Newcomers lead Texas A&M past No. 15 Arizona State

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A year ago, Texas A&M could not have beaten No. 15 Arizona State the way it did on Saturday. Well, the Aggies probably couldn’t have beaten Arizona State at all in 2014, but definitely not this way. Because, a year ago, Texas A&M did not have John Chavis and it did not have Christian Kirk.

The Aggies used a fast, aggressive defense and the multidimensional Kirk to upend the Sun Devils, 38-17, in the Advocare Texas Kickoff at NRG Stadium in Houston.

Chavis, the high-priced defensive coordinator robbed away from LSU last December, guided a defense that ranked 97th nationally in yards per play and 111th in rushing into a strength – at least for one night. Behind All-America candidate Myles Garrett, Texas A&M forced eight sacks and two turnovers, limiting the Sun Devils to just 2.2 yards per carry and fifth-year senior quarterback Mike Bercovici to 25-of-40 passing for just 199 yards. Arizona State mounted only one sustained touchdown drive on the night – its first score came after a Kyle Allen fumble deep in Aggie territory – an eight play, 75-yard march that pulled the Devils to within 17-14 with 2:37 to go in the third quarter.

While the A&M defense did its job, freshman Christian Kirk carried the Aggies’ offense and special teams. A former five-star out of the Phoenix area, Kirk returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown to put Texas A&M up 14-0 with 12:51 in the second quarter, then put the game away for good with a 66-yard grab-and-weave with 3:45 to go in the game, giving the Aggies a 31-17 lead. After Texas A&M forced a turnover on downs deep in Arizona State territory on the ensuing possession, Tra Carson added a 10-yard insurance score with 1:38 remaining.

The sophomore Allen garnered the start for the Aggies and posted decent numbers – 15-of-26 passing for 198 yards and two touchdowns (he hit Carson for a 9-yard touchdown to open the scoring in the first quarter) and added a 12-yard touchdown run to put A&M up 24-14 – but committed two turnovers and was victimized by a swarming Arizona State defense. Head coach Kevin Sumlin turned to true freshman Kyler Murray for much of the night and he answered by dancing for 69 yards on six carries to go with 4-of-9 passing for 49 yards and an interception.

Arizona State successfully bottled up the Texas A&M running game for much of the evening – Carson gained 96 yards on 29 carries, and will have 29 lumps to show for it tomorrow morning – and Murray’s speed and elusiveness proved a successful antidote.

As dominant as the Arizona State front was, though, Texas A&M was even more so, limiting the Sun Devils to 92 yards on 41 carries. Overall, Texas A&M outgained Arizona State 425-291 and held the Sun Devils to 5-of-19 on third downs.

Texas A&M entered the season a dark horse to contend in the SEC West and beyond, and rewarded that faith Saturday night. And considering so many of tonight’s key pieces – Chavis, Murray, Kirk – are still feeling themselves out, here’s the scariest thought of the night: Texas A&M will probably get better from here.

Butkus Award names 51 linebackers to 2018 watch list

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College football watch list season resumed Monday with the release of the Butkus Award and Jim Thorpe Award watch lists. The Butkus Award watch list named 51 linebackers to its preseason list, including players from 41 different schools.

This year’s watch list is highlighted by finalists for the 2017 Butkus Award in Devin Bush of Michigan and T.J. Edwards of Wisconsin. Josh Allen of Kentucky and Cameron Smith of USC are also on the list after being a semi-finalist last year. Former high school Butkus Award winners Caleb Kelly of Oklahoma and Dylan Moses of Alabama also were named to the list.

Alabama and Wisconsin lead the nation with three Butkus Award watch list players each. Ryan Connelly and Andrew Van Ginkel join Edwards of Wisconsin and Anfernee Jennings and Mack Wilson of Alabama are also included.

The list will be trimmed down to a list of semi-finalists on October 29 and then down to a smaller list of finalists on November 19. Georgia running back Roquan Smith won the award last year.

2018 Butkus Award Watch List

Curtis Akins, Memphis
Otaro Alaka, Texas A&M
Josh Allen, Kentucky
Jeffrey Allison, Fresno State
Azeez Al-Shaair, Florida Atlantic
Joe Bachie, Michigan State
Markus Bailey, Purdue
Thomas Barber, Minnesota
Bryton Barr, Massachusetts
Tevis Bartlett, Washington
Devin Bush, Michigan
Josh Buss, Montana
Te’von Coney, Notre Dame
Ryan Connelly, Wisconsin
Deshaun Davis, Auburn
Troy Dye, Oregon
Koa Farmer, Penn State
Paddy Fisher, Northwestern
Joe Giles-Harris, Duke
Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas
Porter Gustin, USC
Nate Hall, Northwestern
Terez Hall, Missouri
Terrill Hanks, New Mexico State
Darius Harris, Middle Tennessee
De’Jon Harris, Arkansas
Khalil Hodge, Buffalo
Justin Hollins, Oregon
Oluwaseun Idowu, Pitt
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
Gary Johnson, Texas
Kendall Joseph, Clemson
Caleb Kelly, Oklahoma
Jordan Kunaszyk, California
Tre Lamar, Clemson
Dylan Moses, Alabama
Bobby Okereke, Stanford
Justin Phillips, Oklahoma State
Germaine Pratt, N.C. State
Shaq Quarterman, Miami
David Reese, Florida
Cameron Smith, USC
Ty Summers, TCU
Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Drue Tranquill, Notre Dame
Andrew Van Ginkel, Wisconsin
D’Andre Walker, Georgia
Devin White, LSU
Mack Wilson, Alabama
Juwon Young, Marshall

Big Ten releases list of preseason honors

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As the Big Ten gets set to begin their media day fun in Chicago, the conference assembled a panel of media members to come up with a list of 10 players to receive preseason recognition. Five players from each division were named to this year’s mini-watch list of Big Ten players, with Penn State quarterback Trace McSorley the lone player designated as a unanimous selection.

Ohio State is represented on the list by two players in the East Division with sophomore running back J.K. Dobbins and junior defensive end Nick Bosa each being recognized by the panel. Bosa was last year’s defensive lineman of the year in the Big Ten despite not being a full-time starter. Michigan defensive lineman Rashan Gary and Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke were also honored in addition to McSorley of Penn State.

The West Division representatives is highlighted by last season’s freshman of the year in the Big Ten, Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor. The Badgers also are represented by linebacker T.J. Edwards. Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fischer, Nebraska wide receiver Stanley Morgan Jr. and Iowa tight end Noah Fant also made up the West Division representatives.

Some names that stand out as possible omissions include Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson and Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson, but it may be difficult to argue against the names appearing on this preseason list.

Ole Miss reveals Great White Shark uniform with new white helmet for season opener vs. Texas Tech

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With Shark Week upon us, Ole Miss is playing right into the theme with the announcement of its brand new “great white shark” uniform selection for the upcoming season. When Ole Miss takes the field for the season opener against Texas Tech in Houston, they will do so in a uniform featuring white from head to toe, including the helmet.

Ole Miss traditionally wears a blue helmet, so coming out in white is a brand new look for the Rebels. It also completes the idea of going all in on a great white shark theme, which is a play off the idea of Ole Miss embracing the land shark as its spirit animal on the football field. The video showed no nameplate on the back of the uniform, but that may just be because it is a demo uniform used specifically for the promotional video.

Ole Miss faces Texas Tech on September 1 in Houston’s NRG Stadium.

Sun Belt championship game MVP will get an MVP Belt

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The Sun Belt Conference will introduce a brand new conference championship game beginning this season, and the player of the game will be taking home quite the unique reward. The Sun Belt Conference championship game MVP will be given a championship belt, as opposed to a traditional trophy. It looks fantastic.

With the Sun Belt now home to the best conference championship game MVP prize, it is time for other conferences to step their game up!