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Preview: Alabama and LSU meet in the latest ‘Game of the Century’

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Every college football Saturday is a huge day given the limited number of them each fall but November 9 has been a date fans of the sport have had circled for several weeks, or even months, given its importance on the calendar and the 2019 season in general. It’s not just that history is being made with a pair of games on the slate involving teams 8-0, it’s that we’re firmly into the thick of the College Football Playoff race after the Selection Committee released their first set of rankings on Tuesday.  

The season, now 11 weeks in, is really set to kick into high gear as a result.

With all due respect to the undefeated Minnesota Golden Gophers and Penn State Nittany Lions getting together at high noon in the Twin Cities though, the main course this Saturday is undoubtedly happening in Tuscaloosa when Alabama hosts LSU in the first ever regular season meeting of the No. 1 teams in both the Coaches Poll and the AP Poll. While the CFP rankings making Ohio State the top team in the land has dampened a bit of the ‘Game of the Century’ talk, the meeting between rivals nevertheless carries huge division, conference, playoff and national title implications — plus may very well be a quasi-Heisman Trophy elimination game for each side’s respective leading candidate. 

There are big games… and there’s turning things up a few notches for the upcoming edition of Tigers vs. Tide that we’re all excited to take in. With that in mind, CFTalk decided to dig a little deeper into the game and fully preview the biggest game of the season in a heavyweight fight that is hopefully as epic between the lines on Saturday as it is being billed in the lead up to kickoff.

The Details

Who: No. 2/1/2 (CFP/AP/Coaches) LSU vs. No. 3/2/1 Alabama

When: 3:30 p.m. ET

Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.

How to watch: CBS or CBSSports.com

The line: Alabama -6, over/under 62.5

The Background

These two SEC West rivals have clashed with plenty on the line over the years but it has felt like stakes were raised significantly once Nick Saban arrived in Baton Rouge and eventually won a national title with LSU in 2003. After a brief stint in the NFL, he returned to college football as Alabama’s head coach and has since built the Tide into a dynasty with few historic peers — winning five national titles in the past decade. The Tigers hoisted the national championship once more since Saban left town and the program’s historic significance and the loads of NFL draft picks produced have in turn made this an annual must-watch game.

The programs have been in a similar spot before too of course, clashing in 2011 as the top two teams in the country in a game similarly labeled as ‘The Game of the Century.’ That one turned out to be a defensive masterpiece for both sides in a 9-6, double-overtime affair that had tension in the air for every snap. That was, however, the last time LSU emerged victorious in the series as the Tide have won eight in a row — including a rematch in New Orleans later in that 2011 season with the national title on the line. 

The Tigers have had their opportunities in the years since but it felt like last year’s shutout loss in Baton Rouge marked a turning point for head coach Ed Orgeron. He re-tooled his offensive attack this offseason thanks to former Saints assistant coach Joe Brady and the results have been startling: LSU is one spot behind Alabama for third in the country in scoring at 47 points per game. Given that the Tide are sitting at 49 ppg coming into this season’s matchup, it’s no wonder that oddsmakers see a very un-2011 like score with over/under betting opening as high as 65 in some places.

Safe to say the 2019 edition will be unique as a result and could feature over 40 future NFL players across the two teams when all is said and done. In short, it doesn’t get much better than this in college football and perhaps that’s why even the President of the United States will brave some ridiculous traffic and the potential for boos from the crowd in order to take it all in.

The Key Players

Alabama QB Tua Tagovailoa

All eyes on both sides of this matchup will be on the Tide’s signal-caller from the moment he steps off the bus. There’s real questions as to just how effective he can be after undergoing surgery on his ankle a few weeks ago, with reports from practice showing that he’s not close to 100% moving around. Though Tagovailoa is not a noted dual-threat like some others around the country, moving around the pocket is key to his game and his ability to scramble for a first down at times has helped sustain drives and bust open more than a few games with a back-breaking score. 

It helps that he’ll have a quality offensive line in front of him and can rely on perhaps the most dangerous set of skill position talent in the country between tailbacks like Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. plus a dangerous receiving corps that is straight pick your poison between Jerry Jeudy, Devonta Smith, Henry Ruggs III and Jaylen Waddle. No offense to backup QB Mac Jones however, but Alabama’s success in this game will come down to how well Tagovailoa plays and what he is able to do when the pocket starts to break down.

Alabama K Joseph Bulovas 

Yes the Crimson Tide have a ton of defensive stars that deserve a mention but kickers are people too and nobody knows the thin line they walk quite like Alabama’s fan base in recent years. Bulovas, a sophomore, has made some big kicks during his time on campus but has also struggled plenty too this season, missing two field goals and a PAT coming into the game. It feels like all of the country holds their breath when Saban ever elects to send on the field goal unit and that will certainly be the case on Saturday afternoon. Given how close this game figures to be, don’t discount how important special teams will be for the home side as a few points here or there could be the difference between being playoff bound or sitting at home for a semifinal. 

LSU QB Joe Burrow

The Ohio State transfer has shot up NFL draft boards and jumped to the top of many folks’ Heisman lists given just how different he’s looked running the Tigers’ offense this season. While his past body of work was solid in leading the team to a New Year’s Six Bowl win his first year on campus, things have taken off since Brady arrived on campus and Burrow is now completing nearly 79% of his passes while ranking second in the country at 350 yards per game. His 30 touchdowns (against just four picks) are already an LSU single-season record and he broke the mark weeks before Halloween even arrived. 

LSU safety Grant Delpit 

Delpit has been limited in practice this week with an ankle sprain but is expected by everybody to play in the game, a big factor for the Tigers given how important he is flying around on defense. He’s an All-American in the secondary and is LSU’s third-leading tackler coming in plus qualifies one of the team’s hardest hitters too. Given how loaded the Tide are at receiver and the way they love to attack deep, having the ball-hawk roaming all over will be key in grabbing a victory on the road. 

Three Keys

1. Turnovers

There is nothing that turns Nick Saban red hot quite like mistakes and in that subcategory, few things anger him more than turnovers. While this team is second in the country in turnover margin (+13), they haven’t played anybody at LSU’s level. The Tigers have been tested this season by Texas, Auburn and others and come out with flying colors but that doesn’t mean they are immune to giving the ball away. They’ve lost the football eight times already and have just 12 takeaways on the year despite a big talent advantage over most of their opponents. 

Given the propensity for this one to likely turn into a shootout and with margins so thin between the two teams already, whoever can get an extra possession or two will be huge. 

2. Establishing the Run

The aerial attacks both Alabama and LSU sport have been the big talking point coming in but both head coaches (and their respective offensive coordinators) would still very much prefer to keep things in front of them and slow the game down. That means running the football and wearing out the opposing front seven with a punishing attack that later sets up more than a few play-action passes. Pay particular attention to Najee Harris for the Tide and Clyde Edwards-Helaire for LSU, with the latter really coming on strong lately as a bowling ball going downhill. Each guy can also contribute in the passing game so expect a few screens or passes in the flat to mix things up when they’re on the field too.

3. Pass Rush

If you tune into this game expecting future first rounders chasing down the quarterback, you wouldn’t be wrong per se but rushing the passer is not quite the strong suit of these two defenses quite like it was a few years ago. There’s still plenty of talent like LSU’s K’Lavon Chaisson or Bama’s Terrell Lewis but the production hasn’t quite followed for the most part. The Tide are 56th nationally in sacks this season while the Tigers aren’t much better off at 49th. The former’s offensive line has generally been better at protecting their QB (Tagovailoa’s injury came as he was scrambling to the sidelines) and getting pressure in Burrow’s face has led the signal-caller to make more than a few bad passes this year. Something has to give on Saturday and the team who can win the battle in the trenches will have a decided advantage. 

The Pick

Here’s how the CFTalk experts see the game shaking out: 

Zach Barnett: LSU 30, Alabama 27

I think it’ll be lower scoring than expected. The defenses—who, lest we forget, are plenty talented too—will have their say early, and I think Tua’s ankle will compel Alabama to slow the pace down.

John Taylor: LSU 34, Alabama 20

In snapping its eight-game losing streak to Alabama, LSU will hand Nick Saban his worst loss in SEC play since 2010 (at South Carolina, 35-21) and his worst home loss in the conference since the head coach came to Tuscaloosa in 2007.

Kevin McGuire: Alabama 24, LSU 20

While neither team has been playing the kind of defense they may be accustomed to, I strongly believe they show up in this one. LSU’s offense may be the biggest threat they have had to throw at Alabama, but I’ll play it safe and say Alabama gets the win.

Bryan Fischer: Alabama 31, LSU 24

It feels like the gap between these two programs has never been smaller since those dueling 2011 epics but for as good as LSU has been this season, it feels so strange to see people writing off a Nick Saban team playing at home. The Tigers do finally have the firepower to keep up for once but Bama always seems to rise to the occasion and capture the win when there’s a bit of doubt coming into the game.

Missouri transfer WR Kam Scott commits to Houston

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Houston, you have a… new football player.  Unofficially.

Back in February, it was reported that Missouri’s Kam Scott had decided to test the transfer portal waters.  A little more than four months later, the wide receiver announced on Instagram this week that he has committed to the Houston football team.

Barring the unexpected, Scott will be forced to sit out the 2020 season.  Doing so would then leave the Texas native with two years of eligibility starting in 2021.

 

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Time to go Home!!…..✍🏾it’s official ✈️#htx #BackInDaCity 🤘🏾

A post shared by Kam Scott1️⃣3️⃣ (@spooky13season) on Jun 3, 2020 at 3:47pm PDT

Scott was a three-star member of the Class of 2018 for Missouri.  The Manvel, Tex., product was rated as the No. 60 player in the Lone Star State regardless of position.  He was also the No. 71 receiver in the country on the 247Sports.com composite.

Scott’s first two seasons in Columbia, the receiver totaled 542 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 25 receptions.  Included in that were 17 catches and 328 yards a year ago.  The latter was third on the Tigers.  The former was seventh. Which means, though, that his 19.3 yards per catch far and away led Mizzou.

The unofficial addition of Scott for Houston will serve as the second Power addition to the AAC school’s football roster in a week.  Late last month, UH confirmed that Texas Tech running back Ta'Zhawn Henry has officially signed.

Marvin Wilson one of 42 players on the Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List

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It was quite the eventful day for Marvin Wilson, and the Lott IMPACT Trophy merely added to it.

Thursday, the Lott IMPACT Trophy announced its 2020 preseason watch list.  Included in that 42-person group are 16 linebackers, 15 defensive backs and 11 defensive linemen.

According to the award’s release, the Big Ten and the ACC both have nine candidates while the Pac-12 has eight, the SEC seven, the Big 12 five, the Mountain West two, the AAC one and one independent, Notre Dame.

Defending national champion LSU is the only school to claim more than one Lott IMPACT Trophy watch lister.

Before we get to the individual players involved, a quick tutorial on what exactly the award, named in honor of the great Ronnie Lott, stands for both on and off the field:

Not only does this award honor defensive excellence on the field but the player who most represents the qualities of the honor’s namesake, former USC All-American Ronnie Lott, off of it — Integrity, Maturity, Performance, Academics, Community and Tenacity.

Now, for the 2020 Lott IMPACT Trophy watch listers.  As described by the group responsible for overseeing the Lott Impact Trophy:

Paulson Adebo, Stanford, CB, 6-1, 192, Mansfield, TX: Eight career interceptions in two seasons; All-American (second team) as a sophomore; All Pac-12 last year; Academic All-State in high school; Speaks French.

CARLOS “BOOGIE” BASHAM JR., DL, Wake Forest, 6-5, 275, Roanoke, VA: All-ACC selection; Led conference with 18 tackles for losses; 11 sacks.

TERREL BERNARD, Baylor, LB, 6-1, 222, La Porte, TX: All-Big 12 pick; All-Academic Big 12; 59 tackles, 9.5 tackles for losses, three fumble recoveries.

DICAPRIO BOOTLE, Nebraska, CB-S, 5-10, 195, Miami, FL: Academic All-Big Ten; All-Big Ten 3rd team; Nebraska Citizenship Team; Scholar Athlete; Community Involvement; Grad student.

K.J. Britt, Auburn, LB, 6-0, 230, Oxford, AL: All-SEC player; 69 tackles, 10 for losses; SEC Student-Athlete Leadership Council; SEC Academic Honor Roll, majoring in supply chain management.

Andre Cisco, Syracuse, S, 6-0, 203, Valley Stream, NY: Has 12 career interceptions in two seasons, most among active players; All-ACC last two years; All-American teams as a frosh; All-ACC Honor Roll.

Kuony Deng, Cal, LB, 6-6, 245, Aldie, VA: 119 tackles last season, (3rd in the Pac-12), 7.5 tackles for losses; 16 tackles in one game vs. Utah; Honorable Mention all-conference.

Victor Dimukeje, Duke, DE, 6-2, 265, Baltimore, MD: 122 career tackles, 24.5 career tackles for losses; majoring in evolutionary anthropology while pursuing a certificate in markets and management.

Paddy Fisher, Northwestern, LB, 6-4, 246, Katy, TX: Academic All-Big Ten; Three times All-Big Ten honors on the field; 318 career tackles; Freshman All-American when he had 113 tackles.

Justin Foster, Clemson, DE, 6-2, 265, Shelby, NC: Academic All-ACC; Honorable Mention All-ACC; 41 tackles, 10.5 for losses; 17.5 career tackles for losses.

Chauncey Golston, Iowa, DE-DT, 6-5, 270, Detroit, MI: 47 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, three fumble recoveries; High School honor society.

RICHIE GRANT, UCF, DB, 6-0, 194, Fort Walton Beach, FL: Academic All-American in 2017; six interceptions as a sophomore; 209 career tackles.

TALANOA HUFANGA, USC, S, 6-1, 220, Corvallis, OR: All-Pac-12 second team; 141 career tackles; 11 career tackles for losses; Junior.

Patrick Jones II, Pitt, DL, 6-5, 260, Chesapeake, VA: Earned status as one of the top defensive ends in the ACC…started all 13 games and compiled 43 tackles, 12 TFLs, 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and 18 QB hurries…led the Panthers in TFLs (tied), forced fumbles and hurries, while ranking second in sacks…paced the ACC and ranked sixth nationally with an average of 0.31 forced fumbles per contest…All-ACC (second team).

KEKAULA KANIHO, Boise State, DB, 5-10, 185, Kahuku, HI: Academic All-American with 3.93 grade point average; All-Mountain West performer; Has 20.5 tackles for loss, 19 passes defended and five interceptions in his career.

George Karlaftis, Purdue, DE, 6-4, 265, West Lafayette, IN: Big freshman season last year with 17 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks; Named 2nd team All-Big Ten.

CALEB KELLY, Oklahoma, LB, 6-3, 234, Fresno, CA: Chosen to AFCA Good Works team I 2018; Missed most of 2019 with injury; Grad student.

QUINTEN LAKE, UCLA, DB, 6-1, 193, Irvine, CA: Son of former Bruin All-American Carnell Lake; Three times on Athletic Director’s Academic Honor Roll; Injured most of 2019; Attended Mater Dei High School.

Nate Landman, Colorado, LB, 6-3, 230, Danville, CA: All-Pac-12 selection after 83-tackle season; Has 160 career tackles; On Lott Watch List previously.

RICHARD LECOUNTE, Georgia, S, 5-11, 190, Riceboro, GA: Had two interceptions in Sugar Bowl win over Baylor; four interceptions for the season; 75 tackles as a sophomore led team, 61 tackles last year; Voted most improved defensive player in 2019.

DEMONTE MEEKS, Air Force, LB, 6-1, 235, Maple Heights, OH: 98 tackles led the team, 9 tackles for losses; Majoring in civil engineering with minor in Portuguese.

Dimitri Moore, Vanderbilt, LB, 6-3, 230, Cedar Hill, TX: Led team with 99 tackles; SEC Academic Honor Roll; Pianist.

Dylan Moses, Alabama, LB, 6-3, 235, Baton Rouge, LA: One of the top recruits in the nation in 2017; Led Tide with 86 tackles in 2018 season; Had 10 tackles for losses; All-SEC second team; 2nd team All-American; Butkus Finalist as a sophomore; Injured and missed all of last season; Pre-season All-American for 2020.

Israel Mukuamu, South Carolina, CB, 6-4, 205, Bossier City, LA: All-SEC (2nd team); 45 tackles, four interceptions, 13 passes defended; SEC Academic Honor Roll.

AMEN OGBONGBEMIGA, Oklahoma State, LB, 6-1, 231, Calgary, AB: Had 15.5 tackles for losses among 100 total tackles; Defensive MVP; Team Captain; Three-time Academic All-Big 12.

Levi Onwuzurike, Washington, DE, 6-3, 293, Allen, TX: CoSIDA Academic All-American District 8; Twice Academic All-Pac-12, Washington Lineman of the Year in 2019; All-Pac-12 first team; 16 career tackles for losses.

Joseph Ossai, Texas, LB, 6-4, 245, Conroe, TX: Had six tackles for loss and three sacks in Alamo Bowl win over Utah, 38-10; 90 tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss in 2019; Commissioner’s Honor Roll; Wants to start a foundation to help kids coming into the country; He is from Nigeria.

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, Notre Dame, Rover, 6-1, 216, Hampton, VA: Can play multiple positions on defense; Had team-best 80 tackles last season with 13.5 for losses.

Micah Parsons, Penn State, LB, 6-3, 245, Harrisburg, PA: Big Ten Linebacker of the Year; All-American; 109 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 4 forced fumbles; Junior.

Kwity Paye, Michigan, DE, 6-4, 277, Providence, RI: Led Wolverines with 12.5 tackles for losses; Added 6.5 sacks; All-Big Ten (second team); Two-time All-Big Ten Academic honoree.

HAMILCAR RASHED, JR., LB, Oregon State, 6-4, 238: Led the nation with 22.5 tackles for loss last year; Has 34 tackles for loss in his career; Had 14 sacks last season and made All-Pac-12 and several All-American teams; Active in local community projects.

Gregory Rousseau, Miami, DE, 6-7, 253, Coconut Creek, FL: Pre-season All-American, Frosh All-American last year, ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year, Second-team All-American; 19.5 tackles for loss, 154.5 sacks (2nd in nation); Redshirt sophomore.

Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin, LB, 6-2, 232, Deer Park, IL: As a sophomore led the team in tackles with 80; Had 9 tackles for losses and added three interceptions.

Antjuan Simmons, Michigan State, LB, 6-0, 216, Ann Arbor, MI: Had 15 tackles for loss; team-high 90 tackles; Honorable Mention All-Big Ten.

JaCoby Stevens, LSU, S, 6-1, 228, Murfreesboro, TN: All-SEC (2nd team); 85 tackles, 8.5 for losses, 4 interceptions last year; 127 career tackles; community-oriented.

Darius Stills, West Virginia, DE, 6-1, 282, Fairmont, WV: All Big-12 performer; 47 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks last season.

Derek Stingley Jr., LSU, CB, 6-1, 190, Baton Rouge, LA: Consensus All-American as a freshman last year; Led the SEC with six interceptions; Had 27 interceptions in high school; Grandfather Derek Stingley played for the New England Patriots and was paralyzed when tackled by Jack Tatum of the Raiders.

Tre Swilling, Georgia Tech, DB, 6-0, 200, New Orleans, LA: ACC Academic Honor Roll; Broke up 10 passes and defended 11 more, both team highs; Father Pat was an All-American at Tech and is in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon, LB, 6-5, 250, Los Angeles, CA: Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2019; Freshman All-American; 14 tackles for loss and 9 sacks last season; 54 career sacks at Oaks Christian High School in L.A.

Shaun Wade, Ohio State, CB, 6-1, 195, Jacksonville, FL: Pre-season All-American; 3rd team All Big-Ten last year.

Garret Wallow, TCU, LB-S, 6-2, 230, New Orleans, LA: No. 9 in the nation with 125 tackles last year and No. 9 with 18.5 tackles for losses; All Big-12 first team.

MARVIN WILSON, Florida State, DL, 6-5, 310, Houston, TX; Pre-season All-American; Bednarik semi-finalist last year, All-ACC selection; Team Captain.

Utah suspends DC Morgan Scalley over 2013 text that contained racist language

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Utah football is the latest to experience that what happened in the past can surface in the present.

This week, Oregon State dismissed tight end Rocco Carley after a racist audio recording came to light.  Friday, Utah announced that defensive coordinator Morgan Scalley has been suspended by the football program, effective immediately.  According to athletic director Mark Harlan, a 2013 text message that contained racist language triggered the suspension.

Below is Harlan’s statement, in its entirety:

On Wednesday night, I was made aware of a social media post that referenced a 2013 text message that included racist language, sent by our football program’s defensive coordinator, Morgan Scalley.  I initiated conversations with our campus partners, including President Watkins, and we agreed to have an outside firm review this matter, to seek further details and determine whether this was an isolated incident.

Coach Scalley and I have spoken.  He is very contrite and acknowledged that the text was sent and that it did include a derogatory and painful word.

The use of any form of racist language is not only antithetical to our policies and values, but is an affront to us all, especially our African-American community members.  While the review of this matter is being conducted, I have placed Morgan on suspension effective immediately.

Both Scalley and Utah head football coach Kyle Whittingham released their own statements as well.

SCALLEY
In 2013 I made a terrible mistake. I used a racial slur in a text message. This language is offensive and hurtful to not only the African-American community, but to all. Immediately after sending it, I apologized to the recipient and his family. I am also heartbroken over the potential breach of trust with my fellow coaches, and with the young men in our program, both past and present.

I am truly sorry, and I own up to the hurtful effects of my choice,” Scalley continued. “Through my actions and words going forward, I will demonstrate that my use of that slur in 2013 does not reflect or define who I am or what I stand for. My action is indefensible and I will use my voice and position to bring about meaningful and much-needed change. I accept the University’s suspension, and will use it as a time to reflect on my insensitive comment from 2013 and how I intend to listen and grow from this situation. I am completely against racism, and this will never happen again.

WHITTINGHAM
I was disappointed and shocked to learn this week of a text message sent by Morgan Scalley in 2013 that contained a racial slur. I take very seriously the hurt, pain and anger felt by African-Americans, and the power of words to inflict or deepen that pain. Although this incident is inconsistent with the character and conduct of the person I have known and worked closely with for more than two decades, Morgan’s use of racist language is a very serious matter and I am supportive of the suspension while a more thorough outside review is conducted.

Below is what’s believed to be the social-media missive that set the wheels of suspension in motion.

Scalley has spent the past 12 seasons (2008-19) as part of the on-field Utah football coaching staff.  The two years prior to that, he was a Utah football staffer.  On top of that,  also played his college football for the Utes from 2001-04.  The only season he hasn’t been a part of the Utes program since 2001 as either a player, staffer or coach was in 2005.

Oklahoma’s Ryan Jones is fifth Power Five transfer added by East Carolin in two months

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When it comes to Power Five transfers this cycle, not many Group of Five schools can keep u[ with East Carolina football.

In mid-April, NC State offensive lineman Justin Chase moved on to ECU. On Twitter May 7, Alabama cornerback Nigel Knott announced his commitment to the East Carolina football program.  Five days later, Arkansas running back Chase Hayden committed as well.  Not long after, offensive lineman Avery Jones confirmed his move in from North Carolina, too.

Fast-forward a month, and the Pirates are back on a Power Five kick.  On Twitter Friday,  Oklahoma’s Ryan Jones revealed that he has committed to the East Carolina football program.  In a subsequent conversation with 247Sports.com, the linebacker — who Will Likely convert to tight end/slot receiver at ECU — explained his decision.

“With the relationship I developed with [tight ends/inside receivers coach Fontel] Mines and the rest of the staff there,” Jones stated, “and the fact that it’s back in my home state where my parents can come watch every game again just like it was in high school, it really made ECU a no-brainer for me.”

Jones was a four-star member of the 2017 recruiting class for the Sooners.  The Charlotte native was rated as the No. 6 player regardless of position in the Tar Heel State.

Jones took a redshirt as a true freshman in Norman.  The past two seasons, he started three of the 18 games in which he played.  In that action, he was credited with 36 tackles, 2½ tackles for loss and one interception.

East Carolina is coming off a 4-8 campaign in the first year under head coach Mike Houston.  Since winning 18 games in 2013-14, the Pirates have won a combined 18 games the past five seasons.