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Top 25 Takeaways: Contenders live on edge, where TCU thrives

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College Football Playoff contenders lived on the edge in Week 12, with the top four teams all teetering to varying degrees and at various points. Then No. 5 Tennessee went down with a thud.

For No. 4 TCU, it was just another Saturday.

“It looks more frantic than it is,” TCU coach Sonny Dykes said about the game-winning play. He could have been describing the Horned Frogs’ season.

TCU and No. 3 Michigan both needed field goals in the final second to stay unbeaten.

No. 1 Georgia slogged through a road game against Kentucky, never seriously threatened but never truly comfortable.

No. 2 Ohio State trailed at the half against Maryland, and had the Terps bearing down in the fourth quarter before closing them out.

While it looked a little shaky at times, Michigan (11-0) against Ohio State (11-0) for the right to go to the Big Ten championship is set. Hopefully, the Wolverines will have star tailback Blake Corum (knee) close to 100%.

“What more could you ask for?” Buckeyes defensive end Zach Harrison said.

The big upset came under the lights in Columbia, South Carolina. The Gamecocks, a team that lost 38-6 at Florida last week and was averaging 20 points per game in Southeastern Conference play coming in, took apart Tennessee.

No unranked teams had ever scored more points against a top-five team. Spencer Rattler, the Oklahoma transfer, threw for 438 yards and six touchdowns and Tennessee’s Heisman contender Hendon Hooker went out in the fourth quarter with a leg injury.

“For us to grow as a program, we need to look at this opportunity and understand what happened,” Vols coach Josh Heupel said.

With the Vols’ loss, several weeks of chatter about multiple SEC teams making the playoff pretty much goes out the window. It could still happen if LSU beats Georgia in the SEC title game. But good luck with that, Tigers.

As for TCU, the Hypnotoads don’t have to worry about anybody else. The final chapter of one of the best stories of the season has yet to be written.

Dykes, who replaced TCU great Gary Patterson after last season, didn’t remake the roster through the transfer portal. He took what he had and turned it into a playoff contender in what is the most competitive conference, top to bottom, in the country.

TCU is a turnaround team led by a quarterback who didn’t even win the job heading into the season.

Chandler Morris was the man coming out of the preseason, but an injury cleared the way for Max Duggan. The senior has shown flashes of greatness, if not consistency, during his time in Fort Worth, seized the opportunity and has become a star.

Duggan passed for 327 yards against Baylor and marched the Frogs into field-goal range as the clock wound down.

“I thought Max did what Max does,” Dykes said.

It looked like a fire drill as TCU ran its field-goal unit on the field, but Griffin Kell calmly booted a 40-yarder as time expired.

The Frogs have won eight games by 10 points or fewer. By comparison, Georgia, Ohio State and Michigan have a combined four victories by 10 points of fewer. The Buckeyes have none.

That’s not a knock on TCU, but it is fair to wonder when the magic will run out. Since the Big 12 went to a nine-game conference schedule in 2011, only once has a team gone 9-0 in the league and never has a team entered the championship game unbeaten overall.

The Frogs head home next week to face Iowa State, which is in last place in the Big 12 but perfectly epitomizes the conference. The Cyclones have lost five games by single-digit margins.

Awaiting the Frogs in the Big 12 title game will likely be No. 19 Kansas State. The Wildcats need to beat Kansas next week to lock up a spot. Texas is still alive, too.

K-State, you might remember, led TCU 28-10 before the Frogs came roaring back — and the Wildcats were forced to play a third-string quarterback because of injuries. The Frogs won 38-28.

Among the blue bloods vying for a spot in the CFP, the Horned Frogs maybe the outliers but they are without question worthy.


Lincoln Riley’s portal all-stars at Southern California are now at the center of the college football universe.

The seventh-ranked Trojans beat No. 16 UCLA in exactly the type of back-and-forth point-spree that was expected.

Caleb Williams, the quarterback who followed Riley from Oklahoma to USC, had 502 total yards.

Williams and the Trojans have rolled through a soft schedule, getting few big-stage games before Saturday. The Pac-12 showdown in the Rose Bowl between the future Big Ten schools was the first of what could be three straight that could determine a playoff spot and the Heisman Trophy.

If USC can beat No. 18 Notre Dame next week and then win the Pac-12 title game, it’ll be hard to keep the Trojans out of the playoff at 12-1 and the brilliant Williams from becoming the eighth Southern Cal player to win the Heisman.

“I just want to say, college gootball on the West Coast, and here in LA, is alive and well,” Riley told reporters.


Just when Drake Maye’s Heisman campaign was heating up, No. 13 North Carolina was shut out in the second half in a surprising loss to Georgia Tech. Maye didn’t throw a touchdown pass for the first time this season. … Vanderbilt now has a two-game SEC winning streak. A week after the Commodores, snapped a 26-game conference skid against Kentucky, they beat Florida at home for the first time since 1988 … Indiana won for the first time since mid-September, beating Michigan State in overtime while completing two passes. … Not to be outdone, Army and Navy both won without completing a pass. The Midshipmen finished their non-Army portion of the schedule by upsetting No. 17 UCF. The loss doesn’t knock the Knights out of AAC championship game contention, but it does mean the winner of No. 21 Tulane and No. 22 Cincinnati on Black Friday will host it. … Arizona QB Jayden de Laura, a Washington State transfer, said Saturday’s game against his former team was “personal.” The Cougars won and intercepted de Laura four times. … In the Ohio Valley Conference, a tie for the league championship between Tennessee-Martin and Southeast Missouri State was broken by a coin flip, streamed live online, because they didn’t play in the regular season. SEMO won the flip and an automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. UT-Martin will await Sunday’s selection show and hope for an at-large bid. … Iowa is inevitable. The Hawkeyes won their fourth straight game in typical Iowa-fashion over Minnesota, and now need only to beat Nebraska on Black Friday to clinch the Big Ten West for the second straight year. … Wisconsin edged Nebraska with a late touchdown to secure bowl eligibility for the 21st consecutive year. It hasn’t been the prettiest 4-2 run for the Badgers. Will it be enough to get Wisconsin to take the interim tag off Jim Leonhard? Well, Wisconsin posted the job, as required by state law, right after the game. A good sign that it will name Leonhard after the required seven day wait.


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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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