McCarron

Alabama-Notre Dame: some storylines

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If you were a Hollywood script writer looking to pitch a movie based on a college football championship being played in a land far, far away, it would be hard to come up with a better pair of protagonists than Alabama and Notre Dame.

For any director, it’s a cinematic smörgåsbord replete with plotlines as far as the stomach can see.  The North vs. the South on a gridiron battlefield.  Two of the winningest programs in FBS history, with the Irish tied for second all-time with Texas and the Tide seventh.  Mystique for miles, from Knute to Bear, from the Gipper to Broadway Joe before the bright lights and big city, from 14 claimed national championships for the Tuscaloosa school to 11 claimed by the one from South Bend.

And, it just so happens, the two best teams after the dust had settled and the curtain had fallen on the 2012 regular season.

Simply put, it’s already the most highly anticipated title game of the BCS era… and we’re still weeks away from the Jan. 7 showdown in Miami.  Suffice to say, myriad words will be dumped onto a computer screen to feed the hype machine over the next five weeks, with storylines far surpassing even the schools’ healthy win totals.  Here are but a few of those that may or may not have an impact on which team hoists the crystal into the South Beach sky at game’s end.

Are you experienced?
In a lot of ways, Alabama and Notre Dame are as evenly matched as any two teams that have faced each other on this stage recently.  One area where the Tide has a decided and lopsided advantage?  Big-game experience.  The No. 2 Tide (12-1) will be gunning for an unprecedented third BCS title in four years while the Irish’s biggest game under Brian Kelly prior to this year was, what, the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State after last season?  From handling the weeks-long layoff to dealing with the media circus to a 60-minute game of this magnitude and carrying such immense ramifications, Nick Saban has been there, done that while Kelly is just getting there and has never done that.

Waking the slumbering echoes
In the 14-year history of the BCS, No. 1 Notre Dame (12-0) has appeared in just three of the marquee bowl games, with the last coming after the 2006 regular season.  Their national championship drought stretches back even further; the last time the Irish finished a season on top, Ronald Reagan was in the White House, a gallon of gas would set you back $1.08 and Lou Holtz was shtomping acrosh the Irish shidelines.  Since then, “Flounder Like an Irrelevant Program Today” has marked the once-proud program’s trudge through more than two decades of mediocrity.  Following a 16-win run to end the last three years of the Charlie Weis era, though, the tide, so to speak, began to turn for the Irish.  In the two years after Kelly was hired in December of 2009, the Irish posted back-to-back eight-win seasons.  In the third year under Kelly — the same year four other Irish coaches won their first/only national championships at the school, incidentally — the Irish have made a resounding move back onto the national stage.  And relevance in the way that matters most.

Exorcising historical ghosts
While they’ve met but a handful of times through the years, Notre Dame has had Alabama’s number when they have taken the field.  In six meetings, the Irish own a decided 5-1 advantage.  Included in that total?  A perfect 4-0 record against Tide teams coached by the legendary Bear Bryant.  The two teams first met in 1973, with the last coming in 1987.  The first two meetings came in the Sugar and Orange Bowls in back-to-back years, with the Irish winning both games by a combined three points over Tide teams that were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, at the time.  Alabama’s only win came during the 1986 regular season, a 28-10 decision in Birmingham.  Of course, the last time the two teams met with this much on the line, Saban was a graduate assistant at his alma mater Kent State while Kelly had yet to enter high school, so the historical angle will be gummed to death in the coming weeks due to lack of teeth.

Chasing the Bear
More than three decades after his death, there’s still nothing that epitomizes and encapsulates the Alabama football program more than Paul William Bryant.  In his 25 years as the Tide’s head coach, the Bear won a school-record 232 games and staked his claim to five* national titles.  While Saban can inch up on but never truly surpass Coach Bryant in the hearts and minds of Tuscaloosans, he can take a step closer to the coaching immortal’s accomplishments; with a win over Notre Dame, Saban would have four national championships on his résumé — one at LSU, three in the Bear’s den.

(*I don’t acknowledge 1973, much like the coaches didn’t acknowledge the postseason)

Record eyeballs glued to boob tube?
The highest-rated game in BCS history was the USC-Texas Rose Bowl affair following the 2005 season, which drew a 21.7 Nielsen rating.  Notre Dame drew a 10.3 rating for its “meaningless” regular season game against USC this year that was roughly half of that record, and equal to the 2012 SEC title game.  Alabama plus Notre Dame plus five weeks of hype?  Records will be shattered.

AP tiebreaker
Depending on which way the polling winds blow, and if it’s favorable in their direction, Alabama claims (I think) 14 national championships.  Notre Dame claims 11, with both teams using various polls to dignify their historical national championship status.  The one certainty in all of the title claiming?  There are two teams that have each won a record eight Associated Press titles — Alabama and Notre Dame, of course.  Jan. 7 in Miami, as it turns out, will turn into a tiebreaker for the ages that no one ever anticipated.

Degenerates speak
In the week leading up to the SEC championship game, Alabama had been listed as a 9.5 favorite over Notre Dame should the two teams ultimately meet in the BCS title game.  With the game officially set?  The odds range from 8.5 to 10, depending on the book.  Notre Dame may be undefeated, but they’ll go into the title game as decided underdogs in the eyes of both the sports books in general and the betting/viewing public in particular.

QB Nick Johns decides to transfer from Virginia

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 25: A Virginia Cavaliers fan reacts to the Cavaliers being charged with a safety in the second quarter against the Boise State Broncos at Scott Stadium on September 25, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Seeing the writing on Virginia’s depth chart wall, Nick Johns has decided to take his leave of Charlottesville.

As more and more kids are doing these days — especially the cool ones — Johns took to Twitter to announce that he has decided to leave the Cavaliers football program and transfer to an undetermined elsewhere.  According to the quarterback, he was given an unrestricted release from his UVa. scholarship.

Johns, who is not related to returning Cavalier starting quarterback Matt Johns, was a three-star member of UVa.’s 2015 recruiting class, rated as the No. 19 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 5 player at any position in the District of Columbia. As he didn’t see the field as a true freshman, Johns’ main claim to fame during his brief time with the Cavaliers was a driving while intoxicated charged he accrued last August.

With Matt Johns and Connor Brewer, a Texas/Arizona transfer, in a dead-heat for the starting job exiting the spring, and former East Carolina starter Kurt Benkert added as a graduate transfer over the weekend, Nick Johns’ decision to leave for a better shot at playing time is understandable.

Wyoming basketball player gives up hoops to play football

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 24: Head coach Craig Bohl of the Wyoming Cowboys rallies his team at the start of the fourth quarter of the game against the Boise State Broncos on October 24, 2015 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State won the game 34-14. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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At the expense of its basketball team, Wyoming’s football team has made an early-May addition to its roster.

Austin Conway, a Cowboys basketball player, expressed a desire to play football earlier this year and was given clearance by both head coaches involved, Craig Bohl on the football side, Allen Edwards on the basketball side, to participate in spring practice.  With the 15 spring sessions now in the books, Conway has made his decision and will give up basketball in order to concentrate on football.

Conway, a Colorado high school quarterback, will play wide receiver at the collegiate level as well as return kicks for the Cowboys.

“I had nice long talks with Coach Bohl and Coach Edwards at the end of spring football,” said Conway in quotes distributed by the school. “Both coaches were very supportive. The biggest thing was I just had to follow my heart. I felt really comfortable being back out on the football field this spring. It felt like I was at home back on the field.”

Conway, who took a redshirt for the Cowboys basketball team as a true freshman in the 2015-16 season, will be eligible to play immediately in 2016 and will have four years of eligibility remaining.  The press release stated that the player’s “scholarship will be shifted from the basketball team to the football team beginning in the summer of 2016.”

As for his football credentials, here is the pertinent 411 from the release:

Conway was an outstanding football and basketball player at Overland High School in Aurora, Colo. He was named to The Denver Post’s All-Colorado team for all classifications as a dual-threat quarterback his senior season of 2014. During his senior season, he passed for 1,341 yards and 13 touchdowns and added 509 rushing yards and five rushing TDs. His junior season, Conway accumulated 1,847 passing yards and 1,130 rushing yards for 2,977 yards of total offense. He had a combined 31 touchdowns, 19 through the air and 12 on the ground. 

“Austin showed us during spring football that he has a passion for the game of football and that he had the skills to benefit our team moving forward,” said Bohl. “We were aware of Austin’s football accomplishments in high school. The fact that he has only been away from the game for a year we believe will make his transition a smooth one. He certainly benefitted from going through spring practice with us and will benefit from having a full summer to work with our strength and conditioning staff. We are excited to have Austin as a part of our team.

“Coach Edwards and I have been working together through this process to try and help Austin decide what is best for him. I want to thank Allen (Edwards) for his willingness to help Austin find the path that he feels is best for his future.

Kirby Smart, on competing against Nick Saban on recruiting trail: ‘I don’t look forward to that’

GLENDALE, AZ - JANUARY 11:  Head coach Nick Saban and Defensive coordinator Kirby Smart of the Alabama Crimson Tide look on from the field during the 2016 College Football Playoff National Championship Game against the Clemson Tigers at University of Phoenix Stadium on January 11, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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And, in related news, I don’t look forward to getting kicked in the testicles.

One of the more fascinating storylines leading up to National Signing Day was Nick Saban and his former right-hand man.  After nine years with Saban at Alabama, including the last eight as defensive coordinator, Kirby Smart struck out on his own to become the head coach at his alma mater Georgia.

As both are part of the SEC, their paths crossed more than a couple of times on the recruiting trail in the two months between Smart’s hiring between the hedges and signing day.  As al.com explained…

Alabama and Georgia went up against each other for multiple recruits in the final weeks of the 2016 recruiting cycle. Alabama signed Ben Davis and Lyndell Wilson — two major UGA targets — while the Bulldogs flipped receiver Tyler Simmons away from the Crimson Tide. In the class of 2017, Smart flipped four-star quarterback Jake Fromm from Alabama and landed a commitment from one-time Alabama offensive line commit Netori Johnson.

… both the mentor and the protegé scored wins on the recruiting front.

It’ll be fun,” Smart said upon his hiring in early December when asked about going up against the recruiting juggernaut that is his former boss; two months later, after Saban had pulled in yet another top-ranked class — UGA was seventh in 247Sports.com‘s composite rankings — a couple of months ago, Smart has tweaked his tune.

“I said it would be fun? Oh man, I hope I didn’t say it would be fun,” Smart said on the SEC coaches teleconference earlier today. “I don’t look forward to that because I know Nick does a great job in recruiting. He’s very relentless; he does a really good job, and they have a great product to sell.”

Of course, 2016 wasn’t a one-off battle between the boss and the former employee, with work on the Class of 2017 in full swing.  At the moment, both the Bulldogs and Tide have nine commits each to next year’s class, with UGA, at No. 6, three spots behind UA.

Given the fact that the next signing day is still nine months away, Smart will have plenty of time to close that gap — or his boss will have plenty of time to widen it.

Jim Harbaugh, staff to be featured at satellite camp… in Ohio

ANN ARBOR, MI - NOVEMBER 28:  Head coach Urban Meyer of the Ohio State Buckeyes shakes hands with head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines after a 42-13 Ohio State win at Michigan Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With the NCAA’s edict that, at least for now, rescinds the banishment of satellite camps, college football coaches are free to move about the country in the pursuit of recruits away from their own campuses.

The poster boy for these types of “controversial” camps, of course, has been Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh.  With the rescinding of the ban, Harbaugh and his coaching staff will disperse to camps as far away as California.  They are also, in what most certainly can be described as enemy territory, set to invade That School Down South’s state.

Yep, Harbaugh, the head coach of the hated Wolverines, will be setting up camp in the Buckeyes’ extended backyard, a mere three hours or so from The Horseshoe.

How long before Urban Myer and his coaching entourage shows up somewhere in the general neighborhood of Ann Arbor? Stay tuned…