Sidelines with John Clay

Big Blue Links: College Football Playoff semifinals highlight day

Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney during the Orange Bowl press conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, December 30, 2015.
Oklahoma Sooners head coach Bob Stoops, left, and Clemson head coach Dabo Sweeney during the Orange Bowl press conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Fort Lauderdale on Wednesday, December 30, 2015. Miami Herald

Big Blue Links for Thursday:

Kentucky will face a new, improved Stefan Moody on Saturday, writes Jerry Tipton of the Herald-Leader. “As Ole Miss prepares to play at Kentucky on Saturday, Moody is playing at a wow-plus standard this season. He is averaging more points (23.8 vs. 16.6 last season), making more assists (4.3 vs. 2.4) and shooting better (from two- and three-point range).”

UK football fans will wait and see on new hires, says my column. “If UK is expecting Big Blue Nation to storm the box office demanding season tickets for 2016, however, chances are the school is going to be disappointed. That’s no offense to Gran. In fact, it has nothing to do with Gran. Instead, it has everything to do with the fact Kentucky football fans have heard all of this before.”

After tough start, Bobby Petrino set tone for Louisville success, writes Eric Crawford of WDRB. “Truthfully, not much was easy for Petrino this season. Nor, for that matter, was it last season. The coaches have been in scrambling mode for much of two years. Whether it was losing DeVante Parker before last season began, or repeated injuries and changes at quarterback this year, there have been challenges to adapt to.”

Lamar Jackson is a joystick to behold, writes Tim Sullivan of the Courier-Journal. Louisville’s freshmen quarterack had a huge Music City Bowl as the Cardinals held off Texas A&M 27-21.

Orange Bowl: Clemson vs. Oklahoma (4 p.m./ESPN) Cotton Bowl: Alabama vs. Michigan State (8 p.m./ESPN)

Auburn’s defense sends a message with Birmingham Bowl win, writes Mike Niziolek of the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. “Memphis finished with season-low 205 total yards of offense, was 0 for 3 in the red zone and went three-and-out six times. It was the first time this season the offense that averaged 42 points a game in the regular season didn’t score a touchdown.”

Mississippi State pounds Wolfpack in Belk Bowl, reports Joe Giglio of the Raleigh News and Observer. “N.C. State worried about cleaning up temporary lapses and mental breakdowns before the Belk Bowl. Mississippi State gave the Wolfpack a new set of problems in a convincing 51-28 win on Wednesday at Bank of America Stadium.”

Cotton Bowl matchup a throwback to old-school football, says Tuscaloosa News. “What could be more fitting for a bowl with a history that includes legendary players like Jim Brown, Roger Staubach, Troy Aikman and Joe Montana? Not to mention a hall of fame that includes late, legendary Crimson Tide coach Paul W. "Bear" Bryant, who brought both UA and Kentucky teams to play.”

Five Orange Bowl storylines from Matt Connolly of The State. “1. Will either team have a mental edge? Oklahoma players said they have reviewed tape of last year’s game several times over the past few weeks and listened to commentators berate their play. They have vowed to be more focused and more determined after being embarrassed by Clemson 40-6 last year. Still, it’s hard to imagine the Tigers won’t be ready to play as well with a spot in the national title game on the line.”

Survival is the name of the game for Clemson and Oklahoma, writes Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald. “No. 1 Clemson, the nation’s only unbeaten team at 13-0, will face Oklahoma at Sun Life Stadium in the first of two College Football Playoff semifinals Thursday. In the other, No. 2 Alabama takes on No. 3 Michigan State in the Goodyear Cotton Bowl, with the two winners bound for a Jan. 11 desert showdown in Glendale, Arizona, for the national title.”

Lookalike teams prepare to thin field in Cotton Bowl, writes Jimmy Burch of the Ft. Worth Star Telegram. “Michigan State punched its playoff ticket on the strength of a 22-play, 82-yard drive that consumed more than nine minutes before resulting in the game-winning touchdown in a 16-13 victory over Iowa in the Big Ten championship game. Spartans running back L.J. Scott scored the game winner from 1 yard out, with 27 seconds to play, on his 13th carry of the drive. Tag-team backs Scott (691 yards, 4.9 per carry), Gerald Holmes (534 yards, 4.9 average) and Madre London (489 yards, 4.3 average) have scored 22 of the Spartans’ 24 rushing TDs this season.”

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