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SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Malik Zaire #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Malik Zaire pens thank-you note to Notre Dame students, staff

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A week after his departure from Notre Dame was revealed Malik Zaire has gotten down to saying goodbye.

In a letter to The Observer, the university’s student newspaper, Zaire thanked “the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be.” The notes comes a week after the quarterback was given an unconditional release from his Irish scholarship.

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Zaire expects to graduate in December, meaning he’d be eligible immediately at whatever FBS program he ultimately lands. The senior has already or will visit North Carolina and Wisconsin. Pittsburgh is also believed to be in play as well.

Clemson’s Brent Venables claims Broyles Award as nation’s top assistant

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 3: Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables of the Clemson Tigers reacts after a play during the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)
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Before attempting to slow down Ohio State in one of the College Football Playoff semifinals, Brent Venables has collected a little bit of hardware.

Tuesday afternoon in Little Rock, the Clemson defensive coordinator was named as the 2016 winner of the Broyles Award.  The award, in its 21st year, is handed out annually to the nation’s top assistant coach.

Venables had been a finalist for the award on two other occasions.

Venables was one of four defensive coordinators up for this year’s award, with Jeremy Pruitt of Alabama, Jim Leavitt of Colorado and Don Brown of Michigan being the others.  The final finalist was Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Matt Canada.

Last year’s winner was Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley.  Venables was a finalist in 2015 as well.

Behold: The full 2016-17 college football bowl schedule is here

LOUISVILLE, KY - SEPTEMBER 17: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs with the ball during the game against the Florida State Seminoles at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Bobby Ellis/Getty Images)
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The College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six lineups are set, but there’s much more to bowl season than the top line games. Running 40 games deep and stretching from Dec. 17 to Jan. 9, the 2016-17 bowl schedule came together Sunday afternoon, which we’ve compiled here for your viewing enjoyment.

Let’s dive right in.

Saturday, Dec. 17
Gildan New Mexico Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): UTSA vs. New Mexico
Las Vegas Bowl presented by Geico (3:30 p.m. ET, ABC): Houston vs. San Diego State
Raycom Media Camelia Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Appalachian State vs. Toledo
AutoNation Cure Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, CBS Sports Network): Central Florida vs. Arkansas State
R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Lousiana-Lafayette vs. Southern Miss

Monday, Dec. 19
Miami Beach Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Central Michigan vs. Tulsa

Tuesday, Dec. 20
Boca Raton Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Memphis vs. Western Kentucky

Wednesday, Dec. 21
San Diego County Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): BYU vs. Wyoming

Thursday, Dec. 22
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Idaho vs. Colorado State

Friday, Dec. 23
Popeyes Bahamas Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): Old Dominion vs. Eastern Michigan
Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl (4:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Louisiana Tech vs. No. 25 Navy
Dollar General Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Ohio vs. Troy

Saturday, Dec. 24
Hawai’i Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): Hawaii vs. Middle Tennessee

Monday, Dec. 26
St. Petersburg Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Mississippi State vs. Miami (Ohio)
Quick Lane Bowl (2:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boston College vs. Maryland
Camping World Independence Bowl (5 p.m. ET, ESPN2): NC State vs. Vanderbilt

Tuesday, Dec. 27
Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): Army vs. North Texas
Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 24 Temple vs. Wake Forest
National Funding Holiday Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): Washington State vs. Minnesota
Motel 6 Cactus Bowl (10:15 p.m. ET, ESPN): Boise State vs. Baylor

Wednesday, Dec. 28
New Era Pinstripe Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 23 Pittsburgh vs. Northwestern
Russell Athletic Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 16 West Virginia vs. Miami
Foster Farms Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX): Indiana vs. No. 19 Utah
AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): Texas A&M vs. Kansas State

Thursday, Dec. 29
Birmingham Bowl (2 p.m. ET, ESPN): South Florida vs. South Carolina
Belk Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): Arkansas vs. No. 22 Virginia Tech
Valero Alamo Bowl (9 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 10 Colorado vs. No. 12 Oklahoma State

Friday, Dec. 30
AutoZone Liberty Bowl (noon ET, ESPN): TCU vs. Georgia
Hyundai Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET, CBS): No. 18 Stanford vs. North Carolina
Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 21 Tennessee vs. Nebraska
Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl (5:30 p.m. ET, Campus Insiders): South Alabama vs. Air Force
Capital One Orange Bowl (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 6 Michigan vs. No. 11 Florida State

Saturday, Dec. 31
Buffalo Wild Wings Citrus Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ABC): No. 20 LSU vs. No. 13 Louisville
TaxSlayer Bowl (11 a.m. ET, ESPN): Georgia Tech vs. Kentucky
CFP Semifinal at Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl (3 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama
CFP Semifinal at PlayStation Fiesta Bowl (7 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

Monday, Jan. 2
Outback Bowl (1 p.m. ET, ABC): No. 17 Florida vs. Iowa
Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (1 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 15 Western Michigan vs. No. 8 Wisconsin
Rose Bowl Game presented by Northwestern Mutual (5 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 9 USC vs. No. 5 Penn State
Allstate Sugar Bowl (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN): No. 14 Auburn vs. No. 7 Oklahoma

Monday, Jan. 9
College Football Playoff National Championship (8 p.m. ET, ESPN): ALA/WASH vs. CLEM/OSU

AP poll: Alabama runs the wire at No. 1, Penn State moves past Michigan

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 03:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates with his team after their 54 to 16 win over the Florida Gators in the SEC Championship game at the Georgia Dome on December 3, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Alabama Crimson Tide have run the gauntlet of the regular season and conference championship weekend without losing an edge at the top of the Associated Press top 25 poll. The defending national champions started the season as the overwhelming favorite as the preseason No. 1 and they will enter the College Football Playoff as the top-ranked team in the AP Top 25. With not a whole lot going on outside a number of conference championship games, there was not much to change with the final AP Top 25 of the regular season, but Big Ten champion Penn State has moved ahead of Michigan.

The top four remained unchanged with Ohio State, Clemson and Washington holding form behind Alabama, respectively. Alabama, Clemson and Washington won their respective conference championships this weekend. Penn State moved up on the strength of a Big Ten championship game victory over No. 8 Wisconsin (down two spots). Michigan moved down one spot in the reshuffling despite a blowout victory over Penn State earlier in the season. Big 12 champion Oklahoma held on to the seventh spot in the AP poll, with No. 9 USC (up one) and No. 10 Florida State (up two) moving up this week.

There was one newcomer to the AP poll this week. No. 23 Temple moved into the poll in the final week of the season after upsetting Navy in the American Athletic Conference championship. The Owls and No. 25 USF are the two representatives from the conference this week, but each are well behind undefeated MAC champion Western Michigan. The 13-0 Broncos are No. 12 this week and are likely heading to the Cotton Bowl.

Here is the most recent AP Top 25, with Alabama receiving all 61 first-place votes.

  1. Alabama (61)
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Washington
  5. Penn State
  6. Michigan
  7. Oklahoma
  8. Wisconsin
  9. USC
  10. Florida State
  11. Colorado
  12. Western Michigan
  13. Oklahoma State
  14. West Virginia
  15. Louisville
  16. Stanford
  17. Auburn
  18. Virginia Tech
  19. LSU
  20. Florida
  21. Iowa
  22. Pittsburgh
  23. Temple
  24. Nebraska
  25. USF

Malik Zaire’s release from Notre Dame is unconditional

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 10: Malik Zaire #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish throws a pass in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Not surprisingly, there’s already a market for what’s expected to be one of the most sought-after transfers of the upcoming offseason. Somewhat surprisingly, there’s been an apparent about-face when it comes to said player’s restrictions.

Earlier this week it was reported that Malik Zaire would be granted a release from his Notre Dame scholarship, with the quarterback’s intent being to transfer and use his final season of eligibility elsewhere. Following a meeting with head coach Brian Kelly Wednesday, that request was granted — albeit with reported stipulations.

Zaire had confirmed to ESPN.com that he would not be permitted to transfer to any program on Notre Dame’s 2017 schedule, with the exception of North Carolina. That initially meant that Temple, Georgia, Boston College, Michigan State, Miami of Ohio, USC, North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Miami (Fla.), Navy and Stanford would’ve been off-limits for Zaire.

However, since that initial report, it’s been updated to state that Zaire has been granted an unconditional release.  It’s unclear if Zaire was mistaken in stating that there were conditions on his release or if the football program subsequently relented.

Florida, Michigan State, Pittsburgh and Wisconsin are believed to be among the list of potential transfer destinations.  UNC, depending on Mitch Trubisky‘s NFL decision, could be a possibility as well.

“I just want, of course, to do what I wanted to do at Notre Dame, and that’s win a national championship,” Zaire told the South Bend Tribune Wednesday said when discussing his next move. “For me, it’s finding the best fit where I can help bring the team something that I can add and help bring a national championship. I felt like I could do that at Notre Dame, and I still feel the same way.

“I feel like I’m the best quarterback in the country. This opportunity is good for me. I’ve got one shot to do it, and you only need one shot to do it. That’s what I’m looking for.”

Zaire expects to graduate in December, meaning he’d be eligible immediately at whatever FBS program he ultimately lands.