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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.

PERFECTLY PAC-12

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.

HAL OF A GAME

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.

UNDERDOG UPRISING

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.

AROUND THE COUNTRY

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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Follow Ralph D. Russo at https://twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at http://www.appodcasts.com

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More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25. Sign up for the AP’s college football newsletter: https://bit.ly/3pqZVaF

Source: https://apnews.com/article/joe-burrow-college-football-health-sports-90a8e2e4c1b5b9ecd95924b94d20ffea

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Report: NWSL to expand in Boston, Utah and California

The National Women’s Soccer League is close to expanding by three teams, which will be in Boston, Utah and the San Francisco area, according to a Friday report in the Wall Street Journal.

The women’s pro league previously indicated it would add at least two teams by 2024. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources, reported that the franchises in northern California and Utah are set to start play next year, with Boston to join at a later date.

The NWSL did not confirm the report in a statement Saturday to The Associated Press, saying: “We remain engaged in our expansion process and are excited about our prospects. When we have news to share, we will do so.”

The NWSL has 12 teams, after Angel City in Los Angeles and the San Diego Wave joined the league last year.

The Wall Street Journal also reported that the Boston and Bay Area groups will pay about $50 million in franchise fees. The Utah team will pay a reduced fee because of a previous agreement struck when the Utah Royals folded in the 2020 season.

Before the NWSL draft earlier this month, league commissioner Jessica Berman said it would be “somewhere between days and months, more like weeks, when we’ll be in a position to share information” about an expansion.

“What I can say is that I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities we have in front of us,” she added.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Former MVP Candace Parker to sign with champion Aces

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Former two-time MVP Candace Parker announced on social media Saturday that she would sign with the defending champion Las Vegas Aces.

Parker spent the past two seasons playing for her hometown Sky, leading Chicago to the WNBA championship in 2021. She also won the 2016 title playing for the Los Angeles Sparks.

She posted on Instagram that Chicago would always be her home, but “my family’s home is on the west coast.

“To play for a championship close to home is the perfect situation for us. I’m looking forward to continuing the journey this summer in Las Vegas.”

The free-agent signing period begins Wednesday, and the Aces can’t comment until then.

Parker, a 6-foot-4 forward/center, adds to an already loaded lineup that includes reigning MVP A’ja Wilson, who also won the league’s top award in 2020. Wilson also was last season’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Chelsea Gray was MVP of the WNBA Finals and Kelsey Plum MVP of the All-Star Game. Wilson, Plum and Jackie Young were All-Star starters.

Parker and Gray were teammates on Los Angeles’ 2016 title team.

The Aces traded one of their key pieces, two-time Sixth Woman of the Year Dearica Hamby, to the Sparks on Jan. 21, creating speculation Las Vegas was creating salary cap room to sign a big-name player.

Parker, the 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and the 2016 Finals MVP, certainly fits that bill. Even at 36 last season, she averaged 13.2 points, 8.6 rebounds and 4.5 assists for the Sky.

“Candace has done so much for our franchise in her time here,” Chicago coach and general manager James Wade said in a statement. “I understand her reasons for wanting to be closer with her immediate family. We wish her nothing but the best. She will always be a part of the Sky family. We will celebrate her time here as she deserves.”

Losing her is a big blow to the Sky, who made the semifinals in last season’s playoffs before losing in five games to the Connecticut Sun. Kahleah Copper is the only starter under contract for next season, so the Sky could head into a rebuild.

“I am beyond grateful for the opportunity to win a championship in my hometown and parade down the same streets I watched the Bulls parade down as a young girl first falling in love with the game of basketball,” Parker posted.

Parker joins the Aces at a time the Women’s National Basketball Players Association said it wanted that organization investigated regarding allegations that Hamby made after being traded. She posted on Instagram she was “lied to, bullied, manipulated, and discriminated against” because she is pregnant with her second child.

The Aces still have not commented on Hamby’s allegations.

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AP sports: https://apnews.com/hub/sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Estrada, Hofstra end No. 18 Charleston’s 20-game win streak

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — This season, Hofstra has been a one-man show. This time, Aaron Estrada had some help as the Pride ended the nation’s longest winning streak.

Estrada scored 25 points, but just two in the second half, while Darlinestone Dubar added 18 as Hofstra had four players in double figures to knock off No. 18 College of Charleston 85-81 on Saturday — ending the Cougars’ 20-game win streak.

“That’s a really big for our program,” Hofstra coach Speedy Claxton said. “To beat a nationally ranked team on their home court when they’ve got it rolling like they do speaks volumes about our kids.”

Claxton saw a team effort to take down the hottest team in the country.

“It wasn’t just Aaron,” Claxton said. “He had a great first half, but we had other guys step up and make baskets or get rebounds when we really needed them.”

The loss ended Charleston’s spotless run that began after losing to then-top-ranked North Carolina on Nov. 11.

Hofstra, the CAA’s leader in field-goal shooting, used that to move past Charleston in the second half as it made 18 of 32 attempts. The Pride led 76-69 with 6:10 to play before the Cougars cut it to two points on Ryan Larson’s foul shots with 2:02 to play.

But Charleston managed just two free throws after that and missed all four 3-pointers they tried.

This is the second straight season the Pride have beaten a Top 25 team. A year ago, Hofstra defeated then No. 24 Arkansas 89-81. The Pride’s only other victory against a Top 25 team came against Southern Illinois in 1976.

Hofstra (15-8, 8-2 Colonial Athletic Association) beat the Cougars (21-2, 9-1) at their own game — 3-point shooting. The Pride were 11 of 22 from 3-point range and overall shot 56 percent from the floor in the second half.

Estrada, who had 23 points in the opening half, shredded the Cougars defense at will. Estrada was 5 of 9 from 3-point range.

“Estrada is a great player, hit a bunch of tough shots, especially in the first half,” Charleston coach Pat Kelsey said. “Hofstra is a very, very talented team. It’s not just Estrada. They were better than us tonight.”

Then Estrada took over. The CAA’s leading scorer at 21.1 points a game scored 16 of the next 24 points for the Pride, including four 3-pointers.

Ante Brzovic’s dunk at the buzzer gave the Cougars a 46-44 advantage at halftime.

Tyler Thomas had 17 points and eight rebounds for Hofstra.

Brzovic finished with 18 points to lead the Cougars.

BIG PICTURE

Hofstra: The Pride are on a roll in 2023. winning seven of their past eight games, including three in a row.

College of Charleston: The Cougars chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament at-large bid took a major blow with the loss to the Pride. Despite having the nation’s longest win streak for three months, Charleston will most likely have to win the CAA Tournament in March to advance to the NCAAs.

NO PLACE LIKE HOME

The Cougars’ 20-game win streak wasn’t the only streak to end on Saturday. College of Charleston played 14 of its first 23 games at TD Arena to start the season and were a perfect 13-0 at home before facing the Pride. Charleston’s 13-game home win streak included three wins in the Charleston Classic. The Cougars became the first mid-major program to win the ESPN event, beating Virginia Tech 77-75 in the championship game. Charleston will finish the season playing four of their final eight games on the road.

POLL POSITION

Charleston’s first loss in nearly three months might drop the Cougars from the national rankings. They have been part of the last four rankings, entering at No. 23 before reaching No. 18 this past week.

UP NEXT

Hofstra returns home to play Towson on Thursday night.

College of Charleston starts a two-game road trip at Drexel on Thursday night.

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AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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