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Divergent paths of Jake Coker, Connor Cook converge in Texas

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Near the end of Alabama’s post-game press conference after its 38-0 win over Michigan State in the 80th Cotton Bowl, head coach Nick Saban had a moment when he wasn’t being asked a question.

With glasses perched at the end of his nose, the 64-year-old coach looked at a stat sheet and saw quarterback numbers that may have surprised some, but not the winner of four national titles on the verge of a potential fifth.

On the right side of the sheet were the stats for Alabama, which has been led by senior quarterback Jake Coker.

Coker, a 2014 transfer from Florida State, had just played his 31st college game and started just his 13th.

It was Coker who got the ball rolling toward Alabama’s first official Cotton Bowl win since 1982 and kept it rolling. Halfway through the second quarter, a 50-yard toss to freshman receiver Calvin Ridley set up a one-yard touchdown run from Heisman winner Derrick Henry.

Two quarters later, Coker, who had never set foot on the field for a bowl game, had 286 yards and two touchdowns on 25 completions and five misses. The game’s  Most Outstanding Offensive Player helped send Alabama to the National Championship Game against undefeated Clemson.

But Saban wasn’t surprised.

“He’s pretty much done a good job all year long in terms of whatever we’ve asked him to do,” Saban said. “He’s not a selfish guy at all. He never complains about when we don’t throw it down the field enough. He just tries to do what he can do for his team.”

That includes contributing to the first Cotton Bowl shutout since 1963 and continuing an 11-game win streak that began after Coker didn’t start against Ole Miss and failed to mount a comeback in the 43-37 loss.

“I think that’s why he was elected captain by his teammates and he’s respected so much because of his toughness and his competitive spirit and how he’s a real team guy,” Saban said. “Tonight he had to make the plays because they were there, and he certainly made them. But I think in each game that we’ve asked him to do that, he’s come through for us very nicely.”

Both of Coker’s touchdowns went to Ridley, who now has seven TD catches on the year. His 1,031 yards gives him the single-season receivers mark for freshman at Alabama.

“Calvin did a great job of just getting up and making plays,” Coker said, sitting to the left of Saban. “It makes things a lot easier on me, a lot easier than it should be. He’s one heck of a player. And so are all the other guys out there, man. They just got up and made plays and made me look better than I should have.”

They made him look better than the quarterback that had sat in his seat just minutes before.

On the left side of the state sheet Saban gazed at was the state line for Michigan State’s Connor Cook.

365 days ago, Cook sat before the Cotton Bowl media following “one for the ages.”

The junior quarterback had orchestrated MSU’s three touchdown fourth quarter to storm back and defeat Baylor 42-41. It was the Spartan’s fourth bowl win in as many seasons, which came after losses in their previous seven bowl games.

Cook, the winningest Michigan State QB at 34-5, was part of three of those, including MSU’s first Rose Bowl win since 1988, a 24-20 victory over Stanford.

A full calendar year after its triumph over Baylor, Cook and his Spartans were on receiving end of the first Cotton Bowl shutout in more than 50 years. It was a long night for a quarterback who had seen and accomplished more than any of his predecessors.

“There’s no comparison the feeling that I had last year to this year,” Cook said after going 19 of 32 for 210 yards, two interceptions and four sacks. “You can’t compare the two at all. So, obviously, last year was — everyone was so happy. Everyone was on cloud nine, a 20-point comeback in the fourth quarter. That was something for the ages. So everyone was stoked about that.”

No one was stoked on the night MSU was shut out for the first time in 195 games (vs Michigan, 2000). But there were no words of bitterness coming from Cook, just those of humble gratitude for being part of the ride. A ride that led to Michigan State being one game away from competing for its first outright championship.

“Looking back, we’ve been so fortunate to play in so many big-time games, to win so many games,” Connor said. “The ride has been so fun. And the last thing I want to do is look at the downside and say, ‘Our last game as Spartans we lost.’ We want to be positive people. We want to look at the bright side. We’re just so lucky to play for Coach (Dantonio) and all the other coaches.”

It was a ride that saw Cook help make MSU the best program in the state after years of playing second fiddle to the University of Michigan, which had spiraled during Cook’s time under center in East Lansing.

“Walking in as a freshman, I would have never experienced or never expected to have an experience like this,” Cook said. “I saw Kirk Cousins and I thought I would be lucky to play one season. So to be able to play in all the games we’ve been able to play in, you just got to look at the bright side and all the positives.”

Earlier in the week, Cook said his pre-game ritual was to listen to John Mayer music.

One of Mayer’s biggest hits is “Waiting on the World to Change.”

The song was released in 2006, the year before Mark Dantonio’s first season as head coach. In title alone, the song could have been the theme for Spartan faithful who were waiting for their school’s time to come.

Seven years later, Cook started his first game.

Then Michigan State’s world changed.

USF debuts new, lightweight Adidas threads

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I’m not sure if you knew this, but it can get hot in Tampa in the early fall. Humid. Steamy. Muggy. Downright uncomfortable. Sweat is a part of life there, especially if you’re spending your Saturday afternoons running around in full pads and a helmet.

As such, South Florida figured it’d be to their advantage to wear lightweight, breathable uniforms, and Adidas has produced.

On Tuesday, USF debuted a brand new WVN A1 uniform, the German-based manufacturer’s lightest uniform. USF was certain to point out they will be the only team in the threads this season.

“We are very excited that in the second year of our partnership with adidas our football team will be the only one in the country wearing their lightest weight uniforms,” USF AD Michael Kelly said in a statement. “We look forward to the Bulls looking great and feeling great in the new lightweight, breathable material.”

The design itself is slightly different from what the Bulls wore previously, solid green or white with green shoulders, cresting into golden bull horns on each side, above a solid color pant. The metallic material that comprises the golden Bull horn on each shoulder was developed in Israel.

Everyone has their own opinion when it comes to uniforms, but in this set of eyes these kits are a massive step up from the chainmail-style Adidas template South Florida wore previously, shown above.

The new, lightweight uniforms will take the field for the first time on Friday, Aug. 30 vs. Wisconsin (7 p.m. ET, ESPN).

K-State WR Hunter Rison, formerly at Michigan State, reportedly pursuing second transfer

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Kansas State wide receiver Hunter Rison will pursue a second transfer in as many years, according to reports Tuesday from GoPowercat and the Wichita Eagle.

The son of Michigan State great Andre Rison, Hunter signed with his father’s alma mater in 2017 and caught 19 passes for 224 yards as a freshman before transferring to Kansas State. After sitting out the 2018 season, as per NCAA transfer rules, Rison shined in spring practice, but his career as a Wildcat was instantly derailed when he was arrested for domestic battery in April.

Rison was immediately suspended from the team, though he maintains his innocence. Charges have not been filed, and his first court appearance in the civil case related to the charge is scheduled for July 16.

“This will be my only response,” Rison wrote on Twitter at the time. “I will continue to be myself … A man of God, as well as a great student-athlete at this university. I have done nothing wrong.”

Report: Suspended Texas LB will not return to team

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Texas linebacker Demarco Boyd will continue to be a UT student but no longer a Longhorn football player, according to Anwar Richardson of Orangebloods.

Boyd, a linebacker out of Gilmer, Texas, was suspended last season after he was arrested for an alleged assault last July.

According to Richardson, Boyd will remain in school until his graduate transfer, when he will pursue a graduate transfer elsewhere. A 3-star member of UT’s 2016 class, Boyd redshirted his first year on campus and played sparingly in his one season on the active roster.

He is the younger brother of former Texas cornerback Kris Boyd, a 2019 seventh-round pick of the Minnesota Vikings.

FCS McNeese State adds four transfers from FBS schools

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Particularly on the offensive side of the ball, Sterlin Gilbert‘s first-year roster at McNeese State will have a decidedly FBS look to it.

Earlier this month, the Cowboys announced the addition of four transfers from the FBS level to the roster — fifth-year senior wide receiver Rhashid Bonnette (Louisiana Tech), redshirt sophomore running back D’Andre Hicks (Appalachian State), redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Damien DeGruy (Fresno State) and third-year junior running back Elijah Mack (South Florida). As McNeese State plays at the FBS level, all four of the players will be eligible to play immediately in 2019.

Bonnette also comes to Lake Charles as a graduate transfer from Tech.

During his time in Ruston, Bonnette totaled 1,065 yards and three touchdowns on his 74 receptions. 22 of those catches, 300 of the yards and one of the touchdowns came this past season.

Mack, one of a handful of suspended Bulls ultimately dismissed from Charlie Strong‘s program late last year, ran for 59 yards on 14 carries in 10 appearances during his time at USF and will be a third-year junior this season.

After moving from the defensive backfield to the offensive backfield between the 2017 and 2018 campaigns, Hicks rushed for 185 yards and a touchdown in the first six games last year as a redshirt freshman before going down with a season-ending injury.

DeGruy played in a total of 16 games during his time with the Bulldogs, including a dozen as a true freshman in 2017. During that time, he was credited with eight tackles.