Nick Saban

Predictions 101 — BCS championship game


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.

WKU to host S. Miss/LaTech winner in C-USA title game

BOWLING GREEN, KY - NOVEMBER 27: Brandon Doughty #12 of the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers looks to pass against the Marshall Thundering Herd in the second half of the game at L.T. Smith Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Bowling Green, Kentucky. The Hilltoppers defeated the Herd 49-28. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Not only is one-half of Conference USA’s championship game set, but so is the location.

East division members Western Kentucky and Marshall came into their game Friday afternoon at 7-0 and 6-1 in conference play, respectively, with the contest essentially serving as a play-in game to the league’s title game.  On the strength of Brandon Doughty‘s 370 yards passing and five touchdowns, the Hilltoppers played their way in and staked a claim to the division title with a dominating 49-28 win over the Herd.

The Hilltoppers became the first C-USA team to finish undefeated in league play since Houston in 2011. WKU is the seventh team to go unbeaten in league play in C-USA’s 20 football seasons.

WKU is in just its second season in Conference USA, and will be playing for its first conference title in Bowling Green as the win wrapped up home-field advantage for the Hilltoppers.

The opponent will be determined Saturday afternoon. West leaders Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech, both 6-1, will square off Saturday in Ruston, with the winner moving on to face WKU next Saturday. Tech lost to Marshall in its first-ever title game appearance last season, while USM is looking to get back to the game for the first time since 2011 and the third time overall.

Late pick-six gives unbeaten Iowa first-half lead on Nebraska

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With No. 4 Iowa’s unbeaten regular season and, potentially, a playoff berth on the line, Nebraska is doing its damnedest to ruin their rival’s postseason plans.

Thanks in very large part to a second-quarter defensive play, the favored Hawkeyes have taken a 14-10 lead on the Cornhuskers into halftime on a windswept day in Lincoln.  An interception from Tommy Armstrong Jr., his second of the contest, was returned four yards by Parker Hesse for a touchdown with 6:38 left in the second quarter and is the difference in the game.

A Drew Burns 39-yard field goal with three seconds left in the half sliced the Cornhuskers’ deficit to its current four points.

The Hawkeyes’ defense, stout all season long, was what’s everyone has come to expect, limiting the Cornhuskers to just 109 first-half yards before NU’s last drive netted 59 and led to the three-pointer.  NU’s defense was very much the equal to its counterpart’s stoutness, holding the Hawkeyes to 112 yards.  In fact, the two offenses combined to average just 5.4 yards per play, a number aided greatly by that last ‘Husker drive.

Armstrong now has 14 interceptions on the season; only three FBS quarterbacks have thrown more — Virginia’s Matt Johns, Maryland’s Caleb Rowe and Hawaii’s Max Wittek, all of whom have tossed 15 with one game each left to play.  Eight of Armstrong’s interceptions have come in the last three-and-a-half games.

Nebraska won the pregame coin toss and will get the ball on offense to open the second half.

Reports: Les Miles told boosters A&M game will be last at LSU

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07:  Les Miles, head coach of the LSU Tigers, reacts during the first quarter against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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It appears that, after a couple of weeks worth of speculation, the Les Miles era in Baton Rouge is indeed coming to an end.

Multiple media outlets are reporting that, at a booster club meeting, Miles informed those in attendance that Saturday’s game against Texas A&M will be his last as LSU’s head coach.  One person in attendance said that while Miles didn’t come right out and say the A&M game would be his last, he heavily intimated that very thing.

“He didn’t use those words but he made it clear that Saturday is his last game,” an unnamed Gridiron Club member told the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“He said , ‘We’re a second family to him and he’s going to miss us, he appreciates his real friends, and then he told us goodbye. It was very emotional but in control.”

Miles also reportedly stated that he would not coach the Tigers in a bowl game. Whether the parting of ways will be termed a dismissal or a mutual agreement remains to be seen, although it’s quite obvious the former is in play.

However, there is a different interpretation of both the scene at the booster meeting earlier today and the Miles’ current status:

If this is the end of Miles’ time with the Tigers — we’ll know for certain at some point after Saturday’s game despite today’s confusion —  he’ll end his 11-year tenure as one of the winningest in the program’s history. Miles has won 110 of the 142 games he’s coached at LSU, a winning percentage of .775, the best ever at the school.

He won two SEC West titles, but none since 2011. His Tigers won the national championship in 2007, and lost in the ’11 title game to nemesis Alabama. Since going undefeated in conference play in that latter season, the Tigers have lost two, three and four games the next three seasons; they are 4-3 in conference play ahead of the A&M game.

If the 62-year-old Miles wants to continue coaching — and all the indications are that he does — there will not be a shortage of suitors as there are currently a dozen openings, including nine at Power Five schools.  One intriguing possibility is Miles taking over for Steve Spurrier at South Carolina, speculation that’s gained momentum over the past few days as the rumors of Miles’ imminent demise have grown in recent days.

As for LSU?  Be careful what you wish for.  That grass that looks greener on a replacement’s lawn may turn out to be nearly a decade’s worth of fool’s gold — just ask Tennessee.

No. 24 Toledo’s loss hands MAC West to N. Illinois

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One of the biggest winners in college football this Black Friday didn’t even have to step foot on the field to become one.

At a cold and rainy Glass Bowl Friday afternoon, Western Michigan took the lead in the middle of the second quarter and never trailed again, dropping host Toledo by the score of 35-30.  The loss drops the 24th-ranked Rockets to 9-2 overall and 6-2 in Mid-American Conference play.

With the loss, UT and Northern Illinois, which lost to Ohio Tuesday night, are now tied atop the MAC West.  However, because of the Rockets’ 34-27 home loss to the Huskies Nov. 3, it’ll be NIU facing Bowling Green in the conference championship game next weekend.

This is the seventh consecutive season NIU has either won outright or shared the West division title.  This will also be NIU’s sixth straight appearance in the league title game, with the Huskies winning in 2011, 2012 and 2014.

Even more to the point, it will be an NIU-BGSU MAC championship game each of the past three seasons.

One final note: not that there was much doubt before, but the Group of Five’s New Year’s Six bowl bid will almost certainly go to the AAC.  The winner of that conference will be determined next week in Houston, with UH hosting either Temple (if it beats UConn) or USF (if Temple loses).