UCF continues conference dominance after 17-12 victory over Houston

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Whether it is the Big East or American Athletic Conference, the UCF Knights won 10 straight league games after Thursday’s 17-12 victory over the Houston Cougars. It only took a game-saving forced fumble by Knights safety Brandon Alexander with 24 seconds remaining to clinch the win.

While the Knights had the luxury of quarterback Blake Bortles in previous seasons, a George O’Leary squad is always built around fundamentally sound defense. The defense couldn’t have come up any bigger than it did against the Cougars as it appeared the game was about to slip away and result in a loss.

Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was on the verge of slicing through the Knights’ defense to steal a victory as he dove for the end zone. Alexander worked his way across the field to hit Ward’s arms as the quarterback attempted to stretch the ball beyond the goal line. Alexander’s hit forced a fumble which went out of the back of the end zone. And a desperate Cougars comeback fell short.

Despite coming up inches short, a quarterback controversy is brewing for the Houston Cougars.

Ward did everything in his power to close the deficit the Cougars faced after sophomore signal-caller John O’Korn struggled through another half. O’Korn may be the traditional pocket passer while Ward does everything on offense and special teams, but the backup quarterback brought a completely different dynamic as a runner as well as a passer. Ward was 10-of-17 passing for 116 yards in the second half. O’Korn, meanwhile, was 12-of-25 passing for 98 yards and a pair of interceptions through the first two quarters.

UCF doesn’t have the same concerns. They settled on sophomore Justin Holman after the first half of the first game against the Penn State Nittany Lions. Holman was only 3-of-10 passing in the first half, but he connected with wide receiver Breshad Perriman for 52 yards and the game’s deciding touchdown in the third frame.

The Knights are now one of four teams in the American to open conference play with a 1-0 record. This particular victory was vital since the Cougars were expected to be one of the top teams vying for a conference crown. With Houston out of the way, UCF can now concentrate the No. 18 BYU Cougars before the Knights reenter conference play.

Alabama and Penn State land two Jim Thorpe Award semifinalists

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Th semifinalists for the Jim Thorpe Award were unveiled on Monday, and it goes to show how good the defensive secondaries are for Alabama and Penn State. The Crimson Tide and Nittany Lions were the only schools with two semifinalists out of the 13 total players to be announced as semifinalists for the award for the nation’s top defensive back.

Alabama is represented by Minkah Fitzpatrick and Levi Wallace. Alabama has one Jim Thorpe Award winner in the history of the award (first awarded in 1986), with Antonio Langham winning the award in 1993. Penn State is looking for the first Jim Thorpe Award winner in school history. Marcus Allen and Grant Haley have been named semifinalists for the award this year, giving Penn State a chance to have a player win the award.

Other notable players named as a semifinalist include Florida State’s Derwin James and Duke’s Jeremy McDuffie and Ohio State’s Denzel Ward. The Big Ten, SEC, and ACC all have three semifinalists. The winner of the award will be announced during the annual Home Depot College Football Awards Show on December 7 on ESPN.

2017 Jim Thorpe Award Semifinalists

Marcus Allen, Penn State
Quin Blanding, Virginia
Jalen Davis, Utah State
DeShon Elliott, Texas
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Grant Haley, Penn State
Derwin James, Florida State
Jeremy McDuffie, Duke
Parry Nickerson, Tulane
Justin Reid, Stanford
Dominick Sanders, Georgia
Levi Wallace, Alabama
Denzel Ward, Ohio State

College football’s Week 9 mid-afternoon schedule is loaded

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The Week 9 schedule in college football is lacking for too much buzz in the primetime slot this week, so you will want to stay plugged in in the middle of the afternoon. Before Virginia Tech, Clemson, Oklahoma, and Washington State all get into action in the primetime slots across the networks, the biggest games of the day will have already been played.

This week’s 3:30 pm ET time slot is stacked and highlighted by three games between ranked opponents, all with various conference championship and/or playoff implications on the line. And because the World Series is scheduled to have a game Saturday night, FOX has reserved a colossal Big Ten matchup for the 3:30 pm time slot this week. As good as the game may be, it will have some stiff competition from each of the the other networks.

No. 6 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Penn State (3:30 p.m. ET, FOX)

The game of the week will take place in the Big Ten. After a dismantling of Michigan’s defense, Penn State heads to Columbus to take on a rested Ohio State squad looking for revenge for their lone regular-season loss from a season ago. Saquon Barkley will be in the spotlight once again, but don’t overlook J.T. Barrett’s recent string of success. The winner of this one is likely heading to the Big Ten championship game to face Wisconsin. But the way this season is going, both teams could still very much be on the College Football Playoff radar if the Buckeyes win a close one.

No. 9 Notre Dame vs. No. 14 NC State (3:30 p.m ET, NBC)

You can probably consider this one an elimination game just before the College Football Playoff selection committee gets to work. Each team enters with one loss, which makes a second loss nearly devastating for playoff hopes. Josh Adams running the ball is tough to slow down, but NC State has already locked down wins against Florida State and Louisville, so they are feeling confident off a bye week. A loss for the Wolfpack dings the ACC a bit, but of course, NC State remains undefeated in conference play with Clemson at home coming up soon. A two-loss NC State could end up hurting the ACC’s playoff chances.

No. 3 Georgia vs. Florida (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

The Bulldogs have been ruling, but throw the records out when these two teams face each other in Jacksonville, right? The bottom line is the Gators lack any offensive punch so it will be up to Florida’s defense to find a way to keep the game within reach just in case Georgia makes a costly mistake. A Georgia win puts the Bulldogs one giant step closer to Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.

No. 25 Iowa State vs. No. 4 TCU (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC/ESPN2)

The Cyclones have cracked the top 25 rankings and are hoping to score another upset to stay there. This week, Matt Campbell and his rising program host TCU with a chance to remain in the hunt for an appearance in the Big 12 championship game. It is probably unlikely Iowa State reaches the conference championship game, but we can no longer assume a loss for Iowa State any given week.

Other midafternoon games worth noting

No. 12 Washington vs. UCLA: Huskies still on the playoff radar but need to be impressive moving forward.

No. 17 USF vs. Houston: Bulls look to score nice win to stay near the top of Group of Five pecking order.

No. 17 South Florida breaks AP Poll-era record of consecutive games with 30-plus points

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South Florida has been viewed by most as a bit of a disappointment this season. Such is the burden of perfection, because a so-called disappointing start still sees Charlie Strong‘s Bulls sitting at No. 16 in the AP poll with a 6-0 start and its streak of scoring 30-plus points still intact.

Correction: South Florida’s AP Poll-era record streak of scoring 30-plus points is still intact.

The Bulls beat Tulane 34-28 on Saturday, pushing the streak to 24 games. And according to ESPN’s Stats and Information department, that is now the FBS record for the AP poll era, which dates back to 1936.

For the year, South Florida is tied for ninth in FBS with a 41.6 scoring average. The Bulls are one of seven FBS teams to average more than 300 rushing yards per game, and one of just three non-triple option teams to accomplish the feat, joining Arizona and No. 13 Notre Dame.

The streak could actually be at 25 games right now if not for Hurricane Irma. The storm forced South Florida to push back at trip to Connecticut from Sept. 9 to Nov. 4 and in the process eliminated a scheduled Oct. 14 game against UMass. UConn and UMass both allow more than 30 points per game.

As it stands, South Florida has a great shot to push the record to at least 27 games. The Bulls’ next opponent, Houston, allows 24 points a game and just surrendered 42 points in one half in a home loss to No. 25 Memphis. USF visits UConn on Nov. 4, and then concludes its home schedule against Tulsa, who ranks No. 117 nationally with a 37.6 scoring defense average.

Then comes the big test: the regular season finale at No. 20 Central Florida. The Knights rank 16th nationally with 17.5 points per game allowed and have not allowed more than 23 points in a game this season (a game in which they scored 51).

Georgia Southern confirms firing of head coach Tyson Summers

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As was reported by a handful of outlets moments ago, Georgia Southern has now confirmed that Tyson Summers is out as head coach.

Summers went 5-13 as head coach, including an 0-6 mark this season after falling to previously winless Massachusetts 55-20 on Saturday.

“I thank Tyson and his family for their contributions to Georgia Southern,” AD Tom Kleinlein said in a statement. “Being the leader of a college football program is more than just coaching games; it’s managing academics and leading 120 young men. Tyson did a great job in areas that the public doesn’t see, but at the end of the day, the results on the field weren’t where we needed them to be as we continue our growth as an FBS program. I wish he and his family all the best moving forward in their future endeavors.”

Kleinlein also confirmed that assistant head coach Chad Lunsford will be bumped to interim head coach.

“Chad is as ‘True Blue’ as they come and I’m excited to have him lead our team for the remainder of the 2017 season,” Kleinlein said. “The players respect him and I have full confidence in his abilities as we head into the final six games of the season.”

Lunsford will begin his tenure as interim head coach at Troy on Saturday.