Tide trio rolls into NFL draft

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As expected, two-time defending national champion Alabama has lost a trio of players to the professional ranks.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner each announced they were taking their multiple BCS title rings and making themselves available for the April NFL draft.  Head coach Nick Saban also confirmed that offensive lineman D.J. Fluker will be entering the draft as well.

“I would like to take this time to honor these young men for the great job that they have done in how they have represented the University of Alabama and their family,” Saban said. “They have all been great people, in terms of how they have represented our organization. From a personal character standpoint, these guys have been great representatives and great ambassadors for the University of Alabama and we really appreciate that.”

The early departures certainly put a dent in the Tide’s returning experience as, all told, they will be losing 79 starts amongst the three players.

None of the three were particularly a surprise, though, as each was strongly rumored to be a heavy lean toward leaving eligibility on the table at season’s end.

Lacy, with 14 starts in 34 career games, led the Tide this season with 1,322 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on the ground while also adding 22 receptions and two more scores through the air.  Last season, he finished second on the team in rushing, and finishes his Tide career with 2,402 yards and 30 touchdowns.

He was named offensive MVP of the Tide’s evisceration of Notre Dame in the BCS title game earlier in the week, running for 140 yards on 20 carries and scoring both a rushing and receiving touchdown.

“I want to start by thanking the University of Alabama, Coach Saban and Coach Burns, my position coach,” Lacy said. “I want to thank all of my teammates and the teachers and academic staff here at the university; the training staff, Jeff Allen and especially Jeremy Gsell; we put in a lot of time over the years here.

“Of course I want to thank all of the fans. They are great fans. It has been an amazing experience here. I developed well as a player and as a person here at Alabama. As I look back at the four years, I feel that I have accomplished all of the goals that the team and I set out to accomplish.”

All three were first-team All-SEC performers in 2012, while Milliner was also a consensus first-team All-American.  Milliner was one of three Tide players accorded that honor, including linebacker C.J. Mosely — he announced last month that he would be returning for his senior season — as well as senior offensive linemen Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.

“It’s been a great experience for me in my three years being here,” Milliner said. “I’ve learned a lot of things -not only becoming a better football player, but also becoming a better man. Coach Saban and the coaching staff do a great job of developing players here and helping you out all that they can.

“I’d like to thank all the coaching staff for what they did for me: Coach Pruitt, my defensive backs coach, for all the help and the things that he did for me; the trainers and all the strength coaches, for developing me as a better person and the things that they do; the academic center, for all the help that they gave me in academics, for making me become more of a student-athlete. I’d like to thank all my family for all the love and support they gave me over the years. Without them I don’t know what I’d be doing or where I’d be right now.”

There have now been at least 67 underclassmen who have declared early for the draft, breaking the record of 65 set last year.  There are still four days until the NFL’s deadline for officially filing their early-entry paperwork with the NFL.

Iowa OL Sean Welsh opens up about depression battle in op-ed essay

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Iowa offensive lineman Sean Welsh has gone public about his ongoing battle with depression.

In a first person essay posted to Iowa’s official website, Welsh (No. 79, center) says symptoms emerged during his redshirt freshman season. He noticed himself eating less and spending more time isolated from other people, and felt his enthusiasm for school and football evaporate. He played through the depression, but felt his play suffer as the season progressed.

Football, the driving force for many years of my life, went from a source of purpose to a source of apathy. I started to feel a myriad of negative emotions: sadness, anxiety, dread and anger. They hit me like a bombardment from the moment I woke up to when I went back to bed.

It was every dimension of terrible. And I kept wondering what was wrong.

My family and I both needed some answers so I went to a therapist where we talked about identity and why I played football. It was like pulling teeth. Up to then, I felt that inner motives or emotions weren’t something to be shared – they showed your weaknesses. Plus, I didn’t have time for this stuff in the fall. I had a full class load and football on top of it. So I swept my depression under the rug and promised to revisit it after the season.  Which worked…for a while.

Welsh wrote that his symptoms peaked in the spring of 2015, when classes and tests slipped from his mind and, at one point, he spent three straight days holed up in his room. That experienced forced him to leave the team and return home for therapy. Welsh returned to the team that summer and remained in Iowa City to help the Hawkeyes to a 12-0 regular season, a Big Ten West championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl. He wrote that he opened up with his story to the rest of the team and feels enthusiastic for the upcoming 2017 campaign.

Welsh says he opened up to the public to help people understand that a high status in life or a long list of accomplishments doesn’t shield anyone from depression.

First off, depression doesn’t discriminate. You can have everything working in your favor – a strong upbringing, a loving family, a promising future – and depression can turn it upside down.

It can make your successes feel unimportant and your problems seem monumental. It made me feel empty, like I had nothing.

But it also galvanized me. It gave me a perspective that I never would have gained without it. Depression also taught me pure, visceral humility and that I need to be honest with myself and others about how I feel.  Without the support of my family, Coach Ferentz and his staff, my teammates and my friends – I’m not sure I would’ve gotten off the mat.

Read the full essay here.

Baylor DB Travon Blanchard arrested on family violence charges

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As Matt Rhule was winning Big 12 media days on Tuesday, one of his players was generating an all-too-familiar headline.

Bears defensive back Travon Blanchard was arrested Tuesday night on family violence charges. He was released later Tuesday night on $6,000 bond.

Blanchard was arrested in Waco, but the warrant for his arrest originated out of Fort Bend County, near Houston. Blanchard’s attorney Michelle Tuegel made a statement late Tuesday evening, saying, “we look forward to representing Travon and bringing out the truth in court.”

Blanchard was suspended from the program before Tuesday’s arrest, and Rhule said Tuesday (before news of the arrest broke) that his status remain unchanged.

“Travon Blanchard was suspended from all team activities immediately after learning of allegations made against him in February,” Baylor said in a statement. “That status has not changed and he has had no involvement with the program since that time. The university is aware of the arrest made today in connection with the previous allegations against Blanchard and will monitor the developments of this charge for any additional decision regarding his affiliation as a student-athlete.”

Blanchard appeared in 11 games last season, registering 73 tackles and nine TFLs.

Tommy Tuberville to join ESPN roster of college football analysts

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Tommy Tuberville is not going to be Alabama’s next governor, he’s not going to be mayor of Lubbock, and he’s not going to coach again — at least not in 2017. Absent of something to do, Tuberville has found himself a new job.

ESPN announced Wednesday Tuberville has joined its roster of college football analysts. He’ll work as a color commentator on Saturday games on ESPN or ABC. Which crew he’ll work on remains to be determined.

“Tommy has been a staple in college football for many years, having experienced nearly every situation as a head coach” ESPN senior coordinating producer Lee Fitting said in a statement. “We want him to bring that experience to our telecast, informing fans on the dynamics of a head coach’s thought process, not only in a given moment but leading up to and following that moment.”

Tuberville, 62, is out of coaching for the second time in his career after he stepped down at Cincinnati following a 4-8 campaign. He went 29-22 from 2013-16 at Cincinnati, 20-17 from 2010-12 at Texas Tech, 85-40 from 1999-08 at Auburn, and 25-20 from 1995-98 at Ole Miss.

ESPN released the following video to announce Tuberville’s hiring.

North Dakota State AD thinks Big Ten is rethinking stance against FCS opponents

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Remember not so long ago when the Big Ten decided that games against FCS opponents would no longer be permitted? That was nice while it lasted.

As reported by The Forum, North Dakota State athletics director Matt Larsen says he is optimistic a change in scheduling philosophy out of the Big Ten will reopen some doors for the Bison and other FCS programs moving forward.

“We sure hope so,” Larsen said. “Again, the best part for us is with the Big Ten, it’s the most geographical favorable footprint and they are the teams we would most prefer to play. There are a lot of Land Grant institutions and it gives our fan base more ability to travel.”

Larsen explains the Big Ten is considering amending its scheduling policy to accommodate Big Ten teams that must play five road games in the nine-game Big Ten schedule. Big Ten members who have four home games per season in conference play would, in theory, be allowed to schedule one FCS opponent to fill a scheduling vacancy.

Two summers ago, the Big Ten announced a change to its scheduling policy with the intent of making the conference’s overall schedule more attractive and competitive as the College Football Playoff was supposedly focusing on strength of schedule. In addition to expanding to a nine-game conference schedule, the Big Ten required members to schedule one game against another power conference opponent (which has already seen exemptions made for some) and no more games against FCS opponents would be allowed. Consider it a power play move by Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany to make for a more valuable television product and maybe a challenge to other conferences to do the same.

Of course, while other power conferences like the ACC and SEC have drafted some scheduling requirements to include one power conference opponent, every other power conference has left the door open to scheduling FCS opponents. Maybe Delany’s bluff was recognized around the country.

With a limited number of non-conference games to schedule and schedules being booked years in advance, filling out a 12-game schedule has come with some problems as conferences have expanded in numbers and some have expanded in the conference schedule. That leaves some schools and conferences in a bind because schools from Conference USA and the MAC can only play so many power conference opponents in their limited non-conference slots.

The Big Ten has not formally addressed this potential change in scheduling philosophy at this time, but keep an eye on it as the Big Ten kicks off its media days.