Sunday, January 21, 2018
Sports

Local stars lead playoff teams

OTHER bowls

Miami Beach Bowl: USF accepted an invitation to the Dec. 21 Miami Beach Bowl, where they'll face Conference USA champ Western Kentucky — coach Willie Taggart's alma mater. Most of WKU's seniors were recruited by Taggart, who coached the Hilltoppers (2010-12) before being hired by USF. "I think everything you see in myself is Western Kentucky," said Taggart, a four-year starting quarterback at WKU. "I grew as a man there, went there, got educated there, coached there. ... But this one time, I'm not gonna cheer for WKU. Only time in my life." Western Kentucky (11-2) features quarterback Brandon Doughty, who led the nation with 45 touchdown passes. South Florida (8-4) has a chance for its first nine-win season since 2007. The game is being played at Marlins Park.

St. Petersburg Bowl: Marshall, led by 6-foot-6 freshman quarterback — and Wharton High alumnus — Chase Litton, will face resurgent Connecticut (6-6) in the Dec. 26 game at Tropicana Field. "When they said St. Pete, it's kind of neat, from co-workers to family members to everybody around me saying, 'This is going to be fantastic, we're going to get to see him,' " said Litton's dad, Jeff. Litton's 22 touchdown passes lead all Division I-A true freshmen. Litton and the Thundering Herd (9-3) face a Huskies squad that won three of its past four games, including a 20-17 upset of AAC champ Houston. In the bay area's other game, Northwestern and Tennessee will meet in the Outback Bowl on Jan. 1 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. — Joey Knight, tbt* wires

coaching changes

Report: 'Cocks hire Muschamp

Former Florida coach Will Muschamp will get a second chance in the SEC after agreeing to become South Carolina's next football coach. A person with direct knowledge of the decision said Muschamp will take over the program that saw longtime coach Steve Spurrier resign in midseason. The person, who spoke to the AP Sunday on condition of anonymity because the deal had not been finalized, says Muschamp could be introduced as early as today. Muschamp, 44, spent this past season as Auburn's defensive coordinator. On Friday, South Carolina reportedly interviewed USF coach Willie Taggart. On Saturday, USF confirmed it had reached a new deal five-year deal with Taggart, 39, that would keep him with the Bulls through the 2020. Terms weren't immediately available, but the deal will increase Taggart's salary, the salary pool for his assistants and his buyout. In other SEC coaching news, Georgia hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to replace Mark Richt. — tbt* staff, wires

Saturday's predictable outcomes in the conference championship games led to a predictable playoff bracket revealed Sunday.

Clemson remained No. 1 in the College Football Playoff rankings and will face fourth-seeded Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl. No. 2 Alabama will play Big Ten champion Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl in the other semifinal. Both games are Dec. 31.

The announcement lacked drama; committee chairman Jeff Long said Clemson was the "clear-cut" No. 1 seed. But the matchups themselves are full of enticing stories.

The 13-0 Tigers and 11-1 Sooners will bring high-profile Tampa Bay talent into the 4 p.m. game at Miami's Sun Life Stadium.

East Lake High alumnus Artavis Scott was a first-team All-ACC receiver and leads Clemson in catches (84) and yards (805). Former Tampa Bay Tech quarterback Deon Cain tops the reigning ACC champs in yards per catch (17.1).

Oklahoma's underappreciated defense is led by former Armwood High star Eric Striker. The senior linebacker leads the Big 12 champions in tackles for loss (16) and sacks (7 1/2).

The Tigers and Sooners both have quarterbacks worthy of Heisman consideration, and the teams know each other well after facing off in last season's Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando.

"Last year's game, people will talk about that," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, "but it really has nothing to do with this year's game."

Except in one meaningful way.

Oklahoma's 40-6 defeat at the end of an 8-5 season led coach Bob Stoops to retool his staff and hire offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley. The payoff: Only two teams scored more points this year than the Sooners (45.8 points per game).

"The bottom line is, this team is incredibly close, incredibly tight, very selfless and very motivated to get us back to being a championship-caliber team," Stoops said.

So have 'Bama and Michigan State.

The Tide-Spartans matchup features one major common thread — Nick Saban. The 'Bama coach led Michigan State from 1995-99, with current Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio on his staff. "He's certainly done a better job than I ever did there. I can tell you that," Saban said.

Aside from coaching ties, the teams are built similarly heading into an 8 p.m. matchup at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. MSU ran 17 times in its game-winning 22-play touchdown drive that knocked off unbeaten Iowa in Saturday night's Big Ten title game. "I promise you we will need to be at our best," Dantonio said.

Three other coaching staffs are probably thinking the same thing.

FSU, FLORIDA

Peach Bowl: No. 9 FSU's last trip to Atlanta didn't end well. Georgia Tech returned a blocked field goal for a TD to upset the unbeaten Seminoles. But FSU (10-2) won four of its last five games to earn another trip to the A-T-L — a Dec. 31 showdown against No. 14 Houston. "If you're not in a playoff game," coach Jimbo Fisher said, "these are the games you want to be in." The Cougars feel the same way about the matchup at the Georgia Dome. Houston is trying to establish itself as a national program. First-year coach Tom Herman led the Cougars (12-1) to a New Year's bowl as the top team outside the power five conferences, thanks to its AAC title.

Citrus Bowl: The matchup between No. 19 Florida and No. 17 Michigan has the billboard appeal of two college football bluebloods. The more accurate description for the Jan. 1 game in Orlando is of a duel between two programs trying to reestablish themselves as national powers. "I know for our guys, having the opportunity to play against such a storied program with great tradition ... it should be a lot of fun," first-year UF coach Jim McElwain said. Both of those traditions had been sidelined recently. UF (10-3) has double-digit wins for only the second time in the past six seasons. First-year Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh already has nine wins this year — the second time UM has reached that mark in the past eight years. The Wolverines rank in the top 10 in total and scoring defense and posted three shutouts in a row midway through the season. — Matt Baker

 
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