Mike Norvell

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No. 17 Memphis secures AAC championship, likely punching ticket to Cotton Bowl

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After losing two consecutive AAC Championship Games the past two years, No. 17 Memphis (12-1, 7-1 AAC) has finally cleared the final hurdle and is celebrating a long-awaited American Athletic Conference championship. The Tigers edged No. 20 Cincinnati (10-3, 7-1 AAC) on Saturday afternoon in the AAC Championship Game, 29-24, to win the first outright conference championship in program history since winning the 1969 Missouri Valley Conference title.

This one came with plenty of late-game drama and heroics.

Midway through the fourth quarter, with Memphis leading 23-21, Cincinnati chose to try a quarterback sneak for a first down and got it. But a video replay was called to determine if Cincinnati had too many men on the field. After a lengthy review, the official ruling determined there was not enough video evidence to confirm there were too many men on the field, allowing Cincinnati to continue the drive rather than move back five yards on fourth down. The drive ended with a go-ahead field goal when the Bearcats opted to take the lead rather than try their luck on another 4th-and-1 situation. Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but the Tigers stormed right down the field on the ensuing possession.

Memphis strung together a 10-play drive that featured Antonio Gibson doing damage on the ground with his speed on the edges and a big pass from Brady White to Kenneth Gainwell to get into Cincinnati territory quickly. White’s six-yard pass to Gibson gave Memphis a 29-24 lead with 1:14 to play, but a two-point conversion failing allowed Cincinnati one last chance to take the lead. On 4th and 15 from the Memphis 26-yard line though, Desmond Ridder‘s last attempt fell incomplete and allowed Memphis to run out the remaining 26 seconds off the clock.

There are a number of moving parts to this story now. For starters, there is the New Years Six situation. Given each team’s ranking coming into the game, it was expected this would essentially be a play-in game for the Group of 5’s spot in the New Years Six, even with Boise State handling their business in the Mountain West Conference Championship Game (and Appalachian State getting its last chance to make a case earlier in the day). That idea still feels pretty solid, with an official announcement to be made Sunday afternoon by the College Football Playoff selection committee. It would be a pretty big shock if AAC CHAMPION is not heading to the Cotton Bowl to face an at-large team from a power conference (Baylor, Florida, Alabama, Penn State and more could all be options).

The other moving part here is the status of Memphis head coach Mike Norvell. Norvell is expected to be named the next head coach at Florida State. Florida State will hold a press conference tomorrow to officially introduce its next head coach. All that might be left to figure out is whether or not Norvell will pull double duty for the next few weeks to coach Memphis in the Cotton Bowl or if he leaves to take on the Florida State job on a full-time basis with an early signing period creeping up.

Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell may still have his name thrown around the rumor mill as the coaching carousel continues to spin, but he is not currently attached to any rumors regarding imminent changes.

UCF clinches NY6 bowl bid as AAC champs and Scott Frost avoids question about Nebraska

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If you wanted an offensive shootout, you certainly got it in the American Athletic Conference championship game. After out-lasting No. 20 Memphis (10-2) for a second straight shootout victory, this time in a 62-55 double-overtime thriller, No. 14 UCF (12-0) will get their chance to score a signature victory against a power conference opponent in the New Years Six bowl lineup. At 12-0, UCF essentially clinched their spot in the big game bowl lineup to be determined by the College Football Playoff selection committee tomorrow. We may not have to wait quite as long to learn about the future of UCF head coach Scott Frost.

Memphis forced the AAC championship to go to overtime with two fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the game at 48-48. Memphis had a chance to win the game in regulation but could not convert on a long field goal in the final minute. UCF also could not take advantage of a last-minute possession and gave the ball back to Memphis by way of an interception. But little time remaining, Memphis could not get into field goal range. So the game went to overtime after 96 points and 1,399 yards of offenses.

After the teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, UCF opened the second overtime with a touchdown run by Otis Anderson. Memphis kept the game alive with a great fourth down conversion between Riley Ferguson and Anthony Miller, but Ferguson was picked off a couple of plays later by Tre Neal.

It was the only interception of the game thrown by Ferguson, who passed for 471 yards and four touchdowns. Miller caught 14 passes for 195 yards and three scores and Memphis had two 100-yard rushers with Darrell Henderson and Patrick Taylor Jr. UCF’s box score was loaded a swell. McKenzie Milton passed for 494 yards and five touchdowns to overcome three interceptions in the game. Anderson rushed for 117 yards and Tre'Quan Smith accounted for 161 yards and two scores. Dredrick Snelson also had 145 yards and two touchdowns.

As the highest-ranked conference champion, UCF will be rewarded with the lone spot in the New Years Six bowl lineup reserved for the highest-ranked conference champion from the Group of Five conferences. It is only fitting this year’s spot goes to the only undefeated team in the country outside of Wisconsin (and if Wisconsin loses in the Big Ten championship game, UCF will be the only undefeated team in the country).

UCF may be heading to the Peach Bowl or another New Years Six bowl game, but Frost could be making his way to Lincoln, Nebraska. It was a storyline that was unavoidable for the ABC telecast in the beginning of the game, and for good reason. Frost has been one of the hottest names in the coaching carousel, and the undefeated run by UCF was a big part of the reason why that was the case. Various reports and rumors have suggested Frost is already on his way to Nebraska to be the next head coach, but nothing official has been announced on either end. Frost declined to answer the question about accepting the Nebraska job in his on-field postgame interview.

We’ll probably find out in the next 24-36 hours where UCF will be heading for the bowl season, and the decision of Frost will not be lingering too far behind if it has yet to be made official one way or the other by then. Memphis will still be heading to a bowl game as one of the top AAC representatives too, but it will not have the same prestige as the big bowl game lineup. Memphis head coach Mike Norvell could also remain a name to watch on the coaching carousel’s radar too.

Chad Morris, Derek Dooley among betting favorites to be next Ole Miss head coach

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It did not take long for people to start talking about who the next head coach at Ole Miss will be following the Thursday night resignation of Hugh Freeze. And somehow, one of the betting favorites has quickly become former Tennessee head coach Derek Dooley.

As noted by Rocky Top Talk, the Tennessee blog on SB Nation, the former Vols coach and current assistant with the Dallas Cowboys is listed as the second most-favored coach to take over at Ole Miss, listed at +500 according to BetOnline. SMU head coach Chad Morris is the current betting favorite on the betting website, with Morris listed at +300 to be the next coach of the Rebels.

Other names on the board include former LSU head coach Les Miles (+800), and former Oregon head coach Chip Kelly (+1400). FAU head coach Lane Kiffin has been having fun trolling about the Ole Miss fallout on Twitter, yet he is also on the board at +1600.

For what it is worth, interim head coach Matt Luke has also been given odds to keep the job, and he is listed at +1200.

Here are the latest odds as listed by BetOnline;

  • Chad Morris +300
  • Derek Dooley +500
  • Blake Anderson +700
  • Les Miles +800
  • Mike Norvell +1000
  • Brent Venables +1200
  • Scott Frost +1400
  • Chip Kelly +1400
  • Neal Brown +1600
  • Lane Kiffin +1600
  • Mike MacIntyre +1600
  • Charlie Strong +1600
  • Willie Fritz +2000
  • Bryan Harsin +2000
  • Bobby Petrino +2500

So place your bets wisely. But if you choose to place your money on Dooley, you might as well just send me your money instead.