Clemson makes ACC proud, hangs on vs Georgia

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And breathe…

Clemson and Georgia was everything it was expected to be on offense, trading blows with each other for most of the night until Clemson finally delivered a knock out blow. Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd completed a touchdown pass to Stanton Seckinger midway through the fourth quarter to give the home team their largest lead of the night. Georgia cut in to a double-digit Clemson lead in the final minutes, but an offsides kick was recovered by Clemson to essentially lock up a win in a battle of top ten programs, 38-35.

This one was all about the offenses. Georgia out-gained Clemson in total yards, 544-467. Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray passed for 323 yards but failed to throw a touchdown pass (he dud rush for one in the final minutes from the goal line). Murray was also picked off once by Clemson. His counterpart, Clemson’s Boyd, had a much better performance by passing for 270 yards and three touchdowns, rushed for two more and had zero interceptions.

The running backs for both sides also had big time performances. Clemson’s Roderick McDowell rushed for 132 yards, but Georgia’s Todd Gurley led all players with 154 yards and a pair of touchdowns. After making some strong statements in the off-season about his confidence, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins recorded 127 receiving yards and a touchdown in the season opener.

Both teams showed they have some holes on defense, but perhaps that was expected. Georgia’s defense was not a lock-down type of defense last year but they had a knack for creating turnovers. Georgia created one turnover but the offense lost the football twice.

So, what’s next? Georgia has the tougher road ahead of them of course. Next week the Bulldogs take on South Carolina, a team that has been a hurdle for Georgia in recent years. South Carolina also gets a couple of extra days to prepare for the game after opening their season on Thursday night.

Georgia head coach Mark Richt will surely be placed back in the cross hairs of critics after losing the season opener and some already dipping their pends in the ink well to write off Richt and Georgia against their SEC East rivals from Columbia, South Carolina. It is not an easy situation to be in, but even a loss to South Carolina might not be enough to completely ruin a run for an SEC title. But Georgia was within yards of a spot in the BCS Championship Game last season and fans are waiting to see Georgia get over that hump. A season opening loss to an ACC team, albeit a good ACC team and on the road, will not sit well for Georgia and their fans. Not when Alabama steam rolled Virginia Tech, South Carolina took care of North Carolina and Florida managed to put together a solid effort despite a handful of suspensions.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney is as far removed from a hot seat as possible. Clemson became the first non-SEC team to win consecutive games against top ten SEC teams, dating back to the Chick-fil-A Bowl victory over LSU last December. Clemson’s offense lived up to the hype and they should be tough to beat in ACC play. The key games on the schedule remain Florida State and South Carolina, but the Tigers should always be placed on upset alert it seems thanks to a tendency to fall victim to an act of Clemsoning at the least convenient of times.

Next week the Tigers stay home to play host to FCS South carolina State, and it should not be expected that Clemson falls victim to the FCS bug that seems to be going around this opening week. Clemson’s first road trip will come the following week when they take on North Carolina State in an early ACC contest. NC State blasted Louisiana Tech 40-14 in their season opener. The Wolfpack lost quarterback Brandon Mitchell to a broken foot, that will require surgery.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.