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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.

Ole Mis AD: Hugh Freeze would’ve been fired for cause if he hadn’t resigned

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In the end, regardless of how he chose to play it out, Hugh Freeze‘s time in Oxford would’ve come to an end.

Thursday night brought the stunning news that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  Freeze, to Yahoo! Sports, blamed the call on a misdial; Freeze’s now-former boss, athletic director Ross Bjork, led the same website to write that “further vetting of Freeze’s phone records disclosed a ‘pattern of conduct’ that led the school administration to confront Freeze this week.”

After meeting with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, the die had been cast for the coach.

Bjork said that if Freeze had not offered his resignation he would have been fired for cause, citing the “moral turpitude” clause in Freeze’s contract. Bjork said there was no buyout of the contract and no settlement.

“He admitted that conduct to us,” Bjork said. “None of us are perfect. Nobody in this room is perfect. I think we need to respect how he resigned and respect his privacy.

The infamous call in question — it lasted one minute, which gives at least some credence to Freeze’s claim that this one was a misdial — came to light as a result of Houston Nutt’s recently-filed lawsuit against Freeze, the university and other high-ranking school officials.  No other calls to that specific phone number were found in a review of an estimated 39,000 calls made from Freeze’s school-issued phone; “[h]owever, the school kept digging through the records and must have found additional troubling information,” the website wrote

Freeze’s admission to “that conduct” according to Bjork says as much.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze resigns after discovery of phone calls to escort service

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Forget about Hugh Freeze being on the hot seat in Oxford. He won’t even be coaching a single game for the Rebels this fall.

Hugh Freeze resigned from his position as head coach at Ole Miss suddenly on Thursday evening, just a week after SEC Media Days. The resignation is effective immediately, and the school has announced co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach Matt Luke will take over the head coaching responsibilities for the upcoming season as the interim head coach. It should be expected Ole Miss will conduct a search for a new full-time head coach as soon as possible, but an official hire being made before the start of the season remains in question.

The resignation comes after the school discovered a phone call to an escort service coming from his school-issued cell phone. And it apparently was not an accidental wrong number either.

According to a report from Mark Schlabach of ESPN.com, Ole Miss reviewed phone records tied to Freeze as far back as 2012. Earlier in the day, USA Today reporter Dan Wolken reported Freeze had made a phone call to the number associated with a female escort service. The phone call in the report occurred in January of 2016. How many phone calls were discovered by Ole Miss is at this time unknown. Once confronted with the phone numbers by Bjork, Freeze is said to have offered his resignation. Whether he voluntarily offered to resign or if he was pushed to resign by the school may never be known for sure, but given the heat on Freeze already following recent headlines it may be pretty easy to see how this all played out behind closed doors.

It has been a troublesome summer for Freeze. Just last week, he was targetted in a lawsuit filed by former Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt, and Freeze has had to deny any members of his staff knowingly violated any NCAA rules following an investigation into the program. Freeze was previously targeted in a lawsuit filed by the stepdad of former Ole Miss player Laremy Tunsil just months after the NCAA discovered 13 violations against the Ole Miss program under the leadership of Freeze last year.

In five seasons at Ole Miss, Freeze was 39-25 and coached Ole Miss to a 2-1 record in postseason bowl games. Along the way, he recruited some of the best classes in school history, although how he and his staff managed to do so has been the subject of plenty of scrutinies and the findings continue to come together to suggest foul play was used. Calls to escort services will not help that look at all. Before being hired at Ole Miss, Freeze coached Arkansas State to a 19-3 record in 2011.

Luke, an Ole Miss alum from the Class of 2000, joined the Ole Miss coaching staff in 2012 with Freeze.

Todd Graham subtly names Manny Wilkins starting QB at ASU, says Barnett will have to win the job

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Arizona State picked up a nice addition to the depth chart with the addition of quarterback Blake Barnett this past winter. Barnett was given the chance to be immediately eligible to play for Arizona State this season rather than have to sit out a season, but he will have to get to work in order to win the starting job with the Sun Devils if Todd Graham‘s latest comments are accurate.

Speaking to media today at a facilities tour, Graham was asked about the quarterback competition. Graham not-so-subtly named Manny Wilkins the team’s starter for the 2017 season, barring any other changes between now and the start of the season.

“I didn’t make an announcement, I just didn’t want our opponent know who was going to play but I thought our opponent knew, I think everybody knew,” Graham said, referring to a season-opening game against New Mexico State. “We have a returning starter and he’s the starting quarterback until someone beats him out.”

Perhaps most notably, one of the quarterbacks who will look to knock Wilkins off the top of the depth chart will be Barnett, the transfer from Alabama who was a major recruit for the Crimson Tide not so long ago. Barnett started the  2016 season as Alabama’s official starter but lost the full-time job to Jalen Hurts right out of the gate with a shaky performance in the season opener while Hurts put on a show (and led Alabama to the national championship game). Barnett then opted to leave the program in search of a new opportunity to compete for the starting job.

“Right now, we have a starting quarterback and Blake knows he has to beat him out,” Graham said. “I’m looking forward to see that competition and a very physical, Sun Devil tough training camp.”

Report: Alabama RB B.J. Emmons, CB Aaron Robinson leaving program

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The Alabama Crimson Tide may not be hurting on the depth chart as a result, but two players are leaving the program in search of other opportunities. Running back B.J. Emmons and cornerback Aaron Robinson are both leaving Tuscaloosa, according to a report from AL.com.

As the news was breaking, multiple reports say Emmons has enrolled at Hutchinson Community College. Emmons missed some games last season due to a foot injury, but he is expected to be back to 100 percent health this fall. Of course, at Alabama, the running back position is stacked and difficult to get much playing time to begin with. Robinson was also expected to be a backup for Alabama this fall after working with the second team unit in the spring.

Emmons was Alabama’s fifth-leading rusher in 2016 with 173 yards and a touchdown in seven games. Robinson appeared in 13 games and recorded five total tackles as a freshman.

Both Emmons and Robinson will be eligible to play for another FBS program starting in 2018 after sitting out the 2017 season, due to NCAA transfer rules. They are eligible to play at a lower division school this fall, whether it is an FCS or lower program or a junior college. The junior college route appears to be the path Emmons is taking by enrolling at a community college.