Tulane’s Pratt, Spears last game together in Cotton Bowl vs. USC

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas – There was plenty of speculation about Michael Pratt‘s future and whether the Tulane quarterback who drew interest from Power Five schools ever really considered going into the transfer portal after the Green Wave landed a spot in the Cotton Bowl.

“When you have success, opportunities present themselves, but I wouldn’t say it was super tempting because this is my squad,” Pratt, the third-year starter, said without offering specifics. “These are my guys, and the coaches that recruited me into the culture and everything, coach (Willie) Fritz.”

Pratt has already said he is coming back for his senior season, and physical running back Tyjae Spears stayed for one last game before the NFL prospect heads to the Senior Bowl. The explosive runner said he never considered opting out Tulane’s most significant bowl game in decades.

“Man, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime,” Spears said of the bowl that comes a season after Tulane went 2-10.

“I think it goes to show the brotherhood we’ve built and family, and not wanting to walk out on each other,” said center Sincere Haynesworth, one of the team captains. “Just the biggest game Tulane has had in a long time, and it just goes to show what we’ve put behind us and how much we all care about this and how bad we want that.”

The American Athletic Conference champion Green Wave play Southern California on Monday in a matchup of 11-2 teams at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys. Their nine-win improvement has already matched an FBS record.

Tulane, which played in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s Day 1940, finished as this season’s highest-ranked Group of Five team (16th in the final College Football Playoff rankings). A 45-28 win over UCF in the AAC championship game avenged its only loss since September.

Pratt had 442 total yards and five touchdowns in the title game. Spears rushed for 199 yards with a 60-yard TD, which included a leap over a tripped-up teammate, while extending his FBS-best active to streak to seven 100-yard games in a row.

“We’re really fortunate on offense because our best players are our best leaders,” first-year Tulane offensive coordinator Jim Svoboda said. “Those are two of them.”

Pratt has thrown for 2,776 yards with 25 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. He has had only two passes picked off over the past eight games.

The quarterback from Florida started Tulane’s final nine games in 2020, when he threw for 1,806 yards and his 20 TD passes were the most nationally by a true freshman. He has thrown a touchdown in all but one of his 33 career games, including the first 17.

In the Green Wave’s 2021 season opener against Oklahoma, which was moved to Norman from the Tulane campus because of Hurricane Ida, Pratt completed 27 of 44 passes for 296 yards and three touchdowns. The Sooners’ defensive coordinator then was Alex Grinch, who went with Lincoln Riley to USC after that season.

“Tough competitor. I think he has anticipation skills, in terms of throwing the football. Willing to stand in the pocket versus some pressure situations,” Grinch said of Pratt. “Nothing but impressed. That looked like probably a championship football team that maybe was on the brink. It’s easy to say now, connecting the dots that way. But certainly you saw evidence of that. And you got a quarterback, you got a shot. And they certainly have one.”

That was Spears’ first game back from an ACL injury that cut short his sophomore year. He had only six carries for 20 yards and caught three passes for six yards against the Sooners, but did go on to run for 863 yards that season.

After being limited last spring by a pulled hamstring, and still rusty early this season, Spears broke through to become the first non-quarterback named the AAC’s offensive player of the year. He has 1,064 yards rushing over the past seven games while averaging 7.8 yards per carry.

“I’m having more fun than I’ve had before,” Spears said.

“He’s an awesome dude,” Pratt said. “He comes to practice every single day going 110 percent. His attitude and effort every day, he’s super consistent. There’s never a day that he’s not the same guy.”

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.