Tre Mason rips Missouri, SEC record, to lead Auburn to SEC championship

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No. 3 Auburn (12-1, 8-1 SEC) running back Tre Mason was unstoppable. You know the expression “You can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him?” That wasn’t even the case for No. 5 Missouri (11-2, 7-2 SEC) Saturday night in Atlanta. Mason earned game MVP honors in leading Auburn to a 59-42 victory by rushing for 303 yards and four touchdowns to lead Auburn to the SEC Championship.

In the most offensive SEC Championship Game in the history of the game, Auburn and Missouri traded scores for most fo the night but Auburn put the clamps down in the fourth quarter, outscoring the sEC East champs 14-0 to pull away for the conference title. Mason accounted for both touchdowns. Not to be forgotten, but Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall also rushed for 100 yards in the game, going for 101 yards and a touchdown while also completing nine of his 11 pass attempts for 132 yards and another touchdown. Missouri quarterback James Franklin ended with a 303 passing yards and three touchdowns and Dorial Green-Beckham led the receivers with 144 yards and a pair of touchdown catches.

Missouri simply could not stop Mason and the Auburn running game, which has been the clear strength of Auburn this season. Why bother throwing when you can pound it out on the ground with ease?

It’s not as if Auburn has done this against teams incapable of stopping the run. The last two weeks Auburn has thrived on the ground in a big way against the top two rushing defenses in the SEC, against Alabama last week and against Missouri in the SEC Championship Game. Missouri did plenty on offense as well, but was unable to come up with some plays in the fourth quarter to keep pace with Auburn. This is just the way Auburn likes it. Auburn went up-tempo as often as possible and it gassed Missouri over time. Not many teams in the country are able to slow this offense down, but now we wait to see who will have the unenviable task of attempting to try.

Auburn will also wait to see what happens in the ACC and Big Ten championship games this evening. If Florida State or Ohio State are upset in their respective conference championship games, a spot in the BCS Championship Game will be opened up for the SEC’s champion. It is not likely Auburn will be able to pass an undefeated Florida State or Ohio State in the final BCS standings if the Seminoles and Buckeyes each win tonight.

Missouri will still be eligible for a BCS at-large spot, although it is more likely they will be playing in the Capital One Bowl against a Big Ten opponent (Nebraska?) Bowl at this point. Alabama is also eligible for an at-large bid, and the Crimson Tide could likely be the first at-large team selected by a bowl game, perhaps the Orange Bowl. If Auburn does advance to the BCS Championship Game, it is still probable Alabama would be selected by the Sugar Bowl to maintain the SEC tie-in.

Amidst Arizona State chatter, Texas Tech DC David Gibbs signs contract extension

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Almost without fail, it pays to have your name circulating through the annual churning of the coaching rumor mill.

The latest example is David Gibbs, with the Texas Tech defensive coordinator being rumored as a target for the same job with Herm Edwards at Arizona State over the past few days.  Fast-forward to Thursday night, and Tech announced that it has finalized a new two-year contract extension with Gibbs.  The coordinator is now signed through the 2019 season.

According to the school, Gibbs’ pay will be bumped from $550,000 per year to $650,000.  That number puts Gibbs right in the middle of Big 12 DC pay.

“We are fortunate to have one of the top defensive coordinators in the country in Coach Gibbs,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said in a release. “Since the conclusion of the regular season, finalizing this new contract to keep Coach Gibbs at Texas Tech has been a priority for myself and [athletic director] Kirby [Hocutt]. We look forward to continuing to build one of the nation’s top defenses in the years to come under Coach Gibbs.”

Long a punchline, the Red Raiders’ defense has steadily improved in the three years under Gibbs.  This season, their 27 takeaways led the Big 12 and are the most in a season for the football program since 2008.  They’re also currently seventh in the country with four defensive touchdowns.

With Gibbs back, he’ll have 10 returning starters with which to work next season.

“There isn’t a better person to work for than Kliff Kingsbury, and I’m looking forward to continue building this program with him,” Gibbs said. “There is still plenty of work that needs to be done, but I’m excited about the future of our team.”

RB Justin Crawford to skip West Virginia’s bowl game, begin preparing for NFL draft

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Sometimes the personnel gods giveth, and sometimes the personnel gods taketh away.

Thursday evening, West Virginia announced that quarterback Will Grier will return to Morgantown for the 2018 season.  Not long after, the same football program confirmed that Justin Crawford has decided to eschew playing in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Instead of preparing for Utah in the postseason, the senior running back will instead begin preparations for the 2018 NFL draft.

“Justin has logged a lot of miles and been a key contributor for us the past two seasons,” head coach Dana Holgorsen said. “He made a decision to not play in the bowl game based on what is best for him and his family. He came to West Virginia to further his education and be a featured back in the Big 12 and he accomplished his goals. As he starts his preparation for the NFL Draft, we wish him nothing but the best.”

Crawford has led the Mountaineers in rushing each of the past two seasons.  He’s the first WVU player to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Noel Devine in 2008-09.

After finishing third in the Big 12 this season with 1,061 yards on the ground, he was named second-team all-conference for the second straight season.  Following the 2016 season, he earned the league’s Newcomer of the Year honor.

SMU graduate assistant GJ Kinne to call plays in Frisco Bowl

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New SMU head coach Sonny Dykes has been busy assembling his staff as he prepares to jump right in the saddle to coach the Mustangs in the Frisco Bowl next week, but he will have one holdover from the previous staff to help call the shots on offense. Graduate assistant GJ Kinne will call the offensive plays for the bowl game, according to Adam Grosbard of The Dallas Morning News.

This would seem to be the most logical choice for Dykes to make in this scenario. Kinne has been working in the SMU system all season long under former head coach Chad Morris, who has moved to Arkansas with a handful of assistants. Having the most experience with the current roster and a better comfort level makes sense to have Kinne take on this responsibility so close to the bowl game. This will be a major promotion for Kinne, the former Tulsa quarterback, even if just for one game.

I certainly trust G.J. It’s going to be fun to give him an opportunity to be highly involved and it’ll be one of those things he remembers for the rest of his life,” Dykes said of the decision to have Kinne calling the offense from above. “When you’re a GA and you get to call a bowl game, it’s a pretty awesome opportunity.”

Just how smoothly this all goes is anyone’s guess. Fortunately, if things go awry, Kinne and Dykes can always just resort to going back to a chuck-it-deep mentality and see what happens.

SMU faces Louisiana Tech in the Frisco Bowl on Dec. 20.

Pitt loses second QB to transfer in as many days

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Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi may have been signed to a contract extension recently, but the Panthers are quickly getting shallow at the quarterback spot on the depth chart for 2018. For the second time in as many days, Pitt is losing a quarterback to a transfer.

Ben DiNucci is the most recent of the two to announce his decision to leave the program. Though DiNucci did not say where he is heading next, he did say in a brief message on Twitter he will be enrolling in January. He will have two years of eligibility to use, although he would have to sit out the 2018 season if he transfers to another FBS program. He would be eligible to play right away if he transfers to a lower division football program. A report from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette suggests the latter will be the case, with James Madison and Towson the two leading candidates to add DiNucci.

DiNucci was Pittsburgh’s leading passer this season with 1,091 yards and five touchdowns, although he was used mostly as a backup for Max Browne until Browne was injured after appearing in six games. DiNucci also added 126 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown, which came in Week 2 against Penn State.

DiNucci’s announcement comes just one day after Thomas MacVittie announced his own decision to leave the Panthers behind. The redshirt freshman did not appear in any games this season and was passed over on the depth chart by freshman Kenny Pickett. Pickett now becomes the top option in the passing game for the Panthers heading into the spring, unless Pitt happens to add a transfer to the mix.

Pitt will have another scholarship quarterback on the way in 2018 with the addition of incoming freshman Nick Patti out of New Jersey. Patti is not expected to be enrolling early, so he will not be around in the spring.