How good has the Alabama defense been of late?
Maybe even historically good.
It didn’t seem like this was going to be the case way back on Sept. 14. That’s when Johnny Manziel shredded the Tide for 562 yards of total offense while laying 42 points on the scoreboard in ‘Bama’s 49-42 win in College Station.
But since then, Tide defensive coordinator Kirby Smart has his talented troops playing at a very high level.
Since giving up those 42 points against the Aggies, Alabama has allowed just 26 points over the past six games, with shutouts of Mississippi and Arkansas to its credit. The Tide hasn’t allowed a single point in the first half during that stretch, which means a good chunk of the points are coming late in the game, with reserves on the field.
Alabama is allowing just 9.8 points per contest, which leads the nation. Take away that blip against A&M and the Tide is allowing 5.1 points per game and six total touchdowns on the season.
Could this be the best Alabama defense of the Nick Saban era? The 2011 unit allowed just 8.2 yards per contest, but SEC offenses were considerably less potent a couple years ago. Only two SEC teams that year averaged over 35 points per game and one of them — LSU — scored nine points against the Tide in two head-to-head meetings. But six teams are doing so in 2013 and that makes what Alabama is doing even more impressive.
There’s no secret to why this is happening. The Tide have been recruiting elite defensive talent at an alarming rate. And Saban and Smart are two of the best defensive coaches in the game. This is certainly one of the more impressive defensive runs of the modern era, as the Tide has allowed 14 points or less for six-straight seasons.
Indeed, if Johnny Football had never graced the SEC with his presence, we’d probably be talking about this Alabama defense as a historic unit.
Instead, it will just have to be content with being the best in the country in 2013.
He probably won’t win the sport’s most important individual award, Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson took home a nice consolation prize on Tuesday.
Watson was announced as the winner of the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to the top senior or fourth-year junior quarterback in college football. A three-year starter for the Tigers, Watson has completed 775-of-1,115 career passes for 9,489 yards with 86 touchdowns against 30 interceptions while also adding 1,829 yards and 23 scores on the ground.
Most importantly, he’s led Clemson to back-to-back ACC championships and consecutive trips to the College Football Playoff. His 2nd-ranked Tigers will face No. 3 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 31.
Watson was named a Heisman Trophy finalist on Monday for a season in which he’s thrown for 3,914 yards and 37 touchdowns.
Recent winners of the Unitas award are Colt McCoy, Andrew Luck, Marcus Mariota and, in 2015, Connor Cook. Watson will accept the honor at a ceremony in Baltimore on Friday night before jetting up for the Heisman ceremony on Saturday.
On Monday, Army displayed the World War II-themed uniforms the Black Knights will wear against Navy on Saturday.
On Tuesday, it was Navy’s turn.
With President-elect Donald Trump in attendance, the Midshipmen will put their 14-game winning streak on the line by channeling one of the best Navy teams of all-time — the 1963 bunch.
That 1963 team was led by Heisman Trophy winner Roger Staubach and finished the season ranked No. 2 in both polls, falling to No. 1 Texas in the Cotton Bowl.
The ’63 game remains one of the most memorable in the 116-year history of the game, played on the insistence of Jacqueline Kennedy amid talk of canceling the contest following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
And, oh by the way, Navy won that fabled game, 21-15.
Christian McCaffrey will declare for the NFL Draft, according to a report from Matt Miller of Bleacher Report.
He would join Texas’s D'Onta Foreman and LSU’s Leonard Fournette among early entrant running backs.
McCaffrey, of course, offers a different skill set than those two and any other running back. Just as much a threat catching the ball or as a returner, McCaffrey set the FBS single-season all-purpose yardage record — rushing for 2,019 yards and eight touchdowns, receiving for 645 yards and five scores, accumulating 1,070 kick return yards with one touchdown and returning punts for 130 yards and a touchdown. He finished runner-up to Derrick Henry in the Heisman Trophy voting while leading Stanford to the Pac-12 championship and a Rose Bowl victory.
This season, McCaffrey’s profile dropped as Stanford dropped from the national title conversation, but he actually improved as a running back. McCaffrey’s averages jumped in both yards per game (145.1 vs. 144.2) and yards per carry (6.3 vs. 6.0).
Assuming he does indeed declare, McCaffrey will wrap up his Cardinal career as Stanford faces North Carolina in the Sun Bowl (2 p.m. ET Dec. 30, CBS).
Former Colorado running back Rashaan Salaam died on Tuesday, a family spokesperson announced Tuesday. He was 42.
Salaam was found dead in a Boulder, Colo., park on Monday night. Authorities said there were no signs of foul play.
“The Buff Family has lost an outstanding young man and a great Buff today,” CU athletics director Rick George said in a statement Tuesday. “We are heartbroken for Rashaan and his family and our thoughts and prayers are with them at this very difficult time.”
Salaam was best known in college football for winning the 1994 Heisman Trophy, beating out Penn State running back Ki-Jana Carter, the late Alcorn State quarterback Steve McNair and Penn State quarterback Kerry Collins after a season in which he rushed for 2,055 yards and 24 touchdowns on 7.61 yards per carry. Salaam also claimed the Walter Camp Player of the Year award and the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back after helping the Buffs to a season in which they finished 11-1, beat Notre Dame in the Fiesta Bowl and finished the season ranked No. 3 in the AP poll.
Salaam was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Bears in the 1995 NFL Draft and became the youngest player in league history to rush for 1,000 yards in a single season. His career fizzled from there, though, as a broken leg derailed his career and his yearly totals dwindled to 496, 112 and later two yards with the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. Salaam later tried comeback efforts in the XFL and CFL before calling it quits.
Oddly enough, Salaam is the first Heisman winner in more than half a century to pass away.
“He was very coachable,” former CU coach Bill McCartney said. “He had a happy heart. I loved being around him. He didn’t take himself too seriously, and he always credited those around him, especially his offensive line. What I liked about him is that he had a sparkle in his eye. He was upbeat and positive.”