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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.

Heisman favorite Joe Burrow headlines Davey O’Brien Award semifinalists

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When it comes to the semifinalists for one of the most prestigious quarterbacking awards in college football, they are who you thought they’d be (for the most part).

Wednesday afternoon, the Davey O’Brien Award released its list of 16 semifinalists for a trophy named in honor of the former TCU College Football Hall of Famer.  Headlining this year’s group is LSU’s Joe Burrow, who enters Week 12 of the regular season as the overwhelming favorite to win the 2019 Heisman Trophy.

One finalist from a year ago, Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa, is a semifinalist this year as well.  Oklahoma’s Jalen Hurts is the only two-time semifinalist again in the mix, although this is his first time as a Sooner as the first two came while he was a member of the Crimson Tide.

Georgia’s Jake Fromm, Oregon’s Justin Herbert and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence are also former semifinalists who are up for this year’s award.

The Big 12 leads all conferences with four semifinalists, followed by three apiece from the AAC, Pac-12 and SEC.  The Big Ten accounted for two while the ACC had one.

The 2018 winner of the Davey O’Brien Award was Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.  Below is the complete list of semifinalists for the 2019 award.

  • Charlie Brewer (Baylor)
  • Shane Buechele (SMU)
  • Joe Burrow (LSU)
  • Sam Ehlinger (Texas)
  • Justin Fields (Ohio State)
  • Jake Fromm (Georgia)
  • Anthony Gordon (Washington State)
  • Justin Herbert (Oregon)
  • Tyler Huntley (Utah)
  • Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma)
  • Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)
  • Tanner Morgan (Minnesota)
  • Malcolm Perry (Navy)
  • Brock Purdy (Iowa State)
  • Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama)
  • Brady White (Memphis)

Miami (OH) one win away from first MAC East title in nearly a decade

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It’s been quite the conference turnaround for Chuck Martin‘s Miami (OH) squad the past couple of years.

In the head coach’s first four seasons, the Redhawks went 14-18 in MAC play.  With Wednesday night’s dominating 44-3 win over Bowling Green, Miami improved to 5-1 in the league on the season; the past two years, that record now stands at 11-3.

Not only that, but Miami is one win away from claiming its first MAC East title since 2010, closing out the regular season against winless Akron and a road trip to 4-5 Ball State.

At 6-4, the Redhawks could be going bowling for the first time since 2016 and just the second time in nearly two decades.  Two more wins would give the football program its most victories in a season since the 10-4 2010 squad that won the division and the conference championships.

Miami’s four losses this season, incidentally, have come to No. 2 Ohio State, No. 17 Cincinnati, No. 20 Iowa and Western Michigan, which currently leads the MAC West division.

In the latest win, a 27-point second quarter fueled Miami’s 37-3 halftime lead en route to its most lopsided win of the season over a non-FCS school.  Their previous four FBS wins had come by a combined 25 points, including three by seven points or less.

Bowling Green, meanwhile, was officially eliminated from the postseason as the Falcons’ record now sits at 3-7 on the season.

Texas makes Chris Del Conte the highest paid public school athletic director in the country

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We’re only a few weeks away from USC’s upcoming potential coaching search resulting in a bunch of raises for folks around the country but the Trojans’ now-filled athletic director chair may have produced one mega-deal for somebody who was of reported interest to Southern Cal earlier this month.

As the Austin American-Statesman notes, the UT System Board of Regents is all set to formally approve a new contract for Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte that will be among the richest in the country for his position and certainly tops among public schools.

“One of the things I do with all my people is look at where the market is and make sure that our best people are where the market is for those positions,” school president Gregory L. Fenves told the paper. “We got a great deal with Chris when I hired him two years ago, and I want to make sure that we’re still providing competitive compensation to the marketplace as a whole.”

The contract runs through 2027 and is worth over $18 million guaranteed for Del Conte, including a raise to $2.08 million beginning in 2020 and escalating from there. There is a steep buyout for Del Conte should he want to leave for another gig (just shy of the total amount left) or if the Longhorns want to fire him too, a clause more commonly found in the coaches contracts he will be tasked with handing out.

It’s not like the school can’t afford it though as Texas is regularly one of the three richest athletic departments in the country, generating over $200 million in revenue each of the past several years alone (the Statesman says the school took in $219.4 million last season). Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick is likely the only other AD in the country to make more with a reported salary of nearly $3 million to lead the Irish.

Del Conte, who arrived in Austin after successfully leading TCU into the Big 12, has been busy since taking over the gig, fundraising hundreds of millions to help expand Darrell K. Royal Memorial Stadium and recently to build a new basketball arena for the school.

Florida State players take to social media to support Odell Haggins as permanent head coach

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The Florida State coaching search has seemingly gone off the rails before it’s even begun but if the players themselves have a say in the matter, there’s a pretty clear choice as to who they would like to replace Willie Taggart full-time.

And it’s not the ex-FSU star that has been thrown out in various reports either.

In what appears to be a somewhat coordinated campaign on social media, defensive linemen Cory Durden, injured DL Marvin Wilson, linebacker Jaleel McRae and cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. were among several dozen members of the current 2019 team to have Tweeted their support for interim head coach Odell Haggins getting the permanent gig.

Haggins is in his second stint as interim head coach, having taken over for Jimbo Fisher when he left for Texas A&M and now again in the wake of Taggart’s firing. He’s 3-0 in charge of the program, including an impressive victory at Boston College last weekend. The Florida native played at FSU from 1985 to 1989 and after an All-American career and brief foray into the NFL, has spent his entire coaching career in Tallahassee at his alma mater as a line coach.

While it remains to be seen if he’ll get serious play for the gig given some of the big names being tossed around, former interim head coaches do occupy the top three spots in the latest College Football Playoff rankings and Haggins is as much Mr. FSU as anybody. It’s pretty clear the players support his candidacy and can certainly help things along on that front by winning out the rest of the regular season.