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No. 8 Ohio State awaits CFP fate after toppling No. 4 Wisconsin to take B1G title

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It wasn’t 59-0, but it might be just enough to do the job. On the same stage that Ohio State used a Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin to launch an 11th hour run to the College Football Playoff and an eventual national championship three years ago, No. 8 Ohio State hopes to do the same after taking down undefeated No. 4 Wisconsin 27-21 to win the Big Ten title.

J.T. Barrett famously did not play in the 2014 rout, but the fifth-year senior created his own legend by leading the Buckeyes to the win six days after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to lead the Buckeyes with 211 passing yards, 60 rushing yards and three total touchdowns.

The win pushes Ohio State to 11-2 on the season and gives the Buckeyes two wins over top-10 foes, bolstering the Buckeyes’ case as they look to edge 11-1 and fifth-ranked Alabama to reach their third Playoff in four seasons — all of which would come under controversial circumstances. The 2014 blowout of Wisconsin — with Hall of Fame Badgers coach Barry Alvarez serving on the selection committee — allowed Ohio State to pass both TCU and Baylor on Selection Sunday. A year ago, Ohio State became the first non-conference champion to reach the Playoff, beating out a 2-loss Penn State team that both won the head-to-head matchup over the Buckeyes and and claimed the Big Ten championship.

And now Ohio State looks to become both the first 2-loss team and the first team to suffer a blowout loss to reach the 4-team field.

Trailing 21-10 at the half, Wisconsin pulled within one score with a 46-yard Rafael Gaglianone field goal to open the third quarter, but Ohio State answered with a 27-yard Sean Nuernberger boot. 

The score remained at 24-13 when Barrett tossed his second interception of the night, which Leon Jacobs grabbed and returned to the Wisconsin 48-yard line. Given the short field, Wisconsin’s offense charged to its first offensive touchdown of the night, a 1-yard Chris James plunge that literally ripped the Lucas Oil Stadium turf in two.

After a 15-minute delay in which grounds workers repaired the field, Alex Hornibrook found Troy Fumagalli for a 2-point conversion to pull the Badgers within 24-21 with 12:39 remaining. 

Ohio State’s next possession consumed 7:19 of the clock over a 15-play march, extended by a 4th-and-1 conversion by Barrett, but stalled at the Wisconsin 3. A 20-yard Nuernberger field goal did not put Wisconsin away, but did force the Badgers to score a touchdown to win instead of needing a field goal to tie.

Wisconsin moved only 19 yards on the ensuing possession, as Paul Chryst bet on his defense by electing to punt on a 4th-and-3 from his own 38 with 3:20 to play and a full compliment of timeouts. That gamble paid off when Barrett threw behind a wide open J.K. Dobbins on 3rd-and-5, giving Wisconsin the ball back at its own 30 with 2:59 to go.

Wisconsin moved the ball as far as the Ohio State 43, but a called holding penalty and a missed pass interference flag pushed the Badgers back to a 1st-and-20 and the drive could not recover. Hornibrook fired three straight incomplete passes and was intercepted on fourth down by Damon Webb to allow Ohio State to seal the win.

A Wisconsin turnover started the scoring. The Badgers moved into the Ohio State red zone on their first possession, but Hornibrook’s lob near the end zone was intercepted by Denzel Ward at the 4-yard line. The Buckeyes needed only four plays to traverse the 96 yards ahead of them, the last 84 coming on a Barrett pass to Terry McLaurin to open the scoring.

Barrett then gifted Wisconsin a touchdown with a 9-yard pick-six to Wisconsin’s Andrew Van Ginkel. He quickly erased that score, though, completing a 4-play, 75-yard drive with a 57-yard snatch-and-dash to Parris Campbell, giving Ohio State a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter.

After three straight three-and-outs, Ohio State again put together another blitzkrieg drive, this time moving 82 yards in three plays, 77 of which came on a Dobbins run. Barrett pushed the lead to 21-7 with a 1-yard plunge one play later.

Needing a score to stay in the game, Wisconsin drove to the Ohio State 37, but Chryst elected to punt on a 4th-and-3 instead of going for it or kicking a 54-yard field goal. The decision immediately worked out, though, when Van Ginkel forced a Mike Weber fumble at the Ohio State 11, leading to a 28-yard Gaglianone with 3:42 left in the half. 

Nuernberger’s 43-yard field goal on the final play of the half was blocked.

NFL Network to air 10 Conference USA games each fall

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The NFL Network and Conference USA struck a deal that will see the league air 10 C-USA games, starting this fall.

“While exploring new media options for football, NFL Network stood out as an excellent opportunity for national exposure,” C-USA commissioner Judy MacLeod said. “We look forward to showcasing our conference through their tremendous platform and reach.”

The contract runs for four years, and will see NFL Network air one game a week for 10 weeks.

“We are excited to showcase the next generation of NFL athletes to our fans on a weekly basis,” said Hans Schroeder, Chief Operating Officer of NFL Media. “Our fans crave live football, and partnering with Conference USA – a conference which boasts several Hall of Fame players – provides us with an excellent opportunity to do so.”

Specific game announcements will be named at a later date. It’s an important move for C-USA, who has seen more and more of its games moved off of TV and onto streaming platforms, such as ESPN Plus, Stadium and Facebook. The league also has a TV deal with CBS Sports Network.

June Jones resurfaces as XFL Houston head coach

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The last we saw of June Jones, at least in the continental United States, he was mailing it in as SMU’s head coach. After leading the Ponies to four straight bowl trips from 2009-12, Jones watched SMU slip to 5-7 in 2013, then walked out the door after losing the first two games of the 2014 campaign by a combined score of 88-6. (That SMU team would finish the ’14 season at 1-11.) It seemed the then-61-year-old had given football all he had to give, at least on a competitive level.

Jones took 2015 off, then spent 2016 in a semi-retirement gig as the offensive coordinator at a high school in Hawaii.

But Jones must have really missed football, because he gave up the Hawaiian life to spend the past two seasons as head coach of the Canadian Football League’s Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and now he’s back stateside as the head coach of the XFL’s Houston franchise.

“I’ve spent a few years coaching in Houston, and having a chance to return to be a head coach in the XFL is an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” said Jones. “I had a really great time coaching in the CFL, but this new fresh opportunity to build a team from the ground up is extremely rare in this game, and I’m looking forward to working with Brian Cooper and our coaches to give football fans in Houston a team that’s truly exciting to watch and worthy of their support.”

He was formally announced in a press conference at the University of Houston, and the as-yet-unnamed club will play its games at the Cougars’ TDECU Stadium.

It will be the fourth different professional league Jones has coached in, following stints in the USFL and NFL, in addition to six-plus seasons at SMU and eight at Hawaii.

The eighth of eight head coaches to join the league, Jones will join a roster that includes Bob Stoops and former Michigan offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton.
 

Father of LSU CB Kelvin Joseph says he’s not entering transfer portal after all

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Well, hold all that.

It was reported Monday morning that LSU sophomore cornerback Kelvin Joseph had entered the transfer portal, but on Monday afternoon Joseph’s father, Kelvin Joseph, Sr., told the New Orleans Times Picayune his

“He’s staying,” Joseph told the paper. “He’s not going anywhere.”

Joseph, Sr., confirmed to the paper that Kelvin had put his name in the portal, doing so Thursday after a trip to Florida with Baton Rouge-native rapper NBA YoungBoy. But by the time Joseph returned to Baton Rouge, whatever issue between he and LSU had been resolved — just in time for Joseph’s name to appear in the portal.

A top-50 recruit in the class of 2018, Joseph, a Baton Rouge native, played in five games as a true freshman last fall, collecting 12 tackles with a pass breakup. He is expected to battle with 5-star recruit Derek Stingley, Jr. for a starting role opposite senior Kristian Fulton. With Fulton out for the spring game, both Stingley and Joseph earned starts, a sign that the sophomore is in line for major snaps this fall.

And it appears Joseph intends to take those snaps after all.

USC considering dropping prohibition on scheduling FCS opponents

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Since Division I split into two subdivisions in 1978, only three FBS schools have refrained from scheduling FCS opponents — Notre Dame, UCLA and USC. That number soon could drop to two.

USC senior associate AD Steve Lopes sat down for an interview with The Athletic on USC’s scheduling philosophy and said the Trojans could soon schedule games with FCS opponents.

“If you start looking at the teams that are available, it’s very limited,” Lopes said. “We’re looking at schools that might not even be FBS, which I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. We may get criticized if and when we do it, but everybody does it. …  Are you going to die on that sword? You can play very good FCS schools that are better than some of the FBS schools you’ll play, the directional schools you’ll play.”

The purists will be upset by this… but they’ll be the only ones. It won’t affect the Trojans’ College Football Playoff chances — Alabama and Georgia already play FCS opponents each year. USC faces a nine-game Pac-12 regular season, an annual game with Notre Dame and, if the Trojans prove worthy, the Pac-12 North champion in their path to the Playoff.

And it likely won’t affect the Trojans’ gate, either. How many USC fans would have stayed home had the Trojans dropped UNLV from their 2018 opener for a game with Sacramento State?

Perhaps the purists would stay home, but nobody else would.