Nick Saban: ‘I don’t have any unfinished business in the NFL’

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First, let’s get this out of the way right up front:

“I’m not going to be the Alabama head coach.” — Nick Saban, two weeks before he became the Alabama head coach.

So, with that matter taken care of, down to the business at hand.

For well over a month, Nick Saban has, once again, been connected to various openings around the NFL.  Specifically and most vociferously, the Tide head coach’s name has been bandied about as a possibility for the opening with the Cleveland Browns.  Hell, as late as this week, and even as Cleveland had seemingly set their sights on another head coach from the collegiate level, a Northeast Ohio scribe was penning a piece headlined “Browns’ Haslam seems poised to make run at Alabama’s Saban.”

All the while, Saban has steadfastly denied an interest in returning to the scene of his only coaching crime, although the denials rang hollow in many an ear thanks to the bungled public handling of the Miami Dolphins situation just over six years ago.  Even attempts by Saban’s wife Terry to quash the speculation — “as far as I’m concerned, this is it” — failed to reach its intended target as the rumors connecting her husband to the professional ranks continued.

Just two days before the Tide takes the field against Notre Dame for a shot at a third BCS title in four seasons, Saban was once again asked about a possible future in the NFL.  And, once again, the future Hall of Fame coach attempted to tamp out whatever embers of a move to the NFL may still be smoldering.

“I don’t have any unfinished business in the NFL,” Saban told reporters during the BCS title game media day in Miami Saturday morning. “It’s not something I’m concerned about. It’s not even anything I want to do.”

Saban’s choice of words to kick off his latest denial is interesting to say the least.  Purveyors of the annual Saban-to-the-NFL rumors like to point to his 15-17 mark in the brief two-year stay with the Dolphins as the main reason he would return to the professional ranks, that easily the worst stop in his otherwise highly successful coaching career has left an itch that he will eventually scratch.  That his drive to excel at everything and anything he puts his hands on would eventually lead him back to the NFL to redeem the lone blemish on his coaching résumé, his steadfast public commitment to the Tide be damned.

Saban’s a smart individual, though, and must realize that his very public butchering of his Dolphins departure makes it impossible for most to accept at face value his myriad declarations of love for his current job.  The only thing he can do to put the rumor wolves at bay?  Nothing really, other than continue on with the job at hand at Alabama.  And continue building a powerhouse FBS program that’s the envy of all but a handful of schools across the country, one that has a chance at BCS history in South Beach Monday night.

Scott Frost’s stock continues to rise as unbeaten and 20th-ranked UCF knocks off Navy

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Paying attention to your prodigal son, Nebraska?  Where are your eyes at, Tennessee?

Entering Week 8 unbeaten and ranked 20th in the country, Central Florida was facing arguably its stiffest test of the season in the form of 5-1 Navy. After 60 minutes of play in Annapolis, the Knights are leaving town with a 31-21 win over the Midshipmen.

A pivotal moment came in the middle of the third quarter when, trailing just 21-14 and driving, starting quarterback and leading rusher Zach Abey was knocked out of the game.  The junior, who had 126 yards on the ground prior to leaving did not return to the contest because of what looked to be a head injury.

The service academy was able to close the gap to 24-21 early in the fourth quarter, but a turnover gave the ball back to UCF with just over seven minutes remaining.  Seven plays and 54 yards later, the Knights cashed in on the fumble recovery with a 10-yard Otis Anderson touchdown run that effectively put the game away with 3:30 left.

With the win, UCF is now 6-0 on the season, the first time they’ve won the first six games of a season in the program’s history.

As for the stock of Scott Frost, it does nothing but continue to rise.  Taking over a program that was winless the year before he arrived, the Knights went 6-7 in his first season and are now ranked 20th in the country, behind only 16th-ranked South Florida in the group of Five.

Those two AAC contenders are on a collision course for a potentially epic regular-season finale — one that could determine the G5’s lone New Year’s Six bowl bid.  Before then, however, UCF needs to get past an FCS foe, SMU, UConn and Temple, while USF will have to take care of business against Tulane later on tonight as well as Houston, UConn and Tulsa.

No. 9 Oklahoma struggling on the road with Kansas State at halftime

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It didn’t take long — two plays exactly — for No. 9 Oklahoma to realize that they will have their hands full against Kansas State on Saturday afternoon.

The Wildcats struck early and struck often to jump out to a 21-10 lead over their Big 12 rival heading into halftime in yet another head-scratching performance for the Sooners after a big win.

Defensive issues were at the heart of the problem for the ranked side, as KSU quarterback Alex Delton looked borderline unstoppable until a late interception — finishing the half with 60 yards passing and an even more impressive 115 yards and two touchdowns rushing. The speedy dual-threat made his second start in place of Jesse Ertz and may have fully Wally Pipp’d his veteran teammate given what he brought to the offense. Running back Alex Barnes also chipped in with 96 yards, including a 75-yard score on the second snap of the game.

Perhaps the biggest bout of news from the half was surrounding Sooners’ star Baker Mayfield. The signal-caller was 12-of-15 for 148 yards and a touchdown while also leading the team in rushing after two quarters. However he was taken out of the game on the final drive with a potential injury, only to return to the field as a decoy for two wildcat formation plays. It’s still not clear if he’s 100 percent healthy after taking a rather hard hit on a scramble.

Mayfield was also picked off once, thanks to an incredible job by KSU’s Denzel Goolsby to wrestle a ball away from a receiver in the end zone to come up with the ball.

So yes, just another weird day in the Big 12 as not much makes sense and a highly ranked team looks to be in real trouble on the road.

Miami turns Syracuse turnovers into 13-3 halftime lead

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A week after knocking off the ACC favorite and defending national champions, can Syracuse pull off another upset in the ACC? If Syracuse is going to do that against Miami, they have some work to do in the second half. Miami leads Syracuse at halftime, 13-3 while the Orange have had four turnovers.

The momentum of last week’s shocking upset against Clemson did not carry over on the road against Miami for Syracuse. Syracuse’s game-opening drive appeared to end on an interception off a tipped ball at the line of scrimmage, but Miami’s Demetrius Jackson had the ball stripped out of his hands after initially intercepting the ball. In the end, it turned out to be a Syracuse first down and what was effectively a loss of 12 yards on the play.

Turnovers would be the story of the half for Syracuse, however. Miami turned two Eric Dungey interceptions into 10 points in the first half. Malik Rosier completed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Christopher Herndon IV to put the Hurricanes up 10-0 eight plays after an interception by the defense. Miami added a field goal after Syracuse was intercepted on the third play of the ensuing possession.

The best drive of the half for Syracuse traveled 71 yards over 17 plays but ended with a 22-yard field goal by Cole Murphy to get the Orange on the board.

The Syracuse defense has done their job. Miami has converted just one of six third-down plays for a first down, and the Hurricanes have not been able to do more damage on the scoreboard despite the abundance of Syracuse turnovers.

Tennessee hanging around with Alabama — and trailing by three TDs

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It feels like Tennessee is hanging decently well with Alabama, and yet the score is 21-0 Tide at the break in Tuscaloosa. Such is life in the Third Saturday in October rivalry.

Bo Scarborough lodged Alabama’s first two scores on identical plays, diving over a pile of humanity for 1-yard scores. The first came to end Alabama’s first drive of the day and the second came at the 4:48 mark of the second quarter. Damien Harris added the third on an 11-yard carry at the 1:18 mark.

Jalen Hurts has completed 9-of-17 passes for 144 yards, but the numbers look better than his performance has. The sophomore has been late and/or off-target with a handful of throws thus far.

It hasn’t mattered, though, as Alabama has racked up 108 yards on the ground and benefitted from a pair of drive-extending penalties by Tennessee.

Tennessee’s offense has avoided a critical mistake but hasn’t seriously threatened the Alabama defense. John Kelly has carried four times for 21 yards, and Jarrett Guarantano completed 7-of-11 passes for 38 yards while rushing eight times for 13 yards. As a team, Tennessee amassed 75 yards of offense and five first downs in the half.

Alabama will receive to open the second half.