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New pro league would help players bypass college, prep for NFL

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College football’s talent pool could get a bit shallower if one “in-between” football league comes to fruition.

According to the esteemed Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports, a handful of individuals, including Mike Shanahan, ESPN NFL reporter Adam Schefter and officiating guru Mike Pereira among others, are among a group in the midst of creating what’s being called Pacific Pro Football.  Unlike other pro leagues, however, the PPL wouldn’t look to compete with the NFL; rather, it will look to develop college-aged players in the pro-style aspects of the sport, particularly on offense, and becomes what Wetzel writes is “a place with a preferable set-up for training and identifying potential draft picks.”

Each team in the four-team league, all based in Southern California initially, would consist of 50 players, with those players receiving $50,000 apiece — and full workers’ comp — instead of tuition. The league, which is tentatively scheduled to begin play in 2018, would also offer tuition reimbursement if a player wanted to go to a community college. There would be an age limit, with players only permitted to compete up to being four years removed from high school.  Those who have already played a year or two in college would also be welcome, provided they’re not beyond the age limit — someone looking for a non-NFL option for his fifth year would not be permitted to play in the PPL.

As for the financial particulars, Wetzel writes that “[a] round of angel funding recently closed and additional funding efforts are possible.” There’s also hope that a media rights deal could be reached as the group includes former ESPN and FOX Sports executives.

If the league is ultimately launched, the season would consist of a maximum of eight games (six regular season, up to two playoff games) and be played on Sundays in July and August. The following, from Wetzel’s report, though, will likely most raise the interest of those in the NFL charged with procuring talent:

  • Each team will have eight full-time coaches with pro and college experience, plus about eight part-time assistant coaches.
  • Play will be pro-style, and based on development and evaluation. For instance, there will be no spread offenses. Quarterbacks will take snaps under center, need to call plays in the huddle and identify defenses at the line of scrimmage. There will be a premium put on one-on-one plays to get viable tape. For example, perhaps rules that prohibit crossing routes for receivers.

Also of interest to the NFL?  None of the practices will be closed as is the case at some colleges, although most of the successful programs provide extensive access to NFL personnel any way.

Non-qualifiers coming out of high school who would normally go the junior college route before heading to the FBS level would seemingly be prime candidates to join the league.  Because of NCAA bylaws, however, they couldn’t go from the PPL back to college football because they would’ve been paid to play the sport.  The league could also be a landing spot for players who find themselves with academic or even legal issues after beginning their careers at the collegiate level.

Wetzel himself acknowledges, though, it would have little effect on big-time college football.

It certainly won’t be the preferred option for every player. The majority of the best college-age players seek the glamor and excitement of the collegiate game.

No one thinks it will topple, or even adversely impact major college football. Certainly, there will be a few less players, but Alabama or Clemson isn’t under any threat of needing to shutter its program.

One of the biggest impacts this league, if it actually launches and is even mildly successful, could have: drive college coaches back toward more of a pro-style offense and away from the spread offenses that have somewhat leveled the playing field all across the sport.  In its never-ending quest to find the unicorn also known as a serviceable quarterback, let alone a franchise one, the NFL will leave no stone unturned.  One of the biggest issues the NFL faces is trying to project how a successful spread quarterback will translate to the pro game.  If a quarterback has spent the previous three years being tutored by former pro coaches on the pro-style game, why wouldn’t the NFL at least give them the same look they give a successful college spread quarterback?

And why wouldn’t the quarterbacks themselves seek out a route to the NFL that wouldn’t have them learning a spread offense for 3-4 years before having to unlearn it?  Conversely, there’s no replacement for steeling and improving yourself against high-level competition, so that would be something both the player and the pros would need to factor in as well.

Another potential impact, if the league were to thrive and grow beyond its Southern California roots? Creating a bigger gap between the Power Fives and Group of Fives by siphoning off talent. By and large, the big names in the high school recruiting game will still go the collegiate route and opt for big-name programs; it’s the shallower end of the talent pool, the recruiting fields the G5s harvest, that would potentially be drained by the PPL.  Three four-team “pods” — Southern California, Northern California, Midwest — with 50 players each means 600 highs schoolers who may otherwise be available to FBS programs would suddenly vanish and have an effect on the G5s’ recruiting bottom lines as the P5s will still get theirs.

All of that, and the effect it would have on the FCS hasn’t yet been mentioned, either.

There is another potential game-changer, if the league is successful and puts players in the NFL causing the salaries to jump from $50,000 a year to, say, $100,000. Or even $150,000  Then, Houston… and Alabama… and Florida… and campuses all across the country, the college football game could have a problem.  That, of course, is a long way down the road, but this league and what if any viability it may have is certainly something to keep an eye on if you’re a fan of the sport.

Kyler Murray is third straight ex-Texas high schooler to go No. 1 overall in NFL draft

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The Lonestar State in general and the flagship school of the state directly to its north made some player selection history Thursday night in Nashville.

Following months worth of speculation and smokescreens, the Arizona Cardinals officially selected Kyler Murray as the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.  The Oklahoma quarterback is the second straight signal-caller from the Sooners to be the top overall pick (Baker Mayfield to the Cleveland Browns in 2018), marking the first time since 1968-69 (USC’s Ron Yary, O.J. Simpson) that one school has locked down back-to-back No. 1 overall selections.

It also marks the first time two Heisman Trophy winners from the same school have been selected with the top pick in the draft in consecutive years.  On top of that, this is the first time that quarterbacks from the same school have been selected in the top spot of the draft in back-to-back years.

Both Murray, who is the first athlete ever drafted in the first rounds of both the NFL and MLB drafts, and Mayfield played their high school football in the state of Texas.  When you add Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett (Arlington Martin High School to No. 1 overall for the Browns in 2017) to the equation, the Lonestar State can now lay claim to being the only state to ever produce three straight No. 1 overalls.

(Sidebar: Mayfield and Garrett are NFL teammates with the Browns, and will face Murray’s Cardinals this season.  And Arizona’s head coach? Kliff Kingsbury, whose fractured relationship with Mayfield that included a scholarship brouhaha led to the future Heisman Trophy winner’s transfer from Texas Tech to Big 12 rival Oklahoma.  Now, back to our regularly-scheduled programming, already in progress…)

In the history of an NFL draft that dates back to 1939, high schools in the state of Texas have produced 14 No. 1 overalls, the most of any state.  With 11, California is the only other state in double-digits.

Perhaps the most astonishing finding in all of this research?  High schools in the state of Florida, easily one of the most fertile football recruiting grounds in the country, have produced exactly one No. 1 overall: Auburn running back Tucker Fredrickson in 1965.

That’s a bar bet waiting to happen.  And you’re welcome.

Oklahoma-Houston season opener moves to Sunday primetime slot on Labor Day weekend

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Oklahoma’s season opener is going under the lights on Labor Day weekend.

The Sooners announced on Thursday that their 2019 debut against Houston is shifting from its scheduled Saturday date during Week 1 to a primetime slot on ABC at 7:30 pm ET on Sept. 1st.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us,” AD Joe Castiglione said in a statement. “It gives us great visibility at the very outset of the 2019 season. It is equally appealing to me that we get to play the game in the best conditions for student-athletes and fans. By making this move, we ensured that this game would be played in the evening, thus avoiding the heat we’ve dealt with in each of the last two seasons.”

OU makes note that this is the first time the school will play a regular season game on Sunday and just the fourth time ever they’ll play on a day normally reserved for NFL games (all three of the previous times were in bowl games).

The 2019 game is the latest in a long line of high profile matchups to get moved to the Sunday before Labor Day in recent years, including last year’s LSU-Miami tilt at AT&T Stadium.

While nobody is saying that Sooners-Cougars would have gotten overlooked on the first college football Saturday of Week 1, the move a day later will provide the spotlight all on its own to catch one of the more interesting non-conference games around with Dana Holgorsen’s debut leading Houston and the likely first start of former Alabama transfer Jalen Hurts at OU.

Notre Dame grad transfer Micah Dew-Treadway granted another year of eligibility at Minnesota

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Minnesota received an unexpected bit of good news on Thursday.

The school confirmed several reports that surfaced regarding recent Notre Dame graduate transfer Micah Dew-Treadway, who joined the Gophers this offseason and will now have two seasons to play in the Twin Cities after being granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.

Dew-Treadway spent four years in South Bend but mostly in a reserve role, recording two tackles while playing in 21 total games with the Irish. At the heart of the hardship waiver he and Minnesota applied for was the 2016 campaign that saw him miss the entire season with a broken foot.

The additional year is big for Minnesota as the transfer appeared to leave a good impression and is in line to start this fall. The program is having to replace mainstay defensive lineman Gary Moore in 2019 and will certainly be counting on Dew-Treadway and JUCO addition Keonte Schad to provide push up the middle.

The Gophers open their season against South Dakota State on Aug. 29.

Clemson football brought up at college basketball federal corruption trial

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The national champs are back in the spotlight during the offseason for a reason Dabo Swinney wants nothing to do with.

In federal court on Thursday in New York City, prosecutors in the college basketball corruption scandal played an FBI video wiretap involving Clemson hoops assistant Steve Smith. While much of the conversation is centered on top prospects in basketball like Zion Williamson and what the Tigers could do to lure them to campus, somewhat surprisingly the topic of football came up.

Via CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander: 

The Blazer in question above is Marty Blazer, a financial advisor from Pittsburgh who was on the stand. He’s the same witness who claimed a few days ago that he paid football players from Alabama, Notre Dame, Penn State and several other schools.

“We are aware of the developments in federal court today involving one of our men’s basketball assistant coaches,” Clemson said in a statement issued later on Thursday. “We take this matter seriously and will immediately conduct a review.”

While only a handful of folks can claim to be surprised that the federal hoops trial spilled over into football, it certainly raises further questions about the Tigers that they will have to deal with over the coming weeks. These are just the words of one witness and one assistant on a wiretap but something says the folks in Indianapolis are already wondering whether or not they need to expand a potential infractions probe that much wider in the wake of the testimony.