2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West) 2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss) 2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8 Head coach:Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama) Offensive coordinator:Lane Kiffin (first season) 2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg) Returning offensive starters: Eight Defensive coordinator:Kirby Smart (seventh season) 2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg) Returning defensive starters: Four Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala. Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass) Last conference title: 2012
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback? Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban. In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still. Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball. Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury. There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced. Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally. In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring. The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4. Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season. With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled onJacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback. Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns. Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa. Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39. Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.
MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one. Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year. The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played. After last year? This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide. Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game. While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November. This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.
HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size. He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back. What he doesn’t have? Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry. The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it. Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.
(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)
As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.
B1G PROBLEMS… FOR EVERYONE
The Big Ten entered Week 5 with the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams. That conference could, and likely should, exit the weekend without a team in either slot.
There is one thing I can type with a great degree of certainty: there will be a new No. 1 come Sunday afternoon. Ohio State’s performance, albeit on the road and against a much-improved — and unbeaten — Indiana squad, is not in and of itself enough to knock the Buckeyes out of the top spot. However, when you add in the struggles at home against a MAC school last week… and their struggles at home the week before that against another MAC school… and their struggles the week before that against a school not even located on the United States’ mainland, and OSU simply isn’t the best team in the country. I realized that a couple of weeks ago; here’s to guessing the voters catch up later on today.
And, while we’re kicking B1G teams down the poll food chain, give the boot to No. 2 MSU as well. The Spartans, at home no less, had to hold off a Boilermakers team whose only win this season came against an FCS team and has lost 10 straight to FBS foes. The 24-21 win shows that I, and many others, had long overvalued the Week 2 win over Oregon and perhaps their reputation off that win far surpassed their actual on-field worthiness.
This isn’t to pick on the Big Ten, though. Rather, that conference is merely the biggest symptom of a season in which there is simply not a No. 1 team in the truest sense of the words. Not a single team seems to either want or, more importantly, deserves that top-dog ranking.
No. 3 Ole Miss beat Alabama in Tuscaloosa, then loses badly to No. 25 Florida two weeks later. No. 7 UCLA looked to have a case entering Week 5 before struggling with and finally losing to unranked Arizona State, while No. 8 Georgia was taken to the woodshed between the hedges by ‘Bama. No. 4 TCU’s win over Minnesota loses luster with each passing week, and they have yet to face any real competition — Texas included. No. 5 Baylor’s track-meet win over Texas Tech may wow some, but it’s still style over substance and will remain that way until they face their initial test (West Virginia in two weeks?). No. 6 Notre Dame looked early on like it was ranked way too high, then showed some serious stones in its comeback in the eventual road loss to No. 12 Clemson.
So, if you’re keeping score at home, that’s four of the Top Eight teams in the country who saw their perfect seasons go down in flames in Week 5, with most of the remaining unbeatens looking disheveled and not ready for the primetime of the College Football Playoff stage.
Out of all the teams in the top dozen or so, No. 10 Utah may have gained the most in Week 5 simply by being the lone Top 10 team on a bye weekend. No. 9 LSU, meanwhile, is lurking in the background undefeated, with Les Miles‘ charges, which consists of a stout defense, the best running back in the country and a quarterback who plays within himself, seemingly awaiting to pounce and take full advantage of all of the tumult and uncertainty ahead of them.
Let’s simplify the current situation: take any of the teams mentioned above, and pit them against 2014 postseason Ohio State or 2014 regular season Alabama and Oregon or 2013 Florida State or 2012 Alabama; is there a single one of those 2015 teams that would be favored against any of those past teams? Nope, they’d all likely be at least double-digit underdogs, even on a neutral field.
Through five games, there’s simply no clearcut No. 1 or no obvious 1-2 as in the past few years. And, for the life of me, I can’t figure out whether that’s good or bad — although I am leaning toward the former as this could be the most wild and unpredictable season since, what, two-loss LSU won the whole thing in 2007?
All I do know is my personal Top Five below will have a decidedly different look than the week before, and I have the feeling the real polls will too.
SIGHTLESS, BUT NOT SPIRITLESS
Before getting on to more of the stuff y’all really care about, please allow me very quickly to touch on something truly inspirational.
While much has been made of late of the blind long-snapper at USC — and rightly so, incidentally — there’s another player at the same position with a similar disability at Tulane. While Steve Sarkisian has talked of getting Jake Olson in a game with the Trojans, Curtis Johnson has acted on that notion.
In the fourth quarter of Tulane’s 45-31 win over UCF, Aaron Golub was the long-snapper on the Green Wave’s final extra point of the game. Golub, who can’t see out of his right eye at all and has very limited vision in his left, thus became the first legally-blind player ever to appear in an NCAA football game.
And, for those who will no doubt whine and/or cry and/or bitch and/or moan about Johnson making Golub a charity case, just listen to the coach’s own postgame words.
“Every morning I’m up, he’s up in the weight room and he’s working and working and working,” Johnson said. “I would like to play him as much as I can because that’s what you do, you reward kids who work. I don’t care what they are or how they look. This kid works and he’s just like everybody else. I’m going to play him as much as I can.”
Kudos to Golub, and kudos to Johnson for doing what’s right for a young man who’s obviously worked hard at his craft and deserves to be rewarded for it.
FAT GUY IN LITTLE PADS Chris Farley struck comedic gold with his “Fat Guy in a Little Coat” ditty in the cinematic classic “Tommy Boy.” Two decades later, the largest man in college football has brought a similar predicament to the gridiron.
LaQuan McGowan is a Baylor tight end who’s listed at 6-7, 410 pounds on the official Bears roster. Prior to today’s basketball-game-masquerading-as-a-football-game against Texas Tech, McGowan did what most players do on game day: don their jerseys and shoulder pads.
When it comes to a man of McGowan’s size, nothing ever comes easy. Unlike most everybody else, his clothing struggles were caught on camera.
CFT TOP FIVE A snapshot look at how my ballot would look Sunday if I, ya know, had a real vote. Also, note that my previous rankings had Michigan State, Ole Miss, TCU, Ohio State and UCLA at Nos. 1-5, in that order, prior to me tweaking the hell out of them this weekend as I just erased everything and started everyone with a blank slate.
1. TCU — Somebody’s gotta fill the spot, and it might as well be the Horned Frogs. The wins over Minnesota and Texas Tech are solid-ish, while they’ve won their other three games (Stephen F. Austin, SMU, Texas) by a combined 125 points. (Last week: No. 3) Next up: at Kansas State, Oct. 10
2. Utah — The win over Michigan in Week 1 looks more impressive as time goes by, although the win over Oregon last weekend is looking less and less impressive the more the Ducks are exposed. The next three weeks, against Cal, Arizona State and USC, will likely tell whether the Utes will have a spot on the national stage going into the last month of the season. (Last week: unranked) Next up: vs. No. 24 Cal, Oct. 10
3. Baylor — BU beat SMU by 35 and Texas Tech by 28; TCU beats those same teams by 19 and three, respectively. The Horned Frogs’ win over the Gophers on the road, though, trumps the Bears’ other two wins (Lamar, Rice). (Last week: unranked) Next up: at Kansas, Oct. 10
4. LSU — One of just five unbeaten teams that have three wins against fellow Power Five schools, with the others being Cal, Florida, Northwestern and Texas A&M. Two of those P5 teams the Tigers beat were ranked at the time, and the third, 3-1 Syracuse, they beat on the road. And that’s my justification and I’m sticking to it. (Last week: unranked) Next up: at South Carolina, Oct. 10
5. Northwestern — Since losing to NU in Week 1, Stanford has won four straight and had moved back up to No. 18 in the Associated Press poll prior to Week 5. Duke, which NU beat on the road in Week 3, is currently 4-1. Finally, the Wildcats beat by 27 the same Gophers team that the Horned Frogs beat by six. So there. (Last week: unranked) Next up: at Michigan, Oct. 10
HOOPS COACH OF THE DAY
Many individuals were excited for the Alabama-Georgia game. One of those individuals was UGA basketball coach Mark Fox, who went very public in his support for the football Bulldogs.
SCARIEST. MAN. ALIVE. Shawn Oakman is one of the most intimidating physical presences in college football today. When the Baylor defensive lineman starts quoting a foreboding Edgar Allen Poe classic on Twitter prior to a game? Get the hell out of his way, especially if you’re standing between him and a quarterback. Or a good sandwich, even.
Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
TAKING A BITE OUT OF THE OPPOSITION
If you were playing West Virginia or Notre Dame or Wake Forest or myriad other teams Saturday, you couldn’t eat your opponents in the days leading up to a game, at least not the way current laws are structured. If you’re Ole Miss, and you’re playing Florida? Yeah, you could. And the Rebels did.
HE SAID IT
“Oh yes.” — Charlie Strong, asked if Texas’ woodshedding at the hands of TCU was his worst day as a head coach.
HE SAID IT, THE SEQUEL
“I love our players, I love our school, love our colors, love Penn State, love Happy Valley, love the community. … Love our guys, love our staff, love the opportunity that we have here. … Love our players. Love our coaches. Love our media. Love everybody.” — A mash-up of James Franklin‘s lengthy response to a question that essentially asked if fans should be disappointed with Penn State’s six-point home win over 1-4 Army.
HE SAID IT, THE THREEQUEL
“The dam broke and unfortunately we just didn’t have enough counterpunches to get back in it. … We got whipped, we all know it and we’ve got to do something about it.” — Mark Richt, following Georgia’s shellacking at the hands of Alabama.
HE SAID IT, BONUS EDITION
“It’s an insane game, that’s how it’s been. You can’t breathe for a half-second. If you have any hair, it’s blowing backwards and the game is screaming the whole time.” — Art Briles, following a game in which Baylor and Texas Tech nearly put a combined 100 points on the scoreboard.
HE SAID IT, THE FINAL ONE
“We’re turning the ball over at an alarming rate. That’s obviously a difference in the game. And at some point, that’s going to bite you. We have to fix that.” — Urban Meyer, portending future doom for his Ohio State Buckeyes if they don’t start cleaning things up.
Five wins to start the 2015 season have pushed Ohio State’s nation’s best winning streak to 18 straight. Up next are TCU (13), Memphis (12, a school record), Michigan State (nine), Navy (eight), Clemson (seven) and Toledo (seven).
On the other side of the won-loss ledger, New Mexico State still owns the nation’s longest losing streak, which is now at 14 straight. The second-longest negative streak falls to Wyoming (eight), followed by UCF at six in a row and North Texas at five in a row. Kansas deserves its own special sentence as the Jayhawks are the not-so-proud owners of the longest losing streak amongst Power Five conference members at seven straight.
MY ANNUAL REMINDER THAT…
… Kansas State was historically abysmal before the arrival of the Wizard of Manhattan: Bill Snyder currently has 190 career victories as Wildcats’ head coach, which are 151 more than any other coach in the football program’s history.
S.I.D NOTE OF THE WEEK Matt Johnson in Week 4 became the first player in Bowling Green history to have four 400-yard passing games in a career. He accomplished that feat in the first four games this season as he had 400-plus yards in each. Johnson had “just” 324 in Week 5.
S.I.D. NOTE OF THE WEEK II
Since 1980, TCU’s Gary Patterson leads all college football coaches with six winning streaks of 12 games or more. The 55-52 victory at Texas Tech in Week 4 enabled Patterson to break a tie with Florida State legend Bobby Bowden.
S.I.D. NOTE OF THE WEEK III
Entering Week 5, eleven FBS players have a run of 80 yards or longer this year, but Georgia Southern’s Matt Breida was the only one with two. He also led the FBS in 70-yard runs (three) and 60-yard runs (four).
S.I.D. NOTE OF THE WEEK IV
Duke is 4-4 in its last eight games against ranked foes after losing 47 straight to ranked opponents (November 6, 1994 to October 25, 2013).
S.I.D NOTE OF THE WEEK V
Cal’s victories in consecutive weeks at Texas and Washington marked the first time the Bears had won back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks since 1993 at Stanford (Nov. 20) and Hawai’i (Nov. 27). The Bears played back-to-back road games in consecutive weeks 27 times in between.
OFF THE CHARTS Courtesy of the Georgia Tech sports information department
OFF THE CHARTS, PART II Courtesy of the Wyoming sports information department
OFF THE CHARTS, PART III
Most shutouts since 2010, courtesy of the Stanford sports information department
Georgia Tech hasn’t been shutout at home in 361 games, tying BYU (1975-2003) for the longest such streak in NCAA history. Tech was last blanked at Bobby Dodd Stadium on Nov. 30, 1957, a 7-0 loss to in-state rival Georgia.
Louisiana-Monroe is the only FBS program that will play eight road games this season. ULM is also just one of four teams that play three consecutive conference games on the road, the others being Arkansas, Arkansas State and Florida. Finally, ULM is one of six teams, the others being FIU, Middle Tennessee State, San Diego State, UMass and Western Kentucky, that will not play back-to-back home games in 2015.
DID YOU KNOW THAT…
… Leonard Fournette has run for 200-plus yards in three straight games, the first time in the storied history of the SEC that’s happened? The LSU running back’s 864 yards are the most in the first four games since at least the 2000 season, and likely the most since Barry Sanders‘ record-setting 1988 season.
… Boise State’s Jeremy McNichols is only running backs in FBS with multiple rushing touchdowns in all five games this season?
… with four receptions, Cal’s Bryce Treggs is now tied for fifth all-time in receptions with 167? The individual he’s tied with is his father, Brian Treggs, who played for the Bears from 1988-91.
… TCU’s KaVontae Turpin had two career receiving touchdowns before catching four in the win over Texas?
… Boise State’s Darian Thompson and Donte Deayon have 17 career INTs, one away from tying the Mountain West record held by Utah’s Eric Weddle? Both Thompson and Deayon had one pick each in Saturday night’s dismantling of Hawaii.
… TCU has defeated Texas in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1958-59? Those back-to-back wins have come by 30 or more points; prior to last year, TCU had beaten Texas by that margin just once in the history of series that dates back nearly a century.
… Alabama’s 28-point victory margin in the 38-10 win over Georgia is the largest winning margin ever by a Crimson Tide team against a Top-10 team at an opposing site?
… Memphis and Temple are both 3-0 on the road, serving as the only teams in the nation with 3-0 road records?
… with its late loss to Illinois, Nebraska becomes the first team since at least 1940 to lose three of its first five games in the last 10 seconds or less?
… Florida State has opened up a season without an offensive turnover in four straight games for the first time in the football program’s history?
… North Carolina is the only team this season that has not had a punt returned against it? Baylor and Navy had both entered Week 5 without having one returned against them.
… Air Force and Toledo are the only teams that have not allowed a sack this season?
… Iowa is the only team that has yet to allow a rushing touchdown? Navy hadn’t allowed one before Air Force got one in the fourth quarter of its 33-10 loss to the Midshipmen.
… Duke had not started 4-1 or better in consecutive years since 1962-65 prior to this season’s 4-1 start? The Blue Devils also recorded a win against ranked teams each of the last three years, a first for the Program since 1955-60.
… Navy is off to a 4-0 start for the first time since 2004? The Midshipmen finished that season 10-2.
… Baylor is now 4-0 for the third-straight year, the first time that’s happened since 1915-17?
… Indiana is now 0-16 all-time against top-ranked teams, including an 0-6 mark against Ohio State?
… Boise State, Bowling Green and Toledo, with two each, are the only Group of Five teams this season with more than one win against Power Five opponents? The Falcons are the only one of that trio to win both of their P5 games on the road.
… Temple played three straight road games to start the 2015 season and won all three for the first time in the program’s history?
… Boston College became the first ACC team and only the fifth FBS team this century to permit 225 or fewer yards in each of the first four games of a season? BC allowed 228 in a 9-7 loss to Duke.
… San Jose State has allowed just nine passing touchdowns since the start of the 2014 season, a stretch that includes 17 games? Penn State is next with 13, followed by Temple’s 14, Clemson’s 15 and Duke’s 17.
… there are three schools at the FBS level that have three offensive lineman on their roster who are listed at least 6-7? That tall trio consists of Florida State, LSU and Penn State.
… Washington State has sold out five games since Mike Leach took over as head coach in 2012? Prior to his arrival, Wazzu had sold out one game the previous five seasons.
Brian Kelly’s decisions see No. 6 Notre Dame fall two points shy of No. 12 Clemson
No. 12 Clemson (4-0, 1-0 ACC) seemed to have No. 6 Notre Dame under firm control as the rain came down Saturday night. A sure win, with Clemson leading the visiting Irish 21-3 in the fourth quarter, nearly washed away, but the Irish rally fell two points shy. Clemson stuffed a two-point conversion attempt by Notre Dame with seven seconds to play to preserve a 24-22 victory in the rain.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson struggled to get a grip on the football and completed just 11 of his 22 pass attempts for 97 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His counterpart, freshman DeShone Kizer, had a much better day through the wet air after a sluggish start. Kizer ended the game with 321 passing yards and two touchdowns in leading the Irish rally from 21-3. Watson did add 93 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown to remind those watching just how effective he can be as a dual-threat.
Clemson’s offense got stuck in the mud after going up 21-3 in the third quarter, but the defense managed to hold on for the win. It was not easy, but forcing four turnovers helped. None may have been more critical than a forced fumble by Jayron Kearse on Notre Dame’s Chris Brown as the receiver was moving inside the five-yard line on a drive that looked to be reaching the end zone for Notre Dame. B.J. Goodson came away from the pile with his hands on the football, but Clemson’s offense would go three-and-out to give the Irish one last chance in great field position. It nearly paid off.
There were two decisions by Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly worth second-guessing that may have cost Notre Dame a win, or at least a chance to do something in overtime. Both occurred in the fourth quarter and involved two-point conversion attempts.
Notre Dame had a chance to make it a seven-point game early in the fourth quarter. After C.J. Prosise managed to stay in the field of play down the right sideline for a 56-yard touchdown pass, Kelly opted to go for two points instead of kicking the extra point. Had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, the Irish would have been down 11 points. Instead, after a failed conversion attempt, the Irish were down 12 points. As it turned out, had Notre Dame kicked the extra point, that would have put Notre Dame just one point away from tying Clemson in the final 10 seconds.
Speaking of that last Irish touchdown, Notre Dame obviously needed to go for the two-point conversion to force a tie game. The call was to run the football, and the ball was kept in the hands of Kizer. Kizer did end the game as Notre Dame’s leading rusher, but he had little room and no ability to make any push as the line collapsed on him. Prosise carrying the football may have been too obvious to fool Clemson’s defense must have been the logic in that situation. But this situation never had to happen in the first place.