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No. 2 Clemson cruises to fourth straight ACC crown, fourth straight Playoff berth

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If there was any drama in the ACC Championship, it lasted through the opening kickoff.

On the first snap from scrimmage, Travis Etienne took the ball around the right end and raced 75 yards untouched for a touchdown.

Clemson’s offense went three-and-out on its next possession, but the Tigers’ Isaiah Simmons forced Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett to fumble, which Christian Wilkins recovered and returned to the Pitt 3. When Etienne strolled in on the next play, Clemson had a 14-0 lead barely five minutes into the game while gaining one first down.

Rather than kick a field goal, Dabo Swinney asked Trevor Lawrence to pass from 4th-and-4 from the Pitt 19 on Clemson’s next possession, but his toss was incomplete.

Still leading 14-0, Clemson relaxed and Pitt crawled back in the game. A 62-yard drive culminated in a 37-yard field goal, and after two Clemson three-and-outs, Pitt scored its first touchdown on a 1-yard Qadree Ollison run, pulling the Panthers within 14-10 with 7:56 left in the second quarter.

Feeling sufficiently threatened, Clemson moved 75 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 5-yard toss from Lawrence to Tee Higgins.

Rather than sit on the ball and accept a 21-10 halftime deficit, Pitt elected to throw the ball just before half when Pickett, 3-of-11 for 5 yards to that point, was intercepted by A.J. Terrell and returned 30 yards to the Pitt 10 with 29 seconds left before halftime. Lawrence hit Tiggins a second time to put Clemson up 28-10.

After a scoreless third quarter, Adam Choice put the game away for good with a 1-yard plunge with 14:27 to play, and Lyn-J Dixon added the capper with a 4-yard burst with 3:17 remaining, allowing Clemson to cruise to a 42-10 win.

With the win, Clemson claimed its fourth straight ACC title and its fourth straight Playoff berth. The Tigers will almost certainly enter the 2018 tournament as the No. 2 seed, meaning they’ll avoid No. 1 Alabama in the semifinal. Clemson (13-0) also booked its second undefeated regular season under Swinney, while looking for the first 15-0 season of the modern era.

Playing on a muddy Bank of America Stadium field, Lawrence had a modest night, completing 12-of-24 passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns. Etienne rushed 12 times for 156 yards and two scores, and Clemson rushed for 301 yards and four scores as a team.

Pitt (7-6) rushed for 192 yards, but Pickett was 4-of-16 for eight yards with an interception.

Florida to host Florida Atlantic in 2021

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Florida will host Florida Atlantic in 2021, FAU announced Tuesday. The game will take place on Sept. 4 and serve as the season-opener for both schools.

The schools have met three times previously, all of them in Gainesville. Florida won 59-20 on Nov. 17, 2007, 41-3 on Sept. 3, 2011, and 20-14 on Nov. 21, 2015.

The game will round out both schools’ non-conference schedules.

Florida will visit USF on Sept. 11, host Florida State on Nov. 27 and has a TBD home game against Samford, most likely on Nov. 20.

Today’s news means Florida has a future game on the schedule with every FBS program in the Sunshine State except UCF and Florida International. Florida beat Miami in Orlando to open this season and will play a home-and-home with the ‘Canes in 2024-25.

Florida Atlantic will follow its Gainesville trip with an excursion to Colorado Springs to play Air Force. After that, the Owls will host Fordham and Georgia Southern to round out September.

 

With Husky mascot retiring in 2021, Northern Illinois to introduce successor on Tuesday

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Northern Illinois’ husky mascot, Mission, is retiring in 2021, and on Tuesday the school will introduce his successor.

Mission II, born on July 6 and weighing a tender 14.5 ounces, will replace Mission two years from now, and the puppy will begin his official duties as NIU’s next official mascot on Tuesday.

“We have long been searching for the heir apparent to Mission, and there is no question that we have found the right Huskie,” NIU Alumni Association Executive Director Reggie Bustinza said. “Mission has set very high expectations, but there is no doubt in my mind that Mission II cannot only meet those demands, but surpass them.

“We are happy that Mission will have plenty of years to enjoy his retirement.”

Mission will turn 10 years old in 2021, and by that time Mission II will be fully versed in all the expectations placed upon the Official Northern Illinois Husky.

Mission II, a Siberian husky born in southern Wisconsin, will accompany Mission “to all eligible events for experiential learning and proofing,” which begins at a tasting for an NIU-branded beer on Tuesday evening in DeKalb.

The school has not revealed when Mission II will make his debut at a Husky football game, and in the meantime he’ll continue training with Lisa Boland while also attending daily puppy classes.

“I’m most looking forward to seeing Mission and Mission II do the job together during the training period,” Boland said. “It will be wonderful to watch ‘Mini-Mish’ learn from Mission, and see them work as a team. Mission has set a very high bar in mascotting, and Mission II will be working very hard to follow in his footsteps. I am so proud of Mission and the work that he’s done as the official NIU mascot.

“I am thrilled to have the privilege of guiding his successor to best represent Huskie Nation.”

Troy loses RB B.J. Smith, SBC Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, to season-ending injury

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This one will certainly leave a lasting mark.

Over the summer, Troy’s B.J. Smith was named as the Sun Belt Conference’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year.  Two months later, the football program confirmed, the running back will be sidelined for the remainder of the 2019 season because of an injury sustained in the Week 3 loss to Southern Miss.

While the specific nature of the injury wasn’t divulged by the school, it’s believed Smith injured his knee midway through the second quarter of last Saturday’s game.

Last season, Smith led the Trojans with 1,186 yards and 13 rushing touchdowns.  This season, the fourth-year senior had rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries in two games.

Because of the timing of the injury, Smith can take a redshirt for the 2019 season and return to the Trojans next season.

Texas LB Caleb Johnson enters transfer portal

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Sitting at the quarter-pole of the 2019 regular season, and Texas is the latest FBS program to feel the pain of the portal.

Joe Cook of InsideTexas.com was the first to report that Caleb Johnson has placed his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed the initial report, writing that the junior linebacker “feels he has not fit in well since he arrived at Texas.”

247Sports provided further details as to the events leading up to Johnson’s decision.

According to sources with knowledge of the situation, Johnson met with the staff Monday morning to inform them of his intentions to enter the transfer portal. While the staff requested he think more about his decision, Johnson decided to enter his name into he NCAA Transfer Portal, and is listed in the portal as of Tuesday morning.

Johnson joined the Longhorns from the junior college level, enrolling early and taking part in spring practice this past offseason.  He was a three-star 2019 signee who was rated as the No. 3 JUCO outside linebacker in this past year’s class.

Through three games, Johnson hadn’t yet taken the field for the Big 12 program.