Perfect Alabama finishes No. 1 in AP Top 25 for 12th time

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MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — Alabama finished the season No. 1 in the AP Top 25 for the 12th time, extending its record by completing the program’s first perfect season since 2009.

The Crimson Tide were a unanimous No. 1 in the final poll, getting 61 first-place votes, after beating Ohio State 52-24 in the College Football Playoff championship game Monday night.

Alabama was the preseason No. 3, but when it started playing this strange season amid a pandemic in late September it moved up to No. 2. The Tide jumped to No. 1 in early November and finished as major college football’s only undefeated team.

“We set this as a goal, to potentially be the greatest team to ever play,” Tide quarterback Mac Jones said. “I think we made a valid statement in winning the national championship tonight.”

The Buckeyes were second, followed by Clemson at No. 3. Texas A&M was fourth, finally passing Notre Dame for the Aggies’ best finish in the AP poll since they won the national title in 1939. The Fighting Irish made the playoff but slipped to No. 5 after losing to Alabama in the semifinals.

For the Crimson Tide, it is the sixth national title under coach Nick Saban in the last 12 seasons. No other team has won more than two during that time. With 12 AP titles overall – Paul “Bear” Bryant was coach for five and Gene Stallings for one – Alabama has four more than Notre Dame, in second place with eight.

Big 12 champion Oklahoma finished No. 6, Georgia seventh and Cincinnati was eighth.

The Tide, Aggies and Bulldogs give the Southeastern Conference three teams in the top seven. The SEC finished 7-2 in the bowls, counting Alabama’s national championship victory.

Iowa State was No. 9, its best final ranking and only the third time the Cyclones have finished the season ranked. Northwestern finished 10th, the Wildcats’ best final showing since they went to the Rose Bowl in 1995 and were eighth in the last poll.

The Big 12 finished with a perfect record in five bowl games. Oklahoma and Iowa State were joined by No. 19 Texas and No. 20 Oklahoma State in the final rankings from that conference.

The ACC’s postseason was a dud at 0-6. Clemson, Notre Dame, No. 18 North Carolina and No. 22 Miami gave the ACC four ranked teams.

The odd season in a pandemic put a spotlight on teams outside the Power Five conferences as never before, and the final poll treated the upstarts well.

Cincinnati, the American Athletic Conference champ, was one of eight non-Power Five teams to land in the Top 25.

Independent BYU finished No. 11, the Cougars’ best final ranking since they finished the 1995 season fifth.

Sun Belt rivals Coastal Carolina and Louisiana-Lafayette were Nos. 14 and 15, respectively. That conference had never finished with two ranked teams. Liberty, another independent, was 17th.

Rounding out the bottom of the poll were No. 23 Ball State, the Mid-American Conference champ, No. 24 San Jose State, the champ of the Mountain West, and No. 25 Buffalo, another MAC school.

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”