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USC takes charge in Pac-12 South after upset of No. 10 Utah

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Late Friday night saw the first upset of the weekend in college football. No. 10 Utah (3-1, 0-1 Pac-12) was upset on the road by USC (3-1, 2-0 Pac-12), 30-23, despite the Trojans playing with a third-string quarterback and the Pac-12 officials throwing enough flags to fill five loads of laundry. The win by USC moves the Trojans into a comfortable spot in the Pac-12 South before even getting to October.

USC lost starting quarterback Kedon Slovis on the second play of the game. After Slovis left to be evaluated for a possible head injury, third-string quarterback Matt Fink stepped in to lead the offense. All Fink did was lead USC to touchdowns on their first two possessions of the game and then make some big passes in the second half to keep the Trojans in front of Utah. Fink ended his night off the bench with 351 passing yards and three touchdowns. Michael Pittman Jr. was on the receiving end of 10 of those receptions for a massive 232 receiving yards. The highlight of the night was a 77-yard touchdown pass that saw Pittman come down with a jump ball and then push aside a would-be tackler on his way to the endzone.

A win is a win, fo course, and USC will take them any way they can. On Friday night in the Coliseum, they had to overcome an onslaught of bad penalties. USC was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. Utah had their share of laundry too with 16 penalties called for 120 yards. Both teams were guilty of personal foul penalties as the game was certainly chippy at times. But some of the penalties were questionable at best. Neither coach will walk away from this game feeling great about the discipline or the officiating, as there was plenty of blame to go around in this one.

Utah had their chances to come away with the win, but an inability to defend deep jump ball passes by Fink killed them too often. The Utes ran for 247 yards as a team but managed just one touchdown on the ground. Quarterback Tyler Huntley put his team on the back for much of the night with 210 passing yards and 60 rushing yards, but it was not enough as defenders were able to get to him and bring him under pressure.

In the end, it was just USC’s night, and it was one Clay Helton really needed. For now, USC can live in the moment and not have to worry about distractions about the future of Helton. USC is already 2-0 in conference play with wins against Stanford and Utah. The road is not going to get any easier, with a road game at Washington coming up next week, followed by a trip to South Bend, Indiana to play Notre Dame. But USC ha splayed themselves into a favorable spot in the Pac-12 by being 2-0 and owning a head-to-head tiebreaker with Utah. That gives USC a margin for error in conference play, and they look to be the best team within the Pac-12 South the rest of the season.

While we should be wise not to pencil USC into the Pac-12 championship game just yet (remember, third-string QB and they still have Washington and Oregon to play in a difficult crossover division rotation), but there have been some true signs of promise for the Trojans early on this season. And bouncing back from a hard-fought loss at BYU last week to knock off No. 10 Utah is quite a turnaround for USC.

As USC hits the road to challenge Washington next week, Utah will look to rebound at home in Salt Lake City against Washington State. As of the conclusion of the USC-Utah game, the Washington State Cougars were one of three undefeated teams in the Pac-12 left standing (Cal, Arizona State).

Tennessee officially announces addition of USC transfer WR Velus Jones

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The newest member of the Tennessee Vols football team is officially onboard.

Earlier this month, Velus Jones announced on social media that he would be transferring from USC to Tennessee. Two weeks later, the Tennessee Vols football program confirmed the wide receiver’s addition to the roster.

The move continues what’s been a winding, twisting collegiate journey for Jones.

Originally committed to Alabama, Jones flipped to USC… then to Oklahoma… then back to USC before ultimately signing with the Trojans in 2016. In March of 2019, Jones placed his name into the NCAA transfer database. Three months later, however, Jones reversed course and remained with the Trojans.

Jones, a three-star 2016 signee coming out of high school in Alabama, was fourth on the Trojans in receptions (24) and receiving yards (266) as a redshirt sophomore in 2018. He also led the team with a 22.7 yards per kick return average. A year later, though, that production dropped to just 35 yards on six receptions.

For his career thus far, Jones has totaled 347 yards and a touchdown on his 36 catches.  He also scored a rushing touchdown in 2018.  On 82 kick returns spread out over three seasons, he averaged 23.7 per.

As a graduate transfer, Jones will be eligible to play for the Vols in 2020.  The upcoming season will serve as his final year of eligibility.

Auburn announces new three-year deal for DC Kevin Steele

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When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the Auburn Tigers football program has ensured some continued coaching continuity.  At least for now.

Earlier Wednesday, Auburn announced that defensive coordinator Kevin Steele has agreed to a new three-year contract.  The new deal would keep Steele on The Plains through the 2022 season.

The financial particulars of the new pact have not yet been released.  In 2019, the 61-year-old Steele took in $1.9 million in total pay according to USA Today‘s coaching salary database.  That figure placed him third in the SEC and fourth nationally.

“Kevin has done a fantastic job with our defense the last four years making it one of the best in the country,” Auburn Tigers football head coach Gus Malzahn said in a statement. “This will provide great stability and leadership for our defense in the future. I’m appreciative of Kevin’s hard work.”

In December of 2015, Steele was hired as Auburn’s defensive coordinator.  Prior to that, he held the same job at LSU.

From the school’s release:

During Steele’s tenure as defensive coordinator the last four years, Auburn’s defense has ranked in the top 20 nationally in scoring defense. Auburn is one of only five FBS programs to hold opponents under 20 points per game in each of the last four seasons.

This past season, Auburn was sixth in the SEC and 17th nationally in giving up 19.5 points per game.  In total defense, the Tigers were seventh in the conference and 28th in the country as they allowed 337 yards per game.

Five Virginia Tech players, including three WRs, enter transfer portal in one day

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When it comes to the portal world, the Virginia Tech football program won the day.  Congrats?

As of this posting, three Virginia Tech football players announced on Twitter Wednesday that they have entered the NCAA transfer database.  Two of those entries are wide receivers — redshirt junior Hezekiah Grimsley (HERE) and true freshman Jacoby Pinckney (HERE) — to go along with running back Caleb Steward (HERE).

On top of that social-media attrition, it has been confirmed that yet another receiver, redshirt junior Phil Patterson, is in the portal.  As is defensive back Khalil Ladler, bringing the one-day total of Virginia Tech football players considering a transfer to five.

Five.  In one day.  The same day the program began winter workouts, it should be noted.

The trio of receivers in the portal actually pushes that group to four overall.  Earlier this month, Damon Hazelton signaled his intention to leave Blacksburg as well.

As for the recently-departed receiving corps particulars:

  • Grimsley — 53 career catches for 691 yards, three touchdowns. Stat line of 10-170-2 in 2019.
  • Patterson — 27 career catches for 269 yards, two touchdowns. Sta line of 6-72-1 in 2019.
  • Pinckney — Four-star 2019 signee who took a redshirt as a true freshman.  He was the No. 3 player regardless of position in the state of South Carolina.

As a redshirt freshman this past season, Steward ran for 85 yards on 19 carries.  Coming out of high school, Steward was a three-star 2018 signee.  He was rated as the No. 74 running back in the country and the No. 196 player at any position in the state of Florida.

A redshirt junior, Ladler played in 13 games each of the past three seasons.  During his time with the Hokies, the Georgia native was credited with 96 tackles, 6½ tackles for loss, five pass breakups, five passes defensed, three forced fumbles and two fumbles recovered.

Boise State, Mountain West release joint statement

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The developing situation between Boise State and the Mountain West Conference has taken yet another twist.

Earlier this month, the MWC announced a new six-year television deal that would significantly increase the annual revenue for league members.  The only problem?  MWC commissioner Craig Thompson stated earlier this month that Boise State’s sweetheart arrangement that allowed it to receive broadcast revenue above and beyond what other league members receive — originally part of a deal to remain in the conference after briefly going to the Big East during realignment’s heyday — would be coming to an end when this new deal expired.

That was apparently news to Boise State, which stated Tuesday that the university was “weighing our options to move forward.” One of those options, apparently, was the legal one as it was reported earlier Wednesday that Boise State filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit against the MWC.

Two hours or so after those reports emerged, a “joint statement” from Boise State and the Mountain West addressed the latest development.

Last week, Boise State filed a complaint regarding media rights against the Mountain West Conference; however, that action alone does not formally begin a lawsuit. The University and the Mountain West are currently in discussions in hopes of bringing this matter to a resolution without litigation.

In the agreement that allowed Boise State to return to the MWC after the Big East flirtation, the university was to receive an additional $2 million in conference revenue annually.