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

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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.

WATCH: Nick Saban appears in campaign ad endorsing U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV)

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Involved in a hotly-contested U.S. Senate race, Joe Manchin is bringing out the big guns in the form of one West Virginia’s favorite football sons.

In a political ad that debuted Wednesday, Alabama head coach — and Fairmont, WV native — Nick Saban, along with other God’s Country hoops favorites Bob Huggins and Jerry West, gave an unflinching endorsement of the 71-year-old Manchin, the incumbent U.S. Senator who is running for re-election against Republican Patrick Morrisey.

“Joe and I grew up together in West Virginia and he never forgets where he came from,” Saban said in the ad. “I don’t have a better friend or know a better person than Joe Manchin.”

Other than not even realizing it was Election Day two years ago and some of his statements from the past — “I don’t really make political comments. So, if I say I like one person that means everybody who voted for the other person doesn’t like me. So, why would I do that?” — it’s not surprising that Saban has endorsed Manchin.

Manchin, who is five years older than Saban, was coached in Little League baseball by the Alabama head coach’s late father. “They used to take family vacations to Myrtle Beach together,” al.com wrote four years ago in profiling the relationship between the two that extended into adulthood. “Manchin laughs telling stories about going horseback riding with Saban.”

Manchin, who went to West Virginia University on a football scholarship before an injury ended his playing career, also wholeheartedly endorsed the high school-aged Saban, who ended up playing at Kent State, while at the same time lamenting his alma mater letting one get away.

“His size was always a challenge playing these tough sports,” Manchin said. “But Nick was as tough as anyone could be. My god, if he had a little more size, he would have killed everybody. I think the biggest mistake WVU ever made was not giving Nick Saban a scholarship.”

Alabama WR Devonta Smith questionable for Tennessee game

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Alabama could be down its second-leading receiver when it takes the field for one of its two annual rivalry games.

Devonta Smith suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter of the Week 7 win over Missouri, and was then labeled as questionable as ‘Bama began prep work for this year’s Third Saturday in October clash with Tennessee in Knoxville. As preparations hit the midway point Wednesday, Nick Saban indicated there hasn’t been much if any change in the wide receiver’s status.

A final decision on Smith’s availability likely won’t be made until closer to Saturday’s mid-afternoon kickoff.

Smith is second on the team in receiving yards with 409 and tied for second in receptions with 21. The sophomore’s 19.5 yards per catch are second on the Crimson Tide as well, while he’s fourth in receiving touchdowns with three.

Western Michigan’s starting free safety questionable for Week 8 game vs. rival Central Michigan

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Western Michigan could head into a rivalry game this weekend at less than full strength in the secondary. Fortunately for them, the rival’s passing game isn’t exactly a strength — or is much of the rest of the offense, for that matter.

A.J. Thomas suffered a knee injury in practice last week and didn’t play in Western Michigan’s win over Bowling Green last weekend. With Central Michigan on the docket this weekend, the free safety is officially labeled as questionable by his head coach.

“He got a twisted knee last Wednesday, and we didn’t actually know (the extent),” Tim Lester said by way of mlive.com. “We thought it was going to be bad. We had the MRI, nothing’s wrong with him.

“He got shaken up a little bit, but no surgery is required.”

After playing in nine games as a true freshman in 2017, Thomas emerged as the Broncos’ starting free safety this season. In six games in 2018, he’s fourth on the team in tackles with 32. WMU has three interceptions as a team, and Thomas is responsible for one of them (Anton Curtis has the other two).

This Saturday’s opponent, CMU, is 117th nationally in passing at 147.9 yards per game. That, though, is part of an overall anemic offense in Mount Pleasant that’s 126th in total offense (286.7 ypg) and 124th in scoring offense (18.1 points per game).

The 1-6 Chippewas haven’t scored more than 24 points in any game this year.

Findings from Maryland football culture investigation to be revealed within next two weeks

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The University of Maryland’s Board of Regents will review the information gathered from an investigation into the football culture of the Maryland football program on Friday behind a closed session. The information from that report will then be made public within the next two weeks, according to a statement from the University System of Maryland on Wednesday.

The Board of Regents is scheduled for a regularly scheduled meeting on Friday, October 19. Part of the agenda for that meeting will be the closed session to review the independent investigation’s report on the state of the football culture allegations made against the Maryland football program under head coach D.J. Durkin. Durkin remains on an administrative leave with the program despite the football season continuing on under interim head coach Matt Canada. The board will meet again on Tuesday, October 23 in a special session to discuss the investigation and its findings. At that time, the board will begin making decisions on how to address the report, which may include determining the fate of Durkin as head coach of the Terrapins. However, no media availability or statements will be made following the special session on Tuesday.

However, according to the released statement with the updated timeline from the board of regents, the findings of the investigation are expected to be released to the public within one week of the special session scheduled for Oct. 23.

“We have said from the beginning that, if true, the allegations related to the culture of the football program at the University of Maryland, College Park are unacceptable,” said USM Board of Regents Chair James T. Brady.  “We have also said we are determined to get all the facts possible before acting.”

This investigation is separate from the previously revealed investigation that took a closer examination into the death of football player Jordan McNair, although it would not be shocking to learn the McNair situation was a key focus of this investigation. Allegations of coaches verbally abusing players and forcing players to work through grueling conditions have painted a negative image for the Maryland football program, and Durkin in particular. For now, Durkin remains Maryland’s head coach, but we should know whether or not that will remain to be true as early as next week.