With eye on SEC, Oklahoma, Texas move toward leaving Big 12

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Oklahoma and Texas took the first formal step Monday toward moving to the Southeastern Conference and leaving the Big 12 behind.

The only schools to win college football national championships during the Big 12’s 27-year history notified the conference they would not be renewing an agreement that binds its members through 2025.

In a joint statement, the schools made no mention of the SEC and said “the universities intend to honor their existing grant of rights agreements.”

“However, both universities will continue to monitor the rapidly evolving collegiate athletics landscape as they consider how best to position their athletics programs in the future,” the schools said.

Texas and Oklahoma have been in discussions with the SEC about joining the league, though neither school nor the powerhouse conference has acknowledged that publicly.

The “grant of rights” gives the conference control of the school’s media rights and runs concurrent with the Big 12’s television contracts with ESPN and Fox, which expire in 2025.

“Although our eight members are disappointed with the decisions of these two institutions, we recognize that intercollegiate athletics is experiencing rapid change and will most likely look much different in 2025 than it does currently,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said in a statement.

The remaining eight Big 12 schools – Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor, Texas Tech and West Virginia — had been hoping to persuade the conference’s flagship schools to stay put.

Bowlsby, who was part of a video conference this weekend with the university presidents of Oklahoma and Texas, acknowledged the future of the league will not include the Longhorns and Sooners.

“Like many others, we will use the next four years to fully assess what the landscape will look like in 2025 and beyond,” he said. “The remaining eight institutions will work together in a collaborative manner to thoughtfully and strategically position the Big 12 Conference for continued success, both athletically and academically, long into the future.”

Oklahoma State President Kayse Shrum wasn’t as diplomatic as Bowlsby in a series of tweets about the pending departures. She said actions of Texas and Oklahoma come after months of planning with the SEC.

“We believe these conversations, which developed over a long period of time, are in clear breach of the bylaws of the Big 12 Conference and broke a bond of trust between our universities in existence for decades,” Shrum said, and then took aim at Oklahoma State’s Bedlam rivals.

“It is difficult to understand how an Oklahoma institution of higher education would follow the University of Texas to the detriment of the State of Oklahoma,” she added.

The next step for Oklahoma and Texas would be applying for SEC membership in a conference that has produced 12 national champions in football since 2003 and is positioned to distribute as much as $70 million annually to its members in the coming years.

Big 12 distributed $345 million to its 10 members this year ($34.5 million apiece), down from the previous year because of the pandemic. Most of that revenue comes from the Big 12’s TV deals.

The SEC announced an average payout to each of its members of $44.6 million in January. The conference signed a new deal with ESPN last year worth $300 million annually that would add another $20 million per year to that figure when it goes into effect in 2024.

But before Texas and Oklahoma can relocate, they’ll need to extricate themselves from the Big 12’s grant of rights or wait until it expires following the 2024-25 school year.

Joining another conference with the grant of rights still in effect is a nonstarter. Texas and Oklahoma would bring no media rights value to their new conference and it would cost the schools tens of millions of dollars per year.

Without Texas and Oklahoma, the Big 12 is in danger of falling apart. Even if it were to stay together by adding other schools, the value of the league would likely be severely diminished when it goes looking for its next television contract.

Five years ago, the Big 12 went through the process – fairly publicly – of evaluating other schools as candidates for a possible expansion of the conference.

The Big 12 received plenty of interest from schools throughout FBS. If the eight remaining Big 12 schools can stick together, they would likely go back to many of the same candidates – many of which compete in the American Athletic Conference (Cincinnati, UCF, Houston, SMU, Memphis, USF) and Mountain West, home to Boise State.

Those conferences are not planning to sit back and wait to be poached.

Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a statement the conference has already begun gathering information and its athletic directors and university presidents and chancellors had met Monday to discuss next steps.

“Our intent is to actively appraise various scenarios, identify potential opportunities and take actions which can positively impact the trajectory of the conference and our member institutions,” Thompson said.

Sanders’ 4 TDs help Jackson State rout Southern for SWAC title

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JACKSON, Miss. – Shedeur Sanders threw for four touchdowns, including two on three first-quarter turnovers, staking Jackson State to a big early lead on the way to routing Southern 43-24 in Saturday’s Southwest Athletic Conference championship that was Deion Sanders‘ final game as Tigers coach.

Reports swirled before the game that Sanders would announce his departure from the FCS program after three seasons to become head coach at Colorado. Sanders acknowledged an offer from the school earlier this week and added that he had talked to other FBS programs about vacancies. Colorado’s board of regents called a special meeting for Sunday.

Neither Sanders nor JSU spoke to reporters afterward. A SWAC spokesman said the team had proceeded to go to campus for a team meeting.

In an on-field interview played over JSU’s home field public address system, Sanders referred to JSU’s upcoming Celebration Bowl appearance and said, “We still have one more to go, and we will finish.”

Southern University head coach Eric Dooley spoke about what “Coach Prime” has done for the SWAC after the game and how appreciative he was of Sanders’ efforts.

“I was able to shake his hand and hug Deion and tell him he had a good football team,” said Dooley.

When asked about the rumors floating that Sanders is en route to Colorado, Dooley spoke plainly.

“I don’t get into that,” said Dooley. “It’s his decision. He’s made a huge impact on Jackson State.”

JSU (12-0) quashed any questions about Sanders’ future being a distraction by completing the first unbeaten regular season in school history and claiming its second consecutive SWAC championship. The Tigers’ top-ranked defense set the tone by quickly pouncing on the Jaguars for three turnovers in eight plays in the first quarter.

Aubrey Miller Jr., the SWAC defensive player of the year, led the Tiger defense to an exceptional effort as he totaled one sack and two tackles for loss.

The JSU came in as the top rated defense in the FCS, and they showed exactly why by forcing five turnovers, one of which was a fumble that junior defensive back Antonio Doyle Jr. returned to the Jags’ one yard line.

Shedeur Sanders, the Hall of Fame coach’s son, and the Tigers easily converted the takeaways into a 26-0 lead after 15 minutes, a run boosted by Sy’veon Wilkerson’s 1-yard TD run two plays after Herman Smith III’s 37-yard interception return. Two fumbles created chances for Sanders to hit Shane Hooks for TD passes of 14 and 40 yards and two-point conversions to Kevin Coleman Jr.

Sanders’ 14-yard TD pass to Coleman made it 33-7 at halftime, but Southern (7-5) didn’t quit and even got within 36-24 late in the third quarter on Glendon McDaniel’s 42-yard TD run.

Sanders, the SWAC’s offensive player of the year, completed 31 of 44 passes for 305 yards. Hooks caught five passes for 98 yards and Wilkerson rushed 15 times for 61 yards.

For their efforts, Sanders and Miller were awarded both the offensive and defensive MVP’s of the game.

McDaniel was 15 of 34 passing for 220 yards and a TD for Southern.

“I thought Glendon did some great things,” Dooley said.

The two teams slugged it out on the offensive end in terms of total yardage. Jackson State racked up 445 total yards to Southern’s 412.

The Tigers advanced to the Celebration Bowl, the championship for historically Black college football, on Dec. 17 in Atlanta against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina Central.

The Tigers’ victory improved Sanders to 27-5 as coach of the FCS program and came days after he was named SWAC coach of the year for the second consecutive season.

THE TAKEAWAY

Southern: The Jaguars mounted a strong second-half offensive effort behind Glendon McDaniel, but JSU’s initial onslaught on both sides of the ball was too much to handle.

Jackson State: The Tigers put together one of the most dominant seasons in school history with the SWAC’s top defense and offense. Both units proved why as the defense overwhelmed the Jaguars from the start, while

Sanders took advantage of short fields to complete pinpoint throws from clean pockets.

UP NEXT

Jackson State faces North Carolina Central in the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 in Atlanta.

No. 1 Georgia romps into playoff with 50-30 SEC win vs LSU

Joshua L. Jones / USA TODAY NETWORK
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ATLANTA – Georgia swatted away the field goal attempt, the ball spinning to a stop at its 4-yard line. The LSU players trudged off the field, thinking the play was over.

Christopher Smith knew better. He suddenly scooped it up and took off the other way, sprinting 96 yards for a touchdown that epitomized the Bulldogs program.

They were a step ahead of LSU on Saturday.

They’ve been a step ahead of everyone for two years now.

With all sorts of turmoil behind them in the rankings, Georgia headed to the College Football Playoff as the clear No. 1, dismantling the No. 11 Tigers 50-30 in the Southeastern Conference championship game Saturday.

Stetson Bennett‘s threw a season-high four touchdown passes in another stellar postseason performance, while Smith’s heads-up play gave the Bulldogs an early spark.

“I’ve got good players around me. I’m not that bad at football, either,” Bennett said with a smile. “We’ve got a good team.”

Georgia (13-0, No. 1 CFP) also caught a big break when Smith deflected a pass that bounced off an LSU receiver’s helmet and wound up being picked off by the Bulldogs, setting up a score that contributed to a 35-10 lead by halftime.

LSU quarterback Jayden Daniels re-injured a sore right ankle late in the second quarter, giving way to Garrett Nussmeier in the second half.

The backup guiding the Tigers (9-4, No. 14 CFP) to three second-half touchdowns, but it wasn’t nearly enough.

Georgia accomplished something that not even last season’s national championship squad could could do – win its first SEC title since 2017. The Bulldogs were denied in this game a year ago by Alabama, before bouncing back to beat the Crimson Tide in the title game.

“I don’t want one kid to walk out of our program without an SEC championship ring in their careers,” coach Kirby Smart said. “That could’ve happened. They said enough is enough and got ’em one tonight.”

Georgia heads into the playoff assured of a return trip to Atlanta for a de facto semifinal home game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, just 75 miles from its Athens campus.

LSU’s outside hopes of crashing the four-team playoff field were wiped out a week ago by a stunning loss at Texas A&M, one of several upsets that will give the selection committee plenty to think about before its announcement Sunday.

Tennessee and Clemson also ruined their playoff hopes with losses late in the regular season, while No. 4 Southern California is presumably out after getting blown out by Utah in the Pac-12 title game Friday night.

Just as the SEC game was kicking off, No. 3 TCU lost to Kansas State in overtime for the Big 12 championship, further clouding a playoff picture that suddenly looks much more favorable for No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Alabama.

No matter who makes the elite field, Georgia is firmly focused on becoming the first repeat national title since Alabama in 2011-12, having won all but one game this season by double-digit margins.

“I’ve tried not to play attention to any of it,” Smart said of all the chaos. “It didn’t matter to me. That’s so far away.”

The Bulldogs showed they are more than just a bunch of talented athletes – this is a smart, well-coached group.

When Nazir Stackhouse burst through the middle of the line to block LSU’s 32-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter, Smith knew what to do.

“That’s a scenario we go over a lot in practice,” he said.

He looked toward the sideline to see if it was OK to grab it.

“You’re not allowed to pick it up unless you can score with it,” Smart said.

Smith took care of the rest.

LSU coach Brian Kelly blamed himself and his staff for allowing the play to happen.

“Obviously, we did a poor job if coaching,” he said. “It’s our responsibility to have our guys alert in that situation. They were not alert.”

LSU quickly tied it up on Daniels’ 53-yard touchdown pass to Kayshon Boutte, only to have Bennett take control from there.

The sixth-year senior, a former walk-on who was offensive MVP of both Georgia playoffs wins a year ago, struck for four TD passes in a less than 15-minute span: 3 yards to Brock Bowers, 22 yards to Ladd McConkey, 14 yards to Darnell Washington and 3 yards to Dillon Bell.

Just like that, Georgia led 35-7.

“I was in a zone,” Bennett said.

It’s been that way for two years now.

THE TAKEAWAY

LSU: Kelly’s debut season turned a bit ugly the last two weeks, but the Tigers are on the right track. “We want to get back here next year. That’s our goal,” Kelly said. “Get back here and win it.”

Georgia: Win or lose in the SEC title game, the Bulldogs were assured of a spot in the playoff. But Smart continues to impress with his ability to keep the team motivated. While there were some huge defensive lapses in the second half, this game was never in doubt.

GOING FOR 2

When Georgia scored its final touchdown early in the fourth quarter for a 48-23 lead, Smart surprisingly called for a 2-point conversion.

The Bulldogs converted it with a trick play, but Smart insisted that he wasn’t trying to run up the score.

“The books says you go for 2 there,” he said.

When asked about the play, Kelly stumbled over his words a bit before finally saying, “I don’t get too caught up in what other teams are doing.”

INJURY REPORT

While Daniels went down for LSU, Georgia also lost a couple of players to injuries in the first half.

McConkey landed awkwardly making a catch along the sideline, inflaming a knee issue that’s been bothering him all year. Tight offensive tackle Warren McClendon sustained what appears to be a mild MCL sprain.

Neither returned after halftime.

UP NEXT

LSU: The Tigers get their postseason assignment Sunday, with the Citrus Bowl among the possibilities.

Georgia: The only question is who the Bulldogs will meet in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve, with TCU, Ohio State and SEC rival Alabama all in the mix.