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No. 3 Clemson storms back to beat No. 2 Ohio State and setup Tigers vs. Tigers in the national title game

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This year’s edition of the College Football Playoff was widely viewed as a four team tournament consisting of just three teams capable of hoisting the golden cylinder representing the national championship.

That was confirmed just minutes into the first of the two semifinals on Saturday night as No. 1 LSU blasted No. 4 Oklahoma in a lopsided Peach Bowl. In the second though, No. 2 Ohio State’s meeting with No. 3 Clemson was more or less seen as a clash between two equally elite and evenly matched teams — one a reigning champion who lived up to their billing by turning into a buzzsaw down the stretch and the other labeled several times by the CFP Selection Committee as the most complete team in the country.

Thankfully for those watching on, the two heavyweights squared off in a Fiesta Bowl that more than lived up the hype as one of the most anticipated semifinals of the playoff era. And just like those nostalgia-inducing prize fights from decades ago, the end result of a bloody epic that featured devastating jabs, incredible counterpunches and enough momentum swings to result in a Disney movie. Only one could emerge victorious however and to the delight of thousands of orange-clad fans in attendance at State Farm Stadium late in the desert night, it was the Tigers who were eventually able to hold their hands high in the air to celebrate a 29-23 result that sets up another epic showdown next month.

Tigers QB Trevor Lawrence was phenomenal once again on the biggest stage the sport has to offer. While he was last seen in the Playoff slicing and dicing Alabama’s secondary with his arm, this time around he used his legs to even better acclaim. The sophomore threw for 259 yards and a pair of scores (plus a final two-point conversion into the back of the end zone) but moonlighted as a silky smooth dual-threat with few peers in running for a team-high 107 yards. His best run came in the closing minutes of the first half as he dropped a few Allen Iverson-esque crossovers and zagged 67 yards past the OSU defense.

Tailback Travis Etienne may have taken a back seat on offense to the youngster he normally lines up behind but still was a threat to house it on every touch he had, running for 36 and a score while also finding paydirt twice as a receiver (three catches, 98 yards). The pair were the focal point offensively as they had been all year but had to carry a bit more of the load given that the team’s normally prolific receiving corps was either hurt or limited.

The biggest turning point of the game for Clemson came late in the second quarter. After appearing to stop Lawrence on a third down blitz, Buckeyes corner Shawn Wade was flagged for a controversial targeting penalty after review and ejected. The Tigers immediately picked on his backup, who drew a pass interference flag to further extend a drive that was capped off by the ACC champs’ first points of the game on a short Etienne run. That led to an eventual 21-point outburst to take the lead and jump start the eventual victory celebrations.

Ohio State still had their chances to take this one home however and fought tooth and nail to pull it out. Running back J.K. Dobbins set a new single-season school rushing record in the first half (passing Eddie George) on his way to a 174 yard, one TD night despite picking up an ankle injury down the stretch. He combined with Blake Haubeil’s opening drive 21 yard field goal to end the Big Ten’s 1,811 day stretch without scoring a point in the College Football Playoff as the conference champions announced this would be no repeat of the 2016 version of the game by jumping out to a 16-0 lead.

Mistakes, however, prevented the Buckeyes from taking full advantage of the early margin. In addition to the key penalties, the failure to capitalize on drives in the red zone will certainly haunt Ryan Day (who lost his first game as head coach). QB Justin Fields threw for a normally impressive 320 yards and a touchdown but the highly touted transfer will likely only remember two critical mistakes as he doubled his interception total coming in (one) with two picks — the last of which was right to Nolan Turner in the end zone to seal the result and end what had been a dream season in Columbus.

While those pieces will have to be picked up as the team returns home proud of this run but disappointed in the final result, Dabo Swinney’s crew can briefly celebrate their 29th consecutive win and turn their attention to fully defending their crown against another set of Tigers. Top seed LSU will have the advantage of both playing what amounts to a bye game on Saturday against the Sooners as well as enjoy the short trip down the highway to New Orleans for the final game of the season. While last year’s title tilt between a pair of 15-0 programs was expected to be a rare occurrence, it will happen again as the calendar turns to 2020 and the battle of teams based in Death Valley will kick off.

Such a championship game will have a high bar to clear given what transpired in the College Football Playoff game immediately proceeding it but it certainly will try as the most impressive team the sport has seen this season faces off against a potential dynastic standard barer.

Illinois LB Joseph Thompson enters the transfer portal

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Illinois has been on the right side of the football portal throughout the offseason.  Now, Lovie Smith‘s crew finds themselves on the wrong end.

First reported by Rivals.com, Joseph Thompson has entered his name into the NCAA transfer database.  247Sports.com subsequently confirmed that the defensive back is intent on leaving the Illinois football program.

Now, for what’s seemingly becoming a daily disclaimer when it comes to transfers.

As we’ve stated myriad times in the past, a player can remove his name from the portal and remain at the same school. At this point, though, other programs are permitted to contact a player without receiving permission from his current football program.

NCAA bylaws also permit schools to pull a portal entrant’s scholarship at the end of the semester in which he entered it.

Thompson was a three-star member of the Illinois football Class of 2019.  The Chicago native was rated as the No. 27 recruit regardless of position in the state of Illinois.  As a true freshman, Thompson didn’t appear in any games and took a redshirt.

On the positive side for the Illini? Illinois has added seven transfers to its football roster this offseason.  Five of those have come from Power Five programs.

In mid-March, ex-Alabama linebacker Christian Bell tweeted that he was moving on to the Illini. Shortly thereafter, we noted that an FCS All-American offensive lineman had opted to transfer into the Illinois football program. New Mexico State wide receiver Desmond Dan did the same.  As did Miami wide receiver Brian Hightower.  And Mississippi State offensive lineman Brevyn Jones as well in early May  And Louisville defensive back TreSean Smith last week mid-May.  And Cal defensive tackle Chinedu Udeogu that same month.

Report: Oklahoma wants to move its 2020 opener up a week, to Aug. 29

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While seemingly everyone in the sport is looking to push games back, Oklahoma is actually looking to move its football opener up.

Oklahoma is currently scheduled to open the 2020 college football season at home in Norman against FCS Missouri State Sept. 5.  According to The Oklahoman, however, OU is looking to move that matchup up a week, to Aug. 29.  Reportedly, the FCS school is amenable to such a move.

The reasoning behind such a waiver?

OU athletic director Joe Castiglione’s rationale in this pandemic-stricken year is that moving the opener would give OU an off week after each of its first two games, which could be valuable with the testing of players for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

With constant testing and the subsequent contact tracing for those exposed, teams face a season with frequent quarantines and isolation of players who either have the virus or have been exposed to it.

At the moment, Oklahoma is scheduled to face Tennessee at Memorial Stadium Sept. 12.  Then coming off a bye, OU would travel

All of this, of course, is contingent on there actually being non-conference games in the sport.  The Big Ten was the first conference-only scheduling domino to fall.  The ACC and Pac-12 are expected to follow suit.  The Sooners’ conference, the Big 12, likely won’t make a decision on that front until the end of this month.  The same goes for the SEC as well.

Five-star 2020 Georgia signee Broderick Jones reportedly injured in motor bike accident

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There’s a health concern involving one of the crown jewels of the Georgia football Class of 2020.

With Auburn in hot pursuit, Broderick Jones confirmed back in February that he had signed with Georgia football. The offensive lineman stated on National Signing Day he is “a Georgia boy” and “wanted to be close to home so my family could support me.“

Now, though, 247Sports.com is confirming that Jones suffered “a lower leg injury related to an accident involving a motor bike.” No details surrounding the accident have been revealed, although the website noted that it didn’t happen in the last couple of days.

It’s expected that Jones will be recovering for multiple weeks, perhaps up to two months. As of yet, the Georgia football program has not commented on the development.

The No. 3 recruit regardless of position in the state of Georgia, the 6-5, 298-pound Jones is the No. 2 offensive tackle in the country.  On the 247Sports.com composite, he’s listed as the No. 11 prospect overall in the Class of 2020.  Only one signee in this year’s class for the Bulldogs, cornerback Kelee Ringo, was rated higher.

While Jones verbally committed to UGA in April of 2018, the departure of line coach Sam Pittman for the head job at Arkansas in December caused some concern.  In January, Jones took an official visit to Arkansas.  He took another to Illinois that same month.

With the Bulldogs, the expectation is that Jones will slide into a starting job as a true freshman.  Provided there is a season, of course.

Florida State’s Mike Norvell to take 25% pay cut

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Less than a year into his job, the Florida State head football coach is the latest to be impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

This past week, FSU announced a series of cost-saving measures within the athletic department.  Included in that is Mike Norvell, the new Florida State football coach who will take a 25-percent cut in his salary for the fiscal year.  Other coaches for the Seminoles, including men’s and women’s basketball, will take 15-percent cuts.  Athletic director David Coburn will see his salary reduced by 20 percent.

Additionally, 25 full-time jobs within the athletic department are being eliminated.  Overall, that department’s budget will be slashed by 20 percent.

”I am personally heartbroken over the impact this pandemic has had on our employees, and I am disappointed I must give you this discouraging news today,” Coburn said in a portion of his statement. “However, I am sure you have seen that other athletic departments around the country  are also making reductions.”

On that front, the FSU athletic director is absolutely correct.

Below is a partial list of FBS programs that have initiated various cost-cutting measures for athletic department personnel, including coaches:

Additionally, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott, who reportedly made north of $5 million a year ago, is taking a 20% pay cut.  Scott’s Big 12 counterpart, Bob Bowlsby, announced pay cuts for himself and the conference’s staff.