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Justin Jackson powers No. 21 Northwestern past Kentucky in Music City Bowl

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It was a game marred by penalties, ejections and injuries, but No. 21 Northwestern (10-3) sifted through all of the hurdles to capture a 24-23 victory against Kentucky (7-6) to win the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl on Friday evening. Running back Justin Jackson finished off a brilliant college career by rushing for 148 yards and two touchdowns to put Northwestern on his back for the win.

Northwestern needed Jackson to carry the load after quarterback Clayton Thorson was lost to a serious-looking leg injury in the first half. Thorson was replaced by Matt Alviti after being carted off the field in the second quarter. Jackson was not alone in pounding out yardage on the ground. Jeremy Larkin got involved in a big way with 112 yards. As much as the Northwestern running game carried the way to victory, it was a big play by the defense that seemingly would help lift Northwestern to a win. Kyle Queiro‘s 26-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter gave Northwestern a 10-point lead midway through the fourth quarter. It was the second interception of the game thrown by Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson.

Northwestern gave Kentucky a chance to come back, however. After Kentucky kicked a field goal to create a seven-point deficit, Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald made the incredibly bold decision to go for a first down on a 4th-and-1 on his own 39-yard line. After an instant replay upheld the fourth down stop, Kentucky went to work to try and get in the end zone. A pass interference penalty on a 3rd-and-6 by Northwestern gave Kentucky the ball at the nine-yard line, and Johnson ran it in for a score.

Rather than go for a tie in the final minute of the game, Kentucky opted to go for a two-point conversion, but the pass attempt by Johnson fell incomplete. Northwestern then recovered the kickoff to run out the clock.

Northwestern has now won bowl games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. It is also the second time in three years Northwestern has hit 10 wins, and the third time under Fitzgerald. With the win, the Big Ten improves to 4-0 this bowl season, while the SEC drops to 0-3 out of the gates. Kentucky has not won a bowl game since 2008.

Northwestern will open the 2018 season with a conference game against Purdue on Thursday, Aug. 30, 2018. The Wildcats have a tough draw in cross-division play with Michigan and a road game at Michigan State in back-to-back weeks followed by a home game against Nebraska. Northwestern also hosts Notre Dame next November Kentucky begins the 2018 season at home on Sep. 1, 2018 against Central Michigan before a Week 2 road trip to Florida in SEC play.

Illinois lands former USC WR Josh Imatorbhebhe

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The Los Angeles-to-Champaign pipeline is alive and well.

After landing wide receiver Trevon Sidney and defensive end Oluwole Betiku, Jr., the Fighting Illini have added wide receiver Josh Imatorbhebhe, he announced Monday.

“Transitions are never easy, but the support has definitely helped lighten the load,” Imatorbhebhe, No. 17 above, wrote in an iPhone note posted to his Twitter account. “Without further ado I’m pleased to announce my commitment to…

THE University of Illinois; with a plan to get my Masters (sic) in Strategic Brand Communications.”

A former 4-star recruit in the class of 2016 out of Suwanee, Ga., Imatorbehbhe redshirted in his first year on campus, then caught just two passes in his two seasons on the active roster, with his 2018 season slowed by an ankle injury.

Imatorbehbhe will have two seasons to play immediately for the Illini.

Trevor Lawrence once again says he has no desire to skip bowl games to protect NFL stock

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The trend of college football players with the NFL coming into view has become a growing one the last few seasons, but Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence says you won’t have to worry about missing him in a postseason bowl game.

“Sitting out bowl games and stuff, that’ll never be me,” Lawrence said in an interview with ESPN. “You won’t have to worry about writing those stories.”

This quote is nothing new from Lawrence. In March, Lawrence stressed a similar stance with regard to sitting out of college football bowl games to protect NFL draft stock.

From The Athletic‘s Grace Raynor in March:

Asked specifically if he would consider sitting out in an effort to protect his health for an NFL future, the Georgia native answered with two resounding “No’s.” That’s not in the cards, he says.

“Everyone’s talking about that, but I don’t really care about that,” Lawrence said Monday evening in his first public interview since the College Football Playoff.

“It’s definitely not coming from me, all that stuff, so (I’ll) just kind of ignore it. Just keep working.

Of course, there is something that needs to be pointed out here. A large majority of the players choosing to skip bowl games aren’t playing in the College Football Playoff and a national championship. While New Years Six bowl games are high in prestige even if not in the playoff rotation, they simply are not the same as playing in the playoff with a national title in sight.

Lawrence has played for and won the national championship in his freshman season and probably has two more seasons that could see Clemson continue to compete for a playoff spot. If Clemson is in the playoff the next two (or three years), the chances Lawrence skips a bowl game are reduced significantly.

Maybe Lawrence is just confident in Clemson’s ability to make the playoff the next couple of seasons. He’s not wrong though, right?

Syracuse seeing spike in football season ticket sales

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Dino Babers had Syracuse enjoying a 10-win season for the first time since 2001 last season. Fans of the Orange have had their enthusiasm for the football program rejuvenated and it shows in the season ticket sales this offseason.

According to a report from Syracuse.com, Syracuse has recorded 4,500 more season ticket sales this year than the school saw all of last year. To date, as of Friday, Syracuse has sold 6,800 season tickets for the 2019 season as the total inches closer and closet to a possible school record (8,000).

On top of the increased season ticket sales, Syracuse is also seeing a great retention rate through season ticket renewals. Syracuse has seen over 90 percent of season ticket holders renew their ticket packages for the 2019 season.

Syracuse ended the 2018 season ranked No. 15 in the final AP poll. IT is the highest Syracuse has ended a season in the AP Top 25 since the 2001 season (No. 14). Babers also ended Syracuse’s bowl drought in style by coaching Syracuse to a Camping World Victory in Syracuse’s first bowl game since 2013.

Syracuse opens the 2019 season on the road at Liberty on Aug. 31.

Auburn four-star linebacker Richard Jibunor enters transfer portal

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The transfer portal never takes a day off in college football. Auburn linebacker Richard Jibunor is one of the latest players to add his name to the list. Matt Zenitz of Al.com reported the transfer portal news, via Twitter.

Coincidentally enough, Auburn received a commitment from a four-star linebacker yesterday (Cameron Riley), but you can make your own guess as to whether those two developments were related in any way. Regardless, Auburn is still potentially about to lose a linebacker off the roster.

A player is free to make contact with any other football program looking to recruit him once his name is officially added to the NCAA’s transfer portal. But adding a name to the portal doesn’t necessarily mean this is the end of the line for Jibunor at Auburn, because a player can always take their name out of the portal and decide to stay with their current program. However, Auburn also has the option of dropping Jibunor from his scholarship now that he is in the transfer portal.

Jibunor was a four-star recruit in Auburn’s Class of 2018. As a true freshman last season, Jibunor appeared in 10 games and recorded eight tackles and two sacks. He also forced a fumble for the Tigers defense. The Athens, Georgia native chose Auburn, who seemingly had the lead in his recruiting for a while. He committed to the Tiger sin Nov. 2017 after two previous unofficial visits earlier in the 2017 season.

Jibunor will have to sit out the 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program unless there is a waiver approval in the works with the NCAA offices. There is no suggestion at this time that is an option in play. Jibunor still has a redshirt to burn, so he will still have three years of eligibility to use beginning in 2020.