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Miami overcomes week of heartache, turmoil to stun Duke

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To say it’s been a rough week for the Miami football program on and off the field would be a sizable understatement.

Exactly a week ago, the Hurricanes sustained the worst loss in the history of the Hurricanes, leading to the firing of head coach Al Golden the following day. Starting quarterback Brad Kaaya sustained a concussion in the loss and was ruled out of today’s game against No. 22 Duke, while defensive tackle Michael Wyche was charged in a domestic violence incident. Most tragically, the much-beloved mother of defensive back Artie Burns suffered a heart attack Monday and passed away the next day.

With all of that tumult and heartbreak thundering around them, The U proved once again what kind of sanctuary a football field can be as they went into Durham and stunned the Blue Devils 30-27 on one of the most wild endings in the history of any sport.  Duke had scored a touchdown with just six seconds left on the clock to take a 27-24 lead.  The Blue Devils squibbed the ensuing kickoff and, eight laterals, 46 seconds of real time, 75 yards of statistical movement, a couple of hundred yards of actual motion and a seemingly eternal officiating review, Miami-Duke told Stanford-Cal to go have a seat, son.

We’ll now await word from the ACC as to if or, even worse, why the block in the back that was initially called on that play was reversed under review when such a penalty is not reviewable.  Or how the knee of a Miami player that was seemingly down during the course of one of the laterals wasn’t picked up during the nearly 10-minute review.  Or how Miami players had begun to stream on the field before the touchdown was scored.  That said…

The Hurricanes played like an inspired bunch the entire night, and it’s not hard to understand why as Burns, showing the depth of character that the coaching staff loves about him, not only made the trip with his teammates but played four days after his mom’s death.  The stunning finish culminated a game that was dedicated to the courageous young man, and one that had taken on the look of a romp at least partway through.

Following a scoreless first quarter, Miami jumped out to a 14-0 lead midway through the second quarter and took a 14-3 lead into halftime.  A rejuvenated Blue Devils squad scored a touchdown in the first three minutes of the third quarter when, combined with a safety late in the same period, cut the lead to 14-12.  10 points in the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter stretched Miami’s lead out to 12 at 24-12 with 5:54 remaining.

A Thomas Sirk touchdown pass to Johnell Barnes from 13 yards out sliced the lead to 24-19 with 2:40 left in the game.  An ensuing onsides kick was recovered by the ‘Canes; the Blue Devils got the ball one last time with just under two minutes remaining, setting the stage for the crazy ending.

Playing for an injured Kaaya and making his first career start, Malik Rosier was, for the most part, superb. While he did have an interception, he nonetheless managed the game extremely well as he completed 19-of-28 passes for 265 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

One final statistical note: Miami was flagged a whopping 23 times for 194 yards, Duke five times for 41 yards.  Say what you want about reversing the penalty on the final play or the possibility a Miami player’s knee was down on the same play, I’ll just label it an officiating market correction — anyone see Duke’s final drive and the three somewhat questionable flags on the ‘Canes? — and move on from a shoddily officiated game on both sides.

The loss for Duke when it comes to the ACC Coastal race is a potentially significant one, but also one from which they can bounce back quickly. At 3-1 in ACC play, Duke finds themselves one game behind 4-0 North Carolina; next Saturday, the Blue Devils will travel to Chapel Hill for a critical matchup with the Tar Heels. Pittsburgh, which was dealt its first ACC loss by UNC Thursday night, is 4-1 and idle in conference play until a Nov. 14 date with Duke.

Depending on the outcome of the Duke-UNC game next weekend, that Pitt-Duke game the following week could end up being a play-in game to the ACC championship game.

Auburn wide receiver Kyle Davis potentially out for spring

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Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn was optimistic about wide receiver Kyle Davis returning to the team at some point this spring, but the tune has changed regarding his future. Malzahn is now saying Davis may be out for the remainder of Auburn’s spring practices due to personal reasons.

“Kyle Davis is still taking care of some personal business,” Malzahn said, according to SEC Country. “I’m not for sure if he’s going to be back before the end of the spring. He will be back for the fall, just taking a little bit longer than we initially thought.”

It was just a few weeks ago Malzahn said Davis was going to be out for the start of spring practices, which are now close to half over. For now, the plan is simply to have him return over the summer in preparation for the fall.

In the meantime, Malzahn confirmed John Franklin III is working primarily as a wide receiver, which had previously been suspected to be the case.

Penn State announces three captains for 2017 season

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With Penn State just about to get started with spring football practices, head coach James Franklin wasted no time in naming his captains for the 2017 season. Quarterback Trace McSorley, linebacker Jason Cabinda, and safety Nick Scott have been voted captains by their peers on the team.

“These three young men have been leaders in our program, on and off the field,” Franklin said in a released statement. “They live our four core values and act with the program’s best interest in mind. Our team is in good hands with these guys!”

McSorley took over the offense as Penn State’s starting quarterback in 2016. A bit of a mystery to most entering the season after being the backup to Christian Hackenberg, McSorley ended his 2016 season with a Big Ten-leading 3,614 passing yards and 29 touchdown passes with eight interceptions and played a key role in guiding Penn State to a late run to a Big Ten championship and an appearance in the Rose Bowl. He enters the 2017 season as one of the top quarterbacks returning to the Big Ten, along with Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett.

Cabinda, an All-Big Ten third team player in 2016, was Penn State’s third-leading tackler last season with 81 tackles. He accumulated that many tackles despite missing five games due to injury. He is slated to be the leader in the middle of the Penn State defense with a starting role already locked down and will look to help guide some younger linebackers stepping into key roles in the defense this upcoming season, such as Manny Bowen and Koa Farmer.

Scott has been a special teams leader for Penn State and is expected to continue to lead the special teams effort once again this season.

New Arkansas house bill will allow some concealed guns at football games

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Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill regarding a person’s ability to carry a concealed handgun into various buildings at a public university or college into state law. However, House Bill 1249 will not allow all legal gun owners to carry a gun to a football game in the state of Arkansas.

Football games will be considered a “sensitive area,” which require enhanced training in order to be allowed to carry a gun into a football stadium. The law supposedly trumps any provisions already in place to prevent guns from being allowed on the premises.

“The enhanced level of training is very important, and I am convinced the public will be more safe,” Governor Hutchinson said. “This bill, in my view, reflects the view of the general assembly.”

The bill has received praise from Arkansas Republican state representative Charlie Collins and the NRA.

While the bill has now become an act in the state, it will not go into effect until January 2018, so guns will still not be allowed in football games where Arkansas, Arkansas State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, or Central Arkansas during the 2017 season.

The news of the new Arkansas state law comes on the same day the SEC has just unveiled a new clear bag policy for football games in the 2017 season. How the SEC handles this latest state law within its footprint remains to be seen (as well as the Sun Belt Conference). The bigger question will be where the SEC stands on this law considered the law is designed to overrule any stadium policies. The way the law is written, the SEC may not be able to do much to stand in the way, but the conference has those clear bag policies hammered down, rest assured.

Kentucky hands Mark Stoops a two-year contract extension

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After guiding Kentucky through its best season in nearly a decade, Mark Stoops has been rewarded.

Kentucky announced Wednesday afternoon that Stoops’ contract has been extended by two years.  The head coach’s previous deal had been set to run through June 30, 2020; the extension pushes that date out to June 30, 2020.

Stoops will earn $3.5 million in 2017, with the new contract calling for annual $250,000 raises.  In the last year of the contract extension, and barring any additional tweaking, Stoops could earn $4.75 million.

Additionally, if the Wildcats win at least seven games but no more than nine in a season, the contract automatically extends by one year.  If the team wins 10-plus games, it extends by two years. “Stoops will continue to receive $250,000 for each win beginning with the seventh win of each season and $50,000 per semester in which the team grade-point average is 2.75 or higher,” the release stated.

Participation in an SEC-affiliated bowl will net Stoops a $100,000 bonus, provided the Wildcats win at least six games that season.  There’s also a $50,000 bonus for earning a spot in a non-SEC bowl game, with the same six-win threshold.  Last season, UK qualified for a bowl game for the first time under Stoops and the first time under anyone since 2010.

“The last four years have been a grind for Mark and his staff, but he has never wavered in his commitment to building Kentucky football into a consistent winner,” a statement from athletic director Mitch Barnhart began. “While the work isn’t close to finished, we believe Mark is the coach to take us there. We are thankful to Mark and Chantel for all they have done to this point and we look forward to our program’s bright future under his leadership.”

The Wildcats’ 7-6 record last season was the program’s best since hitting the same mark in the last season under Rich Brooks in 2009.  The first three seasons with Stoops in control, UK posted a 12-24 mark.

In SEC play, they are just 8-24 since 2013, although they were 4-4 in conference play this past season.  The Wildcats have finished seventh (2013), sixth (2014), tied-fourth (2015) and tied-second (2016) in league play with Stoops as head coach.

“I want to thank Dr. (Eli) Capilouto, Mitch Barnhart and the Board of Trustees for their continued support,” Stoops said. “When we came here, doing a rebuild in a challenging situation, I said that full support from everyone involved was imperative and we have always received that. We needed great commitment, we’ve had great commitment and we’re continuing to get great commitment.”

If Stoops is fired by UK, he’s entitled to receive 75 percent of the remaining guaranteed compensation on the contract.  If Stoops leaves of his own accord, he’d owe the university $1 million regardless of how many years are left on the deal.