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Jake Browning, Jalen Hurts highlight Davey O’Brien Award watch list

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Once the Conference of Defenses, has the SEC morphed into the Conference of Quarterbacks?

According to the folks at the Davey O’Brien Award, that certainly could be the case as the hardware handed out annually to the nation’s top quarterback released its 2018 watch list Tuesday morning, with the SEC accounting for six of the 26 players listed.  Next up are the remaining Power Five conferences, with the Pac-12 leading that group with four, followed by three apiece for the Big Ten and ACC as well as two for the Big 12.  With two each, Conference USA and the MAC pace all Group of Five leagues, with the AAC, Mountain West and Sun Belt all seeing one player on the initial watch list.

Individually, there are a pair of two-time O’Brien Award semifinalists on the roll — Washington’s Jake Browning and Alabama’s Jalen Hurts (whether Hurts gets the opportunity to three-peat as a finalist is another matter entirely).  Additionally, there are six other 2017 semifinalists on the list as well — Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, Mississippi State’s Nick Fitzgerald, West Virginia’s Will Grier, Penn State’s Trace McSorley, UCF’s McKenzie Milton and Arizona’s Khalil Tate.

Of the 26 players on the list, 13 are listed as seniors and 12 as juniors.  The lone sophomore is Georgia’s Jake Fromm.

Below is the complete 2018 Davey O’Brien Award Watch List:

Jake Bentley, South Carolina, (Jr., Opelika, Ala.)
Jake Browning, Washington (Sr., Folsom, Calif.)
Kelly Bryant, Clemson (Sr., Calhoun Falls, S.C.)
Mason Fine, North Texas (Jr., Peggs, Okla.)
Ryan Finley, NC State (Sr., Phoenix, Ariz.)
Nick Fitzgerald, Mississippi State (Sr., Richmond Hill, Ga.)
Andrew Ford, UMass (Sr., Camp Hill, Penn.)
Jake Fromm, Georgia (So., Warner Robins, Ga.)
Will Grier, West Virginia (Sr., Charlotte, N.C.)
Justice Hansen, Arkansas State (Sr., Edmond, Okla.)
Justin Herbert, Oregon (Jr., Eugene, Ore.)
Alex Hornibrook, Wisconsin (Jr., West Chester, Penn.)
Jalen Hurts, Alabama (Jr., Houston, Texas)
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo (Jr., Norton Shores, Mich.)
Daniel Jones, Duke (Jr., Charlotte, N.C.)
Kyle Kempt, Iowa State (Sr., Massillon, Ohio)
Brian Lewerke, Michigan State (Jr., Phoenix, Ariz.)
Drew Lock, Missouri (Sr., Lee’s Summit, Mo.)
Trace McSorley, Penn State (Sr., Ashburn, Va.)
McKenzie Milton, UCF (Jr., Kapolei, Hawaii)
Nathan Rourke, Ohio (Jr., Oakville, Ontario)
Brett Rypien, Boise State (Sr., Spokane, Wash.)
Jarrett Stidham, Auburn (Jr., Stephenville, Texas)
Brent Stockstill, Middle Tennessee (Sr., Murfreesboro, Tenn.)
Khalil Tate, Arizona (Jr., Inglewood, Calif.)
Manny Wilkins, Arizona State (Sr., Novato, Calif.)

UAB caps best season in school history with first bowl win

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Sometimes the first play from scrimmage is a mirage for what’s to come, like Ted Ginn, Jr.’s opening kickoff touchdown in the 2007 BCS National Championship. Other times, it tells the entire story.

When Tyler Johnston hit Xavier Ubosi for a 70-yard touchdown pass on the first play of Tuesday night’s Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, it told you pretty much all you needed to know. Johnston would hook up with Ubosi for two more long touchdown passes throughout the night, and UAB blasted Northern Illinois, 37-13.

The win bolstered what was already the best season in school history for Bill Clark‘s Blazers. Just two years back from the dead, UAB had already secured its first conference championship and its first 10-win season; now, the program has its first bowl win to boot.

The Boca Raton Bowl was one of just three bowl games pitting conference champions against each other, the others being the Orange (SEC vs. Big 12) and Rose (Big Ten vs. Pac-12) bowls.

UAB (11-3) came into the game averaging less than 200 passing yards per game, but the redshirt freshman Johnston went off for easily the best game of his young career, hitting 17-of-28 passes for 373 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. The bulk of the damage went to Ubosi, who snared seven passes for 227 yards and three touchdowns. Ubosi entered the game with 28 grabs for 610 yards and five touchdowns, including four catches for 24 yards in his two most recent games.

After the 70-yard score put UAB up 7-0 (and, it turns out, for good), the Johnston-to-Ubosi connection put the game away for good with 5:11 to go in the second quarter with a 46-yard strike that gave the Blazers a 24-10 lead.

A 66-yard bomb at the 5:15 mark of the third quarter concluded Ubosi’s night and gave UAB a 34-13 lead. Johnston’s other touchdown pass was a 3-yard shovel to running back Spencer Brown at the 12:08 mark of the second quarter, turning a 10-7 UAB lead back into a comfortable 10-point spread.

As the score indicates, Northern Illinois (8-6) struggled to get anything going offensively. Marcus Childers completed 22 of his 29 passes but gained just 179 yards on those completions. NIU entered the night with the nation’s 118th most efficient passing attack, so a 6.2 yards per attempt average wouldn’t necessarily spell doom as long as the Huskies managed to run the ball, but that was a struggle as well. Against UAB’s top-20 rushing defense, NIU mustered just 108 yards on 44 carries. Tre Harbison tied Childers for the team lead with 35 yards (he had a team-high six yards at halftime) and scored the Huskies’ lone touchdown, a 1-yarder to pull them within 10-7 in the final minute of the first quarter.

Given a chance to add a cosmetic score midway through the fourth quarter, Jordan Nettles fumbled a 4th-and-goal run out the side of the end zone.

Ex-TCU QB Shawn Robinson headed to Missouri

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Oklahoma is presently the king of the quarterback transfer market. It’s literally impossible to improve upon turning two transfers into two Heisman Trophy winners. But if the Sooners are the gold medal winners of that particular competition, Missouri definitely wins silver.

After beating out a host of competitors to land Clemson graduate transfer Kelly Bryant, the Tigers have now landed Bryant’s successor in TCU transfer Shawn Robinson.

Mizzou announced Robinson’s arrival on Tuesday night, a Christmas Eve present to Tigers fans before Recruiting Santa drops his presents on Wednesday morning.

As an undergraduate transfer, Robinson will sit out the 2019 season, which works perfectly for Missouri as Bryant will be a one-and-done in Columbia. Robinson will then take over for Bryant in 2020 as a redshirt junior.

While Robinson flashed rare ability during his half-ish season as TCU’s starter this fall, he also showed why he would benefit from the opportunity to sit and learn. Robinson completed 60.8 percent of his passes, but for just 6.5 yards per attempt with nine touchdowns against eight picks.

He tossed two interceptions in the Frogs’ September loss to Ohio State and then coughed up three turnovers in a loss at Texas a week later, essentially eliminating TCU from national title contention. After throwing two more picks in a loss to Texas Tech and then completing just three of eight passes against Oklahoma a week after that, Robinson was shut down for the year to have season-ending shoulder surgery.

Missouri will be Robinson’s fifth different school since entering high school. He played at two different Dallas-Fort Worth area schools before leading DeSoto to a state championship as a senior in 2016, and will now play for his second college starting in 2020.

Big passing plays put UAB up on Northern Illinois

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If UAB was to beat Northern Illinois in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night, it was supposed to happen on the ground, where the Blazers’ top-30 running game would grind out an advantage over the Huskies’ No. 3-ranked yards per carry defense to secure a tight, hard-fought win. UAB, with its No. 100-ranked passing offense, certainly wasn’t supposed to go bombs away on the Huskies.

But Bill Clark‘s team flipped that script on the very first play, when Tyler Johnston hit a streaking Xavier Ubosi for a 70-yard touchdown pass.

After a 25-yard Nick Vogel field goal and a Northern Illinois touchdown, UAB pushed its lead back to 10 when Johnston flipped to Spencer Brown for a 3-yard shovel pass score at the 12:08 mark of the second quarter.

Then, after an NIU field goal pulled the Huskies back within a score at 17-10, Johnston again found Ubosi for a long score, this one a 46-yarder, to push UAB in front 24-10.

Johnston is well on his way to his best night of the year, hitting 13-of-20 passes for 256 yards and three touchdowns, while Ubosi hauled in six catches for 161 yards and two scores.

Instead of cutting into its 14-point deficit just before the halftime gun, the NIU offense helped increase it. Marcus Childers was sacked and fumbled away the ball at his own 31-yard line with 2:13 left in the half, setting up a 34-yard Vogel field goal to push the UAB lead to 27-10 as the first half expired.

NIU’s touchdown came on a 1-yard Tre Harbison run in the final minute of the first quarter, capping a 9-play, 59-yard drive. He was NIU’s leading rusher with six yards on four carries.

Louisville pulls offensive coordinator away from NC State

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NC State named two offensive coordinators from within its staff after Eli Drinkwitz left to become the head coach at Appalachian State, and Wolfpack offensive line coach Dwayne Ledford was not among them.

Turns out, there was a good reason for that. He’s joining the staff of the former Appalachian State head coach at a different ACC school.

That Meereenese Knot of coaching moves unwinds with Dwayne Ledford leaving NC State to become the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Louisville.

“Adding a coach with the experience of Dwayne Ledford is a key addition to our offensive staff,” new Louisville head coach Scott Satterfield said. “Dwayne’s one of the top offensive line coaches in the nation and has produced some of the best offensive lines in the country during his career. His units are technically sound and his players play with great passion. This is an excellent hire in the development of our program.”

Ledford spent three seasons at NC State, ending a program-record streak of eight straight seasons without a 1,000-yard rusher by producing a 1,000-yard rusher in each of his three seasons with the program.

This season, NC State had two linemen — center Garrett Bradbury and left tackle Tyler Jones — make the All-ACC team, the first time that’s happened in Raleigh, while a third guard Terronne Prescod was an AP Third Team All-American. Bradbury also won the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s top center.

NC State also finished fourth nationally in sacks allowed this season after placing 113th in the year prior to Ledford’s arrival.

Ledford worked for Satterfield previously at Appalachian State before joining Dave Doeren‘s NC State staff. He is a North Carolina native and East Carolina graduate. This will not only be his first offensive coordinator job, it will be just the third time he’s coached outside of his home state, following a 2-year stint with the Frankfurt Galaxy and one year at Tennessee State.

Ledford also played seven seasons in the NFL for a variety of clubs.