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Butkus Award watch list led by SEC’s 11 players with Pac-12, ACC, Big Ten close behind

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Award watch season in college football continues to be in midseason form with the Butkus Award watch list being revealed on Monday. A total of 11 players from the SEC were included in the preseason watch list for the award for best linebacker.

The Pac-12 had 10 players included on the watch list, and the ACC and Big Ten each landed nine players on the list. The Big 12 managed to get just two linebackers named to the watch list, which was one fewer than the total number of FCS linebackers appearing on the list.

Alabama’s Reuben Foster was named the 2016 Butkus Award winner, making him the third Alabama linebacker to win the award since 2009 (Rolando McClain in 2009, C.J. Mosley in 2013). As it just so happens, the 2016 high school Butkus Award winner was IMG Academy’s Dylan Moses, who is now at Alabama. Alabama has two players on this year’s collegiate watch list (Rashaan Evans and Shaun Dion).

This year’s watch list includes one returning finalist from the 2016 award (Iowa’s Josey Jewell) and five additional semi-finalists (Ohio State’s Jerome Baker, Texas’ Malik Jefferson, Virginia’s Micah Kiser, Washington’s Azeem Victor, and Wisconsin’s Jack Cichy).

2017 Butkus Award Watch List

Genard Avery, Memphis
Jerome Baker, Ohio State
Davin Bellamy, Georgia
Keishawn Bierria, Washington
Eric Boggs, Appalachian State
Oren Burks, Vanderbilt
Jason Cabinda, Penn State
Lorenzo Carter, Georgia
Jermaine Carterq, Maryland
Jack Cichy, Wisconsin
Koron Crump, Arizona State
Nick DeLuca, North Dakota State
Devante Downs, California
Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech
T.J. Edwards, Wisconsin
Rashaan Evans, Alabama
DeMarquis Gates, Ole Miss
Dre Greenlaw, Arkansas
Shaquem Griffin, UCF
Porter Gustin, USC
Shaun Dion Hamilton, Alabama
James Hearns, Louisville
Manase Hungalu, Oregon State
Malik Jefferson, Texas
Josey Jewell, Iowa
Jordan Jones, Kentucky
Kendall Joseph, Clemson
Junior Joseph, UConn
Peter Kalambayi, Stanford
Arden Key, LSU
Micah Kiser, Virginia
Darius Leonard, South Carolina State
Mike McCray, Michigan
Skai Moore, South Carolina
Airius Moore, N.C. State
Nyles Morgan, Notre Dame
Uchenna Nwosu, USC
Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma
D.J. Palmore, Navy
Jacob Pugh, Florida State
Shaquille Quarterman, Miami
Tegray Scales, Indiana
Cameron Smith, USC
Sione Teuhema, Southeastern Lousiana
Matthew Thomas, Florida State
Azeem Victor, Washington
Fred Warner, BYU
Tré Williams, Auburn
Chris Worley, Ohio State
Trevon Young, Louisville
Kenny Young, UCLA

Lincoln Riley finalizes defensive staff for 2019

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Oklahoma’s defense was flat-out awful in 2018, as we know. The Sooners were 114th in total defense (453.8 yards per game), 102nd in yards per play (6.13) and 101st in scoring (33.3 points per game). Their ineptitude indirectly handed Kyler Murray the Heisman Trophy as the Sooners’ signal caller had to pull his rabbit out of a hat on a weekly basis throughout the fall, but without Murray’s exploits Oklahoma might’ve been a 7- or 8-win team in 2018.

Murray is gone, so the defense has to improve or Oklahoma will take a significant fall in 2019.

Lincoln Riley has spent the past three weeks reshaping his defensive staff, and on Sunday he finalized his staff and their assignments.

New hire Alex Grinch will coach safeties while coordinating the defense. He spent 2018 as co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Ohio State. (The Buckeyes’ pass efficiency defense slipped from 13th to 42nd in Grinch’s one season on staff, but Riley hired him for his success coordinating Mike Leach‘s defenses at Washington State.)

Assisting Grinch in the secondary will be cornerbacks coach Roy Manning. He spent 2018 as the outside linebackers coach and special teams coordinator at UCLA but worked with Grinch at Wazzu from 2015-17.

Brian Odom was hired away from Missouri to coach the Sooners’ inside linebackers, where he’ll team with new outside linebackers coach Ruffin McNeill. Riley’s mentor, McNeill is one of two holdovers from the 2018 staff. He was hired upon Riley’s promotion to head coach as assistant head coach and defensive tackles coach but took over the entire defense following Mike Stoops‘ midseason firing.

The only Oklahoma defensive coach to coach the same position from 2018 to ’19 will be defensive line coach Calvin Thibodeaux. The OU graduate has been on staff since 2016, when he returned to Norman as defensive ends coach.

Former South Carolina DE announces transfer to TCU

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TCU loses its top two sack artists from 2018 to 2019, but some help just arrived.

Shameik Blackshear (above, top) announced on Saturday he will spend his final year of college football in Fort Worth.

The Bluffton, S.C., native played his first three seasons at South Carolina, where collected 34 tackles and one sack. He appeared in all 13 of the Gamecocks’ games in 2018, including two starts.

He’ll have a chance to compete for an immediate starting role following the graduations of Ben Banogu and LJ Collier plus the departure of Michael Collier. Banogu and Collier combined for 14.5 sacks in 2018, more than 40 percent of the Frogs’ 35 total sacks.

Blackshear is the second Power 5 graduate transfer to pick TCU this week. The Frogs also secured the services of former Kansas State quarterback Alex Delton.

Penn State LB Jarvis Miller announces graduate transfer to UMass

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UMass signed one of its biggest recruits since joining FBS, four years after he left high school.

Penn State linebacker Jarvis Miller has announced he will leave State College to spend his final season in Amherst.

“After much prayer and consideration with my family I have decided to play my 5th year of eligibility at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS), Amherst will pursuing my Masters (sic) Degree,” Miller wrote in a note posted to his Twitter account. “To the Penn State fan base you are the best fans anyone could ask for ! It has been the most memorable 4 years of my life.”

A consensus 3-star recruit, Miller was viewed as a top-10 player in the state of Connecticut when he signed with the Nittany Lions out of Suffield.

Miller redshirted in 2015, then played in 33 career games as a special teams player and reserve linebacker. He collected 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and one sack while in blue and white.

Florida State QB James Blackman reportedly not considering transfer after all

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It appears a bad debut season for Willie Taggart at Florida State is not going to get worse.

After it was reported Wednesday that Seminoles quarterback James Blackman had entered his name into the transfer portalWarchant reported that no such entry had been made as of the end of the business week.

Of course, entering one’s name into the transfer portal wouldn’t guarantee a transfer, but it’s simply not possible to transfer without putting your name in, so it appears that — as of this writing, at least — Blackman is intent on returning to Tallahassee for his junior season.

Starting quarterback Deondre Francois also dealt with a similar rumor last month. As of now, he remains a Seminole as well.

While playing for the injured Francois, Blackman completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,230 yards with 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions as a true freshman in 2017. Francois returned to health and the starting lineup this past season, connecting on 57.3 percent of his passes for 2,731 yards with 15 scores against 12 picks. Blackman went 33-of-51 for 510 yards with five touchdowns and one interception as his backup.

As Francois’ numbers indicated, the Seminoles sputtered offensively in Taggart’s debut campaign. Florida State finished 110th nationally in yards per play, 93rd in passing efficiency and 113th in scoring. However, both signal callers would be wise to stick around. Taggart hired Kendal Briles to run his offense. In 1-season stints at Florida Atlantic and Houston, Briles pushed the Owls from 80th to eighth in scoring and the Cougars from 65th to fifth.