week 14 wrap

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No. 3 Clemson punches playoff ticket with ACC championship win over Virginia Tech

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For the second straight season, Clemson can say they punched their ticket to the College Football Playoff with yet another close ACC championship game victory.

The third-ranked Tigers jumped out to a big lead, led throughout and ultimately prevailed over Virginia Tech in a 42-35 win that was a tad closer than the final score indicated.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his stellar play down the stretch this season, throwing for 288 yards, three touchdowns and an interception. The signal-caller added another two scores on the ground to go with his team-high 85 yards rushing as well on a night where he made some clutch throws down the stretch to keep the team in front of a stingy Bud Foster defense.

Tailback Wayne Gallman also found the end zone in Orlando but was still relatively limited with just 59 yards on 17 carries.

The Hokies did make sure Clemson sweated out things by threatening in the second and third quarters. Quarterback Jerod Evans threw for 264 yards and a touchdown but couldn’t get any help from Virginia Tech’s normally reliable ground game and threw an interception with 71 seconds left to end a comeback. Evans also led the team in rushing and scored twice while running back Travon McMillian did the same but managed to do so on only 37 yards rushing.

With a second straight ACC title in the bag for Dabo Swinney and company, the only question left for Clemson is where will they stand on Sunday afternoon and what semifinal site they will head to. Alabama appears locked into the No. 1 seed in the Peach Bowl but could the close result against Virginia Tech — combined with Washington’s emphatic win in the Pac-12 title game — force a national title game rematch in Atlanta?

That’s probably not on the minds of the Tigers on Saturday night as they rightfully celebrate yet another league championship and look like a dangerous team to face at the end of the month.

Arkansas State, Appalachian State end up as SBC co-champs

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Two of the 10 FBS conferences don’t have championship games to determine a league champion.  The Big 12, which will go to a title game format next season, crowned an undisputed champion earlier today.  The other game-less league, on the other hand, will have more than one official champ.

Arkansas State had the opportunity to potentially win the Sun Belt Conference outright, but lost in Week 13 to drop to 6-1 in conference play.  Appalachian State won the same weekend to finish the season at 7-1 and claim at least a share of league title.

ASU and Troy, both 6-1 entering Week 14, needed a win to claim its share.

Troy failed miserably, falling 28-24 on the road to a Georgia Southern team that entered the game 4-7 overall and 3-4 in the SBC.  ASU, though, passed its final regular season test, putting 20 fourth-quarter points on the scoreboard in getting past Texas State in a 36-14 win in San Marcos.

The Red Wolves have now won five SBC titles the past six years, with three of those (2011, 2012, 2015) being undisputed.  They’re also the first team since Troy was in the midst of a five-year run from 2006-10 to win back-to-back championships.

As for App State, this is the Mountaineers’ first FBS league championship since moving to the SBC from the FCS for the 2014 season.

The three teams at the top of the SBC will play in some combination of the New Orleans/Dollar General/Camellia Bowls.  Arkansas State will be playing in its sixth straight bowl game, while Appalachian State will be in its second in a row in just its third season at this level.  Troy, meanwhile, will be making its first postseason appearance since winning the New Orleans Bowl in 2010.

San Diego State runs past Wyoming for second straight Mountain West title

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They say revenge is a dish best served cold. San Diego State checked off both boxes on Saturday night.

The Aztecs captured their second straight Mountain West championship and avenged an earlier loss with a 27-24 win over Wyoming in freezing conditions up in Laramie.

The San Diego State ground game was clicking all night long in a game where it was difficult to get much of anything through the air. Star tailback Donnel Pumphrey finished with 110 yards and a touchdown, passing former Texas great Ricky Williams to become the second leading rusher in FBS history late in the third quarter. The senior trails only Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne by 108 yards on the all-time list with a chance to top his mark later this month in what will likely be a berth in the Las Vegas Bowl.

Pumphrey’s backup Rashaad Penny wasn’t too shabby either, picking up a team-high 117 yards on the ground and finding the end zone twice. It was a good thing both players were humming in the backfield as quarterback Christian Chapman managed only 85 yards on six completions.

The SDSU defense also came to play in one of their best performances in a while. They picked off Wyoming’s Josh Allen twice, recovered a fumble late in the second half and bottled up the prolific runner Brian Hill to the tune of just 93 yards.

The Cowboys made a run to close the gap to just a field goal in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite get over the hump for their second win in as many weeks over the Aztecs for a first ever Mountain West title.

Instead it was Rocky Long’s San Diego State squad that could lay claim to being the best in the conference this season for the second year in a row.

Alabama’s second-leading tackler ‘probably’ out for postseason

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As Alabama looks to turn in back-to-back national championship seasons, the Crimson Tide’s defense will likely do so without one of its most productive players on that side of the ball.

Late in the first half of UA’s resounding SEC title game win over overmatched Florida, Shaun Dion Hamilton went down with a knee injury.  Following the game, Nick Saban indicated that it is serious enough to “probably” sideline the middle linebacker for the entirety of the postseason.

“Shaun Dion has a knee. He’s probably going to be out for the year,” the head coach said.

A more definitive diagnosis will be made once the team gets back to Tuscaloosa.

Prior to his injury, which left him watching the remainder of the game on crutches from the sidelines, Hamilton had intercepted the second pass of his career.

Entering the game, Hamilton was second on the Tide in tackles.  He’ll be replaced in the starting lineup by Rashaan Evans.

“[W]we have a lot of confidence in Rashaan, and he did a good job for us today,” said Saban.

WVU, Dana Holgorsen reach agreement on contract extension

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On the same night West Virginia put the finishing touches on a much-needed bounceback season, the man in charge of the rebound has been rewarded.

Shortly after WVU’s win over Baylor in the regular-season finale, the school confirmed in a press release that Dana Holgorsen has agreed to a new contract to remain on with the Mountaineers.  Holgorsen’s new deal runs through the 2021 season; his old deal had been set to expire after the 2017 season.

The announcement comes nine months after it was reported that talks between the two sides had come to an end, raising questions about Holgorsen’s long-term future with the program.  This deal confirms that, in the here and now, Holgorsen and athletic director Shane Lyons are singing from the same hymnal.

“I said back in the spring that Coach Holgorsen and I were focused on nothing but a successful 2016 football season, and I think we’ve proven that,” Lyons said in a statement. “Now that the regular season has come to a close, the time is right to finalize a new contract for Dana and keep our program going in a positive direction.

“Dana and I have always had a good, open dialogue, and we want this program to succeed at the highest level,” Lyons added. “I am pleased and happy that he wants to continue to lead the Mountaineer football program. Part of my job is to give him the resources to succeed, and we will continue to work together closely to bring the very best to West Virginia football.”

Saturday’s night win gives the Mountaineers 10 in 2016 with a bowl remaining, the first time they’ve reached double digits since Holgorsen’s first season in 2011.  In between, Holgorsen’s squad stumbled to a 26-25 overall record and a 15-21 mark in Big 12 play, leading some to put the coach on the hot seat entering each of the last two seasons.

The second-place finish in the Big 12 is easily the program’s best since joining the conference for the 2012 season.  With a bowl victory, WVU would hit 11 wins for the first time since 2007 and just the sixth time in program history.

“I am proud of our team and what we have accomplished this year by being only the ninth squad in school history to win 10 games in a season,” Holgorsen said. “I want to congratulate and thank our coaching staff and players for a job well done. I also want to thank President Gee, Shane and Keli Cunningham for their commitment and support. Going forward, my focus is squarely on recruiting and the upcoming bowl game. I strongly believe that our football program is in position to be successful for a very long time.

Holgorsen’s 2016 salary called for total pay of $2.98 million, seventh amongst Big 12 head coaches.   The new deal would bump his 2017 salary to $3.5 million, fifth in the league.  With annual raises built in, Holgorsen’s total pay would top out at $4 million in the final year of the deal.