LSU QB Daniels on track to play against No. 8 Tennessee

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BATON ROUGE, La. – LSU starting quarterback Jayden Daniels is expected to be back this week against No. 8 Tennessee as he recovers from a knee injury that forced him out of last Saturday’s victory at Auburn, Tigers coach Brian Kelly said Monday.

Kelly added that transfer defensive back Sevyn Banks, who’d been immobilized and taken from Saturday’s game in an ambulance after a head-first tackle during the opening kickoff, was diagnosed with a bruised spine and could return to action in around five to six weeks.

Meanwhile, the LSU offensive line could get a boost from the return of guard and backup center Garrett Dellinger, who appears ready to return this week from a broken left hand, Kelly said.

“Daniels is fine,” Kelly said, describing the QB’s injury as a bursa sac issue. “It’s not structural at all. But it’s painful.

“So he was in pain,” Kelly continued. “He just felt like he was hurting the team being out there, but he felt good yesterday. The exam was clean.”

Kelly said Daniels underwent an MRI “just to make sure,” adding, “he’s now in a pretty good position where he feels like he’s 100%.”

Daniels played during most of Saturday night’s 21-17 victory, in which LSU overcame a 17-0 first-half deficit.

Daniels, an adept scrambler, rushed for 59 yards and a touchdown but struggled in the passing game, completing just eight of 20 attempts for 80 yards. Daniels was relieved by Garrett Nussmeier, who attempted five passes, completing just two for five yards.

Kelly noted that while he was happy with a victory at Auburn that included a defensive TD on a fumble return, he was far from satisfied with the state of the Tigers’ passing game.

The offensive staff is now reviewing everything from the plays they’re calling to receivers’ route running and even the strengths and weaknesses of the various players involved in the passing game.

“We’re looking at it in all those areas because this is not going to work,” Kelly said. “We can’t throw for 85 yards with the talent that we have and expect to beat the top 10 teams in the country.”

On Sunday, LSU (4-1, 2-0 SEC) entered The AP Poll for the first time this season at No. 25, just five games into Kelly’s first season on the bayou since leaving Notre Dame.

Banks, a transfer from Ohio State, had missed the first three games of the season while recovering from a knee injury before finally returning on Sept. 24 against New Mexico. That remains the only full game he’s played.

The good news, Kelly said, was that there were “no structural issues” with Banks’ spine.

“So, really fortunate and really appreciate all the help that we got from our own medical team and certainly Auburn’s as well in what was a very scary situation,” Kelly said.

Kelly added that Banks’ return-to-play protocol will be similar to that of safety Major Burns, who had a neck injury during a victory over Mississippi State on Sept. 17.

Kelly said Burns is expected to start running with the team this week and return to non-contact drills by next week.

Washington QB Michael Penix Jr. returning for 2023 season

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SEATTLE – Washington quarterback Michael Penix Jr. said Sunday he will return to the school for his sixth and final season of eligibility in 2023.

Penix announced his decision on social media and it was a surprising one at that. Penix was the national leader in passing this season, throwing for 4,354 yards and led Washington’s turnaround. The No. 12-ranked Huskies went 10-2 in the regular season, finished tied for second in the Pac-12 and will face No. 21 Texas in the Alamo Bowl.

Penix will have a chance at setting Washington’s single-season record for yards passing in the bowl game. He also threw 29 touchdowns this season. Because of his performance this season, Penix saw his NFL draft stock rise to where he was being expected to be a second-day pick at the latest.

In his announcement, Penix wrote, “As I look back on this special season we had, I realized there were so many great moments and things to celebrate, but I KNOW there is so much for out there for this team and the job is still not finished. I can’t wait to be playing in Husky Stadium for the 2023 season!”

Penix started his career at Indiana and showed flashes of stardom while also battling injuries. He transferred to Washington after the 2021 season, a move that reunited him with new Huskies’ coach Kalen DeBoer, who was Penix’s offensive coordinator for one season at Indiana.

North Texas fires Littrell after .500 record over 7 years

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DENTON, Texas – Bowl-bound North Texas has fired coach Seth Littrell, who went 44-44 over seven seasons.

University president Neal Smatresk said Sunday night that the decision to make the move came after a thorough assessment of the program.

The Mean Green are 7-6 this season after losing 48-27 to UTSA in the Conference USA championship game Friday night.

Phil Bennett, their defensive coordinator the past two seasons, was named interim head coach. North Texas plays Boise State in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 17.

The 44-year-old Littrell had one year left on his contract in what was his first head coaching job. He was the youngest coach in Conference USA and one of the youngest at the FBS level when he arrived after two seasons as offensive coordinator at North Carolina with UNT coming off a 1-11 season at the time.

While the Mean Green are going to their sixth bowl since Littrell first got there, they haven’t won any of those yet. The bowl in his debut season came after only five wins since there weren’t enough bowl-eligible teams to fill all of the slots. Consecutive nine-win seasons followed in 2017 and 2018, but they then had three consecutive losing records before this year.

North Texas also has an interim athletic director after Wren Baker was named as West Virginia’s AD last week.

Smatresk said Jared Mosley, the chief operating officer of UNT athletics, will serve as interim AD. The university is working with a search firm to find Baker’s successor.