Bowyer, Bear Bryant tag team a top ten at Talladega

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Late last week we mentioned that Alabama’s 2011 BcS title team would be honored at this weekend’s NASCAR race inTalladega.

In addition to a Tide-themed paint scheme adorning Clint Bowyer‘s Toyota, the driver of the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing entry honored Bear Bryant with a stunningly awesome and way-too-cool helmet design.

Despite the Alabama coaching legend riding shotgun a short distance from his old collegiate stomping grounds, Bowyer was unable to secure the sixth win of his Cup career in a race that featured multiple late-lap wrecks.  The Kansas native and self-proclaimed huge Jayhawks fan did, though, finish sixth — his second-best finish of the 2012 season — in the first of two races this season at the track an hour or so from Tuscaloosa.

Thanks in large part to Bryant’s presence, no doubt, Bowyer moved up two spots from 12th to 10th in points on the season as well.

“Yeah, it was actually my idea about the helmet. I always have icons on the back of my helmets. I’ve had them on my helmet all year long,” Bowyer said prior to the race. “Trying to think of something to do with Alabama, it was only fitting to have Bear Bryant on the back of it. So it’s a pretty cool helmet that Nick Pastura painted for me. I just want to get down there and hopefully have the same success we’ve had over the past couple of years. Talladega is good to me, had a lot of fun there, and I can’t think of anything bigger than to win in Talladega, Ala. with the Alabama car.”

This was the third time in the past three years that the BcS champion from the state of Alabama the previous year was honored at the spring Talladega race, and Bowyer’s was the highest finish of the trio.  In 2010, David Reutimann drove the original Tide-themed car to a 14th-place finish, while Michael Waltrip was one lap down and in 28th place at the end of the 2011 race in the Auburn-themed car.

It’s unclear if this will be yet another title officially claimed by Alabama.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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Matt Krohn/USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.