Northwestern (6-4, 6-1 Big Ten) is heading to the Big Ten championship game. The Wildcats clinched the Big Ten West Division crown on Saturday with a 14-10 win at Iowa on the same day Wisconsin and Purdue each lost, eliminating the Badgers and the Boilermakers from the running.
Clayton Thorson completed a 32-yard pass to Bennett Skowronek with 9:27 to play in the fourth quarter to give Northwestern a 14-10 lead after an instant replay confirmed the call on the field and an extra point. It is a play that will likely be played in the Northwestern highlights for years to come.
Northwestern still had some football to be played though, and the defense rose to the occasion by forcing Iowa to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession. With a chance to add to the lead, however, Northwestern quickly saw their next drive stall in part due to a false start penalty on a 3rd & 1. With Iowa making their way to midfield on the following possession, the Northwestern defense forced Mekhi Sargent to fumble and Cameron Ruiz came up with the loose ball with 4:26 to play in the game. With one more chance, Iowa again fumbled away the football around midfield in the final minutes of the game.
Thorson completed 15 of 30 passes for 122 yards and the go-ahead touchdown, more than making up for the two interceptions he tossed earlier in the game on this particular day. Freshman running back Isaiah Bowser had a career day with 165 rushing yards and a touchdown. A fourth down run to pick up a first down in the final minute allowed Northwestern to run out the clock on the clincher.
Northwestern still has two more games to play in the regular season, beginning next week on the road at Minnesota. The Gophers just demolished Purdue, helping Northwestern accelerate their division-clinching scenario in the process. No matter what happens next week against Minnesota or the week after at home against Illinois, Northwestern will be heading to Indianapolis to play in the Big Ten Championship Game on Dec. 1. Their opponent is still to be determined, although it will pit the Wildcats in a rematch against Michigan or against Ohio State. The Big Ten East Division may not be decided until the final day of the regular season when Ohio State hosts Michigan, although it is possible for the Wolverines to wrap up the East division next week with a win and an Ohio State loss.
Iowa has now lost three straight games and will have to try snapping their losing ways on the road next week at Illinois.
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.
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.
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.
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.