P.J. Walker gives Rhule, Temple reason to believe

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P.J. Walker gives Rhule, Temple reason to believe

Temple football finished the 2013 season with a forgettable 2-10 record. However, the occasional flashes left head coach Matt Rhule with reason to look forward to 2014.

At the American Athletic Conference's media day in Newport, R.I. on Monday, Rhule indicated that one of the biggest reasons to be excited is quarterback P.J. Walker.

“I think his best days are certainly ahead of him,” Rhule said on ESPN’s telecast of the American’s media day.

Walker threw for over 2,000 yards, 20 touchdowns and eight interceptions in nine games during his freshman campaign. He also showed the ability to tuck the ball and run, accumulating 332 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

“I think the biggest thing for P.J. -- and it’s why I really like coaching him -- is he doesn’t want to just be a statistics guy,” Rhule said. “He’s proud of what he did last year, but I think he wants to be more than that.”

After concluding the season with a 41-21 win over Memphis and a 387-total-yard, four-score performance from Walker as high notes, Rhule has plenty reason to believe in his young quarterback.

“The ultimate statistic for that position is whether you win or not,” Rhule said. “I think you saw a little bit in the Memphis game, one of the reasons that we won that game was when he got outside the pocket, instead of trying to win it all on one play, he threw the ball away. He checked the ball down, and he realized, ‘I have a lot of good players around me, let me let them win the game.’

“That only comes with experience. That only comes with some hard losses sometimes.”

Despite having 10 losses, Temple was not simply rolling over for opponents. Last year, the Owls lost six games by one score or less.

Temple was selected to finish eighth in the 11-team American in 2014, while Cincinnati was named the favorite with 17 of a possible 30 first-place votes.

“I think the biggest thing is last year was painful at times, but what it did was it really spurred our kids forward,” Rhule said. “They recognize now what it takes to win.

“As we move forward into this season, we’re excited because we know we can compete and we know we can hang in there. Now we just have to make the plays at the end.”

Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

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USA Today Images

Louisville's Lamar Jackson wins Heisman Trophy

NEW YORK -- Lamar Jackson leapt over a loaded field of Heisman Trophy contenders early in the season and by the time he slowed down nobody could catch him.

The sensational sophomore quarterback became the first Louisville player to win the Heisman Trophy on Saturday night, beating out preseason favorite Deshaun Watson of Clemson despite some late-season struggles.

Baker Mayfield finished third and Oklahoma teammate and fellow finalist Dede Westbrook was fourth. Michigan's Jabrill Peppers was fifth.

Watson, who finished third in Heisman voting last year, led a stacked group of contenders entering this season that included five of the top seven vote-getters in 2015.

Jackson outdid them all in his first season as Louisville's full-time starter, accounting for 51 touchdowns and averaging 410 yards per game in total offense. He ultimately won going away, with 2,144 points to Watson's 1,524. By percentage of possible points received, Jackson's victory was the sixth largest in Heisman history, and he became the youngest winner at 19 years, 352 days.

Jackson is the first Heisman Trophy winner to play on a team that lost its last two games of the regular season since Tim Brown of Notre Dame in 1987. He's the first to enter the postseason without a chance to win the national title since Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M in 2012.

No matter. Jackson did so much before November it was difficult to deny him the award because of a couple of missteps at the end.

He provided a signature moment against Syracuse, hurdling a defender on his way into the end zone, and then played his best against Louisville's toughest competition.

In a romp over Florida State and a close loss at Clemson, Jackson threw for 511 yards, ran for 308 and accounted for eight touchdowns. After ripping apart Florida State in September, he earned the stamp of approval from his idol, former Virginia Tech and NFL star Mike Vick.

Jackson left that Oct. 1 game in Death Valley as a threat to run away with the Heisman, but losses to Houston and Kentucky, when he committed four turnovers, in late November provided an opportunity for others to sway voters.

Watson made the biggest surge, but ultimately fell short.

Jackson continues a recent trend of breakout stars winning the Heisman. He is the sixth player to win the award as either a redshirt freshman or sophomore, all since 2007, joining Manziel (redshirt freshman), Jameis Winston (redshirt freshman), Mark Ingram (sophomore), Sam Bradford (sophomore) and Tim Tebow (sophomore).

Jackson came to Louisville as a three-star recruit from Boynton Beach High School in Florida. Some colleges were not sold on him as a quarterback, but Jackson was such a dynamic talented Louisville coach Bobby Petrino altered his offense to accommodate Jackson's speed and elusiveness.

Jackson flashed brilliance as a freshman and showed what was to come in the Music City Bowl against Texas A&M. He had 453 total yards and led Louisville to a victory.

Still, with so many well-established stars from Watson and Mayfield to running backs Christian McCaffrey of Stanford, Dalvin Cook of Florida State and Leonard Fournette of LSU, Jackson entered the season without much fanfare.

Just the way he likes it.

Jackson spent this season adjusting to newfound fame, growing into the role of face of the team and trying to stay out of the spotlight. He said he cut down on trips to the mall to avoid the inevitable crowds he drew.

He is about to become even more popular. Especially back in Louisville, where he has another year before he can even consider his next big jump -- to the NFL.

Josh Hart's 37 points lead No. 1 Villanova to win over No. 23 Notre Dame

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The Associated Press

Josh Hart's 37 points lead No. 1 Villanova to win over No. 23 Notre Dame

NEWARK, N.J. — Josh Hart wasn’t keeping track of how many points he was accumulating on Saturday against No. 23 Notre Dame.  

All that was on the mind of the senior standout guard was doing anything he could to help protect No. 1 Villanova’s unscathed record with a win over the Fighting Irish.

And, just as he has time and time again, Hart delivered for the Wildcats.

Hart poured in a career high 37 points, pulled down 11 rebounds and dished out four assists to lead Villanova to a late 74-66 win over the Fighting Irish in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center (see Instant Replay).

Even more impressive than his career-high final scoring line was how efficient he was in getting there. Hart made all but four shots on the afternoon, going 10 of 14 from the field, three of four from beyond the arc and a perfect 14 of 14 from the charity stripe.

“I honestly didn’t know how many points I had,” Hart said. “I was just trying to make the right play.

“You have to take what the defense gives you. If all you want to do is get points and the defense takes that away then you’re frustrated and you’re not at your best. … I really attribute that to my teammates and my coaches for really helping me develop my decision making, definitely this offseason, and reading the defense and taking what I can get.”

Notre Dame gave Villanova all it could handle in the first half, building its advantage over the Wildcats to as many as 11 at 35-24 with under four minutes remaining. 

With all of the momentum in favor of the Fighting Irish and the potential of an upset growing, Hart began to take over.

Hart would score 10 of Villanova’s final 12 points in the first half, as the Wildcats kept Notre Dame in striking distance and trimmed their deficit down to five entering the break. 

And after posting 19 of his team’s 36 points in the first half, Hart was nowhere near finished on the afternoon. 

With Villanova still lingering on the short side of a 50-42 game seven minutes into the latter half, Hart scored 16 of the Wildcats’ next 21 points. Hart’s final two points of that stretch, a pair of free throws with six-plus minutes remaining, would give Villanova a lead it wouldn’t relinquish for the remainder of the game.

“His game is just matured and he makes the right play every time,” Mikal Bridges said of Hart. “If he sees an opening he’s going to go strong and aggressive. But if somebody steps up he’s going to make the right pass.”

It wasn’t just his scoring that propelled the Wildcats to their 10th win of the season, either. Hart finished with a team-high four assists, which was highlighted by a set-up on a Jalen Brunson transition lay-up that gave the Wildcats their first lead of the game at the nine minute mark of the second half. The senior guard was also active on the boards, pulling down a team-high 11.

Just two games after posting his first career triple-double, Hart, who entered the game as Villanova’s leader in points, rebounds and assists, flashed his improved all-around game once again against the Fighting Irish.

“He’s as good as any player in the country and he’s so complete,” head coach Jay Wright said. “He will do whatever it takes to win a game and he’s got the ability to do it and at the right time. He got big rebounds at the end of the game. He got offensive rebounds. He scored, passed it, made free throws. He defended [Steve] Vasturia. He did everything. He is as complete a player as we’ve ever had.”

“He’s got great strength,” Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. “Just from watching him last year and now seeing him live in front of me for two hours, there is a great mental and physical toughness and he really drives that group. He’s a great story. Here’s a guy that just got better every year.”

As Josh Hart continued to boost his campaign for National Player of the Year, the Wildcats cemented their No. 1 spot in the national college basketball polls for at least another week with a program-record tying 16th straight win dating back to last season.

Notre Dame showed that No. 1 Villanova isn’t invincible, but that’s something Hart and the Wildcats were already more than aware of.

“Not at all,” Hart said when asked if Villanova feels as if it can’t lose. “We came in and they punched us in the mouth. When you’re down 11, 12 you don’t have the mentality that you can’t lose. So we know we have to keep getting better. We can’t get complacent no matter where we are, no matter what our record is. … If we do that and play a 40-minute Villanova basketball game and a team is able to pull it out at the end, we’ll tip our hats and the next day we’re going to go and get better.”