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No. 4 Alabama avenges loss to No. 1 Clemson in Sugar Bowl, sets up all SEC CFP final

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The College Football Playoff was created in large part in response to an all SEC BCS National Championship. Four years into the new system, the CFP has its own all SEC final. No. 3 Georgia outlasted No. 2 Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl earlier Monday, and in the Sugar Bowl No. 4 Alabama avenged its title game loss a year ago by flattening No. 1 Clemson in a 24-6 win that wasn’t as close as the final score.

The win pushes Alabama (12-1) into its sixth national championship game under Nick Saban and its third consecutive title game.

Leading 10-3 at the half, the Tide provided Clemson a window early in the third quarter to climb back in the game and even take the lead. It started when Alabama accepted the ball to open the second half and promptly fumbled the exchange on its first snap, which Clemson recovered at the Tide’s 20-yard line. The Tigers actually went five yards backwards on its possession, but a 42-yard Alex Spence field goal cut the deficit to 10-6.

Clemson (12-2) forced a three-and-out on Alabama’s next touch, then moved to a 2nd-and-2 at the Tide 35 before Alabama defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne single-handedly ended the game. First, he caught a deflected interception and returned the ball 21 yards to the Clemson 42, and a 15-yard horse collar flag staked the ball at the Clemson 27. The Tide moved the ball to the Clemson 1, leading Alabama to put in the jumbo package. Rather than run the ball, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll called a pass, and Jalen Hurts hit Payne for the first touchdown catch of the 6-foot-2, 308-pound defender’s career.

If that wasn’t enough, Clemson’s own first-play disaster put the game out of reach. Another deflected Kelly Bryant pass landed in the arms of Alabama linebacker Mack Wilson, who raced the ball 18 yards to pay dirt to give Alabama a commanding 24-6 lead with 5:27 left in the third quarter.

Clemson could pull no closer, and an 18-play, 75-yard drive ended in a turnover on downs after Kelly Bryant threw incomplete out of the back of the end zone with 1:43 left in the game. Alabama harassed Bryant into the worst game of his career, completing 18-of-36 passes for just 124 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions while taking a season-high five sacks. Clemson managed just 64 yards on 33 carries.

Hurts hit 16-of-24 passes for 120 yards with two touchdowns and no picks while rushing 11 times for 40 yards. Damien Harris led all runners with 19 carries for 77 yards.

Looking ahead to next week, the only issue for Alabama moving forward were injuries to offensive lineman Lester Cotton and linebacker Anfernee Jennings. Both left the game with apparent leg injuries.

Alabama dominated the game from the start. After the teams exchanged three three-and-outs to open the game, the Tide opened the scoring with a 10-play, 47-yard drive capped by a 24-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal. Alabama forced another Clemson three-and-out on the Tigers’ next possession — Clemson’s third of the first quarter — Alabama started at the Clemson 46-yard line and leaned on its running game, with seven plays covering 34 yards, all of them in the hands of Hurts, Harris or Bo Scarborough before Hurts found Calvin Ridley wide open on a scramble for a 12-yard touchdown grab, putting the Tide up 10-0 to close the first quarter.

Sensing a now-or-never moment, Clemson turned to Bryant. After a 7-yard sack to open the drive, Bryant converted with runs of five and 20 yards and accounted for 53 of the Tigers’ 54 yards, setting up a 44-yard Alex Spence field goal to get the defending champions on the board at the 10-minute mark of the second quarter.

Alabama didn’t answer with points, but the Tide did chew more than four minutes off the clock and pin Clemson at its own 10 to start its next possession. It was the fourth time in five chances that Clemson started inside its own 17 (and the fifth began at the 24). Clemson moved out of the shadow of its own goal post but punted the ball back to Alabama, allowing the Tide to start a drive with the ball outside its own 40 for the fourth time in five tries. This drive covered 39 yards in 10 plays at 3:44, but Pappanastos’s 38-yard field goal doinked off the right upright with 17 seconds left in the half. 

Alabama, SEC reign in first round of NFL draft

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And, in other news, water’s wet, sky is blue, death and taxes and yadda yadda yadda.

The first round of the 2018 NFL draft has officially been put to bed, and four Alabama players and 10 total from the SEC were selected amongst the first 32 picks.  Those totals represent the most for an individual school and a conference yet again.

For perspective, that conference last year had a record-tying 12 players taken in the first round; Alabama, with two, was tied with Clemson and Ohio State for most for an individual school.  This year, there were six other schools with more than one player selected: College Football Playoff championship game runner-up Georgia with three, while Louisville, Notre Dame, Ohio State, UCLA and Virginia Tech were next with two each.

The Tech picks, incidentally, were linebacker Tremaine Edmunds (No. 16, Buffalo Bills) and safety Terrell Edmunds (No. 28, Pittsburgh Steelers).  Those two are brothers, making them the first siblings ever selected in the first round of the same NFL draft.

Aside from the SEC, the Power Five conferences went, in order of the number of selections, the ACC (six), Big Ten (four), Pac-12 (four) and Big 12 (one).  That number for the Big 12, incidentally, is two fewer than the Mountain West’s three and the same as the one each from the AAC and Conference USA.

Over the last six NFL drafts in the first round, the Power Five conference selections look like this:

SEC: 60
ACC: 36
PAC-12: 33
Big Ten: 25
Big 12: 12

Alabama joins Miami in some very exclusive NFL draft company

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It took a little while longer than what some of the early mock drafts had projected, but Alabama has finally joined some rarefied Player Selection Meeting air.

With the 11th overall pick of the 2018 NFL, the Miami Dolphins selected Alabama defensive back/Swiss army knife Minkah Fitzpatrick. With that selection, the Crimson Tide has now seen a player taken in the first round of the draft each of the last 10 years, joining the Miami Hurricanes as the only program that can make that claim.

The All-American Fitzpatrick was the second player from the SEC taken thus far, joining Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith, who was taken eighth overall by the Chicago Bears.  And,  just as we were getting ready to post this, one of Fitzpatrick’s teammates, Da’Ron Payne, was taken by the Washington Redskins with the 13th-overall pick.

Baker Mayfield becomes first former walk-on to be selected No. 1 overall in NFL draft

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You can add yet another notch to Baker Mayfield‘s burgeoning list of accomplishments.

In the weeks leading up to the 2018 NFL draft, most mock drafts had either USC quarterback Sam Darnold or Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen going No. 1 overall to the Cleveland Browns. In the last 24 hours, however, there was a growing buzz surrounding the Oklahoma signal-caller for that top spot.

Thursday night, at a little after 8 p.m. ET at AT&T Stadium, that buzz turned into a reality as the Browns made Mayfield the first pick of this year’s draft. And, not only did he become the fourth-ever Sooner to be taken No. 1 overall, he becomes the only player who began his collegiate career as a walk-on to be selected first in the draft.

Famously, Mayfield walked not once but twice in his collegiate playing career — first at Texas Tech and then again at Oklahoma after he decided to transfer from the Red Raiders. Mayfield, a three-star 2013 recruit who was rated as the No. 42 pro-style quarterback in the country, actually held offers from pre-Lane Kiffin Florida Atlantic, New Mexico and Rice before opting to become a walk-on in Lubbock.

While with the Red Raiders, Mayfield became, it’s believed, the first-ever to start a season opener as a true freshman walk-on.

After transferring to the Sooners and sitting out the 2014 season, the Austin, Tex., native became one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football history. He helped lead the Sooners to the College Football Playoffs two of the last three seasons and put together back-to-back years in 2016 and 2017 that were the best, passer rating-wise, in the history of the game. He capped off that prodigious statistical run by winning the 2017 Heisman Trophy in one of the biggest landslides in the award’s history.

Report: QB Shea Patterson will be eligible for Michigan this fall

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The Michigan Wolverines may have their new starting quarterback. Shea Patterson, after a drawn-out battle for eligibility this season, will be eligible to play for the Wolverines this fall. According to a report from The Detroit News, Patterson has been granted a transfer waiver from the NCAA after the NCAA, Michigan and Ole Miss came to terms on an agreement to allow for Patterson to become eligible.

From The Detroit News report;

An agreement has been reached among the NCAA, Michigan and Ole Miss, according to the source, and with the completion of some paperwork, Patterson will be eligible to play this fall.

The source requested anonymity because an official announcement has not been made, but that announcement is expected soon.

A Michigan official said Thursday night the athletic department has “no new information on a final decision from the NCAA.”

Ole Miss had been holding up the transfer process for Patterson because the school did not accept Patterson’s reason for wanting to transfer from the Rebels to Michigan. Frustrated with the process, Patterson ripped Ole Miss and former head coach Hugh Freeze. With Ole Miss blocking the transfer for Patterson, the former Ole Miss quarterback had been hanging in limbo with Michigan with no idea if he would be cleared to play this fall for the Wolverines or if he would have to sit out a season due to typical NCAA transfer rules.

Because Ole Miss was placed on probation amid scandal, Patterson sought a transfer after feeling he had been misled and lied to by Freeze and Ole Miss. Now at Michigan, Patterson can immediately begin focusing on competing for the starting job at quarterback for Jim Harbaugh and Michigan. Given how much Michigan could stand to improve at the position, Patterson could give the Wolverines a much-needed boost this fall.

A formal announcement on Patterson’s status at Michigan is expected to be made once the legal paperwork is completed between the NCAA, Michigan, and Ole Miss.