Special teams were the key to North Carolina’s 39-17 victory over Cincinnati in the 2013 Belk Bowl on Saturday.
Ryan Switzer — the game’s MVP — returned his NCAA-record-tying fifth punt return for a touchdown and T.J. Logan took back a kickoff 78 yards for a score as the Tar Heels surged to a 29-3 lead then survived a special teams mistake of their own to notch their first bowl win since 2010.
UNC finishes the season at 7-6, while Cincinnati closes out at 9-4.
The game turned in favor of the Tar Heels during a key first quarter sequence. With UNC up, 7-0, punter Tommy Hibbard nailed a 59-yard punt that pinned the Bearcats at their own six. Three plays later, Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay was sacked by Brandon Ellerbee and Kareem Martin for a safety to make the score, 9-0. The Bearcats free-kicked back to the Tar Heels and that’s when Logan weaved his way to a 78-yard kickoff return. Suddenly, it was 16-0 and the Bearcats were stunned.
UNC opened its lead to 36-10 before Cincinnati regained its composure. Receiver Shaq Washington moved over to quarterback and promptly ripped off a 52-yard run. Two plays later, he was in the end zone after a nifty 10-yard scamper and the score was 36-17 with the fourth quarter barely underway.
Things got more interesting when Leviticus Payne recovered a fumble by T.J. Thorpe on the ensuing kickoff. The Bearcats had a first and goal at the UNC five yard line with plenty of time left. Would UNC choke this one away?
Not this time. The Tar Heels held when Kay’s fourth-down pass fell off the hands of Washington in the corner of the end zone.
It was a flat performance by the Bearcats, who came into the game as winners of six of their last seven. UC will try to regroup next year, most likely with touted Notre Dame transfer Gunner Kiel taking over at quarterback.
North Carolina finished up the season on a hot note, winning six of its last seven games (the one loss was by two points to Duke). A 1-5 start prevented this talented team from reaching its potential, but Larry Fedora has to be happy with how things worked out in the end, winning his first bowl game as the Tar Heels head coach.
Florida quarterback Luke Del Rio will be out of action this spring in Gainesville, the school announced on Thursday. Del Rio will instead be taking time to recover from shoulder surgery.
Del Rio underwent surgery on his non-throwing surgery on Wednesday. The surgery was on his non-throwing shoulder, but it will still take some time to rehab following the procedure.
While Del Rio is expected to be available for the fall, his absence in the spring could open the door for Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask to make a potential run for the starting job. Both were expected to be ready to compete for the starting job for the Gators this season anyway, and now each will be able to get a few more reps in the spring to work on their case to win the starting job for the 2017 season.
Del Rio was 5-1 as Florida’s starting quarterback last season before going down with a knee injury. Austin Appleby took over as Florida’s starting quarterback and led the team to a blowout victory over Iowa in the Outback Bowl at the end of the season. Del Rio passed for 1,358 yards and eight touchdowns with eight interceptions.
Coming off a second straight 11-3 season, San Diego State has rewarded head football coach Rocky Long with a contract extension. The school announced a new contract that tacks on five additional seasons to the existing contract. Long is now under contract through the end of the 2021 season.
Long was under contract through the end of the upcoming 2017 season, so the contract extension provides a little more job security for Long and enables to him to show some stability for the future of the program.
Long replaced former San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke as the head coach of the Aztecs at the end of the 2010 season after Hoke was hired by Michigan. Under Long, San Diego State has gone 54-26 with six straight winning seasons. During that run, San Diego State has won back-to-back Mountain West Conference championships the past two seasons and gone 3-3 in bowl games. Long also coached San Diego State to a conference crown in his first season on the job, in 2011. San Diego State has ended each of the past two seasons with bowl victories against a team from the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati in the 2015 Hawaii Bowl and Houston in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl).
Illinois running back Ke'Shawn Vaughn is moving on from the Illini. The sophomore announced, via Twitter, he will transfer to a new school in 2017.
Vaughn rushed for a team-high 723 yards as a freshman in 2015 with a team-leading six rushing touchdowns. This past season saw Vaughn slip to third in rushing yards with 301 yards and three touchdowns behind Kendrick Foster and Reggie Corbin under new head coach Lovie Smith. Vaughn was slowed by some injury concerns in the 2016 season with a leg injury causing him to be taken out against Minnesota and limiting him to two rushing attempts for three yards in his final two games before not getting a rushing attempt against Iowa and not playing at all against Northwestern in the season finale.
With two years under his belt, Vaughn still has two years of eligibility to play and a redshirt season still available to use to preserve his eligibility. Should he transfer to another FBS program, NCAA transfer rules will prohibit him from playing this fall. He will be eligible to play immediately if he lands at a lower division school.
The Pitt Panthers have filled out their non-conference slate for the 2018 and 2019 seasons with the addition of a home-and-home series with UCF.
The scheduling deal, announced Thursday morning, confirm UCF will host Pitt on September 19, 2018. The Knights will make the trip to Pittsburgh the following season on September 21, 2019. The two schools have faced each other just once before, with the Panthers taking a blowout 52-7 victory in Orlando on October 13, 2006.
As a member of the ACC, Pitt is required to play one power conference opponent each season in its non-conference schedule. As much as the American Athletic Conference would like us to all believe the AAC is indeed a power conference, the addition of UCF does not satisfy Pitt’s ACC scheduling requirement. However, Pitt’s ACC scheduling requirement is met in 2018 with a home game against Penn State and a road game at Notre Dame (as part of the ACC’s rotating Notre Dame schedule) and with a road game at Penn State in 2019. The Panthers and Nittany Lions will play each other in 2017 as well in State College.
For UCF, the addition of Pitt to the future schedule continues to tack on power conference opponents in future seasons. UCF will play Georgia Tech and Maryland this coming season and will play at UNC in 2018 in addition to the newly added home game against Pitt. UCF also has Stanford and Texas on future schedules in addition to more games against UNC and Georgia Tech.