Alabama Spring Game

Myriad turnovers the theme of Tide’s spring game

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And by “myriad” we mean “thiiis close to double digits” in the two-time defending BCS champion Alabama’s annual A-Day game.

Just over 78,000 fans Saturday — there were a school-record 87,000 in attendance for Auburn’s spring game, for what it’s worth — witnessed the Tide turn the ball over a whopping nine times as the White team edged the Crimson team 17-14.  The White squad, which consisted of the first-team offense, was responsible for four of the turnovers — two interceptions, two fumbles — while Team Crimson coughed it up five times — four interceptions, one fumble.

AJ McCarron, who will be entering his third year as the Tide’s starter, tossed both of the White team’s interceptions in his 19-for-30, 223-yard effort, and had a third pick called back because of defensive offsides.  He also led his side on the game-winning drive, with a 50-yard bomb to Christion Jones setting up T.J. Yeldon‘s seven-yard touchdown run late in the game.

Yeldon, incidentally, was named the Dixie Howell Award winner (game’s most valuable player) after combining for 129 yards of offense — 69 rushing, 60 receiving.  The rising sophomore led all players in both categories.  It’s also the second straight year the back has staked his claim as the spring game MVP.

McCarron’s backup, Blake Sims, also tossed two interceptions, as did early enrollee and fellow Team Crimson teammate Cooper Bateman.

Suffice to say, the offensive effort — both literally and figuratively — did not sit well with the detail-oriented Nick Saban.

“The biggest thing I was concerned about was how the team would go out there and what would be their energy, their enthusiasm, and their attention to detail,” the head coach said in quotes distributed by the team. “I don’t think that there were enough guys that answered that question in a positive way to my liking. But I’m never satisfied.”

That said, Saban made sure that everyone listening knows he’s not disappointed with his squad at this point in the offseason.  Rather, he’s merely not satisfied with where they are right now — a trait that even the head coach himself readily acknowledges is an annual occurrence.

“I spoke to a bunch of alumni groups today, and they all want me to make a comparison between this year’s team and last year’s team and the team before that, and the team before that, and the team before that,” Saban said. “And I wasn’t happy with any of those teams at this point. If I was happy with them, we wouldn’t have summer conditioning, we would not have fall camp, and we wouldn’t have thirty practices to get ready for our first game against Virginia Tech. We’d just pack it in and say, ‘Alright, let’s go to Atlanta and play the game.’

“We’re not there yet. That’s why we have all these practices, that’s why we have all the work we need to do.

McCarron, though, pretty much summed up quite well most everyone’s feelings on a game that’s nothing more than a glorified scrimmage.

“This is like playing in an all-star game. You don’t get in a rhythm. It’s not a real game, but it’s fun to go out there and try to make plays happen, and do some trick plays,” the senior said.

The attendance total of 78,315 was the sixth-largest in the storied program’s history, with the five highest coming in the first five years of Saban’s run in Tuscaloosa.  The largest crowd ever to witness an A-Day game was 92,310 in 2011.

As the school wrote in its press release, “[m]ore than 592,000 fans have attended the seven A-Day games during Saban’s tenure as head coach, including 90,000 plus in three of the seven years.”

Report: Auburn offensive coordinator search getting thorny

AUBURN, AL - NOVEMBER 08:  Head coach Gus Malzahn of the Auburn Tigers reacts during the game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Jordan Hare Stadium on November 8, 2014 in Auburn, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Auburn does not have an offensive coordinator yet, which is odd. The Tigers have an explosive offense with a lot of returning parts. They have Jarrett Stidham coming in to play quarterback. They have a boatload of money. And they have a boatload of money.

According to a report from James Crepea of AL.com, Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and “people with influence over the program” can’t agree on who should replace Rhett Lashlee.

Malzahn is said to prefer Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Kendal Briles, Arizona State offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey and NC State offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz. Lindsey and Drinkwitz worked for Malzahn previously, and Malzahn has built a working relationship with the Briles family — Stidham and running back Kam Martin transferred from Waco to Auburn, and Art Briles visited a Tigers practice this season.

But Auburn donors, Crepea writes, have nixed those choices, saying Briles is too inexperienced and Lindsey and Drinkwitz are too close to Malzahn.

Instead, donors preferred Texas A&M offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone (who has already been crossed off the list) or Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich (ditto). Mark Helfrich does not seem like a viable option at this time.

With less than two weeks until National Signing Day, the urgency to bring someone to the South Plains only grows stronger.

Forza Blu? Michigan reportedly planning spring practice in Italy

EAST LANSING, MI - OCTOBER 29: Head coach Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines directs a drill during warm ups prior to playing the Michigan State Spartans at Spartan Stadium on October 29, 2016 in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Undeterred by recent NCAA legislation, Jim Harbaugh is reportedly going international.

As noted by the Detroit Free Press, a post on Rivals affiliate TheWolverine.com reports that Michigan is planning to spend the final week of football spring practice in Rome, Italy. The team would not only practice several times on Italian soil, but would allow the team to visit the sights in the area and even leave players in Europe to study abroad for a semester.

The move would no doubt ruffle even more feathers in the football and NCAA communities after Harbaugh famously took the Wolverines to the IMG Academy down in Florida for spring practice last March. That prompted recent legislation that was passed at the NCAA convention in Nashville this week — a Harbaugh Rule if you will — that prohibited off-campus practice during a vacation period outside of a playing season.

While it would seem that would rule out trips away from Ann Arbor for spring football practices, it appears the Michigan athletic department is going to push forward by exploiting a slight loophole in the language of the rule. While vacation periods may be off limits like spring break, it appears the Wolverines would be looking to leave town at the end of April, which would be after the semester ends  and does not fall into any scheduled vacation time.

We’ll see if anything becomes of this report and if Michigan indeed announces such an unprecedented trip. While foreign tours are common in sports like basketball at the NCAA levels, it really hasn’t happened in football aside from occasional games overseas so it will be interesting to see if this becomes a trend, or is just another case of Harbaugh being Harbaugh.

Wisconsin extends head coach Paul Chryst’s contract through 2022

ARLINGTON, TX - JANUARY 2: Corey Clement #6 of the Wisconsin Badgers points toward head coach Paul Chryst  as the two celebrate following the 81st Goodyear Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium on January 2, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. Wisconsin defeated Western Michigan 24-16. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
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Winning a New Year’s Six bowl and outperforming nearly every preseason expectation typically results in a nice boost to a head coach’s bank account and that is the case at Wisconsin this year.

The Badgers announced on Friday that the school’s athletic board had extended head football coach Paul Chryst another year, running through January 31, 2022. Additional contract terms such as a potential raise or incentives were not announced, meaning this was likely just tacking another year onto the former Wisconsin quarterback’s original deal in Madison.

The move isn’t new for the program, which pulled the same extension almost to the day a year ago after Chryst led the Badgers to a 10-3 year in 2015 that was capped off with a Holiday Bowl victory over USC. The coach one-upped that performance in 2016, winning the Big Ten West title and getting selected for the Cotton Bowl, which the team won over previously undefeated Western Michigan.

Chryst’s original contract he signed two years ago was for a term of five seasons through 2020. He originally made around $2.3 million a year but should be hitting the $2.5 million mark heading into 2017 with various increases incorporated.

Vol legend Peyton Manning reportedly advising alma mater Tennessee on AD search

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 08:  Former Tennessee Volunteers quarterback Peyton Manning walks across the field prior to the start of their game against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field on October 8, 2016 in College Station, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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New College Football Hall of Famer Peyton Manning is staying busy with various ventures now that he’s retired from the NFL and apparently the Vol legend doesn’t mind returning to Tennessee to add another thing to his plate.

According to a report from the Knoxville News Sentinel, Manning will be part of a search committee for the school’s chancellor as she attempts to find a new athletic director following the retirement of Dave Hart at the end of June. Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is also expected to be part of the six-person strong committee, which will assist recently hired search firm Turnkey Sports and Entertainment in finding the right candidate to lead the department.

Hart’s retirement has known for some time and the fact that Alabama surprisingly hired Greg Byrne away from Arizona without as much as a sniff from the Vols have made many in the fan base a little anxious about the state of the on-going  (and lengthy) search. Manning’s former head coach Phillip Fulmer has reportedly been mentioned as a candidate for the gig but the hire of a search firm and advisory committee suggests that a hire may be a few weeks or months away.

There are few folks connected to Tennessee football more fondly remembered around Knoxville than Manning and you can’t help but wonder if Vols fans longing for some stability and a big name in the AD chair wouldn’t mind pushing the quarterback’s name for the position. If so, perhaps joining the search committee is the first step toward that path and a move that would certainly make a lot more sense than bringing somebody like Fulmer back into the fold.