true freshman to lead the team in rushing since 2013.

This past season, however, Fields’ production dipped to 57 yards on 31 attempts, which works out to just 1.8 yards per carry. That yards-per-attempt figure was the lowest among all FBS running backs with at least 30 carries last year.