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Utah State bowls over North Texas in New Mexico

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As if there was ever any doubt, players are more important than coaches in college football. Despite the fact Matt Wells and the majority of his coaching staff bailed early, Utah State rolled over an overmatched and undermanned North Texas team, cruising to a 52-13 win in the New Mexico Bowl presented by Progressive.

The win was a fitting close to one of the best seasons in school history for Utah State. The Aggies (11-2) tied a school record for wins and will likely become the fourth team in school history to finish the season ranked in the AP poll, joining John Ralston‘s 1960-61 teams that went a combined 18-3-1 and former and future head coach Gary Andersen‘s 2012 squad that also went 11-2.

The points started early for the Aggies, finding pay dirt on their third play of the game — a 72-yard strike from Jordan Love to Aaren Vaughns — and ripped off 31 unanswered points over the first and second quarters to break the game open for good.

In addition to the 72-yarder to open the game, Utah State scored touchdowns from 26, 37 and 67 yards in the first half (plus another score on a 10-play, 78-yard drive), as the nation’s No. 3 scoring offense played to its paper throughout the day. Love completed 21-of-43 passes for 361 yards with four touchdowns (plus one rushing) and an interception inside the UNT end zone that robbed him of a sixth score, while Gerold Bright and Darwin Thompson combined to rush 37 times for 196 yards and two touchdowns.

In all, the Aggies rolled up 556 yards of total offense — 360 of them in the first half.

As the score indicates, the game was a complete nightmare for North Texas. The Mean Green entered the game without leading receiver Rico Bussey (1,017 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns) and played the majority of the day without franchise quarterback Mason Fine. Visibly hobbled by a bum hamstring, Fine threw only 12 passes and left the game in the second quarter when he had to limp his way to recover an errant snap — a theme for UNT during the game — near his own goal line.

Fine was replaced by senior backup Quinn Shanbour, who completed 2-of-8 passes for 24 yards with three interceptions. Shanbour was replaced by freshman Jason Bean, whose only completion in his two passes was to Utah State safety DJ Williams, setting up a field goal on the final play of the half that pushed UNT’s deficit to 38-7.

Fellow freshman Kason Martin played the bulk of the second half, and hit Jalen Guyton for a 75-yard touchdown on his first pass. After that throw, Martin went 6-of-11 for 36 yards.

The loss served as a bitter end to a bittersweet season for North Texas. Though the Mean Green (9-4) increased or matched their win total for the third time in as many seasons under Seth Littrell, North Texas saw three double-digit leads turn into losses and then closed with a second consecutive bowl loss in which the opponent hit half a hundred, following a 50-30 loss to Troy in the 2017 New Orleans Bowl.

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