Three Baylor football players have been suspended from the team because of allegations of sexual assault involving football players and female members of the university’s equestrian team, a university official confirmed to ESPN.
At a Wednesday press conference, Bears coach Matt Rhule named four players who were suspended and would not be participating in spring practice. They included three redshirt freshmen, John Arthur, Justin Harris, and Tre’von Lewis, as well as sophomore Eric Ogor.
A Baylor spokesman told Outside the Lines before the press conference that one of the players was being held out because of an issue unrelated to any sexual violence incident, but he did not identify the player; Rhule also declined to specify which of the players were connected to the sexual assault investigation.
Ogor, from Richmond, Texas, was suspended in October for the remainder of the 2017 season. At the time, Baylor officials said his discipline was unrelated to Title IX issues and that he might be eligible to return in the spring.
The three players tied to the sexual assault investigation have been completely separated from the team since the allegations were first made in November, the spokesman said. Although their separation is related to the ongoing sexual assault investigation, the school has not indicated what their alleged role might have been in the reported assault.
Rhule said he was confident the investigation was being handled properly and he didn’t know much about it, which he said was the way it should be. “The people that do this for a living, they handle the investigation … I don’t know much about the case, and I think that’s really a good thing because I probably really shouldn’t know much about it as the football coach.”
It is unknown whether those three players are also among the four alleged suspects named in a police report regarding the alleged incident. According to a Baylor University Police Department incident report obtained by Outside the Lines, two female Baylor students told police that they were sexually assaulted at University Parks Apartments in Waco during the early-morning hours of Nov. 12, only hours after the Bears lost to Texas Tech at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The two women reported the incident to Baylor police on Nov. 17, according to the report.
The identities of the four alleged suspects, who were each identified as students, and six witnesses (three students and three faculty/staff members) were redacted. The alleged victims were identified by the pseudonyms “Jane Doe” and “Donna Smith.”
In a March 2 letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, an attorney representing the university wrote that the alleged victims initially reported the incident to Baylor equestrian coach Casie Maxwell, who made a report and forwarded it to the university’s Title IX office, Clery Act specialist Shelley Deats and Baylor police chief Brad Wigtil. The letter was sent as part of the school’s response to a public records act request by Outside the Lines.
The McLennan County District Attorney’s office is considering whether to bring criminal charges against the players but hasn’t yet presented the case to a grand jury. District Attorney Abel Reyna didn’t immediately respond to telephone calls from Outside the Lines.
Baylor president Linda Livingstone released a statement Tuesday night:
“Baylor University takes any allegation of sexual assault seriously,” she wrote. “The University’s new leadership team is unwavering in our commitment to follow our well-documented Title IX policy and procedures in regards to reporting and responding to incidents of sexual assault. The responsibility of responding to alleged incidents of sexual violence does not rest solely in the hands of any specific individual or unit. It is a University response dictated by our Title IX policy. Baylor University remains committed to providing for the safety and security of our campus community.”
At Wednesday’s press conference, Rhule said he welcomed questions about the issue of sexual assault, although he could not say much about the current suspended student athletes.
“These are the issues everywhere. This isn’t a Baylor thing. This is an ‘our world’ thing. And so I willingly answer those questions,” he said. “…These are major issues and so I don’t think any of us should run away from them…This is what we all need, should be talking about.”
A reporter referenced two of Rhule’s staff who were fired near the start of his tenure, one was a coach arrested in connection with a prostitution sting and another was a staff member who reportedly sent inappropriate text messages to a teenager, and asked, “Are you worried at all about the culture of the program?”
“No, not at all,” Rhule said without hesitation. “Things happen all the time, everywhere. You can either hide from it and try to hide it from all you guys so it looks like everything is great, and you end up not doing the right thing. Or you can be very transparent about things, knowing that you open yourself up for criticism.”
“As you look at the scandals and things that have happened other places, it’s always been when people are afraid to handle what’s happened,” he said, adding that the incidents with his former staff and players do not indicate a cultural problem and were quickly and properly addressed. He reiterated the work he and the school have done to provide sexual assault awareness and education for his staff and team, and he is known for sending regular text messages to his players reminding them to be respectful to women and act appropriately off the field.
“People are going to say things, and I get all that, but that doesn’t mean there’s a bad culture,” Rhule said. “There’s a bad culture when kids do things and grown ups hide them. And nobody’s hiding anything here. And so that’s why I know that we’re doing things right.”
Baylor’s handling of sexual violence allegations and other complaints involving students and football players has been heavily scrutinized over the past two years. The scandal culminated in May 2016 with the firing of former football coach Art Briles, the demotion of president Ken Starr and the suspension of athletic director Ian McCaw. Starr and McCaw left Baylor soon after.
The scandal led to multiple investigations by the Texas Rangers, McLennan County District Attorney’s office, U.S. Department of Education, Big 12 and NCAA. Ten Title IX lawsuits have been filed against the university by a total of 22 women, including 20 who alleged being either sexually assaulted or physically assaulted, and four of the complaints have been either settled or dismissed.
Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton — which was hired by the school’s board of regents to investigate whether the school properly handled allegations of sexual assault by students, including football players — was critical of the culture within the football program and Briles’ discipline of players. Pepper Hamilton’s findings described Baylor’s football players as being “above the rules” with “no culture of accountability for misconduct.”
According to Pepper Hamilton, its findings “reflect significant concerns about the tone and culture within Baylor’s football program as it relates to accountability for all forms of athlete misconduct.” It also faulted the football team for not adequately vetting transfer students, including former Boise State defensive end Sam Ukwuachu and Penn State defensive end Shawn Oakman, who were accused of sexual assault at Baylor.
Baylor announced last year that it had implemented 105 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton, including Title IX training and mandatory online training in the football program.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with each ACC coach to go over the highs and lows of 2017 and take a look at what’s in store for spring practice and the season ahead.
Next up, Georgia Tech’s Paul Johnson, whose Yellow Jackets missed out on a bowl for the second time in three years, but could prove an intriguing team in 2018.
What’s the take on last year? You were in virtually every game, saw your offense really blossom despite a lot of turnover, and yet, you finished 5-6 and missed a bowl.
Johnson: It was frustrating and disappointing. We had a lot of close games and we couldn’t find a way to pull them out. I think in four different games, we were up two scores in the second half. We lost those games we felt like we had a chance to win, and then not having a chance to play the full schedule was frustrating, too. So to finish one game under .500 was certainly not what we set out to be, and everyone was disappointed.
Justin Thomas was a foundational guy at Georgia Tech, but TaQuon Marshall not only filled those shoes but really became a star. How did you evaluate his year and where can he improve for 2018?
Johnson: Oh yeah, there’s no question he can improve a great deal. We just finished a lot of the cut-ups, and he was dynamic with the ball in his hands and did a nice job of creating some things when there wasn’t a lot there. But he can be way more consistent, especially in the passing game and with his reads, as well. There were times when we missed way too many reads.
When you talk about the struggles in the passing game, how much of that is on Marshall, how much on the reads he’s making, how much on the receivers not getting open?
Johnson: Usually it’s all of the above. Finding the right reads, being accurate, having guys who can get separation. For us, the better our running game is, the better our passing game will be since a lot of it is geared off play-action. If we do a better job with the reads and in the running game, the passing game is going to be better.
The foundation of what you guys do starts up front, and you return four starters on the line who are young overall, but with significant experience. Do you see the O-line as a real strength?
Johnson: It should be a good unit. We have most of them back, and three of them are juniors who have been starting since they were freshmen. You hope they’ll be bigger and stronger, but I think we lost really one receiver, Ricky Jeune, who was our go-to guy last year that we’ve got to find that guy a little. But other than that, we pretty much return everybody [on offense] except for Shamire [Devine].
What kind of impact can new defensive coordinator Nate Woody make? Is it more cultural on X’s and O’s?
Johnson: The cultural standpoint, we’ll see. The team kind of sets that. It’ll be interesting to see, we’re going from an even front to an odd front, so there’ll be some position changes for some guys. I think our guys are excited about it. He’s been pretty aggressive, and I think kids enjoy playing in that style of defense.
People always question the challenge of preparing a defense when it practices against your style of offense. I’m not sure it’s really dramatically different than teams with tempo or spread style offenses, but do you see it as something unique you have to deal with when trying to get the defense straightened out?
Johnson: I think that’s just a crock. It’s excuses. Playing against our offense is not a whole lot different than playing against the spread with the zone-reads and all that stuff. You play it the same way. If you look, I think the offense should help the defense. That’s one of the things I was impressed with Nate, when I talked to him about it; he embraces it because it helps play the run, it helps make you tough, and all you have to look — a team like Army, those teams are top five, top 10 in the country in defense. So it hasn’t hurt them. When I was at Georgia Southern, we were perennially in the top 10 in defense. If anything, you play less snaps. We probably played less possessions and less snaps than anybody in the country except Army a year ago. A normal game for us is 10 to 12 possessions. For everybody else, it’s 17 to 18, so you’re essentially playing a quarter less every game.
You lost some established talent in the secondary. Is that your big concern defensively heading into spring?
Johnson: I think we clearly lost some guys who started there and played a lot, and we feel like we’ve got some good young guys that are going to get a chance to finally play. We’ll see what happens. I think it makes it a lot easier back there if you can get some pressure, and the area we struggled in defensively so much was in the area of sacks and tackles for loss. So if we don’t improve in that aspect of it, it’s not going to matter who’s in the secondary.
Would you prefer your guys approach spring ball with a chip on their shoulder because of last year, or do you think it’s best to start fresh?
Johnson: I think the guys who played certainly need to remember what it was like. But we don’t dwell on it. Every team is different. When we start in the spring, we’ll start with the fundamentals and try to improve on the things we need to improve upon. With a new defensive installation, it’ll be about how fast they can go. We’ll be day-to-day and see if we can get caught up. There’ll be a lot of position changes over there. Some of the guys who were inside backers may be outside. Some safeties may be backers. So all that thing will sort itself out. Offensively, we just have to get better at our basic stuff. We can be so much better than we were a year ago.
March Madness is finally here! Not only do we have one of the world’s greatest tournaments to keep us from our daily work activities for the next few weeks, college football spring practices are revving up around the country.
It truly is a glorious month for college sports fans.
While we’re all excited about the return of football, our heads and our hearts are with the NCAA tournament. So, in honor of that and the return of college football, we’re merging them to create our own athletic monster.
Today, we bring you our college basketball All-Star teams featuring college football players.
We are setting it up like the NBA All-Star format, as well. The two captains for this fictitious exercise are Stanford running back Bryce Love* and UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton*, who finished second and eighth in last year’s Heisman Trophy race, respectively.
*This is where we’re required to mention that Love and Milton aren’t actually picking these teams. They’re merely serving as LeBron- and Steph-style stand-ins.
Love: No. 1 Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence Breakdown: Big Dex is 6-foot-4, 340 pounds, but he moves like a linebacker in the trenches with just 18 percent body fat. He might be the No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL draft, and there’s no way anyone is stopping him in the paint. Who in their right mind would challenge all that size, power and athleticism?
Milton: Houston DT Ed Oliver Breakdown: I see your behemoth and raise you arguably the biggest freak in the country — Ed Oliver. He’s so good he has already announced he’s going pro next year after averaging 1.6 tackles for loss in his 25 career games. He won the Outland Trophy as the nation’s best interior lineman and I see him as a punishing Draymond Green-type with the attitude to match his 6-foot-3, 290-pound frame.
Love: Ole Miss WR A.J. Brown Breakdown: I’m just not sure there’s a better athlete at receiver than A.J. Even at 6-foot-1, he can pound with all his 225 pounds. He can be a slasher or set up as a guard with his speed, too. Oh, and those hands caught 104 passes for 1,664 yards and 13 touchdowns in just two years, which I can only assume means he won’t drop any of those quick passes through the lane.
Milton: Arizona QB Khalil Tate Breakdown: You want to talk about a slasher? Tater Tot could run circles around and through both of these teams for 60 minutes and never get tired. He averaged 128.3 rushing yards a game last year, so you better hustle back on defense.
Love: Clemson DL Christian Wilkins Breakdown: Wilkins is 6-foot-4, 300 pounds, but he did the splits effortlessly on national TV a couple of years ago. He’s a sideline-to-sideline defensive lineman with almost 200 tackles in three years. This frontcourt is L-O-A-D-E-D and ready to bring the pain.
Milton: Ohio State DEChase Young Breakdown: Honestly, I might be more excited about this pick than any other. This guy is 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and had 3.5 sacks as a true freshman. He has the wingspan of a pterosaur, but the strength and quickness of a saber-toothed tiger. The point is, get used to his name.
Love: Arizona State WR N’Keal Harry Breakdown: Chase is a beast, but N’Keal gives me another athletic wing (6-4, 216 pounds, what?!) with the ability to dart in and out of the lane, while still leaving room for a sweet jump shot after shaking one of your unsuspecting defenders to the floor.
Milton: Oregon QB Justin Herbert Breakdown: We already know that Herbert is an athletic freak — and the man has all the size at 6-foot-6, 231 pounds — but he also has guts. Need I remind you that he dunked on former Ducks coach Willie Taggart last year and didn’t even crack a smile after? Cold. Blooded.
Love: West Virginia QB Will Grier Breakdown: Not a lot of quarterbacks are as tough or as rugged as Will. I just envision him diving all over the floor, playing defense in everyone’s grill, hurling dimes all day.
Milton: Alabama DL Raekwon Davis Breakdown: I can’t believe we went this long without picking an Alabama player. This is a swing for the fences with another nimble, big-bodied bruiser to give my front court even more size and terror — all 6-foot-7 and 308 pounds of it.
Love: Ohio State DE Nick Bosa Breakdown: Steal of the draft right here. Eleven picks before we got to a guy who had 16.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and can probably hurdle a hatchback with me sitting on top of it in a single bound? Yessir!
Milton: Wisconsin RB Jonathan Taylor Breakdown: The kid can fly, almost had 2,000 yards as a freshman and is built like a mini-tank. He’ll be a guard who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty and can still make defenders dizzy.
Love: Florida State RB Cam Akers Breakdown: Another young talent who is going to be an absolute star. He crossed 1,000 yards as a frosh and he’ll be crossing people over next.
Milton: Notre Dame CB Julian Love Breakdown: First defensive back off the board and it’s someone who defended 23 passes last year. Size ain’t great for the floor, but he’s a lockdown defender with a hint of the spectacular in him.
Love: LSU CB Andraez “Greedy” Williams Breakdown: Um, you want lock-down? He actually goes by “Greedy!” My dude snatched six interceptions while defending 17 passes as a true freshman last year.
Milton: West Virginia WR David Sills V Breakdown: A quarterback’s — and point guard’s — dream. He’s 6-foot-4, had nearly 1,000 yards last year and he caught 18 touchdowns. Alley-oops all day.
Love: LSU LB Devin White Breakdown: I love this sideline-to-sideline linebacker who will probably get into foul trouble early, but he’ll also send a message or two.
Milton: Alabama LB Dylan Moses Breakdown: I’m with you on grabbing a rangy, physical player to crash through the lane and on the boards. Hopefully Dylan’s foot is OK after a late-season injury, because he’s a dude.
Love: Georgia TE Isaac Nauta Breakdown: With Love’s last pick he’s getting size (6-foot-4, 256) in a mismatch tight end. Nauta has speed, hands and agility. Give him the ball, let him work.
Milton: USC S Marvell Tell III Breakdown: Tell is a rangy athlete with great field vision, which I can only assume holds up on the court. He’s a ballhawk, so we’ll press when he’s on the court.
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora hopes his team can rebound from a season in which the Tar Heels were plagued by injuries.
9:00 AM ET
David M. Hale
Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with each ACC coach to go over the highs and lows of 2017 and take a look at what’s in store for spring practice and the season ahead.
Next up, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, whose Tar Heels endured nearly two dozen season-ending injuries and now look to find a fresh start with more healthy bodies in 2018.
Q. You’ve coached for a while. Ever been through anything like last year, with all the injuries?
A. I’ve never been involved with anything like it. In 31, 32 years of coaching football, I’ve never been involved in something like that.
Q. It’s hard to grade last year’s performance given how many guys were out, but looking back, it speaks highly of the character of the team that, by year’s end, you were still competitive in a lot of games.
A. I think in times like that, any time you have adversity, you find out a lot about who you are, who your staff is, the make-up of your team and I think we’ll all be better coaches, better men, better players because of it. You learn from each lesson, and you make the best of that and then you move on. I was proud that those guys were fighting all the way to the end. They showed a lot of grit, and I think that will help us going forward in the future.
Q. How many of those injured guys are back, who are you waiting on?
A. We probably have about half back and the other half we’re still waiting. I anticipate we’ll have everybody when we need to have everybody.
Q. Does this spring feel like a fresh start or are there things you can really take from how last year played out?
A. There’s always some background that you work from, but I’ve always tried to basically start over. It’s a new team. We start from the beginning as if they know nothing, and we go from there. You don’t want to take anything for granted. Now, you’re able to, in some instances, go faster. Whatever the lowest common denominator is, that’s as fast as you can go. The good thing is we had a lot of young guys who probably wouldn’t have played last year that got reps, so we’re not starting from scratch.
Q. You cycled through three quarterbacks and have two new faces added to the roster. Where does that position group stand?
A. It’s just like every other position on the field for us, a wide-open competition. We got two guys that got reps. We’ve got two guys here in camp that are in spring ball right now that we signed and came in early. We’ve got an open competition, they all know that, and you’d expect the guys who had experience last year to be ahead of the others — and they are. But we’re evaluating every day.
Q. You look at how Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott played last year, and there were some nice throws, some mistakes — but they were also playing without so many of the weapons you might’ve counted on. Does that make it tough to evaluate them?
A. You evaluate all the details. How did he handle the situation? What was his demeanor? How did he handle the players around him? Did he lead? There are so many things that you can evaluate and learn from, so you try to look at everything he did in each of those guys. You get an idea where he’s at, and then we start there in spring ball.
Q. Do you expect to wait until fall to name a starter at QB or if one guy separates himself, would you do it at the end of spring?
A. Yeah, I have no problem ever naming a starter once a guy has shown he’s distanced himself from the other guys and is the leader of the team and is ready to be named the starter. It just depends on when it is. I don’t have a date it has to be done by. When that happens, that’s when we do it.
Q. The defense had its share of struggles, for a lot of reasons. How much was the personnel, the transition on the coaching staff, the struggles of the offense?
A. I don’t think the transition to Coach [John] Papuchis was that big a factor. There were a lot of factors, and any time you have one side of the ball struggling, it affects the other side. But that’s part of this game. The game of football, you have to be good in all three phases, and if not, one phase has to pick up for the others. It put too much strain on all the phases. Hopefully we learned some lessons.
Q. Tough to replace a guy like MJ Stewart. How’s the back end of the defense looking for this year?
A. Well, you get guys like Myles Dorn, who’s gotten quite a bit of experience since he’s been here. K.J. Sails. Those guys become the leaders on the back end. You have some younger guys, Patrice Rene, who got some experience, that have an opportunity to step up. Myles Wolfolk. They’ll show who they are and have a chance to make a name for themselves.
Q. Did you feel like last year’s struggles toughened this team or was there a concern it could really kill morale moving forward?
A. I think by the way they performed throughout the year, that they never gave in, it gives you an idea of the attitude they’ve taken. There was no pointing fingers or feeling sorry for themselves. It was, this is what it is, and let’s try to overcome it. That’s carried over into winter conditioning and definitely into spring ball.
The field in ESPN.com’s fictitious and fun 64-team college football tournament has been trimmed to 16 teams. Now it’s time to find out which one can go all the way.
All four No. 1 seeds, based on ESPN’s 2018 preseason FPI — Clemson, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State — are still alive in their respective brackets. Three of the No. 2 seeds are still playing, too. But the final rounds could feature some upsets.
(1) Clemson 45, (4) Miami 20: The Canes will be just a bit motivated after dropping their past two games to Clemson by a combined score of 96-3. Mark Richt’s team competes well and takes a halftime lead before Christian Wilkins, Dexter Lawrence and the Clemson defensive line slam the door. Kelly Bryant throws two second-half touchdowns, and the Tigers move on.
(3) Michigan State 23, (7) LSU 21: The Nick-Saban-Used-To-Coach-Here Bowl will feature a good dose of defense and run plays. Ultimately, the better quarterback prevails, as Brian Lewerke makes several clutch throws on two fourth-quarter drives to send the Spartans into the Elite Eight.
(1) Clemson 35, (3) Michigan State 27: Two of the more complete teams in the tournament put on an entertaining show, as Lewerke boosts the Spartans early before Clemson’s superior line play takes over. Hunter Renfrow hauls in the go-ahead touchdown, and then the Tigers stop a Michigan State drive in the red zone. Clemson returns to the College Football Playoff for the fourth straight year.
How we got here: First round: (1) Clemson over (16) South Florida, (2) Penn State over (15) Pitt, (3) Michigan State over (14) Arkansas, (4) Miami over (13) UCLA, (12) Ole Miss over (5) Florida State, (11) Kansas State over (6) Florida, (7) LSU over (10) Boise State, (9) TCU over (8) Missouri
Second round: (1) Clemson over (9) TCU, (7) LSU over (2) Penn State, (3) Michigan State over (11) Kansas State, (4) Miami over (12) Ole Miss
(1) Alabama 31, (5) Texas 14: It’s the end of the line for a Texas team that makes obvious improvement in Tom Herman’s second season. Todd Orlando’s defense holds Tua Tagovailoa in check for 2½ quarters, but Texas doesn’t have the firepower to do much against Raekwon Davis and the Tide D. Nick Saban’s crew pulls away late.
(2) Auburn 27, (1) Alabama 25: An Iron Bowl rematch in the Elite Eight? Yes, please. Although Alabama gets revenge for last year’s loss in the regular-season game in Tuscaloosa, Auburn pulls off the upset here. Stidham outplays Tagovailoa in the second half, and the kicking game costs Alabama, which misses two field goals, including a 43-yarder in the closing seconds. Gus Malzahn takes his team to Waffle House to celebrate.
How we got here: First round: (1) Alabama over (16) Fresno State, (2) Auburn over (15) Minnesota, (14) UCF over (3) Oklahoma, (4) Mississippi State over (13) Arizona State, (5) Texas over (12) North Carolina, (11) Arizona over (6) Georgia Tech, (10) Wake Forest over (7) Cal, (8) West Virginia over (9) Louisville
Second round: (1) Alabama over (8) West Virginia, (2) Auburn over (10) Wake Forest, (11) Arizona over (10) UCF, (5) Texas over (4) Mississippi State
(1) Georgia 31, (4) USC 24:The Bulldogs get boosts from both of their young quarterbacks, Jake Fromm and Justin Fields, to rally past USC. Linebacker Cameron Smith sparks an improved USC defense, but Georgia’s D will be nationally elite by this point and bottles up Stephen Carr down the stretch and forces a late interception.
(2) Notre Dame 35, (11) NC State 23: It won’t be as one-sided as last year’s game in South Bend, where Notre Dame ran through a Wolfpack defense filled with future pros. Ryan Finley keeps his team in it for three quarters before Notre Dame’s offensive line and run game take control. Alize Mack hauls in two touchdowns as the Irish move on.
(1) Georgia 23, (2) Notre Dame 17: If you enjoyed last year’s game in South Bend, get ready for a similar one in the Elite Eight. Both defenses shine before a bipartisan crowd — no Dawg takeover this time — but Fields leads a late touchdown drive, finding Terry Godwin, who breaks Notre Dame’s hearts again with a spectacular catch in the end zone.
How we got here:
First round: (1) Georgia over (16) Washington State, (2) Notre Dame over (15) Maryland, (3) Michigan over (14) Kentucky, (4) USC over (13) Tennessee, (12) Purdue over (5) Oregon, (11) NC State over (6) Oklahoma State, (7) Iowa over (10) Texas Tech, (9) Utah over (8) Duke
Second round: (1) Georgia over (9) Utah, (2) Notre Dame over (7) Iowa, (11) NC State over (3) Michigan, (4) USC over (12) Purdue
(4) Stanford 28, (1) Ohio State 24: FPI loves Stanford’s offense (No. 5 nationally) going into the season, but the Cardinal defense will gain more respect in this one. Ohio State’s big-game inexperience at quarterback proves costly, as Stanford forces three turnovers. The Cardinal control the clock with Bryce Love and an offensive line that carries the day against Nick Bosa & Co.
(2) Washington 28, (6) Virginia Tech 17: The Huskies’ offensive experience and rapidly improving defense start to turn it on in this tournament. Jake Browning throws three touchdown passes, and Washington records two second-half takeaways to move on.
(4) Stanford 27, (2) Washington 25: After missing the 2017 CFP, the Pac-12 is assured of a spot this time. Much like with Auburn and Alabama, the regular-season loser storms back to win in the tournament. Love breaks off two 60-yard touchdown runs, and Stanford wins the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter.
How we got here: First round: (1) Ohio State over (16) Houston, (2) Washington over (15) San Diego State, (3) Wisconsin over (14) Syracuse, (4) Stanford over (13) Nebraska, (5) Texas A&M over (12) Memphis, (6) Virginia Tech over (11) Iowa State, (10) Baylor over (7) South Carolina, (9) Boston College over (8) Northwestern
Second round: (1) Ohio State over (9) Boston College, (2) Washington over (10) Baylor, (6) Virginia Tech over (3) Wisconsin, (4) Stanford over (5) Texas A&M
(1) Clemson 31, (4) Stanford 20: Line play jumps out in this one, as Stanford’s offensive line and Clemson’s defensive line clash. The Cardinal start slowly only to rally back behind Love. But Clemson holds on behind Kelly Bryant, who evades Stanford defenders to pick up first downs and bleed the clock down the stretch.
(1) Georgia 27, (2) Auburn 21: The Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry shifts from the SEC championship game in 2017 to the national semifinal stage. Georgia, which edged Auburn between the hedges several weeks earlier, wins the line of scrimmage and pressures Stidham into several errant throws. Freshman running back Zamir White has two touchdowns as the Dawgs move on.
(1) Clemson 28, (1) Georgia 27: It’s more heartbreak for Georgia in familiar fashion. The Bulldogs jump ahead by 10 before Clemson’s defensive line tightens up to shut down Swift, White and the run game. After an ineffective first half, Dabo Swinney benches Bryant in favor of true freshman Trevor Lawrence, a native of Cartersville, Georgia, who leads Clemson on the decisive touchdown drive.
CLEMSON, S.C. — Now we know the real reason Clemson All-America defensive tackle Christian Wilkins decided to return to school for his senior season.
He wanted a stiffer challenge. He wanted to teach kindergarten.
Wilkins, chuckling at the thought, isn’t quite ready to go there, but he does have a new outlook on school teachers. That’s because Wilkins has been moonlighting as a substitute teacher the past few weeks and even dared to fill in one day in a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten class at James M. Brown Elementary School in Walhalla, South Carolina.
“It was fun, but took a lot out of me,” said Wilkins, throwing his eyes wide open and exhaling slowly. “I felt like Arnold Schwarzenegger in ‘Kindergarten Cop’ with all those little kids. Talk about energy, but it was a real cool experience.”
And not just for the kids, who were mesmerized by their new 6-foot-4, 300-pound instructor.
“The other teachers were the ones who knew who I was because so many of them are lifelong Clemson fans,” Wilkins said. “Some of them would kind of poke their heads in and take slow walks past the classroom, just taking their time. But the kindergarteners … they just see me as a giant. They love being affectionate and having attention.”
Ashley Robertson, the principal at James M. Brown Elementary School, has three degrees from Clemson, and the only Clemson football games she’s missed over the years were the ones when she was in the hospital delivering her three children. So when she got the news last week that Wilkins would be filling in at her school, she in her own words went full-blown “fangirl.”
In fact, when she received the text message that morning while getting in the car to take her kids to school, she let out a yell rivaling anything you might hear at Death Valley on Saturday afternoons in the fall.
“I was screaming at the top of my lungs, and my kids were wondering what was going on,” Robertson recounted. “I was the first person to go meet him and take him to the office. He was great and wanted to keep it very professional, so we made everybody aware that while we did have a national champion among us that we didn’t want to bother him for pictures and autographs. It was clear he was there to do his job and not for publicity.”
When Wilkins first walked into his classroom, the kids were all sitting on the carpet and waiting. And as their towering substitute entered, one of the kids immediately piped up and exclaimed, “That is one big Mister right there.”
Robertson now wishes that she would have taken one picture of Wilkins that day.
“I was walking behind him in the hall, and he was holding a little girl’s hand and escorting her back to class. It was adorable,” Robertson said. “They loved that he took them to PE and played with them, played popcorn bingo with them, but he’d also get down on the carpet with them and help them with their math stations. He was a natural.”
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t surprised. He said Wilkins will frequently stay after practice and help with the younger defensive linemen while they’re getting extra work on technique and pass-rushing moves.
“That’s typical Christian,” Swinney said. “He’s one of those guys who’s always going to do everything he can to leave it better than he found it.”
Wilkins, who has already earned his undergraduate degree at Clemson in communications, had to go through the proper protocol and be approved before being added to the substitute teacher list. He has also filled in a few days at Walhalla High School in the Oconee County school district in upstate South Carolina.
His pay is a robust $80 per day, which is just a blip of what Wilkins would have earned had he turned pro. But he said the experience is priceless.
“I love working with kids and empowering them,” Wilkins said. “It’s challenging, a lot more than you think, and sometimes more challenging than anything on the field.”
Wilkins joked that one of the first things he did was try to find the teachers’ lounge.
“You always thought teachers don’t really do much as a young person, but you see how much goes into it and how tiring the days are,” he said. “You have an imaginary sense of what teachers actually do and always thought a teachers’ lounge was a real thing. I had this whole perception that everybody was sitting around in there smoking cigarettes.
“Maybe back in the day, it might have been like that. But not now. It’s work, a lot of hard work, takes a lot of planning, and you better be prepared for just about anything.”