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
It did not take very long for Dan Mullen to prove his way of working in the offseason is going to be a little different from what Florida players had become accustomed to. Judging by a few tweets from Gators players coming out in recent days, Mullen has Florida players working harder than they have in quite some time.
It is not all that uncommon to have a completely new approach to training and physical conditioning any time there is a coaching change at a football program, and the mere change in workout approach alone can be enough to send a jolt through an entire program. Not to suggest workouts under former head coach (and new Michigan offensive assistant) Jim McElwain were easy, but some players on Florida’s roster are claiming on Twitter the workouts they are going through now are getting the job done.
Mullen brought strength and conditioning coach Nick Savage with him from Mississippi State, and you probably see why. Savage has quickly earned the respect of a number of the Florida football players after some intense workouts. Mullen and Savage are out to raise the bar when it comes to both toughness and physical endurance. That could have been seen as an area of weakness for Florida the past couple of years against certain teams (Alabama and Michigan, for example).
The work being put in now is just the beginning for how Mullen wants to get Florida back to the top of the SEC. Getting the team stronger now will have to lead to on-field development as well, especially on offense. Fortunately for Mullen, the offense has been one of his specialties.
Helmet sticker to SEC Country.
Somebody needs a new fake ID.
Iowa State offensive lineman Sean Foster spent some time in jail overnight after being arrested for being in a bar while underage and interfering with an official. He was charged with two counts; one for “minors prohibited on certain premises” and another for “interference with official acts,” according to an Ames Tribune report. Foster was released from jail with $600 in total bonds for his two charges.
A redshirt sophomore right tackle, Foster started six games for the Cyclones in 2017, including the final four games of the season that concluded with the Liberty Bowl against Memphis. He remains in line for the starting job at right tackle again in 2018, beginning with a chance to start the spring as the expected starter. This particular incident may not affect that outlook all that much in the grand scheme of things, so long as Foster stays out of additional trouble and there isn’t more to the story behind the scenes.
According to the Ames Tribune, Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell was not expected to release any comment or statement about the incident. Foster’s status with the Iowa State program is unchanged until given further notice, although some form of internal discipline for an act like this is likely to occur in some capacity at some point in time.
The Jim McElwain watch in Ann Arbor is essentially done. ESPN reports the former head coach of the Florida Gators has signed a deal to join Jim Harbaugh as a new member of the Michigan coaching staff. Michigan has not formally announced the new addition yet, but McElwain told ESPN he is getting to work right away as a wide receivers coach.
“I’m excited to get back into it and am looking forward to going there and learning and helping Michigan get better,” McElwain said to ESPN‘s Chris Low, who reported the latest update in the ongoing McElwain-To-Michigan story. It has been quite a year for McElwain, who has now gone from wanting to “beat the heck out of Michigan” to joining Harbaugh as an offensive assistant (Harbaugh was 2-0 against McElwain in head-to-head meetings between Michigan and Florida).
McElwain was fired by Florida last October in the midst of a disappointing season after discrepancies in McElwain’s claims about receiving death threats could not be backed up by the coach. Florida bought out McElwain’s contract at a reported $7.5 million.
Michigan had been looking to fill the role of receivers coach following the abrupt departure of Dan Enos to Alabama. Enos joined the Michigan coaching staff for a cup of coffee, getting hired in January after the Arkansas coaching staff was given an overhaul with the firing of Bret Bielema only to leave for a job with Nick Saban. McElwain, of course, is one of many coaches to jump into head coaching off the Saban coaching tree in recent years, first with Colorado State and most recently with Florida.
Previous reports have floated the idea McElwain will call plays for the Wolverines, but that remains unconfirmed.
Mississippi State commit Nathaniel Watson has gotten himself into some legal trouble before his arrival at Mississippi State. Watson, currently a high school senior, was charged with assault first degree and a handful of traffic violations following a traffic accident earlier this month. Another student from Watson’s high school was arrested for reckless endangerment and other traffic violations as well. The two are accused of drag racing.
“The accident occurred after Tyrone Davis, also a student at [Maplesville High School], lined up in front of the school with his vehicle along with Nathaniel Watson’s vehicle for a race, witnesses stated that they lined up side by side and floored it, and both vehicles were squalling their tires and fishtailing up the highway heading into town,” according to an Maplesville Police Department press release (via The Clanton Advertiser). “As the racing vehicles topped a hill, an oncoming car caused Nathaniel Watson Jr. to swerve and lose control striking a power pole, cutting it in half and knocking power out to portions of Maplesville.”
A passenger in Watson’s vehicle suffered a crushed femur, fractured pelvis, a broken right arm and internal injuries. Neither vehicle involved in the accident was insured. Watson currently awaits a date in court in a county court. There has been no update or comment from Mississippi State’s football program or head coach Joe Moorehead about Watson or his status with the football program at this time.
Watson signed with Mississippi State on February 7. The wide receiver and two-sport athlete signed with Mississippi State over Auburn.