Alabama overcomes fast start, leads Texas A&M at half

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Alabama is leading Texas A&M at the half, 28-14, but boy has it been a wild ride to get there.

The game had all of the hype of a mid-November clash of the titans, and Johnny Manziel came ready to unload on Alabama’s defense. After winning the coin toss, Texas A&M took the football and let Manziel drive the Aggies right down field for a touchdown. The drive took seven plays but it felt like fewer with Manziel starting the game with a 12-yard yard and completing a pair of passes over 30 yards to quickly move down close to the end zone. A short pass to Cameron Clear put Texas A&M on the board. Despite the fast start, the first half would eventually be more about Alabama’s success.

After the Aggies held Alabama to a three-and-out deep in their own end, Manziel and the offense struck quickly once more to build a 14-0 lead. Alabama would settle down, driving down field and scoring a touchdown on a pass from AJ McCarron to Kevin Norwood from 22 yards. Early in the second quarter the Crimson Tide had battled back by tying the game when McCarron completed a pass to DeAndrew White, who took it to the house for a 44-yard touchdown. Brand new ballgame.

Alabama took their first lead against Texas A&M since 1988 in the second quarter, once again using a big pass play to their advantage. McCarron found Kenny Bell for a 51-yard touchdown strike that was practically uncontested by the Aggies defense. Momentum at this point appeared to be one-sided after Manziel had been picked off in the end zone.

There was a moment when the refs made a questionable call. With Texas A&M on offense, Alabama free safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix was called for targeting, which was cause for an immediate ejection from the game. However, the official video review overturned the ejection and allowed Clinton-Dix to remain in the game. That would have been a huge loss for the Crimson Tide if the ejection had been upheld. In this instance it looks as though the right call was ultimately made regarding the ejection.

Alabama delivered a critical blow to Texas A&M late in the first half, eating up nearly seven minutes en route to a touchdown to build a 27-14 lead, capped by a rushing touchdown by T.J. Yeldon. Yeldon got up and gave a money sign and a throat slash with his hands, causing the refs to penalize Alabama for an excessive celebration penalty. Texas A&M eventually got to take over from their own 35-yard line but Alabama held the Aggies off the scoreboard before the end of the half.

It has been a heck of a first half, and the second half should be pretty fun as well. Alabama appears to have the momentum working in their favor right now, but this is far too close to call at the half.

Arkansas State’s Justice Hansen, Appalachian State’s Clifton Duck named Sun Belt preseason players of the year

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The SEC isn’t the only league in the South to release their preseason all-conference team on Friday as the Sun Belt named Arkansas State QB Justice Hansen and Appalachian State defensive back Clifton Duck as the preseason offensive and defensive players of the year for 2018.

Hansen is looking to repeat as Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Year after winning the award at the end of last season after throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and accounting for 44 touchdowns with the Red Wolves. Duck had six interceptions last year to help pace the Mountaineers’ defense and is tied with fellow first-team selection Blace Brown (who plays at Troy) for the most in the nation the past two seasons with 11.

All told though, the Neal Brown’s Trojans had the most selections across the two All-Sun Belt preseason teams with 11 players earning a nod.

The full 2018 Preseason All-Sun Belt team is below:

First Team Offense

QB – Justice Hansen

RB – Jalin Moore (Appalachian State), Warren Wand (Arkansas State)

WR – Justin McInnis (Arkansas State), Penny Hart (Georgia State), Marcus Green (ULM)

TE – Collin Reed (Appalachian State)

OL – Victor Johnson (Appalachian State), Lanard Bonner (Arkansas State), Kevin Dotson (Louisiana), Tristan Crowder (Troy), Deontae Crumitie (Troy) 

First Team Defense

DL – Ronheen Bingham (Arkansas State), Logan Hunt (Georgia Southern), Hunter Reese (Troy), Trevon Sanders (Troy)

LB – Anthony Flory (Appalachian State), Michael Shaw (Georgia State), Tron Folsom (Troy)

DB – Clifton Duck, Justin Clifton (Arkansas State), Monquavion Brinson (Georgia Southern), Blace Brown

First Team Special Teams

K – Gavin Patterson (South Alabama)

P – Corliss Waitman (South Alabama)

RS – Marcus Green (ULM)

Second Team Offense

QB – Caleb Evans (ULM)

RB – Wesley Fields (Georgia Southern), Trey Ragas (Louisiana)

WR – RJ Turner (ULM), Jamarius Way (South Alabama), Deondre Douglas (Troy)

TE – Ellis Richardson (Georgia Southern)

OL – Jacob Still (Arkansas State), Curtis Rainey (Georgia Southern), Hunter Atkinson (Georgia State), Shamarious Gilmore (Georgia State), Aaron Brewer (Texas State)

Second Team Defense

DL – Myquon Stout (Appalachian State), Marterious Allen (Georgia State), Tyree Turner (South Alabama), Marcus Webb (Troy)

LB – Silas Kelly (Coastal Carolina), Bull Barge (South Alabama), Bryan London II (Texas State)

DB – Tae Hayes (Appalachian State), BJ Edmonds (Arkansas State), Marcus Jones (Troy), Cedarius Rookard (Troy)

Second Team Special Teams

K – Tyler Bass (Georgia Southern)

P – Cody Grace (Arkansas State)

RS – Marcus Jones (Troy)

Hotels, recruiting trips and meals among the things on the chopping block at New Mexico due to budget cuts

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Operating a Division I athletics program can be tough but few face the inherent hurdles of running a department quite like the two FBS schools in the state of New Mexico. For years the Aggies of New Mexico State have had one of the smallest budgets in the country and their rivals at New Mexico are not immune to the same challenges either. Case in point came this week as the Lobos moved to cut four sports on Thursday by a unanimous vote from the UNM Board of Regents.

While football was not on the chopping block for the school (it’s a required sport to remain in the Mountain West), the program itself is not immune to penny-pinching the department is facing in the near term. According to the Albuquerque Journal, this includes no longer staying at a hotel the nights before home games, a reduction in the recruiting budget for trips and a potential reduction in the number of meals the school provides to players.

“We are talking about football internally,” athletic director Eddie Nuñez said. “Football, as well as every other sport, is going to be held to the same accountability when it comes to managing their budgets.”

According to recent records, the football team spent a reported $8.3 million during the most recent fiscal year and failed to turn a profit. The Lobos will soon be reducing the total number of players on the team from 116 to 113 (there will remain 85 scholarships available) for both budgetary and Title IX reasons as well. While it was certainly not intended, the program did see some additional cost savings earlier this year when they suspended head coach Bob Davie without pay for 30 days.

Still, times are tough in the state and nobody knows that better than the athletic departments who are facing a money-crunch and trying to do what they can to dig themselves out of it.

North Carolina’s self-reported NCAA violations the result of players selling their shoes

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We learned two things about the North Carolina football program this week and neither of them are all that great for the Tar Heels or their brand.

The item that generated the most headlines was head coach Larry Fedora discussing his misguided views on CTE at ACC Media Days but in terms of impact, it may very well be the fact that the school self-reported several NCAA violations that could lead to player suspensions this season. Now we know what the whole mess was about and let’s just say that it’s a lot less serious than the last time the school underwent the NCAA microscope.

Per WRAL, the secondary violations that were agreed upon were the result of players “selling university-issued shoes and athletic gear.” Yep, selling shoes.

“It’s disappointing,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham told The News & Observer about the matter. “You know we do a great job. I think our compliance office does a great job with education, and students know the rules, and occasionally we make mistakes. We had a couple of students who made some mistakes, and there’s obviously penalties associated with that.”

Adding a layer to this story is that the school recently switched to the Jordan Brand for their apparel prior to the 2017 season as a nod to the Tar Heels’ most famous alum. As part of a uniform unveil that summer, players were given a free pair of Retro 11s and understandably went nuts upon receiving them. They also received some Air Jordan 3 retros in January. It’s unknown whether those shoes are the ones in question that were sold or if it were some other items that players were given to wear but the bottom line is selling such items is against NCAA rules.

At well over $100 for each pair, the players in question face not only repaying the money to a charity to regain eligibility but also the prospect of several games worth of suspensions. It seems like we’ll find out soon who will be held out and for how long but that trip to face Cal in the season opener could be a lot tougher than Fedora and his staff thought thanks to the latest bit of scandal in Chapel Hill.

Watch list season rolls on with Rimington Trophy latest to release list of 58 (!) centers to keep an eye on

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Are you a center that plays college football? Congrats, there’s a nearly 50% chance that you’re on the latest watch list to be released to the media for a postseason award.

On Friday, the Remington Trophy followed in the footsteps of its counterparts and released the 2018 Fall Watch List featuring centers from all over the country. In total, some 58 (!) players made the cut after getting nominated by their schools. The Pac-12 led the way this season with a full 10 players on the list, followed by the ACC with eight centers and the SEC just behind with seven.

Among those that you could say headline the entire group are Alabama’s Ross Pierschbacher, Georgia’s Lamont Gaillard, Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy, Texas’ Zach Shackelford, Penn State’s Connor McGovern, Florida State’s Alec Eberle and Clemson’s Justin Falcinelli.

You can find the full Remington Trophy watch list here.

And if you’re in the preseason watch list mood… the Doak Walker Award, Mackey Award, Biletnikoff Award, Davey O’Brien Award, Bednarik Award and Maxwell Award have all released their watch lists for various positions as well.

We’re still a month away from the regular season actually starting in college football but media days and award watch lists are a sure sign every summer that the long, long offseason is coming to an end.