Associated Press

No. 1 Alabama strolls into Playoff with 3rd straight SEC championship

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Though no one will ever come out and say it, Alabama didn’t have to win on Saturday. The Tide clinched their third straight College Football Playoff trip with last week’s 30-12 victory over Auburn, and nothing that happened under the Georgia Dome roof would change that. As far as the next month is considered, the only thing on the line in Atlanta was whether Florida or Auburn would represent the SEC in the Sugar Bowl.

But, to quote a famous, fictional Alabamian, Alabama did as Alabama does. They won anyway. And they won big.

No. 1 Alabama waltzed to a 54-16 rout over No. 15 Florida, securing the Tide’s third straight SEC championship and its third straight Playoff berth.

Florida opened the game with a 10-play, 64-yard touchdown drive capped by a 5-yard strike from Austin Appleby to Antonio Callaway, then immediately forced a three-and-out. But the very next play was an Appleby interception, and the boulder started rolling downhill from there.

Alabama got on the board with an Adam Griffith field goal and, on the ensuing possession, Minkah Fitzpatrick snared an errant Appleby pass for a 44-yard pick-six to give the Tide the lead at the 5:06 mark of the first quarter.

Florida’s next possession ended in a punt — that was blocked and returned 27 yards by Joshua Jacobs for a touchdown. (The extra point was itself blocked and returned for two points by Florida.)

By that point, Alabama enjoyed a 16-9 lead without gaining a first down on offense.

Jalen Hurts and company took care of that, though, moving 88 yards in seven plays punctuated by a 6-yard Gehrig Dieter reception.

Florida ended its next possession with yet another disaster, this time a fake punt in their own territory that never had a chance of achieving a first down. Florida was spared when Adam Griffith‘s field goal missed, but Griffith converted a 25-yard field goal on his next try and the Tide’s following possession ended in a 6-yard Jacobs run — giving Alabama a 33-9 lead and the SEC Championship record for most points in a half.

Florida closed the half with a 92-yard touchdown drive capped by a 25-yard strike from Appleby to DeAndre Goolsby to pull within 33-16 at the break. Any shot at a Florida second-half comeback ended in the middle of the third quarter when, staked to a 1st-and-goal at the Alabama 2-yard line, three consecutive runs netted zero yards and Appleby’s fourth down connection to Goolsby sailed out of bounds. Alabama immediately answered by moving 98 yards in eight snaps, most of which came on the legs of Damien Harris and Bo Scarborough.

Scarborough capped Alabama’s next drive — this a 14-play, 13-run, 7-minute, 34-second, 91-yard migration — with his second rushing touchdown of the day, opening the gap to 47-16 with 9:15 remaining. Derrick Gore closed the scoring with a 10-yard burst up the middle with 3:48 to play.

For the game, Alabama rushed 38 times for 234 yards and four touchdowns; Scarborough carried 11 times for 91 yards and two scores, and Harris added eight rushes for 86 yards. Hurts booked a modest day of 11-of-20 passing for 138 yards and a touchdown. Appleby completed his day with 26 completions on 39 attempts for 261 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions. Florida totaled precisely zero rushing yards on 30 credited rushes.

Alabama became the second team in the league’s championship game era to win three straight SEC titles; next season they’ll attempt to tie Florida’s record of four straight SEC Championship victories from 1993-96. The win secured Nick Saban‘s fifth SEC championship at Alabama (and his seventh overall) . It also pushed Alabama past Florida for the most SEC Championship victories at eight in 12 total appearances and edged the Tide to a 5-4 lead in head-to-head SEC title games. The victory extended the Tide’s overall SEC championship lead to 26 total crowns.

The Tide’s 54 points were five off the SEC Championship record (Auburn, 2013) and the most by a Florida opponent since Nebraska steamrolled the Gators 62-24 in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl.

Saturday’s game was notable for a number of reasons. It was the 25th SEC Championship. It was the final SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome. It was the final SEC game legendary broadcaster Verne Lundquist will ever call. And it was the first SEC title game since, oh, about 2005 with absolutely zero national championship stakes on the line.

And as long as the Tide stays this far ahead of the rest of the SEC, it won’t be the last.

Mike Riley reportedly leaving Oregon State to join spring football league in San Antonio

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Next spring you may very well be able to see a former San Antonio Gunslinger-turned-Pac-12 coach across the sidelines from a former San Antonio Rider turned-Pac-12 coach… in San Antonio.

If you’re throughly confused or don’t know the semi-pro teams that have operated in the state of Texas over the years, the former would be referring to new Alliance of American Football head coach Rick Neuheisel and the latter is referring to Mike Riley, who according to longtime NFL reporter and current SiriusXM host Alex Marvez is apparently leaving his gig as an assistant at Oregon State to be a head coach again with a new AAF franchise.

Riley re-joined the Beavers coaching staff this offseason as assistant head coach and tight ends coach, helping out his former QB Jonathan Smith in Corvallis after he was let go from Nebraska. His third stint on the sidelines for OSU does not appear to be a lengthy one based on this report though it’s possible he could coach the upcoming 2018 season with the team before going to Texas since the AAF does not start until February of 2019 as a unique new spring league.

The move does mark a return to San Antonio for Riley, who has spent plenty of time in the area over the years and was once the head coach of the Riders (a World League of American Football team) for two seasons in 1991 and 1992. Interestingly enough, that first coaching staff had now-Wisconsin head coach Paul Chryst on it and saw current Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett become the starting quarterback.

Oregon State has not confirmed Riley’s departure or his temporary replacement if there is one but one figures to hear more details at a press conference for the AAF tomorrow.

Notre Dame LB Te’Von Coney pleads guilty to marijuana possession

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Notre Dame linebacker Te’Von Coney on Tuesday pleaded guilty to marijuana possession as part of a case stemming back to 2016. Coney was one of five Irish players arrested on Aug. 19, 2016, when an Indiana State Police trooper made a traffic stop for speeding and discovered marijuana and an unregistered handgun in the car. Notre Dame safety Max Redfield, wideout Kevin Stepherson, cornerback Ashton White and running back Dexter Williams were also arrested.

Through a plea deal, Coney was sentenced to 363 days of probation and had a 180-day jail sentenced suspended down to time served.

White, Redfield and Stepherson were either booted from the team or transferred, while Coney and Williams have gone on to shine in South Bend. Williams rushed 39 times for 360 yards and four touchdowns last season and is expected to split starting duties this fall, while Coney was Notre Dame’s leading tackler a year ago, collecting 116 stops and 12.5 TFLs.

A Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., native, Coney’s plea is not expected to impact his status on the team. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said earlier this month he expected Coney, who is taking summer classes at Notre Dame right now, to play this fall “if he takes care of it (the court case) in the manner I expect him to.”

Wake Forest adds pair of graduate transfer kickers

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Wake Forest was active on the graduate transfer market Tuesday, picking up two kickers to add to its 2018 roster.

The Deacons announced Darren Ford as a transfer from Division III Hope College in Michigan and Eric Osteen from Army.

Ford connected on 25-of-38 field goals and 99 PATs at Hope while also averaging 40 yards per punt over the past two seasons. He also handled kickoffs for the past three seasons at Hope.

Osteen is a rare case; he graduated from Army back in 2013 and recently completed a 5-year tour of duty in the U.S. Army. He will kick for Wake Forest while pursuing an MBA. He was the Black Knights’ kickoff specialist in his former career, totaling 40 touchbacks in 110 kickoffs from 2011-12. He recorded five kickoffs in six tries during Army’s 2012 game against Wake Forest.

Ford and Osteen figure to slide into starting roles for the Deacons’ 2018 squad. Mike Weaver, a senior, handled place-kicking and kickoff duties for Wake Forest a season ago. He made 21-of-25 field goals and 52-of-56 extra points and posted 33 touchbacks in 83 total kickoffs.

WATCH: Netflix releases “Last Chance U.” trailer

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Netflix’s smash hit “Last Chance U.” is back next month for its third season, but in a way it’ll be its first. After following East Mississippi Community College and its firebrand head coach Buddy Stephens for two seasons, college football’s answer to Amazon’s “All or Nothing” has moved to a new subject. After considering a number of schools, “Last Chance U.” will follow Independence Community College in Independence, Kansas, coached by Jason Brown, for its third season.

“Last Chance U.” will follow the Pirates as they navigate the entire 2017 season, which concluded with a 9-2 record, a Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference championship and a win over Northeastern Oklahoma A&M in the Midwest Bowl.

The new season premiers July 20.