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Washington escapes with a win against Utah to remain undefeated and keep playoff hopes alive

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If you want to go undefeated, chances are you need a few breaks along the way.

Washington needed one in a bad way in Salt Lake City and got one from Dante Pettis on a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter to escape with a 31-24 win over Utah on Saturday afternoon.

The two teams had gone back-and-forth over four quarters in a great battle between two of the best in their respective Pac-12 divisions. Washington had jumped out to an early lead and appeared poised to take control of the game but Utah responded in the third quarter with an interception that led to a touchdown and a late field goal just before halftime to cut it to a four point game. Eventually they took the lead as a result of a 17 point run.

Huskies quarterback Jake Browning would not be denied however, leading back-to-back scoring drives in the third quarter to re-take the lead. The Heisman candidate wasn’t the sharpest he’s been all season — throwing an interception for the first UW turnover in over a month — but did toss two touchdowns and converted several times on third down thanks to his ability to escape the pocket and make a clutch play.

Tailback Myles Gaskin also found it tough to get going against a stingy Utah defense but wound up with 151 yards and a score to extend his lead in the Pac-12 rushing standings. Counterpart Joe Williams looked much better on the ground and chipped in 172 yards and a score thanks to some tough running for the home team.

Utes signal-caller Troy Williams couldn’t quite complete the rally against his old school but it wasn’t for lack of trying after a dreadful start. His numbers didn’t wind up looking all that great (14-of-31, 163 yards, two touchdowns) but he was much better in the second half and came up with some big throws down the stretch to even get the team in position to make it a game.

Surprisingly it was the Utah special teams who made the key mistake in the fourth quarter however on a play that ultimately proved to be the deciding score. Pettis took a deep punt, ran backwards a bit to avoid a pair of gunners and hit the edge to race up the sideline for the game-winning touchdown. It was a lucky break for the Huskies but one they had to have in order to win the game.

The victory moves Washington to 8-0 for the first time since 1992 and keeps them atop the Pac-12 North standings. While it was the second time the team has struggled in a Pac-12 road game this season, it does keep their record unblemished ahead of the very first College Football Playoff rankings on Tuesday.

While many expected the conference to be left out of the final four this season, thanks in part to Washington surviving their big test at Utah, the Pac-12 will be in prime position to land a team in the playoff as a pretty clear path has opened up for the undefeated Huskies.

ACC, Pitt headline Bednarik Award preseason watch list

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The Bednarik Award is the first major honor to release its watch list for the upcoming season.  But it certainly won’t be the last.  Far from it, actually.

In a release Monday, the Bednarik Award announced a 90-player strong watch list that represents every FBS conference in the country.  The Bednarik Award has been presented annually since 1996 to the nation’s top player on the defensive side of the ball.

The ACC leads all conferences with 18 watch listers, with the Pac- 12 (13), SEC (11) and Big 12 (10) the only others in double digits.  The Big Ten, the remaining Power Five, placed nine players.

Wit eight, Conference USA led all Group of Five leagues.  Next up was the AAC’s six, followed by the Mountain West Conference and Sun Belt Conference with five each and four for the MAC.

School-wise, reigning national champion LSU, Pitt and USC placed three players apiece.  A handful of other schools put two players each on the watch list:

  • Alabama
  • Appalachian State
  • Cal
  • Duke
  • Florida State
  • Georgia
  • Miami
  • Michigan
  • Notre Dame
  • Oregon
  • San Diego State
  • TCU
  • Texas
  • UAB
  • Virginia
  • Virginia Tech
  • Washington

No finalists from a year ago remain as both the winner (Ohio State’s Chase Young) and the two runners-up (Auburn’s Derrick Brown, Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons) have since moved on to the NFL.  There are, though, three semifinalists for last year’s award that are back this season — Penn State’s Micah Parson, LSU’s Derek Stingley and Florida State’s Marvin Wilson.

For the complete Bednarik Award watch list, click HERE.

Four-star 2021 QB son of Deion Sanders commits to FAU

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FAU football is building up quite the surname legacy within its program. Even as a couple have recently departed.

Last month, Miami transfer tight end Michael Irvin II, the son of former Hurricanes legend Michael Irvin, announced that he was committing to the FAU football program.  A little over a month later, Shedeur Sanders (pictured, left) announced on Twitter that he too has committed to FAU football.

The touted 2021 prospect is one of the football-playing sons of former Florida State All-American Deion Sanders.

Sanders is a four-star 2021 prospect coming out of high school in Cedar Hill, Texas.  On the 247Sports.com composite, the 6-1, 198-pound Sanders is the No. 14 pro-style quarterback in the country.  he also held offers from, among others, Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Georgia, LSU, Michigan, Oregon and Tennessee.

Sanders’ older brother, Shiloh, will be a redshirt freshman defensive back at South Carolina this season.

While the Sanders and Irvin surnames are in the Owls fold, a couple of famous ones have recently left.  The wide receiver son of Ray Lewis left FAU football earlier this month.  Originally committed to FAU, the running back son of Frank Gore ultimately signed with Southern Miss earlier this offseason.

FAU is coming off a 2019 football campaign in which the Owls tied a school record with 11 wins.  Included in that was a first-ever win in the Conference USA championship game.  And the program’s fourth straight win in a bowl game, a streak that stretches back to 2007.

Almost immediately after the win in the Boca Raton BowlLane Kiffin left to take over as the head coach at Ole Miss.  Kiffin was replaced shortly thereafter by former Florida State and Oregon head coach Willie Taggart.

Les Miles, Kansas ‘heartbroken’ over passing of student manager Jack Roche, who died over the weekend after being hit by a car

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The extended Kansas football family is mourning the loss of one it’s own over the weekend.

According to the Lawrence Journal-World, and citing multiple people close to the Kansas football program, Jack Roche died in his hometown of Chicago late Saturday night after being hit by a car.  Roche had just turned 21 in May.  He was also scheduled to graduate from the university the same month next year.

Roche had spent the past couple of years as a student manager for the Jayhawks.  Les Miles just completed his first season as the Kansas football head coach, and mourned the young man’s passing in a tweet Sunday night.

“The KU football family is heartbroken to hear of the passing of Jack Roche,” the coach wrote. “Jack was a tremendous, hard-working young man who embodied what our program is all about. We will remember Jack and he will forever be a part of our family. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Roches.”

Roche was beloved by players past and present as well.

“He always had a smile on his face and was genuinely one of the best people in the entire program,” ex-Jayhawk quarterback Carter Stanley said according to the Journal-World. “We’d talk every day, but I’d go in earlier than usual on Mondays and we’d share the results of our fantasy football teams from the day before, which usually gave me a chance to give him a hard time for being a Bears fan.”

Our thoughts, prayers and condolences go out to all of those impacted by Roche’s way-too-soon passing.

SEC reiterates no decision on football until late July

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As expected, the SEC is going to wait as long as possible until making its next decision when it comes to the fate of football.

Last week, SEC commissioner Greg Sankey warned that “we are running out of time” when it comes to the 2020 college football season.  That said, Sankey reiterated Monday that his conference will still wait to make any type of decision until the end of this month.

Below is Sankey’s statement on the current state of affairs, which came after an expected face-to-face meeting of the conference’s 14 athletic directors.  The biggest takeaway? Sankey allowed that the current trend of COVID-19 positives across the country must begin trending downward in order for there to be a college football season in 2020.

We had a productive meeting on Monday and engaged in discussions on a number of important issues that will contribute to critical decisions to be made in the weeks ahead. The ability to personally interact over the course of an entire day contributed to the productivity of the meeting.

It is clear that current circumstances related to COVID-19 must improve and we will continue to closely monitor developments around the virus on a daily basis. In the coming weeks we will continue to meet regularly with campus leaders via videoconferences and gather relevant information while guided by medical advisors. We believe that late July will provide the best clarity for making the important decisions ahead of us.

The Big Ten and Pac-12 have already announced they are going to a conference-only schedule for football.  The ACC is in line with the SEC in making such a determination at the end of July.  It’s expected the Big 12 will announce its next move around the same time as well.