SEC Championship - Alabama v Georgia

Tide runs & rolls over UGA, into title game

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From the moment it became unofficially official that the winner of the SEC championship game would earn a spot in the BCS title game, most individuals without a definitive lean toward the Red & Black had already penciled in Alabama as the team opposite Notre Dame in South Beach.

Tuscaloosans, you may unofficially officially break out the Sharpies.

Armed with a punishing running game for which the Georgia defense simply had no answer, the No. 2 Tide rolled over, around and through the No. 3 Bulldogs in claiming their second SEC championship under Nick Saban.  In the 32-28 win, the Tide set an SEC title-game record with 350 yards rushing, although, in an ironic twist, it was a breathtaking 45-yard AJ McCarron-to-Amari Cooper connection with just over three minutes left that proved to be the knockout punch for the defending national champions.

With the win — the closest margin of victory in the SEC title game since 1997 — the Tide sets itself up for an unprecedented third BcS title in four years.  And set the nation up for a BCS title game for the ages, a North vs. South showdown with the Fighting Irish carrying the potential to shatter records for both ratings on game day and vitriol spewed in the weeks leading up to the first week of January.

The Jan. 7 matchup for all the crystal will mark the first game between the two storied programs since 1987.

Alabama’s destination is now known; the late-game road the Tide took to get there?  Much to the detriment of the UGA coaching staff and the angst of the fan base, it will be discussed for months, if not years, to come.

While the player of the game was undoubtedly and literally Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 181 yards and two touchdowns in the Tide’s win…  and while the play of the game came off the right arm of a battle-tested veteran into the hands of a fresh-faced freshman… all the while UGA fans will be lamenting what could’ve been courtesy of late-game clock management that only a Kiffin could love.

Taking over at their own 15-yard line with 1:08 left down by four and with no timeouts, the Bulldogs drove down to the Tide eight-yard line, the last 26 coming on an Aaron Murray-to-Arthur Lynch completion with under 20 seconds left.  With the clock stopped for the chains to move for the first down, most expected UGA to hustle to the line, spike the ball with 10-15 seconds left and give themselves at least two, probably three shots at the end zone.

Instead, and inexplicably, Georgia ran a play.  On a pass that was supposed to be a fade-type route into the end zone, it was instead tipped at the line and dropped into the arms of Chris Conley, who dropped to the turf before reaching the sidelines to stop the clock.  With no timeouts remaining, all UGA could do was watch the clock expire on their hopes of a first national championship in more than three decades.

The play in and of itself certainly didn’t cost the Bulldogs the game; their run defense shoulders most of that load.  It did, though, arm Mark Richt‘s detractors with additional ammunition.

However, the end of the game shouldn’t take away the effort both teams spilled on the Georgia Dome turf.  And the history the Alabama Crimson Tide is on the verge of making — becoming the first team to win three titles in four years in the BCS era.

Their opponent will also be looking to stake their claim to some of their own history, with Notre Dame out to break a tie for most-ever Associated Press titles.  The team with which they’re tied at eight?  Alabama.

Roll Tide Roll.  Play Like A Champion Today.

A title game for the ages indeed.

Greg Ward Jr., to Heisman voters: ‘Psssttt, I’m still here, don’t forget’

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (1) runs past Connecticut defensive lineman Folorunso Fatukasi, left, en route to a 30-yard touchdown in the first half of an NCAA college football game, Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
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Deservedly so, most of the Heisman focus these first four-plus weeks of the 2016 season has been squarely on Lamar Jackson and the stunningly phenomenal season the Louisville quarterback is putting together. There are others, though, who merit mention.

Case in point? Greg Ward Jr.

In No. 6 Houston’s Thursday night 42-14 romp over UConn, the quarterback completed just over 84 percent of his passes for 389 yards and three touchdowns, and ran for 65 yards and two scores for good measure. The win was the Cougars’ eighth in a row, with the last loss coming Nov. 21 of last year to… these very same Huskies.

On at least one occasion in avenging the loss, though, Ward Jr.’s sterling completion percentage got a little help from one of his receiving friends.

The latest virtuoso performance, which included his third 300-yard passing game of the season, pushed Ward Jr. to 1,503 yards of offense (1,325 passing, 178 rushing) and 13 total touchdowns (eight passing, five rushing) in four games while also battling a lingering shoulder issue. For comparison’s sake, and you know we’re not alone in doing so, Jackson will enter Week 5 with a statistical ledger that’s straight from a teenager’s video game: 1,856 yards of total offense and a ridiculous 25 total touchdowns in his four games.

While it’s still quite a ways down the road, Ward’s Cougars and Jackson’s Cardinals will square off in what’s shaping up to be a monumental mid-November Thursday night game that could go a long way in determining not only the Heisman race, but helping to shape the playoff picture as well.  In between, voters, don’t forget about the kid from Houston.

Report: Wisconsin linebacker Vince Biegel undergoes surgery, out as long as a month

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30:  Sojourn Shelton #8 of the Wisconsin Badgers, Vince Biegel #47 of the Wisconsin Badgers, T.J. Edwards #53 of the Wisconsin Badgers react to a interception during the second half of a game against the USC Trojans in the National University Holiday Bowl at Qualcomm Stadium on December 30, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Just in time for their toughest stretch of the season, No. 8 Wisconsin may be without one of the team’s most important defensive players.

Badgers linebacker Vince Biegel is set to miss the next several weeks after undergoing surgery to insert a screw in his cracked foot.

“He’s been playing on it for the last couple weeks, and it was bothering him a little bit,” Biegel’s father Rocky told ESPN. “He had X-rays last night and confirmed it was cracked. He either plays on it, and then if he breaks it, then he’s going to be out for eight weeks. Either way, he’s got to have surgery on it. So he can keep playing until it breaks or try to go through the season with it and try to fix it. At any time, he could break it all the way through. It was just a crack and they’re just putting a screw in it. It’s a very, very minor crack.”

No matter how minor it is, losing Biegel for as long as a month is a huge blow to a defense that has been among the best in the country this season. Wisconsin does have a bye week after traveling to No. 4 Michigan on Saturday but also have to play No. 2 Ohio State and division rivals Iowa and Nebraska to close out October.

Biegel has nine tackles on the year and a sack but is among the most experienced players on the team having played in 46 games at Wisconsin, including 32 starts. Redshirt freshman Zack Baun is expected to take his place.

If there is one bright spot for head coach Paul Chryst and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox however, it’s that the Badgers’ linebacking corp is one of the best in the country. Still, as good as Jack Cichy, T.J. Edwards and T.J. Watt have been this year, they’ll have to step up their games with an imposing schedule coming up.

Houston missing four starters for AAC matchup against UConn

SAN MARCOS, TX - SEPTEMBER 24: Duke Catalon #2 of the Houston Cougars runs against Brandon McDowell #6 of the Texas State Bobcats at Bobcat Stadium on September 24, 2016 in San Marcos, Texas. (Photo by Chris Covatta/Getty Images)
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Houston is looking to avenge their only loss of the 2015 season on Thursday night against Connecticut but the Cougars will have to do so a little short-handed.

According to the Houston Chronicle, the team is down a whopping four starters and a key backup against the Huskies: starting linebackers Tyus Bowser (head injury) and Matthew Adams (coaches’ decision), running back Duke Catalon (head injury), cornerback Brandon Wilson (lower leg) plus backup tight end Alex Leslie (ankle injury).

Catalon has already missed a game this season and is arguably the biggest loss for the team as that will force them to rely on quarterback Greg Ward Jr. (who missed last year’s game) even more against UConn. The transfer from Texas is averaging 4.7 yards a carry on the year and had a big game against Oklahoma in the opener.

Coach Tom Herman and the sixth-ranked Cougars still should be able handle their business at home against a conference foe but the mounting injuries this early in the season are starting to get a little concerning if you’re a Houston fan.

Alabama quarterback Blake Barnett officially withdraws from school

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 05:  Blake Barnett #6 of the Alabama Crimson Tide throws before the Advocare Classic against the Wisconsin Badgers at AT&T Stadium on September 5, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Despite the wishes of Alabama head coach Nick Saban, the Crimson Tide depth chart officially became a little thinner on Thursday.

After nearly a day of speculation, Alabama announced that quarterback Blake Barnett is no longer a part of the Crimson Tide football team.

“We received word this afternoon that Blake Barnett has officially withdrawn from school and is no longer with our program,” Saban said in a statement. “The quarterback position is a very unique position where only one player can play. We are very disappointed any time a player leaves the program who feels he can compete for a starting position elsewhere, rather than here at Alabama. We wish Blake the very best of luck in the future.”

Barnett started the opener against USC and has thrown for 219 yards and two touchdowns on the year. However the redshirt freshman lost the starting job to true freshman Jalen Hurts and has only played sparingly in the first month of the season.

Saban recently said he wanted Barnett to remain with the program but it seems pretty obvious that playing time would be limited as the team’s backup signal-caller and a transfer would be forthcoming. Now it appears the only question is where to for the former five-star recruit, who is a Southern California native and was recruited by nearly everybody coming out of high school.