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USC QB Sam Darnold declares for NFL Draft

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USC quarterback Sam Darnold is joining the list of early entrants to the NFL after declaring his intention to enter the 2018 NFL Draft. A Rose Bowl champion and the former Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year a year ago, Darnold could potentially be one of the top draft picks in the 2018 NFL Draft even after a bumpy 2017 season.

Darnold led the Pac-12 in passing in 2017 with 4,143 yards, with the conference’s third-highest passing yards per game (205.9 ypg). Darnold passed for 26 touchdowns with 13 interceptions in a bit of a roller coaster season that still ended up with USC in the Cotton Bowl as the Pac-12 champion. Despite some off moments and sub-par performances from one of the hottest quarterbacks coming into the season, pro scouts still see plenty of upside to Darnold at the next level. Darnold’s decision to turn pro likely is influenced by the confidence he will not have to wait very long to hear his name called this spring at the NFL Draft.

Darnold was a key player in USC’s second-half turnaround in the 2016 season. After a rough start to the season, Clay Helton opted to make a quarterback change and gave Darnold the chance to start. After a close loss to Utah, USC went on a roll and ended the 2016 season as one of the best-looking teams. Although the hot finish couldn’t quite wiggle USC into the Pac-12 championship game, Darnold delivered in the Rose Bowl as the Trojans rallied in the fourth quarter to defeat Saquon Barkley and Big Ten champion Penn State. With expectations incredibly high for the 2017 season, Darbnold and USC had to settle for a Pac-12 championship and a spot in the Cotton Bowl. Darnold had a rough performance in the bowl game against the Buckeyes, but that is not enough to suggest his draft stock plummeted. Darnold will be one of the top quarterbacks, if not one of the top players, selected in the NFL Draft as long as he has a solid scouting combine and draft-prep experience.

As for USC, the door is open for Matt Fink to start getting ready for the starting job this spring. Jack Sears, a four-star recruit in USC’s Class of 2017 could also start to lobby for the job in the spring.

Darnold’s announcement comes on the same day UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen announced his intention to enter the NFL Draft. Rosen and Darnold may be battling for the top spot in the draft.

Ryan Day isn’t going to name Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting QB just yet

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Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.

“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”

Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.

Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.

Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.

Big Ten’s Jim Delany upset with College Football Playoff Selection Committee

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Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.

While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.

“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”

The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.

Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.

“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”

UNLV OC Barney Cotton awaiting heart transplant, will not coach Rebels in 2019

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Tough news for Tony Sanchez ahead of a critical season in Sin City as UNLV has announced that offensive coordinator Barney Cotton will not be with the team this year as an on-field coach as he awaits a heart transplant in Omaha, Nebraska.

“Barney has unfortunately been forced to be away from football and his Rebel family and we are all keeping him in our thoughts and prayers,” Sanchez said in a statement. “He is a tremendous coach, teacher, person and a great friend.”

Cotton has been offensive coordinator at UNLV dating back to 2015 and spent several seasons before that as an assistant at Nebraska. The school release noted that he would be replaced on staff by a new on-field hire to fill his role coaching tight ends for the upcoming campaign.

As far as Cotton’s duties as OC, those will be taken over by offensive line coach Garin Justice, who will now call the plays despite just joining the program this offseason after two years under Lane Kiffin at FAU.

We certainly wish Cotton all the best as he awaits a transplant and UNLV deals with such tough news just a few weeks away from training camp kicking off in the desert.

Appalachian State pegged as pre-season favorite in the Sun Belt

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There may be a new coach at Appalachian State but the expectations remain the same in Boone.

The Mountaineers were tabbed on Thursday as the pre-season coaches favorite to win the Sun Belt and repeat as league champs after taking home the trophy in last year’s inaugural conference title game.

AppState edged both Troy and Georgia Southern as the pick to win the East Division in Eliah Drinkwitz’s first season at the helm as well.

On the other side of the league, Louisiana was picked to win the West Division and make it back to the title game for the second time under head coach Billy Napier.

Here’s the full order of finish as predicted from the Sun Belt’s coaches (First-place votes in parentheses):

East Division

1. Appalachian State (7) – 46 pts
2. Troy (1) – 39 pts
3. Georgia Southern (2) – 35 pts
4. Coastal Carolina – 17 pts
5. Georgia State – 13 pts

West Division

1. Louisiana (6) – 46 pts
2. Arkansas State (3) – 42 pts
3. ULM – 27 pts
4. South Alabama (1) – 19 pts
5. Texas State – 16 pts

The league also announced their annual pre-season football teams. AppState and Arkansas State had the most selection across two teams, with the Mountaineers placing a league-high eight on the first team.

Sun Belt First Team Offense

QB – Zac Thomas (Appalachian State, Junior)
RB – Darrynton Evans (Appalachian State, Junior)
RB – B.J. Smith (Troy, Senior)
WR – Corey Sutton (Appalachian State, Junior)
WR – Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State, Senior)
WR – Ja’Marcus Bradley (Louisiana, RS-Senior)
TE – Javonis Isaac (Arkansas State, RS-Junior)
OL – Noah Hannon (Appalachian State, Junior)
OL – Victor Johnson (Appalachian State, Senior)
OL – Kevin Dotson (Louisiana, RS-Senior)
OL – Robert Hunt (Louisiana, RS-Senior)
OL – Kirk Kelley (Troy, Senior)

Sun Belt First Team Defense

DL – William Bradley-King (Arkansas State, RS-Junior)
DL – Forrest Merrill (Arkansas State, Junior)
DL – Raymond Johnson (Georgia Southern, Junior)
DL – Tyree Turner (South Alabama, Senior)
LB – Akeem Davis-Gaither (Appalachian State, Senior)
LB – Jordan Fehr (Appalachian State, Senior)
LB – Bryan London II (Texas State, Senior)
DB – Desmond Franklin (Appalachian State, Senior)
DB – Jerry Jacobs (Arkansas State, Junior)
DB – Monquavion Brinson (Georgia Southern, Senior)
DB – Kindle Vildor (Georgia Southern, Senior)

Sun Belt First Team Special Teams

K – Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern, RS-Senior)
P – Brandon Wright (Georgia State, RS-Senior)
RS – Tra Minter (South Alabama, Senior)