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.

Illinois boots three players charged with home invasion and robbery

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.

Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.

Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.

Report: Conference USA to air at least 15 football games on Twitter in 2017

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Conference USA is in a position where it needs to think outside the box and look to stay ahead of the curve in a changing TV landscape. It appears to be ready to air games on Twitter in 2017.

A report from The Virginian-Pilot says broadcast company STADIUM will air at least 15 football games involving Conference USA teams this fall. STADIUM is the result of a recent merger between the American Sports Network, 120 Sports and Silver Chalice (which also owns Campus Insiders and the online ACC Digital Network). The ASN had owned the broadcast rights to Conference USA games through the end of the 2017-2018 sports season that will carry over to the STADIUM deal (allowing for Conference USA basketball games to be aired on Twitter as well). It was announced earlier this month STADIUM intended to broadcast Conference USA games on Twitter, but it was unknown how many games might make it to the networking service. STADIUM reportedly has an interest in continuing to air Conference USA contests beyond the next athletic season.

Conference USA still has broadcast deals with ESPN and CBS Sports in effect as well, so don’t expect the premiere matchups in the conference to be aired on Twitter. However, by sharing the games online, Conference USA is hoping to reach a wide-spread audience and have the opportunity to be a trending topic. It could work, as Twitter would make sure the game is given a steady feed to allow for a pleasant viewing experience and fan interaction in real time.

Conference USA saw TV revenue take a big hit over the last year. Last summer, Conference USA’s television revenue reportedly dropped to just $2.8 million for the entire conference following realignment changes. Finding a home on a streaming platform now would be key for the conference’s future stability.

Alabama DC Jeremy Pruitt named son after former Tide linebackers Reuben Foster and Ryan Anderson

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It is not at all uncommon for children born in the state of Alabama to be named after Alabama football legends, but it is not every day you see a child of an Alabama coach receives a name inspired by former Alabama football players.

Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt announced the birth of his new son, Flynt Anderson-Foster Pruitt, on Twitter. Alabama fans will likely already know the connection to the new child’s name, as used the last names of two former Alabama football players to create the middle name of Anderson-Foster; Ryan Anderson and Reuben Foster.

Maybe this is more common than I’m aware of, but regardless of how often a coach names a child after former players, this is a testament to the relationship the Pruitt family established with both former Alabama linebackers. And now there will be a bond for years to come between the coach and his family and Anderson and Foster.

Helmet sticker to Al.com.

Wisconsin’s season tickets for 100th anniversary of Camp Randall are a thing of beauty

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The Wisconsin Badgers are gearing up for their 100th season playing home football game sin Camp Randall Stadium. As part of the season-long celebration, Wisconsin put some brilliant artistic detail into their season tickets for the 2017 season.

Each ticket to a home Wisconsin game is designed like a retro-style program. These are beautifully done and mimic the style of a program cover from decades past. I’m particularly fond of the program cover for the Purdue game, which features Wisconsin’s Bucky floating in space with a ship with the Purdue logo nearby. Is that a space train? The Band Day program for the game against Florida Atlantic also looks fantastic.

These tickets will surely be must-have collectibles for Wisconsin fans. If Wisconsin wants to make a few extra bucks, then blowing up these images and selling them as posters may be a good decision as well. And I wouldn’t put it past Wisconsin to suit up in a retro-style uniform for at least home game this season in Madison.