Travis Etienne

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No. 3 Clemson wins fifth consecutive ACC championship as they return to College Football Playoff

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The defending national champions are back for some more. No. 3 Clemson (13-0, 8-0 ACC) locked up a fifth consecutive ACC Championship Game victory Saturday night with a 62-17 victory over No. 23 Virginia (9-4, 6-2 ACC), and with that all but officially submitted their R.S.V.P. for this season’s College Football Playoff. What’s not to respect?

Trevor Lawrence passed for 302 yards and four touchdowns before getting an early exit in the fourth quarter, with Clemson leading 45-14 at the time. Travis Etienne rushed for 114 yards and a touchdown and star receiver Tee Higgins hauled in nine passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. Virginia’s Bryce Perkins had some positive moments with 265 passing yards and two passing touchdowns with 52 rushing yards, but he was picked off twice. His first interception came at the end of the game’s opening possession in the end zone.

Clemson’s 62 points are the most point scored by a team in the ACC Championship Game, which was first played in 2005. Clemson has now outscored its opponents in the ACC Championship Game by a cumulative score of 229-102 over the last five seasons. Clemson has held each of their last three ACC Championship Game opponents to 30 points (3 vs. Miami in 2017, 10 vs Pitt last season, and 17 against Virginia). Clemson is now 5-1 all-time in the ACC Championship Game with their only loss coming as an underdog in 2009 against Georgia Tech.

After 13 consecutive wins this season, on top of the 15 straight wins Clemson had last season en route to a national title, Clemson is going to be riding a 28-game winning streak back into the College Football Playoff. With Alabama being knocked out of the playoff race last week, Clemson will now own the longest active streak of playoff appearances with five straight. That matches Alabama’s record set last year with the Crimson Tide’s fifth consecutive appearance. This will be the first College Football Playoff without Alabama. All that is left to determine is what seed the defending champs will have. Whether Clemson is ranked No. 2 or No. 3 ultimately wouldn’t matter as the Tigers wouldn’t get to have a say which bowl destination they’d prefer, nor would it change the opponent. While Clemson will feel they made a case to be considered as the No. 1 team in the field, that decision now rests with the selection committee, which will make their final decisions on Sunday. A matchup with either LSU or Ohio State is likely the pairing for Clemson. Dabo Swinney will certainly have his team ready for whatever comes next, as his fight for respect will continue even if nobody is actually disrespecting his program these days.

Virginia’s bowl outlook is also likely fixed. Win or lose, Virginia was likely to be in the Orange Bowl, either as the ACC champion or the bowl’s pick from the ACC. When the ACC champion is in the College Football Playoff and unavailable for the Orange Bowl, the next highest-ranked ACC team fills the slot. Virginia being the only other ranked ACC team this week by the committee seems to suggest Virginia will be the locked pick for the Orange Bowl, although if Virginia manages to slip out of the playoff rankings, the Orange Bowl could choose from any available ACC team that is bowl eligible. But even in that scenario, Virginia would likely still be the pick. Virginia would play a team from the SEC or Big Ten, with the opponent being the highest-ranked available team from either conference. The Florida Gators may be the most likely opponent, with Penn State as the alternative. Regardless of how the first experience in the ACC Championship Game went for Virginia, Bronco Mendenhall continues to be doing a terrific job in building the Virginia football program, and a chance to play in the Orange Bowl is a significant step forward.

Jonathan Taylor, Chuba Hubbard among semifinalists for Doak Walker Award

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Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor is attempting to do something that has only been done twice before by winning the Doak Walker Award in back-to-back seasons. Taylor was one of the 10 semifinalists revealed by the Doak Walker Award on Thursday, putting last year’s top running back one step closer to pulling off the rare feat on the college football award circuit.

Taylor will have some stiff competition for the award this season. Among the other semifinalists for the award include Oklahoma State’s Chuba Hubbard, the nation’s rushing leader with 1,726 yards and 20 rushing touchdowns (Taylor has 1,463 yards and 17 rushing touchdowns in the same number of games as Hubbard).

Darren McFadden of Arkansas is the most recent player to win the Doak  Walker Award in back-to-back seasons, doing so in 2006 and 2007. The only other player to win the award in consecutive seasons, and the only other two-time winner of the Doak Walker Award, is Ricky Williams of Texas. Williams won the award in 1997 and 1998. Taylor joined former Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (2014), Montee Ball (2012) and Ron Dayne (1999) to move Wisconsin into first place for most all-time Doak Walker Award winners. Texas also has four awards won, but by three players (Ricky Williams twice, Cedric Benson in 2004 and D’Onta Foreman in 2016).

The other semi-finalists for the Doak Walker Award this year include LeVante Bellamy of Western Michigan (21 touchdowns leads the nation), AJ Dillon of Boston College, JK Dobbins of Ohio State, Clyde Edwards-Helaire of LSU, Travis Etienne of Clemson, Kenneth Gainwell of Memphis, Xavier Jones of SMU, Zack Moss of Utah.

Travis Etienne and defense powers No. 3 Clemson past Louisville

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Louisville (4-3, 2-2 ACC) brought forth a worthy challenge to No. 3 Clemson (7-0, 5-0 ACC) at the start of the game but a failure to capitalize on early mistakes by the Tigers would do more than come back to haunt the Cardinals. Clemson overcame their own self-inflicted mistakes in a 44-10 rout of Louisville on the road Saturday afternoon.

Clemson running back Travis Etienne had a big day running the football with 192 yards and touchdown, although he did leave the game in the fourth quarter after coming up limping at the end of a play. Having Etienne proving capable of putting the team on his back at times was needed by Etienne, because quarterback Trevor Lawrence took some time to get his game going. Lawrence was picked off twice in the first half, bringing his season total to eight, but the sophomore star quarterback ended the day on a positive note. Lawrence tossed three touchdowns.

Clemson also got a strong effort from its defense, and they needed it in the first half. While the Clemson offense was running into its own problems, the defense was ready to get the ball back when needed and prevent the Louisville offense from establishing any momentum. Nyles Pinckney recovered a Louisville fumble by Micale Cunningham (forced by Justin Foster)five plays after Louisville picked off Lawrence in the end zone in the first quarter. The defense forced a three-and-out after Lawrence’s second interception after giving up just two yards.

It was a game that offered a reminder that Clemson’s defense is fully capable of dominating a game it needs to, even if the offense gets off to a slow start. It was also a brutal reminder that if you are going to upset Clemson, you have to capitalize on opportunities. Louisville simply was incapable of doing that.

Clemson will return home for their next two games. First up will be a matchup with Boston College next Saturday night. Then the Tigers get a glorified scrimmage against Wofford before returning to ACC play on the road against NC State. Louisville will stay home next week to host Virginia.

Second INT by Tagovailoa leads to Clemson taking 12-point lead on shovel pass

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Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been intercepted twice in the first half of the College Football Playoff national championship game, and Clemson took advantage of his second turnover.

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed four of five pass attempts on the drive after Tagovailoa was picked off by Trayvon Mullen, and Travis Etienne took care of some business on the ground with a few runs. On the final play of the quick 47-yard touchdown drive, Lawrence completed a shovel pass to Etienne up the middle for a touchdown, giving Clemson a 28-16 lead on the Crimson Tide with 4:38 remaining in the second quarter.

Earlier in the half, Alabama was stuffed by a Clemson defense that was not at all fooled by a shovel pass attempt near the end zone. A Tagovailoa shovel pass to Damien Harris was covered well for a loss of four yards, forcing Nick Saban to accept a field goal that gave Alabama a 16-14 lead at the time. Clemson responded with an impressive touchdown drive as the Tigers have shown an ability to move on Alabama like few teams have been capable of doing this season.

Kyler Murray leads AP All-American team; Tagovailoa named to second team

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Associated Press Player of the Year and Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray of Oklahoma was named First-Team All-American by the AP on Monday. Murray was one of 10 players from a College Football Playoff team named an All-American player by the AP, including Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Jerry Jeudy and defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, Clemson defensive linemen Clelin Ferrell and Christian Wilkins, and Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love.

Alabama led all teams with six players named to either the first, second or third team All-American rosters by the AP, four of which being named to the first team to also lead all schools. Clemson and Oklahoma each landed four All-Americans and Oklahoma had two players named to an All-American team by the AP.

Below is the full list of first, second and third All-American teams released by the AP for the 2018 season:

FIRST TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Kyler Murray, junior, Oklahoma

Running backs — Jonathan Taylor, sophomore, Wisconsin; Darrell Henderson, junior, Memphis

Tackles — Jonah Williams, junior, Alabama; Mitch Hyatt, senior, Clemson

Guards — Beau Benzschawel, senior, Wisconsin; Bunchy Stallings, senior, Kentucky

Center — Garrett Bradbury, senior, North Carolina State

Tight end — Jace Sternberger, junior, Texas A&M

Wide receivers — Jerry Jeudy, sophomore, Alabama; Marquise Brown, junior, Oklahoma

All-purpose player — Rondale Moore, freshman, Purdue

Kicker — Andre Szmyt, freshman, Syracuse

DEFENSE

Ends — Clelin Ferrell, junior, Clemson; Sutton Smith, junior, Northern Illinois

Tackles — Quinnen Williams, junior, Alabama; Christian Wilkins, senior, Clemson

Linebackers — Josh Allen, senior, Kentucky; Devin White, junior, LSU; Ben Burr-Kirven, senior, Washington

Cornerbacks — Deandre Baker, senior, Georgia; Julian Love, junior, Notre Dame

Safeties — Grant Delpit, sophomore, LSU; Deionte Thompson, junior, Alabama

Punter — Braden Mann, junior, Texas A&M

SECOND TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterback — Tua Tagovailoa, sophomore, Alabama

Running backs — Travis Etienne, sophomore, Clemson; Trayveon Williams, junior, Texas A&M

Tackles — Dalton Risner, senior, Kansas State; Andrew Thomas, sophomore, Georgia

Guards — Dru Samia, senior, Oklahoma; Michael Dieter, senior, Wisconsin

Center — Ross Pierschbacher, senior, Alabama

Tight end — T.J, Hockenson, sophomore, Iowa

Wide receivers — Tylan Wallace, sophomore, Oklahoma State; Andy Isabella, senior, Massachusetts

All-purpose player — Greg Dortch, sophomore, Wake Forest

Kicker — Cole Tracy, senior, LSU

DEFENSE

Ends — Montez Sweat, senior, Mississippi State; Jachai Polite, junior, Florida

Tackles — Jerry Tillery, senior, Notre Dame; Gerald Willis III, senior, Miami

Linebackers — Devin Bush, junior, Michigan; David Long Jr., junior, West Virginia; Joe Dineen, senior, Kansas

Cornerbacks — Greedy Williams, sophomore, LSU; Byron Murphy, sophomore, Washington

Safeties — Taylor Rapp, junior, Washington; Amani Hooker, junior, Iowa

Punter — Mitch Wishnowsky, senior, Utah

THIRD TEAM

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks — Dwayne Haskins, sophomore, Ohio State

Running backs — Benny Snell, junior, Kentucky; Eno Benjamin, sophomore, Arizona State

Tackles — Andre Dillard, senior, Washington State; Cody Ford, junior, Oklahoma

Guards — Terrone Prescod, senior, North Carolina State; Chris Lindstrom, senior, Boston College

Center — Michael Jordan, junior, Ohio State

Tight end — Noah Fant, junior, Iowa

Wide Receivers — A.J. Brown, junior, Mississippi; David Sills V, senior, West Virginia

All-purpose player — J.J. Taylor, sophomore, Arizona

Kicker — Matt Gay, senior, Utah

DEFENSE

Ends — Chase Winovich, senior, Michigan; Jaylon Ferguson, senior, Louisiana Tech

Tackles — Jeffery Simmons, junior, Mississippi State; Ed Oliver, junior, Houston

Linebackers — Paddy Fisher, sophomore, Northwestern; David Woodward, sophomore, Utah State; Te’Von Coney, senior, Notre Dame

Cornerbacks — Hamp Cheevers, junior, Boston College; Lavert Hill, junior, Michigan

Safeties — Andre Cisco, freshman, Syracuse; Jonathan Abram, senior, Mississippi State

Punter — Jason Smith, sophomore, Cincinnati