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.

Matt Rhule adds Texas high school coach association president to Baylor football staff

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This is about as smart a move as Matt Rhule can make.

Baylor’s hiring of Rhule was widely hailed as a masterstroke by the scandal-plagued football program; Wednesday, the coach showed the class he will be bringing to Waco.  The biggest negative to the hire?  Rhule has absolutely no ties to the state of Texas as either a coach or a player.

Friday, Rhule began the process of rectifying the deficit in that area by hiring San Antonio Reagan head football coach David Wetzel to be a part of his BU football staff, the Dallas Morning News confirmed.  Wetzel, who played his college football for the Bears, has been a head coach in the state for two decades, and is currently the president of the Texas High School Coaches Association.

Wetzel has been in the San Antonio area for a dozen years.  Prior to that, he was in the Killeen area of Texas.

The News writes that “Wetzel is not expected to be an assistant coach but will serve in another capacity, such as player development.” While he may have been the first, Wetzel certainly won’t be the last Rhule hire with extensive ties to the state.

Nevada makes hiring of Jay Norvell official

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Nevada athletics
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Less than two days after it was initially reported, Nevada has officially landed its man.

The football program confirmed in a press release Friday Jay Norvell has been selected as the Wolf Pack’s new head coach.  Norvell was one of three finalists for the job, the others being Eastern Washington head coach Beau Baldwin and Vanderbilt offensive coordinator Andy Ludwig.

Norvell replaces Brian Polian, who “mutually parted ways” with the football program last month after four seasons. This is Norvell’s first head-coaching job at any level.

“I am thrilled to hire Jay Norvell to serve as our head football coach,” athletic director Doug Knuth said in a statement. “Coach Norvell is known throughout college and NFL football as a man of great character and integrity. He is highly respected for his knowledge of the game and ability to teach his players. He has incredible relationships and an army of friends in high school, college and professional football.

“Lastly, and importantly, Coach Norvell is known for his passion and love for his players. He will set a very high standard for excellence and work tirelessly to achieve our goals academically and athletically. I am excited to watch Coach Norvell build Wolf Pack football into a championship program.”

Norvell just completed his first regular season as an assistant on Todd Graham‘s Arizona State coaching staff.  With the Sun Devils, Norvell served as wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator.

Norvell has spent most of his nearly three decades in coaching at Power Five programs, with stops that included Texas (2015), Oklahoma (2008-14), UCLA (2007), Nebraska (2004-06), Iowa State (1995-97), Wisconsin (1989-94) and Iowa (1986-87).  He also spent six seasons as an assistant in the NFL — 1998-2001 as the wide receivers coach of the Indianapolis Colts, 2002-03 as tight ends coach of the Oakland Raiders.

“I want to thank University president Marc Johnson and Doug Knuth for this tremendous opportunity,” Norvell said. “Our family is humbled and honored to lead the Nevada football program. It is our charge to make this the flagship program of the Mountain West Conference.”

Bovada installs Louisville’s Lamar Jackson as a 1/25 Heisman favorite

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 26:  Lamar Jackson #8 of the Louisville Cardinals runs  for a touchdown during the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on November 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Thanks to Louisville bumbling and stumbling its way to two losses to close out the regular season, there were some who thought the race for the Heisman Trophy might be back open after belonging to Lamar Jackson for the majority of the season. While that notion is patently ridiculous, at least one sportsbook is at least considering the far-flung possibility.

Thursday night, Bovada.lv, after a brief shutdown, once again released what will likely be its final set of Heisman odds, with the Cardinals quarterback the overwhelming favorite at 1/25. For you neophyte gamblers in the audience, that means a bettor would need to wager $25 in order to win just $1.

This comes a week and a half after Bovada‘s email release contained the following note where their Heisman odds normally would’ve been: “The Heisman odds are currently off the board as the odds are astronomical in favor for Lamar Jackson. The Oddsmakers are currently in discussions on if they’ll be re-opened.”

The four other finalists, announced over the weekend, were included in Bovada’s latest set of odds.

Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson 7/1
Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield 50/1
Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers 50/1
Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook 66/1

The 2016 Heisman Trophy will be handed out Saturday night in New York City.

Major Applewhite, not Lane Kiffin, named Houston’s head coach

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Houston athletics
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Here’s a stunner.

The past several days, all the signs seemingly had been pointing to Lane Kiffin as the replacement for Tom Herman at Houston. Instead of the Alabama offensive coordinator, however, the football program shocked some by staying in-house.

Friday morning, athletic director Hunter Yurachek announced that UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has been named as his new head football coach. This will be Applewhite’s first head-coaching job at any level.

One thing Yurachek noted was Applewhite’s deep ties to the state of Texas, something that Kiffin lacks.

“When we set out on our search for the new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach with great integrity who believed in our mission and truly believed in our student-athlete experience,” said Yurachek in a statement. “We had our sights set on a focused competitor who has demonstrated success and possesses a deep connection to college and high school football in the great state of Texas. As this process was completed, it was clearly evident the only individual to offer our position to was Major Applewhite and he was indeed the right man to lead our program.”

Applewhite has been UH’s coordinator the past two seasons. Prior to that, nine of his first 11 seasons as a coach were spent in the state of Texas, including two separate stints at the University of Texas.

From 1998-2001, Applewhite was a quarterback for the Longhorns.

“My family and I are excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a tradition rich program and continue our lives in one of the greatest cities is the nation, a city we love,” said Applewhite. “The student-athletes truly are the backbone of every great program and as they’ve demonstrated over the past few years, we have an exceptional group of young men in our program, and we’ll continue to add men with great character and a competitive drive in our recruiting.

“Living in the best state for high school football is a true blessing and advantage for our program and I cannot be more thankful for the support of our outstanding high school coaches from throughout the state.”

UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando, who interviewed for the position as well, had been named as the Cougars interim head coach. Applewhite, however, will coach the team in the Las Vegas Bowl, with Orlando staying on to coordinate the defense. Whether Orlando will remain on after that remains to be seen, although retaining the coordinator will be a priority for the first-time head coach.

Orlando, however, could follow Herman to Texas when it’s all said and done.