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Tua Tagovailoa to enter 2020 NFL Draft

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In one of the most anticipated stay-or-go announcements in recent memory, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa will skip his senior season to enter the 2020 NFL Draft.

Tagovailoa made the announcement in a televised press conference from Tuscaloosa on Monday.

Nick Saban on Monday proclaimed him one of the most impactful players in Alabama’s football history, and it would be impossible to argue otherwise.

A former 5-star recruit out of Honolulu, Tagovailoa burst on the scene in one of the most memorable performances in college football history. Though he had appeared in seven games prior, he saved Alabama’s 2017 national championship hopes by arriving in a big way, rescuing the Tide from a 13-0 halftime deficit to defeat Georgia, 26-23 in overtime, sealing the win on an astonishing 41-yard touchdown throw to fellow freshman Devonta Smith.

In his first year as a starter, Tua set the FBS single-season efficiency record, hitting 69 percent of his 355 throws for 3,966 yards (11.2 per attempt) with 43 touchdowns against six interceptions — good for a 199.44 rating. He was even better this fall, connecting on 71.4 percent of his 252 passes for 2,840 yards (11.3 per) with 33 touchdowns against just three picks, a 206.93 rating that put him on pace to shatter his own record had he appeared in one more game this season.

With the announcement, Tagovailoa’s career ended with a hip-breaking sack against Mississippi State on Nov. 16. That injury robbed him of a chance to win a Heisman Trophy and to lead Alabama to a national championship as a full-time starter, but otherwise he checked every box a quarterback can in just two years as a starter.

Speculation had grown in recent weeks that Tua could return and hopefully enter the 2021 draft fully healthy, but that speculation proved moot on Monday.

With Tua officially out, the attention will now turn to an intriguing battle to succeed the best quarterback in Alabama history. Mac Jones proved capable over the final three games, throwing for 327 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in Alabama’s 35-16 win over Michigan in last week’s Citrus Bowl. Competing with Jones will be Tua’s younger brother, rising sophomore Taulia Tagovailoa, and incoming 5-star freshman Bryce Young, whom Tua referenced by name on Monday.

Alabama RT Jedrick Wills, Jr., going pro

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Alabama is getting one of its bookend tackles back, as left tackle Alex Leatherwood announced this week he will return for the 2020 campaign.

The Crimson Tide will not go 2-for-2.

Right tackle Jedrick Wills, Jr., announced Saturday he will enter the 2020 NFL Draft. Willis made the announcement on his Twitter account.

“As a kid from Lexington, KY- It has been a dream of mine since the first time I strapped up my pads to play in the National Football League,” he said. “After prayers and discussion with my family I have decided to forgo my senior season and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft.”

Wills appeared in 11 games as a true freshman before entering the starting roster as a sophomore. He started 28 consecutive games for the Crimson Tide.

A First Team All-SEC performer, Wills was a consensus Second Team All-American this fall.

He is widely expected to be a first round selection in this spring’s draft.

With Leatherwood and linebacker Dylan Moses already returning, Alabama is still awaiting word from (deep breath) running back Najee Harris, receivers Henry Ruggs III and Devonta Smith, safety Xavier McKinney and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

LSU, Alabama headline coaches’ All-SEC teams

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Didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Late Monday morning, the SEC unveiled its 2019 all-conference team, as voted upon by the league’s coaches.  SEC champion LSU and West runner-up Alabama tied for the most first-team selections with six apiece.  SEC East champion Georgia was next up with four, while East runner-up Florida had three.

The Crimson Tide placed 14 players on the first- and second-teams, the most of any single school.  The Tigers, LSU, version, were next at 11.

All told, 13 of the 14 schools in the conference placed at least one player on either team.  Vanderbilt was the only team without a player selected.

According to the conference’s release, more than a dozen players have now been recognized twice on the All-SEC teams: Raekwon Davis (Alabama), Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri), Trey Smith (Tennessee), Andrew Thomas (Georgia), Jerry Jeudy (Alabama), Tua Tagovailoa (Alabama), Grant Delpit (LSU), Braden Mann (Texas A&M), Alex Leatherwood (Alabama), D’Andre Swift (Georgia), Lynn Bowden Jr. (Kentucky), Derrick Brown (Auburn), CJ Henderson (Florida) and Rodrigo Blankenship (Georgia).

FIRST TEAM
OFFENSE
TE
Kyle Pitts, Florida

OL
Andrew Thomas, Georgia
Jedrick Wills Jr., Alabama
Alex Leatherwood, Alabama
Trey Smith, Tennessee

C
Lloyd Cushenberry, LSU

WR
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama

QB
Joe Burrow, LSU

RB
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
D’Andre Swift, Georgia

ALL-PURPOSE
Lynn Bowden Jr., Kentucky

DEFENSE
DL
Derrick Brown, Auburn
Marlon Davidson, Auburn
Jonathan Greenard, Florida
Javon Kinlaw, South Carolina

LB
Anfernee Jennings, Alabama
K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU
Nick Bolton, Missouri

DB
J.R. Reed, Georgia
Grant Delpit, LSU
Xavier McKinney, Alabama
CJ Henderson, Florida

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK
Rodrigo Blankenship, Georgia

P
Braden Mann, Texas A&M

RETURN SPECIALIST
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

SECOND TEAM
OFFENSE
TE
Albert Okwuegbunam, Missouri

OL
Logan Stenberg, Kentucky
Adrian Magee, LSU
Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn
Damien Lewis, LSU

C
Landon Dickerson, Alabama

WR
Devonta Smith, Alabama
Bryan Edwards, South Carolina

QB
Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama

RB
Kylin Hill, Mississippi State
Najee Harris, Alabama

ALL-PURPOSE
Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

DEFENSE
DL
Raekwon Davis, Alabama
Benito Jones, Ole Miss
Rashard Lawrence, LSU
Tyler Clark, Georgia

LB
Daniel Bituli, Tennessee
K.J. Britt, Auburn
Terrell Lewis, Alabama

DB
Derek Stingley, LSU
Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Nigel Warrior, Tennessee
Jacoby Stevens, LSU

SPECIAL TEAMS
PK
Brent Cimaglia, Tennessee

P
Max Duffy, Kentucky

RETURN SPECIALIST
*Jerrion Ealy, Ole Miss
*Treylon Burks, Arkansas
*Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU
*Christian Tutt, Auburn
*Marquez Callaway, Tennessee

(* – Ties)

Semifinalists for Walter Camp Player of the Year Award unveiled, including three each from Clemson, Ohio State

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One of the most prestigious awards in college football has significantly narrowed the field for the 2019 version of the award.

Thursday afternoon, the Walter Camp Football Foundation announced a list of 20 “Players to Watch” for its annual Player of the Year Award.  Included in that group of semifinalists are three players each from Clemson — running back Travis Etienne, quarterback Trevor Lawrence and linebacker Isaiah Simmons — and Ohio State — running back J.K. Dobbins, quarterback Justin Fields and defensive end Chase Young.

Simmons and Young are two of just four from the defensive side of the ball, the others being from the Big Ten as well in Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons and Minnesota defensive back Antoine Winfield.  That Big Ten trio is part of six from that particular conference, the most of any league.  The SEC is next with five, followed by four from the ACC, three from the Big 12 and two from the Pac-12.

As you can tell, no Group of Five made the list.

Aside from Clemson and OSU, the only other schools with more than one player in the group are LSU (quarterback Joe Burrow, wide receiver Ja'Marr Chase) and Oklahoma (quarterback Jalen Hurts, wide receiver CeeDee Lamb).

Positionally, there are six running backs, six quarterbacks, three wide receivers and one tight end (Florida’s Kyle Pitts) in addition to the defensive players already mentioned.  Just four seniors made the cut, compared to 10 juniors and six sophomores.

After suffering a season-ending hip injury, last year’s winner, Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is not one of this year’s 20 semifinalists, the full list of which appears below:

Joe Burrow, QB, Senior, LSU
Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Sophomore, LSU
AJ Dillon, RB, Junior, Boston College
JK Dobbins, RB, Junior, Ohio State
Travis Etienne, RB, Junior, Clemson
Justin Fields, QB, Sophomore, Ohio State
Justin Herbert, QB, Senior, Oregon
Chuba Hubbard, RB, Sophomore, Oklahoma State
Tyler Huntley, QB, Senior, Utah
Jalen Hurts, QB, Senior, Oklahoma
CeeDee Lamb, WR, Junior, Oklahoma
Trevor Lawrence, QB, Junior, Clemson
Micah Parsons, LB, Sophomore, Penn State
Kyle Pitts, TE, Sophomore, Florida
Isaiah Simmons, LB, Redshirt Junior, Clemson
Devonta Smith, WR, Junior, Alabama
D’Andre Swift, RB, Junior, Georgia
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Junior, Wisconsin
Antoine Winfield, DB, RS Sophomore, Minnesota
Chase Young, DE, Junior, Ohio State

Biletnikoff Award whittles hunt for nation’s top receiver down to 12

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The Biletnikoff Award on Monday announced its list of 12 semifinalists for the 2019 award. The award specifies that any player who catches a pass is eligible to win — not just wideouts — but only wideouts have won the award through its 25-year history.

And for what has to be the first time in Biletnikoff history, both LSU and Alabama have two semifinalists, including 2018 winner Jerry Jeudy.

The semifinalists are:

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota: 44 catches for 945 yards (21.5 yards per) and seven touchdowns
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State: 73 catches for 1,262 yards (17.3 yards per) and 14 touchdowns
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU: 57 catches for 1,116 yards (19.6 yards per) and 13 touchdowns
Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty: 64 catches for 1,244 yards (19.4 yards per) and eight touchdowns
Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State: 73 catches for 1,021 yards (14 yards per) and 13 touchdowns
Justin Jefferson, LSU: 71 catches for 1,010 yards (14.2 yards per) and 11 touchdowns
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: 64 catches for 867 yards (13.6 yards per) and nine touchdowns
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: 44 catches for 983 yards (22.3 yards per) and 12 touchdowns
Michael Pittman, Jr., USC: 82 catches for 1,118 yards (13.6 yards per) and nine touchdowns
James Proche, SMU: 88 catches for 1,008 yards (11.5 yards per) and 12 touchdowns
Devonta Smith, Alabama: 56 catches for 1,026 yards (18.3 yards per) and 11 touchdowns
Sage Surratt, Wake Forest: 66 catches for 1,001 yards (15.2 yards per) and 11 touchdowns

The notable snub here is Devin Duvernay of Texas, who is one off the lead for catches (87) but could not crack the voters’ top 12. (Full disclosure: I am a Biletnikoff voter and had Duvernay on my semifinalist list.)

The 12 semifinalists will be chopped down to three next Monday, with the winner announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards on Dec. 12.