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Big plays keep No. 9 Wisconsin out front of Nebraska at halftime

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28 minutes into Wisconsin and Nebraska’s crucial game for Big 10 West superiority, the defenses were controlling and the offenses more prone to stalling.

Then the final two minutes of the first half rolled around and each side started to rack up big play after big play to make things much more interesting in Lincoln as the Badgers held onto a slim 17-10 lead at halftime.

Cornhuskers quarterback Tanner Lee was both hot and cold on the night, showing why exactly he is both the best option under center for the team (finding Stanley Morgan for an 80 yard touchdown) and worst (a pick six on the first drive) in not much time at all.

That pick-six  — Lee’s fourth of the year — was a huge momentum shifter early after a solid start for Mike Riley’s embattled team. Nebraska looked like they were going to really make things interesting on the Morgan touchdown with just 1:20 left on the clock but the defense failed to stop Wisconsin tailback Jonathan Taylor on the next series as he answered the score with one of his own from 75 yards out on the ground. A field goal with just one second left was eventually tacked on to cap a wild final two minutes that had the sellout crowd on their feet yelling at the same time they were wondering what was happening in front of them.

Badgers quarterback Alex Hornibrook had only a few clean pockets but threw for 62 yards on 6/11 passing after two quarters. Taylor led the way on the ground and was already up to 144 yards rushing despite having just 10 carries.

A lot of the attention in the conference may be focused on what’s happening in Ann Arbor right now but this Big Ten West battle is certainly extremely interesting after one half of play. If the Cornhuskers can make some defensive stands and the Badgers respond with big plays, we could get a fun one in front of Big Red.

Nick Saban issues statement on DJ Durkin’s involvement with Alabama

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You had to know this was coming.

Earlier this week, a report surfaced that former Maryland head coach DJ Durkin has been helping Alabama in what was described as a “consultant-like capacity” ahead of its playoff game against Oklahoma later this month.  Given Durkin’s controversial exit from College Park, the report raised more than a few eyebrows.

In light of the mini-firestorm that erupted, Alabama Friday night issued a statement attributed to Nick Saban in which the head football coach of the Crimson Tide addressed the level of Durkin’s involvement with his football program:

DJ Durkin is spending a few days with our staff in Tuscaloosa from a professional development standpoint. He has not been hired in any capacity at The University of Alabama. He is simply observing our operation as many other coaches have done through the years.

Durkin, two members of the training staff and then-head strength & conditioning coach Rick Court were placed on administrative leave in early August after a bombshell report alleged mishandling of the medical event that preceded the death of Maryland offensive lineman Jordan McNair and detailed what was described as a toxic culture within the football program.  That report described the toxic culture under Durkin as one based on fear, intimidation, belittling, humiliation and embarrassment.  Players were, allegedly, routinely subjected to what was described as extreme verbal abuse that included, in part, obscenity-laced epithets meant to mock their masculinity.

On Oct. 30, it was confirmed that Durkin had been reinstated and would remain as the Terrapins head coach.  The next day, and amidst an avalanche of criticism from football playersstudent groups and high-ranking government officials, U of M, College Park president Wallace Loh announced that Durkin had been dismissed as the Terrapins head football coach.

Everybody deserves a second chance, although one can debate the merits of giving that second chance so close to a coach’s first chance cut short, in part, by the death of one of his football players.  Personally, I don’t know what length of penance should be served, but it just feels like less than two months is not nearly enough.

Dan Mullen says Florida has offered UCF 2-for-1 future football series

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As we entered the stretch run of games in late November this season, there was a growing interest in the potential for Florida and UCF to meet in a New Year’s Six game. While that didn’t end up playing out with the CFP Selection Committee sending the Gators to the Peach Bowl and the Knights to the Fiesta Bowl, it appears the two in-state rivals may still have the opportunity to meet on the field down the road.

Per the Tampa Bay Times, UF head coach Dan Mullen appears to confirm that discussions have taken place between the two programs about a future series and the ball is seemingly in UCF AD Danny White’s hands as to whether things will move forward.

“I think we offered them a two-for-one like we do with most schools in their position, which is actually really a good deal,” Mullen said. “They have the opportunity to have an SEC school play at their place. It would potentially be a big deal for them. I know I’ve done it that way.

“(UF athletic director Scott Stricklin) brought it up to them. If they want to try and toughen their schedule, that would be great, a good opportunity for them if they want take it. It’s up to them.”

Knights fans will probably scoff at having to do a 2-for-1 in order to get the Gators on the schedule but it’s a pretty familiar scheduling philosophy for Florida, which just recently made a tweak to their own 2-for-1 series with fellow AAC school USF. Few programs have had their schedule picked apart quite like UCF and while fans may not like making two trips to Gainsville, getting the Gators to come to Orlando would be a significant boost to a future slate of non-conference games.

Reports: Ex-WKU head coach Mike Sanford Jr. to become new Utah State OC

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Mike Sanford Jr. is back in the Mountain West.

The former Western Kentucky head coach will be returning to the familiar confines of the conference as the new offensive coordinator for Utah State, according to reports from both ESPN and FootballScoop.

Sanford, who is indeed the son of the former head coach of UNLV and Indiana State with the same name, was recently let go by the Hilltoppers after just two seasons in charge and a 9-16 overall record.

Despite the quick hook in his last gig, the younger Sanford does have a fairly lengthy resume that was likely appealing to new Aggies head coach Gary Andersen. Prior to going to WKU, he was offensive coordinator/QB coach at Notre Dame and served in the same capacity at his alma mater of Boise State. Prior to that, he spent several years at Stanford in a variety of offensive positions.

Sanford will replace David Yost, who is following Matt Wells to Texas Tech as offensive coordinator after guiding USU to several top 10 statistical marks nationally in 2018.

Kentucky RB Benny Snell declares for 2019 NFL Draft, will still play in Citrus Bowl

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One of the best players in Kentucky football history is skipping out on his senior year… but not before one last game with his teammates.

In a lengthy video posted to his Twitter account on Friday afternoon, Wildcats running back Benny Snell confirmed that he was entering the 2019 NFL Draft. In what is (strange to say nowadays) a surprising decision though, he will remain at UK and play in the Citrus Bowl against Penn State.

Snell was once an unheralded recruit but quickly turned himself into one of the best running backs in the SEC, playing a big role in leading the Wildcats to three consecutive bowl games. The junior has rushed for over 1,000 yards each of the past three seasons and 3,754 yards on the ground in his career — a mark that he could boost in the bowl game to become the school’s all-time leading rusher.

As a result of his hard-running in key wins against Florida, Missouri and others, Snell was named a 2018 first-team All-SEC tailback this past season.