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No. 19 Texas stays in Big 12 race with win over Texas Tech

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Even despite heartbreaking back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and No. 9 West Virginia, No. 19 Texas entered Saturday with a path to reach the Big 12 Championship. That path required three straight wins to close the year and a WVU win over No. 6 Oklahoma on Black Friday.

It wasn’t easy, but Step 1 of the plan is completed when the Longhorns pulled off a 41-34 win at Texas Tech.

When Sam Ehlinger hit Devin Duvernay for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, Texas seemingly had the game in hand, taking a 34-17 lead.

But Texas Tech (5-5, 3-4 Big 12) lodged a Clayton Hatfield field goal to make it a two-score game, then stole a possession by pegging Texas safety PJ Locke with an onside kick, recovered by Texas Tech. A pass interference penalty helped the Red Raiders convert a 4th-and-10, and Texas Tech pulled within 34-27 with 4:47 to play on a 2-yard pass from Jett Duffey to TJ Vasher.

Trailing 34-27 now, the Red Raider defense forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to a white-hot Duffey, who tied the game with 1:45 remaining on a 9-yard strike to Antoine Wesley.

In a similar position as the Oklahoma win, Texas (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat-by-epic collapse, moving 75 yards in seven plays. Ehlinger hit his favorite target, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, for a 29-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left to seal the win. Humphrey finished the game eight catches, seemingly all of them clutch, for 159 yards and two touchdowns, while Ehlinger was 22-of-34 for 312 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, in the process breaking Geno Smith‘s Big 12 record with 274 passes (and counting) without an interception.

Though he threw for a career-high 442 yards, Duffey helped Texas built its 17-point lead thanks to three red zone turnovers. Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Duffey threw away a potential 14-0 lead when, rather than eat the ball after an errant snap, Duffey attempted to allude Texas safety Caden Sterns and fire a pass, which was intercepted by Davante Davis.

Given new life, Texas mounted its first drive, aided by two third down completions from Sam Ehlinger to Humphrey, first for 15 yards, then for 40. The second gained pushed the ball to the Red Raider 24, but consecutive sacks forced a career-long 52-yard Cameron Dicker field goal.

After forcing a Texas Tech punt, Texas again mounted a methodical, 18-play, 8-minute drive down the field until two more consecutive sacks backed the ‘Horns up from the Texas Tech 11 to the 34. However, during a 7-yard completion to Humphrey on 3rd-and-33, Texas Tech was flagged for a face mask on the complete opposite side of the field. Rather than kick a 44-yard field goal, Texas was given a 1st-and-10 at the Texas Tech 13. The Longhorns converted this time, as Ehlinger again found Humphrey on another third down, securing a 9-yard touchdown to put Texas up 10-7 with 3:46 left in the first half.

Facing his first deficit, Kliff Kingsbury decided to roll the dice deep inside his own territory. After Ward was corralled for a 1-yard gain on 3rd-and-2, Kingsbury put Duffey under center at his own 34 and called for a sneak — which was stuffed.

Texas took advantage of the short field, needing three plays to set up a 1-yard Keaontay Ingram touchdown run with 1:16 left in the first half.

Texas Tech halted UT’s 17 straight points when Clayton Hatfield snuck in a 41-yard field goal with seven seconds left before halftime.

Texas opened the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, scoring on a fourth-and-goal 1-yard pass from Ehlinger to Duvernay.

Duffey then committed the second of his three turnovers when, going out of bounds at the Texas 19, he was stripped by Davis, who immediately recovered the ball. Texas turned the opportunity into another Dicker field goal. Trailing 27-10 in the third quarter, Duffey again was stripped inside the Texas red zone, this time by Texas cornerback Kris Boyd.

Texas punted after that turnover, and Duffey made up for his latest turnover by hitting Wesley over Boyd for a 57-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Red Raiders within 27-17 with 13:26 remaining. The Longhorns answered that score with a 5-play, 92-yard drive capped by the throw to Duvernay, seemingly putting the game away with 10:26 to play.

Michigan State RB Connor Heyward reverses course, pulls name from transfer portal

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Mel Tucker appears to have picked up his second personnel win as the Michigan State football head coach.

In September of last year, running back Connor Heyward took the first step in leaving the Michigan State football team by entering his name into the NCAA transfer database.  A little over four months later, after Mark Dantonio‘s abrupt retirement, Tucker took over in East Lansing.

On Twitter a week after Tucker came back to the Spartans, Heyward announced in a tweet that he has reversed course and will pull his name from the portal.  And, in his social-media missive, the running back credited Tucker for the personal reversal.

“After talking with [athletic director Bill] Beekman and Coach Tucker, I have decided to take my name out of the transfer portal and return to Michigan State University,” Heyward wrote. “It has been a long process, but I know this is home in my heart.

“I’m looking forward to what the future holds.  I can’t wait to get back to work with my brothers.

“Go Green!”

A three-star member of Michigan State’s 2017 recruiting class, Heyward was rated as the No. 72 player regardless of position in the state of Georgia.  In 2018, Heyward led MSU in rushing yards (529), rushing touchdowns (five), carries (118), all-purpose yards (1,065) and kick returns (13 for 287 yards; 22.1 avg.).  That year, he was named as a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award, given annually to the nation’s most versatile player.

This past season, Heyward ran for 79 yards on 24 carries.

All told, Heyward has ran for 618 yards and five touchdowns on 145 carries.  He’s also caught 43 passes for another 314 yards and two touchdowns.

Because he played in just four games in 2019, Heyward will be permitted to take a redshirt for last year.  That would make him a redshirt junior for the 2020 campaign and leave him with two years of eligibility to use.

USC officially replaces FCS school with San Jose State for 2021 game

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USC football has officially returned itself to elite scheduling company.

In July of last year, USC football angered a sizable portion of its fan base as well as former players by announcing that it had scheduled a 2021 game against UC-Davis.  The Trojans had been one of three FBS programs that had never scheduled a game against an FCS team.

Wednesday, however, new athletic director Mike Bohn confirmed that the Trojans are on the verge of canceling that football game and replacing it with another.  Thursday night, USC football made it official as both they and San Jose State confirmed a Sept. 4, 2021, game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

San Jose State had originally been scheduled to face Georgia on that date.  Last week, however, UGA canceled the game in order to play Clemson in that season’s opener.  For that cancellation, San Jose State will receive $1.8 million from UGA.

“Facing USC in Los Angeles is a great opportunity for our student-athletes and fans,” SJSU athletic director Marie Tuite said in a statement. “Southern California is an important footprint for us in recruiting and we’re very excited to add this game to our 2021 football schedule.”

Tuite was also very complimentary of her UGA counterpart for his transparency throughout the process.

“I’d like to thank Georgia athletics director Greg McGarity for being transparent with us during the process,” said the AD. “I’ve experienced the atmosphere in Athens on gameday and it’s a special place. Maybe one day in the future the Spartans will make the trip.”

As for USC football, they officially rejoin Notre Dame and UCLA as the only FBS schools that have never played a game against an FCS team.  They are, however, in denial about never having scheduled an FCS school.

Be that as it may, USC will pay UC-Davis $750,000 for the game-that-was-never-scheduled-but-actually-was.

USC and San Jose State have met four times previously, with the Trojans winning all four of those matchups.  The two schools are also scheduled to play in 2024.

Clemson, Georgia paying seven-figures to make 2021 opener happen

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Clemson and Georgia are both spending money to make money.

In the wake of the two schools announcing a highly anticipated 2021 season opener in Charlotte, news has now surfaced at just how badly the two programs wanted to play each other.

The total tab: roughly $2.9 million.

That’s the combined amount the Tigers and Bulldogs will be paying to get out of their previously scheduled Group of Five games set for the same date.

Per the Greenville News, Clemson is ponying $1.1 million to cancel their contract with Wyoming. The Athletic reports Georgia is cutting a $1.8 million check to San Jose State.

“This is another great opportunity to schedule a national non-conference game with a top-level opponent,” UGA head coach Kirby Smart said in a release announcing the game. “Playing a regular-season game in Charlotte will give our fans the opportunity for a completely new experience in a great city and top-level stadium. I know our coaches and players will be excited for the challenge to kick off the season in this kind of environment.”

Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, N.C. will host the regional rivals on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021.

Georgia and Clemson have met 64 times over the years, most recently in 2014. The 2021 date is a one-off but the programs are still scheduled to meet five more times between 2021 and 2033. This includes the 2024 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and a pair of home-and-home series scheduled for 2029/2033 (in Death Valley) and 2030/2032 (between the hedges).

The Tigers will also take on fellow SEC program South Carolina in those years and will host UConn and FCS South Carolina State to round out their 2021 non-conference slate. The Bulldogs have their annual game against Georgia Tech plus UAB and Charleston Southern in 2021 as well.

Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer says he could have coached Vols again but it ‘didn’t appeal’ to him

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Could Tennessee have had Phillip Fulmer back on the sidelines at Neyland Stadium coaching again?

There was speculation that he could have done just that from the moment he took over as athletic director at the school. Actually having it happen in Knoxville though? It apparently was not on the table due more to the necessity of Jimmy and Joe’s as opposed to X’s and O’s.

In a wide-ranging interview with The Tennessean about his on-going tenure as AD, Fulmer was asked if he ever considered putting the whistle back on for the team he led to the national title over two decades ago. Though it crossed the minds of many at the school, it didn’t for the man himself thanks largely to the rigors of the profession changing from 2008 to now.

“No. I mean, that energy level that it takes to do that. Could have coached and wanted to coach, that’s two different things, right?” Fulmer told the paper. “I certainly could have come coached the team or whatever, but the recruiting and the staffing and all those things, I’ve done my time, and I had a great run. That didn’t appeal to me, nor did I ever lose confidence that Jeremy (Pruitt) was going to do it.”

While that latter line is notable for the team’s current head coach after a historically bad start to the 2019 season, don’t gloss over his earlier comments. In fact, it says plenty about the situation on Rocky Top in recent years that Fulmer directly confirms that he “could have” come down from the AD box to the sidelines.

The only thing that stopped him? Not optics, but just the time a head coach has to devote to things like recruiting. While there’s no doubt that is pretty much a 24/7 operation nowadays at SEC schools like Tennessee, it’s interesting that was one of the few things preventing a move many in orange and white clamored (or at least expected) to see at some point.

Instead, Fulmer will have to make do with his 152–52 overall record at the school and a national title in the 1998 season. That forever cemented his status in Knoxville as one of the program’s greats and it appears he’s content to let things end there despite not having the ending he wanted back in the day.