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No. 15 Auburn wins Iron Bowl thriller, knocks No. 5 Alabama out of CFP race

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Two pick-sixes. A kickoff return touchdown. A controversial field goal with 1-second left on the clock. A 48-point quarter that saw 21 points scored in 84 seconds. The 84th Iron Bowl had just about everything, and in the end it had an Auburn victory, as a late missed field goal allowed the No. 15 Tigers to preserve a 48-45 win over No. 5 Alabama, officially knocking the Crimson Tide out of the College Football Playoff for the first time in the 6-year history of the series.

Alabama (10-2, 6-2 SEC) will now enter December out of the national championship picture for just the second time since 2011 — with the other coming in 2013, when Auburn dealt Alabama a death blow with the Kick Six.

Playing without Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

got 335 yards and four touchdowns from Mac Jones, 146 yards and a touchdown from Najee Harris and four lead-changing touchdowns from Jaylen Waddle, but two pick-sixes by Jones and a controversial field goal gave Auburn 17 needed points. Playing in his first Iron Bowl, Bo Nix completed 15-of-30 passes for 173 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 44 yards and a score and, most importantly, played turnover free football.

The game started slowly — an Alabama field goal and three punts in the first four possessions — but then took off to warp speed, starting with a 37-yard Christian Tutt punt return that set Auburn up at the Crimson Tide’s 32-yard line. A 15-yard Boobee Whitlow run and a face mask penalty later, Nix put the Tigers up 7-3 with an untouched 7-yard keeper at the 2:07 mark of the first quarter.

Alabama immediately answered with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown run capped by a 6-yard Harris run, as the junior running back carried the entire Tide offense while Jones worked his way to game speed (his first 14 passes covered just 40 yards). Harris lead all runners with 94 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.

Auburn then tied the game with a 43-yard Anders Carlson field goal, then took the lead when Smoke Monday snared a Jones overthrow and raced 29 yards for a score, putting the Tigers up 17-10 with 5:36 left in the first half. The lead lasted 14 seconds, as Waddle raced the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. Then, Whitlow fumbled at his own 37, and 84 seconds after leading 17-10, Auburn trailed 24-17 when Jones found Henry Ruggs III for a 3-yard score at the 4:12 mark of the second quarter.

Stunned to silence after that turn of events, Auburn appeared to be trying to simply run out the final four minutes of the half and lick its wounds at halftime, until Nix hit Seth Williams on a 37-yard heave on 3rd-and-8, taking the ball from his own 38 to Alabama’s 25. Nix then found Will Hastings for an 11-yard gain on a throwaway, and then Sal Canella, using his 6-foot-5 frame to keep his toes in bounds while reaching far out of bounds, snared a game-tying touchdown pass with 1:06 left in the first half.

The Tigers left too much time.

After a 24-yard Diggs kick return and a 4-yard completion to Jerry Jeudy, Waddle did the rest, catching the ball shy of the Auburn 45 and then weaved through the secondary for his second touchdown of the quarter, putting Alabama back ahead 31-24 with 33 seconds left in the first half. Waddle touched the ball four times in the half, and two of them turned into touchdowns totaling 156 yards.

Out of timeouts, Auburn maneuvered from its own 35 to the Alabama 34 when Whitlow was tackled as time expired in the half. But, because Whitlow surged forward until time expired rather than going down with, say, three seconds left in the half, Gus Malzahn demanded a review of the timing. The review worked as a de facto timeout, allowing Auburn to get off a field goal when one second was put back on the clock. History did not repeat itself, as Carlson’s 52-yard field goal sailed through the uprights, not for a 109-yard return the other way.

Carlson’s third field goal, a 43-yarder, pulled Auburn within 31-30, and then the Tigers took their second lead of the day with their second pick six of the day, as Zakoby McClain caught a deflection off Harris’s back and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, putting War Eagle back in front 37-31.

Once again, though, the lead did not last, thanks to Waddle. This time, he hauled in a 12-yard touchdown grab, and Joseph Bulovas‘s extra point lodged the game’s 75th point at the 4:57 mark of the third quarter.

After a pair of punts, Auburn nudged back ahead with a 44-yard Carlson field goal — his fourth of the day — and once again Waddle erased an Alabama deficit, as his 28-yard touchdown grab completed a 6-play, 90-yard drive that saw the Crimson Tide take a 45-40 lead with 13:44 left in the game.

Malzahn then leaned on Whitlow and Nix’s legs to slice through a tired Alabama defense, and Shaun Shivers surged Auburn back in front with an emphatic 11-yard end-around on 3rd-and-5. Nix’s pass to Shedrick Jackson gave Auburn its fourth lead, 48-45, with 8:08 to play.

Faced with a 4th-and-7 at the Auburn 37 with 5:13 to go, Nick Saban kept his offense on the field and was rewarded when Jones scrambled for an 18-yard gain. Jones converted a 3rd-and-1 with a sneak to the 10 and then, facing a 3rd-and-goal with 2:11 remaining, Jones’s pass was knocked down by Derrick Brown, straight into Jones’s arms, who did not come close to scoring the touchdown but did force Malzahn to use his second timeout.

Bulovas could tie the game with a 30-yard field goal, but the Achilles heel of Saban’s crimson dynasty reared its ugly head again, as the kick smacked off the left upright.

Auburn could win the game with a first down, but the Tigers gained only six yards on three runs. However, Auburn kept its offense on the field, baiting Alabama into a game-ending illegal substitution penalty. The five penalty yards were enough to convert the first down, handing Auburn (9-3, 5-3 SEC) its second Iron Bowl win in three years.

The win moved Auburn to 19-0 under Malzahn when scoring a non-offensive touchdown, and dropped Alabama to 0-7 in games of ranked teams at Jordan-Hare Stadium. It also marks Malzahn’s third win over Saban, tying Les Miles for the most among SEC coaches. The loss also means Saban is still winless against 9-win Auburn teams during his tenures at LSU and Alabama.

In interview with Howard Stern, Tom Brady talks about almost transferring from Michigan to Cal

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While a lot of the attention surrounding his Howard Stern interview focused on his relationship with the current POTUS, there was a college football angle to all of the Tom Brady talk.

Coming out of high school in California, Brady chose a scholarship offer from Michigan over one from Cal. His first season at U-M, Brady sat behind Scott Dreisbach, Brian Griese and Jason Carr, the son of head coach Lloyd Carr and took a redshirt. His second season, with Carr out of eligibility, Brady was still behind Dreisbach and Griese.

In his book “Belichick and Brady,” Michael Holley explained that Brady very nearly transferred from Michigan to Cal because of his positioning on the depth chart. During the course of his SiriusXM interview with the King of All Media Wednesday, Brady acknowledged the transfer talk.

The guy who was playing above me, Scott Dreisbach, he was very much their guy,” Brady told Stern during the show. “I thought we had got off to kind of a good start, he had got off to a good start in his career, and I was looking up at all these guys on the depth chart that were ahead of me, and I thought, ‘I’m never going to get a chance here.’ I remember talking to the people at Cal, because that was my second choice, to go to Berkeley, and I was thinking, ‘Maybe I should go there, because I’ll get more of an opportunity to play.’

“I went in and talked to Lloyd Carr. I said, ‘I don’t really think I’m going to get my chance here. I think I should leave,’ and he said, ‘Tom, I want you to stay, and I believe in you, and I think you could be a good player, but you’ve got to start worrying about the things you can control.’ When he said that he wanted me there, I went to bed that night, I woke up the next day, and I figured, you know what, if I’m going to be — and I still feel this way today — in a team sport, you’ve got to sacrifice what you want individually for what’s best for the team. So if you’re not the best guy, it’s a disservice for the team if you’re forced to somehow play. My feeling was, if I’m going to be the best, I’ve got to beat out the best, and if the best competition’s at Michigan, I’ve got to beat those guys out if I’m going to play. I ended up committing to be the best.

Obviously, Brady opted to remain with the Wolverines. He served as Griese’s backup in 1997, then beat out Dreisbach for the starting job the following season. After two years as U-M’s started, Brady was infamously selected 199th overall in the 2000 NFL Draft.

Suffice to say, Brady did fairly well for himself during his 20 seasons in New England.

Minnesota projecting potential $75 million loss due to COVID-19

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The worst case for Minnesota when it comes to COVID-19 is a hefty bottom line hit.

The school’s board of regents met on Tuesday and detailed some of the initial modeling they are projecting as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Speaking just of the athletic department, that could result in nearly $75 million in lost revenue alone for the Gophers.

The Athletic’s Eric Vegoe detailed one of the slides from the meeting, which shows an overall $200 million hit to the university at large in a worst case — or “severe” — scenario:

Obviously the severe scenario that shows COVID-19 lasting into the fall is projecting a serious loss of revenue as the result of no (or reduced) college football. The sport makes up the vast majority of Minnesota’s revenues and has untold impact on other items such as donations as well.

USA Today’s database of athletic department revenues show the Gophers had nearly $125 million in revenue through the 2017-18 school year. While that figure has undoubtedly climbed higher as Big Ten media rights distributions have escalated, the number provided to the regents is still a huge chunk of that amount.

Even the moderate estimate of things lasting through the summer could result in a 20% shave on the department’s income.

It goes without saying that finances across the board in every industry will be impacted by the global pandemic but slides like the one above are a good reminder that even in the tiny world of football or college athletics, the cuts will probably have to run quite deep. And if a school like Minnesota is potentially forced to cut back, just imagine what other Group of Five programs will have to go through.

At some point college football will return to our lives but the ramifications of this current battle against the coronavirus figure will certainly have a far-reaching impact well beyond the gridiron. Sadly, no amount of ‘Rowing the Boat’ will be able to change that fact.

Bay Area official does not expect sports to return “until at least Thanksgiving”

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So much of the intersection of the coronavirus and college football has centered on when the game might return this fall.

Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy wants players back as soon as May. Clemson’s Dabo Swinney is confident that Death Valley will be packed come September. Virginia Tech’s athletic director has floated moving the calendar back just to get a full slate in.

In short, nobody knows.

That unknown has weighed heavily on most as they are asked to discuss the topic in recent days. What is left unsaid however, is that no coach or administrator will truly be in charge of determining the date CFB returns. That will be left to health officials at the local level.

One such official broached that topic this week. Speaking to the Santa Clara County (in the California Bay Area) Board of Supervisors, Dr. Jeffrey Smith believes sports in general may be looking more toward winter than fall whenever it returns.

Per the Los Angeles Times:

Smith on Tuesday told that county’s Board of Supervisors that he did not expect there would be “any sports games until at least Thanksgiving, and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving. This is not something that’s going to be easy to do.”

Santa Clara County is home to both Stanford and San Jose State. It’s also located in the region of the United States that was at the forefront of shutting down as a response to COVID-19 last month.

If those in charge don’t see a return to the football field until turkey time, those optimistic projections of getting the season done on time can probably be thrown to the wind.

Let’s hope that won’t turn out to be the case and the world can get a medical miracle it desperately needs. But until that happens, it’s probably best to be more pessimistic when it comes to the 2020 season than optimistic.

Survey of ADs shows momentum for expanded College Football Playoff

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At some point normalcy will return to college football. When that will be is anybody’s guess but it will come at some point.

When it does, much of the focus in the sport will return to matters like… College Football Playoff expansion. Yes, everybody’s favorite subject isn’t being forgot even if the attention is elsewhere nowadays due to the coronavirus.

Stadium recently conducted a wide-ranging survey of FBS athletic directors and one of the big questions asked was not surprisingly about the future of the CFP. To nobody’s surprise, the move toward eight or more teams in the annual postseason tournament is gathering plenty of momentum.

Per Brett McMurphy:

A whopping 88 percent of Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) athletic directors want an expanded College Football Playoff when the current playoff contract ends after the 2025 regular season, according to a survey conducted by Stadium.

Of those athletic directors who favor an expanded playoff, 72 percent believe eight teams should qualify. Also, 66 percent of the ADs said the highest-ranked non-Power Five team should receive an automatic bid to an expanded playoff.

Since its inception as a four team event, the idea of expansion for the College Football Playoff has been a pretty constant talking point. Some have made their feelings known publicly at all levels.

“More and more fans are only concerned with the playoffs,” a Power Five AD told Stadium. “That’s sad, but true, so we should expand the playoffs when possible. Even if that impacts the bowl system. We have to figure out a way.”

So mostly it’s been a question of when and not if. The focus on the latter has typically centered around the expiration of the CFP television contract with ESPN after the 2025-26 season. Executive director Bill Hancock has remarked a few times that there is no “look-in” with the deal to formally renegotiate the contract. Still, there would need to be some groundwork laid and a decision made well before 2025 in order to make the necessary changes to things like semifinal dates and stadium sites.

Given the potential revenue shortfalls due to the on-going COVID-19 situation, perhaps things will be accelerated over the course of the summer but we’re entering a window where the talk about moving to eight teams or beyond is going to start turning into some action.

It sounds as though the ADs are on board with formally expanding the chase for the national championship and this latest survey only confirms as much.