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Utah snacks on anemic West Virginia in Heart of Dallas Bowl

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It was hard to decide what was uglier at Tuesday’s Heart of Dallas Bowl: the drizzly, gray weather with temperatures in the high 30’s, or West Virginia’s performance. In the end, it was probably the latter. Playing without starting quarterback Will Grier and starting running back Justin Crawford, West Virginia was non-competitive as Utah cruised to a 30-14 win.

Utah (7-6) opened the game by forcing a three-and-out, then scoring on a 58-yard Zack Moss burst up the middle to provide what turned out to be the winning margin. After West Virginia notched a short field goal to pull within 7-3 early in the second quarter, the Utes burst the game open for good when Marcus Simms muffed a Mitch Wishnowsky punt, which the Utes’ Cody Barton hopped on at the WVU 13-yard line. Quarterback Tyler Huntley rushed in a 2-yard score three plays later to put the game effectively out of reach at 14-3 with 5:46 left in the second quarter.

A Utah special teams mistake briefly afforded West Virginia (7-6) a window to jump back in the game. With the score at 17-3 midway through the third quarter, Wishnowsky could not handle a punt snap, which West Virginia’s Shane Commodore recovered at the Utah 9-yard line. However, an anemic West Virginia offense could not gain a yard on its next three plays, forcing a second Evan Staley field goal and ending any hope of a Mountaineer comeback.

One early fourth quarter exchange epitomized the state of play in this day-after-Christmas bowl game pitting two teams that came in a combined 13-11 and playing before a mostly-empty Cotton Bowl. Leading 17-6 with the ball at the WVU 32, Utah elected to go for a 4th-and-3 as the fourth quarter opened. Those plans were thwarted when wide receiver Darren Carrington II flinched, forcing Utah to punt on a 4th-and-8 from the WVU 37. However, West Virginia immediately gave that break back by jumping offside on the punt snap. Utah sent its offense back on the field and saw Carrington atone for his mistake by taking a short pass from Huntley and turning it into a touchdown. But that score was called back thanks to another flag, as Ute wideout Raelon Singleton was caught holding after the catch. Huntley eventually notched his second 2-yard touchdown rush of the day four plays later.

Clint Chugunov made his second start of the season at quarterback for West Virginia and was, well, not good. He didn’t get much help from the rest of the offense and he did gut it out through a right leg injury, but the numbers are the numbers, and he hit 9-of-28 passes — including zero second half completions until just before the 2-minute mark of the fourth quarter — for 129 yards with one garbage time touchdown and two interceptions. Chugunov missed a wide-open Simms with a chance to pull WVU within 17-10 in the third quarter, his first interception hit Utah’s Julian Blackmon directly in the chest with 8:18 left in the fourth quarter, and his second pick, also to Blackmon, ended any hope of a miracle comeback after West Virginia recovered an onside kick with 1:50 remaining and trailing 30-14. 

It wasn’t just Chugunov, though. West Virginia rushed for 29 yards, gained 153 yards of total offense, achieved six first downs, converted 2-of-14 third down tries and turned the ball over four times.

Utah improved to 11-1 in bowl games under head coach Kyle Whittingham. Huntley led the Utes by hitting 12-of-26 passes for 165 yards while rushing 25 times for 57 yards and two touchdowns, and Moss added 150 yards and a score on 20 carries.

Jarrett Stidham tried recruiting Texas A&M after leaving Baylor, but Aggies weren’t as interested

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Well, this might sting a little for Texas A&M. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham shared his experience in the recruiting process at SEC Media Days in Atlanta, claiming to be the one trying to sell himself more to Texas A&M than Texas A&M tried recruiting him when Stidham opted to leave Baylor.

“Honestly, [former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin], he didn’t recruit me too hard,” Stidham said. “I probably tried to recruit myself to A&M a little harder. Just because it was in-state, it was right down the road from where I was there in Waco.”

Originally a four-star recruit of Baylor in the Class of 2015, Stidham transferred from Baylor in the wake of the sexual assault scandal with the program in the summer of 2016. Five months later, Stidham announced his decision to transfer to Auburn for the 2017 season. This will be Stidham’s second season starting for the Tigers after passing for 3,158 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Why would Texas A&M not go after such a talented quarterback that was showing great interest in playing for them? It may because the urgency in adding a quarterback may not have felt like a pressing need for Texas A&M heading into the 2017 season. The Aggies had freshman Kellen Mond coming in as a five-star recruit in the Class of 2017. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but Mond appeared in 10 games for Texas A&M and completed 51.5 percent of his passes for 1,375 yards and eight touchdowns with six interceptions. He also rushed for 340 yards and three touchdowns for the Aggies.

Texas A&M went 7-6 last season, while Auburn knocked off both Alabama and Georgia in the regular season to advance to the SEC Championship Game. How many fans in College Station are wondering if the fate of the 2017 season would have been changed drastically if Sumlin decided Stidham would be his guy instead of Mond? Would it have made much of a difference for the Aggies (and for that matter, Auburn)?

As Stidham said to the media, it all worked out for him. Sumlin ended up losing his job and is now the head coach at Arizona, while former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher is getting prepared for his season as the new (handsomely paid) head coach of Texas A&M.

If you were wondering, Stidham also completed 20-of-27 passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns without an interception in a 42-27 victory over Texas A&M in Kyle Field last November.

Battle with admissions results in UCLA granting release to 2018 signee

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After a bit of a drawn-out battle with the UCLA admissions department, safety and wide receiver prospect Bryan Addison is once again looking for a place to play some college football.

According to a report from Bruin Report Online, Addison has been given a full release from his scholarship by Chip Kelly and UCLA. The release comes after Addison decided he needed to start looking at other potential options with the fear his situation at UCLA would not get resolved in time to get enrolled at UCLA (or potentially at another college).

I had some issues with the college board and UCLA admissions,” Addison said in the report published by Bruin Report Online. “I have been fighting this for 5-6 weeks and things were a little slow to get going and time was running out for me. All the other freshmen were already enrolling and it was getting stressful for me.”

Where Addison is heading next remains to be seen, but he has apparently already been reviewing some possible offers from other Pac-12 schools including USC and Oregon as well as Big Ten member Nebraska. A decision could come soon as well, as Addison feels a need to get this taken care of so he can turn the page and get enrolled at his new school.

Fortunately for Addison, he will not be required to sit out a season this fall because he is not actually transferring. Because he was not enrolled at UCLA, his move to a new program does not qualify as an actual transfer. That means he will be eligible to play right away this fall at whatever school manages to bring him in before the 2018 season.

Dabo Swinney undecided on Clemson starting QB

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Not that Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has much need to name a starter for the opening game of the 2018 season, but the head coach of the defending three-time ACC champions says he has not made up his mind on who will be sitting on top of the depth chart at the position.

Speaking at ACC media day in Charlotte, North Carolina, Swinney said he has no timeline for when a decision will be made, which is typical coachspeak this time of year. In Swinney’s’ case, opening at home against an FCS opponent gives him a little more time to have to make a decision, and playing both quarterbacks in the season opener before making a final decision going into a Week 2 road trip to Texas A&M (against former Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher) may be an option.

The two most likely options are Kelly Bryant and Trevor Lawrence. Bryant was Clemson’s starting quarterback last season and passed for 2,802 yards and 13 touchdowns with eight interceptions and 665 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns. Despite having the starting experience from last season after replacing Deshaun Watson, Lawrence arrives on campus as one of the top recruits in the nation in the Class of 2018 and is expected to push for consideration right away.

For Swinney, as with most coaches, it is mostly about keeping things tight knit for now and not showing your cards until much closer to the season. Given the potential for Lawrence, it may be worth seeing what he does in training camp to see if there is a comfort level to give him such a significant role in the offense for a playoff contender.

Bryant will likely get the majority of the first-team reps at first, however, due to being the experienced option that was a part of an ACC championship team just last fall (and the only game Clemson lost in the regular season occurred when Bryant was injured and could not return).

Lane Kiffin shares thoughts on Larry Fedora’s comments and Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray

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At Conference USA media day, the FAU Owls were voted as the preseason favorite to repeat as the conference champion. You would think Lane Kiffin would have his plate full talking about his team’s quest for a second straight conference title, but the most popular coach in the conference found himself sounding off on a handful of topics outside Conference USA.

A day after UNC head coach Larry Fedora made headlines with his comments about the possibility that the state of football could be in danger of bringing down the country and showed himself to be skeptical of the link between football and CTE. Kiffin took a different stance on Fedora’s idea of a war on football threatening the stability of the United States.

“What’s the most important thing,” Kiffin questioned. “Long-term health, or how the game looks?”

Fedora took exception to the abundant changes to the game with rules being designed to protect the health of players. He has not been alone in his complaints about how the game is changing, but Kiffin expressed a different take on the importance of changing the game than his ACC counterpart.

Looking ahead to the season, though, Kiffin fielded some questions about FAU’s first opponent, defending Big 12 champion Oklahoma. Already keeping an eye on the opposition, Kiffin joked he thinks likely starting quarterback for the Sooners, Kyler Murray, should go ahead and skip football to begin his professional baseball career after being drafted ninth overall in the MLB Draft by the Oakland Athletics. But, sticking to the previous comments in regard to Fedora’s comments, Kiffin used Murray to expand on the long-term health concerns Murray could potentially face by not going right into baseball.

“He should change his mind and go to baseball,” Kiffin said. “It’s crazy that he doesn’t go play (baseball) this year. Think of all the concussion issues that are out there with college football and the NFL. He should go play baseball.”

FAU received 22 first-place votes in a Conference USA preseason media poll to easily be named the favorite in the East Division. The Owls open the 2018 season at Oklahoma on September 1.