Georgia begins national title defense with sweet fade

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ATHENS, Ga. — The Georgia Bulldogs aren’t resting on their laurels – or their locks – as they begin defense of college football’s national championship.

Quarterback Stetson Bennett and several of his teammates chopped off a significant chunk of hair before the start of preseason practice Thursday.

Some clandestine shots of Bennett’s sweet fade generated plenty of buzz on social media – and seemingly signaled a team that is hungry for another title.

“That goes back to that lock in, lock out,” coach Kirby Smart said. “Lock into camp, lock out all the noise and all the social media things and get really focused on being the best version of yourself. And there were several guys that, I guess, decided to do that through their hair.”

Georgia is coming off its first national championship since 1980, culminating with a decisive takedown of the dynasty everyone has been chasing for more than a decade, Southeastern Conference rival Alabama.

But if anyone expects the Bulldogs to back off the throttle, think again. Smart landed another haul of top recruits and keeps preaching that his players will be the hunters, not the hunted, in their pursuit of a repeat title.

“We don’t have a reason to be complacent,” said Smart, who was recently rewarded with a 10-year contract extension worth more than $110 million. “I’ve been on national championship teams that won it all that I was concerned about complacency because there were a lot of players back. We don’t really have that problem.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs have some huge holes to fill after a record 15 players were selected in the NFL draft, the most from one school since it became a seven-round event nearly three decades ago.

Five of those players went in the first round – all of them from Georgia’s fearsome defense. End Travon Walker was the top overall pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars, and teammates Jordan Davis, Quay Walker, Devonta Wyatt and Lewis Cine also had their names called in the first 32 selections.

The way Smart sees it, he’s got plenty of guys who are eager to make their mark after watching others hold down a starring role.

That is especially true along a defensive line that was anchored in the middle by the mammoth Davis, flanked by Wyatt and Travon Walker.

Jalen Carter returns to lead a new-look line that will have the seemingly impossible task of replacing three first-rounders.

Bring it on, said nose tackle Zion Logue, one of those who will be expected to carry a much bigger load. Even with all the losses, there is still plenty of talent on the defensive side.

“The way we recruit, man, and the way we work, guys actually want to come here and be great,” Logue said. “When you have guys that want to come here and actually do the right things, do the right steps to get back to where we want to get to, I think we can be successful.”

The Bulldogs open the season Sept. 3 at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium with a most intriguing match-up against Oregon, now coached by former Georgia defensive coordinator Dan Lanning.

Smart passed on the chance to look ahead.

“”The last thing I’m worried about is Dan Lanning,” Smart said. “We’ve got a million battles to face before that. I’m not even thinking about Oregon. Our concern is our roster.”

The Georgia offense also has some big holes to fill, but experience is certainly not a concern at quarterback. To the surprise of many, Bennett passed on the chance to close out his college career with a national championship. He’s back for his sixth college season, eager to add to an already improbable journey from walk-on to title-winning QB.

“The leadership that he brings to the table, being here for a bunch of years, and the experience,” offensive tackle Warren McClendon said. “He’s taken a lot of reps. He’s seen a lot of stuff. He helps us get in the right stuff and where we need to be.”

The Bulldogs are counting on Bennett to play like a veteran.

Even with that fresh new ‘do.

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.