Loss of James Conner (MCL tear) a significant blow to Pitt’s ACC Coastal chances

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On Monday it was learned the Pitt Panthers will be forced to play the remaining 11 games on its schedule without one of the top running backs in the ACC, if not the entire nation. James Conner, the victim of an MCL tear in Pitt’s season-opening win over Youngstown State, will miss the remainder of the year.

Conner experienced the injury in the second quarter on Saturday, which led new Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi to keep him off the field for the rest fo the game as a precaution. The extent of the injury was not known until Sunday after Conner had a chance to undergo a more thorough examination from the Pitt medical staff.

“They say if you can find a path with no obstacles it probably doesn’t lead anywhere,” Conner said on his Instagram account Monday. “I came too far and beat adversity before in life and I’m ready to do it again. I never question the man above because his plan never fails. The show must continue I know my squad will take care of business!”

Conner was last season’s ACC Player of the Year after rushing for 1,765 yards and 17 touchdowns for the Panthers. Paired with wide receiver Tyler Boyd, Pitt had two of the top offensive players in the conference entering this season. Replacing the overall production Conner offered the Pitt offense will not exactly be easy, but the Panthers will likely hope redshirt freshman Qadree Ollison is up to the task. Ollison stepped in to replace Conner on Saturday, and he put together a 207-yard rushing performance off the bench. If Ollison can prove to be a reliable ball carrier, then Pitt could still have a chance to make a run in what could be another up-for-grabs ACC Coastal Division.

Georgia Tech is the defending conference champion, and the Yellow Jackets certainly got off on the right foot with a blowout victory against overpowered Alcorn State. Pitt’s schedule this year is not very kind with road trips to Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke to go with home games in aCC play against Louisville and Miami. If Ollison keeps Pitt’s ground game in good shape, then the Panthers may not be taking quite as big a hit as it may seem, but not having Conner for those games will be unfortunate for Pitt when those games come around. Against Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Duke last season, Conner rushed for 468 yards and eight touchdowns.

Virginia safety Chris Moore enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal has claimed another name.

As first noted by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Virginia safety Chris Moore has entered his name into the database as he explores a move out of Charlottesville.

Moore started five of his nine appearances for the Cavaliers in 2019 and wound up recording 42 tackles. While he was in line to become one of the key members in the secondary going forward, a prior  suspension for violating team rules back in November may have wound up playing a role in his departure and standing with the team.

The safety had previously missed all of the 2018 season with an injury as well.

Moore was originally a three-star recruit out of Ashburn, Va. in 2016 and, assuming the redshirt senior has a degree, likely has a season remaining as a grad transfer.

DL Jay Tufele, WR Tyler Vaughns skipping draft to stay at USC

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Clay Helton has a lot of issues to deal with at the moment. Having a talented USC football team is not one of them.

The Trojans received a rare bit of good news on Thursday evening as two key players announced they were skipping the 2020 NFL Draft. In back-to-back announcements, defensive lineman Jay Tufele and wideout Tyler Vaughns confirmed they would remain in Los Angeles for the 2020 season.

Tufele is one of USC’s best defensive players. He recorded 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore despite dealing with a handful of injuries. With leading sacker Drake Jackson also back, there’s a nice tandem up front for whoever the team hires as defensive coordinator to work with going forward.

Vaughns returning also makes a dangerous receiving corps that much deeper. Michael Pittman Jr. was lost to graduation but the next three top wideouts are set to be back in 2020. Add in a group of solid tailbacks and both J.T. Daniels and Kedon Slovis at QB and USC will once again have one of the top offenses in the Pac-12.

Whether it will all help save Helton’s job again remains to be seen. If nothing else though, there’s at least there’s some positive news for the cardinal and gold this offseason with Tufele and Vaughns back in the fold going forward.

Nebraska and OC Troy Walters “mutually agreed to part ways”

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A year after significantly falling short of expectations, an offseason of change has commenced at Nebraska.

In one of the first big moves since Scott Frost took over at his alma mater, the Cornhuskers and offensive coordinator Troy Walters announced on Friday that they had ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’

“Troy has been a valued member of our coaching staff for the past four years,” Frost said in a statement. “Troy is a good mentor for his players, provides great energy on and off the field, and carries himself with a presence off the field that will be missed. I want to thank him for his work on our coaching staff, and wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

The duo first came together when Frost was hired at UCF and led a number of prolific offenses, including the undefeated 2017 team for the Knights. Walters was a finalist for the Broyles Award that same season though has not called plays for either team.

Walters had a distinguished career as a player at Stanford that included All-American honors and a Biletnikoff Award in 1999. He spent several years in the NFL before going into coaching during stops at Texas A&M, N.C. State and Colorado.

The departure of Walters could interestingly lead to a reunion between Frost and a familiar name in Mark Helfrich. The latter was head coach at Oregon when Frost was elevated to offensive coordinator for the Ducks and is in search of a job after being let go by the Chicago Bears from a similar role.

Report: USC OC Graham Harrell interviewing for NFL job

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Clay Helton has been searching for a defensive coordinator the past several weeks and may need to expand his search to include an offensive coordinator as well.

According to a report out of Philadelphia, USC OC Graham Harrell has interviewed with the Eagles for a spot on Doug Pederson’s coaching staff in a similar role:

Harrell was retained this offseason amid plenty of fan fare (and money) in Los Angeles. He reportedly had interest from Texas in the same position on Tom Herman’s staff but a return to the Lone Star State was put off for a multi-year deal with the Trojans.

The former North Texas OC and Texas Tech quarterback oversaw one of the more impressive turnarounds in the country in 2019. Despite being forced to play true freshman Kedon Slovis at quarterback following J.T. Daniels injury, USC still added nearly a touchdown per game with the move to the Air Raid and rose from 91st in scoring offense to 35th.

This wouldn’t be the first time Helton and the Trojans will feel like the rug has been pulled out from under them by the NFL after a splashy move on offense. As many know, Kliff Kingsbury was on the job for a few weeks before moving on as head coach of the Arizona Cardinals last January. We’ll see if anything becomes of Harrell’s flirtation with the pros but there’s little doubt that this will not be the last time his name comes up for a bigger job going forward.