WHO: No. 21 Tennessee (8-4) vs. Nebraska (9-3)
WHAT: The 19th Music City Bowl
WHEN: December 30, 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Tennessee
THE SKINNY: A pair of college football blue-bloods who have suffered some key injuries over the past few months meet up in the postseason looking to avoid an unwelcome losing streak to close out 2016.
That’s certainly the case for the in-state participant in this bowl, as Tennessee began this season with talk of being “back” to national prominence and winning the SEC East, but quickly saw things spiral out of control with losses to South Carolina and Vanderbilt down the stretch. The defense has seen several starters go down with injuries and given up points and yards a plenty the past month. They still have one of the best players in the country in Derek Barnett, who is tied with Reggie White on the school’s all-time sack list and has a chance to move past the Hall of Famer in his hometown for what likely will be the defensive end’s final game with the Vols. Offensively, the team is led by the steady signal-caller Joshua Dobbs and explosive tailback Alvin Kamara, who both need big games if the team want to take home a victory.
As banged up as Tennessee is, the injury situation for Nebraska is no better. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong has set a handful of career records with the Cornhuskers but has missed bowl prep with a hamstring injury and may not be 100 percent if he ends up starting. Backup Ryker Fyfe is also recovering from a wrist injury and productive wideout Jordan Westerkamp‘s career is over after needing surgery on his knee. That will put a lot of pressure on the big boys up front for Nebraska and tailback Terrell Newby to keep grinding things out and staying productive on offense. Be on the lookout for linebacker Josh Banderas too, as the Blackshirt defense will be counted on to keep things close.
This one doesn’t have quite the cache of the previous meetings between Big Red and the Vols back in the Orange and Fiesta Bowls of the late 1990’s but it should still be a pretty entertaining one given the squads involved. Neither team enters this one with any momentum but in the end Tennessee’s superior athletes win out in a high-scoring affair.
THE PREDICTION: Tennessee 42, Nebraska 30
The latest addition to Larry Fedora‘s North Carolina coaching staff has been confirmed.
Following up on reports that surfaced earlier this month. UNC announced Wednesday that Fedora has hired Robert Gillespie. While not confirmed by the football program in the release, it’s expected Gillespie will serve as the Tar Heels running backs coach, a position he’s held for most of his coaching career.
“We are excited to welcome Robert and his family to Chapel Hill,” Fedora said in a statement. “He has a well-earned reputation as a great offensive coach and recruiter, and he has a wealth of experience working with running backs at a very high level. We are happy to have him join our staff as we get into the bulk of spring practice.”
Gillespie fills the hole created by the departure of Gunter Brewer, who left as the Tar Heels’ wide receivers coach for a job with the Philadelphia Eagles earlier this month. It’s expected that Luke Paschall, currently the running backs coach, will assume Brewer’s role with receivers.
Gillespie, a former Florida running back, spent the past five seasons as the running backs coach at Tennessee. He was originally retained by new UT head coach Jeremy Pruitt before parting ways with the football program shortly after National Signing Day.
In addition to UT, Gillespie has spent time on coaching staffs at South Carolina (2006-08), Oklahoma State (2009-10) and West Virginia (2011-12). He was the running backs coach at each of those stops.
It appears Alabama can breathe a sigh of relief on the injury front.
Tuesday, after the reigning national champions had put the finishing touches on its first practice of the spring, Nick Saban confirmed that quarterback Tua Tagovailoa had suffered an unspecified injury to the thumb on his LEFT (throwing) hand. It was expected that the quarterback would travel to Birmingham for further evaluation of the injury.
While there’s been nothing official yet from the football program or head coach, al.com, citing unnamed sources, writes that the injury “is believed to just be a sprain and he should be able to return to practice in at least a limited capacity at some point soon.”
Until then, Jalen Hurts will take the majority of the reps as the Crimson Tide continues its march through their 15 spring practice sessions.
The rising true junior Hurts, who has started every game but one the past two seasons, and the rising true sophomore Tagovailoa, the national championship game hero who replaced Hurts at halftime of the overtime win, are engaged in a competition for the starting job that, barring a post-spring transfer, is expected to extend into summer camp. That said, most observers outside of the UA football program fully expect Tagovailoa, because of his proficiency in the passing game relative to Hurts, to earn the job at some point before the Tide opens the defense of their title against Louisville in Orlando Sept. 1.
One’s a dot, two’s a line and three’s a trend as the old adage go and it appears rat poison for college players is now a burgeoning trend.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday ahead of Kentucky’s NCAA tournament game against Kansas State, Wildcats coach John Calipari took a page straight out of Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin’s playbook by warning his team of drinking the media “poison” the past few days.
“My challenge is making sure these kids don’t drink that poison. That poison being we have an easy road. There are no easy roads in this tournament,” said Calipari. “If they drink that poison, we’ll be done Thursday. If they don’t drink the poison, it’ll be a dog fight Thursday — let’s see what happens. Sometimes you wonder why they’re (the media) trying to paint that picture with my team — probably because they’re young and they know they don’t know better.”
At least the term Calipari is using isn’t out of thin air given that Saban infamously ranted on his team buying into the media’s discussion of being a good team as “rat poison” last season. For the record though, the rant by the basketball coach was prompted by a question that didn’t at all involve Kentucky having an easy path to the Final Four but was rather about team and individual goals.
It’s not often you think of Saban as a trendsetter but it seems he was certainly ahead of the curve when it came to labeling media talk as poison.
Jim Harbaugh is already getting a series on Amazon Prime but now the Michigan head coach is also getting the primetime treatment.
The Wolverines announced on Tuesday that the annual spring game would take place under the lights at Michigan Stadium this year and would be televised live in primetime on the Big Ten Network.
Gates will open to the game two hours prior to kickoff and the maize and blue faithful may try to do their best to get to Ann Arbor early because the school is going to screen an episode of the Amazon series “All or Nothing: The Michigan Wolverines” prior to the game. This will be the second time in three years that the school will go under the lights to play their spring game at night but obviously the first time there’s a documentary series that will be screened prior to the Wolverines taking the field.
The game may be worth tuning in for to see Ole Miss transfer Shea Patterson in action with his new team after arriving in the offseason. The NCAA still has not ruled on whether he will be immediately eligible in 2018 but he is expected to go through spring drills with the team either way, starting this week when practices begin on Friday.