Smart: Stetson to start at QB; Daniels health still unclear

Joshua L. Jones/USA TODAY NETWORK
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — If there was any doubt left about who will be starting at quarterback for No. 3 Georgia against No. 2 Michigan in the College Football Playoff, Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart tried to put an end to it.

“Stetson (Bennett) is our starting quarterback,” Smart said during a video conference with reporters.

Smart added that whether backup JT Daniels plays in the Orange Bowl will be determined by the game situation and Daniels’ health. Georgia offensive coordinator Todd Monken was asked about the quarterback situation and said Bennett was the guy.

Daniels began the season as the starter but an injury opened the door for Bennett, who never relinquished the job.

After Georgia lost to the Southeastern Conference title game to Alabama, with Bennett throwing two interceptions, speculation about a quarterback switch started.

But it has never been more than that. Smart has stressed that the quarterback decision is based on competition and what gives the team the best chance to win.

“It’s different than other positions when it comes to making that decision for your whole team, and certainly that guy is the face and the leader of the team and gets the most reps,” Smart said. “I’m confident in Stetson now and I’m confident in JT. I thought Coach Monken did a great job addressing that yesterday, and we’ve got confidence in all our quarterbacks.”

As for Daniels’ health, the junior transfer from Southern California did not travel with the team Miami, arriving a day later with receiver George Pickens.

Smart said the Bulldogs dealt with some COVID-19 issues, but gave no specifics.

“We had a little bout the last couple weeks that we lost some guys, and we’ve gotten most of those guys back, and really that’s the biggest thing is being at full strength when you have to be, and that’s what we’re aiming towards,” Smart said.

NOW OR NEVER?

Cincinnati defensive tackle Curtis Brooks doesn’t buy into the notion that it is “now or never” for the Bearcats and a shot at the national title.

“For the seniors, it’s definitely now or never because it’s our last chance. But as far as Cincinnati, I don’t believe this is the last time Cincinnati will be on a stage like this,” Brooks said. “The program is headed in the right way in all directions in my opinion. So I really believe Cincinnati is going to become a household name.”

The fourth-ranked Bearcats (13-0) under coach Luke Fickell are the first non-Power Five team to make the four-team playoff. The American Athletic Conference champions play defending national champ and top-ranked Alabama in the CFP semifinal Cotton Bowl.

“I’m kind of seeing how it came from the bottom to the top and then now we’re in a nice position. And obviously with the team moving to the Big 12, it’s just more opportunity for guys to really show what they can do,” senior safety Bryan Cook said. “So I would agree with Curtis Brooks as far as it’s just the beginning. You’re going to see a lot of big things from this team moving forward.”

Brooks and Cook are among more than 30 seniors for the Bearcats, who will join the Big 12 no later than the 2025 season.

Brooks said knocking off the Crimson Tide would be a dream come true after watching them so much growing up. Alabama has won six of the last 12 national titles.

“That’s who was on TV all the time. And now we get the opportunity to go play them,” Brooks said. “It’s everything you ask for as a football player.”

NIL AWARD

Last week, Michigan won the Joe Moore Award given to the nation’s best offensive line.

This week, The Foundation for Teamwork, which owns and operates the Joe Moore Award, announced it is launching a NIL program that will allow Michigan’s offensive lineman to receive some of the proceeds from sales of T-shirts emblazoned with images of the winners.

Some of the money from sales of shirts, which are available to purchase online for $20, will go to the SEAL Legacy Foundation, which supports Navy SEALS and their families, and The AthLife Foundation, which aids children from challenged communities to attain careers beyond sports.

The Foundation Team says the players will receive 100% of the net sales after the charitable donation, and the foundation will match the donation up to $10,000.

SKYLINE CHILI

Cincinnati defensive lineman Curtis Brooks came to the school from Virginia and has learned to like the city’s famous dish – Skyline Chili.

“I first came to Cincinnati, I was not a huge fan of the chili, especially the Skyline,” Brooks said. “But I got some great friends from Cincinnati, Malik Vann, Darrian Beavers, kind of sat me down and forced me to eat it one more time. And I’m actually a huge fan of it now. Crazy.”

Brooks said for those who are Skyline skeptical, the key is repetition.

“You can’t just try it one time. You have to go back and try it again,” Brooks said. “Have to.”

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

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
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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
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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.