Cincinnati showcases names to keep in mind for NFL draft

Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

ARLINGTON, Texas — Desmond Ridder could be the one to end Cincinnati’s 50-year stretch without a first-round pick in the NFL draft, or the quarterback could watch a teammate get that historic phone call in Las Vegas this spring.

Either way, the Bearcats will showcase talent on a scale rarely seen at their school in a College Football Playoff semifinal against Alabama, which had 10 first-rounders the past two years and at least one for 12 years running.

“If they’re surprised, then they haven’t been watching our games,” said Ridder, a potential first-round choice along with cornerback Ahmad Gardner. “So maybe the draft or whatever, that maybe might help them wake up a little bit, I guess.”

There are plenty of ways to conclude Cincinnati (13-0) is the underdog in the Cotton Bowl on Friday. None is as stark as the history of NFL prospects and stars, which extends to the other semifinal between Georgia and Michigan in the Orange Bowl.

While top-ranked Alabama (12-1) has 62 first-round picks since Cincinnati defensive tackle Bob Bell went 21st overall to Detroit in 1971, Michigan and Georgia aren’t exactly first-round strangers.

Not so for the biggest names in the NFL among Cincinnati alums.

Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce and older brother Jason Kelce, Philadelphia’s center, are both three-time All-Pros, but Travis Kelce has the higher profile as one of Patrick Mahomes‘ favorite targets.

The younger Kelce went in the third round in 2013, while Jason Kelce was a sixth-rounder in 2011. Between the Kelce drafts, the Bearcats had their highest number of picks in the first four rounds with four in 2012.

Cincinnati (No. 4 in The Associated Press and CFP rankings) could match that in the upcoming draft. Ridder, Gardner, edge rusher Myjai Sanders and receiver Alec Pierce are showing up on some lists of top 100 prospects.

“You have to have a little buzz for us, especially for future-wise,” said safety Bryan Cook, another NFL prospect. “But I try not to get too caught up in that aspect. Just at least not right now, because you have a game to play. But from looking at it, it definitely does help us a lot as far as getting looks and things like that.”

Gardner, an Associated Press All-American who hasn’t given up a touchdown in his college career, still has to declare for the draft. But he generally projects higher than any of his teammates, so that decision seems clear.

Cincinnati hasn’t had a draft pick higher than the second round since defensive tackle Derek Wolfe (Denver) and running back Isaiah Pead (then-St. Louis Rams) in 2012. Wolfe had a solid nine-year career with the Broncos and Baltimore, recording 34 sacks in 122 games through 2020, while Pead never really caught on over four seasons.

If nothing else, this year’s Cincinnati prospects will enter the NFL with higher profiles as the first Group of Five school to reach the four-team playoff.

“I guess that’s not the way we choose to look at it, an opportunity to showcase our talent, as much as our unit strength and our team strength and our team chemistry,” defensive coordinator Mike Tressel said. “We feel like everybody coming together is the only way to beat an Alabama or anybody else that’s in the playoff. Our guys are excited to match up.”

The Crimson Tide has taken the Heisman Trophy winner into consecutive playoffs with receiver DeVonta Smith last season and Bryce Young, the first Alabama quarterback to win the award, this year.

Ridder led the only remaining undefeated FBS team, while “Sauce” Gardner allowed just 17 catches in 13 games and fellow cornerback Coby Bryant won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s top defensive back. But millions of television viewers will be seeing those names for the first time Friday.

“A lot of people might not think or might not know, that’s not their fault, because that’s not something they were brought into or really seen,” Cook said. “All I can say is, we do have a lot of guys who can actually play on the next level.”

The proof should come on the Strip in Las Vegas in four months.

South Carolina gives AD Tanner raise, two-year extension

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner received a two-year contract extension that ties him to the school through June 2026.

Tanner, 64, is a two-time College World Series champion as the Gamecocks’ baseball coach who moved to leading the athletic department in July 2012.

The new deal was approved by the school’s board of trustees Friday and replaces Tanner’s old agreement that was set to expire in June 2024. Tanner will receive a raise of more than $153,000 per season, increasing his total compensation to $1.175 million.

Tanner has had his ups and downs leading the department. He took over when football coach Steve Spurrier was in the middle of three straight 11-2 seasons with players like defensive lineman Jadeveon Clowney and receiver Alshon Jeffrey.

Tanner’s hire to replace Spurrier, Will Muschamp, lasted less than five seasons before he was let go in the middle of 2020. Muschamp’s replacement, current coach Shane Beamer, has had back-to-back winning seasons and been to a bowl game his first two yeas.

Tanner has also overseen the rise of women’s basketball under coach Dawn Staley, who signed a seven-year contract before the 2021-22 season worth $22.4 million. Staley and the Gamecocks won the national title last April and are favorites to repeat this season.

Michigan RB Blake Corum says he’ll be back by fall camp

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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan All-America running back Blake Corum said his surgically repaired left knee has gotten strong enough that he’s been cleared to run on an anti-gravity treadmill next week.

Corum said that he is “100%” sure he will play in the season-opening game on Sept. 2 against East Carolina

Corum tore a meniscus and sprained a ligament in his left knee against Illinois on Nov. 19. After playing sparingly against Ohio State, he sat out when the Wolverines won the Big Ten title and advanced to the College Football Playoff semifinals.

Instead of entering the NFL draft, Corum decided to stay in school for his senior year.

“Feeling great all-around mentally, physically spiritually,” Corum told The Associated Press.

The 5-foot-8, 210-pound Corum ran for 1,463 yards and 18 touchdowns last season and had 952 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2021.

“I’ll be back definitely by fall camp,” he said. “I plan on doing everything in the summer workouts, depending on on what doctor says. He told me I shouldn’t be cutting until maybe June. I’m taking my time, but I will be ready by the season.”

Corum will be watching when his teammates face each each other in the Maize and Blue spring game on April 1 at Michigan Stadium.