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USC survives injury to starting QB J.T. Daniels to escape with win over Fresno State

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Saturday night’s season opener for USC was supposed to be a fresh start. There was a fancy renovated Coliseum to showcase, a brand new offense to unveil and a chance for the Trojans to wash away the memories of last year’s losing season.

Unfortunately for the once proud Pac-12 bell cow and their embattled head coach, anything that could have gone wrong in their contest against Fresno State probably did early on in a slim 31-23 win over the defending Mountain West champs that was anything but easy.

Trojans starting quarterback J.T. Daniels was undoubtedly the story of the game. After getting off to a good start in running the team’s Air Raid offense for the first time (215 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT), the sophomore suffered the double whammy of taking a sack just before halftime that also resulted in a serious lower leg injury. Trainers checked out his knee for several minutes and had to carry him off the field before eventually loading him into the cart.

Daniels did not return and later returned to the sidelines on crutches and with a brace on his right knee — casting doubt on his status for the rest of the young season.

Taking over behind center was true freshman Kedon Slovis, who surprisingly won the backup job out of camp and seems to be the likely starter going forward. While he did throw an absolute arm punt of an interception, he also lofted a superb deep ball down the sidelines to set up a third quarter touchdown and finished the night 6-of-8 for 57 yards and plenty of promise.

Wideout Velus Jones, who had his first kick return of the game (61 yards) called back on a penalty, turned on the jets for a 101 yard touchdown return in the second half to help the cause. Fellow receiver Tyler Vaughns also went off in the passing game by hauling in 11 catches for a career-high 150 yards while tailback Stephen Carr chipped in with a score rushing plus receiving and Vavae Malepeai had a career-high 134 yards on the ground.

Despite all of that firepower, Fresno State would not go quietly into the Los Angeles night under old foe Jeff Tedford and made things interesting throughout.

Making his first start as the new signal-caller after several seasons as the backup, Jorge Reyna did what he could to rally the Bulldogs with his arm and his legs. The senior from Southern California wound up throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns (one INT) while also torching USC to the tune of 109 on the ground as the team’s leading rusher. It often felt like he was a one-man band at times given the amount of scrambling he needed to do in the face of a tough SC front seven but it just wasn’t enough as his supporting cast couldn’t quite come up with equally elevated play.

Still, there were plenty of nerves on high alert around the Coliseum as a result of Fresno State’s efforts and even more folks left wondering if Clay Helton’s tenure on the sidelines in Los Angeles is all but certainly over in the wake of Daniels’ injury and some questionable decisions down the stretch. The night started out with a penalty on the very first kick return to sour things from the get-go and the crowd for the first game at the renovated stadium was nearly 20,000 under capacity for a fellow in-state team.

There’s still a ton of season left to go at USC but Saturday night sure felt as much like a loss for some around the program as it did the first win in 2019.

Mel Tucker’s first Michigan State coaching staff is officially complete

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And just like that, Mel Tucker‘s first coaching staff at Michigan State football has been filled.  Officially.

Earlier Friday, reports continued to surface that Tucker was looking to swipe Scottie Hazelton from Kansas State.  Later on in the evening, MSU confirmed that Hazelton has been added to Tucker’s staff.

The veteran of nearly a quarter-century in the coaching profession will serve as the Spartans’ defensive coordinator.

“Scottie definitely has the mentality you’re looking for in a defensive coordinator,” the new Michigan State football head coach said in a statement. “He’s a leader with an infectious personality and he’s an excellent teacher. He’s learned from some of the great defensive minds in the game throughout his career. Scottie has been a defensive coordinator multiple times, including at the Power 5 level, he’s coached in the NFL, and he’s been on a staff that won a national championship. I couldn’t be more excited about hiring Scottie as our defensive coordinator to lead our outstanding defensive staff.”

Hazelton spent the 2019 season as the defensive coordinator at Kansas State.  He’s also been the coordinator at Wyoming (2017-18) and Nevada (2013) at the FBS level.

With Hazelton’s hiring, all 10 of Tucker’s on-field assistants for his Michigan State football staff have been hired.

The weekend before last, it was confirmed that Ron Burton and Mike Tressel would be retained.  Shortly thereafter, Chris Kapilovic officially followed Tucker to MSU from Colorado.  Two Wednesdays ago, former first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Courtney Hawkins returned to East Lansing to coach the same position he played for the Spartans.  A day laterJay Johnson was confirmed as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Harlon Barnett was brought back as defensive backs coach.  A day after that, Tucker pried Ted Gilmore away from Wisconsin to serve as MSU’s tight ends coach.

February 24, Ross Els (special teams coordinator) and William Peagler (running backs coach) were added as well.

Oklahoma State could be landing spot for LSU transfer WR Dee Anderson

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Could one soon-to-be-former LSU football player be leaving the SEC for the Big 12? According to one of his social media accounts, that’s certainly a possibility.

Prior to the start of summer camp, Dee Anderson was indefinitely suspended because “[h]e had some conditioning stuff to get done.” That suspension extended into the regular season as the wide receiver missed the first two games of the year. In mid-September, LSU football head coach Ed Orgeron confirmed that the suspension would remain in place for the rest of the year.

Three months later, Anderson entered the NCAA transfer database. The redshirt junior receiver graduated from the university in mid-December.

Since then, news on a potential landing spot for Anderson has been scant. Thursday morning, however, Anderson posted a GIF on his personal Twitter account of Oklahoma State mascot Pistol Pete. That, of course, intimates that the Cowboys are in play.

Adding to the OSU intrigue, a former high school teammate of Anderson is Cowboys running back LD Brown. According to Pokes Report, “Brown said things looked really good in terms of Anderson ending up at Oklahoma State.”

Anderson was a four-star member of the LSU football 2016 recruiting class. His first two seasons in Baton Rouge, Anderson saw sporadic action. The 6-6, 229-pound Texas native then caught 20 passes for 274 yards and a touchdown in 2018.

Prior to the conditioning issue, Anderson had been expected to be a significant contributor in the passing game this season.

Anderson would be eligible to play at any FBS school in 2020 as a graduate transfer. The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

The addition would help backfill a position that’s been hit with attrition of late.  This current cycle, a total of four OSU receivers have left.

Penn State AD hired search firm to negotiate new James Franklin contract

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Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour appears to really be a fan of a particular search firm. So much so she hired one to do part of her job and recommended them to a rival school to boot.

Those are a few of the takeaways after reporter Andy Wittry decided to dig a little deeper into the recent Michigan State coaching search. This included a freedom of information request for emails to Spartans athletic director Bill Beekman that uncovered several gems.

While there were the notable ‘fan suggests hiring XYZ coach’ type emails, there was also a note that Barbour sent along to her counterpart in East Lansing:

“Sorry to hear about Coach Dantonio’s decision to retire,” the Nittany Lions AD wrote. “As I think we’ve discussed in the past, we have been partnered with Chad Chatlos and Ventura Partners for the last three plus years, utilizing them as our search consultant on all head coaching searches as well as a number of upper level administrator hires.

“Although we have not had to do a football search at Penn State during my time, frankly Chad and I have prepared for a football search on several occasions and he most recently served as our negotiator for Coach Franklin’s latest extension. He is/was fantastic.”

MSU did use a search firm to eventually hire Mel Tucker and spent six-figures with DHR International.

Beyond it being fascinating (and to some PSU fans, perhaps concerning?) that one AD would recommend a particular person to work with to a division rival, it’s notable that Penn State brought in outside help to lock their head coach up with a new deal.

The school confirmed on Feb. 26 that James Franklin had agreed to an extension worth over $35 million over the next six years.

While it’s no shock to see a search firm involved in finding a new coach, it’s a bit unique to bring one in for a renegotiation with a current coach — something most AD’s handle internally with an opposing agent.

The close ties with Chatlos and Ventura Partners is also interesting given that Collegiate Sports Associates was the search firm that wound up helping the university find Barbour for her current role. Typically that leads to a bit of a quid pro quo where the same firm is used for other searches but the Nittany Lions have instead gone exclusive with another.

Take note, as well, that Barbour said she has prepared for a football search on several occasions. Perhaps that little nugget is the result of Franklin’s name popping up in connection to spots like Florida State and USC in recent months.

Instead he appears to be sticking around Happy Valley for several years to come with that hefty new salary that was recently negotiated.

Mel Tucker reportedly hiring Kansas State’s Scottie Hazelton as new Michigan State DC

New Michigan State DC Scottie Hazelton
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One of the best beards in college football is headed to Michigan State.

No, not the one on the face of Illinois head coach Lovie Smith, but rather that of Kansas State defensive coordinator Scottie Hazelton. Per The Athletic’s Bruce Feldman, the Wildcats assistant is leaving for the same position in East Lansing on Mel Tucker’s newstaff.

Hazelton spent just one season in the Little Apple after being hired by KSU’s Chris Klieman. The two briefly overlapped on the defensive staff at North Dakota State before reuniting in the Big 12.

In addition to a productive tenure leading the Bison’s defense at the FCS level, Hazelton has put together quite a diverse coaching career. That’s included coordinator stops at the NAIA, Division II and Division III levels as well as a season at Nevada in 2013 and a run at Wyoming from 2017-18. He also coached linebackers at USC in 2012 and did the same for the Jacksonville Jaguars during Gus Bradley’s tenure in Duval.

Now Hazelton will link up with Tucker as the final member of the MSU assistant ranks. The head coach has quite a large salary pool to work with and you can probably assume that had something to do with luring a Power Five DC so late in the typical hiring season. At K-State, Hazelton made $550,000 last year according to USA Today.

Either way, the bearded new defensive coordinator won’t have long to get acclimated to East Lansing as the Spartans begin spring practice on March 17.