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No. 19 Ole Miss blows 21-point lead in shootout loss to No. 1 Alabama

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Hugh Freeze has accomplished a lot of things in his four-plus seasons at Ole Miss. He’s the only Rebels coach to beat Alabama two years in a row. Last year he became the first coach since Houston Nutt in 1998 to beat Alabama, Auburn and LSU in the same season. Today, he became the first SEC coach to build a 21-point lead over a Nick Saban-led Alabama team.

Those were nice moments, but that’s all they were. Moments. The back-to-back ‘Bama bashings failed to translate into a single SEC West title, and Saturday’s 21-point edge was erased as quickly as it came as Freeze’s 19th-ranked Rebels watched a 24-3 second quarter lead turn into a 48-43 loss to No. 1 Alabama.

After racing 75 yards in their first possession for a touchdown, Ole Miss nursed a 10-3 lead when Chad Kelly found Evan Engram for a 63-yard touchdown to push the lead to 14 with 4:40 to play in the first half. The Rebels’ defense ended the ensuing possession when Breeland Speaks sacked and stripped Jalen Hurts, and John Youngblood grabbed the loose ball and returned it 44 yards for a touchdown. The score stood despite Speaks hitting Hurts in the targeting area and blocking an Alabama player in the back before Youngblood crossed the goal line.

Rather than knock out Hurts, however, the fumble seemed to ignite Hurts — and the rest of Alabama’s roster. Hurts guided the Tide on a 3-play, 50-yard touchdown drive to pull within 24-10 just 30 seconds after Ole Miss pushed the lead to 21 points and, after a three-and-out, Eddie Jackson returned a punt 85 yards for a deficit-halving touchdown just a minute and five seconds later.

Alabama opened the scoring in the second half when Ryan Anderson sacked Kelly at his own 6-yard line and Da’Ron Payne recovered the loose pigskin for a touchdown. Hurts, who played like a true freshman for the majority of the first half, passed and threw for most of Alabama’s 51-yard field goal drive on the Tide’s next possession, but Ole Miss knotted the score with an 18-yard Gary Wunderlich field goal at the 1:47 mark of the third quarter.

Damien Harris, quiet for most of the season to that point, burst for a 67-yard rush on Alabama’s next possession, and Bo Scarborough gave Alabama the lead on a 1-yard plunge with 16 ticks left in the third.

Another Wunderlich field goal pulled the Rebels within 34-30, but Hurts (158 passing yards and a game-high 146 rushing) again engineered a touchdown drive, starting with a 41-yard run on the first play of the possession. Leading now 41-30, Alabama allowed the Rebels to push to their own 20-yard line when defensive end Jonathan Allen turned a quarterback pressure into a 75-yard pick-six, giving Alabama a 48-30 lead with 5:28 to play.

Ole Miss, though, responded. The Rebels moved 78 yards in 12 plays, capped by a five-yard strike from Kelly to Damore'ea Stringfellow, to pull within 48-37 with 2:59 remaining, and scored one play later when, after recovering an onside kick, Kelly (421 passing yards, three touchdowns) found A.J. Brown for a 37-yard touchdown. A 48-30 runaway had morphed into a 48-43 thriller — the Rebels’ two-point try failed after a bad shotgun snap sent the play off kilter — in two-and-a-half minutes.

The game would not flip completely, however, as Ole Miss could not force Alabama to surrender the ball over the final 2:51.

For Alabama (3-0), the win provides some actual adversity after Saban spent a week trying to create his own following wins by a combined 90-16 in the Tide’s first two games. Ironically, the win marks Alabama’s first victorious 21-point rally since Oct. 7, 1989, when the Tide turned a 21-0 hole into a 62-27 defeat of Ole Miss.

Ole Miss (1-2) saw its second loss follow a near identical script to the first. The Rebels opened the season by watching a 28-6 lead turn into a 45-34 loss to Florida State and now, two weeks later, witnessed a 24-3 edge turn into a 48-43 defeat.

Division II, Division III and NAIA title games set while FCS heads into semifinals

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Outside of a thrilling Army-Navy game and the Heisman ceremony, it was an empty Saturday at the highest level of college football.

But no so at the lower levels.

The divisional playoffs are cranked into high gear. Let’s take a brief look at where everything stands in each division.

FCS

Top-seeded and defending champion James Madison needed a last-second field goal to survive visiting Weber State, 31-28, on Friday night, while No. 5 seed South Dakota State routed New Hampshire, 55-14.

On the other side of the bracket, No. 2 seed and winner of five of the last six national titles North Dakota State walloped Wofford, 42-10 in Fargo. No. 6 seed Sam Houston State outlasted upstart Kennesaw State, 34-27, to send the Bearkats into their fifth semifinal game in the last seven years.

Semifinals: No. 5 South Dakota State at No. 1 James Madison — 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPNU; No. 6 Sam Houston State at No. 2 North Dakota State — 8 p.m. ET Friday, ESPN2.

Division II

No. 4 seed West Florida traveled north and upset top-seeded Indiana (Pa.), 27-17 on Saturday, to send the Argonauts into their first championship game. No. 2 seed Texas A&M-Commerce fended off the option attack of No. 3 Harding (Ark.), 31-17, putting the Lions in their first title game as well.

National championship: No. 2 Texas A&M-Commerce vs. No. 4 West Florida — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN2 at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kan.

Division III

In a similar dynamic to FCS, the defending champion is on a collision course with the traditional champion. In the first semifinal, defending champion Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) blanked Brockport (N.Y.), 24-0. The Crusaders will make their third trip to the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl, looking to win their second title.

In the other semifinal, Mount Union (Ohio) overcame a 21-10 deficit to beat Wisconsin-Oshkosh, 43-40. The Purple Raiders will play in their 20th Stagg Bowl — all of them coming since 1993, and 19 of them since ’96 — with a shot at their 13th national championship. However, Mount Union has won just — “just” — two national championships since 2009.

National championship: Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas) vs. Mount Union (Ohio) — 7 p.m. ET Friday on ESPN at Salem Stadium in Salem Va.

NAIA

The NAIA was off this weekend, taking a break in between last week’s semifinals and Saturday’s national championship. Defending champion Saint Francis (Ind.) out-gunned previously-undefeated Morningside (Iowa) 43-36 in the first semifinal, while Reinhardt (Ga.) held off undefeated Southern Oregon, 37-34 in double overtime.

National championship: Saint Francis (Ind.) vs. Reinhardt (Ga.) — 6 p.m. ET Saturday on ESPN3 at Municipal Stadium in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Minnesota lands commitment from 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle

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P.J. Fleck is going to need a bigger boat.

Minnesota has landed a commitment from the largest recruit on record, as 6-foot-8, 395-pound offensive tackle Daniel Faalele has committed to the Gophers. Faalele made the announcement on his Twitter page on Saturday night.

A 3-star recruit, Faalele is rated as the No. 29 offensive tackle in the country, according to 247Sports. He listed 20 offers, including from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Michigan and LSU.

As the story goes, Faalele did not find football; football found him. He was discovered by a recruiter from Hawaii working out at a gym in his native Melbourne, Australia. He attended a Michigan satellite camp in Australia and played this season — his first season in pads — at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

In making the trip from the Land Down Under to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Faalele will be joined by a pair of IMG Academy teammates in offensive lineman Curtis Dunlap, Jr., and quarterback Zack Annexstad, who also committed to Minnesota on Saturday.

Those pledges now give Minnesota the 26th best recruiting class in the country and the sixth best in the Big Ten — but the No. 1 class in the Big Ten West — in the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Minnesota’s class may not be the best in the country, but it’s among the biggest — both in size (the Gophers have 25 pledges thus far) and stature.

Texas A&M suspends DT Zaycoven Henderson amid felony gun charges

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Texas A&M defensive tackle Zaycoven Henderson was suspended amid multiple felony charges on Saturday.

As detailed by Ben Baby of the Dallas Morning News, witnesses say Henderson pointed a rifle at one person outside College Station’s Campus Village Apartments and threatened to kill two others and allegedly threw the gun out of a fleeing car as police arrived on the scene. The car was later tracked down by College Station officers, who discovered marijuana in the car.

He was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, tampering with evidence and marijuana possession. The first charge is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 20 years in a prison. The second is a third-degree felony and the third is a misdemeanor.

He was booked into the Brazos County (Texas) jail at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.

Texas A&M has suspended Henderson indefinitely, which really only lasts one game as the senior from Longview, Texas, was set to close his Aggies career in the Belk Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 29 (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Henderson made 35 tackles with five TFLs and 2.5 sacks in 12 starts this season. He was honored as a member of Texas A&M’s senior class at the annual team banquet earlier this weekend.

UCLA reportedly hires Paul Rhoads as defensive backs coach

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Chip Kelly has reportedly hired one of the most respected men in the business to his staff. According to a report from Sports Illustrated‘s Bruce Feldman, Paul Rhoads is on his way to Westwood to coach UCLA’s defensive backs.

Rhoads spent the past two seasons at Arkansas, the first as defensive backs coach and the second as defensive coordinator in addition to his duties with the secondary. He’s best known, of course, for his 7-year run as the head coach at Iowa State, where he took the Cyclones to three bowl games and created this viral moment before any of us knew what “going viral” went.

In addition to Arkansas, Rhoads also owns defensive experience at Auburn, Pittsburgh, Iowa State, Pacific, Ohio State and Utah State.

UCLA finished last season ranked 74th in pass efficiency defense, yielding a 57.1 percent completion rate for 7.3 yards per attempt with seven interceptions against 18 touchdowns.