Christian Kirk

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Record number of players on NFL’s official early-entry list for 2018 draft

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If it seemed to you like there were an inordinate number of early cannonballers jumping into the draft pool, you were correct.

Four days after the Jan. 15 deadline, the NFL Friday announced that 106 players have been granted special eligibility for the April draft.  That sets a new record for early entrants, breaking the mark of 98 set in 2014.  The past two seasons, there were 95 and 96 in 2017 and 2016, respectively.  In 2015, there were just 74.

The SEC was hit hardest by attrition with 26 players leaving early, although the ACC wasn’t far behind at 24.  The Pac-12 was next among the Power Five conferences with 17, followed by the Big 12’s 13 and the Big Ten’s 11.

Among Group of Five leagues, Conference USA lost the most with four.  The Mountain West saw three go early, with the AAC (two), MAC (one) and Sun Belt (one) coming next in line.  There were also two non-FBS players who left early, as well as two from Notre Dame.

As far as individual schools go, there were three that lost six apiece — Florida State, LSU and Texas.  Alabama lost five, while Auburn, Miami, Oklahoma, UCLA, and USC all lost four apiece.  Clemson, Florida, Louisville, Stanford and Tennessee were on the losing end of three players each.

In addition to the 106 granted special eligibility — they’ll be listed at the end — the NFL also granted eligibility to 13 players who the league writes “have in timely fashion under NFL rules officially notified the league office that they have fulfilled their degree requirements.” Those players are listed below:

» Jordan Akins, TE, UCF
» Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming
» Kyle Allen, QB, Houston
» Will Clapp, C, LSU
» Terrell Edmunds, DB, Virginia Tech
» Taylor Hearn, G, Clemson
» Sam Hubbard, DE, Ohio State
» Sam Jones, G, Arizona State
» Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame
» Brian O’Neill, T, Pittsburgh
» Christian Sam, LB, Arizona State
» Tre'Quan Smith, WR, UCF
» Courtland Sutton, WR, SMU

Courtesy of the NFL, below is the complete list of 106 players who have been granted special eligibility for the 2018 NFL Draft:

» Josh Adams, RB, Notre Dame
» Olasunkanmi Adeniyi, DE, Toledo
» Jaire Alexander, DB, Louisville
» Mark Andrews, TE, Oklahoma
» Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas
» Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
» Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State
» Jessie Bates, DB, Wake Forest
» Orlando Brown, T, Oklahoma
» Taven Bryan, DT, Florida
» Deontay Burnett, WR, USC
» Deon Cain, WR, Clemson
» Antonio Callaway, WR, Florida
» Geron Christian, T, Louisville
» Simmie Cobbs, WR, Indiana
» Keke Coutee, WR, Texas Tech
» Vosean Crumbie, DB, Nevada
» J.J. Dallas, DB, Louisiana-Monroe
» James Daniels, C, Iowa
» Sam Darnold, QB, USC
» Carlton Davis, DB, Auburn
» Michael Dickson, P, Texas
» Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech
» DeShon Elliott, DB, Texas
» Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama
» Matt Fleming, WR, Benedictine
» Nick Gates, T, Nebraska
» Rashaan Gaulden, DB, Tennessee
» Frank Ginda, LB, San Jose State
» Rasheem Green, DT, USC
» Derrius Guice, RB, LSU
» Ronnie Harrison, DB, Alabama
» Quadree Henderson, WR, Pittsburgh
» Holton Hill, DB, Texas
» Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State
» Jeff Holland, LB, Auburn
» Mike Hughes, DB UCF
» Hayden Hurst, TE, South Carolina
» Joel Iyiegbuniwe, LB, Western Kentucky
» Ryan Izzo, TE, FSU
» Donte Jackson, DB, LSU
» J.C. Jackson, DB, Maryland
» Josh Jackson, DB, Iowa
» Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
» Derwin James, DB, FSU
» Richie James, WR, Middle Tennessee
» Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
» Courtel Jenkins, DT, Miami
» Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn
» Ronald Jones, RB, USC
» John Kelly, RB, Tennessee
» Arden Key, LB, LSU
» Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M
» Du’Vonta Lampkin, DT, Oklahoma
» Jordan Lasley, WR, UCLA
» Chase Litton, QB, Marshall
» Tavares Martin, WR, Washington State
» Hercules Mata’afa, DE, Washington State
» Ray-Ray McCloud, WR, Clemson
» Tarvarus McFadden, DB, Florida State
» R.J. McIntosh, DT, Miami
» Reginald McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
» Quenton Meeks, DB, Stanford
» Kolton Miller, T, UCLA
» D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland
» Ryan Nall, RB, Oregon State
» Nick Nelson, DB, Wisconsin
» Kendrick Norton, DT, Miami
» Isaiah Oliver, DB, Colorado
» Dwayne Orso-Bacchus, T, Oklahoma
» Da’Ron Payne, NT, Alabama
» Kamryn Pettway, RB, Auburn
» Eddy Pineiro, K, Florida
» Trey Quinn, WR, SMU
» D.J. Reed, DB, Kansas State
» Justin Reid, DB, Stanford
» Will Richardson, T, NC State
» Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
» Austin Roberts, TE, UCLA
» Korey Robertson, WR, Southern Miss
» Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
» Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama
» Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford
» Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech
» Andre Smith, LB, UNC
» Roquan Smith, LB, Georgia
» Van Smith, DB, Clemson
» Breeland Speaks, DE, Ole Miss
» Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame
» Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State
» Auden Tate, WR, Florida State
» Maea Teuhema, T, Southeastern Louisiana
» Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia
» Kevin Toliver, DB, LSU
» Travonte Valentine, NT, LSU
» Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
» Vita Vea, NT, Washington
» Mark Walton, RB, Miami
» Denzel Ward, DB, Ohio State
» Chris Warren, RB, Texas
» Toby Weathersby, T, LSU
» Jordan Whitehead, DB, Pittsburgh
» JoJo Wicker, DT, Arizona State
» Jalen Wilkerson, DE, Florida State
» Connor Williams, T, Texas
» Eddy Wilson, DT, Purdue

Texas A&M officially sees Christian Kirk leave early for NFL draft

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It was almost a foregone conclusion, but one of the top offensive — special teams — playmakers in the SEC will ply his wares at a higher level of football next season.

Christian Kirk officially announced Tuesday afternoon that he is leaving Texas A&M early in order to toss himself into the NFL draft pool.  One of the most productive receivers after the catch in not only the SEC but college football, period, Kirk had long been considered a three-and-done prospect.

Kirk led the Aggies in receptions in each of his three seasons in College Station, while leading them in touchdown catches in 2015 and 2017.  He was tops in receiving yards in 2017 as well, and was named second-team All-SEC as a receiver.

All told, Kirk will leave A&M with career totals of 234 receptions, 2,856 yards and 26 touchdowns.

It wasn’t just offensively where the 5-11, 200-pound junior excelled.  This season, Kirk earned two first-team All-SEC honors — All-Purpose and Return Specialist.  He returned both a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown, averaging 19.1 yards per punt return and a little over 22 yards per kick return.

For his career, Kirk returned six punts for touchdowns.

Wake Forest holds off Texas A&M in wild defense-optional Belk Bowl

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If there were ever a game that was decidedly DBYOD (Don’t Bring Your Own Defense), this was it.

Twice in the first half of the Belk Bowl, Wake Forest (8-5) took 17-point leads on Texas A&M (7-6).  Instead of packing it in, though, the Aggies ratcheted up the effort under interim head coach Jeff Banks to turn a potential rout into a wildly tight affair, although in the end it was the Demon Deacons that prevailed and head home with a hard-fought 55-52 win stuffed into its back pocket.

The two teams combined for 1,260 yards of offense — 646 for Wake, 614 for A&M.  The combined yardage set a Belk Bowl record, as did the combined points and total plays (190).

Despite the offensive numbers, it was a pair of defensive plays on the part of the Aggies that shifted the momentum and nearly led to a disastrous Demon Deacons loss.  One forced fumble late in the third quarter led to a Keith Ford touchdown that, at 42-41, gave A&M its first lead of the game since the middle of the first quarter.  On the Demon Deacons’ ensuing possession, another forced fumble was recovered and ultimately led to a 19-yard field goal early in the fourth.

A one-yard touchdown run by Cade Carney four minutes later gave the lead back to Wake at 48-45 with 9:06 left in the game; Nick Starkel‘s touchdown pass a little over three minutes later pushed the lead back in favor of A&M at 52-48.

Once again it was Wake’s turn for a comeback, with a 13-play, 69-yard drive capped by Matt Colburn‘s one-yard touchdown run with just north of two minutes left proving to be the winning score.  A&M had one final chance to either tie it and send it into overtime or win it outright, but its last drive — and a questionable no-call on what appeared to be defensive pass interference — ended just shy of midfield as they turned the ball over on downs.

John Wolford passed for 400 yards and four touchdowns, all in the first half, as part of the win.  On the ground, Colburn led all rushers with 150 yards on 21 carries.

Wolford, incidentally, continued his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason.  Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30) in three years; this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.

Aggies wide receiver Christian Kirk, playing in what’s expected to be his last game at the collegiate level, caught a career-high 13 passes for 182 yards and a Belk Bowl-record three touchdown catches.  The triggerman of A&M’s offense, the freshman Starkel, passed for a career-high 499 yards in a losing effort.

With the win, Wake won back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08.

Wake Forest scores 31 straight en route to first-half lead on Texas A&M in Belk Bowl

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A few of minutes into its Belk Bowl matchup with Texas A&M, things were looking bleak for Wake Forest.  After 30 minutes of play, the roles were decidedly reversed as the Demon Deacons have taken a 38-28 lead into the halftime locker room in what’s the highest-scoring half in the game’s history.

After a little more than two minutes had run off the first-quarter clock, A&M, playing in its first game since Kevin Sumlin was fired and Jimbo Fisher was hired, had taken the lead on a block punt that was recovered for a touchdown, the school’s first block punt since 2005.  Less than two minutes later, and after an Aggie got his hand on a second punt, Trayveon Williams scored from a yard out to push the lead to 14-0.

The following 13 or so minutes belonged to Wake, though, as the Demon Deacons scored the next 31 points to take a double-digit lead of their own early in the second quarter.  Senior John Wolford extended his stunning turnaround regular season into the postseason as he passed for four first-half touchdowns.  Prior to 2017, Wolford had thrown more interceptions (35) than touchdowns (30); this season, including today’s game, he’s thrown 29 touchdowns against just six picks.

Not to be outdone by A&M, Wake scored its own special teams touchdown, with Jessie Bates‘ 59-yard punt return stretching the lead to 31-14 with just over 12 minutes remaining in the second quarter.  That unit was not-so-special for Wake for most of the game, however, as, in addition to the two blocked punts, they had a field goal blocked as well.

And A&M’s interim head coach?  Special teams coordinator Jeff Banks.

That blocked field goal in the middle of the second quarter gave the Aggies a modicum of momentum as they turned that special teams play into a score two plays later, Nick Starkel hitting Christian Kirk, likely playing his last game for the Aggies, on a 52-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 31-21 with 7:31 left in the half.  Wolford’s fourth scoring toss, this one 37 yards to tight end Cam Serigne with 4:33 remaining, pushed the lead back out to 17.

The momentum shifted back to A&M right before halftime, however, as Starkel hit Kirk for a second touchdown with 18 seconds left to pull them back to within 10 at 38-28.

The Demon Deacons racked up 385 yards of offense — Wolford had 256 passing against A&M’s depleted secondary — to 306 for the Aggies.  Matt Colburn chipped in with 87 yards on the ground on 10 carries, with a long run of 66.

This marks the sixth time this season that A&M’s defense has given up 35 points or more in a game.

Kirk, meanwhile, already has a season-high 133 yards receiving on six catches.  Starkel has thrown for 313 yards in just two quarters worth of work; the freshman’s season- and career-high, 416 yards, is well within reach with 30 minutes to play.

Wake is looking to win back-to-back bowl games for the first time since 2007-08, while A&M is trying to snap a three-game bowl losing streak.  If the Aggies can mount a second-half comeback, they will hit eight wins for the fourth consecutive season.

Georgia, Auburn rake in honors on AP All-SEC team

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The Associated Press released its list Monday of All-SEC performers, highlighted largely by the champions of the two divisions. Georgia’s Roquan Smith was named Defensive Player of the Year and Kirby Smart the Coach of the Year. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson was named the Offensive Player of the Year, while Jarrett Stidham and Jake Fromm split Newcomer of the Year honors.

While the Bulldogs and Tigers hogged all the individual honors, Alabama led all clubs with eight First Team selections.

Here’s the full list

OFFENSE
QB Drew Lock, Missouri
RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn
RB Benny Snell, Jr., Kentucky
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
WR Calvin Ridley, Alabama
TE Hayden Hurst, South Carolina
Will Clapp, LSU
Bradley Bozeman, Alabama
OT Jonah Williams, Alabama
OT Isaiah Wynn, Georgia
OG Braden Smith, Auburn
OG Ross Piersbacher, Alabama
AP Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
PK Daniel Carlson, Auburn

DEFENSE
LB Roquan Smith, Georgia
LB Devin White, LSU
LB Rashaan Evans, Alabama
LB Arden Key, LSU
Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama
Ronnie Harrison, Alabama
CB Andreaz Williams, LSU
CB Armani Watts, Texas A&M
DE Jeff Holland, Auburn
DE Montez Sweat, Mississippi State
DT Da’Ron Payne, Alabama
DT Jeffrey Simmons, Mississippi State