USC QB Jaxson Dart to make debut start in UCLA rivalry game

Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Growing up in northern Utah, Jaxson Dart obviously couldn’t acquire a full appreciation of what makes Southern California’s rivalry with UCLA so good.

The Trojans’ 18-year-old freshman quarterback realizes he’s about to get a crash course in the emotions and excitement of Los Angeles’ crosstown showdown.

Dart will make his first career start for USC (4-5, 3-4 Pac-12) on Saturday at the Coliseum against the Bruins (6-4, 4-3). Third-year starter Kedon Slovis is still sidelined by a lower leg injury, clearing the way for Dart to fully take charge of the Trojans’ offense after three appearances this season in relief.

“I wouldn’t really expect my first start to be in a rivalry game like this,” Dart said. “All the emotions and the history of it all. I’m just super excited for the opportunity, and I’m ready to go.”

A USC quarterback hasn’t made his first career start against UCLA since Scott Tinsley did it in 1980, but Dart isn’t completely new. He already got a good bit of playing time this season despite missing time after having surgery for a torn meniscus in his right knee in September.

Dart made an electric debut two months ago at Washington State, coming on in relief of an injured Slovis to pass for 391 yards and four touchdowns despite injuring his own knee in the first half. Dart was out for the next month, but he returned for the Trojans’ past two games.

“All it comes down to is I’m getting more reps now, so I’m able to get a better rhythm and get the feel of the offense a lot better,” he said.

Dart is used to doing surprising things: He ended up at USC after he transferred to a new high school for his senior season and promptly became the nation’s leading passer and the Gatorade National Player of the Year.

With plenty of attention late in the recruiting cycle, he ended up choosing USC over suitors including UCLA. Dart was impressed by Chip Kelly and by Jason Kaufusi, the Bruins’ outside linebackers coach, who played at the University of Utah alongside Dart’s father, safety Brandon Dart.

Despite his youth and lack of local ties, Dart has made himself right at home on USC’s downtown campus. Dart’s emergence is a bright spot in a lost season for the Trojans, who went into limbo two months ago when athletic director Mike Bohn fired coach Clay Helton two games into his seventh season in charge.

“Young kid coming from out of state, but he just fit right in,” center Brett Neilon said. “He’s friends with everyone in the whole locker room, and then when he stepped up in Washington State, it seemed like he’d already had a handful of starts under his belt. Being only 18 and leading some guys who are in their 20s is pretty great.”

Dart beat out fellow touted newcomer Miller Moss for the backup job and then seized his chance to impress USC interim coach Donte Williams, who clearly appreciates Dart’s exciting, athletic style. He’s also grateful for Dart’s role in securing Williams’ first head coaching victory in Pullman.

“I just want him to step on the field and lead us like I know he can,” Williams said.

When Dart was healthy again, Williams implemented a two-quarterback system for both games in which both Slovis and Dart were healthy, even though the arrangement didn’t make much sense to his players.

Williams has been elaborately coy this season about his players’ injury status – even more so than the average college football coach – yet he already declared Dart his starter for Saturday, saying the decision was essentially made for him by Slovis’ unavailability for practice.

“Jaxson is a very naturally confident kid, and he carries himself in a good way and expects things to go his way,” offensive coordinator Graham Harrell said. “That’s a big thing at the quarterback position.”

Dart got an extra week of preparation when the Trojans’ game at California last weekend was postponed to next month. After two full weeks running USC’s offense in practice, he’s ready to seize his moment on one of the Trojans’ biggest stages.

“I don’t really see much pressure from the outside,” Dart said. “My expectation is to have a big game.”

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.