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After holding off Kansas, Texas is back in the Big 12 championship game for first time since 2009*

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For the first time in nearly a decade, the Lonestar State’s flagship football program will play for a conference championship.

Needing a win over lowly Kansas to secure one of the two spots in next weekend’s Big 12 championship game, Texas did just that as they will leave Lawrence and head coach to Austin with a 24-17 win.  The Longhorns held a scant 7-0 lead coming out of the halftime locker room, but a pair of third-quarter Sam Ehlinger touchdowns (one passing, one rushing) gave UT what seemed at the time to be an insurmountable edge over the offensively-challenged Jayhawks.

Ehlinger, who was somewhat questionable throughout the week after aggravating an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder, accounted for a total of three touchdowns, including two through the air. The sophomore also tossed his first two interceptions since throwing a pair in the season-opening loss to Maryland, a streak of more than 300 pass attempts without a pick.

The second interception came early in the fourth quarter, giving KU both hope and the ball at UT’s 22-yard line trailing 21-7.  That particular hope proved fleeting, however, as the Jayhawks returned the pick favor and handed the ball right back to the Longhorns.  Thanks in part to its first penalty of the game, UT managed to turn that turnover into what was essentially a game-icing field goal with under 11 minutes to play.

The key word there was “essentially” as, trailing 24-7, KU made it interesting as Peyton Bender connected with Daylon Chariot on a 31-yard touchdown pass that sliced the lead to 10 with just over three minutes to go; a successful onside kick moments later gave the ball right back to the Jayhawks with 3:21 left.  A field goal at the end of that drive brought the Jayhawks to within one score at 24-17 with 1:37 remaining.

That would be as close as the Jayhawks, out of timeouts, would get as the Longhorns recovered the second onside kick to, finally, end the game.

With the win, Texas moves on to the Big 12 championship game next Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.  There, they will face the winner of tonight’s Oklahoma-West Virginia game.

The appearance will mark the Longhorns’ first in the conference title game since the 2009 season.  Granted, the game was on hiatus from 2011-16 so that comes with the headlines asterisk, but still.

UT will be looking for its first conference crown since that 2009 season and 33rd in the program’s storied history. Three of the previous 32 conference championships have come as members of the Big 12 (1995, 2005, 2009), while 27 came during their time in the Southwest Conference.  The other two came when they were a part of the Texas Intercollegiate Athletic Association way back in 1913 and 1914.

For Kansas, the regular-season finale marked the end of the David Beaty era in Lawrence.  In four full seasons with the Jayhawks, Beaty posted a 6-42 overall record — exactly half of those wins came in 2018 — and a hard-to-comprehend 2-34 mark in Big 12 play.

Beaty was fired earlier this month, officially replaced by Les Miles this past weekend.

Starting Nevada safety transfers to BYU

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Nevada’s secondary loss will turn into BYU’s gain.

In early December, it was reported that Nephi Sewell will be transferring from Nevada.  Less than two weeks later, Sewell took to Twitter over the weekend to announce that he has decided to continue his collegiate playing career at BYU.

The move serves as a homecoming for Sewell as the defensive back played his high school football in the state of Utah.

As a sophomore this season, Sewell started all 10 games in which he played after starting eight games in 2017. His 53 tackles in 2018 were good for sixth on the team.

Sewell’s older brother, Gabe Sewell, is a junior linebacker for Nevada and currently leads the Wolf Pack in tackles with 85.  His younger brother, Penei Sewell, is a freshman offensive lineman at Oregon.

Kentucky’s Josh Allen adds fourth national trophy honor

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When it’s all said and done, Josh Allen is going to need a bigger trophy cabinet — or at least significantly expand his current one.

Monday, it was announced that the Kentucky senior was named as the 2018 recipient of the Jack Lambert Award. That trophy is handed out annually by the Touchdown Club of Columbus (OH) and given to the national linebacker of the year.

Previously this awards season, Allen had been named as the winner of the Bronko Nagurski Award (HERE) and Chuck Bednarik Award (HERE) as well as the recipient of the Ronnie Lott IMPACT Trophy (HERE). He also earned unanimous first-team All-American honors.

Allen’s 14 sacks this season set the football program’s single-season record, while his 28.5 career sacks are the most ever for a member of the Wildcats.

Utah State OC Troy Taylor named head coach at FCS Sacramento State

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For the second time since the 2018 regular season came to an end, Kyle Whittingham has seen one of his assistant coaches leave for a head-coaching job.

Exactly a week ago, Utah State announced that Utah associate head coach Gary Andersen was returning to again lead the Aggies.  Monday, Sacramento State announced that Troy Taylor has been hired as the FCS program’s next head football coach.

Taylor, who spent two seasons as Whittingham’s offensive coordinator, was the starting quarterback at Cal in the late eighties after playing his high school football in the state of California.  He also began his coaching career at the high school level near Sacramento.

“I am thrilled to be the new head football coach at Sacramento State,” Taylor said in a statement. “My family and I are excited to move back home and take on the challenge of building the Hornet Football program into something the city can be very proud. I want to thank President Nelsen, Mark Orr and the rest of the search committee for giving me this opportunity.”

With bowl season left, Utah is sixth in the Pac-12 and 67th nationally in scoring 28.7 points per game.  In Taylor’s first season in charge of the offense, they averaged 29.5 ppg.

Whittingham has already replaced Andersen with former Ute football player Sione Po’uha.

Nick Saban says Tua Tagovailoa ‘probably ahead of schedule’ in recovery from ankle surgery

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One of the biggest storylines leading into the 2018 College Football Playoff is the health of this year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up.  With Alabama’s date with Oklahoma less than two weeks away, the signs are pointing in a positive direction for Tua Tagovailoa.

The sophomore quarterback suffered a high-ankle sprain in Alabama’s SEC championship game win over Georgia two weeks ago and underwent surgery shortly thereafter to help aid the healing process.  Monday, Nick Saban sounded decidedly optimistic in giving an update on the status of his starter, who has participated at least partly in all four of the Crimson Tide’s practice session since the title game.

“He’s doing well,” the head coach said by way of ESPN.com. “I think he’s probably ahead of schedule. He’s been able to take a lot of reps. He’s been able to throw the ball from the pocket. He can run. …

“I don’t think he’s 100 percent in terms of change of direction yet. But he’s already going 100 percent on the gravity treadmill. So he’s been able to practice and he’s made really, really good progress. So we’re encouraged by that.”

Tagovailoa had been bothered by knee issues for a sizable chunk of the regular season before hurting his left ankle earlier this month.

Top-ranked Alabama will face Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray and Oklahoma in the Dec. 29 Orange Bowl, which this season is serving as one of the two playoff semifinals.  The winner of that game will face the Notre Dame-Clemson in the national championship game next month.