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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.

Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, Oklahoma’s Grant Calcaterra lead off 2019 watch list for the Mackey Award

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Being a tight end in today’s version of college football means you’re a player wearing many hats.

While blocking is emphasized less than ever before, players at the position still need to do it in addition to splitting out wide, running reverses and lining up all over the field in a variety of offensive sets. This year’s annual watch list for the 2019 Mackey Award includes a host of players who can do it all and leave an impact between the lines that can make them a headache for opposing defensive coordinators.

While the entire list includes just about every starter at the position in the country, some of the headliners for the upcoming season include Washington’s Hunter BryantOklahoma’s Grant Calcaterra, Alabama’s Miller Forristall, Memphis’ Joey Magnifico, Missouri’s Albert Okwuegbunam, Stanford’s Colby Parkinson and Vandy’s Jared Pinkney.

The full list of players on the Mackey Award watch list can be found here.

Last year’s winner was Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson, who later became a top 10 draft pick for the Detroit Lions the following spring.

Jim Harbaugh says Michigan is close to scheduling a football game overseas

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Jim Harbaugh hasn’t yet conquered the Big Ten but he sure is trying his best to plant the Michigan flag all around the globe.

Speaking to reporters at the conference’s media days on Friday, the Wolverines head coach was asked about his program playing an actual football game abroad and he indicated that plans are in the works for just that.

“Yeah, you know, we like travel. Mexico City would be great,” Harbaugh remarked. “I know you can talk about this, we’re scheduling — I think we’re really close to announcing, actually, playing another team on foreign soil. I won’t say what it is because — have you heard anything about this? Then I’d better not say it because we’re probably not ready to release that yet. But I think there’s something really imminent. There will be an announcement soon on that.”

Michigan AD Warde Manuel played coy in a subsequent message to the Detroit News and said nothing was finalized but the school may do just that at some point.

Harbaugh has already taken his team to Italy, France and South Africa for visits during the spring but this would be the first time he’s indicated something for the fall. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany indicated he would be in favor of playing a game somewhere like Mexico City on Thursday but did not seem to suggest that anything was in the works for a game to be played south of the border in the near term.

It’s not known if the Wolverines are thinking about taking a conference or non-conference game abroad but something says they can find a willing partner from the Pac-12 if so.

Famed NCAA waiver attorney is changing sides and reportedly joining NCAA enforcement

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If you can’t beat ’em, hire ’em?

Seems like that is the case this week as Yahoo! Sports says that famed attorney Thomas Mars is switching sides from battling the NCAA for player eligibility waivers and will instead join the NCAA’s new “Complex Case Unit.”

Mars recently announced that he was getting out of the business of representing players in their battles with Indianapolis to become immediately eligible. While he cited overwhelming demand as one reason for getting out of that line of work, it seems wanting to pursue other opportunities was the more notable aspect of him leaving — in this case going to work for the very people he once sat across from (albeit in a different department now).

In addition to handling high-profile cases like Michigan’s Shea Patterson and Ohio State’s Justin Fields, Mars also popped onto the college football radar for his work handling Houston Nutt’s lawsuit against Ole Miss.

The Complex Case Unit, which is not an upcoming version of Law & Order: NCAA, is something born out of the commission looking into the federal college basketball scandal. Per Yahoo!, it “is expected to be comprised of a combination of external investigators and members of the NCAA enforcement staff that is tasked to handle the more complicated and large-scale investigations of potential NCAA rules violations.”

It seems Mars is one of those external investigators who will be part of the group in an interesting move from the NCAA.

Tua Tagovailoa, nine other Tide players headline preseason All-SEC first-team

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Alabama and Georgia are the overwhelming favorites in the SEC this year and it’s pretty clear why when looking through the media selections on the preseason All-SEC teams in 2019.

The Tide placed 10 (yes 10 of their 11 starters) players across the three All-SEC offense teams — including six on the first-team — and nine more players on the defensive side. To put that in perspective, the Bulldogs, the massive favorite to emerge out of the East — had 10 players total (not counting specialists) on the six ‘teams’ spread across both sides of the ball.

LSU had eight players make the cut and Auburn placed six plus both of their specialists. Maybe the most interesting selection was that of Joe Burrow as third-team quarterback over somebody like Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond.

First-Team Offense

QB       Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama          

RB        D’Andre Swift, Georgia            

RB        Najee Harris, Alabama

WR       Jerry Jeudy, Alabama   

WR       Henry Ruggs III, Alabama 

TE         Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri  

OL        Andrew Thomas, Georgia     

OL        Alex Leatherwood, Alabama     

OL        Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn                             

OL        Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama               

C          Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU

Second-Team Offense

QB        Jake Fromm, Georgia  

RB        Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Vanderbilt      

RB        Lamical Perine, Florida           

WR       Kalija Lipscomb, Vanderbilt                         

WR       Jaylen Waddle, Alabama              

TE         Jared Pinkney, Vanderbilt    

OL        Solomon Kindley, Georgia        

OL        Damien Lewis, LSU                           

OL        Tre’Vour Wallace-Simms, Missouri                          

OL         Isaiah Wilson, Georgia

C           Darryl Williams, Mississippi State

Third-Team Offense

QB        Joe Burrow, LSU 

RB        Larry Rountree, Missouri     

RB        JaTarvious Whitlow, Auburn     

WR       Justin Jefferson, LSU

WR       Bryan Edwards, South Carolina              

TE         Miller Forristall, Alabama

TE        Charlie Woerner, Georgia                              

OL        Deonte Brown, Alabama               

OL        Ben Cleveland, Georgia  

OL        Logan Stenberg, Kentucky      

OL        Matt Womack, Alabama             

C          Drake Jackson, Kentucky

First-Team Defense

DL        Raekwon Davis, Alabama      

DL        Derrick Brown, Auburn                            

DL        Rashard Lawrence, LSU                          

DL        Jabari Zuniga, Florida                             

LB         Dylan Moses, Alabama                       

LB        Anfernee Jennings, Alabama       

LB        Erroll Thompson, Mississippi State                             

DB       Grant Delpit, LSU                              

DB        J.R. Reed, Georgia                    

DB        Trevon Diggs, Alabama                    

DB        C.J. Henderson, Florida

Second-Team Defense

DL        Nick Coe, Auburn                                                  

DL        Justin Madubuike, Texas A&M                   

DL        Marlon Davidson, Auburn               

DL        Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina           

LB        Cale Garrett, Missouri              

LB         De’Jon Harris, Arkansas           

LB        David Reese II, Florida                   

DB        Patrick Surtain II, Alabama      

DB        Xavier McKinney, Alabama                             

DB        Kristian Fulton, LSU                               

DB        Cameron Dantzler, Mississippi State

Third-Team Defense

DL         LaBryan Ray, Alabama  

DL        McTelvin Agim, Arkansas                

DL        Chauncey Rivers, Mississippi State                              

DL        Tyler Clark, Georgia   

LB        Terrell Lewis, Alabama                               

LB         Jacob Phillips, LSU        

LB         Kash Daniel, Kentucky                              

DB       DeMarkus Acy, Missouri             

DB        Shyheim Carter, Alabama                      

DB        Richard LeCounte, Georgia                        

DB       Daniel Thomas, Auburn                            

First-Team Specialists

P           Braden Mann, Texas A&M  

PK        Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia                                             

RS        Jaylen Waddle, Alabama                                              

AP        Jaylen Waddle, Alabama     

Second-Team Specialists

P           Tommy Townsend, Florida                                        

PK        Anders Carlson, Auburn                                                 

RS        Marquez Callaway, Tennessee                        

AP        Kadarius Toney, Florida                      

Third-Team Specialists

P           Arryn Siposs, Auburn        

PK        Evan McPherson, Florida      

RS        Jashaun Corbin, Texas A&M       

AP        Lynn Bowden, Kentucky