After knee injury, Georgia WR Pickens ready for Orange Bowl

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Georgia wide receiver George Pickens still has a chance to be a major contributor for the Bulldogs this season.

The junior who was expected to be third-ranked Georgia’s go-to receiver before he tore the ACL in his right knee during spring practice will be available Friday for the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Orange Bowl against No. 2 Michigan.

Pickens did not travel with the team to Miami on Sunday, instead arriving Monday. Georgia would not say why Pickens and quarterback JT Daniels arrived a day late, but both are expected to be ready to play.

“When I think back to the spring when he injured his knee and thinking, wow, what a disappointment for him and his development and for us,” Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Tuesday. “But he has done a fantastic job of trying to get back.

Pickens was able to play against Georgia Tech in the regular-season finally and Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game. He made three catches, two against the Tide.

The 6-foot-3, 200 pounder from Hoover, Alabama, has maybe the highest ceiling of any Georgia wideout and he’s been especially good in bowl games.

Last year, he had seven catches for 135 yards and a touchdown against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. He ended his freshman season with a career-high 12 catches for 175 yards in Georgia’s Sugar Bowl victory against Baylor.

It might a stretch to think Pickens can be that type of an impact player against Michigan, but for a team that has relied heavily on inexperienced receivers all season any contribution would be welcome.

“He’s been a great addition to this team, him being able to come back from that injury has been tremendous for not only for himself, but for the team, as well, and just him being out there brings a different atmosphere to the game,” fellow receiver Kearis Jackson said.


Michigan linebacker David Ojabo has had one of college football’s best breakout seasons.

The junior had played 20 snaps for the Wolverines coming into the season, but has blossomed as an edge rushing outside linebacker in new defensive coordinator Mike MacDonald‘s scheme e in 2021. Ojabo has 11 sacks, is a second-team All-American and a legitimate NFL prospect now.

“When it comes time for the draft time, draft attention, I’m going to switch the focus to that, but you see us, we’re in the playoffs. Can’t be talking about the draft or focusing on the draft,” Ojabo said.

The 6-5, 250-pound Ojabo is a latecomer to football. Born in Nigeria, he grew up in Scotland, where his parents still live. He moved to New Jersey and started playing football as a teenager.

Victor and Ngor Ojabo got to see their son play in person for the first time in November when Michigan beat Ohio State in Ann Arbor.

Ojabo said his parents are not making the trip to South Florida, but his brother will be in town.

Ojabo has a great role model in fellow Michigan edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson, who was the Heisman Trophy runner-up. Ojabo said he has tried to be in Hutchinson’s “hip pocket” this year, trying to approach the game with the same work ethic and commitment.

His rise has been startling to observers, but not to him.

“No, it hasn’t surprised me because at the end of the day I know the work I put in,” Ojabo said.


Darrian Beavers has a tattoo of Cincinnati’s skyline on his left bicep, and was glad to come home to play after his final three college seasons after starting out at UConn.

Beavers, a graduate linebacker, is one of 27 players on the Bearcats roster listed as being from Cincinnati. He is among a team-high five from Colerain High School.

“Give a lot of credit to Colerain. I feel like they prepare their players well for the next level,” Beavers said Wednesday after showing off the muscular artwork. “The workouts, the intensity in practice, the competition that we play in Cincinnati, I feel like all of those factors factor in how we perform on the next level in college.”

Three of the Colerain alums play key roles on defense for the undefeated Bearcats: Beavers has 91 tackles, sophomore linebacker DeShawn Pace has 85 with a team-high four interceptions while starting only four games, and starting safety Ja’Vone Hicks has 48 tackles.

Beavers is one of five current Bearcat players from Cincinnati high schools who started their college careers at other schools.

“It’s been a blessing. I grew up here,” Beavers said. “Cincinnati’s in my blood, so I feel like the recognition that this city has gotten from this football team has been extraordinary. It has put the program on the map, it’s put the players on the map … I feel like it’s put this whole city on the map.”


Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien was sidelined for a few days during the Crimson Tide’s preparation for the Cotton Bowl against No. 4 Cincinnati by COVID-19.

The 52-year-old former Houston Texans and Penn State coach arrived in Miami on Tuesday, getting back a few days earlier than originally expected after the CDC lowered the recommended isolation time for those infected by COVID-19 from 10 to five days.

O’Brien said after working remotely for much of 2020, doing it a again for a few days wasn’t so tough.

“Every meeting, every practice I was able to be involved with,” O’Brien said. “So it was really, really good back in Tuscaloosa for me, but I’m obviously excited to be here right now.”

O’Brien succeeded Joe Paterno at Penn State in 2012 and spent two seasons there before becoming an NFL head coach. He had previously worked with the New England Patriots for five years (2007-11), the final three as quarterbacks coach for Tom Brady.

The question O’Brien said he gets a lot — though not in interview sessions because neither Alabama’s Nick Saban nor New England’s Bill Belichick allow assistant coaches to regularly meet with reporters — is how do the two coaching greats and their programs compare?

“I take a lot of pride in working for two of the greatest coaches of all time in any sport,” O’Brien said. “Coach Belichick, Coach Saban, I’ve learned so much from from both of them. And there’s some fundamentals that they both believe in: Hard work, trust, loyalty. You know, smart football teams, teams that play selfless, complementary football.”

O’Brien said after he was fired by the Texans last year, ending a seven-year run in Houston, the call he got from Saban to come to Alabama was the only job offer he received.

“And I’m grateful for the opportunity that I’ve had,” O’Brien said. “I think you can count on one hand how many people can say they worked for both guys, and I’m just extremely proud of that.”

The biggest challenge for O’Brien in coming to Alabama was learning the offense.

“When you come here, you know you’re running Alabama’s offense, you’re not bringing your offense in here, and it’s a great offense, with a great history and it was really awesome to learn it, but it was very challenging,” he said.

Georgia extends contract for AD Josh Brooks, plans two new football practice fields

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ATHENS, Ga. – On the heels of a second straight national football championship, Georgia has rewarded athletic director Josh Brooks a contract extension that ties him to the Bulldogs through at least 2029.

The athletic association board, wrapping up its annual spring meeting Friday at a resort on Lake Oconee, also announced plans for a new track and field facility that will free up space for two more football practice fields.

Brooks’ new contract will increase his salary to $1.025 million a year, with annual raises of $100,000.

The 42-year-old Brooks, who took over the athletic department in 2021 after Greg McGarity retired, called the Georgia job “a dream for me” and said he hopes to spend the rest of his career in Athens.

“I am extremely grateful,” Brooks said. “I got into this business 20-plus years ago as a student equipment manager. My first job at Louisiana-Monroe was making $20,000 a year in football operations.”

The Georgia board approved a fiscal 2024 budget of $175.2 million, a nearly 8% increase from the most recent budget of $162.2 million and the sign of a prosperous program that is flush with money after its success on the gridiron.

The school received approval to move forward with its preliminary plans for a new track and field facility, which will be built across the street from the complex hosting the soccer and and softball teams.

The current track stadium is located adjacent to the Butts-Mehre athletic facility, which hosts the practice fields and training facilities for the football program.

Georgia lost a chunk of its outdoor fields when it built a new indoor practice facility. After the new track and field stadium is completed, the current space will be converted to two full-length, grass football practice fields at the request of coach Kirby Smart.

“He wants to find efficient ways to practice, and there is a lot of truth to the issues we’ve had with our current practice fields,” Brooks said. “There is a lot of strain on our turf facilities staff to keep that field in great shape when half the day it is getting shade, so that has been a challenge as well. For our football program, it is better to practice on grass fields than (artificial) turf, so to be able to have two side-by-side grass fields is huge. It makes for a much more efficient practice.”

The new track and field complex, which will continue to be named Spec Towns Track, will also include an indoor facility, the first of its kind in the state of Georgia.

Iowa AD Gary Barta announces retirement after 17 years at Big Ten school

Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen / USA TODAY NETWORK

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Iowa athletic director Gary Barta will retire on August 1 after 17 years at the university, the school announced Friday.

Barta, 59, is one of the longest-tenured athletic directors in a Power Five conference. He was hired by Iowa in 2006 after being the AD at Wyoming.

An interim director will be announced next week, Iowa said.

In September, Iowa hired former Ball State athletic director Beth Goetz to be deputy director of athletics and chief operating officer, putting her in position to possibly succeed Barta.

“It has been an absolute privilege and honor to serve in this role the past 17 years,” Barta said in a statement. “This decision didn’t come suddenly, nor did it come without significant thought, discussion, and prayer.”

“That said, I’m confident this is the right time for me and for my family.”

Iowa won four NCAA national team titles and 27 Big Ten team titles during Barta’s tenure. The women’s basketball team is coming off an appearance in the national championship game and the wrestling team is coming off a second-place finish at the NCAA championships.

Barta served as the chairman of the College Football Playoff committee in 2020 and 2021.

He faced heavy criticism over more than $11 million in settlements for lawsuits in recent years alleging racial and sexual discrimination within the athletic department.

Lawsuits filed by former field hockey coach Tracey Griesbaum and associate athletics director Jane Meyer led to a $6.5 million payout.

Iowa had to pay $400,000 as part of a Title IX lawsuit brought by athletes after it cut four sports in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. As part of the agreement, Iowa reinstated the women’s swimming and diving program and add another women’s sport.

Iowa added women’s wrestling, the first among Power Five schools to compete this year.

A lawsuit brought by former football players alleging racial discrimination within the program was settled for $4.2 million last March, which prompted state auditor Rob Sand to call for Barta’s ouster.

“Gary Barta’s departure is a long time coming given the four different lawsuits for discrimination that cost Iowa more than $11 million,” Sand posted on Twitter.

The university did not allow taxpayer money to be used for the settlement with the former players.

Barta led Iowa through $380 million of facility upgrades, including renovation of Kinnick Stadium, the construction of a new football facility, a basketball practice facility and a training center for the wrestling teams.

Under Barta, Iowa has had just one head football coach (Kirk Ferentz), women’s basketball coach (Lisa Bluder) and wrestling coach (Tom Brands). All were in place when he arrived.

Barta has also come under scrutiny for allowing Ferentz to employee his son, Brian Ferentz, as offensive coordinator. To comply with the university’s nepotism policy, Brian Ferentz reports to Barta.