Louisville wins Keg of Nails, sends UCF to the BCS

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If this is the last Keg of Nails game for a long stretch of time, at least it is going out in style. No. 19 Louisville (11-1, 7-1 AAC) and Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 AAC) exchanged scores in the fourth quarter, and the two rivals needed to settle the score in overtime. Louisville scored first in overtime and then held Cincinnati out of the end zone for a 31-24 victory. With the result, UCF clinched a spot in a BCS bowl game. Louisville has already accepted a spot in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.

Louisville saw an early 10-0 lead slip away midway through the third quarter when Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay pushed forward just enough to pick up a short touchdown run, his second of the game, to give Cincinnati a 14-10 lead. That lead would hold in to the fourth quarter. Midway through the fourth quarter the fun got started. Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, one play after being taken down shy of a first down, worked some magic to escape would-be-tacklers to extend a 4th and 12 play for a first down and later tossed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Damian Copeland to cap a 13-play, 86-yard drive to regain the lead, 17-14. The play was a thing of beauty with Bridgewater again avoiding defenders to keep a play alive before heaving a rainbow to the right corner of the end zone for Copeland. Cincinnati wasted little time in striking back.

Kay completed a 57-yard pass to Mekale McKay to quickly enter the red zone, and one play later Ralph Abernathy rushed right up the middle for a 15-yard touchdown to take a 21-17 lead. As was the theme for the fourth quarter, this was not the end of the scoring. Bridgewater again drove Louisville’s offense down field, and he put Louisville back in front with a short touchdown pass to DeVante Parker on a play that appeared to have pass interference on both sides with no call. Up 24-21, Louisville could not hold on to the lead, with Cincinnati stretching the field in similar fashion to the way UCF defeated Louisville with a late score. This time Louisville managed to hold Cincinnati to a field goal, which led the game in to overtime tied at 24-24.

Louisville running back Dominique Brown scored a short touchdown run in the first overtime possession for a 31-24 lead, and Cincinnati’s final attempt on a fourth and long attempt fell incomplete to seal the fate of the game, and for UCF’s bowl plans.

UCF is now guaranteed the top spot in the American this season. No matter what happens at SMU on Saturday, UCF can do no worse than tie with Louisville for the conference crown. Thanks to an earlier head-to-head victory over the Cardinals, UCF wins the tiebreaker for the conference’s automatic BCS berth. UCF will play in their first BCS bowl game in bowl history.

Louisville finishes the regular season with a respectable 11-1 record but will not be in the BCS at-large conversation considering all of the teams still in front of them and the likelihood of Northern Illinois advancing to a BCS bowl game. Still, the success of the Cardinals this season will provide some momentum as they begin to shift conference affiliations from the AAC to the ACC next year. The big question left to answer for now is whether or not Bridgewater will be there or playing Sundays.

Bridgewater’s final game of the 2013 season may not have been overly impressive just by looking at the numbers, but he had his moments that make you say “wow.” Considering the shallow depth of the NFL’s quarterback class of 2014, Bridgewater could be a certain high draft pick.

Cincinnati had their shot to win a share of the conference championship, but the 10 wins achieved this season suggest this program will remain one of the top teams in the American in 2014.

Illinois adds longtime NFL assistant; DC Hardy Nickerson given beefed-up title

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There was some movement on the coaching staff front for Lovie Smith Friday.

Illinois announced earlier today that Gill Byrd has been hired by Smith as the Fighting Illini’s safeties coach.  Byrd will also hold the title of passing-game coordinator.

“I’m very pleased to have Gill Byrd join the Illini coaching staff,” said Smith in a statement. “We’ve spent several seasons together in the NFL and I envision Gill bringing a great combination of knowledge and enthusiasm to our program. He will be a terrific influence on the young men he coaches, and, as good a coach as he is, he is probably an even better person.”

Byrd, who played his college football at San Jose State, has spent the past 19 seasons at the NFL level, coaching defensive backs during stops with the St. Louis Rams, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and, most recently, with the Buffalo Bills last season.  This will mark Byrd’s first-ever job at any level of college football.

In addition to the hiring of Byrd, the football program also confirmed that Hardy Nickerson has been given the additional title of assistant head coach.  Nickerson has served as the Illini’s defensive coordinator and linebackers coach for each of the past two seasons.

Texas set to give DC Todd Orlando new contract with raise to $1.7 million a year

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Everything’s bigger in Texas — including the raises.

The Austin American-Statesman reports that the University of Texas System Board of Regents are set to approve several athletics-related contracts next week, headlined by athletic director Chris Del Conte’s multi-million dollar six-year deal and a hefty raise for Longhorns defensive coordinator Todd Orlando.

Orlando, who joined Tom Herman when he came over from Houston prior to last season, was already one of 15 assistants who were making over $1 million in 2017. He was courted by several programs this offseason however and the cost to retain him on the 40 Acres didn’t come cheap as his amended contract is set to pay him a reported $1.7 million as part of a new four-year deal.

Also on tap for the board? The Statesman notes that new offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Herb Hand has a three-year contract awaiting approval worth nearly $640,000 annually.

While all those new contracts do add up for the Longhorns, it’s not like the burnt orange can’t afford it all as one of a handful of programs who topped $200 million in revenue last year.

Texas A&M athletic director: “There are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC.”

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CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd recently stopped in College Station to do a deep dive on one of college football’s biggest storylinesJimbo Fisher’s $75 million move from Florida State to Texas A&M.

While the money — some $90 million for the Aggies when all is said and done — is one of the more eye-catching parts of the story that are broken down, the comments from some at the school probably won’t go unnoticed by those in Fisher’s former conference.

“I’m not going to put words in Jimbo’s mouth, but there are resource issues in the ACC versus the SEC,” Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward told CBS Sports, answering part of the question as to why the national title-winning head coach made the move from one of the sport’s blue-bloods to one of the oft-labeled “sleeping giants.”

We’re guessing those in ACC territory will not take kindly to those comments and note that some schools in the league have no problem raising cash, such as Clemson when it comes to their new football facility that has everything from mini-golf to sleep specialists. They also would probably point out that the conference has just as many national titles in the past five years as the SEC does too.

Still, when you look at the larger picture, there’s little question that the SEC is ahead of the ACC when it comes to revenues as a whole and the slow pace of facilities upgrades in Tallahassee was one of the many public grumbles that Fisher made known about before leaving FSU.

Something says all those ACC-SEC football games in 2018 will see Woodward’s comments brought up again — especially when Clemson heads to College Station to play Texas A&M in Week 2.

UCF’s Shaquem Griffin wins inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award

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UCF has won another trophy for last season and this is one they can very proudly display in the school trophy case.

That’s because recent Knights linebacker Shaquem Griffin was named the winner of the inaugural Jason Witten Collegiate Man of the Year Award during a ceremony in the Dallas area on Thursday night. Alabama safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph were also finalists for the new award.

Griffin was one of the best players in college football for UCF despite the fact that his left hand was amputated when he was younger because of a congenital condition called amniotic band syndrome. A tenacious pass rusher, he was the AAC’s defensive player of the year in 2016 and was recently named the defensive MVP of the Peach Bowl as his team capped off a perfect season.

The award honors “exemplary leadership” on and off the field from a Division I college football player and was presented by Witten’s foundation. The former Tennessee star and All-Pro tight end with the Dallas Cowboys started the award last year and serves somewhat as the college version of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.