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Ole Miss survives pair of comebacks, upsets Tide in Tuscaloosa


Alabama came into Saturday night looking to make a statement and exact a little revenge.  In the end, it was the team on the other sidelines doing the former while impressively avoiding the latter — but not before surviving a significant scare.  Or two.

Up 20 late in the third quarter, 15th-ranked Ole Miss withstood a flurry of Tide haymakers to head back to Oxford with a nail-biting 43-37 win over the second-ranked team in the country.  The loss ends ‘Bama’s 17-game home winning streak, which had been tied with Baylor for the longest streak in the country.

Up 17-10 at the half, the Rebels extended that lead to 30-10 with just under four minutes remaining in the third quarter on a pair of field goals and a touchdown.  The latter score was one of the wackiest you’ll see all season long as Chad Kelly channeled his inner Garo Yepremian, tossed up what amounted to a Hail Mary, had it bounce off a Tide defenders helmet… and right into the arms of Quincy Adeboyejo, who raced the remaining distance for what looked to be a dagger.

The score instead seemed to wake the Tide up as they drove 69 yards on the ensuing drive and capped it with a Jake Coker touchdown run. The Rebels’ next possession was a three-and-and-out that featured three plays that lost yardage. Another touchdown on the next drive, a Coker eight-yard pass to ArDarius Stewart, sliced the lead to 30-24 and seemed to leave the Rebels back on their toes and reeling.

Instead, the visiting team proceeded to connect on what appeared to be a one-two kill shot.

On a second-and-one from his own 27, Kelly took off on what looked like a run to the right side of the Tide defense and, at the last second, hit Cody Core on a pop pass, with the receiver racing 73 yards for the touchdown. An official’s review confirmed that nearly half of Kelly’s body was behind the original line of scrimmage and no penalty was warranted, although it also showed that at least one Rebel lineman was illegally downfield; that part of the play wasn’t reviewable.

On the next possession, Coker made a horrible throw and/or decision and was picked off. The very next play, Kelly sent a good chunk of the fans to the exits as he hit Laquon Treadwell from 24 yards out to push the lead to 43-24 with just over 10 minutes remaining.  But wait, ‘Bama wasn’t done.  Note even remotely close, as it turned out.

Derrick Henry touchdown run with 6:36 remaining cut the lead to 43-30 (two-point attempt failed), then, following a successful onside kick — and perhaps an illegal batting forward of the ball by a Tide player — Coker hit Richard Mullaney on a two-yard touchdown pass that sliced the deficit to six points with 4:33 remaining.  After forcing an Ole Miss punt and taking over the ball at their own seven-yard line with just over three minutes remaining, Coker’s 26-yard run on first down gave the Tide room and additional hope for those remaining in the stands.

The very next play, however, Coker made an ill-advised throw as he was being leveled that was picked off, the Tide’s fifth turnover of the game (three interceptions and no fumbles to zero turnovers for the Rebels) and what was certainly the absolute, final dagger.  Except it wasn’t as the Tide got the ball back with :31 seconds remaining at their own 31-yard line.

Four straight Coker incompletions, though, finally, officially ended any hopes of a monumental comeback.

Record-wise and based on the “look” test, both Ole Miss and LSU appear to be the class of the SEC West, with Texas A&M potentially lurking in the weeds ready to ambush someone.  The two teams will square off Nov. 21 in Oxford, although both will have to navigate a couple of obstacles before getting there — Ole Miss with road trips to A&M and a reeling Auburn, LSU on the road against ‘Bama.

Before you count out the Tide, just remember that ‘Bama lost to Ole Miss in Week 5 last season and still managed to find a seat at the College Football Playoff at season’s end.  Like last year, though, the Tide will have to take care of their own business the rest of the way and rely on other SEC West teams for help.

Pac-12 responds to football players threatening opt-outs

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The Pac-12 responded Monday to football players who have threaten to opt-out of the season because of concerns related to health and safety, racial injustice and economic rights with a letter touting the conference’s work in those areas and an invitation to meet later this week.

A letter from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, dated Aug. 3, was sent to 12 football players leading the #WeAreUnited movement. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported by Sports Illustrated.

The players say they have been communicating with more than 400 of their peers throughout the Pac-12. The group released a lengthy list of demands Sunday and said if they are not addressed they will not practice or play. The group said it reached out to the Pac-12 on Sunday to request a meeting. In the letter, Scott said he was eager to discuss their concerns.

“I will come back to you in the coming days following discussion with our members and student-athlete leaders to schedule a call for this week to discuss the matters that you have raised,” Scott wrote.

Also Monday night, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich said in a statemen t he regretted cautioning one of his players about being part of the #WeAreUnited movement. A recording of a conversation between Rolovich and receiver Kassidy Woods obtained by the Dallas Morning News revealed the coach seemingly warning the player that being involved with the group would hurt his standing with the team. Woods had called Rolovich to inform him he was opting out of the season for health reasons related to COVID-19.

“I spoke with Kassidy Woods in a private phone conversation last Saturday afternoon. This was before the #WeAreUnited group had released its letter of concerns,” said Rolovich, who is in his first season was Washington State coach. “Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons.”

The #WeAreUnited players’ demands focused on four areas: health and safety protections, especially protocols related to COVID-19; guarding against the elimination of sports programs by schools during an economic downturn; ending racial injustice in college sports; and economic freedom and equity.

Scott addressed each area, highlighting the conference’s:

— Medical advisory committee working on COVID-19 protocols and webinars for student-athletes and their parents;

— Support for reforming NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes;

— Recent initiatives to address racial inequities such as the formation of a social justice & anti-racism advisory group that includes student-athletes representatives.

Scott also listed 10 areas in which, he wrote, “The Pac-12 has been a leader in supporting student-athlete health and well-being …” Included were enhanced medical coverage post-eligibility; cost-of-attendance stipends added to the value of scholarship; mental health support; and the Pac-12′s support of reforming NCAA transfer rules to allow athletes more freedom to switch schools.

Pac-12 football teams are scheduled to begin preseason practices Aug. 17 and the league’s conference-only regular season is set to start Sept. 26.

Big 12 to allow teams to play 1 non-conference football game

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Two people involved with the decision say the Big 12 will permit its teams to play one nonconference football game this year to go along with their nine league contests as plans for the pandemic-altered season continued to fall into place.

The people spoke Monday night to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the conference was still preparing an official announcement.

The Big 12 university presidents signed off on the conference’s scheduling model, which gives schools the ability to play one nonconference game at home. The conference’s championship game is scheduled for Dec. 5, but one of the people told AP that the conference is leaving open the possibility of bumping it back a week or two.

The 10-team Big 12 already plays a nine-game, round-robin conference schedule. Unlike other Power Five conference that have switched to either exclusively (Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC) or mostly (ACC) league games this season, the Big 12 could not add more conference games without teams playing each other more than once.

Several Big 12 teams have already started preseason practice, with Kansas and Oklahoma slated to play FCS teams on Aug. 29.

As conferences take steps toward a football season that seems to be in precarious shape, the NCAA is expected to weigh in Tuesday on fall sports other than major-college football.

The association’s Board of Governors is scheduled to meet and whether to cancel or postpone NCAA championship events in fall sports such as soccer, volleyball and lower-division football is expected to be a topic.

Only the Pac-12 has a full football schedule with matchups and dates in place among Power Five conferences. The Pac-12 will begin Sept. 26, along with the Southeastern Conference, which is still working on its new 10-game slate.

The Atlantic Coast Conference has opponents set for its 10-game conference schedule and will start the weekend of Sept. 12, but no specific game dates. The ACC has also said it will permit its teams to play one nonconference game.

The Big Ten, first to announce intentions to go conference-only this season, has yet to release a new schedule, but that could come later this week.

Now that the Power Five has declared its intentions the Group of Five conferences can start making plans and filling holes on their schedules.

American Athletic Conference Commissioner Mike Aresco has said the AAC could stick with its eight-game conference schedule and let its members plays as many of their four nonconference games as they can salvage or replace.

The Mountain West, Conference USA, Mid-American and Sun Belt conferences are likely to take similar approach.

Early Monday, Texas State from the Sun Belt announced it was moving a nonconference game against SMU up from Sept. 5 to Aug. 29.

Good morning and, in case I don’t see ya, good afternoon, good evening and good night! CFT, out…

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CFT is no more. At least, when it comes to NBC Sports.

The first of last month, I — this is John Taylor (pictured, catching the game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XXIII) — began my 12th year with CFT and NBC Sports. This morning, I was informed that my position was being eliminated and I would not be completing that 12th year. Which, of course, meant I wouldn’t be eligible for the traditional 13th-anniversary gift of lace. Which really bummed me out. Because I really like lace.

The jarring phone call was both a slap in the face and a relief. Jarring because, well, it was completely unexpected. Out of the blue, even amidst the pandemic that is wreaking absolute and utter havoc across the country. A relief, on the other hand, because, every single day for the past four months, I woke up wondering if this would be the day I get that call.

Would this be the day? Would this be the day? A question played on an endless loop that just f***s with you mentally, emotionally, physically.

That’s no way to live.

Then again, being job-less is no way to live, either. But, here we are.

So many people I want to thank. First and foremost, Mike Florio and Larry Mazza. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Especially Mr. Mazza on the food front. Hopefully, lunch at Oliverio’s — best damn stuffed shells I have EVER had — can still be a thing, Larry.

And so many people that have worked for me. Not to single anyone out, but I’m going to single one out in Ben Kercheval. Ben, non-biological son of Hoppy, you were and continue to be the man. I appreciate you more than you know.  Rasheed Wallace may indeed be your biological father, but I will forever consider you my illegitimate Internet stepson.

Mike Miller is the best boss anyone could ever ask for.  Hire that man.  You can thank me later.

Kevin McGuire, Zach Barnett, Bryan Fischer, I will always treasure what we did, together, these last few years. Things were on the uptick, and it’s sad that we won’t be able to see it through. Together.  We should’ve — SHOULD’VE SHOULD’VE SHOULD’VE — been given that opportunity.  And it will forever piss me off that we weren’t.

Brent and Chris and JJ, much love to you all as well.

Shortly after I received the job call of death, I called my dad. Told him what was going on in his son’s life.  After I hung up the phone, he sent me a GIF in a text message a few minutes later.  I’ll link it here to end whatever this is, because it’s appropriate.  And old school.

And, well… bye.


2018 FCS All-American RB commits to Virginia

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Virginia joined South Carolina over the weekend as Power Five football schools realizing a personnel benefit from a lower-level program’s loss.

Two weeks ago, the Colonial Athletic Association announced that it was canceling its 2020 college football season because of the coronavirus pandemic.  One member of that FCS conference is Towson.  Coincidentally or not, one standout member of the Tigers, Shane Simpson, took to Twitter last week to announce that he has entered his name into the NCAA transfer database.

On that same social media service Sunday, the running back confirmed that he has committed to the Virginia football team.  Simpson had his transfer to-do list down to Virginia and Texas.

As Simpson was a fifth-year senior in 2019, it appears he has been granted a sixth season of eligibility.  Or, is fairly confident he will receive one.

Simpson would likely be eligible for that sixth season as he missed all but four games of his true freshman season in 2015 because of injury, then missed all but the first three games last season because of a serious knee injury.

In 2018, Simpson earned first-team All-American honors.  He finished second in all of FCS with 171.5 all-purpose yards per game, totaling 2,058 yards on the season.  That same season, the Pennsylvania product was the CAA’s Special Teams Player of the Year and earned three different all-conference honors: first-team at running back, second-team as a kick returner and third-team as a punt returner.

Simpson would be eligible to play immediately in 2020 at the FBS level.