WHO: 11-1 Alabama (SEC) vs. 10-2 Oklahoma (Big 12)
WHAT: Sugar Bowl (80th Year)
WHERE: Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana
WHEN: Jan. 2, 2014 at 8:30 p.m. ET
WHY: How much energy will Alabama have for this game after coming so close to playing for the SEC championship and a chance to play for their third straight BCS championship? That is the big question for the Crimson Tide, a program well aware of the perils that can come with a lack of interest in the Sugar Bowl. The last time Alabama played in the Sugar Bowl the Crimson Tide were upset by an inspired Utah team. That 2008 Alabama team was one win away form playing for the BCS championship but a loss to No. 2 Florida dropped No. 1 Alabama three spots in the polls and sent them to New Orleans to play the BCS busting Utah. Alabama dug an early 21-0 hole in the first quarter and was unable to climb out of it.
This Alabama team is on a different level from that past Alabama team though. That was Nick Saban‘s first true winning team since taking over the Alabama program. Now Alabama is a proven winner who knows how to prepare for all types of game situations. A lackluster start will not be allowed by Saban this time around as they hook up with Oklhaoma for just the fifth time in history. The Sooners will play the somewhat unfamiliar role of heavy underdog in the Sugar Bowl as well. Although they did not win the Big 12 championship, Bob Stoops and the Sooners are looking to carry the Big 12 banner after Baylor lost to UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.
Given the history of verbal exchanges by Stoops and Saban this game has plenty of subplot behind it, but when it comes to X’s and O’s it looks as though Alabama has the advantage everywhere you look. The quarterback situation is much more stable for Alabama with Heisman finalist and Maxwell Award winner AJ McCarron. McCarron makes few mistakes and could benefit from a standout performance in his final game since he will skip out on the Senior Bowl. The duo of Blake Bell and Trevor Knight will give Oklahoma some options but Alabama’s defense can be difficult to fool. Auburn managed to find some holes but unless Bell or Knight transform in to Johnny Manziel it should not be expected either have a great night. The runnings games may be even between Alabama’s TJ Yeldon and Oklahoma’s Brennan Clay, which means this game will be determined mostly in the trenches. This is where Alabama’s advantages come in to play on offense.
If Oklahoma can avoid falling behind early on, the Sooners have a chance to hang with Alabama for a while, but the Tide should manage to pull away in the second half.
PREDICTION: Alabama 34, Oklahoma 17
Police have identified and arrested a 29-year-old Auburn, Ala. man after he allegedly set fire to one of the oak trees at the famous Toomer’s Corner.
Fans traditionally celebrate a Tigers victory by “rolling” the trees with toilet paper and did so once again on Saturday night following an 18-13 victory over LSU. However, video surveillance showed a suspect lighting some of the paper on fire, setting the tree ablaze as he walked away.
The Auburn city police department, in a release obtained by USA Today, stated that “witnesses at Toomer’s Corner identified a suspect, who was immediately detained and taken into custody by police on an unrelated charge of public intoxication.” Several reports identified the suspect as Jochen Wiest.
Firefighters quickly responded to the fire and extinguished the burning tree but university officials are still evaluating the damage to the oaks.
“From the ground we can easily see damage to the leaves and base of the tree. It is significant,” Professor of Horticulture Gary Keever said in a statement released by the school. “I expect the foliage will continue to drop. The full extent of damage may not be known for several weeks. The best case scenario would be to see a flush of new growth next spring, but right now it’s too early to tell how the tree will respond.”
The incident is all the more emotional for Auburn fans given that the tradition had just been revived this season following a three-year absence as a result of an Alabama fan poisoning the oaks. Hopefully the area around Toomer’s Corner can recover in time for the Tigers’ next win, which might be as soon as Saturday when they host Louisiana-Monroe.
Notre Dame has officially parted ways with embattled defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.
“This is a difficult decision,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in a statement. “I have the utmost respect for Brian as both a person and football coach, but our defense simply isn’t where it should be and I believe this change is necessary for the best interest of our program and our student-athletes.”
Notre Dame has allowed 134 points through their first four games and are just 1-3 after extremely high preseason expectations. This was VanGorder’s third season in South Bend but the Irish have regressed significantly and ranked 101st in FBS scoring defense after Saturday’s home loss to Duke.
Defensive analyst Greg Hudson, a former Notre Dame linebacker who has served as defensive coordinator at Purdue, East Carolina and Minnesota, was elevated to fill VanGorder’s role.
“It’s never easy to make a change on your staff, but I’m confident in Greg’s ability to lead our defense,” Kelly added. “As a former player at Notre Dame and an experienced defensive coordinator, he not only understands the expectations necessary to compete at the highest level, but he’ll bring a fresh perspective to our sideline, practice field and meeting rooms.”
The move to make staff changes on the defensive side of the ball isn’t exactly surprising to Irish fans who have seen the team play this year but the timing is notable. Kelly remarked that the coaching was not the problem on defense after the loss to the Blue Devils but still opted to make a change on Sunday. It will be interesting to see if a very young defense will respond, and perhaps even rally, now that a big message has been sent.
Notre Dame plays Syracuse on Saturday at noon ET.
The firing season in college football is getting started earlier and earlier. Just ask Ron Turner.
The Florida International head coach was fired early Sunday in a move that was hardly surprising aside from its timing.
“I want to thank Coach Turner for his contributions to the FIU football program, most importantly his commitment to academics and community service,” athletic director Pete Garcia said in a short statement. “At this time Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Coordinator Ron Cooper has been named interim head coach.”
Turner went 10-30 over four years at the school but was 0-4 to begin the season after a 53-14 loss to Central Florida last week. While he is far from the first coach fired in 2016, Turner did become the first head coach to be fired after the season got underway.
Cooper had a 45–55 record in nine seasons as a head coach at Eastern Michigan, Louisville and Alabama A&M. He was elevated to FIU’s defensive coordinator prior to the season and notably served as LSU’s defensive backs coach when Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu starred in Baton Rouge.
The Panthers are set to play local rival Florida Atlantic on Saturday.
The Mad Hatter is looking for a new gig.
LSU has fired head coach Les Miles and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, the school announced on Sunday. The news was first reported by the Baton Rouge Advocate.
“Decisions like this are never easy ones to make,” athletic director Joe Alleva said in a statement. “Coach Miles has done a tremendous job here and he’s been a great ambassador for our University, which makes this even more difficult.
“However, it’s apparent in evaluating the program through the first month of the season that a change has to be made. Our commitment to excellence and competing at the highest level is unwavering, and our goals for the remainder of this season haven’t changed. We have an obligation to our student-athletes to put them in the best position to have success on the football field each week and we have great confidence that coach Orgeron will do just that.”
The move comes just hours after the Tigers lost to Auburn in the final seconds to drop to 2-2 after beginning the year as a trendy national championship pick and top five team in the polls.
Miles has been in Baton Rouge since 2005 and posted a 114–34 record at the school, including a national title in 2007 and a pair of SEC championships. He was nearly let go after the 2015 season but was retained following a huge wave of public support and potential implications with a large buyout.
Defensive line coach Ed Orgeron was named the interim head coach for the rest of the season. Former LSU quarterback and current tight ends coach Steve Ensminger is slated to become the new offensive coordinator, according to Fox Sports.