Sparty, UL-L double up on football-hoops conference titles

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A week ago today, our very own Kevin McGuire posed the following question: who can pull off a college football-basketball conference title double-dip?

As it turns out, it was the two teams most likely to pull it off that did just that.

Both Michigan State and Louisiana-Lafayette — via a tiebreaker — claimed their respective conference championships in football this past fall.  Sunday, they both did the same in hoops, with the Spartans easily dropping in-state rival Michigan in the Big Ten tournament championship game and the Ragin’ Cajuns doing the same to Georgia State — in overtime — to claim the Sun Belt crown and the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

Were it not for Ohio State stumbling against the Wolverines Saturday, though, we would’ve seen a rematch of the B1G’s football championship game in hoops.  Speaking of the Buckeyes, it was how OSU was handled by the Spartans that helped the latter’s basketball brethren do the same throughout the conference tourney.

Mark Dantonio has often talked that I kind of showed him the way early how to win championships, and this year he showed me the way,” MSU hoops coach Tom Izzo said Saturday, after his team earned a spot in the title game. “That was the way we started the (basketball) season, learning how to win a championship from our football buddies, and now we have a chance to win our own in the Big Ten. That’s a good year, that’s a good set of events.”

Baylor was the only other team entering the weekend with the opportunity to double down on league titles.  Unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be as the seventh-seeded Bears, who claimed their first-ever Big 12 title in football in the fall, fell Saturday to Iowa State in the conference’s tournament championship game.

At the other end of the spectrum, Duke pulled off the ol’ reverse double-dip.  The Blue Devils earned a spot in both the football and basketball championship games in the ACC for the 2013-14 academic year, and lost both of them rather handily.  A 38-point loss to Florida State in Charlotte last December was followed a little over three months later by a nine-point loss to Virginia in Greensboro Sunday.

Below are this year’s champions for both football and basketball in all 10 FBS conferences.  But, before that, allow me to make you aware that you can — and should — go to CollegeBasketballTalk HERE or follow CBT on Twitter HERE for all of the March Madness… ummm… madness.

AMERICAN ATHLETIC
Football: UCF
Basketball: Louisville

ACC
Football: Florida State
Basketball: Virginia

BIG TEN
Football: Michigan State
Basketball: Michigan State

BIG 12
Football: Baylor
Basketball: Iowa State

CONFERENCE USA
Football: Rice
Basketball: Tulsa

MAC
Football: Bowling Green
Basketball: Western Michigan

MOUNTAIN WEST
Football: Fresno State
Basketball: New Mexico

PAC-12
Football: Stanford
Basketball: UCLA

SEC
Football: Auburn
Basketball: Florida

SUN BELT
Football: Louisiana-Lafayette
Basketball: Louisiana-Lafayette

Nation’s leading kick returner sidelined by torn ACL

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One of the most electrifying special teams players in the country won’t see the field again until 2019.

South Florida’s Terrence Horne has been diagnosed with a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the 2018 season, the football program has confirmed.  The freshman wide receiver suffered the injury during practice in the week leading up to this past Saturday’s win over East Carolina.

“You hate to lose a player, because he had worked so hard. Not only is he a good football player, he’s an unbelievable young man. Always has a smile on his face, would do anything you ask him to do,” head coach Charlie Strong said by way of the Tampa Bay Times. “That one kind of hurt us.”

Horne currently leads the FBS level in kick return average at an even 47 yards per.  In Week 1, he tied an NCAA single-game record by returning a pair of kicks for touchdowns.

Syracuse’s starting TE out definitely due to injury

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Ahead of a matchup of undefeated ACC teams, one of them has taken a hit to its passing attack.

After Syracuse pushed its record to a perfect 4-0 with a Week 4 win over UConn, head coach Dino Babers revealed that Ravian Pierce will be sidelined indefinitely because of an unspecified lower-body injury.  The starting tight end missed the non-conference win over the Huskies because of the issue.

At this point, it’s unclear when the injury took place.

“It’s really kind of disappointing, it kind of snuck up on us,” the head coach said by way of the Syracuse Post-Standard. “He’s such a tough guy. We don’t know exactly when it happened.”

In three games this season, all starts, the senior had caught six passes for 56 yards and a pair of touchdowns.  In starting nine games last season, the 6-3, 237-pound Pierce’s four receiving touchdowns were tied for second on the team.

Syracuse will travel to unbeaten and second-ranked Clemson this weekend.

Spinal condition forces Northwestern’s leading rusher to retire

Duke at Northwestern
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Harsh and decidedly unexpected news coming out of Evanston Monday afternoon will have a significant impact on Northwestern’s football team moving forward.

The football program confirmed earlier today that Jeremy Larkin will be forced to retire from the game of football as a result of a recent diagnosis of cervical stenosis.  The good news is that the condition is not considered life-threatening even as it precludes any future participation in the sport.

Obviously, the sophomore running back’s decision to retire, which came as the football program was coming off its one bye weekend of the season, is effective immediately.

“Football has been a lifelong passion and it has been a process to reconcile the fact I won’t be on that field again, given I’ve played this game since I was five years old,” said Larkin in a statement. “I’m extremely appreciative of the Northwestern sports medicine and athletic training staffs for uncovering this condition, and for my coaches and the medical staff for always putting my health first. I came to this University to engage at the absolute highest level on the field and in the classroom, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue one of those while supporting my teammates from the sideline.”

“This is heartbreaking because I see every day how much Jeremy loves the game, loves his teammates, and loves to compete,” head football coach Pat Fitzgerald. “But this is the absolute best possible outcome for him. The discovery of this condition allowed Jeremy and his family to make an informed decision for his long-term health and well-being. For those of us who have known Jeremy Larkin since his high school days, his future is exceptionally bright. I can’t wait to see the impact he makes in our world.”

Through three games, Larkin’s 346 yards rushing were easily tops on the Wildcats.  In fact, Larkin currently accounts for an astounding 98.6 percent of the Wildcats’ 351 rushing yards as a team.  Additionally, he has five of their seven rushing touchdowns on the season.

Northwestern will open up Big Ten play this weekend as they host No. 14 Michigan.

Virginia Tech QB Josh Jackson set for surgery, out indefinitely

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Virginia Tech’s embarrassing weekend came with a rather substantial personnel loss.

This past Saturday, starting quarterback Josh Jackson went down with a lower-leg injury in then-No. 13 Tech’s historic loss to Old Dominion; it was the Conference USA program’s first-ever win over a Power Five school after nine straight such losses over the last decade.

Monday, the Hokies’ worst fears were realized as Justin Fuente confirmed that Jackson suffered a fractured left fibula during the game and will be sidelined indefinitely.  The signal-caller is set to undergo surgery on Tuesday to repair the damage.

This season prior to the injury, Jackson completed a little over 62 percent of his 58 passes for 575 yards, five touchdowns and an interception.  His 170.3 pass efficiency rating is currently 18th nationally and second among ACC quarterbacks (Boston College’s Anthony Brown, 175.5).

With Jackson sidelined for the foreseeable future, the keys to Tech’s offense will be handed off to Ryan Willis.  The Kansas transfer had to sit out the 2017 season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules, and has attempted 25 passes for the Hokies this season.  In that limited action thus far, he has thrown for 195 yards and a touchdown.

The good news is that Willis isn’t exactly new to the starting game at the collegiate level.

Willis started two games during the 2016 season; after throwing three interceptions in each of those mid-October starts, Willis was benched and never played another down for the Jayhawks. In his first season in Lawrence in 2015, Willis set a KU freshman record by throwing for 1,719 yards and nine touchdowns as part of his eight starts.

“I feel badly for Josh,” Fuente said in comments distributed by the school earlier today. “He’s a competitive, tough young man. He just kind of got landed on wrong on the play, but know he’ll come back better than ever.

“We turn to Ryan Willis and he performed pretty well last week when he went in there. He’s competitive and he’s been training and working for this opportunity and it’s up to everyone else to step up their game as well and help him out and support him.”