[B][I]CFB notebook: Swinney back at Sugar Bowl after 25 years
December 29, 2017[/I][/B]
It has been 25 years, but Dabo Swinney is back in the Sugar Bowl.
Swinney, who is in his ninth season as head coach at Clemson, made his Sugar Bowl debut while a player at Alabama in 1992.
And, ironically, Clemson is playing Swinney’s alma mater, Alabama, for the right to advance to a third consecutive national championship game.
Alabama defeated Clemson 45-41 two years ago, but Swinney’s team gained a measure of revenge with a 35-31 victory against the Crimson Tide last year.
The Tigers are the No. 1 seed this time while Alabama is No. 4, but the game is expected to be close once again; in fact, Alabama is a three-point favorite.
“This will be a dandy, that’s for sure,” Swinney said.
[B]–Tennessee running back[/B] John Kelly announced on his Instagram account he will bypass his senior season and enter the NFL draft.
Kelly rushed for 778 yards and nine touchdowns as a junior. Kelly rushed for 630 yards as a sophomore on just 98 carries.
Kelly projects as a third-round pick who could move higher based on his showing at the NFL combine. Here is a list of underclassmen who have announced their intention to enter the 2018 draft. The deadline to declare is Jan. 15.
[B]–Nebraska quarterback[/B] Tanner Lee announced he will enter the NFL draft after a disappointing junior season.
Lee, who played his first two seasons at Tulane, generated preseason buzz as an NFL prospect, given his stature (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) and big arm. But while he seemed to be a good match for coach Mike Riley’s pro-style system, Lee completed just 57.5 percent of his passes and was intercepted 16 times, tied for the second-highest total in the nation.
Lee, who passed for 3,143 yards and 23 touchdowns this season, could certainly intrigue scouts because of his raw physical tools, but he projects as a free-agent prospect for now, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
–NASHVILLE, Tenn. [/B]– Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson left the Music City Bowl on the second play of the second quarter Friday with a right knee injury.
Kentucky also lost a key player when its top running back, Benny Snell, was ejected for pushing Pac-12 referee Chris Coyte. Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher also was ejected in the first half when he was called for targeting.
Thorson caught a 24-yard pass from backup running back Jeremy Larkin and was tackled by linebacker Jordan Jones near the left sideline. Thorson immediately came up and grabbed his knee in obvious pain.
The 6-4, 225-pound junior was carted off the field. Thorson completed 4 of 8 passes for 35 yards before departing. He was replaced by senior Matt Alviti.
[B][I]Bowl roundup: Penn State edges Washington
December 30, 2017[/I][/B]
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Saquon Barkley had 137 yards rushing, including a Fiesta Bowl-record 92-yard touchdown run, and No. 9 Penn State continued its mastery in the desert with a 35-28 victory over No. 11 Washington on Saturday.
Trace McSorley completed 32 of 41 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns, and Barkley had two touchdown runs as the Nittany Lions (11-2) remained perfect in seven Fiesta Bowl appearances. McSorley also rushed for 58 yards.
Myles Gaskin rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns, and his 69-yard run with 6:52 remaining brought the Huskies (10-3) within seven 35-28.
Penn State, which had a bowl record 545 yards total offense, ate up more than six minutes on the clock before Tyler Davis’ 45-yard field goal attempt was wide. But Washington’s last-ditch hook-and-ladder play ended with an interception.
[B]Iowa State 21, Memphis 20[/B]
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Allen Lazard tied a Liberty Bowl record with 10 catches for 142 yards as Iowa State capped off a turnaround season with a victory over No. 20 Memphis.
Lazard’s most important reception was one that put the Cyclones (8-5) ahead for good. He grabbed a 5-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Kempt with 4:28 left in the third quarter to make it 21-17. The ball was tipped just before it reached Lazard, who came back in from out of bounds to make the tumbling catch.
Riley Ferguson completed 21 of 33 passes for 286 yards for the Tigers (10-3), who entered with the nation’s second-highest scoring offense at 47.7 points per game. Iowa State notched six sacks and held Memphis to 53 yards rushing.
[B]No. 23 Mississippi State 31, Louisville 27[/B]
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Mark McLaurin intercepted Lamar Jackson three times as Mississippi State batted down a Hail Mary pass to preserve its victory over Louisville in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, accounted for 158 of the Cardinals’ 187 rushing yards but was intercepted four times. Jaylen Smith caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown for Louisville (8-5).
Freshman Keytaon Thompson rushed for 147 yards and three touchdowns while passing for 127 yards for the Bulldogs (9-4).
Aeris Williams ran for 88 yards and a score for Mississippi State.
[B][I]Meltdown by Richt, Hurricanes in 34-24 loss to Wisconsin
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) The Miami Hurricanes took an early 11-point lead over Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl and lost it.
Then coach Mark Richt lost it, too.
Angry that Wisconsin wasn’t flagged for holding on a pivotal play, Richt drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and grabbed head linesman Gus Morris by the arm during a sideline tirade. The Badgers scored on the next play en route to a 34-24 victory Saturday night.
Richt yelled at length at three officials, even after being restrained by Miami strength coach Gus Felder. Referee Matt Loeffler stepped in to separate Richt from Morris.
Richt was still yelling as he walked through the tunnel at the end of the first half, and his mood didn’t improve thereafter. The No. 10 Hurricanes (10-3) finished the season with three consecutive losses and were dominated in time of possession on their home field by No. 6 Wisconsin (13-1).
”I know I lost my cool,” Richt said, ”I thought rightfully so as far as being mad, but not rightfully so using some of the language I used. I’m not particularly proud of myself there. I apologize to anybody that can read lips. …
”I didn’t agree with a lot of things that were called or not called … to the very end of the game as well. It was a shame, in my opinion.”
The play that triggered Richt’s outburst came with Wisconsin leading 17-14 but facing a third and 11 in the final minute of the first half. Right tackle David Edwards grabbed defensive end Trent Harris’ right arm, giving Alex Hornibrook time to throw a 21-yard completion to the 10.
Richt drew the penalty before he touched Morris.
”That was not a factor whatsoever,” Loeffler said. ”It was an unsportsmanlike conduct foul when he came out onto the field to argue the call. We went back to the sideline, and it was over.”
Following the penalty, Hornibrook threw a touchdown pass on the next play to make it 24-14. Again Edwards appeared to hold Harris, and again there was no flag.
Another non-call came in the third quarter, when Miami’s Malik Rosier’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by Derrick Tindal. The cornerback appeared to hold intended receiver Lawrence Cager before the ball was thrown.
”Let’s just be hypothetical, OK?” Richt said, still steaming half an hour after the game. ”When the ball’s in the air, the defender’s not supposed to be able to have a lot of contact before the ball gets there. That’s not supposed to be legal. When a guy is rushing the passer and is about to get to the quarterback and somebody grabs him and keeps him from getting there right in front of the official – again, this is a hypothetical situation – that’s not supposed to be allowed either, over and over and over, in my opinion.
”That’s about how I feel right this minute. I’m sure I’ll cool down in a minute.”
The officiating crew was from the Southeastern Conference, where Richt coached at Georgia in 2001-15.
Richt’s sideline tantrum was part of a meltdown by the Hurricanes, who led 14-3 after 13 minutes. They totaled 153 yards in their first three possessions, and 3 yards in their next four series.
Rosier threw an interception in the second quarter that jump-started the Badgers’ comeback. The Hurricanes’ last chance to rally ended when Michael Badgley’s 24-yard field goal attempt clanked off the right upright with 4:34 left and Wisconsin leading 34-24.
[B][I]Monday’s Early Bowl Tips
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
[B]**Michigan vs. South Carolina**
Outback Bowl History[/B]
— The Michigan Wolverines (8-4 straight up, 5-6-1 against the spread) of the Big Ten Conference meet the South Carolina Gamecocks (8-4 straight up, 6-4-2 against the spread) of the Southeastern Conference in a Power 5 matchup at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. for the Outback Bowl. While this isn’t a playoff game, or even a premier bowl like the Orange or Cotton, let’s face it…there is a lot at ‘steak’. Get it? OK. It’s been a long bowl season writing these columns. Let’s move on – ha.
— The Big Ten is a perfect 7-0 SU/6-1 ATS, so the Wolverines are looking to cap off the bowl season in style for their conference. Michigan fired out to a 4-0 SU/2-2 ATS start this season, including a neutral-site win over Florida on Sept. 2, and a 28-10 victory at Purdue on Sept. 23. Their first loss came on Oct. 7 at home against rival Michigan State, but they rebounded the next week with an overtime win at Indiana. After a beatdown from Penn State in Happy Valley on Oct. 21, the Wolverines rattled off three straight victories. However, they stubbed their toe at Wisconsin and at home against Ohio State to close out their season.
— Michigan struggled on offense, particularly in the passing game, finishing 100th in total yards per game (354.9) and 111th in rushing yards per outing (168.6). When they were successful on offense it was in the run game, going for 186.3 yards per game to check in 39th. They averaged just 25.8 points per game to finish 84th in the country. Defense was the specialty of the Wolverines, allowing just 268.6 yards per game to rank third in the nation, and they were first in the country against the pass, allowing just 142.7 yards per contest. They weren’t too shabby against the run, either, allowing just 125.9 yards per game to rank 20th. They also gave up just 18.2 points per game to finish 12th in the nation.
— Wilton Speight is out with fractured vertebrae, so Brandon Peters will make the start under center. He was battling concussion, but he has been cleared to go. He completed 57.8 percent of his pass attempts to finish with 486 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in his brief work this season. Karan Higdon led the charge with 929 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. Chris Evans was a nice change of pace back, posting 661 yards and six scores, while Ty Isaac was good for 548 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per attempt. The team’s leading receiver was Grant Perry with 25 grabs for 307 yards and a touchdown. That’s a far cry from the days of Anthony Carter, Braylon Edwards or Desmond Howard. It’s even a far cry from the halcyon days of Devin Funchess or Amara Darboh.
— South Carolina opened the season with an impressive 35-28 win in Charlotte in a neutral-site contest, and they followed that up with a win against another bowl team, Missouri, by a 31-13 score. They lost two of three games, falling to bowl teams Kentucky and Texas A&M, but rebounded with five wins in their final seven appearances with only losses to playoff teams Georgia and Clemson. They enter the game having failed to cover in each of the past two while the ‘under’ connected in each outing.
— Like Michigan, South Carolina struggled on offense. The Gamecocks ranked 108th in the nation with 341.1 total yards per game. They also posted 212.9 passing yards per game to rank 80th, while rushing for 128.2 yards per outing to check in 128th in the nation. They were also 100th in the country with 24.1 points per game. The field-goal unit was a disaster, too, as they made just 52.0 percent of their kicks to rank 123rd in the country. On defense, the Cocks were rather middling. They allowed 374.6 total yards per game to rank 51st, they allowed 227.9 yards per game through the air to finish 70th and they were 43rd in the country against the run, yielding 146.7 yards per outing. Somehow they had a bend-don’t-break defense, yielding just 20.8 points per game to rank 25th in the land.
— QB Jake Bentley was adequate at times in the pass game, completing 62.4 percent of his pass attempts with 2,555 yards, 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions while rushing for six scores. A.J. Turner led the way on the ground with 517 yards and three scores, averaging 5.6 yards per attempt. Ty’Son Williams averaged 5.0 yards per run, posting 460 yards and a touchdown. WR Bryan Edwards led the way with 705 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 11.9 yards per catch. Hayden Hurst was also fairly effective in the pass game, posting 12.6 yards per catch with 518 yards and a pair of scores. Freshmen WR Shi Smith and OrTre Smith each made splashes in their initial campaign and look to use the bowl game to springboard into 2018.
— The Wolverines have posted a 2-6-1 ATS mark over the past nine games against teams with a winning record, while going 1-4 ATS in their past five non-conference tilts. They’re also 1-8 ATS over the past nine following a cover in their previous outing.
— The ‘over’ is 23-9-1 in the past 33 games for Michigan, and 6-0 in their past six games against SEC opponents. The over is also 10-2 in their past 12 neutral-site games, and 8-2 across their past 10 bowl appearances.
— South Carolina is a perfect 5-0 ATS in their past five neutral-site games, and 4-1 ATS in their past five bowl appearances. However, they’re just 2-6 ATS in the past eight outside of the conference.
— The ‘under’ is 8-3 in the past 11 games for the Gamecocks, and 35-17 in the past 52 games against teams with a winning overall mark.
— Michigan has the most wins all-time in college football history (943), but they’re just 21-24 all-time in bowl games. They lost the Orange Bowl last season by a 33-32 score, and they’re just 3-8 SU over the past 11 bowl appearances. They faced South Carolina in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1, 2013, falling 33-28. They’re 3-2 all-time in the Hall of Fame Bowl/Outback Bowl in Tampa.
— South Carolina fell last season in overtime at the Birmingham Bowl, losing 46-39 to South Florida. However, they’re 4-1 over their past five bowl appearances, including the 2013 win over Michigan. They’re 3-2 SU all-time at the Hall of Fame Bowl/Outback Bowl.
— Kickoff is slated for 12:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN2.
[B]**UCF vs. Auburn**
Peach Bowl History[/B]
— In the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Ga. it will be the UCF Knights (12-0 straight-up, 7-4-1 against the spread) looking to prove they belong among the big boys against the Auburn Tigers (10-3 straight up, 6-5-1 against the spread) from the Southeastern Conference.
— UCF ran the table this season, including wins against Memphis (twice), Navy, Southern Methodist, Temple and South Florida, all bowl teams. The Knights started out 5-0 ATS over their first five games, but once Vegas made adjustments to their success, the lines went higher and they managed to go just 2-4-1 ATS in their final seven outings. The ‘over’ has connected in each of their final four outings, including the AAC Championship Game on Dec. 2 against Memphis.
— UCF enters this game with the No. 1 scoring offense in the nation, posting 49.4 points per game. They also ranked fourth in the country with 540.9 yards per game, seventh in the nation in passing yards (339.2) and 32nd in the run game (201.7). They also had a decent field-goal kicking unit, converting 78.6 percent of their field-goal attempts to rank 44th in the country. Defense is where UCF had trouble, ranking 94th in the nation with 428.5 total yards per game allowed, 111th in passing yards allowed (262.8), 64th in rushing yards allowed (165.7) and 25.2 points per game allowed to rank 52nd.
— QB McKenzie Milton completed 69.2 percent of his pass attempts while rolling up 3,795 yards, 35 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he rushed for 497 yards and seven scores. When Milton wasn’t running it was Adrian Killins Jr., who racked up 6.7 yards per attempt to lead the team with 762 yards and 10 touchdowns. Taj McGowan punched in eight rushing touchdowns to rank second on the team. WR Tre’Quan Smith was good for a team-high 1,082 yards and 13 touchdowns, while WR Dredrick Snelson managed 42 grabs, 656 yards and seven touchdowns. TE Jordan Akins checked in with 30 receptions for 459 yards and four scores.
— Auburn ranked 27th in the nation in total yards per game, posting 454.0 yards per contest. They were rather average in the pass game, posting 225.8 yards per game to check in 69th in the country, but they posted 228.2 yards per game on the ground to finish 21st. Their 34.4 points per game were good for 25th in the country. On defense the Tigers ranked 13th, yielding 317.3 yards per game overall. They were 19th against the pass, giving up just 182.8 yards per contest. They were 30th against the run (134.5), while allowing just 17.3 points per game to rank ninth in the country.
— The big question for Auburn is the health of RB Kerryon Johnson (shoulder). He sounds like he will be back toi 100 percent, but you’re never quite sure with the tight-lipped news you receive from college teams, unlike the more forthcoming reports in the pros. Johnson led the team with 1,320 yards and 17 touchdowns, while adding two more scores through the air. Former Baylor QB Jarrett Stidham completed 66.7 percent of his pass attempts for 2,827 yards, 17 touchdowns and just four interceptions whille adding four rushing scores. RB Kamryn Pettway was a nice change of pace back, going for 305 yards and six touchdowns.
— WR Ryan Davis led the way with 76 catches for 768 yards and five touchdowns, while WR Darius Slayton was good for 23.9 yards per catch while totaling 574 yards and five touchdowns. WR Will Hastings finished with 408 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 20.4 yards per catch. The Tigers have a handful of playmakers and plenty of depth in the receiving game.
— The Knights have posted a 1-3-1 ATS mark over their past five games against a team with a winning record while going 2-5 ATS over their past seven matchups against SEC foes. The ‘over’ is 4-0 in their past four games overall and 6-0 in their past six eight games on a grass surface. The ‘under’ is 7-0-1 in their past eight against SEC opponents, though.
— The Tigers are 1-4 ATS in their past five neutral-site affairs, while going 0-4-1 ATS in their past five non-conference tilts. The ‘under’ is the trend for Auburn, going 3-0-1 in their past four bowl games, 4-0-2 in their past six neutral-site games and 14-5-1 across the past 20 against teams with a winning overall record. The ‘under’ is also 6-0 across the past six non-conference battles.
— UCF doesn’t have an extensive bowl history, and they’re just 3-5 SU in their eight previous appearances. Scott Frost, who is leaving for the Nebraska job, will coach his team in his second-ever bowl game. They lost 31-13 to Arkansas State in the Cure Bowl in Orlando last season, and they haven’t won since Jan. 1, 2014 in the Fiesta Bowl against Baylor. They’re 1-1 SU in two previous bowl appearances against SEC foes in a bowl game.
— Auburn is 23-16-2 in 41 total bowls. They fell to Oklahoma last season in the Sugar Bowl, 35-19, and they’re 1-3 SU over their past four bowl outings. The last time they appeared in the Chick-Fil-A/Peach Bowl, they topped Virginia 43-24 on Dec. 31, 2011, and they’re 4-1 SU all-time in the Peach Bowl.
— Kickoff is slated for 12:30 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
[B]**Notre Dame vs. Louisiana State**
Citrus Bowl History[/B]
— The Citrus Bowl takes place at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla., or the Citrus Bowl. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-3-0 straight up, 7-5-0 against the spread) will meet the Louisiana State Tigers (9-3-0 straight up, 7-4-1 against the spread).
— Notre Dame opened the season wtih a 49-16 win against Temple in their opener, before being tripped up 20-19 against Georgia in South Bend on Sept. 9. The Fighting Irish also racked up wins against bowl teams Boston College, Michigan State, Southern California, North Carolina State, Wake Forest and Navy this season. In their last visit to the state of Florida they Fighting Irish were annihilated by a 41-8 score in Miami on Nov. 11.
— Notre Dame wasn’t terribly balanced this season, but they were effective on offense. The Irish averaged 454.9 total yards per game, ranking 25th in the nation, while checking in seventh in the nation with 279.1 yards per game on the ground. They were 21st in the country with 35.3 points per game, but they ranked 105th in the country with just 175.8 yards per outing. On defense, they were 44th in total yards allowed (366.7), 51st in passing yards allowed (213.5), 49th against the rush (153.2) and 31st in scoring defense (21.8 PPG).
— QB Brandon Wimbush completed just 49.8 percent of his passes for 1,818 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions while running for 766 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. When Wimbush wasn’t running the ball it was Josh Adams toting the mail. He posted 1,386 yards with nine touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards per game on the ground. Deon McIntosh and Dexter Williams also combined for nine more rushing touchdowns, as the Irish have plenty of bodies capable of doing big things on the ground. In the receiving game, Equanimeous St. Brown led the way with 468 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 15.1 yards per grab. WR Chase Claypool, by way of Abbottsford, British Columbia, was second on the team with 402 yards and a pair of scores.
— LSU wasn’t nearly as formidable as past seasons, but they were still pretty dangerous. They were 3-1 SU heading into what should have been a tune-up game on Sept. 30 against Troy. They lost 24-21, and that game really seemed to serve as a wake-up call for the Bayou Bengals. They rattled off wins over Florida, Auburn and Ole Miss, before falling 24-10 at Alabama on Nov. 4. They capped off the season with victories against Arkansas, Tennessee and Texas A&M to get to nine victories.
— The Tigers ranked 54th in the country in total yards (412.1), 86th overall in passing yards per game (201.3), 28th in the land in rushing yards (210.8) and 71st in points scored per game with 28.1 PPG. On defense, the Tigers yielded just 311.7 yards per game to rank 11th, while finishing 20th against the pass (185.2), 21st against the rush (126.4) and 14th in scoring defense with 18.8 PPG allowed. He also caught 15 balls for 100 yards. RB Darrel Williams was good for 776 yards and nine touchdowns, filling in for Guice when he needed a breather or was injured.
— On offense, QB Danny Etling showed some improvement with 60.3 percent of his pass completed, throwing for 2,234 yards, 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions while running for two more scores. RB Derrius Guice wasn’t quite Leonard Fournette, but he was pretty damn good. He rolled for 1,153 yards on 5.3 yards per carry, finding the end zone 11 times. WR D.J. Chark topped the charts with 811 receiving yards and three touchdowns, averaging 23.2 yards per reception. Williams was second on the team with 327 receiving yards out of the backfield. Foster Moreau also finished with three touchdown receptions.
— The Fighting Irish have failed to cover in each of their past four games overall, while going 0-4 ATS in their past four against teams with a winning overall mark. They also 0-4 ATS in their past four non-conference games, while going 1-4 ATS in their past five bowl outings.
— The Tigers have posted a 6-0 ATS mark across their past six outings while going 5-0 ATS over their past five following a straight-up win.
— The ‘under’ is 4-1 in the past five overall for the Irish, while going 4-1 in their past five non-conference games. They’re also 4-1 in their past five against teams with a winning overall record. The ‘over’ is 5-2 in their past seven bowl appearances, however.
— The ‘under’ is 19-8-2 in their past 29 games overall, 5-2-1 in their past eight non-conference games and 13-6-1 across the past 20 against teams with a winning overall mark.
— The Irish have posted a 17-18 record in 35 total bowl games. They fell 44-28 to Ohio State in their last appearance Jan. 1, 2016 in the Fiesta Bowl. They’re just 4-12 SU over their past 16 appearances in a bowl. This will be their first time playing in the Citrus Bowl.
— The Tigers appeared in the Citrus Bowl on Dec. 31, 2016, pounding Louisville by a 29-9 score. They 1-3 SU all-time in the Capital One Bowl/Citrus Bowl, with a win in Orlando in the Tangerine Bowl in 1979.
— Notre Dame and LSU met in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, 2014, with the Irish coming out on top 31-28. LSU won 41-14 in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 3, 2007, and 27-9 in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 28, 1997.
[B]SOUTH CAROLINA vs. MICHIGAN (Outback Bowl)[/B]…Teams met in this same game five years ago won by SC, 33-28. Harbaugh only 7-11-1 vs. spread last 19 on board, meanwhile Muschamp on 8-4-1 spread uptick since late LY. Gamecocks 7-0-1 last 8 as dog as well.
South Carolina, based on team trends.
[B]UCF vs. AUBURN (Peach Bowl)[/B]…UCF 15-9-1 vs. line since last season (counts Cincy TY as win), 8-3 last 11 vs. line away from home. Malzahn 1-2 SU and vs. line last three bowls, only 6-12 last 18 on board overall (6-7 TY).
UCF, based on team trends.
[B]LSU vs. NOTRE DAME (Citrus Bowl)[/B]…Ed Orgeron covered last six this season and is 13-6-1 vs. points since taking over Tigers just before midseason LY. Also 7-1-1 vs. line away from Baton Rouge. Irish faded down stretch TY with no covers last four, and Brian Kelly just 1-4 vs. line last five bowls.
LSU, based on team trends.
GEORGIA vs. OKLAHOMA (CFP Rose Bowl)[/B]…Sooners just 4-7 vs. spread last 11 bowl games. OU also only 3-4 vs. spread away from Norman TY. Georgia on 10-4 spread uptick for Kirby Smart since late LY. Also 8-1 vs. spread last nine away from Athens.
Georgia, based on team trends.
[B]ALABAMA vs. CLEMSON (CFP Sugar Bowl)[/B]…Clemson has covered this matchup in playoffs past two years. “Big Game” Dabo now 9-1 vs. line last ten in bowls/conference title games. Tigers covered last four down stretch and now on 11-4-1 spread run since late LY. Saban only 5-8 vs. points last 13 on board.
Clemson, based on team trends.
[B][I]Michigan, South Carolina eye 9 wins, solid finish in Outback
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Don’t try to sell Jim Harbaugh or Will Muschamp on the notion that New Year’s Day games that are not part of the College Football Playoff are irrelevant.
The coaches for Michigan (8-4) and South Carolina (8-4) expect to contend for national championships moving forward, but they also feel it’s important to finish this season strong in the Outback Bowl.
”I’m for the bowls. I’m for postseason play,” Harbaugh said. ”I don’t think bowl games are meaningless, and I would like to see an expanded playoff to 16 teams.”
Michigan was ranked as high as No. 7 following a 4-0 start but wound up going 5-4 with losses to Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin and Ohio State in Big Ten play.
The Wolverines lost two straight to end the regular season and head into Monday’s matchup against South Carolina trying to avoid their first three-game skid under Harbaugh.
Muschamp agrees with Harbaugh that bowl games matter, regardless of where a team plays.
”First of all, anytime you hit the football field, it’s meaningful,” said Muschamp, finishing his second season at South Carolina.
”This is a huge game for our program, an opportunity to win nine games, an opportunity to play Michigan, a team that we’ve got great respect for,” Muschamp added. ”But I think the bowls are really important to college football.”
It’s just the fourth meeting between the Wolverines and Gamecocks, the first since the 2013 Outback Bowl.
South Carolina won that matchup 33-28 and leads the series 2-1, with Michigan’s win coming in 1985.
Muschamp concedes that winning Monday would give his bid to rebuild the Gamecocks a boost because Michigan is, well, Michigan.
”Absolutely,” the coach said. ”I think you see the progress we’ve made in Year 2 and continue to move forward in the culture of our program.”
[B]Some things to know about the Outback Bowl:
UNDER CENTER:[/B] Michigan quarterback Brandon Peters has a chance to make it more difficult for Harbaugh to replace him next season – even if Shea Patterson is also one of his options . Peters is expected to face South Carolina after missing the last game, a loss to Ohio State, with a concussion. When the Wolverines open the 2018 season at Notre Dame, he may have to hold off Patterson to keep his job. Patterson plans to transfer to Michigan from Mississippi, a program hit with sanctions, and to petition the NCAA to allow him to be eligible immediately. He will enter a competition along with Dylan McCaffrey, son of former NFL player Ed McCaffrey and brother of Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey, after he redshirted as a freshman with the Wolverines.
[B]NEW PLAYCALLER:[/B] South Carolina fired offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Dec. 6 and co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Bryan McClendon will call plays Monday in what essentially is an audition for next season. ”I think the preparation has been really good, No. 1, by Bryan, but our entire offensive staff, as well. … I think he’s done a really good job,” Muschamp said. ”Obviously game day is important, from a calling standpoint, from an adjustment standpoint. Certainly if you make the right calls and the right adjustments, you’re going to be productive, so that is important. But I’ve been very pleased with his progress.”
[B]ONE MO TIME:[/B] All-America defensive tackle Maurice Hurst is expected to play one more time for Michigan , accepting the risk of an injury that could affect his stock in the NFL draft. In early December, Hurst acknowledged he wasn’t sure if he would play in the Outback Bowl in part because he saw former Wolverines tight end Jake Butt slip to the fifth round after injuring his knee a year ago in the Orange Bowl.
[B]CHADTOUGH:[/B] Some Michigan players are wearing their hair orange for the game as part of a fundraiser in honor of Chad Carr, the late grandson of former Wolverines coach Lloyd Carr. DE Chase Winovich announced on Dec. 20 that he would dye his hair if donations, which are being directed to the Pediatric Brain Tumor Research Initiative at Michigan Medicine, totaled $15,000. The drive quickly reached that total and continues to grow. The ChadTough Foundation later announced that University of Michigan Regent Ron Weiser will match donations made through the fundraiser up to $1 million. ”I know the guys were hoping to raise a couple thousand dollars, and they were really excited that it was going to be up to $10,000,” Harbaugh said. ”Seeing that it’s up to $200,000, I think it’s just phenomenal.”
[B][I]Auburn, past ‘sad’ SEC loss, faces UCF in Peach Bowl
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
ATLANTA (AP) No. 10 Central Florida will be playing for a perfect season – and respect for the team and its conference – when it faces No. 7 Auburn in the Peach Bowl on Monday.
If not for a loss in its last visit to Mercedes-Benz Stadium one month ago, Auburn might have been playing for even more.
A loss to Georgia in the SEC championship game kept Auburn out of the College Football Playoff.
”We knew that it was an opportunity to play for the playoffs and potentially a national championship,” Auburn linebacker Deshaun Davis said. ”It was definitely a slump that we had to get over.”
Davis said he and other leaders ”let our team be sad for a minute, let them get the taste in their mouth so the guys that come next year, they know how it feels.”
Davis said the Tigers (10-3) then were prepared to shift focus to Central Florida (12-0).
Coach Gus Malzahn says his players returned to practice with a more serious approach than for other bowl games.
”Our mindset is more of a business trip probably than it has been in the past with a bowl,” Malzahn said, adding the approach was the ”design” of the team’s seniors.
”That’s what they want, that’s what they expect,” he said.
A win over Auburn would give Central Florida its undefeated season and give the school and the American Athletic Conference respect. The Knights feel insulted they weren’t given serious consideration to be part of the playoff.
”Our guys want to send a message they can play with anybody,” Central Florida quarterback McKenzie Milton said.
”I think we all kind of know what’s at stake. We know we’ve had a special year so far, and we know we’ve got a tall task ahead of us. But I think we’re definitely up to it.”
The Knights lead the nation in scoring, averaging 49.4 points per game. They have scored 30 or more points in every game this season.
[B]Here are some more things to know about the Peach Bowl:
FROST’S FAREWELL: [/B]Central Florida coach Scott Frost chose to stay with the team through the bowl game after accepting a job to move to Nebraska, his alma mater. Frost will bring most of his assistants with him to Nebraska. Former Missouri offensive coordinator Josh Heupel is Central Florida’s new coach and is expected to watch the game from a private box.
”It will be bittersweet tomorrow,” Frost, the AP coach of the year , said Sunday. ”This certainly isn’t an ideal situation for the players or for me or for my staff, but we all care about each other, and I don’t know what the alternative would have been.”
CARRY ON AT RB:[/B] Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson said Saturday he feels close to fully recovered from injuries to his right shoulder and ribs. Johnson led the SEC in rushing, scoring and all-purpose yards per game and was the Southeastern Conference offensive player of the year and second-team All-American.
[B]ILLNESS:[/B] Auburn cornerback Carlton Davis, one of the team’s defensive leaders, has an illness and won’t play in the game, Malzahn said Sunday.
RESPECT FOR GRIFFIN:[/B] Auburn players have respect for Central Florida senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin, who leads the Knights with 5+ sacks and 10 tackles for losses.
”My opinion, (Griffin) is probably the best pass rusher I’ll go against all year,” Auburn left tackle Austin Golson said. ”I think he’s a very good player. I have a lot of respect for the style of football that he plays.”
[B]PEACH BOWL VETERAN:[/B] Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele coached in the Peach Bowl in 1982 when the game was played in its first of three Atlanta homes. Steele was Tennessee’s linebackers coach and the Vols lost to Iowa at old Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. The game moved to the Georgia Dome in 1993.
This is the 50th anniversary of the Peach Bowl and its first game in new Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which also will be home to next week’s national championship game.
[B][I]Notre Dame faces LSU in matchup of running teams
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
Citrus Bowl: Notre Dame (9-3) vs. LSU (9-3) at Orlando, Fla., Monday, 1 p.m. ET (ABC)
Line: LSU by 3.
Series Record: Notre Dame leads 6-5.
WHAT’S AT STAKE[/B]
The teams meet in a bowl game for the second time in four seasons. The Fighting Irish are looking for their third double-digit wins season in Brian Kelly’s eight seasons. The Tigers have won eight games or more for 18 straight seasons, which is the longest active streak for a Power Five team. They have won their last three games by 20 or more points, which is the first time that has happened since 1949.
Notre Dame OL Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson vs. LSU LB Devin White. Left tackle McGlinchey and left guard Nelson were first-team AP All-American selections while rating as Pro Football Focus’ top two nationally in run blocking. White led the Southeastern Conference in tackles with 127, along with posting 12.5 tackles for loss.
[B]PLAYERS TO WATCH[/B]
Notre Dame: RB Josh Adams is 13th nationally in rushing yards with 1,386 and is averaging 7.3 yards per carry. The junior has seven 100-yard games, including two where he went over 200 yards.
LSU: RB Derrius Guice is the fifth player in school history to have more than 1,000 rushing yard and 10 rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons. The junior has 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns.
[B]FACTS & FIGURES[/B]
This is the fourth time the teams have met in a bowl game. LSU holds a 2-1 advantage but Notre Dame won the last meeting, in the 2014 Music City Bowl. … Notre Dame had nine runs of at least 60 yards or more, which is tied with Arizona for the most in the FBS. … Irish junior QB Brandon Wimbush has set the school’s single-single record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 765. … Notre Dame has a six-game losing streak in bowl games they have played in Florida. … LSU is in the Citrus Bowl for the second straight season. The last team to make consecutive Citrus Bowl appearances was Nebraska, which lost in 2012 and ’13. … The Tigers have committed only eight turnovers, which is the lowest in the nation. … LSU has held opponents to 11 points in the fourth quarter over the past seven games.
Every year, the little guy gets his shot against the big boys.
The Central Florida Knights are the only team that made it through their entire regular season and their conference championship game unscathed. You could argue that they should be playing in the College Football Playoff right now as the only perfect team in the land.
The Selection Committee never gave the Knights a single thought, though, leaving them in the Peach Bowl instead to play against the SEC runners-up, the Auburn Tigers.
[B]A Frosty Coaching Situation[/B]
Normally speaking, when coaches leave their jobs for new gigs, they don’t stick around to do anything more than an outgoing press conference.
Scott Frost, though, is different.
Frost seems genuinely concerned about the direction that UCF is heading in, and he wanted nothing more than to coach this team in the Peach Bowl. Though Frost has had to spend a lot of time recruiting for his new job at Nebraska, the Cornhusker faithful have signed off on Frost coaching this game.
It’s always tough to be in this situation; ask Lane Kiffin last year how well he was handling his coordinator duties for Alabama while trying to get Florida Atlantic ready for this season. Kiffin was dumped by Nick Saban between the two games in the College Football Playoff.
Frost definitely has his work cut out for him trying to balance a team he truly loves and his alma mater.
[B]The Gritty Group of Five[/B]
When the BCS was founded, it finally gave at least a small shot to the schools that are now known as the Group of Five. The first of the so-called “BCS Busters” was Utah, a team that went to the 2005 Fiesta Bowl and mauled Pittsburgh 35-7. That set the stage for Boise State to upset Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl two seasons late.
The results have been mixed for sure, but the “BCS Busters” were generally successful. They went 6-3 SU and ATS in the BCS games, and that includes when Boise State and TCU played against each other in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl.
One of those wins was this UCF team. The Knights were the last of the “BCS Busters” in 2014 after their undefeated season, and they pulled off a huge upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl.
The New Year’s Six has treated the Group of Five incredibly well, too. In the first year of the New Year’s Six, Boise State destroyed Arizona in the Fiesta Bowl. Houston came back the next season and beat Florida State in the Peach Bowl while Western Michigan covered against Wisconsin.
All told, Group of Five teams are a stunning 8-2 ATS against Power Five teams in the New Year’s Six/BCS, a mark that cannot be ignored.
[B]Auburn Up Against It[/B]
Non-conference games weren’t the kindest to Auburn this year. The team went 0-3-1 ATS in its four non-conference games, including losing at Clemson early in the season. Even dating back to last year’s Sugar Bowl, the Tigers were beaten by Oklahoma 35-19 in a game that turned out to not be anywhere near as close as the final score would have indicated.
Auburn only has one bowl victory since Gus Malzahn came to town as its head coach, and that was in the 2015 Birmingham Bowl. When the team has been on a big stage, it has had all sorts of problems since Gene Chizik led the team to the National Championship in 2010 with Cam Newton running the show.
[B]Peach Bowl Game Odds for Sunday, December 31
UCF vs. Auburn (-9.5, 67)[/B]
[B][I]A look at the Alabama-Clemson playoff showdowns
December 29, 2017[/I][/B]
No. 1 Clemson and No. 4 Alabama will meet in the College Football Playoffs for the third straight year when they square off in the Sugar Bowl. They split the first two meetings in down-to-the-wire national championship games.
[B]Here’s a look at those epic clashes and the teams’ seasons heading into Monday night’s semifinal showdown:
– Jan. 11, 2016: Alabama 45, Clemson 40
2015 DIFFERENCE MAKERS[/B]
– Alabama: Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry punctuated his terrific final season with a monster game: 36 carries, 158 yards, three touchdowns, including the clinching 1-yarder with just over a minute left. The workhorse tailback rushed for a Southeastern Conference-record 2,219 yards, which led the nation. Another star of the title game: tight end O.J. Howard (208 yards, two TDs).
– Clemson: QB Deshaun Watson was the first FBS player to reach 4,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards in a season. After finishing third in the Heisman voting, Watson passed for 405 yards and four touchdowns against `Bama while running for 73 yards. In the title game, defensive end Kevin Dodd, often overshadowed by teammate Shaq Lawson, set Clemson postseason records with three sacks and five tackles for loss.
[B]MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN[/B]
– Alabama: Mostly steamrolled over opponents after an early, 43-37 loss to Mississippi. That included a 38-0 rout of Michigan State in the semifinals. The Crimson Tide committed five turnovers in the loss to Ole Miss, the only time all season Jake Coker didn’t start at quarterback. The Florida State transfer led the way in his only year as starter.
– Clemson: Entered the game unbeaten after back-to-back early nail-biters over Louisville (20-17) and Notre Dame (24-22). Watson and Lawson were the biggest stars – and eventual NFL first-rounders – but the Tigers also had other prolific players like Wayne Gallman (1,527 rushing yards, 13 touchdowns) and Artavis Scott (93 catches, 901 yards).
– Alabama had just tied the game with 10:34 left in the fourth quarter when coach Nick Saban gambled trying to keep Watson & Co. off the field. He called for an onside kick, or a Pop Kick, from Adam Griffith and Tide defensive back Marlon Humphrey caught it over the shoulder at midfield.
– Jan. 9, 2017: Clemson 35, Alabama 31
2016 DIFFERENCE MAKERS[/B]
– Alabama: QB Jalen Hurts was the SEC offensive player of the year and came within a second of becoming the first true freshman quarterback to lead his team to a national title since Oklahoma’s Jamelle Holieway in 1985.
– Clemson: Watson was a Heisman finalist again, finishing second in another spectacular season. WR Mike Williams was a huge weapon after returning from an injury to collect 98 catches for 1,361 yards and 11 touchdowns.
[B]MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN[/B]
– Alabama: Made it to the title game unbeaten and scarcely challenged, whipping Florida 54-16 in the SEC championship game and beating Washington 24-7 in the semifinals.
-Clemson: The Tigers were stunned by Pitt, 43-42 in mid-November but then won four straight, including an ACC championship game victory over Virginia Tech and a semifinal shutout of Ohio State to advance.
– Deshaun Watson’s 2-yard TD pass with a second left to Hunter Renfrow lifted Clemson to the title. It was Renfrow’s fourth touchdown catch in two championship games against Alabama.
– Jan. 1, 2018
[B]2017 DIFFERENCE MAKERS[/B]
– Alabama: S Minkah Fitzpatrick is the Tide’s biggest star even if his stats don’t necessarily show it. The unanimous All-American plays a number of different roles and won both the Chuck Bednarik Award (defensive player of the year) and Jim Thorpe Award (top defensive back).
– Clemson: QB Kelly Bryant answered the question of how the Tigers would fare in life without Watson. Bryant is completing 67.4 percent of his passes and has also run for 11 touchdowns.
[B]MARCH TO THE SHOWDOWN[/B]
– Alabama: Had to sweat out its playoff berth after losing to No. 7 Auburn 26-14 in the regular-season finale with the SEC West title on the line. Still, the Tide has outscored opponents by an average score of 39.1-11.5.
– Clemson: The Tigers went 5-0 in September to mark themselves as title contenders with a stretch that included showcase wins over top 15 opponents in Auburn, Louisville and Virginia Tech. They were surprised by Syracuse in October when Bryant missed most of the contest with a concussion. He returned two weeks later as Clemson began a six-game win streak highlighted by a 38-3 dismantling of then seventh-ranked Miami for its third straight ACC title.
[B][I]CFP – Rose Bowl Preview
December 30, 2017[/I][/B]
Georgia is poised to make its first appearance in the College Football Playoff when it takes on Oklahoma in the semifinals Monday at 5:00 p.m. Eastern in Pasadena, CA., at the Rose Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
As of Friday afternoon, most betting shops had Georgia (12-1 straight up, 9-4 against the spread) installed as a two-point favorite with a total of 60. The Sooners were available to win outright for a +110 return (risk $100 to win $110).
The Westgate SuperBook opened OU as the 1.5-point ‘chalk’ on Dec. 3. The line had a cup of coffee at two before dipping down to one by the morning of Dec. 4. Then on Dec. 5, UGA became the one-point favorite and that number was up to 1.5 by Dec. 7, where it stayed until Dec. 27. That’s when the number went to 1.5 and eventually two. The Westgate had the Bulldogs at 2.5 on Friday afternoon.
The total hasn’t seen any movement whatsoever.
Kirby Smart hasn’t taken long in making his impression nationally in only his second season as a head coach. The former UGA player who spent nine seasons at Alabama on Nick Saban’s staff struggled in Year 1, going just 7-5. However, he’s about to bring in one of the nation’s premier recruiting classes and has his alma mater knocking on the door for its first national title since a dude named Herschel who wore No. 34 led the way to a ‘natty’ in 1980. (For you young pups out there, that Heisman Trophy winning RB went by the last name of Walker.)
Georgia has won three in a row both SU and ATS since dropping its only game of the year at Auburn (40-17) on Nov. 11. The Bulldogs avenged that defeat at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta, where they captured a 28-7 win over AU as two-point favorites.
Auburn led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter in the rematch, only to see UGA score 28 unanswered points. True freshman QB Jake Fromm completed 16-of-22 passes for 183 yards and two TDs without an interception. D’Andre Swift rushed seven times for 88 yards and one TD, while Nick Chubb had 77 rushing yards on 13 attempts. Terry Godwin had five receptions for 48 yards and one TD. Junior LB Roquan Smith had a season-best 13 tackles, one tackle for loss, one sack and a pair of QB hurries.
Georgia owns a 7-1 SU record and a 5-3 ATS mark in eight games against teams that made the postseason. The Bulldogs captured notable scalps vs. Appalachian State (31-10), at Notre Dame (20-19), vs. Mississippi State (31-3), vs. Missouri (53-28) and vs. Kentucky (42-13).
UGA has been a single-digit favorite three times, compiling a 2-1 record both SU and ATS.
Fromm was thrust into action in the first quarter of his first collegiate game when returning starter Jacob Eason suffered a sprained knee. He hasn’t allowed Eason back on the field with the exception of garbage time since then. Fromm has connected on 63.0 percent of his throws for 2,173 yards with a 21/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He also had three rushing scores.
UGA has the best trio of RBs in the country in Chubb, Sony Michel and Swift. Michel left the SEC title game with a knee injury, but he’s ‘probable’ vs. OU. Chubb, the senior, has run for 1,175 yards and 13 TDs with a 6.2 yards-per-carry average. Michel has 948 rushing yards, 13 TDs and a 7.2 YPC average, while Swift, the true freshman, has rushed for 597 yards and three TDs with an 8.2 YPC average.
Javon Wims has a team-high 38 receptions for 631 yards and six TDs, while Godwin has 29 catches for 540 yards and six TDs. Godwin had a ridiculous one-handed TD grab that was critical in the victory over the Fighting Irish in South Bend.
Georgia is ranked fourth in the nation in total defense, second versus the pass, 11th against the run and fourth in scoring ‘D’ (13.2 points per game). This unit is led by Smith, who was a first-team All-SEC selection after recording 113 tackles, 5.5 sacks, five TFL’s, eight QB hurries, two passes broken up, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Oklahoma (12-1 SU, 8-5 ATS) has been an underdog only once, winning 31-16 at Ohio State. as a 7.5-point underdog in Week 2. The Sooners took their only loss vs. Iowa State by a 38-31 count as 31-point home favorites on Oct. 7. Since then, they’ve won eight games in a row while posting a 5-3 spread record. They’re 5-1 ATS in their last six outings with the only non-cover coming in a 41-3 victory vs. Kansas.
OU is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total offense, No. 2 in passing yards and No. 4 in scoring with a 44.9 points-per-game average. Senior QB Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the reason for those number.
His stats are stupid good. Mayfield has completed 71.0 percent of his passes for 4,340 yards with a 41/5 TD-INT ratio. Mayfield can move as well, which is a factor that should be taken into account with UGA’s fierce pass rush. He’s run for 310 yards and five TDs, which aren’t numbers to wow anyone, but his elusiveness allows him to escape pressure and make plays down the field outside of the pocket.
Mayfield’s has a slew of targets that make plays for him. Marquise Brown has 49 receptions for 981 yards and six TDs, while Mark Andrews has 58 catches for 906 yards and eight TDs. CeeDee Lamb has 40 grabs for 741 yards and seven TDs, and Dimitri Flowers has snared 23 receptions for 411 yards and four TDs. Finally, grad transfer Jeff Badet from Kentucky has 25 catches for 396 yards and three TDs.
OU’s offense has balance, too. Rodney Anderson has run for 960 yards and 11 TDs with a 5.9 YPC average. The Sooners are deep in the backfield, too. Trey Sermon has rushed for 710 yards and five TDs with a 6.0 YPC average, while Abdul Adams has 542 rushing yards and one TD while averaging an eye-popping 9.2 YPC.
The thinking here is that Georgia is going to be able to effectively run the ball against an OU defense that ranks only No. 59 in the country in total ‘D.’ The Sooners’ stop unit is No. 40 in the country versus the run, No. 87 against the pass and No. 51 in scoring ‘D’ (25.0 PPG).
The ‘under’ is 8-5 overall for UGA after cashing in back-to-back contests to close the regular season. The Bulldogs have watched their games average combined scores of 48.2 PPG.
The ‘over’ is 7-6 overall for the Sooners, but the ‘under’ is 3-1 in their last four games. They’ve seen their games average combined scores of 69.9 PPG. This is the lowest total OU has had since a mid-October game at Kansas State.
**B.E.’s Bonus Nuggets**[/B]
— The ejection of Kentucky star RB Bennie Snell, the first-team All-SEC selection, in UK’s Music City Bowl game against Northwestern? Horrible! Atrocious! Despicable! Worse than Al Horford getting the boot after ‘Delly’ went low on him with a cheap shot in the NBA Playoffs a few years ago.
— I was on the radio show ‘Press Row’ Friday on ESPN Chattanooga and said “I’d take Pat Fitzgerald over Mark Stoops every day of the week and twice on Sunday.” Um, time to re-evaluate that program. Fitzgerald went for it on fourth and one up by seven at Northwestern’s own 39 with about 2:30ish left. I was sitting on a strong-as-hell Northwestern -7 play with a touch of -6.5 (buying the hook, obviously, but only at -120 early in the month). I was first-guessing him not to make such a knucklehead decision that backfired. Then when UK scored to cut the deficit to one and set up for a two-point conversion, he burned two timeouts. Hey, Pat, you might want those TO’s to get into field-goal range if UK went ahead on the conversion for a potential game-winning field goal. After all, there was 37 seconds left. Why Stoops wanted to go for two is beyond me. UK’s attempt failed and then there was the onside kick. So what does Stoops do? He tells his kicker to kick (fairly deep) and hope that miraculously a UK player runs the ball down before the only Northwestern player positioned deep gets his hands on the ball. Predictably, that was an epic fail! It was Dumb vs. Dumber at crunch time in Nashville on Friday night.
— Mayfield missed the Friday presser because he was reportedly under the weather. I’m filing this story nearly 72 hours out from kickoff, so that factoid may have beyond zero relevance.
[B][I][B][I]CFP – Sugar Bowl Preview
December 31, 2017[/I][/B][/I][/B]
Alabama and Clemson occupy the upper tier of college football’s elite these days. For a third straight season, these storied programs will meet in the College Football Playoff.
In Chapter I of this rivalry that’s rapidly become the best in the sport, Alabama won a 45-40 decision to claim Nick Saban’s fifth national title and his fourth with the Crimson Tide at University of Phoenix Stadium on Jan. 11 of 2016.
However, Clemson star quarterback Deshaun Watson threw one of his four touchdown passes with 12 seconds remaining to give the Tigers the backdoor cover as 6.5-point underdogs.
In Chapter II last season, Watson’s TD pass to Hunter Renfrow with one tick left gave Clemson its first national title since 1981 under Danny Ford. The Tigers nipped ‘Bama 35-31 as 6.5-point underdogs, outscoring the Tide 21-7 to overcome a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. Watson threw for 420 yards and three TDs without an interception.
Now we’re ready for the rubber match, Chapter III. This time around, they’ll collide in the semifinals at the Superdome in New Orleans for Monday night’s Sugar Bowl. Clemson is the No. 1 seed, while ‘Bama is the No. 4. Nevertheless, Saban’s squad is the favorite in terms of future bets to win the CFP and is listed as a three-point ‘chalk’ over the top-seeded Tigers.
The total was 47 as of early Sunday afternoon, while Clemson was +130 on the money line (risk $100 to win $130). 5Dimes.eu had Alabama’s team total at 25, while the Tigers were at 22.
Since opening the season with a 24-7 victory over then-third-ranked Florida State in Atlanta, Alabama has dealt with injuries at the linebacker position. Two reserve LBs, Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis went down with (regular) season-ending injuries against the Seminoles.
Then in a 31-24 come-from-behind win at Mississippi State, senior LB Shaun Dion Hamilton sustained a season-ending injury. True freshman and five-star recruit Dylan Moses was inserted into the starting lineup in the Tide’s final two regular-season games. He responded well by recording 21 tackles vs. Mercer and at Auburn. However, Moses suffered a foot injury at practice in mid-December and will be ‘out’ vs. Clemson.
On the bright side, Miller and Lewis have now recovered and are ready to play, as is Mack Wilson, another LB who missed a number of games due to an injury.
Alabama (11-1 straight up, 5-7 against the spread) has faced seven opponents who made the postseason, going 6-1 against those foes. Four of those six victories came by margins of 14 points or more. The Tide has been a single-digit ‘chalk’ only twice, going 1-1 both SU and ATS.
We already mentioned the wins over at MSU and vs. FSU. Other big wins on the Tide’s resume include a 27-19 triumph at Texas A&M, a 24-10 home win over LSU and a 41-10 home win over Fresno State.
Sophomore QB Jalen Hurts now owns a 24-2 record in 26 career starts (and he was also key in a non-starting win over USC in the ’16 opener). Nevertheless, he has come under criticism of late, especially after the 26-14 loss at Auburn in the regular-season finale. Other than a TD drive to open the third quarter, Hurts was unable to get Alabama’s offense on track in the Iron Bowl.
Hurts completed 13-of-23 throws for 177 yards and one TD without an interception. Hurts ran for 82 yards on 18 attempts, but he only got the ball to star WR Calvin Ridley for three receptions that netted 38 yards. Damien Harris ran for 51 yards on six attempts, while Bo Scarbrough had 46 rushing yards and one TD on six carries.
Jerry Jeudy had a 36-yard TD catch from Hurts, while Cam Sims had a 65-yard reception. Alabama lost a fumble, though, and it was also slowed by nine penalties that resulted in 65 penalty yards.
For the season, Hurts has connected on 60.7 percent of his passes for 2,005 yards with a stellar 15/1 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Ridley has a team-high 55 receptions for 896 yards and three TDs. Hurts needs to get Ridley involved early and often against the Tigers.
Harris has run for a team-best 906 yards and 11 TDs while averaging 8.2 yards per carry. Hurts has run for 768 yards and eight TDs, averaging 5.6 YPC. Scarbrough has rushed for 549 yards and eight TDs with a 5.1 YPC average. Scarbrough was on his way to a big game vs. Clemson last year before breaking his leg.
Alabama is ranked 17th in the nation in total offense, eighth in rushing yards and ninth in scoring (39.1 PPG). But the Tide is only 83rd out of 130 FBS teams in passing yards.
Alabama is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, run defense and scoring ‘D,’ allowing opponents merely 11.5 points per game. The Tide ranks sixth in the country in pass defense. This unit is led by junior safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who has recorded 52 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, one blocked punt, one forced fumble, one interception, three QB hurries and seven passes broken up.
Junior safety Ronnie Harrison has a team-best 68 tackles along with 2.5 sacks, one TFL, three interceptions and three PBU. Senior LB Rashaan Evans has registered 57 tackles, five sacks, 5.5 TFL’s, seven QB hurries, one forced fumble and two PBU.
Clemson (12-1 SU, 8-4 ATS) is in its first underdog position of the year. The Tigers have been underdogs in seven straight postseason games, going 7-0 ATS with six outright wins. Furthermore, the five victories that came against teams not named Alabama were all blowouts.
Dabo Swinney’s club hasn’t missed a beat since losing the school’s best all-time QB in Watson. Junior Kelly Bryant has proven to be a playmaker with his legs and arms. In his first season as the starter, Bryant completed 67.4 percent of his passes for 2,678 yards with a 13/6 TD-INT ratio. He has run for 646 yards and 11 TDs with a 3.7 YPC average.
Clemson took its only loss of the season, a 27-24 setback at Syracuse in a Friday night game (on a short week when star QB Eric Dungey was healthy for the ‘Cuse), when Bryant was bothered by an ankle injury and limping around until he was knocked out of the game in the second quarter with a concussion.
Since then, Clemson has won six in a row while cashing tickets at a 4-1-1 clip. The Tigers have covered the spread in four straight, winning by at least 17 in each contest, including a 38-3 beatdown of Miami at the ACC Championship Game.
Bryant was extremely sharp against the Hurricanes, connecting on 23-of-29 throws for 252 yards and one TD without an interception. He also had a rushing score vs. UM. Ray-Ray McCloud had six catches for 100 yards, while Clemson’s defense limited the ‘Canes to only 214 yards of total offense.
Deon Cain is Bryant’s favorite target, hauling in 52 receptions for 659 yards and six TDs, while Renfrow has 55 catches for 571 yards and three TDs. McCloud has 46 grabs for 502 yards and one TD.
Clemson is four-deep in the backfield. Travis Etienne, a true freshman, has run for 744 yards and 13 TDs while averaging 7.2 YPC. Tavien Feaster has rushed for 659 yards and seven TDs, averaging 6.4 YPC. Adam Choice has 312 rushing yards, six TDs and a 5.0 YPC average, while C.J. Fuller has run for 217 yards and three TDs with a 3.7 YPC average.
Clemson is ranked fifth in the nation in total defense, seven in pass defense, 12th at defending the run and second in scoring ‘D’ (12.8 PPG). This unit is loaded with future NFL players like sophomore DE Clelin Ferrell, who has 62 tackles, 8.5 sacks, 8.5 TFL’s, two forced fumbles, seven QB hurries and one PBU. Junior DE Austin Bryant has 47 tackles, one interception, 7.5 sacks, seven TFL’s, eight QB hurries, one PBU and a pair of forced fumbles.
Clemson is third in the nation in sacks with 44. Alabama’s defense has only tackled the QB 31 times.
The ‘under’ is 8-4-1 overall after cashing in back-to-back games for Clemson to close the regular season. The Tigers have seen their games average combined scores of 48.2 PPG.
The ‘under’ is 7-5 overall for ‘Bama, 5-2 in their past seven games. The Tide’s games have averaged combined scores of 50.6 points per game.
Kickoff is scheduled for Monday night at 8:45 p.m. Eastern on ESPN.
[B][I]CFB playoff notebook: Can QB Hurts carry the Tide?
December 31, 2017[/I][/B]
Jalen Hurts helped take Alabama to the national title game as a true freshman quarterback, and his experience in that game is one he can’t forget.
That’s by design.
A day after a 35-31 loss to Clemson on Jan. 9, Hurts changed the picture on his cell phone screensaver, using a picture of the Tigers’ postgame celebration. He talked in the spring about using that image as daily motivation, a habit he has kept up all the way to Monday’s rematch in a College Football Playoff semifinal in the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
“I kind of hold myself accountable to that, kind of dedicate it to trying to get back to the top and lead the team back to where we want to be,” Hurts said last week at a press conference, talking about last season’s loss to the Tigers, in which he completed only 13 of 31 passes for 131 yards.
“Just putting it as a screensaver I guess was a humbling yet friendly reminder that I’ve got to go get it.”
Hurts is better than last season, more efficient, although that hasn’t always been obvious in Alabama’s run-heavy attack behind one of best offensive lines in the nation and running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough.
So questions still remain if the dual-threat Hurts — he has rushed for 1,722 yards in two seasons — can shoulder the load in the passing game, especially against a Clemson defense that has the NFL talent up front to plug the Tide’s ground game.
The sophomore has done what Alabama has asked him to do, completing 135 of 222 passes for 1,940 yards, with 15 touchdowns and just one interception. He is 11th nationally with a passing efficiency rating of 155.6.
If Alabama can’t run, can Hurts pass the team to victory?
“I think Jalen has improved dramatically from last year to this year,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said Saturday.
“His consistency and performance throughout this past season was a lot better, especially in the passing game. Jalen has always been a guy that, because of his athleticism and his ability to run the ball, has made a lot of plays with his feet. But I also think that we’ve been able to help him develop as a quarterback in terms of his decision-making in the pocket.”
[B]–Georgia senior running back[/B] Nick Chubb will wrap up a storied career in the Rose Bowl as the Bulldogs take on Oklahoma in a semifinal playoff game in Pasadena, Calif.
Chubb enters the Rose Bowl with 4,599 rushing yards, making him the second-leading rusher in school and SEC history behind Herschel Walker. He, senior Sony Michel and freshman D’Andre Swift, who has the look of a future Heisman Trophy candidate, power the running game.
Georgia used that stable of backs behind a solid offensive line to rush for at least 290 yards in five of nine SEC games.
That has taken pressure off true freshman quarterback Jake Fromm, who has been an effective game-manager, having completed 145 of 230 passes for 2,170 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’s been picked off only five times.
“Everybody tries something different,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said of defenses trying to rattle Fromm.
“The big thing he has to rely on is an ability for our offense to run the ball. As long as you have some run game, it makes things a little bit easier on him. But people pressure him, people drop eight, they try to disguise coverages. He’s a bright kid. He watches a lot of tape.”
[B]–Oklahoma [/B]is the team in the playoff that is unlike the three others. The Sooners are an offense-first squad, averaging a national-best 583.3 yards per game and led by Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Baker Mayfield.
On the flip side, Alabama is first in total defense, Georgia is fourth and Clemson is fifth. Oklahoma is 59th in that category. Oklahoma, the logic goes, has to win via a shootout.
“We get the narrative — we understand what it is,” Sooners All-American offensive tackle Orlando Brown said.
“As a team it’s hard to hear that because those guys that play defense are my brothers, so, man, it’s obviously hard hearing that narrative. But, man, our defense continues to work here these past few weeks, and we’re hoping, and we know, they’re going to be able to come out and play their best.”
[B]–Clemson wide receiver[/B] Hunter Renfrow is a former walk-on who has turned into a cult-hero star, hauling in six postseason touchdown receptions amid his 14 career touchdowns. He made the game-winning catch with one second left against Alabama last season.
“Hunter Renfrow is a pain in the you know what,” Saban said.
Renfrow doesn’t look that dangerous at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds, but Saban called the junior “very quick, very instinctive” and added, “very crafty … very smart.”
Renfrow has a team-high 55 receptions for 571 yards this season, followed closely by Deon Cain (52-659) and Ray-Ray McCloud (46-502).
Renfrow has four touchdown catches against Alabama in the past two national title games.
“They’ve been special,” Renfrow said. “That’s part of my legacy that I will leave behind.”
On Monday, he could be matched in coverage by Alabama All-American safety Minkah Fitzpatrick.
“I’m anxious to see that matchup. Obviously, Minkah is the bigger, more physical guy,” Clemson co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott told reporters this week. “But Renfrow, he’s a technician. Now you’re going to see technique vs. athletic ability.”
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