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Auburn throttles Paxton Lynch, exits disappointing season with win

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Auburn’s defense disappointed and underwhelmed for most of the 2015 season, but it was that unit that played a pivotal role in sending the Tigers into the offseason on a high note.

Facing one of the most prolific quarterbacks in the country, Auburn (7-6) almost completely shut down Paxton Lynch in claiming a 31-10 win over Memphis (9-4) in the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday afternoon.  The win snapped a mini two-game bowl losing streak for the SEC Tigers and gave them their first postseason win since the Chick-fil-A Bowl following the 2011 season.

Lynch, projected by many observers to be the first quarterback selected in the next NFL draft if he leaves the Tigers early as expected, came into the game in the top 15 nationally in both passing yards and passing touchdowns; against AU, Lynch completed just 17-of-38 passes for 104 yards, zero touchdowns and a critical end-zone interception early in the third quarter on a drive that could’ve given the Tigers their first lead of the game.  Shut out of a touchdown or even a field goal on that drive, the U of M watched as AU scored on three straight possessions to break open what had been a tie ballgame.

The passing yards by Lynch were his worst against an FBS team this season, with the previous low of 156 coming in a loss to Temple Nov. 21.  The junior had thrown for more than 300 yards in eight games this season — AU came into the game 73rd in pass defense, giving up an average of 232.2 yards per game — and topped 400 yards twice.  What might most alarm NFL scouts is the fact that Lynch completed just 44.7 percent of his passes on the day.  His previous low was 61.9, and he had a completion percentage of exactly 69 in the regular season.  The SEC Tigers had allowed quarterbacks to complete 62 percent of their passes the first 12 games of the season.

AU managed a double-digit win despite losing the turnover battle 3-1.  The U of M converted the three turnovers — a trio of interceptions — into 10 points, seven coming on a pick-six by Reggis Ball.  Ball, incidentally, had two of the interceptions for the Tigers, his team-leading fourth and fifth on the season.  All of those turnovers came in the first half, but AU managed to head into the locker room knotted up at 10-all.

Auburn, despite the score, didn’t put up a pile of yards, although they did outgain their football feline counterparts 403-206.  A big reason for that, though, was Marcus Davis giving them a shortish field on a handful of occasions, averaging 15.5 yards on six punt returns.

Jovon Robinson did top the 100-yard mark for the SEC Tigers, leading all rushers with 121 yards.  Peyton Barber, meanwhile, rushed for 44, pushing him over 1,000 yards on the year (1,020) and giving AU back-to-back 1,000-yard rushers.

While the win gives Auburn some much-needed momentum heading into what will be a pivotal — and perhaps final — offseason for Gus Malzahn on The Plains, the loss for Memphis was one final punch in the gut in a season that began with much promise.

The Tigers started 2015 by ripping off eight straight wins, with a 13-point triumph over Ole Miss — one month after the Rebels beat Alabama — bringing the word “playoff” into the conversation for the U of M.  However, the Tigers lost their first three games in the month of November to not only extinguish any playoff talk, but also put the kibosh on an expected New Year’s Six bid.

Add in the fact that they lost their head coach, Justin Fuente, to Virginia Tech, and 2015 will end on a decidedly down note for the AAC program.

WATCH: TCU RB Sewo Olonilua squats 705 lbs…. twice

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If you ever have the pleasure of standing in the presence of a high-level college or professional football player, you’ll be struck at just how big those dudes are. Obviously, they’re larger than the average male and especially so the closer you get to the ball — but if your only exposure to this small slice of the population is what you see on television, it’s easy to lose perspective at just how much larger they are than the remainder of the human population.

And any time I happen to be in the presence of a Power 5 or NFL player, one thought comes to my mind: “It’s someone’s job to move him in a direction he very much does not want to go.”

Case in point: TCU running back Sewo Olonilua. At 6-foot-3 and 231 pounds, Olonilua is among the largest running backs in college football. And as the video below shows, he’s also among the strongest.

Now consider the following: Olonilau totaled 135 carries for 635 yards and two touchdowns in 2018. This means that on 133 of his 135 carries — 98.5 percent of his attempts — someone (or someones) brought Olonilau — again, a 231-pound running back who can squat 705 pounds twice — to the ground or pushed him out of bounds.

Iowa lands Division II graduate transfer

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The graduate transfer has become a great vehicle for Group of 5 and FCS players who over-perform at their level to shoot their shot at a Power 5 program. But Iowa this weekend added an extremely rare Division II-to-Power 5 graduate transfer.

Zach VanValkenburg on Saturday pledged his commitment to Iowa after being pursued by multiple Big Ten programs.

“So thankful for all the people who have gotten me to this point; my parents, my coaches in high school, and my coaches at Hillsdale,” VanValkenburg in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account. “Leaving Hillsdale is bittersweet but I have reached the end of the road here educationally and my goals are uncompromising. I will always cherish the experiences I had here and the friendships I have made. With that said, I’m very proud to announce that I will be continuing both my academic and football careers at the University of Iowa this fall! Go Hawkeyes!”

Playing at Hillsdale College, a private college in an eponymous Michigan town, the 6-foot-4, 266-pound defensive end collected 70 tackles with 14.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and three forced fumbles in 2018.

He will be expected to add depth along Iowa’s defensive line after losing all four starters from last year’s team.

VanValkenburg will have two seasons to compete for the Hawkeyes.

Idaho WR diagnosed with kidney cancer

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Idaho wide receiver Collin Sather is battling advanced renal cancer, the program has announced. Renal cancer attacks the kidneys and most commonly attacks older men.

According to the Idaho Statesman, Sather began experiencing stomach pains on Jan. 17, and by Jan. 21 the pains had progressed to the point where he had to be hospitalized. He is currently undergoing dialysis and chemotherapy at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane, and once he is stabilized will be transferred to Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

“We are with Collin every day during this fight,” Idaho head coach Paul Petrino said in a statement. “He is a great young man and the model of a great teammate. Everyone in our program cares a lot about him, and he will always be a valued member of this team.

“We keep Collin and his family in our thoughts and prayers each day. We are here to help him keep fighting, and we will be here to welcome him back when he wins his battle.”

A Spokane, Wash., native, Sather was an all-conference player in football and basketball at West Valley High School before signing with Idaho in 2018. He redshirted last fall.

Mark Dantonio approved for rolling 1-year extension

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Mark Dantonio signed a 6-year contract in 2016 that was essentially an indefinite contract. Under the provisions of the deal, MSU’s Board of Trustees each February have the option to tack another year onto the contract, making it essentially a rolling 6-year contract, and for the second straight year they have done just that, according to the Lansing State Journal‘s R.J. Wolcott.

Though he is 2-for-2 on automatic rollovers (the deal would remain a 5-year contract if MSU’s trustees for some reason did not approve the rollover), both extensions have come amid a fair level of turmoil around the program.

In 2017, Dantonio successfully rebounded from Sparty’s 3-9 2016 campaign to go 10-3 with a No. 15 finish in the AP poll, but he was dogged by accusations that he mishandled sexual assault allegations against a handful of Spartan players — amid a complete mishandling (to put it lightly) of sexual assault allegations elsewhere in the athletics department, against gymnastics trainer Larry Nassar.

In 2018, Dantonio watched Michigan State’s record slink to 7-6 and, instead of making changes on the offensive staff, he opted to retain his entire roster of offensive coaches, though in different spots.

Still, Dantonio secured his extension. The 2025 season would take Dantonio to his 19th season at Michigan State and past his 69th birthday.

He is 107-51 with three Big Ten championships, two AP top-5 finishes and one College Football Playoff appearance in a dozen seasons as the head Spartan.