Associated Press

As No. 1 falls, No. 2 Alabama claims 31st straight regular season win in gut check at No. 16 Mississippi State

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The top three teams in college football all went on the road Saturday, all against top-16 teams. No. 1 Georgia already lost, and No. 3 Notre Dame is in the process of going down. No. 2 Alabama went to No. 16 Mississippi State and trailed much of the night, was nearly doubled up on time of possession, and it didn’t matter. A late touchdown pushed Alabama over Mississippi State for a 31-24 win, the program’s 31st consecutive regular season win.

Alabama nearly found itself down 28-17 in the fourth quarter and missed a would-be game-winning field goal with two minutes remaining, but absorbed and survived those blows to take over at its own 32 with 1:01 remaining and a full holster of timeouts. The drive appeared in danger in facing a 3rd-and-15 at its own 43 with 31 seconds remaining, but Jalen Hurts found Calvin Ridley for his third long catch-and-run of the night, this time for 31 yards. That set up a game-winning 26-yard snatch-and-dash to Devonta Smith with 25 ticks left.

The win pushed Alabama to 10-0 overall, 7-0 in the SEC and an unquestioned No. 1 in every poll that matters with three weeks remaining in the regular season.

Mississippi State (7-3, 3-3 SEC) utterly controlled the first quarter, but found itself locked in a 7-7 tie. The Bulldogs accepted the ball to open the game and clicked off 11 plays, moved the ball to the Alabama 41, killed the first half of the frame and then punted, pinning Alabama at its own 5.

The Bulldog defense forced a three-and-out, and its offense pushed its way down the field on a 6-play, 57-yard touchdown drive punctuated by an 11-yard Aeris Williams run.

On the ensuing possession, Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-5, where a conversion would have given Mississippi State the ball with a 7-0 lead while Alabama’s offense ran a total of six plays over the first quarter. Instead, Hurts found Ridley for a 63-yard catch-and-run, and Hurts rushed in a 1-yard score two plays later.

The next two drives played out the same. Mississippi State strung together an 11-play, 73-yard drive again capped by a Williams run. And again Hurts and Ridley connected, this time for 61 yards. Ridley finished the game with five grabs for 171 yards, and Hurts hit 10-of-19 passes for 242 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. Josh Jacobs rushed in from a yard out two plays later, tying the game at 14-14 with 9:26 left in the second quarter.

Alabama grabbed its first lead to open the second half, moving 63 yards in seven plays to set up a 30-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Mississippi State, however, picked up where it left off, reclaiming the lead on a 13-play, 69-yard drive that consumed more than 6:30 off the clock and concluded with a 2-yard Nick Fitzgerald rush. Fitzgerald completed 13-of-24 passes for 158 yards, and Mississippi State pounded out 49 rushing attempts, which gave the Bulldogs a near 18-minute edge in time of possession. 

The Bulldogs forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next possession and had a chance to seize complete control of the game after moving to a 1st-and-10 at the Tide 11, but Fitzgerald’s 3rd-and-7 pass sailed incomplete. Jace Christmann knocked in a 25-yard field goal to give Mississippi State its third touchdown lead of the night, a 24-17 edge with 14:13 to play.

And for the third time of the night, Alabama erased Mississippi State’s touchdown lead with an immediate touchdown of its own. The Crimson Tide rumbled 82 yards in 10 plays, in the process converting a 4th-and-4 at the MSU 34 with a 13-yard Hurts rush. Damien Harris tied the game two plays after that with a 14-yard rush.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Alabama offensive lineman Alex Leatherwood helped Mississippi State begin its next drive at its own 40 and the Bulldogs eventually penetrated to the Alabama 42, but Dan Mullen elected to punt on 4th-and-3 with 6:30 to play. Logan Cooke‘s punt sailed into the end zone, and Alabama had the crease it needed to grab control of the game.

Three straight Bo Scarborough rushes pushed the ball to midfield, and a Harris run placed it at the Mississippi State 33. Mississippi State forced a 3rd-and-8, but a pass from Hurts to Ridley drew a pass interference flag, staking Alabama to a 1st-and-10 at the MSU 16 with 4:05 to go. However, three straight Hurts run lost yardage, and a 41-yard Pappanastos field goal clanged off the left upright. 

Mississippi State moved into Hail Mary territory on its last gasp drive. Fitzgerald’s first heave from the Alabama 49 was fell incomplete, but he was given another chance after a pass interference flag. His second chance, from the 34, sailed out of the end zone, sealing the win for Alabama.

CFB Hall of Fame Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera, dubbed Señor Sack, passes away

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Former Texas Tech defensive tackle Gabe Rivera passed away on Tuesday. He suffered a perforated bowel while attending a social services function on Friday night and his family was preparing to move him to hospice care when he passed on Tuesday morning. “Gabriel went home to the Lord at 9:25,” Rivera’s wife, Nancy, told KENS-TV in San Antonio.

A San Antonio native, Rivera played defensive tackle at Texas Tech from 1979-82, where he earned All-American status after recording 62 tackles and five sacks as a senior. “He was one of the most dominating defensive lineman to ever play the game and a loyal Red Raider throughout his life,” Texas Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt said in a statement.

Selected 21st overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1983, Rivera, dubbed “Señor Sack,” recorded two sacks in his first six games, but was left paraplegic after getting in an automobile crash in October.

“From the accident in ‘83, it took maybe five, six, eight years to get control,” Rivera said in 2012. “At one time, I just changed my life and started going forward. I was mad at the world, mad at God and stuff.”

He moved home to San Antonio after the injury, where he remained and raised a family until his death. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012 and Texas Tech’s Ring of Honor and had his No. 69 jersey retired in 2014.

Rivera was 57 years old.

Northern Illinois, Miami (Ohio) to play for Mallory Cup

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The Mid-American Conference has a proud history of fostering future College Football Hall of Fame coaches. From legends such as Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler to modern day titans such as Nick Saban and Urban Meyer, the MAC has served as the launching pad of coaching greatness for generations. But despite all that talent, only one coach won the MAC at two different schools: Bill Mallory.

Mallory went 39-12 as Miami (Ohio)’s head coach from 1969-73 — he took over for Schembechler, who left for the Michigan job — and led the RedHawks to a perfect 11-0 season, a No. 15 final AP ranking and a win over Florida in the Tangerine Bowl in ’73. That success led him to Colorado, but he was let go after the 1978 season. After sitting out the ’79 campaign, Mallory got back in at Northern Illinois, guiding the Huskies to a 25-19 mark from 1980-83. His 1983 team went 10-2, beat Cal State Fullerton in the California Bowl and won the Huskies’ first of four MAC titles.

Mallory parlayed that 1983 season into the Indiana job, where he remained until his 1996 retirement. In 27 years as a head coach, Mallory went 168-129-4, including a 64-31 record in nine combined seasons in the MAC.

To honor his May 25 passing, Northern Illinois and Miami (Ohio) announced Monday they will play for the Mallory Cup moving forward. The first such game will take place on Nov. 14 in DeKalb, Ill.

“Bill Mallory was a special coach and a great man who left a lasting legacy in the Mid-American Conference and certainly at NIU and Miami,” NIU AD Sean Frazier said.  “The Mallory Cup honors a man whose impact on both programs should and will be remembered each time our teams meet on the football field.  We’re happy to work with our colleagues at Miami on this initiative and invite all fans to be here at Huskie Stadium on November 14 for the first Mallory Cup game.”

“Miami is proud to partner with Northern Illinois University in the creation of the Mallory Cup,” added Miami AD David Sayler. “It is a fitting tribute to a wonderful man and coach that has meant so much too so many. Although Miami and NIU will not play every year in football, it is good to know that when we do, Bill Mallory will be honored and remembered for the tremendous legacy he has left here in Oxford and in DeKalb.”

The Huskies and RedHawks have played 17 times in a series that dates back to 1970. NIU holds a 9-8 advantage; Miami won seven of the first nine meetings, but Northern Illinois has taken seven of the last eight, including the most recent match-up by way of a 45-12 decision on Oct. 17, 2015.

Four-star QB-turned-minor league baseball player narrows football choices to Auburn, LSU, NC State

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And then there were three.

Earlier this month, Cord Sandberg announced his retirement from baseball after a six-season career spent entirely in the minor leagues.  Simultaneously, the four-star member of Mississippi State’s 2013 recruiting class announced that he would be resuming his football career, confirming that he had received a scholarship offer from Auburn and a pair of offers to be a preferred walk-on at two other SEC schools — Florida and LSU.  The Gators are coached by Dan Mullen, who was the head coach of the Bulldogs when Sandberg signed with MSU in February of 2013.

That led to some assuming UF perhaps had the inside track for Sandberg.  That assumption turned out to be inaccurate as the quarterback confirmed to Rivals.com that he has narrowed his football to-do list to Auburn, LSU and North Carolina State.  Sandberg will take an official visit to each of those schools this month before making a decision, with the recruiting website reporting that he will make trips to NC State July 25-26, Auburn July 26-28 and LSU July 28-29.

Sandberg had previously stated that he wanted to enroll in classes no later than Aug. 20, meaning a decision on his next school should come shortly after his final visit later this month.  Given that the 23-year-old Sandberg hasn’t played the sport since high school, it’s widely expected he’ll take a redshirt this coming football season; he would then have four years of eligibility remaining beginning with the 2019 season.

“I have definitely enjoyed my conversations with those coaches staffs and I feel good about those situations,” Sandberg told the site. “I can see myself enjoying going to school for 3-4 years in those towns. …

“I feel comfortable with the conversations I’ve had with all of those guys and what my role would be playing quarterback at all of those schools.”

In addition to the schools already mentioned, UCF and UCLA also expressed interest/extended offers.

Coming out of high school in Bradenton, Fla., in 2013, Sandberg was rated as the No. 8 dual-threat quarterback in the country. Only three signees in MSU’s class that year were rated higher than Sandberg — defensive end Chris Jones, safety Ashton Shumpert and wide receiver Fred Ross.

In nearly 500 games at the minor league level, Sandberg, a center fielder, was a career .243 hitter with 29 home runs and 173 RBI. He finished with a slash line of .243/.298/.348.

Mike Gundy confirms QB Taylor Cornelius is ‘our guy’ heading into camp

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In the race to replace Mason Rudolph under center, there’s a clear leader in Stillwater.

Exiting spring practice, it was widely thought that Taylor Cornelius was the odds-on favorite to claim Oklahoma State’s starting quarterback job.  At the Big 12 Media Days Tuesday, Mike Gundy confirmed as much, stating that Cornelius “is our guy” heading into summer camp.

A former walk-on, Cornelius will enter the 2018 season as a fifth-year senior.

“When we came out of spring, we felt very comfortable with Taylor,” the OSU head coach said. “He’s been with us a number of years, he understands our offense. We’re confident in his abilities.”

While Cornelius is the favorite now, he will have a fight on his hands to remain the starter for OSU’s opener Aug. 30 against Missouri State.

After not taking part in spring practice, Dru Brown and Spencer Sanders will enter the fray in early August. Brown comes to OSU as a graduate transfer from Hawaii, where he was a two-year starter for the Rainbow Warriors.  Sanders was a four-star member of the Cowboys’ 2018 recruiting class, rated as the No.8 dual-threat quarterback in the country on 247Sports.com’s composite board.

During his time with the Cowboys, Cornelius has thrown for 220 yards on 15-of-24 passing.  Six of those completions, 10 of the attempts and 148 yards came during a 2017 season in which he served as Rudolph’s primary backup.