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.

LOOK: Arizona State to wear Pat Tillman-themed uniforms

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Pat Tillman is essentially the Knute Rockne of Arizona State football, the central figure that will be as important to the program 100 years from now as he is today. And while Notre Dame will wear Rockne-themed uniforms later this season, so, too, will Arizona State.

The program revealed Tillman-centric uniforms on Monday for their Nov. 4 game with Colorado, based on the uniform Tillman wore as a member of the U.S. Army while fighting in Afghanistan.

Tillman played linebacker at Arizona State from 1994-97 (he was named the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year as a senior) and then spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals before the events of 9/11 inspired him to join the U.S. Army. He was a member of the Army Rangers before he was killed in action in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004, at age 27.

Arizona State unveiled a Tillman statue at Sun Devil Stadium at its season-opening win over New Mexico State.

“Pat spent his whole life trying to be the best person he could possibly be,” Kevin Tillman, Pat’s brother, said at the unveiling. “He didn’t focus on money, he didn’t focus on fame, he didn’t focus on a pretty statue. It was, ‘How can I make myself a better person in all these different facets of my life?’ And ASU gave him an opportunity to do that.”

Jim McElwain says family, players have received death threats over 3-3 start

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Florida has lost two in a row and is off to a 3-3 start, and that streak will probably reach three on Saturday after the Gators meet No. 3 Georgia. While everyone knows SEC fans are passionate about their football, some have taken Florida’s struggles too far.

How far? By threatening to kill the players and coaches.

“I think it’s a pretty good lesson for the way things are,” head coach Jim McElwain said, via Only Gators. “There’s a lot of hate in this world and a lot of anger. And yet, it’s freedom to show it. The hard part is, obviously, when it’s threats against your own players, death threats to your families, the ill will that’s brought upon out there. And yet, I think it’s really one of those deals that really is a pretty good testament to what’s going on out there nationally. There’s a lot of angry people, and in this business, we’re the ones you take the shots at. And that’s the way it is.”

In my experience, it seems people lodging death threats are far more serious about the threat part than the, uh, other. But that’s easy for me to say, I’ve never received one.

Report: Sam Darnold expected to return to USC in 2018

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Sam Darnold was appointed the No. 1 pick of the 2018 NFL Draft on the second day of 2017. As a redshirt freshman, Darnold torched Penn State to the tune of 33-of-53 passing for 453 yards with five touchdowns and one interception in a 52-49 Rose Bowl win.

One problem, though. Darnold hasn’t played like a No. 1 pick this season.

While he hasn’t been the most disappointing player on what’s turning out to be a disappointing USC team, Darnold has posted pedestrian numbers (for him): hitting 63.5 percent of his passes for an even eight yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. He ranks 38th nationally in passing efficiency. This puts him, coincidentally, one spot ahead of former USC quarterback Max Browne.

On Monday, NFL Draft analyst Benjamin Allbright shared a report that Darnold is expected to return to USC next season.

Considering Ronald Jones could return next season and that Stephen Carr is just a freshman, the prospect of Darnold returning in 2018 has to take the sting out of a lost 2017 for Trojans fans.

Texas QB Sam Ehlinger, C Zach Shackelford in concussion protocol

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Texas has lost two straight upset bids in strikingly similar fashion: true freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger leads a potential-game winning drive, scrambles, hits his head on the turf and ends the possession in a puzzling throw.

The first came in last week’s loss to No. 10 Oklahoma. Trailing 29-24 late in the fourth quarter, scrambled for two yards to the Texas-48 yard line but hit his head on the Cotton Bowl turf and was forced to leave the game for five plays. Shane Buechele pushed the Longhorns to the Oklahoma 31, but he was replaced after a sack and Ehlinger ended up throwing the ball away on 4th-and-13 from the OU 34 with two minutes to play. That, as they say, was that.

Fast forward to Saturday and Texas was trailing No. 11 Oklahoma State 13-10 in overtime when Ehlinger opened the possession with a scramble that again saw the back of his head bang against the Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium turf. He stayed in the game this time, but ended the game on a puzzling (to say the least) interception to absolutely no one on 3rd-and-4 from the OSU 6.

While Ehlinger was not evaluated for a concussion during the game, he did not practice Sunday and head coach Tom Herman said Monday that Ehlinger and center Zach Shackelford are in concussion protocol.

Complicating matters for Texas is that sophomore back-up Shane Buechele is playing on a gimpy ankle that kept him out against San Jose State and Kansas State that Herman said will not improve as the season goes on.

No matter, Texas will face a hungry Baylor team on Saturday (noon ET, ESPNU) that nearly completed a comeback against No. 22 West Virginia on Saturday night.