Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — BCS championship game

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No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
Mon., Jan. 7 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Miami, Fla. – Sun Life Stadium

This one certainly has the marquee value befitting college football’s Super Bowl.

Alabama (12-1) has put its name on 14 national championships, including two in the last three years. Notre Dame (12-0) is gunning to claim its 12th title, which would be its first since 1988.

If the Crimson Tide are able to become the first-ever BCS repeat national champ, you’ll have to go back more than 60 years to find a school that won three titles in a four year span, which was none other than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1946, 1947, 1949).

It truly is a heavyweight battle and both teams appropriately qualified for this massive clash because of their excellent defensive units.

Alabama ranks first nationally in total defense and rushing defense, second in scoring defense and sixth in passing defense.

Notre Dame has a similar résumé, ranking first in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense, sixth in total defense and 21st in pass defense.

Both teams allow less than 11 points per game (Alabama 10.7, Notre Dame 10.3). We won’t spend any time quibbling about the difference in the opposition. Games are games and wins are wins. Both units are exceptional.

It’s on offense where we find distinct separation.

In its last game, Notre Dame kicked five field goals and scored only one touchdown in a nail-biting 22-13 victory over middle-of-the-Pac USC. Yes, the same USC that was quarterbacked by Max Wittek instead of Matt Barkley. Yes, the same USC that had a pair of Kiffins leading the underachieving offense (Lane) and defense (Monte) all season.

Alabama’s last game was quite different. It wasn’t flawless football, but when the chips were down, Bama simply bowled over Georgia. The Crimson Tide ran the football 51 times against the Bulldogs, with the majority of those carries coming when Georgia fully expected the same zone running play. Nonetheless, Alabama finished with a whopping 350 yards on the ground against a unit that reportedly features nine NFL caliber defenders.

The Crimson Tide’s ability to run between the tackles with the linemen routinely getting to the second level was amazing. Irish inside linebacker Manti Te’o and his cohorts will have their hands full, getting off blocks and trying to bring down Alabama’s one-two punch of warrior running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

We respect the job that the Irish have done against the run, allowing only two rushing touchdowns this season, but we ain’t talking Wake Forest here. Alabama has scored 35 rushing touchdowns and the Tide won’t be denied.

Notre Dame will be forced to stack the box to slow the Tide’s roll on the ground, but that’s dangerous business for a suspect secondary. At any moment, Alabama freshman wideout Amari Cooper can blow the top off your defense on the outside. Just ask Georgia.

The Irish are solid and balanced on offense, but not good enough to take advantage of Alabama’s few frailties.

Teams have been able to pass against the Tide, but that’s after establishing a running game. We don’t think the Irish will be able to do that and will end up one-dimensional. If that’s the case, we have little confidence that redshirt freshman Everett Golson will be able to a do a “Johnny Football” on the Tide.

Nick Saban’s defense has the size and strength to match up well with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and the athleticism on the outside to contain Golson.

Irish fans will contend that the Tide looked vulnerable in the SEC title game and that they would have lost if Georgia could have gotten another snap off.

This is true, but that fact actually works against the Irish. The Tide know that they didn’t play their best game against the Bulldogs. They don’t need Saban to remind them of that … but he will and there will be lots of fine tuning going on in Tuscaloosa.

The Irish beat representatives from five BCS conferences en route to 12-0, but not anybody from THE BCS conference. Until now. They’ll meet their match and then some.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 9 1/2

The pick: Alabama 24-13

Click HERE to get predictions for the remaining bowl games.

New MLS stadium in San Diego could have plenty of perks for San Diego State football

SAN DIEGO, CA - JANUARY 01: A general view of the San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs en route to Chiefs 37-27 win over the Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on January 1, 2017 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
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San Diego State is already locked in to continue playing games in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego through the 2020 season, which may be perfect timing. A move to build a brand new Major League Soccer stadium is projected to open its doors in 2020, and the plan is to have room for San Diego State to share the stadium as well.

As detailed by a report from The San Diego Union-Tribune, FS Investors is an investment group that owns the rights to apply for a MLS franchise in San Diego. While still working out the finer details of their bid, but the company is reportedly planning to purchase the land containing Qualcomm Stadium, demolish the existing stadium and use that land to develop a new venue that could seat between 20,000 and 30,000 fans. At the same time, other land would be set aside in order to reserve for a potential NFL stadium in the event the city makes a bid to lure the National Football League back to the city after the Chargers packed up and left for Los Angeles.

The firm also hopes it can attract developers to add housing and commercial options that will target San Diego State students, and perhaps add to the environment around a soccer and college football stadium for a more enjoyable game day experience for both.

An application for an MLS franchise is due January 31 and the firm hopes to receive approval from City Council without having to rely on a public vote.

Report: USF working to extend lease with Raymond James Stadium

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 09:  A general view during the fourth quarter of the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship Game between the Alabama Crimson Tide and the Clemson Tigers at Raymond James Stadium on January 9, 2017 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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In an ideal world, every FBS program would have its own place to call home, but the reality is a number of schools must work out lease agreements to play home game sin NFL stadiums. USF is reportedly set to continue renting space in Raymond James Stadium in Tampa for the next six years.

According to a report from Tampa Bay Times, USF will not have to pay a rental fee and will just have to handle costs of operation on game day. In addition, USF will have to pay a ticket surcharge of eight percent off the sales of tickets, with a cap of $2.50 for each ticket sold. USF also has an opt-out clause if it desires.

Under the terms of the agreement between USF and the Tampa Sports Authority, USF must play at least six games in Raymond James Stadium each season. USF will play seven home games this upcoming season, including conference games against Cincinnati, Houston, Temple and Tulsa. Other home games will be played against Illinois, UMass and Stony Brook.

USF continues to evaluate long-term plans that could lead to the construction of an on-campus football facility, but for the next six years, it will call Raymond James Stadium home.

Baker Mayfield, J.T. Barrett, Lamar Jackson and Sam Darnold among 2017 Heisman Trophy favorites

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 10:  Quarterback Lamar Jackson of the Louisville Cardinals poses with the trophy after being named the 82nd Heisman Memorial Trophy Award winner during the 2016 Heisman Trophy Presentation at the Best Buy Theater on December 10, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Todd Van Emst - Pool/Getty Images)
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The new college football season may still be a long way away, but it is never too early to place your bets on who you think will win the Heisman Trophy in the 2017 season. The very early favorite, according to odds released by Bovada on Monday, is Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield.

Bovada gives Mayfield 11/2 odds to win the Heisman Trophy this fall. He is followed by Ohio State’s J.T. Barrett (6/1), which sets up a nice Heisman Trophy showdown in September when the defending Big 12 champions head to Columbus for the second game in a home-and-home series that was won by Ohio State in Norman in 2016. Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, is listed with 7/1 odds, with USC’s rising star quarterback Sam Darnold listed at 9/1.

Penn State’s dynamic duo of running back Saquon Barkley and quarterback Trace McSorley each have 10/1 odds, along with Washington quarterback Jake Browning.

Looking back to the early odds from last January, Barrett and Mayfield each had 10/1 Heisman odds. Louisville’s Jackson was not on the radar.

The three biggest overperformering and underperformering teams of 2016

BATON ROUGE, LA - OCTOBER 22: Head coach Ed Orgeron of the LSU Tigers leads his team on the field before a game against the Mississippi Rebels at Tiger Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
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It’s been two weeks since Clemson dramatically was crowned champions of the College Football Playoff over Alabama, putting a close on the 2016 season. The dust is settled and recruiting pushes are the focus across the country, but how about one final look back at what happened last season?

I’m a devoted follower of S&P+, which measures a team’s efficiency, explosiveness, field position, drive finishing and turnovers (it’s pretty intuitive; for a brief primer click here, for a full glossary, click here). I generally use S&P+ rankings as a way to see which teams did the things necessary to be successful, though they don’t tell the whole story — a few bad fourth quarters, strange coaching decisions and/or special teams gaffes can skew a team’s record down, for example (see: Notre Dame).

So let’s take a quick look at which teams over-performed their S&P+ ranking:

West Virginia (S&P+: 29, final record: 10-3)

The Mountaineers were the lowest-ranked 10-win Power 5 team by S&P+, and their No. 29 ranking put them behind two sub-.500 teams that we’ll get to later.

Georgia (S&P+: 68, final record: 8-5)

Georgia finished one spot ahead of fellow SEC East side Mizzou, which went 4-8. The Bulldogs won two games they were expected to lose by S&P+ (over Mizzou and Auburn).

Boston College (S&P+: 86, final record: 7-6)

Steve Addazio’s dudes were the lowest-ranked Power 5 team to finish with a record over .500 and finished only two spots ahead of 2-10 Virginia.

And now, the underperformers:

LSU (S&P+: 4, final record: 8-4)

By S&P+, LSU did the things necessary to get them into the College Football Playoff, though they didn’t show up in three of their five games against top-15 opponents (even if those games resulted in close losses). For a team that changed coaches mid-season, though, eight wins sounds about right.

Notre Dame (S&P+: 26, final record: 4-8)

Seven of Notre Dame’s eight losses came by eight points or fewer, and the toxic combination of awful early-season defense (in losses to Texas, Michigan State and Duke), brutal special teams mistakes (in losses to Michigan State, Duke and N.C. State), head-scratching coaching decisions (in losses to N.C. State, Stanford and Navy) and second-half nosedives (in losses to Stanford and Virginia Tech) were the perfect recipe for a team that did enough things right to at least make a bowl game finishing with an embarrassing 4-8 record.

Ole Miss (S&P+: 27, final record: 5-7)

Ole Miss had a greater than 50 percent win expectancy against Alabama (63 percent) and Arkansas (70 percent) and lost both games. But the Rebels’ final three games were horrid, with win expectancies of 18 percent, zero percent and zero percent against Texas A&M, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.