Lather, rinse, repeat: SEC tops again in first-round draft picks

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By now, you know the drill.

With 12 players selected in the first round of Thursday night’s NFL draft, the SEC topped all conferences and tied the ACC (2007) for the most ever in the opening round.  The conference record had been 11 set in 2007.

The past three seasons, 32 of the 96 players selected have come from the conference that’s won the last six BCS championships.

Lagging well behind the SEC were the ACC (seven, which counts new 2013 member Syracuse), the Pac-12 (five) and  Big 12 (three).  Two players from football independents were taken, while the Big Ten, MAC (the No. 1 overall pick, with more on that below) and Conference USA had one player each taken.

The Big Ten, incidentally, narrowly avoided getting shutout in the first round of the draft for the first time since 1953 as Wisconsin’s Travis Fredericks (Dallas Cowboys) was selected with the second-to-last pick of the night.

The only conferences that did not have a player selected were the American Athletic Conference (née Big East), Mountain West and Sun Belt.

Of the 32 players taken last night, 14 were players who left collegiate eligibility on the table for early entry into the NFL.  10 of the 12 SEC draftees were early entrants, while four of the ACC’s seven fell into that category.

As far as individual schools go, Alabama from the SEC and Florida State from the ACC had three players apiece selected.  Florida, Georgia, LSU, North Carolina and Oregon were the only other programs with more than one player taken.

Just two of the 32 players selected came from non-BCS conferences (Central Michigan, Houston).

After the jump are some random notes and quotes sent out by the various sports information departments across the country regarding players selected in the first round of the NFL draft:

— Central Michigan offensive tackle Eric Fisher is the first-ever player from the MAC to be selected No. 1 overall; Marshall’s Byron Leftwich (the Herd didn’t move from the MAC to Conference USA until 2005) was selected with the seventh pick of the first round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2003, the previous high-water mark for a player from that conference.  The only other Chip selected in the first round was offensive lineman Joe Staley, taken 28th overall in 2007 by the San Francisco 49ers.

— Selected by the Oakland Raiders at No. 12 overall more than five months after nearly dying on a Houston Cougars practice field, cornerback D.J. Hayden became only the second Conference USA player selected in that spot or higher.  Memphis defensive lineman Dontari Poe was chosen at No. 11 by the Kansas City Chiefs last year.

— For the second time the past three years, a Texas A&M Aggie was selected No. 2 overall.  A&M offensive lineman Luke Joeckel, taken by the Kansas City Chiefs, joined linebacker Von Miller (Denver Broncos, 2011) as Aggies selected in that slot.  All told, four Aggies have been selected second overall.  This draft also marked the first time in program history that an Aggie has been picked in the top-ten overall three consecutive years.

Ezekiel Ansah (No. 5, Detroit Lions) is the first BYU player selected in the Top Five since Jim McMahon was also taken No. 5 overall and also by an NFC Central/North club (Chicago Bears).

— With the selections of cornerback Dee Milliner (No. 9, New York Jets) and offensive lineman Chance Warmack (No. 10, Tennessee Titans), Alabama has seen a total of six of its players taken in the Top 10 of the draft the past three years.

— Offensive lineman D.J. Fluker was selected by the San Diego Chargers right after former teammate Warmack, marking the first time in NFL draft history that players from the same school had been selected with back-to-back-to-back picks in the first round (USC had three straight players taken in the seventh round of the 2011 draft).  Oddly enough, Alabama will be looking to become the first program in the BCS era to earn a crystal three-peat.

— Staying on the Tide tip, 14 players have been selected in the first round since Nick Saban took over in 2007, with 11 of those coming the past three years.

— North Carolina’s Jonathan Cooper (No. 7, Arizona Cardinals) is the first guard picked in the top 10 since Colorado’s Chris Naeole was selected by the New Orleans Saints at No. 10 in 1997.

— Defensive lineman Dion Jordan (No. 3, Miami Dolphins) and offensive lineman Kyle Long (No. 20, Chicago Bears) are the first two Oregon Ducks selected in the same first round since 1972.

— Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is the first Clemson player to leave the school after his junior year and become a first round pick since Anthony Simmons was the 15th pick of the first round in the 1998 draft.  Trevor Pryce (1997) and Chester McGlockton (1992) are the other two Clemson juniors to come out early and be a first-round selection. At 20 years, 10 months and 13 days, Hopkins is also the youngest first-round draft choice in Clemson history.

— Saban, on adding to the Tide’s first-round legacy: “I think we are really proud of our players, first of all. We have had three first-round guys so far, and we have had three or four every year for the last few years. I am really proud of the coaches that helped develop them. It is great to be able to watch our player’s dreams come true in the draft.

— “While it took a while to find the right position for him to maximize his athletic potential,” Sooners head coach Bob Stoops said of Lane Johnson, who came to OU as a quarterback. “I have no doubt that he has a huge upside and will only get better with more experience playing tackle. Coach Kittle and Coach Patton did a tremendous job of quickly acclimating him to compete at a high level, while Coach Schmidt and our strength staff did an outstanding job of accelerating his physical development. Lane is a special individual and we’ll anxiously follow his progress this fall along with our many other Sooners in the NFL.

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.