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No. 1 Alabama overwhelms No. 3 Florida State to win biggest opener ever

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It’s insanely difficult to get it done, but a blueprint to beat Alabama exists. You have to score. A lot. If you score and keep scoring, eventually the Tide will buckle. No matter how good your defense is, you have to score and keep scoring.

Florida State’s defense was quite good on Saturday night, but it wasn’t near enough to beat Alabama as the top-ranked Crimson Tide handled the 3rd-ranked Seminoles 24-7 in the biggest opening game in college football history.

The final score matches that of the last time Alabama played in Atlanta, a 24-7 win over Washington in a College Football Playoff semifinal at the Peach Bowl. And like that game on New Year’s Eve, the Seminoles actually reached the end zone first.

After Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, Florida State strung together by far its best drive of the night, moving 90 yards in 11 plays capped by a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate to give the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

But Alabama immediately answered with its own best drive of the night, an 85-yard blitzkrieg in five plays that ended on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley to put Alabama on top at 10-7. That score would hold through the end of the first half, through what would prove to be the pivotal moment of the night, when Francois fired into the end zone to Nyqwan Murray and Tony Brown got away with a clear pass interference.

Florida State was forced to settle for a field goal try, which was blocked.

After a punt to open the second half, Florida State entered a stretch when its offense and special teams quite literally could not hold onto the ball. First, running back Damien Harris blocked a Florida State punt, which turned into an Alabama field goal. The ‘Noles fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Harris again capitalized by racing in for an 11-yard touchdown dash. A 2-point pass from Hurts to Ridley staked Alabama to a 21-7 lead with 1:41 to play in the third quarter.

Needing two scores to tie the game, the Florida State offense took its turn unraveling. Alabama intercepted two consecutive Francois passes, threatening the Florida State offense to the point where the ‘Noles next two possessions — two three-and-outs, two yards gained combined — felt like small accomplishments simply by getting the punt team on the field. Francois was sacked by Ronnie Harrison and came down holding his left knee; he had to be helped from the field and did not return.

Francois finished the night hitting 19-of-33 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions, while the Seminoles scratched out only 25 yards on 24 credited carries.

Alabama posted modest numbers offensively: 96 passing yards, 173 on the ground on 42 carries. But when the defense and special teams are as predictably and unflinchingly dominant as they were, 24 points by Alabama feels like 50 by anyone else.

The win pushed Alabama (1-0) to 14-1 in Atlanta, 8-0 in neutral site openers and 11-0 against former Nick Saban assistants. Florida State (0-1) will look to become the first team since Miami in 1983 to win a national championship after losing its opener.

Alabama leading Florida State through one half in Atlanta

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Through one half in Atlanta, Florida State-Alabama is exactly the game we thought it would be: a track meet/boxing match combination where each team struggles to maintain offense against the other. A game where Alabama has been slightly better than Florida State, as the Tide holds a 10-7 advantage at the break.

Alabama opened the scoring with a 35-yard Andy Pappanastos field goal, but Florida State immediately responded with its best drive of the night, an 11-play, 90-yard march that ended on a 3-yard fade from Deondre Francois to Auden Tate, giving the Seminoles a 7-3 lead at the 13:41 mark of the second quarter.

Alabama rebounded with a long drive of its own, moving 85 yards in only five snaps, closing on a 53-yard rainbow from Jalen Hurts to Calvin Ridley.

Each team also had its share of missed opportunities. Florida State’s first possession ended on a turnover on downs at the Alabama 34 when Francois didn’t see a wide open receiver streaking down the middle of the field. Alabama’s first touch concluded with a 42-yard missed field goal.

Hurts has completed 7-of-12 passes for 91 yards and a touchdown with seven carries for 43 yards. Damien Harris leads all runners with 47 yards on five carries, though 34 came on one rush — the first play of the game. Alabama’s final three possessions after the touchdown drive all ended in 3-and-outs.

The ‘Noles had a chance to tie the game just before the half, but Ricky Aguayo‘s 37-yard field goal try was blocked. Jimbo Fisher and company will have a gripe after the game, as Alabama got away with what appeared to be a textbook pass interference penalty on Alabama’s Tony Brown inside the Tide end zone that went uncalled. Francois has completed 14-of-22 passes for 161 yards and a score, but FSU has mustered only 24 yards on 13 carries.

Florida State will receive to open the second half.

CFT 2017 Preseason Previews: The ACC

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It was not so long ago ACC commissioner was setting the challenge to the entire ACC membership to start representing the conference better on the national stage in spotlight opportunities. In 2016, the ACC could not have done much better. The conference took all of the bragging rights with an impressive bowl record, the national champion (taking down the SEC champion in the process), and the Heisman Trophy winner. So, what does the ACC do for an encore?

ACC ATLANTIC

1. Florida State (10-3 in 2016; won Orange Bowl vs. Michigan)
After watching division rival Clemson capture back-to-back ACC crowns and play in two consecutive national championship games, the 2016 season appears to be Florida State’s time to ascend back to the top of the conference to wave the ACC banner in the College Football Playoff. Florida State, the preseason favorite in the ACC this fall, will have one of the most difficult schedules in the nation, starting with a season-opening tilt against Alabama in Atlanta. The offense must replace Dalvin Cook and hope Deondre Francois blossoms as a sophomore in an offense lacking in returning starters but not in potential and talent. FSU’s defense will be in much better shape at the start of the year with a loaded unit with plenty of starting experience, highlighted by safety Derwin James.

2. Clemson (14-1, ACC champion, won College Football Playoff national championship vs. Alabama)
To say Clemson football lost its identity with the departure of so many key players from their championship run would be a slight exaggeration. Dabo Swinney is still the coach and the Tigers will still be a talented bunch despite having big shoes to fill. Expect Clemson to take a slight step back, but the Tigers will still be in the way of Florida State. They even get the Noles at home. Early back-to-back tests against Auburn (home) and Louisville (away) will give an early idea of whether or not there is a championship hangover with Clemson. With a stacked offensive line in gear, whoever takes over at quarterback (likely Kelly Bryant) should be protected.

3. Louisville (9-4, lost Citrus Bowl vs. LSU)
After the way last season ended, the theme to the 2017 season for the Cardinals should be something along the lines of “unfinished business.” The Cardinals dropped the last three games of the season, including a 26-point loss at Houston, a three-point loss to in-state rival Kentucky and a 20-point setback against LSU in the bowl game. After the red-hot start Lamar Jackson and the offense got off to, the end to the year was stunning. Jackson still won the Heisman Trophy and the schedule sets up well for another hot start this fall. But three new offensive line starters must be filled and the offense must cut down on turnovers if Louisville is to make a push in the division.

4. North Carolina State (7-6, won Independence Bowl vs. Vanderbilt)
If there is one thing to like about NC State in 2017, it will be the amount of starting experience the team brings back. This is especially true on the defensive side of the football where a front four led by defensive end Bradley Chubb and three other seniors could cause problems for even the best offenses in the ACC. The offensive line is also looking to be in solid shape with veteran starting experience across the line to protect junior quarterback Ryan Finley. Dave Doeren is in his fourth year with the program, and this one could be his best team yet.

5. Boston College (7-6, won Quick Lane Bowl vs. Maryland)
Head coach Steve Addazio could find himself back on the hot seat at some point this season, even after seemingly cool the temperature with a positive finish to the 2016 season to take into the offseason. The Eagles return a good number of starters on both sides of the football, but the talent gap between Boston College and some of the other teams in the division and conference is telling. Dual-threat quarterback Anthony Brown, a freshman, could provide a spark to the offense, but expect the Eagles to keep pounding the ball in the hands of running back Jon Hilliman. On defense, Boston College has one of the top defensive players in the ACC in defensive end Harold Landry and an experienced defensive mid and backfield to rely on.

6. Syracuse Orange (4-8)
Dino Babers has started to put together a game plan for the Orange with the idea of having a long way to go to restoring pride in the program. With some glimpses at what could be coming for the Orange showed last season (including an upset of Virginia Tech), Babers can count on having a roster returning nearly all of its starters from a year ago on both sides of the football, including quarterback Eric Dungey and linebacker Zaire Franklin. If experience counts for something, then the Orange could be in decent shape to get back to a bowl game. Getting to the postseason will be a challenge. After three winnable games to start the season, Syracuse plays at LSU and later must play games at Florida State and Louisville. They also have a crossover game against Miami to worry about.

7. Wake Forest (7-6, won Military Bowl vs. Temple)
The Demon Deacons could cause some trouble for most teams on their schedule, but Dave Clawson will have to overcome a good amount of youth on the roster this season in order to coach the team back to a bowl game. Wake Forest has struggled to score with an offense that fails to protect its quarterback and a running game that can easily be stopped at the line. The good news is Clawson feels this is the best offensive line he has had since coming to Wake Forest, although depth will be a significant concern. But at least there won’t be rogue radio broadcasters trying to sell off and distribute Wake Forest’s game plan this season, hopefully.

ACC COASTAL

1. Miami (9-4 in 2016, won Russell Athletic Bowl vs. West Virginia)
Get ready to ask all of your college football friends a familiar question at some point this season. Is Miami back? The Hurricanes should take some steps forward as a program and could end up winning its first division since joining the ACC, but there is still a good amount of ground to makeup to be on the same level as Florida State and Clemson, and maybe Louisville. But in this division, anything could go. Miami will play some defense with linebacker Shaq Quarterman leading the charge, but the Hurricanes have a serious quarterback question following the loss of Brad Kaaya to the NFL. Florida State on the road is tricky, but home games against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech could be good.

2. Virginia Tech (10-4, ACC Coastal champion, won Belk Bowl vs. Arkansas)
The defending division champs could just as easily get back to the ACC Championship Game this season, especially if redshirt freshman quarterback Josh Jackson brings some versatility to the offense in Year 2 under head coach Justin Fuente. The Hokies also have new starters at running back and tight end and a couple of spots on the offensive line, but the defense should be in solid shape with a load of experience at linebacker (hello there, Andrew Motupuaka). The Hokies have a tough November with road games at Miami and Georgia Tech and they draw Clemson in inter-divisional play. Regardless, this looks like a solid top 25 team.

3. Pittsburgh (8-5, lost Pinstripe Bowl vs. Northwestern)
The Pitt Panthers scored wins against the eventual national champions (Clemson) and Big Ten champions (Penn State), yet they lost a total of four games by seven points or fewer. Can the Panthers flip a few of those close calls the other way? Pitt must replace James Conner but running back Qadree Ollison can do some damage on the ground. Former USC quarterback Max Browne also takes over at quarterback with one of the top wide receivers in the ACC to throw to (Quadree Henderson). How it all comes together with a new offensive coordinator remains to be seen, and the schedule is not kind with non-conference matchups at Penn State and home vs. Oklahoma State and conference road trips to Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech before closing out the year at home against Miami. But no Florida State, Clemson, or Louisville gives the Panthers as healthy a conference schedule as possible for a run to the division title.

4. Georgia Tech (9-4, won TaxSlayer Bowl vs. Kentucky)
Never underestimate a team coached by Paul Johnson. This is especially true when he returns a good number of starters. After closing out the 2016 season on a four-game winning streak, including a bowl victory over Kentucky, the Yellow Jackets are not to be taken lightly. In fact, Georgia Tech may be the best sleeper pick you will find in the ACC as they bring back the most experience in a division that always seems to be up for grabs. Georgia Tech’s running game will always be the strength of the team, which will help ease the pressure on a defense that is lacking in overall talent.

5. North Carolina (8-5, lost Sun Bowl vs. Stanford)
Everything about UNC appears to be a valid question this season. Can the defense keep improving under a new defensive coordinator? Can the offense work with a quarterback who struggled at times at LSU? Who is going to make plays for the team? After losing Mitch Trubisky to the NFL, the UNC Tar Heels will place the football in the hands of former LSU quarterback Brandon Harris this season. He may be handing off to a freshman running back with Michael Carter being molded to carry the load.Special teams is also a concern for UNC after losing key special teams players from last year like Ryan Switzer and T.J. Logan. This could be a rough season in Chapel Hill.

6. Duke (4-8)
The Blue Devils could look like a dangerous team as the season plays out, and there is a schedule that gives Duke an opportunity to turn some heads if they can manage to win a couple of home games against Northwestern and Baylor. But despite Duke’s recent trend of being a team that catches you off guard, the 2017 season could end up only marginally better in the win column than 2016 ended. David Cutcliffe will continue to develop quarterback Daniel Jones, but a lack of playmakers to throw the ball too means Duke’s offense won’t be likely to keep opposing defensive coordinators up all night leading up to a game. The defense returns linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, but the defense has concerns across the field as well. Getting to a bowl game this season would be a major accomplishment for Duke in 2017.

7. Virginia (2-10)
Virginia may still be in good hands with head coach Bronco Mendenhall, but he realized fairly quickly how much work was needed to make the Cavaliers competitive again. Virginia will have to take some baby steps forward as a program in 2017, because the player development and recruiting is going to take some time before Mendenhall has Virginia even thinking about going to a bowl game. Virginia will have to rely on a veteran-led defense to keep games close, and the scheduling gods have given Virginia a break with no crossover games against Clemson and Florida State, but they do have to go to Louisville and they travel to Boise State for a non-conference matchup. Virginia also misses Notre Dame on the rotation this season. Quarterback Kurt Benkert will look to have a rebound season after a rough 2016 season.

ACC CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP GAME PREDICTION
Florida State over Miami

Doak Walker Award watch list highlighted by 2016 semifinalists Barkley and Pettway

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A watch list of the top running backs in the nation has been released by the PwC SMU Athletic Forum on Thursday. The Doak Walker Award watch list is full of great players, including 2016 Doak Walker Award semifinalists Saquon Barkley (Penn State) and Kamryn Pettway (Auburn).

Among those included on this year’s initial Doak Walker Award watch list (more players can be added at any time) are LSU’s Derrius Guice, Georgia’s Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, LJ Scott of Michigan State, Mike Weber of Ohio State, and Bo Scarbrough of Alabama, Washington’s Myles Gaskin, and Western Michigan’s Jarvion Franklin.

D’Onta Foreman of Texas beat out both Barkley and Pettway last season for the award. The Doak Walker Award has been presented to the nation’s top running back annually since 1990. Among the winners over the years have included Ricky Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson, Reggie Bush, and Montee Ball.

To be included on this watch list, the university athletic department must submit a nomination.

2017 Doak Walker Award Watch List

Josh Adams, Notre Dame
Ryquell Armstead, Temple
Kalen Ballage, Arizona State
Saquon Barkley, Penn State
Alex Barnes, Kansas State
Jamauri Bogan, Western Michigan
D’Angelo Brewer, Tulsa
Nick Chubb, Georgia
Jordan Chunn, Troy
Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Damarea Crockett, Missouri
Rico Dowdle, South Carolina
D’Andre Ferby, WKU
Kendrick Foster, Illinois
Jarvion Franklin, Western Michigan
Myles Gaskin, Washington
James Gilbert, Ball State
Derrius Guice, LSU
Damien Harris, Alabama
Kyle Hicks, TCU
Justice Hill, Oklahoma State
Jon Hilliman, Boston College
Justin Jackson, Northwestern
Chris James, Wisconsin
Ty Johnson, Maryland
Ronald Jones II, USC
Ray Lawry, Old Dominion
Phillip Lindsay, Colorado
Tonny Lindsey Jr., Utah State
Bryce Love, Stanford
Sony Michel, Georgia
Dedrick Mills, Georgia Tech
David Montgomery, Iowa State
Jamal Morrow, Washington State
Ryan Nall, Oregon State
Jacques Patrick, Florida State
Kamryn Pettway, Auburn
Demario Richard, Arizona State
Diocemy Saint Juste, Hawaii
Bo Scarbrough, Alabama
Jordan Scarlett, Florida
LJ Scott, Michigan State
Bradrick Shaw, Wisconsin
Armand Shyne, Utah
Justin Silmon, Kansas State
Ito Smith, Southern Miss
Rodney Smith, Minnesota
Benny Snell Jr., Kentucky
Terry Swanson, Toledo
Shaq Vann, Eastern Michigan
Akrum Wadley, Iowa
Mark Walton, Miami
Warren Wand, Arkansas State
Tre Watson, California
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt
Mike Weber, Ohio State
Braeden West, SMU
Devwah Whaley, Arkansas
Aeris Williams, Mississippi State
Shaun Wilson, Duke
Marquis Young, Massachusetts

Colorado officials disciplined for handling of allegations

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Three University of Colorado officials, including its chancellor and football coach, have been disciplined for their handling of domestic violence allegations against a former assistant football coach.

Chancellor Phil DiStefano will serve a 10-day suspension and athletic director Rich George and football coach Mike MacIntyre will each have to make $100,000 donations to domestic violence causes.

The college’s Board of Regents on Monday also ordered that all three receive letters of reprimand.

 A woman who has accused former assistant coach Joe Tumpkin of domestic violence contends the school knew of the abuse and took measures to cover it up.

An independent investigation determined mistakes were made by the university, but there was no intent to cover up or break the law.

The investigative report authored by former U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar noted a failure to report domestic violence allegations, a failure to report the information to law enforcement officials and a failure of supervision of Tumpkin.

“All of us involved have learned that we have additional reporting responsibilities, and we will follow those procedures in the future,” MacIntyre said in a statement. “I had never been in a situation where one of my coaches was accused of abusing a spouse or partner.”

But MacIntyre noted that the regents and University of Colorado President Bruce Benson recognized that he never acted in bad faith.

“We didn’t handle this matter as well as we should have,” Benson said. “CU does not and will not tolerate domestic violence or any sort of sexual misconduct.”

Benson acknowledged that not everyone will be happy about the discipline delivered, with some saying it goes too far and others saying it’s not enough.

The attorney for the victim who accused Tumpkin of abusing her for two years said his client was “betrayed and devastated” by the punishments handed down against the three.

“Punishments are more severe for recruiting violations,” New York-based attorney Peter Ginsberg said Monday.

Tumpkin was charged in January with five felony counts of second-degree assault and three misdemeanor counts of third-degree assault. His next court date is June 22. He has not been asked to enter a plea yet.

Tumpkin resigned from Colorado on Jan. 27.