UCLA football silent on National Signing Day

UCLA football had a fairly quiet showing during the traditional signing day period, which began Wednesday, after doing most of its heavy lifting in December during the early signing period.

The Bruins’ recruiting class is ranked 29th in the nation and fourth in the Pac-12 Conference, according to 247sports.

Westlake Village Oaks Christian and Army All-American punter Brenden Segovia announced on Twitter that he would no longer attend UCLA and will instead consider offers from Michigan State and USC. Segovia, a committed walk-on, was not granted academic admission, according to 247sports.

Won’t be attending UCLA anymore. New offers from USC and Michigan state! Time to keep keep plugging away, and find a new place to call home; It’s exciting to be a recruit again, I have faith in this journey.

— Brenden Segovia ‘21 (@Brenden_Segovia) February 3, 2021

Of the 17 high school prospects to already sign, defensive end Quintin Somerville of Saguaro High (Scottsdale, Ariz.), offensive tackle Thomas Cole (San Luis Obispo) and wide receiver Keontez Lewis (East Saint Louis, Ill.) are already enrolled with the university.

Defensive end Hayden Nelson (Brookfield, Wisc.) remains the lone verbal commit yet to officially sign with the Bruins.

FROM THE TRANSFER PORTAL:

Former Michigan running back Zach Charbonnet, a former Westlake Village Oaks Christian High running back, spent two seasons at Michigan and announced last week that he was committed to the Bruins.

The former four-star prospect rushed for 726 yards and 11 touchdowns at Michigan in 2019 but saw a decrease in production in 2020 with 124 yards and 19 touchdowns in five games.

His 11 touchdowns in 2019 set the Wolverines’ single-season freshman rushing touchdown record. He was also named All-Big Ten honorable mention.

Senior safety Cameron Johnson also committed to the Bruins this offseason. The Houston native will join an experienced group of defensive backs. He played at least 12 games in each of his first three seasons with North Texas and eight games during the shortened 2020 season.

Johnson will take advantage of the extra year of eligibility, granted by the NCAA, as a result of the pandemic.

—– UCLA 2021 recruiting class —–

Four-star signees

Quintin Somerville, SDE, Saguaro (Scottsdale, Ariz.)

Devin Kirkwood, ATH, Serra (Gardena)

Tia Savea, DE, Desert Pines (Las Vegas)

Three-star signees

Thomas Cole, OT, San Luis Obispo (San Luis Obispo)

Josh Moore, ATH, Marist School (Atlanta)

Keontez Lewis, WR, East St. Louis (East Saint Louis, Ill.)

Noah Pulealii, OG, Palma (Salinas)

Christian Burkhalter, WDE, Spanish Fort (Spanish Fort, Ala.)

Isaiah Newcombe, ATH, Casteel (Queen Creek, Ariz.)

Ezavier Staples, WR, Millikan (Long Beach)

Kajiya Hollawayne, QB, San Jacinto (San Jacinto)

DJ Justice, WR, Bishop Alemany (Mission Hills)

Garrett DiGiorgio, OT, Serrano (Phelan)

Benjamin Roy, OC, Liberty (Henderson, Nev.)

Tyler Kiehne, SDE, Los Lunas (Los Lunas, N.M.)

A.J. Campbell, WDE, Copley (Akron, Ohio)

Incoming Transfers

Zach Charbonnet, RB, Michigan/Oaks Christian

Cameron Johnson, S, North Texas

Ethan Garbers, QB, Washington/Corona Del Mar

Kam Brown, WR, Texas A&M (Colleyville, Texas)

Jordan Genmark Heath, S, Notre Dame (San Diego)

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Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, in just a half, wasn’t half bad

By TIM REYNOLDS

The Associated Press

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — DeVonta Smith did not catch a single pass after halftime. He didn’t have to, either.

He’d done plenty.

The Heisman Trophy-winning receiver from Alabama put his stamp all over the College Football Playoff championship game in the first two quarters, and the Crimson Tide are national champions once again. Smith had 12 catches for 215 yards and three touchdowns – all those scores coming in the second quarter – to lead the Tide past Ohio State, 52-24, on Monday night.

“Last year, they said the dynasty was over,” Smith said. “We don’t stop. We just keep reloading.”

He won everything there was to win this season: the national title, the Heisman, and became the first FBS player since Michael Crabtree in 2007 to lead the nation in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

And after winning Offensive Player-of-the-Game honors on Monday, next stop, the NFL.

“Unbelievable,” Smith said in the on-field interview, as garnet confetti littered the field. “We just finished writing our story. That was the whole thing of us coming back, just finishing the story that we wanted to write. And we did that.”

Smith left in the third quarter, a towel draped over his right hand, covering what was later revealed to be a dislocated finger. Smith stopped on his way into the Alabama locker room to gaze at a television mounted high over the left side of the entrance, checking out one of the countless Crimson Tide highlights of the evening.

He was responsible for plenty of them.

“Smitty, obviously, had a great half,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said.

Smith had five catches that went for more than 15 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown that pushed Alabama’s lead to 35-17 just before halftime. He doesn’t so much run as glides; consider, on one of his touchdowns Monday night, he evaded a defender, the end zone pylon, three photographers and a crane holding a camera – all on the same play, and made it all look easy, just like the Tide did pretty much all night.

“We couldn’t quite keep up,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said.

After getting hurt, Smith returned to the sideline with his hand heavily bandaged, wearing sweats and a mask with the Heisman logo. His night and college career were over, even though he tried to talk his way back onto the field. But he wasn’t going to miss the celebration and knew his teammates would finish the job.

“I just believed in them from the jump,” Smith said. “That’s what we do. That’s why you come to ’Bama.’

Alabama fans who were at Hard Rock Stadium, home of the Miami Dolphins, ooh-ed and aah-ed every time he touched the ball, just as they did two years ago when he came to that same stadium and put on a show in the Orange Bowl to help the Tide past Oklahoma and into the CFP title game that season. They lost that matchup to Clemson, denying the Tide back-to-back national titles.

Smith has that second ring now, to go with the one he helped secure as a freshman when he caught the game- and title-winning pass from Tua Tagovailoa in overtime as Alabama topped Georgia for the 2017 season’s national championship.

And now, one of the questions until the NFL draft will be whether he and Tagovailoa reunite. The Dolphins – Tagovailoa’s team – have the No. 3 overall pick in this year’s draft, and if Smith is still on the board it’s hard to imagine him not getting taken there by a team that won 10 games this season yet still missed the playoffs and is in need of a play-making wideout.

When they talk about how Alabama navigated an SEC-only schedule during the COVID-19 season without a loss and won another national championship, some names will likely come to mind with ease.

Smith, of course, will be there. So will Saban, unquestionably the most successful coach of his time. As will Najee Harris, who set the Crimson Tide single-season touchdown record with 30 scores.

And it would be a shame if they forgot quarterback Mac Jones, who bided his time behind Tagovailoa and Jalen Hurts before finally getting the keys to the Alabama offense in 2020 – only to lead the nation in passing yards and passing efficiency, finish second in touchdown passes and cap it all off with a 464-yard, five-touchdown, record-setting performance in the title game.

“To me, this is the ultimate team,” Saban said.

In Saban’s mind, Smith was that team’s ultimate competitor.

For all Harris did, for all Jones did, it was a skinny kid from Louisiana who was the best player in the country, the best player on the field in the season’s ultimate game – putting up all his numbers in just one half of work.

“Heavens knows what he would have done if he played the whole game,” Saban said.

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Rose Bowl scouting report: Alabama vs. Notre Dame

No. 1 seed ALABAMA (11-0) vs. No. 4 NOTRE DAME (10-1)

When: Friday, 1 p.m. PST (ESPN)

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

Line: Alabama by 19½

Series record: Notre Dame leads, 5-2

WHAT’S AT STAKE

Alabama is trying to get in the College Football Playoff championship game for the fifth time in six seasons. Notre Dame is making its second CFP appearance, two years after a 30-3 loss to Clemson at AT&T Stadium. The Crimson Tide and Irish last played eight seasons ago, when Alabama won, 42-14, in the BCS national title game on Jan. 7, 2013, in suburban Miami, where this year’s CFP title game is scheduled for Jan. 11.

KEY MATCHUP

Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book vs. the Alabama defense: The fifth-year senior, a two-time captain, is the school’s winningest starting quarterback (30-4) and had 266 consecutive attempts between his two interceptions this season. He completed 64% percent of his passes for 2,601 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 430 yards and eight scores. The Crimson Tide did allow 46 points to Florida while Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask threw for 408 yards in the SEC title game, but their previous six opponents combined for only 53 points. Alabama has 32 sacks and has returned three of its 11 interceptions for touchdowns.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Alabama: Junior quarterback Mac Jones and senior wide receiver DeVonta Smith, both Heisman Trophy finalists. Jones has thrown for 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns with four interceptions while completing 76.5% (250 of 327) of his passes. Smith is the SEC career leader with 40 touchdown catches, with a school-record 17 this season when he has 98 receptions for 1,511 yards.

Notre Dame: Senior linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The AP All-American also won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker with 56 tackles (38 solos), 11 for losses. He had one interception and recovered two fumbles, one of which he returned for a touchdown in a double-overtime victory over Clemson.

FACTS & FIGURES

Relocated from its traditional home in Pasadena because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Rose Bowl will be the second New Year’s Six game played at AT&T Stadium in less than 48 hours. The Cotton Bowl was Wednesday night, and the turnover of the stadium started almost immediately after Oklahoma’s 55-20 victory over Florida. … Notre Dame is 4-3 when facing a top-ranked team in a bowl game. … Alabama is 4-0 at AT&T Stadium, including a 38-0 rout of Michigan State in a semifinal game at the Cotton Bowl five seasons ago.

ANALYSIS

Let’s be clear: The difference is in the dudes. The Tide simply have more elite players and dynamic athletes than the Irish. Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly believes the talent gap has shrunk since the Irish lost to Alabama in the 2013 BCS championship game, and he is right. But is it enough to dramatically change the outcome eight years later?

A way to bridge the chasm could start with Notre Dame’s tight ends. Freshman Michael Mayer is likely a future first-round draft pick and Tommy Tremble is a versatile athlete who lines up at several positions. The Irish will also use three tight ends at times.

It’s not so much that the tight ends can dominate the game with their pass-catching and playmaking. SEC Network’s Cole Cubelic says Notre Dame can use them in varying formations and motions to make it difficult for Alabama to identify who is doing what.

“The way you’re going to have success against (the Tide) is basically to not sit still and to get them to line up incorrectly,” said Cubelic, who played offensive line at Auburn.

The Irish offensive line is excellent and should hold up just fine against Alabama’s defensive front, which could give Notre Dame the opportunity to run the ball, milk some clock, let Book make plays with his legs and limit total possessions. That’s important, because on the other side of the ball, nobody is slamming the brakes on Jones, Smith, running back Najee Harris and a Tide offense that averages almost 8 yards per play.

The Irish need to find a few stops to have a chance. Cubelic and ESPN analyst Greg McElroy disagree on the best way to go about getting them.

Cubelic said Notre Dame should take Arkansas’ approach, drop seven or eight into coverage, focus on taking away the deep throws and force the Tide to be patient. Of course, the Razorbacks lost, 52-3, but Jones averaged only 8.7 yards per pass. On the season, he was up over 11.

McElroy said Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea should throw every pressure he has at Alabama.

“I think the best way for them to neutralize the throw game is to overload pressure and force the ball out of Mac Jones’ hand earlier than he would like it to be forced out,” said McElroy, a former Alabama quarterback.

The Tide might be more susceptible to protection problems in their first full game without center Landon Dickerson, who was lost in the Florida game to a knee injury.

“That’s a massive, massive loss,” Cubelic said.

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Alabama, Notre Dame ready for relocated Rose Bowl clash

ARLINGTON, Texas — Playing a Rose Bowl game deep in the heart of Texas is anything but normal. Top-ranked Alabama being in a College Football Playoff semifinal game is nothing new.

The SEC champion Crimson Tide (11-0) are in a familiar position despite the chaos of playing during the pandemic. No. 4 Notre Dame, which finished runner-up in the ACC after temporarily giving up its cherished independent status, gets another playoff chance two years after a big thud in the same stadium.

“We’re going to keep knocking at the door. We don’t listen to the narratives about what Notre Dame can and can’t do,” Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly said on Thursday. “We’re just excited that we’re going to keep banging at this door and we’re going to get through.”

These Irish (10-1) go into the relocated Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day as three-touchdown underdogs against Alabama and the Tide’s Heisman Trophy finalists, quarterback Mac Jones and receiver DeVonta Smith. The game was moved to AT&T Stadium from its traditional home in Pasadena because of COVID-19 restrictions in California that would have kept family – and any other fans – from attending.

When the Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium was a semifinal two years ago, Notre Dame lost, 30-3, to eventual national champion Clemson in its only previous CFP appearance. The No. 2 Tigers (10-1), who avenged their only loss by beating the Irish, 34-10, in the ACC title game, play Ohio State (6-0) in this season’s other semifinal Friday night at the Sugar Bowl.

The semifinal winners are scheduled to play Jan. 11 in suburban Miami, where eight seasons ago in the BCS national championship game Alabama trounced Notre Dame, 42-14, in the last meeting between the storied programs.

“Even after going undefeated that year, we lost in the national championship game, and we were looked at as not a very good football team,” Kelly said. “We needed to look at the things that could help us grow. And we’ve been doing that each and every year.”

Notre Dame is still trying to catch up with Alabama, which is in a CFP semifinal for the sixth time after missing the final four for the only time last year. The Tide are 4-0 at the home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys, including a 38-0 rout of Michigan State five seasons ago on the way to a national championship. They won another title, their fifth overall under Coach Nick Saban, three seasons ago.

“It means a lot to come back here, reach our destination, to keep on building the standard here,” All-American cornerback Patrick Surtain II said.

“We just want to take advantage of where we’re at,” said Jones, the junior who has thrown for 3,739 yards and 32 touchdowns with four interceptions in his first full season as the starter. “We’re finally where we want to be.”

MISSING IN THE MIDDLE

Alabama will be without All-America center Landon Dickerson, a team captain who is recovering from surgery after injuring his knee late in the SEC title game victory over Florida.

“He’s been a great leader on our team and will certainly be missed,” Saban said.

Chris Owens, a senior from Arlington, Texas, will be the starting center against the Irish.

SKILL SETS

Alabama’s offense has Heisman finalists Jones and Smith, plus a big-scoring, dual-threat tailback in Najee Harris, who has rushed for 1,262 yards and 24 touchdowns, and caught 32 passes for 316 yards and three more scores. Harris finished fifth in the Heisman voting, but did not receive enough votes to be deemed a finalist.

Smith has 98 catches for 1,511 yards and 17 touchdowns. Jones has completed 76.5% of his passes for 3,739 yards with 32 touchdowns and four interceptions.

Ian Book, a fifth-year senior and two-time captain, is Notre Dame’s winningest starting quarterback at 30-4. He has thrown for 2,601 yards and 15 touchdowns, with 430 yards and eight scores rushing. Sophomore running back Kyren Williams has 1,061 yards rushing with 12 TDs, and Javon McKinley, who starred at Corona’s Centennial High, has four 100-yard receiving games.

BIG-GAME PLAYER

McKinley, who has been plagued by injuries in college, was a dominant high school player, hauling in 153 passes for 3,232 yards and 35 touchdowns in his final two seasons at Centennial. As a junior, he hauled in 97 passes for 2,059 yards and 22 touchdowns.

With Centennial, McKinley was often at his best in the biggest moments. In five playoff games during his junior season, McKinley had 50 catches for 1,013 yards and 11 touchdowns, including games against national powers Concord De La Salle (six catches, 153 yards, two TDs), St. John Bosco (13 catches, 151 yards, one TD) and Mater Dei (six catches, 187 yards, one TD).

That same season, McKinley also had six catches for 104 yards and a score in a regular-season game against Mater Dei and caught seven passes for 103 yards and a score against powerhouse Bishop Gorman of Las Vegas.

QUICK TURNAROUND

The Rose Bowl will be the second New Year’s Six game played at AT&T Stadium in less than 48 hours. Oklahoma beat Florida 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl on Wednesday night, and the turnover of the stadium began almost immediately afterward. That game had a limited capacity crowd of 17,323, and the Rose Bowl attendance should be similar.

SHORT TRIP

Like they would during the regular season, the Crimson Tide traveled from campus on Thursday, the day before the game.

“Just going today as if this is a normal road trip for us, but certainly not a normal game for us,” Saban said.

FRIENDLY FOES

Alabama running back Harris and Notre Dame quarterback Book, who grew up 90 miles from each other in Northern California, once were 7-on-7 teammates for TMP of Sacramento.

“The plan was if we were ever down, you just throw it up and Najee would go catch it. He was playing receiver for us. And he did that. That’s how we were able to win some games,” Book said.

“He does an amazing job getting the ball to his playmakers,” Harris said.

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College Football Playoff defenses face big challenges

My how times have changed in college football since the last time Alabama and Notre Dame met.

The Crimson Tide rode the nation’s best defense into that January 2013 national championship matchup, yielding a paltry 184 yards and eight points per game.

Fast-forward to the new reality: Offense wins championships. Or at least it’s carried the top-ranked Tide, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State into contention heading into Friday’s College Football Playoff semifinal games.

Alabama might have the nation’s best offense under offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, the former USC head coach.

“This is not pro I, let’s run it up inside and play great defense,” said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, whose Fighting Irish (10-1) will face the Crimson Tide (11-0) in Arlington, Texas. “They’re still playing fundamentally sound defense, but with the offenses as they are today, you know, it’s very difficult not to give up some yards.

“So you’re seeing fundamentally sound defense. You’re still seeing the same principles. You’re seeing at times elite play in certain position groups at Alabama. And then an offense now that can rival the very best college offenses in the country.”

Only the Tigers, who play the Buckeyes in New Orleans, have an elite defense statistically among the playoff teams. The other three have been plenty good enough to support those high-scoring offenses.

But ’Bama doesn’t rank higher than 12th nationally in the four major defensive statistical categories. Notre Dame isn’t better than 14th and Ohio State has been stingy against the run and more generous to opposing passers.

Then there’s Clemson, which ranks sixth in total defense, giving up 298.5 yards per game.

The AP All-America teams had eight representatives from the playoffs on the first-team offense and three on defense: Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain II, Notre Dame linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and Ohio State cornerback Shaun Wade.

The playoff teams have three of the four Heisman Trophy finalists.

ALABAMA

The Skinny: The Tide have veteran standouts like Surtain and linebackers Dylan Moses and Christian Harris and rising star freshmen like pass rusher Will Anderson and defensive back Malachi Moore. Have been stingy at times but gave up yards and points galore to Mississippi and Florida. The Tide have 21 sacks over the last four games and 32 total.

Best Game: Alabama became the first to shut out a Mike Leach team, beating Mississippi State, 41-0, and allowing just 163 total yards while forcing three turnovers.

Worst Game: Alabama allowed a whopping 647 total yards in a 63-48 victory over Lane Kiffin’s Mississippi team. It was the most yards a Tide defense had ever surrendered and the most points by an unranked team against ’Bama. “It humbled us a lot,” Surtain said.

Best Player: Surtain is a shutdown cornerback who was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year and is a Jim Thorpe Award finalist. He has 32 tackles, an interception and 10 pass breakups.

CLEMSON

The Skinny: The Tigers are not as star heavy and don’t have an Isaiah Simmons-type to lead the way this season. That balanced approach has Clemson giving up fewer points this year than last season’s group. The soft spot might be in pass coverage, where Clemson is giving up 198 yards per game, about 30 more than last year.

Best player: Linebacker James Skalski is a fierce hitter and the glue that holds the group together. When he missed games against Boston College and Notre Dame with an injury, Clemson allowed 75 points and lost to the Irish. With Skalski back the past three games, the Tigers have given up just 37 total, including only 10 to Notre Dame in the ACC Championship rematch.

Worst game: At Notre Dame, where the Tigers gave up 518 yards – unheard of against a Brent Venables-led defense – and permitted the Irish a long touchdown drive at the end to tie a game they’d eventually win in double overtime.

Best game: The rematch with the Fighting Irish for the ACC crown. Clemson held Notre Dame to a field goal on two early trips to the red zone, then pounded the Irish the rest of the way. The Tigers gave up just 263 yards to win their sixth consecutive league crown.

NOTRE DAME

The Skinny: Under third-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea, set to become head coach at alma mater Vanderbilt, the Irish entered their final regular-season game against Syracuse with a top 10 defense. But they’ve given up 955 yards combined the past two games and have a tendency to allow big passing plays.

Best player: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. A first-team Associated Press All-American and Butkus Award winner, the 6-foot-1, 216-pound senior has 56 tackles, 11 tackles for loss, an interception, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery for a touchdown against Clemson.

Worst game: The 34-10 loss to Clemson in the ACC championship game. The Irish struggled to defend quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne.

Best game: The 31-17 victory at North Carolina on Nov. 27. Notre Dame held the prolific Tar Heels, whose offense was averaging 563.4 yards per game coming in, to just 78 total yards and zero points in the second half.

OHIO STATE

The Skinny: COVID-19 issues and a six-game schedule might have impeded the Buckeyes’ progress. But the defense did recover 10 fumbles, collect six interceptions and rack up 17 sacks in that limited schedule.


Best Game: Ohio State turned in a strong defensive performance in a 22-10 victory over Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes allowed just 329 yards and intercepted two passes.

Worst Game: Ohio State nearly blew a three-touchdown lead before holding on for a 42-35 win against Indiana, albeit with help from a defensive touchdown late in the third quarter. Michael Penix Jr. torched the Buckeyes for 491 passing yards and five touchdowns.

Best player: All-America cornerback Shaun Wade had 21 tackles, two interceptions and three pass breakups. His 36-yard interception return for a touchdown against Indiana proved huge.

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Sugar Bowl scouting report: Clemson vs. Ohio State

No. 2 seed CLEMSON (10-1) vs. No. 3 OHIO STATE (6-0)

When: Friday, 5 p.m. PST

Where: Superdome, New Orleans

Line: Clemson by 7

Series record: Clemson leads, 4-0

WHAT’S AT STAKE?

A berth in the College Football Playoff national championship game in Miami on Jan. 11. Clemson is seeking its fifth appearance in the title game since the four-team CFP playoff debuted in the 2014 season. Ohio State is eyeing its first title game appearance since January 2015 when the Buckeyes beat Oregon to win their last national title.

KEY MATCHUP

Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, an adept scrambler who is averaging about 254 yards and better than two touchdowns passing per game, against a Clemson defense that ranks in the top 10 nationally in yards allowed per game (298.5), has had multiple sacks in every game and has three defensive touchdowns on fumble returns.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ohio State: Fields has completed 72.6% of his passes for 1,521 yards and 15 TDs against five interceptions in six games. He also has 274 yards and five touchdowns rushing; running back Trey Sermon has averaged 112 yards rushing, and is coming off a school record-breaking 331 against Northwestern; wide receiver Garrett Wilson has 38 catches for 621 yards and five TDs; wide receiver Chris Olave has 36 catches for 528 yards and five TDs; All-America cornerback Shaun Wade has two INTs.

Clemson: Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is widely expected to be selected first overall in the 2021 NFL draft after passing for 2,753 yards and 22 touchdowns against just four interceptions in nine games – all victories. Lawrence has completed 69.2% of his passes and also has rushed for 211 yards and seven touchdowns; running back Travis Etienne leads Clemson in rushing with 882 yards and 13 touchdowns to go with 44 catches for 524 yards and two touchdowns; wide receiver Amari Rodgers has 69 catches for 966 yards and seven touchdowns. Linebacker Baylon Spector has 9½ tackles for loss and 3½ sacks.

FACTS & FIGURES

Clemson is making its sixth consecutive playoff appearance. The Tigers won CFP titles in the 2016 and 2018 seasons and lost the championship game in the 2015 and 2019 seasons. … Ohio State is making its second straight playoff appearance and fourth overall. … Clemson beat Ohio State, 29-23, in a Fiesta Bowl CFP semifinal last season. Clemson also beat Ohio State, 31-0, in a 2016 Fiesta Bowl semifinal. … All of Clemson’s victories over Ohio State have come in bowl games, including the Orange Bowl at the end of the 2013 season and the 1978 Peach Bowl. … Clemson lost, 42-25, to LSU in last year’s CFP championship game at the Superdome in New Orleans. … Clemson is making its third Sugar Bowl appearance and is seeking its first Sugar Bowl win. … Ohio State is making its sixth Sugar Bowl appearance and has won its last three, including a 42-35 triumph over Alabama in the first CFP semifinal on Jan. 1, 2015.

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As college leaders meet, football players push to play

After the Power Five conference commissioners met Sunday to discuss mounting concern about whether a college football season can be played in a pandemic, players took to social media to urge leaders to let them play.

Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said no decisions on the season have been made, but conceded the outlook has not improved.

“Are we in a better place today than two weeks, ago?” he said. “No, we’re not.”

Bowlsby cited “growing evidence and the growing pool of data around myocarditis.”

Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart and it has been found in some COVID-19 patients. There is concern it could be a long-term complication of contracting the virus even in young, healthy people, a group that has usually avoided severe cardiovascular symptoms.

Also Sunday night, the Big Ten’s university presidents and chancellors held a previously unscheduled meeting, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was not announced by the conference.

Another person with direct knowledge of the meeting speaking on condition of anonymity said no votes were taken or decisions made about the college football season.

The final call on whether major college football will played this season rests in the hands of the university presidents who oversee the largest conferences.

All this activity comes a day after the Mid-American Conference became the first among 10 leagues that play at the highest tier of Division I college football to cancel fall sports because of concerns about keeping athletes from contracting and spreading COVID-19.

The MAC’s decision came less than a month before the first games are scheduled to be played and raised questions if other conferences might follow.

Also on Saturday, the Big Ten slowed its ramp up to the season, announcing its teams would not be permitted to start full contact practices until further notice. The Big Ten season is scheduled to start Labor Day weekend.

Meanwhile, college football players took to social media Sunday to push for a season, led by Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence with a series of tweets.

“People are at just as much, if not more risk, if we don’t play,” Lawrence tweeted. “Players will all be sent home to their own communities where social distancing is highly unlikely and medical care and expenses will be placed on the families if they were to contract covid19.”

Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth had a similar message.

“Since day one coming back to campus the Penn State Football staff and medical experts have put our health and safety first, above anything else,” he tweeted. “The guidelines put into place keep us safe while playing the game we love. We are ready to play and we want to play.”

Other players tweeted with the hashtag #WeWantToPlay, and within a few hours that movement merged with another. Lawrence, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Oklahoma State All-America running back Cuba Hubbard, Alabama running back Najee Harris and numerous other players from across the country posted a graphics with #WeWantToPlay and #WeAreUnited, the hashtag used by a group of Pac-12 players who announced a college player rights movement a week ago.

Under the logos of each Power Five conference — ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC — the players pronounced their platform:

— We all want to play football this season.

— Establish universal mandated health & safety procedures and protocols to protect college athletes against COVID-19 among all conferences throughout the NCAA.

— Give players the opportunity to opt out and respect their decision.

— Guarantee eligibility whether a player chooses to play the season or not.

— Use our voices to establish open communication and trust between players and officials: Ultimately create a College Football Players Association.

— Representative of all Power Five conferences.

The parents of Ohio State football players weighed in, too, posting a letter saying they were confident in the university’s plan to keep their sons safe.

“We believe that this age group represents some of the healthiest individuals, while we recognize the risk cannot be eliminated, we believe the risk is minimal and the season can safely and responsibly occur,” wrote the Football Parents Association at Ohio State.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said he has heard the same from Fighting Irish football players. Notre Dame has had only two COVID-19 cases since it began testing athletes.

“I’ve been around our guys and they thinks it’s safe and they want to try and play,” Swarbrick said. “If we change course, we better be able to articulate the reason for doing so to our student-athletes. They are going to want to know why.”

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Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott responds to football players threatening opt-outs

The Pac-12 responded Monday to football players who have threaten to opt-out of the season because of concerns related to health and safety, racial injustice and economic rights with a letter touting the conference’s work in those areas and an invitation to meet later this week.

A letter from Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott, dated Aug. 3, was sent to 12 football players leading the #WeAreUnited movement. The letter was obtained by The Associated Press and first reported by Sports Illustrated.

The players say they have been communicating with more than 400 of their peers throughout the Pac-12. The group released a lengthy list of demands Sunday and said if they are not addressed they will not practice or play. The group said it reached out to the Pac-12 on Sunday to request a meeting. In the letter, Scott said he was eager to discuss their concerns.

“I will come back to you in the coming days following discussion with our members and student-athlete leaders to schedule a call for this week to discuss the matters that you have raised,” Scott wrote.

Also Monday night, Washington State coach Nick Rolovich said in a statement he regretted cautioning one of his players about being part of the #WeAreUnited movement. A recording of a conversation between Rolovich and receiver Kassidy Woods obtained by the Dallas Morning News revealed the coach seemingly warning the player that being involved with the group would hurt his standing with the team. Woods had called Rolovich to inform him he was opting out of the season for health reasons related to COVID-19.

“I spoke with Kassidy Woods in a private phone conversation last Saturday afternoon. This was before the #WeAreUnited group had released its letter of concerns,” said Rolovich, who is in his first season was Washington State coach. “Without knowing the concerns of the group, I regret that my words cautioning Kassidy have become construed as opposition. I’m proud of our players and all the Pac-12 student-athletes for using their platform, especially for matters they are passionate about. WSU football student-athletes who have expressed support for the #WeAreUnited group will continue to be welcome to all team-related activities, unless they choose to opt out for health and safety reasons.”

The #WeAreUnited players’ demands focused on four areas: health and safety protections, especially protocols related to COVID-19; guarding against the elimination of sports programs by schools during an economic downturn; ending racial injustice in college sports; and economic freedom and equity.

Scott addressed each area, highlighting the conference’s:

— Medical advisory committee working on COVID-19 protocols and webinars for student-athletes and their parents;

— Support for reforming NCAA rules regarding name, image and likeness compensation for college athletes;

— Recent initiatives to address racial inequities such as the formation of a social justice & anti-racism advisory group that includes student-athletes representatives.

Scott also listed 10 areas in which, he wrote, “The Pac-12 has been a leader in supporting student-athlete health and well-being …” Included were enhanced medical coverage post-eligibility; cost-of-attendance stipends added to the value of scholarship; mental health support; and the Pac-12’s support of reforming NCAA transfer rules to allow athletes more freedom to switch schools.

Pac-12 football teams are scheduled to begin preseason practices Aug. 17 and the league’s conference-only regular season is set to start Sept. 26.

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UCLA adds receiver Isaiah Newcombe to 2021 class

UCLA received its ninth commit of its 2021 recruiting class Saturday night.

Three-star wide receiver Isaiah Newcombe, from Arizona, announced his commitment to the Bruins’ program via Twitter. He is UCLA’s fourth commitment in the last eight days.

Man!! Words can’t describe how excited I am right now!!🤩@CoachNewcombe @MsRachelN @UCLAFootball @GeoffreyLeins @CoachJimmieD @EthanYoungFB @CasteelFootball pic.twitter.com/rjL3pVo82z

— Isaiah Newcombe (@IsaiahNewcombe) June 14, 2020

“I would like to thank my family, friends, and coaches for supporting me throughout this whole process,” Newcombe tweeted. “I would also like to thank my dad for everything. You’ve helped in so many ways, you’ve pushed me to be the best. I would also like to thank all my teachers for helping and guiding me. After weeks of talking and praying over this, I’m excited to announce my commitment to the University of California, Los Angeles.”

Newcombe, 6-1, 185, is the third receiver committed to the Bruins’ 2021 class, joining Ezavier Staples and DJ Justice. According to 247Sports.com, Newcombe is not nationally ranked but the site lists him as the No. 10 prospect out of the state of Arizona.

With his addition, UCLA’s class falls to No. 5 in the Pac-12 and No. 58 nationally after rising to No. 4 in the conference and No. 54 earlier in the week with Deshun Murrell’s commitment.

The Arizona native chose UCLA over offers from Washington, Utah, Boise State and Fresno State.

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4-star RB Brandon Campbell commits to USC

USC’s 2021 recruiting class picked up a big addition Saturday night.

Running back Brandon Campbell committed to the Trojans, making him the fifth member of USC’s upcoming recruiting class. A four-star prospect according to 247Sports.com, the Lamar Consolidated (Tex.) back made the announcement via his Twitter account.

Campbell picked USC over Penn State, LSU, Texas and Oklahoma, among others. He fills a big need for the Trojans, who did not receive a running back commit in their small 2020 class.

He is the fourth four-star recruit to commit to USC for the 2021 cycle. The Trojans only added two such prospects for 2020.

USC’s 2021 class is currently ranked 13th nationally and second in the Pac-12, according to 247Sports.com.

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