College football roundup: Young stars electrify all-time classic Rose Bowl

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USATSI

College football roundup: Young stars electrify all-time classic Rose Bowl

With just the national championship game remaining on the schedule, it’s time to reflect on the highlights of the 2016-17 bowl season.

Close encounters: This has been the most competitive and exciting post-season in recent memory. Over half the games had a one-score margin of victory and were decided in the last minute or overtime.

Best Game: The Rose Bowl, our choice for the best matchup in the post-season lineup, certainly lived up to the hype. USC beat Penn State, 52-49, on a 46-yard field goal as time expired. The game showcased two of the brightest stars in college football, the Trojans’ redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold and Penn State’s sophomore running back Saquon Barkley. Darnold passed for five TDs and 453 yards; Barkley rushed for 194 yards, including a spectacular 79-yard TD jaunt that was one of the niftiest runs you’ll ever see. With these two around, the game is in good hands for the next couple of years.

Semi-finals: Sadly, both College Football Playoff semi-final games were one-sided affairs. No. 1 Alabama outclassed No. 4 Washington in the Peach Bowl, 24-7, and No. 2 Clemson destroyed No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, 31-0.

‘Bama’s win was no surprise. Washington’s high-scoring offense was simply no match for the Crimson Tide defense. Husky quarterback Jake Browning looked rattled most of the day. His pick-six gave Alabama a 17-7 lead that sealed Washington’s doom. However, even those of us who predicted a Clemson win over Ohio State never imagined a 31-0 beat-down. It was the first time in 194 games that an Urban Meyer coached team was shut out. Clemson QB Deshaun Watson, despite his customary two turnovers, played brilliantly, and his receivers made the all-world Buckeye secondary look quite human. 

So the championship game will be a rematch of last year’s classic 45-40 Alabama win. Alabama is the early favorite, but we like Clemson in this one. The game may hinge on whether Watson and company can keep the Alabama defense out of the end zone.

Foster Farms Bowl—Utah 26, Indiana 24: It was a great game, decided by a Utah field goal in the final minute and highlighted by the 222-yard rushing performance of "unretired" Utah running back Joe Williams. It’s just a shame there wasn't much of a crowd on hand to see it...27,000 tickets “distributed,” 15,000 fans in the house. Fox did an excellent job on the broadcast (other than the introduction of Foster Farms’ CEO as “Mr.” Laura Flanagan during the trophy presentation), with its No. 1 announce team and studio crew.

Unfortunately, Foster Farms was swamped in the TV ratings by the competing bowls on ESPN—Russell Athletic and Texas. The Pac-12 and 49ers believed that being the only bowl game on Fox would translate into a big viewing audience. But over the years, it’s been proven time and time again that the built-in audience and constant promotion on ESPN—the undisputed home of college football and the place where most post-season games reside—delivers higher ratings than being the lone wolf on an over-the-air network like Fox.

Sun Bowl—Stanford 25, North Carolina 23: Another great game, with almost the identical score as the Foster Farms Bowl. With Christian McCaffrey sitting out and Keller Christ felled by a knee injury, Stanford’s defense and special teams saved the day. Defensive end Solomon Thomas and safety Dallas Lloyd were brilliant, with Thomas harassing Tar Heel QB Mitch Trubisky throughout and making the game-deciding play, and Lloyd intercepting two passes, returning one for a score. Running back Bryce Love did his best McCaffrey impersonation with a 49-yard TD reception and 59-yard run from scrimmage. 

Cardinal kicker Conrad Ukropina (try saying that quickly five times in a row!) scored more than half of Stanford’s points with four field goals and an extra point. The lone miss clanged off the left upright, something that Ukropina did four times this year. The odds on that happening must be a billion to one. For the season, Conrad hit 22 of 27 field goal attempts. If those goal post shots had caromed through the uprights instead of bouncing out, he’d have converted 26 of 27 on the year.

Note to those who think bowl games are “meaningless exhibitions:” Check out the sideline and on-field celebrations by Stanford players when they stopped North Carolina’s two-point conversion attempt to win the game.

Shaw Superlatives: There were some who questioned former Stanford Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby (now Big 12 Conference Commissioner) in January of 2011 when he hired David Shaw to replace Jim Harbaugh as head football coach. Shaw has not only proven the naysayers wrong, he’s become the one of the most successful coaches in Stanford history. In six years, Shaw has posted a 64-17 record, won four Pac-12 Conference Championships, gone to the Rose Bowl three times (winning two), won 10 or more games five times, and finished in the top 10 nationally four times. Next year, in all likelihood, he will pass the legendary Pop Warner (71-17-8) as the winningest Stanford coach of all time. Heady stuff.

Shaw’s name is routinely mentioned as a candidate for every NFL job that pops up, because of a stellar resume that includes pro coaching experience prior to his Stanford tenure. So far, he’s resisted the urge and the promise of more money. Why? He’s a Stanford alum who truly believes in the university’s mission to win the right way, and his family loves the environment on campus and in Palo Alto. Stanford has had a long line of coaches who’ve left soon after achieving success on the Farm—John Ralston (Denver Broncos), Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers), Denny Green (Minnesota Vikings), and Tyrone Willingham (Notre Dame). Shaw just may be the one who sticks around.

Memory lane: We spotted Sun Bowl officials Jimmy Rogers and John Folmer on the dais for the trophy presentation to David Shaw. Rogers and Folmer were the two bowl representatives who invited Stanford to the Sun Bowl back in 1977, when I was Sports Information Director and Bill Walsh was the head coach. After Stanford's 21-3 win over Cal in the Big Game, I walked Jimmy and John down to the Stanford locker room, where they extended the official Sun Bowl invitation to Bill as he emerged from the shower, draped only in a white towel. His best friend, Cal coach Mike White, was standing right next to him.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up: Arkansas tight end Jeremy Sprinkles was suspended from the Belk Bowl for shoplifting…at the Belk department store, the game’s title sponsor.

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."