CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

7 Comments

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

SEC preview, vote

Iowa clobbers Nebraska in what appears to be end of the road for Mike Riley

Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images
2 Comments

The Iowa Hawkeyes have been one of the weirdest teams to figure out this season. On Friday, the Hawkeye faithful were thankful the good Iowa showed up in Lincoln. Iowa (7-5, 4-5 Big Ten) blasted Nebraska (4-8, 306 Big Ten) on the strength of a 28-point outburst in the third quarter of a 56-14 victory over the Huskers. For Nebraska, it was a fitting end to a disappointing season and perhaps the final nail in the coffin of the Mike Riley era in Lincoln.

Iowa became the third team to win three straight games played in Lincoln, Nebraska in the last 40 years. Oklahoma and Texas are the only two programs to pull off that once-unthinkable feat. But since Nebraska joined the Big Ten and paired up with Iowa for a regular season rivalry in the Big Ten schedule, the Hawkeyes have enjoyed their trips to Nebraska. This just happened to be the biggest blowout in the Big Ten series, and it came one year after Iowa blew out Nebraska by a 40-10 score the previous season. For those counting at home, Nebraska has now lost two straight games to Iowa by a combined score of 96-34.

Nebraska managed to show some fight late in their road game at Penn State last week, but Iowa was having none of that this week. The Hawkeyes out-gained Nebraska 505-267 in offensive yardage and Iowa forced three Nebraska turnovers while picking up 23 first downs and allowing just 12. Nebraska went the entire second half without scoring a point, while Iowa went on a roll. This game was tied 14-14 at halftime, believe it or not.

Iowa running back Akrum Wadley took over the game for the Hawkeyes. Wadley rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, with two of those scores coming in the third quarter.

Iowa will now go to a bowl game, while Nebraska is tasked with figuring out what to do next. Unlike at Arkansas, where the plug was pulled on Bret Bielema minutes after losing a regular season finale at home, Mike Riley is still employed by Nebraska. But for how much longer? Rumors about where Nebraska is going next continue to swirl, with UCF head coach Scott Frost being a trendy name to attach to the Nebraska job (Frost just completed an undefeated 11-0 season at UCF), but there has been no official change just yet in Lincoln.

But with an AD change this year and the way this season devolved, Riley’s days are all but over in Lincoln.

No. 15 UCF remains perfect after wild win over USF clinches AAC East

Photo by Logan Bowles/Getty Images
Leave a comment

I’ll allow you to try catching your breath before we try to recap exactly what happened in the final minutes of the War on I-4 between two AAC championship contenders. No. 15 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) came out on the positive end of a wild and crazy ending to keep the regular season spotless in the loss column. UCF scored a go-ahead touchdown, gave up a tying touchdown, scored the game-winning touchdown and recovered a late fumble to close the books on a 49-42 victory over rival USF (9-2, 6-2 AAC) in the span of just two minutes.

UCF and USF combined for over 1,100 yards of offense in the back-and-forth game, but UCF scored three touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to get off to a fast start and find a way to grab the game by the horns and drive it home. McKinzie Milton passed for 373 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score to help the Knights outlast a valiant effort from Quinton Flowers and a record-setting day for USF wide receiver Tyre McCants. Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards and a score. McCants broke the USF record for most receiving yards in a game in the first half, but ended his day with 227 yards.

USF had their opportunities to win this game. The Bulls missed a field goal in the first half and Flowers threw his only interception late in the first half when it appeared the Bulls could have taken a lead into halftime. The fumble by Mitchell Wilcox came at the end of a play that was moving the ball across midfield in the final moments. USF, the preseason favorite in the AAC, will still be going to a bowl game and should be a threat to whomever they face, but two losses along the way prevented them from living up to the lofty expectations placed on them this season.

UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next week. The winner of that game will be nearly guaranteed a spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up as both teams are currently the highest-ranked teams in the playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season with a 40-13 victory in Orlando, but the Tigers have been playing much better since that game. The rematch should be much more competitive next week.

UCF wrapped up a perfect regular season on the same day No., 2 Miami suffered its first loss of the year. UCF is now the only undefeated team in the state of Florida this season.

Arkansas dismisses Bret Bielema as head coach

Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images
6 Comments

Well, that didn’t take very long at all. Or, for some Arkansas fans, maybe it took too long.

Arkansas has officially parted ways with Bret Bielema as head coach of the Razorbacks. The official announcement was made minutes after Arkansas ended their regular season with a home loss to Missouri, with a press conference scheduled for Friday evening.

“Shortly after the completion of today’s game, I met with Coach Bret Bielema and informed him of our decision to move forward with new leadership in the Razorback Football program,” interim athletic director Julie Cromer Peoples said in a statement. “During the course of the past five seasons, we have not been able to sustain the success on the field that is expected and required at the University of Arkansas.

“There is no question that Coach Bielema has been a valued and respected member of our department and has made a positive impact on the lives of our student-athletes, including supporting them in their pursuit of graduation. We are grateful for his contributions to our program and most importantly his investment in the lives of our student-athletes. We wish him the very best both personally and professionally.

“Our goal has been and will always be to compete and win in the SEC and nationally. I firmly believe that with all that the University of Arkansas has to offer, including our history and tradition, our facilities, our passionate fan base and competing in the nation’s best conference, we will attract the interest of many of the top coaches in the nation.”

Bielema came to Arkansas with as solid reputation as you could find at the time at the end of the 2012 season. After guiding Wisconsin to a third-straight Rose Bowl appearance (Bielema left Wisconsin prior to coaching the third Rose Bowl in that run), Bielema was expected to be able to bring a model of consistent winning to the Arkansas program. Bielema claimed he made the decision to leave Wisconsin for Arkansas because he would have a better chance to compete for a national championship with the Razorbacks, but the wins never piled up the way he and Arkansas leaders and fans envisioned.

In five years at Arkansas, Bielema was 29-24 with an even more lopsided result in SEC play over the years. In 2017, Arkansas finished the year with a second losing season under Bielema, and late in the season the school also fired the man who originally hired Bielema, former athletics director Jeff Long.

Arkansas joins Florida, Tennessee, and Ole Miss among SEC schools now looking for a new head coach.

San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny becomes 22nd 2,000-yard rusher in FBS history

AP Photo/Gregory Bull
Leave a comment

San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny became the 22nd player in FBS history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in a single season when he rattled off a 51-yard touchdown in the third quarter of a game against New Mexico.

Penny eclipsed the 2,000-yard mark a season after former Aztecs running back Donnel Pumphrey accomplished the same feat. That also made some history, with San Diego State becoming the first school in FBS history to have two different players run for 2,000 yards in back-to-back seasons.

We may not be quite done with the 2,000-yard rushers this season either. Stanford running back Bryce Love begins the week with 1,723 rushing yards this season. This week, Stanford faces a Notre Dame team that has allowed 200+ rushing yards each of the past three weeks. There is also the possibility Love gets to play in the Pac-12 Championship Game for another opportunity to tack on the yardage. Wisconsin freshman Jonathan Taylor is also in striking distance with 1,657 yards this season, and he is guaranteed a chance in the Big Ten championship game.

Penny had been on the Heisman Trophy radar earlier in the season, and some will argue he is worthy of a trip to New York for the Heisman Trophy presentation as much as any other players who may be heading there. Penny was not named a finalist for the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top running back. Love, Taylor and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley were named finalists for the award earlier this week.