Bear Bryant

100th anniversary of Bear Bryant’s birth looms over Alabama-Texas A&M showdown

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When No. 1 Alabama and No. 6 Texas A&M face off on Saturday in College Station, it will be just the sixth time these two schools have met.

Despite this historical unfamiliarity, both teams are bound together by a common thread that goes beyond their mere status as Southeastern Conference brethren.

It stands to reason that both programs would not be in the position they are now if not for the work of one man — Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, who was born 100 years ago this week.

His first team at A&M, the 1954 squad, went 1-9 after surviving a grueling training camp at Junction, Texas. Two years later, the legendary “Junction Boys” would go undefeated and capture their first Southwest Conference championship in 15 seasons. When John David Crow won the Aggies’ first Heisman Trophy in 1957, it was in large part because Bryant vouched on his behalf.

“If he doesn’t win it, then they ought to quit giving it,” Bryant told the press.

In 1958, Bryant was tabbed by his alma mater to be its head coach and athletic director: “Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin’,” he said of his return to Alabama.

His tenure at Alabama was remarkable.  He coached the Tide for 25 years, winning six national titles (1961, 1964, 1965, 1973, 1978, and 1979) and thirteen SEC championships. He was the three-time national Coach of the Year.  When he finished, he had won more games than any other Division I coach, compiling a lifetime record of 323-85-17.

The Bear passed away in January of 1983, just a few weeks after retiring from football.

What would he think of these two teams getting ready to play on Saturday? He’d probably get a kick out of Johnny Manziel’s free-wheeling style — after all, he coached one Joe Namath — though it’s doubtful he’d tolerate any of his off-the-field antics. The power-running and physical approach of the Crimson Tide on both sides of the ball would be right up his alley.

Most of all, he’d be proud of what his two teams had become — national powers playing the sport at the highest of levels.

If there’s anyone left who represents the spirit of Bryant and his connection to these two schools, it’s Crow, who coached under Bryant at Alabama after starring for the Aggies on Bryant’s last team there. When Alabama and A&M storm onto Kyle Field on Saturday, he’ll be there to watch his Heisman heir try to pull off another upset. But he won’t be devastated if the Tide wins.

“I tell everybody that A&M is my true love and that I want us to win everything that we do, but Alabama is a close second because of the ties I had with Coach Bryant, and with my son playing over there,” Crow told the College Station Eagle.

If this year’s game is as exciting as last year’s 29-24 upset by A&M in Tuscaloosa, it may signal the beginning of a rather interesting and unique rivalry.

The Bear would no doubt approve.

Hawaii hires Jacob Yoro as safeties coach

TUCSON, AZ - SEPTEMBER 17:  Head coach Nick Rolovich of the Hawaii Warriors walks the sidelines during the college football game against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium on September 17, 2016 in Tucson, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Kevin Lempa‘s new destination hasn’t yet been announced — he interviewed for a Michigan analyst job earlier this month — but Hawaii’s defensive coordinator has already been replace.

Legi Suiaunoa was promoted to defensive coordinator a week and a half ago, and on Monday the Warriors announced Honolulu native Jacob Yoro as safeties coach.

“Jake is a guy that I was interested in even before I got the job here at Hawai’i,” head coach Nick Rolovich (pictured) said in a statement. “I always thought he’d be a good fit with our philosophy. He’s well respected on the West Coast, not only for his knowledge but also for the noise he’s made on the recruiting side of the game. I have great appreciation for grinders like Jake.  We hope he adds to the trust of coaches and players in local recruiting. Local or not, though, Jake is a good ball coach.”

Yoro played at powerhouse Saint Louis High School before playing at Montana from 1998-01, then returned to the islands to coach in the Hawaii high school ranks. He left in 2009 to serve as linebackers coach at Montana Western, spent five seasons at Pacific University in Oregon and then coached the past two seasons as defensive backs coach at Cal Poly.

The Hawaii job represents Yoro’s first foray into FBS football.

“I’m excited and thankful for the opportunity to join the UH football family.  Coach Rolo and the rest of the staff have done a tremendous job of creating a culture that fosters greatness both on and off the field,” Yoro said.

He’ll have his work cut out for him immediately. Hawaii finished Rolovich’s first season ranked 118th nationally in pass efficiency defense, allowing 62.6 percent completions for 8.1 yards per attempt with 29 touchdowns against 11 interceptions in 14 games.

Alabama settles offensive staff by making two hires official

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 10:  Head coach Nick Saban of the Alabama Crimson Tide looks on from the sidelines during the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The waters in Tuscaloosa are finally calm after Hurricane Lane’s departure.

As reported over the weekend, Alabama has officially named Brian Daboll its offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and announced former director of football operations Joe Pannunzio as its tight ends coach and special teams coordinator.

Daboll kickstarted his career as a graduate assistant under Nick Saban at Michigan State and arrives after serving the past two seasons as the New England Patriots’ tight ends coach. Pannunzio turned four years as Saban’s DFO into two years as the Philadelphia Eagles’ director of personnel operations.

“I am honored to have the chance to return to the college game and work for Coach Saban at Alabama,” Daboll said. “He basically gave me my start in coaching as a graduate assistant at Michigan State in the late 1990s and has always been a very important influence on my coaching career. It is a tremendous opportunity to work at an institution such as Alabama with its rich tradition and history of sustained success, and I’m very excited to get started.”

“I am excited to have the chance to return to The University of Alabama and once again work for Coach Saban,” Pannunzio said. “I have always loved working with the special teams and tight ends and the chance to do it for the best coach and the best program in college football is a very special opportunity. My family and I love Tuscaloosa, and I can’t wait to get back out on the field coaching.”

Daboll fills the hole left by Steve Sarkisian, who filled the hole left by Lane Kiffin. Pannunzio fills the vacancy created when wide receivers coach Billy Napier left to become the offensive coordinator at Arizona State. Alabama also lost offensive line coach Mario Cristobal to a co-offensive coordinator role at Oregon.

With the dual hirings, co-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley will coach wide receivers, Burton Burns will focus solely on running backs and Brent Key will oversee the entire offensive line.

Sam Darnold becoming runaway favorite to win 2017 Heisman Trophy

SALT LAKE CITY, UT - SEPTEMBER 23: New starting quarterback Sam Darnold #14 of the USC Trojans looks to pass in the first quarter against the Utah Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium on September 23, 2016 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Gene Sweeney Jr/Getty Images)
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The 2017 college football season is a long way off, but that hasn’t stopped people from betting on who will win the 2017 Heisman Trophy.

Bovada released an updated odds sheet on Monday, and USC quarterback Sam Darnold has stepped away as the clear favorite to win the honor.

2016 winner Lamar Jackson and 2016 finalist Baker Mayfield are tied for second at 13/2 odds, followed by Alabama running back Bo Scarborough and Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts.

Darnold finished the ’16 campaign ranked ninth nationally in passing efficiency, hitting 67.2 percent of his throws for 3,086 yards with 31 touchdowns against nine interceptions in 13 appearances (10 starts). He closed the year with a scintillating Rose Bowl performance, hitting 33-of-53 throws for 453 yards with five touchdowns against one interception in a 52-49 overtime win over Penn State.

One historical bullet point Darnold will have in his favor is that the clearest path to winning a Heisman comes from playing at a school with former Heisman winners. USC’s six previous winners trails only Notre Dame and Ohio State — the Trojans are tied if you count Reggie Bush‘s 2005 win — including Carson Palmer in 2002 and Matt Leinart in ’04.

North Carolina, Appalachian State announce 3-game series

CHAPEL HILL, NC - SEPTEMBER 19: General view of the game between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Illinois Fighting Illini at Kenan Stadium on September 19, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Appalachian State hosted Miami last year and recently announced a 4-game series with East Carolina, but Monday’s announcement tops both of them combined…. probably.

The Mountaineers announced Monday a 3-game series with North Carolina, which calls for the Tar Heels’ first-ever visit to Boone among the set.

North Carolina will host Appalachian State on Sept. 21, 2019 and Sept. 9, 2023, with the Heels heading to the mountains for the sandwich game on Sept. 3, 2022. The 2022 visit marks the third ACC team to visit Appalachian State in a 7-year span, and just the second of the Big Four in-state schools to visit Boone; the Mountaineers host Wake Forest on Sept. 23 of this coming season to mark the first of such games.

“This series is the next addition in bringing Power 5 programs to Kidd Brewer Stadium,” App State AD Doug Gillin said in a statement. “With a record crowd for Miami last year, Wake Forest this season, and North Carolina in 2022 we are continuously looking for opportunities to bring great opponents to The Rock.  Our goal is to continue to bring Power 5 opponents, when available, and quality Group of 5 opponents to Boone, which benefits our students, student-athletes, university and community.  I truly enjoyed working with the UNC administration in constructing a series that is a win-win. Playing regional and in-state opponents makes a lot of sense for us.  We will see an increase in tickets sales both home and away, reduced travel costs and less missed class time for our students. Over the next eight seasons we will be playing the series with UNC, in addition to a four-game series with ECU, and home-and-home series with Wake Forest, Charlotte, and Marshall.”

Appalachian State has played the Big Four 29 times previously, all in their respective homes: 22 trips to Winston-Salem, six to Raleigh and one to Chapel Hill, a 56-6 Heels win in 1940.