Northwestern drops Miss. St. for first bowl win in over six decades

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In the first of three New Year’s Day bowl games pitting Big Ten schools against SEC teams, Northwestern gave an early shot in the arm to a conference that’s seen more downs than ups in a rough 2012 season.  And, in the process, accomplished something that hasn’t happened since Harry S. Truman was sitting in the Oval Office.

Thanks in large part to utter quarterback ineptness on the part of its opponent, No. 21 Northwestern took an early two-score lead before pulling away late in a 34-20 Gator Bowl win over Mississippi State.  The Wildcats, who entered the game No. 15 in the country in rushing yards per game, did the majority of their scoring damage on the ground as they ran for three touchdowns on the day.

The win marked Northwestern’s first in a bowl game since January of 1949.  It also snapped the football program’s nine-game losing streak in the postseason, dating back to the Wildcats’ 20-14 Rose Bowl win over Cal exactly 64 years ago today.

“I’m just so ecstatic for this football program,” an emotional NU head coach Pat Fitzgerald said immediately after the game. “This was the one last negative we needed to erase.”

That decades-long streak was stopped thanks in large part to Tyler Russell.  The Bulldogs starting quarterback entered the Gator Bowl having thrown just six interceptions all season long; 28 pass attempts later, Russell added four to that total in a single game.  His third pass of the game was intercepted by NU’s Quentin Williams (pictured) and returned 29 yards for a touchdown, giving the Wildcats a 7-0 lead that the Bulldogs could never completely overcome.

Russell’s miscues resulted in 17 points for Northwestern, clearly the difference in the game.  While Northwestern threw three interceptions of their own, MSU was able to convert those turnovers into just three points thanks to a Wildcats defense that, in addition to the four picks, sacked Russell four times and limited him to just 106 yards on 12-of-28 passing.

Northwestern finishes the season at 10-3, the program’s first year with double-digit wins since 1995 under Gary Barnett.  Mississippi State, on the other hand, limped, staggered and stumbled to the end of an eight-win season.  After beginning 2012 7-0, the Bulldogs lost five of their last six games by an average of 21.4 points per game.

NC State adds Division 2 graduate transfer kicker

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It’s possible Dave Doeren‘s life would feel completely different right now if he had a better kicker in 2016.

In this reality, Doeren is 25-26 after four seasons in Raleigh, coming off back-to-back 7-6 seasons following his 8-5 breakthrough of 2014. But if his Wolfpack could kick last year, Doeren is most likely riding high after an 8-4 regular season buoyed by a win over Clemson in Death Valley. Because not only did NC State lose that game on a late field goal whiff, the Pack also suffered a 33-30 loss to East Carolina in which it endured two missed field goals.

NC State’s two kickers combined to hit only 9-of-17 tries last fall, good for 121st nationally, and ranked 104th with a 93.3 percent conversion rate on 45 extra points. And the situation wasn’t getting better this spring.

To rectify that situation, NC State announced the addition of kicker Carson Wise. A graduate transfer from Division II Carson-Newman, Wise will have two years of availability for the Wolfpack.

Wise connected on 21-of-31 field goals and 97-of-101 PATs last season, numbers that, on their face, do not represent massive changes from what NC State posted last season. But Doeren is banking on Wise as a solution for NC State in 2017.

“I’m excited to have Carson join the family,” Doeren said in a statement. “He is a talented player who should be a great addition to our special teams as we look for him to handle our field goal and kickoff duties this fall.”

Arkansas House votes to exempt sporting venues from expanded gun law

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Remember how we talked about it’s impossible to follow sports and ignore politics? Not long after John Swofford released a statement on how a North Carolina law would effect ACC sporting events, the Arkansas legislature passed a bill that will do the same in the SEC.

The Arkansas House voted 71-20 to allow its state colleges and universities to exempt themselves from a law that greatly expands venues permitting concealed-carry handguns. Until the passing of SB724 today, guns would have been permissible inside Razorback Stadium, among other places.

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement earlier this week urging state lawmakers to remove sporting venues from the bill. “HB 1249 creates concerns for the Southeastern Conference and its member institutions,” he said. “It remains our collective desire to provide a safe environment for student-athletes, coaches, officials and fans, and will continue to closely monitor the status of this legislation.”

Passing the bill was made more complicated by the involvement of the NRA, according to Rep. Jimmy Gateway.

The bill must now head back to the Senate before it can receive final approval from Governor Asa Hutchinson.

John Swofford releases statement on North Carolina repeal of HB2

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It’s pretty much impossible to keep politics out of the sports page today. SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was forced to release a statement on Tuesday urging Arkansas state legislators to exempt Razorbacks sporting venues from a bill that would greatly expand areas allowing concealed-carry handguns, and now ACC commissioner John Swofford has been forced to wade back into political waters.

North Carolina’s state legislature brokered a deal Thursday with new governor Roy Cooper to repeal House Bill 2, the controversial law requiring persons within Tar Heel state borders to use public bathrooms matching their gender at birth. The “bathroom bill” cost the state a reported $3.76 billion in revenue, and some of that lost revenue related directly to college football.

Following the NCAA’s lead of revoking the state’s championship event hosting privileges due to HB2, the ACC moved its football championship game from Charlotte to Orlando (the men’s basketball tournament was previously booked for Brooklyn), a move that cost the conference itself money as well.

Thursday’s repeal of HB2 is more complicated than simply yanking the bathroom bill (this is where I’ll direct you to a much more appropriate place to digest the political news of the hour than a college football blog) and, as such, Swofford’s statement is appropriately nuanced.

The ACC is still undecided where this December’s title game will be played, and Swofford will kick that decision upstairs to the league’s presidents.

Oklahoma OL Christian Daimler to pursue graduate transfer

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Oklahoma offensive tackle Christian Daimler will pursue a transfer, according to a message posted to his Twitter account Thursday.

As a fifth-year senior, Daimler qualifies as a graduate transfer and will be eligible immediately. “I could not be more excited about what my future holds,” Daimler wrote. “Wherever I end up I know that I will always be a Sooner and for that am I so proud. This University [sic] will forever remain close to my heart. Boomer Sooner.”

If that name does not immediately ring a bell, you are forgiven. Daimler appeared in three games as a Sooner, all over last season.

Hailing from Houston, Daimler, who stands 6-foot-7 and is listed at 321 pounds, was a 3-star recruit when he signed with Oklahoma over Texas A&M, Arizona State and Colorado, among others.