Dave Doeren

NC State embraces prime time opportunity


North Carolina State has been here before. Last season the Wolfpack hosted No. 3 Florida State on a Thursday night and pulled a major upset within ACC play by battling back from a 16-3 deficit to upset the Seminoles. The loss took Florida State out of the BCS championship picture (Florida State would lose again to Florida with the BCS Championship well out of reach) but NC State went up an down the rest of the way to a 7-6 record. On thursday night NC State looks to pull another Thursday night upset of the ACC’s top BCS contender, No. 3 Clemson.

“Obviously we’re excited for the opportunity to coach and play against a great team like Clemson on a national stage, and these are the kind of games that players and coaches alike all joined up to do these things because of this kind of opportunity,” NC State head coach Dave Doeren said during the ACC coaches teleconference Wednesday.

Doeren is no stranger to weekday games of course, having coached in the MAC the last two seasons at Northern Illinois. Despite having coached a handful of games during the week before, even Doeren is anticipating an electric atmosphere in Raleigh Thursday night.

“I haven’t been here for a Thursday night game, but from what I understand the people really pack it in,” Doeren said. “Everyone has been talking about it in town here for the last 10 days, so I know the people are excited to be here and support the team.”

NC State is off to a 2-0 start this season and can take advantage of the national spotlight Thursday night. Other than the NFL game in Philadelphia between the Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs (you may have heard a bit about this one), the ACC game between Clemson and NC State is the only game on the football calendar. If the Wolfpack were to score the upset, it could benefit the program when it comes time for pollsters to cast their weekly ballots. The last time NC State was ranked in the AP Top 25 was the final week of the 2010 season. A loss to Maryland knocked the Wolfpack out before a bowl game against West Virginia and they have yet to return to the polls since. This was a team that had Russell Wilson playing quarterback. He has payed for two different teams since then, Wisconsin and the Seattle Seahawks.

Doeren has told his players this is an opportunity to do something special.

“I told our players yesterday, how many times do you get to play where you’re one of the only games on TV in front of a sold-out crowd against a top ten team,” Doeren explained Wednesday. “I mean, just relish the moment, enjoy the moment, and really understand how lucky you are to be in that situation and go out there and give everything you have.”

How lucky will NC State have to be to beat Clemson?

Big plays for Oklahoma leading to Bedlam Beatdown in Stillwater

Sterling Shepard, Dede Westbrook
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Big plays have been the key to a big first half for No. 3 Oklahoma in Stillwater. A 59-yard kickoff return to the Oklahoma State four-yard line set up Oklahoma’s first touchdown of a wild first half, and running backs Samaje Perine (68 yards) and Joe Mixon (66 yards) have ripped off long touchdown runs against No. 11 Oklahoma State and the Sooners hold a 44-20 lead on their in-state rivals at halftime.

Oklahoma’s first three touchdown drives all needed four plays or fewer, but the Sooners also showed it could work a drive and finish it off with a score as well. The Sooners put together a 12-play drive spanning 80 yards, with Baker Mayfield capping things off with a five-yard touchdown pass to Dimitri Flowers. Mayfield connected earlier with Sterling Shepard. Oklahoma State’s lone touchdown of the half came on a J.W. Walsh touchdown pass to Jhajuan Seales from 26 yards out. Walsh got the start instead of an injured Mason Rudolph. Rudolph sprained his ankle, but he did enter the game late in the first half as the Cowboys attempted to spark the passing game. Walsh was 13-of-19 for 133 yards and a touchdown before Rudolph entered the game. It did not go so well, as Rudolph was picked off by Jordan Thomas, who returned the interception 32 yards for a touchdown, giving Oklahoma a commanding 35-10 lead.

Just how bad of a half was this for Oklahoma State? It turns out it was the worst first half in over a decade.

Whichever team wins this game will be awarded the Big 12 championship. That was made clear when Baylor was upset by TCU last night in soggy Fort Worth, Texas. For Oklahoma, a win also likely secures a spot in the College Football Playoff despite being off next week. Oklahoma State may need a few more bounces to go their way given the most recent standings, but it would certainly be within reach if the Cowboys can beattle back to grab the win. Stopping Oklahoma’s offense to makr that happen may not be easy though given how the firts half played out.

Temple takes out UConn, will take on Houston for AAC title

PHILADELPHIA, PA - NOVEMBER 28: P.J. Walker #11 of the Temple Owls hands the ball off to Jahad Thomas #5 in the first quarter against the Connecticut Huskies on November 28, 2015 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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The final matchup for the Group of Five conferences’ championship games is officially set.

Needing a win against UConn to wrap up the AAC East, Temple went out and did just that, with the Owls closing out a very successful and historic 2015 regular season with an impressive 27-3 win over the Huskies.  A loss to UConn by Temple would’ve handed the East division to USF.

As has been the case most of the season, it was the Owls’ defense that was the star of the show as the visiting Huskies were limited to 138 yards of offense.  Putting an exclamation point on the defensive dominance, UConn averaged a meager .3 yards on 26 carries.

Now, 10-2 Temple will have a week to prepare for 11-1 West division winner Houston in the first-ever AAC championship game.  Because of the Cougars’ conference record, the game, which will very likely determine the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid, will be played on UH’s on-campus home field.

Temple will be looking for the football program’s first conference title since claiming the Middle Atlantic crown way back in 1967.  Already, though, the Owls’ 10-win season is just the second in school history, with the first coming in 1979.  With two more wins, the owls could get to 12 wins on the season; the previous three seasons, they won a total of 12 games.

Defense the story of the half for Seminoles and Gators

Sean Maguire, Bryan Cox

No. 12 Florida is already locked into playing for the SEC championship next week, but any thought of potentially playing in the College Football Playoff could be in some serious danger at home. At halftime in Gainesville, the Gators are trailing rival No. 13 Florida State 10-0 and struggling to keep drives alive.

Both teams have played well on defense, as demonstrated by the combined third-down conversion success between the two offenses. Florida has converted just three of 10 third-down attempts, while Florida State has gone without a third-down conversion despite having seven tries. The Seminoles did convert a fourth down play, and it was a big one.

Sean Maguire had one of those “no, no, no, yes!” moments midway through the first quarter. On fourth and goal from the one-yard line, Maguire rolled right and looked for an open receiver. As he ran out of room on the right side of the field, he threw against his body to a covered Jeremy Kerr in the end zone and somehow managed to thread a needle for a touchdown. The score lifted the Seminoles to a 10-0 lead.

Florida  was dealt a scare in the final minutes of the half. Running back Kelvin Taylor needed to be helped off the field after appearing to injure his left ankle. He returned after missing just a couple of plays for the Gators.

Cardinal, Irish trade late offensive punches in tight first half

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Christian McCaffrey #5 of the Stanford Cardinal runs with the ball against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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In a contest that’s essentially a play-in game for a continuing chance at the College Football Playoff, both Notre Dame and Stanford are slugging it out like they’re aware of exactly what’s on the line.

Through a quarter and a half of play, the defensive talent was evident on both sides of the ball; the last half-quarter, though, both offenses awoke as the Cardinal has taken a 21-20 lead on the Irish heading into the halftime locker room.  Trailing 14-13 and having seen a pair of drives stall inside the Cardinal 10-yard line, the Irish eschewed another red zone opportunity to squander as DeShone Kizer hit Will Fuller on a pretty 73-yard touchdown pass with 2:15 left in the second quarter to give them a 20-14 lead.

The Cardinal, meanwhile, scored on its first two possessions of the game, with both touchdowns coming off the arm of senior quarterback Kevin Hogan.  While those first two drives netted 153 yards of offense, the next two totaled all of 24 yards and ended with a pair of punts.  The Cardinal’s possession after the late Irish touchdown began at their own 25 and ended with the third Hogan touchdown pass of the half, accounting for the 21-20 halftime score.

The Domers actually had the opportunity to add at least three more points after that, but a Kizer fumble near the Cardinal 20-yard line that was recovered by Stanford wasted another scoring opportunity for the Irish.

C.J. Sanders‘ 93-yard kick return was the Irish’s first score of the game.  Justin Yoon kicked a pair of field goals at the end of the drives that petered out in the red zone.

In addition to the three touchdowns, Hogan has thrown for a game-high 180 yards.  Heisman candidate Christian McCaffrey totaled 137 all-purpose yards — 55 rushing, 23 receiving, 59 on kick returns.