NCAA

College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

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USATSI/AP

College Football Roundup: Watson shines in a classic; Stanford trending up, Cal down

Back-to-back classics.

That’s what we’ve witnessed in the National Championship Game the past two seasons. Even in their wildest dreams, the organizers of the College Football Playoff couldn’t have imagined two games of this caliber in successive seasons.

Last year, you’ll recall No. 2 ranked Alabama edged No. 1 ranked Clemson, 45-40. This year, the tables were turned, as No. 2 Clemson edged No. 1 Alabama, 35-31. A year ago, after defense dominated the first three quarters, the teams erupted for 40 points in the fourth quarter. This year’s game followed the same script, with the teams combining for 28 points in the final period (21 by Clemson).

Divine Deshaun: The game confirmed the unparalleled brilliance of Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson, who passed for 420 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game-winner with one second remaining. In two games against the No. 1 defense in the country, playing for the national championship under the brightest lights and greatest pressure, all Watson did was pass for 825 yards, rush for another 116, and account for eight touchdowns.

Watson’s performance capped a career in which he went 32-3 as a starter, graduated in three years, and finished second and third in the Heisman Trophy balloting (behind Alabama’s Derrick Henry and Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey last year, and behind Louisville’s Lamar Jackson this year).

Looking back through the post-season prism, one wonders how Jackson could out-vote Watson. Clemson, after all, beat Louisville 42-36 early in the season. Jackson won despite finishing the season with two straight sub-par performances in upset losses to Houston and Kentucky, then was shut down by LSU in a 29-9 clunker in the Citrus Bowl.

Watson didn’t have quite the same glittering stats, but beat Jackson head to head and won the national title. Like Stanford greats Andrew Luck (who finished second twice), and John Elway (who finished second to Herschel Walker), Watson will go down as one of the best college players never to win the Heisman.

Dykes Dismissed: Earlier this week, Cal fired head coach Sonny Dykes after four seasons at the helm of the Golden Bear program. While the timing was unusual — in that it came six weeks after the end of the season — the decision was not surprising. There were three main issues with the Dykes regime: 1) The inability to develop anything resembling a defense. The Bears ranked near the bottom of NCAA defensive statistics for all four years, and there was no sign of improvement.

2) Dykes publicly pursued other coaching jobs almost from the first moment he arrived in Berkeley, most recently at Houston and Baylor. This was embarrassing to the University and the Old Blues who understandably want a coach who is committed to the school and wants to be in Berkeley.

3) Lagging ticket sales and donor support. Cal had a university-wide debt of $150 million last year, $21 million of it in athletics (largely related to debt service on the stadium renovation). The athletic department needs to fill seats in Memorial Stadium and get the donors excited again.

Like many others, we had recommended then-San Jose State Coach Mike MacIntyre to the Cal athletic department four years ago. One can only wonder where the Bears might be right now if MacIntyre, who has done such an amazing job at Colorado, would’ve been hired instead of Dykes.

Recruiting Trail: Stanford is reportedly on the way to signing one of the nation’s finest recruiting classes. According to Scout.com, coach David Shaw has already garnered commitments from the country’s No. 1 ranked quarterback (Davis Mills of Greater Atlanta Christian School), No. 1 and 2 ranked offensive linemen (Foster Sarell of Graham Kapowsin HS in Graham, Washington, and Walker Little of Episcopal HS in Bellaire, Texas) and No. 1 tight end Colby Parkinson of Oaks Christian HS in Westlake Village). Nationally, Scout rates Sarell the second best player in the country and Mills No. 3.

Speaking of recruiting, Alabama didn’t go home empty-handed this week, as the nation’s top recruit, running back Najee Harris from Antioch HS, decided to go with the Crimson Tide. Harris had verbally committed earlier, then flirted with Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh before sticking with Alabama.

Unsung Utah: With his Foster Farms Bowl victory over Indiana, Utah head coach Kyle Whittingham now has the best bowl record of any active coach. Since taking over the reins in Salt Lake City, Coach Whit is 10-1 in postseason play.

USC Finishes at No. 3: After its scintillating win in the Rose Bowl, USC climbed to No. 3 in the final AP poll. If star Adoree Jackson opts to come back for another year, the Trojans will contend for the national title next season.

Chargers to LA: San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos announced on Thursday that the Chargers will move to Los Angeles next season. One can only wonder what this means for the future of Qualcomm Stadium, home of the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls, and San Diego State football?

Limping Love leads Stanford to Big Game win over Cal

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AP

Limping Love leads Stanford to Big Game win over Cal

BOX SCORE

PALO ALTO — Bryce Love rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown despite missing most of the fourth quarter after aggravating an ankle injury, and No. 20 Stanford held off California 17-14 on Saturday to keep its Pac-12 title hopes alive.

K.J. Costello completed 17 of 26 passes for 185 yards and a touchdown, Ben Edwards made a key interception in the fourth quarter and Cameron Scarlett rushed for 49 yards on the final drive in place of Love to help the Cardinal (8-3, 7-2 Pac-12) milk the clock and win its eighth straight Big Game.

Stanford can earn a spot in the Pac-12 championship game against USC but needs some help.

The Cardinal can get there if No. 15 Washington State loses to No. 16 Washington next week. If the Cougars — who beat Stanford 24-21 on Nov. 4 — beat the Huskies, they get the nod because of the tiebreaker.

The nation's leading rusher going into the game, Love was held in check most of the game by Cal's defense and sat out the final 11:43 after re-injuring his ankle that has bothered him for the past month. He did stay on the field long enough to score a 57-yard touchdown — his 11th run of 50 yards or longer this season.

Scarlett, Love's primary backup all season, also came up big for Stanford. Scarlett rushed for 61 yards, the majority coming on the Cardinal's last drive that took the final 7:25. Scarlett's 2-yard gain on 4th-and-1 kept the drive going.

Patrick Laird ran for 153 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries while Ross Bowers passed for 182 yards and a touchdown for California. The Golden Bears (5-6, 2-6) need a win in their final game to become bowl eligible in coach Justin Wilcox's first season.

THE TAKEAWAY

California: The Bears made the Cardinal sweat and kept the game a lot closer than many thought possible. Wilcox's defense did a good job bottling up Love most of the game but couldn't stop Scarlett on the final drive which was huge. Still, there are plenty of positives for Cal to take out of this one.

Stanford: It wasn't the best game for David Shaw's team but the Cardinal gritted it out and held off a pesky Cal team that had plenty to play for. The conference title can still happen but before that Stanford has a pretty big game coming up against Notre Dame.

UP NEXT

California: Ends the regular season at UCLA on Saturday.

Stanford: The Cardinal stay home and will host No. 9 Notre Dame on Saturday. Stanford has won the last two and six of last eight against the Irish.

Former Cal running back suffers scary spine injury, taken to hospital

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AP

Former Cal running back suffers scary spine injury, taken to hospital

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The New Orleans Saints say running back Daniel Lasco has feelings in his extremities after suffering a spinal injury making a tackle on a kickoff return during today's game at Buffalo.

Lasco was loaded into an ambulance on the field and taken to a hospital.

He was hurt six minutes into the second quarter when he appeared to lower his head while tackling Bills returner Brandon Tate. 

Lasco played four seasons at the University of California, Berkeley. He gained 1,471 yards from scrimmage with 14 touchdowns his junior year. In 2015 as a senior, Lasco was limited to nine games and only totaled 355 yards. 

The Saints selected Lasco in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft.

The Associated Press contributed to this report