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)

Trevor Knight runs for 2 TDs but Texas A&M and Arkansas tied 17-17 at Jerry World

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 24:  Trevor Knight #8 of the Texas A&M Aggies runs the ball against the Arkansas Razorbacks in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight may not be having a very effective evening through the air in AT&T Stadium against Arkansas, but two long touchdown runs by the Aggies quarterback have been enough to give Texas A&M some life at the halftime break. Texas A&M and Arkansas are tied 17-17 at the break, thanks to Knight’s 101 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns to counter a balanced Razorback offense.

Keon Hatcher put Arkansas on the giant scoreboard first in the first quarter with a 15-yard touchdown reception from Austin Allen. Texas A&M missed a field goal on the ensuing possession but would later capitalize on an Arkansas fumble. On 3rd and 1 from the Arkansas 42-yard line, Trevor Knight took off for a 42-yard touchdown run to put the Aggies on the board. Arkansas would respond with a field goal, but not before being stopped by Texas A&M’s stingy defensive front inside the 10-yard line in a key sequence.

The Razorbacks ran seven plays from inside the 10-yard line, including six plays inside the two-yard line. During that sequence, Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen appeared to injure his shoulder, causing backup Ty Storey to start warming up on the sideline. The good news for Arkansas was Allen would return on the next offensive possession. That drive may have ended quickly with a fumble, but the Arkansas defense held the Aggies to a game-tying field goal, 10-10.

Arkansas went back to work the next time they took the field by putting Allen in command through the air once more. Allen helped guide the offense down the field and back into the red zone with a 38-yard completion to Jared Cornelius, and Rawleigh Williams III made up for an earlier fumble with an eight-yard touchdown run for the 17-10 lead.

With the time winding down in the second quarter, Knight once again came to the rescue with a run right up the middle with very little standing in his way of the end zone. The 48-yard run in the final minute of the half may be just the momentum builder Texas A&M needed, but there will still be some work to do in the second half.

Brian Kelly calls out, lashes out at Irish players lacking ‘fire and grit’

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If you thought the Notre Dame coaching staff, specifically the defensive side of the ball, would be publicly held accountable by the head coach, you’d be dead wrong.

Following a 38-35 home loss to Duke that featured a blown 14-0 lead and fourth-quarter defensive shrinking, Brian Kelly decided instead to lash out against those players listed as first-teamers on his depth chart.  Most notably, starting quarterback DeShone Kizer was singled out after a performance that included 381 yards passing and 60 yards rushing was labeled by Kelly as “below standard” and “not acceptable” thanks to a pair of turnovers.

Aside from the longsnapper, though, Kizer wasn’t alone in feeling his head coach’s postgame wrath.

Every position, all 22 of them, will be evaluated. Each and every position. There is no position that is untouchable on this football team. And that’s the quarterback, all the way down to — maybe the long snapper’s OK. We’re not going to touch him. But everybody else is vulnerable. …

“Guys that have fire and grit [will be on the field] — we had one guy in the entire football team that had emotion and fire. That is [running back] Dexter Williams. He’s the only one. He’s the only one that I saw. One guy.

“So, if you want to play for me moving forward, you better — I don’t care what your résumé says, I don’t care if you were a five-star [recruit], if you had 100 tackles or 80 receptions or 30 touchdown passes — you better have some damn fire and energy in you. We lack it. We lack it. Severely.

I’ve never coached above the high school level so I could be wrong here, but isn’t it the responsibility of the coaching staff to get their players ready to play, to show “some damn fire and energy?”  And, if that doesn’t happen and if they “lack it” — “severely” — shouldn’t the coaching staff, the head coach specifically, shoulder that failure instead of publicly throwing their players under the bus?

Unlike the players, though, one person who won’t see the undercarriage of said bus, apparently, is defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

In falling to 1-3 on the year, the Irish’s defense has been a significant part of the problem.  In each of the three losses, the Domers gave up at least 36 points, leading Kelly to give what could’ve been a dreaded vote of confidence earlier in the week.

Even after the 94th-ranked scoring offense in the country hung 38 on the Irish, and that same lacking offense marched down the field on a back-breaking 10-play drive that resulted in what turned out to be a game-winning field goal with 1:24 remaining, Kelly steadfastly stood by his defensive man.  In fact, Kelly was decidedly pleased with that side of the ball — the coaching side, that is.

“Actually, that’s probably the one area that I feel better about today,” Kelly said of his defensive coaches’ efforts. “We did what I wanted today in terms of coaching. And coaching had nothing to do with the outcome today. I was pleased from that perspective.”

Baylor WR Zamora scores two first-half TDs in first game back from suspension

FORT WORTH, TX - NOVEMBER 27:  Nick Orr #18 of the TCU Horned Frogs makes a pass interception against Ishmael Zamora #8 of the Baylor Bears in the first quarter at Amon G. Carter Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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A weather delay may have slowed things down a bit, but Baylor and Oklahoma State may be heating up as they prepare for the second half, with Baylor holding a 21-14 lead.

Baylor wasted little time in getting in the end zone, but they had to wait a little more than an hour before being able to convert the extra point. A lengthy weather delay interrupted Baylor and Oklahoma State just minutes into the game, forcing the PAT following a 23-yard touchdown run by Terence Williams on the opening drive of the game.

The Cowboys tied things up at 7-7 later in the first quarter with a Justice Hill touchdown run of five yards. The game would remain tied into the second quarter, when Seth Russell‘s pass was tipped by his intended receiver but fell into the hands of Ishmael Zamora. Zamora took off 38 yards down the sideline for a go-ahead touchdown in his first game back from a three-game suspension for physically abusing his dog with a belt and kicking it. Zamora would come through once more in the second quarter with another 38-yard touchdown reception from Russell, this time answering a touchdown drive by Oklahoma State. The Cowboys put together a 75-yard drive following Zamora’s first touchdown, with Rennie Chiles finishing things off with a short three-yard run.

Each team has had two turnovers, so this is far from a clean game for either side so far. We’ll see if either can tighten things up in the second half.

Ducks lose back-to-back games for first time since 2007; Buffs 3-1 for first time since Big 12 days

EUGENE, OR - SEPTEMBER 24: Defensive back Ahkello Witherspoon #23 of the Colorado Buffaloes intercepts a pass intended for wide receiver Darren Carrington II #7 of the Oregon Ducks late in the fourth quarter of the game at Autzen Stadium on September 24, 2016 in Eugene, Oregon. Colorado won the game 41-38. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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Oregon did its damnedest to keep a rather remarkable streak alive, but, in the end, they simply couldn’t.

Colorado, one week after wasting a 21-7 first-quarter lead to Michigan, jumped out to a 23-7 second-quarter lead and a 33-17 third-quarter lead on Oregon in Eugene Saturday.  It looked like it would be lather, rinse and repeat for the Buffs as the truck-pulling Ducks stormed back to take a 38-33 lead at the end of the fourth quarter.

However, Steven Montez, making his first career start, tossed a 31-yard touchdown pass midway through the fourth quarter that stood up as the game-winner as the Buffs held on for a 41-38 win.  While Colorado pushed its record to 3-1 — that’s the Buffs best start to a season since 2010, their final year in the Big 12 — Oregon has now lost back-to-back games one-third of the way through the 2016.

Such a feeling two weekends in a row, it turns out, is decidedly foreign for both the Ducks and their fan base.

What should concern the Ducks the most, perhaps, is that the Brady Hoke-directed defense allowed a first-time starter at quarterback throw for 333 yards and three touchdowns, one week after the same defense allowed three touchdown passes in the loss to Nebraska.