Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Houston hangs on for Peach Bowl victory over Florida State

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The debut season for Tom Herman as a head coach could not have gone too much better. No. 18 Houston (13-1) capped a dream season with a 38-24 victory over No. 9 Florida State (10-3) in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl to kickoff the New Years Six on New Year’s Eve. Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. passed for 238 yards and a touchdown and ran for two touchdowns and 67 yards in the win, although he was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter. That forced Houston to close out the win with backup quarterback Kyle Postma, who picked up key third down conversion and led the Cougars to a cherry on top touchdown.

Houston’s offense shined against Florida State. The Cougars put together an evenly distributed 452 yards of offense, including 191 rushing yards, and lost the football just once. It was Houston’s defense that really stepped up and took Florida State out early. The Cougars forced five turnovers in the game and shut down talented running back Dalvin Cook in the first half. Cook ended his afternoon with just 33 rushing yards and a touchdown, and he was knocked out in the final two minutes after being popped by two Houston defenders. Florida State’s offensive line could not provide much room to run though, and that continued from start to finish.

Houston also knocked out quarterback Sean Maguire for a brief stretch in the first half, leaving Florida State to play briefly with a third string quarterback (J.J. Cosentino) who did not even appear on the team’s depth chart for the game. Everett Golson was not with the team due to a death in the family). Maguire did pass for nearly 400 yards and two touchdowns, but he was under pressure plenty of times and was intercepted four times. Florida State was limited to just 17 first downs in the game.

Houston took a 21-3 lead into halftime and led 24-10 in the fourth quarter when the teams began exchanging touchdowns on the scoreboard. Florida State’s offense appeared to be taking advantage of a tirewd Houston defense, but the Cougars always seemed to have an answer waiting.

At least someone behind Florida State’s Twitter account had a sense of humor. Referencing an earlier loss to Georgia Tech, Florida State made a resolution for the new year:

Of course, one of the College Football Playoff games will be played in the Peach Bowl next year…

(Also, Florida State is scheduled to play Alabama in a season-opening game in Atlanta in 2017, but enough about that…)

Houston was clearly the top Group of Five program this season, and having Herman come to guide the program coming off a national championship as an Ohio State assistant helped the Cougars take a giant step forward as a program. With Herman already lined up to return to Houston in 2016, Houston’s run as a dominant Group of Five program is just getting started. Houston is currently lining up a very talented recruiting class, one that would make even some power conference programs envious.

Florida State will open the 2016 season in Orlando when the Seminoles clash with Ole Miss on a neutral field on September 5. Expect Florida State to still remain one of the top teams in the ACC in 2016 with plenty of talent to work with and perhaps another strong recruiting class being signed. The ACC Atlantic Division could very well be a race between Florida State and Clemson, although Louisville may be in the hunt as well. This may have been a second straight step back for Jimbo Fisher and Florida State (yes, they were undefeated in the regular season in 2014), but the Seminoles will not be likely to continue down a steep decline.

Houston will also open the 2016 season with a bit of a high profile matchup. Houston will kick off the 2016 season in NRG Stadium in Houston against the Oklahoma Sooners, defending Big 12 champions and College Football Playoff participant this season. As with most Group of Five programs, this will be a tremendous opportunity for Houston to assert itself as the top Group of Five program out of the gates, and it figures to be as good an opportunity as any for Ward. to establish himself in the early field of Heisman Trophy candidates.

Pitt mourns passing of Chris Doleman following ‘prolonged and courageous battle against cancer’

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The extended Pitt football family is grieving the loss of one of its own.

Late Tuesday night, it was confirmed that Chris Doleman, 58, had passed away following “a prolonged and courageous battle against cancer.” Two years ago this month, Doleman had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Doleman played his college football at Pitt from 1981-84.  From the school’s release:

Doleman finished his college career third all-time at Pitt with 25 sacks, a total that still ranks eighth nearly four decades later. He played in the Sugar, Cotton and Fiesta bowl games, while helping the Panthers earn three Top 20 finishes, including a No. 2 ranking in 1981 and No. 9 finish in 1982.

As a senior, Doleman was elected a Pitt tri-captain with linebacker Troy Benson and offensive tackle Bill Fralic. In addition to his immense athletic gifts, the 6-foot-5 Doleman also set a standard with his desire and relentless play.

The late Foge Fazio, Doleman’s defensive coordinator in 1981 before serving as head coach from 1982-85, said: “Sometimes we’ll stop the game film just to point out to the team Chris’ desire and hustle to get there.

In December of 2018, Fralic passed away at the age of 56.

“I had only been at Pitt for a few months when I first met Chris and he could not have been more supportive and enthusiastic about the University of Pittsburgh,” said Pitt football head coach Pat Narduzzi in a statement. “It was obvious that he took great pride in being a Panther. I remember we had him as our honorary captain when we played at Georgia Tech one year and he was so energetic with our kids. You know he wanted to put on that Pitt helmet one more time. Our deepest sympathies to the Doleman family. His passing is a great loss for all of us, but his memory and legacy, on and off the field, will never be forgotten.

The fourth-overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings, Doleman was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2012.

Third Oklahoma State WR in a week enters transfer portal

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It’s been quite the past handful of days for the Oklahoma State football receiving corps.

On Twitter a week ago Tuesday, Tyrell Alexander announced that he has decided to transfer from the Oklahoma State football team and “reopen my recruitment process.” The wide receiver would be leaving Stillwater as a graduate transfer for his final season of eligibility.

Two days later, teammate and fellow receiver LC Greenwood entered the portal as well.

Tuesday, another of Greenwood’s and Alexander’s receiving teammates at OSU, C.J. Moore, announced on Twitter that he too will be entering the transfer portal.

“God has a different plan for me,” Moore wrote. “Please respect my decision.

A four-star 2018 signee, Moore was rated as the No. 26 receiver in the country. He was also the No. 5 player in the state of Oklahoma regardless of position. More to the point, Moore was the highest-rated signee in the Cowboys’ class that year.

Despite that recruiting pedigree, the 6-5, 175-pound receiver failed to even remotely live up to it on the field. He played in one game as a true freshman and took a redshirt. In 2019, he totaled 81 yards and two touchdowns on four receptions in five games.

It’s likely that Moore will have to sit out the 2020 season if he lands at another FBS school. That would then leave him with two seasons of eligibility beginning in 2021.

Moore, Greenwood and Alexander are actually the second, third and fourth wide receivers to leave the Oklahoma State football team this cycle, joining Patrick McKaufman.  Like Moore, Greenwood was a four-star recruit, albeit in 2017.  Alexander was a three-star signee in 2016.  McKaufman came to OSU from junior college.

All told, a dozen Cowboys have left the program.

Tight end Grayson Boomer was another of those transfers.

Justin Fields, Trevor Lawrence co-favorites in latest odds to win 2020 Heisman Trophy

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We’re nearly three full weeks into the college football offseason, so what better time than the present for some 2020 Heisman odds?

Shortly after suffering the first loss of his collegiate career, Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was listed as a 7/2 favorite to claim this year’s Heisman Trophy. Right behind Lawrence was Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields at 4/1.

In the updated 2020 Heisman odds released by the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, Fields and Lawrence, both true juniors, are list as co-favorites at 4/1. No one else is really all that close, with Oklahoma quarterback Spencer Rattler coming in at 12/1.

Interestingly, new Georgia quarterback Jamie Newman, who transferred in from Wake Forest this month, is one of two listed at 14/1. The other is also a quarterback, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger.

The shortest odds for a running back are Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, who surprised many observers by returning to the Cowboys for his senior season, and Clemson’s Travis Etienne, who surprised most observers by staying with the Tigers and returning for his senior season, at 20/1.  The last two decades, just three running backs have won the Heisman.  The last player at that position to claim the most prestigious trophy in collegiate sports was Alabama’s Derrick Henry in 2015.

The two quarterbacks expected to replace 2019 Heisman winner Joe Burrow and 2018 Heisman runner-up Tua Tagovailoa, LSU’s Myles Brennan and Alabama’s Mac Jones, respectively, are both at 25/1.  One 2020 signee, though, will have some say in the Alabama competition.

Arizona safety Xavier Bell enters transfer portal

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If you had the Arizona Wildcats football program as the next school to feel the portal’s sting, collect your winnings. Or something.

247Sports.com was the first to report that Xavier Bell has taken the first step in leaving the Pac-12 school. An Arizona Wildcats football official subsequently confirmed that the defensive back is in the NCAA transfer database.

A redshirt sophomore, Bell will be leaving the Wildcats as a graduate transfer. That will allow him to use the first of his two seasons of eligibility in 2020 at another FBS school.

Bell was a three-star 2017 signee. The California native was rated as the No. 73 safety in the country on the 247Sports.com composite.

After redshirting as a true freshman, Bell played in 22 games the past two seasons. Of those, 10 appearances came in 2019. During his time with the Wildcats, Bell has been credited with 21 tackles, one pass defensed and one fumble recovery. He also blocked a punt in 2018.

Bell is one of a handful of players at his position who have left the program. From Michael Lev of the Arizona Daily Star:

Arizona hasn’t lost as many players to the transfer portal since the start of the 2019 season as some of its Pac-12 rivals. But four players played safety at one point or another: Bell, Day Day Coleman, Maurice Gaines and Chacho Ulloa.

At the moment, just four Arizona Wildcats football players are listed in the portal.

The development involving Bell comes a couple of weeks after the revamping of the defensive coaching staff was completed.