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No. 6 Notre Dame passes road test at No. 24 Virginia Tech with big second half

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Lane Stadium was rocking and the home team was dreaming of pulling off another late night upset in Blacksburg. No. 6 Notre Dame shook off a bit of rust and responded by saying thanks, but no thanks.

The Irish used a big third quarter featuring a few key plays on both sides of the ball to secure a 45-23 win over the 24th-ranked Hokies on Saturday night and look more and more like a team that is making plans to find a spot in the College Football Playoff this season.

That’s not to say it wasn’t an easy, breezy trip below the Mason-Dixon line for Brian Kelly’s team. Quarterback Ian Book threw his first interception of the season right to an undercutting linebacker but found his rhythm as the game went on and finished with a respectable 271 yards and two touchdowns. His relatively quiet night won’t cause any fans to call for backup Brandon Wimbush by any measure but it did allow others to take the offensive spotlight as a result.

Once again it was running back Dexter Williams who provided the spark the team needed, breaking off a 97-yard run on the seventh play of the second half on his way to 178 yard, three score effort. Book also hooked up several times with Miles Boykin, who had a big night with 117 yards through the air and two touchdowns down the stretch that essentially sealed the result on the scoreboard.

Kicker Justin Yoon also set a school record for career scoring with an extra point in the fourth quarter and Julian Love recorded a scoop-and-score touchdown just before halftime as part of a strong defensive effort from Notre Dame.

Virginia Tech did have their chances early in the game but never could quite capitalize on short fields and miscues. Signal-caller Ryan Willis was under siege most of the night with a hand in his face but threw for 309 yards, two scores and two picks — doing well to only get sacked twice. Steven Peoples led the way on the ground with 64 yards but the Hokies had to take the air most of the second half as they fell further and further behind.

The victory makes the Irish bowl eligible as they move to 6-0 but, perhaps more significantly, gives the team their first road win against a ranked team since 2015. The trip to Blacksburg was viewed by many as a tricky one but the group passed the test with flying colors and put together yet another impressive second half to pull away against a solid team.

It will also lead to even more speculation that this is going to be a special season in South Bend with the Playoff looking not just like a possibility, but a real likelihood given the upcoming schedule. Notre Dame will return home to play Pitt on NBC next weekend and do not have a top 25 caliber team left on the docket. A rivalry game against Navy in San Diego and against USC in L.A. to end the year could be tricky but there certainly a path to 12-0 if the team keeps playing like they have been on this remarkable run in 2018.

Jerry Jeudy, AJ Dillon, Eno Benjamin and more set for State Farm All-Star Football Challenge

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It may fly under the radar for most, but the 22nd annual State Farm All-Star Football Challenge is set to take place on Jan. 31 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The skills competition will pit 24 college football stars in a team event. Among those participating in this year’s challenge will be Boston College running back AJ Dillon, Penn State defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos, Oklahoma linebacker Kenneth Murray, and Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy.

Five teams representing each of the power five conferences will consist of players from those respective conferences: ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Pac-12, and SEC. A sixth team of “wild card” players will be comprised of players from the Group of Five or below. This year’s wild card players will come from the Mountain West Conference (Utah State QB Jordan Love, Boise State DE Curtis Weaver), Conference USA (FAU TE Harrison Bryant) and the South Atlantic Conference of Division 2 (Lenoir-Rhyne S Kyle Dugger).

The individual events included in the competition are a quarterback accuracy contest, obstacle course, strength challenge, and a hands competition. A team event will complete the overall event.

TEAM ACC
Cam Akers, RB, Florida State
AJ Dillon, RB, Boston College
Bryce Perkins, QB, Virginia
Jason Strowbridge, DL, North Carolina

TEAM BIG TEN
Zack Baun, LB, Wisconsin
Yetur Gross-Matos, DE, Penn State
KJ Hamler, WR, Penn State
Nate Stanley, QB, Iowa

TEAM BIG 12
Ross Blacklock, DT, TCU
Kenneth Murray, LB, Oklahoma
Jalen Reagor, WR, TCU
Carter Stanley, QB, Kansas

TEAM PAC-12
Salvon Ahmed, RB, Washington
Bradlee Anae, DE, Utah
Eno Benjamin, RB, Arizona State
Anthony Gordon, QB, Washington State

TEAM SEC
Nick Coe, DE, Auburn
Jerry Jeudy, WR, Alabama
Terrell Lewis, LB, Alabama
Riley Neal, QB, Vanderbilt

TEAM WILD CARD
Harrison Bryant, TE, Florida Atlantic
Kyle Dugger, S, Lenoir-Rhyne
Jordan Love, QB, Utah State
Curtis Weaver, DE, Boise State

TE Jordan Wilson to transfer from UCLA

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UCLA redshirt junior Jordan Wilson has announced he is leaving the Bruins. In a post on his Twitter account on Friday afternoon, Wilson announced he is entering the transfer portal with the intent of finishing up his collegiate career with some other program.

“[I’d] like to announce that I will be entering the transfer portal, graduating at the end of the Spring quarter, and playing my final year of eligibility somewhere else,” Wilson announced in a statement on his Twitter account.

The decision of Wilson to leave UCLA comes at an unfortunate time for the Bruins. Wilson was likely to be a starter at tight end for UCLA in the fall. Wilson is the third tight end to leave UCLA this offseason. Devin Asiasi previously made the decision to declare for the NFL draft a year early. Matt Lynch also stepped into the transfer portal. Now, UCLA has a wide-open competition for playing time at the tight end spot beginning this spring.

Wilson caught seven passes for 72 yards for UCLA in 2019. He will leave UCLA having caught 25 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns in the past three seasons. As a graduate transfer, Wilson will be eligible to play his final year of eligibility anywhere he ends up this fall.

USC nabs Todd Orlando from Texas Tech

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USC has a new defensive coordinator. The Trojans announced on Friday the school has officially hired Todd Orlando to fill the role of defensive coordinator. Orlando joins USC after coaching the past three seasons at Texas.

Orlando actually joined the Texas Tech program after being let go by Texas following staff changes with the Longhorns. Despite landing a job with the Red Raiders, Orlando remained a top target for USC head coach Clay Helton.

“We are excited to have Todd join our Trojan football program,” Helton said in a released statement. “He is an experienced and successful defensive coordinator who has made an impact everywhere he has coached. He brings a passion, energy, toughness and discipline to his coaching and those characteristics were evident in our discussions. His defensive system poses an extreme challenge to offenses.”

Orlando replaces Clancy Pendergast, who was let go by Helton amid USC’s own staff changes after a down 2019 season. As previously mentioned (HERE), Orlando actually had worse defensive numbers compared to what Pendergast coached with USC last season. However, a contrast of playing styles and offensive outputs between the schedule Texas faced in 2019 (including games against LSU and Oklahoma) and what USC faced could lead to some skewed figures.

Orlando’s first test as a defensive coordinator will be a monster. USC opens the 2020 season in Arlington, Texas against Alabama.

Cal loses assistant Gerald Alexander to NFL job

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Cal assistant coach Gerald Alexander is leaving to coach with the Miami Dolphins. Alexander confirmed in a message posted on his Twitter account he is heading to the NFL for a coaching opportunity. Multiple reports have confirmed it will be with the Miami Dolphins.

Alexander thanked Cal head coach Justin Wilcox for the opportunity to be a part of Wilcox’s first coaching staff at Cal.

Alexander joined the Cal program in 2017 and spent the past three seasons as a defensive backs coach for the program. He has played a role in helping to coach one of the better defensive teams in the Pac-12. He previously coached at Montana State, Indiana State and with Chris Peterssen at Washington. Alexander played for Petersen at Boise State.

This will mark a return to the NFL for Alexander. He previously played in the league for five seasons with the Detroit Lions, Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers, and, appropriately enough, the Miami Dolphins. Alexander was a second-round draft pick of Detroit in 2007.