CFT Predicts: Alabama-Auburn

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“The Mother of All Iron Bowls” is the descriptor du jour for this year’s version of an Alabama-Auburn rivalry that stretches back to 1893… and, unlike some other cases, it may not actually overstate the game’s importance.

For just the second time in the 77-game history of the rivalry, both the Tide and the Tigers will sit inside the Top Five of the Associated Press rankings on game day.  On the line?  Just a spot in the SEC championship game, a potential BCS bowl bid and, for Alabama, a continued inside track to what could be an unprecedented back-to-back-to-back BCS titles and four in five years.  Oh, and in-state bragging rights for the next 364 days.

Nothing major, nothing of great import will be on the line on The Plains Saturday afternoon.

The current line has Alabama favored by anywhere from 10-12 on the road, although, when it comes to rivalry games — especially one involving two highly-ranked opponents — you can take the odds and toss them out the window.

The last and only other time the stakes were this high for both teams was 1971.  Pitting undefeated and No. 3 Alabama against undefeated and No. 5 Auburn in Birmingham — all Iron Bowls were played at that neutral site up until 1989 — the Tide blew out the Tigers 31-7 to claim the SEC title and a shot at the national championship in the Orange Bowl against unbeaten Nebraska (Cornhuskers 38, Tide 6, for what it’s worth).

So, how will this Grandmother of Them All play out?  The staff at CFT has peered into their respective crystal balls and taken a stab at predicting the outcome.  Our predictions appear below; your predictions and/or complaints can appear below that, in the comments section.

CHRIS HOUSTON
The take: When the season started, few outside the state of Alabama thought this game would be such a big deal. But thanks to the wizardry of new coach Gus Malzahn, the Tigers are sitting at No. 4 in the BCS rankings and can cap an incredible season with a victory over the Crimson Tide. The key to this game for Auburn is to score early and force Alabama to get off its preferred game plan, which is to pound it on the ground and keep the ball out of the hands of the Tigers’ offensive weapons. In the Tigers get on the board early, it will be up to AJ McCarron to help the Tide keep up. Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall is a dangerous runner and a streaky passer. Alabama’s defense hasn’t really been challenged since September, when Texas A&M put up 42 points. Malzahn will have a crafty game plan ready and, if it clicks early, then Auburn will be in this one right until the end. However, I can’t see McCarron allowing Bama to lose. The Tide will win the Iron Bowl and go on to the SEC title game.

The prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 27

KEVIN MCGUIRE
The take: At times this season we have witnessed Alabama look to have some cracks in their system. Through 11 games, nobody has been able to successfully chip away and break Alabama – not Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M, not LSU at home and certainly not a young up-and-coming Ole Miss squad. Enter Auburn, perhaps the hottest team in the SEC with a running game averaging over 300 yards per game. Playing at home, Auburn may have the best chance to attack Alabama consistently enough to keep things close and perhaps steal a win from the team many feel has been on a one-way ride to Pasadena from the start. Is Alabama beatable? Absolutely, but Auburn will still have to bring their best from start to finish. The moment Auburn hits a wall, Alabama will be there waiting. Getting off to a fast start against Alabama would be great for the Tigers, but as we saw against Texas A&M it is going to take a whole lot more to get this Alabama team to crumble. Auburn may have a wrecking ball of a running game with the combo of Tre Mason and Nick Marshall, but Alabama leads the SEC in rushing defense. Something has to give. I just do not think it will be Alabama giving enough.

The prediction: Alabama 30, Auburn 28

JJ STANKEVITZ
The take: It’ll look like a shootout from the start, with Auburn riding a wave of Jordan-Hare momentum to a few early scores. But Alabama will establish the run against a solid-not-great defense, avoiding many third-and-longs in efficient drives downfield. And in true, diabolical fashion, Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will find a way to tie up Nick Marshall, disguising blitzes and defensive sets perfectly to stop a read-option offense. Consider this: Alabama is No. 1 in defensive S&P+, while Auburn is No. 35; Alabama is No. 10 in offensive S&P+ while. Auburn is No. 20. I’m going to side with the numbers and while ‘Bama may fall behind early, once the home field Iron Bowl advantage wears off, it’s going to be Roll Tide, Roll.

The prediction: Alabama 31, Auburn 24

JOHN TAYLOR
The take: Sorry to disappoint — and I’ll duck as I type this — but all of the hype and buildup leading into this game will evolve into one gigantic letdown in the form of a blowout.  Auburn will likely hang with Alabama for a quarter, maybe even a half, but the talent disparity between the two teams will become more and more evident as the game wears on.  The Tigers’ overriding strength all season long has been running the ball; it just so happens that the Tide features the No. 4 run defense in the country and is fully capable of forcing AU to do something it absolutely does not want to do: rely heavily on its 104th-ranked passing attack.  Being home on The Plains, Auburn could surprise by keeping it relatively close but I won’t hold my breath.  Alabama, as they have for most of the past five years, will continue to roll.

The prediction: Alabama 41, Auburn 17

Ohio State starting RB still dealing with hamstring injury but expects to play in opener

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Ohio State’s newish looking offense is expected to lean on the ground game early in 2017 but a key cog in that machinery might not be 100 percent healthy heading into the Buckeyes’ opener against Indiana.

Starting tailback Mike Weber has dealt with a lingering hamstring injury he suffered over the summer and hasn’t participated at all in the team’s preseason camp. Despite that bit of concerning news, it seems both the running back and the coaching staff is expecting him to be good to go in less than two weeks when the team kicks off the 2017 campaign.

“I’m getting close,” Weber said Friday, according to Cleveland.com. “They’ve been holding me back all camp to make sure I don’t have problems with it during the season. … I talk to the trainer a lot and it’s looking pretty good. I’m not at full speed yet, but I’m going to get there and I should be ready for the first game.”

Weber rushed for 1,096 yards and nine touchdowns last year as a redshirt freshman and will see an increased load carrying the ball with Curtis Samuel off to the NFL. True freshman J.K. Dobbins has apparently slid into the backup role but running backs coach Tony Alford told reporters that the starting job is Weber’s when it comes time to go against the Hoosiers.

We’ll see if that eventually holds up given how finicky hamstring injuries are for tailbacks but at least the prognosis is good enough that Buckeyes fans can breathe a little easier as camp winds down in Columbus.

VIDEO: Indiana hands scholarship to walk-on WR after singing school fight song

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Some training camp traditions are better than others but one universal truth every fall is that coaches will bring up players to sing the school fight song in front of the team. As you can expect, often times hilarity ensues because players either don’t know the words or are so off-key with the notes that you can barely recognize what they’re singing.

Indiana coach Tom Allen joined in on the act this week by putting a few players through the same paces by having them belt out the lyrics to ‘Indiana Fight’ in front of both the team and cameras. The school naturally released video of the event on Friday, including a very special message at the end for one of the players signing:

That would be now-former walk-on Luke Timian, a projected starter this season who received a brand new scholarship from the Hoosiers and was mobbed by his teammates after the message flashed on the screens. The junior was involved in every game last year for Indiana and caught 19 passes for 277 yards and a touchdown.

As cool as the unveil was for Timian though, it’s a good thing he’s now a scholarship player at IU because it seems pretty clear that American Idol is not in the kid’s future. We’re all still suckers for videos of coaches handing out scholarships to walk-ons though and this is certainly one of the more unique ways to let a player know the school is picking up the check this semester.

Alabama reportedly in talks to play Miami in 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game

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Mark Richt may no longer be in the SEC but he still might have to go toe-to-toe with Nick Saban one more time in Atlanta.

The Tuscaloosa News is reporting that Alabama is in negotiations to return to Atlanta for the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game and play none other than Miami for a compelling matchup between two powerhouse programs and do quite a bit to stir up nostalgia for some of a different era in college football. As is the case for the future high-profile season openers as part of the series, the contest is set to be played at the new Mercedes Benz Stadium.

Playing in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game is nothing new for the Crimson Tide, as they open this year against Florida State in Week 1 and are scheduled to return to Atlanta in 2019 to take on Duke as well. The school has typically opened their season in such high-profile neutral site games but don’t have anything on the books for such a matchup starting in 2020.

Miami is also coming around to the idea of starting out the year at a big time NFL stadium for their opener and have set dates at AT&T Stadium in Arlington (against LSU) for 2018 and against in-state rival Florida in Orlando for the 2019 campaign. Adding Alabama to the slate in 2021 will just about lock up their non-conference schedule for that year, with home games against Appalachian State and Michigan State also on the docket.

Should the series eventually be confirmed (and there’s little reason to think it won’t), it will certainly be a welcome clash between two national title-winning programs. The pair last met on the field in the 1993 Sugar Bowl, when No. 2 Alabama topped No. 1 Miami 34-13 to deliver Gene Stallings and the Tide a national championship. The two current head coaches also have a bit of a history playing against each other when Richt was coaching at Georgia and staged a thrilling SEC title game in Atlanta back in 2012 that eventually sent the Tide on their way to another championship.

Hopefully everybody is still around when the time comes in 2021 because matchups like Miami and Alabama don’t seem to happen all that often.

Phone records show Hugh Freeze had over 200 calls with Ole Miss booster in NCAA case

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When Hugh Freeze was fired last month by Ole Miss, most thought that the troubling patterns the school discovered were mostly focused on the coach’s calls to what were later revealed to be escort services. As it turns out, that may not be the extent of the cell phone records that landed the coach in hot water.

USA Today dug a little deeper in Freeze’s phone calls and discovered that he had at least 200 conversations with Lee Harris, a now-disassociated booster at the school who is a central figure in the ongoing NCAA case surrounding extra benefits for recruits and players. Per the report:

“The phone calls included the period in which Harris became a part of the NCAA’s investigation into Ole Miss and continued before and after his interview with the NCAA on Nov. 16, 2016, in which he provided information that was determined to be false.

Freeze was not named or deemed culpable in the specific NCAA allegation related to Harris, and it is not publicly known what the two men discussed in the calls. According to Freeze’s attorney, W.G. Watkins, Freeze and Harris met by “happenstance” sitting next to each other at church at some point after Harris’ alleged violations occurred, formed a relationship and played golf together. Watkins said Freeze never discussed the NCAA case with Harris, which would potentially be a violation of bylaw 10.1 relating to unethical conduct.”

Harris was one of several boosters included in the NCAA’s Notice of Allegations against the Rebels and was alleged by enforcement staffers to have provided free food and cash to linebacker Leo Lewis when he was being recruited by Ole Miss. Lewis eventually signed with in-state rival Mississippi State and later provided information to investigators as part of the case.

Though the phone calls are hardly a smoking gun for either Freeze or the school, the sheer volume of calls between the head coach and a booster who is alleged to have committed NCAA violations certainly raises a big eyebrow in Indianapolis and around the rest of the SEC. The fact that the calls took place on the coach’s cell phone also raises the question as to just how closely school compliance staff was monitoring their coach and whether he attempted to influence the investigation in any way by speaking about it with Harris.

Such points are bound to come up and need clear answers when Ole Miss goes in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions for a hearing scheduled for Sept. 11th.