Matt Miller

Penn State OT Donovan Smith makes surprising NFL Draft announcement

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Coming off a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl, Penn State had every reason to start feeling better about the state of the offensive line following a tumultuous season in the trenches. That concern grew once again heading to the offseason with the surprising announcement that offensive tackle Donovan Smith has decided to pass on his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft in 2015.

What makes it so surprising is few NFL draft analysts were even scouting Smith as a potential draft pick for 2015, despite being a redshirt junior. Matt Miller of Bleacher Report was one of the surprised draft gurus.

Smith has been through plenty at Penn State, playing for three different coaching staffs. He was recruited under the Joe Paterno staff, played two years for Bill O’Brien and his staff and this season for James Franklin. Perhaps he is ready to simply just move on after going through so much with this program in his time on campus.

His stock may have benefitted by returning for his final year of eligibility, especially if the offensive line was cohesive enough to allow quarterback Christian Hackenberg to improve on his stats in 2015. But the decision has been made.

Season, college career of Boise’s all-time catch leader likely over

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The season, and by extension the collegiate playing career, of one of the most productive receivers you’ve probably never heard of could very well be coming to an end.

Matt Miller aggravated a lingering ankle injury in a late-September loss to Air Force, then sat out the Oct. 4 win over Nevada.  Coming off a bye, the receiver will remain sidelined as he underwent surgery to repair ligament damage in the ankle.

Miller’s head coach sounded decidedly pessimistic that the player will be able to return to the playing field this year.

“Unless he’s an incredible healer, he’ll be out the rest of the season,” Bryan Harsin said. “He’s a leader, he’s a captain, he’s a guy that’s very productive for us and does so many things off the field. He won’t be playing for us, but he’s going to be helping us. He’ll be around here, he’s going to be a part of what we’re doing.

“The best thing we can do for him is love him up and get him healthy, then hopefully he has a chance to go on to the next level.”

As Miller has already used his redshirt, and he’s a senior, his collegiate career would come to an end if he’s unable to rehab and get back on the field this year.

Regardless, Miller will go down as one of the best, if not most underappreciated, receivers in Broncos history.

Miller would finish as BSU’s all-time leader in receptions with 244, while he would trail Titus Young‘s career record for receiving yards by 14 (3,049 to 3,063). He has caught a pass in 44 straight games, the top current streak in the country and the third-best in Mountain West history.

This season, Miller’s 461 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns are tops on the team. He’s second with 28 receptions.

The wide receiver’s head coach was decidedly pessimistic as it pertained to Miller’s availability moving forward.

The Fifth Quarter: Week 5 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

THUMBS UP

Exorcising the Raleigh ghosts
When it comes Raleigh, NC, that college town has served as Florida State’s kryptonite over the past couple of decades.  Six times since 1998 a ranked FSU squad lost to North Carolina State, the most recent coming in 2012.  The Wolfpack were looking to continue that rather bizarre run of success, jumping out to a 24-7 first-quarter lead and holding a 10-point lead with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter.

The reigning Heisman winner and one of his backfield sidekicks, however, weren’t having any of that.

In his first game since a one-game suspension, Winston tossed a pair of third-quarter touchdown passes to give the ‘Noles their first lead of the game at 42-38.  A Karlos Williams one-yard touchdown run three minutes into the fourth quarter essentially put the game away — Winston’s inexplicable interception, which had Jimbo Fisher downright irate, notwithstanding — while Williams’ 12-yard scamper with just over two minutes remaining put the exclamation point on the closer-than-it-looked 56-41 win.  Winston wound up completing 26-of-38 passes for 365 yards and four touchdowns while Williams added 126 yards and three touchdowns to stave off the upset bid.

The win kept FSU’s winning streak alive, extending its school record to 20 straight.  However, the Seminoles have already seen its stranglehold on the top spot in the Top 25 rankings loosened over the past couple of weeks; it’s highly likely that support will weaken yet again when the polls are released Sunday afternoon.  Will it be enough to knock them off the perch?  Probably not this week, but it certainly wouldn’t be surprising if a team like Oklahoma or Alabama leapfrogged the defending BCS champions.

Good gawd Gurley
You would have to do a pretty damn good job to convince me that Todd Gurley is not the best football player in the country this year.  In Georgia’s nail-biting  35-32 win over Tennessee Between the Hedges, the junior running back rushed for a career-high 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns; 129 of those yards came in the pivotal fourth quarter.  One of the scores was a 51-yard thing of beauty that put the back’s exceptional vision and cutting ability on full display.   On his next run after that, he hurdled a Vols defender on his way to a 26-yard gain midway through the fourth quarter.  Provided he stays healthy the remainder of the season, there’s simply no way Gurley won’t at least receive a mid-December invitation to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.  If Mark Richt & Company continues to feed the beast, that is.

Elementary, my dear Watson
Against North Carolina Saturday, Deshaun Watson became the first true freshman to start at quarterback for Clemson in 20 years (Nealon Greene, 1994 vs. South Carolina). Watson’s debut as a starter was a monster one as the five-star 2014 signee completed 27-of-36 passes for 434 yards and six touchdowns.  The scoring tosses are a school record for a freshman, or for any other class for that matter, as well as an ACC record for a frosh. According to a note from the school, the Tigers are now 5-12 all-time in games started by first-year freshman quarterbacks; three of those five wins have come at the expense of the Tar Heels.  Based on Watson’s play in his first outing, it appears likely he’ll get the opportunity to add to that overall win total as, barring injury, there’s little doubt it’s his job moving forward.

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CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 24 Boise State

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2013 record: 8-5 overall, 6-2 in Mountain West (2nd in Mountain division/tied 3rd in conference)
2013 postseason: Sheraton Hawai’i Bowl vs. Oregon State Beavers  (38-23 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: Not ranked
Head coach: Bryan Harsin (7-5 overall; first season at Boise State)
Offensive coordinator: Mike Sanford (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 33rd rushing offense (198.3 ypg); 27th passing offense (277.7 ypg); 20th total offense (476 ypg); 19th scoring offense (37.5 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: seven
Defensive coordinator: Marcel Yates (first season)
2013 defensive rankings: 64th rushing defense (164.2 ypg); 88th passing defense (249.2 ypg);  75th total defense (413.4 ypg); 50th scoring defense (24.8 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: eight
Location: Boise, Idaho
Stadium: Albertsons Stadium (36,387; FieldTurf)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
The Broncos’ skill positions are talented and athletic. Quarterback Grant Hedrick returns at the team’s starting quarterback. Hedrick played in all 13 games last year and threw 16 touchdowns compared to five interceptions. Hedrick is rejoined in the backfield by running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi finished second in the Mountain West Conference last year with 1,425 rushing yards. And the team’s top two receivers from last season, Matt Miller and Shane Williams-Rhodes, are also back. Miller finished last year strong with 540 receiving yards in the final four games, including a 206-yard effort against the Oregon State Beavers in the Hawai’i Bowl. The Broncos had to reshuffle their offensive line in the off season, but if they can keep Hendrick upright the Broncos will be able to score plenty of points.

THE BAD
During Chris Petersen’s eight-year tenure as head coach, last season’s defense was by far the worst unit statistically. On top of that, the unit lost a dynamic pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence to the NFL. And key pieces such as Ricky Tjong-a-Tjoe, Kharyee Marshall and Tyler Gray left after exhausting their eligibility. Last year’s group had to grow after returning four starters from the 2012 campaign. The silver lining to last year’s defensive struggles is this year’s unit is far more experienced entering the season. New defensive coordinator Marcel Yates has eight returning starters. Yates returns to Boise State after a two-year stint as Texas A&M’s co-defensive coordinator. The Aggies finished 109th in total defense last season.

THE UNKNOWN
Boise State has a new football coach for the first time since 2006. Now that Petersen finally accepted one of the rumored jobs he was so often linked to — in this case, the Unversity of Washington — the school turned toward one of its prodigal sons, Bryan Harsin. Harsin, a graduate of Boise State, served on the Broncos’ staff from 2001-10 before leaving to become the offensive coordinator at the University Texas. Harsin used Texas as a stepping stone to get his first head coaching gig at Arkansas State. Harsin spent one year leading the Red Wolves, and the team finished 7-5. Harsin is a young coach that hasn’t had much time to establish himself or an identity, and Boise State took a chance in hiring him. If Harsin blossoms like Petersen did when given the opportunity, the Broncos will continue to be successful. Otherwise, a step back will take the program out of the national spotlight.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: vs. Ole Miss, Aug. 28
The Broncos built their reputation over the past decade by stepping up big in spotlight games. For most teams, the first game of the season usually isn’t considered a “must win” contest. Most teams aren’t in the Broncos’ situation. For the Broncos to return to national prominence, they’ll need to prove they can beat a talented SEC squad during a national televised game to start the season.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back Jay Ajayi
It’s been five years since a running back won the Heisman Trophy, and only two workhorses have been handed the hardware since the turn of the century. In a sport that is consistently more about spreading defenses and throwing the football, elite running backs tend to get overlooked. Ajayi, however, is a dark horse candidate to win the award due to a nose for the end zone and punishing running style. The 216-pound back is the nation’s fifth-leading returning rusher with 1,425 yards in 2013. Ajayi is also tied for first among returning backs with 18 rushing touchdowns. Boise State has multiple games slotted in prime time. If Ajayi shines in the spotlight and the Broncos make another run toward a major bowl appearance, Ajayi could work his way into legitimate Heisman contention.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

55 receivers named to Biletnikoff watch list

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At this point, 55 names seems like a somewhat reasonable number for a watch list. It’s actually fewer than the number of players on the Rimington watch list, which goes to the nation’s top center — and, of course, teams only have one center per roster as opposed to three or four starting wide receivers.

The preseason Biletnikoff watch list:

Nelson Agholor University of Southern California Jr.
Dres Anderson University of Utah Sr.
Kenny Bell University of Nebraska Sr.
Tyler Boyd University of Pittsburgh So.
Da’Ron Brown Northern Illinois University Sr.
Rashon Ceaser University of Louisiana at Monroe Jr.
Sammie Coates Auburn University Jr.
Amari Cooper University of Alabama Sr.
Jamison Crowder Duke University Sr.
Titus Davis Central Michigan University Sr.
Geremy Davis University of Connecticut Sr.
Devante Davis University of Nevada, Las Vegas Sr.
Quinshad Davis University of North Carolina Jr.
Corey Davis Western Michigan University So.
Stefon Diggs University of Maryland Jr.
Devin Funchess University of Michigan Jr.
Antwan Goodley Baylor University Sr.
Jakeem Grant Texas Tech University Jr.
Deontay Greenberry University of Houston Jr.
Rashad Greene Florida State University Sr.
Rannell Hall University of Central Florida Sr.
Justin Hardy East Carolina University Sr.
Josh Harper California State University, Fresno Sr.
Chris Harper University of California Jr.
Nick Harwell University of Kansas Sr.
Rashard Higgins Colorado State University So.
Austin Hill University of Arizona Sr.
Christian Jones Northwestern University Sr.
Darius Joseph Southern Methodist University Jr.
Jameon Lewis Mississippi State University Sr.
Tyler Lockett Kansas State University Sr.
Matt Miller Boise State University Sr.
Ty Montgomery Stanford University Sr.
Richard Mullaney Oregon State University Jr.
Jamarcus Nelson University of Alabama at Birmingham Sr.
Levi Norwood Baylor University Sr.
DeVante Parker University of Louisville Sr.
Breshad Perriman University of Central Florida Jr.
Jamal Robinson University of Louisiana at Lafayette Sr.
Ezell Ruffin San Diego State University Sr.
Dominic Rufran University of Wyoming Sr.
Wes Saxton University of South Alabama Jr.
Jaxon Shipley University of Texas Sr.
Tommy Shuler Marshall University Sr.
Devin Smith Ohio State University Jr.
Shavarez Smith University of South Alabama Jr.
Daniel Spencer University of Houston Sr.
Jaelen Strong Arizona State University Jr.
Jordan Taylor Rice University Sr.
Laquon Treadwell University of Mississippi So.
Richy Turner University of Nevada  Sr.
Shaq Washington University of Cincinnati Sr.
Jordan Williams Ball State University Jr.
Tyler Winston San Jose State University So.
Shane Wynn Indiana University Sr.

 

Obviously, these are all talented players to make this watch list, but a wild guess at the three guys who ultimately are finalists for the award: Amari Cooper, Deontay Greenberry and Antwan Goodley.