Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback AJ McCarron throws on the run in front of LSU Tigers cornerback Ron Brooks during their NCAA BCS National Championship college football game in New Orleans

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

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2011 record: 12-1 overall, 7-1 in SEC (2nd in West)

2011 postseason: BcS title game (21-0 win over LSU)

2011 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 1/No. 1

Head coach: Nick Saban (146-56-1 overall; 55-12 in five seasons at Alabama)

Offensive coordinator: Doug Nussmeier (first season)

2011 offensive rankings: No. 16 rushing offense (214.5 ypg); 69th passing offense (215.1 ypg); 31st total offense (429.6 ypg); No. 20 scoring offense (34.8 ppg)

Returning offensive starters: seven

Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (sixth season at Alabama, fifth as DC)

2011 defensive rankings: No. 1 rushing defense (72.1 ypg); No. 1 passing defense (111.5 ypg); No. 1 total defense (183.6 ypg); No. 1 scoring defense (8.1 ppg)

Returning defensive starters: four

Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; grass)

Last league title: 2009

Schedule: [view]

Roster: [view]

2011 statistics: [view]

The Good
Nick Saban’s a lot of things (insert various one-liners at your leisure), but he’s not someone who allows himself, his coaching staff or his players to make the same mistake again.  Coming off its BcS title following the 2009 regular season, the Tide consistently stubbed its toe on the way to a three-loss post-crystal season in 2010.  Coming off its second title in three years, Saban’s determined to keep a repeat of 2010 from happening again in 2012.  Could it happen again?  Of course, anything’s possible.  But, in the case, I wouldn’t bet on history repeating itself.

The Bad
If the Tide does party like it’s 2010, however, it will likely be because of a defense that led the country in nearly every major statistical in the run to another BcS title last season.  Gone from that suffocating defense are seven starters, including its top three tacklers and four of the top five total; its top two tackles-for-loss producers; and two of the three leaders in sacks.  Certainly, thanks to the bounty that is recruiting, there is plenty of on-paper talent that can fill the depth chart.  How fast those replacements can actually fill the sizable shoes left in the wake of departures, though, will determine whether a third title in four years is in the offing.

The Unknown
The defense wasn’t the only side of the ball impacted by departures.  The loss of running back Trent Richardson will certainly affect an offense that will be under the direction of a new coordinator — former Washington OC Doug Nussmeier.  While there’s plenty of talent in the backfield — starter Eddie Lacy and backups Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart and T.J. Yeldon — the addition of the pass-leaning Nussmeier could be a signal that Saban is ready to put more responsibility on the right shoulder of AJ McCarron.  The starting quarterback proved last season that he was more than capable of handling the responsibilities in a balanced offensive attack; if called upon — and that’s a big coaching if right now — can he handle a bigger responsibility in the passing game?  Stay tuned …

Make-or-break game: at LSU, Nov. 3
No offense to Arkansas or new SEC member Missouri or even non-conference foe Michigan, the game on both of these team’s schedules this season is a rematch of the BcS title game.  And the field-goal-laden regular season game that cost the Tide a shot at an SEC title.  Much like with the USC-Oregon game the same day, this contest has the potential to feature a pair of unbeaten, Top 5 teams if the schedule plays out as expected, although in this case it will likely determine which team represents its division in the conference championship game.  The bad news for the Tide is the fact that they will have to travel to Death Valley, a place where the Tide has won just once in its last four attempts.

Heisman hopeful: quarterback AJ McCarron
Should Saban decide to put more emphasis on the passing game, and should the Tide perform up to its preseason expectations, McCarron should at least merit considerations on the fringes of the Heisman discussion early on in the season.  In his first season as a starter last year McCarron completed nearly 67 percent of his passes, throwing for over 2,600 yards, 16 touchdowns and just five interceptions, finishing third in the SEC in passing efficiency.  With even a slight bump statistically, McCarron will likely find himself in the Heisman mix.

Return to CFT’s preseason Top 25

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T. Boone Pickens prefers Houston and SMU for Big 12 expansion, rips Boren, still not besties with Gundy

BP Capital Management LP Chief Executive Officer T. Boone Pickens Interview
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If you though the rivalry between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State was strictly on the football field, think again. Bedlam reaches beyond the gridiron and now has T. Boone Pickens slinging mud at Oklahoma president David Boren.

According to Kirk Bohls of The Austin American-Statesman, the Oklahoma State donor shared some comments about the Big 12 expansion saga that continues to drag its feet. Pickens reportedly prefers the Big 12 to add within the current Big 12 foot print by inviting Houston and SMU from the American Athletic Conference. That’s probably good news for fans of Houston and SMU, if they believe Boone’s influence carries any weight in this process (it doesn’t, but we don’t have to pour cold water on this subject for now). But the interesting part of the report included a jab at Oklahoma’s president, who recently appeared to suggest he was fine with a 10-team Big 12 only to respond by saying no decisions have been made where Oklahoma stands on expansion.

“I’ve known David forever. He likes to talk. He gets a little bit confused sometimes,” Pickens said. He also suggested “maybe it’s time for David to retire.”

Pickens also updated his relationship status with Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy.

“I don’t have any conversations with Gundy,” Pickens said. In late December 2014 there appeared to be some friction between the head coach and top donor when Pickens proclaimed he didn’t care who coached the team while suggesting he will always support the program and university, his alma mater. Gundy looked to make sure the two were on common ground. Things appeared to have smoothed over by the following spring, but the two are not exactly hanging out together in their spare time.

“I don’t know, but Mike doesn’t handle people relationships very well. And he gets mad about things,” Pickens explained. “I’ve heard he’s written some notes about me that weren’t very complimentary.”

Excuse me while I file away a Freedom of Information Act request for access to these notes…

Nebraska regent chose to pursue removing protesting players off team rather than come to their support

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 27: Fullback Macon Plewa #42 of the Iowa Hawkeyes tries to get past linebacker Michael Rose-Ivey #15 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during their game at Memorial Stadium November 27, 2015 in Lincoln, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Prior to last weekend’s game between Nebraska and Northwestern in Evanston, three Nebraska football players opted to take a knee during the playing of the national anthem during the pregame routine. Now, one regent at Nebraska wants those three players kicked off the team.

Hal Daub told The Lincoln Journal Star student-athletes are not to do anything that might create disparagement or negative implications. Apparently, in the eyes of the Korean War veteran and former mayor of Omaha, the act of taking a knee during the national anthem to protest social injustices in our nation, crossed the line.

“It’s a free country,” Daub told the Lincoln newspaper Tuesday. “They don’t have to play football for the university either.”

The three players who took a knee during the national anthem on Saturday were Michael Rose-Ivey, Mohamed Barry, and DaiShon Neal. Rose-Ivey has been eloquent in his explanation for why he has chosen to follow the lead of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and others who have chosen to demonstrate for their beliefs during the national anthem. Rose-Ivey said fans in the stands hurled racially charged insults and comments suggesting they should be lynched or shot.” You would like to think Nebraska’s leaders would come to the  defense of their players, but that does not appear to be the case here.

“They know better, and they had better be kicked off the team,” Daub said. “They won’t take the risk to exhibit their free speech in a way that places their circumstance in jeopardy, so let them get out of uniform and do their protesting on somebody else’s nickel.”

Why is it OK to take a knee on the sideline when a player is injured on the field, but not during the national anthem. During the game, taking a knee is a show of respect for those hurt on the field. During the national anthem, taking a knee can be a show of respect for those who have been hurt by an unjust society that continues to try and work out our differences. It is a shame Rose-Ivey and other protesting players are on the receiving ends of hurtful comments when they simply want to express their voices of concern and wishes for a better world.

It’s even more of a shame some regent in Nebraska chose to push for their banishment from the program instead of come to their defense. This was a golden opportunity to help promote progress, and Daub fumbled it away.

The good news is Mike Riley and university president Hank Bounds have made it clear they do support the players who choose to voice their concerns, so none of these three players should have any fear about being removed from the prorgam.

Bobby Petrino confirms commitment to Louisville amid LSU speculation

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 05:  Head coach Bobby Petrino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on during the game against the Auburn Tigers at Georgia Dome on September 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Houston head coach Tom Herman were quick to go on record saying they have not been in contact with the folks at LSU looking to fill a coaching vacancy following the dismissal of Les Miles this week. Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer confirmed his commitment to being the head coach at Ohio State. Stanford head coach David Shaw was quick to dismiss the mere idea of being considered for the LSU job. There is no doubt LSU will attract some high-profile candidates as the coaching search rolls on, but add one more notable coach to the growing list of coaches keeping a distance.

Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino, who once coached LSU rival Arkansas and gained a taste of coaching in the SEC (and SEC West), says he is not going anywhere and looks forward to continue building at Louisville.

“I’m not interested in going anywhere,” Petrino said during a weekly press conference on Tuesday. “I’m very fortunate to be the head coach here at the University of Louisville, very happy about that, very glad I have the support of our athletic director Tom Jurich. We were able to sit down last year and do a new contract. We’re going to expand the stadium. We’re coming off one of the greatest crowds and Card Marches I’ve been around. We feel like we’ve got everything going in the right direction.”

Then came the signature line that you would expect any coach to say about the current job position they own when approached about any other possible job vacancy.

“This is the job I want. This is where I’m going to be.”

Now, we have all been following this stuff long enough to understand that just about every coach is going to say these things. They have to for a number of reasons, including keeping the fans (and donors) calm and keeping recruiting efforts on solid footing. Sometimes coaches will lie when in this situation, and sometimes the honest feeling will actually change once details about a possible new contract enter the equation. It is the ultimate variable that can shift the balance of the entire outlook at any given moment.

So any time Petrino and any other coach has to go on record and say this, take it with a grain of salt. Petrino does indeed appear to be happy and settled in back at Louisville, where he arguably has experienced the height of his coaching success under two different stints, and few coaches can say the grass is not always greener once you leave Louisville. Plus, Petrino appears to have everything he might need to build a championship program at Louisville now and in the future that LSU might be able to offer (although recruiting at LSU would appear to be an advantage).

Petrino has a true ACC and playoff contender this season with Louisville. This week he takes the Cardinals on the road for a pivotal ACC Atlantic Division contest with defending ACC champion Clemson. A win for Louisville will pretty much wrap up the division with two months still to play barring a complete meltdown. Louisville already owns a win over Florida State and has quickly moved to being the betting favorite this weekend on the road at Clemson.

I’m dropping this gem from LSU Freek here just because…

UNC linebacker Allen Artis says he is not a rapist before heading to court Thursday

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 9:  A view of two North Carolina Tar Heels helmets during the game against the North Carolina State Wolfpack on October 9, 2004 at Kenan Stadium Stadium in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. North Carolina defeated North Carolina State 30-24. (Photo By Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Suspended North Carolina linebacker Allen Artis is scheduled to begin a legal battle in court on Thursday to defend himself against misdemeanor charges of sexual battery and assault on a female student. Before heading to court, Artis made time for a sit-down session with the media, with his mother and aunt by his side. Artis says the sexual interaction was a consensual act and says he did not rape Delaney Robinson, the UNC student who filed the claim she was raped by Artis on Valentine’s Day this year.

Everything was completely consensual that happened that night,” Artis said in an interview with members of the media on Tuesday. ”That’s the truth.”

As previously reported earlier this month, Robinson reported the alleged rape to university police and UNC’s Title IX office. Robinson has accused the university of taking too long to proceed with its response to her allegations, which is why she made the decision to go public  with her story.

Once Robinson went public with her story, UNC indefinitely suspended Artis the following morning. At this point, the legal process will now run its course before UNC makes any further decision on Artis’ status with the program, and the university if needed.

Artis played in each of UNC’s first two games this season and, of course, has not seen the field since.