Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class

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Penn State's Shane Conlan in NCAA '14 HOF class

The late great Derrick Thomas grew up in Miami and played his entire 11-year NFL career in Kansas City.

In between he spent four years at the University of Alabama, dominating on defense as few players have ever done in college football history.

"Alabama meant everything to Derrick, even after he moved to Kansas City," Edith Morgan, Thomas' mother, said Thursday. "He still had his Alabama (license) plates and went back to Alabama whenever he could."

It took longer than Crimson Tide fans would have liked, but Thomas was elected Thursday to the College Football Hall of Fame, highlighting a class of 14 players that also includes LaDainian Tomlinson, Sterling Sharpe and Tony Boselli.

Thomas, who died in 2000 at age 33 shortly after an automobile accident left him paralyzed, was one of the Hall of Fame's most obvious omissions. Alabama fans had been growing increasingly annoyed by the wait in recent years.

His credentials could not be argued against. After choosing to attend Alabama over Oklahoma, Thomas played for the Tide from 1985-88. He won the Butkus Award as the nation's best linebacker as a senior when he had 27 sacks. He finished his career with 52 sacks, a school record.

"He was really, really fond of Alabama and he loved the Crimson Tide, not only the school but the city of Tuscaloosa itself," Morgan said.

Thomas was drafted fourth overall by the Kansas City Chiefs in 1989 and made nine Pro Bowls. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

The new College Football Hall of Fame class announced by the National Football Foundation at a news conference in Dallas also featured a couple of Heisman Trophy finalists and two of the best offensive linemen of the early 1990s.

Tomlinson led the nation in rushing in his final two seasons at TCU (1999 and 2000) and finished fourth in the Heisman voting in 2000.

"This is a great honor," said Tomlinson, who attended the news conference. "As a kid you never set out to land in the College Football Hall of Fame. You're just playing with your buddies, having fun, playing a game that you love."

Tomlinson thanked TCU for giving him a chance.

"TCU was the first school to offer me a scholarship," he said. "I didn't have many, but they believed in me."

Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton was the Heisman runner-up to Ron Dayne in 1999.

Boselli played tackle at Southern California from 1991-94 and was the second overall draft pick by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995. Louisiana Tech tackle Willie Roaf was a finalist for the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1992 before going on to a long NFL career.

Sterling Sharpe held virtually every receiving record when he left South Carolina after the 1987 season.

The rest of the players who will be inducted during the National Football Foundation's awards banquet in December are: North Carolina cornerback Dre Bly; Purdue defensive tackle Dave Butz; Penn State linebacker Shane Conlan; Maine linebacker John Huard; Stanford running back Darrin Nelson; UCLA quarterback John Sciarra; McNeese State defensive back Leonard Smith; and Mississippi tight end Wesley Walls.

The two coaches who will join the Hall of Fame are Mike Bellotti, who led Oregon from 1995-2008, and Jerry Moore, who coached at North Texas, Texas Tech and Appalachian State.

Conlan, who was also in attendance, helped lead Penn State and coach Joe Paterno to the 1986 national championship.

"It's been a tough time the last few years at Penn State," he said, fighting back tears as he thanked the late Paterno. "We miss you, Coach," he said.

Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

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Penn State men's hockey ranked No. 1 for first time in program history

At 16-2-1, Penn State's men's hockey team is ranked first in the nation for the first time in program history.

The Nittany Lions have improved each of the last four years under head coach Guy Gadowsky. 

Their record by year:

      2013-14: 8-26-2
      2014-15: 18-15-4
Last season: 21-13-4
This season: 16-2-1

Penn State received 30 of 50 first-place votes in the USCHO Division I poll. Denver is ranked No. 2, followed by Boston University, Minnesota-Duluth and Massachusetts-Lowell (see USCHO poll).

Penn State was ranked fourth last week before sweeping Michigan State.

Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

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Villanova focused on learning from win over Seton Hall, not No. 1 ranking

A few hours before Villanova hosted Seton Hall on Monday night, head coach Jay Wright came home and talked to his wife, Patty.

“You know you’re No. 1?” she said.

Wright didn’t react much to the news, nor did the players on the team when they found out during the pregame meal a little bit later.

“It’s not really that big of a deal this time,” Wright said. “I think we were all much more concerned with Seton Hall.”

Being No. 1 may almost be old news at this point, but thoroughly dominating good teams at the Pavilion never gets stale for the Wildcats, who cruised to a 76-46 demolition of the Pirates on the same day they regained the top spot of the rankings after a week at No. 3 (see Instant Replay).

Senior Kris Jenkins sparked the win with 16 points, shooting 4 for 6 from the three-point line and 4 for 4 from the foul line — numbers he cared far more about than the No. 1 in front of Villanova.

“That’s just a number,” Jenkins said. “We focus on getting better each and every day. We can lose our next game and we won’t be No. 1.” 

Villanova reached the No. 1 spot in the AP poll for the first time in the program’s illustrious history last season, a couple of months before winning the national title on an iconic buzzer-beater from Jenkins.

The Wildcats then spent five weeks at No. 1 this season before a 66-58 loss to Butler on Jan. 4 moved them out of the top spot — only briefly, as it turned out.

“Every time you do something first is exciting,” Wright said. “And then you learn from it. I think we learned a great lesson last year and I think it helped us this year. And we learned a lesson again when we went to Butler. So you keep learning from it, that’s what we really take from it.”

As the Wildcats said last season, the most important thing is finishing the season No. 1. And they certainly showed once again that they have the chops to repeat as national champs — a prospect that Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard called “pretty exciting” even after his team had its brains beaten in.

“That’s a tough team to play,” Willard said. “They’re the No. 1 team in the country for a reason. If you’re not clicking on all cylinders when you come here, that can happen.”

Willard went on to say that “if Josh Hart’s not the National Player of the Year, then there’s something wrong.” But against the Pirates, Hart had a modest 11 points as Villanova showed off its impressive balance with all seven players in Wright’s rotation finishing with at least eight points.

Afterwards, Wright credited his three seniors — Jenkins, Hart and Darryl Reynolds (eight points, nine rebounds) — for helping the team bounce back from a sub-optimal performance in Saturday’s 70-57 win over St. John’s at Madison Square Garden.

“I’m just really fortunate to have three guys who are experienced and have been successful but are really humble,” Wright said. “We looked at the film, told them St. John’s played harder than us, and we took care of it. I think our seniors set the tone.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t the only game at the Garden on Villanova’s mind. The last time the Wildcats played Seton Hall, they suffered a stinging defeat to the Pirates in the title game of the Big East Tournament. 

Jenkins, though, insisted, that rare loss didn’t offer any extra motivation. Neither did the fact that Villanova set a record with its 47th straight victory at the Pavilion. Or that Monday’s win was the program’s 1,700th of all time.

“Numbers are something that is becoming a challenge for us,” Wright admitted. “It’s a great challenge to have. Right now, it doesn’t really do anything for us. But trust me, at the end of the year, we take great pride in that. All it can do is distract us right now. We know we have to answer the questions and you guys do a great job. I usually learn the numbers from you guys. It’s just not gonna do anything for us right now.”

Wright may not always like talking about his team’s absurdly impressive accomplishments. But he certainly loves games like this one as the Wildcats dominated all phases, from start to finish.

Deadly long-range shooting? Tenacious defense? Creating turnovers and scoring off them? Big-time hustle plays and rebounds? Electrifying dunks? Villanova did it all Monday in front of a raucous section of students back from winter break and one spectator named Ben Simmons, who took in the game from a courtside seat and applauded with everyone else.

What’s it like coaching a game like that? Is it ever hard when your No. 1 team is up by 30?

“It’s not difficult at all,” Wright said with a laugh. “It’s enjoyable. Things are going well, so you’re enjoying yourself.”