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UAB wins Conference USA championship in second season back after being shut down

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The most successful football season in UAB history now has its crowning achievement. A week after losing on the same field in the regular season finale, UAB celebrated a 27-25 victory at Middle Tennessee in the Conference USA championship game. In its second season back after a brief shutdown of the entire football program, UAB is a conference champion.

UAB’s defense came up with the critical fourth down stop at the UAB 46-yard line as a pass from Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill fell incomplete in good coverage. UAB was unable to run out the clock though, so the defense would have had to make one more stop of the Blue Raiders in the final minute of the game. But Middle Tennessee lined up with 12 men on the field on the fourth down before UAB snapped for a punt, and UAB was awarded a free first down. With no more timeouts to use, Middle Tennessee could not stop the clock and UAB ran out the clock.

UAB got a big day from running back Spencer Brown, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Johnston III passed for 140 yards and rushed for 56 yards while accounting for two total touchdowns. UAB really held firm inside the red zone on defense, forcing Middle Tennessee to settle for field goals on each of their first two possessions of the game and doing so once again in the fourth quarter. Success in the red zone for UAB managed to make up for giving up 456 yards of offense, including 362 through the air off the arm of Brent Stockstill.

Enough can not be said about the job Bill Clark has done at UAB. The head coach of the program for one year before the university shut the program down, Clark stuck with the program as it became clear the program would return after a brief hiatus. To take a program that was shut down to a conference championship in a span of four years is absolutely incredible and why Clark should not only be hearing some phone calls from schools in search of a head coach but also should be considered for some coach of the year honors.

UAB will now play in their second straight bowl game in as many years, and the Blazers will look for the first bowl victory in school history (0-2 all-time in bowl games). An official bowl announcement is pending, although a matchup with Sun Belt champion Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl would be a fun matchup.

State legislators looking to wipe New Mexico, NMSU debt in hopes of decreasing ‘money games’

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Politics and football are colliding in the state of New Mexico. Luckily for the two FBS programs in the region, that could wind up working out quite well.

As detailed by the Albuquerque Journal, lawmakers recently made a few changes to their annual state budget. One item that made it into the lengthy bill this year? A measure that could result in millions of debt being wiped from New Mexico and New Mexico State’s ledgers.

Per the Journal:

The language in the budget prohibits the University of New Mexico and New Mexico State University from using any state money – which includes money appropriated from the Legislature as well as any other state money that ends up in the athletics departments’ coffers – to pay back the accumulated deficits.

At UNM, that totals a nearly $4.4 million debt the Athletics Department has run up with the main campus through years of overspending.

At NMSU, the debt is $3 million.

The heart of the matter? Not just making sure the universities take proper accounting steps with their athletic departments but the play of both the Lobos and Aggies on the field.

Namely, their reliance on so-called ‘money games.’ Also termed ‘buy games’ or ‘guarantee games,’ these are when Group of Five programs get paid millions to essentially be fodder for larger Power Five programs during the non-conference slate.

While there have been cases of the ones getting the checks still emerging with a surprise victory or two, typically these are pretty lopsided affairs. They happen a lot and have turned into a way of life at programs like in the state.

Now there’s hope that by cancelling some debt, the two teams won’t have to take on such games as often.

“I’m sick and tired of both universities having to take money games. We’re not competitive, and we’re getting crushed, but they’ve got to play those games to get enough money for their athletics departments,” State Sen. John Arthur Smith told the paper.

Both teams lost games by over 50 points on the road in such games last season. Their future schedules also contain plenty more. UNM will travel to USC and Mississippi State in 2020 for example. FBS independent NMSU starts the season off at UCLA and concludes it by going to Florida in late November.

There’s still plenty of work left to be done before things change on the field and with the state budget but perhaps this is the start of some interesting financial relief for two programs that have some of the toughest roads to wins in all of major college football.

Clemson linebacker tears ACL for a third time

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Clemson coaches will hope that the third time really is the charm for unlucky linebacker Bryton Constantin. 

The redshirt freshman was just recently set to return to the football field this spring. Instead, he will apparently head back under the knife after injuring his knee for a third time. He confirmed the diagnosis on Twitter late last week.

Constantin was one of the nation’s top recruits at his position coming out of Baton Rouge, La. and picked the Tigers as part of the class of 2019. However, he never made it onto the field. He originally tore his ACL playing basketball in high school last February. Then he re-injured it in September after getting on campus.

The former four-star was expected to be eased into spring practice next month at Clemson but obviously those plans are out the door. Given the timetable for such injuries plus his history, the 2020 season could be too. 

This is a Dabo Swinney and Brent Venables defense however so there’s at least enough depth at the position to lean on for a team likely ranked No. 1 in the preseason polls. James Skalski is a returning starter in the middle while Mike Jones Jr., Jake Venables and Baylon Spector all have experience on the outside. The team does need to replace likely top five pick Isaiah Simmons but do add several talented freshmen to the group that is coming back from a disappointing loss in the national title game. 

Still, just about everybody on the roster would have loved if Constantin could have worked his way in the mix given his earlier knee injuries. That won’t be the case though as the youngster hopefully undergoes ACL surgery for a third and final time in the coming weeks.

Texas reportedly suspends WR Kennedy Lewis for spring practice

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Texas head coach Tom Herman has been busy this offseason remaking his coaching staff. That doesn’t mean he’s kept an eye on what his players have been doing however.

According to Orangebloods.com’s Anwar Richardson, the program has suspended wideout Kennedy Lewis. The redshirt freshman will miss spring practice with the team but appears to be in line to return in time for summer workouts. 

Provided, of course, he does what he needs to in order to get back in the graces of Herman and company. There was no word on what Lewis did to get the (temporary) boot. 

Either way, it’s a missed chance for Lewis to make an impression for Texas’ rich new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich. The Longhorns are also looking for several new targets for QB Sam Ehlingher this spring given that seniors Collin Johnson and Devin Duvernay both are off to the NFL. The youngster was expected to be one of those in the mix behind the likes of Jake Smith and Brennan Eagle to see some serious playing time.

Now that’s not longer the case.

Lewis arrived on the 40 Acres as a three-star recruit prior to last season. He made it into two games and took a redshirt, recording just a single catch against Rice for 37 yards.

Now, others like Josh Moore and Marcus Washington figure to get extra reps when the ‘Horns opens their 15 practice slate next month.

New three year deal at Auburn for Chad Morris winds up saving Arkansas money

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Arkansas has had to tap the well for buyout money quite a bit in recent years. The good news for the school however is that those checks will be a little smaller than first thought going forward.

That’s the result of ex-head coach Chad Morris’ new deal at Auburn. Terms were released to the media last week of the Tigers’ new offensive coordinator and per AL.com, that will result in a three-year contract worth roughly $735,000 annually. 

If that doesn’t sound like a lot for an SEC coordinator, you’d be right. It’s especially true given how much rival Alabama is prepared to pay their OC, Steve Sarkisian, given recent reports.

However, Morris isn’t just being paid by Auburn. Arkansas still owes him millions in buyout money. 

The figure was originally on the order of $10 million after he was fired midseason by the Hogs last year. That total was spread out over the next four years. However, Morris had an offset in his deal so the amount the Tigers are paying him will mitigate down that total from Fayetteville some. 

Morris will still wind up taking home nearly $2.5 million each of the next four years. Thanks to the AU deal however, the amount coming from UA will drop to nearly $1.7 million from now until 2022.

The new coordinator deal is also fully guaranteed between Morris and the Tigers. If he’s fired, the school owes him every penny. If he leaves for another job that isn’t a head coaching gig, he would owe everything left as a buyout.

Either way, Morris is both reunited with his old friend Gus Malzahn on the Plains and a very rich man. At least for folks at Arkansas, that arrangement will at least save them some money even if their ex-coach is at a division rival.

The Hogs also recently stopped paying former head coach’s Bret Bielema’s buyout last year as part of some legal wrangling. As a result, the nearly $22 million the program was set to be on the hook for in just the past three seasons is actually quite a bit less than first thought. 

That all might not help take the sting out of the lack of victories in Fayetteville but it certainly will help the ol’ check book if nothing else.