Tide trio rolls into NFL draft

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As expected, two-time defending national champion Alabama has lost a trio of players to the professional ranks.

At a press conference Friday afternoon, running back Eddie Lacy and cornerback Dee Milliner each announced they were taking their multiple BCS title rings and making themselves available for the April NFL draft.  Head coach Nick Saban also confirmed that offensive lineman D.J. Fluker will be entering the draft as well.

“I would like to take this time to honor these young men for the great job that they have done in how they have represented the University of Alabama and their family,” Saban said. “They have all been great people, in terms of how they have represented our organization. From a personal character standpoint, these guys have been great representatives and great ambassadors for the University of Alabama and we really appreciate that.”

The early departures certainly put a dent in the Tide’s returning experience as, all told, they will be losing 79 starts amongst the three players.

None of the three were particularly a surprise, though, as each was strongly rumored to be a heavy lean toward leaving eligibility on the table at season’s end.

Lacy, with 14 starts in 34 career games, led the Tide this season with 1,322 yards rushing and 17 touchdowns on the ground while also adding 22 receptions and two more scores through the air.  Last season, he finished second on the team in rushing, and finishes his Tide career with 2,402 yards and 30 touchdowns.

He was named offensive MVP of the Tide’s evisceration of Notre Dame in the BCS title game earlier in the week, running for 140 yards on 20 carries and scoring both a rushing and receiving touchdown.

“I want to start by thanking the University of Alabama, Coach Saban and Coach Burns, my position coach,” Lacy said. “I want to thank all of my teammates and the teachers and academic staff here at the university; the training staff, Jeff Allen and especially Jeremy Gsell; we put in a lot of time over the years here.

“Of course I want to thank all of the fans. They are great fans. It has been an amazing experience here. I developed well as a player and as a person here at Alabama. As I look back at the four years, I feel that I have accomplished all of the goals that the team and I set out to accomplish.”

All three were first-team All-SEC performers in 2012, while Milliner was also a consensus first-team All-American.  Milliner was one of three Tide players accorded that honor, including linebacker C.J. Mosely — he announced last month that he would be returning for his senior season — as well as senior offensive linemen Barrett Jones and Chance Warmack.

“It’s been a great experience for me in my three years being here,” Milliner said. “I’ve learned a lot of things -not only becoming a better football player, but also becoming a better man. Coach Saban and the coaching staff do a great job of developing players here and helping you out all that they can.

“I’d like to thank all the coaching staff for what they did for me: Coach Pruitt, my defensive backs coach, for all the help and the things that he did for me; the trainers and all the strength coaches, for developing me as a better person and the things that they do; the academic center, for all the help that they gave me in academics, for making me become more of a student-athlete. I’d like to thank all my family for all the love and support they gave me over the years. Without them I don’t know what I’d be doing or where I’d be right now.”

There have now been at least 67 underclassmen who have declared early for the draft, breaking the record of 65 set last year.  There are still four days until the NFL’s deadline for officially filing their early-entry paperwork with the NFL.

UMass adds Florida State, Pitt, Auburn and others to future schedules beyond 2021

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It’s apparently a big week on the schedule front for FBS independents.

While UConn and Maryland announced a new home-and-home series in what is always going to be known as the Randy Edsall bowl, fellow New England independent UMass had a number of dates added to their calendar this week too.

According to the school, the Minutemen have confirmed several dates and games against Power Five opponents as well as a host of other smaller programs being added to the team’s future docket including:

  • at Pitt on Sept. 4, 2021
  • at Florida State on Oct. 23, 2021
  • at Auburn on Sept. 2, 2023

In addition, FCS foes like Merrimack (Nov. 4, 2023) and Wagner (Sept. 21, 2024) were scheduled. Two other contests were moved as well, including a game against Boston College from Sept. 2022 to Sept. 6, 2025. A game against New Mexico State was shifted up into Week 0 and is now set for Aug. 26, 2023 as well.

The moves give UMass five of their 12 games for 2021-2024 while there’s even more work left to be done beyond that.

“We’ve been hard at work over the last nine months building competitive future schedules that will allow our Independent program to grow and be challenged,” AD Ryan Bamford said in a release. “We are pleased with our scheduling progress and ability to secure agreements with a mix of Power Five, Group of Five and regional FCS opponents.”

The Minutemen host Coastal Carolina on Saturday and have notable games coming up against Army, Northwestern and BYU down the stretch in 2019.

Designs released for UAB’s future stadium in downtown Birmingham

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It’s truly been remarkable how far UAB has come since the program was shuttered just a few years ago but the next major step in the rebirth of the Blazers came on Wednesday as the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex unveiled the latest plans for the upcoming $175 million football stadium that the CUSA program will soon call home.

You can check out the latest renderings here.

The 45,000 seat venue is designed to host a number of different events once completed in 2021 but the primary purpose each fall will be UAB home games. As you would expect, all the modern design elements for a stadium nowadays are incorporated, such as suites, open concourses, a large press box and a hefty number of restrooms (including nearly double the number for women than men).

The price tag for everything is set at right around $175 million for the project, with bids going out sometime later this fall and an estimated date of completion prior to the 2021 season starting in late August.

The biggest question left about the stadium now might be not whether it will actually get built but what the Blazers will be playing on in terms of the surface. The school has reportedly expressed interest in having turf but the area trying to attract major soccer matchups could mean the venue has a grass field instead.

Either way, UAB remarkable turnaround on the gridiron took another big step this week and is poised to make a giant leap come 2021.

QB Artur Sitkowski to start for Rutgers against Boston College with McLane Carter not cleared from concussion

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Boston College’s bid to avoid losing to both Kansas and Rutgers in the same season may have received a slight boost thanks to the quarterback situation this week with the Scarlet Knights.

Speaking to the media on Thursday after practice, Rutgers head coach Chris Ash confirmed that starting signal-caller Carter McLane remains in the school’s concussion protocol and will not play on Saturday against the Eagles. That means the job falls on last year’s starter in Artur Sitkowski for the Scarlet Knights.

“(Carter) is still day-to-day (and) hasn’t practiced so he won’t be cleared to play,” Ash said according to NJ.com. “I’ve got nothing but 100 percent confidence and belief in Art. We talked all through training camp about the battle between the two. There wasn’t a whole lot of difference. The biggest one was just at the moment McLane was a fifth-year player and had a little bit more experience. But Art had a tremendous training camp, and the players, the coaches, everybody has nothing but 100 percent faith and trust in him to go out and lead the team. And we’re excited for him to do that.”

Carter, a grad transfer from Texas Tech, started the opener against UMass but was knocked out of last week’s shutout loss to Iowa after a hard hit in the first half. Sitkowski replaced him the rest of the way and will now make his first start of 2019.

A former four-star out of IMG Academy, Sitkowski was handed the reigns of the team as a true freshman last season and made 11 starts at Rutgers… with things not exactly going well under center considering he threw for just over 1,100 yards with four touchdowns against 18 interceptions. He’ll have a chance for redemption on Saturday against Boston College, which leads the ACC in interceptions but did give up a number of big passing plays in their shocking loss to Kansas last week.

Interestingly enough, the move to elevate Sitkowski in the wake of McLane’s concussion means that former Eagles quarterback Johnny Langan will now be the No. 2 QB for Rutgers in the game against his old team.

Lane Kiffin thinks UCF should be in top 10: ‘They looked just like an ACC or SEC team’

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Lane Kiffin is a believer… in a newsworthy in-state rival.

Speaking to Yahoo! Sports, the always talkative Florida Atlantic head coach threw his weight behind UCF being a top 10 team this season and even a College Football Playoff contender had they been starting veteran QB McKenzie Milton. 

“They looked just like an ACC or SEC team,” said Kiffin. “Not Alabama or Clemson, but one of the top teams in both of those conferences. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting. They have skill. Normally in the Group of Five they have skill players but not the [size on] the lines, well UCF has long and good-looking linemen.”

Kiffin would know having seen the Knights up close each of the past two seasons, including a 48-14 blowout by the defending AAC champions down in Boca Raton earlier in September. A former offensive coordinator in the SEC, he also got a good look at one of this season’s elite programs too considering FAU opened the year with a 45-21 loss to Ohio State in Columbus.

Though Kiffin doesn’t have a vote in the weekly Coaches Poll, he did add he’d rank UCF as high as No. 5 but certainly in the top 10, blaming the name on the front of the Knights’ jersey as much as anything for why they’re not being taken seriously nationally.