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Pitt announces addition of Arkansas transfer Will Gragg

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A little less than two months after leaving the SEC, Will Gragg has landed in the ACC.

Pitt announced in a press release Wednesday that Gragg has been added to Pat Narduzzi‘s football roster.  As Gragg, who transferred from Arkansas in mid-April, comes in as a graduate transfer, he is eligible to play for Pitt in 2018.

Not only that, but he’ll have another year of eligibility that he can use in 2019 as well.

“Our tight end room just got an immediate infusion of veteran talent with the addition of Will Gragg,” the head coach said in a statement. “He is a tremendously smart and tough competitor who will help us in the run and pass games. Will had a number of options following his graduation from Arkansas and we’re thrilled he picked Pitt to continue his academic and athletic careers.”

Pitt had been on the hunt for an experienced player at the tight end position since Chris Clark abruptly left the program in late March.

In his only action during his time with the Razorbacks, Gragg caught five passes for 61 yards in the 10 games in which he played last season.  Gragg took a redshirt as a true freshman in 2015 and did not see the field at all in 2016.

The 6-4, 231-pound Gragg was a four-star member of UA’s 2015 recruiting class who was rated as the No. 7 tight end in the country and the No. 3 player at any position in the state of Arkansas.  Only two signees in the Hogs’ class that year were rated higher than Gragg.

Record number of players on NFL’s official early-entry list for 2018 draft

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If it seemed to you like there were an inordinate number of early cannonballers jumping into the draft pool, you were correct.

Four days after the Jan. 15 deadline, the NFL Friday announced that 106 players have been granted special eligibility for the April draft.  That sets a new record for early entrants, breaking the mark of 98 set in 2014.  The past two seasons, there were 95 and 96 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.  In 2015, there were just 74.

The SEC was hit hardest by attrition with 26 players leaving early, although the ACC wasn’t far behind at 24.  The Pac-12 was next among the Power Five conferences with 17, followed by the Big 12’s 13 and the Big Ten’s 11.

Among Group of Five leagues, Conference USA lost the most with four.  The Mountain West saw three go early, with the AAC (two), MAC (one) and Sun Belt (one) coming next in line.  There were also two non-FBS players who left early, as well as two from Notre Dame.

As far as individual schools go, there were three that lost six apiece — Florida State, LSU and Texas.  Alabama lost five, while Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, and USC all lost four apiece.  Clemson, Florida, Louisville, Stanford and Tennessee were on the losing end of three players each.

In addition to the 106 granted special eligibility — they’ll be listed at the end — the NFL also granted eligibility to 13 players who the league writes “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements.” Those players are listed below:

» Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
» Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
» Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
» Will Clapp, C, LSU
» Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech
» Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
» Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
» Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
» Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
» Brian O’Neill, T, Pittsburgh
» Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
» Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
» Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Courtesy of the NFL, below is the complete list of 106 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft:

» Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
» Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, DE, Toledo
» Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
» Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
» Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
» Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
» Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
» Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest
» Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
» Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
» Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
» Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
» Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
» Geron Christian, T, Louisville
» Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
» Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
» Vosean Crumbie, DB, Nevada
» J.J. Dallas, DB, Louisiana-Monroe
» James Daniels, C, Iowa
» Sam Darnold, QB, USC
» Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
» Michael Dickson, P, Texas
» Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
» DeShon Elliott, DB, Texas
» Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
» Matt Fleming, WR, Benedictine
» Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
» Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
» Frank Ginda, LB, San Jose State
» Rasheem Green, DT, USC
» Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
» Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
» Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
» Holton Hill, DB, Texas
» Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
» Jeff Holland, LB, Auburn
» Mike Hughes, DB UCF
» Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
» Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
» Ryan Izzo, TE, FSU
» Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
» J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland
» Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
» Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
» Derwin James, DB, FSU
» Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee
» Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
» Courtel Jenkins, DT, Miami
» Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
» Ronald Jones, RB, USC
» John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
» Arden Key, LB, LSU
» Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
» Du’Vonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
» Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
» Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
» Tavares Martin, WR, Washington State
» Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State
» Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson
» Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
» R.J. McIntosh, DT, Miami
» Reginald McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
» Quenton Meeks, DB, Stanford
» Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
» D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
» Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State
» Nick Nelson, DB, Wisconsin
» Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
» Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
» Dwayne Orso-Bacchus, T, Oklahoma
» Da’Ron Payne, NT, Alabama
» Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
» Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida
» Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
» D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State
» Justin Reid, DB, Stanford
» Will Richardson, T, NC State
» Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
» Austin Roberts, TE, UCLA
» Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Miss
» Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
» Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
» Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
» Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
» Andre Smith, LB, UNC
» Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
» Van Smith, DB, Clemson
» Breeland Speaks, DE, Ole Miss
» Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
» Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
» Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
» Maea Teuhema, T, Southeastern Louisiana
» Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
» Kevin Toliver, DB, LSU
» Travonte Valentine, NT, LSU
» Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
» Vita Vea, NT, Washington
» Mark Walton, RB, Miami
» Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
» Chris Warren, RB, Texas
» Toby Weathersby, T, LSU
» Jordan Whitehead, DB, Pittsburgh
» JoJo Wicker, DT, Arizona State
» Jalen Wilkerson, DE, Florida State
» Connor Williams, T, Texas
» Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue

Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon wins FWAA Courage Award

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Wisconsin safety D’Cota Dixon has been honored by the Football Writers Association of America with the Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.

The award is given to the player that best satisfies the criteria for the award form the FWAA, including displays of courage on or of the field, overcoming injury or physical handicap, or living through hardship. Dixon’s background story is a testament to how much he has prevailed through.

“I’ve always had to face trials and tribulations in some form or matter,” Dixon said in a video feature in October. “Though I had relatives and family that were close, and I knew they loved me – I know they always meant the best and loved me — but I felt like nothing was ever stable. I felt like it was always somebody leaving.”

Dixon had a brother who was convicted of attempted murder and the Badgers safety spent his younger years in foster care while his mother struggled to provide for the family. Dixon’s father battled drug addiction. Dixon was recently reunited with his mother after 15 years on Christmas.

I feel like my hardships and trials have built me to who I am today and I’m proud of them,” Dixon said, per the FWAA. “I wouldn’t take nothing back. I wouldn’t change one thing, not one single event that ever happened in my life. I’m grateful for them, in all honesty.”

Previous winners of the FWAA Courage Award include James Conner (Pitt, 2016), Eric LeGrand (Rutgers, 2010), and the entire Tulane football team (2005).

Pitt safety Jordan Whitehead declares for NFL Draft

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After three seasons in a Pitt football uniform, safety Jordan Whitehead is ready to turn pro. Whitehead announced his intention to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft on Monday morning with a brief statement.

“After much thought and discussion with my family, I have decided to begin preparing for the next step in my career and enter the 2018 NFL Draft,” Whitehead said in a released statement, via Twitter. “It has been an honor and a privilege to play for this university, Coach [Pat Narduzzi], and this coaching staff for the past three years. I would like to thank them for giving me the opportunity of a lifetime, but feel I am ready to take the next step in achieving my dreams.”

The former ACC Rookie of the Year and three-time All-ACC player will be one of the top underclassmen at the safety position on the NFL Draft board in the spring. He is the second Pitt player to declare for the NFL a year early, joining wide receiver Quadree Henderson in doing so.

Whitehead had one interception and 60 tackles in nine games this season. Whitehead also picked up some assignments in the running game and special teams, showcasing his ability to contribute in a variety of ways for the Panthers, and that could be used to improve his draft outlook moving forward.

Pitt, Nebraska (and LSU?) among power conference teams with uphill battle to bowl season

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We are getting close to the end of September, which is the time I start taking a look at the challenges some teams will face just to get to a bowl game at the end of the year. Scanning the power conferences, there are a number of programs already on the verge of facing a bowl-less season, some more obvious than others.

Florida State starting the season 0-2 certainly looks to be in some trouble considering the Seminoles still have game sot play against Clemson and Louisville and Miami, in addition to a non-conference game against Florida at the end of the season. But I still think FSU manages to scratch together six wins by the end of the season, so I see no reason to push a panic button there just yet. But there are some ACC schools entering some rough territory.

In putting together this list, I avoided the usual suspects like Kansas and Purdue (wait, they may actually go this year) and instead focused on teams that can generally be counted on to be involved in a bowl game somewhere. I found three teams that have dug a rough hole, two who could face a difficult conference slate, and one that is two games above .500 but could stumble down the stretch. Here they are, in no particular order.

Here they are, in no particular order.

PITTSBURGH (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • RICE
  • at Syracuse
  • NC STATE
  • at Duke
  • VIRGINIA
  • UNC
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI

The Panthers defense continues to get lit up by opponents and after going 1-3 to start the year the Panthers are now facing quite an uphill battle just to get to the postseason. Pit still has a scheduled back-loaded with a road game at Virginia Tech and a home game against Miami, but before that the Panthers will host an NC State team that just won in Tallahassee and a Virginia team that may be improving if a road trip to Boise State is any indication. A road trip to Duke is no walk in the park and even Syracuse just gave LSU a mild scare in Baton Rouge.

NORTH CAROLINA (1-3)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Georgia Tech
  • NOTRE DAME
  • VIRGINIA
  • at Virginia Tech
  • MIAMI
  • at Pittsburgh
  • WESTERN CAROLINA
  • at NC State

If the Panthers have an uphill battle, then the Tar Heels may be scaling a mountain with their remaining schedule. UNC has to play on the road against Virginia Tech and equally desperate Pitt, and they also are on the road against Georgia Tech this week before hosting Notre Dame next week. Ending the season in Raleigh is tricky too. Like Pitt, the question is what five games on the remaining schedule can Tar Heel fans place much faith in going their way to go bowling this season?

TEXAS (1-2)
Wins needed: 5
Remaining schedule:

  • at Iowa State
  • KANSAS STATE
  • Oklahoma
  • OKLAHOMA STATE
  • at Baylor
  • at TCU
  • KANSAS
  • at West Virginia
  • TEXAS TECH

The Longhorns were off this week to regroup a bit after a hard-fought loss on the road against USC, but can Tom Herman find five wins in Big 12 play? Texas will obviously have to battle Oklahoma and Oklahoma State in back-to-back weeks, and now a road trip to TCU looks to be a little extra challenging, as does a late season road trip to Morgantown. And don’t forget about Kansas, because, well, you know. Picking up five wins in Big 12 play seems attainable, but there is a very slim margin for error.

NEBRASKA (2-2)
Wins needed: 4
Remaining schedule:

  • at Illinois
  • WISCONSIN
  • OHIO STATE
  • at Purdue
  • NORTHWESTERN
  • at Minnesota
  • at Penn State
  • IOWA

The Cornhuskers only need four games, but this is a team that lost at home against NIU and struggled against Rutgers in back-to-back weeks, and the crossover conference schedule does Nebraska no favors with Ohio State and Penn State appearing on the schedule that already includes division games with Wisconsin and Iowa. And this road game at Purdue looks to be more of a hurdle than most would have anticipated. This season may come down a must-win game at Minnesota.

LSU (3-1)
Wins needed: 3
Remaining schedule:

  • TROY
  • at Florida
  • AUBURN
  • at Ole Miss
  • at Alabama
  • ARKANSAS
  • at Tennessee
  • TEXAS A&M

Are we reaching to suggest that a 3-1 team is facing an uphill battle to the postseason? Maybe… not? Have you seen anything you are overly excited or optimistic about out of LSU so far this season? I think the last two weeks have soured my take on the Tigers, and I entered the season not very high on them, to begin with. Now, in conference play, I sincerely think LSU could be in for a battle just to go to a bowl game. The good news for LSU is they face some teams in hot seat situations like Arkansas, Tennessee, and Texas A&M to close out the year and all three of those games should be considered wild cards and toss-ups for all teams involved. The four-game stretch including three road games at Florida, Ole Miss, and Alabama has to see LSU grab one win if the Tigers are going to reach the postseason. And remember, because of the hurricane fiasco with last year’s schedule, LSU is playing the Gators in Gainesville this year instead of at home.