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USC reportedly set to remain in Texas Tech family by hiring Graham Harrell as offensive coordinator

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Clay Helton made a masterstroke hire the first time around in securing Kliff Kingsbury‘s services to be the next USC offensive coordinator. He got the top name on the market, one that would import a new offense to the Pac-12 South that also happens to mesh perfectly with the existing talent both inside Heritage Hall and in Southern California high schools.

Turns out, the hire was a little too good, because Kingsbury left six weeks later to become the head coach of the Arizona Cardinals.

So Helton went out and got, in football parlance, Kingsbury’s younger brother.

North Texas offensive coordinator Graham Harrell is set to become USC’s new offensive coordinator, according to Adam Maya of Trojan Sports.

The Los Angeles Times on Sunday night confirmed through Harrell’s father that the two sides were in negotiations and working toward a deal.

Harrell played quarterback at Texas Tech under current Pac-12 rival Mike Leach. He also forged a brief NFL career — Harrell backed up Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, while Kingsbury briefly did the same for Tom Brady in New England — before jumping into coaching. He spent two seasons as Leach’s outside receivers coach at Washington State before returning to his native Texas as UNT’s offensive coordinator ahead of the 2016 season.

While working alongside Seth Littrell, Harrell has transformed the Mean Green offense in his three seasons in Denton. UNT leaped from 118th nationally in total offense in 2015 — the year prior to Harrell’s arrival — to 20th in 2018. North Texas also went from 124th to 26th in scoring, 119th to 30th in yards per play and 115th to 12th in passing offense.

Mean Green quarterback Mason Fine is on pace to shatter every North Texas passing and total offense record in the book. He’ll have to work similar magic with JT Daniels for Helton and company to stick around in 2020 and beyond. In starting 11 games as a true freshman, Daniels completed 59.5 percent of his 363 passes for 2,672 yards with 14 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. As a point of comparison, Fine connected on 64.6 percent of his 469 throws for 3,793 yards with 27 touchdowns versus five picks. His 291.8 yards per game were ninth nationally, while two Mean Green receivers (Rico Bussey, Jr. and Jalen Guyton) topped the 800-yard mark, something no USC receiver did in 2018.

While no deal is complete as of this writing, it certainly appears headed that way.

Nick Saban: NCAA violations led to Alabama trio’s suspensions, which could last beyond this season

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And now we know a little more of the rest of the story.

Monday night, Alabama confirmed that three players — offensive lineman Deonte Brown (pictured), offensive lineman Elliott Baker, tight end Kedrick James — had been suspended for the Dec. 29 College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.  Thursday, Nick Saban confirmed that the trio would also miss the national championship game if the Crimson Tide gets past the Sooners Saturday night.

Additionally, the head coach also confirmed that unspecified NCAA violations were at the root of the suspensions, which could extend beyond the 2018 season.

“Those things (the NCAA violations) carry certain consequences,” Saban said according to al.com. “And those players knew the situation. They made poor choices and decisions.”

The most notable name of the group is Brown, who has started five of the last six games at left guard for the Crimson Tide.  With Brown out, Lester Cotton, who lost the job to Brown midseason, is expected to take over once again against the Sooners.

James, listed as the Tide’s third-string tight end, has played in 10 games the past two seasons, with five of those appearances coming this year and five coming in 2017.  He has yet to catch a pass at the collegiate level.

Baker has yet to play a down for the Tide, although he has earned his degree from the university.

One starter among three Alabama players suspended for playoff game against Oklahoma

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Tua Tagovailoa may be full-go for Alabama’s playoff game, but a trio of his teammates won’t be.

Monday night, Alabama confirmed that three players — offensive lineman Deonte Brown, offensive lineman Elliott Baker, tight end Kedrick James — have been suspended for the Dec. 29 College Football Playoff semifinal matchup with Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl.  The only reason given was unspecified violations of team rules and policies.

The most notable name of the group is Brown, who has started five of the last six games at left guard for the Crimson Tide.  With Brown out, Lester Cotton, who lost the job to Brown midseason, is expected to take over once again against the Sooners.

James, listed as the Tide’s third-string tight end, has played in 10 games the past two seasons, with five of those appearances coming this year and five coming in 2017.  He has yet to catch a pass at the collegiate level.

Baker has yet to play a down for the Tide, although he has earned his degree from the university.

There’s no definitive word yet on any of the suspended players’ statuses moving forward should Alabama find its way past Oklahoma and advance to the national championship game next month.

Nick Saban is not the only high-profile head coach dealing with personnel issues ahead of this year’s playoff.  Earlier today, Dabo Swinney confirmed that three of his players, including All-American defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence, are facing suspensions for the playoff game against Notre Dame because of failed drug tests.

FIU shakes off slow start, leads Toledo at halftime of Bahamas Bowl

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If nothing else, it’s warm.

Thanks in very large part to FIU’s major gaffe to start the game, Toledo (7-5) jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.  After an FIU (8-4) touchdown cut the lead to three early in the second, Toledo was driving deep in FIU’s territory when their own gaffe, a Bryant Koback fumble inside the five-yard line, cost them what would’ve been a near-certain touchdown. It also ultimately cost them seven points as FIU turned around and drove 96 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.

Add it all up, and the Panthers headed into halftime with a 14-10 lead in what thus far has been a mostly listless — and sparsely-attended — Makers Wanted Bowl in the Bahamas.

In replacing James Morgan (school-record 26 touchdown passes), Christian Alexander struggled early on in the passing game but then came on late, finishing the half 8-of-16 passing for 93 yards.  Alexander connected with Sterling Palmer on a 36-yard touchdown pass that gave the Panthers their first lead of the game  On that scoring drive, Alexander also ripped off a huge 41-yard run that flipped field position in a significant way.

After forcing a punt on the ensuing possession,

Alexander’s Toledo counterpart, Eli Peters, meanwhile, completed nine of his 18 passes for 127 yards.  The Rockets’ rushing offense couldn’t muster much, gaining just 33 yards on 16 carries.

Were it not for the first few seconds of the game, Toledo could’ve found itself in an even bigger hole at the half.  FIU received the opening kickoff, albeit very briefly as it turned out as Bryce Singleton looked utterly confused in fielding the ball and ultimately fumbled it over to Toledo inside the five-yard line.

USF makes ignominious history with loss in Gasparilla Bowl to Marshall

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History was made on Thursday night in Tampa, but it was not the kind of history any program wants to make. South Florida (7-6) became the first program to start a season with a record of 7-0 before ending the year on a six-game losing streak. The latest loss for the Bulls came on their home field in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in the form of a 38-20 loss to Marshall (9-4) Thursday night.

At one point this season, it appeared as though USF may be able to play for at least a division title in the AAC East Division, but the second half of the season was not kind to Charlie Strong and his Bulls. The second-half slide finally came to a bumpy end in the bowl game that started off on an ominous note for USF. The Bulls fell behind the Thundering Herd 21-7 in the first quarter. A fumble shortly after falling behind 7-0 led to a quick Marshall touchdown and any momentum that appeared to be gained by coming back with a touchdown drive was quickly washed away in the rain as Marshall roared right back to regain a 14-point advantage.

USF did make things a little more interesting after halftime by cutting the Marshall lead to 31-20 with Blake Barnett completing a 33-yard touchdown pass to Randall St. Felix late in the third quarter, but that would be as close as they would get. Marshall’s offensive line paved open lanes for the running game and Keion Davis put the game out of reach with a 16-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second touchdown of the game for Davis. Marshall proved to be too strong on the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football. The Herd combined for a rushing total of 282 yards while USF managed just 92 yards on the ground. Marshall did all of its scoring on the ground with Brenden Knox, Anthony Anderson and quarterback Isaiah Green all picking up rushing touchdowns to join Davis in the effort. Green also passed for 221 yards, with star receiver Tyre Brady accounting for 88 of those yards through the air.

For Marshall, although they have not played in a bowl game in seven consecutive seasons, they now own a seven-game winning streak in bowl games played that stems back to 2009. The last time Marshall ended the year with a loss in a bowl game was 2004 (of course, there were plenty of years without a bowl game at all). Doc Holliday has been the head coach for all but one of those bowl victories.

The American Athletic Conference is now 1-1 this bowl season with Tulane topping Louisiana of the Sun Belt in the Cure Bowl last weekend. Conference USA is now 2-2 this bowl season with Marshall joining UAB in the win column and North Texas and Middle Tennessee each unable to secure a bowl victory against their opponents. This was the only matchup between the AAC and Conference USA on the bowl schedule this season.

Marshall will begin the 2019 season at home on Aug. 31, 2019 with a game against VMI, followed by a road trip to Boise State in a fun little Group of Five matchup. The Herd will also face non-conference opponents from the MAC (Ohio) and AAC (Cincinnati) for a good chance to establish some bragging rights for Conference USA.

USF will also kick off the new season on Aug. 31, 2019 with a home game against the Big Ten’s Wisconsin, followed by a road game at Georgia Tech the next week.