Update: Tide’s Richardson, Kirkpatrick, Hightower headed to the NFL

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Somewhat lost in the afterglow of a second BcS title in three years was the fact that Alabama could very well lose at least a couple of key pieces to early entry into the NFL draft.

Thursday afternoon, that “could very well” turned into a definitive need for Nick Saban to reload at two key positions yet again.

At a previously scheduled press conference, running back Trent Richardson and defensive back Dre Kirkpatrick (both pictured) announced that they will be leaving eligibility on the table and making themselves available for the April draft.  Both are projected to be taken in the first round, which, along with possessing two championship rings apiece, prompted both players to do the expected and leave Tuscaloosa early.

“These young men have done a fabulous job of representing the University of Alabama, their families and themselves with their hard work, their dedication and their commitment to excellence, not only on the football field, but also by the kind of people that they have been,” said head coach Nick Saban in a statement. “I know it is a difficult decision for these guys. They both love the University of Alabama, but they have worked hard all their lives to create the opportunity to play at a place like this, to have the success they have had at a place like this and also to create opportunities for themselves and their future. I want you to know that we are 100 percent supportive of both of these young men in terms of what their choice is.”

Richardson was a first-team All-SEC selections following the 2011 season, while Kirkpatrick was a second-team pick for the second straight season.  Richardson was also second-team selections in 2010.

As for replacing the duo, Richardson’s successor may have the “easiest” go of it based simply on sheer numbers; while Eddie Lacy doesn’t possess Richardson’s explosiveness, the junior-to-be does appear to be a more-than-solid candidate to at least carry a sizable chunk of the Tide running game.  Or there’s Jalston Fowler or Dee Hart — provided he’s fully recovered from a knee injury and has no setbacks — or T.J. Yeldon or… well, you get the point.

The loss of Kirkpatrick, on the other hand, is magnified by the fact that the other starting corner, DeQuan Menzie, is gone as well due to expired eligibility.  Additionally, star safety Mark Barron will be lost to graduation as well.

As they seemingly do every year, though, Saban and his coaching staff will merely reach into the cupboard and pull out highly-touted players to replace the ones lost to early NFL entry or graduation.  That’s just how the Tide rolls, I guess you could say.

UPDATED 3:49 p.m. ET: Just to take care of this little bit of housecleaning, Alabama confirmed in a press release that LB Dont’a Hightower has decided he will also declare for the draft.

“After four great years at the University of Alabama, I have decided it is time to make myself eligible for the NFL Draft,” Hightower said. “The chance to be a key part of our national championship team this year made for the perfect end of my Alabama career. I can’t thank Coach Saban, Coach Smart and the entire coaching staff enough for helping mold me in the player and person I am today. I also want to say thanks to my teammates and everyone at the University of Alabama that helped make this such a special experience.”

The redshirt junior was a consensus All-American in 2011, and started 40 games during his Tide career.

There was some good news on the attrition front for the Tide as the same release confirmed that offensive lineman Chance Warmack and defensive back Robert Lester will be returning.

Ex-USC DL Noah Jefferson won’t be transferring to Arizona after all

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In early March, Noah Jefferson announced on Twitter that he would be transferring from USC to Arizona.  Nearly five months later?

Never mind.

Wednesday, UA head coach Rich Rodriguez announced that Jefferson will not, as previously expected, be playing for the Wildcats this season.  No reason for the abrupt and unexpected about-face was given.

The coach did, though, intimate that a future pairing between the player and the program isn’t out of the question.

Jefferson wouldn’t have been eligible to play in 2017 for the Wildcats even if his move to the desert had come to fruition. He would’ve, though, had two years of eligibility remaining beginning in 2018 at his disposal.

A four-star member of USC’s 2015 recruiting class, Jefferson played in 14 games, starting one of those, as a true freshman. After starting the season-opening loss to Alabama last season, Jefferson never played another down for USC.

Hugh Freeze makes first public comments since exiting Ole Miss in disgrace

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For the first time since his unceremonious exit from Ole Miss, Hugh Freeze has spoken publicly.  Somewhat.

In what was described as a brief interview with USA Today Sports Wednesday, the former Ole Miss head coach said his family and church have helped him get through the storm of the last few days. When asked if his family was standing by him, Freeze responded, “Oh, gosh, yeah.”

“God is good, even in difficult times,’’ Freeze told the website. “Wonderful wife and family, and that’s my priority.”

“I got some good friends,” the former head coach added.

The stunning news dropped last Thursday night that Freeze’s tenure as the head coach at Ole Miss had come to an end because of at least one call from his university-issued cell phone to a known escort service.  While Freeze blamed the call on a misdial, the administration found a “pattern of misconduct” during a deep dive into his phone records, leading the school to confront the coach about the situation.

After meetings with Freeze Wednesday night and then again Thursday morning, it became apparent that, if he didn’t resign, the school was going to fire him.

Because of a moral turpitude clause in his contract, there was neither a buyout nor a settlement.

Five-star 2017 Auburn signee undergoes ‘minor procedure,’ should be a go for start of summer camp

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It appears Auburn has dodged what could’ve been a significant injury bullet.

Citing a person familiar with the situation, Brandon Marcello of the Auburn arm of 247Sports.com is reporting that Calvin Ashley underwent a procedure on one of his eyes recently.  SECCountry.com described it as “a minor procedure”; both websites stated that the touted offensive tackle will be ready for the start of summer camp on July 31, this coming Monday.

The reports come a few days after Ashley posted a picture on social media of what appeared to be him in a hospital room.

The football program has not yet, at least publicly, addressed what if any type of health issue with which Ashley is dealing.

A five-star member of the Tigers’ 2017 recruiting class, Ashley was rated as the No. 6 tackle in the country; the No. 1 player at any position in Washington D.C.; and the No. 27 player overall on 247Sports.com‘s composite board.  Ashley was the highest-rated player in AU’s class this year, the only five-star recruit pulled in by Gus Malzahn and company this cycle.

The 6-6, 310-pound Ashley is expected to compete immediately for the starting job at left tackle.

USC the media’s choice to win 2017 Pac-12 title

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Thanks to how they finished the 2016 season, USC is getting substantial preseason love heading into the 2017 season.  Not surprisingly, that affection continued Wednesday.

At the Pac-12 Media Days Wednesday, 28 of the 52 media members covering the conference picked USC to win the league’s title this season.  Another 22 picked reigning champion Washington to defend its title, while there was one vote each for Oregon and Utah.

Both USC and UW received 49 first-place votes when it comes to winning the South and North divisions, respectively.  Oregon, Stanford and Washington State received one first-place vote each to win the North Division, while Colorado, UCLA and Utah received the same for the South crown.

Also of note from the opening of media days:

  • The Pac-12 Championship Game will remain at Levi’s Stadium through the 2019 season, with an option for 2020 as well.  The home of the San Francisco 49ers has been the venue for the conference’s last two title games.  New NFL stadiums in Inglewood and Las Vegas will be options beyond that.
  • Halftime of games broadcasted on Pac-12 Networks will be reduced from 20 minutes to 15.  In an attempt to further shorten the length of games, commercial breaks during those games will be reduced as well. “We are trying to be progressive and experiment with ways to manage the game presentation through a reduction of TV timeouts and some of the 30-second commercial spots,” commissioner Larry Scott said as the league targets three hours as the ideal game time.
  • The conference has centralized its replay reviews for all 12 teams this season after experimenting with centralization for two teams in 2016.