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.

Report: Oklahoma State adding Bob Stitt as offensive analyst

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Bob Stitt, who has become a bit of a cult hero in the college football coaching world over the last few years, is moving on up. Oklahoma State will reportedly add Stitt as an offensive analyst, according to a report from Bruce Feldman of Sports Illustrated, via Twitter.

Stitt was fired by Montana after this past season after missing the FCS playoffs for a second consecutive season and a second-round exit in his first season with the program in 2015. Stitt had become a rising star in the lower levels of college football after reshaping the offensive strategies with Colorado Mines in Division 2. The Nebraska native has coached a Harlon Hill Trophy winner (Division 2’s equivalent to the Heisman Trophy) and has coached Colorado Mines to three conference championships. Stitt gained notoriety after being given credit for his offensive strategies by West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen.

Stitt being let go by Montana came as a bit of a surprise after just three seasons with the program. Offensively speaking, Oklahoma State rarely needs any assistance in moving the football and scoring, but Mike Gundy is wise to bring in a mind like Stitt to add to the expanding of the offensive schemes in Stillwater.

As an offensive analyst, Stitt will be prevented from doing any on-field coaching and instead will focus on prepping the game plan and breaking down film. However, having Stitt on the staff in some capacity leaves a door open for a future position on the 10-man coaching staff should a position open at some point.

Jeff Banks looks to make Alabama’s special teams a strength

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If there is any crack in Alabama’s championship foundation, it may be on special teams. Looking to patch things up with the special teams, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has brought on new special teams coordinator Jeff Banks. The former Texas A&M special teams coordinator was officially announced as Alabama’s new special teams coach on Thursday.

“We are pleased to be able to add a coach the caliber of Jeff Banks to our staff as special teams coordinator,” Saban said in a released statement. “Jeff is well-respected across the country for his knowledge of the game and his ability to recruit. He is a great teacher and someone who will help our football team be successful.”

Banks comes to Alabama after five years at Texas A&M under former Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, who was recently hired by Arizona. Special teams was one of the more consistently reliable aspects of the Aggies program under his watch, so Alabama hopes that can carry over to Tuscaloosa.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join Coach Saban’s staff at The University of Alabama and work with such a talented group of student-athletes,” Banks said. “Coach Saban has built an unbelievable program that has a long tradition of success. I’m really excited to get out on the road recruiting, and I look forward to doing my part to help continue the success this program has enjoyed.”

Alabama ranked 90th in the nation last season in field goal percentage and 50th in the nation in punting average. Obviously, this has not hurt Alabama’s chances of competing for and winning national titles over the course of Saban’s time at Alabama, but it is somewhat remarkable just how many times special teams seems to make things just a little more difficult for the Crimson Tide. I suppose something has to at some point, right? In the recent College Football Playoff national championship, Alabama had to beat Georgia in overtime after a last-second field goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter was missed.

The rich just keep getting richer at Alabama.

Temple prepares for next step in quest for new on-campus football stadium

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With time running out on the current lease at Lincoln Financial Field appearing on the horizon, Temple University continues to move forward with exploring their plans for a potential multipurpose facility that could be used to host Temple football on Temple’s campus. The school is now preparing to take the next step forward with the idea by presenting the plans to the City Planning Commission with the hope of being given the approval to continue pushing toward breaking ground on a new facility on Temple’s campus.

“We have said from the start that our first priority has been to engage with our neighbors and local leaders to determine the potential for, and impact of, this facility,” Temple president Richard Englert said in a released statement. “After more than two years of these discussions, and in light of the project’s tremendous value for Temple and North Philadelphia, I have concluded that the time is right to take this step.”

One of the biggest concerns about any on-campus football stadium is the reaction from the neighboring community that has been reluctant to embrace a football stadium being dropped right in the neighborhood.

Englert said in a released statement the university “will continue our conversations with neighbors to address concerns over the impact of the project.”

The football stadium would, in theory, be able to serve multiple purposes in addition to football and will be designed with surrounding economic opportunities in mind. Space for retail locations will be a part of the master plans to help inject some revenue into the surrounding area, and educational facilities will be included in the plans as well.

In all, the plan is currently estimated to cost roughly $130 million. Temple recently negotiated a short-term extension on their lease to use Lincoln Financial Field through 2019. If Temple is given the approval to move forward with their stadium plan, they could theoretically be able to play a true home game on their campus beginning in 2020.

Chuckie Keeton returns to Utah State as offensive assistant coach

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One of Utah State’s all-time best players is back with the program. Chuckie Keeton is joining the Utah State coaching staff, although his exact title has not yet been officially confirmed.

What role Keeton will take on remains to be officially announced, although the speculation is he will be an offensive assistant coach who will work with the Utah State quarterbacks. This will be Keeton’s second coaching job since his playing days came to a close. Keeton got started at Oregon State under former Utah State and Oregon State head coach Gary Andersen. Keeton joined the Oregon State coaching staff in 2016. With changes in the Oregon State program with a coaching change this offseason, now was as good a time as any for Keeton to return to Utah State, where he became one of the top players from a non-power conference program to become a bit of a household name.

Keeton shared his reaction to returning to his alma mater on Twitter.

Keeton holds a number of Utah State records including career records for completion percentage and pass efficiency and season records for most touchdown passes, passing yards, total offensive yards, and completion percentage. Utah State finished the 2017 season ranked 69th in the nation in passing offense and ended the year with 17 passing touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

Keeton’s college career was sidetracked by injuries far too often, but it will be good to see Keeton back with the Utah State program as he continues his coaching career.