SEC beefing up schedules, moving away from early cupcakes

Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Southeastern Conference is moving away from early season cupcakes. It’s been years in the making and probably long overdue.

The powerhouse league still has a few teams lagging in the scheduling department, seemingly not quite ready to go all in for competitive reasons. But beefing up schedules is clearly on the horizon for everyone, especially once the SEC adds Oklahoma and Texas.

“You can’t just open the gates and give people a 12-inch piece of wood to sit on anymore,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin said.

Stricklin called the shift in philosophy “market driven,” pointing to fans, players and television partners wanting better matchups on a weekly basis.

It’s hardly unique to the SEC, especially since strength of schedule plays a role in determining which teams make the College Football Playoff. And with the CFP planning eyeing expansion, there’s even more reason for some of the nation’s top programs – those expecting to vie for coveted playoff spots – to add more challenging games.

While fans may have gotten spoiled watching last season’s all-SEC slate of games because of COVID-19 concerns, it would be hard to complain about much of the league’s 2021 schedules.

Top-ranked Alabama thumped Miami. No. 2 Georgia edged Clemson. Mississippi routed Louisville. LSU lost at UCLA. And that was just Week 1.

This weekend’s slate includes Pittsburgh-Tennessee, Colorado-Texas A&M, Texas-Arkansas and North Carolina State-Mississippi State.

And then Auburn plays at Penn State and Vanderbilt host Stanford in Week 3, followed by Missouri at Boston College.

“It means a lot for confidence,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “Confidence can help. Can overconfidence hurt? Yes, but there’s a line there. The experience of the environment is what I value. Win, lose, or draw, the experience of that environment was going to make us better, and that is what I gain from it.

“Does it give some of the players more confidence? Yes, it gives them more confidence. It does, but it better not give them overconfidence because humility is one week away.”

Alabama and LSU have led the league’s push to strengthen schedules. The Crimson Tide have opened each of the last 10 seasons with a Power Five opponent – and won them all. The Tigers, meanwhile, have scheduled similarly for nine straight years.

The rest of the league is catching up.

“One of the harder things to do is to judge what the future of college football is going to be,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen, who is entering his 17th year in the SEC. “If you look and say, `OK, six years ago, we’re going to have a playoff and this is how they’re going to judge it and evaluate the playoff.’ It’s hard to judge that in the future, that far.

“And scheduling is tough. As you call people, there are a lot of people who are booked out way into the future. And then you get into the issue of how is the SEC schedule going to work four and five and six years ago from now? I know what our position is right now as a league.”

Four SEC teams – Florida, Georgia, Kentucky and South Carolina – have permanent, non-conference rivalry games against the Atlantic Coast Conference that they insist make scheduling a bit more difficult. The Gators play Florida State. The Bulldogs play Georgia Tech. The Wildcats play Louisville. And the Gamecocks play Clemson.

When those SEC teams are on the road every other year, they have one fewer home game that affects the bottom line.

“Our strength of schedule is kind of built in,” Stricklin said. “You want to have six, preferably seven home games a year. And when you start doing home-and-homes or start giving away neutral-site games, that eats into how many home games you’re going to have.

“Knowing the value of the home game to our campus and to the city, I don’t know that we want to be there. We might end up being there one day, but we’ve not taken that approach.”

Adding Oklahoma and Texas should change everything. The SEC is expected to revamp its scheduling model once the Big 12 juggernauts arrive, whether it’s in 2025 as currently planned or sooner, in hopes of everyone playing each other more often.

“Scheduling is just a challenging deal and we’re going to continue to work at it,” Stricklin said. “We do want to look for opportunities where we can make it more interesting for our fanbase.”

No. 2 Michigan beats Purdue 43-22 for Big Ten crown

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Donovan Edwards ran for 185 yards and a score, J.J. McCarthy threw three touchdown passes and No. 2 Michigan beat Purdue 43-22 on Saturday night for its second straight Big Ten title and a likely No. 2 playoff seed.

College football’s winningest program has the first 13-win season in school history. Two more victories would give the Wolverines (13-0, No. 2 CFP) their first national championship since 1997.

And with injured star Blake Corum sidelined by a season-ending left knee injury, Edwards stole the show for the second straight week.

After shredding rival Ohio State for 216 yards and two scores last week, Edwards broke open this game with a 60-yard on the first play of the second half to set up one score. He added a 27-yard TD sprint on Michigan’s next series to make it 28-13.

Purdue (8-5) never recovered from Michigan’s quick, seven-play onslaught after it trailed 14-13 at halftime.

But quarterback Aidan O'Connell and receiver Charlie Jones helped the Boilermakers make it interesting for a while.

O’Connell was 32 of 47 with 366 yards and two interceptions after missing some practice time early this week to mourn the death of his oldest brother. Jones, who lost to Michigan in last year’s game while playing for Iowa, had 13 receptions for 162 yards.

It just wasn’t enough.

Michigan showed no signs of a hangover after last week’s rout over the Buckeyes, taking a 7-0 lead on its opening possession with a 25-yard TD pass from J.J. McCarthy to Colston Loveland.

Purdue answered with Devin Mockobee’s 1-yard scoring run to tie the score then took the lead on Mitchell Fineran’s 33-yard field goal.

Michigan answered by taking advantage of an offside call on fourth-and-6 by going for the first down, picking it up and eventually converting the drive into a 7-yard TD pass from McCarthy to Luke Schoonmaker. They never trailed again.

Edwards big run set up Kalel Mullings‘ 1-yard TD plunge before Edwards celebrated his own scoring run.

All Purdue could muster was three more field goals.

McCarthy was 11 of 17 with 161 yards and one interception.

Corum posted a message on Twitter on Saturday morning to say his knee surgery went well.

THE TAKEAWAY

Purdue: The Boilermakers’ magical season ended with a solid showing in the championship game where they played better than most expected. Still, they won the Big Ten’s wild, wild West, both trophy games and should be bound for a warm-weather bowl game.

Michigan: Yes, the Wolverines may have already locked up a top-two seed thanks to losses by Southern Cal and TCU. Michigan now has back-to-back conference crowns for the first time since 2003-04 though the hard part remains – ending its national title drought.

DIALING UP TRICKERY

Brohm played one season in the now defunct XFL and has acknowledged that experience helped him understand how to inject personality and creativity into play calling. It was on full display Saturday.

A surprise end around set up Purdue’s first score, a fake punt helped keep its second scoring drive alive and then Mockobee sprinted 25 yards on a fake flea-flicker in the third quarter.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Will find out its bowl game, destination and opponent Sunday.

Michigan: Waiting to see where its headed and who it will face in the national semifinals.

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.