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Illinois officially welcomes Georgia transfer TE Luke Ford

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Illinois may not have been able to secure a commitment from the top player in the state coming out of high school, but the Illini got him now. Tight end Luke Ford has officially been added to the Illinois football program, as announced today the school Tuesday.

Ford announced his intent to transfer from Georgia to Illinois a few days ago. In his previous statement about his decision to leave the Bulldogs, Ford cited a desire to be closer to his family due to the health of his grandparents and the cost for his family to travel to see him play each week. Illinois head coach Lovie Smith mentioned that factor in a statement about the addition of Ford to the roster.

“Luke Ford was the top-rated recruit in the state of Illinois his senior year and we worked very hard in developing a great relationship during his recruitment,” Smith said in a released statement. “It’s not unusual for athletes wanting to be near home so that family members are close by, and we are extremely happy that Luke felt Illinois was the place for him to attend school and play football after making the decision to transfer.”

Smith and Illinois have been busy adding to their roster with transfer players this offseason. Illinois previously added Miami wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Oklahoma wide receiver A.D. Miller. Minnesota defensive back Rey Estes also previously announced his decision to transfer to Illinois.

Hollywood heads to NFL as Oklahoma loses top receiver

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For the second time in as many days, Oklahoma has lost a starter on the offensive side of the ball.

New Year’s Day, starting right tackle Cody Ford utilized Twitter to announce he was foregoing his final season with the Sooners and making himself available for the NFL draft a couple of months down the road.  A day later, teammate and leading receiver Marquise Brown used the same social media site to make the same announcement.

Brown topped a 1,000 yards receiving each of the past two seasons, totaling 1,318 in 2018 and 1,095 in 2017.  He’ll finish his collegiate career with 132 receptions and 17 receiving touchdowns.

None of those stats came in the College Football Playoff loss to Alabama as a foot injury suffered in the Big 12 championship game limited him significantly against the Crimson Tide.

Alabama advances to another title rematch vs. Clemson with Orange Bowl defeat of Oklahoma

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No. 1 Alabama began its run to a second straight national championship and its sixth of the Nick Saban era exactly where it left off from last year’s title game — with a long throw from Tua Tagovailoa to Devonta Smith, the same players who threw and caught the astonishing rainbow to beat Georgia last January. Damien Harris hammered in a 1-yard touchdown run six plays later, and the Crimson Tide was officially off to the races.

Alabama’s Heisman runner-up returned to the ultra-efficient form that made him the favorite for most of the season, while Quinnen Williams and company harassed Heisman winner Kyler Murray unlike anything he has ever seen, allowing the Crimson Tide to race to a 28-0 lead just 17 minutes into Saturday night’s Capital One Orange Bowl.

Murray and company eventually got their sea legs under them, but by then it was too little, too late. With a 45-34 victory over the No. 4 Sooners, Alabama advanced to yet another national championship game on Jan. 7 in Santa Clara, Calif.

The Tide will once again meet Clemson, a 30-3 winner over Notre Dame earlier today, for the fourth straight season, and the third time in the College Football Playoff National Championship. It will be Alabama’s seventh national championship appearance in the past 10 seasons.

Alabama scored touchdowns on its first four possessions, a string of offensive perfection that saw the Tide rack up 239 yards on 25 plays. Tagovailoa pushed Alabama up 14-0 with a 10-yard dime to Henry Ruggs III, but the emblematic score came on a 27-yard toss to Josh Jacobs on a play that was designed as a dump off but became a thundering shrine to Alabama’s physical dominance over its crimson counterpart when the Tide running back collided with Oklahoma safety Robert Barnes at the goal line, forcing him to be helped off the field.

Tagovailoa finished the game 24-of-27 (all three incompletions were officially scored as drops) for 318 yards and four touchdowns, while Jacobs totaled 158 yards and a touchdown on 19 touches.

Meanwhile, Murray saw a level of pressure on his first two drop backs that he has never seen before in his life. After a 3-yard keeper to open the game, he was sacked by Anfernee Jennings on second down, then sacked again by Christian Miller on third down.

Oklahoma’s first three possessions ended in punts; by that point, Alabama held a 21-0 lead on the score board and a 191-0 edge in total yards.

Murray and company joined the game after that. A 4-play, 75-yard touchdown drive put the Sooners on the board at the 11:48 mark of the second quarter, and Oklahoma finished the game with an Oklahoma-like 471 yards of total offense, the most gained by an Alabama opponent this season.

Murray finished the game 19-of-37 passing for 308 yards and two touchdowns while rushing 17 times for 109 yards and another score, showcasing a mettle that this season has not asked him to show while at the same time never really pulling Oklahoma back in the game. After beginning the game by falling in a 28-point hole, OU pulled back within 11 at three different points but could get no closer.

After a 49-yard Murray pass to Charleston Rambo at the 3:03 mark of the third quarter pulled Oklahoma within 31-20, Alabama went 75 yards in nine plays and just under five minutes to go to inch back ahead at 38-20. When Murray hit CeeDee Lamb for a 10-yard score to pull his team within 38-27 at the 8:31 mark of the fourth quarter, Alabama went 46 yards in five plays, pushing its lead to 45-27 on a 13-yard strike from Tua to Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy at the 6:08 mark of the fourth quarter.

And when Murray scampered in for an 8-yard touchdown run at the 4:23 mark, Alabama successfully ran out the remaining 263 seconds to advance to yet another national championship game.

Alabama rolling over Oklahoma in Orange Bowl

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Alabama’s offense has played to its potential, as expected. But it was the Crimson Tide defense, angry after a month of hype for their counterparts, that dominated the first half of Saturday night’s Orange Bowl, allowing No. 1 Alabama to jump out to a 28-0 edge en route to a commanding 31-10 halftime lead over No. 4 Oklahoma.

Oklahoma won the toss and chose to put its defense on the field first, and Alabama immediately punished them for it when Tua Tagovailoa hit Devonta Smith — the same connection that won last season’s national championship — for a 50-yard gain. Damien Harris converted a 3rd-and-5 with a 15-yard reception, putting the ball at the OU 5-yard line. He then appeared to fumble the ball away at the 1, but the play was overturned upon review and he barreled in for a touchdown on the next snap. It marked the 41st time in 48 tries an Oklahoma opponent found pay dirt on a red zone penetration, the worst ratio in the country.

Trailing 7-0, Kyler Murray and the Oklahoma offense took the field for the first time — and went three-and-out. After a 3-yard keeper on first down, Murray was sacked by Anfernee Jennings on second down and engulfed by Christian Miller on third.

After Austin Seibert‘s punt — a short one, just 35 yards — Alabama knifed 45 yards in seven plays, with Tua completions of nine, 13 and 11 yards, setting up a 10-yard scoring lob to Henry Ruggs III on third-and-goal and putting Oklahoma in the danger zone at 14-0 less than 10 minutes into the game.

Oklahoma managed to achieve a first down on its second possession, but a 5-yard loss by Trey Sermon and two incompletions to Marquise Brown forced another Seibert punt. Tua hit Jerry Jeudy for a 40-yard bomb two plays later and all of a sudden the Tide were in the OU red zone again. After two Jalen Hurts touches put the ball at the 1, Harris powered in for his second score, putting Alabama up 21-0 at the 1:33 mark of the first quarter.

To that point, Alabama wasn’t just shutting Oklahoma out on the scoreboard. The Crimson Tide led in total yardage 191-0.

Oklahoma pushed into positive yardage on its third possession but, sensing any shot at a comeback hung in the balance — with 10 seconds to play in the first quarter, mind you — Lincoln Riley decided to go for a 4th-and-4 from his own 48. Murray’s pass was incomplete.

Taking over in Sooners territory, Alabama needed only five plays to push its lead to 28-0. On a 3rd-and-6 from the OU 27, Tagovailoa hit a wide-open Josh Jacobs on a swing route, who ran untouched until he demolished Sooners safety Robert Barnes at the goal line, who had to be helped off the field.

Down four touchdowns, Oklahoma’s offense finally got off the mat. Keyed by a 39-yard catch-and-run completion to fullback Carson Meier, Murray pushed the ball to the Alabama 2 with a 32-yard strike to CeeDee Lamb, allowing Sermon to put the Sooners on the board at the 11:48 mark of the second quarter.

Sparked by that score, Oklahoma’s defense forced its first stop — a three-and-out, no less — allowing the Sooners to take over at midfield, but Murray threw incomplete for Grant Calcaterra in the end zone on a 3rd-and-5 from the 8, forcing a 26-yard Seibert field goal and pulling OU within 28-10 at the exact midpoint of the second quarter.

Alabama leaned on Oklahoma’s forgiving run defense on the ensuing drive, consuming 7:01 of the remaining 7:30, but a false start prevented Nick Saban from going for a 4th-and-1 from the OU 15, forcing a 38-yard Joseph Bulovas field goal.

In a pair of stats that tell the story, Murray was 6-of-13 for 122 yards, while his Heisman runner-up counterpart was 15-of-17 for 224 yards and two touchdowns. Murray led all runners with 46 yards on nine carries, barely edging out Jacobs’ nine carries for 45 yards, though Jacobs also caught three passes for 47 yards and a thundering touchdown.

Oklahoma will receive to open the second half.

CFT Previews: College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl

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WHO: No. 4 Oklahoma (12-1) vs. No. 1 Alabama (13-0)
WHAT: The 85th Capital One Orange Bowl (and the second College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl)
WHEN: 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPN
WHERE: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Fla.
THE SKINNY: Tempting as it may be to center the game around Tua Tagovailoa‘s right knee, that is not the most important lower body injury heading into this game. That would belong to Oklahoma wideout Marquise Brown, who injured his foot/ankle in the Sooners’ Big 12 Championship win and did not return. While OU would still boast a good-to-great offense without its All-American wide receiver (75 catches for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns) at full strength, Brown’s speed provides a third dimension that pushes the Sooners’ attack from great to world class.

And make no mistake, Oklahoma’s offense will need to be at world class level to beat Alabama.

Remember, Oklahoma racked up 289 passing yards, 242 rushing yards and 41 points (seven came from the defense) in last year’s Rose Bowl, and it still wasn’t enough to hold off Georgia. Even if Tagovailoa doesn’t play (and it appears that he will) or isn’t at full strength (to be determined), Alabama will still likely move the ball on OU’s defense. While the Sooners have proven an ability to make the plays when they need them — recall the two touchdowns to beat West Virginia and the same-changing safety against Texas — they won’t match up well with Alabama’s offense even if Jalen Hurts is taking the snaps.

So the question becomes what do Lincoln Riley and Kyler Murray have up their sleeves for Nick Saban and his defense? The Heisman Trophy winner will be a challenge unlike the Tide have ever faced — a Johnny Manziel-like running ability, but quicker, and with a stronger, more accurate arm. Murray averaged 311 passing yards and 68 more on the ground. Those numbers may need to be closer to 350 and 100 — and it still may not be enough.

THE PICK: Alabama 45, Oklahoma 35