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.

Alabama ties 1990-2000 Florida for longest winning streak vs. unranked opponents

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There’s that, I guess.

The outcome of top-ranked Alabama’s scrimmage game against FCS Mercer Saturday was never in doubt, with the lone question being the margin of victory.  The answer came in the form of a 56-0 Crimson Tide over the Bears that could’ve been exponentially worse as, after jumping out to a 35-0 halftime lead, Nick Saban took his foot off the overmatched program’s throats in the second half.

With the win, Alabama has now won 73 straight games against unranked opponents.  That ties the 1990-2000 Gators for the longest such streak since the Associated Press poll originated in 1936.

The last loss?  To Louisiana-Monroe in Tuscaloosa during Saban’s first season with the school.

‘Bama won’t get the opportunity to break the tie with Florida as the will face a ranked Auburn team in the Iron Bowl before very likely facing another ranked team/teams in a bowl/playoffs.

Minnesota QB Demry Croft posts negative QB rating in loss to Northwestern

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Even Blutarsky said “dayum” when apprised of this development.

In Week 11, Demry Croft was steady in both the passing (9-15, 105) and running (10-183) games as Minnesota dominated Nebraska in a 54-21 win.  Seven days later, the quarterback put together one of the worst statistical performances you’ll ever come across.

In a 39-0 whitewashing at the hands of Northwestern, Croft completed two of his 11 passes for 43 yards and three interceptions.  So, yes, he had more completions to Wildcats defenders than he did to Golden Gophers receivers.

Add it all up, and Croft posted a pass efficiency rating of minus-3.5.  Again, a negative.  Quarterback.  Rating.

Throw in minus-17 yards rushing, and with the full understanding there were at least a couple of drops by his receivers, Croft cobbled together one of the worst statistical days for a quarterback in college football history.

The loss means that 5-6 Minnesota needs to beat fifth-ranked Wisconsin in the regular-season finale next Saturday to become bowl-eligible. Northwestern, meanwhile, has won six straight and stands at 8-3 on the season, two wins in the Week 13 matchup with Illinois and a bowl game away from the fifth 10-win season in the football program’s history.

No. 5 Wisconsin muscles their way to 11-0 against No. 24 Michigan

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No. 5 Wisconsin (11-0, 8-0) moved one step closer to an undefeated regular season thanks to a strong second-half showing against No. 24 Michigan (8-3, 5-3 Big Ten). The Badgers struggled to get much of anything going on offense in the first half, but the plays seemed to come together in the second half en route to a 24-10 victory in Madison on Saturday afternoon. The Badgers scored 21-unanswered points to overcome a 10-7 deficit in the third quarter.

Michigan was on the wrong end of a controversial instant replay in the first half, but even if the correct call had been made in the review it would not have been enough to score the upset. The Badgers wore down Michigan in the second half and found some passing plays to use to their advantage off the arm of Alex Hornibrook. Hornibrook completed just nine passes out of 19 attempts with one going for a touchdown and another deep ball providing a spark along the way. The recipe for a win, of course, remained running the ball. Freshman sensation Jonathan Taylor ripped off 132 yards on 19 carries to power Wisconsin’s offense.

Michigan starting quarterback Brandon Peters was carted off in the third quarter with an apparent head injury. He did not return, and John O’Korn was tasked with taking over the offense for the remainder of the game. Had Peters not been injured, it may not have mattered. Wisconsin’s defense was still making plays when they needed and not allowing Michigan to seize control for extended periods of time.

The win keeps Wisconsin knocking on the door to the College Football Playoff. If the Badgers win their next two games, they will stand an excellent chance of getting to the playoff for the first time in school history. Wisconsin will wrap up the regular season on the road next week with the annual rivalry game with Minnesota. The Gophers were getting thumped by Northwestern and will need a long-overdue win against Wisconsin in order to become bowl-eligible. Wisconsin has not lost to Minnesota since 2003. After that, it will be a date in the Big Ten Championship Game against the champion of the East Division, which will more than likely be the team Michigan plays next week.

Michigan will be home in Ann Arbor for their rivalry game against Ohio State. The Buckeyes will need the win in order to remain on the playoff radar heading into the Big Ten championship game. Jim Harbaugh has not beaten Urban Meyer yet.

No. 3 Miami scores 30 unanswered points to go 10-0 for first time since 2002

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The No. 3 Miami Hurricanes (10-0, 7-0 ACC) overcame a disaster of a first half to keep their undefeated season going. On Saturday against Virginia (6-5, 3-4 ACC), the Hurricanes looked sluggish for one half and allowed Virginia to capitalize on big plays to a 28-14 lead, but Miami roared back with 30 unanswered points to improve on the best start since the last time Miami played for a national championship. Miami topped Virginia 44-28.

Miami players got to wear the famous turnover chain twice in the game, but the biggest turnover may have come with Jaguan Johnson‘s 30-yard interception for a game-tying score in the third quarter. The pick-six knotted the game at 28-28 in a wild third quarter, and Miami never looked back from that point on. Miami took the lead late in the third quarter on a 44-yard field goal by and Malik Rosier and Travis Homer added rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter as the Hurricanes cemented the win.

Rosier was picked off twice in the game, but he ended his day with 210 passing yards and three touchdowns to go with 38 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown. His Virginia counterpart, Kurt Benkert, actually had a fantastic afternoon with 28-of-37 for 384 yards and four touchdowns. Until the lone interception thrown by Benkert, he looked more than capable to lead Virginia to an upset on the road. But Virginia needed more out of the running game and could not keep the big plays coming in the fourth quarter as Miami was taking control of the game.

Miami’s 10-0 start is the best start for the Hurricanes since playing for the BCS national championship in the 2002 season. This is also Miami’s first double-digit win season since 2003. That makes this Miami’s first 10-win season since joining the ACC. And they may not be done just yet.

Before making their first trip to the ACC Championship Game in two weeks, Miami will first make a business trip to Pittsburgh for the regular season finale against the Panthers. The Panthers were eliminated from postseason eligibility Saturday afternoon with a road loss to Virginia Tech, dropping Pitt to 4-7 on the year. Virginia will take on the Hokies next week in their regular-season finale on Friday night.