NCAA Talk

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

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USA TODAY

Northwestern mounts huge comeback, beats Utah in Holiday Bowl; Thorson, Fitzgerald heading to NFL next?

It was a tale of two halves for Northwestern in Monday's Holiday Bowl.

After entering halftime trailing Utah 20-3, Northwestern mounted a huge second half comeback to knock off the Utes 31-20. Northwestern, which outscored Utah 28-0 in the third quarter, finishes the 2018 season 9-5 record.

Northwestern was just 3-of-14 on third down, though they forced six Utah turnovers (two interceptions) highlighted by an 82-yard fumble return for a touchdown by safety/linebacker Jared McGee.

Six turnovers forced is the most by Northwestern since Oct. 3, 2009 against Purdue, when the Wildcats also forced six turnovers.

Senior quarterback Clayton Thorson — who tore his right ACL on Dec. 29, 2017 in the Music City Bowl — finished 21-of-30 for 241 yards and two touchdowns. However, Thorson exited the game late in the fourth quarter after going down awkwardly near Utah's sideline.

Thorson is one of the top quarterback prospects for the 2019 NFL Draft. 

The win improves Northwestern's all-time bowl game record to 5-10. However, they have now three-straight bowl games; from the 1948-2012 seasons, they won two bowl games — the 1949 Rose Bowl and the 2013 Gator Bowl.

One of the biggest questions facing Northwestern is the future of head coach Pat Fitzgerald. According to a report, the Green Bay Packers are expected to request an interview with Fitzgerald for their head coaching vacancy.

Unlike Thorson, Fitzgerald leaving for the NFL is no guarantee. If he does leave, however, Fitzgerald would leave with the most all-time regular season wins (95) and bowl wins (4) in Northwestern history.

Fitzgerald's .576 winning percentage would also be best all-time by a Northwestern head coach, minimum five seasons. 

Fans likely will anxiously wait for news regarding Fitzgerald's future. Overall, though, fans should be appreciative of the job he has done into turning Northwestern into one of the better football programs in the Big Ten.

UPDATE: Here's what Fitzgerald said about his future after the game.

Packers expected to request interview with Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald

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USA TODAY

Packers expected to request interview with Northwestern head coach Pat Fitzgerald

Brace yourself, Northwestern and Bears football fans. This might be tough to hear.

According to multiple reports, the Packers are expected to request an interview with Northwestern head football coach Pat Fitzgerald for Green Bay's head coaching vacancy. The request is expected to come after Northwestern plays in the Holiday Bowl on Monday, according to ESPN.

As NFL Network's Ian Rapoport noted, a connection exists between Fitzgerald and the Bears' long-time rival. Before becoming CEO of the Packers, Mark Murphy, who was Northwestern's Athletic Director from 2003-07, hired Fitzgerald as a coach.

Fitzgerald signed a contract-extension with Northwestern in April 2017 that runs through 2026 football season. The Packers interviewing Fitzgerald is not a guarantee that they will hire him. However, the thought of the long-time Northwestern coach sporting "rival" colors surely will not rest easy with Chicago football fans.

Notre Dame loses 'big' game again, gets dominated by Clemson in CFP semi-final

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Notre Dame loses 'big' game again, gets dominated by Clemson in CFP semi-final

No. 3 Notre Dame entered Saturday's College Football Playoff semi-final matchup with a recent reputation of falling in big postseason games. They did nothing to change that reputation against No. 2 Clemson in the Cotton Bowl.

Clemson absolutely dominated Notre Dame, defeating the Fighting Irish 30-3 to advance to the 2019 College Football Playoff National Championship Game. Clemson will play either No. 1 Alabama or No. 4 Oklahoma on Jan. 7 at Levi's Stadium.

Notre Dame and Clemson were actually tied at 3-3 after the first quarter, though the latter took over from that point on. Clemson scored 27 unanswered points the rest of the game, including 20 alone in the second quarter before pulling their starters early in the fourth quarter.

Clemson picked up more first downs (26-17), total yards (538-248), passing yards (327-160), rushing yards (211-88) and forced more turnovers (2-1) than Notre Dame. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence (27-39, 327 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions) also out-played Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book (17-34, 160 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). 

For Notre Dame, the loss is more of the same in terms of losing big in the "big" postseason games. The Fighting Irish ended the BCS era 0-4 in BCS bowl games, losing the 2001 and 2006 Fiesta Bowl, the 2007 Sugar Bowl and the 2013 BCS National Championship Game.

Saturday's loss to Clemson dropped Notre Dame's record in New Year's Six games to 0-2, as the Fighting Irish also lost the 2016 Fiesta Bowl. A look at the scores of those games, respectively:

Game Score
2001 Fiesta Bowl Oregon State 41, Notre Dame 9
2006 Fiesta Bowl Ohio State 34, Notre Dame 20
2007 Sugar Bowl LSU 41, Notre Dame 14
2013 BCS National Championship Game Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14
2016 Fiesta Bowl Ohio State 44, Notre Dame 28
2018 Cotton Bowl Clemson 30, Notre Dame 3

Clemson improved to 14-0 with Saturday's victory, so the strength of Notre Dame's opposition should not be understated. Clemson also is coming off a blowout loss in the 2017 CFP; No. 4 Alabama beat No. 1 Clemson 24-6 in the Sugar Bowl en route to winning the 2018 CFP National Championship.

Regardless, the fact that Notre Dame is now winless in their last six "big" postseason games is still a disappointment, especially considering that they went 12-0 in the 2018 regular season.