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Utah pours salt on Harbaugh’s Michigan debut, 24-17

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The long-term future looks to be in good shape for as long as Jim Harbaugh sticks around Ann Arbor. The short-term future, on the other hand, suggests there could be some tough roads ahead. The Harbaugh era at Michigan got off to a losing start Thursday night in Salt Lake City. Utah’s (1-0) defense held firm in the fourth quarter with Justin Thomas picking off a pass from Michigan (0-1) quarterback Jake Rudock and returning it for a 55-yard touchdown and later stuffing the Wolverines on a fourth and short with 5:13 to play. For a second straight season, Utah flexed its muscle against Michigan, winning this year by a final score of 24-17.

Kyle Whittingham had his Utes ready to play typical Utah football, which is to say Utah played well on defense, forced some turnovers and managed to avoid having Travis Wilson implode. Utah’s quarterback was picked off once, but he completed 24 of his 33 pass attempts as Utah kept to mostly safe plays to wear down Michigan’s defense. That meant putting the ball on the ground with Devontae Booker leading the rushing attack and Wilson taking off as well. Each had a rushing touchdown in the victory.

While Michigan will fly home with a loss, there were some bright spots worth noting. Tight end Jake Butt proved to be a reliable target for Rudock as the two connected eight times for 93 yards and a touchdown. Amara Darboh also had a good game with seven catches for 91 yards. Jabrill Peppers had a good evening, making some key plays in the second half. He also had a kick return for 36 yards. And it was encouraging to see Rudock put together some plays late in the game to at least give Michigan a chance, if they had just recovered an onside kick.

This game alone should not go far in assessing the overall strength of the Pac-12 or the Big Ten against any other conference. Those arguments will continue to play out in games to come. However, the Big Ten could have benefitted from Michigan winning this one to carry over momentum gained from last year’s postseason. Now, the Pac-12 claims another notable victory to its profile. These types of wins can end up playing a deciding factor when it comes time to weighing playoff teams against one another, even if it does not involve Utah or Michigan. So point for the Pac-12 (and Pac-12 South), and no points for the Big Ten.

Michigan will welcome Harbaugh home in Ann arbor next weekend as the Wolverines once again play a Pac-12 opponent. This time it will be Oregon State, with former Wisconsin head coach Gary Andersen making his way back to Big Ten territory almost as quickly as he left it. Michigan will have some time to work out some kinks, but BYU will offer another stiff defensive test at the end of the month before Harbaugh’s Wolverines jump into Big Ten play.

Utah will stay home next week to play Utah State. The Aggies were in a real tough battle with FCS Southern Utah, losing 9-5 at the conclusion of the Utah-Michigan game), with Chuckie Keeton having an ineffective night. Maybe Utah State wasn’t showing much to refrain from giving Utah much film? Or maybe this game will be a tad easier than initially expected for the Utes.

WVU’s season-opening opponent sees starting QB suspended

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In what could be a make or break year for head coach Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia may have caught a bit of a break to open the 2015 season.

Georgia Southern announced Wednesday that starting quarterback Kevin Ellison has been declared academically ineligible and will miss the first two games of the 2015 season.  The Sun Belt Conference school opens the year in Morgantown against WVU Sept. 5, following that up with a home game against Western Michigan Sept. 12.

Provided there are no further academic missteps, Ellison will be eligible to return for the Sept. 19 game against Citadel.

While Ellison passed for just 1,001 yards for the run-heavy Eagles, his 1,096 yards rushing were second on the team behind Matt Breida‘s 1,485 yards.  He ran for more than twice as many touchdowns (12) as he passed for (five), while his 172 carries were 44 more than his passing attempts.

Ellison, a second-team All-SBC selection, was one of just five FBS quarterbacks — Navy’s Keenan Reynolds (1,191), Boston College’s Tyler Murphy (1,184), Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas (1,086) and Nevada’s Cody Fajardo (1,046) being the others — to rush for more than 1,000 yards in 2014.  Ellison, Reynolds and Thomas all return for at least another season in 2015.

As for WVU’s rush defense, a similar one that will be going up against a GSU team that was second nationally at 381.1 yards per game?  The Mountaineers were 63rd in the country last year, giving up 168.2 ypg on the ground.

FCS-to-Ducks transfer one of 30 QBs on Unitas Award watch list

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Even as one high-profile FCS transfer has yet to be officially added to his new Power Five program’s roster, he’s still highly thought of by at least one major award.

Tuesday, the fine folks at the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award released its preseason watch list, with the annual award given to the best college senior or fourth-year junior quarterback recognizing 30 players who meet the qualifications.  And, again, those qualifications are that they are, one, a quarterback and, two, are a college senior or fourth-year junior.

Included in that group of 30 is Vernon Adams, one of the most decorated players in the Football Championship Series who announced in February of this year that he would be transferring from Eastern Washington to Oregon for his final season of collegiate eligibility.  In early July it was reported that Adams had been admitted to UO and ruled eligible to enroll in classes at the university.  However, Adams will likely miss at least the first three days of the Ducks’ summer camp that begins Aug. 10 as he cleans up one final class that will allow him formal admission and his inclusion on his new squad’s roster.

There’s also one current FCS quarterback in the group: North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz.

In addition to Adams and Wentz, 2014 Unitas finalists Cody Kessler of USC and Dak Prescott of Mississippi State are included in the initial watch list.   Last year’s winner was the man Adams will attempt to replace, Marcus Mariota.

Below is the complete list of preseason Unitas Award watch listers.  And, again, those eligible are college senior or fourth-year junior quarterbacks.

Vernon Adams, Oregon
Brandon Allen, Arkansas
Tommy Armstrong, Nebraska
Mike Bercovici, Arizona State
Trevone Boykin, TCU
Jacoby Brissett, NC State
Connor Cook, Michigan State
Brandon Doughty, WKU
Blake Frohnapfel, UMass
Everett Golson, Florida State
Taysom Hill, BYU
Kevin Hogan, Stanford
Driphus Jackson, Rice
Matt Johnson, Bowling Green
Chuckie Keeton, Utah State
Cody Kessler, USC
Gunner Kiel, Cincinnati
Fredi Knighten, Arkansas State
Joe Licata, Buffalo
Paxton Lynch, Memphis
Maty Mauk, Missouri
Dak Prescott, Mississippi State
Keenan Reynolds, Navy
Nate Sudfeld, Indiana
Zach Terrell, Western Michigan
Justin Thomas, Georgia Tech
Chad Voytik, Pittsburgh
Carson Wentz, N. Dakota State
Marquise Williams, North Carolina
Travis Wilson, Utah

Clemson paces All-ACC preseason team; Miami shut out

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Clemson was tapped by the media as the preseason favorite to win the ACC title, so it’s not surprising that the Tigers have fared well individually as well.

The ACC released its preseason all-conference team Thursday morning, with Clemson leading the way with five players landing on the first and only team.  Deshaun Watson was voted as the preseason Player of the Year, and received the expected All-ACC nod as well as 100 of the 163 voters selected the true sophomore as their first-team quarterback.  The next quarterback, Georgia Tech’s Justin Thomas, was named on 33 ballots.

Watson wasn’t the leading vote-getter, though, as that nod belongs to Pittsburgh running back James Connor, who received 148 of a possible 163 votes.  Others receiving the most votes at their position include one of Connor’s teammates, wide receiver Tyler Boyd (141), and one of the top placekickers in the history of the game, Florida State’s Robert Aguayo (141).

After Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech were next up with four players each selected.  Three of the 14 ACC teams went without representation: Boston College, Miami and Syracuse.  The interesting school in the latter group is, of course, The U.

Not only did the Hurricanes get shut out of the first team, the closest they got to landing a player on the squad was Deon Bush, whose 20 votes left him fourth amongst the safeties.  Other than Bush, Stacey Coley (21 votes, eight amongst wide receivers) Rafael Kirby (19, eighth amongst linebackers) Danny Isidora (18, ninth amongst offensive guards) KC McDermott (12, seventh amongst offensive tackles) and Brad Kaaya (10, fourth amongst quarterbacks) were the Hurricanes receiving double-digit votes.

It’s that lack of talent, or perception thereof, that will have Al Golden heading into the 2015 season on one of the hottest coaching seats in America.

2015 All-ACC Preseason Football Team

Offense
WR – Tyler Boyd, Jr., Pitt
WR – Mike Williams, Jr., Clemson
WR – Artavis Scott, So. Clemson
TE – Bucky Hodges, r-So., Virginia Tech
OT – Roderick Johnson, So., Florida State
OT – Adam Bisnowaty, r-Jr., Pitt
OG – Landon Turner, r-Sr., North Carolina
OG – Eric Mac Lain, Gr., Clemson
C – Matt Skura, r-Sr., Duke
QB – Deshaun Watson, So., Clemson
RB – James Conner, Jr., Pitt
RB – Shadrach Thornton, Sr., NC State

Defense
DE – Dadi Lhomme Nicolas. r-Sr., Virginia Tech
DE – Shaq Lawson, Jr., Clemson
DE – Sheldon Rankins, Sr., Louisville
DT – Adam Gotsis, Sr., Georgia Tech
DT – Luther Maddy, r-Sr., Virginia Tech
LB – Terrance Smith, r-Sr., Florida State
LB – Brandon Chubb, r-Sr., Wake Forest
LB – James Burgess, Sr., Louisville
CB – Jalen Ramsey, Jr., Florida State
CB – Kendall Fuller, Jr., Virginia Tech
S – Jeremy Cash, r-Sr., Duke
S – Quin Blanding, So., Virginia

Special Teams
PK – Roberto Aguayo, r-Jr., Florida State
P – Alex Kinal, r-Sr., Wake Forest
KR – Ryan Switzer, So., North Carolina

Clemson the media’s pick to claim ACC title

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If Florida State is to make it four straight ACC titles, the team riding a 24-game conference winning streak will have to do so as “underdogs.”

In the preseason polling of 158 media members covering the conference, Clemson was tabbed by 84 of them to win the ACC championship in 2015.  FSU, meanwhile, was next with 41 first-place votes, followed by 2014 Coastal champ Georgia Tech with 20.

Others receiving first-place votes included Virginia Tech (7 votes), North Carolina (3), Miami (2) and North Carolina State (1).

Virginia was the lone Coastal team to not receive any votes to win its division. In the Atlantic, only Clemson (101), FSU (56) and Louisville (one) received votes to win the division.

Clemson also claimed the media’s preseason Player of the Year honors, with quarterback Deshaun Watson (69 first-place votes) outpacing the reigning ACC POTY, Pittsburgh running back James Connor (46). A pair of cornerbacks also caught the media’s attention, with Florida State’s Jalen Ramsey (seven) and Virginia Tech’s Kendall Fuller (six) receiving nods from the media.

ACC Championship Votes
1. Clemson – 84
2. Florida State – 41
3. Georgia Tech – 20
4. Virginia Tech – 7
5. North Carolina – 3
6. Miami – 2
7. NC State – 1

Atlantic Division
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Clemson (101) – 1,032
2. Florida State (56) – 992
3. Louisville (1) – 746
4. NC State – 673
5. Boston College – 473
6. Syracuse – 291
7. Wake Forest – 217

Coastal Division
(First place votes in parenthesis)
1. Georgia Tech (96) – 991
2. Virginia Tech (44) – 841
3. Miami (7) – 632
4. Duke (4) – 615
5. North Carolina (4) – 590
6. Pitt (3) -535
7. Virginia -220

ACC Player of the Year
1. Deshaun Watson, QB, Clemson – 69
2. James Conner, RB, Pitt – 46
3. Justin Thomas, QB, Georgia Tech – 13
t-4. Jalen Ramsey, CB Florida State – 7
t-4. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami -7
t-6. Marquise Williams, QB, North Carolina – 6
t-6. Kendall Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech – 6
8. Tyler Boyd, WR, Pitt – 3
9. Jacoby Brissett, QB, NC State – 1