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Alabama's Lacy, Milliner, Fluker enter NFL draft

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama tailback Eddie Lacy, cornerback Dee Milliner and right tackle D.J. Fluker are entering the NFL draft after helping lead the Crimson Tide to a second straight national title.

Lacy and Milliner announced their plans to skip their senior seasons Friday at a news conference. Fluker couldn't be there for the announcement because he was traveling.

It's another exodus of talented underclassmen for a team that has won three of the past four national championships. Most of the four first-round picks in each of the past two drafts that left Alabama were underclassmen.

"I appreciate what they've done for the University of Alabama but we also acknowledge the fact that from a business standpoint, these guys are making good decisions about their future and what they can do," coach Nick Saban said.

Unlike recent groups of departing juniors from Alabama, only Milliner is pegged as a sure first-round pick.

He was a Jim Thorpe Award finalist and unanimous All-American after recording two interceptions and 22 pass deflections. He and guard Chance Warmack, who was a senior, are projected as the Tide's top current prospects.

"I think while I was here, I met all the goals and team affirmations that I set for myself as a freshman by winning a championship, becoming an All-American, just being part of a team that always loved to win," Milliner said. "I think I fulfilled all my goals and am ready and prepared to go to the next level."

Lacy was MVP of the national championship game against Notre Dame after rushing for 140 yards and scoring two touchdowns. He said he wasn't 100 percent healthy all season until the title game Monday night, but Lacy still ran for 1,322 yards and 17 touchdowns while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

"We don't have a lot of years to play this position, so you have to go while you can," Lacy said. "I would love to come back. This is a great place. We have the best fans, but I really didn't want to risk coming back and not having such a good year or maybe even risking injury. I've had my share of injuries this year. I feel like you've got to get out while you can."

Lacy thinks he "made a pretty solid statement" in the title game, when he made a spin move into the end zone on a TD catch and on another run pushed 248-pound linebacker Danny Spond away with one hand.

Lacy was recruited in the same class as Trent Richardson, last year's No. 3 pick by Cleveland, but redshirted and then spent two seasons as a backup. He's not widely projected to follow Richardson and 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram into the first round. Lacy said he was projected as a second- or third-round pick in feedback from the NFL, but was impressive in the finale. Ordinarily, Saban only recommends projected first-round picks leave early.

"I'm fully supportive of what Eddie's doing," Saban said. "It's a little bit of a different situation than we've had in the past, but it's a little bit unique as well. Every one of these situations is unique to that particular individual and what his situation is. "

The 6-foot-6, 335-pound Fluker started 35 games for the Tide and was a second-team Associated Press All-American.

He was one of the Tide's top-rated signees in 2009 but came in overweight at about 395 pounds and was redshirted.

"I certainly feel like this year has been his best year as a player, and I feel that he's made a good decision about what he wants to do," said Saban, adding that Fluker has improved as much as any player on the team.Dabo Swinney:

Clemson closing

in on eliteCLEMSON, S.C. -- Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says his team has closed the gap on the game's elite and is excited about the chance to go even further next season.

The Tigers (11-2), ranked 11th in the final poll, finished with their most victories since going 12-0 and winning the national championship in 1981. Swinney said Friday his players took a giant step forward with their last-second, 25-24 win over LSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl on New Year's Eve.

Swinney told his players coming in to that contest, "You can't win the national championship until you win games like this."

He acknowledges there's a long way to go before that point in 2013, but believes the Tigers' performance the past few seasons has earned them the right to rank alongside the best programs.Meyer says Buckeyes have lots of room

to improveCOLUMBUS, Ohio -- Urban Meyer said one of the mantras for his second Ohio State team will be "truth."

He's certainly not sparing his Buckeyes his perception of it when it comes to whether they can compete with the likes of national champion Alabama next season.

"For me to say we have to get there next year, that's like me talking about we have to go fly to the moon," he said Friday. "We're nowhere near even having that conversation."

Despite a 12-0 record and a No. 3 ranking in the Associated Press poll after a bowl-less season, Meyer made it clear he does not believe his team is remotely close to even discussing competing with the nation's elite teams.

"Truth means exactly (that); you have a good season, and there's a lot of conversation about things that really shouldn't be discussed because it's not true," he said, referring to extremely early predictions that figure the Buckeyes to be among the top handful of teams in the nation in 2013. "For example, are you guys going to (contend for the national title) next year? No, probably not, unless we get a lot better -- like, a lot better."

Meyer even detailed what makes teams like Alabama, Georgia, LSU and the rest of Southeastern Conference -- where he coached for six years at Florida 2005-2010, winning two national titles -- so much better than everyone else.

"The SEC, right now, the quantity (of great players) is far greater than the quantity at the upper-level Midwestern schools," Meyer said. "It's up to the Big Ten to change that. There's one way to do that: Go out and recruit and get some more depth. But to say that there's not quality football players in the Big Ten, that's not correct. The quantity is the biggest difference."

Even though he said he won't discuss with his players how they can compete with the Crimson Tide and others, that doesn't mean he isn't thinking about it -- "24/7, every second of (my) life."

"We've got to go catch them," he said of Alabama, the national champs in three of the last four seasons. "Everybody's trying to catch the best. Some people are probably trying to catch us. There's nothing else I'd rather do than watch these other programs and kind of figure out how they're doing it, how do we get that or do that? How do we beat that?"Shafer takes over

at SyracuseSYRACUSE, N.Y. -- Scott Shafer was introduced Friday as the new coach at Syracuse, and he emotionally vowed to continue what Doug Marrone started four years ago.

Marrone, who was named coach of the Buffalo Bills on Monday, preached discipline, accountability, character, and integrity, in rejuvenating a team that went 10-37 under his predecessor, Greg Robinson, and transformed it into a two-time bowl winner.

Syracuse finished 2012 at 8-5 after beating West Virginia 38-14 in the Pinstripe Bowl and earned a share of the Big East regular-season title with a 5-2 conference mark, its best since Paul Pasqualoni's 2001 team went 6-1.

Shafer tabbed Chuck Bullough as Syracuse's defensive coordinator but still has to find an offensive coordinator. Nathaniel Hackett left to join Marrone's staff in the same role.