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AP Top 25 Takeaways: Tide out; Fab frosh; Ducks can’t close

No reason to hedge anymore: Alabama is out of the College Football Playoff race.

The 10th-ranked Crimson Tide beat No. 11 Mississippi, but all that did was clinch the SEC West for No. 7 LSU, which beat Arkansas earlier Saturday to eliminate Alabama.

Without a path to the Southeastern Conference championship game, the slim chance Alabama had to reach the CFP for the eighth time in its nine-year history is now none.

No. 6 Oregon (8-2) also saw its playoff hopes coming crashing down in a frantic and frustrating final four minutes against No. 24 Washington, the first of two Pac-12 upsets Saturday night.

Meanwhile, No. 4 TCU (10-0) stayed unbeaten, with a twist. This time the Horned Frogs did it with defense, smothering No. 18 Texas to clinch a spot in the Big 12 championship game.

As for Alabama (8-2), the only other time the Tide missed the CFP was 2019, when a loaded Tide with Tua Tagovailoa lost to Joe Burrow and an LSU team that went on to win a national title.

The last time Alabama entered the home stretch of a season truly eliminated from the national championship race was 2010.

This edition of the Tide could still find its way into a good bowl game. Maybe the Sugar or Cotton. But Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, who threw three touchdown passes against Ole Miss, is going to finish his Alabama career on college football’s side stage.

Saban seemed particularly happy with his team after beating the Rebels.

“They have a lot of pride in what the standard of playing (at) Alabama is,” he told reporters.

It’s fair to wonder, though, if Young, linebacker Will Anderson Jr. and some of the other Alabama stars will even play in the postseason with the first round of the next NFL draft calling.

Which brings up an interesting point to ponder as the days of the four-team College Football Playoff wane.

As soon as 2024, and no later than 2026, a 12-team format could be in place.

With a 12-teamer, Alabama would still be very much in the hunt and college football could look forward to at least one more meaningful postseason for Young and Anderson.

The downside of a 12-teamer, at least for some, is the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State — both of which missed the CFP last season — would seem to be a shoe-in for the playoff every year, even making it in their “down” seasons.


The week before the Pac-12 was set to have two marquee matchups between four teams ranked in the top 12, three with playoff aspirations, two of the conference’s contenders lost at home as double-digit favorites.

For a league that has not had a CFP team since 2016, the implosion felt familiar.

Oregon Coach Dan Lanning will face questions about not just his decision to go on fourth down deep in his own territory with the game tied late, but also for not using a timeout to get banged up quarterback Bo Nix on the field for the pivotal play.

“This game 100% falls on me,” Lanning said.

At least the Ducks fell to a ranked Washington team. No. 9 UCLA lost as a 20-point favorite to an Arizona team that had not beaten a ranked team since 2018.

UCLA hosts No. 8 USC and No. 13 Utah goes to Oregon next Saturday, both games having lost some juice.

The Trojans (9-1) are the Pac-12′s last hope to snap its playoff drought.


LSU freshman Harold Perkins caught the attention of the nation last week when the linebacker helped the Tigers upset Alabama, chasing down Young all over the field.

Against Arkansas on Saturday, Perkins was even better with four sacks and two forced fumbles.

“He willed this team to victory today,” coach Brian Kelly tweeted.

Perkins was a huge recruiting win for Brian Kelly after he took over as LSU’s coach last December. The five-star from Texas was expected to be part of Texas A&M’s No. 1 class but flipped to the Tigers.

He has not only been one of the best freshmen in the country, but he’s been one of the SEC’s best defensive players.

Kelly said after the game that Perkins was sick with the flu and vomiting before kickoff. Kelly said he told Perkins that Michael Jordan played his best game when he was sick, referring to MJ’s famous flu game in an NBA Finals.

Perkins response? “Who’s MJ?” Kelly said.


For a span of about 15 minutes early in the day, Vanderbilt and Connecticut were the talk of college football.

The Commodores snapped a 26-game SEC losing streak, scoring a late touchdown to knock off Kentucky.

Second-year Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea inherited the streak and won a total of five games in his first two seasons. The Commodores (4-6) are taking baby steps under the former Vandy fullback.

“We’re building a program, and building a program’s hard,” Lea said.

The hiring of former UCLA coach Jim Mora Jr. didn’t inspire a ton of hope for a turnaround at UConn after four wins in three seasons, but that’s exactly what has happened.

To reach six wins and bowl eligibility, UConn (6-5) beat No. 19 Liberty, which just a week ago won at Arkansas.

“This is everything we wanted to bring this program back to,” quarterback Zion Turner said. “Just to have the fans have pride in this program once again, it’s a great feeling.”

One thing to keep in mind: Without a conference affiliation, UConn is not guaranteed a bowl bid.


Texas A&M (3-7) is now one of the most disappointing teams in recent history, going from preseason No. 6 to failing to reach bowl eligibility. Kevin Sumlin, Jimbo Fisher’s predecessor, never failed to go to a bowl in six seasons as Aggies coach. … A&M’s sixth straight loss gave Carnell Williams his first win as interim Auburn coach … Do not write the Atlantic Coast Conference out of the playoff race. The title game is set with No. 12 Clemson (9-1) and No. 15 North Carolina (9-1) to meet in Charlotte. If either wins out, especially Clemson, they got a shot to make up some ground. … The de facto ACC champ: No. 20 Notre Dame, which has beaten both the Tigers and Tar Heels. … Is West Virginia’s first victory against Oklahoma since the Mountaineers (4-6) joined the Big 12 enough for coach Neal Brown to keep his job in Morgantown? WVU finishes the season with No. 23 Kansas State, which dominated Baylor on Saturday night, and at Oklahoma State. … A ghastly season for Virginia and first-year coach Tony Elliott found a new low when the Cavaliers’ Brennan Armstrong threw Pick-6s on the first two plays from scrimmage against Pittsburgh. It didn’t get much better from there. Armstrong was one of the most productive quarterbacks in the country over the last two seasons, but this season has been a disaster. He could be a candidate to take his extra COVID-19 year of eligibility and try again at a new school in 2023. … Another hyped ACC quarterback who has had a lost season is Miami’s Tyler Van Dyke. The Hurricanes turned to freshman Jacurri Brown to beat Georgia Tech. Van Dyke would seem to be a prime candidate to jump into the portal and try to recapture his 2021 form with another school. … No. 21 Illinois’ second straight home loss, this time to Purdue, has thrown open the door to the Big Ten West title to its rivals. The Illini are at No. 3 Michigan next week. Saturday ended with Illinois, Purdue, Minnesota and Iowa all tied for first at 4-3 after the Hawkeyes beat Wisconsin with 146 yards of offense. If you dig into the schedules and tiebreaker possibilities, Iowa is probably the favorite to get to Indianapolis with two weeks left. … No. 22 UCF is pointed toward a return to the New Year’s Six. The Knights beat No. 16 Tulane and are looking good to host the American Athletic Conference championship with games remaining against Navy and USF. UCF likely will face the winner of the regular-season finale between Cincinnati and Tulane.


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Bettman: NHL still committed to keeping Coyotes in Arizona after arena referendum failed

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Commissioner Gary Bettman says the NHL is still committed to Arizona after Tempe voters rejected a referendum for a Coyotes arena.

Bettman said the team is looking at other areas around Phoenix for a long-term home.

“It’s a good market, and if we can make it work, we’ll make it work,” Bettman said. “We’ve had our challenges.”

Bettman, who held his annual state of the league news conference Saturday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Florida Panthers, said he was surprised and disappointed but not shocked by the result of the vote last month.

“Team-related referendums in all sports don’t do well,” Bettman said. “The Islanders did one (in 2011) and it lost. They got their building. When we were looking at Columbus for an expansion, that building referendum went down.”

The future of the Coyotes is now a major question as they go into a second season playing at a 5,000-seat college rink on Arizona State’s campus.

Marty Walsh, who took over as executive director of the NHL Players’ Association, said members of the Coyotes have expressed concerns about the current arena setup and wants answers about a more permanent solution.

“If we don’t have, in the near future a new location, we have to have a serious conversation,” Walsh said after Bettman’s news conference. “These players can’t continue to play in a college hockey rink as National Hockey League players. You just can’t do it. It doesn’t look right. It doesn’t feel right.”

Asked Saturday why the league has been so patient about keeping the Coyotes in Arizona amid turmoil over the years from ownership changes to arena uncertainty, Bettman pointed to the size of the market and the team being a bit of a “victim of circumstance.” While there were questions raised about interest for a team in Quebec City or Salt Lake City — or a second in Toronto — relocation is not currently being considered.

“We’re in a better position to resist moving than maybe we were 20 or 30 years ago,” Bettman said. “We want to make sure we explore all options at this stage of where we are before we would consider having to relocate a club, and I’m hopeful we won’t have to.”

At the other end of the spectrum are the Ottawa Senators, who are close to being sold for what Bettman expects will be around a billion dollars — “give or take.”

“I’ve always felt that we’ve been undervalued, so this, to me, is just an affirmation that our franchises are more valuable than Forbes or Sportico or many investment bankers have said,” Bettman said. “Our competitive balance is extraordinary, and that should somehow be equating to higher values, and I think you’re beginning to see that.”

When the final ends, Bettman may meet with executive Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville, whom he must reinstate for either to take another job with a team. Bowman resigned as Blackhawks GM and Quenneville as Panthers coach in October 2021 after an investigation into Chicago’s 2010 sexual assault scandal revealed their roles in the team mishandling the situation.

Bettman said Bowman and Quenneville each requested a meeting and that his office told them he’d deal with them after the playoffs are over.


Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said the league’s independent investigator has wrapped up work looking into Hockey Canada’s sexual assault scandal and expects the NHL will have a report to review in early summer.

The league began the process of holding its own review after news surfaced that Hockey Canada settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of the country’s world junior team at a gala in 2018 in London, Ontario. Several players from that gold medal-winning team are currently in the NHL.

“We have been in contact with the London police and continue to want to be in contact with them, make sure that there’s visibility with respect to what our process is and to the extent we can understand theirs is, that would be the goal,” Daly said. “And then I can’t prejudge what happens from there.”


The league announced two outdoor Stadium Series games next season in East Rutherford, New Jersey, at MetLife Stadium — home of the NFL’s New York Jets and Giants. The Philadelphia Flyers are set to play the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 17 followed by the New York Rangers against the Islanders on Feb. 18.

This is the first time the NHL is playing outside in the state of New Jersey. It comes 10 years after the Rangers played a pair of games, one each against the Islanders and Devils, at Yankee Stadium.

The Rangers played the Buffalo Sabres at Citi Field in the Winter Classic in 2018. This is the Devils’ first outdoor game since 2014, and it comes on the heels of their second playoff appearance over the past 11 years.

“When a team is on the rise, we want to showcase them,” NHL senior executive VP and chief content officer Steve Mayer said. “The time is right.”


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Spectacular debut: Rose Zhang shoots 66 to take lead into Mizuho Americas Open finale

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Much was expected of Rose Zhang when she turned professional last week, and she is already delivering.

The two-time NCAA champion moved into position to win in her pro debut, shooting a 6-under 66 on Saturday to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mizuho Americans Open.

“I’ve been in this position before, but I haven’t been in this position as a professional, since this is my first week, so I’m really just learning everything that I could,” Zhang said. “Tomorrow, I’ll be just trying to figure out what it feels like to be in the final group, navigate my way through, and I’m sure by the end of the day I’ll be able to, you know, just build my character more.”

The former Stanford star had six birdies in a bogey-free round on a raw, overcast day at Liberty National in jumping to the top of the leaderboard. It’s nothing new for the 20-year-old who won 12 of 20 events in her two years in college, with many viewing it as a sign of things to come.

Event 1 is certainly shaping up that way a day to go, and it could have been better. Zhang settled for a tap-in birdie at the driveable 16th hole after hitting her tee shot within about 5 feet.

Cheyenne Knight, who was tied with Minjee Lee for the halfway lead at 7 under, was tied for second with Atthaya Thitikul of Thailand and Aditi Ashok of India, who both shot 68s. Knight had a 69, making a bogey at No, 17 and missing a 10-footer for birdie on the final hole.

Lee (72) was 7 under in fifth place, a shot ahead of Jennifer Kupcho (69) rookie Hae Ran Ryu (66) and Eun-Hee Ji (70).

Stephanie Kyriacoiu of Australia had the best round of the day, shooting a 65 that included an eagle, six birdies and an early bogey. The 22-year-old was at 5 under along with top-ranked Jin Young Ko (73) and fellow South Korean player Sei Young Kim (70).

They will all have to catch Zhang, who was the No. 1 women’s amatuer for 141 weeks. She also is on a roll, having won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur this year and her second straight NCAA title last month.

This has been a hectic week for Zhang. Not only did she turn pro, but she has shown a lot of composure on the course and off with the sheer volume of interview requests.

“I still think I’m human so I do feel little small butterflies here and there,” the Irvine, California, resident said, “I’ve been pretty comfortable when I’ve been on the golf course. I’ve been able to tap into my zone and I’ve just been trying to think about how this is the sport that I’ve been playing for the last ten or so years. I’m just doing what I need to do and going back to what my body knows.”

Seven women have won their first start as a pro on the LPGA Tour since 1992, with Hinako Shibuno of Japan the last in the 2019 Women’s British Open.

Knight also has been in her zone looking for her second win on tour and first since 2019. She has been in the top 10 after 36 holes in her last four events.

“I’m excited, but, I mean, yeah, Minjee I think shot 8 under yesterday. Marina (Alex) did, too. It’s out there,” Knight said. “I’m excited to attack, and, yeah, just give myself some chances tomorrow and hopefully they drop.”

Ashok has had only one bogey in three rounds in her search for her first win on this tour.

“I think this golf course especially makes you think a lot,” said Ashok, who has had two top three finishes in recent weeks. “If you get the right angles and if you play it smart I think it’s easier to not drop shots.”

No. 3 ranked Lydia Ko, who was a shot behind the lead entering the round, and No. 8 ranked Brooke Henderson, who was two shots off the pace, finished at 1-under. Ko shot 77, and Henderson 76.


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McIlroy tied for lead at Memorial by making fewest mistakes

DUBLIN, Ohio (AP) — Rory McIlroy felt like he was hanging on for dear life Saturday at the Memorial. He had to scramble for bogey to start the back nine. He went five holes without hitting a green. And all the while, he never really lost ground.

When he had to scramble for par on the fourth-easiest hole at Muirfield Village, the par-5 11th, he said he told caddie Harry Diamond he only wanted to try to break 70.

McIlroy wound up with a 2-under 70. That was enough to take him four shots behind at the start of the day to a share of the lead going into Sunday.

“That’s what happens when conditions are like this,” McIlroy said. “You just have to hang on.”

It helped that Hideki Matsuyama went from leading to dropping off the leaderboard in a span of six holes. And that Patrick Cantlay went into the water and over the green on his way to a triple bogey on the front nine. David Lipsky bogeyed his last two holes.

What remained amid a few rumbles of thunder — but no weather delays — was an opportunity for just about everyone who had a tee time Sunday.

Thirteen players were separated by two shots. Nine more were only three shots out of the lead.

Lipsky’s two closing bogeys gave him a 72, while Si Woo Kim overcome two double bogeys for a 71. They joined McIlroy at 6-under 210.

It’s the highest 54-hole lead since 1990, when the weather was so atrocious that the final round was canceled and Greg Norman won at even-par 216.

McIlroy, doing his best to keep in play on the fast fairways that have been baked all week by a hot sun, picked up three birdies over the last seven holes, just not on the holes he imagined.

He chipped in for birdie on the dangerous par-3 12th. He reached the par-5 15th in two after a 344-yard drive. His approach to a back pin on the 17th rolled past the cup to 7 feet and set up one of only eight birdies on that hole for the day.

Just as sweet was the 18th, where his putt from the back of the green to a front pin ran nearly 10 feet by the cup and he holed that for par. McIlroy had several par putts from between 5 and 8 feet, all of them important on a day like this.

“I was really happy with how I scored out there, and how I just sort of hung in there for most of the day,” McIlroy said.

He will be in the final group with Kim, who one-putted his last seven holes, saving par from a front bunker on the 18th.

All this was made possible largely by Matsuyama, a former Memorial winner, who birdied his first two holes and looked to be on his way. And then it quickly fell apart — a bad chip on the par-3 eighth, a three-putt on the ninth and his big blunder on the par-3 12th — tee shot into the water, then over the green from the drop area and a triple bogey.

Cantlay, a two-time Memorial winner, had only one big mistake. He went for the green from the rough on the par-4 sixth and came up short and into the water, then went long into the rough and didn’t get up-and-down, making a triple bogey.

Otherwise, Cantlay made 14 pars, a pair of birdies and a bogey. He and Matsuyama, despite a big number on each of their cards, were two shots behind going into Sunday.

The big move came from Keegan Bradley, who made the cut on the number. He teed off at 8:15 a.m. and finished as the leaders were just starting to warm up. Bradley made nine birdies in his round of 65, and now he’s only two shots behind.

Viktor Hovland (69) and Mark Hubbard (72) were in the large group one shot behind at 5-under 211. Hubbard bogeyed his last three holes for the second time this week. He didn’t let it bother him on Thursday, and he felt the same way Saturday.

“I’m not happy with my finish again, but at the same time, I made three pretty good bogey putts,” Hubbard said.

His strategy on a day like this: “Just try and make a lot of birdies on the par 5s and not make doubles on the hard holes.”

Justin Suh, the 36-hole leader, didn’t stay there for long. He started bogey-bogey, then found the water on No. 3 for a double bogey. He didn’t make his first birdie — his only one — until the 14th hole. Suh had a 77.

He was still only three shots behind, along with Jordan Spieth (72).

Of the 22 players separated by three shots, nine have never won on the PGA Tour. One of those was Lipsky, who doubts he’ll get too wrapped up in looking at the leaderboard.

“It’s too hard to focus on anything else but your game,” he said.


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