WHO: No. 2 Clemson (12-1) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (11-1)
WHAT: The 46th Fiesta Bowl and College Football Playoff Semifinal
WHEN: 7 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona
THE SKINNY: A pair of College Football Playoff veterans and two of the elite programs in the sport face off in the desert on New Year’s Eve with eyes on playing more than just one game this postseason.
Clemson enters as ACC champions for the second straight season and looking to finish a task that began 12 months before when they fell just short of the national title at the very same stadium. Leading the way is all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson, who has struggled a bit with turnovers but has been playing as well as anybody since the team suffered their only loss to Pitt back in early November.
The Heisman finalist is has the benefit of a terrific tailback in Wayne Gallman and gets to throw to one of the deepest groups of receivers in the country. The headliner of those pass catchers is All-American Mike Williams (79 receptions, 10 touchdowns) but the group features plenty of versatility from tight end Jordan Leggett to the underrated Hunter Renfrow. Defensively, the front seven has athletes for days — starting with freshman Dexter Lawrence — backed up by a stingy secondary and the entire unit is coached by the nation’s best assistant coach in Brent Venables.
Looking to get past all that on Saturday night is a talented group of Buckeyes who are looking to make another run at a title in the same fashion that they did two years ago. J.T. Barrett draws all the attention at quarterback and his arm (and maybe more importantly his legs) has been a big reason why the team is even in this position but don’t overlook do-everything star Curtis Samuel on offense either.
Though you would think that an Urban Meyer coached team would be powered by the offense, it’s the OSU defense that has really stepped up in 2016. Unanimous All-American Malik Hooker leads an impressive secondary full of playmakers that have found the end zone almost as many times as their opponents and has plenty of help in the front seven thanks to tackling machines like Raekwon McMillan at linebacker.
It should all make for one compelling — and close — game between two of the nation’s best teams. This is about as even a matchup as they come given the number of elite players and coaches involved and you can bet it will come down to only a handful of key plays. The Tigers have dealt Meyer his only bowl loss while with the Buckeyes and, in the end of this semifinal, they narrowly do again in a thriller.
THE PICK: Clemson 27, Ohio State 20
No stranger to transfer, E.J. Price is embarking on a search for a new college home — again. Whether football is involved, however, seemingly remains to be seen.
On his personal Twitter account Thursday morning, Price announced that he is “stepping away” from the Kentucky football program. In the tweet, the offensive lineman stressed, in all-caps, that “I WAS NOT KICKED OFF I AM LEAVING.”
In a subsequent tweet. he stated it was “time for me to overcome football.”
Earlier this month, head coach Mark Stoops mentioned “some inconsistencies with [Price] that he needs to iron out.” In another tweet, the lineman stated the following:
Price was a four-star member of USC’s 2016 recruiting class, rated as the No. 8 offensive tackle in the country. He transferred from USC to Kentucky in July of last year.
Because of NCAA transfer rules, Price was forced to sit out the 2017 season.
South Alabama recently received some positive news on the personnel front.
A USA spokesperson (for the university, not the country) confirmed to al.com that Andrew Reinkemeyer has been granted a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA. The tight end will use that additional season of eligibility, his last, to play for the Jaguars in 2018.
The decision to grant Reinkemeyer an extra season of eligibility was seemingly a no-brainer.
As a true sophomore at a Kansas junior college, Reinkemeyer suffered an injury in the 2015 season opener and didn’t play again that year. After transferring to USA, Reinkemeyer missed the entire 2016 season because of the torn Achilles tendon that cost him most of the previous season at the JUCO.
Finally healthy last season, Reinkemeyer caught 10 passes for 75 yards for the Sun Belt Conference program. He was the leading receiver amongst Jaguars tight ends in 2017.
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.