Western Kentucky (10-3) became the second program in Conference USA history to win back-to-back conference championship games on Saturday with a wild offensive shootout against Louisiana Tech (8-5), 58-44. Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns and Anthony Wales led things on the ground with 194 rushing yards and three scores to push the home team past the Bulldogs.
Offenses for both teams were locked in from the start, with over 1,100 combined yards of offense. Louisiana Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins passed for 507 yards and three touchdowns, but Western Kentucky used a more balanced approach and had an advantage on the ground to help overcome three turnover sin the game. Wales carried the football 35 times for Western Kentucky and was a workhorse for them from start to finish, with the final touchdown of the game ultimately delivering the knockout punch to Louisiana Tech, who would throw an interception on their final possession.
With 102 combined points, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech set a new combined points record for an FBS conference championship game. The previous record was 101 points, which was done twice. Wisconsin and Nebraska scored 101 point sin the 2012 Big Ten championship game (won by Wisconsin, 70-31) and Auburn and Missouri matched that point total the following season in the SEC Championship Game (won by Auburn, 59-42).
Coming into the game, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz made it a point to say his team could not give up big plays if they were to get a win. Needless to say, that did not work out in his favor in this one.
The last time a school won back-to-back Conference USA championships was in 2008 and 2009 when East Carolina won consecutive titles. Perhaps in a bit of irony, Holtz was the coach of those ECU teams.
The future of the Western Kentucky program will be something to keep a close eye on. Head coach Jeff Brohm has been linked to various coaching rumors, most noticeably with the Purdue vacancy in the Big Ten. He has certainly proven worthy of being a hot name in the coaching carousel after coaching Western Kentucky to back-too-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history.
For now, bowl destinations will have to be settled.
We already knew that one of the greatest college football coaches in the history of the game was set to undergo a rather invasive medical procedure. Now, we know exactly when it’ll take place.
This past weekend, Nick Saban confirmed that he’ll have hip-replacement surgery at an unspecified time this offseason. Friday, USA Today was the first to report a specific date as the Alabama head coach is set to go under the knife this coming Monday. According to the Tuscaloosa News, the surgery will be performed that morning by Dr. Lyle Cain of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.
The procedure is expected to sideline Saban for a period of 6-8 weeks, a timeline that will allow the coach plenty of time to recuperate and rehabilitate ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.
That said, Saban’s biggest concern involves a sport that’s not football.
“The only thing I hate about it is, I’ll have to not play golf for six weeks or so,” Saban told USA Today. “… But this is the best time for me to do it. I do a lot of speaking and evaluating and film work and stuff like that, but we’re not practicing. Other than playing golf, I probably wouldn’t be very active. So this is the best time, and then it gives me a lot of summer to get back in shape.”
The 67-year-old Saban will be entering his 12th season with the Crimson Tide in 2019. “I don’t want to coach for one more year. I want to coach for a lot of more years,” the future College Football Hall of Famer said in explaining his decision to undergo the surgery at this point in time.
NFL teams owning (or providing significant assistance) to a bowl game is nothing new in this day and age but you can add another to the list of operators as the Gator Bowl has turned to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to cut costs and help save the 75-year-old postseason game for several more years.
The Jacksonville Daily Record first made note of the moves, which were announced at the Jaguars’ annual state of the franchise presentation on Thursday. The team will formally take over “ticket sales and back shop operations.” The Florida Times Union also provided more context on the moves, which note that contracts expire after the upcoming game on everything from the TV deal with ESPN to title game sponsorship agreement.
“We’re in negotiations now for everything,” said Gator Bowl CEO Rick Catlett. “We got a good deal overall with the city [on the stadium], but not a great deal. We got to get the city to give us the same deal as Georgia-Florida with rent, concessions and parking. “We have to step up our game. We’re not going to be the Poulan Weed-Eater [Independence] Bowl. My instructions from our board is to move it forward or we’re done.”
Ticket sales and local revenue dropping were cited as the most pressing concerns to the financial health of the bowl, which is one of the oldest in the sport and has been held continuously since 1946.
It will be interesting to see if these financial trends continue for both the Gator Bowl and others at large. We’ve seen more and more bowl games get added to the docket in college football over the years but one of the mainstays to the lineup facing such challenges could be a warning that the system in the College Football Playoff era isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
The NFL draft is this week and hundreds of college football players will formally be making the jump to the pros as a result. They won’t be the only ones going from Saturday’s to Sunday’s this fall however.
Per the NFL’s Twitter account dedicated to all matters officiating, five officials from the college ranks are being bumped up to crews in the league:
All five of the college football officials were part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program according to Football Zebras. The Memphis Commercial Appeal also notes that the five were also involved as officials in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football this spring. Based on that, it’s pretty clear that the group as a whole was really focused on moving up to the NFL at some point and now get the call up to the big leagues.
Could it be? Could Florida actually leave the Sunshine State for a big non-conference game?
It might just be in the works.
In a nugget slipped into his column this week, plugged-in Austin American-Statesman writer Kirk Bohls notes that Texas and Florida are apparently working on a home-and-home series between the two very successful programs. Don’t get your hopes up just yet however — not just because the pairing might not happen but because it’s going to happen in the very distant future of 2030 and 2031.
We’re always supportive of big home-and-home matchups but like many out there wish things were a little closer than 11 years from now.
More notable than the date though is the fact that the Gators might actually leave the state for a true road game. That hasn’t happened in ages. Literally.
The last non-conference true road game that Florida played outside of the friendly confines of their own state came all the way back in 1991 against Syracuse (they lost). The Gators have typically stuck to lower level FCS/Group of Five opponents at home while also playing in-state rivals like USF, Miami and, of course, Florida State to fill out their non-conference slate.
That might all be about to change however as the team discusses things with the Longhorns. Let’s all hope that for the first time in 40 years that UF decides a non-conference road game might finally be worth it.