Stephen Johnson II has led Kentucky to back-to-back winning seasons, no easy feat

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson II, left, sits on the bench watching the scoreboard in the final seconds of a loss to rival Louisville on Nov. 25.
(David Stephenson / Associated Press)

There hasn’t been much for Kentucky football to feel good about since Bear Bryant left for Texas A&M in 1953. But Saturday’s game against Louisville provided a final bow for Wildcats quarterback Stephen Johnson II, who played at Rancho Cucamonga Los Osos High.

The annual battle for the Governor’s Cup was as intense as a Rand Paul neighborhood barbecue. Even Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, wrestled linebacker Jordan Jones during the Cardinals’ 44-17 victory.

“There was stuff said,” was Jackson’s explanation.

Jackson threw for 216 yards and gained another 156 rushing to reach numbers close to those of his Heisman Trophy season in 2016.


On the other side was Johnson, who can claim a bigger accomplishment. Football has helped him successfully manage Tourette’s Syndrome since he was a kid.

“It would be weird because I would recognize it right before practice, and during practice it would stop,” Johnson told earlier this season. “Then as soon as practice was done, it would start up again.”

Johnson bounced from Grambling to College of the Desert and then to Kentucky, where he has led the Wildcats to back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2008-09.

He engineered an upset of No. 11 Louisville a year ago, but had only 110 yards passing against the Cardinals on Saturday. He has 2,048 yards passing and 10 touchdowns this season.


Former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch sent Johnson a Twitter message Friday: “It’s been a pleasure watching you lead the Cats to new heights. Enjoy tomorrow, celebrating all you’ve accomplished while representing the blue and white.”

Johnson’s reply was on target: “Thank you Mr. Couch. I really appreciate it!”

Dinner bell

Even before Texas A&M took the field against Louisiana State on Saturday, the Houston Chronicle was reporting that Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin would be fired after the game. (Which hadn’t happened as of late Saturday night.)

That report worked its way into Nebraska athletic director Bill Moos’ news conference announcing the firing of Cornhuskers coach Mike Riley on Saturday.

Asked about Sumlin, Moos said, “That SEC, they eat their young.”

That might also be a message to Scott Frost, the Central Florida coach and former Cornhuskers quarterback who reportedly tops the coach search list for Nebraska and Florida.

Of course, the Cornhuskers have been known to chew coaches as well.


The peacemaker?

Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield’s inappropriate antics during a game against Kansas last week brought a harsh punishment from coach Lincoln Riley. Mayfield was benched for the start of the Sooners’ game against West Virginia on Saturday.

For two plays.

Kyler Murray, Mayfield’s replacement, bolted 66 yards on the first play. Rodney Anderson scored on a four-yard run on the next play.

At that point, Mayfield certainly had learned his lesson. He resumed his push for the Heisman in a game that featured a lot of shoving.

Mayfield completed his first eight passes for 205 yards for a Sooners offense that had all the momentum of the great land rush. By halftime, they had a 45-10 lead.

Mayfield threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns before leaving in the third quarter of the 59-31 victory. While he continued a “Dancing With The Stars” audition with post-touchdown gyrations, he also tried out a new move — diplomacy.

The Mountaineers and Sooners squared off after the whistle numerous times, which seemed an extension of last season’s pregame melee in Morgantown. A second-quarter scuffle found Mayfield in the middle trying to break it up.


Green envy

North Texas has had Mean Joe Greene as a defensive tackle and Hayden Fry as a head coach, and not much else.

But the Mean Green — a nickname adopted in 1966 because of Joe Greene — got 178 yards rushing from Nic Smith in a 30-14 victory over Rice on Saturday to improve to 9-3. It’s the first time the program has won nine regular-season games since 1978, Fry’s last season.

North Texas was demoted to the Football Championship Subdivision in 1979 because of mounting debt. The Mean Green was back with the big fellas in 1995.

North Texas will play Florida Atlantic in the Conference USA title game. The last time the Mean Green won 10 games in a season was 1977, but it took a Mississippi State forfeit.

Pink slips, greenbacks

The number of coaches jettisoned this season has Power Five conferences in competition for a new title: Who’s No. 1 (at the bank)?

Arkansas’ Bret Bielema had a $15-million buyout but will receive only $5.9-million, according to USA Today. Florida’s Jim McElwain had $12.9 million coming to him, but that was negotiated down to $4 million, according to media reports.

That leaves UCLA’s Jim Mora as the Power Five top dog at the moment. He received a $12.275-million buyout. Bruins football fans can rummage through their closets and dust off their “We’re No. 1” foam fingers.

But the real message this season? Don’t leave Wisconsin.

Bielema spent seven seasons in Madison, where he had a 68-24 record and won three Big Ten championships. He left partly because his assistant coaches were underpaid, according to media reports at the time. He went 29-34 in five seasons at Arkansas.

Oregon State’s Gary Andersen replaced Bielema and went 9-4 and 10-2 in two seasons. He left, according to reports, because of Wisconsin’s academic standards. Andersen and Oregon State “mutually” agreed to part ways in October, negotiating a settlement below the $12 million that was left on his contract. He had a 7-23 record in two-plus seasons as the Beavers’ coach.

So, the grass — and buyouts — aren’t always greener on the other side, and current Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst might note that the cheddar in the hand is worth two goudas in the bush.

Oshkosh, by gosh

No. 5 Wisconsin has taken a beating for its strength of schedule. Not as much of a beating as some of the Badgers’ opponents, but it could become an issue when the College Football Playoff rolls around.

The Badgers whipped Minnesota, 31-0, in their regular-season finale. Their opponents combined for a .479 winning percentage before Saturday’s late games. That, though, seems to be the playoff blueprint in American’s Dairyland.

Wisconsin Oshkosh also remained undefeated Saturday with a 42-21 victory over North Central to reach the NCAA Division III playoffs.

The Titans’ regular-season opponents had a combined winning percentage of .379. Yet they are two wins away from playing in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl for the national title.

Of course, there is a big difference between the Football Bowl Subdivision and Division III. For starters, the Wisconsin football Twitter page has 270,521 followers. Wisconsin Oshkosh has 2,256.

Gone Fish-ing

Florida State inched closer to its 35th consecutive bowl game — an NCAA record — with a 38-22 victory over Florida.

The Seminoles gained only 216 yards and needed two defensive touchdowns, but they are now one victory shy of being bowl eligible heading into a makeup game with Louisiana Monroe.

But the topic postgame was whether coach Jimbo Fisher would be lured away by another school. Fisher attempted to turn the speculations back on the media.

“Y’all create it, with the articles and things you do,” Fisher told reporters. “Ain’t none of you ever coached.”

Probably because they were busy attending English classes.

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