By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
Four teams fighting for two spots in the Big 12 championship game are led by quarterbacks who’ve proven they can take over a game.
Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, West Virginia’s Will Grier, Iowa State’s Brock Purdy and Sam Ehlinger of Texas have been impressive and could determine which teams makes it to the Dec. 1 title game in Arlington, Texas.
No. 6 Oklahoma (9-1, No. 6 CFP) and No. 7 West Virginia (8-1, No. 9 CFP) are tied for the conference lead with 6-1 marks. No. 13 Texas (7-3, No. 15 CFP) and No. 18 Iowa State (6-3, No. 16 CFP) are next at 5-2.
The four contenders have two games left apiece. The Longhorns and Cyclones meet on Saturday. Oklahoma and West Virginia play on Nov. 23.
Here’s a closer look at the quarterbacks in the final weeks of the Big 12 race:
THE DUAL THREAT
Murray is a two-way threat in more ways than one.
Murray leads the nation with a pass-efficiency rating of 212.9, far ahead of Baker Mayfield’s NCAA record of 198.9 set last season when he won the Heisman Trophy at Oklahoma.
Murray is tied for third nationally with 32 touchdown passes and the speedster’s 640 yards on the ground ranks seventh among Big 12 rushers.
The outfielder was the ninth overall selection by the Oakland Athletics in June’s draft, then postponed his baseball career as he puts together a stellar junior football season.
Outgoing Kansas coach David Beaty, whose Jayhawks play the Sooners on the road Saturday, was the recruiting coordinator at Texas A&M when he landed Murray before the athlete transferred to Oklahoma.
“It’s going to fun to see him in Norman,” Beaty said. “He’s got a moxie to him that’s really unique. People are drawn to him and he’s got a poise about him. You know what, he’s just a fun guy to watch play.”
THE BEARDED ONE
In two seasons since transferring from Florida, Grier is climbing the charts as one of the best quarterbacks in West Virginia history.
The senior has 31 TD passes, is averaging 9.9 yards per completion and his 329 passing yards per game are fourth nationally.
After some struggles on offense earlier, West Virginia is averaging 49 points over its last three games, including a 47-10 win over TCU last Saturday.
“I think he’s coming off his best performance yet,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “He was lights out against TCU. He controlled the tempo. He understood when to push it, when to not push it.
“He’s playing at a pretty high level and we’re obviously going to need that type of performance moving forward.”
A freshman, Purdy is a reason Iowa State has its first-ever five game winning streak in Big 12 play and is back in the top 25.
Purdy had played one series all season before his first significant action off the bench against Oklahoma State on Oct. 6. The Cyclones entered the game last in the league in scoring offense.
Purdy threw for four touchdowns in that win, and the Cyclones beat West Virginia 30-14 in his starting debut Oct. 13. He’s thrown 13 TD passes and two interceptions over that five-game stretch.
Purdy is completing 69 percent of his passes while averaging 50 rushing yards per game.
“The guy’s undefeated,” Texas coach Tom Herman said. “You can tell nothing fazes that kid.”
Iowa State coach Matt Campbell said Purdy plays with humility and knows he has to continue to work at getting better.
“For a young guy, he’s doing a really good job for us right now,” Campbell said.
Ehlinger set a Big 12 record last week by extending his streak of consecutive passes without an interception to 280 going back to the season opener.
The sophomore had a career-high four TD passes, finding Lil’Jordan Humphrey with a 29-yard score with 21 seconds left to beat Texas Tech 41-34.
Herman said Ehlinger, who started six games as a freshman, “trusts himself a lot more than I think that he did in the past” and now has the freedom to mix things up at the line of scrimmage. “And for the most part he’s been spot on,” Herman said. “He’s been very aggressive without being reckless.”
Campbell said Ehlinger “really owns the offense right now. Athletically his ability to make things happen when things break down, he’s doing that at a really high rate.”
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Esa Ahmad had 16 points on Thursday night and Sagaba Konate added 14 with eight rebounds and four blocks to help West Virginia beat Monmouth 71-53 in the opening round of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.
The Mountaineers (1-1) will play Western Kentucky in the semifinals Friday.
Konate completed a 3-point play to spark a 13-4 run over the final six minutes of the first half that gave West Virginia a five-point lead at the break. Mustapha Traore made a layup and his dunk 28 seconds later trimmed Monmouth’s deficit to 41-39 with 15 minutes to play but the Mountaineers scored the next nine points to spark a 25-6 run that pushed their lead to 66-45 with less than two minutes remaining. The Hawks committed six turnovers and shot just 1 of 12 from the field during that span.
Deion Hammond led Monmouth (0-4) with 10 points. The Hawks are off to their worst start since losing their first eight games of the 2011-12 season.
By CHARLES ODUM, AP Sports Writer
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — In Mark Whipple’s two stints as the UMass coach covering 11 years and time spent in FCS and FBS, No. 5 Georgia is his pick as the Minutemen’s toughest opponent.
Whipple says he didn’t even have to pass along that opinion to his players.
“All they have to do is look at the tape,” Whipple said. “You just put the tape on and they’ve got great players. They’re the best team UMass has ever played at any level. They’re a really super team. You look at the scoreboard and they do it on offense, they do it on defense and they’ve got a terrific kicking game.”
Added Whipple of the challenge facing UMass (4-7) in Saturday’s game: “We’ll give it our best shot.”
Georgia (9-1, No. 5 CFP) already has won the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division and a spot in the Dec. 1 SEC championship game in Atlanta against No. 1 Alabama. The Bulldogs’ focus against UMass and in next week’s final regular-season game against Georgia Tech is to avoid a misstep that would devastate their chances for a return trip to the College Football Playoff.
“There’s no question we hope they’re overlooking us and trying to get ready for Georgia Tech,” Whipple said.
The Bulldogs opened as 45-point favorites against UMass. The line dropped to a still-daunting 41 points, a number which reflects the Minutemen’s task of containing such playmakers as quarterback Jake Fromm, tailbacks D’Andre Swift and Elijah Holyfield, and wide receivers Riley Ridley and Mecole Hardman.
“They don’t have any weaknesses,” Whipple said. “They were one play away from winning the national championship game last year and they might have a better team. I think they’re deeper.”
Georgia coach Kirby Smart is confident his team will avoid looking past UMass, which is 0-8 against SEC teams but lost to Mississippi State and Tennessee by only a combined 15 points last season.
The talent equalizer for UMass is wide receiver Andy Isabella , who ranks second in the nation with 87 catches for 1,479 yards. Isabella stays busy while lining up in different spots.
Smart said Isabella is “one of the best receivers in all of college football. Our kids respect him.”
Here are some other things to know about the UMass-Georgia game:
The Minutemen can score quickly. They’ve scored on 12 scoring drives lasting no longer than 60 seconds. They’re tied for eighth in the nation on such drives.
Fromm is challenging Hutson Mason’s completion percentage record of 67.9 set in 2014. Fromm has completed 67.5 percent of his passes to rank second in the SEC.
Whipple said he has seen Fromm falter only in Georgia’s loss to LSU, when he completed only 16 of 34 passes with two interceptions.
“Other than that he’s been really good,” Whipple said, adding Fromm is “a calm and collected guy.”
POWER FIVE TEST
UMass lost at Boston College 55-21 on Sept. 1 in its only game this season against a Power Five team. It is coming off a 35-16 home loss to Brigham Young.
OFFENSIVE LINE DRAINED
Smart says Georgia’s offensive line no longer boasts the depth it had to open the season. Guards Kendall Baker and Cade Mays could miss Saturday’s game. Center Lamont Gaillard guard Ben Cleveland also less than full speed.
“We’ve had depth, but it’s slowly and surely deteriorated,” Smart said Tuesday. “We don’t have a lot of depth now. That doesn’t just take a toll on your offensive line. It takes a toll on your scout offensive line, which goes against your defensive line, which makes your team better. … So it takes its toll. Sometimes they all hit in bunches, but we’re hoping to try to get some of these guys back.”
VOTE OF CONFIDENCE
Fromm said last week’s 27-10 win over Auburn proved the offensive line did its job, even when backups were on the field.
“Auburn had a Sunday-type caliber defensive line,” Fromm said. “Our guys did a really good job with those guys moving them.”
Fromm noted Swift and Holyfield “had really good performances.”
Swift ran for a career-high 186 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown.
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Myrtle Beach Invitational begins play Thursday with 4 games
CONWAY, S.C. (AP) — The Myrtle Beach Invitational begins play Thursday with St. Joseph’s against Wake Forest.
That is the first of four games in the day’s first round for the eight-team field, which includes two power-conference teams in the Demon Deacons of the Atlantic Coast Conference and West Virginia of the Big 12.
UCF and Cal State Fullerton meet in the second game, followed by Valparaiso against Western Kentucky.
West Virginia plays the day’s final game against Monmouth. It will be the Mountaineers’ first game since losing at home to Buffalo, a loss that knocked them from No. 13 in the preseason AP Top 25 to unranked to start the week.
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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Guard Miles McBride has signed a letter of intent to play basketball at West Virginia.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins announced McBride’s signing Wednesday.
The 6-foot-2 McBride is a senior at Archbishop Moeller High School in Cincinnati. He played just two games as a junior after injuring his foot while playing football.
No. 18 Iowa St-No. 13 Texas matches Big 12 title contenders
By The Associated Press
Some things to know about Week 12 in the Big 12 Conference:
GAME OF THE WEEK
No. 18 Iowa State (6-3, 5-2 Big 12) at No. 13 Texas (7-3, 5-2). The winner will still be in contention for a spot in the Big 12 title game and the loser would be eliminated if conference co-leaders No. 6 Oklahoma and No. 7 West Virginia both win Saturday. Iowa State, with freshman quarterback Brock Purdy, has won five Big 12 games in a row for the first time. After consecutive losses by a combined four points, sophomore QB Sam Ehlinger led the Longhorns on a late game-winning drive at Texas Tech — like he did earlier this season against Oklahoma. Ehlinger has thrown a Big 12-record 280 consecutive passes without an interception. Texas won its last Big 12 title in 2009, when it was also the last team from the league to play in a national championship game. Iowa State, which has lost 13 of 15 in the series, has never won the conference.
The quarterbacks when No. 7 West Virginia (8-1, 6-1) plays at Oklahoma State (5-5, 2-5). WVU’s Will Grier, the Heisman Trophy contender, has thrown for 329 yards a game with 31 TDs. Taylor Cornelius, OSU’s fifth-year senior and first-time starter, has thrown for 312 yards per game with 23 touchdowns. Cornelius does have to throw against a Mountaineers defense has allowed only 233 yards passing a game and a league-low 13 TD passes. Grier has 1,042 yards passing with nine TDs and one interception in three games since only 100 yards in a loss at Iowa State.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
Oklahoma, which has won 15 consecutive November games, is the nation’s only team with at least 30 rushing touchdowns (31) and at least 30 passing TDs (33). … Texas Tech WR Antoine Wesley leads the nation with 134.7 yards receiving per game . He has four 150-yard games, including 199 and 171 in the last two. … Kansas State has averaged 212 yards rushing with 14 TDs in the past five games. … TCU and Baylor, both still trying to get bowl eligible, meet in the most-played series for both schools. TCU leads 54-52-7 in the series that dates back to 1899.
Kansas has only two games left with coach David Beaty and will be more than a five-TD underdog at No. 6 Oklahoma. The Sooners have won the last 13 games in the series by an average margin of 31 points. Oklahoma’s last home loss in the series was 1996, the first Big 12 season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Lil’Jordan Humphrey is the first Texas player since 2012 with consecutive 100-yard receiving games. He had eight catches for a career-high 159 yards last week against Texas Tech, and his second TD catch was a game-winning 29-yarder with 21 seconds left. Humphrey has 63 catches for 947 yards and seven TDs this season.
Compiled by AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkins in Fort Worth, Texas.
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By RALPH D. RUSSO, AP College Football Writer
The Associated Press has been honoring college football’s best with an All-America team since 1925. The full three-team AP All-America selections will be unveiled in December. The ninth All-America watch of the season features West Virginia’s virtually unblockable linebacker, UCLA’s bright spot tight end and Temple’s rolling Rock.
David Long, LB, West Virginia
The Mountaineers’ leading tackler is coming off his best game of the season. He had four tackles for loss and three sacks in a rout of TCU last week. The fourth-year junior is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 221 pounds, but in the Big 12 his quickness allows him to stay on the field against spread offenses. Long, one of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award as the nation’s best linebacker, is second in the nation in tackles for loss per game with 1.94 and the leader of the third-best defense (5.23 yards per play) in a conference where stops are hard to come by.
What they are saying: “You can’t block him. He keeps his feet. He keeps getting banged up and still makes tackles.”— West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen.
Outlook: Tough for Big 12 defensive players to get a lot of recognition and linebacker is always a loaded spot nationally, but Long and the Mountaineers will be in the spotlight down the stretch.
Caleb Wilson, TE, UCLA
Wilson leads all tight ends with 718 yards receiving after his best game of the season last week against Arizona State. The junior caught 11 passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns. UCLA’s offense has struggled most of the season with inexperience and injuries at quarterback, but the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Wilson is still proving to be a downfield threat and possible first-round NFL draft pick.
J.K. Dobbins, RB, Ohio State
Dobbins ran for 1,403 yards and 7.23 yards per carry as a freshman last season, showing a blend of power and speed. He came into this season with some Heisman buzz and the possibility of being a focal point in the Buckeyes’ loaded offense. Instead, his performance has epitomized the team’s inability to consistently establish the run. Dobbins has been held under 4.0 yards per carry in five of the last six games, breaking out for a season-high 164 yards rushing against Nebraska two weeks ago and then managing just 28 on 14 attempts last week against Michigan State.
GROUP OF FIVE STAR
Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple
Armstead is averaging 122.25 yards rushing per game, and has been rolling the last two weeks with 252 yards on 57 carries after missing the previous two games with an ankle injury. Against Houston last week, Armstead scored six touchdowns to lead the Owls to a victory that made them bowl eligible. The 5-11, 211-pound senior has occasionally seen time as a third-down pass rusher for Temple, but now he is the engine of a surging offense that has put up 1,207 yards in the past two games.
ON THE LINE (ESPN analyst Cole Cubelic, a former guard at Auburn, identifies an offensive lineman playing at an All-America level)
Liam Eichenberg, LT, Notre Dame
The 308-pound junior moved into the starting lineup this season to fill the spot left by first-round draft pick Mike McGlinchey.
“Eichenberg has been great in pass protection in his initial season as a starter and helped pave the way for the Fighting Irish being undefeated. He is a physical presence up front.” — Cubelic.
J.J. Taylor, RB, Arizona vs. Peyton Pelluer, LB, Washington State
Two under-the-radar Pac-12 stars are likely to take part in a more than a few collisions in Pullman, Washington, on Saturday. Taylor is a 5-6, 184-pound workhorse for the Wildcats, who are in the process of trying to salvage a seemingly lost season. Taylor is sixth in the nation in rushing at 122.10 yards per game and fifth in carries at 207. Pelluer is a sixth-year season who will set a school record this week by playing in his 52nd game. He leads the Cougars in tackles with 71 on the season.
Follow Ralph D. Russo at www.Twitter.com/ralphDrussoAP and listen at https://www.podcastone.com/AP-Top-25-College-Football-Podcast
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By WILL GRAVES, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Le’Veon Bell’s patience on the football field sets him apart.
In a game built on chaos, the star running back rarely hurries or makes hasty decisions.
His ability to put his hand on the back of an offensive lineman while waiting for the hole to open — much like a child sticking close to a parent in a crowded store — helps him make the remarkably difficult at times look remarkably easy.
His career at a crossroads partly of his own making, Bell will have to rely on that patience now more than ever after the two-time All-Pro declined to sign his one-year, $14.4 million franchise tender with the Pittsburgh Steelers by Tuesday’s deadline, making him ineligible to play for the AFC North leaders or anyone else this season.
The unprecedented move sets Bell up for the potentially big-time payday he has long been searching when he becomes a free agent in the spring, provided there’s a team willing to splurge on one of the league’s more talented if mercurial players.
While TV cameras set up outside the team’s practice facility on Tuesday to catch Bell if he decided to show up for work for the first time in nearly 10 months, the 26-year-old never pulled up to the gates, ending — for now — one of the more unusual labor standoffs between a team and a player in the era of free agency.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin seemed resigned to Bell’s decision shortly before the 4 p.m. deadline, saying simply “so be it” when asked about the possibility of Bell not returning to the team that selected him in the second round of the 2013 draft and helped mold him into one of the league’s most dynamic threats.
“Even when we don’t understand it, we’re sensitive to it, so we’re not shocked when things happen from a business standpoint, no,” Tomlin said.
The Steelers (6-2-1), who have won five straight to sprint to the top of the division heading into a visit to Jacksonville on Sunday, will turn to second-year back James Conner and reserves Stevan Ridley and rookie Jaylen Samuels to help shoulder the load with Bell out of the picture.
Conner, third in the NFL with 771 yards rushing, remained in the concussion protocol on Tuesday after leaving last Thursday’s blowout win against Carolina but could practice as early as Wednesday.
All season Tomlin stressed he was focused on the players in the locker room and not the ones outside it. He hardly seemed bothered by the idea of Pittsburgh’s quest for a postseason berth continuing without Bell.
“That train has left the station,” Tomlin said. “We’re comfortable with how we function, the people at our disposal, the division of labor and our ability to ready ourselves for the challenges.”
The Steelers drafted Bell with the 48th overall pick five years ago, won over by his youth, size and versatility. Along with wide receiver Antonio Brown, Bell became the linchpin in which the Steelers rebuilt themselves on the fly as the franchise’s identity shifted from away from the defense that fueled three Super Bowl appearances in six years from 2005-2010 toward an offense that ranked among the most explosive in the league.
The makeover relied heavily on Bell, whose patient running style became his trademark while helping Pittsburgh to four straight playoff berths.
Bell is one of only three players in recent NFL history to be franchise tagged in consecutive seasons. The first two — linebacker Karlos Dansby and quarterback Kirk Cousins — played all 16 games during their second seasons under the tag then went and cashed in elsewhere in free agency.
As his profile rose, Bell insisted he wasn’t merely a running back, pointing to his success as a receiver — he finished 10th in the league with 85 catches in 2017 — as proof that he should be paid far above his peers.
When Bell and the Steelers failed to reach an agreement on a new deal last summer, he said “both sides worked extremely hard” in an attempt to get something done. When it didn’t happen, he skipped training camp again, just as he did in 2017. His teammates stressed it was no big deal, confident Bell would show up in time for the regular-season opener.
Only he didn’t. And when preparations for Pittsburgh’s Week 1 trip to Cleveland began without Bell, several Steelers — particularly the offensive line — vented their frustrations publicly.
The anger eased as the weeks passed and Conner thrived in Bell’s absence while Bell remained in Florida, where encounters captured on social media found him riding a Jet Ski or hitting the club. He returned to Pittsburgh last week and even played some pickup basketball at a fitness center.
It’s as close to breaking a sweat with the Steelers as Bell will get.
Though the team could use the franchise or transition tag on Bell next spring, it’s more likely he’ll just walk away.
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By JOHN RABY, AP Sports Writer
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — No. 7 West Virginia’s mini-payback tour is off to a good start as the Mountaineers try to secure a spot in the Big 12 championship game.
After a lopsided win over TCU , West Virginia has showdowns remaining against Oklahoma State and No. 6 Oklahoma. The Mountaineers (8-1, 6-1, No. 9 CFP) lost to all three teams a year ago. Oklahoma is the only Big 12 opponent the Mountaineers haven’t beaten since joining the league in 2012.
Their final road game is Saturday against the Cowboys, who dominated West Virginia 50-39 a year ago in Morgantown.
“They came here and embarrassed us last year, so we have redemption on our mind,” said West Virginia defensive coordinator Tony Gibson.
West Virginia has played well on both sides of the ball ever since its only loss Oct. 13 at Iowa State and quarterback Will Grier has re-emerged as a Heisman Trophy hopeful.
“Getting your tail beat in kind of opens up everybody’s eyes a little bit,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We weren’t going to let that define us. We’ve been pretty good since.”
After struggling at times this season to shut down opponents and fill gaps at linebacker created by injuries, Gibson’s unit has allowed 14 points or less in two of the last three games.
Although Texas moved the ball well two weeks ago, West Virginia’s defense held on just enough to force the Longhorns to kick two field goals in the second half and enable Grier to provide the decisive push in the 42-41 victory.
West Virginia handed TCU’s Gary Patterson his most lopsided loss in 18 seasons as head coach. The Mountaineers limited the Horned Frogs to a season-low 222 yards of offense, including minus-7 yards rushing, and forced a safety in the 47-10 win.
“We knew the schedule of the month of November,” Gibson said. “We’ve prepared and built ourselves up to be able to stop these kind of offenses, and now we’re going to get tested the next few weeks.”
Next stop: Stillwater, Oklahoma, where Holgorsen had a 10-month stint as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach under Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy in 2010 before moving to West Virginia in December of that year.
“Next week’s going to be a huge challenge,” Holgorsen said Saturday before heading off to watch the Cowboys lose at Oklahoma 48-47.
Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will see some new offensive twists. The Mountaineers haven’t thrown this often to their tight ends since Anthony Becht caught 35 passes in 1999. Grier also is turning to his running backs more as receiving targets if he can’t throw downfield.
Tight end Trevon Wesco, who caught one pass all last season, and Miami transfer Jovani Haskins have combined for 31 catches for 367 yards and two scores. The 270-pound Wesco had five catches for a team-high 86 yards, including a 32-yard score, against TCU.
“The more he plays and the more we scheme things up for him, the better he is,” Holgorsen. “He’s a big part of what we’re doing. I’ve seen this coming for quite a while.”
The biggest game on the schedule is the one the Mountaineers haven’t talked about yet — a home matchup at night with co-leader Oklahoma the day after Thanksgiving.
Win the next two, West Virginia will earn a spot in the Dec. 1 league title game in Arlington, Texas. Win that game, there’s an outside chance it a spot could open for the Mountaineers in the College Football Playoff, although other teams higher than them would have to lose. Even that might not be enough.
“We know we have a lot in front of us to accomplish,” said West Virginia linebacker David Long. “For us to accomplish that, as a football team we’re going to have to be better each week. No pressure, man. We’ve just got to go out there and play football.”
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) — Jon Elmore scored 30 points for his 66th straight game in double figures, C.J. Burks added 23 points and Marshall rallied to beat Hofstra 76-72 on Sunday.
Trailing 45-42 at halftime, Elmore’s 3 capped a 12-0 run for a 54-45 lead early in the second half, but Justin Wright-Foreman and Eli Pemberton each hit 3s for a 69-66 Pride lead with 3:40 left. Burks scored five straight, Elmore added a jumper and Marshall (1-1) led 73-69 with 1:32 left before Elmore sealed it with three free throws in the final 16 seconds.
Wright-Foreman scored 34 points for his 55th straight double-figure game and moved into 12th place in Hofstra history with 1,424 career points. Pemberton added 19 points with 12 rebounds for Hofstra (1-1), which was outscored 40-20 in the paint.
Elmore’s double-figure streak is the third-longest in the nation and Wright-Foreman’s is the fourth.