Source: Big 12 leaders discuss how to keep Texas and OU

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INDIANAPOLIS — Big 12 leaders held a call without Texas and Oklahoma on Thursday to discuss how to keep the league’s flagship schools from bolting to the Southeastern Conference – and contingency plans to survive without them.

“There was no panic,” a person familiar with the meeting told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Big 12 was not making its internal discussions public. “All options are on the table.”

The Big 12 put out a statement Thursday night that revealed few details, but made clear the eight members in danger of being left behind want the Longhorns and Sooners to stay put. And that leaving could be costly for Texas and Oklahoma.

“There is a recognition that institutions may act in their own self-interest, however there is an expectation that members adhere to Conference bylaws and the enforcement of Grant of Rights agreements,” the statement said.

The Big 12’s grant of rights, which ties a school’s media rights to the conference, runs through the current television deals with ESPN and Fox. Those expire in June 2025.

For Oklahoma and Texas to leave the Big 12 sooner they would either relinquish tens of millions in television revenue for every year the grant is in effect or agree to a financial settlement with the conference.

The person familiar with Thursday’s call said Commissioner Bob Bowlsby, athletic directors and school presidents and chancellors discussed possible options for persuading Texas and Oklahoma to remain in the Big 12 and potential ways to keep the conference going if they leave.

Texas and Oklahoma were invited to join the call, and the hope is the Big 12 will soon hear directly from their conference mates, the person said.

Texas and Oklahoma have discussed a move to the SEC with officials from the powerhouse conference, but no formal invitation has been extended nor have the schools officially informed the Big 12 they intend to leave.

Earlier Thursday, leaders from other conferences leaders were hesitant to speculate on what’s next, but some observers were concerned about the potential consequences.

“College football is filled with people operating in silos and what they fail to realize is that if they only look at and try to build their silo as big and as shiny as possible than the entirety of the sport is not going to be as strong as it needs to be,” said former Colorado quarterback Joel Klatt, the lead college football analyst for Fox, which holds television rights with the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12.

“I think a move like this would be to the detriment of the sport overall.”

Former Oklahoma quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield put it more starkly: “It would ruin the Big 12. It would be done,” Mayfield said during a break in shooting TV commercials in Cleveland.

The Big 12 was thought to be on life support about a decade ago after losing Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Missouri. Managing to hold on to Texas and Oklahoma allowed the Big 12 to survive as a Power Five conference after it added TCU and West Virginia.

Back when that was playing out, conferences were reacting to one another. The Big Ten pushed over the first domino when it announced in 2009 it was going to explore expansion. Eventually, it lured Nebraska away from the Big 12.

“We often talk about how uncomfortable this time is,” new Nebraska AD Trev Alberts said. “It is. It’s a changing environment. There’s a lot of stress. Now’s the time you want to be part of some stability.”

That Big Ten expansion sparked a frenzy, with conferences and schools fending for themselves. Could a Texas/Oklahoma move to the SEC be the next fire starter?

Big Ten Commissioner Kevin Warren was asked about the news and whether it could prompt the conference to look at expansion — maybe even reaching out to the two Big 12 schools — as he opened football media days at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Warren stayed away from speculating, calling the news just another example of the volatility sweeping through college sports.

“That’s the world that we live in right now,” he said. “From where we sit, we’re always constantly evaluating what’s in the best interest of the conference.”

Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, who took over earlier this year after being athletic director at Northwestern, took a similarly cautious approach.

“I think it’s critically important for all of us to always be paying attention to what’s happening in the landscape and understanding what’s happening across the country, whether you’re a conference commissioner, whether you’re an athletic director, whether you’re a president,” he said. “It’s just part of all of our responsibility. And this is the latest maybe conversation that we’re hearing about.”

Former Wisconsin athletic director Alvarez was at Lucas Oil Stadium because the Big Ten announced he would be taking a new role at the conference: special advisor for football. He retired earlier this year.

Alvarez, 74, is not one to shy away from giving his thoughts on a topic. But news of realignment ramping up again caught him off guard.

“It’s something you certainly have your antenna up for,” Alvarez said.

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz said he had one question for the SEC if it did decide to add the Longhorns and their Horns Up hand sign to the conference?

“Is Horns Down going to be a be a 15-yard penalty in the SEC (as it can be at times in the Big 12)?” Drinkwitz said. “I asked Commissioner Sankey and he said ‘no comment.”‘

Klubnik, No. 10 Clemson rout No. 24 UNC 39-10 for ACC title

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Backup quarterback Cade Klubnik completed 20 of 24 passes for 279 yards and a touchdown and ran for another score and No. 10 Clemson reclaimed the Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 39-10 victory over No. 24 North Carolina on Saturday night.

Cornerback Nate Wiggins broke up two passes in the end zone, blocked a field goal and returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown to help the Tigers win their seventh ACC title in eight seasons.

Clemson (11-2, No. 9 CFP) won six straight ACC championships from 2015 to 2020 before failing to reach the title game last season. But coach Dabo Swinney‘s Tigers rebounded in a big way, going 9-0 against ACC foes this season to reach the Orange Bowl.

They have Klubnik to thank for that.

With Clemson down 7-0, Swinney benched two-year starter D.J. Uiagalelei after the Tigers failed to pick up a first down on their first two possessions, Swinney turned to Klubnik, a 5-star recruit from Austin, Texas. He responded by leading the Tigers to four straight scores and a 24-10 lead at halftime.

Clemson stretched it to 39-10 heading into the fourth quarter.

It wasn’t the first time Swinney has turned to Klubnik.

He benched Uiagalelei in the second half against Syracuse and Klubnik responded by leading the Tigers to a come-from-behind 27-21 victory. Swinney also turned to Klubnik against Notre Dame, although the results were the opposite with the freshman throwing a Pick 6 in a 35-14 loss.

Swinney has never been shy about replacing veteran QBs with less experienced players. He did it in 2014, sitting Cole Stoudt for Deshaun Watson, and again in 2018 replacing Kelly Bryant with Trevor Lawrence.

ACC player of the year Drake Maye was limited to 268 yards passing and turned the ball over three times for North Carolina (9-4, No. 23 CFP), which was seeking its first ACC championship since 1980 when Lawrence Taylor was wreaking havoc on quarterbacks.

Maye got things started on the right foot for the Tar Heels, capping an 11-play, 78-yard drive with a 3-yard touchdown run for a 7-0 lead on UNC’s first possession.

But the Tar Heels repeatedly sputtered on offense inside the red zone after that, the biggest blow coming when Maye misfired near the goal line and Wiggins – who had struggled in Clemson’s 51-45 win over Wake Forest – returned his pass for a touchdown to give Clemson a 32-10 lead with 5:05 left in the third quarter.

Klubnik provided an immediate spark for Clemson.

He led the Tigers on a nine-play, 71-yard drive, culminating in a 1-yard TD pass to Davis Allen. After Maye’s fumble, Klubnik caught a 19-yard pass from Phil Mafah to set up Mafah’s 4-yard touchdown run – Clemson’s second TD in a span of 40 seconds.

Klubnik then showed off his arm strength with a 68-yard pass to fellow freshman Cole Turner to set up his own 1-yard TD run for a 21-7 lead.

END OF AN ERA

This is the final year the ACC will feature its two division winners playing for a championship. In future years, all ACC teams will be lumped together and the two teams with the best records will advance to the title game.

THE TAKEAWAY

North Carolina: Maye garnered plenty of Heisman Trophy talk during the season, but the Tar Heels offense has stalled resulting in a three-game losing streak. But as long as Maye doesn’t transfer – and there are no indications he will given his family history at North Carolina – the Tar Heels have a good chance to get back to the ACC title game next season.

Clemson: The Tigers have set a high bar by winning national championships, so as much as they will enjoy getting back atop the ACC mountain there will be plenty of talk over whether Swinney cost his team a chance at a spot in the College Football Playoff by not turning to Klubnik at quarterback earlier in the season. It seems Uiagalelei might be a logical transfer portal candidate.

UP NEXT

Clemson will play in the Orange Bowl, while North Carolina awaits a bowl bid.

Pratt accounts for 5 TDs, Tulane tops UCF 45-28 to win AAC

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW ORLEANS – As Tulane receiver Shae Wyatt watched jubilant fans streaming onto the field, he couldn’t help but reflect upon how far his team had come since finishing last season 2-10.

“It’s definitely surreal,” said Wyatt, whose two touchdown catches were no small part of why a celebratory scene so hard to conceive of a year ago was unfolding around him. “Seeing all the other schools with their success, and having their fans storm the field – eventually, everybody wants that.”

Michael Pratt accounted for 442 total yards and five touchdowns, Tyjae Spears highlighted his 199 yards rushing with a 60-yard score and No. 18 Tulane beat No. 22 UCF 45-28 on Saturday night in the American Athletic Conference championship game.

The victory virtually assured Tulane (11-2) would play in the Cotton Bowl – its first major New Year’s Day bowl since the 1939 season.

A full hour after the game, Tulane players were still in uniform, walking back to the field from the locker room to pose for photos with teammates, some with cigars in hand. Spears joked that his elbow was sore from fans pulling on him for a congratulatory embrace.

“It was an amazing feeling, man,” Spears said. “That’s something that will stick with us for the rest of our life.”

And Wyatt suggested that Tulane’s remarkable turnaround should serve as a lesson.

“They were just throwing dirt over us and for a while it was hard to bounce back,” Wyatt said of last season, during which Tulane was displaced by Hurricane Ida to a Birmingham hotel for a month, and plagued with injuries to prominent players.

“If you keep your faith and you believe in your brothers that are next to you, flowers will grow. I promise you,” Wyatt said. “I hope this is a testament to anybody out there.”

Pratt passed for a career-high 394 yards, including touchdowns of 73 yards to Duece Watts, 60 and 10 yards to Wyatt and 43 yards to Lawrence Keys. Pratt also ran for a pivotal 18-yard touchdown with 4:04 left.

“It was awesome to close out that game and have those fans so fired up,” said Pratt, named the game’s most outstanding player.

Spears electrified the record crowd of 30,118 at Tulane’s cozy, on-campus Yulman Stadium with his long scoring run, on which he broke two tackles near the line of scrimmage, made two other defenders miss and hurndled his own fallen teammate after cutting back inside.

The Green Wave, which earned the right to host the title game by ending Cincinnati’s 32-game home winning streak last weekend, avenged a 38-31 regular-season loss to UCF (9-4) on the same field on Nov. 12.

But UCF was not quite the same team because of QB John Rhys Plumlee‘s nagging hamstring injury, which appeared to rob him of the explosiveness he displayed by running for 176 yards in the previous meeting.

Plumlee struggled enough early on that coach Gus Malzahn pulled him in the second quarter in favor of Thomas Castellanos. But with Tulane up 24-7 in the middle of the third quarter, Malzahn put Plumlee back in as primarily a passer – and he nearly led the Kights all the way back.

“He’s one of the toughest players I think I’ve ever coached,” Malzahn said. “John Rhys just kept telling me, `Coach, give me another chance.’ … He really gave us a spark.”

Plumlee led UCF quickly for a touchdown to make it 24-14, converting a fourth-and-10 pass along the way and capping the drive with a 17-yarder to Kobe Hudson.

“You work all year to play in a game like this,” said Plumlee, who completed 29 of 39 for 209 yards and one TD, but finished with minus-7 yards rushing as Tulane had six sacks. “I didn’t want to sell myself short or sell this team short.”

Tulane responded when both UCF safeties froze on a play-fake to Spears and Pratt found Watts running free behind the defense.

UCF cut it to 31-21 when former Virginia QB RJ Harvey took a backward pass from Plumlee and launched a 49-yard TD pass to Hudson.

And the Knights got the ball right back when Spears fumbled after a catch on the Green Wave 30. Isaiah Bowser‘s 10-yard run shortly after got UCF as close as 31-28 with 9:48 still left.

But Pratt again found a way to lead the Wave down the field, connecting with Wyatt for the longer of the receiver’s two TDs, and UCF didn’t threaten again.

THE TAKEAWAY

UCF: Knights sophomore backup QB Mikey Keene, who had come in after Plumlee injuries for comeback victories over Cincinnati and South Florida, did not dress for the game. That allowed him to retain a year of eligibility, but also raised questions over whether he might test the transfer portal.

Tulane: It was a dream end to week that got off to a less-than-ideal start with reports out of Atlaata that head coach Willie Fritz being pursued by Georgia Tech.

“Well, I sure am glad I stayed,” Fritz said. “I made a commitment to these kids and the last thing I ever wanted to be was a distraction. So, I’m just proud to be here.”

UP NEXT

UCF: Awaits a bowl bid on Sunday.

Tulane: Heads to its most significant bowl appearance since losing 14-13 to Texas A&M in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1940.