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.

Auburn lands UMass transfer lineman over UCLA, USC

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At least in this graduate transfer battle, the SEC has gotten over on the Pac-12.

Tuesday, Jack Driscoll, who decided to transfer from UMass earlier this offseason, confirmed that he had narrowed his potential landing spots down to three — Auburn, UCLA and USC.  A day later, the offensive lineman took to Twitter to announce that he will be enrolling at AU and continuing his collegiate playing career with the Tigers.

Driscoll will graduate from UMass early next month, and will be eligible to play immediately in 2018 on The Plains.  The upcoming season will be the first of two years of eligibility the 6-5, 294-pound lineman has remaining.

After starting eight games as a redshirt freshman in 2016, with most of those starts coming at left guard, he started all 12 games in 2017.  All of those starts this past season came at right tackle for the football-independent Minutemen. He was named to Phil Steele’s All-Independent first team while he earned second-team All-Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) honors for good measure.

North Carolina makes addition of Ohio State transfer RB Antonio Williams official

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North Carolina’s addition of a player from another Power Five program.

On his personal Twitter account earlier this week, Antonio Williams announced that he would be transferring to UNC.  A couple of days later, the Tar Heels confirmed that the running back has joined Larry Fedora‘s football program.

Williams will have to sit out the 2018 season because of NCAA rules.  Beginning with the 2019 season, however, he will have two seasons of eligibility that he can use at the ACC school.

Earlier this offseason, Williams had opted to transfer from Ohio State.

A four-star member of the Buckeyes’ 2016 recruiting class, Williams was rated as the No. 7 running back in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the state of North Carolina.  Williams ran for 318 yards and three touchdowns on his 63 carries the past two seasons; 290 of the yards and all three scores came this past season as he was the third back in a rotation that included Freshman All-American J.K. Dobbins and Mike Weber, who led the Buckeyes in rushing as a redshirt freshman in 2016.

Both Dobbins and Weber return this season, which was likely a trigger for Williams’ move from Columbus.

Nebraska AD: Urban Meyer, Jim Harbaugh ‘running a little bit scared right now’

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This is just the cutest, bless his heart.

As evidenced by the record-breaking spring game earlier this month, there’s an air of excitement once again surrounding the Nebraska football program, thanks in very large part to the return of Scott Frost as the head coach.  Riding that wave of optimism, new NU athletic director Bill Moos was a speaker at an Omaha Press Club luncheon Tuesday and, well, let’s just say that he may have initially been planning on dipping his toes into the feel-good spring pool but instead ended up doing a cannonball into the thing.

From the Omaha World-Herald:

We’re gonna run that uptempo offense we saw (at the spring game), and we’re gonna get the Blackshirts back to being Blackshirts. And that’s extremely important,” Moos said. “You’ve got Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh thinking, ‘We better put a little more into that Nebraska game coming up.’ And that’s the way we want it. They’re running a little bit scared right now. And they won’t admit it. We’ll leave that at that.

Nebraska will face both Michigan and Ohio State this season, with each of those serving as road games for the Cornhuskers.  Given the heat that seems to be growing under the highly-paid Harbaugh’s seat — finishes of third, third and fourth in the Big Ten East in three seasons in Ann Arbor — mentioning the U-M coach might be apropos.  But Meyer?  In his six seasons in Columbus, Meyer’s Buckeyes have lost three games combined in conference play; in three meetings under Meyer, OSU has woodshedded NU by a combined score of 181-55.

Perhaps, instead of the Big Dog of the conference, Moos should focus these early public comments on Paul Chryst, whose Wisconsin Badgers are the class of Nebraska’s division — Big Ten West champs three of the last four years — and have beaten the Cornhuskers in five straight meetings (three under Chryst) dating back to the 2012 Big Ten championship game.  Or even Kirk Ferentz, whose Iowa Hawkeyes have won three in a row in the rivalry, and by a collective 96-24 score the past two seasons.

Maybe start by finishing higher than fifth in your own division, where you were a season ago, and then work your way up?  Just a thought.

As the kerfuffle over Moos’ comments began to gain traction, the athletic director told the Associated Press in a text message that his words were “[a] bit tongue in cheek.”

“Meant to point out that the competition is aware that there’s a renewed energy at Nebraska and we aim to get back in the hunt,” Moos added in an apparent attempt to cram the toothpaste back into the tube.

Arizona State, Mississippi State ink home-and-home

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Arizona State and Mississippi State on Tuesday announced a home-and-home series to be played in 2024-25. Arizona State will host the first game in Tempe on Sept. 7, 2024, and the clubs will meet in Starkville on Sept. 6, 2025.

The Sun Devils and Bulldogs have never met previously.

The Arizona State trip is not Mississippi State’s only upcoming trek from the Deep South to the Southwest. The Bulldogs also lined up a visit to Arizona in 2020 and Texas Tech in 2029. Mississippi State will open the 2024 season against Eastern Kentucky and visit Southern Miss the week after its Arizona State visit, on Sept. 14. The Bulldogs have no other games lined up in 2025 as of yet, according to FBSchedules.

Likewise, Mississippi State is not the Sun Devils’ lone upcoming SEC opponent. Arizona State has a home-and-home with LSU on the docket for 2026-28, per FBSchedules. The Mississippi State games complete both of the Sun Devils’ non-conference schedules for these respective seasons. Arizona State opens with Wyoming and visits Texas State in 2024, and hosts Northern Arizona and Texas State in 2025.