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Saquon Barkley headlines Hornung Award finalists

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The one-time front-runner for the Heisman Trophy is now in line for another major college football award.

Thursday morning, the Hornung Award unveiled the four finalists for the 2017 edition of the honor — Penn State running back Saquon Barkley, North Carolina State running back Nyheim Hines, Iowa State linebacker/quarterback Joel Lanning and Washington wide receiver Dante Pettis.  The Hornung Award has been handed out annually since 2010 by the Louisville Sports Commission to the nation’s most versatile player.

Barkley, Hines and Pettis — he has set a handful of FBS punt return records this season — all contribute as return specialists, while Lanning not only leads the Cyclones in tackles but is ISU’s third-leading rusher and has attempted three passes this season.

Below are the credentials of each finalist, courtesy of the Hornung Award:

Saquon Barkley, running back/return specialist
Junior, Penn State Nittany Lions (7-2, 4-2 conference)
Barkley earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll four times this season. Primarily a running back who also lines up at slot receiver, wildcat quarterback, and returns kicks, Barkley is second in the nation in all-purpose yards with 195.6 per game and has accounted for 15 touchdowns four different ways – rushing (9), receiving (3), kickoff return (2), and passing (1). He set a Penn State record with 358 all-purpose yards on 43 touches in a last-second win at Iowa, returned opening kickoffs for touchdowns against Indiana and Ohio State, and scored three touchdowns against Michigan. Barkley showed breakaway speed with kickoff returns of 98 and 97 yards, an 80-yard touchdown run, and an 85-yard touchdown reception.

Rushing: 152 carries, 864 yards, nine touchdowns
Receiving: 39 receptions, 504 yards, three touchdowns
Kick Return: 13 returns, 393 yards, two touchdowns
Passing: two attempts, two completions, one touchdown, 36 yards

Nyheim Hines, running back/return specialist
Junior, NC State Wolfpack (6-3, 4-1 conference)
Hines earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll three times this season. Hines is a workhorse out of the backfield who also returns punts, kickoffs, and is gunner on punt coverage. He accounted for 217 all-purpose yards, two touchdowns, a two-point conversion, and downed a punt on the two-yard line in a home win over Louisville; came back the next week with 249 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, and downed a punt inside the 5-yard line in a road win over Pitt. In an opening week loss to South Carolina, Hines lined up at several positions in the backfield, and accounted for 192 all-purpose yards on 26 touches rushing, receiving, and returning kicks and punts. He has been slowed with an ankle injury since the Notre Dame game on Oct. 28.

Rushing: 126 carries, 688 yards, six touchdowns
Receiving: 18 receptions, 94 yards
Punt Return: eight returns, 148 yards, one touchdown
Kick Return: 17 returns, 377 yards

Joel Lanning, Iowa State, linebacker/quarterback
Senior, Iowa State Cyclones (6-3, 4-2 conference)
Lanning earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll three times this season. The starting middle linebacker who plays spot duty at quarterback and is a regular on special teams, Lanning is the Cyclones’ leading tackler with 10.4 tackles per game, the team’s third-leading rusher with 77 yards, three-of-three on fourth down conversion rushing and two-of-three passing for 25 yards. Lanning played 93 snaps in ISU’s road win over Texas Tech, and was the ironman when the Cyclones stunned Oklahoma in Norman with 78 total snaps: 57 plays on defense with eight tackles, a tackle for loss, a sack, and a fumble recovery; 13 plays at quarterback with eight rushes for 35 yards and two passes for 25 yards; eight plays on the punt team and field goal defense. His 10.4 tackles per game rank second in the Big 12 and ninth in FBS.

Defense: 94 total tackles, 36 solo tackles, 2.5 sacks (20 yards), 6.5 tackles for loss (29 yards), one interception, one fumble recovery, two quarterback hurries, two PPUs
Rushing: 23 carries, 77 yards
Passing: three attempts, two completions, 25 yards

Dante Pettis, wide receiver/return specialist
Junior, Washington Huskies (8-1, 5-1 conference)
Pettis earned the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll once this season. Pettis is a dual threat wide-out / return specialist who tied the NCAA record by returning a punt for a touchdown in three consecutive games (Rutgers, Montana, Fresno State) and last week added a fourth punt return touchdown and a scoring reception in the No. 8-ranked Huskies win over Oregon. Against Oregon State, he caught 12 passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns, and has seven scoring receptions on the season. Pettis averages an astounding 21.7 yards per punt return, nearly 12 yards per reception and completed his only pass of the season for 36 yards. He also holds the NCAA career record with nine punt returns for touchdowns.

Receiving: 49 receptions, 571 yards, seven touchdowns
Punt Return: 19 returns, 412 yards, four touchdowns
Passing: one attempt, one completion, 36 yards

LSU students will go to class on Saturday to make up for national title game

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LSU students who got to skip class for the national title game (and the ensuing celebrations…) were hit with a dose of reality returning to Baton Rouge on Friday.

According to an announcement from the university, classes that were cancelled on Monday and Tuesday for the championship game have been rescheduled. As a result, students will have to go to class on Saturday, Jan. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 8.

So yes, Saturdays in the fall have resulted in a few Saturdays of work in the spring.

The school had received a bit of criticism when it was announced that classes were cancelled on the dates surrounding the championship game. While the practice has happened elsewhere, the nature of the game being less than an hour from campus in New Orleans certainly made things unique for the Tigers and their large fan base.

While some students no doubt had hoped that the classes at the time were indeed cancelled, it turns out they were in fact just being rescheduled. Going to school on a Saturday probably isn’t what many had in mind when signing up for the spring semester but there’s probably not a soul in purple and gold will take issue with the change given that it comes as a result of hoisting the ultimate football trophy on Monday night in the Big Easy.

Virginia safety Chris Moore enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal has claimed another name.

As first noted by ESPN’s Adam Rittenberg, Virginia safety Chris Moore has entered his name into the database as he explores a move out of Charlottesville.

Moore started five of his nine appearances for the Cavaliers in 2019 and wound up recording 42 tackles. While he was in line to become one of the key members in the secondary going forward, a prior  suspension for violating team rules back in November may have wound up playing a role in his departure and standing with the team.

The safety had previously missed all of the 2018 season with an injury as well.

Moore was originally a three-star recruit out of Ashburn, Va. in 2016 and, assuming the redshirt senior has a degree, likely has a season remaining as a grad transfer.

DL Jay Tufele, WR Tyler Vaughns skipping draft to stay at USC

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Clay Helton has a lot of issues to deal with at the moment. Having a talented USC football team is not one of them.

The Trojans received a rare bit of good news on Thursday evening as two key players announced they were skipping the 2020 NFL Draft. In back-to-back announcements, defensive lineman Jay Tufele and wideout Tyler Vaughns confirmed they would remain in Los Angeles for the 2020 season.

Tufele is one of USC’s best defensive players. He recorded 42 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season as a redshirt sophomore despite dealing with a handful of injuries. With leading sacker Drake Jackson also back, there’s a nice tandem up front for whoever the team hires as defensive coordinator to work with going forward.

Vaughns returning also makes a dangerous receiving corps that much deeper. Michael Pittman Jr. was lost to graduation but the next three top wideouts are set to be back in 2020. Add in a group of solid tailbacks and both J.T. Daniels and Kedon Slovis at QB and USC will once again have one of the top offenses in the Pac-12.

Whether it will all help save Helton’s job again remains to be seen. If nothing else though, there’s at least there’s some positive news for the cardinal and gold this offseason with Tufele and Vaughns back in the fold going forward.

Nebraska and OC Troy Walters “mutually agreed to part ways”

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A year after significantly falling short of expectations, an offseason of change has commenced at Nebraska.

In one of the first big moves since Scott Frost took over at his alma mater, the Cornhuskers and offensive coordinator Troy Walters announced on Friday that they had ‘mutually agreed to part ways.’

“Troy has been a valued member of our coaching staff for the past four years,” Frost said in a statement. “Troy is a good mentor for his players, provides great energy on and off the field, and carries himself with a presence off the field that will be missed. I want to thank him for his work on our coaching staff, and wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

The duo first came together when Frost was hired at UCF and led a number of prolific offenses, including the undefeated 2017 team for the Knights. Walters was a finalist for the Broyles Award that same season though has not called plays for either team.

Walters had a distinguished career as a player at Stanford that included All-American honors and a Biletnikoff Award in 1999. He spent several years in the NFL before going into coaching during stops at Texas A&M, N.C. State and Colorado.

The departure of Walters could interestingly lead to a reunion between Frost and a familiar name in Mark Helfrich. The latter was head coach at Oregon when Frost was elevated to offensive coordinator for the Ducks and is in search of a job after being let go by the Chicago Bears from a similar role.