NIU wins second straight MAC title, but could knock league out of BCS

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(Note: rankings in this post reflect positions in the BCS) 

The non-automatic qualifier conferences had, in all likelihood, one final hope to get a team into the BCS top 16 for an Orange Bowl berth. That hope came in the form of No. 17 Kent State. The Golden Flashes needed to beat Northern Illinois this evening and have No. 16 UCLA lose to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship game to have a shot of cracking the top 16 (since the winner of the Big East, Louisville, will likely not finish ahead of the MAC champion in the Sunday’s final BCS standings).

It took all of regulation and two overtime possessions, but Kent State couldn’t quite get it done and No. 21 NIU came away with a 44-37 win. The Huskies were led by quarterback and possible Heisman candidate Jordan Lynch, who accounted for 372 yards and four touchdowns.

Lynch has been on the outside of the Heisman conversation over the past few weeks, but could sneak an invite to New York after his performance tonight — which could have been undone by one play, by the way. A fumbled handoff late in the fourth quarter was scooped up by KSU and returned for a touchdown to tie the game at 27. A pair of touchdowns in the final four minutes sent the game into overtime. That’s when Lynch’s 2-yard touchdown run in the second overtime gave NIU a 44-37 lead that was never relinquished.

So now, NIU brings home the MAC championship for the second year in a row, but the Huskies may have taken the non-AQs out of the BCS picture. UCLA lost to Stanford in the Pac-12 championship while No. 18 Texas and No. 19 Boise State play Kansas State and Nevada this weekend, respectively. Even assuming that Texas and Boise State lose, idle Michigan still sits two spots above NIU at No. 19 in the BCS.

The point is that NIU still needs a lot of help to even be in the discussion for the No. 16 spot, as does Boise State if the Broncos can beat the Wolf Pack. We’ll have to wait and see for sure when the BCS standings are revealed Sunday, but it looks as though a team from the Big 12 — either Kansas State or Oklahoma — will grab the final at-large BCS spot.

Starting Nevada safety transfers to BYU

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Nevada’s secondary loss will turn into BYU’s gain.

In early December, it was reported that Nephi Sewell will be transferring from Nevada.  Less than two weeks later, Sewell took to Twitter over the weekend to announce that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at BYU.

The move serves as a homecoming for Sewell as the defensive back played his high school football in the state of Utah.

As a sophomore this season, Sewell started all 10 games in which he played after starting eight games in 2017. His 53 tackles in 2018 were good for sixth on the team.

Sewell’s older brother, Gabe Sewell, is a junior linebacker for Nevada and currently leads the Wolf Pack in tackles with 85.  His younger brother, Penei Sewell, is a freshman offensive lineman at Oregon.

Kentucky’s Josh Allen adds fourth national trophy honor

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When it’s all said and done, Josh Allen is going to need a bigger trophy cabinet — or at least significantly expand his current one.

Monday, it was announced that the Kentucky senior was named as the 2018 recipient of the Jack Lambert Award. That trophy is handed out annually by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (OH) and given to the national linebacker of the year.

Previously this awards season, Allen had been named as the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award (HERE) and Chuck Bednarik Award (HERE) as well as the recipient of the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy (HERE). He also earned unanimous first-team All-American honors.

Allen’s 14 sacks this season set the football program’s single-season record, while his 28.5 career sacks are the most ever for a member of the Wildcats.

Utah OC Troy Taylor named head coach at FCS Sacramento State

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For the second time since the 2018 regular season came to an end, Kyle Whittingham has seen one of his assistant coaches leave for a head-coaching job.

Exactly a week ago, Utah State announced that Utah associate head coach Gary Andersen was returning to again lead the Aggies.  Monday, Sacramento State announced that Troy Taylor has been hired as the FCS program’s next head football coach.

Taylor, who spent two seasons as Whittingham’s offensive coordinator, was the starting quarterback at Cal in the late eighties after playing his high school football in the state of California.  He also began his coaching career at the high school level near Sacramento.

“I am thrilled to be the new head football coach at Sacramento State,” Taylor said in a statement. “My family and I are excited to move back home and take on the challenge of building the Hornet Football program into something the city can be very proud. I want to thank President Nelsen, Mark Orr and the rest of the search committee for giving me this opportunity.”

With bowl season left, Utah is sixth in the Pac-12 and 67th nationally in scoring 28.7 points per game.  In Taylor’s first season in charge of the offense, they averaged 29.5 ppg.

Whittingham has already replaced Andersen with former Ute football player Sione Po’uha.

Nick Saban says Tua Tagovailoa ‘probably ahead of schedule’ in recovery from ankle surgery

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One of the biggest storylines leading into the 2018 College Football Playoff is the health of this year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up.  With Alabama’s date with Oklahoma less than two weeks away, the signs are pointing in a positive direction for Tua Tagovailoa.

The sophomore quarterback suffered a high-ankle sprain in Alabama’s SEC championship game win over Georgia two weeks ago and underwent surgery shortly thereafter to help aid the healing process.  Monday, Nick Saban sounded decidedly optimistic in giving an update on the status of his starter, who has participated at least partly in all four of the Crimson Tide’s practice session since the title game.

“He’s doing well,” the head coach said by way of ESPN.com. “I think he’s probably ahead of schedule. He’s been able to take a lot of reps. He’s been able to throw the ball from the pocket. He can run. …

“I don’t think he’s 100 percent in terms of change of direction yet. But he’s already going 100 percent on the gravity treadmill. So he’s been able to practice and he’s made really, really good progress. So we’re encouraged by that.”

Tagovailoa had been bothered by knee issues for a sizable chunk of the regular season before hurting his left ankle earlier this month.

Top-ranked Alabama will face Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Oklahoma in the Dec. 29 Orange Bowl, which this season is serving as one of the two playoff semifinals.  The winner of that game will face the Notre Dame-Clemson in the national championship game next month.