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Big Ten releases first set of nine-game schedules

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Thanks to the additions of Maryland and Rutgers, the Big Ten announced confirmed earlier this year that the conference would be going to a nine-game schedule in 2016.  Thursday morning, the slates for the first two seasons of the B1G were released.

As expected, the 2016 and 2017 schedules consist of six games versus divisional opponents as well as three cross-division games.  Indiana-Purdue (the Old Oaken Bucket) is the only cross-division rivalry that’s protected annually.

Along with the nine-game schedule, it had previously been announced that the conference would not only be dropping the pretentious Legends & Leaders divisional monikers for the more simplified East & West designations, but would be shaking up the makeup of the divisions.  The divisions beginning in 2016 will look follows:

East Division
Indiana
Maryland
Michigan
Michigan State
Ohio State
Penn State
Rutgers

West Division
Illinois
Iowa
Minnesota
Nebraska
Northwestern
Purdue
Wisconsin

When the Big Ten released its 2014 and 2015 schedules in May and June, respectively, one of the quirks was that East members Michigan and Ohio State avoided West members Nebraska and Wisconsin, and vice versa.  Thanks to what the conference calls parity-based scheduling, that will change.  Somewhat.

In 2016, the Badgers will draw the Wolverines (Oct. 1, in Ann Arbor) and the Buckeyes (Oct. 15) during their first three conference games.  While they avoid OSU in 2017, UW does get a return trip from UM in mid-November.  Conversely, the Cornhuskers have drawn the Buckeyes in both 2016 and 2017, but won’t see the Wolverines either season.

The 2017 season will mark the fourth year in a row that Nebraska and Michigan will not meet after playing each of NU’s first two seasons in the conference.

Below are the complete nine-game schedules for the first two seasons such a format will be in effect:

2016

2016 Big Ten Schedule

2017

2017 Big Ten Schedule

Final 2016 College Football Bowl Projections

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03: James Franklin, head coach of the Penn State Nittany Lions, celebrates with the Big Ten Championship trophy after Penn State beat the Wisconsin Badgers 38-31 at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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What a wild championship weekend that was. While it was fun to watch Penn State pull of a thriller against Wisconsin and see Virginia Tech threaten Clemson, the results of the final week of the regular season caused a few headaches for the College Football Playoff Selection Committee. How will everything shake out? Outside of Alabama claiming the No. 1 seed in the playoff and Western Michigan securing the Group of Five bid, things seem up in the air until the committee announces their final set of rankings on Sunday afternoon.

With all that in mind, CFTalk decided to peer into our crystal ball and see which teams wind up in certain bowl games prior to the official announcement. Running through all the scenarios, here’s how the bowl picture could play out from the final four to the very first one on December 17:

College Football Playoff

Bowl Teams
Peach Bowl No. 1 Alabama No. 4 Washington
Fiesta Bowl No. 2 Clemson No. 3 Ohio State

New Year’s Six

Bowl Teams
Rose Bowl Penn State USC
Sugar Bowl Oklahoma Auburn
Orange Bowl Florida State Michigan
Cotton Bowl Wisconsin Western Michigan

2016 FBS Bowl Games

Bowl Teams
New Mexico Bowl UTSA New Mexico
Las Vegas Bowl Houston San Diego State
Cure Bowl Appalachian State UCF
Camellia Bowl Arkansas State Central Michigan
New Orleans Bowl Southern Miss UL-Lafayette
Miami Beach Bowl South Florida Toledo
Boca Raton Bowl Western Kentucky Memphis
Poinsettia Bowl BYU* Wyoming
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Colorado State Idaho
Bahamas Bowl Old Dominion* Eastern Michigan*
Armed Forces Bowl Navy* North Texas+
Dollar General Bowl Troy Ohio
Hawaii Bowl Middle Tenn. State Hawaii
St. Petersburg Bowl Mississippi State+ Miami (OH)
Quick Lane Bowl Maryland Boston College
Independence Bowl Vanderbilt N.C. State
Heart of Dallas Bowl Louisiana Tech Army
Military Bowl Wake Forest Temple
Holiday Bowl Iowa Washington State
Cactus Bowl Baylor Boise State
Pinstripe Bowl Northwestern Pitt
Russell Athletic Bowl Virginia Tech West Virginia
Foster Farms Bowl Indiana Utah
Texas Bowl Texas A&M Kansas State
Birmingham Bowl South Carolina Tulsa
Belk Bowl Georgia Tech Arkansas
Alamo Bowl Oklahoma State Colorado
Liberty Bowl Georgia TCU
Sun Bowl North Carolina Stanford
Music City Bowl Minnesota Tennessee
TaxSlayer Bowl Miami (FL) Kentucky
Outback Bowl Nebraska Florida
Citrus Bowl Louisville LSU
Arizona Bowl South Alabama Air Force

*Accepted bowl invite
+ 5-7 team selected based on APR

No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

ORLANDO, FL - DECEMBER 03:  The Clemson Tigers take the field during the ACC Championship against the Virginia Tech Hokies on December 3, 2016 in Orlando, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

No. 7 Penn State completes comeback for the ages to claim B1G title

Penn State's Saquon Barkley (26) makes an 18-yard touchdown catch against Wisconsin's T.J. Watt (42) during the second half of the Big Ten championship NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 3, 2016, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)
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On Sept. 24, Penn State was 2-2 on the season, 0-1 in Big Ten play after a 49-10 undressing by Michigan in Ann Arbor. Their Big Ten title hopes were left for dead. As we know, they managed to rally and win the Big Ten East.

And then, with 5:15 left in the second quarter, the Nittany Lions trailed 28-7 and their chances of actually winning the game were again left for dead.

But the Cardiac Cats rallied. Again. The seventh-ranked Lions closed the game on a 31-3 run to race past No. 6 Wisconsin for a 38-31 Big Ten Championship victory.

Of course, this win means much more than that. At 11-2 on the season, winners of nine in a row and winners of college football’s best conference, the question now becomes whether the College Football Playoff selection committee chooses the Lions over 11-1 Ohio State or Pac-12 champion Washington on Sunday.

But first, the comeback.

Penn State simply could not get out of its own way — or get Wisconsin out of its way… or get in Wisconsin’s way, for that matter — over the game’s first 25 minutes. The Badgers opened by forcing two three-and-outs and launching two long touchdown drives to grab a 14-0 lead a dozen minutes into the game. After a McSorley touchdown pass put Penn State on the board, the Nittany Lions allowed an errant snap to be returned for a touchdown early in the second quarter.

James Franklin elected to go for a fourth-and-short in his own territory on the ensuing possession and was rebuffed. Wisconsin again capitalized on the mistake to grab a 28-7 lead with 5:15 remaining in the first half. Penn State again failed on a fourth-and-short near midfield on the next possession, but this time the Badgers failed to cash in. And that proved costly.

Because that failure to land the death blow allowed Penn State’s Cardiac Cats persona to awaken.

The Lions’ comeback started when McSorley hit Saeed Blacknall for a 40-yard touchdown catch with 58 seconds left in the half to pull within  a more manageable 28-14 deficit at the break.

After Wisconsin missed a field goal to open the second half, McSorley answered by finding Blacknall for a 70-yard scoring strike on the very next play. Then Penn State tied the game on its next touch as Saquon Barkley punched in a 1-yard score at the 4:22 mark of the third quarter.

Wisconsin re-gained the lead with a 23-yard Andrew Endicott chip shot, but only after Bart Houston missed what would have been a walk-in touchdown to tight end Troy Fumagalli on 2nd-and-8 from the 10-yard line.

Given the opportunity to take the lead, Penn State took full advantage, marching 81 yards in only four plays as Barkley hauled in an 18-yard wheel route from McSorley.

McSorley finished the game hitting 22-of-31 passes for 384 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions — against a defense that came in allowing eight touchdowns while swiping 21 interceptions. Compared to Houston’s numbers — 16-of-21 for 174 yards — quarterback play proved to be the difference in the game. McSorley’s play allowed Penn State to win a game in which it was out-rushed 241-51.

Wisconsin punted on its next touch, and Penn State missed its chance to deliver a knockout punch, instead settling for a 24-yard Tyler Davis field goal with 5:14 to play in the game.

Wisconsin would need a touchdown to force overtime, while Penn State would need a stop to complete its 21-point comeback. The Badgers moved to the Penn State 24, but, facing a 4th-and-1, Corey Clement was stuffed for no gain.

Penn State expired the final 58 seconds and secured the largest comeback ever in a Power 5 conference championship game.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.