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Rematch on! Clemson shuts out Ohio State in Fiesta Bowl to book trip to title game

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Clemson kicked off 2016 at University of Phoenix Stadium by losing a heartbreaker in a thrilling national title game to Alabama.

The Tigers closed out the year with a bit of sweet revenge at the same site however, shutting out Ohio State 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to book their tickets to the national title game in Tampa and a rematch with the Crimson Tide.

Quarterback Deshaun Watson threw two interceptions but was otherwise his terrific self behind center with 259 yards and a touchdown pass. The Heisman finalist also rushed for two more scores on a pair of keepers and led the team in rushing with 85 yards. It certainly wasn’t a perfect performance but it was an efficient one as he picked apart the vaunted OSU secondary aside from two ill-advised throws that wound up in their hands.

As good as Watson was though, his favorite target Mike Williams might have been the best player on the field Saturday evening. The likely first-rounder caught a team high six passes for 96 yards and came close to one remarkable long touchdown in the second quarter until he got tripped up. While he was the headliner, the deep receiving corps also showed up all game long with seven others catching a pass and tailback Wayne Gallman put the cherry on top of the outing with a seven yard rushing touchdown following a turnover.

Not to be out done, the Clemson defense truly paved the way for their return trip to the national title game with 11 tackles for loss and three sacks. Freshman Clelin Ferrell had the game of his young career with near constant pressure on every snap, recording three tackles for loss and a sack. Linebacker Kendall Joseph led the team in tackles and basically shutdown the middle of the field in holding the Buckeyes to just 81 yards rushing.

Not being able to run the ball was a big reason for Ohio State’s struggles, which were chiefly the result of the team’s offensive line not having an answer for the speed of the Tigers front four. Quarterback J.T. Barrett didn’t have a terrible game as one of the few offensive threats for the team but only managed to throw for only 127 yards with two interceptions. All-purpose threat Curtis Samuel did receive plenty of touches as the offense tried to get something going but managed only 110 total yards, most of which came on a handful of plays when the game was already decided.

The end result of yet another blowout semifinal was the worst loss Urban Meyer has suffered during his time in Columbus and, given the stakes, probably the biggest ‘L’ of his career. The team began the game with several nice kick returns to setup some early series but a pair of missed field goals in the opening quarter set the tone for a disastrous outing for the scarlet and grey.

Given how everything played out, it’s safe to say it just wasn’t the Buckeyes’ night as everything that could go wrong typically did. While a lot of those issues were self-inflicted, most had to do with a dominating performance by the Tigers that they controlled from wire-to-wire.

And with that, Clemson has punched their ticket for a return trip to the national title game and a never before seen rematch for the sport’s ultimate prize. It may not have been pretty for Ohio State, but on the other sideline there was nothing like that little bit of sweet revenge out in the desert for how this year began — and no better way to cap off the season than by ringing in 2017 with what should be a thriller in Tampa next week.

Texas A&M AD Ross Bjork puts Arkansas series at AT&T Stadium on the chopping block

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Week 5 means it’s time for Arkansas and Texas A&M’s trek to the Dallas/Ft. Worth metroplex for their annual conference game at AT&T Stadium but the days of the old SWC-turned-SEC West rivals meeting in the area might be on the way out.

While a number of fans on both sides have clamored for a return to campus sites for the yearly division meeting, it seems they have picked up a key ally in new athletic director Ross Bjork, who gave some pretty strong indications to the Dallas Morning News that the series is unlikely to continue after the contract runs out after 2024.

“Here’s how I should view it: we should have every SEC home game on our campus from here on out,” Bjork said. “How we do that after the contract is over is still yet to be determined. I think we should have four SEC home games every single year on our campus.”

Bjork said he has spoken about the series with his counterpart at Arkansas, who has even more of a juggling act to do given that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones (a former player and prominent booster) enjoys hosting his old team at his palace of a stadium. Still, the Razorbacks have to be interested in a return to campus in at least some form given that they also play a number of games in Little Rock and have just two SEC games in Fayetteville some years — including in 2019.

We’ll see what ultimately becomes of the Arkansas-Texas A&M dance in Dallas but the comments out of College Station right now certainly put it on a path to ending in the near future.

Former Syracuse football player gives program $25 million donation

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There’s giving back as a former player and then there’s giving back to your old program.

The latter was certainly the case for Syracuse this weekend as the school announced a record $25 million gift from former offensive guard John Lally during their game against Western Michigan at the Carrier Dome.

“For Syracuse University Athletics to become even more competitive in both the ACC and on the national stage, the program needs to have first-class facilities, operations and support,” Lally said in a statement. “Laura and I are committed to Syracuse University Athletics, and in particular positioning the university to attract, recruit and retain high-performing student-athletes who succeed on and off the field, inside and outside the classroom and in their communities.”

Lally made his money as the owner and president of PCB Piezotronics Inc., a company he founded after playing offensive guard for the Orange from 1977 to 1981.

While the extra large gift didn’t have any specifics attached to it, the size certainly points to at least some minor facilities upgrades. According to Syracuse.com, Lally already donated nearly $1 million for renovations to the Carrier Dome prior to writing an even bigger check on Saturday in the middle of the Orange’s victory over the Broncos.

It’s not uncommon but for players, especially those in the NFL, to pony up for a new locker room or weight room at their old program but the size of Lally’s generosity is certainly notable in a very welcome gift for Syracuse.

Ole Miss officials not happy with Pac-12 refs after ending against Cal

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There were some absolute bonkers endings in the Pac-12 this weekend, from the #Pac12AfterDark special that was UCLA’s comeback against Washington State, to Colorado stunning Arizona State to California remaining the league’s only undefeated team thanks to a goal line stand against Ole Miss.

While the Golden Bears escaped Oxford with a 28-20 win, the victory was not without controversy — something Rebels officials want answers on.

For those who didn’t catch the action, Ole Miss was down eight in the final minute. After a big pass play got the team into the red zone, the Rebels faced 3rd-and-goal from the three yard line with just 17 seconds left. QB John Rhys Plumlee rolled out and quickly threw it to Elijah Moore right at the goal line.

Officials, who were from the Pac-12, ruled Moore short of the end zone however and marked him down inside the one yard line. The home team had no timeouts left and scrambled to get a QB sneak in, which was stuffed by Bears linebacker Evan Weaver.

Ole Miss interim athletic director Keith Carter took to Twitter to express his frustration over Moore’s catch not being reviewed (which would have stopped the clock) as to whether he broke the plane or not, not holding back at all at the Pac-12 officials involved.

The conference has already acknowledged an error their crew made in Arizona State’s victory over Michigan State last week, where Pac-12 refs missed a call that would have allowed the Spartans to get a first down on a missed field goal. Something could be released on Sunday afternoon but that’s unlikely to appease the Rebels, who now sit at 2-2 on the year and face the always brutal SEC slate over the coming months.

All of which Pac-12 fans probably shrug their shoulders over and say get in line Ole Miss given the mistakes the league’s officials make on a weekly basis out West.

Cal shoots up to No. 15 in latest AP Poll, UCF sinks to No. 22 after loss to Pitt

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AP Poll voters shook up their ballots quite a bit after a fairly wild Week 4 of action in college football.

Among the biggest risers are No. 15 Cal, which celebrated a controversial victory at Ole Miss on Saturday to become the Pac-12’s only unbeaten and now the conference’s second-highest ranked squad after No. 13 Oregon. The folks out West had a number of movers and shakers when all was said and done, with previously ranked Arizona State and Washington State dropping out after losses and No. 21 USC returning to the top 25 after beating a Utah squad now ranked No. 19 on Friday night.

One of the big drops came at the hands of new No. 22 UCF, which had been sitting in the top 15 prior to losing at Pitt on Saturday in a wild one from Heinz Field. That left new No. 16 Boise State as the highest ranked Group of Five team. Michigan State also returned to the rankings at No. 25 while Kansas State is now ranked in both the AP and Coaches Polls after an idle week. No. 23 Texas A&M hung on to a number in front of their name after a second loss to a top 10 team while Michigan dropped nine spot and sat at No. 20 after being destroyed by Wisconsin.

In the top 10, Notre Dame stuck around after their close loss to Georgia, the Badgers moved to No. 8 and Oklahoma and Ohio State flipped spots in the 5/6 range after the Sooners were off and the Buckeyes scored 76 unanswered against Miami (OH).

Here’s the full AP Poll heading into Week 5:

  1. Clemson
  2. Alabama
  3. Georgia
  4. LSU
  5. Ohio State
  6. Oklahoma
  7. Auburn
  8. Wisconsin
  9. Florida
  10. Notre Dame
  11. Texas
  12. Penn State
  13. Oregon
  14. Iowa
  15. California
  16. Boise State
  17. Washington
  18. Virginia
  19. Utah
  20. Michigan
  21. USC
  22. UCF
  23. Texas A&M
  24. Kansas State
  25. Michigan State