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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

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

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After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

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Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

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If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.

NCAA releases latest APR data, which means bonus money for many coaches

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It’s APR — academic progress rate — day around the NCAA which means a bunch of schools are celebrating how well their teams did in the classroom. While many programs are doing a fist pump over hitting certain thresholds, there are a number of head coaches who are picking up a nice check as the result of players staying eligible.

Like, six-figures worth of cold hard cash thanks to their players showing up to class and taking tests.

USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz knows coaches contracts better than anybody and has been tweeting out some of the bonus money that various coaches are getting as a result of APR scores. While a few amounts are somewhat modest, a few others are collecting a very, very nice check.

Lunch is on Paul Johnson today!

Northwestern led all football programs with a multi-year APR rate of 997, followed closely in the FBS ranks by Air Force, Vanderbilt and Duke among others. The overall average score for football teams across Division I ticked up two points to 964 for the 2016-17 school year. Student-athletes receive points for both staying eligible and staying in school, with a formula then determining the program’s single-year and multi-year scores.

Teams can be ruled ineligible for postseason play if their score is too low but only one program suffered that fate (Morgan State of the MEAC). Grambling also was hit with a Level One penalty for their APR score, which includes a reduction in practice time for the upcoming season. The lowest multi-year APR score for a FBS program belonged to Florida State with a 941.