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Best of College Football: Liberty shocks Baylor in Matt Rhule's Bears coaching debut

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Best of College Football: Liberty shocks Baylor in Matt Rhule's Bears coaching debut

WACO, Texas -- Stephen Calvert threw for 447 yards and three touchdowns and Liberty spoiled Matt Rhule's coaching debut at Baylor, stunning the Bears with just their second-ever loss to a lower-division team in a 48-45 victory Saturday night.

The Bears lost their seventh straight regular-season game since starting 6-0 last season, while a 19-game regular-season winning streak against nonconference opponents ended.

Rhule was hired after a year with interim coach Jim Grobe following a sexual assault scandal that led to the firing of two-time Big 12-winning coach Art Briles. The Bears lost an opener for the first time since Briles' first game in 2008.

Baylor's only other loss to a lower-division team was 18-17 to Division I-AA Lamar in the 1981 opener, when the Bears were coming off one of two Southwest Conference championships under Grant Teaff, the school's winningest coach.

The matchup up of private Christian schools was a big win for Liberty and athletic director Ian McCaw, who resigned the same job at Baylor last year after a scathing report over the school's handling of sexual assault cases involving football players (see full recap).

No. 1 Alabama defense smothers No. 3 Florida State
ATLANTA -- The Alabama defense turned in a dominating performance, the Florida State special teams endured a terrible night, and one of the most anticipated opening games in college football history went to the top-ranked Crimson Tide.

Damien Harris ran for a touchdown and blocked a punt, and Jalen Hurts chipped in with a scoring pass on a night that basically required the sophomore quarterback to make no major mistakes, leading Alabama to a 24-7 beatdown of No. 3 Florida State on Saturday at Atlanta's new $1.5 billion Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

This one was all about that dynamic Bama D.

And those not-to-special teams for the Seminoles (see full recap).

No. 11 Michigan gets kicks in 33-17 win over No. 17 Florida
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Quinn Nordin became the first Michigan kicker to make two 50-yard field goals in the same game, one of them in a quick go-ahead spurt after halftime, and the 11th-ranked Wolverines won 33-17 Saturday to hand 17th-ranked Florida its first season-opening loss in nearly three decades.

The Gators had won 27 consecutive season openers, the nation's longest such streak, since a home loss to Mississippi in 1989.

Michigan trailed 17-13 at halftime before scoring three times in the first 6 minutes of the second half.

After Karan Higdon's 3-yard TD run capped a half-opening 75-yard, 10-yard drive, Ambry Thomas forced and recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. That set up a 30-yard field goal by Quinn, who then made a 50-yarder after Michigan recovered another fumble.

Nordin made four field goals, including a 55-yarder in the first half. He missed two attempts wide right in the fourth quarter, one of those from 52 yards (see full recap).

Maryland upsets No. 23 Texas, spoils Herman's debut
AUSTIN, Texas -- Tyrrell Pigrome passed for two touchdowns and ran for another before leaving with an injury and Maryland stunned No. 23 Texas 51-41 Saturday, spoiling new Longhorns coach Tom Herman's debut.

Pigrome had to be helped off late in the third quarter after twisting his knee, but freshman Kasim Hill came in and led two crucial fourth-quarter touchdown drives.

Maryland (1-0) led 27-7 in the second quarter, and then held off a Texas rally to snap a 17-game losing streak to ranked opponents, the third-longest streak among Power Five conference teams.

The Longhorns scored three non-offensive touchdowns: an interception return and blocked kick return by Holton Hill and a 91-yard punt return by Reggie Hemphill-Mapps. But those highlights couldn't deliver a win for Herman, who was brought from Houston to replace Charlie Strong after three straight losing seasons. Texas had its same old problems, giving up a special teams touchdown, missed field goals and a defense that was physically battered all game and give up big plays (see full recap).

Potential 2nd-round targets for Sixers in NBA draft: Centers/power forwards

Potential 2nd-round targets for Sixers in NBA draft: Centers/power forwards

The Sixers appear to have zeroed in on Markelle Fultz now that they’ve traded up to No. 1 in the NBA draft. But what about all of those second-round picks?

With four second-rounders, the Sixers could go in just about any direction.

Will they select the best player available, a player that fits a need or a draft-and-stash candidate from overseas?

Here’s a look at 10 players the Sixers could have their eyes on in the second round of the 2017 NBA draft.

Jordan Bell: Power forward, 6-9/227, Oregon
This is looking more and more like a pipe dream by the day. Bell’s buzz continues to grow as the draft nears and some mocks now have him sneaking into the end of the first round. 

However, if he is there early in the second, the Sixers would be wise to pounce.

Bell was the defensive anchor (Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year) and a rebounding machine for Oregon. He averaged 8.8 rebounds a night last season and really made his name in the NCAA Tournament when he grabbed double-digit boards in every game during the Ducks’ run to the Final Four.

With a high motor and ability to play above the rim on both ends, Bell is definitely a guy the Sixers should keep their eye on. After all, you don’t come across "a Dennis Rodman-like player” that often in the draft (see story).

Johnathan Motley: Power forward/center, 6-9/230, Baylor
If Bell is off the board, the Sixers could opt for the similarly-skilled Motley.

The lanky big man covers a lot of ground with a 7-4 wingspan. Motley combined that length with supreme agility to be a terror for opponents at Baylor.

He averaged 17.3 points on 52.2 percent shooting and 9.9 rebounds last season as a junior with the Bears as he received the Karl Malone award as the nation’s top power forward.

While Motley doesn’t provide much versatility and is coming off surgery in April for a torn meniscus suffered during the NCAA Tournament, he is well worth a second-round selection for the Sixers.

Thomas Bryant: Center, 6-10/241, Indiana
Bryant brings the similar length (7-6 wingspan) and physicality to the court as the first two players mentioned. He’s a bruiser down low and loves to finish with authority at the rim.

That powerful demeanor resulted in 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game last season for the Hoosiers.

However, what makes Bryant intriguing is his improved three-point shooting. The 19-year-old big made 5 of 15 attempts (33.3 percent) from long range as a freshman before connecting on 23 of 60 tries (38.3 percent) as a sophomore (see story).

With the emphasis being placed on shot making from all positions in today’s NBA, that could be just the skill that gets Bryant’s name called.

Alec Peters: Power forward, 6-9/225, Valparaiso
If it’s shot making the Sixers want, Peters is their guy.

Peters is a dead-eye shooter from just about anywhere on the floor and in any situation. He can pull up off the dribble, find space off the pick-and-roll or simply spot up for a jumper. 

Even after shooting a career-low 36.3 percent from three-point range as a senior, he still finished with a 41.6 mark from long range during his four years at Valpo.

Peters averaged 23.0 points (eighth in the nation) and 10.1 rebounds last season to be named Horizon League Player of the Year.

The NBA certainly offers a higher caliber of players than the Horizon League and Peters will have to do all he can to survive defensively, but his level of shooting ability will make that easy to overlook.

Jonah Bolden: Power forward, 6-10/227, Serbia
There are few international prospects projected to go in the second round that are worth getting excited about (French center Mathias Lessort and Slovenian small forward Vlatko Cancar could be the only ones), so let’s go with a player that has a bit of history in United States.

Bolden was born in Australia, but he moved to the U.S. with his family at 17 years old and played his final season of high school ball in the states. He followed that up by attending UCLA, where he redshirted a year and then averaged 4.6 points and 4.8 boards in 21.7 minutes a game.

Bolden felt his skill set as a ball-handler and perimeter shooter weren’t being used correctly with the Bruins, so he bolted for the professional ranks in Serbia. It’s worked out so far as he put up 12.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game while shooting 47.2 percent from the field and 41.9 percent from three in his first season with KK FMP Beograd. That was enough to earn him the Adriatic League Top Prospect award, which has become pretty prestigious after NBA draft picks such as Dario Saric and Nikola Jokic won it in recent years.

There have previously been some issues to dig through with Bolden both on and off the court. But with NBA-ready skills of his own and his father to pass down nearly two decades of professional basketball knowledge (mainly in Australia’s NBL), that is more than enough to take a risk in the second round.

Others to keep an eye on: Lessort, Purdue PF/C Caleb Swanigan, Utah PF Kyle Kuzma.

Matt Rhule back in Philadelphia for NFL draft with former Temple players

Matt Rhule back in Philadelphia for NFL draft with former Temple players

Baylor coach Matt Rhule is spending the rest of this week back in Philadelphia, where he will be at the NFL draft with his former Temple players while also touting the Bears.

"I'm there to support my Temple kids, and I'm there to sell Baylor to future recruits, and make sure that all kids that I'm recruiting know that our process is doing things that no one thought was possible," Rhule said Tuesday. "Five kids made NFL teams last year from the Temple Owls."

There will also be appearances on the NFL Network and visits to some of his favorite restaurants -- he made reservations in advance -- in the town where he spent 10 of the past 11 seasons. He is staying in a hotel only about five minutes where he used to live.

Rhule became Baylor's coach in December , fresh off an American Athletic Conference title and a second consecutive 10-win season with the Owls.

The Bears wrapped up their first spring under Rhule with their Green and Gold game Saturday. They spent the 15 spring working on new offenses and defensive schemes, while also taking care of their academics and doing more than 700 hours of community service.

Temple linebacker Haason Reddick , a potential first-round pick, invited Rhule to be with him in the green room at the draft Thursday night. Owls offensive tackle Dion Dawkins is also expected to be a high pick, and Temple has at least two other players that could be drafted in the later rounds.

"I'm there because those kids asked me to come. It's as gratifying an experience as I've ever had," Rhule told the AP by phone before leaving the Waco campus for Philadelphia.

Among the Bears expected to get drafted are receiver KD Cannon, who left Baylor after his junior season, and center Kyle Fuller. Quarterback Seth Russell, who had each of his last two seasons cut short by injuries, could also get an NFL chance.

Rhule first went to Temple as an assistant under Al Golden in 2006, then spent the next decade there -- except for the 2012 season in the NFL as an assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants. He returned to Philadelphia as the Owls head coach in 2013, and they went from 2-10 and 6-6 seasons to the best two-season stretch in school history.

"Those older kids, I think they recognize how hard all of our assistant coaches and myself worked for them, and we recognize how hard they worked for us," he said. "When I left, they understood that this was the next step in my journey, and I understood that going to the NFL was the next step in their journey."

Like he did at Temple, Rhule he wants every kid that comes to Baylor to want to get an education, win conference and national championships, and want to play in the NFL. The goal is for players to try to excel in everything that they do.

"It's not about trying to pick one thing to be great at, it's about trying to be great at everything that's important to you," Rhule said. "That's a major step for kids and for programs."