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.

Reports: Cal expected to add Marques Tuiasosopo as QB coach

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 27:  Interim Head Coach Marques Tuiasosopo of the Washington Huskies looks on while his team warms up during pre-game warm ups prior to playing the BYU Cougars in the Fight Hunger Bowl at AT&T Park on December 27, 2013 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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It looks as though Marques Tuiasosopo is heading back to the Pac-12, again. The former Rose Bowl MVP and Washington quarterback has reportedly been added to the coaching staff at Cal under new head coach Justin Wilcox. The news was first reported by Bruin Sports Online and later followed up by Bruce Feldman of FOX Sports, via Twitter.

Tuiasosopo is no stranger to coaching in the Pac-12. After spending 12 seasons in the NFL, Tuiasosopo returned to his alma mater to take on a role as assistant strength coach for the Washington Huskies in 2009. After two years in that role, he joined the UCLA coaching staff as a graduate assistant in 2011 and took on a role as tight ends coach in 2012 under Jim Mora. The following year, in 2013, Tuiasosopo returned to Washington to be the quarterback coach to work for Steve Sarkisian. After Sarkisian accepted a head coaching offer from USC later that year, Tuiasosopo was named interim head coach for a bowl game, but he would follow Sarkisian to USC in 2014 to be the tight ends coach and was given the title of associate head coach. After two seasons with the Trojans, Tuiasosopo worked his way back across town to rejoin Mora at UCLA as a passing game coordinator and quarterback coach last season.

Cal will be Tuiasosopo’s fourth different Pac-12 school in his coaching background, and he will be a valuable asset to Wilcox’s staff given his knowledge and familiarity of the Pac-12 recruiting scene and work with previous quarterbacks like Josh Rosen and Cody Kessler.

Arkansas DE Tevin Beanum retires, LB Khalia Hackett to transfer

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Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema announced a pair of departures from the Razorback program for 2017. Defensive end Tevin Beanum has chosen to step away from football and linebacker Khalia Hackett has decided to transfer to a new school to continue playing football.

Bielema did not confirm the details for why Beanum has stepped away from the sport but did suggest the now former defensive end may qualify for an NCAA hardship waiver. If so, then Beanum can remain on scholarship at Arkansas and continue his education without being concerned about expenses.

Beanum missed summer camp at Arkansas for undisclosed reasons before returning to the team for the 2016 season. Beanum started seven of 12 games for the Razorbacks. In February 2015, Beanum was arrested for suspicion of DWI, which led to Bielema going so far as to take his car keys away.

It is currently unknown where Hackett will move next, but Bielema says he will provide assistance in finding a new football home for the linebacker.

“We had a conversation yesterday,” Bielema said. “He’s moved on. I’ll try to help him find a position or team of interest.”

Hackett is the second Arkansas player to decide to transfer out of Arkansas this offseason. Running back Duwop Mitchell previously made his decision to transfer in December as a graduate transfer. Mitchell announced, via Twitter, he will be transferring to Rutgers, where he will be eligible to play right away.

Texas Tech parts ways with offensive line coach Lee Hays

TEMPE, AZ - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Kliff Kingsbury of the Texas Tech Red Raiders reacts on the sidelines during the first half of the college football game against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium on September 10, 2015 in Tempe, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kliff Kingsbury has parted ways with one longtime member of his coaching staff and said goodbye to another recent addition at the same time.

Texas Tech announced on Saturday afternoon that Lee Hays would not be returning to the staff in 2017, having previously served as the team’s offensive line coach the past four seasons. In addition, the program confirmed the departure of DeShaun Foster as running backs coach after just one year on the job.

“We appreciate all that Coach Foster and Coach Hays have done for our football program,” Kingsbury said in a release. “We wish them nothing but the best moving forward.”

The reason for Foster’s departure was made clear earlier in the day when it was announced he was taking the same position at his alma mater UCLA.

While many expected a new look to come to Kingsbury’s staff after a disappointing 5-7 season in 2016, the fact that the first two changes occurred on the offensive side of the ball is pretty notable for a team that struggled to stop just about anybody on the defensive end. Hays notably has been around the program since 2013 when the head coach returned to Lubbock and is the more surprising name not coming back to the staff for next year.

UCLA’s Jim Mora hires two more coaches, including former Bruins RB DeShaun Foster

PASADENA, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  Head Coach Jim Mora of the UCLA Bruins looks on during the first half of a game against the Oregon State Beavers  at The Rose Bowl on November 12, 2016 in Pasadena, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Jim Mora’s offensive overhaul appears to be complete.

UCLA announced a pair of hires on Saturday to the team’s coaching staff, starting with Hank Fraley as the Bruins’ new offensive line coach and the return of former tailback DeShaun Foster as the new running backs coach.

“DeShaun is a Bruin through and through, which makes this such an exciting addition to our staff,” said Mora in a statement. “On top of being a tremendous alum, consummate professional, trusted voice and valued mentor, he is an exceptional football coach whose pedigree and knowledge of the game command respect.  We’re thrilled to welcome Deshaun back home where he belongs.”

Foster spent last season in the same position at Texas Tech but was in Westwood from 2013-2015 serving a variety of roles with the program. He is a familiar face to many in the powder blues, ranking third on the school’s all-time rushing list. He also had a lengthy stint in the NFL, most notable with the Carolina Panthers.

Fraley also has plenty of NFL experience, having spent 11 years in the league as a player before joining the coaching ranks. He recently served three seasons as the Minnesota Vikings assistant offensive line coach.

The duo replace Kennedy Polamalu and Adrian Klemm, both of whom were dismissed in the past month. They’ll join new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch at UCLA, who was recently brought on board himself.