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No. 7 Ohio State closes star-crossed 2015 season with Fiesta Bowl win over No. 8 Notre Dame

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It would be tempting to view last night’s results and No. 7 Ohio State’s 44-28 defeat of No. 8 Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and conclude the College Football Playoff selection committee got it wrong. That would be wrong. Michigan State earned its spot in the lowly-rated Cotton Bowl, just as Ohio State earned its Fiesta Bowl consolation prize.

But that won’t stop the Buckeyes from wondering what might have been.

Ohio State (12-1) flashed national championship ability from its first drive Friday afternoon in Glendale, scoring touchdowns on four of its first five possessions to build a 28-7 lead with 1:48 left in the first half. DeShone Kizer pushed in a one-yard run 29 ticks before the break to pull the Irish to within 28-14, creating a loop where Notre Dame was never really out of the game, but Ohio State was never really threatened, either.

Kizer found Chris Brown for a four-yard score to pull Notre Dame within 28-21 midway through the third quarter, but Ezekiel Elliott answered with a 47-yard bolt, his fourth touchdown of the day. Sean Nuernberger stretched the lead to 17 with a 37-yard field goal at the 12:10 mark of the fourth quarter, but Notre Dame climbed back in the game with an 81-yard catch-and-dash from Kizer (284 passing yards, 21 rushing yards, three total touchdowns) to Will Fuller.

Notre Dame could not muster any offense on either of its final two drives, though. The first ended in a three-and-out after the Irish lost eight yards, and the second in a Darron Lee strip of Kizer.

Two more Nuernberger field goals were enough to provide the final score.

The win pushed Urban Meyer to an incredible 50-4 in four seasons in Columbus with two undefeated regular seasons, a national championship, a Big Ten championship, two New Year’s Six wins and four top-10 finishes. The victory pushed Ohio State to 4-2 all-time in its infrequent but highly-visible series with Notre Dame; the Buckeyes have won the last four, with the last two coming in the Fiesta Bowl. The Buckeyes’ five victories trail only Penn State for the most in the 45-year history of the Fiesta Bowl.

J.T. Barrett and Elliott played throughout the game at a level accessible to few, if any, backfield batteries. Barrett hit 19-of-31 throws for 211 yards with a touchdown and an interception while rushing 23 times for 96 yards; Elliott carried 27 times for 149 yards and four touchdowns and caught a 30-yard reception. While it was likely the swan song for Elliott, Joey Bosa (ejected in the first half for a targeting hit on Kizer) and a host of others, there is enough talent remaining and arriving in Columbus to do what the 2015 could not.

Ohio State flashed the ability of a team that could have been at this moment preparing for a much larger game at University of Phoenix Stadium 10 days from now, making its 12th victory of the 2015 season a melancholy one. “It is what it is,” Meyer said when asked by ESPN’s Todd McShay to describe the season.

But take heed, Buckeye fans, there is potential for this story to come full-circle: the Fiesta Bowl is a College Football Playoff semifinal next season. If Ohio State plays like it did on Friday throughout next season, 2016 could end exactly the way it started.

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.