Speculation again connects Nick Saban to the Browns

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Unfortunately for an Alabama football team preparing for what could be a third BCS championship in four years, it’s back.

The “it” in the latest rumor mill churning is speculation connecting Alabama head coach Nick Saban to a return to the NFL in general and to the Cleveland Browns specifically.  In the months since confirmation surfaced in August that Jimmy Haslam was purchasing the Browns, the speculative thought process was the new owner would bring in Joe Banner as his new team president — he did — who would in turn hire Mike Lombardi as his new general manager — he might — who would in turn at least attempt to bring his old Cleveland buddy Saban in as head coach.

That was the under-the-surface speculation, anyway.  Which the Boston Globe decided Sunday to bring to the surface with some fire to go along with the smoke.

In the Globe‘s report that focuses mainly on a potential Lombardi return to football management, and citing two unnamed NFL sources, Greg Bedard writes that “Saban has let it be known that if he returns to the NFL… it would likely be with Lombardi playing Pioli to his Belichick.”  First and foremost, Saban has let it be known that he’d consider a return to the NFL, where he failed miserably in his only stint with the Miami Dolphins?  The fact that a move back to the NFL would be part of Saban’s thought process as he’s preparing for a fourth BCS title-game appearance stretches the bounds of reason to the point of breakage.

Secondly, this “situation” is dot-connecting at its best.

Saban, a defensive back at Kent State in his collegiate playing days, was part of the ill-fated early-90’s Browns organization that included Lombardi, Scott Pioli and Bill Belichick.  The latter two famously reunited in New England, with Pioli serving as “general manager” while Belichick held final say over personnel decisions during the Patriots’ run of Super Bowl success.  With Lombardi reportedly in play as the future GM in Cleveland, and with Banner preferring a head coach having final say on personnel, dangling the NFL/Browns/Lombardi/personnel carrot in front of Saban could be enough to prompt the best coach in the best situation at the FBS level to “take the plunge again,” Bedard reports.

Why Saban, who was 15-17 with the Dolphins before leaving for Tuscaloosa — after he wasn’t — would “let it be known” that he’s open to a departure back to the big-boy league is unclear.  It certainly wouldn’t be money; at nearly $5.5 million annually, Saban is the highest-paid coach in college football.  A chance at redeeming his only coaching failure at any level?  Perhaps, although there’s clearly no love lost between Saban and the next level.

What is crystal clear, though, is how Saban’s better half views any type of speculation that has her husband headed somewhere other than Tuscaloosa.

“To answer your question [of her Saban having any interest in rebuilding another college program or returning to the NFL] and get right to the point, no. We’re very comfortable here. We love it here. It’s a great fit for our family. It’s a good fit for me. As far as we’re concerned, this is where we’ll retire someday.

“As far as jobs go, this is it for us. I don’t mean to be presumptuous. I would have to talk this over with Nick, but as far as I’m concerned, this is it.”

Those were the comments made by Terry Saban, the coach’s wife, during a radio interview two days before the Globe‘s report reared its head.  “This is it” has a very definitive finality to it; to be fair, so did “I’m not going to be the Alabama coach” two weeks before he was.

Because of that distant past, Saban could in the near future find himself in damned if he does, damned if doesn’t territory if the Globe‘s report and other speculation continues to grow legs.  Damned if he unequivocally denies the Browns speculation (PAWWWLLL, IT’S 2006 AGAIN!!! ROLLTIDE!!!), and damned if he doesn’t (PAWWWLLL, SILENCE IS THE FIRST ACT OF A TRAITOR!!! ROLLTIDE!!!).

All the while preparing his Alabama team for an unprecedented three titles in a four-year span in the BCS era.  “Troll Tide” indeed.

Citing love of teammates, Saquon Barkley says he’ll play in Penn State’s bowl game

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As was the case with one high-profile player on the West Coast earlier this month, another on the East Coast won’t be McCaffreying a bowl game.  Or Fournetting it for that matter.

Last season, running backs Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey, both at the time considered likely high first-round picks in the 2017 NFL draft, raised eyebrows and made headlines by skipping LSU’s and Stanford’s bowl games.  It led some to wonder whether this would, or even should, become the norm for players projected to be taken early in the next draft.

After Penn State beat took care of business against Nebraska in Week 12, running back Saquon Barkley took it as an affront that some had been suggesting that he would sit out the Nittany Lions’ bowl game to protect his stock as he expected to declare early.  If for nothing more, Barkley won’t do it out of love for his teammates.

That attitude merely serves as one of myriad reasons why NFL teams will absolutely fall further in love with the junior as the pre-draft process cranks into high gear.

No. 11 USC needs special teams trickery to help hold halftime lead over UCLA

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The city of Los Angeles came out to the Coliseum expecting a high-scoring blowout but what most of the crowd came to see was a good old fashioned Pac-12 slugfest between No. 11 USC and their crosstown rivals UCLA. In a battle between two of the best college quarterbacks in the country, it was the Trojans’ Sam Darnold who managed to secure the lead 14-7 going into halftime but needed a little help along the way from his teammates to get there.

The signal-caller in cardinal and gold finished the first two quarters with 132 yards passing in another efficient —  if unspectacular — performance behind center, combining with tailback Ronald Jones (88 yards, one touchdown) to help rack up most of the offense for the home team at the Coliseum. Despite being able to move the ball up the field fairly well, USC needed a little help from the third phase of the game in order to jump out in front on the scoreboard.

That came on an amazing special teams play in the first quarter that included a little trickeration on the part of the Trojans, shifting the return team to the right with a decoy return man while Michael Pittman fielded the punt along the left sidelines and went 72 yards nearly untouched for the touchdown.

The Bruins responded however and marched right down the field for a touchdown on a Josh Rosen pass. The potential first round draft pick had the better half of the two quarterbacks outside of a late strip sack, hitting several big plays down the field and finishing with 228 yards at the break. The running game wasn’t much to write home about to the surprise of nobody on the UCLA sidelines but it was an encouraging effort for a team that hasn’t had many the past few weeks.

We’ve seen some surprises on both sides of this rivalry game and it’s not hard to think we could be in for another close, fun second half based on how these two teams played the first two quarters. Whoever manages to make halftime adjustments will likely emerge victorious but both teams are very much in this game to the dismay of the home crowd.

Love quiet as Stanford leads Cal at the half

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Stanford is halfway to keeping its namesake Axe. The Cardinal leads Cal 10-6 at the break in Palo Alto.

Stanford broke a 3-3 tie by moving 70 yards in 10 plays, the last 17 on a K.J. Costello pass to Kaden Smith. Costello hit 11-of-20 passes for 131 yards with a touchdown and an interception on the final play of the half.

Cal moved inside the Stanford red zone with a chance to tie, but the drive stalled at the 9-yard line and Matt Anderson booted a 26-yard field goal to pull the Bears within 10-6 with 2:43 left in the half.

On a night when he could win some points back in the Heisman race, Bryce Love has carried just six times for 17 yards.

Cal will receive to open the second half.

Report: Virginia’s Bronco Mendenhall a person of interest in Oregon State coach search

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This is an intriguing potential development.

With Gary Andersen abruptly and unexpectedly stepping down earlier this season, Oregon State finds itself on the hunt for a new head football coach.  On the same day the Beavers fell to 1-10 on the lost season, a new name surfaced as a reported possibility: Virginia head coach Bronco Mendenhall.

At least, according to John Canzano of The Oregonian, who lists Mendenhall as a person of interest in the search.  Canzano writes that Mendenhall “interviewed for the job in 2014 and was the runner-up when Andersen was hired,” then goes on to put him on OSU’s short list, along with Cal offensive coordinator Beau Baldwin.

Mendenhall, should he decide to jump ship, certainly has ties to that area of the country — and to the university.

Born in Utah, Mendenhall began his collegiate playing career at an in-state junior college before transferring to, you guessed it, OSU for his last two years of eligibility.  He then began his coaching career with the Beavers as a graduate assistant and defensive line coach in 1989-90.  He then returned to his alma mater in 1995 as line coach, spending the following season as defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.  Nearly a decade later, he became the head coach at BYU, spending 11 seasons with that program before abruptly leaving for the Virginia job after the 2015 season.

After going 99-43 with the Cougars, and after a 2-10 first season in Charlottesville, Mendenhall has the Cavaliers bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011.