Late suspensions may not doom Oregon’s championship hopes vs. Ohio State

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Tonight’s national championship game is a testament to teams persevering after losing key players — Ohio State made it here without quarterbacks Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett, while Oregon lost cornerback Ifo Epkre-Olomu and wide receiver Devon Allen before kickoff of its 39-point win over Florida State Jan. 1.

But at what point does a team lose so many players that it can’t replace them? For Oregon, we may know the answer to that question by late Monday night.

The Ducks will be without receiver Darren Carrington and reserve running back Ayele Forde for tonight’s title bout against Ohio State, with the NCAA levying a drug-related ban to each player. The NCAA’s out-dated and extreme drug policies are a separate issue here, but because those won’t be thrown out in the next 12 hours Oregon has to move forward without a surging pass-catcher and a special teams cog.

Carrington, a redshirt freshman, set a season high with seven catches for 126 yards and a touchdown in Oregon’s Pac-12 Championship win over Arizona, then bested it against Florida State with seven catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns (entering the Arizona game, Carrington had one touchdown and no more than five catches and 79 yards in a game).

Without Allen, who suffered a knee injury during warmups of the College Football Playoff semifinal, Carrington became a favorite target of Heisman-winning quarterback Marcus Mariota. CSN Northwest’s Aaron Fentress runs down how Carrington’s loss will affect the depth chart against Ohio State and has reaction from the Ducks, but more importantly, offers this insight:

Oregon does not rely on a go-to receiver. The Ducks simply run their system and quarterback Marcus Mariota goes through his reads until he finds the open guy. He doesn’t zero in on a particular player.

That makes the receivers pretty much interchangeable. So while many have viewed Carrington’s 165-yard, two-touchdown performance against Florida State as a reason for major concern regarding his absence, the reality is that the Ducks believe any of their top receivers could have made those plays that day. 

Of course Carrington, Allen, Pharaoh Brown — the tight end who suffered a season-ending injury in November — and last year’s second-leading receiver Bralon Addison, who tore his ACL during spring practice, are talented players. But consider this: Since Chip Kelly took over in 2009, Oregon has had one wide receiver selected in the NFL Draft — last year, when Kelly’s Eagles took Josh Huff in the third round.

Oregon’s offense is predicated on running an explosive, effective system that’s stocked with players who are the perfect fit for it. The Ducks have had one top-10 recruiting class since 2009 and yet have made two title games and been in the championship conversation nearly every year since.

So when Mariota turns to Byron Marshall (66 REC, 834 yards, 5 TDs), Dwayne Stanford (39 REC, 578 YDS, 6 TDs), Keanon Lowe (25 REC, 359 yards, 4 TDs) and Charles Nelson (21 REC, 306 yards, 5 TDs), there may not be a significant dropoff.

And that’s the mark of an elite program, one that deserves to play for the first College Football Playoff Championship.

 

Wisconsin launches early Heisman campaign for RB Jonathan Taylor

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The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.

Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:

Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”

The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.

i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.

And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)

Ryan Day isn’t going to name Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting QB just yet

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Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.

“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”

Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.

Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.

Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.

Big Ten’s Jim Delany upset with College Football Playoff Selection Committee

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Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.

While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.

“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”

The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.

Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.

“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”