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No. 7 Ohio State closes star-crossed 2015 season with Fiesta Bowl win over No. 8 Notre Dame

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It would be tempting to view last night’s results and No. 7 Ohio State’s 44-28 defeat of No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and conclude the College Football Playoff selection committee got it wrong. That would be wrong. Michigan State earned its spot in the lowly-rated Cotton Bowl, just as Ohio State earned its Fiesta Bowl consolation prize.

But that won’t stop the Buckeyes from wondering what might have been.

Ohio State (12-1) flashed national championship ability from its first drive Friday afternoon in Glendale, scoring touchdowns on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-7 lead with 1:48 left in the first half. DeShone Kizer pushed in a one-yard run 29 ticks before the break to pull the Irish to within 28-14, creating a loop where Notre Dame was never really out of the game, but Ohio State was never really threatened, either.

Kizer found Chris Brown for a four-yard score to pull Notre Dame within 28-21 midway through the third quarter, but Ezekiel Elliott answered with a 47-yard bolt, his fourth touchdown of the day. Sean Nuernberger stretched the lead to 17 with a 37-yard field goal at the 12:10 mark of the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame climbed back in the game with an 81-yard catch-and-dash from Kizer (284 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) to Will Fuller.

Notre Dame could not muster any offense on either of its final two drives, though. The first ended in a three-and-out after the Irish lost eight yards, and the second in a Darron Lee strip of Kizer.

Two more Nuernberger field goals were enough to provide the final score.

The win pushed Urban Meyer to an incredible 50-4 in four seasons in Columbus with two undefeated regular seasons, a national championship, a Big Ten championship, two New Year’s Six wins and four top-10 finishes. The victory pushed Ohio State to 4-2 all-time in its infrequent but highly-visible series with Notre Dame; the Buckeyes have won the last four, with the last two coming in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes’ five victories trail only Penn State for the most in the 45-year history of the Fiesta Bowl.

J.T. Barrett and Elliott played throughout the game at a level accessible to few, if any, backfield batteries. Barrett hit 19-of-31 throws for 211 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing 23 times for 96 yards; Elliott carried 27 times for 149 yards and four touchdowns and caught a 30-yard reception. While it was likely the swan song for Elliott, Joey Bosa (ejected in the first half for a targeting hit on Kizer) and a host of others, there is enough talent remaining and arriving in Columbus to do what the 2015 could not.

Ohio State flashed the ability of a team that could have been at this moment preparing for a much larger game at University of Phoenix Stadium 10 days from now, making its 12th victory of the 2015 season a melancholy one. “It is what it is,” Meyer said when asked by ESPN’s Todd McShay to describe the season.

But take heed, Buckeye fans, there is potential for this story to come full-circle: the Fiesta Bowl is a College Football Playoff semifinal next season. If Ohio State plays like it did on Friday throughout next season, 2016 could end exactly the way it started.

Pitt landing another ex-USC QB as a transfer

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Max Browne made the move from USC to Pitt work.  Ricky Town could be hoping for some of the same transferring magic.

Town’s private quarterback coach confirmed to 247Sports.com that Town has committed to continuing his FBS playing career at Pitt.  The move to the Panthers comes after Town took a visit to the football program this past weekend.

“This is the perfect system for him,” Town’s tutor, Donovan Dooley, told the recruiting website. “I think the pro-style system is good for him.”

Originally a USC signee, Town announced in mid-August of 2015 that he would be transferring from the Trojans. Less than a week later, after considering Florida as well, Town landed at Arkansas.  In December of 2016, Town transferred from the Razorbacks as well.

Town spent the 2017 season at a California junior college, which would allow him to play immediately for a Panthers program that has already lost two quarterbacks to transfer in the last week.  The California native has two years of eligibility remaining.

Town was a four-star member of the Trojans’ 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 6 pro-style quarterback in the country; the No. 15 player at any position in the state of California; and the No. 79 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  In January of 2014, Town pulled his verbal commitment from Alabama and gave it to USC.

Texas LB Malik Jefferson’s status for bowl game still up in the air

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As Texas prepares to play in the Texas Bowl against former Big 12 foe Missouri, it remains unknown whether or not linebacker Malik Jefferson will play.

Jefferson was reportedly diagnosed with a case of turf toe recently and is said to be considered day-to-day. Nick Moyle of the San Antonio Express-News reported the medical update via Twitter, and he also notes Jefferson still has not made a definitive decision on whether to leave for the NFL or not.

Jefferson would be considered a solid draft pick option at linebacker in the event he decides to leave Texas a year early to pursue a chance to play in the NFL. How this injury might impact that decision is nothing but speculation. However, players deciding to take to the NFL Draft the following spring have increasingly made the trendy decision to forgo their senior season and skip the bowl game when injuries play a factor. If Jefferson is to go to the NFL, it would not be a stunner to see him decide to skip out on the bowl game as well.

Jefferson is Texas’ leader in tackles this season with 110, including 79 solo tackles.

Lane Kiffin’s biggest recruit to FAU may be Snoop Dogg

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There is no denying the allegiance Snoop Dogg has for his beloved USC Trojans, but Lane Kiffin has managed to find some room in Snoop’s rooting interests to bring him aboard the Lane Train. With Kiffin preparing FAU for their upcoming bowl game in the Boa Raton Bowl this week, Kiffin managed to bring Snoop Dogg and Luther Campbell out to a practice.

Campbell, of course, is a Miami fan, but FAU has become a bit of a popular secondary team with Kiffin to lead the charge. Getting Uncle Luke to suit up in FAU gear and pose for a picture with Snoop Dogg deserves an automatic retweet of Kiffin’s account on Twitter.

Kiffin coached FAU to the Conference USA championship in his first season as the head coach of the Owls. With a good blend of JUCO transfers and new offensive mindset, FAU soared under Kiffin as he rebuilt his coaching pedigree. Kiffin remains one of the names to watch in the coaching carousel, although this year’s cycle may have gone through the motions without Kiffin getting a chance somewhere else. But if Kiffin is successful in Year 2, the Lane Train may be leaving the Boca Raton station for another destination soon enough.

Middle Tennessee holds on to win the bizarre (and turnover-filled) Camellia Bowl over Arkansas State

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Middle Tennessee State entered the Camellia Bowl 121st in the country in turnover margin and had lost the battle in nine of their 12 games this season. Arkansas State was only a little bit better in the same category, ranking 81st in turnover margin in 2017. Predictably those kinds of statistics came into play on Saturday night in the Camellia Bowl as the two sides played a bit of hot potato — six giveaways — before MTSU hung on for a 35-30 win to cap off the first day of bowl season in college football.

Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill had a game that could have been a nightmare for a veteran quarterback but ended up being alright thanks to his defense continually picking him on a night where chunk plays were hard to come by. The signal-caller threw the first of his three interceptions on the night on the first drive of the game but bounced back over the final three quarters, throwing for 232 yards and a pair of touchdown passes. That kind of performance, which included several big throws in the second half, helped secure the first bowl victory of his career and give him the rare distinction of being able to win a postseason game with his father Rick as head coach.

It wasn’t all about the Stockstill combo for MTSU however as their run game produced a pair of touchdowns behind tailbacks Terelle West and Tavares Thomas, and the team’s defense had one of their best outings of the season to limit the Sun Belt’s highest scoring offense to well below all their season averages. Linebacker Darius Harris led the way when his unit was on the field, flying from sideline-to-sideline and racking up 12 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a two pass break ups. His running mate at linebacker, D.J. Sanders, was equally productive with seven tackles and a 54 yard fumble return for a touchdown just before halftime.

The Red Wolves did what they could to threaten to make things interesting down the stretch but never could get over the hill. The team ran a fake punt to open fourth quarter, resulting in a 21 yard strike from the punter to gunner Chris Murray along the sidelines and appeared to seize momentum after a subsequent  touchdown to Warren Wand. However the defense failed to get a stop and then Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year Justice Hansen (337 yards, 3TD, 1 INT) threw a fourth down pass out of the end zone to all but seal a rather lackluster loss for a team that had won six of the last eight coming into the bowl.

Arkansas State also came up a bit short in the record books on the defensive side of the ball as well. In addition to allowing 35 points to MTSU, conference player of the year Ja’Von Rolland-Jones failed to record a sack and thus couldn’t break the NCAA career record (held by former Arizona State and current Baltimore Ravens star Terrell Suggs) of 44 career sacks after entering the game just shy of the mark with 43.5. While the pass rusher did manage to sack Stockstill in the game, the play was negated by a penalty to keep him from taking over on the all-time list.

The victory pushed Middle Tennessee over the .500 mark for the fifth time in six seasons and likely meant a little bit more to the program given how many key injuries the team suffered over the course of 2017 before capturing their first bowl win in eight years. Arkansas State did their best to prevent that from happening as they dropped to 7-5 on the season after a rather bizarre Camellia Bowl that had a little bit of everything.