Georgia holds off Penn State rally for TaxSlayer Bowl victory

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Georgia (10-3) once led Penn State (7-6) 24-3 in the TaxSlayer Bowl but a furious rally by the Nittany Lions with a backup quarterback fell just shy. Georgia’s 24-17 victory was made official when a Hail Mary attempt from Trace McSorely fell incomplete at the goal line.

Georgia’s defense knocked out Penn State starting quarterback Christian Hackenberg in the first half of the game. He returned on the sideline in the second half in street clothes, giving way to backup McSorely for his first serious playing time at Penn State. It was a rough adjustment once he entered the game but McSorely and Penn State eventually got in a groove and established some momentum through the air. McSorely passed for 142 yards and two touchdowns to lead the second half rally, but Georgia had done enough to grab the win.

Georgia running back Sony Michel and Keith Marshall played a key role on the ground for the Bulldogs. Neither had a big performance, but Michel’s 85 yards and touchdown and Marshall’s 62 rushing yards came at key moments to move the first down markers in the fourth quarter and keep the clock running. Georgia’s Greyson Lambert completed just 10 of his 20 pass attempts for 115 yards, but they also seemed to be picked up at key moments when needed. Malcolm Mitchell hauled in 114 receiving yards and a touchdown, but it was receiver Terry Godwin who caught Penn State’s defense off guard for the touchdown play to Mitchell in the first half.

Georgia’s defense did more than knock Hackenberg out of the game. The run defense was well prepared for Penn State freshman running back Saquon Barkley. Barkley was limited to 69 yards on 17 carries and the Georgia defense always seemed to have a presence in the backfield to shut down any play attempting to develop laterally. Penn State’s offense did gain some juice in the second half though, and the Nittany Lions rolled up 401 yards of offense to Georgia’s 327. Penalties proved costly for Penn State though, with six penalties totaling just 39 yards, but that included a crucial 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call on Austin Johnson on Georgia’s final offensive possession of the game to move the ball into Penn State territory.

With the win by Georgia, the SEC improves to 7-2 in bowl games this bowl season. The SEC still has a handful of games to be played, including Alabama’s national championship appearance against Clemson. The Big Ten closes out the postseason with a 5-5 record in bowl games, including a 1-3 mark against the SEC. Georgia interim head coach Bryan McClendon earned his first career bowl victory as a result of the game as well. Penn State’s James Franklin dropped to 3-2 in bowl games in his first loss since his bowl debut in 2011 with Vanderbilt.

Georgia will now turn the page as a program by ushering in the Kirby Smart era, just as soon as Smart is done with Alabama’s championship run in Tuscaloosa. Smart was on hand for the game to check out his new program. Penn State may also be turning a page depending on what happens with Hackenberg. If Hackenberg is on the move, Penn State got a glimpse of what may come in 2016 by seeing McSorely get some playing time and find himself in the offense. The two-minute drill with no timeouts left plenty of room for improvement, but McSorely was thrown into the fire for the first time for any extending playing time. If Hackenberg turns pro, McSorely Will Likely be the starting quarterback in 2016 for the Nittany Lions.

Georgia will open the 2016 season in Atlanta against North Carolina from the ACC in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game. Penn State’s 2016 season kicks off against Kent State at home in Beaver Stadium before taking to the road to renew an in-state rivalry with Pittsburgh.

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.

CFP expansion talks head toward October after 7-hour meeting

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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ROSEMONT, Ill. — The conference commissioners who manage the College Football Playoff met for almost seven hours Tuesday to work on expanding the postseason system from four to 12 teams as soon as the 2024 season.

There is still much work to be done.

“We will not wrap up this week,” CFP Executive Director Bill Hancock said.

The CFP management committee, comprised of 10 conference commissioners and Notre Dame’s athletic director, is scheduled to convene again at the Big Ten offices for a few hours Wednesday morning. They are set to meet again in person in Dallas on Oct. 20.

“That’ll be important,” Hancock said.

Expansion talks were revived by the university presidents and chancellors who oversee the College Football Playoff last month.

By adopting a 12-team plan that had been on the table since the spring of 2021, the presidents pushed the commissioners to try to implement a new format before the end of the CFP’s current contract with ESPN. That deal ends after the 2025 season.

Expanding from four to 12 in 2024 and ’25 will require rescheduling semifinals and championship games that already have dates and sites set, plus adding four new first-round games in mid-December to be played on campus sites.

Squeezing it all into about a month and working around the NFL for television will be challenging.

Hancock said the idea of moving up the start of the college football season to the week before Labor Day to create more room at the end for the playoff has been discussed, but more for beyond the 2025 season.

“I think most people view that as a future item. As long-term item and not an immediacy item,” Hancock said. “Remember, there’s so many details.”

Hancock said CFP officials have spoken to bowl partners and hosts cities that are set to hold semifinals and championship games after the 2024 and ’25 seasons, but they have not been presented definitive new dates.

Atlanta already has been chosen as the host city for the championship game to be played following the 2024 season, on Jan. 6, 2025. The game would have to be pushed back about two weeks if the playoff grows from four teams to 12.

“(Atlanta organizers) have some work to do because of other businesses in the community,” Hancock said. “Other meeting-type business, hotel business and Convention Center business there. They’ve been great to work with.”