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)

BYU still wants to join a Power 5 conference

PROVO, UT - AUGUST 30:  BYU flags are run around the field after a touchdown during a game against Washington State during the second half of an college football game August 30, 2012 at LaVell Edwards Stadium in Provo, Utah. BYU beat Washington State 30-6. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
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The Big 12 and Pac-12 have gone on record recently saying they aren’t interested in expanding at the moment. The SEC, Big Ten and ACC haven’t said such things, but they haven’t said so because saying so would be unnecessary.

Still, in spite of that, BYU would like to join one of them.

The Cougars held their media day this week (the season doesn’t start until September), and AD Tom Holmoe reiterated his desire to join a Power 5 conference.

“I really would love to see our football play at that level, be playing in a P5 conference,” Holmoe told the Associated Press. “I want our players … in all of our sports to be able to play at the highest level.”

Holmoe said BYU’s policy of not playing on Sundays was not a deal-breaker — and it never has been for any conference or NCAA Tournament the Cougars have ever competed in.

“I don’t know [if the policy is a deal-breaker]. That’s up to the P5 conferences,” he said. “But I do know that it’s something that we hold very sacred. We have never played on a Sunday and we’re not going to play on a Sunday.”

With no offer on the horizon, new BYU head coach Kalani Sitake has a plan to work around that.

“If your only recruiting pitch is you belong to a Power 5 conference, we’re going to beat you in recruiting,” he told the AP.

Oklahoma media files another lawsuit in pursuit of Joe Mixon surveillance tape

Joe Mixon
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The Joe Mixon saga is not over.

After the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters won a ruling from the state’s supreme court in May that a video of Mixon punching a female fell under the public record, the OAB found that the Cleveland County (Okla.) Clerk’s office and the City of Norman either did not have the video or refused to release it.

In turn, the OAB and media outlets across the state are now suing Cleveland County Court Clerk Rhonda Hall, the Cleveland County clerk’s office and the City of Norman.

In case you forgot, the saga stems from an incident before Mixon’s freshman year at Oklahoma where he punched a woman outside a Norman establishment. The video was viewed by the media in a September 2014 gathering. Here is how one described it:

The angle of the surveillance camera looks down from a corner. Its lens is directly on Molitor and Mixon at the moment of the physical altercation. You couldn’t ask for a better camera angle.

There’s no audio to go along with the video, so no one watching the video can be sure of what was said. We can only speculate that Molitor didn’t like something that was being said and summoned Mixon to her table to hash it out.

When Mixon looked like he was trying to leave after possibly saying something he shouldn’t have, Molitor, the victim, initiated the physical confrontation with a push into Mixon’s chest, which didn’t seem to move him much.

Mixon followed by lunging at her. Molitor jerked back and slapped Mixon on the chin and neck. She swung with force but didn’t connect flush or enough to make an impact on Mixon.

Immediately following the slap, Mixon leveled a punch violent enough to knock Molitor down so that her head hit the corner of a nearby table. The force of Mixon’s punch caught me off guard — even when I knew it was coming.

After throwing the punch, Mixon fled from the camera’s view and did not reenter it. Molitor is left on the ground and stays down for much longer than a 10-count. She makes it back to her feet on her own but wobbles and has to be helped into a chair.

Blood streamed down her face as friends and Pickleman’s patrons brought her ice and paper towels to help stop the bleeding.

Mixon sat out the 2014 season as punishment for the incident, then re-joined the roster in 2015. He finished second on the team with 113 carries for 753 yards and seven touchdowns while catching 28 balls for 356 yards and four scores as a redshirt freshman.

With another signee granted release, half of Baylor’s signing class is now gone

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  A Baylor Bears helmet on the sidelines during the game against the Buffalo Bulls at UB Stadium on September 12, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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And another once-future Bear bites the dust.

Brandon Bowen has been granted his release from Baylor, a school spokesman confirmed to the Waco Tribune-Herald on Thursday. Bowen, a 6-foot-5, 233-pound defensive end, signed with Baylor as a four-star prospect out of Byron Nelson High School in Trophy Club, Texas, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He chose Baylor over Oklahoma and Oregon last winter.

Bowen becomes the 11th member of Baylor’s 2016 class to be granted a release from his scholarship or otherwise leave the team this summer. The previous 10 are — deep breaths — B.J. Autry, Parish Cobb, Tren'Davian Dickson, Devin Duvernay, Donovan Duvernay, Jeremy Faulk, Patrick Hudson, Kameron Martin, J.P. Urquidez and DeQuinton Osborne.

That’s 11 members of Baylor’s 22-man signing class now gone. The Bears’ 2017 class has one commitment and is ranked 113th by the 247Sports Composite rankings.

Dickson transfereed to Houston, Martin signed with Auburn, Osborne left for Oklahoma State, and Hudson, Urquidez and the Duvernay brothers all migrated to Texas.

 

Coastal Carolina officially joins the Sun Belt today, in all sports except football

COLUMBIA, SC - NOVEMBER 23:  Alex Ross #4 of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers drops back to pass during their game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Williams-Brice Stadium on November 23, 2013 in Columbia, South Carolina.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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One of the final aftershocks of the Great Realignment from earlier this decade officially reaches the surface today.

The Chanticleers of Coastal Carolina are now officially all-sports members of the Sun Belt Conference. In every sport, that is, except football. Joe Moglia and his 41-13 football program will compete this fall as an FCS independent before making the leap in 2017.

“This is a great day for the Sun Belt Conference as we are very proud to have Coastal Carolina University officially join our membership,” Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson said in a statement. “The Sun Belt has a bright future and Coastal Carolina makes a perfect fit as it too has seen a tremendous amount of growth and success with its baseball team most recently winning the College World Series and a national championship. Under the leadership of President DeCenzo, Athletics Director Matt Hogue, and all the Chanticleer coaches and student-athletes, I expect CCU to be very competitive in the Sun Belt immediately and represent the SBC in NCAA championships in the upcoming season.”

The oddity here is that no Sun Belt member has ever won a national championship while a member of the Sun Belt (Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Louisiana-Monroe each claimed Division I-AA/FCS national championships). Meanwhile, Coastal Carolina registered its first ever national championship in baseball just yesterday, its final day as a Big South member and on the eve of moving to the Sun Belt.

That, of course, didn’t stop the Sun Belt from covering the Chanticleers’ run through Omaha like they were one of their own.

Coastal Carolina’s first football season will also mark affiliate members Idaho and New Mexico State’s final season in the Sun Belt. The sleeker, geographically cohesive 10-team Sun Belt will launch its championship game in 2018.