CFT Previews: Allstate Sugar Bowl

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WHO: No. 1 Alabama (12-1) vs. No. 4 Ohio State (12-1)
WHAT: The 80th Allstate Sugar Bowl
WHERE: Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, La.
WHEN: 8:30 p.m. ET Jan. 1 on ESPN
THE SKINNY: There is more on the line for the No. 4 Ohio State Buckeyes and the Big Ten Conference during the Allstate Sugar Bowl against the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide than simply an appearance in the first national championship game decided by a playoff system.

A win provides validity to the both the Buckeyes and the Big Ten. A loss only adds to the narrative that the Big Ten Conference and its teams are nothing more than second-class citizens in the hierarchy of college football.

“Everyone’s gonna try to make it something bigger,” Ohio State defensive tackle Michael Bennett told USA TODAY‘s Michael Schroeder. “Everyone is gonna try to lump everybody into the Big Ten and the SEC.”

What generally separates the SEC from the other leagues around the country is the quality depth of talent each of its teams claim, particularly along the offensive and defensive lines. The Buckeyes haven’t faced anything quite like Alabama’s defensive line this season.

Alabama’s starting nose tackle, A’Shawn Robinson, is listed at 320 pounds. Jarran Reed, who is one of the nation’s top run defenderd, plays defensive end and nose tackle at 315 pounds. Plus, backup nose tackle Brandon Ivory, a senior, also weighs 310 pounds.

Among Ohio State’s five toughest opponents this season — the Virginia Tech Hokies, Penn State Nittany Lions, Michigan State Spartans, Minnesota Gophers and Wisconsin Badgers — only one starting defensive lineman weighed over 300 pounds.

Alabama’s overall size and athleticism along its defensive front seven will be difficult for the Buckeyes to handle.

If Ohio State’s offensive line can hold up against that defensive front and get Alabama’s linemen running laterally,  it will open up Urban Meyer‘s entire offense.

First, the Buckeyes’ running game is built around its zone blocking. Running back Ezekiel Elliott emerged as a dangerous weapon out of the backfield. The speedster amassed 220 rushing yards against the Wisconsin Badgers in the Big Ten Championship Game. Penetration is the key to stopping the Buckeyes’ blocking scheme, though. If Elliott runs free like he’s did during the previous three contest then it will make it easier on quarterback Cardale Jones.

Jones will be making his second career start in one of the biggest games in college football history.

The redshirt sophomore was nearly perfect during his starting debut in the Big Ten Championship Game. He completed 64.7 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown tosses.

Ohio State’s ability to keep Jones clean in the pocket will be vital as the Buckeyes’ wide receivers, particularly senior Devin Smith, attempt to exploit an uncharacteristically porous Alabama secondary. The Crimson Tide is currently ranked 57th overall in pass defense.

But it all starts up front. If Ohio State can slow Alabama’s defensive front and vice versa, the ripple effects will be felt throughout the entirety of the contest.

THE PREDICTION: Alabama 35, Ohio State 28

 

Utah QB Jason Shelley transfers to Utah State

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Jason Shelley may have left Utah but, thanks to Utah State, he won’t be leaving the Beehive State to continue his football career.

Way back in early February, Shelley took the first step in leaving the Utes by entering the NCAA transfer database.  More than five months later, Utah State has officially confirmed the quarterback’s addition to the football roster.

As a graduate transfer, Shelley is eligible to play immediately for the Aggies in 2020.  Additionally, the school noted, Shelley will have another year of eligibility to use in 2021 as well.

Shelley was a three-star member of the Utes’ 2017 recruiting class.  The 247Sports.com competitive had the Texas product rated as the No. 17 dual-threat quarterback in the country.

In 19 career games with the Pac-12 program, Shelley started five of those contests.  In that action, Shelley completed 104-of-179 passes for 1,205 yards, six touchdowns and six interceptions.  He also ran for 223 yards and another four scores.

The Aggies are coming off a 7-6 record in their second first season under Gary Andersen.  Anderson also served as the USU head coach from 2009-12.  In his final season in Logan, Andersen led Utah State to a school-record 11 wins. That mark was matched six years later by Matt Wells.  That season helped Wells land the Texas Tech job.  And led Andersen back to USU.

Hawaii adds another grad transfer WR, this one from Rice

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Hawaii football has been busy on the portal front.  Especially when it comes to the receiving corps.

In mid-June, Hawaii confirmed the addition of North Texas wide receiver transfer Rico Bussey Jr. to its football roster.  Roughly a month later, Aaron Cephus made his commitment to Hawaii football over the weekend.  The receiver, who began his collegiate career at Rice, made the announcement on his personal Twitter account.

As will be the case with Bussey, Cephus is coming to the Rainbow Warriors as a graduate transfer.  This coming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Coming out of high school in Texas, Cephus was a two-star member of the Class of 2016 for the Owls. His first season at the Conference USA school, Cephus took a redshirt.  The next two, though, the receiver put up impressive numbers.

In 2017, Cephus earned third-team All-Conference USA honors after setting a school record for freshmen with 622 yards.   The following season he led the Owls with five touchdown receptions.  He was also second on the team with 565 yards and third with 40 receptions despite missing the final two games with an injury.

A suspension, however, cost Cephus the entire 2019 season.

All told, Cephus has totaled 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns on 65 receptions.  The 6-4, 200-pound also averaged 18.3 yards per catch.

Hawaii football is coming off its best season since 2010. Included in a 10-win season was the program’s first appearance in the Mountain West Conference championship game.  Of course, that appearance ended in a loss to Boise State.

Ohio State announces resumption of voluntary workouts after COVID-19-related suspension last week

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After a brief hiccup, Ohio State is back to prepping for whatever the 2020 college football season will hold.

July 8, Ohio State announced that it was putting a halt to all voluntary on-campus workouts that had commenced the month before.  The pause was due to “the results of its most recent COVID-19 testing of student-athletes.”

Tuesday, however, Ohio State announced that its student-athletes, including football players, are now permitted to resume the workouts.  The school noted in its release that “[a]ll student-athletes from the seven sports that returned last month to voluntary workouts were tested Monday, and the results were received today.  The last round of testing was July 7 resulting in the suspension July 8.”

The school did not give the specifics of the tests that were most recently taken, citing the individual medical privacy of the athletes.

“Our Buckeyes are excited to be headed into a new school year and were disappointed last week when we had to temporarily suspend training,” OSU athletic director Gene Smith said in a statement. “These young people come from across the nation and the world to be part of our Ohio State family, and we do everything we can to create a safe, healthy environment so that they have a chance to study and compete.  Our medical team will continue to evaluate, and we will share our decisions as we move forward.”

Ohio State had been scheduled to open the 2020 season at home against Bowling Green Sept. 5.  However, the Big Ten announced this month that its league members will be going to a conference-only schedule for fall sports.

UCLA confirms additions of four transfers with Power Five experience

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It was a very busy day for UCLA football on portal front.  At least, it was officially.

Over the past few months, it’s been reported and/or tweeted that tight end Evidence Njoku (from Miami), running back Brittain Brown (Duke), cornerback Obi Eboh (Stanford) and defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight (Maryland and Kent State) were all expected to transfer into the UCLA football program.  Monday, the Bruins confirmed all three of the additions HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

All four of the new additions are coming to the Pac-12 school as graduate transfers.

Now, for the backstories of the newest UCLA football players?

Evidence Njoku

Njoku was a three-star member of the Hurricanes’ 2017 recruiting class who came to The U as a wide receiver before converting to tight end.  After playing in eight games as a redshirt freshman last season, he had played in just one game thus far in 2019.

The 6-6, 226-pound New Jersey native finishes the Hurricanes portion of his collegiate p[laying career with just one catch for 11 yards, with that coming in the last year’s regular-season finale against Pitt.

The younger brother of Cleveland Browns tight end (for now) David Njoku is the older brother of current UCLA wide receiver Charles Njoku.

Brittain Brown

Brown was a three-star member of the Blue Devils’ 2016 recruiting class.  He was the No. 46 player regardless of position in the state of Georgia.

In four seasons with the Duke football team, Brown has rushed for 1,126 yards and 10 touchdowns on 222 carries.  His best season was his second as he ran for 701 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry as a redshirt freshman.

Brown’s last two seasons were marred by injuries.  A shoulder injury cost him four games in 2018, while another shoulder injury sidelined him for the last two months this past season.

Obi Eboh

Eboh, a Texas native was a three-star member of the Stanford football Class of 2016.  He took a redshirt as a true freshman.  The past three seasons, the defensive back played in 39 games.  He started seven of those contests, including six in 2019.  During his time with the Cardinal, Eboh was credited with 41 tackles and five passes defensed.

There is a chance Eboh could face his old team as the Bruins will host the Cardinal Sept. 26.

Qwuantrezz Knight

During the 2019 regular season, Knight led the Golden Flashes in tackles for loss with 10.5.  In Kent’s first-ever bowl win this past season, Knight was named as the game’s defensive MVP.

The move away from Kent was odd, if for nothing more than the struggle Knight went through just to see the field in 2019.

Leaving the Maryland Terrapins football program shortly after head coach DJ Durkin was fired amidst scandal in the midst of the 2018 season, Knight ultimately transferred to Kent State in January of last year.  Four months later, Knight filed an appeal with the NCAA for a waiver that would’ve granted him immediate eligibility, a waiver that cited “depression symptoms”; in early June, that initial waiver was denied.

Armed with the ability to appeal the original decision, Knight did as much and it proved successful as the MAC program confirmed in June of last year that the appeal was successful and the waiver granted.