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No. 2 Alabama claims SEC title, Playoff spot with blowout of No. 18 Florida

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With Will Grier sidelined, Florida has an elite defense and Antonio Callaway. That combination enough to squeak by Vanderbilt and Florida Atlantic, and it was enough for the Gators to hang around with Alabama. But Alabama ripped No. 18 Florida apart in the second half, and the second-ranked Tide cruised to a 29-15 win in the SEC Championship.

The win makes Alabama the first team to claim back-to-back SEC titles since Tennessee did the same in 1997-98, and all but guarantees the Tide will be the first and only team to make repeat appearances in the College Football Playoff.

After taking a 12-7 lead into the locker room, Alabama essentially broke the game open by leaning on the Gators until they cracked. And crack they did. The Tide opened the second half with a 12-play, 65-yard drive that consumed nearly seven minutes of clock and culminated in a 30-yard Adam Griffith field goal.

After a three-and-out, Alabama then marched 10 plays in 81 yards, this time eating nearly five minutes, finished off by a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jake Coker to ArDarius Stewart, which pushed the lead to 22-7.

After a missed field goal, Coker all but sealed the game when he found Richard Mullaney for a nine-yard touchdown that put the Tide up 29-7 with 8:50 remaining.

The final score, lopsided as it was, masks the effort Geoff Collins‘ defense and Callaway’s legs posted in the first half to keep Florida in the game – and even lead it for a nine-minute spell. The Tide’s first four possessions ended scoreless, and its first five died short of the end zone. Callaway’s 46-yard first quarter reception threatened to give Florida the lead, and his 85-yard second quarter punt return score did just that.

But Kirby Smart‘s defense was just too much — far, far too much — for Treon Harris and the Gators’ offense. Florida did not score until its 12th touch of the game — a 46-yard heave from Harris to C.J. Worton with 5:03 remaining, the Gators’ first offensive points since the overtime touchdown that finally put Florida Atlantic away back on Nov. 21. All but one of those 12 possession, the drive that ended in Austin Hardin‘s blocked 40-yard field goal try, lasted four plays or less and seven of them either failed to gain yardage or moved backwards.

The Gators went deep into the fourth quarter with just three first downs and less than 100 yards of total offense, in fact.

Florida ended the game with 180 yards, on 3.27 yards per snap, seven first downs and zero third-down conversions in 11 tries. Alabama gained 437 yards of total offense and 25 first downs.

Seven days after carrying a career-high 46 times for 271 yards, Derrick Henry continued to be the locomotive that powered Alabama’s football economy. Florida successfully contained the junior Heisman Trophy candidate for much of the day, but still he charged on for 189 yards and a touchdown on 44 carries. Henry’s output was enough to put him at 1,986 yards on the season, surpassing Herschel Walker‘s 1,891 yards in 1981 for the SEC’s single-season rushing record.

Coker completed an efficient 18-of-24 passes for 204 yards and two scores, and Calvin Ridley hauled in eight grabs for 102 yards.

The win sends Alabama (12-1, 8-1 SEC) to tomorrow’s Selection Sunday announcement awaiting their opponent — likely Oklahoma, Iowa or Michigan State — and their destination — either South Florida or North Texas. Florida (10-3, 7-2 SEC) awaits a Sunday evening announcement of whether they’re driving downstate to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl or Tampa for the Outback Bowl.

Wisconsin launches early Heisman campaign for RB Jonathan Taylor

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The Heisman Trophy has generally been synonymous with the best quarterback on one of the best teams in recent years but there have been a few running backs who have broken through to win the most prestigious award in all of college football.

Hoping to become the next tailback to break the signal-callers’ grip on the stiff arm? That would be Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor, who appears to have a budding campaign for the trophy that was launched by the school on Thursday:

Herschel Walker. Ron Dayne. Ricky Williams. Adrian Peterson. LaDainian Tomlinson. Dominant running backs. Legendary names. Unrivaled production … until now,” one tagline reads. “There’s a new kid on the block and he’s “Bringing Running Back,” back into the spotlight, just like those that came before him. And his name is Jonathan Taylor.”

The website goes through all of the notable stats that Taylor has piled up in just two seasons in Madison and while it doesn’t explicitly say everything is designed to raise the junior’s awareness ahead of Big Ten Media Days and the upcoming 2019 campaign, it does note that his fellow Wisconsin Doak Walker Award winners have all been finalists in New York at some point in their career.

i.e. hint, hint media this guy is pretty good.

And nobody is debating that after he has set numerous records during his first two years on campus. Key to actually making it to New York though might be how Taylor’s team does around him. If the Badgers can get back to being in contention for the Big Ten title once again in 2019, chances are high that the tailback’s play will play a bigger part in getting him the attention he deserves than a website and a hashtag.

Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy headlines 2019 Biletnikoff Award Watch List

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Media Day season is also Watch List season and the latest to surface for the 2019 campaign comes out of Tallahassee in the form of the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. The award, given annually to the nation’s most outstanding receiver, includes the defending winner in Alabama’s Jerry Jeudy and fellow semifinalist Tylan Wallace out of Oklahoma State, as well as a number of other talented pass-catchers from around the country.

Here’s the full list, which is a good general overview of the best wide receivers and tight ends for the upcoming season even if a few names can gripe about being left off:

Lynn Bowden, Jr. (Kentucky)

Rico Bussey, Jr. (North Texas)

Cedric Byrd (Hawaii)

Grant Calcaterra (Oklahoma)

Damonte Coxie (Memphis)

Gabriel Davis (UCF)

Bryan Edwards (South Carolina)

D’Wayne Eskridge (Western Michigan)

Aaron Fuller (Washington)

Antonio Gandy-Golden (Liberty)

KJ Hamler (Penn State)

Adrian Hardy (Louisiana Tech)

Damon Hazelton (Virginia Tech)

Tee Higgins (Clemson)

K.J. Hill (Ohio State)

Isaiah Hodgins (Oregon State)

Justin Jefferson (LSU)

Jerry Jeudy (Alabama)

Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)

Collin Johnson (Texas)

CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)

Ty Lee (Middle Tennessee State)

Kalija Lipscomb (Vanderbilt)

McLane Mannix (Texas Tech)

Kirk Merritt (Arkansas State)

Riley Miller (Ball State)

Denzel Mims (Baylor)

Darnell Mooney (Tulane)

Rondale Moore (Purdue)

Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri)

K.J. Osborn (Miami)

Dezmon Patmon (Washington State)

Jared Pinkney (Vanderbilt)

Michael Pittman, Jr. (USC)

James Proche (SMU)

Jalen Reagor (TCU)

Jared Rice (Fresno State)

Sean Riley (Syracuse)

Reggie Roberson, Jr. (SMU)

Justyn Ross (Clemson)

Henry Ruggs III (Alabama)

Laviska Shenault, Jr. (Colorado)

JD Spielman (Nebraska)

Amon-Ra St. Brown (USC)

Marquez Stevenson (Houston)

Tamorrion Terry (Florida State)

Jaylen Waddle (Alabama)

Tylan Wallace (Oklahoma State)

JoJo Ward (Hawaii)

Quez Watkins (Southern Miss)

Ryan Day isn’t going to name Justin Fields as Ohio State’s starting QB just yet

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Almost as soon as Justin Fields’ waiver to play right away in 2019 was approved, the Georgia transfer was pegged as Ohio State’s starting quarterback.

Ryan Day, however, is picking up this whole being a head coach at media day thing pretty good because the new leader of the Buckeyes offense declined to anoint Fields as the starter despite ample evidence that he’s the guy for the job.

“It’s an interesting situation. Whoever is playing in that first game will be the first time. Justin and Gunnar (Hoak) are going to compete like heck to go win the job,” Day said from the podium at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to who can play the game.”

Hoak, who grad transferred over from Kentucky, was a key pickup for the program in the offseason not just to provide some competition for Fields but to provide much-needed depth after a host of quarterbacks left for other schools. While he has experience playing in five games last year with the Wildcats, there’s a gap in terms of natural talent between him and Fields.

Day seems likely to stick to his timetable of naming the starter a few weeks into camp but it still seems pretty clear as to who eventually will take over for Dwayne Haskins under center for the scarlet and gray.

Still though, you have to hand it to the rookie for going full on coach-speak when it came to his signal-caller at his very first media day in charge.

Big Ten’s Jim Delany upset with College Football Playoff Selection Committee

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Thursday marked the final Big Ten Media Days press conference for outgoing commissioner Jim Delany.

While his appearance was fairly low-key all things considered, the longtime college athletics stalwart didn’t hold back when it came to discussing his league and the College Football Playoff, lobbing some critical comments towards the Selection Committee in particular.

“I wish we had a little more continuity. I wish they would demonstrate as well as state the stronger commitment to strength of schedule,” Delany said. “We should be playing comparable schedules and if we’re not, there should be somewhat to differentiate that.”

The Big Ten has missed out on the playoff the past two seasons and saw its champion be skipped over in another year for a divisional runner-up.

Delany also voiced support for something suggested by Big 12 counterpart Bob Bowlsby to require all teams to play at least 10 Power Five opponents in a season, helping even out the difference between eight and nine conference slates.

“I’ve been disappointed, quite honestly, about the strength of schedule,” he added. “We’re not going to change. There may be pressure to change, but I think that’s short-selling our fans, our players, our TV partners. I’m hoping that the committee catches up with the intent of the founders.”