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Kirby Smart sends Alabama to SEC title game as Georgia upsets No. 9 Auburn

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Kirby Smart no longer coaches for Alabama, just as Maurice Smith no longer plays for them. But a former Tide coach and player did a major favor for their former team as Georgia upended No. 9 Auburn 13-7 in Athens. The loss dropped Auburn to 5-2 in SEC play, thereby clinching the SEC West championship for the undefeated Tide.

Of far more importance, of course, for Smart is what this means for his new team. The win sends Georgia (6-4, 4-4 SEC) to a bowl game, extending the program’s streak to 20 consecutive seasons. It’s Smart’s first win over a top-10 team, and the program’s first since beating a similarly-ranked No. 9 Auburn team in 2014. And it provides an image of what this program wants to become under Smart, an image for the new staff to point players, fans and recruits to and say “this is where we’re going, now hop aboard.”

It didn’t look that way through one half, though. Georgia’s offense was stuck in mud and the defense played well but still permitted 109 rushing yards and the game’s only score, a 3-yard Kerryon Johnson rush with 28 seconds left in the first quarter.

But Smart’s defense completely smothered Auburn in the second half.

The half started when, after two incomplete passes, Auburn quarterback Sean White fired an interception directly into Smith’s gut, who returned the ball 34 yards for a game-tying touchdown.

Every other Auburn possession ended after just three plays except the final one. And that one only lasted four because the Tigers ran out of time to punt. When accounting for Smith’s 34-yard return and the seven points it produced, Auburn’s second half produced a net of minus-2 yards and minus-7 points.

That’s not to say the Georgia offense found success against its Auburn counterparts, however. The Bulldogs never found the end zone, but two Rodrigo Blankenship field goals — a 45-yarder at the 13:44 mark of the fourth quarter and a 21-yard chip shot with 2:25 to play — on the heels of 13- and 14-play drives provided enough offense.

And, unlike Auburn, Georgia’s offense avoided the crucial mistake. Freshman Jacob Eason completed 2o-of-31 passes for 208 yards (and narrowly missed catching a reverse pass from Terry Godwin that would’ve provided a clinching touchdown before Blankenship’s final field goal) while Nick Chubb carried 23 times for 101 yards and Sony Michel added 55 yards on 10 attempts.

The Tigers’ offensive numbers finished as ugly as their drive chart. White completed 6-of-20 passes for 27 yards and that pick six, while six Auburn rushers managed only 14 rushing yards in the second half.

With a closing kick of Louisiana-Lafayette and Georgia Tech before the bowl game, Georgia can now reasonably point toward a possible 5-game winning streak to send Smart’s first season out with a bang.

Auburn, meanwhile, must regroup after this dud and use next week’s working vacation against Alabama A&M to prepare for Alabama without a possible SEC championship on the line.

Tom Herman names Shane Buechele starting QB… for now

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It’s certainly expected that Shane Buechele will start at quarterback for Texas this fall. After all, he did so last season and performed capably well — about as well as you could expect for a true freshman on a 5-7 team. Buechele’s competition for the job is true freshman Sam Ehlinger, and you definitely wouldn’t bank on a true freshman beating out an incumbent starter.

Tom Herman confirmed as much Monday. Herman said Buechele would start if the Maryland opener was tomorrow, and that will be the case until it isn’t.

“As of today, Shane’s starting,” he said. “Now, does that guarantee he’ll start against Maryland? No. But, he’ll take the bulk of the ones. If he doesn’t take advantage of them, Sam plays better than him, that’ll change. As of now, Shane’s getting the bulk of the one reps, but Sam will continue to do that…. It’s a good battle, but you can tell Shane’s played 12 games of college football.”

The question, of course, is not who will take the first snap against Maryland, but how much Ehlinger will play and how long Buechele can hold him off.

It’s no secret Herman asks his quarterbacks to take hits, and Ehlinger seems better equipped to do that. Texas lists Ehlinger carrying 230 pounds on his 6-foot-2 frame, compared to Buechele’s 6-foot-1, 205-pound build. Ehlinger compiled 2,395 rushing yards and 35 touchdowns while playing through injury for the bulk of his senior year. Buechele rushed for 151 yards on 97 carries, while also setting Texas freshman records with 2,958 passing yards.

LSU officially welcomes new Mike the Tiger to his new habitat

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LSU is keeping the tradition of a live tiger mascot alive with the announced addition of Mike VII. The new Mike the Tiger has moved into his new spacious digs and is already having football fans and animal lovers fall in love with him.

The newest addition had to be checked to make sure he was qualified to be released into LSU’s special habitat that has been the home for previous tigers. Mike VII will not be making appearances at Tiger Stadium on game days as has previously been a tradition. Instead, Mike VII will be able to roam a recently updated and renovated tiger habitat in style and root on the Tigers from the comfort of his new home.

Mike VI died of cancer last October.

Utah’s surprise QB announcement tabs Tyler Huntley as starter

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Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham made one of the more surprising decisions on Monday. Instead of naming the senior captain as his starting quarterback, Whittingham chose sophomore Tyler Huntley to be the team’s starting quarterback in Week 1 against North Dakota.

The decision to go with Huntley means Troy Williams will be reduced to backup duty. Alabama transfer Cooper Bateman will also be sitting down on the depth chart, which is another mild surprise from Salt Lake City.

Williams was Utah’s quarterback last season when the Utes made a push for the Pac-12 South Division before falling just short of the Pac-12 championship game. Williams passed for 2,757 yards and 15 touchdowns. Williams also rushed for 235 yards and five touchdowns for the Utes.

As a freshman, Huntley appeared in six games and attempted just seven passes for 60 total yards. It would seem Huntley has done a lot to impress the coaches to earn the starting nod over an experienced starter and the transfer option. His improvement in the offseason and athleticism are said to be fueling his rise as a quarterback, so we’ll see how that pays off on the field once the games begin.

Jim McElwain says Florida is heading to Texas to “beat the heck out of Michigan”

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It goes without saying that coaches will say what coaches say. Suggesting their team is on a mission to score a big win in front of fans clad in the school colors should not be taken for anything more than simply aiming to get a rise out of the fans. Mission accomplished for Florida head coach Jim McElwain, but possible bulletin board material for Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh.

Speaking before Florida students over the weekend, McElwain laid it out there by saying his Gators were looking to do one thing against Michigan; win with authority.

“We’re heading to Dallas here in a couple weeks to go beat the heck out of Michigan, and then come back to you guys,” McElwain said, according to SEC Country.

The Gators are opening the college football season next week in Arlington, Texas against the Michigan Wolverines of the Big Ten. Florida will be a bit undermanned with the recent suspension of seven players, including star wide receiver Antonio Callaway. Michigan also won the most recent meeting between the two schools, with Harbaugh’s Wolverines dominating McElwain’s Gators in the Citrus Bowl two seasons ago (41-7).

Michigan will be looking to reestablish its identity with a good amount of roster turnover this season, but the depth hit from the recent suspensions in Gainesville may help give Michigan an edge. Either way, we can only look forward to seeing how Harbaugh potentially responds once this claim from McElwain makes its way to Ann Arbor.