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No. 4 Notre Dame sneaks away from Northwestern in second half to remain undefeated

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No. 4 Notre Dame has proven to be a very good second half team this season, often turning the jets on after emerging from the locker room. That has not been the case for Northwestern on occasion in 2018, often struggling to put away teams after a good effort before the break.

Predictably in the pair’s 31-21 game on Saturday night in Evanston, it was the Irish who exploded with a trio of third quarter scoring drives to create just enough distance to hold off a Wildcats rally and remain undefeated on the year.

Ian Book led the way once again on offense for Notre Dame, overcoming that slow start to wind up throwing for 343 yards and two touchdowns to go with 56 yards on the ground and the game-sealing scoring run across the goal line. The offense really ran through his arm as the ground game was lackluster at best for most of the night. Dexter Williams ran for 56 yards and a score but it was otherwise tough sledding between the tackles. Jafar Armstrong did record 18 yards but only saw four touches.

That led to the Irish defense being on the field just a bit longer than they would have liked even though they did just fine. The linebackers in particular were quite active with Te’von Coney in particular stuffing the stat sheet with nine tackles, two sacks and a nifty pass breakup. Drue Tranquill showed few signs of that high ankle sprain he suffered last game and added several pressures to go with four tackles as well.

Still, as much as things felt like they tilted toward Brian Kelly’s team in the second half, Northwestern refused to go quietly into the night. A late blocked punt in the fourth quarter gave the team added life and Pat Fitzgerald was rewarded by going for it on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line with a touchdown off a QB sneak from Clayton Thorson. That cut it to a three point game with half of the final quarter remaining but it would be as close as the ‘Cats would come in this one.

Thorson finished with only 141 yards passing and had another touchdown through the air but it was tailback Isaiah Bowser’s 93 yards rushing that was probably the most encouraging offensive takeaway going forward for the team.

Even with the final result at home though, Northwestern still managed to capture a win on the day overall thanks to Iowa’s earlier loss in the final seconds to Purdue. The Wildcats play the Hawkeyes next week in Iowa City and would have at least two shots to sew up the division against either Illinois or Minnesota at the end of the month. While that 0-3 mark in non-conference play is not something Fitzgerald will be happy about, he’ll gladly take it if it means a trip to the conference title game with a berth in the Rose Bowl on the line.

The Irish, meanwhile, will all but assuredly move up a spot in the College Football Playoff Selection Committee’s rankings come Tuesday by moving to 9-0 (to say nothing of the results of the SEC showdown in Baton Rouge between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 LSU). While there has been a tendency of playing up or down to the competition, Notre Dame has still passed all their tests so far this year and will move on unscathed heading into their game against Florida State next Saturday night on NBC.

Nick Saban’s hip-replacement surgery scheduled for Monday

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We already knew that one of the greatest college football coaches in the history of the game was set to undergo a rather invasive medical procedure. Now, we know exactly when it’ll take place.

This past weekend, Nick Saban confirmed that he’ll have hip-replacement surgery at an unspecified time this offseason. Friday, USA Today was the first to report a specific date as the Alabama head coach is set to go under the knife this coming Monday. According to the Tuscaloosa News, the surgery will be performed that morning by Dr. Lyle Cain of Andrews Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center.

The procedure is expected to sideline Saban for a period of 6-8 weeks, a timeline that will allow the coach plenty of time to recuperate and rehabilitate ahead of the start of summer camp in early August.

That said, Saban’s biggest concern involves a sport that’s not football.

“The only thing I hate about it is, I’ll have to not play golf for six weeks or so,” Saban told USA Today. “… But this is the best time for me to do it. I do a lot of speaking and evaluating and film work and stuff like that, but we’re not practicing. Other than playing golf, I probably wouldn’t be very active. So this is the best time, and then it gives me a lot of summer to get back in shape.”

The 67-year-old Saban will be entering his 12th season with the Crimson Tide in 2019. “I don’t want to coach for one more year. I want to coach for a lot of more years,” the future College Football Hall of Famer said in explaining his decision to undergo the surgery at this point in time.

Jacksonville Jaguars taking over Gator Bowl operations as game faces financial difficulties

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NFL teams owning (or providing significant assistance) to a bowl game is nothing new in this day and age but you can add another to the list of operators as the Gator Bowl has turned to the Jacksonville Jaguars in an effort to cut costs and help save the 75-year-old postseason game for several more years.

The Jacksonville Daily Record first made note of the moves, which were announced at the Jaguars’ annual state of the franchise presentation on Thursday. The team will formally take over “ticket sales and back shop operations.” The Florida Times Union also provided more context on the moves, which note that contracts expire after the upcoming game on everything from the TV deal with ESPN to title game sponsorship agreement.

“We’re in negotiations now for everything,” said Gator Bowl CEO Rick Catlett. “We got a good deal overall with the city [on the stadium], but not a great deal. We got to get the city to give us the same deal as Georgia-Florida with rent, concessions and parking. “We have to step up our game. We’re not going to be the Poulan Weed-Eater [Independence] Bowl. My instructions from our board is to move it forward or we’re done.”

Ticket sales and local revenue dropping were cited as the most pressing concerns to the financial health of the bowl, which is one of the oldest in the sport and has been held continuously since 1946.

It will be interesting to see if these financial trends continue for both the Gator Bowl and others at large. We’ve seen more and more bowl games get added to the docket in college football over the years but one of the mainstays to the lineup facing such challenges could be a warning that the system in the College Football Playoff era isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Five college football officials joining NFL ranks for 2019 season

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The NFL draft is this week and hundreds of college football players will formally be making the jump to the pros as a result. They won’t be the only ones going from Saturday’s to Sunday’s this fall however.

Per the NFL’s Twitter account dedicated to all matters officiating, five officials from the college ranks are being bumped up to crews in the league:

All five of the college football officials were part of the NFL’s Officiating Development Program according to Football Zebras. The Memphis Commercial Appeal also notes that the five were also involved as officials in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football this spring. Based on that, it’s pretty clear that the group as a whole was really focused on moving up to the NFL at some point and now get the call up to the big leagues.

Florida, Texas reportedly planning home-and-home series

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Could it be? Could Florida actually leave the Sunshine State for a big non-conference game?

It might just be in the works.

In a nugget slipped into his column this week, plugged-in Austin American-Statesman writer Kirk Bohls notes that Texas and Florida are apparently working on a home-and-home series between the two very successful programs. Don’t get your hopes up just yet however — not just because the pairing might not happen but because it’s going to happen in the very distant future of 2030 and 2031.

We’re always supportive of big home-and-home matchups but like many out there wish things were a little closer than 11 years from now.

More notable than the date though is the fact that the Gators might actually leave the state for a true road game. That hasn’t happened in ages. Literally.

The last non-conference true road game that Florida played outside of the friendly confines of their own state came all the way back in 1991 against Syracuse (they lost). The Gators have typically stuck to lower level FCS/Group of Five opponents at home while also playing in-state rivals like USF, Miami and, of course, Florida State to fill out their non-conference slate.

That might all be about to change however as the team discusses things with the Longhorns. Let’s all hope that for the first time in 40 years that UF decides a non-conference road game might finally be worth it.