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No. 16 Washington secures Pac-12 North with Apple Cup upset of No. 8 Washington State

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It’s been a dream season in more ways than one for No. 8 Washington State and everything was there for the taking on Friday night. A Pac-12 North title, a conference championship, a potential Rose Bowl berth and perhaps, if things broke their way, a trip to the College Football Playoff was on the line for the Cougars in their final home game of the year.

There was just one problem: that team from the other side of the state relishes playing spoiler for their rivals when the stakes are the highest.

Such was the case again as No. 16 Washington braved blizzard-like conditions on the Palouse to knock off Wazzu 28-15 and capture the Pac-12 North title for a second time in three years.

Seniors played a big role in the game for the Huskies as they won their sixth in a row in the series, none of which came close to being as cold, snowy, icy or windy as things were at Martin Stadium for this one. QB Jake Browning only threw three incompletions despite those elements but was reduced much more to game-manager status with 207 yards and a bad red zone interception in the first quarter. He was no doubt fine with that in keeping his record perfect against the in-state rivals during his career on Montlake and especially so given that it was a big night for his teammate in the backfield as Myles Gaskin rushed for 170 hard-fought yards and three touchdowns.

Wideout Aaron Fuller was responsible for UW’s other score that came off a Chris Petersen special: a reverse pass trick play that found a wide-open Hunter Bryant in the end zone.

While there will be plenty of taunts from those in purple and gold that the Cougs, well, Coug’d this one, that wasn’t the case.

Heisman candidate Gardner Minshew threw for only 152 yards on 35 attempts against one of the best secondaries in the country (the weather was obviously a factor too) but didn’t quite have another rally left in him. Tailback James Williams had a nice night as the one player who could find some success on offense for Mike Leach’s crew, rushing for 65 yards and a pair of touchdowns while also catching seven passes for 30 yards.

Not all is lost for Wazzu however, as the team is likely to be ticketed to a New Year’s Six Bowl even with the loss should they remain in the top 12 of the standings. That will be a bitter-sweet trip to either the Fiesta or Peach Bowl if it does indeed happen come Selection Sunday given what was in front of the team on Friday night but such is life after one of the best rivalries up in the Pacific Northwest.

The Huskies, meanwhile, can look ahead to the Pac-12 Championship Game next Friday night against Utah at Levi’s Stadium. The two have already played this season, staging a defensive-minded game that Washington won 21-7 back in mid-September. Both teams have had several up’s and down’s since that meeting and it is safe to say they enter as very different teams when they meet again.

The end goal is still there for the taking for the preseason Pac-12 favorite though: a conference title, a Rose Bowl berth and a bit of respect.

Part-time starting DB Cameron Watkins leaving Illinois

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For the fourth time this offseason, Lovie Smith has lost a scholarship player to transfer — and that’s not including a wide receiver who signed with the school but opted to return to Miami.

On his personal Twitter account this week, Cameron Watkins announced that “it is now time for me to start another chapter in my life as I will be moving on from the University of Illinois after graduating in May.” As a graduate transfer, the defensive back would be eligible to play at another FBS school in 2019 if that ends up being his next move.

Watkins started 16 games the past three seasons for the Fighting Illini, including seven in 2018.

Watkins joins wide receiver Carmoni Green and offensive linemen Zeke Martin and Adam Solomon as Illini players who have left the program this offseason.

Green was one of five Illini players suspended for the 2018 opener, and then went on to catch 10 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown last season. Martin (12 games) and Solomon (11) played primarily on special teams in 2018.

At least 11 Penn State players have either transferred or placed names in NCAA database

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There are significant exoduses, and there’s what’s transpired in Happy Valley recently.

A total of five Penn State football players opted to leave eligibility on the table and make themselves available for the 2019 NFL Draft — offensive tackle Ryan Bates (HERE), defensive tackle Kevin Givens (HERE), offensive lineman Connor McGovern (HERE), defensive end Shareef Miller (HERE) and running back Miles Sanders (HERE). Additionally, the Centre Daily Times notes, a whopping 11 players (thus far) have, since the end of the regular season, either decided to transfer or put their names in the NCAA transfer database signaling a probable intent to move on.

Three of those transfers/potential transfers, tight end Danny Dalton, offensive lineman Alex Gellerstedt and safety Ayron Monroe, were the most recent additions to the list of potential player personnel attrition at the football program. The other eight with at least one foot out the door are (deep breath) linebackers Dae’lun Darien (HERE) and Brelin Faison-Walden; wide receivers Juwan Johnson (HERE) and Brandon Polk; safeties Isaiah Humphries (HERE) and Lamont Wade; cornerback Zech McPhearson; and offensive tackle Sterling Jenkins.

The biggest of the losses would be Johnson, who started seven games this past season and caught 25 passes for 352 yards and a touchdown, and Polk, who also started seven games and totaled 162 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions. Monroe (pictured) played in 33 games during his time with the Nittany Lions and was viewed as a potential starting safety in 2019, while McPherson (23 games played/12 in 2018) and Wade (24/12) saw significant action the past two seasons.

The only other transfer/potential transfer who played in more than 10 games while in Happy Valley was Darien, whose 15 appearances included eight this past season.

Texas QB Shane Buechele putting name in transfer database

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There’s little question that, for the next couple of seasons and barring injury, Texas is Sam Ehlinger‘s football team.  In that vein, another member of UT’s quarterback room is looking into the possibility of moving out.

Overnight, multiple media outlets reported that Shane Buechele has informed the football program of his intention to enter his name into the NCAA transfer database.  According to 247Sports.com, SMU is already considered the favorite to land Buechele.

Buechele, a four-star 2016 signee, started every game as a true freshman, then started seven games in 2017 while Ehlinger started six his true freshman season.  Ehlinger won the job during summer camp and was the starter for this past season as Buechele played in just two games, which seemingly served as the trigger for the transfer.

Scheduled to graduate from UT in May, Buechele would not only be eligible to play immediately at another FBS school in 2019, but he’d have another season of eligibility he could use in 2020 as well.  As Buechele played in fewer than four games this past season, he can take advantage of the new NCAA redshirt rule and save a year of eligibility.

In other UT quarterbacking news, Cameron Rising, who was one of two Longhorn signal-callers to put their names in the transfer database around Christmastime last year, has visited Utah and is expected to sign with the Utes, 247Sports.com reported.

There was a bit of good news under center for the Longhorns as Casey Thompson, the other UT quarterback in the database, will return to Austin.  Thompson, a four-star 2018 signee who is the son of former Oklahoma quarterback Charles Thompson, did not see the field as a true freshman this past season.

Butch Jones eschewing Maryland job to remain at Alabama

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It appears Butch Jones will get the opportunity to light up a second victory cigar after years of going cold turkey.

In early December, after Mike Locksley accepted a head-coaching job, it was reported that Butch Jones, the former Tennessee head coach-turned-offensive analyst for Alabama in 2018, would follow the Crimson Tide offensive coordinator and take a job on Locksley’s first Terrapins coaching staff. Between then and now, however, Nick Saban‘s offensive staff has been hit by significant attrition, with four assistants on that side of the ball (including Locksley) leaving for jobs at other schools.

In that light, multiple reports surfaced Wednesday in which it’s expected Jones will remain with the Crimson Tide in an unspecified on-field role.

When it comes to offensive roles, Saban has plenty to offer.

Locksley was hired to take the head job at Maryland and was expected to be replaced by quarterbacks coach Dan Enos; instead, Enos left to take over as the coordinator at Miami. Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis also bolted to become the coordinator at Michigan, while offensive line coach Brent Key left to take a job at Georgia Tech.

It’s been reported that Steve Sarkisian is expected to return to Tuscaloosa, presumably as offensive coordinator. In his career, Jones has coached running backs, tight ends and wide receivers; it was expected that he would coach tight ends with the Terrapins.

Now, about the defensive side of the ball