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  • Texas TE Beck out for season
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Texas senior tight end Andrew Beck will undergo surgery on his fractured foot this week and will miss the entire upcoming season, the school announced Wednesday.

    • Beck sustained the injury in practice last week, with initial reports having him sidelined for six to eight weeks. He has yet to use his redshirt season, which means he could return in 2018 as a fifth-year senior.

      The Longhorns will look to Syracuse graduate transfer Kendall Moore to pick up the slack in place of Beck, who reeled in four passes for 82 yards and a pair of touchdowns last season.

      Moore had 14 catches during his career with the Orange.

  • Ten freshmen set to make impact on upcoming season
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Quarterback Jalen Hurts helped lead Alabama within one second of a 15-0 season and a national championship.

    • Defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence -- 79 tackles, including seven sacks on the season -- was a key part of the Clemson effort that toppled the Crimson Tide in the title game.

      Houston's Ed Oliver was second in the nation with 23 tackles with loss.

      Four just-out-of-high-school running backs rushed for 1,000 yards. In addition to Hurts, rookies took over quarterback duties at such schools as Texas, Georgia, Ole Miss and Oregon.

      So, yes, true freshmen can -- and will -- make a huge impact on the standings and in the race for the College Football Playoff.

      We asked our network of writers at The Sports Xchange for nominations on top freshmen, and here are 10 to know heading into 2017, with an eye on influencing the top of the rankings.

      Florida State RB Cam Akers: The anxiety over the loss of running back Dalvin Cook was alleviated in the spring with the arrival of this five-star recruit who can lower his shoulder or use afterburners to pull away from defenders. Coach Jimbo Fisher has anointed junior Jacques Patrick the starter, but all eyes will be on Akers, who also shows good hands as a pass-catcher in fall camp.

      Louisville OT Mekhi Becton -- It's not as if the Cardinals' line made quarterback Lamar Jackson look good last season, as he was sacked 22 times just in the final three games. Here comes Becton (6-foot-7, 340 pounds) to hold down a tackle spot. "He's a massive individual and he doesn't have a lot of bad weight. He can really move with that frame," coach Bobby Petrino said at the ACC Kickoff event last month. Petrino said Becton reminded him of Jonathan Ogden, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

      LSU S Grant Delpit -- He fits the physical profile as the next great one in the Tigers' "Defensive Back U" tradition, with coach Ed Orgeron comparing Delpit to former LSU safety Jamal Adams. The coach adds that he considers Delpit a starter, even if it turns out that he doesn't take the first defensive snap at free safety.

      Ohio State RB J.K. Dobbins: Starter Mike Weber is coming back from a hamstring injury, but that's not why Dobbins deserves playing time. His speed and elusiveness will be evident in the opener at Indiana. "Don't get me wrong, I like Weber and think he'll put together a solid year," an NFL scout told NFLDraftScout.com. "But he better because OSU has a freshman who is going to be on his heels for playing time. I'm telling you, he's a dude. When I was in Columbus, this freshman was the guy who made me go, 'Whoa.'"

      Clemson WR Tee Higgins: How's this for bold? Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he and his coaches believe Higgins is -- or at least could be -- the best receiver they've had with the Tigers. And they have had some great ones. Higgins (6-4, 200) looks the part of a big, smooth wideout with all the right intangibles. "He's physical and I'm very encouraged by his toughness," Swinney said. "He hasn't backed down a bit. He has zero fear."

      Alabama WR Jerry Jeudy -- He was the MVP of Alabama's spring game -- and teammates say he reminds them of current Tide star wideout Calvin Ridley. But we'd be remiss if we didn't mention other Alabama true freshmen: running back Najee Harris, offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (a heartbeat away from being the starter), linebacker Dylan Moses and, perhaps even place-kicker Joseph Bulovas, competing for the starting job.

      Michigan WR Donovan Peoples-Jones: The Wolverines need a go-to receiver, and Peoples-Jones -- the top-rated receiver in the 2017 class -- has flashed that potential since spring ball. Coach Jim Harbaugh says he figures to play four true freshmen receivers this season, with Peoples-Jones and Tarik Black likely to pay the biggest dividends.

      Florida WR Kadarius Toney -- Showing tantalizing skills as a quarterback in the spring, Toney is now dropping jaws as a slot receiver and all-purpose threat for an offense needing more flash. "He needs to touch it," coach Jim McElwain said in a press conference this month. "It's pretty cool to see him out there."

      USC DT Marlon Tuipulotu -- USC is teeming with flashy offensive freshmen -- running back Stephen Carr, wideouts Randal Grimes and Joseph Lewis -- but Tuipulotu could have a bigger impact because of the need on the defensive front after losing 2016 anchor Stevie Tu'ikolovatu. If Tuipulotu doesn't start, he figures to at least time-share with senior Josh Fatu.

      Penn State CB Lamont Wade -- The Nittany Lions have been buzzing about Wade since spring ball, and a season-ending injury to cornerback John Reid upped the stakes for Wade to use his speed in the secondary right away. Penn State seeks more playmaking from its secondary, with Reid and fellow true freshman Tariq Castro-Fields at the ready.

  • No. 19 USF packs great expectations for San Jose
    By The Sports Xchange / Wednesday, August 23, 2017

    Coach Charlie Strong is well aware of the expectations in his first season at USF.

    • With 18 starters back from an 11-win team, including one of the top dual threat quarterbacks in the country, the 19th-ranked Bulls have goals higher than simply winning the American Athletic Conference title and playing in the postseason.

      A spot in one of the College Football Playoff bowls and maybe even consideration for the ultimate prize, one of the four playoff slots, is more to their thinking as the Bulls begin their 21st season of football Saturday at San Jose State.

      Strong doesn't want his players to ignore the high hopes but to handle those expectations with maturity. Avoiding complacency is a major objective.

      "Our players with them having the success they had last season and the expectations where they are right now, I told them that we have to welcome those expectations," he said. "But we have to be smart about it as well."

      And that means not taking for granted an opponent like San Jose State.

      The Spartans are coming off a 4-8 season with a coach, Brent Brennan, who goes into his first season with a veteran defense and offensive line to work with but several questions at the skill positions on offense.

      That includes quarterback, where sophomore Josh Love is the only one of four competitors who has appeared in a college game. He made one start as a freshman and threw four of his five interceptions on the season in that outing.

      In other words, he is the complete opposite of USF senior Quinton Flowers, who rushed for a team-best 1,530 yards and passed for 2,807 in 2016. His quarterback rating of 86.3 was actually a couple of points higher than Louisville's Heisman-winning Lamar Jackson.

      Flowers is the triggerman in an offense that rushed and passed for over 511 yards a game in 2016, 11th best in the country. He loses his top running back (Marlon Mack) and top receiver (Rodney Adams) but returns enough firepower and front-line strength to make the Bulls one of the most productive units in the country again.

      Among receivers back are Tyre McCants, who is healthy after catching 25 balls last season, and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who had five touchdown catches among his 22 receptions last year. Another receiver, however, Ryeshene Bronson (30 career receptions) likely will miss the game because of a shoulder injury.

      Running back is solid with D'Ernest Johnson (543 rushing yards last year) looks to step in for Mack, and Darius Tice, whose 2016 season was cut short by a broken ankle, to carry the majority of the work.

      But if the Bulls are to live up to expectations, they are going to have to shore up a defense that allowed opponents an average of 482 yards a game.

      They have the makings for success with a solid linebacking corps headed by senior Auggie Sanchez and an experienced and talented secondary. They also are deeper at the tackle spots up front with returning starters Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, which should help bolster a run defense that was shredded for 196.5 yards a game.

      New line coach Sean Cronin is working a five-man rotation upfront to give Senat and Hector more opportunity to go full bore all the time.

      "I don't expect them to play like normal," Cronin said. "When you turn on the film, I don't want them to look like every D-lineman. I want them to look like they have exceptional effort."

      The key to success for the unit, however, will come down to the basics.

      "We've got to be able to tackle well," Strong said. "We have to be able to tackle. It's going to come back to gap control, just sitting in your gaps and doing your job. We cannot give up the deep ball. We cannot allow explosion plays. We just cannot allow that to happen.

      "Plus whenever we get them in the red zone, we have to be able to win in the red zone. Turnovers are always critical. You're looking to get turnovers on defense. There are just so many things. When you talk bout our plan to win, you want to go play great defense. In order to play great defense, you have to be able to tackle well and can't give up explosion plays."

  • Pitt names former USC QB Browne as starter
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    Former Southern California quarterback Max Browne was named as Pittsburgh's starting quarterback on Tuesday for its Sept. 2 opener against Youngstown State.

    • Browne, won a battle that started in the spring with Ben Dinucci for the job.

      "There's some decisions to make as coaches, and it obviously wasn't an easy one, but Max Browne is going to be our starting quarterback," Panthers coach Pat Narduzzi said after practice. "We've got a lot of confidence in him."

      After four years at USC, Browne came to Pitt last winter. He had lost the starting job with the Trojans to Sam Darnold after a loss to Stanford last September.

      Browne started three games before Darnold supplanted him. Darnold is now a Heisman Trophy candidate.

      At USC, Browne completed 58 of 93 passes for 507 yards with two touch¬downs and two interceptions last season. In two of his three starts, the Trojans were blown out by Alabama and Stanford.

      But he should feel comfortable at Pitt, which has a history of starting graduate transfer quarterbacks such as Brown. He is the third one -- Tom Savage and Nate Peterman came before him -- in the last four years.

  • College football notebook: Darnold, Barkley head preseason All-American list
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    USC quarterback Sam Darnold and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley highlight the first preseason All-America team in the history of The Associated Press.

    • The two gave college football fans a thrill at the Rose Bowl last season, with Darnold passing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans' 52-49 victory over the Nittany Lions. Barkley rushed for 194 and had three scores in the contest.

      Darnold was voted to the first team by a panel of 51 voters. He slipped past Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, who is the second-team quarterback on the teams released Tuesday.

      LSU's Derrius Guice joins Darnold and Barkley in the backfield on the first team. Washington State guard Cody O'Connell and Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky were selected to the first team after being All-Americans last year.

      The first-team defense is led by two players who were postseason All-Americans in 2016 in Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick. Florida State's secondary was well represented with cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and safety Derwin James, who missed most of last year with a knee injury.

      --Miami, needing to replace departed junior Brad Kaaya, will go with redshirt junior Malik Rosier as the starting quarterback when the Hurricanes face Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 2, the school announced.

      Rosier, who has one career start in a 2015 win over Duke, beat out redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and two true freshmen. Rosier has 370 career passing yards.

      --North Carolina State dismissed two football players and suspended three others after an investigation into an on-campus party last month.

      Freshmen Antoine Thompson and Kevince Brown were booted off the squad, while freshmen Isaiah Moore, Erin Collins and Xavier Lyas were suspended for violation of football rules in addition to the school's student-athlete code of conduct.

      The investigation began after a sexual assault charge was reported on July 22, one day following the party. The school said Tuesday's penalties were related to alcohol and marijuana being present at the party and were not associated with the sexual assault.

      Three different sexual assaults were reported in the days following the party.

  • NC State dismisses two players, suspends three more
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    North Carolina State dismissed two football players and suspended three others after an investigation into an on-campus party last month.

    • Freshmen Antoine Thompson and Kevince Brown were booted off the squad, while freshmen Isaiah Moore, Erin Collins and Xavier Lyas were suspended for violation of football rules in addition to the school's student-athlete code of conduct.

      The investigation began after a sexual assault charge was reported on July 22, one day following the party. The school said Tuesday's penalties were related to alcohol and marijuana being present at the party and were not associated with the sexual assault.

      "These actions are not regarding allegations of sexual assault," athletic director Debbie Yow said in a statement. "We reserve the right to impose additional sanctions if new violations are discovered.

      "Should any student-athlete be charged with sexual misconduct by legal authorities, he will immediately be suspended from the team. That said, it is extremely important to respect due process for the student-athletes."

      Three different sexual assaults were reported in the days following the party.

      The school said that university police are close to concluding their investigation and have turned over evidence to the Wake County District Attorney's Office.

      NC State is also conducting a Title IX investigation regarding the incident.

      Football coach Dave Doeren addressed the discipline handed down Tuesday.

      "We have a locker room full of young men committed to representing our University with integrity and respect, and have created a strong culture for NC State Football through our leadership program," Doeren said in a statement. "We had five freshmen, two of whom have been dismissed, who made poor decisions that don't align with the values of our program and each has been handled accordingly.

      "Although I've disciplined these players for violations of the Student Athlete Code of Conduct, I want to make it clear that I respect due process in the University and legal proceedings. Our players understand that I'm going be firm but fair when it comes to discipline."

  • QB Darnold, RB Barkley among preseason All-Americans
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    USC quarterback Sam Darnold and Penn State running back Saquon Barkley highlight the first preseason All-America team in the history of The Associated Press.

    • The two gave college football fans a thrill at the Rose Bowl last season, with Darnold passing for 453 yards and five touchdowns in the Trojans' 52-49 victory over the Nittany Lions. Barkley rushed for 194 and had three scores in the contest.

      Darnold was voted to the first team by a panel of 51 voters. He slipped past Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson of Louisville, who is the second-team quarterback on the teams released Tuesday.

      LSU's Derrius Guice joins Darnold and Barkley in the backfield on the first team. Guice served as the backup for the last two seasons to Leonard Fournette, who was selected with the fourth overall pick of the 2017 draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

      Washington State guard Cody O'Connell and Utah punter Mitch Wishnowsky were selected to the first team after being All-Americans last year.

      The first-team defense is led by two players who were postseason All-Americans in 2016 in Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver and Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick.

      Florida State's secondary was well represented with cornerback Tarvarus McFadden and safety Derwin James, who missed most of last year with a knee injury.

      The ACC led all conferences with seven players on the first team, followed by the SEC (five) and the Big Ten (four) and Pac-12 (four).

      FIRST TEAM

      OFFENSE

      Quarterback -- Sam Darnold, sophomore, Southern California.

      Running backs -- Saquon Barkley, junior, Penn State; Derrius Guice, junior, LSU.

      Tackles -- Orlando Brown, junior, Oklahoma; Connor Williams, junior, Texas.

      Guards -- Quenton Nelson, senior, Notre Dame; Cody O'Connell, senior, Washington State.

      Center -- Billy Price, senior, Ohio State.

      Tight end -- Mike Gesicki, junior, Penn State.

      Wide receivers -- James Washington, senior, Oklahoma State; Christian Kirk, junior, Texas A&M.

      All-purpose player -- Quadree Henderson, junior, Pittsburgh.

      Kicker -- Daniel Carlson, senior, Auburn.

      DEFENSE

      Ends -- Harold Landry, senior, Boston College; Bradley Chubb, senior, North Carolina State.

      Tackles -- Ed Oliver, sophomore, Houston; Dexter Lawrence, sophomore, Clemson.

      Linebackers -- Arden Key, junior, LSU; Josey Jewell, senior, Iowa; Azeem Victor, senior, Washington.

      Cornerbacks -- Tavarus McFadden, junior, Florida State; Jaire Alexander, junior, Louisville.

      Safeties -- Derwin James, junior, Florida State; Minkah Fitzpatrick, junior, Alabama.

      Punter -- Mitch Wishnowsky, junior, Utah.

      SECOND TEAM

      OFFENSE

      Quarterback -- Lamar Jackson, junior, Louisville.

      Running backs -- Nick Chubb, senior, Georgia; Bo Scarbrough, junior, Alabama.

      Tackles -- Mike McGlinchey, senior, Notre Dame; Jonah Williams, sophomore, Alabama.

      Guards -- Will Hernandez, senior, UTEP; Braden Smith, senior, Auburn.

      Center -- Frank Ragnow, senior, Arkansas.

      Tight end -- Troy Fumagalli, senior, Wisconsin.

      Wide receivers -- Calvin Ridley, junior, Alabama; Courtland Sutton, junior, SMU.

      All-purpose player -- Jaylen Samuels, senior, North Carolina State.

      Kicker -- Eddy Pineiro, sophomore, Florida.

      DEFENSE

      Ends -- Tyquan Lewis, senior, Ohio State; Rashan Gary, sophomore, Michigan.

      Tackles -- Christian Wilkins, junior, Clemson; Vita Vea, junior, Washington.

      Linebackers -- Micah Kiser, senior, Virginia; Tegray Scales, senior, Indiana; Cameron Smith, junior, Southern California.

      Cornerbacks -- Duke Dawson, senior, Florida; Iman Marshall, junior, Southern California.

      Safeties -- Quin Blanding, senior, Virginia; Godwin Igewbuike, senior, Northwestern.

      Punter -- JK Scott, senior, Alabama.

  • Miami tabs Rosier as starting quarterback
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    Several key quarterback competitions have been settled ... for now.

    • No. 18 Miami, needing to replace departed junior Brad Kaaya, will go with redshirt junior Malik Rosier when the Hurricanes face Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 2, the school announced Tuesday morning.

      Rosier, who has one career start in a 2015 win over Duke, beat out redshirt sophomore Evan Shirreffs and two true freshmen. Rosier has 370 career passing yards.

      Other schools announcing starting quarterbacks this week included No. 5 Clemson, No. 23 Texas, Rutgers and Utah, where coach Kyle Whittingham surprisingly went with sophomore Tyler Huntley over incumbent Troy Williams, a senior captain. Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman is third string.

      Williams started every game last season, leading the Utes to a 9-4 record despite completing only 53.1 percent of his passes for 2,757 yards.

      Huntley, who played sparingly last season as a true freshman, likely benefited from a change in offensive coordinators to Troy Taylor, who came from a pass-happy program at FCS Eastern Washington as the Utes try to upgrade their aerial attack.

      At Clemson, junior Kelly Bryant will get the first shot to fill the big shoes of Deshaun Watson. Bryant, who has had a slight lead in the race since the start of spring practice, has attempted 18 career passes.

      "Kelly Bryant is the starter," coach Dabo Swinney said in a statement. "He has earned it and I am proud of him. It has been a great competition, but this part is over."

      Swinney added that he hopes to play three quarterbacks early in the season, although the schedule is formidable after a Sept. 2 home opener vs. Kent State. The Tigers then play visiting Auburn and go to Louisville.

      Redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper will be Bryant's backup, followed closely by true freshman Hunter Johnson.

      New Texas coach Tom Herman didn't close the door on his quarterback battle, although he said returning starter Shane Buechele, a sophomore, will prepare with the first team as the Longhorns get ready for their opener against visiting Maryland on Sept. 2.

      Buechele, who completed 236 of 391 passes for 2,958 yards with 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions last season, has been competing with true freshman Sam Ehlinger since the spring.

      "As of today, Shane's starting," Herman said in his media interview after Monday's practice. "Now, does that mean he'll start against Maryland? No. But he'll take the bulk of the (No. 1) reps. And if he doesn't take advantage of them (and) Sam plays better than him, then that'll change."

      Rutgers will go with Louisville graduate transfer Kyle Bolin, who started five games for the Cardinals in 2015 but was relegated to the bench as Lamar Jackson emerged as the Heisman winner last season. Bolin beat out junior Giovanni Rescigno, who started the final five games of last season, and true freshman Johnathan Lewis.

      "Just executed; made good decisions," coach Chris Ash said Monday of Bolin. "Understands the offense. Has really good command of the offense. But it's really just about execution and making good decisions and protecting the football ... that's what separated him."

  • No. 14 Stanford opens with Rice
    By The Sports Xchange / Tuesday, August 22, 2017

    Stanford is one of the most stable football programs in the country. As for that consistency, the 14th-ranked Cardinal will try to start the 2017 regular season the same way it ended the 2016 regular season: by beating Rice.

    • Stanford had an easy time on Nov. 26, beating the visiting Owls 41-17 and then going on to beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl to finish 10-3, its fifth season of double-digit victories in coach David Shaw's six years as head coach. Rice ended 3-9.

      The teams will meet again Saturday, this time in Sydney, Australia, in a game that will begin at 10 p.m. ET.

      "This is like a bowl game for us," Shaw said. "There's an incredible amount of planning goes into it."

      Shaw commended his team for making the most of its shorter preparation time in July and August. He specifically lauded his team for its energy and focus during an intra-squad scrimmage in front of fans on August 13.

      "That's what I was commending them on," Shaw said. "I was really nervous about being able to have the kind of training camp we need to prepare for the real grind, because the season is hard. ... With fewer practices, our guys went out there, fought and scrapped."

      While running back Christian McCaffrey and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas were both top 10 picks in the NFL Draft, Shaw said earlier in the offseason that this team could be even better. It helps that McCaffrey's understudy the past two years, junior Bryce Love, has solid experience and has averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

      Love made the most of his touches last season against Rice, rushing seven times for 111 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown. Stanford had a 534 to 291 edge in total yards.

      "We'll be a different football team," Rice coach David Bailiff said in the Houston Chronicle. "We're a healthy football team and we played a lot of young ones last year, so I think we'll be a lot better this season."

      Replicating Thomas' impact with one star individual is improbable, but veteran leaders like linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri, cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, and safety Jason Reid help the continuity and prowess of the defense. Defensive lineman Harrison Phillips, who had 10 tackles for loss last season, including seven sacks, is strong up front.

      Stanford ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing 20.4 points per game.

      Both teams have intrigue at quarterback.

      Rice is turning to redshirt freshman Sam Glaesmann to replace graduated starter Tyler Stehling. Glaesmann won a three-way battle against redshirt sophomores Jackson Tyner and J.T. Granato in camp. Granato later announced he would transfer.

      Stanford has junior Keller Chryst, who went 6-0 as a starter last season, although he suffered an ACL team in the bowl game. Shaw was pleased with the way Chryst has looked driving off that leg in camp, but it remains to be seen just how Chryst will look early in the season moving in and out of the pocket.

      Chryst showed his wheels last season with a 62-yard touchdown run against the Owls.

      Stanford has its usual stout offensive line, so all signs point to a momentous game on the ground for the Cardinal. Last season, Stanford posted 373 rushing yards on 43 carries against the Owls -- that's a clip of more than 8 yards per carry -- with three touchdowns.

      Rice has good depth at running back, led by Sam Stewart, who had a team-high 479 yards in eight games last season.

      Bailiff, entering his 11th season at the school, has seen his win total decrease every season since going 10-4 in 2013. He figures playing Stanford will be a good test before his team jumps into league play at UTEP on Sept. 9.

      "Stanford's an elite football team," Bailiff said in the Chronicle.

      "We knew that when we put them on the schedule, and at the same time, I think it's one where you want to start with an elite football team because it shows us where we're strong at and what we're strong at and what we need to work at. Strong football teams expose weaknesses and we're going to need to get them corrected."

  • Beavers seeking success on the road
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    Oregon State would like to start the season by doing something it hasn't done in more than two years: win away from home.

    • The Beavers open Saturday at Colorado State, where the Rams will open a new stadium in front of a sold-out crowd. Oregon State has lost 13 consecutive road games, including an 0-11 record away from home in two seasons with Gary Andersen as the head coach.

      "We've not won a road game since we've been here. You've got to get that," Andersen said. "First you have to learn to win at home, I firmly believe that. But then you need victories on the road and to play the right way on the road."

      The Beavers only came close to winning a road game once last season, a 30-23 loss at Minnesota in the opener on the way to finishing 4-8. In their four Pac-12 road games, the closest margin of defeat for Oregon State was 11 points.

      The road only adds another challenge to Oregon State's quest to show improvement. Andersen has put the key to his team's success this year in two areas: run defense and passing offense.

      "If we don't see progress in both of those places, we'll see the same results," Andersen said.

      Colorado State will likely be an immediate test of how well the Beavers can defend the run. Oregon State returns the nucleus of its front seven from last season, when the Beavers gave up 218 rushing yards per game.

      In the passing game, the key will be junior transfer Jake Luton, who won the starting quarterback job because he offers a stronger throwing arm than the two returnees with starting experience. If Luton can offer the "explosive" plays a revamped passing attack is looking to provide, it will provide room for a talented group of running backs.

      What makes finding road success in the opener especially important is that the next two road games are at No. 24 Washington State and No. 4 USC, a pair of teams intent on contending in the Pac-12 this season. With those two games looming, a loss at Colorado State could mean the Beavers won't have a solid chance at a road win until November games at California, Arizona and Oregon, and nobody at Oregon State wants to wait that long.

      --C Sumner Houston was converted from the defensive line in the spring and took over the starting spot, so this will be the junior's first college game on offense. How he handles making the blocking calls and adjusting to an opposing defense will be a key to Oregon State's success.

      --WR Seth Collins, expected to be the starter at the slot receiver position, is doubtful for the opener with an injured hand that has kept him of practice.

      --DT Craig Evans, a junior college transfer, won't be cleared academically. He hasn't yet practiced after being expected to be in the rotation for the defensive line.

  • Huntley named surprise starter at QB for Utah
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made a surprising decision regarding his starting quarterback, announcing on Monday that sophomore Tyler Huntley would start the Utes' season opener against North Dakota.

    • Whittingham chose Huntley over last year's starting quarterback, Troy Williams, a senior and team captain who led Utah to a 9-4 record and a final No. 23 ranking last season.

      Cooper Bateman, a graduate transfer from Alabama, and the third player involved in the quarterback competition, also was passed over and will be the third-string quarterback.

      Utah is ranked No. 25 in the preseason coaches poll, but is unranked in the Associated Press poll.

      Williams passed for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns while starting all 13 games last season, when the Utes were ranked as high as 11th in the nation late in the season. Williams also rushed for 235 yards and five touchdowns for the Utes.

      Last season as a freshman, Huntley appeared in six games and attempted just seven passes for 60 yards. He completed his only pass attempt for 36 yards in last season's Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana, while Williams was 11 of 23 for 178 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. Williams was also sacked five times in that game.

      According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Williams was "fine" in the eyes of the coaching staff during the preseason, but Huntley's athleticism made him "electric."

      Huntley has adapted well to first-year offensive coordinator Troy Taylor's offense.

      "I see more things clearly now," Huntley said during camp, according to the Tribune. "The game slowed down a lot for me, and it just feels good to be out there and know what I'm doing."

      Taylor noted Huntley's improvement.

      "From the spring until now, he's almost a different guy," Taylor said last week, according to the Tribune.

  • QB Flowers, No. 19 Bulls ready to roll in opener
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    South Florida gets an opportunity to make an early statement in its quest for a major bowl game (or, dare we say it, a College Football Playoff spot) when the Bulls visit San Jose State on Saturday.

    • The Bulls and Spartans are among a handful of teams getting off to an early start by virtue of an NCAA rule change that allows teams with a 13-game regular-season schedule (like San Jose with its trip to Hawaii in October) to start the season a week early.

      For the Bulls, it's a chance to dominate and show voters they are worthy of their No. 19 national ranking, their highest preseason ranking ever, and maybe more.

      With a veteran lineup that returns 18 starters from an 11-2 team, the Bulls don't want to waste such an opportunity.

      "Now it's that time," senior quarterback Quinton Flowers said at the end of preseason camp. "You have to go out and make everything count. You have to make every moment count, every play count, every minute count."

      Flowers is the triggerman in an offense that averaged 511.5 yards a game in 2016, 11th best in the country. He loses his top running back (Marlon Mack) and top receiver (Rodney Adams) but returns enough firepower and front-line strength to make the Bulls one of the most productive units in the country again.

      If the Bulls are to take advantage of a relatively soft schedule, however, they are going to have to shore up a defense that allowed opponents an average of 482 yards a game.

      They have the makings for success on defense with a solid linebacker corps headed by senior Auggie Sanchez and an experienced and talented secondary. They also are deeper at the tackle spots up front with returning starters Deadrin Senat and Bruce Hector, which should help bolster a run defense that was shredded for 196.5 yards a game.

      New line coach Sean Cronin is working a five-man rotation up front to give Senat and Hector more opportunity to go full bore all the time.

      "I don't expect them to play like normal," Cronin said. "When you turn on the film, I don't want them to look like every D-lineman. I want them to look like they have exceptional effort."

      The Bulls also return starters at defensive end with Mike Love, whose sack secured the bowl in over South Carolina, and Kirk Livingstone. Livingstone started all 13 games as a redshirt freshman last season but sat out the spring with a shoulder injury.

      The good news for the Bulls is that Livingstone had a banner fall camp.

      "He's showing me a lot of good things right now," defensive ends coach Damon Cogdell said.

      --RB D'Ernest Johnson becomes the primary ball carrier with Marlon Mack's departure for the NFL, but he will have help with the return of Darius Tice from injury. Johnson rushed for 543 yards last year and also is an excellent pass-catcher (28 receptions for 293 yards) and return man (11.8 average on punts, 28.9 on kickoffs).

      --WR Tyre McCants leads all returning wide receivers in receptions with 25 for 384 yards and four touchdowns. He has beefed up to a reported 235 pounds on his 5-11 frame and will work as a slot receiver.

      --DE Greg Reaves has been put on scholarship after earning a spot in the rotation for the opener. Reaves played in eight games as a walk-on freshman last year. He figures to be a factor in the pass rush.

  • No. 14 Stanford ready for Down Under opener
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    Stanford is not only starting the season early, it is doing so on a different continent.

    • The 14th-ranked Cardinal, as its rival Cal did in 2016, will begin its season in Sydney, Australia. Stanford will play against the Rice Owls in a nonconference game that begins at 10 p.m. ET on Saturday.

      If there is any team that can handle a change in preparation, it is Stanford, which is one of the most stable programs in the country. The Cardinal has finished 12th or better in the AP poll five times in coach David Shaw's six seasons. Stanford has posted double-digit victories five times in that span, as well.

      Shaw commended his team for making the most of its shorter preparation time in July and August. He specifically lauded his team for its energy and focus during an intra-squad scrimmage in front of fans on August 13.

      "That's what I was commending them on," Shaw said. "I was really nervous about being able to have the kind of training camp we need to prepare for the real grind, because the season is hard. ... With fewer practices, our guys went out there, fought and scrapped."

      The good news for Stanford, which went 10-3 in 2016 and beat North Carolina in the Sun Bowl despite having star tailback Christian McCaffrey sit out, is that it has several veterans in key positions who can deal with a short training camp.

      That includes starting junior quarterback Keller Chryst. Stanford won all six games Chryst started last year, although he did tear his ACL in the bowl game. But Shaw has been pleased with the way Chryst has looked driving off that leg in summer workouts.

      While McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers) and defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (San Francisco 49ers), were both top 10 picks in the NFL Draft, Shaw said earlier in the offseason that this team could be even better. It helps that McCaffrey's understudy the past two years, junior Bryce Love, has solid experience and has averaged 7.2 yards per carry.

      Love made the most of his touches last season against Rice. Love had seven rushes for 111 yards and touchdown, with a long run of 50 yards.

      "We have really focused on starting fast," Love said. "Beyond that, going 1-0 every week is our big thing."

      Replicating Thomas' impact and output with one star individual is improbable, but veteran leaders like linebackers Peter Kalambayi and Joey Alfieri, and cornerbacks Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks, helps the continuity and prowess of the defense.

      Stanford ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense last season, allowing 20.4 points per game.

      Rice went 3-9 in 2016, finished in fifth place in Conference USA and was beaten 41-17 at Stanford Stadium in November.

  • CFB Breakouts: 20 names to know
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    Some college football players you can just see coming.

    • The guys who are not yet stars. Not even full-time starters. Guys like Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson last season. You might not have put money on him last August to win the Heisman Trophy, but he had teased just enough of his talent in the previous year to indicate that something big was brewing.

      We recently asked our network of writers at The Sports Xchange to nominate breakout players for each of the Power 5 conference teams. We've cut that list to 20 tantalizing players who have played a bit but will be way more than bit players in 2017.

      Here they are:

      Ohio State LB Dante Booker: The Buckeyes have all kinds of these likely breakout stars -- H-back Parris Campell, CB Denzel Ward, DE Nick Bosa -- but we will single out Booker, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in last season's opener. Booker can do it all at outside linebacker, at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds. "He's a big explosive athlete and he's out in space," Ohio State linebackers coach Bill Davis said.

      Alabama LB Rashaan Evans: In February he tweeted, "I'll win the Butkus Award." That's big talk from a senior who didn't make his first career start until last season's College Football Playoff ... but then he made seven tackles against Washington and 11 stops vs. Clemson. So, yeah, not a surprise if he elbows his way into the Butkus discussion.

      Florida DB Chauncey Gardner Jr.: It's Gardner's turn after the Gators sent three defensive backs into the second round of the NFL Draft. Gardner outshined them all in last season's Outback Bowl, when he took home MVP honors as a true freshman, intercepting two passes and returning one for a touchdown.

      Michigan DE Rashan Gary: This one is a given. He was the No. 1-rated recruit in 2016 who was just fine last season as a backup -- 27 tackles and one sack. Now, he'll get to be a full-time terror on an all-new, but supremely talented, Wolverines starting defensive line. "I feel like I'm stronger than I was last year by a lot," he said.

      Florida State WR Keith Gavin: The 6-foot-3 sophomore had no catches last season, but he possesses a rare combination of size and speed, and Seminoles receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey recently compared him to Terrell Owens and Dwayne Bowe. Said head coach Jimbo Fisher: "There's a warrior. ... I'd take a zillion Keith Gavins."

      USC CB Jack Jones: The next Adoree' Jackson? Jones, a sophomore, could take Jackson's place at cornerback, in the return game and as a defender who dabbles and dazzles on offense. "He's so dynamic with the ball in his hands," coach Clay Helton said.

      Oklahoma LB Caleb Kelly: Last seen making 12 tackles in the Sugar Bowl win over Auburn, the former five-star recruit is going to put up huge numbers while building off the back half of his true freshman season. Former coach Bob Stoops predicted that Kelly will be "a monster."

      Stanford RB Bryce Love: Everyone will get to know him as he takes the carries left behind by Christian McCaffrey. Love averaged 7.2 yards per carry through his first two seasons and, as coach David Shaw said, when the speedster touches the ball, "there is a gasp that you can actually hear ... because he is so explosive."

      Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf and QB Shea Patterson: We're counting both players on this list, with former five-star Patterson taking over full time after coming out of his freshman redshirt late last season and Metcalf returning after a broken foot that ended his true freshman season early. Together for the first time, there's entertainment value here with a young, pro-potential connection.

      Louisville WR Jaylen Smith: He caught 27 passes for 599 yards and six touchdowns last season, but he's the main man after Louisville lost its top three receivers from 2016. Smith is a big, physical deep threat who leads an intriguing starting wideout unit that includes jitterbug Traveon Samuel and emerging sophomore Seth Dawkins.

      Arizona RB J.J. Taylor: He was just beginning to show his incredible cuts and spins last season as a true freshman but his season ended in the fourth game because of injury. If he hadn't gotten hurt, the Wildcats might have dealt an early, playoff-killing defeat to Washington, which escaped in overtime. The irony: Taylor, the guy who is going to be breaking all kinds of defenders' ankles, suffered a broken ankle last season.

      Eight others to watch: Virginia Tech sophomore DT Tim Settle; Texas sophomore WR Collin Johnson; Maryland senior DE Jesse Aniebonam; California sophomore WR Demetris Robertson; Colorado junior CB Isaiah Oliver; Arkansas sophomore DL McTelvin Agim; Penn State sophomore WR Juwan Johnson; Auburn sophomore DE Marlon Davidson.

  • Alabama starts No. 1 in AP poll for second straight year
    By The Sports Xchange / Monday, August 21, 2017

    The Alabama Crimson Tide will start the college football season as the No. 1 team in the Associated Press preseason Top 25 poll for the second straight year.

    • The top ranking in the AP preseason media poll released Monday is Alabama's sixth time in history and fourth under coach Nick Saban.

      Alabama is the first program in 12 years to take the top spot two years in a row and will start the season ranked in the top five for the ninth consecutive time.

      The Crimson Tide, coming off a last-second loss in the national championship game to Clemson, received 52 of 61 first-place votes from the media panel and 1,513 points.

      Ohio State is ranked second, receiving three first-place votes and 1,414 points. No. 3 Florida State (four) and No. 4 USC (two) also received top votes. Defending champion Clemson begins the post-Deshaun Watson era at No. 5.

      The top five mirrors the coaches poll, which was released on Aug. 3

      Alabama opens the season against Florida State in Atlanta on Sept. 2.

      Penn State, Oklahoma, Washington, Wisconsin and Oklahoma State round out the top 10. Michigan is No. 11, followed by Auburn, LSU, Stanford, Georgia, Louisville, Florida, Miami, South Florida, Kansas State, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Texas, Washington State and Tennessee.

      Alabama is the only SEC team in the top 10, but the conference leads with six teams in the Top 25.

  • College football notebook: Ga. Tech dismisses RB Mills
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Sophomore running back Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the Georgia Tech football team on Friday for violating team rules.

    • Mills, the top B-back on the roster, was the top returning rusher for the Yellow Jackets. He compiled 771 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2016.

      Coach Paul Johnson was a supporter of Mills even in the face of discipline last season. As B-back, Mills is a central figure of the Georgia Tech option offense.

      Mills served two suspensions last season for a total of three games.

      --Penn State approved a six-year contract extension for head coach James Franklin through at least the 2022 season, the school announced.

      The new contract for the football coach will average $5.73 million per year for six years, according to Sports Illustrated and confirmed by ESPN. Franklin was scheduled to make $4.7 million this year under his previous deal.

      Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour announced the agreement after the university board unanimously approved Franklin's extension.

      "James and his staff have done an exceptional job with our football student-athletes and in all aspects of the football program," Barbour said in a statement. "His values are Penn State's values and they resonate throughout every member of the organization and team he has built. James is a tremendous leader of young men, motivating them to extend their reach and impact far beyond what they might have thought possible on the field, in the classroom and community. We are excited about continuing to work together to strive to make a lifetime of impact, win championships and celebrate many successes on and off the field along the way."

      --Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was sentenced to 15 years in prison for his role in the 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student.

      Banks was found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in June.

      Banks is the third former Vanderbilt player sentenced to jail in the case. Brandon Vandenburg previously received a 17-year sentence and Corey Batey was given a 15-year term.

      One other player, Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, also was charged and pleaded not guilty. He testified against each of the other men in hopes of securing a plea deal.

  • Stars gone but Stanford set to roll on
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Losing two first-round NFL Draft picks is difficult, but Stanford is among the most stable programs in the country and is built to absorb the departures.

    • The Cardinal will miss defensive lineman Solomon Thomas (the third overall pick in the draft) and running back/returner Christian McCaffrey (eighth overall pick), but coach David Shaw liked what he saw in camp as his team prepared for an Aug. 26 opener against Rice in Sydney, Australia.

      "I was really nervous about having the kind of training camp we need to prepare ourselves for the real grind," Shaw said. "The season's hard. Once we start, every week is going to be difficult. So you have to prepare with a tough and physical training camp. We fought and scrapped and got a lot done."

      Junior tailback Bryce Love, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry in his first two seasons, can step in for McCaffrey behind a reliable offensive line.

      Still, replacing McCaffrey is almost impossible, statistically speaking. McCaffrey set a record with 3,864 all-purpose yards in 2015. In 2016, he shook off an injury to rush for 1,596 yards and compile 16 total touchdowns.

      In 2015 and 2016, Stanford was 18-1 when McCaffrey rushed for at least 100 yards.

      But Stanford has seen Love in action and trusts him to be the featured tailback.

      "You've already seen glimpses of it," Stanford quarterback Keller Chryst said. "He got maybe five carries a game, if that, and he went 60 yards to the house on a regular basis. With more carries, more touches, that will only increase his productivity."

      Chryst's health is being monitored after he tore the ACL in his right knee during Stanford's 25-23 win over North Carolina in the Sun Bowl. So Ryan Burns, or newcomer K.J. Costello, may have a shot should Chryst's knee falters. But Shaw has happy with how well Chryst -- who went 6-0 as a starter last year -- was able to drive off that leg, and the coach was comfortable enough to make Chryst the opening-night starter.

      The Cardinal may not have a pass rusher quite like Thomas, but the secondary -- with cornerbacks Quenton Meeks and Alijah Holder, and safety Justin Reid -- is a strong point to stop prolific Pac-12 passing attacks.

      Meeks and Holder both missed time with injuries in 2016, in part why Stanford stumbled through a rough stretch before a strong finish and a 10-3 overall record, 6-3 in conference play.

      "It's an exciting group to watch, because not only are they talented, they work and they study and they have great camaraderie," Shaw said of the secondary. "I can't wait to watch those guys play."

      The favorite to lead the defensive front without Thomas is a trustworthy force in Harrison Phillips. The defensive tackle had 46 tackles, including 10 for a loss, and seven sacks in 2016.

      Stanford doesn't have much time to jell before a brutal test, as it faces USC on Sept. 9 in Los Angeles. The Pac-12's North Division champion may be decided in early November, as the Cardinal has a game against Washington State on Nov. 4 in Pullman, Wash., and returns home to host reigning champion Washington on Nov. 10 at Stanford Stadium.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Keller Chryst -- Chryst showed flashes in 2016, when he had 10 touchdown passes to just one interception. His continued growth and dependability are paramount to the Cardinal's success. Expect a continuous connection between Chryst and wide receivers Trenton Irwin and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, and tight end Dalton Schultz.

      BREAKOUT STAR: RB Bryce Love -- This season is Love's time to shine. He has the ability to turn a slight opening into a home run play. Love may not be the proven special teams aficionado that Christian McCaffrey was, but he can be the motor behind the offense and become a 1,000-plus yard rusher for the first time in his career. Plus, Love could take his turn at returning kicks. While Love isn't big and menacing, his linemen are, and Stanford would be lucky to keep the ball in Love's hands, especially with a lead.

      NEWCOMERS TO WATCH: OT Walker Little and OT Foster Sarell -- Stanford prides itself on playing veterans, while underclassmen earn their way. So while we might not see much of Little and Sarell on Stanford's proud offensive line this season, they're huge additions to the program. Sarell is the fifth-ranked overall recruit from the class of 2017, while Little was No. 9. Little is a 6-7, 304-pound product of Houston; and Sarell is a 6-7, 309-pounder from Graham, Wash.

  • Georgia Tech dismisses star RB
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Sophomore running back Dedrick Mills was dismissed from the Georgia Tech football team on Friday for violating team rules.

    • Mills, the top B-back on the roster, was the top returning rusher for the Yellow Jackets. He compiled 771 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns as a freshman in 2016.

      Coach Paul Johnson was a supporter of Mills even in the face of discipline last season. As B-back, Mills is a central figure of the Georgia Tech option offense.

      Mills served two suspensions last season for a total of three games.

      Several prominent schools made scholarship offers to Mills before he chose to sign with his home-state program, including Alabama, Auburn, Florida, Florida State and Oregon.

  • Penn State's Franklin gets rich extension
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Penn State approved a six-year contract extension for head coach James Franklin through at least the 2022 season, the school announced Friday.

    • The new contract for the football coach will average $5.73 million per year for six years, according to Sports Illustrated and confirmed by ESPN. Franklin was scheduled to make $4.7 million this year under his previous deal.

      Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour announced the agreement after the university board unanimously approved Franklin's extension.

      "James and his staff have done an exceptional job with our football student-athletes and in all aspects of the football program," Barbour said in a statement. "His values are Penn State's values and they resonate throughout every member of the organization and team he has built. James is a tremendous leader of young men, motivating them to extend their reach and impact far beyond what they might have thought possible on the field, in the classroom and community.

      "We are excited about continuing to work together to strive to make a lifetime of impact, win championships and celebrate many successes on and off the field along the way."

      The new contract places Franklin among the five highest-paid coaches in college football along with Alabama's Nick Saban, Michigan's Jim Harbaugh, Ohio State's Urban Meyer and Florida State's Jimbo Fisher, according to ESPN.

      The 45-year-old Franklin led the Nittany Lions to an 11-3 record and Rose Bowl berth (losing to USC 52-49) after winning the Big Ten championship last year. It was Penn State's first Big Ten title since 2008 and first outright championship since 1994 as the Nittany Lions ended No. 7 in the final Associated Press poll, their best finish since 2005.

      In 2016, Franklin was honored as the Sporting News National Coach of the Year and the Woody Hayes National Coach of the Year, as well as the Dave McLain Big Ten Coach of the Year and Associated Press Big Ten Coach of the Year.

      Named Penn State's 16th head football coach on Jan. 11, 2014, the Pennsylvania native Franklin has directed the Nittany Lions to three consecutive winning seasons. He owns a 25-15 record, taking over a program that had been rocked by NCAA sanctions after the Jerry Sandusky child-abuse scandal.

      "My family and I are very thankful to be a part of the Penn State community," Franklin said in a statement. "I am pleased with the progress our program has made in the community, in the classroom and on the field. I look forward to diligently working with President (Eric) Barron and Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour on implementing a plan that puts our University and our student-athletes in the best position to compete on the field and in life."

      Before coming to Penn State, Franklin turned Vanderbilt into a Top 25 program in two of his three seasons there, posting consecutive 9-4 seasons. The Commodores went to a bowl game in all three of Franklin's seasons after going 4-20 in the two seasons before he arrived in Nashville, Tenn.

      Penn State opens the 2017 season on Sept. 2 against Akron at Beaver Stadium.

  • Mora's future depends on offensive production
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    This could be a season of unrest for UCLA, or at least it appears that way heading into Jim Mora's sixth season as the Bruins' coach.

    • Mora is widely considered on the hot seat because he has only 12 wins in the last two seasons, including a 4-8 record last season when the Bruins were picked by the media to win the Pac-12 South. UCLA, despite highly touted recruiting classes each year, has not won a division title since Mora's first season in 2012. He has yet to coach the Bruins to one of the biggest bowls.

      But he does have junior quarterback Josh Rosen.

      Rosen is trying to get back to playing as he did as a freshman (passing for nearly 3,700 yards with 23 touchdowns) after an injury-marred 2016 season, when a nerve problem in his throwing shoulder sidelined him for the last six weeks.

      "We're supremely confident in our coaching staff," Rosen told the media when fall camp started.

      "I can't speak as much to the defense, but offensively, I would go to war with any one of them. We have a really good crop of core leadership in the locker room. We have the same goals and process and ideas in mind. There's no miscommunication. We all know where we want to get and how we're going to get there."

      Mora retooled his offensive staff after the Bruins finished second-to-last in the nation in rushing (only 84.3 yards a game). He calls his offensive line his "biggest concern" after the shortcomings last year running the ball and protecting the quarterback.

      Sunny Odogwu, 6-foot-8 graduate transfer from the University of Miami, gives the Bruins an experienced right tackle, likely sharing time with Kenny Lacy.

      Odogwu originally came to the United States from Nigeria at age 16 to play basketball. He followed new UCLA offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, who had the same position at Miami. Odogwu started 14 games at Miami in 2014 but suffered season-ending injuries in 2015 and 2016 before choosing to transfer to UCLA over Michigan.

      Both tackle positions and center are solidified for new offensive line coach Hank Fraley, who must judge from a three-man competition for right and left guard.

      Five running backs return with playing experience. Bolu Olorunfunmi has emerged as the starter in training camp. The junior combines a punishing style of running with a decent amount of speed.

      UCLA's schedule is not favorable for Mora to cool his hot seat. It includes difficult road games against Memphis, Stanford, Washington, Utah and USC. The Bruins open at home against Texas A&M, with another embattled coach in Kevin Sumlin. The loser of that game will fight an uphill battle for respect from fans and critics.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Josh Rosen -- The junior's ability to make plays and stay healthy will go a long way to making the Bruins contenders in the Pac-12 South. Rosen must adapt to the schemes of new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch, whose faster pace should help the potential NFL quarterback unload the ball before getting sacked. Look for the Rosen-to-Darren Andrews connection to be one of the best in the Pac-12. Rosen said he knows Andrews, a fifth-year senior receiver, is "going to be at the right place at the right time" and that they have built a chemistry.

      BREAKOUT STAR: S Nate Meadors -- After playing behind departed Fabian Moreau, Marcos Rios and Randall Goforth, Meadors, a junior, is ready to be an impact player for coach Jim Mora's defense. Despite playing in only nine games last season, Meadors totaled a respectable 35 tackles. A quarterback in high school, Meadors is known for his athleticism and speed. He also has the reputation of being a physical tackler. He tallied six defended passes in his limited time last season.

      NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DE Jaelan Phillips -- He was rated the No. 1 prospect in the country in the 247Sports composite rankings, and he didn't disappoint when he enrolled early for spring practice. He's played with the first team in fall camp, and with an electric combination of size and speed at 6-foot-5 and 255 pounds, he has a chance to be a dynamic pass-rusher from the opening game.

  • Cougars more dangerous with balanced offense
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Washington State has reasons to think of big prizes because of the return of quarterback Luke Falk, nine starters returning on defense and a running game to finally boost the Cougars' chances.

    • Running backs Jamal Morrow, Gerald Wicks, Keith Harrington and James Williams were the talk of Pullman, Wash., heading into fall camp. That is meaningful because Washington State's running game has been mostly anemic as part of Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. The Cougars ranked No. 114 nationally in rushing yards last season -- and that was a marked improvement from Leach's first four years in Pullman.

      Important to note: Although Washington State rushed for only 120 yards a game last season, Williams, Morrow and Wicks combined to average 5.8 yards per carry and were productive pass-catchers with a combined 152 receptions.

      "They're all dynamic. It's fun as heck as a coach, but it's a little bit frustrating because somehow, sometime, we've got to find two. Two or three," running backs coach Jim Mastro told the Seattle Times.

      The balance of big-play potential between the running backs and receivers makes Falk that much more dangerous. Falk finished his junior season with 4,468 passing yards and 38 touchdown passes. He had the second-best completion percentage (70.0) in school history.

      Top receivers Gabe Marks and River Cracraft have exhausted their eligibility, but Leach still has a talented array of receivers, including junior Tavares Martin (sixth last year in the Pac-12 with 64 receptions, seventh with seven touchdowns and eighth in the conference with 728 receiving yards).

      The pressure applied to quarterbacks by Washington State's defense fell off last season with 19 sacks after posting 31 in 2015. But experience is on the Cougars' side. Among the nine starters returning on defense are all the top linebackers and All-Pac-12 defensive end Hercules Mata'afa. The Cougars' opportunistic defense, with 23 takeaways last season, should prove to be ball-hawks once again.

      Washington State's schedule starts with five consecutive home games, including conference games with Oregon State and USC. The Cougars also get Stanford at home later in the season, but play five of their last seven on the road.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Luke Falk -- Falk is more than a system quarterback within Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. He is the unmistakable leader of the Cougars and will be the most valuable contributor toward a potential Pac-12 title if he stays healthy and plays to expectations. He is coming off a season of which he passed for 4,468 yards and 38 touchdowns. He had the second-best completion percentage (70.0) in school history. Instead of testing the NFL, the senior remained in Pullman, Wash., which shows his commitment to taking the program to a higher level. "Doing the same thing he has been doing, that is one of his strongest qualities," Leach said of Falk's promise in 2017.

      BREAKOUT STAR: WR Tavares Martin -- After getting fewer targets than Gabe Marks and River Cracraft -- both of whom have exhausted their eligibility -- Martin is ready to become QB Luke Falk's primary target in Mike Leach's Air Raid offense. Martin's 64 receptions for 728 yards and seven touchdowns last season was a noted increase from 2015, when he had 16 catches for 124 yards and one touchdown in 2015.

      NEWCOMER TO WATCH: S Josh Talbott -- He will compete for a starting role despite being in his first season of college football. The 6-foot freshman is known for his ability to read routes. He has tremendous closing speed on receivers. He is also physical with the ability to shed blocks. Talbott, who recorded 35 tackles and two interceptions as a senior at powerhouse Long Beach Poly (Calif.) High School, chose to sign with Washington State over Arizona, Colorado, Texas A&M, UCLA, Florida, Oklahoma and Oregon.

  • Ex-Vanderbilt player Banks gets 15 years for rape
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Former Vanderbilt football player Brandon Banks was sentenced to 15 years in prison on Friday for his role in the 2013 gang rape of an unconscious female student.

    • Banks was found guilty of aggravated rape and aggravated sexual battery in June.

      Banks is the third former Vanderbilt player sentenced to jail in the case. Brandon Vandenburg previously received a 17-year sentence and Corey Batey was given a 15-year term.

      One other player, Jaborian "Tip" McKenzie, also was charged and pleaded not guilty. He testified against each of the other men in hopes of securing a plea deal.

      Banks alleged that he feared retribution if he didn't participate in the attack on the Vanderbilt campus. However, 23 images of the rape were found on Banks' cell phone and the victim made it clear he was very much a participant.

      The victim didn't attend Friday's sentencing hearing but assistant district attorney general Jan Norman read a statement on her behalf.

      "Most of the horrible recollections that I live with are of Mr. Banks," Norman read. "His attempts to minimize the things he did in surveillance and cell-phone recordings after the fact do not change what I have seen and what four juries have seen.

      "Four years later he is still proving himself to be the person he is in those photos and videos. I ask this court not to use his transparent attempts to excuse himself as justification for leniency."

      Prosecutors suspect the victim was given a date-rape drug prior to the incident. Vanderbilt police were investigating another matter at the dorm and noticed the four players carry an unconscious woman into a room.

      The ensuing investigation uncovered more than 40 pictures and videos of the assault on the players' cell phones.

  • ASU's Graham in win-or-else mode
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    Arizona State coach Todd Graham hears the win-or-else cries from fans and, to another extent, from his own administration.

    • When athletic director Ray Anderson was asked about Graham's fate if the sixth-year coach delivered another five- or six-win season, Anderson answered, "I don't think it's any revelation to anyone that if that happens -- and unequivocally I don't think it will, I think we're going to win -- but if that happens then we'll make the prudent business decision, whatever that might be."

      Translation: Graham is on the hot season. His teams won only 11 games (6-7 in 2015 and 5-7 last year) the past two seasons after winning 10 games in each of the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

      ASU has the skill position players on offense to make the Sun Devils fun to watch at the very least, provided the offensive line makes a marked improvement in its pass protection and ability to clear running space for running backs (only 3.3 yards per carry last season). Only two starters return to a line that allowed 41 sacks last season. ASU has allowed 38 sacks or more in each of the last five seasons under Graham.

      Incumbent quarterback Manny Wilkins has held off Alabama transfer Blake Barnett in the competition through most of fall camp. Wilkins is athletic while Barnett has a stronger arm. The most productive running backs return, including Kalen Ballage and Demario Richard. Sophomore receiver N'Keal Harry can emerge as one of the best at his position in the Pac-12.

      ASU had the worst pass defense in the nation last season, allowing 357.4 yards per game and 33 touchdowns.

      The Sun Devils recruited defensive backs heavily -- signing eight -- and landed a great one in safety Alex Perry from Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School. Perry is the younger brother of Armand Perry, who would have been a redshirt junior cornerback and leader of the Sun Devil defense if he hadn't retired from football in May due to injuries.

      New defensive coordinator Phil Bennett has 37 years of coaching experience, including the last six at Baylor. The biggest key for him is improving a pass defense that yielded 13.84 yards per catch last season.

      ASU's top two tacklers -- linebackers D.J. Calhoun and safety/spur linebacker Marcus Ball -- return. Defensive linemen JoJo Wicker and Tashon Smallwood are reliable veterans, especially against the against the run.

      The Sun Devils play Pac-12 heavyweights USC, Colorado, Oregon and Washington at home. If they get through the non-conference slate -- New Mexico State and San Diego State at home; Texas Tech on the road -- without a loss, it will bode well for Graham's future.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: LB D.J. Calhoun -- ASU's defense has not the same since coach Todd Graham's first couple of seasons with the Sun Devils in 2011 and 2012. The Sun Devils need someone to be the catalyst to solidify an always-aggressive defense that ranked second-to-last in the nation last season (allowing 520.5 yards a game). Calhoun started every game in 2016 and was ASU's tackle leader with 77. He is a pass-rushing threat who has 26 career tackles for loss, including 13 sacks.

      BREAKOUT STAR: WR John Humphrey -- The speedy Oklahoma transfer (4.3 seconds in the 40) is accustomed to big-time football being with the Sooner program after a stellar high school career in Texas. He was one of the stars of the spring, catching three touchdown passes in the spring game, including two for more than 35 yards. Humphrey is eager to show what he can do in his third year of college without playing a snap yet in a live game (redshirting at Oklahoma in 2015 and sitting out last year per NCAA transfer rules).

      NEWCOMER TO WATCH: CB Alex Perry -- He's a heralded recruit from powerhouse Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School who should see immediate playing time for ASU's woeful secondary, especially with the transfer of Kareem Orr to Tennessee-Chattanooga. Perry was part of a Bishop Gorman program that ranked No. 1 nationally in 2016 by USA Today. "He's a guy that does nothing but win championships," ASU coach Todd Graham said.

  • New coach Taggart begins Ducks' revival
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    How the mighty have fallen.

    • From 2007 to 2015, the Oregon football program was as good as any in the country. The Ducks reeled off nine consecutive seasons with at least nine victories, including two appearances in national championships games, three BCS bowl victories. Quarterback Marcus Mariota won the Heisman Trophy.

      Then disaster struck last year.

      Former head coach Mark Helfrich was fired after posting a 4-8 record, including embarrassing defeats to rivals Washington (70-21) and Oregon State (34-24).

      Tasked with returning Oregon to glory is former University of South Florida head coach Willie Taggart -- and one of the first things on his agenda was changing the culture at Oregon.

      "Anytime you come into a new program, changing the culture is probably the biggest thing and the hardest thing to do," Taggart said during Pac-12 media days.

      Gone were the "Win The Day" signs posted up throughout Autzen Stadium. Replacing them are Taggart's "Do Something" mantra. The Ducks will have to wait until Sept. 2 to see if it's working.

      Oregon will open its season with three nonconference games, including showdowns against Nebraska in week two and then potential 2018 No. 1 draft pick Josh Allen of Wyoming in week three.

      The Ducks have a gruesome four-game stretch midway through the season. Oregon will face Stanford, UCLA, Utah and Washington in weeks 7-10.

      The offense will help Taggart in his effort to return Oregon to a national power. Quarterback Justin Herbert, running backs Royce Freeman and Tony Brooks-James, wide receiver Charles Nelson and an experienced offensive line should help keep the Ducks' attack among the best in the nation.

      Defensively is where Oregon fell apart last year, ranking third-worst in the nation in scoring and total defense. Taggart brought in defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt from Colorado to revamp the squad.

      Leavitt -- who is switching Oregon from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 -- has praised the play of true freshmen Thomas Graham Jr. and Jordan Scott, while sophomore linebacker Troy Dye and senior safety Tyree Robinson have taken on leadership roles.

      Expectations may be higher in Eugene than they were at the end of last year, but the Ducks will still have to go out and "do something." The Pac-12 media picked Oregon to finish fourth in the North division, although one media member picked the Ducks to win the conference.

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: RB Royce Freeman -- Freeman had an All-American campaign as a sophomore, when he ran for 1,836 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. Last year was one that Freeman would like to forget, as his injury-plagued junior season ended with 945 yards and nine touchdowns, both career-lows. Coach Willie Taggart has already made it clear that the Ducks are going to feed Freeman the ball as much as possible, and if he produces like his first two years as a Duck, look for Oregon to return to a bowl game.

      BREAKOUT STAR: WR Dillon Mitchell -- Conventional wisdom might point to a defensive player for this spot, given how bad the Ducks were defensively last year, but Mitchell's production will be the talk of the season. Oregon lost its top wide receiver when Darren Carrington was kicked off the team after a DUI arrest, so somebody must take his place -- and Mitchell is that guy. After displaying unreal athleticism in the 2016 spring game, Oregon fans have been waiting to see Mitchell in action and now they'll get their chance. Look for Mitchell to use his size (6-1, 180) to take advantage of play-action passes and lead Oregon in receiving throughout the year.

      NEWCOMER TO WATCH: DB Thomas Graham Jr. -- Graham Jr. has been one of two breakout stars so far in fall camp (DL Jordan Scott being the other). Oregon had one of the worst passing defenses in the nation last year, so the play of Graham Jr. will be important to monitor. The freshman has proven that he's not afraid to play against the best, often lining up against Mitchell, Carrington or Nelson in fall camp drills. If Graham Jr. can provide stability to Oregon's back line, look for more turnovers and energy throughout the defense.

      --LT Tyrell Crosby is healthy and back to bolster the offensive line. After missing all but two games last year with a season-ending injury, Crosby has been named to the Outland Trophy watch list this year, given annually to the nation's best interior lineman.

  • Huskies face loftier expectations after CFP berth
    By The Sports Xchange / Friday, August 18, 2017

    The pressure is now on Washington, and it will be interesting to see how the program handles heightened expectations.

    • The Huskies operated under the radar at the beginning of last season before being one of four teams to reach the College Football Playoff. Washington lost to Alabama on the big stage, but the stellar record (12-2) exceeded all the preseason forecasts.

      Now, things are different. Junior quarterback Jake Browning will try to lead the Huskies back into the CFP after setting a Pac-12 record with 43 touchdown passes last season.

      Fourth-year Washington coach Chris Petersen is trying to minimize the prognostications, but senior inside linebacker Keishawn Bierria welcomes having the target on the team's back.

      "Just being there, understanding where we were at, just makes us a lot hungrier," Bierria said at Pac-12 media day festivities. "We got a glimpse, a taste. We didn't get that full meal. Guys like me, I want it all."

      Winning it all will take a stronger effort from Browning in the big games.

      His sophomore season was splendid, but his performance was shaky in the team's losses to USC and Alabama. He tossed two interceptions in each game.

      The Huskies averaged 41.8 points per game but scored just 13 against USC and only seven against Alabama. The Crimson Tide defense had Browning off-balance and confused most of the contest.

      "I hear all the 'big game' stuff, but first of all, what do you qualify as a big game?" Browning said. "Because, for me personally, (Washington State) was a pretty big game. Stanford was a big game. Pretty much every game is a big game.

      "So if you want to make a story out of something, it's always there. I'm not spending much time thinking about it."

      Browning lost top target John Ross, who departed early for the NFL, but he still has firepower to work with in senior receiver Dante Pettis and the backfield duo of junior Myles Gaskin and senior Lavon Coleman. Highly regarded junior left tackle Trey Adams is back to anchor a solid offensive line.

      Washington has holes in the secondary after losing three starters, but sophomore safety Taylor Rapp (four interceptions) returns. Senior linebacker Azeem Victor missed the final five games of last season due to a broken leg and is back at full strength.

      Junior nose tackle Vita Vea, who had five sacks last season, is the headliner of the defensive line.

      As for those pesky expectations, Petersen makes it clear it doesn't matter to him what outsiders think.

      "There's no higher expectations in this country for Washington football," said Petersen, "than what's in our building."

      MOST IMPORTANT PLAYER: QB Jake Browning -- The Huskies rose to great heights last season behind Browning and would likely fall on hard times if he were to get injured. Browning's sensitivity about his offseason shoulder surgery makes it clear he knows deep inside that the program is highly dependent on his health. "If it was my left shoulder, no one would care," Browning said of the surgery. "Since it was my right, even I'm focused on it a little more, but it's just more to make sure I get back to where I need to be and be even better than it used to be."

      BREAKOUT STAR: CB Jordan Miller -- Washington needs to replace two standout cornerbacks, and this junior is being counted on to be a difference-maker. Miller is one of the fastest players in the program and has two career interceptions as a backup; he has looked at ease under his new role throughout fall camp. The Huskies led the Pac-12 with 19 interceptions last season and Miller's development could help the defense defend that title.

      NEWCOMER TO WATCH: TE Hunter Bryant -- The true freshman is physically ready to make an immediate contribution -- at least as a pass-catcher. The 6-foot-2, 239-pound Bryant caught 56 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns as a high school senior while earning all-state honors in Washington. Bryant is battling junior Drew Sample for the starting tight end job.