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Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson suffered torn ACL in Music City Bowl

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Clayton Thorson announced last month he will return to Northwestern for the 2018 season, but preparations for that season have become much more difficult. Northwestern announced Tuesday that Thorson suffered a torn ACL in the No. 21 Wildcats’ 24-23 win over Kentucky in the Music City Bowl on Friday.

Thorson exited the game after leading a touchdown drive early in the second quarter, with Northwestern leading 10-7. He completed 4-of-8 passes for 35 yards and was sacked twice. Matt Alviti nursed the game home, completing 4-of-11 throws for 50 yards, while Justin Jackson carried the load with 32 carries for 157 yards and two touchdowns.

The junior finished his season hitting 60.4 percent of his throws for 2,844 yards (6.6 per attempt) with 15 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. He is the winningest quarterback in Northwestern history, and his 44 touchdown passes are a school record.

In a release, Northwestern said Thorson will spend the next two or three weeks in prehab with the anticipation of going under the knife in mid-January.

Justin Jackson powers No. 21 Northwestern past Kentucky in Music City Bowl

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It was a game marred by penalties, ejections and injuries, but No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) sifted through all of the hurdles to capture a 24-23 victory against Kentucky (7-6) to win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday evening. Running back Justin Jackson finished off a brilliant college career by rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns to put Northwestern on his back for the win.

Northwestern needed Jackson to carry the load after quarterback Clayton Thorson was lost to a serious-looking leg injury in the first half. Thorson was replaced by Matt Alviti after being carted off the field in the second quarter. Jackson was not alone in pounding out yardage on the ground. Jeremy Larkin got involved in a big way with 112 yards. As much as the Northwestern running game carried the way to victory, it was a big play by the defense that seemingly would help lift Northwestern to a win. Kyle Queiro‘s 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Northwestern a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second interception of the game thrown by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson.

Northwestern gave Kentucky a chance to come back, however. After Kentucky kicked a field goal to create a seven-point deficit, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald made the incredibly bold decision to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 on his own 39-yard line. After an instant replay upheld the fourth down stop, Kentucky went to work to try and get in the end zone. A pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-6 by Northwestern gave Kentucky the ball at the nine-yard line, and Johnson ran it in for a score.

Rather than go for a tie in the final minute of the game, Kentucky opted to go for a two-point conversion, but the pass attempt by Johnson fell incomplete. Northwestern then recovered the kickoff to run out the clock.

Northwestern has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. It is also the second time in three years Northwestern has hit 10 wins, and the third time under Fitzgerald. With the win, the Big Ten improves to 4-0 this bowl season, while the SEC drops to 0-3 out of the gates. Kentucky has not won a bowl game since 2008.

Northwestern will open the 2018 season with a conference game against Purdue on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. The Wildcats have a tough draw in cross-division play with Michigan and a road game at Michigan State in back-to-back weeks followed by a home game against Nebraska. Northwestern also hosts Notre Dame next November Kentucky begins the 2018 season at home on Sep. 1, 2018 against Central Michigan before a Week 2 road trip to Florida in SEC play.

Injuries, ejections and penalties the story of the first half of Music City Bowl

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Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson was taken off the field for further medical examination after appearing to injure his right leg on a trick play. Not long after that, an official tossed Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. from the game after making contact with an official. It’s been quite a first half in the Music City Bowl, where Northwestern leads Kentucky by a score of 17-7 at the half.

After Thorson hauled in a pass from Jeremy Larkin, Thorson appeared to injure his right leg before contact was made by the nearby Kentucky defender. The 23-yard gain was the result of a brilliant play call from the Northwestern sideline, but the loss of starting quarterback put the game on pause for a few moments before play resumed after Thorson was carted off.

Justin Jackson scored a touchdown on a five-yard run shortly after the Thorson injury. The run gave Northwestern a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. Earlier in the drive, Jackson became the 10th all-time leading rusher in college football history, passing Damion Fletcher of Southern Miss and Anthony Thompson of Indiana to move to No. 10 among FBS players. Jackson would add a second touchdown later in the second quarter to extend the Northwestern lead to 17-7. Matt Alviti came in to play quarterback for the Northwestern Wildcats.

On the ensuing possession, Kentucky’s top running back was ejected from the game after making contact with an official. The call, however, has left many wondering if the ref went a tad overboard with his decision. You decide for yourself if Snell should have been ejected for this?

The ref show once again popped up late in the second half when Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky sideline appeared to want a late hit out of bounds call against Northwestern when quarterback Stephen Johnson was taken down on the sideline. No flag was called, until a ref decided to throw one on the Kentucky sideline for unsportsmanlike conduct. Johnson was taken off the field for possible medical attention, and he was seen jawing at a ref on his way off the field.

The officials didn’t just have all of their controversial calls on the Kentucky side. Northwestern linebacker Paddy Fisher was tossed from the game late in the first half for targeting, although it was one of many very questionable targeting calls we have seen in college football. It has not been a great day for this officiating crew, to say the least.

As the Music City Bowl goes to the second half, it is still up for grabs between the Wildcats of the Big Ten and SEC, if there are enough players to actually finish this game. Kentucky is looking for their first bowl victory since 2008. Northwestern is looking for back-to-back bowl wins

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: College Football Players to Fall in Love With

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A new college football season is nearing, and it will feature some terrific playmakers you should be well aware of. Odds are you are familiar with some of the players you should know, but now is a good a time as any to introduce the experienced and the brand new fans of college football to some of the top players to keep you entertained in 2017. You will have a blast watching these players do their thing this season and you will want to watch every game they play for the chance to witness greatness.

Without any further adieu, here are the players that will keep you most entertained this fall.

Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
In a season that has a number of good running backs around the country, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley may be the best there is. Penn State’s offense may be the best in the Big Ten, and Barkley is one of the reasons why. Barkley has shined in big games for the Nittany Lions the past two seasons, including in the Big Ten championship game against Wisconsin and Rose Bowl against USC, and he will have his opportunities to lead Penn State to some big wins this season with his moves.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
Leonard Fournette
may have been the star attraction out of LSU’s backfield the past few years, but Derrius Guice made a name for himself last season as one of the top running backs in the SEC. Now, Guice steps into the leading role without any question and he should be the main cog in LSU’s offense this fall while the Tigers try to get a passing game figured out.

Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
Keeping with the running back theme (and there are a number of others that could have been mentioned), we stay in the SEC to remind you that Georgia still has Nick Chubb ready to carry the ball. Chubb should be a key player in Georgia’s season, even though he will be splitting running calls with Sony Michel. But Chubb’s ability to burst through the line and get downfield with authority will be an essential ingredient to Georgia’s offensive game plan.

Derwin James, S, Florida State
Some will argue Florida State’s best player may actually be the best player in the nation. Derwin James is ready to make plays on every snap, and after missing the bulk of the 2016 season due to a knee surgery, James is ready to make up for some lost time. Jimbo Fisher and the Seminoles will have James lining up all over the field, and he will be a key player in the highly-anticipated Week 1 matchup with Alabama.

Ed Oliver, DT, Houston
Ed Oliver’s recruiting to Houston took the recruiting world by storm, and he has had quite the impact in his young career at Houston. Expect more of the big man to destroy the line of scrimmage this fall. Oliver would be a beast to contain in any conference, but do not look past his performance in the AAC this fall. Oliver will continue to show just how much fun watching a defensive tackle can be this fall.

Quinton Flowers, QB, USF
If there was one thing Charlie Strong really needed to be successful at Texas, it was his Longhorn version of Teddy Bridgewater. Now at USF, Strong has his quarterback in Quinton Flowers. Flowers is among the top players from the Group of Five and will give the Bulls as good a chance as any to not only win the AAC, but also guide the Bulls to a New Years Six bowl game.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
Louisville’s quarterback may have won the Heisman Trophy last season, but a brutal finish to the season has left the reigning Heisman Trophy winner laying in the shadows this offseason it seems. Expect that love affair with the dynamic quarterback to be rekindled quickly as Jackson looks to pile up big numbers to start the season once more to remind us all why he captured the nation a year ago. History may be against Jackson’s chances of winning the Heisman Trophy again this season, but do not be surprised if he manages to return to New York as a Heisman finalist.

Honorable mentions: Sam Darnold (QB, USC), Justin Jackson (RB, Northwestern), Baker Mayfield (QB, Oklahoma), Nick Bosa (DE, Ohio State), Mike Weber (RB, Ohio State), J.T. Barrett (QB, Ohio State), Josh Rosen (QB, UCLA), Royce Freeman (RB, Oregon), Jordan Whitehead (S, Pittsburgh), Da’Shawn Hand (DE, Alabama), Myles Gaskin (RB, Washington)

Justin Jackson’s career day helps Northwestern nip No. 23 Pitt in Pinstripe Bowl

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If you’re a fan of Northwestern football, go ahead and send all of your thank you notes and/or cards to Justin Jackson, c/o NU athletics.  Although, you could save some for the secondary as well.

Thanks in very large part to Jackson’s career day, Northwestern (7-6) was able to hold off No. 23 Pittsburgh (8-5) and stake its claim to the 7th annual New Era Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium with a 31-24 win.  The victory was the Wildcats’ first in a bowl game since 2012 and just the third ever since the program was established in 1892.

And, again, thanks be to Jackson.  The junior running back gashed the Panthers defense for 224 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries.  His previous career-high was 188, set in a mid-October win over Michigan State earlier this season.

Jackson was part of a back-and-forth second half, with the lead changing hands four times in the last two quarters after the Wildcats had taken a 14-10 lead into the halftime locker room.  What turned out to be the final lead change didn’t involve Jackson, though, as Clayton Thorson connected with Garrett Dickerson for a 21-yard touchdown pass on a fourth and one with 8:23 remaining in the fourth quarter to give the Panthers a four-point lead.

On the first play of the ensuing possession, Quadree Henderson, playing in pace of the injured James Conner, fumbled the ball back to the Wildcats at the Panthers’ 27-yard line; four plays later, a Jack Mitchell 37-yard field goal extended the lead to seven.

Pitt’s second-to-last chance to tie the game nearly ended in a touchdown but for a tremendous defensive play in the end zone and instead came to a halt on an interception tossed by Ben DiNucci, who prior to this game had never attempted a pass at the collegiate level.  The redshirt freshman was in the game because starter Nathan Peterman sustained a third-quarter head injury and didn’t return.  Conner suffered the same fate on the same type of injury in the same quarter.

Another DiNucci interception with 1:22 left sealed the Panthers’ third consecutive bowl loss.  The 24 points were the fewest for a Pitt offense this season that came into the game 11th in the country in scoring at 42.3 points per game.

Interestingly, with Pitt’s loss, ranked teams are off to an 0-3 start to the bowl season.  The Big Ten is 2-1 this postseason, while the ACC suffered its first loss after winning its first three.