Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Wisconsin Badgers: 2015 Holiday Bowl Champions

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Rafael Gaglianone kicked a 29-yard field goal with 2:27 left to lift No. 23 Wisconsin to a 23-21 victory against Southern California in the Holiday Bowl on Wednesday night.

Gaglianone's third field goal gave Wisconsin (10-3) its first win in seven tries against USC (8-6). The teams hadn't met since 1966, and two of USC's wins in the series were in the Rose Bowl, in 1953 and 1963.

Wisconsin's Sojourn Shelton intercepted Cody Kessler with 1:44 left. Kessler was hit from behind by Jack Cichy.

In the third quarter, Cichy sacked Kessler on three straight plays.

The Trojans got to the 50 in the final seconds before Kessler threw four straight incompletions.
USC, which beat Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl, had taken a 21-20 lead on Kessler's 7-yard touchdown pass to Darreus Rogers with 10:19 left.

Louisville Cardinals: 2015 Music City Bowl Champions

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Louisville football came here to Nissan Stadium, three hours or so from home, and put in a solid performance to finish the 2015 season, running past Texas A&M 27-21 in the Music City Bowl on Wednesday night.

The win pushes Louisville (8-5) into a critical offseason in which a young team hopes to start the process of growing into a potential ACC title contender in the coming seasons. The Cards will spend the next few weeks waiting on the decisions of four key juniors who are trying to figure out if they want to return to school for one more season or make an NFL roster.

In the meantime, U of L has its third bowl win in four seasons, a budding star in freshman quarterback Lamar Jackson and a young core of talent around him.

Offensive player of the game: It has to be Jackson, who set a freshman record for total offense in a single game (453 yards) and broke the school's career rushing record for quarterbacks in the process. The speedy, shifty signal caller did a little bit of everything in Louisville's win, carving his way into the end zone in the first quarter with a 6-yard run, then busting through Texas A&M's defense 10 minutes later for a 61-yard touchdown sprint. The first quarter hadn't even ended when Jackson ran past the 100-yard mark. He finished with 226 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

The biggest knock on Jackson is that he is not a polished passer. That is still the case, and U of L's offensive coaches will spend a lot of the offseason working with him on his pocket presence, deep balls and throwing touch, but he was sharp throwing the ball on Wednesday. His numbers aren't eye-popping - 12 of 26 for 227 yards and two touchdowns - but he was effective enough to keep Texas A&M's defense at bay while also limiting turnovers and throwing the ball away when he was in trouble. It was an important step into the offseason for Jackson.

Defensive player of the game: Call it a tie between DeVonte Fields and Josh Harvey-Clemons, who both had major impacts on the game. Fields had his best game of the season, sacking Texas A&M quarterback Jake Hubenak three times. He tormented Texas A&M left tackle Avery Gennesy, who at one point in the first half picked up back-to-back false starts.

Harvey-Clemons, a much-maligned figure on U of L's defense in the second half of the season, came up big, too. The hulking safety had a free shot at Hubenak on a safety blitz in the third quarter and slapped the ball out of the quarterback's hands for a strip-sack, a fumble that James Hearns recovered. Later in the same quarter, he snatched a key interception that led to Louisville's fourth touchdown of the game and gave the Cards a two-score lead.

Where the game turned: Harvey-Clemons, after checking back on Hubenak mid-play, adjusted himself to make a leaping, fingertips interception at the Louisville 27-yard line. It came at a time when Louisville was clinging to a six-point lead and needed some momentum, and the Georgia transfer provided it. U of L went 73 yards in seven plays after the pick, capping the drive with a 17-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to Keith Towbridge, who was wide open in the end zone.

Key stats: This one comes with the obvious caveat that Texas A&M's two primary quarterbacks transferred, which left Hubenak, the third-stringer, at the helm. That said, A&M (8-5) came into the game with an impressive 43.2 percent conversion rate on third downs, but the Aggies struggled on Wednesday, hitting on just 6-of-18 tries.

What went right: The pass rush was really effective for Louisville, especially early on. DeVonte Fields was disruptive as ever, and Sheldon Rankins and James Hearns had solid games, too, until Hearns's late-game hands-to-the-face penalty that kept alive Texas A&M's last-gasp drive. Beyond that, the offensive line did a solid job for Jackson, who did a lot of work with his own legs, but he did have running lanes and space to operate.

What went wrong: The game got off to a rather surprising start, with senior linebacker James Burgess, one of the key cogs in Louisville's defense, getting ejected from the game after a targeting penalty on the first play. It was a disappointing end to what has been a very productive career for Burgess. Later in the first quarter, one of Louisville's top pass rushers, Trevon Young, was taken to the hospital with a hip injury after he was carted off the field. Those two incidents, and the brief back injury for cornerback Shaq Wiggins, put a damper on Louisville's otherwise impressive first quarter.

Mississippi State Bulldogs: 2015 Belk Bowl Champions

There was no better way for Dak Prescott to go out.

The star Mississippi State quarterback, who led his team to the Orange Bowl last season, got his second bowl win with a 51-28 win over NC State in the Belk Bowl.

MSU jumped out to a 21-0 lead, and although it got a scare from NC State in the second quarter, the Bulldogs just kept scoring, eventually blowing out the Wolfpack.

Prescott finished the game 25-for-42 passing, with 380 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed 12 times for 47 yards. That comes after a regular season in which he completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 3,413 yards, and passed for 7.8 yards per attempt and 25 touchdowns to just four interceptions all season. He also rushed for 541 yards and 10 touchdowns.

That caps off a career that few would have qualms saying is the best in Mississippi State history, both from a statistical standpoint and from a program-building standpoint.

Mississippi State is a tough place to win, sitting in the stacked SEC West. It's not a traditional powerhouse, and it has to recruit against Alabama, Auburn, LSU, and Ole Miss. But history be damned, Prescott single-handedly made this team a factor in the SEC West over the past two season. Last year, he had the Bulldogs ranked as the No. 1 team in the country and got them to the Orange Bowl. This year, they won nine games again.

Coach Dan Mullen had already begun turning around the Mississippi State program, but Prescott elevated it. The Orange Bowl berth was the first since 1940. The last time the Bulldogs finished as high as they did in AP Poll, 11th, was also 1940. And this is the first time Mississippi State has ever won at least nine games two seasons in a row.

That's mostly due to Prescott, who was overlooked for his greatness because of all the big names around him in the SEC. He was an incredibly efficient and accurate passer, and he was a true dual-threat quarterback, as he could run just as well as he threw the ball.

At 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, Prescott could be a very good pro prospect. He's accurate, has a big arm and can play within the offense while also making things happen with his feet when the initial play breaks down. NFL Draft Scout ranks him as the third best quarterback in the upcoming NFL Draft.

While Prescott should have a nice career in the NFL, this game was a celebration of his college career. And the best player in the history of Mississippi State football proved why he has that title.

Auburn Tigers: 2015 Birmingham Bowl Champions

BIRMINGHAM – Memphis safety Reggis Ball has been removed from the football team following a post-game incident that involved the Auburn equipment staff.

According to multiple local reports, Ball attempted to steal a football from the Auburn equipment staff following Auburn’s 31-10 victory in the Birmingham Bowl Wednesday. Ball was reportedly stopped by multiple Auburn equipment employees and a physical altercation took place.

   “I want to personally apologize to Jay Jacobs, Gus Malzahn, the Auburn Football team, its fans and the Birmingham Bowl for the highly-inappropriate actions of one of my student-athletes regarding a game ball at the end of Wednesday’s game,” Memphis athletics director Tom Bowen said in a university statement. “This player’s actions are totally unacceptable. He has been immediately removed from the team and we will continue to move swiftly in addressing what occurred."

Ball had a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown to tie the score at 10 with 3:06 left in the second quarter. Ball had two interceptions and one tackle for a loss Wednesday.

After Ball escaped with the football, the redshirt senior reportedly flipped his middle finger to the crowd and Auburn players as he left the field. Even though Ball’s college career is over at the Birmingham Bowl, his removal from the football program restricts him from using the athletic facilities at all and makes him ineligible to participate in the school’s Pro Day in the future months.

“We’re embarrassed about the actions that occurred after the game and that is definitely not the standards or expectations the Memphis football program stands for,” Memphis new head coach Mike Norvell said. “Even though Mr. Ball’s football career has ended, he will no longer be a part of the Memphis program because of these actions.”

In the post-game media conference, Memphis interim head coach Darrell Dickey said he was still gathering the facts about the situation but hours later Memphis officials informed the media of Ball’s dismissal.

“I consulted with University of Memphis President M. David Rudd and have spoken to both incoming head coach Mike Norvell and interim head coach Darrell Dickey and they completely support my decision,” Bowen said.