Getty Images

Alabama mounting comeback but Georgia still leads as National Championship Game enters final stretch

4 Comments

ATLANTA — The first half of the College Football Playoff National Championship Game went to plan as a low-scoring, hard-hitting, defensive-minded affair. It seemed a bit of coffee at halftime was all that was needed to jolt some life into No. 3 Georgia and No. 4 Alabama at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Monday night though as the two powerhouses started to break things open and put on a show in the second (and far more important) SEC title game for all the marbles.

In front of what amounted to a relative home crowd, it was the Bulldogs who held a 20-10 lead as they chase their first national title since 1980 with the clock winding down to the fourth quarter. Though the low score was representative of how things began, there were still several big plays that jolted both shades of red to their feet in Atlanta.

Alabama corner Tony Brown kicked things off by picking off Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm’s second pass of the game, wrestling a pass out of the hands of Javon Wims in what might be the play of his career given the stage. While it amounted to a bit of an arm punt given the down and distance, it was nevertheless the start that the Tide wanted defensively.

The Bulldogs defense made sure that the turnover was not painful on the scoreboard however, allowing Jalen Hurts (3-of-8 passing, 47 yards rushing) to march down the field but keeping him out of the end zone thanks to a missed throw to wideout Calvin Ridley and then drawing a false start that eventually led to a missed field goal from Andy Pappanastos.

The more curious thing from the Georgia sideline may have been the offensive play calling. The team opened with seven straight passes for Fromm and didn’t run the ball until the first quarter was more than halfway over. Still, tailback Sony Michel picked up where he left off in the Rose Bowl against No. 2 Oklahoma with the team’s biggest play of the first quarter by hitting the edge and jetting up the sideline for 26 yards. He finished with XX on the ground all told while teammate Nick Chubb was general held in check with 16.

That one long run by Michel helped keep the Bulldogs’ third drive alive before it stalled just outside the red zone — a bit of a habit for the team early on. Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship calmly nailed a 41 yard field goal to put Georgia up 3-0 and later added another from 27 out.

The Bulldogs’ offense did seem to find a groove right before the break however as they used some big throws by Fromm to drive nearly the length of the field with just 79 seconds left on the clock. Aided in part by an Alabama penalty, the team eventually found pay dirt thanks to a touchdown off a direct snap to Mecole Hardman.

In terms of halftime adjustments, Nick Saban saved up his biggest of the season by pulling the team’s starting quarterback and inserting true freshman Tua Tagovailoa. The lefty breathed life in to the Tide almost right away and completed a remarkable scramble to extend a drive on his second series. That eventually resulted in a touchdown throw to Henry Ruggs III and help cut into some of that lead.

The Bulldogs would mount an impressive response however to seize momentum right back. Just three plays later it was Fromm who found a streaking Hardman down the field, dropping in a perfectly thrown pass over the shoulder and resulting in an 80 yard touchdown after the wideout tip-toed his way down the sidelines. The defense later responded with an interception that would have felt like a killer had their own quarterback not thrown one off a tipped pass just a play later.

There’s just one quarter to go before a champion is crowned and history will be made.

Sun Bowl returns to noon time slot on New Year’s Eve for 2018

Getty Images
1 Comment

After four years in various time slots, the Sun Bowl is back where it’s used to being: on New Year’s Eve.

The Sun Bowl association announced on Wednesday that the game would be moved back to December 31st for the 85th edition of the annual postseason outing, with a 12 p.m. Mountain Time kickoff on CBS.

“We are happy to announce that we are returning to our traditional New Year’s Eve slot,” Executive Director Bernie Olivas said in a release. “Many of our local fans had expressed to us that the New Year’s Eve date had become a family tradition and we are excited to have the game back on that day.”

The El Paso, Texas institution will once again pit an ACC (or Notre Dame) team against a Pac-12 school in what has developed into a fun game the past few years. Last year, N.C. State beat Arizona State 52-31 in a high-scoring affair while the season prior saw Stanford squeak out a win over North Carolina 25-23 thanks to a goal line stand on a two-point conversion.

The Sun Bowl last took place on New Year’s Eve back in 2013 but was on a different day in the last week of December the past four years. The 31st is the traditional home for the game dating back to the early 1990’s. With the date, time and TV network now in place for the game, the entire 2018-19 bowl picture is set following the release of the bulk of the schedule last week.

West Virginia AD: We’re hiring more compliance staff as result of legalized sports betting decision

Getty Images
1 Comment

Far and away the most discussed topic across all sports the past few weeks has been what the future landscape will look like following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. It is widely viewed as a landmark day for fans and states around the country by opening the door to legalized sports betting in places far beyond its typical home of Las Vegas.

One state that is among those at the forefront of the movement is West Virginia, which is especially notable for the various schools in the state having to deal with betting on their sports in their own backyard. The state legislature already passed a bill on the subject in early May and it won’t be long before you’ll be able to bet on Mountaineers football games later this year. That is naturally a bit of a new headache for somebody like WVU Athletic Director Shane Lyons, who told wvnews.com this week that the school is having to beef up compliance as a result of the changes.

“My job is first and foremost is to protect the integrity of the institution of the athletic department and the other part is to protect the integrity of the institution as a whole,” Lyons said. “With legalized gambling coming up I will have to hire additional compliance staff for monitoring and looking at it as well as the educational aspect of it. There is going to be cost associated with that and we’re going to have to step our game up.”

Not exactly surprising to hear and it will be interesting to see if fellow schools will also start beefing up their compliance staffs as other states get in on the action. While it might be fairly easy for a Power Five program from a conference like the Big 12 to add staff members, it is probably a little more difficult if you’re down the road at Marshall on a Conference USA budget.

Also notable? Lyons said “there is 100 percent” (more potential for scandal) as a result of gambling and NCAA athletics mixing much more than they have in the past. It seems that line of thinking is one reason why he’s beefing up the personnel involved and he may not be alone in doing so.

Alabama, USC will meet at AT&T Stadium for 2020 opener

Getty Images
4 Comments

If at first you don’t succeed, try again, right?

That must be the thinking in Los Angeles as both USC and Alabama officially confirmed on Wednesday afternoon that the two college football powerhouses would open the 2020 season at AT&T Stadium in the AdvoCare Classic.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to open another season at the AdvoCare Classic in 2020,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Our team and our fans have always enjoyed playing in North Texas and AT&T Stadium is a fantastic competitive environment. This event has always been first class with the intensity of a bowl game. We are also pleased to have the chance to once again face USC, and we look forward to a great game.”

The pair met in the same game to open the 2016 season in an affair best known for who didn’t start at quarterback for both teams in what wound up as a 52-6 shellacking of the Trojans by the Tide. Notably, Max Browne started for USC at quarterback while Sam Darnold watched on as the backup and Blake Barnett took the first snaps for Alabama before eventually giving way to Jalen Hurts. Both Barnett and Browne wound up transferring from the schools while Hurts and Darnold guided the teams to New Year’s Six bowl games.

This will be the ninth game between the two schools (should they not meet in a bowl the next two seasons), which was perhaps most famously played back in the 1970’s when Bear Bryant and John McKay famously ruled the sidelines for both sides. Alabama leads USC 6-2 in the wins department, with the most recent coming in that opener two years ago.

The move will be the centerpiece of the Tide’s non-conference slate in 2020, with Georgia State and Kent State also on the docket in Tuscaloosa. USC now has their 2020 non-conference schedule done with home games against New Mexico and their yearly contest with Notre Dame rounding things out.

LSU and Miami are slated to play in the AdvoCare Classic game later this year on Sept. 1st to open the season while Auburn and Oregon will meet in the game to start off the 2019 campaign.

NCAA releases latest APR data, which means bonus money for many coaches

Getty Images
1 Comment

It’s APR — academic progress rate — day around the NCAA which means a bunch of schools are celebrating how well their teams did in the classroom. While many programs are doing a fist pump over hitting certain thresholds, there are a number of head coaches who are picking up a nice check as the result of players staying eligible.

Like, six-figures worth of cold hard cash thanks to their players showing up to class and taking tests.

USA Today’s Steve Berkowitz knows coaches contracts better than anybody and has been tweeting out some of the bonus money that various coaches are getting as a result of APR scores. While a few amounts are somewhat modest, a few others are collecting a very, very nice check.

Lunch is on Paul Johnson today!

Northwestern led all football programs with a multi-year APR rate of 997, followed closely in the FBS ranks by Air Force, Vanderbilt and Duke among others. The overall average score for football teams across Division I ticked up two points to 964 for the 2016-17 school year. Student-athletes receive points for both staying eligible and staying in school, with a formula then determining the program’s single-year and multi-year scores.

Teams can be ruled ineligible for postseason play if their score is too low but only one program suffered that fate (Morgan State of the MEAC). Grambling also was hit with a Level One penalty for their APR score, which includes a reduction in practice time for the upcoming season. The lowest multi-year APR score for a FBS program belonged to Florida State with a 941.