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Rematch on! Clemson shuts out Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl to book trip to title game

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Clemson kicked off 2016 at University of Phoenix Stadium by losing a heartbreaker in a thrilling national title game to Alabama.

The Tigers closed out the year with a bit of sweet revenge at the same site however, shutting out Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to book their tickets to the national title game in Tampa and a rematch with the Crimson Tide.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions but was otherwise his terrific self behind center with 259 yards and a touchdown pass. The Heisman finalist also rushed for two more scores on a pair of keepers and led the team in rushing with 85 yards. It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance but it was an efficient one as he picked apart the vaunted OSU secondary aside from two ill-advised throws that wound up in their hands.

As good as Watson was though, his favorite target Mike Williams might have been the best player on the field Saturday evening. The likely first-rounder caught a team high six passes for 96 yards and came close to one remarkable long touchdown in the second quarter until he got tripped up. While he was the headliner, the deep receiving corps also showed up all game long with seven others catching a pass and tailback Wayne Gallman put the cherry on top of the outing with a seven yard rushing touchdown following a turnover.

Not to be out done, the Clemson defense truly paved the way for their return trip to the national title game with 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Freshman Clelin Ferrell had the game of his young career with near constant pressure on every snap, recording three tackles for loss and a sack. Linebacker Kendall Joseph led the team in tackles and basically shutdown the middle of the field in holding the Buckeyes to just 81 yards rushing.

Not being able to run the ball was a big reason for Ohio State’s struggles, which were chiefly the result of the team’s offensive line not having an answer for the speed of the Tigers front four. Quarterback J.T. Barrett didn’t have a terrible game as one of the few offensive threats for the team but only managed to throw for only 127 yards with two interceptions. All-purpose threat Curtis Samuel did receive plenty of touches as the offense tried to get something going but managed only 110 total yards, most of which came on a handful of plays when the game was already decided.

The end result of yet another blowout semifinal was the worst loss Urban Meyer has suffered during his time in Columbus and, given the stakes, probably the biggest ‘L’ of his career. The team began the game with several nice kick returns to setup some early series but a pair of missed field goals in the opening quarter set the tone for a disastrous outing for the scarlet and grey.

Given how everything played out, it’s safe to say it just wasn’t the Buckeyes’ night as everything that could go wrong typically did. While a lot of those issues were self-inflicted, most had to do with a dominating performance by the Tigers that they controlled from wire-to-wire.

And with that, Clemson has punched their ticket for a return trip to the national title game and a never before seen rematch for the sport’s ultimate prize. It may not have been pretty for Ohio State, but on the other sideline there was nothing like that little bit of sweet revenge out in the desert for how this year began — and no better way to cap off the season than by ringing in 2017 with what should be a thriller in Tampa next week.

Syracuse makes hiring of D-II Coach of the Year official

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Dino Babers‘ second coaching staff is whole once again.

Following up on reports that first surfaced late last week, Syracuse confirmed in a press release that Justin Lustig (pictured, left) has left his job as the head coach at Div. II Edinboro (Pa.) College to take over as Babers’ running backs coach.  Additionally, Lustig will serve as special teams coordinator for the Orange.

Lustig replaces Mike Hart, who left earlier this month to take the running backs coach job at Indiana.

“The job Justin did as a first-time head coach was fantastic,” Babers said in a statement. “He’s also been a highly-successful assistant coach. The running backs he has coached have performed extremely well, and his special teams units have consistently ranked among the nation’s best. We’re very excited to welcome Justin and his family to Syracuse.”

Hired in January of last year, Lustig took over an Edinboro team that finished 0-11 in 2015 and turned them into a 9-2 squad one year later.  For that turnaround, he was named the Div. II Coach of the Year.

Lustig’s last job at the FBS level came at Ball State, where he served as running backs coach/special teams coordinator from 2011-15.  He also earned the title of assistant head coach prior to the start of the 2015 season.

This will mark Lustig’s first job of any kind at a Power Five program.

“My family and I are excited, honored and grateful for the opportunity to come to Syracuse and join Coach Babers’ staff,” Lustig said. “He is building a championship program there. The future of Syracuse football is very bright and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

UNLV ‘very excited’ to share Las Vegas stadium with Raiders

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The biggest news of the day in the NFL has a decidedly college football connection.

By a 31-1 vote, NFL owners approved the Raiders move from Oakland to Las Vegas later this decade.  The new stadium that will eventually serve as the home for the NFL club is expected to be ready for play for the 2020 season.

As expected, it will also serve as the new home for Sin City’s FBS team, a fact that UNLV’s hierarchy was quick to point out and highlight in the hours after the vote was officially confirmed.  Below are the statements from the three main characters involved with the football program.

Len Jessup, UNLV President
UNLV and the entire Rebel family welcome the Oakland Raiders to Las Vegas. We look forward to a long-term partnership with the Raiders and the Stadium Authority Board to give UNLV football access to a world-class stadium and accompanying game day experience that will rival the best in college football. We also recognize and thank the numerous stakeholders – including the Adelson family – who invested their time and energy toward this vision. This is an historic day for Nevada and another example of how Las Vegas continues to reinvent itself.

Tina Kunzer-Murphy, UNLV Athletics Director
We are very excited to welcome the Raiders to our great city of Las Vegas. Our community is on the rise and that has clearly been recognized by the NFL owners with today’s vote. We can’t wait for the day our UNLV football program has a new home, sharing the new world-class stadium with the Las Vegas Raiders. What a great day for the NFL, our city and our university.

Tony Sanchez, UNLV Football Head Coach
Today is a huge development for UNLV Football and the city of Las Vegas. Sharing a state-of-the-art stadium with the Raiders is another thing that will allow us to recruit at a high level. The combination of an NFL stadium and our upcoming Fertitta Football Complex brings so much energy to this program and campus. As someone who has lived here for eight years, I’m also excited for this community. This is a great place to live and the pride of being an NFL city will make it an even better place.

In addition to being tenants in a new state-of-the-art stadium, the university will soon begin construction on an on-campus football practice facility.

There are five FBS teams that will share stadiums with NFL teams on at least a part-time basis in 2017 — UMass (New England Patriots, Gillette Stadium), Miami (Miami Dolphins, Sun Life Stadium), Temple (Philadelphia Eagles, Lincoln Financial Field), Pitt (Pittsburgh Steelers, Heinz Field) and USF (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Raymond James Stadium).  Georgia State had shared the Georgia Dome with the Atlanta Falcons but are moving to the new Turner Field this season, while San Diego State will still call Qualcomm Stadium home even as the Chargers have bolted the facility for Los Angeles.

There has been chatter that both Temple (HERE) and USF (HERE) could find themselves in a position to build an on-campus stadium at some point down the road — although the latter could extend its agreement with its current home as it continues to evaluate its long-term plans.

The Los Angles Rams are also temporarily crashing at the home of the USC Trojans, Memorial Coliseum, until their new stadium is completed.

Kaylee Hartung leaves ESPN sidelines for CNN

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ESPN’s roster of college football talent has taken a bath lately. Sean McDonough and Chris Spielman broke up their critically acclaimed team for NFL work at different networks. Brad Nessler left for CBS. Brent Musuberger left for Vegas. Samantha Ponder has joined McDonough on the Worldwide Leader’s NFL team and, now, Kaylee Hartung is leaving the network as well.

Hartung confirmed her departure from ESPN on Monday. Though she did not name her next employer, it’s been an open secret within the industry for nearly a month Hartung will leave for CNN.

“Last night I worked my final event with ESPN,” Hartung announced on her Twitter page. “The decision to leave a job I love and take on a new challenge has been incredibly emotional but the overwhelming feeling I have today is gratitude. I am so grateful for the experience I’ve had within the ESPN family for 5 years. I’m grateful for the people I’ve worked with who have supported me, made me a better reporter, made me a better person and became my friends. I’m grateful for the coaches, athletes, staffers, and university officials who’ve shared their stories with me and let me be a part of their magical moments. I’m grateful for the fans who have embraced me and shared their passion with me. Thank you to everyone who’s been a part of my life during this incredibly fun and exciting chapter. I can’t wait to see what this next chapter has in store… Now I get to be a fan of you all!”

Hartung started with Longhorn Network and since moved to SEC Network and the mothership. Her final event for the network was Sunday night’s Women’s Elite Eight match between Mississippi State and Baylor. Hartung worked in the political media prior to landing with the Longhorn Network as an associate producer for the CBS program Face the Nation.

Final Four forces South Carolina to postpone indoor facility groundbreaking

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File this one under the most first world of all problems: the South Carolina football program is having to adjust its plans because the Gamecocks’ basketball team has been more successful than anticipated.

With Frank Martin‘s hoops headed to Phoenix for this weekend’s Final Four and taking all the Palmetto State’s attention with them, Will Muschamp‘s football program has been forced to alter what had been a big day planned.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to break ground on their announced indoor practice facility; those plans have now been postponed.

With only six days between South Carolina’s clinching of a Final Four berth and the football team’s planned Garnet-White game, the spring game will have to remain slated for Saturday. But it has been bumped forward to a noon kickoff.

Muschamp did not make the trip to Madison Square Garden for Sunday’s Elite Eight win (Florida’s Jim McElwain was in attendance) and Saturday’s spring game will also preclude his attendance, meaning the head football coach must wait until a possible national championship berth to support the basketball team in person.