AP

Iowa State completes stellar season by corralling No. 20 Memphis in Liberty Bowl

2 Comments

Iowa State survived an ill-timed, controversial fumble and harassed Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson throughout a cold, windy afternoon to score a 21-20 upset of No. 20 Memphis on its home field in the Liberty Bowl.

The win capped off an ascendant season for Matt Campbell and his program, ending a string of six straight losing seasons with an 8-5 campaign — the Cyclones’ most wins since 2000 — that included three victories over ranked opponents.

Iowa State started the game in a Memphis-like fashion, accepting the ball to open the game and scoring on a 52-yard bomb from Kyle Kempt to Hakeem Butler. The Cyclones had a chance to take a 14-0 lead, driving to the Memphis 39-yard line, but a botched punt snap gave the Tigers the ball at the Iowa State 40 and the Tigers capitalized in two Ferguson passes. The first went 30 yards to Tony Pollard and the second 10 to Anthony Miller for the tying score, a grab that tied West Virginia’s David Sills for a national-best 18 touchdown receptions.

Memphis (10-3) missed on two opportunities to take the lead. First, Riley Patterson missed a 38-yard field goal at the tail end of the first quarter, and then Ferguson was sacked on a 4th-and-8 at the Iowa State 37 to open the second quarter. Iowa State took advantage of that momentum with a 12-play, 6-minute touchdown drive that was extended after a Kempt interception in the end zone was overturned upon review. Given new life, Campbell elected to go for a 4th-and-5 from the Memphis 30 and converted on a 12-yard completion to Allen Lazard. The Cyclones re-claimed the lead four plays later on a 2-yard Joel Lanning rush.

Iowa State had a chance to push its lead to two scores late in the half, driving to the Memphis 24, but Kempt was sacked on a 3rd-and-10 and Garrett Owens‘s 51-yard field goals sailed (way, way) wide left with 1:18 to play. Kempt connected on 15-of-26 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown in the half.

Memphis responded by driving for a 34-yard Patterson field goal as time expired in the half, then grabbed its first lead on a 36-yard toss from Ferguson to Phil Mayhue.

The Cyclones went back in front later in the third quarter, but not without significant help — again. Facing a 2nd-and-7 at the Memphis 9, Kempt was intercepted at the goal line by Curtis Akins, who returned the ball all the way to the 24. But the pick was overturned by a roughing the passer call — and a fortunate one at that — and Kempt nailed Lazard for a 5-yard touchdown two plays later, see-sawing Iowa State back in front at 21-17 with 4:28 left in the third quarter. Lazard closed his record-setting career with 10 grabs (tying a Liberty Bowl record) for 142 yards and a touchdown, while Kempt hit 24-of-38 passes for 314 yards and two touchdowns.

After a short kickoff game Memphis the ball at its own 38, Memphis moved swiftly into Iowa State territory to set up Patterson’s second field goal, a 30-yarder that pulled the Tigers within 21-20.

The teams traded punt on their next possessions, but an advantage in the field position battle gave Iowa State the ball at the Memphis 45 with 11:05 to play in the game. The Cyclones successfully pulled off a choke-the-life-out-of-’em drive, consuming seven minutes and 23 seconds and moving to the Memphis 1 before the sure-handed David Montgomery fumbled the ball into the Memphis end zone, which was recovered by the Tigers’ Jonathan Cook. The play was (of course) reviewed and upheld, meaning the Cyclones’ first lost fumble of the entire season came at the worst possible time.

Memphis took over at its own 20 with 3:50 to play and appeared to go three-and-out, but a pass interference call on Iowa State’s Brian Peavy bailed the Tigers out with a first down instead of a punt. Ferguson drove Memphis to the Iowa State 40 with more than two minutes remaining and two timeouts in his pocket, but fired four straight incomplete passes to give the ball back to Iowa State with 1:52 to play. Lanning converted a 2nd-and-7 with a 9-yard rush, securing a game-clinching first down to salt away Iowa State’s first bowl win since 2009.

Ferguson completed his collegiate career with an effective 21-of-33 passing for 256 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he was sacked six times.

Memphis senior WR Sam Craft out for the 2017 season due to torn ACL

Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Memphis senior Sam Craft will not play football in 2017 after suffering a torn ACL during a practice earlier in the week. Memphis head coach Mike Norvellconfirmed the unfortunate injury news to reporters Saturday.

I absolutely hate it for the young man. He’s one of my favorites,” Norvell said following a scrimmage on Saturday, according to The Commerical Appeal. “He came in, had an incredible offseason, was having a great camp. And then just on a, basically a route on air, took a misstep. Definitely, our thoughts are with him.”

Craft appeared in four games in 2016 and caught 10 passes for 126 yards and a touchdown. He missed a chance for more playing time after suffering a hamstring injury at the end of fall camp. He also had a back injury bring his 2016 season to an early end. Craft recently made a position change form running back to wide receiver this year, and his work as a wide receiver was praised by Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson.

“He was having an unbelievable camp. He was one of our best receivers, I would say,” Ferguson told reporters, again according to The Commercial Appeal. “My prayers go out to him. He’s still our brother. He’s still going to be with us throughout the whole process. It just hurts not being able to have him there.”

Craft was entering his fifth year of eligibility. It remains unknown at this time if he and Memphis will apply for a waiver for a sixth year from the NCAA. Given his injury history at Memphis, he would seemingly stand a decent chance of getting another year from the NCAA.

Eighteen Alcorn State players arrested in conjunction with cafeteria fight

Getty Images
6 Comments

Eleven Alcorn State football players were arrested Wednesday in conjunction with their involvement in a fight at a campus cafeteria last week, and on Thursday the number jumped to 18.

Claiborne (Miss.) County sherriff Frank Davis said charges against the 11 were filed by Alcorn State students, and that more arrests could happen as soon as today.

Video of the fight can be seen below.

According to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger, the 11 arrested players on Wednesday were: sophomore defensive back Lei’shaun Ealey, sophomore defensive back Deago Sama, freshman defensive back Taurence Wilson, freshman defensive back Javen Morrison, junior defensive back Daniel Franklin, sophomore linebacker Terry Whittington, sophomore linebacker Trae Ferrell, freshman defensive lineman Kwanzi Jackson, sophomore defensive back Quintin Smith, junior defensive end Michael Brooks and junior defensive back Jalen Thomas.

Thursday’s haul included freshman wide receiver True Gibson, junior defensive end Ramonte Bell, junior wide receiver Marquis Warford, running back Arron Baker, defensive lineman Sterling Shippy, junior defensive lineman Randall TuckerCornelle Gilmore was also arrested Thursday, though he is not listed on Alcorn State’s roster.

The total arrest number equates to nearly a quarter of the roster.

Additionally, freshman signee Cleveland Ford stated on Twitter he will opt out of joining the team and opt for a junior college instead. He was regarded as one of the Braves’ top recruits.

“Maintaining a safe and secure campus community is the institution’s top priority,” the school said in a statement. “Campus police investigate all instances of student misconduct thoroughly and appropriate disciplinary actions are implemented in accordance with Alcorn’s student code of conduct.”

Head coach Fred McNair has not offered specific comment as of press time.

Independents and Group of Five National Signing Day Recap: Irish bounce back, Memphis tops AAC

Getty Images
2 Comments

Outside of the Power Five conferences, recruiting went about as expected in 2017.

Notre Dame continued to pound the national trail and landed a top 12 class full of players who will be expected to play early. BYU managed another impressive group that was one of the most diverse out there. The schools with a talent-rich backyard to draw on did well in the AAC.  Boise State was once again tops in the Mountain West and did better than a few peers in the region. And yes, Lane Kiffin earned that recruiting reputation by pulling in the best class of Conference USA.

Though there wasn’t much drama outside the top schools, there nevertheless was plenty of action for many programs on National Signing Day.

Top recruits (all rankings via 247Sports Composite): No. 67 overall Brock Wright (TE, Notre Dame), No. 154 overall Chaz Ah You (DB, BYU), Aisa Kelemete (DE, Boise State), Nick Robinson (TE, Memphis), Nicholas Sims (RB, Toledo)

Top classes: Notre Dame (No. 11 overall), Memphis (No. 58 overall), Boise State (No. 60 overall), BYU (No. 65 overall), Florida Atlantic (No. 71 overall), Toledo (No. 74 overall), Texas State (No. 87 overall)

Biggest storyline: Irish still land solid recruiting class

Despite the worst season in South Bend since Charlie Weis and a nearly brand new coaching staff, Notre Dame still managed to cobble together a top 12 class on Signing Day. Tight end Brock Wright was the highest rated player and should see early playing time but the number of quality offensive linemen was really evident in the group Brian Kelly signed. Will it be enough to help with a big turnaround? We’ll see.

Biggest surprise: Memphis runs away with things in the AAC but new coaches still fared well

Given all the turnover in the American this year, it should probably come as no surprise that the Tigers pulled the top recruiting class in the conference. That’s a testament to what Mike Norvell is building with the program and the fact that they don’t have to go far for players. Many of the same factors played a role in Scott Frost landing the second-best class at UCF. It was also pretty impressive what Luke Fickell did on the recruiting trail at Cincinnati and Charlie Strong did at USF given those two didn’t have a ton of time to get things lined up.

Don’t sleep on: Boise State, Colorado State

The Broncos were once again the class of the Mountain West on the recruiting trail and fended off several Pac-12 schools for prospects. That will put them firmly in the mix to win the league again in 2017 but don’t overlook another good job by Mike Bobo and staff at Colorado State in landing 17 three-star players.

We’ll see about: Everybody else

Sports Business Journal: Big 12 expansion not sitting well with Fox, ESPN

Getty Images
11 Comments

Could the Big 12’s expansion plans actually hurt its relationship with college football’s most important TV partners?

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reported Monday morning that, actually, the answer to that question could be yes.

Ourand reports ESPN and Fox are non-plussed with the thought of the 10-team conference adding the likes of BYU, Cincinnati, Houston, Memphis and/or UConn, programs which would “water down the Big 12 and make it less valuable.”

ESPN and Fox would owe the Big 12 a combined $20 million per team added to the conference — so $40 million for two teams or $80 million for four teams. The Big 12’s TV deal with both networks runs through 2024-2025.

Read Ourand’s full story here.

The question now becomes for the Big 12: Is the short-term financial windfall worth damaging its relationship with ESPN and Fox?

Both networks easily could walk away from renewing with the conference — or put in a lowball offer —  after 2025 if they feel the quality of play decreased because of, for example, Houston and Cincinnati’s presence. That’s a significant risk for Bob Bowlsby and the Big 12 to take, especially without the safety net of a conference network (as the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC will all have by 2019).

But nine years is a long time in today’s media landscape. If the TV rights bubble is already beginning to burst, what will rights payouts look like in 2025? Will cable TV still hold a certain level of importance with alternative offerings proliferating over the the last few years? Will ESPN and Fox even be the best destinations for distributing the Big 12’s product?

In a sense, it’s a risk either way. The Big 12 may very well damage beyond repair its relationship with ESPN and Fox over expansion, but it also may not matter when those networks’ contracts are up. But in the short term, it’ll be fascinating to see how — or if — ESPN and Fox are able to influence the Big 12’s expansion efforts, given that, to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan, C.R.E.A.C.F. (Cash Rules Everything Around College Football).