Below are my weekly News and Notes from around the college football landscape, I typically approach my columns with a College Fantasy Football slant.
Jerome Ford to Cincinnati
The former Alabama 2018 four-star redshirt freshman was considered the 12th best all-purpose RB in the nation while being rated as the 66th best player out of Florida according to 247 Sports. He started the first game of this season when Najee Harris and Brian Robinson were suspended for the first half, but ended up seeing action in only four games total. He carried 24 times for 114 yards and three touchdowns on the year and heads to a Cincinnati program that loses All-AAC RB Mike Warren to the NFL Draft. It remains to be seen whether Ford will be granted a waiver to be eligible to play next season or whether he will serve a one-year apprenticeship before taking over for the next 3 years as HC Luke Fickell's bell cow RB1. The Bearcats ranked 25th in the nation in rushing with a 208 YPG average to go with 616 carries and thirty rushing touchdowns which will need to be accounted for by a new RB1. With Tavion Thomas in the transfer portal and Warren declaring for the draft, it's likely that #2 rusher Gerrid Doaks will handle the workload until Ford suits up. Whether in 2020 or 2021, Ford is a prime CFF dynasty target.
Chase Brice enters portal
Brice's signature moment came when he took over for an injured Trevor Lawrence in his first career start and led Clemson to a thrilling 94-yard fourth quarter drive to cap off a ten-point comeback to beat the Orange 27-23. His 4th-and-6, 20-yard completion to Tee Higgins with under three minutes left in the game displayed the kind of gumption you want to see from a young QB. He saw extensive game action this year since Clemson routinely dominated inferior ACC competition causing Lawrence to get the "Tua treatment" and sit for the fourth quarter in 11-of-14 games. Brice attempted at least seven passes in 8-of-11 appearances and finished the season with a 59% completion percentage, 581 yards passing, a 4/1 ratio and 94 yards rushing with a 6.7 YPC and a touchdown on the ground. The 6-foot-2, 230 pound former four-star recruit from Grayson High School in Georgia showed enough in his Clemson tenure to earn plenty of suitors in the portal and will be a highly sought after commodity. As a graduate transfer who completed his course requirements early, he will be able to play immediately and have two years of eligibility remaining.
Jett Duffey to Tulane - then Central Michigan
It's been quite a week for Mr. Duffey, as he was originally announced to be transferring to Tulane, but due to him apparently not meeting the enrollment requirements he was forced to look re-open his recruitment. Duffey finally signed with offensive guru HC Jim McElwain's Central Michigan team that achieved a small miracle by finishing 8-5 this year after posting a 1-11 record in 2018 under ill-fated former coach John Bonamego. CMU passed for 252 YPG while rolling up 433 YPG and 30.4 PPG in McElwain's first season at the helm. Now Duffey takes over an offense with a budding star RB in Kobe Lewis, two 800-yard wide receivers in Khalil Pimpleton and JaCorey Sullivan, and a second team All-MAC tight end in Troy Poljan. Duffey threw for over 300-yards in 6 of his last 8 starts, completing 65% of his passes for 2,840 yards and a 18/5 ration in only 10 appearances. He also chipped in with 212 yards rushing and a touchdown on the ground. Duffey slides into a perfect G5 opportunity and should put up excellent numbers in this turnkey CMU offense.
Matt Lubick to Nebraska
This news just broke as Nebraska had announced the decision to part ways with former OC Troy Walters just hours before. The move isn't surprising considering the lofty expectations for HC Scott Frost in Lincoln this past year. Fans who were expecting a potent spread attack led by a Heisman contending quarterback were instead dealt an inconsistent offense that averaged a middling 28 PPG with a lackluster defense that allowed 27.8 PPG as Nebraska languished to a 5-7 record. Lubick is a 16-year coaching vet and well regarded WR guru that has served most recently as the co-OC of Washington from 2017-18 while previously taking over the OC position at Oregon after Frost left for UCF. Frost and Lubick found ample success together back in their Oregon days, as from 2013-15 the Ducks ranked in the top-5 in both scoring and yardage under their command. Regarding the hiring process for the OC position Frost claimed that Lubick was the only person he considered for the opening. Lubick's arrival should be a boon to talented skill players QB Adrian Martinez, RB Wan'Dale Robinson and WR J.D. Spielman as Nebraska's offense should finally be able to eclipse the 30-point mark and possibly edge into the 33-35 PPG range if things break right. Lubick is also a highly regarded recruiter who will provide a shot in the arm for NU Director of Player Personnel, Sean Dillon, who helms a Nebraska recruiting department that landed an incoming 2020 class that ranked 4th in the Big Ten and 20th nationally according to 247 Sports. If things gel quickly between the reunited Frost/Lubick combo, we could see the Cornhuskers finally win the Big Ten West division.
Sterlin Gilbert to Syracuse
The well traveled Gilbert has had a tumultuous last half a decade, serving one year at Tulsa under Phillip Montgomery in 2015 before exiting under somewhat controversial circumstances to take the OC job for a faltering HC Charlie Strong at Texas in 2016. Gilbert's Longhorn offense ranked 46th nationally in scoring while Texas posted a 5-7 record. It was the final straw for HC Strong as the Gilbert/Strong combo was summarily fired from UT before quickly landing at USF where they rode former HC Willie Taggart recruits Quentin Flowers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling to a 10-2 record and 38 PPG on offense in 2017. However 2018 was a different story as USF's offense dropped almost ten points per game to 28.5 PPG, tumbling from 10th in scoring nationally in 2017 all the way to 72nd in 2018. Gilbert fled to be the HC of McNeese State in 2019 and now will attempt to resurrect the once fearsome Syracuse offense that allowed 50 sacks last season, third-worst in the nation. The Orange barely averaged 30 PPG in 2019 and ranked 69th in scoring after posting 40.2 PPG and ranking 11th nationally in scoring in 2018. Gilbert has taken fully-formed offenses and had success with them in the past, however the track record for him turning around offenses that are sputtering is not supported. I'm skeptical of Syracuse's ability to improve much upon their 2019 offensive production.
Running Backs Return!
This week five big name running backs announced their surprising returns in 2020. It speaks to the shifting NFL attitudes on the position that so many talented backs chose to forego the 2020 Draft instead opting to improve their stock for 2021. Etienne, Hubbard, Hill, Harris, Verdell are all among the upper-echelon of runners this season who will now sport a lot of hype surrounding their return next season. They will attempt to address perceived flaws and lead their respective institutions to glory while staving off challengers to their RB1 spots. For instance Etienne's return means Lyn-J Dixon went from projected Clemson workhorse to 4 touches per game. Alabama five-star recuit Trey Sanders returns from a pre-season injury and will have to wrestle for touches behind Brian Robinson as opposed to leading the backfield in Tuscaloosa. For his part Verdell has been wildly inconsistent, rushing for 1,220 yards on the year, but posting only 3 games of over 100-yards, with two of them going for over 200-yards. He needs to show that he can carry a 20-touch load week-in and week-out, and now that Herbert is gone he should get the chance. It's hard to imagine what questions Hubbard still needs to answer coming off his 2,000 yard season but with Tylan Wallace also returning and a maturing QB Spencer Sanders, Oklahoma State could make some noise in the upper-ranks of the BIg-12. Look for LD Brown to be worked in more to keep Hubbard fresh, but is diminutive stature (5'8/170) leads me to believe he will be challenged for every down work in 2021 when Hubbard departs. It's an interesting battle to monitor for CFF dynasty purposes. Kylin Hill ran for 1,350 yards this season as Mississippi State rushed for 220 YPG, but with new HC Mike Leach in town you can expect his role to change drastically. Hill will handle the majority of reps this season but with Nick Gibson graduating, freshman Lee Witherspoon (5'10/205) is the only running back with more than 1 carry in 2019 that is returning this year. The depth chart is typically wiped clean with a new regime in town who are recruiting players to fit their system, but Witherspoon would appear to have the best shot to succeed Hill of the current options.