From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while  predicting that the University of Georgia will win the national football championship Monday night:

Mythical  nonsense

Only in the era of mythical national champions would Central Florida be able to stake a claim as the best team in college football.

But this is the playoff era, so get real, Danny White.

If the UCF athletic director wants to cut bonus checks totaling $325,000 to Scott Frost and his staff for an undefeated season – one which will lead to even bigger paydays at Nebraska – so be it. Seriously, no matter how many banners and signs you hang around UCF’s campus, or how many pages you waste reminiscing about a self-proclaimed title in next season’s media guide, it won’t make it true. That makes the parade disingenuous, too.

Yes, UCF beat Auburn 34-27 on Jan. 1 in the Peach Bowl, and did it in the same stadium in Atlanta that will host the College Football Championship game Monday night between two other SEC schools, Alabama and Georgia.

That’s the problem.

While Auburn beat Georgia. 40-17, and defeated Alabama, 26-14, the Tigers lost a rematch with Kirby Smart’s Bulldogs, 28-7.

Alabama, Georgia and Auburn each played tougher schedules throughout the season. Put UCF into that weekly SEC grind and the losses will add up, too.

Yes, scheduling makes a difference. So don’t try to twist the weekly refrain that every game matters.

UCF is unbeaten, going 13-0 against a schedule that ranked only as the nation’s 103rd toughest.

But hey, they did enough this season to deserve another review of the CFP system, which we can only hope leads to an expansion to eight teams in the playoffs. There’s no reason college football can’t tack on another weekend of postseason play, even if it means eliminating the conference championship games.

All Power Five conference champions would be in the field with the three at-large spots going to the next best teams. Furthermore, no conference could have more than two teams and an at-large berth would be reserved for a so-called Group of Five team that is ranked in the Top 10.

And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of the terms Power Five and Group of Five.

Participation Trophy, Part I

To underscore the fact that Alabama won’t be satisfied with anything but coming away with the national championship on Monday night, Crimson Tide strength coach Scott Cochran destroyed the runner-up trophy from last season’s CFP title game.

Clemson beat Alabama 35-31 in that game.

To motivate the Alabama players and to pass on head coach Nick Saban’s disappointment from that game, Cochran picked up the trophy this week and threw it to the floor. He then finished the job of destroying the hardware with a sledgehammer.

The Tide, of course, pretty much destroyed Clemson in the CFP semifinals at the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans last Monday.

Alabama plays Georgia for the 2017 title at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta on Monday.

Participation trophy, Part II

Kobe Bryant, who recently had two jerseys retired by the Los Angeles Lakers – Nos. 8 and 24 – says he no longer shoots baskets with anyone but his daughters, Natalia and Gianna.

During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel’s show Thursday night, he also revealed that he coaches his daughters and their team runs the triangle offense he learned from Phil Jackson.

He also may be using some of Jackson’s mind games as motivational techniques.

When his players were upset with a fifth-place finish in a tournament and wanted to destroy the trophies they received, he huddled them one more time and told them to use it as motivation.

“None of us want this trophy. I get it. But don’t break it. Take it home. Put it right there on the mantle in your room, and every day you look at that trophy, remind yourself what you will never win again … I sucked today. I will not suck tomorrow.”

They said it

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “According to USA Today, LaVar Ball is still convinced his son Lonzo is better than Steph Curry. If there was a concussion tent in basketball, they’d never let LaVar out of it.”

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and race-car driver Danica Patrick were reportedly spotted out on a date at a Green Bay restaurant. Either that or they were just discussing the finer points of two-minute drives.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “With weather that may not hit the teens this weekend in Boston and Buffalo, how thankful are NFL fans that the Patriots have a bye, and the Bills have an away game?”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on DePaul basketball walk-on Pantelis Xidias: “Everybody’s rooting for him to make it except the DePaul play-by-play guy.”

Jim Barach of WCHS-TV in Charleston, W.Va., on Alex Rodriguez’s reward for serving as the University of Miami’s commencement speaker: “An honorary degree in chemical engineering.”

Looking ahead

We’re still waiting to crown the 2017 champion, but that hasn’t stopped Athlon’s and The Sporting News from releasing their 2018 early look/preseason polls.

So for your reading and debating pleasure, have at it.

Athlon’s 2018 Pre-Preseason: 1. Alabama; 2. Clemson; 3. Ohio State; 4. Georgia; 5. Miami; 6. Oklahoma; 7. Michigan; 8. Wisconsin; 9. Auburn; 10. Michigan State; 11. Penn State; 12. Washington; 13. Southern Cal; 14. Stanford; 15. Notre Dame; 16. Virginia Tech; 17. Florida State; 18. Texas; 19. LSU; 20. Boise State; 21. Mississippi State; 22. West Virginia; 23. Oregon; 24. Kansas State; 25. Florida.

Sporting News 2018 Pre-Preseason: 1. Alabama; 2. Clemson; 3. Georgia; 4. Ohio State; 5. Oklahoma; 6. Wisconsin; 7. Miami; 8. Auburn; 9. Notre Dame; 10. Penn State 11. Washington; 12. Southern California; 13. LSU; 14. Stanford; 15. Virginia Tech; 16. Michigan State; 17. Michigan; 18. TCU; 19. Florida State; 20. Oklahoma; 21. Central Florida; 22. Texas; 23. South Carolina; 24. Memphis; 25. Texas A&M.

Jackson’s future

Rather than returning to Louisville for his senior season, Lamar Jackson has declared for the NFL draft.

Only a junior, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, who finished second in the voting this season, had the option of coming back for a third shot at being named the best player in college football.

But that wouldn’t have improved his draft stock. It also would put him behind another year in making the transition to wide receiver.

While Jackson is a dynamic playmaker, he’s not going to feast on broken plays in the NFL like he did in college. He’ll face bigger, stronger, quicker defensive linemen on every snap as a pro. But get him the football in space, and watch him go. That’s how he can be a game-changer at the next level.

Besides, entering a draft with pro-style passers like UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Southern Cal’s Sam Darnold, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudoph and Wyoming’s Josh Allen puts him at a disadvantage in the QB Lottery.

But as a receiver, Jackson would be a good gamble late in the first round for a team that believes he can make a quick transition to receiver while also getting snaps as a wildcat QB.

Jackson will insist in pre-draft interviews that he wants a shot at QB, but if he’s not flexible in terms of working out at receiver, he could fall to around the fifth round. And if he’s smart, he’ll be working on his footwork and passing accuracy in the weeks ahead.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Georgia wins 54-48. Heisman jinx befalls Baker Mayfield.

Fat lady about to sing, “In the SEC, it just means more” … as in more teams in national championship game. Georgia vs. Alabama playing for title makes a 4-5 bowl record for conference feel much better.

Label game a big game and sit back and watch Michigan and Jim Harbaugh choke. South Carolina comes from 16 down to win Outback Bowl, 26-19. Five turnovers by Wolverines in second half.

Who needs Jadaveon Clowney to beat Michigan? Gamecocks scored final 23 points to topple Wolverines 26-19 in Outback Bowl. That’s two bowl wins over UM in five years.

Lamar Jackson showed again why he didn’t win the Heisman for second year. He had 329 yards total offense and 3 touchdowns but only completed 13 of 31 passes for 171 yards with 2 TDs and 4 INTs.

 High times

According to Business Insider, former heavyweight champ Mike Tyson is heading a investment team that broke ground last month on a cannabis resort in California City, Calif.

Plans are for the resort to include a campground, a cultivation school to teach growers how to fine-tune their products and a store that will offer edible treats. There will be 40 acres of land, located 65  miles southwest of Death Valley National Park, reserved for growing marijuana. The farm also will produce CBD oil, which has medicinal properties.

Fishing for love

From Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “New Zealander Angela Potter — piqued when her angler boyfriend abruptly ditched her — exacted revenge by going online and offering up the GPS coordinates to his favorite fishing holes to the highest bidder. She wound up with 90,000 responses — and $3,000.

“She also has a new boyfriend who likes fishing, too, but she hasn’t disclosed the secret spots to him.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Potter told Stuff magazine. “I’m fairly honorable in that respect.”

Headlines

TheKicker.com: “After making trick shot, Ginobili signed by Globetrotters.”

Fark.com: “Grinch to become defensive coordinator at Ohio State.”

TheOnion.com: “Football saved my life, says man who will be left paralyzed by sport.”

TheKicker.com: “Dedication: Belichick forces children of players to attend school during blizzard.”

SportsPickle.com: “Report: Steelers worried Patriots will pick up Le’Veon Bell if they cut him.”

TheKicker.com: “Giants considering anyone who’s ever met Belicick for coach.”

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while losing count of the number of turnovers committed by Southern Cal quarterback Sam Darnold this season:

Half right

Give me credit. At least I was partially right with my top college football predictions in August.

  •  I was certain Clemson wouldn’t play Alabama for the national championship for a third consecutive year.
  •  I expected Ohio State to beat Southern Cal for the national title.

As New Year’s Day nears, we now know I was at least half right on both counts.

While Clemson and Alabama will meet in the postseason again, the so-called trilogy encounter between the last two national champions won’t carry the same weight for the winner this time around.

Instead, it will be a semifinal meeting in Monday night’s Sugar Bowl. So I was right. They’ll only be playing for the right to compete for the national title.

It still will be the most anticipated matchup of the season.

As for the Buckeyes and the Trojans, I did correctly predict a postseason game between the two legacy programs. Only instead of meeting in the College Football Playoffs, Urban Meyers’ squad will have to be content with beating the Trojans, 24-7, in the Cotton Bowl.

It was a dominating performance by the Big Ten champions, who cost themselves a spot in the final four with an inexplicable 55-24  midseason loss at Iowa.

Bad decisions

Trailing Northwestern 24-23, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ decision to go for two in the final seconds of the Music City Bowl was gutsy. And foolish.

He should have opted to kick the extra point and decided Friday night’s game in overtime. Instead, the conversion pass from Stephen Johnson fell incomplete and Pat Fitzgerald’s team won the battle of the Wildcats.

But that’s not what decided the outcome.

The real game-changing play happened early in the second quarter when referee Chris Coyte ejected Kentucky running back Benny Snell. Snell, who led the SEC this season by accounting for 33 percent of Kentucky’s offense, already had scored one touchdown.

But on what proved to be his final carry of the night, Snell was gang-tackled by several Northwestern defenders. As he was getting up, he pushed away the extended arms of Coyte.

Snell later explained that he didn’t need any help getting to his feet. But Coyte claimed that Snell had grabbed his arms and then shoved them away.

That’s not what the video showed, which means Coyte should face some disciplinary action. Can refs receive bowl bans?

“The rule or the ref is ridiculous,” said ESPN analyst Tim Tebow. “Don’t decide the game for the players. Let the players go out there and play. If you are offended he touched you, get over it. It’s college football. These are 18 to 22 year-olds who are emotional. He got hit by 17 players. Let it go.”

If Snell had said anything disrespectful while pushing away Coyte’s hands, the ejection might have been justified. But even Coyte  said that wasn’t the case.

They said it

Bob Molinaro of the Norfolk Virginian-Press: “If you think the replay official cheated the Steelers out of the game-winning touchdown pass against the Patriots, maybe you can appreciate the irony of somebody named Jesse James being robbed.”

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle on Lonzo Ball’s unorthodox, inefficient 3-point shot: “He might improve, but he will approach Curryesque efficiency only in his father’s dreams. Sometimes you can skirt the laws of physics, but you can’t openly mock them.”

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “British inventor Richard Browning, 38, set a world speed record by going 32 mph in a jet suit. Breaking the longstanding record set by Wile E. Coyote.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Duke vs Northern Illinois (in Quick Lane Bowl). ‘I’ll take teams that should be a March Madness instead of a bowl matchup for $400, Alex.’”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com “Anyone else see Denver defensive lineman Shelby Harris doing a sideline shimmy in the Thursday Night game? Let me tell you, orange isn’t slimming.’’

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald: “In Atlanta for the Peach Bowl, UCF players have been entering a cold tub to recover after practice. Pro tip: once you UCF coaches get to Nebraska, walking outdoors will suffice.”

Jay Cutler to the Miami Herald on living in a hotel room the entire season after signing with the Miami Dolphins: “I did get the points.”

Big & Loud

There was an hilarious screw up during the Sugar Bowl media day when Clemson center Justin Falcinelli was identified as a cornerback on his name card.

He went with it during a tongue-in-cheek interview with “America’s first 305-pound cornerback” conducted by ESPN’s Andy Staples. Staples was a Florida correspondent for me nearly two decades ago when I was sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.

When Staples asked Falcinelli if his hips made a noise when he turned to chase a receiver, he said, “Yeah, it’s similar to a sonic boom, only louder.”

Well done, Justin. Well done, Andy.

Deion’s impact

New Florida State coach Willie Taggert may be close to pulling off the recruiting coup of the year. He has Deion Sanders interested in joining his staff.

“You never know,” Sanders told ESPN. “I’ve been known to make big plays with these colors on. That’s all I am going to say.”

Sanders was twice a consensus All-American as a defensive back for the Seminoles and finished eighth in the 1988 Heisman Trophy voting. Sanders was also a college roommate of Odell Haggins, who served as FSU’s interim coach after Jimbo Fisher left for Texas A&M.

Sanders would bring marquee value to FSU with recruits, having played in the NFL and major league baseball. His only liability is that he hasn’t coached at the college level.

“Coach Taggart is awesome,” Sanders said. “I’m there, behind him, 100 percent of the way, and I am happy to be back.”

Faithful fan

If the Cleveland Browns finish the season by finally winning a game on Sunday, it should be dedicated to Paul Stark.

The Huron, Ohio native took his dedication to the team to his grave on Wednesday. “Paul passed just before the Browns were prepared to turn the corner but had many well-earned blessings,” stated his obituary in the Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal.

Although the Browns are 0-15 heading into Sunday’s final regular season game against their rival Pittsburgh Steelers, family members said he remained faithful to his favorite NFL team to his final breath.

But if you believe the obit, the team’s failure may have been a contributing factor in his demise, stating that Stark passed away on Wednesday from complications of a brief illness “exacerbated by the hopeless condition of the Cleveland Browns.”

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Could losing to Clemson hurt Alabama’s chances of making it to the national championship?”

SportsPickle.com: “Bill Belichick bans Rob Gronkowski’s imaginary friend Funny Pete from Patriots locker room.”

Fark.com: “The Cleveland Browns can’t be terrible forever, can they?

TheKicker.com: “Chairs voted into WWE Hall of Fame.”

SportsPickle.com: “Report: New XFL to provide EXTREME video replay review after every play.”

Fark.com: “Patriots pick up another scumbag cut by the Steelers.”

Fact of Week

The average salary in Major League Baseball in 2017 was a record $4.47 million.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Former Tennessee QB Tee Martin, now offensive coordinator at USC, was disappointed he didn’t get an interview for Vols’ heading coaching job. But the louder statement came with Southern Cal’s effort against Ohio State in Cotton Bowl.

Yeah, Sam Darnold looks like No. 1 pick to me. He and Browns deserve each other.

What was Mark Stoops thinking, going for 2 to win? Kick the PAT and go to OT. Kentucky hits sour note in Music City Bowl.

What was Pat Fitzgerald thinking! Turning ball over on downs at 39 with Northwestern leading Kentucky by 7 with less than 3 minutes left?

Got to like what Jeff Brohm has done with first season at Purdue.

Looking back

Top 5 memories of 2017 from Sportscumudgeon.com:

  • Clemson beat Alabama in the College Football Playoff for the 2016 national championship with a great last-minute TD drive.
  • The Patriots came back from a 28-3 deficit in the third quarter to beat the Falcons in the Super Bowl.
  • Mississippi State beat the University of Connecticut in the women’s basketball tournament semifinals, snapping UConn’s 111-game winning streak. The Bulldogs, however, lost to South Carolina in the championship game.
  • Serena Williams won the Australian Open while pregnant.
  • The Houston Astros beat the Los Angeles Dodgers the World Series, winning 5-1 in Game 7.

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while becoming a fan of Tar Heel-slaying Wofford College basketball:

Danny Boy

Former Clemson football coach Danny Ford, who was Dabo Swinney long before Dabo came along, is back in the news. He’s now, and always will be, the most famous hemp farmer in South Carolina.

He’s also the only S.C. hemp farmer who will have ever coached Clemson to a national title in football.

Until Swinney proved he could win ACC and national titles, Clemson fans were always daydreaming about ways to bring Ford back after he was forced out in 1990. He had bumped heads with university administrators a few too many times, though. And that, combined with run-ins with the NCAA, kept that door hammered shut.

While all the coaches Clemson hired after Ford enjoyed success, they weren’t Ford. They also weren’t Frank Howard.  But Ford was Howard after Howard, and Dabo before Dabo.

All three had Alabama roots. And all three are among Clemson’s all-time winningest coaches with Howard leading the way with 295 wins (1940-69) and Ford winning 129 games from 1978-89. Swinney has 114 wins. But the real difference is Howard was grumpier than Ford and Swinney is less grumpier than Ford.

If Dabo wins a second national title in two weeks, it may convince the rest of the Clemson old-timers to finally put Ford on the shelf alongside Coach Howard.

At 69, that’s probably even OK with Danny the Hemp Farmer.

He plans to grow the crop on 20 acres and partner with Clemson on research for medical and commercial purposes. Hemp fibers can be made into rope, cloth and non-psychoative cannabidiol (CBD) oil.

Maybe even football uniforms

 X marks spot

Just what the sports world needs.

More Vince McMahon. More XFL pro football. More players wearing jerseys with nicknames on the back.

You may recall the XFL played one season in 2001. It was one season too many. NBC pulled the plug on the joint effort with WWE wrestling after just one season.

Thus, we had to say farewell to the Orlando Rage, the Chicago Enforcers, New York/New Jersey Hitmen, Birmingham Thunderbolts, Los Angeles Xtreme, San Francisco Demons, Memphis Maniax and Las Vegas Outlaws.

I’m sure I’ve got an old Rage T-shirt stored in a box somewhere

Now rumor has it that ol’ Vince has put together his own financing plan to give the league another launch.

Please Lord, have mercy on our souls because this is surely another sign of the Apocalypse.

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “If the Texans lose their final two games, the Browns will wind up with the first two NFL draft picks next year. Hey, don’t laugh: Jed Clampett struck oil once, didn’t he?”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com “Someone broke into Ex-Maverick Charlie Villanueva’s home in Dallas and stole — his toilet. Police say no arrests have been made because there’s nothing to go on.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “NFL tells officials not to use index cards to measure 1st downs. The way officiating has been going this year might be more appropriate to use toilet paper.”

Mychal Thompson, ex-NBA star and father of the Warriors’ Klay, to San Francisco’s KGMZ Radio on why he could never be a stage father like LaVar Ball: “Man, if I tried one one-hundredth of what LaVar does, Klay would disown me as a parent.”

Jack Finarelli of SportsCurmudgeon.com after write-in votes placed Tide football coach Nick Saban third in the recent Alabama U.S. Senate election: “Would you be shocked to learn that Bear Bryant finished fourth?”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton to reporters after receiver Damiere Byrd landed barely inbounds, butt-first, to secure a TD pass: “I guess it pays to have little cheeks.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald after Patriots coach Bill Belichick was spotted shopping for a Christmas tree: “A little different: Instead of a star, Belichick places a little hoodie atop the tree.”

Wrong team, right move

When Connor Shaw learned a young football fan in Columbia, S.C. had major lung surgery earlier in the week and wanted to visit with a Clemson player, the former South Carolina quarterback called an audible.

He visited Garrett Sontag himself on Friday.

Garrett and his dad, Kevin, were delighted to pose for photos and visit with the “enemy.” They even watched a little Clemson basketball together while hanging out.

His dad lataer Tweeted his thanks.

@cmshaw14 thanks for taking the time visit my little Tiger today. What’s in our hearts is what matters, tigers, nor gamecocks. just God’s children.

Dabo Swinney and his Clemson players have some catching up to do – even if they are dominating the rivalry and preparing to defend their national championship.

Winning argument

Ohio State came out of the early signing period with the No. 1 recruiting class but that doesn’t mean the Buckeyes got every player they targeted.

They missed out on one player in particular – 6-foot-6, 330-pound offensive tackle Jackson Carman.

It’s one more reason Urban Meyer is carrying around a grudge that he needs to settle with Dabo Swinney before the pressure becomes too much for him again.

Last year Clemson routed the Buckeyes 31-0 in the Fiesta Bowl to advance to the national championship game.

This week Swinney stole the state of Ohio’s best player and the nation’s best offensive tackle out of Meyer’s backyard.

How? Swinney apparently convinced the 6-foot-6, 330-pound Carman that Meyer, 53, won’t be coaching more than a couple more years.

Never mind Swinney is only five years younger.

 Headlines

TheOnion.com: “NBC camera fails to cut away from owners booth in time as nude Jerry Jones leaps up from hot tub following touchdown.”

SportsPickle.com: “NFL video replay reveals Colin Kaepernick’s knee never hit the ground while kneeling.”

Fark.com: “Cleveland Browns quest for a perfect season is now only two games away.”

TheOnion.com: “Father teaching daughter how to drive stick in empty Browns parking lot.”

SportsPickle.com: “Reports: All college coaches happy with their current jobs now.”

Fark.com: “Seahawks fined $100,000 for discovery of world’s fastest concussion protocol.”

SportsPickle.com: “NFL clarifies catch rule: Players must hold onto ball, take it home and raise it as their own.”

Ball & chain

After withdrawing son LiAngelo from UCLA and deciding that third son Lamelo won’t play his senior year of high school, LaVar Ball better start a GoFundMe page to bankroll that basketball league for high school dropouts he wants to lauch.

That’s about the only way any of his sons not named Lonzo will make money off basketball in the next five years. And frankly with all the ups and downs Lonzo is experiencing with the Lakers, he might not be long for the league, either.

Not if you figure in the extracurricular headaches that come with  having LaVar Ball handing around.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Bryson Scott (Purdue, Fort Wayne) and brother Brent (Indiana State) are 5-0 against Indiana University.

Evansville coach Marty Simmons to his players, who trail at Duke by 51 early in second half: “Hey, remember, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger … Now quit playing like zombies out there.” #excusemysarcasm

In interest of fairness, Duke’s players should be required to play second half blindfolded with one hand tied behind backs. And 3 on 5. Evansville trails at half in Durham, 58-18. I expected 40-point win for Blue Devils over 40 minutes.

Duke 104, Evansville 40. Blue Devils could have gone scoreless in second half and still won by 18.

 Name-dropping

From Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “This just in: Raiders wideout Amari Cooper chosen to drop the ball in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.”

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wishing my memories as a soccer player justified the pain I’m now feeling as I contemplate knee replacement surgery:

Staying on top

There’s a reason why Nick Saban’s Alabama football program is again in the mix for a national championship even if the Crimson Tide didn’t play in the SEC Championship game.

He knows how to stay in front of new trends and rules.

On Friday, Alabama became the first power-five program to announce the hiring of a 10th on-field assistant coach to its staff. Pete Golding has spent the past two seasons as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at UT-San Antonio. He’s also coached safeties at Southern Mississippi.

Golding won’t be able to participate in Alabama’s practices for a Jan. 1 Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson or a possible championship game on Jan. 8. But he can serve in an off-field capacity until Jan. 9.

“Pete is an exciting young coach, who has an outstanding reputation as both a teacher and recruiter,” Saban said in a statement. “He will be a great fit in our organization with his knowledge of the game and his ability to relate to student-athletes.”

Saban also will need to replace his defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruittt who has been hired as Tennessee’s head coach. He will remain with the Crimson Tide until Alabama’s season is over.

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “The Class AAA Gwinnett, Ga., Braves have changed their nickname to Stripers in honor of the renowned bass-fishing at nearby Lake Lanier. Stripers pitchers, we hear, are already working on their hooks and sinkers.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com “Suspended national team goalkeeper Hope Solo announced plans to run for president of U.S. Soccer. The idea got her so excited, she beat up a couple of relatives.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “FSU’s Derwin James, a projected early 1st round draft pick, is skipping Seminoles’ postseason. Must have been tough decision, who hasn’t dreamed of playing in Walk-Ons Independence Bowl?”

Comedian Argus Hamilton on Oklahoma QB BakerMayfield’s mea culpas this year for bad language,planting the OU flag on Ohio State’s 50-yard line and grabbing his crotch: “He’s just an apology for sexual misconduct away from earning his degree in government.”

NBC comedian Seth Myers: “According to a new poll, 71 percent of American men believe they face pressure to act interested in sports. “Not us!” said the New York Giants.”

Yankees shortstop Didi Gregoriusin in a tweet to new manager Aaron Boone after the team landed home-run champ Giancarlo Stanton: “Hey, Skip, am I still batting 4th?”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter: “Well, at least now we know the Yankees aren’t signing Bryce Harper. #Stanton

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald  on Warriors star Steph Curry teaching an online basketball class: “This is a little like walking into driver’s ed and learning the instructor is Dale Earnhart Jr.”

Winter wonderland

Have you ever dreamed of stepping on the frozen tundra at Lambeau Field and being paid to play? Even perform?

Now’s your chance. The Green Bay Packers are looking for as many as 600 people to show up at the Mills Fleet Farm Gate on the west side of Lambeau Field on Monday to help with snow removal.

You must be at least 18 and you will be paid $10 per hour. The work to clear the field will begin shortly after 8 a.m. The Packers will even provide the shovels, although I suspect there are fans who would like to have their personal shovel touch such hallowed ground. And if you can’t make it until the strike of noon, your help may be needed throughout the day.

The Packers, who are at the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, host the Minnesota Vikings next Saturday.

But here’s the thing. There may not be enough snow on the field Monday to even make a  few dozen decent snow angels. The current forecast doesn’t predict much snow until Wednesday and Thursday.

 Double duty

Who needs cheerleaders or dance teams? In Saturday’s NFL game between Detroit and Chicago, several players for the Lions celebrated T.J. Jones’ touchdown catch with a Rockettes-inspired chorus line routine.

But yeah, wearing full pads and helmets may have detracted from the performance.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

Touchdown. Alabama!

Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger completes 44 of 66 passes for 506 yards and 2 TDS against Ravens’ defense that hadn’t surrendered 300 yards this season. Wish I had him on Fantasy Football team. Wait … I don’t play Fantasy Football any longer.

Stanford men join women as NCAA soccer champions. Men win third straight title, beating Indiana 1-0 on overtime goal by Sam Werner of Bozeman, Montana. Who knew Montanans even knew what a soccer ball looked like.

Where’s the Air Force when you need the aerial support? Army beats Navy 14-13 in the snow, but the big story is the two teams combined for 22 yards passing.

Panther noise

Cam Newton finally has someone to deflect attention from his antics.

While few details have been made public about why Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is under investigation by the NFL for workplace misconduct, Sports Illustrated has reported that he’s been accused of an assortment of incidents with employees that are sexist, racist and otherwise demeaning in nature.

Richardson, 81, is the only owner in the team’s 24-year history. He’s well-respected in the league and the Carolinas, where he played for Wofford College before playing two seasons in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and 1960. He used his championship game bonus from 1959 to invest in a Hardees fast-food franchise.

Long story short, he turned one restaurant in one chain to many restaurants in several chains to create a billion dollar empire. He was awarded an NFL expansion franchise in 1993, which began play in 1995.

The team played its first home schedule at Clemson University. I was the sports editor in Anderson, S.C. then and will always have great memories of those early years of the Panthers. I covered most of the team’s home games through 1998.

Before the NFL took over the investigation, the Panthers hired the law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan to investigate the allegations against Richardson. SI reports that Richardson has allegedly made suggestive comments to women employees, including how tight their jeans fit on casual Fridays, and made other inappropriate comments on their physical appearance. He’d even pay for manicures, give unsolicited back rubs and insist on buckling their seatbelts when taking female employees to business lunches. There have also been incidents allegations of Richardson making racially charged comments, including a slur directed at one scout.

He and team have allegedly made payouts with nondisclosure agreements to settle some disputes.

Name game

It burst on the scene in 1976 as the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, Louisiana.

This year it will be contested on Dec. 27 and feature a monumental matchup between Southern Mississippi and Florida State, which is the real reason FSU head coach Jimbo Fisher took the head coaching job at Texas A&M.

Forgive him. He apparently had never been to College Station, Texas.

Meanwhile, Shreveport is fortunate to host a bowl game that leads the “league” in all-time sponsors. The revolving door of  corporate sponsors includes Poulan Weed Eater, Sanford (writing materials), MainStay Investments, PetroSun (gas), AdvoCare V100 (energy drinks), Duck Commander (hunting) and Camping World (campng supply stores) and Walk-On’s (bar and restaurant).

If you own T-shirts with all of those Independence Bowl logos, you’d have a lot of explaining to do.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “NFL revokes Roger Goodell’s new contract after he fails physical.”

TheKicker.com: “Winter meetings mostly just people shouting, ‘Not fair!’ at Yankees.”

Fark.com: “Apparently, there is an SEC Cornhole Championship.”

SportsPickle.com:  “Confident  Blake Bortles vows: ‘I will be the worst QB to win a Super Bowl since Trent Dilfer.’ ”

TheOnion.com: “Browns encourage dissatisfied fans to at least stick it out until end of season.”

Fark.com: “Want to see Lambeau Field and get paid for it? Snow shovelers needed Monday.”

Bowl mania

In a separate blog entry, I’ve made my picks for all the college football bowl games. But below are my picks for the games that really matter, which means there is a team from the ACC, Big Ten or SEC involved.

Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26, 3:15 p.m. CT: Duke vs. Northern Illinois. MY PICK: Duke.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 27, 11:30 a.m. CT: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State. MY PICK: Florida State.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27,  3:15 p.m. CT: Iowa vs. Boston College. MY PICK: Iowa.

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m.: Arizona vs. Purdue. MY PICK: Purdue.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. CT: Texas vs. Missouri. MY PICK: Texas.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 11:30 a.m. CT: Virginia vs. Navy. MY PICK: Navy.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State.  MY PICK: Oklahoma State.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. CT: Washington State vs. Michigan State. MY PICK: Michigan State.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 29, 11 a.m. CT: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M. MY PICK:  Wake Forest.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.: N.C. State vs. Arizona State. MY PICK: N.C. State.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Northwestern. MY PICK: Northwestern.

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 6:30 p.m.: Southern California vs. Ohio State. MY PICK: Southern Cal.

Taxslayer Bowl, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. CT: Louisville vs. Mississippi State. MY PICK: Louisville.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT: Washington vs. Penn State. MY PICK: Washington.

Orange Bowl, Dec. 30, 6 p.m. CT: Wisconsin vs. Miami. MY PICK: Miami.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. CT: Michigan vs. South Carolina. MY PICK:  Michigan.

Peach Bowl, Jan. 1, 10:30 a.m. CT: Central Florida vs. Auburn. MY PICK: Central Florida.

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT: Notre Dame vs. LSU. MY PICK: LSU.

College Football Playoff Semifinals

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 3 p.m. CT: Georgia vs. Oklahoma. MY PICK: Georgia.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 6:45 p.m. CT: Alabama vs. Clemson. MY PICK: Alabama.

Note: CFP Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. CT, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta. It will be televised by ESPN.

College Football Bowl Games Predictions

 

Celebration Bowl

Dec.  16

11 a.m. CT

N.C. A&T vs. Grambling State, Atlanta, Ga.

NORTH CAROLINA A&T

New Orleans Bowl

Dec. 16

Noon CT

Troy vs. North Texas, New Orleans

TROY

Cure Bowl

Dec. 16

1:30 p.m. CT

Georgia State vs. Western Kentucky, Orlando, Fla.

WESTERN KENTUCKY

Las Vegas Bowl

Dec 16

2:30 p.m.

Boise State vs. Oregon. Las Vegas, Nev.

BOISE STATE

New Mexico Bowl

Dec. 16

 2:30 p.m.

Marshall vs. Colorado State. Albuquerque, New Mexico

COLORADO STATE

Camellia Bowl

 Dec. 16

7 p.m. CT

Middle Tennessee State vs. Arkansas State. Montgomery, Ala.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE STATE

Boca Raton Bowl

Dec. 19

6 p.m. CT

FAU vs. Akron. Boca Raton, Fla.

FLORIDA ATLANTIC

Frisco Bowl

Dec. 20,

7 p.m. CT

Southern Methodist vs. Louisiana Tech, Frisco, Texas.

SMU

Gasparilla Bowl

 Dec. 21, 7 p.m.

Temple vs. FIU, St. Petersburg, Fla.

TEMPLE

Bahamas Bowl

Dec. 22,

11:30 a.m.

Alabama Birmigham vs. Ohio Univ. Nassau, Bahamaa

UAB

Famous Idaho Potato Bowl

Dec. 22

3 p.m. CT

Wyoming vs. Cent. Michigan Boise, Idaho

WYOMING

Birmingham Bowl

Dec. 23

11 a.m. CT

South Florida vs. Texas Tech Birmingham, Ala.

TEXAS TECH

Armed Forces Bowl

Dec. 23

2:30 p.m.

Army vs. San Diego State. Fort Worth, Texas

SAN DIEGO STATE

 

Dollar General Bowl

 Dec. 23

 6 p.m. CT

Appalachian State vs. Toledo, Mobile, Ala.

APPALACHIAN STATE

Hawai’i  Bowl

Dec. 24

7:30 p.m

Fresno State vs. Houston, Honolulu, Hawai’i

HOUSTON

Heart of Dallas Bowl

 Dec. 26

12:20 p.m.

West Virginia vs. Utah. Dallas, Texas

WEST VIRGINIA 

Quick Lane Bowl

 Dec. 26

4:15 p.m. CT

Duke vs. Northern Illinois, Detroit, Mich.

DUKE 

Cactus Bowl

Dec. 26

9 p.m. CT

UCLA vs. Kansas State, Phoenix, Ariz.

UCLA 

Independence Bowl

Dec. 27

12:30 p.m.

Florida State vs. Southern Miss, Shreveport, La.

FLORIDA STATE

 

Pinstripe Bowl

Dec. 27

4:15 p.m. CT

Boston College vs. Iowa. Bronx, N.Y.

IOWA

Foster Farms Bowl

Dec. 27

7:30 p.m. CT

Arizona vs. Purdue, Santa Clara, Calif.

PURDUE

Texas Bowl

Dec. 27

8 p.m. CT

Texas vs. Missouri, Houston, Texas

TEXAS 

Military Bowl

Dec. 28

12:30 p.m. CT

Virginia vs. Navy. Annapolis, Md.

NAVY

Camping World Bowl

Dec. 28

4:15 p.m. CT

Oklahoma State vs. Virginia Tech. Orlando, Fla.

OKLAHOMA STATE 

Alamo Bowl

Dec. 28

8 p.m. CT

Stanford vs. TCU, San Antonio, Texas

TCU

Holiday Bowl

Dec. 28

8 p.m. CT

Michigan State vs. Washington State, San Diego, Calif.

MICHIGAN STATE

Belk Bowl

Dec. 29

Noon CT.

Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M, Charlotte, N.C

WAKE FOREST

 

Sun Bowl

Dec. 29

1 p.m. CT

NC State vs. Arizona State, El Paso, Texas

NC STATE

Music City Bowl

Dec. 29

3:30 p.m.

Kentucky vs. Northwestern, Nashville, Tenn.

NORTHWESTERN

Arizona Bowl

Dec. 29

4:30 p.m. CT

New Mexico State vs. Utah State, Tucson, Ariz.

UTAH STATE

Cotton Bowl

Dec. 29

7:30 p.m. CT

Ohio State vs. Southern Cal, Arlington, Texas

SOUTHERN CAL

Taxslayer Gator Bowl

Dec 30

11 a.m. CT

Louisville vs. Mississippi State. Jacksonville, Fla.

LOUISVILLE

Liberty Bowl

Dec. 30

11:30 a.m. CT

Iowa State vs. Memphis, Memphis, Tenn.

MEMPHIS

Fiesta Bowl

 Dec. 30

3 p.m.

Washington vs. Penn State, Glendale, Ariz.

WASHINGTON

Orange Bowl

Dec. 30

7 p.m. CT

Miami vs. Wisconsin, Miami Gardens, Fla.

MIAMI 

Outback Bowl

Jan. 1

11 a.m.

Michigan vs. South Carolina, Tampa, Fla.

MICHIGAN

Peach Bowl

Jan. 1

11:30 p.m. CT

Auburn vs. UCF, Atlanta, Ga.

CENTRAL FLORIDA

Citrus Bowl

 

Jan. 1

Noon CT

Notre Dame vs. LSU, Orlando, Fla.

LSU

Rose Bowl

College Football Playoff Semifinal

Jan. 1, 4 p.m. CT

Oklahoma vs. Georgia, Pasadena, Calif.

GEORGIA
Sugar Bowl

 

Jan 1

7:45 p.m. CT, 

Clemson vs. Alabama, New Orleans, La.

ALABAMA

CFP National Championship

Jan. 8

7 p.m. CT

Atlanta, Ga.

TBD

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while bemoaning how quickly fall weather arrived and disappeared, especially in the Midwest:

Heisman dreams

By the time the college football season had reached November, Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield was the clear front-runner to win the Heisman Trophy.

It was his to lose after the Sooners racked up road wins over  No. 2-ranked Ohio State on Sept. 9 and No. 11 Oklahoma State on Nov. 4 while proving a high-scoring loss against Iowa State on Oct. 7 wouldn’t be enough to derail them from their championship goals.

The final voting tally underscored just how dominant Mayfield was this season in becoming the Sooners’ sixth Heisman winner. He finished with 2,398 points, easily outdistancing Stanford running back Bryce Love (1,300) and Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson (793), the 2016 winner.

Mayfield received 732 first-place votes, while Love had 75 first-place votes and Jackson only 47.

Each first-place vote is worth three points, with two points for second and one for third. Mayfield finished with 86 percent of all possible points, which is the third highest percentage since 1950 – topped only by Troy Smith’s 91.6 percent of the votes in 2006 and Marcus Mariotta’s 90.9 percent in 2014.

Not bad for a guy from Austin, Texas who twice had to go from walk-on to starter, first at Texas Tech and then at Oklahoma. Although he grew up an Oklahoma fan, he wasn’t recruited by the Sooners or his hometown University of Texas.

He walked on at Texas Tech and won the starting job as a freshman. But despite passing for more than 2,200 yards and 12 touchdowns, the Red Raiders coaching staff failed to save a scholarship for his sophomore season. So he followed his heart to Norman, Oklahoma.

Now he has the Sooners back in contention for a national championship with a Rose Bowl semifinal date on Jan. 1 against Georgia.

Mayfield referenced his extraordinary path to winning the Heisman by thanking former head coach Bob Stoops and current coach Lincoln Riley, who was the Sooners’ offensive coordinator before taking over as head coach this season when Stoops retired.

“Coach Stoops you welcomed a chubby, unathletic kid into the program with open arms. I wouldn’t say that many would do that,” said Mayfield. “(But) the thing I’m most thankful for is the hiring of Coach Riley. The day you did that changed my life. I appreciate that.

“Coach Riley you’ve been a great mentor to me. We’ve been through a lot together, so I appreciate you.”

Mayfield finished fourth in the Heisman voting two years ago and third last year.

He enters the College Football Playoffs with 12,910 career passing yards and 114 touchdown passes with just 29 interceptions in four seasons. He could leave college with the two best single-season passer ratings.

He rattled off the names of his offensive lineman during his acceptance speech, saying this “wouldn’t have happened without you. Keep up the physicality. We’ve got two more (games).”

That’s as good as guaranteeing a win over Georgia, isn’t it?

But then, Mayfield leaves with a bit of a reputation as a player who’s not afraid to stir up controversy, including planting an OU flag at Ohio State after the Sooners upset the Buckeyes or getting into verbal exchanges with Texas Tech and Kansas fans.

My ballot: I’ve been a Heisman voter for 29 years and I’ve picked the winner all but six or seven of those years. This year I correctly picked Mayfield, but had Jackson at No. 2 and San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny as No. 3. The official tally had Penny as the fifth choice behind Penn State’s  Saquon Barkley.

Other honors

The other top award in which I’m still an active voter is the Biletnikoff Award for best receiver, which is given by the Tallahassee Quarterback Club. I was the sports editor in Tallahassee for eight years and always enjoyed attending the banquet and writing a column on the winner.

This year’s winner was James Washington of Oklahoma State, who led the nation with 1,423 yards on 69 catches with 12 touchdowns.

Finishing second was Colorado State’s Michael Gallop and third was West Virginia’s Donald Sills. Gallop was fifth in receiving yards with 1,345 but third best with 94 catches. Sills was 28th in yards (980) but led country with 18 touchdown receptions.

My ballot had Washington first with Sills second and Gallop third.

More awards::

Maxwell Award (player of year): Winner – Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; 2. Bryce Love, Stanford; 3. Saquon Barkley, Penn State.

Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player): Winner – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama; 2. Bradley Chubb, N.C. State; 3. Roquan Smith, Georgia.

Bronko Nagurski Award (top defensive player): Winner – Bradley Chubb, N.C. State; 2. Minkah Fitzgerald, Alabama; 3. Josey Jewell, Iowa.

Butkus Award (linebacker): Winner – Roquon Smith, Georgia; 2. Devin Bush, Michigan; 3. Tremaine Edwards, Virginia Tech.

Davey O’Brien Award (quarterback): Winner – Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma; 2. J.T. Barrett, Ohio State; 3. Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma State.

Doak Walker Award (running back): Winner – Bryce Love, Stanford; 2. Saquon Barkley, Penn State; 3. Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin.

Jim Thorpe Award (defensive back): Winner – Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama; 2. Deshaun Elliott, Texas; 2. Josh Jackson, Iowa.

Lou Groza Award (kicker): Winner – Matt Gay, Utah; 2. Dominik Eberle, Utah State; 3. Daniel Carlson, Auburn.

Ray Guy Award (punter): Winner – Michael Dickson, Texas; 2. JK Scott, Alabama; 3. Mitch Wishnowsky, Utah.

Outland Trophy (interior lineman): Winner – Ed Oliver, Houston; 2. Quenton Nelson, Notre Dame. 3. Orlando Brown, Oklahoma.

Rimington Trophy (center): Winner – Billy Price, Ohio State; 2. Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia; 3. Ethan Pocic, LSU.

Saving grace

S.C. State point guard Ty Solomon didn’t score, didn’t have an assist and only played four minutes in what may be the last basketball game he’ll ever play.

But at least he’s alive.

Solomon collapsed seven minutes into last Saturday’s game in Raleigh, N.C. at PNC Arena against N.C. State. His heart had stopped but he was brought back to life because S.C. State trainer Tyler Long quickly administered CPR and N.C. State trainer Austin Frank came to the rescue with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

As the crowd of 13,000 prayed for his recovery, N.C. State team physician Dr. William Jacobs took over until the EMTs arrived on the scene to transport him to the N.C. Heart and Vascular Hospital.

Solomon, a redshirt senior, was hospitalized for five days before returning home to Johns Island, S.C.

Solomon’s family released a statement earlier this week that praised the medical care he received and asking for continued prayers.

“Ty recognizes that he was in the right place at the right time to have a serious medical emergency that could have had a tragic outcome. Instead, he’s looking forward to resuming a normal life, eventually returning to school and making every second count.”

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times:  “Football coach Jimbo Fisher reportedly tossed his Christmas tree to the curb after news got out he was bolting Florida State for Texas A&M. Hey, it was either that or have Chief Osceola light it on fire and stick it in the ground at the 50-yard line.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com:  “Oddsmakers put Tiger Woods’ chances at 20-1 of winning one of the next four majors. Elvis is at 19-1.”

Brockton (Mont.) High School girls basketball coach Terrence Johnson to the Great Falls Tribune on his players’ reaction after losing 102-0: “They did nothing wrong. At the end of the day, they all went home and asked, ‘What’s for dinner, mom?’ ”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “LaVar Ball pulling LiAngelo out of UCLA means the kid will miss out on potentially a great three months of college.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “After going 2-10 this season, the Giants have fired coach Ben McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese. Well, if you are wondering what happened to Ben and Jerry they are probably sitting on the couch eating some Ben & Jerry’s.”

Comedian Steve Hofstetter: “It’s a shitty day and I’m in a lot of pain. But the Giants just fired Ben McAdoo, so it’s not all bad.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on rumblings that QB Sam Darnold might stay at USC to avoid being drafted by Cleveland: “The Browns are now bragging about ‘doing our part to keep young people in school.’”

Cashing in

Roger Goodell should take two knees and bow down to the owners, coaches and players of the National Football League.

Being the commissioner of the NFL has made Goodell a very rich man who just got richer by agreeing to a new 5-year contract extension that will pay him $40 million per year.

Most of the money will come from bonuses, which are subject to approval by vote of the 32 team owners. His previous deal, which expires in 2019, will pay him a total of $31.7 million before the contact extension kicks in through 2024.

The new Republican tax plan should stretch his dollars even further.

Going bowling

Yes, there are too many bowl games, beginning with a full slate of five matchups kicking things off next Saturday.

But seriously, if you’re like me, you’ll still be looking for stocking stuffers next weekend so you can wait a little longer before you tune into college football’s postseason since none of the early games really matter.

At least to most of us.

But since I really can’t get away with making that big of a beach blanket statement, I promise I’ll make my full slate of bowl predictions by midweek. Until then, here are the 20 games that will involve teams from the ACC, Big Ten and SEC.

Quick Lane Bowl, Dec. 26, 3:15 p.m. CT: Duke vs. Northern Illinois.

Independence Bowl, Dec. 27, 11:30 a.m. CT: Southern Mississippi vs. Florida State.

Pinstripe Bowl, Dec. 27,  3:15 p.m. CT: Iowa vs. Boston College.

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 27, 6:30 p.m.: Arizona vs. Purdue.

Texas Bowl, Dec. 27, 7 p.m. CT: Texas vs. Missouri.

Military Bowl, Dec. 28, 11:30 a.m. CT: Virginia vs. Navy.

Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28, 3:15 p.m.: Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State.

Holiday Bowl, Dec. 28, 7 p.m. CT: Washington State vs. Michigan State.

Belk Bowl, Dec. 29, 11 a.m. CT: Wake Forest vs. Texas A&M.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.: N.C. State vs. Arizona State.

Music City Bowl, Dec. 29, 2:30 p.m.: Kentucky vs. Northwestern.

Cotton Bowl, Dec. 29, 6:30 p.m.: Southern California vs. Ohio State.

Taxslayer Bowl, Dec. 30, 10 a.m. CT: Louisville vs. Mississippi State.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 30, 2 p.m. CT: Washington vs. Penn State.

Orange Bowl, Dec. 30, 6 p.m. CT: Wisconsin vs. Miami.

Outback Bowl, Jan. 1, 10 a.m. CT: Michigan vs. South Carolina.

Peach Bowl, Jan. 1, 10:30 a.m. CT: Central Florida vs. Auburn.

Citrus Bowl, Jan. 1, 11 a.m. CT: Notre Dame vs. LSU.

College Football Playoff Semifinals

Rose Bowl, Jan. 1, 3 p.m. CT: Georgia vs. Oklahoma.

Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1, 6:45 p.m. CT: Alabama vs. Clemson

Note: CFP Championship Game is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. CT, Mercedes Benz Stadium, Atlanta. It will be televised by ESPN.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Lakers add Buffalo Chicken Wing stains to Shaquille O’Neal’s retired jersey.”

TheKicker.com:  “LiAngelo scores 47 in his first game at LaVar Ball University.:

Fark.com: “Lavar takes his Ball and goes home.”

SportsPickle.com: “Browns confirm they will skip NFL Draft to avoid drafting any future Browns.”

TheOnion.com: “New NFL safety rule requires players to be careful.”

Fark.com: “Unlike the Lions, Pontiac Silverdome fails to implode.”

SportsPickle.com: “Roy Moore reminds voters that many of Alabama’s top recruits have also tried to have sex with teenage girls.”

TheOnion.com: “New ‘This is SportsCenter’ commercial features Otto the Syracuse Orange laying off staffers.”

Fark.com: “Nike fires 7-year-old foreman of its NBA jersey factory.”

 Winning Tweet

Twitter really can be useful. Just ask John Goehrke, who turned the social media site into a dating app during the Super Bowl.

With the Atlanta Falcons up 25 points over the New England Patriots, Canadian tennis player Genie Bouchard made the mistake of proclaiming in a tweet that the Super Bowl was over.

We know what happened from there, and no one was more thankful about that than Goehrke, a Missouri college student. That’s because he had answered Bouchard’s tweet by asking if she’d go out with him if Tom Brady rallied New England to victory.

She agreed to his bet, and now it appears they have become friends who have hung out more than once, including going to a Brooklyn Nets game.

Team Tweeting

The best and worst of college Twitter accounts, according to Athlon’s Sports:

Ten Best College Twitter Accounts: 1. South Carolina; 2. Clemson; 3. Miami; 4. Oregon; 5. Georgia; 6. Oklahoma; 7. Ohio State; 8. Auburn; 9. Virginia Tech; 10. Utah.

Five Worst College Twitter Accounts: 1. Michigan; 2. Oregon State; 3. Notre Dame; 4. Alabama; 5. Penn State.

My takes

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

At least Jozy Altidore can say he scored one meaningful goal in 2017 with game-winner for Toronto in MLS Cup.

Where’s the Air Force when you need the aerial support? Army beats Navy 14-13 in the snow, but the big story is the two teams combined for 22 yards passing.

@IUMenssocer will play for its 9th NCAA men’s soccer title Sunday. Hoosiers beat North Carolina 1-0 and 2-time defending champion Stanford beat Akron 2-0. It was Hoosiers 18th shutout of season.

@_king_lil (Lilly King) deserves credit for getting this started with her antidoping stance in Rio in 2016

Sorry Urban, but two losses matter, but Buckeyes were No. 5 and Wisconsin No. 6.

Two teams from SEC make playoff, which underscores the need to expand the playoff beyond four teams.

On the move

Since we’re catching up with the usual postseason business, let’s acknowledge the coaching moves that have already taken place in my three favorite conferences.

ACC

Florida State: Willie Taggart (from Oregon)

Big Ten

Nebraska: Scott Frost (from UCF)

SEC

Arkansas: Chad Morris (from SMU)

Florida: Dan Mullen (from Mississippi State)

Mississippi: Matt Luke (promoted from interim coach)

Tennessee: Jeremy Pruitt (from Alabama, defensive coordinator)

Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher (from Florida State)

CFP committee snubs Ohio State for Alabama

The College Football Playoff rankings mirrored the Associated Press Top 25 poll, setting up a third straight showdown between defending national champion Clemson and Alabama.

Alabama won the 2015 championship by beating Clemson.

This time Nick Saban’s Crimson TIde will face Dabo Swinney’s Tigers in a national semifinal  in the Superdome in New Orleans on Jan. 1.

The other semifinal will match SEC Champion Georgia against Big 12 Champion Oklahoma at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.

A former player and coach at Alabama, Swinney said in an ESPN interview that  his Clemson team would welcome the challenge of playing the Crimson Tide a third-straight year in the postseason.

“Obviously the committee had a lot of things to consider but they put the four best teams in there,” said Swinney. “Alabama has been the standard for a long time. We’ve had, obviously, a couple of huge battles with them, but (we’re) excited about it.

“It’s been 25 years since I’ve been to the Sugar Bowl and it was with Alabama at that time. It’s only fitting to have a chance to advance to Atlanta, you’ve got a heavyweight matchup here with Clemson and Alabama. We’ll be excited about it. … It’s going to be a heckuva game; I don’t have any doubt.”

The selection process means that the champions of the  Big Ten and Pac 12 won’t be part of the CFP playoffs.  Using the final CFP rankings, it would have required an eight-team playoff to include the champions of all Power 5 conferences since Ohio State finished at No. 5 and Southern Cal was No. 8

It would have taken a 16-team playoff to include American Athletic Conference champion UCF and independent Notre Dame.

The CFP top 16

  1. Clemson (12-1), ACC Champion.
  2. Oklahoma (12-1), Big 12 Champion
  3. Georgia (12-1), SEC Champion
  4. Alabama (11-1), SEC at-large
  5. Ohio State (11-2), Big Ten Champion
  6. Wisconsin (12-1), Big Ten at-large
  7. Auburn (10-3), SEC at-large
  8. Southern California (11-2), Pac-12 Champion
  9. Penn State (10-2), Big Ten at-large
  10. Miami (10-2), ACC at-large
  11. Washington (11-2), Pac-12 at-large
  12. UCF (12-0), AAC Champion
  13. Stanford (9-4), Pac-12 at-large
  14. Notre Dame (9-3), Independent
  15. TCU (10-3), Big 12 at-large
  16. Michigan State (9-3), Big Ten at-large

Beard’s Perfect World Playoffs

Using the final CFP rankings, a 16-team playoff would have provided these first round matchups.  The only change would be made to prevent Big 12 teams Oklahoma and TCU from squaring off in the first round, so the first-round opponents for Oklahoma and Georgia were swapped in this imagined 16-team playoff

First round 

Clemson vs. Michigan State

Southern Cal vs. Penn State

Ohio State vs. UCF

Alabama vs. Stanford

Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame

Auburn vs. Miami

Wisconsin vs. Washington

Georgia vs. TCU

Second round:

Clemson-Michigan State winner vs. Southern Cal-Penn State winner

Alabama-Stanford winner vs. Ohio State-UCF winner

Georgia-TCU winners vs. Wisconsin-Washington winner

Oklahoma-Notre Dame winner vs. Auburn–Miami winner

 

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view of sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while shamefully admitting I was 0-for-3 in my predictions for the ACC, SEC and Big Ten championship games:

Emerging dynasty

Clemson left no doubt which team deserves to be No. 1 when the College Football Playoff committee announces its Jan. 1 semifinal matchups Sunday afternoon.

The defending national champion Tigers (12-1) crushed Miami in the ACC title game Saturday night in Charlotte, claiming a 38-3 win to secure the top seed.

Oklahoma (12-1) should move up to No. 2 after Baker Mayfield’s Heisman-clinching effort in leading the Sooners past TCU, 41-17, in the Big 12 Championship Game.

The third slot should go to SEC champion Georgia (12-1), which beefed up its playoff resume by avenging an ugly loss to Auburn just three weeks ago.  Beaten 40-17 at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium,  the Bulldogs rolled to a 28-7 victory in Atlanta.

That leaves the fourth spot for Big Ten champion Ohio State (11-2), which beat previously unbeaten Wisconsin, 27-21.

If every game counts in college football, as coaches like to say, it should matter that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide wasn’t playing for the SEC title on Saturday.

Celebrating 50

Clemson has only six scholarship seniors – cornerback Ryan Carter, linebacker Dorian O’Daniel,  guard Tyrone Crowder, lineman Maverick Morris, tight end D.J. Greenlee and cornerback Marcus Edmond — but they will be remembered as the winningest class in ACC history.

That streak of success includes a national championship, three ACC titles and a 4-0 record against rival South Carolina. And they aren’t ready to stop at 50 wins, either.

Headlines

Fark.com: “The 2018 World Cup draw is set. The U.S. is in Group 1 with Holland, Italy and Chile.”

SportsPickle.com: “Archie Manning puts Eli up for adoption.”

TheKicker.com:  “LeBron lobbies NBA  for ability to eject refs that eject him.”

SportsPickle.com: “Greg Schiano drops interest in Tennessee job after discovering program’s ties to awful football.”

TheOnion.com: “New report finds Giants just 5 years away from acquiring offensive weapons.”

Fark.com: “Cleveland Browns are now officially eliminated from the playoffs.”

Volunteer movement

Most athletic directors keep handy a list of potential head coaches for football and basketball for when they have an opening. On Friday new Tennessee AD Phillip Fulmer didn’t exactly rule himself out, saying only that he wouldn’t “serve as interim coach of the Vols.” That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t consider a long-term contract to return to a job he held for 17 seasons until 2008, right?

With that in mind, we at sportseditorperspective were able to sneak a peek at Fulmer’s football coaching wish list:

  • Phillip “Legendary Vol” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Vol for Life” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Better than Johnny Majors” Fulmer
  • Phillip “No. 2 on UT wins list” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Need 22 wins to be No. 1” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Don’t hate like 2008” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Still should be coach” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Anybody can be AD” Fulmer
  • Phillip “Kick Kiffen’s Twitter butt” Fulmer
  • Plan B: Tee Martin.*

Tee time

Once the season started unraveling for Tennessee, Peyton Manning’s ears must have been burning.

He was being mentioned as a replacement for Butch Jones. And if not head coach, then offensive coordinator. And if not coordinator, then quarterback coach.

But let’s be serious. The next head coach at Tennessee should be  Tee Martin, who replaced Manning as quarterback and led the Vols to a national championship in 1998.

Martin, who is Southern California’s offensive coordinator, is one of the country’s top young coaches. Under Martin, the Trojans averaged 34.5 points and 489.5 yards per game, which ranked among the top 30 in the nation.

Fulmer should already have made Martin an offer he can’t refuse. Unfortunately, reports suggest that Fulmer has contacted Martin about returning to Knoxville only as offensive coordinator on a staff led by former LSU head coach Les Miles.

With Fulmer sitting in the AD office,  Martin would have all the head coaching advice he’d ever need.

Coaching carousel

With college football’s regular season over, it’s time to launch new coaching eras.  Of the five vacancies created (so far) in the Southeastern Conference, three of the schools  have found their man.

Dan Mullen filled one opening while creating another when he jumped from Mississippi State to Florida.

Such conference thievery could happen again if Arkansas can give native son Gus Malzahn enough reasons to leave Auburn. That courtship can become serious now that Auburn won’t be playing for the national championship.

Here’s an updated list of the SEC coach openings/closures:

  • Arkansas: Mike Norvell????
  • Auburn: Gus Malzahn says he’s staying
  • Florida: Dan Mullen
  • Mississippi State: Joe Moorhead
  • Tennessee: Les Miles orTee Martin?
  • Texas A&M: Jimbo Fisher

Jimbo jumps

Texas A&M just hired a coach who had a losing record this season. That’s right. Since Jimbo Fisher wasn’t stalking the sidelines during Florida State’s 42-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe, he finished 5-6 this season.

Meanwhile, the coach he replaces, Kevin Sumlin, was 7-5 this season.

No doubt Fisher got a better deal contracturally from the Aggies, but we’ll have to wait and see if the fans  agree that Texas A&M came out ahead in the switch.

They said it

Dwight Perry of Seattle Times: “A man proposed to his girlfriend at ‘Monday Night Raw.’ That’s what she gets for saying she expected a humongous ring.”

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com:  “Danica Patrick told USA Today when it comes to a Thanksgiving drink, she’s a ‘red wine kind of person.’ Hey; at least wine has a ‘win’ in it.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Congratulations to the Toronto Argonauts, winners of the Grey Cup. Few sports fans think the Argos could actually compete with NFL teams, though they might be two touchdown favorites against the Cleveland Browns.”

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon: “The New York Giants announced that they are benching Eli Manning this weekend. Eli’s not sure what’s worse – not getting to play for the Giants, or having to WATCH the Giants.”

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle on the 49ers’ futile attempts to sack Seahawks QB Russell Wilson: “Trying to capture a butterfly with a soup spoon.”

Super K

Kayla Montgomery, a runner from Winston-Salem, N.C. who won three state high school championships in the 2013-14 school year for Mount Tabor High School despite having Multiple Sclerosis, will forever be an inspiration to all who hear her story.

I caught her ESPN E:60 documentary, “Catching Kayla,” the other day and found myself fighting back tears as I learned about all the hurdles she had to overcome every time she  stepped up to the starting line for a distance race. Because she loses feeling in her legs as her body begins to overheat while she is running, Montgomery needs to have someone waiting at the finish line to prevent her from falling once she stops. She also needs help to cool down as quickly as possible to avoid other health concerns that arise with MS.

She’s now a senior at Lipscomb College in Nashville, although it doesn’t appear she is still competing. Her last finish in a race, according to her athletic department bio, came in 2015.

But that doesn’t make her any less of  an inspiration.

Sweet Tweets

Rehastagging this week’s top tweets from @Randy_Beard11

So, if you combined the scores of the two games between the two SEC Championship Game participants, Auburn would beat Georgia 47-45, right?

Jimbo Fisher resigns at FSU to take Texas A&M job, proving some coaches leave even when grass isn’t greener on other side of fence. Concussions have horrible consequences.

Today I’m announcing that I will not be the next person to turn down the head football coaching position at the University of Tennessee. Alas, there are way too many folks who are more qualified to turn down the job ahead of me. But, if UT officials get desperate, I am available.

Laura Okmin just asked Titans’ Marcus Mariota how “it feels to get all these monkeys” off your back. So now there’s more than one monkey?

Titans’ Delanie Walker catches TD pass and does end zone celebration as salute to CPR, laying football on field and doing “chest compressions.” Announcer Chris Myers describes the celebration as “burping the baby.”

 Stat of week

Bavarian Bierhaus in Glendale, Wis., thought it had the perfect in-game promotion when the Green Bay Packers hosted the Baltimore Ravens.

The deal was to hand out free beer until the Packers scored. But wouldn’t you know it, Green Bay was shutout at home for the first time in 11 seasons, losing to the Ravens 23-0.

The brewery estimates it gave away as many as 300 beers as the suds flowed freely from the opening kickoff to the final whistle.

ACC Landscape: Week Fourteen

ACC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW CAPSULE

TV: Saturday 7 p.m. CT, ABC

CLEMSON

Record: 11-1

CFP rank: No. 1

Best win: vs. Auburn, 14-6

Worst loss: at Syracuse, 27-24

Offensive stars: Leading passer — Kelly Bryant (2,426 yards, 12 TDs, 6 INT); Leading rushers — Kelly Bryant (164-804, 10 TD), Travis Etienne (97-735, 12 TD); Leading receivers Hunter Renfrow (50-526. 3 TD), Deon Cain (49-620. 5TD).

Defensive stars: Dorian O’Daniel (95 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss); Kendall Joseph (73 tackles, 4 tackles for loss).

Key team statistics: Total offense — 24 (457.9); Scoring offense — 25 (35.2 ppg); Total defense — 6 (283.3 ypg); Scoring defense 4 (13.6 ppg).

Dabo Swinney on Miami: “They’re running the football. They’re playing fast and physical on defense. They’ve made plays on special teams. They’re playing complementary ball as a team. They’re well-coached and they look like they’re having fun doing it, too. They’ve had a great year.”

MIAMI

Record: 10-1

CFP Rank: No. 7

Best win: vs. Notre Dame, 41-8

Worst loss: at Pittsburgh, 24-14

Offensive stars: Leading passer — Malik Rosier (2,798 yards, 25 TDs, 9 INTs); Leading rushers — Travis Homer (137-866, 7 TDs), Malik Rosier (112-408, 5 TDs); Leading receivers –  Braxton Berrios (44-574, 9 TDs), Travis Homer (18-229, 1 TD).

Defensive stars: Jaquon Johnson (81 tackles, 4 interceptions); Michael Pinkney (55 tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 1 interception).

Key team statistics: Total offense 44 (422.9); Scoring offense  –– 40 (31.9 ppg); Total defense — 41 (362.4 ypg); Scoring defense — 15 (18.3 ppg).

Mark Richt on any advantage Clemson might have as defending champion:  “Yeah, well, first of all, being used to winning at a high level, being used to being a champion, not only an ACC champion but a national champion, playing in two national championship games in a row, it doesn’t get any bigger than that … Experience is a great teacher. We all know that. We’re just experiencing some things for the first time as a group of coaches and players. It should be an advantage to have lived through those types of moments.”

                  

 

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

(All times Central)

ACC Championship Game: Miami (10-1) vs. Clemson (11-1), Saturday 7 p.m. CT, ABC

Louisiana-Monroe (4-7) at Florida State (5-6), Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ACC Network

FAB FIVE

  1. Clemson (11-1, 7-1): Last Week – W, South Carolina, 34-10. The Impact – If Tigers beat Miami Saturday, Dabo Swinney’s program will be in position to defend its national title and at least make a third straight appearance in CFP semifinals. Clemson, which beat state rival USC for the fourth consecutive year, is favored to beat Hurricanes by 9.5 points in latest Vegas odds.

 

2. Miami (10-1, 7-1): Last Week – L, Pittsburgh, 24-14. The Impact – Mark Richt’s Hurricanes may have squandered chance of a lifetime after losing on the road to unheralded Pittsburgh. The loss knocked them from the second spot in the College Football Playoff poll to No. 7, so unless UM defeats Clemson Saturday it will have to settle for a regular bowl bid. If they had remained No. 2 and kept the nation’s longest win streak alive entering the ACC title game, the ’Canes y might have been safe even with close loss to Tigers. That setback also was Malik Rosier’s first in college. He completed just 15 of 34 passes for 187 yards, which led him to be pulled for a series.

3. Virginia Tech (9-3, 5-3): Last Week – W, Virginia, 10-0. The Impact – Hokies struggled on offense but excelled on defense, holding rival Virginia to 5 yards rushing. It was third shutout of season for Bud Foster’s unit but first over Power-5 opponent. It was Va. Tech’s 14th consecutive win in series, which covers their ACC era.

4. N. C. State (8-4, 6-2): Last Week – W, North Carolina, 33-21. The Impact – Nyheim Hines rushed for a career-best 196 yards, including touchdown runs of 54 and 48 yards, to give him more than 1,000 yards on the season. The win over UNC was only second in last five games but it was eighth overall, elevating Wolfpack’s status in bowl pecking order. It also may have made it easier for Dave Doeren to turn down a chance to interview for the Tennessee coaching job.

 

5. Louisville (8-4, 4-4): Last Week – W, at Kentucky, 44-17. The Impact – Lamar Jackson and his teammates avenged a stunning loss at home to rival Kentucky last season by taking care of business in dominating fashion on the Wildcats’ home field. The 2016 Heisman winner even provided an emotional lift when he and UK linebacker Jordan Jones got into a scuffle that nearly ignited a brawl. Jackson had 216 yards passing and 156 rushing to likely assure another trip to New York as a Heisman candidate.

 

THE PACK

 

6. Wake Forest (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, Duke, 31-23. The Impact – Quarterback John Wolford finished regular season with school record 3,417 yards of total offense and will have a bowl game to add to that total. After 4-0 start to season, Demon Deacons have struggled to maintain any consistency, winning only three of last eight games. They did excel at ball protection, finishing with plus-7 turnover ratio for season.

 

7. Boston College (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – W, Syracuse, 42-14. The Impact – Freshman running back A.J. Dillon assured that B.C.’s turnaround would continue, scoring three touchdowns and finishing with 193 yards rushing. Steve Addazio’s team has won five of its last six games and will have a chance at winning eight games in a bowl.

8. Florida State (5-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, at Florida, 38-22. The Impact – Jimbo Fisher finally took the hint and accepted the job at Texas A&M on Friday. FSU fans had grown tired of his refusal to say he was even considering Aggies’ job when all reports out of College Station indicated he was ready to sign on the dotted line. It means Fisher won’t be on the sidelines Saturday for Seminoles’ monumental clash with Louisiana-Monroe, a game that was postponed because of Hurricane Irma and only rescheduled after FSU realized it might need a guaranteed sixth win to preserve its bowl eligibility streak of 36 consecutive years. The win over Florida extended FSU best-ever streak to four years.

9. Virginia (6-6, 3-5): Last Week – L, Virginia Tech, 10-0.44-28. The Impact – Despite being blanked by Hokies, quarterback Kurt Benkert set school’s single-season passing record with 3,026 yards to move past Matt Schaub (2002). Benkert is also first UVA QB to surpass 3,000 yards in a season. Despite losing last three games, Cavs are headed to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.

10. Duke (6-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, at Wake Forest, 31-23. The Impact – Blue Devils won consecutive games for first time since opening season 4-0 to secure bowl eligibility. Before beating Georgia Tech and Wake Forest back-to-back, David Cutcliffe’s team had lost six straight. It should earn Duke a bowl berth for just 13th time. The good news is that Blue Devils’ defense is steadily improving. Despite the losses, Duke has held opponents to fewer than 25 points in six straight games and 10 of 12 games this season.

11. Georgia Tech (5-6, 4-4): Last Week – L, Georgia, 38-7. The Impact – Five weeks ago the Yellow Jackets were in decent shape in terms of earning a bowl berth with four wins, but lost four of five games to close the season, including a home loss to rival Georgia. Since winning 11 games in 2014, Paul Johnson’s Techsters are just 17-19 in the past three seasons. Expect staff changes, particularly on defense, after Georgia Tech allowed three of its last four opponents to score at least 38 points.

 

THE UNPROVEN

 

12. Pittsburgh (5-7, 3-5): Last Week – W, Miami, 24-14. The Impact – There will be no bowl game for the Panthers, but they did win three of their final five games, including a stunning upset of second-ranked Miami that shook up the College Football Playoff scenario by ending the nation’s longest win streak of 13 games. Freshman quarterback Kenny Pickett, getting his first start, ran for two touchdowns and passed for another.

13. Syracuse (4-8, 2-6): Last Week – L, Boston College, 42-14. The Impact – The highpoint of the season for Dino Babers’ team was its Oct. 13 upset of defending national champion Clemson. But instead of feeding off that feel-good moment, Orange lost its last five games, including the last two by a combined score of 98-24 to Louisville and Boston College. Receivers Steve Ishmael and Erv Phillips combined to set ACC record with 194 receptions between them. Phillips and Amba Etta-Tawo set old mark for receptions by two teammates (184).

14. North Carolina (3-9, 1-7): Last Week – L, at N.C. State, 35-21. The Impact – Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels were showing signs of life after winning previous two games, including winning at Pittsburgh two weeks before Panthers upset Miami. But all that was forgotten with road loss to Wolfpack. It ended a streak of four years in which the road team had won in the series.

BEARD’S PICKS

(Predicted winners in bold caps)

Saturday’s games

MIAMI 23, Clemson 21

FLORIDA STATE 38, Louisiana-Monroe 23

 Last Week: 5-4

Overall: 79-27 (74.5%)

SEC Landscape: Week Fourteen

SEC CHAMPIONSHIP PREVIEW CAPSULE

TV: Saturday 3 p.m. CT, CBS

AUBURN

Record: 10-2

CFP rank: No. 2

Best win: vs. Alabama, 26-14

Worst loss: at LSU, 27-23

Offensive stars: Leading passer – Jarrett Stidham (2,682 yards, 16 TDs, 4 INTs). Leading rushers – Kerryon Johnson (250-1,276, 17 TDs), Kam Martin (64-409, 2 TDs). Leading receivers – Ryan Davis (69-703, 5 TDs), Kerryon Johnson (27-187, 2 TDs).

Defensive stars: Deshaun Davis (65 tackles, 4 sacks), Derrick Brown (46 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss).

Key team statistical rankings: Total offense –  18 (470.3); Scoring offense – 19 (36.7 ppg); Total defense – 11 (303.3 ypg); Scoring defense – 9 (16.4 ppg).

Gus Malzahn on rematch with Georgia: “I think the unique thing about playing a team again is it was just a couple weeks ago. As far as the revenge, and I’m sure they’re going to have some of it, but this is a championship game. This game is as big as it gets for our conference, and the winner wins the conference championship. So I know both teams are going to be motivated.”

GEORGIA

Record: 11-1

CFP Rank: No. 6

Best win: at Notre Dame, 20-19

Worst loss: at Auburn, 40-17

Offensive stars: Leading passer – Jake Fromm (1,990 yards, 19 TDs, 5 INTs).Leading rushers – Nick Chubb (178-1.098, 13 TDs), Sony Michel (124-903, 13 TDs). Leading receivers – Javon Wims (38-631. 6 TDs). Terry Godwin (24-402. 5 TDs).

Defensive stars: Roquan Smith (100 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks), J.R. Reed (65 tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss).

Key team statistical rankings: Total offense – 36 (434.7); Scoring offense – 23 (35.5 ppg); Total defense – 4 (271.9 ypg); Scoring defense – 5 (13.8 ppg).

Kirby Smart on being more physical in rematch with Auburn:  “I think that our job is to improve physicality. I don’t think that you just snap your fingers and have that happen overnight. I think some people have said, oh, you played Kentucky. You were more physical. You played Georgia Tech. You were more physical. Well, they weren’t Auburn, you know what I mean?

IN THE SPOTLIGHT

(All times Central)

 SEC Championship Game: Auburn vs. Georgia, Atlanta, Saturday 3 p.m. CT, CBS

FAB FIVE

  1. Auburn (10-2, 7-1): Last Week – W, Alabama, 26-14. The Impact – Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele, who I got to know when he was at Florida State, had a plan that limited Alabama to a pair of big plays. Gus Malzahn’s Tigers started strong and finished stronger. Sidenote: To quote from my Week 1 SEC Landscape, referencing that I had turned down a chance to continue my professional career as a sports editor while covering Auburn: “This will probably be the Year of the War Eagle, and I could have been there to see it all. Enough said.”
  1. Alabama (11-1, 7-1): Last Week – L, at Auburn, 26-14. The Impact – Nick Saban didn’t need long after loss to Auburn in Iron Bowl to start his campaign for one of the four College Football Playoff spots and the CFP committee did Crimson Tide a solid with No. 5 ranking this week. A loss by just one of the top four teams this weekend in the conference championship games would put Tide back in hunt. What’s unknown is whether Clemson could still get a shot if either Oklahoma or Wisconsin lose their games and Tigers are also upset by Miami in ACC title game. Surely, we couldn’t have a third-straight national championship game between Tide and Tigers could we?
  1. Georgia (11-1, 7-1): Last Week – W, Georgia Tech, 38-7. The Impact – Quarterback Jake Fromm had another strong outing, completing 12 of 16 passes for 224 yards and pair of touchdowns with no interceptions in romp against rival Georgia Tech. That should give him a boost in confidence going into rematch with Auburn in SEC Championship game. The last time the teams met, three weeks ago at Auburn, Fromm completed less than half his passes and was sacked four times. Bulldogs will need to find balance with Fromm’s passing and the running of Nick Chubb and Sony Michel if they are going to have different outcome against Auburn.
  1. LSU (9-3, 6-2): Last Week – W, Texas A&M, 45-21. The Impact – Ed Orgeron’s work isn’t finished, but he’s built up a good head of steam with the Tigers winning six of last seven games, including handing Auburn its only loss in mid-October. Tigers are likely headed to Citrus or Outback bowls against Big Ten opponent.
  1. Mississippi State (8-4, 4-4): Last Week – L, Mississippi, 31-28. The Impact – Losing two of their last three games wasn’t nearly as damaging to the Bulldogs as losing quarterback Nick Fitzgerald to a broken ankle in the first quarter of the Egg Bowl and then learning head coach Dan Mullen was leaving to take the Florida job. The Bulldogs have quickly moved on with Fitzgerald having successful surgery and Mullen being replaced by Penn State offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead. Despite the setbacks, the Bulldogs won eight games and will go bowling with freshman QB Keytaon Thompson getting the start.

 THE PACK

6. South Carolina (8-4, 5-3): Last Week – L, Clemson, 34-10. The Impact – With eight wins and a Florida bowl invite in the works, Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks have a lot to celebrate despite disappointment of fourth straight loss to rival Clemson. But Tigers exposed fact that Muschamp’s Achilles’ heel remains offense – Gamecocks were No. 27 in scoring defense (20.8) but only No. 98 in scoring offense (24.1)

7. Texas A&M (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, at LSU, 45-21. The Impact – After loss to LSU, Kevin Sumlin was fired with Aggies turning their attention to courting Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, who is keeping everyone on hold since Seminoles still having a game to play. Texas A&M will go bowling, but winning fewer than nine games – or losing as many as five games – isn’t acceptable with the unreasonable fans in College Station. Sumlin also was just 16-20 against SEC West teams and didn’t win a division game at home the past three seasons.

8. Missouri (7-5, 4-4):  Last Week – W,  at Arkansas, 48-45.  The Impact – Drew Lock passed for 448 yards and five touchdowns in wild road win against Razorbacks. The victory allowed Barry Odom’s squad to finish .500 in SEC and improve its positioning for one of the SEC’s bowl bids. Lock finished season with at least three touchdown passes in eight straight games and set SEC record with 43 touchdown passes, surpassing the 40 by Kentucky’s Andre Woodson in 2007. Mizzou won six in row after starting season 1-5.

9. Kentucky (7-5, 4-4): Last Week – L, Louisville, 44-17. The Impact – Wildcats entered November entertaining thoughts of at least a nine-win season but lost three of final four games. Being dominated at home by rival Louisville certainly wasn’t the way Mark Stoops’ squad wanted to end regular season, either. The UK defense again took a beating, surrendering more than 500 yards and 40 points for second straight week. Fortunately, the Wildcats clinched a bowl bid in just eight games.

10. Mississippi (6-6, 3-5): Last Week – W, at Mississippi State, 31-28.  The Impact – Winning the Egg Bowl will have to be reward enough for the Rebels since the school played season under a self-imposed bowl ban. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw for 247 yards and touchdowns passes of 77 and 63 yards against Bulldogs.

11. Florida (4-7, 3-5): Last Week – L, Florida State, 38-22. The Impact –  Gators lost six of last seven games, including a blown opportunity to end five-game skid to rival Florida State. FSU scored a pair of defensive touchdowns off a fumble and interception from UF quarterback Felipe Franks. It’s just the second losing season since 1979 by Florida and Gators will miss playing in a bowl game for only the second time in 27 seasons. It’s now up to new coach Dan Mullen to get the program back on track.

THE UNPROVEN

12. Arkansas  (4-8,  1-7):  Last  Week – L, Missouri, 48-45.  The Impact – Bret Bielema’s time in Arkansas ended with more frustration when Mizzou rallied late and won on field goal with five seconds left. Bielema was fired before he could get to the locker room, finishing his five years with Razorbacks with an overall record of 29-34 and only 11-29 in the SEC.

13. Vanderbilt (5-7, 1-7): Last Week – W, at Tennessee, 42-24. The Impact – Ralph Webb finished college career as SEC’s all-time sixth leading rusher with 4,173 yards after gaining 163 and scoring two touchdowns against Vols. The win over their state rival allowed Commodores to break a two-game skid but it was too little, too late to salvage a bowl berth for Derek Mason and his players. They were done in by a five-game losing skid in the middle of the season. But by beating Tennessee, they did move out of a tie for the SEC cellar by finally winning a conference game.

14. Tennessee (4-8, 0-8): Last Week – L, Vanderbilt, 42-24. The ImpactUPDATED Tennessee AD John Currie’s difficulty hiring a new football coach after firing Butch Jones cost him his job after only 10 months. His latest target was Washington State coach Mike Leach, who may have accepted offer, but that’s when things in Knoxville took nasty turn with alleged interference from former Vols’ coach Phillip Fulmer. Now Fulmer is AD and Currie has been kicked to curb. Reports have had Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, Purdue’s Jeff Brohm and Duke’s David Cutcliffe turning down the job but Fulmer May have had something to do with that. Trouble began when Currie initially pursued Ohio State defensive coordinator Greg Schiano but school rescinded offer because of fan outrage. If we can believe reports, former NFL coach-turned broadcaster Jon Gruden also may have declined to interview. Meanwhile, in season finale Volunteers couldn’t stop the run or generate a rushing attack, allowing 246 yards to Vandy while gaining just 55 yards. 

Beard’s Pick

(Predicted winner in Bold Caps)

AUBURN 27, Georgia 13

Last Week: 6-3

Overall: 83-20 (80.5%)