College football roundup: Time for the real bowl games to start

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USATSI

College football roundup: Time for the real bowl games to start

Bowl season is in full swing, with the usual assemblage of blowouts, thrillers, and last-second heroics. Of the first 17 games, 10 have been decided in the last minute.

Now it’s time for the games that really matter, locally and nationally.

Foster Farms Bowl, Dec. 28, Levi’s Stadium—Indiana vs. Utah

Both teams have something to prove. Indiana’s new coach, Tom Allen, wants to establish himself as the head man and unify his team after the abrupt departure of Kevin Wilson under a cloud of player mistreatment rumors. Based on early impressions, Allen seems to have the command and big-picture ability to succeed. Utah, which finished on a downer (three losses in its last four games), wants to end the year on an up-note and springboard into 2017. Utah is a seven-point favorite, but we think the Hoosiers may surprise.

Sun Bowl, Dec. 30, El Paso—Stanford vs. North Carolina

The big story, as articulated here last week, was Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey’s decision to skip the game and prepare for the NFL Draft. Translation: “Let’s not risk an injury in a non-playoff bowl.” But McCaffrey’s absence provides a great opportunity for sophomore Bryce Love to establish himself as The Man. Love gained 664 yards this year as a backup and averaged 7.4 yards per carry. He’s the real deal, and North Carolina’s porous defense will afford him plenty of space to maneuver. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky, a top pro prospect, will keep the Tar Heels in the game for awhile, but the Cardinal should win this one easily.

College Football Playoffs—the Coaches

Though we would have preferred an eight-team field including Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State and USC, four teams is still better than the old BCS two-team arrangement. One distinction this year is the quality of the four head coaches. If you were to rank the best coaches in college football, certainly Alabama’s Nick Saban and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer would be at the very top of the list. All Saban has done is win four national championships in the last seven years at Alabama; he previously won one at LSU. Meyer has also captured national titles at two different schools—Florida and Ohio State.

In our book, Clemson’s Dabo Swinney and Washington’s Chris Peterson would also rank among the top dozen coaches nationally along with Saban, Meyer, Stanford’s David Shaw, Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh, Colorado’s Mike MacIntyre, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, San Diego State’s Rocky Long, Nebraska’s Mike Riley and Miami’s Mark Richt. Swinney took over a program that had a reputation for choking in big games and built a powerhouse. In the last five years, his Tigers have posted a 58-9 record, won three ACC titles, and lost a heart-breaker to Alabama in last year’s national championship game. Peterson produced miracles at Boise State, including the famous Fiesta Bowl win over Oklahoma in 2007, and has the Huskies in the playoffs in only his third year in Seattle. He and Shaw will have some great battles going forward.

Peach Bowl, Dec. 31, Atlanta—No. 4 Washington vs. No. 1 Alabama

The Crimson Tide are heavy favorites to trounce the Huskies in the first semi-final game in Atlanta, and deservedly so. They dispatched 13 straight opponents this year, often without breaking a sweat. Their defense and special teams outscored many of the offenses in college football. Washington has an excellent, under-appreciated quarterback in Jake Browning, a great receiver in John Ross Jr., and a solid running game with All Pac-12 back Myles Gaskin. On defense, their secondary is among the nation’s best. But this game will be won and lost in the trenches, where Alabama is as talented as some NFL teams. Look for ‘Bama to wear down the Huskies in a closer-than-anticipated win for Saban’s crew.

Fiesta Bowl, Dec. 31, Glendale, AZ—No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 2 Clemson

The second semi-final features two very evenly matched teams. Ohio State is favored largely on the basis of Meyer’s pedigree. He’s more experienced in these types of games than Swinney, and that gives the Buckeyes a slight edge. Both teams have dual-threat quarterbacks —Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett. Watson is more accurate than Barrett and has a little bit of a chip on his shoulder after finishing third in the Heisman balloting a year ago and second this season. If Watson can avoid a costly turnover, the Tigers will win this one.

Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

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Former Napa star Josh Jackson leaving Kansas, entering NBA Draft

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Josh Jackson declared for the NBA draft on Monday after one of the best freshman seasons in Kansas history, one marked by plenty of highlights on the floor and a few distractions off it.

The 6-foot-8 swingman, who is considered a certain lottery pick, was the Big 12 newcomer of the year after averaging 16.3 points and 7.4 rebounds. He helped the Jayhawks to a 31-5 record and its 13th straight regular season Big 12 title before losing to Oregon in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.

Jackson signed with former NBA player B.J. Armstrong of Wasserman Media Group.

"After thoroughly consulting with my family, I have decided to enter the 2017 NBA draft and pursue my dream of playing professional basketball," Jackson said in a statement Monday.

"I am very thankful for all of the support I have received from my coaches and teammates at Kansas," he said, "and I look forward to starting my career in the NBA."

Jackson was the nation's No. 1 recruit when he signed with the Jayhawks out of Prolific Prep Academy in California. He immediately earned a spot in the starting lineup, teaming with national player of the year Frank Mason III and Devonte Graham to form one of the nation's top backcourts.

With natural athleticism and ability to slash to the basket - not to mention defensive chops that are rare among freshmen - Jackson quickly established himself as one of the nation's top draft prospects.

His importance was never more evident than in the Big 12 Tournament, when he was suspended by coach Bill Self following a series of off-the-court issues. The top-seeded Jayhawks stumbled in a quarterfinal loss to TCU, ending their run at the conference tournament before it really began.

He returned for the NCAA Tournament and played well in wins over UC Davis, Michigan State and Purdue, but was hamstrung by foul trouble and managed just 10 points in a season-ending loss to the Ducks.

Jackson's suspension came following an incident outside a Lawrence bar in December, when a member of the Kansas women's basketball team got into an altercation with Jackson's teammate, Lagerald Vick.

Jackson followed the woman to the parking lot and the woman said he kicked her car and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. He pleaded not guilty last week in Douglas County District Court to one misdemeanor count of criminal damage to property and a trial is scheduled for May 24.

His attorney, Hatem Chahine, said he was planning to file for diversion.

Jackson also was ticketed in February after he struck a parked car and fled the scene, and that drew Self's ire when he didn't tell his coach about the incident until several weeks later.

His decision to declare for the draft came a week after teammate Svi Mykhailiuk announced he would skip his senior season. But unlike Jackson, the 6-8 sharpshooter has not hired an agent and could withdraw his name by May 24 and return to the Jayhawks.

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

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AP

Redemption: Year after heartbreak, UNC outlasts Gonzaga to win title

BOX SCORE

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- It's OK, Carolina, you can open your eyes.

An unwatchable game turned into a beautiful night for the Tar Heels, who turned a free-throw contest into a championship they've been waiting an entire year to celebrate.

Justin Jackson delivered the go-ahead 3-point play with 1:40 left Monday and North Carolina pulled away for a 71-65 win over Gonzaga that washed away a year's worth of heartache.

It was, in North Carolina's words, a redemption tour - filled with extra time on the practice court and the weight room, all fueled by a devastating loss in last year's title game on Kris Jenkins' 3-point dagger at the buzzer for Villanova.

"Just unreal that we get a second chance at this," junior Theo Pinson said, recounting a pre-game conversation with teammate Joel Berry II. "Not a lot of people can say they can do that. I told him, `We're about to take this thing. I'm about to give everything I got.' I knew he would, too, We just didn't want to come up short again."

But to say everything went right for Roy Williams' team at this Final Four would be less than the truth.

The Tar Heels (33-7) followed a terrible-shooting night in the semifinal with an equally ice-cold performance in the final - going 4 for 27 from 3-point land and 26 for 73 overall.

Gonzaga, helped by 8 straight points from Nigel Williams-Goss, took a 2-point lead with 1:52 left, but the next possession was the game-changer.

Jackson took a zinger of a pass under the basket from Pinson and converted the shot, then the ensuing free throw to take the lead for good. Moments later, Williams-Goss twisted an ankle and could not elevate for a jumper that would've given the Bulldogs the lead.

Isaiah Hicks made a basket to push the lead to 3, then Kennedy Meeks, in foul trouble all night (who wasn't?), blocked Williams-Goss' shot and Jackson got a slam on the other end to put some icing on title No. 6 for the Tar Heels.

Williams got his third championship, putting him one ahead of his mentor, Dean Smith, and now behind only John Wooden, Mike Krzyzewski and Adolph Rupp.

"I think of Coach Smith, there's no question," Williams said. "I don't think I should be mentioned in the same sentence with him. But we got three because I've got these guys with me and that's all I care about right now - my guys."

Berry recovered from ankle injuries to lead the Tar Heels, but needed 19 shots for his 22 points. Jackson had 16 but went 0 for 9 from 3. Overall, the Tar Heels actually shot a percentage point worse than they did in Saturday night's win over Oregon.

Thank goodness for free throws.

They went 15 for 26 from the line and, in many corners, this game will be remembered for these three men: Michael Stephens, Verne Harris and Mike Eades, the referees who called 27 fouls in the second half, completely busted up the flow of the game and sent Meeks, Gonzaga's 7-footers Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, and a host of others to the bench in foul trouble.

The game "featured" 52 free throws. Both teams were in the bonus with 13 minutes left. Somehow, Collins was the only player to foul out.

Most bizarre sequence: With 8:02 left, Berry got called for a foul for (maybe) making contact with Karnowski and stripping the ball from the big man's hands. But as Karnowski was flailing after the ball, he inadvertently grabbed Berry around the neck. After a long delay, the refs called Karnowski for a flagrant foul of his own.

"I'm not going to talk about refs," Karnowski said. "It was just a physical game."

Zags coach Mark Few handled it with class, calling the refs "three of the best officials in the entire country," and insisting they did a fine job.

He might have wanted further review on the scrum with 50 seconds left. The refs were taking heat on social media for calling a held ball, which gave possession to the Tar Heels, on a pile-up underneath the Carolina basket. It set up the Hicks layup to put Carolina ahead by 3. One problem: Meeks' right hand looks to be very much touching out of bounds while he's trying to rip away the ball.

"That was probably on me," Few said. "From my angle, it didn't look like an out of bounds situation or I would have called a review. That's tough to hear."

The Bulldogs (37-2), the Cinderella-turned-Godzilla team from the small school in the West Coast Conference, tried to keep the big picture in mind. Twenty years ago, this sort of run at that sort of place looked virtually impossible. With less than 2 minutes left, they had the lead in the national title game.

"We broke the glass ceiling everyone said we couldn't break," junior forward Johnathan Williams said.

And North Carolina got over a hump that, at times this season, felt like a mountain.

"They wanted redemption," Williams said. "I put it on the locker room up on the board - one of the things we had to be tonight was tough enough. I think this group was tough enough tonight."