Gators push SEC East to 5-0 with Birmingham Bowl win

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The SEC Least as they were referred to during the regular season?  Try SEC Beast.

Much maligned throughout 2014 — and rightly so — The Lil’ Division That Couldn’t suddenly could in the postseason, with Florida’s 28-20 win over East Carolina (8-5) in the Birmingham Bowl Saturday afternoon putting a bow on a perfect bowl season.  Five teams played — UF, South Carolina, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee — and all five won, giving the East a perfect 5-0 mark during the 2014-15 postseason.

Now, granted, just two of the East’s games — UGA vs. No. 21 Louisville, Mizzou vs. No. 25 Minnesota —  came against ranked teams, but that division is the only reason the SEC as a whole has an above-.500 bowl mark as the West went 2-5.  Included in that West record was five consecutive losses to close out the slate by the five best teams in the division: LSU, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Auburn and Alabama.  Four of those five losses, though, were to ranked teams, the lone exception being unranked Notre Dame toppling LSU in the Music City Bowl.

UF (7-5), meanwhile, helped cap that perfect East bowl cycle despite being outgained by ECU 536-340.  Fortunately for the Gators they were able to make plays in the running game as they ran for 169 yards in the win.

The defense, while not helping out yard-wise, did contribute points as Brian Poole ran an interception back for a touchdown in the first half, not to mention Dante Fowler‘s three sacks in his last game in a Gator uniform.  They also forced a fumble on a play that began at the one-yard line late in the second quarter that kept the Pirates from another touchdown, as well as force another turnover late to essentially close out the game.

Offensively, Ahmad Fullwood‘s 86-yard touchdown reception from Treon Harris with 11:20 left in the third quarter was the longest scoring pass play in the history of the Birmingham/BBVA Compass/Papa John’s Bowl.  Harris left the game after that because of injury and, replaced by the soon-to-be-departed Jeff Driskel, the UF offense ground to a halt.

On the next six possessions, the Gators had a pair of fumbles that sandwiched four three-and-outs.  That allowed the Pirates to cut a deficit that was 28-14 after the long TD pass to 28-20 with 6:29 remaining.  On the possession after the second fumble, ECU managed to drive the ball to the UF 27-yard line before being forced to punt the ball back to the Gators with 4:21 remaining.

Yet another Gator three-and-out gave the Pirates the ball back with 3:28 left at their own 42-yard line.  After the Pirates drove down to the UF five-yard line — with the aid of a very fortuitous fumble that was kneed forward at least 10 yards by a Gator defender — Vernon Hargreaves intercepted a pass in the end zone with 1:20 remaining to nearly seal the win.

On the third play of the following series, a Driskel run for a first down did seal the win for the Gators.

For the Pirates, Shane Carden finished with 427 yards passing, two touchdowns and two interceptions.  Justin Hardy, the FBS all-time leader in career receptions, closed out his record-breaking career with 11 receptions for 160 yards.

For ECU’s conference the AAC, that league will finish the postseason 2-3.

Florida State names James Blackman starting QB over Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook

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In this case, the transfer pastures weren’t any greener for a signal-caller — two, actually — who moved on from his first college football home.

Alex Hornibrook left Wisconsin this offseason and ultimately landed at Florida State as a graduate transfer.  Jordan Travis took his leave of Louisville earlier this year and ended up transferring to FSU; Travis was ultimately granted an immediate-eligibility waiver.

With those twin under-center developments, Willie Taggart and the Seminoles navigated a three-headed quarterback competition during the spring and on into summer camp: Hornibrook, Travis and one-time starter James Blackman.  Sunday night, FSU announced that Blackman is its QB1 heading into the opener against Boise State this coming Saturday night.

The naming of Blackman as the starter continues what’s been a roller coaster ride for the redshirt sophomore.

Blackman, who himself placed his name into the transfer portal earlier this year before undergoing a change of heart, started most of the 2017 season due to an injury to starter Deondre Francois, who regained the job in 2018 only to be dismissed from the football program in February of this year.

Blackman was a three-star member of FSU’s 2017 recruiting class. After Francois went down with what turned out to be a season-ending injury in the opener that year, Blackman started the remaining 12 games as a true freshman.  Francois returned as the starter for the vast majority of the 2018 season, missing one game in early November because of a concussion.  Blackman started the lone game Francois didn’t, throwing for 421 yards and four touchdowns in a loss to NC State.

In that initial season in 2017, Blackman completed almost 60 percent of his 297 passes for 2,230 yards, 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.  He was able to take a redshirt for this past season despite playing in four games.

Hornibrook, who battled concussion issues the latter half of the 2018 season but was cleared for winter workouts in January, spent the past three seasons as the Badgers’ starting quarterback.  In games in which Hornibrook started during that span, Wisconsin went 26-6.

In 35 career games played with the Badgers, Hornibrook passed for 5,438 yards, 47 touchdowns and 33 interceptions.

This coming season is Hornibrook’s final year of eligibility.

Travis, whose older brother played baseball at FSU a few years ago, was a three-star member of the Cardinals’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No. 25 dual-threat quarterback in the country.  As a true freshman this past season, Jackson completed four-of-nine passes for 71 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Because he played in four or fewer games this past year, he took a redshirt for the 2018 season.

Calamity averted: Washington State flag’s College GameDay streak reaches 225 straight

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Courtesy of some expected common sense, a potential national nightmare was averted earlier this weekend.

Along with Lee Corso, one of the constants you can count on seeing when you turn on ESPN‘s College GameDay Saturday mornings during the football season is the Washington State flag flying somewhere in the crowd, regardless of from where the show originates.  Ol’ Crimson first appeared around the GameDay set in Austin on Oct. 4, 2003, and has made it to every show since, a streak of 224 straight appearances.

Unfortunately, there was some serious concern earlier this month that the streak wouldn’t make it to 225.

ESPN announced Aug. 13 that College GameDay would set up camp and televise its popular pregame show from Walt Disney World ahead of the Week 0 Florida-Miami matchup at Orlando’s Camping World Stadium Aug. 24.  In a cruel and potentially streak-ending twist, the Magic Kingdom’s rules prohibit, among other things, flags from being flown on the Walt Disney World Resort Property.

All was right with the world in the end, though, as Ol’ Crimson was indeed front and center ahead of what would turn out to be a Gators win over the Hurricanes as, not surprisingly, Disney bent its rules regarding not only flags but signs as well.

From the Spokesman-Review:

Hey, look at this,” ESPN’s Rece Davis said as the flag was shown. “Look who made it into the Magic Kingdom.”

“The streak’s alive,” Kirk Herbstreit said.

“I want to point out, too, the streak is legit and authentic,” Davis added. “Now, we’ll cooperate with our friends, but Washington State has to do its part and they have.”

Herbstreit chimed in: “They’ve made big efforts throughout this streak and they made another one today.”

“Congrats to the Cougs,” ESPN’s Desmond Howard said.

Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick doesn’t sense momentum for CFB Playoff expansion

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We’re at the dawn of a new season in college football but for a lot of folks, the upcoming campaign is a lot more about the ending than the beginning. We’re talking of course about the thing that dominates the debate in the sport for much of the fall: the College Football Playoff.

Though it seems like we’re stuck at four teams in the postseason event for the foreseeable future, expansion of the playoff is a topic that seems like a never ending well. Most want it, but few in power seem to be pushing for it.

That point was reiterated this week by Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick. The leader of a program who made last year’s edition of the final four and one of the more powerful people in college athletics recently told the South Bend Tribune that he doesn’t see a move to six or eight teams in the event anytime soon.

I don’t want to speculate on that. I don’t sense a lot of momentum,” Swarbrick said. “But again, this is a group of individuals who cares about college football and think about it all the time. And so that’s all you want, a process where people are always talking about how to make the game better. But I don’t sense any particular momentum for change right now.”

If anybody would have some insight into the thought process regarding expansion, it’s bound to be Swarbrick — who sits on the CFP Management Committee and has his school president on the overarching CFP Board of Managers.

Perhaps something will change by 2025 when the postseason contract comes up with ESPN but until then, get used to four teams.

Missouri AD Jim Sterk is even more mad about NCAA penalties after Mississippi State case

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At some point in the distant future, Missouri fans, coaches, players and administrators will forget about the sanctions that the NCAA handed out to their football program.

That day is not today however.

Hot on the heels of Friday’s decision by the NCAA to slap the wrist of Mississippi State over a somewhat similar academic fraud case, Tigers AD Jim Sterk is telling anybody who will listen just how wronged his school was in the wake of what happened at his SEC rival.

“We believe that the penalties imposed in the recently decided and factually similar case (at Mississippi State) further illustrate that the penalties imposed on Mizzou were excessive and inconsistent with previous case precedent,” Sterk told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. We have never wavered from our stance or the merits of our appeal and remain hopeful it will be successful.”

The Tigers are hopeful that an appeal will be decided in the fairly near future and, obviously, that it will be a favorable ruling.

There are a handful of differences between Mizzou’s and the Bulldogs’ cases and enough to make comparing them apples to oranges despite being under the broad umbrella of academic fraud. We’ll see what ultimately ends up happening but something says that short of a complete reversal, Tigers fans and others sporting the gold and black won’t be happy with the NCAA for a long, long time.