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No. 18 Memphis beats No. 19 Cincinnati, clinches AAC title berth vs. Cincinnati

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The Cincinnati-Memphis game was so good, they’re going to do it again at the same place next week.

The No. 19 Tigers beat the 18th-ranked Bearcats 34-24, at once clinching the American West Division title and, by virtue of the head-to-head Friday, secures home field advantage for next week’s American Championship against the East champion — which happens to be Cincinnati.

Memphis (11-1, 7-1 AAC) opened the game perfectly, as Chris Claybrooks took the opening kickoff 94 yards back for a touchdown. After a Cincinnati (10-2, 7-1 AAC) field goal, the Tigers moved 77 yards in sevens snaps and took a 14-3 lead on a 9-yard Brady White pass to Kedarian Jones at the 7:24 mark of the first quarter.

The Tigers then forced a four-and-out and moved back inside the Bearcat red zone, but the drive stalled and Mike Norvell settled for a 34-yard Riley Patterson field goal, pushing the Memphis lead to 17-3 after the first quarter.

But then Cincinnati answered, launching drives of 12 and 14 plays that traveled 85 and 80 yards and consumed 11 and a half minutes of clock. Ben Bryant‘s 4-yard pass to Leonard Taylor pulled the ‘Cats within 17-10 at the 12:36 mark of the second quarter, and Michael Warren II‘s 3-yard run with 2:54 left in the first half tied the game.

Memphis struck back quickly, though, as White found Damonte Coxie for a 54-yard gain that took the ball from the Memphis 36-yard line to the Cincinnati 10, but the drive moved no further and the Tigers settled for a second short Patterson field goal.

Neither team scored in the third quarter, though not for lack of trying. Memphis forced two Cincinnati fumbles in the third quarter, but turned them into zero points. The first was recovered at midfield but the Tiger offense went backward, punting from their own 46. One possession later, Jonathan Wilson sacked Bryant at his own 45 and ripped the ball out, allowing the Tigers to take over at the Bearcats’ 43 and drive all the way to their 16, but White’s 4th-and-2 pass to Joey Magnifico was not quite magnificent, sailing out of bounds for a turnover on downs.

Cincinnati then took over at its own 16 and moved to the Memphis 17, almost exclusively on the ground, but Warren was stuffed on a 4th-and-1 run at the 2:02 mark of the third quarter.

Still leading 20-17, Memphis pushed the lead to 10 when White found Coxie behind the defense on an end-around pass for a 46-yard score, but Cincinnati answered when Bryant hit Alec Pierce for 51 yards on a 3rd-and-15 from his own 33, pushing the ball to the Memphis 16. Bryant rushed in from 12 yards out to pull Cincinnati within 27-24 with 10:27 remaining.

After Memphis came up empty twice in the third quarter, it was now Cincinnati’s turn to create nothing out of a turnover, as Ahmad Gardner picked White at the Bearcats’ 26, but Cincinnati immediately went three-and-out.

Cincinnati should have answered with its own three-and-out, but a White incompletion was nullified by an unsportsmanlike conduct flag against Cincinnati’s Myjai Sanders, and three plays later Antonio Gibson raced in a 29-yard touchdown carry, giving Memphis a 10-point lead with 3:16 to play. The Bearcats were then forced to pass, which was not part of the plan with their backup quarterback, and Bryant was intercepted by Blake Sanchez, Jr., near midfield with 1:35 left.

The win pushed Memphis into the American Championship for the third straight season. Norvell’s team lost to an undefeated UCF team in 2017-18, but next Saturday’s game will be the first time the Tigers get to play for the conference championship at the Liberty Bowl.

Pac-12 player group ‘disappointed’ after commissioner call

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The Pac-12 players of the “WeAreUnited” movement said they were “disappointed and deeply concerned” after a recent meeting with the conference’s commissioner.

The players sent an email to Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott late Friday accusing him of not taking the issues they have raised seriously enough. The email was also shared with members of the media.

The group’s correspondence came after Scott followed their Thursday call with an email to the players that struck a very different tone, thanking them for the “passion and honesty with which you spoke yesterday evening.”

The group is pushing the conference to address their concerns about COVID-19 protocols, racial injustice in college sports and economic rights for college athletes. Players threatened opting out of practices and games if their demands aren’t addressed. Leaders of the group have said their movement has more than 400 players from around the conference supporting it.

In their email to the commissioner, the players said they were unsatisfied with Scott’s answers to question about increasing the frequency of COVID-19 testing done on athletes and the mandating of best practices across the conference.

“Without a discernible plan and mandates to ensure the health and safety of student-athletes, it is absurd, offensive, and deadly to expect a season to proceed,” they said.

When the players went public with their demands last Sunday, they reached out to the Pac-12 and requested daily meetings with conference officials. Instead, they got one call last week and a pledge from the conference for continued communication.

“You informed us we cannot have legal representation attend these meetings to assist in connection with our legal rights, nor were you willing to even have regular meetings with us to provide updates,” the players wrote to Scott.

Scott’s email addressed four topics that made up the bulk of the Thursday call with 12 players: health and safety; eligibility; COVID-19 liability waivers; and opt-out due to COVID-19 concerns.

Scott wrote the conference will attempt to provide the players an opportunity to speak with the Pac-12 medical advisory committee and keep them abreast of work being done at the NCAA level to address whether athletes who opt out of the coming season will be permitted to retain eligibility.

Scott said the conference office would ensure none of the league’s schools ask athletes to sign liability waivers and reiterated Pac-12 schools were committed to honoring scholarships of players who chose not to play this season because of COVID-19 concerns.

“We will work on gathering the information listed above and providing it to you as soon as possible,” Scott wrote.

Clemson QB Lawrence says he’s completely committed to 2020 season

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Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence said he considered opting out of this season when he was unsure what college football would look like going forward amid the coronavirus pandemic.

However, Lawrence said Friday once he understood he’d play an 11-game season with a chance for an Atlantic Coast Conference and national championships, he decided to play his junior season.

The Heisman Trophy hopeful said he’s completely committed to this season and confident in Clemson’s ability to keep himself and his teammates safe.

Lawrence, who is the likely No. 1 overall pick in the next NFL draft should he leave college early, was 25-0 as a starter until he and Clemson fell to LSU in the national title game last January. The 6-foot-6 junior, had perhaps his poorest performance in college in the 42-25 loss to LSU. He joked how after his freshman year when he led Clemson to a championship he heard how amazing he was and since the LSU defeat, he heard how much work he has to do improve.

Pac-12 responds to football players threatening opt-outs

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The Pac-12 responded Monday to football players who have threatened 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.