Big plays help UCF overcome turnovers for Fiesta Bowl halftime lead

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If you overlooked the Fiesta Bowl, you are missing out on some good, quality entertainment. UCF leads Baylor 28-20 at the half thanks to some big plays by the offense.

UCF running back Storm Johnson gave the Golden Knights an early spark. An 11-yard touchdown run gave UCF an early 7-0 lead following a 76-yard drive over six plays. Minutes later Johnson entered the end zone once again on a shorter run to capitalize on a drive that started at midfield. Quarterback Blake Bortles had 183 passing yards in the first half, highlighted by a 50-yard touchdown pass to Rannell Hall midway through the second quarter to build a 21-13 lead and another 34-yard touchdown play to Hall for the final score of the half.

Before it turned in to a lopsided half, Baylor managed to counter with their first touchdown of the game. Late in the first quarter, quarterback Bryce Petty picked up a short touchdown run to put the Bears on the scoreboard. Petty later helped Baylor capitalize on an interception thrown by UCF quarterback Blake Bortles. Petty completed a pass over the middle to Levi Norwood, who then maneuvered out of traffic and made a run for the end zone to bring Baylor to within one point. A botched extra point attempt left Baylor trailing by one, 14-13.

Baylor got another chance immediately following the ensuing kickoff though. Johnson had the ball punched out of hands by a Baylor defender and the Bears recovered in great field position. UCF returned the favor though by picking off a pass from Petty in the end zone to protect the 14-13 lead. Five plays later Bortles connected on the 50-yard touchdown pass to Hall for the 21-13 lead.

After Petty’s summersault in to the end zone brought the Bears to within one, Bortles again led UCF to a touchdown. He did so once again by connecting with Hall. Bortles completed a pass to Hall, who managed to find an open path to the end zone down the right sideline with a blocker in front of him down field. A leap in to the end zone extended UCF’s lead to 28-20 in the final minute of the half.

Baylor kicker Aaron Jones had a last-second field goal attempt sail just right of the uprights as the half came to a close.

Camrin Knight transferring from Florida to Georgia State

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For the second time this week, one Sun Belt Conference program has apparently landed a Power Five transfer.

Per a report from 247Sports.com, Camrin Knight has decided to transfer out of the Florida football program. The Gainesville Sun subsequently confirmed the initial report.

The recruiting website also reported that Knight will be transferring to Georgia State. Earlier this week, it was also reported that South Carolina’s Pete Leota would be transferring to GSU as well.

Barring something unexpected, Knight will be forced to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA bylaws.

A three-star 2015 recruit, Knight played in eight games as a true freshman tight end. His playing time was cut exactly in half last season, and he moved to linebacker this past spring.

Nebraska linebacker Greg Simmons leaves the Huskers

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It has been a busy day for Nebraska football news here at College Football Talk, but here’s one more story to fill your plate. Redshirt freshman linebacker Greg Simmons is no longer with the Nebraska program, according to reports.

Sean Callahan of Huskers Online reported Simmons has left the football team, as confirmed by a Nebraska spokesperson. No reason for his departure was given.

Simmons did not play for Nebraska in 2016, in part due to a neck injury suffered in fall camp. After the spring practice season, Simmons was buried on the depth chart. Simmons was a three-star member of Nebraska’s Class of 2016 and chose the Huskers over offers from schools like Louisville, Kentucky, Maryland, Miami, among others.

As of now, there is no indication where the Florida native will head next. Should he transfer to another FBS program, he will be required to sit out the 2017 season even though he did not play a down for the Huskers in 2016. However, if he transfers to a lower division program beneath the FBS ranks, he will be eligible to play right away in the fall. Simmons has three years of eligibility remaining after burning a redshirt season in 2016.

Clemson’s championship team leads to multiple ESPY nominations

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The ESPYS are coming. ESPN’s annual summer tradition of showering star athletes with Hollywood praise is coming in July, and fans now have a chance to vote for their picks in multiple categories. As is typically the case, the reigning national champions tend to be well-represented.

The Clemson Tigers appear multiple times among the finalists for various ESPY awards. Former quarterback Deshaun Watson, now with the NFL’s Houston Texans, is one of four finalists for the Best Championship Performance award. Despite passing for 420 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and running for 43 yards and a score against Alabama in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game last January, Watson is up against some stiff competition in the category. New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, Golden State Warriors star Kevin Durant, and Los Angeles Sparks player Candace Parker are the other finalists. Topping Brady or Durant may prove difficult for Watson considering the pedigree each of those two have. A player competing in the NBA Finals has won the award each of the past four seasons (three of them won by LeBron James). The only college football player to win the award was former Texas quarterback Vince Young in 2006 following his performance in the Rose Bowl against USC. Watson’s performance against Alabama was about as close to Young’s Rose Bowl as you can get, so maybe there is a chance.

Watson may stand a better chance of being named the Best Male College Athlete. He is the only college football player in the running and may have the most well-known name recognition across the nation compared to the others in contention, although Kansas basketball player Frank Mason could stand a chance.

Clemson’s victory over Alabama is also one of three finalists for Best Upset. The only other finalists for the award are the Mississippi State women’s basketball team upsetting the UConn women in the women’s Final Four and Denis Istomin toppling Novak Djokovic in the Australian Open. Clemson has a chance here, although the UConn women losing was a stunner. No college football game is up for Best Game despite a thrilling national championship game and a Rose Bowl for the ages. But then again, it’s hard to argue against Game 7 of the World Series and the Super Bowl, with a Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal Australian Open Final coming out as the three finalists.

Clemson is also up for Best Team, but against the Chicago Cubs, Warriors, Pittsburgh Penguins, Patriots, South Carolina women’s basketball and the United States women’s gymnastics team. It’s a loaded field.

Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is in the hunt for an ESPY though. His hurdle of a defender is in a tournament-style bracket of 16 plays for the Best Play ESPY. Given the No. 14 seed, Jackson is up against a pass by Aaron Rogers to Jared Cook that led to a playoff victory against the Dallas Cowboys, so once again it looks like a tough draw. Here’s the Jackson hurdle against Syracuse…

The ESPYS will air on Wednesday, July 12.

Vince Dooley says he would not have fired Mark Richt at Georgia

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There was a bit of a shock when Georgia decided to move on from former head football coach Mark Richt last year. Richt had been a model of consistency in a profession that sees that becoming more and more a rarity and he did so in a conference bubbling with as much pressure as any conference has from top to bottom. Regardless, it was time to try something new if the goal was to get Georgia over the hump of being a perennial SEC East Division contender and more of an annual SEC championship and College Football Playoff contender.

If the decision were up to him, former Georgia head coach Vince Dooley says he would not have fired Richt. This is something you might expect to hear from the man who brought Richt to Georgia in the first place.

“He had to make to real tough decision in changing coaches,” Dooley said to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, referring to Georgia Athletics Director Greg McGarity and the decision to fire Richt. “Mark Richt, I hired him and, well, you have this loyalty when you hire someone that you’re going to go the extra mile. If I’d have been the athletic director, I probably would have sat down with Mark and said ‘next year is very important,’ and I probably would’ve gone another year with him.”

That’s fair, of course. But it is also worth noting Richt had plenty of time to win more at Georgia and was never able to prove he could for one reason or another. At least, not to the extent others in the SEC have raised the bar during Richt’s tenure. Keep in mind how many SEC programs won SEC titles and national titles during Richt’s tenure at Georgia (Urban Meyer, Les Miles, Nick Saban among them). With all of the resources and the talent pool to recruit from available, it is easy to argue Richt should have accomplished more on the field than he ultimately did. That is not to suggest Richt was a failure at Georgia overall, because that simply would not be true at all. But when you have to compare rings, Georgia was lacking in one critical department.

And don’t think that Dooley is against current Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. On the contrary, Dooley is very optimistic and positive about Smart as the head coach of the Bulldogs.

“He’s got a great background,” Dooley said. “He knows what it takes in this league. He’s a Georgia man. He played here but then he had his training under a guy who is a proven success in Nick Saban. He’s got a good staff and the recruiting has been great. So I really think that the future is really bright.

Richt didn’t take long to land on his feet once being released by Georgia. Richt was named the head coach at Miami and is already building the Hurricanes up the way he did with Georgia. Entering the 2017 season, Miami appears to be trending upward, and we’ll see if they can keep that theme going for an entire season. In the meantime, we’ll keep dreaming about the possible collision course Richt thinks Miami and Georgia are on.