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Tua Tagovailoa’s injury overshadows epic Oklahoma comeback and more in Week 12


College football, by its nature, is meant to be enjoyed in the moment. Sure, the history and traditions endure, but the sport is inherently fleeting. Today’s star is tomorrow’s NFL draft pick. A season-defining win can evaporate amid a brutal loss a week later. For all the consistency of Alabama and Clemson, every Saturday manages to offer a new revelation.

The ephemeral nature of the sport was at the forefront Saturday, when college football welcomed Baylor to the big time, then kicked the Bears to the curb an hour later, capsized Minnesota’s Playoff boat and supplied an absolute gut punch to everyone who has witnessed the brilliance of Tua Tagovailoa, only to watch him scream into a towel as his hip throbbed and blood gushed from his face.

There will be debate in the days to come about whether Tagovailoa should’ve even been on the field when the injury occurred, what it means for his predicted future in the NFL, how Alabama will rebound, what this moment — the sight of one of the sport’s most recognizable stars writhing in pain — could do to change the discussion around paying players. All are worthy conversations, but in the moment, let’s consider this:

It has been less than two years since Tagovailoa stepped into the spotlight in the second half of the national championship game and delivered one of the most thrilling comebacks in the sport’s history. It has been less than a year since he saw his surefire Heisman hopes eclipsed by the ascendant Kyler Murray. It has been just a week since he played through a serious ankle injury, willing his team back into contention against LSU, only to fall short there, too. If this is the last we see of Tagovailoa in an Alabama uniform, it will have been an all-too-brief flirtation but an overwhelmingly memorable one.

It’s almost hard to remember that, until Tagovailoa emerged from the tunnel to lead the Tide back to beat Georgia in the national championship game in January 2018, Alabama’s recent run had little to do with the men playing quarterback. His predecessors were fine, but Alabama’s run was built largely by elite defenses and dominant runners, and the QBs were along for the ride. Remember Jacob Coker? He won a title.

Then Tagovailoa came along and changed everything. Suddenly Alabama, the team that oozed tradition and brute-force swagger, became one of the most explosive offenses in the country. For all the deserved accolades afforded Mike Leach and Chip Kelly and Lincoln Riley, it was Tagovailoa who turned old-school Bama into a new-school juggernaut that truly changed the sport. Once the Tide did it, there was no going back.

Now, it’s likely over. Not the change in Bama’s approach. There will be other big-name QBs and plenty more points, even if they didn’t come in the second half against Mississippi State. The magic of Tagovailoa’s tenure, though, will be tough to replicate. Because guys such as Tagovailoa — quiet and reserved but utterly joyous on the field, a player whose greatness was recognized in real time — don’t come around very often.

In Minnesota, the Playoff hopes proved fleeting, too. The high that followed a stunning win over Penn State lasted just a week, as the Gophers went to Iowa and ran into a buzzsaw. Minnesota’s offensive line always made a run through the Big Ten a tough road, and A.J. Epenesa & Co. finally took advantage, utterly smothering the Gophers’ ground game and sacking Tanner Morgan six times in a 23-19 win.

But nothing was more fleeting than Baylor’s playoff push, which went from an emphatic statement to an utter disaster in the span of a half. Baylor jumped out to a 28-3 lead in the first half and led by 21 at the half. The Bears have lived on the brink often this year, but Saturday looked to be an easy one against Oklahoma. It didn’t last.

Baylor didn’t score in the second half, Jalen Hurts moved the ball at will, and that big lead couldn’t hold. Hurts threw for 297 yards, ran for 114 more on a whopping 27 carries, and finished with four TDs in a 34-31 win.

That Hurts’ Playoff hopes remain, while Tagovailoa’s season is over, offers yet another reminder of the often merciless, occasionally exhilarating and always dramatic ups and downs this sport provides.

SEC’s Achilles’ heels

The SEC currently has three teams in the nation’s top five, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t some serious questions looming at the top of the country’s best conference.

The Tagovailoa injury certainly puts Alabama’s chances at the playoff chances under even more scrutiny. The Tide already needed help, but we’ve seen the committee give Saban’s crew the benefit of the doubt before. Will that same luxury be afforded to Alabama without its star QB if it finishes 11-1? Is 11-1 even possible without Tagovailoa in the Iron Bowl?

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Jake Fromm throws for 110 yards and three touchdowns as Georgia survives Auburn’s fourth-quarter comeback.

It was Georgia that moved into the No. 4 spot last week, edging out Alabama. The Dawgs added a huge line to an already strong resume with a 21-14 win over Auburn. The Georgia D was dominant, stuffing the run and forcing Bo Nix to throw 50 times. Still, the lingering questions about UGA’s offense remain. Jake Fromm made the big throws he needed to win, but he was just 13-of-28 passing for the game, and the Auburn D-line made life uncomfortable throughout. Auburn finished with seven pass break-ups and five QB hurries, and Georgia mustered just 251 yards of offense. It’s the fifth time this season Georgia has failed to crack 400, which given the offensive fireworks Clemson, LSU and Ohio State are capable of producing, certainly makes for a stark contrast.

Meanwhile, LSU’s offense continues to chug along, but that defense provided more fodder for folks looking for a weakness in the Tigers’ seemingly stellar facade. Ole Miss racked up 614 yards of offense in a 58-37 loss Saturday, the fourth time this season LSU has allowed 450 yards or more. Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia, Oregon and Utah have yet to allow 450 yards in a game this season.

Heisman Five

That Tagovailoa won’t be a part of this conversation down the stretch is heartbreaking, but he’ll also join a group of elite QBs who never actually came away with the award, including Andrew Luck and Deshaun Watson in recent years. Here’s to hoping Tagovailoa’s future includes as much success as those guys’ did.

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Joe Burrow throws five touchdowns as LSU breezes past Ole Miss 58-37.

1. Joe Burrow, LSU

This wasn’t supposed to require much playing time for Burrow down the stretch, but because Ole Miss kept coming back, Burrow kept throwing. The end result was 489 yards and five touchdowns (though two picks!) which will help boost those Heisman stats.

2. Justin Fields, Ohio State

It’s a shame playing Maryland and Rutgers doesn’t give Fields much time in the second half to run up his stats. He had to settle for 335 total yards and four touchdowns.

3. Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma

Hurts’ second-half effort is everything a Heisman run is made of, and his 27 carries underscored the physicality he showed. Four touchdowns ain’t bad either.

4. Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma State

With another 164 yards and two touchdowns for Hubbard in an easy win over Kansas, what looked like an all-QB affair at the Heisman ceremony seems increasingly likely to include the Cowboys’ tailback, too.

5. Trevor Lawrence, Clemson

He finished the first quarter vs. Louisville in Week 8 with three completions on seven attempts and two picks. Since then, Lawrence’s stat line: 77.5% completions, 11.4 yards/pass, 16 TD, 0 INT.

Now you see them …

Indiana did something momentous last week. For the first time in 25 years, the Hoosiers cracked the AP top 25. After a 7-2 start, IU found itself ranked No. 24, the first time the Hoosiers made the poll since 1994. Much like grunge, flannel and “House Party” movies, it was all downhill from there for Indiana.

So, how’d the new ranking treat the team? About the same as the last one. In ’94, Indiana climbed to No. 25 on Sept. 25, then promptly lost their next game 25-14 to Minnesota. This year, the one-week stint at No. 24 likely came to a screeching halt with a slightly more competitive, but nevertheless fruitless 34-27 loss to Penn State.

Bouncing back at the Big House

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QB Shea Patterson finds a wide-open Cornelius Johnson for a 39-yard touchdown, giving Michigan a 44-10 lead over Michigan State.

Remember when we wrote off Michigan and started scripting Jim Harbaugh’s epitaph in Ann Arbor? Well, a funny thing has happened since the Wolverines fell behind 21-0 at Penn State last month. Shea Patterson & Co. came charging back in that one, only to fall just short, 28-21. Since then, they’ve been dominant, demolishing Notre Dame, Maryland and, this week, rival Michigan State.

Saturday’s 44-10 win gave Michigan rights to the Paul Bunyan trophy (not the same as Paul Bunyan’s axe trophy because the Big Ten is really into Paul Bunyan-related trophies) and also marked the first time since 2013 the Wolverines posted 38 points or more against three straight Big Ten opponents.

Harbaugh’s team will still be a heavy underdog to Ohio State on the final Saturday of the regular season, but that game suddenly has a little more cache than we might’ve thought a month ago.

Two hundred and history

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Jonathan Taylor breaks tackles, finds the open gap and runs 11 yards for his second touchdown of the game.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor posted his 11th career game with at least 200 yards on the ground, going for 204 and two touchdowns in a win over Nebraska on Saturday. Taylor is now tied with Ricky Williams, Marcus Allen and Ron Dayne for the most 200-yard rushing games in college football history.

While Taylor and the Badgers celebrated the moment, Nebraska fell to 4-6 and will now need to win its final two games (at Maryland, vs. Iowa) to become bowl-eligible. If the Cornhuskers can’t get to six wins, it would mark the third straight season without a bowl bid — something that happened just twice in the previous 48 seasons.

Big bets and bad beats

  • College kickers haunt the dreams of every bettor, and for good reason, as Minnesota fans found out Saturday. The Gophers were 3-point dogs at Iowa, despite their 9-0 record, and a strong second half was called with a Rodney Smith TD run with 3:27 to play to pull to within four, pending the point-after try. Unfortunately, freshman Brock Walker missed the kick — putting the Gophers in position to need a TD for the win and Minnesota backers just a point shy of a push. Neither came away happy as the Gophers fell for the first time in 2019.

  • Honestly, if you were betting hapless Northwestern on Saturday, you knew you were flirting with danger, so there’s no use complaining now. Still, the Wildcats left most of their backers shaking their heads (or their fists) after a woeful first quarter in which UMass’s awful defense held Northwestern scoreless, another awful third frame in which they mustered just a field goal, three brutal turnovers and just 76 yards from the passing game. In the end, Northwestern still covered the 38.5-point spread — for anyone who got their bets in just before kick. Until four minutes before kickoff, the spread was actually 39.5, which left most bettors on the wrong end of an ugly game.

  • Clemson doesn’t seem to have much trouble covering a big number this season, putting up an impressive 8-1 record against the spread when favored by at least 24 points this year against FBS competition. That trend held Saturday as the Tigers walloped Wake Forest, but in order to also provide a payday to bettors who had Clemson -21.5 in the first half, the Tigers needed a little luck. Leading 17-3, Clemson got the ball with just 2:15 to play in the half. Trevor Lawrence made quick work of the Wake defense, engineering an 80-yard TD drive in just 1:34. Still, Wake was covering — until Jamie Newman tossed a pick with 20 seconds left, and Lawrence hit Tee Higgins for a 30-yard touchdown pass on the next play — scoring with just 13 seconds left until the break.

  • Entering Saturday, there were two teams still undefeated against the spread in the first halves of games: Navy and Ohio State. The Midshipmen were +4.5 against Notre Dame and … it didn’t go well. The Irish trucked Navy, leading 38-3 at the break and going on to win 52-20. Ohio State at least offered a bit more drama. The Buckeyes were favored by 35 in the first half, but failed to cover thanks to two straight stops by Rutgers at the 1-yard line. The Scarlet Knights also covered a 52-point spread for the game because not even Rutgers is quite that embarrassing. This week, anyway.

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Colorado State looks like it will trim Air Force’s lead, but Zane Lewis jumps the pass and goes 99 yards for a Falcons touchdown.

  • Colorado State was a 10.5-point underdog against rival Air Force, but Mike Bobo’s crew got off to a hot start and jumped out to a 14-0 lead. Air Force punched its way back after a woeful first half, but with fewer than two minutes remaining, the Rams trailed by just 10 and were knocking on the door of ensuring a cover with a second-and-goal at the Air Force 1-yard line. And as many a Georgia fan yelled during Bobo’s years as the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator, he should’ve just run the ball. Instead, a Patrick O’Brien pass was picked off by Zane Lewis and returned for a touchdown — ending any hopes of a win and blowing what should’ve been an easy cover.

Under-the-radar play of the week

OK, so it wasn’t a play, but good luck finding a moment Saturday infused with more meaning than Casey O’Brien, a four-time cancer survivor playing for Minnesota, getting a chance to wave to the kids at the Iowa Children’s Hospital.

Under-the-radar game of the week

Perhaps you were focused on Minnesota’s late drive in hopes of staying undefeated at Iowa. Perhaps you were glued to the Georgia-Auburn game, wondering if the Tigers could come all the way back from down 21-0. Well, shame on you, because while neither of those other two come-from-behind efforts worked out, you were missing a truly epic comeback in the heart of Indiana, where Central Michigan put up 34 second-half points and edged Ball State, 45-44.

Ball State led by 16 at the half, was up 41-24 late in the third quarter and still had a six-point lead with five minutes left to play. It was all for naught, as Central Michigan engineered a 10-play, 72-yard TD drive, then picked off Drew Plitt to seal the win.

Why’s all this noteworthy? Well, you might’ve written off Jim McElwain as the guy who couldn’t win enough at Florida and, possibly, as the coach who looks like a guy who took a naked photo with a shark. But that’d be underestimating McElwain, who now has CMU — a team that went 1-11 last year and had lost 15 of its last 16 FBS contests entering October — at 7-4, winners of five of its last six and still with a chance to win the MAC West.





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No. 20 Iowa dims No. 8 Minnesota’s CFP hopes with 1st loss of season


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Minnesota coach P.J. Fleck said his team “touched the stove too many times” in its first loss of the season but still can target historic goals in a season filled with milestones.

Entering Kinnick Stadium at 9-0 for the first time in 115 years, the eighth-ranked Golden Gophers cut a 14-point halftime deficit to four in the closing minutes but fell 23-19 to No. 20 Iowa at Kinnick Stadium. Iowa retained the Floyd of Rosedale trophy for the fifth consecutive year despite being outgained 431-290, generating only 69 yards in the second half and scoring just three points after halftime.

“It’s hard to go undefeated in the Big Ten,” Fleck said. “There’s one undefeated team in the Big Ten left [No. 2 Ohio State]. It’s so difficult. … What we learned was we can beat ourselves in big-time games, but also get beat at the same time. We’re 0-1 in the Iowa season. That’s literally my message. It’s one game that we lost by four points to a very good Iowa team in a rivalry game.

“It does not take away from the nine [wins] they’ve accomplished before this, or the 45 other nevers or restored moments or 1904. It takes away none of that. All it does is make us not undefeated anymore, which is disappointing.”

Minnesota came in with its highest ranking in the CFP standings after upsetting No. 4 Penn State last week in Minneapolis. But the Gophers fell behind 13-0 and struggled to contain an aggressive and balanced Iowa offense in the first quarter.

Linebacker Thomas Barber said the team wasn’t mentally prepared early on, missing several tackles and struggling to finish drives. Minnesota had only 63 rushing yards on 30 attempts and scored on only four of seven drives that reached Iowa territory.

“As bad as we played, we still had an opportunity to go win that football game in the last two minutes,” Fleck said. “It just wasn’t good enough. We didn’t start fast enough.”

The Gophers made four trips to Iowa’s red zone but scored just one touchdown, a Rodney Smith 1-yard run with only 3:27 left. Smith attributed the struggles to “a lack of communication, a lack of execution.” After cutting Iowa’s lead to 20-13, Minnesota drove to the Hawkeyes’ 14-yard line, but standout wide receiver Tyler Johnson dropped a fourth-down pass that would have resulted in a first down. Fleck sprinted onto the field after the play to check on Johnson, and both he and Iowa’s Dane Belton drew unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“I was told I ran on the field too fast,” said Fleck, who played wide receiver at Northern Illinois and briefly in the NFL. “I get that, but I didn’t know when there was a red light and a green light to tell us when we can go on the field. The whistle blew, the play’s over, my player’s laying motionless on the ground. I’ve been on a staff, watched Eric LeGrand lay motionless and break his neck at Rutgers. We as coaches get criticized when we don’t show enough compassion to somebody that’s hurt in this game, in 2019.

“I’m 38 years old. I can run. And I’m going to make sure I’m the first one they see, if I can, when they open their eyes, or to make sure that play’s stopped.”

Johnson, who returned to the game on Minnesota’s next series, said Fleck “was just doing his job.” Fleck said he didn’t understand the call but also accepted complete responsibility for Minnesota’s first loss since Nov. 17, 2018.

Gophers quarterback Tanner Morgan, who had a game-high 368 passing yards, left the field with 1:07 left after being sacked by Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa. Backup quarterback Cole Kramer entered and threw an incomplete pass before being intercepted on fourth-and-21 by Iowa’s Riley Moss.

Fleck said Morgan looked “woozy” after the play and said the sophomore likely will be evaluated for a possible concussion.

Iowa fans rushed the field as players paraded the Floyd of Rosedale trophy. Several Iowa fans mocked Minnesota’s “Row the Boat” motto, as one held a wooden oar with an Iowa logo and the inscription: “This is how we row.”

“We were talking about sinking the boat all week,” Hawkeyes defensive end Chauncey Golston said. “They had a lot of momentum coming in, but hey, we weren’t trying to lose the pig. It was never theirs to begin with. We just wanted it to stay in Iowa City.”

Golston later added: “They want to row the boat, you want to sink the boat. You can’t row a boat that’s sunk.”

Minnesota’s goal of winning its first Big Ten West Division title remains very much afloat with two regular-season games left. The Gophers maintain a one-game lead against rival Wisconsin, which visits Minneapolis on Nov. 30 after hosting Purdue next week. Minnesota next plays at Northwestern.

“This is not the end of the world,” Fleck said. “It’s a tough loss. It hurts. It should hurt. It’s a rivalry game. Football matters in the state of Minnesota. It matters nationally. That’s a good thing, and everybody knows that.

“This is one game. That’s all that means. Everything we want and everything we wrote down is right in front of us. Nothing’s changed.”



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Minnesota vs. Iowa – Game Recap – November 16, 2019


IOWA CITY, Iowa — Minnesota’s undefeated season came to an end in a place where the Gophers have struggled for a while.

Nate Stanley threw for two touchdown passes and Tyler Goodson ran for a score to help No. 23 Iowa beat No. 7 Minnesota 23-19 on Saturday, handing the Gophers their first loss while hurting their playoff prospects.

The Hawkeyes (7-3, 4-3 Big Ten) struck quickly, scoring touchdowns on their first three possessions, then held off Minnesota’s charge in the second half for their first victory over a ranked opponent this season.

The Gophers (9-1, 6-1, No. 8 CFP) haven’t won at Kinnick Stadium since 1999, losing nine straight on the road in the series.

Minnesota got to 23-19 with 3:27 to play when Rodney Smith scored on a 1-yard dive. But Brock Walker’s extra-point attempt missed. Iowa’s Nate Wieting then recovered the onside kick.

The Gophers had a final chance. But quarterback Tanner Morgan was sacked by Joe Evans and A.J. Epenesa on back-to-back plays, then backup Cole Kramer’s pass was intercepted by Riley Moss on fourth down.

Stanley threw for 173 yards. Goodson rushed for 94 yards.

Morgan threw for 368 yards. Tyler Johnson had nine catches for 170 yards. The Gophers had 431 yards of offense.

THE TAKEAWAY

Minnesota: The Gophers’ chance at making it to the CFP took a hit with the defeat. But they’re still in command of the West Division race with two games remaining. Minnesota plays at Northwestern next week and closes the season at home against Wisconsin, the second-place team in the division. The Badgers are one game behind the Gophers.

Iowa: This was the Hawkeyes’ fifth home win on Oct. 30 or late over a team with serious national title aspirations since 2008. The Hawkeyes talked all week about not having any pressure with their division hopes.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Minnesota rose 12 spots after beating Penn State a week ago. The Gophers will tumble, but it likely won’t be as dramatic as last week’s surge. As for Iowa, it should expect to move up at least three or four spots.

UP NEXT

Minnesota: At Northwestern on Nov. 23

Iowa: Hosts Illinois in its home finale Nov. 23



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Photographer hit at Georgia-Auburn game sent to hospital


AUBURN, Ala. — A photographer was taken to the hospital after she was hit on the sideline of the Georgia-Auburn game and carted off the field.

A Georgia statement says Chamberlain Smith was sent to East Alabama Medical Center in nearby Opelika on Saturday for treatment. The school didn’t specify her injury.

A photography intern for the University of Georgia Athletic Association, the Georgia graduate was hurt when Bulldogs running back Brian Herrien ran into her several feet off the sideline late in the second quarter. Smith was kneeling down to take a picture and appeared to get hit in the head by Herrien’s knee.

Smith drew immediate medical attention and was down on the ground for several minutes. She had her eyes open, along with a bruise above her eye, when she was taken off on a stretcher.



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Tua Tagovailoa back in Alabama for more tests on hip injury


Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was carted off in the second quarter of Saturday’s game against Mississippi State with a hip injury. He was airlifted back to Birmingham for CAT scans and MRIs.

Tagovailoa was injured with three minutes remaining before halftime when he was brought down by two Bulldogs defenders while rolling to his left on a third-down play. He suffered a bloody nose and couldn’t put pressure on his right leg when he was helped up by trainers.

A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that there was concern before the end of the game that it was a “very serious” injury.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban said he doesn’t know the severity of the injury but that he doesn’t think it’s related to the ankle injury that made Tagovailoa a game-time decision for Saturday’s game. “It’s kind of a freak thing that you seldom see,” he said.

“He was good, at least as good as he was a week ago in terms of his ability to move,” Saban added. “I don’t think anything he did affected his performance in the first half. So the guy played, and I thought he played really well. And we hate it that he got injured. We hate it for him. We hate it for his family. I hate it when any player on our team gets injured. So Godspeed to him and his entire family and our thoughts and prayers are with them and hope this is not so serious it has any long-term effect on his future as a player.”

Saban told ESPN’s Molly McGrath that it was going to be Tagovailoa’s final drive of the game. Saban said Tagovailoa was still in the game to practice a two-minute drill.

“That was going to be his last series,” Saban said. “We were going to do two-minute before the half was over just for practice. First, we’ve got to block them better so he doesn’t get sacked. It’s too bad.”

McGrath reported that Tagovailoa was undergoing X-rays. McGrath also reported that Tagovailoa was screaming in pain as trainers helped lift him off the cart.

The Tide were leading 35-7 at the time of the injury. Tagovailoa was 14-for-18 for 256 yards with two touchdowns.

Saban said the coaching staff considered putting backup quarterback Mac Jones into the game for Tagovailoa before the final series.

“We can second-guess ourselves all we want,” Saban said. “We told Mac to warm up. We were going to go 2-minute before the half, and Tua wanted to go in the game. So I don’t really make a lot of decisions about guys getting hurt. … We had total confidence in Mac, and Mac did a good job when he went in.”

Tagovailoa, a Heisman Trophy contender and potential top-10 pick in next spring’s NFL draft, had surgery on his right ankle Oct. 20, a day after he was injured in the Crimson Tide’s 35-13 victory over Tennessee.

Surgeons performed a “tightrope” procedure on his right ankle, in which they drilled a hole from his fibula into the tibia and cast three tightropes through the bone and cinched it down to tighten it, according to Dr. Norman Waldrop, who was part of the medical team that performed a tightrope procedure on Tagovailoa’s left ankle following the SEC championship game last season.

Tagovailoa missed Alabama’s 48-7 win over Arkansas on Oct. 26 but returned to start against LSU last week. His mobility was limited, but he still completed 21 of 40 passes for 418 yards with four touchdowns and one interception in the Crimson Tide’s 46-41 loss to the Tigers.

“The way I look at this whole thing is, Tua’s our No. 1 quarterback and if he’s physically able to play we want to play him in the game,” Saban said when asked about the value of putting him in the game when ahead by 28 points. “That’s what he wanted to do, and that’s what our team wanted to do. If I would have known — knowing that anything bad was going to happen, certainly I wouldn’t have put him in that situation. But we’re a team. We’re a team that’s trying to get better … to see if we can finish the season the way we want.”



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Nebraska gives Scott Frost 2-year extension, running deal through 2026


Despite a disappointing second season at Nebraska, coach Scott Frost has received a two-year contract extension through 2026, the school announced Saturday morning.

Frost, who initially agreed to a seven-year, $35 million contract to coach his alma mater, is just 8-13 at the helm. The financial terms of his original agreement will remain through the extension, which runs through Dec. 31, 2026.

“Coach Frost has shown tremendous leadership in beginning to rebuild our football program,” university chancellor Ronnie Green and athletic director Bill Moos said in a joint statement. “We appreciate that a change of this nature will not happen overnight. We are committed to Scott and the direction he is taking this program. Scott is the right coach at the right time for this program. We are excited for the heights to which he will take Nebraska football and the tremendous impact he will have in the development of our student athletes.”

Nebraska began the 2019 season ranked 24th in the Associated Press Top 25 but enters Saturday’s game against Wisconsin at 4-5 overall and 2-4 in Big Ten play. The Huskers haven’t had three consecutive losing seasons since a stretch of six straight from 1956-1961.

Frost, 44, coached UCF to a 13-0 season and a Peach Bowl championship in 2017, when he received heavy interest from Power 5 schools. He ultimately chose to return to Nebraska, where he finished his college career, going 24-2 as a Huskers quarterback and helping the team to a share of the national championship in 1997.



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The meme team — Meet the fans behind CFB’s best reactions


Florida State professor Bruce Thyer was in the Virgin Islands this spring, looking to do a little scuba diving. At the dive center, a TV flickered with highlights of Clemson‘s national championship behind the reservation desk. The friendly woman taking his information smiled.

“I’m a Clemson fan,” she said.

Intrigued, Thyer asked whether she’d seen the Florida State game. She had.

“Remember the guy reading the book in the stands?” he asked.

Of course she did, she said. The only memorable part of Clemson’s 59-10 blowout was the shirtless man caught on camera, sitting high in an otherwise empty section of seats, reading a mystery novel while the Seminoles’ defense unraveled below. No image better represented the brutal performance or the doomed FSU season than that.

“Well,” Thyer said, “that was me.”

Suddenly a screech erupted from the back room.

“It’s FSU Book Guy!”

It was the scuba center’s manager. She was a Clemson fan, too, and she wasn’t going to miss her chance to meet an internet celebrity. She rushed from her office, hugged Thyer and had her employee snap a photo.

“They actually gave me a discount for my excursion,” Thyer said.

Those are the perks of being a part of the growing menagerie of suddenly famous college football fans, plucked from obscurity by television producers, then launched into the world in meme form through myriad social media platforms. It’s the modern twist on Andy Warhol’s “15 minutes of fame” theory, only these 15 minutes are portioned out in three-second GIFs over years and years.

Thyer, who is 65, is a renowned professor of social work, has a doctorate from Michigan and has written numerous books. But ask any college football fan from Tallahassee to Tucson and he’s not Dr. Thyer, respected educator. He’s FSU Book Guy.

At a recent family reunion in Chicago, Thyer’s cousins had T-shirts printed up with his meme emblazoned on the front, and they all posed for photos wearing them. All except Thyer. He was in the middle of the scene, seated, shirtless and reading a book.

You become a meme … and can’t hide

John Hurley is a Florida State fan, too. He works for the state, and he’s lived most of his life in Tallahassee. He’s got the gentle good humor and quiet dignity befitting a true Southern gentleman. And, of course, he’s got a great mustache. That’s what really captured America’s hearts during the Seminoles’ season opener in 2016.

Dalvin Cook fumbled what should’ve been an easy touchdown late in the first half, and as the broadcast went to commercial break, the camera trained on the mustachioed Hurley, staring into the middle distance, perfectly conveying a visceral melancholy that captured both the immediacy of the Seminoles’ struggles and an existential malaise born from a cold, uncaring universe. He was instantly famous.

Blurring the lines between fan and celebrity is not new. Long before social media, cameras spied Spike Lee or Jack Nicholson courtside at NBA games. Fans like Green Man, Fan Man and Morgana the Kissing Bandit forced their way into popular culture by interrupting sporting events. Unsuspecting fans like Jeffrey Maier or Steve Bartman found themselves at the center of a media circus when fate suddenly thrust them into the action.

What’s different now is technology. High-definition television makes it easy to spot the background characters — Marlins Man has turned it into a career — and cellphones allow anyone to snap a screenshot and post it to social media, where the image is shared with millions of people around the world instantaneously.

“At this point, it’s become a pastime,” said Brad Kim, editor of Know Your Meme, the world’s foremost library for meme culture. “It’s a side activity for sports viewers. We’re spectating the spectators.”

This notion is not lost on the folks charged with putting together the TV coverage of a game. Finding fans who can convey the emotion in the stadium to a wider audience is actually a critical part of the producer’s job.

“We have an eye on people through the game,” said ESPN producer Derek Mobley. “I might not take the shot in the second quarter, but we know when we have a fan that’s really reacting, when a big moment happens, we see if we can get back to him and it’ll be a great picture.”

That’s what happened to Kaileigh Thomas, better known to the college football world as “LSU Stare Girl.” A cameraman had watched her section of Tiger Stadium for most of a game against Alabama last fall, but by the fourth quarter, with her team getting steamrollered, she was in no mood for the attention.

“I was just so upset and so mad, and the camera would just not go away,” Thomas said. “I had no idea it was live. I thought he was just being annoying.”

Thomas — in reality, a bubbly sophomore with a sharp sense of humor — stared daggers at the camera, a look, she said, her mother knows well. The camera stared back, slowly zooming in. It was a standoff that, amid a blowout football game, captured the country’s attention.

Thomas’ death stare was soon shared not just as a commentary on LSU’s struggles against the Crimson Tide but as a joke about everything from college tuition to politics to a wayward storyline on someone’s favorite TV show. Her look captured how we’ve all felt at some point.

This is, perhaps, the real value of modern college football memes. They become shorthand for an emotion that can be hard to put into words but is so perfectly conveyed by one LSU sophomore’s cold, menacing stare or one Florida State fan frustrated by a fumble.

“What’s great is what people are doing is slowly building a code of visual, living emojicons that serve various purposes,” Kim said. “They’re not limited to the direct context they came from. It’s really what the face is saying that has a lasting value.”

‘You have to give the people what they want’

Jake Robinson’s belly is a wonderful conversation starter. His friends have proved this repeatedly.

If the name doesn’t ring a bell, simply google “NC State” and “GIF” and he’ll be there, at the top of the screen, hanging from a pole and waving his shirt, his stomach resplendent under the Carter-Finley Stadium lights, celebrating the Wolfpack’s upset of Florida State in 2012.

That was seven years ago. Both coaches from that game are gone. The ADs of both teams have changed. The losing QB became a first-round NFL draft pick, played and has retired. The winning QB is on his fourth NFL team. Robinson’s celebration remains.

“As long as GIFs are around, I’ll have my fame to some degree,” said Robinson, who now works in hospitality in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s fun to see people’s reactions — ‘Oh, you’re that guy!'”

These days, he usually keeps his shirt on for photo requests, but at parties, the crowd gets excited, and he has a few drinks and then …

“There was a whole summer where I ripped shirts Ric Flair style,” Robinson said. “You have to give the people what they want.”

You don’t end up hanging from a pole, waving your shirt in front of TV cameras without being the outgoing type, but what has caught Robinson by surprise is that, seven years later, we’re still celebrating with him.

Robinson’s lasting legacy as “Shirtless NC State Fan” is an interesting case study on the life cycle of fan memes. Some flash across the screen, spend a few minutes worming their way through Twitter’s expanses, then disappear as quickly as they arrived, forgotten forever, while others, like Robinson’s belly, become part of college football history.

The internet can be a fickle beast, and the line between what sticks (Grumpy Cat, Crying Michael Jordan) and what doesn’t (we miss you, Harambe) often makes little sense, though Joe Veix, a writer and artist based in Oakland, California, has tried to figure out the answers. He researched the typical life span of memes (spoiler alert: about four months) and said the key to a lasting impact is likely the emotional connection a meme creates with viewers.

“If it draws on a broad emotion that can be applied to many different situations, then it will likely last longer and be shared more frequently,” Veix said.

Robinson has seen it firsthand.

He’ll be scrolling through Twitter or browsing Reddit, and every month or two, there it is. His belly. The pole. The shirt spinning wildly. If there’s something to be celebrated online, Robinson’s GIF is likely celebrating, too.

The downside of celebrity meme status

F. Scott Fitzgerald posited that there are no second acts in American lives, but in the meme universe, Mike Bunting offers hope.

Today, Bunting works for a tech company in Austin, Texas, but in 2015, he was front row in the student section to watch his beloved Virginia Cavaliers endure a gut-wrenching defeat. Notre Dame‘s backup quarterback tossed a game-winning TD on the final play, and in exasperation, Bunting collapsed over the wall in front of him, dejected and lifeless, as the TV cameras captured the scene and displayed the score beneath him. He is Sad UVa Fan.

When he got home, a friend told him the photo was all over social media, so he clicked onto the now-defunct Yik Yak app on his phone — and there it was, his exasperated husk, draped over the wall — again and again and again.

“I was trending,” Bunting said. “I checked the Blacksburg Yik Yak page and there were 50 posts about it, and they weren’t even involved in the game.”

That’s the downside to celebrity meme status. While Bunting’s image has been deployed by everyone from SportsCenter anchors to Jimmy Fallon, and his mother even made a Christmas ornament out of it, it’s those rival Virginia Tech fans who seem to enjoy it the most. And after UVa’s basketball team became the first No. 1 seed to fall to a 16-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2018, Bunting was famous all over again.

Chris Baldwin knows that sting all too well. When Michigan State pulled off one of the most unlikely last-second wins in college football history against Baldwin’s beloved Michigan, it was his stunned face, arms raised, hands behind his head, that became the lasting image from the game. He wasn’t the first Surrender Cobra, but he’s the most famous.

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3:22

College GameDay explores the connection between fans dealing with the agony of defeat and one of the world’s most feared and dangerous creatures.

Today, he’s a software developer in Michigan. And while the emotion of the loss wore off long ago, his viral moment lives on. His Surrender Cobra was one of the most iconic images of the 2015 season, included in every highlight reel. Michigan State and Ohio State fans quickly made T-shirts with his face emblazoned across the front, and sell them before every game against the Wolverines. Baldwin gets no royalties. And pictures? Yeah, he’s taken a few, reenacting the scene with strangers at airports and hotels and restaurants.

“Hundreds for sure,” Baldwin said. “A thousand seems like a huge number, but I wouldn’t be shocked.”

Baldwin is the eternal symbol of Michigan’s failure, but he hopes one day that might change, as it did for Sad UVa Fan.

Bunting was in the stands at John Paul Jones Arena this spring for the watch party for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament championship game between his Cavaliers and Texas Tech. When the game ended with a dramatic Virginia win in overtime, Bunting charged onto the court with thousands of other Virginia fans to celebrate, just as he’d planned to do at Scott Stadium four years earlier before having his heart broken on the final play. A TV reporter caught up with him and put him on camera.

“I’m no longer Sad UVa Fan,” he screamed. “I’m National Champion UVa Fan.”

What is the future of sports memes?

What’s important to understand about each of these memes, Thyer said, is that they’re organic. LSU Girl, Michigan Surrender Cobra, Shirtless NC State fan — they all represent some raw emotion, felt in the moment, captured for posterity by the internet.

But as the memes go mainstream, there’s an obvious question: Is there a tipping point in which the whole thing feels too contrived to enjoy?

Veix suggests that, outside of sports, we’ve entered a “post-meme” epoch, where authenticity isn’t expected and many of the most popular memes are appreciated out of irony or surrealism. Sports, and college football in particular, might be the last bastion of earnest enthusiasm on the internet.

“Maybe this is because the games themselves are kind of old-fashioned and timeless and incorporate their own long-held traditions, and this form of meme-ing is now just a wholesome new ritual,” Veix said. “Plus, being a sports fan requires a certain kind of extreme earnestness — you really have to care about your team — so maybe the memes reflect that mentality.”

So maybe we’ve already seen the best college football memes the universe has to offer. Or maybe these moments don’t need to be organic to be adored at all. Perhaps college football fans eventually blossom into their own version of the Instagram influencer, posed and prepared and manufactured for mass consumption.

If that day comes, Thyer said he’ll be ready. The next time a camera finds him in the stands, he wants to be reading one of his own textbooks, he said. It’s free publicity, after all. He also bought a new shirt. It’s flesh colored, with a design of bulging pectorals and well-defined abdominal muscles. He wants to look good for his next 15 minutes of fame.





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Football

Fantasy fallout: Trade for Titans’ Derrick Henry while you still can – NFL Nation


It looks like “Derrick Henry season” has arrived a little earlier this year.

The Tennessee Titans’ workhorse running back busted loose for 188 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries last week. His 33.1 fantasy points in ESPN’s PPR scoring were the second-most of his career — behind only the monstrous 47.8 points he scored in Week 14 last season, when he exploded for 238 yards and four TDs.

And ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport predicted more big days to come as he expects Tennessee to rely on its 247-pound closer much like it did late last year.

“His role is going to increase down the stretch, even though it already has been a significant one,” said Davenport, who recommended Henry as a fantasy trade target with ESPN’s standard trade deadline approaching a few days after the Titans’ Week 11 bye. “I’m not saying he’ll have a December like last season, but expect a strong showing.

“The Titans want their identity to be a physical football team, and there is really no better way to establish that than to give Derrick Henry the football. They are also doing more to get him involved in the passing game. He is getting more game reps lining up over the numbers in empty formations. And offensive coordinator Arthur Smith likes to dial up screen passes to Henry, which have resulted in touchdowns of 75 yards and 23 yards this season.”

Henry has never been much of a pass-catcher, which has always restricted his value somewhat in PPR leagues. But he did catch three passes for 36 yards and a TD two weeks ago — his most catches in a game since he was a rookie in 2016. And he is already two catches away from his career-high of 15 in a season.

And there is no doubting the Titans’ commitment to giving Henry the ball — as long as they can stay close in games or play with a lead.

Tennessee ran a total of 49 plays in last week’s thrilling 35-32 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. And Henry touched the ball on 25 of them.

Now for the rest of our weekly tour around the league with ESPN’s NFL Nation reporters:

Arizona Cardinals: Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss suggested last week that coach Kliff Kingsbury wouldn’t be afraid to go with the hot hand at running back even when David Johnson returned to the lineup. Sure enough, Kingsbury wound up benching Johnson after a third-quarter fumble last week and explained afterward that new RB Kenyan Drake has “brought a little pop to the run game (and) pass game.”





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College football conference power rankings


How would you rank all 14 teams in the SEC? Or all 10 in the Big 12? Here’s a full ranking of every team in every Power 5 conference.

Jump to a conference:
SEC | Big Ten | Big 12 | Pac-12 | ACC

SEC

There’s no question now: LSU is the class of the SEC.

What the Tigers did by going into Alabama and snapping the Tide’s 31-game home winning streak removed any doubt. The way Joe Burrow threw for nearly 400 yards was convincing. His receivers are nothing if not elite. And, by the way, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is sneaky good.

Does Georgia, the presumptive pick to come out of the East, have what it takes to derail LSU’s playoff hopes in a potential SEC championship game? Maybe not, but the Bulldogs are back trending in the right direction after beating Florida and Missouri in consecutive weeks.

Injuries are a concern on the offensive line and at receiver, where Lawrence Cager is banged up. But Kirby Smart’s defense is legit and it will be fun to watch it go head-to-head with Burrow & Co. on a neutral field.

Don’t worry, though, we’ve still got a long way to go before that. And Auburn, which has fallen off the radar a bit, will be at the center of it all as it hosts a couple of pivotal games against Georgia and Alabama down the stretch. — Alex Scarborough

1. LSU
2. Alabama
3. Georgia
4. Florida
5. Auburn
6. Texas A&M
7. Tennessee
8. Kentucky
9. Missouri
10. Mississippi State
11. South Carolina
12. Ole Miss
13. Vanderbilt
14. Arkansas


Big Ten

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Justin Fields throws three touchdown passes and runs in another score as No. 1 Ohio State beats Maryland 73-14.

Ohio State still has not faltered this season and isn’t showing any signs of slowing down with only three games left on the schedule. With or without defensive end Chase Young, this is still one of the top two teams in the country. That hasn’t changed, but what has changed is where Minnesota sits in the rankings. The Gophers have continued to rise in the power rankings each week, and after a huge win against No. 4-ranked Penn State, Minnesota is now the No. 2 team in the conference. These last three games of the season are going to prove difficult for a lot of the teams near the top, though, with Ohio State finishing the season with Penn State and Michigan. The Wolverines have to play the Buckeyes, but also have to go through rival Michigan State and Indiana. These rankings could still look much different by season’s end. — Tom VanHaaren

1. Ohio State
2. Minnesota
3. Penn State
4. Wisconsin
5. Michigan
6. Iowa
7. Indiana
8. Illinois
9. Michigan State
10. Purdue
11. Nebraska
12. Maryland
13. Northwestern
14. Rutgers


Big 12

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Iowa State scores a touchdown, and instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game, the Cyclones fail to convert the 2-point conversion.

Week 11 brought an entertaining slate of Big 12 games with three down-to-the-wire finishes. Baylor kept its playoff hopes alive with impressive late-game playmaking to fend off TCU in three overtimes. Oklahoma nearly saw a three-touchdown lead to Iowa State disappear before escaping in the final minute. And Texas, a team that was reeling just a couple of weeks ago, pulled out a last-second win over a good Kansas State team. With just a few weeks to go, what remains clear is who belongs at the top, and the rest continues to shuffle. The league’s playoff chances will be center stage in Week 12, when Baylor hosts Oklahoma in a de facto playoff elimination game. — Sam Khan Jr.

1. Baylor
2. Oklahoma
3. Texas
4. Kansas State
5. Oklahoma State
6. Iowa State
7. TCU
8. Texas Tech
9. West Virginia
10. Kansas


Pac-12

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J. Yellen pass intercepted,C. Rector return for 0 yds

With Oregon and Utah both off this past week, there’s no real change of substance. The Ducks and Utah are in a class all to themselves, while the rest of the conference take turns slapping each other in the face every week.



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