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No. 19 Texas stays in Big 12 race with win over Texas Tech

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Even despite heartbreaking back-to-back losses to Oklahoma State and No. 9 West Virginia, No. 19 Texas entered Saturday with a path to reach the Big 12 Championship. That path required three straight wins to close the year and a WVU win over No. 6 Oklahoma on Black Friday.

It wasn’t easy, but Step 1 of the plan is completed when the Longhorns pulled off a 41-34 win at Texas Tech.

When Sam Ehlinger hit Devin Duvernay for a 39-yard touchdown pass with 10:26 left in the fourth quarter, Texas seemingly had the game in hand, taking a 34-17 lead.

But Texas Tech (5-5, 3-4 Big 12) lodged a Clayton Hatfield field goal to make it a two-score game, then stole a possession by pegging Texas safety PJ Locke with an onside kick, recovered by Texas Tech. A pass interference penalty helped the Red Raiders convert a 4th-and-10, and Texas Tech pulled within 34-27 with 4:47 to play on a 2-yard pass from Jett Duffey to TJ Vasher.

Trailing 34-27 now, the Red Raider defense forced a three-and-out to give the ball back to a white-hot Duffey, who tied the game with 1:45 remaining on a 9-yard strike to Antoine Wesley.

In a similar position as the Oklahoma win, Texas (7-3, 5-2 Big 12) snatched victory from the jaws of defeat-by-epic collapse, moving 75 yards in seven plays. Ehlinger hit his favorite target, Lil'Jordan Humphrey, for a 29-yard touchdown with 21 seconds left to seal the win. Humphrey finished the game eight catches, seemingly all of them clutch, for 159 yards and two touchdowns, while Ehlinger was 22-of-34 for 312 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, in the process breaking Geno Smith‘s Big 12 record with 274 passes (and counting) without an interception.

Though he threw for a career-high 442 yards, Duffey helped Texas built its 17-point lead thanks to three red zone turnovers. Leading 7-0 in the first quarter, Duffey threw away a potential 14-0 lead when, rather than eat the ball after an errant snap, Duffey attempted to allude Texas safety Caden Sterns and fire a pass, which was intercepted by Davante Davis.

Given new life, Texas mounted its first drive, aided by two third down completions from Sam Ehlinger to Humphrey, first for 15 yards, then for 40. The second gained pushed the ball to the Red Raider 24, but consecutive sacks forced a career-long 52-yard Cameron Dicker field goal.

After forcing a Texas Tech punt, Texas again mounted a methodical, 18-play, 8-minute drive down the field until two more consecutive sacks backed the ‘Horns up from the Texas Tech 11 to the 34. However, during a 7-yard completion to Humphrey on 3rd-and-33, Texas Tech was flagged for a face mask on the complete opposite side of the field. Rather than kick a 44-yard field goal, Texas was given a 1st-and-10 at the Texas Tech 13. The Longhorns converted this time, as Ehlinger again found Humphrey on another third down, securing a 9-yard touchdown to put Texas up 10-7 with 3:46 left in the first half.

Facing his first deficit, Kliff Kingsbury decided to roll the dice deep inside his own territory. After Ward was corralled for a 1-yard gain on 3rd-and-2, Kingsbury put Duffey under center at his own 34 and called for a sneak — which was stuffed.

Texas took advantage of the short field, needing three plays to set up a 1-yard Keaontay Ingram touchdown run with 1:16 left in the first half.

Texas Tech halted UT’s 17 straight points when Clayton Hatfield snuck in a 41-yard field goal with seven seconds left before halftime.

Texas opened the second half with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, scoring on a fourth-and-goal 1-yard pass from Ehlinger to Duvernay.

Duffey then committed the second of his three turnovers when, going out of bounds at the Texas 19, he was stripped by Davis, who immediately recovered the ball. Texas turned the opportunity into another Dicker field goal. Trailing 27-10 in the third quarter, Duffey again was stripped inside the Texas red zone, this time by Texas cornerback Kris Boyd.

Texas punted after that turnover, and Duffey made up for his latest turnover by hitting Wesley over Boyd for a 57-yard touchdown pass, pulling the Red Raiders within 27-17 with 13:26 remaining. The Longhorns answered that score with a 5-play, 92-yard drive capped by the throw to Duvernay, seemingly putting the game away with 10:26 to play.

How much does Tua Tagovailoa’s injury actually impact Alabama and the College Football Playoff? Not as much as you’d think

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Since the moment Tua Tagovailoa went down with a season-ending injury on Saturday, the focus of the bigger College Football Playoff picture has been hotly debated. Should Alabama be given the benefit of the doubt? Would Alabama with one loss and no SEC title and no Tua be more deserving of a playoff shot over a one-loss Pac-12 champion? How does a potential 1-loss Alabama compare to some other 1-loss teams in the country right now, including Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Penn State and, of course, Georgia?

We are in the time of the season when hypothetical scenarios are the most fun to rationally discuss debate with great intensity explore for the fun of it, and this new Alabama situation is a wrinkle we haven’t exactly seen since the inaugural College Football Playoff with Ohio State. As it turns out, Ohio State is the prime example Alabama fans and defenders will point to as one of their top arguments. Of course, 2014 Ohio State and 2019 Alabama are still very different situations.

In 2014, Ohio State lost starting quarterback Braxton Miller to an early season-ending injury but managed to get through the regular season with just one early loss with J.T. Barrett stepping in to guide the Buckeyes offense. But Barrett was injured in the regular-season finale and Cardale Jones had to keep things rolling. Ohio State demolished Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game and convinced the College Football Playoff selection committee they were still worthy of a playoff bid over a pair of 1-loss Big 12 champions (Baylor and TCU) even with their injury concerns at quarterback. This precedent would seem to favor Alabama. Although the Tide may not be as deep at quarterback as Ohio State certainly was, there is an embarrassing amount of riches around the rest of the roster thanks to top recruiting class after top recruiting class being signed by Nick Saban.

There is just one major problem for Alabama. They aren’t likely to get a shot at playing for the SEC championship and prove their case one final time. LSU would have to lose its final two games in order to open the door to the SEC Championship Game for Alabama, and that assumes Alabama wins at Auburn in the Iron Bowl. Alabama (and Ohio State) have made the playoff without winning their divisions before, but this year’s field could be a bit too crowded to allow for that possibility to happen again.

Alabama is in the toughest spot it has been in during the College Football Playoff era. The only team to play in each College Football Playoff, Alabama still has a shot at playing in the playoff once again. At least one team currently ranked ahead of them is going to lose. If it’s Georgia and Alabama stands firm on its ranking, that could see Alabama slide into the fourth spot. But if the season ends with undefeated champions in the ACC (Clemson), Big Ten (Ohio State) and SEC (LSU) and 1-loss champions in the Pac-12 (Oregon or Utah) and Big 12 (Oklahoma or Baylor), how exactly would Alabama compare with no more than one top 25 win? With or without Tua, Alabama should be in some danger of being left out of the playoff for the first time.

And that doesn’t even account for the scenarios that see Penn State beat Ohio State and both the Nittany Lions and Buckeyes end the year with one loss. In that case, Ohio State would still be more worthy of a top-four spot than Alabama, and they may not even make it under these conditions. And if Georgia beats LSU in the SEC title game and both teams end the year with one loss, they’d each get in the playoff before Alabama.

Simply put, Alabama’s playoff odds are probably not as drastically impacted by Tagovailoa’s injury as it is being presented. Alabama would still probably need some help no matter if Tagovailoa or Joe Namath was playing quarterback. It may not be too much help that is needed, but some help would absolutely be welcome in Tuscaloosa.

On Tuesday night, however, we’ll get our first taste of just how this injury to Tagovailoa impacts Alabama in the playoff race. The selection committee will release its third set of rankings this season and determine just where Alabama sits in the pack. Alabama fell to No. 5 after their loss to LSU, firmly keeping the Tide in the hunt. They still managed to control their game against Mississippi State this weekend, but other contenders had good performances as well (see: Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma). Alabama is also still lacking a top 25 win the way a few other 1-loss teams now own (see: Oklahoma, Penn State, Minnesota).

How will the committee react? We’re about to find out Tuesday night.

American sticking with 8-game conference schedule, no divisions in 2020-21

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With UConn about to unceremoniously depart the American Athletic Conference to live life as an FBS independent and realign with their old Big East basketball family, the American Athletic Conference was in need of figuring out how to adjust the schedule for football beginning next season. It has done just that.

The AAC announced on Monday how the football schedule will work for the 2020 and 2021 seasons. The 11-team conference will stick with an 8-game schedule and rotate the schedule around to every team in the conference will face each other conference member at least once over the next two seasons. Each school will get four home conference games and play four more on the road. On top of that, there will be no divisions in the conference.

“This scheduling model provides balance and competitive equity and will contribute to the exciting seasons to which we have become accustomed in the American Athletic Conference,” AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said in a released statement. “It is a fair model that was unanimously supported by our athletic directors.”

The AAC has not shared details on how the two teams to participate in the AAC championship game will be determined, although the simple answer is the top two teams in the standings will get to play. But tiebreakers may have to be re-evaluated with the new scheduling format just to cover all of the bases.

This format is only mapped out for the next two seasons, so it remains to be seen what will happen in 2022 and beyond. This does leave room for the possibility of adding a 12th member to return to a division format if that is desired by the conference. At this point, there has never been a peep that suggested the AAC was interested in adding a 12th member, but that is something that can always change on any given day ending in “Y.” Or perhaps the conference will just reshuffle the conference schedule again for the next two seasons after 2021.

Semi-finalists for Ray Guy Award announced, but missing last year’s winner

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Who is the best punter in the land? According to the Ray Guy Award, there are now 10 players left in the running for that title in the 2019 season.

This year’s semi-finalists for the Ray Guy Award are Oscar Bradburn (Virginia Tech), Joseph Charlton (South Carolina), Max Duffy (Kentucky), Tyson Dyer (New Mexico), Sterling Hofrichter (Syracuse), Adam Korsak (Rutgers), Dane Roy (Houston), Tommy Townsend (Florida), Michael Turk (Arizona State), Owen White (Navy).

Somehow, last year’s winner, Texas A&M’s Braden Mann, didn’t make the cut. Mann is third in the nation in punting average (48.21 yards per punt). Not exactly sure how that happened, but there will be a new Ray Guy Award winner this season as a result of this slip form the award’s committee.

John Mackey Award names eight semi-finalists for top tight end award

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Eight of the nation’s top tight ends were officially named semi-finalists for this season’s John Mackey Award on Monday. The award, named after Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end and former Syracuse player John Mackey, is presented to the nation’s top tight-end as determined by a select voting panel.

This year’s semi-finalists are:

  • Harrison Bryant, Florida Atlantic
  • Hunter Bryant, Washington
  • Brycen Hopkins, Purdue
  • Brevin Jordan, Miami
  • Charlie Kolar, Iowa State
  • Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri
  • Colby Parkinson, Stanford
  • Giovanni Ricci, Western Michigan

A couple of notable omissions from this list stand out. Florida’s Kyle Pitts, who has the second-most receptions and fifth-most receiving yards among the nation’s tight ends somehow slipped through the voters here. The sophomore for the Gators has averaged 4.2 receptions per game and has accounted for 566 yards and five touchdowns for the Gators. No other tight end in the SEC has more yards per game than Pitts. Penn State’s Pat Freiemuth being omitted was also slightly surprising. Freiermuth has seven touchdowns, easily more than any other Big Ten tight end this season and tied for third-most in the conference this season.

Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson won the John Mackey Award in 2018. Other past winners of the award include Dallas Clark of Iowa, Tyler Eiffert of Notre Dame, Jake Butt of Michigan, Austin Seferian-Jenkins of Washington, and Aaron Hernandez of Florida.

This year’s Mackey Award winner will be announced on Dec. 11th.