Nick Saban

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

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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

THE GOOD
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.

THE BAD
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.

THE UNKNOWN
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 on Jacob 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)

Social media post indicates ex-Miami FB Walter Tucker’s headed to FIU

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 01:  Walter Tucker #44 of the Miami Hurricanes takes the field during a game against the North Carolina Tar Heels  at Sun Life Stadium on November 1, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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While Walter Tucker has left Miami, it doesn’t appear he’l be leaving the state of Florida.

On social media over the weekend, Walter Tucker, by way of Matt Porter of Palm Beach Post, has indicated that he will continue his collegiate playing career at FIU. That football program has not announced one way or the other the fullback’s connection to the football program.

In his Instagram post, Tucker, in addition to revealing his father has cancer, posted a photo of himself superimposed over FIU’s football stadium as well as the hashtags “#FIUNATION,” “#PANTHERNATION.” and “#PANTHERPRIDE.”

 

It’s unclear if Tucker would be eligible to play immediately in 2016 with the Panthers.

Tucker played in 32 games the past three seasons, mainly on special teams. He carried the ball three times for eight yards in 2015, and caught one pass for eight yards the year before.

In February, new Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt announced that Tucker had decided to transfer from The U.

Utah DT Stevie Tu’ikolovatu transferring, reportedly visiting Nebraska over the weekend

Stevie Tu'ikolovatu
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A couple of months before the start of summer camp, Nebraska is in the market for some interior line help.

According to a report from HuskerOnline.com, Stevie Tu’ikolovatu visited Lincoln over the weekend as he continues his search for a new football home. Tu’ikolovatu had decided very recently to transfer out of the Utah football program.

Tu’ikolovatu would provide immediate help to the ‘Huskers as he would be coming in as a graduate transfer.

Last season with the Utes, Tu’ikolovatu played in all 13 games, starting two of those contests. His four fumble recoveries were tied for the lead in the Pac-12 and second nationally.

Pitt RB James Conner tweets his ‘body is clean of cancer’

PITTSBURGH, PA - SEPTEMBER 20: Tailback James Conner #24 of the University of Pittsburgh Panthers runs with the ball against the University of Iowa Hawkeyes during a college football game at Heinz Field on September 20, 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Hawkeyes defeated the Pitt Panthers 24-20. (Photo by Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)
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How about some excellent news for a change?

Late Monday afternoon, Pittsburgh running back James Conner tweeted out the words he’s been waiting months to say: “Just got the call that my body is clean of cancer!!!”  The news comes five months after Conner revealed that he had been diagnosed with Stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma in his neck and chest.

It also comes less than two weeks after the back completed his chemotherapy treatments.

The treatment hadn’t kept Conner completely away from the Panthers, however, as the running back was seen on video working out with teammates last month while he has been doing some individuals drills since the start of spring practice this month.  He’s also gotten the “celebrity treatment” during his battle as the back threw out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates game and made an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi said earlier this offseason that he expects Conner to play in 2016.

As a sophomore, Conner was named the ACC’s Player of the Year in 2014.  He was fully expected to leave for the NFL following the 2015 season before the combination of a season-ending knee injury suffered in September and the cancer diagnosis prompted a return to Pitt.

UPDATED 7:47 p.m. ET:  Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi released a statement addressing Conner’s positive medical update.

Over the past six months, James Conner fought cancer the same way he plays football: relentlessly and without surrender. He has inspired and touched so many people in how he has handled this challenge. James is an incredibly special person, and I’m not even thinking about his football ability when I say that. Everyone at Pitt feels blessed to know him and we are tremendously thankful for the wonderful news he received today.

BC QB-turned-WR Troy Flutie charged with drunk driving

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Troy Flutie #16 of the Boston College Eagles makes a pass during the first quarter against the Northern Illinois Huskies at Alumni Stadium on September 26, 2015 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Thanks in very large part to his famous surname, this story will likely generate more headlines and attention than it would if it had involved a “normal” football player.

Be that as it may, Boston College’s Troy Flutie has found himself on the wrong side of the law, with the Metrowest Daily News reporting that the quarterback/wide receiver was arrested on multiple charges following a minor weekend car crash. Specifically, Flutie, the son of former BC wide receiver Darren Flutie and nephew of 1984 Heisman winner Doug Flutie, was charged with operating a vehicle under the influence of liquor, possession of an open container of liquor while driving and being a person younger than 21 in possession of liquor. He was also issued a citation for a marked lanes violation.

The Daily News writes that, “[a]ccording to police, Flutie hit a curb, which led to his arrest.” No other details have been made available.

Flutie began his BC career as a quarterback and, after redshirting as a true freshman, played in eight games in 2015. He completed 24-of-49 passes for three touchdowns and an interception during his limited action.  Because of injuries at the position, Flutie was one of four Eagles quarterbacks to attempt at least 42 passes last season.

This spring, Flutie was moved to wide receiver.