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)

Football meets futbol as Texas A&M’s Kyle Field trying to host Manchester Derby friendly

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Football could turn into futbol at Texas A&M’s Kyle Field this summer.

The Dallas Morning News is reporting that the venue is on the short list to host English Premier League giants Manchester United and Manchester City for a stateside derby on July 20th this summer.

“We firmly believe Texas A&M is a world-class university, so you’re bringing world-class Premier League soccer teams to the campus,” Aggies senior associate athletic director Kevin Hurley told the paper.

For college football fans not aware, the two teams are some of the biggest soccer clubs in the world and annually stage a Manchester derby (think home-and-home series) several times a year for supremacy in the large, industrial English city. The upcoming game between the two in the United States is set to be part of the International Champions Cup, which has hosted several other major clubs from across Europe in matches at college football stadiums ranging from the Big House at Michigan to Oregon’s Autzen Stadium.

Perhaps most interestingly, the DMN notes that Texas’ Memorial Stadium was originally in the running to host the game but organizers had to look elsewhere because of scheduling issues. The Longhorns and Aggies used to have one of the best rivalries in all of college athletics so it just makes sense for the two to have a bit and a back-and-forth when it comes to hosting a rivalry of a different kind.

Houston’s NRG Stadium (home of the Texans) is also reportedly in the mix but playing a soccer game at one of college football’s loudest venues seems like the no-brainer choice on novelty alone. It would be worth going to alone to see A&M fans explain ‘Gig’em’ and the ’12 Man’ to those from across the pond.

Bear Bryant’s great-grandson picks up offer from SEC school not named Alabama

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When you think of legendary head coach Bear Bryant, the Alabama Crimson Tide typically comes to mind. After all, that’s where he solidified his status on the Mount Rushmore of college football and had the most success of any coach not named Nick Saban.

Some outside the South may not realize it though, but Bryant really developed his reputation running a football team at another SEC and only some fans would be able to guess that came during his eight seasons at Kentucky. During his tenure in Lexington, Bryant guided the Wildcats to their first SEC football title (in 1950) and saw unprecedented success (before or since) on the gridiron at the school that included several top 10 finishes. Now it appears that connection to UK could play a role in landing a budding 2019 recruit.

Per AL.comPaul Tyson was the latest player to receive a scholarship offer from Mark Stoops and his staff and, while that name might not ring a bell, it turns out that Tyson is the great-grandson of one Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant.

The 6-foot-4, 210-pound signal-caller from Hewitt-Trussville High is not yet considered a blue-chip recruit but 247Sports is reporting that several power programs (including Alabama) are interested in him. Tyson didn’t even start for the varsity team last season but given his good size and good genes, it’s safe to say he could see his stock explode over the coming years.

The real question is though, if the Crimson Tide come along with an offer, would the quarterback be able to turn down a chance to play in Tuscaloosa? As with everything in recruiting, we’ll have to wait until pen meets paper on National Signing Day.

One Nebraska offensive lineman transferring to Kansas, another set for Texas Tech

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Spring practice has wrapped up at Nebraska and a pair of offensive lineman are on their way out of the program for greener pastures in the Cornhuskers old home of the Big 12.

 

First up on the moving van is offensive lineman Zach Hannon, who announced on Thursday he will transfer to Kansas. The Kansas City native is a graduate transfer so he should be able to play right away with the Jayhawks.

He’s not the only offensive lineman pursuing a graduate transfer from Lincoln however, as Dwayne Johnson also announced his intention to earn his diploma next month and move on to a Big 12 school — in this case Texas Tech.

The back-to-back departures is a bit of a blow to the Cornhuskers depth along the offensive line but neither was expected to start in 2017 for the team. Johnson appeared in only two games during his Nebraska career while Hannon played in only 15 contests with most of the snaps on special teams. Each faces a big learning curve at their new stops given that both of those Big 12 schools run some version of the Air Raid offense but the move does give them both a fresh start in 2017.

Purdue schedules home-and-home series with TCU… with games a decade apart

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There was a flurry of future schedule changes announced by several college football programs on Thursday afternoon but one of the most curious releases came from TCU and Purdue.

The Horned Frogs and Boilermakers jointly announced a new home-and-home series and the most interesting thing about that was not that the two teams would play at Ross-Ade Stadium on Sept. 14, 2019, but that the second half of the pairing would take place in Fort Worth… a decade later on Sept. 8, 2029. We’ve become used to teams scheduling years and years in advance but even this seems a bit much. Given how fluid some of these games are, one wonders if the teams will even play that second date, much less have their two head coaches around for it.

“Having played and coached under Howard Schnellenberger, I am a firm believer in playing the most competitive schedule you can on a yearly basis,” Purdue coach Jeff Brohm said in a release. “TCU has a great history and tradition, and certainly fits the criteria of an outstanding non-conference opponent. We look forward to the matchup.”

While the two schools are on opposite ends of the standings on a regular basis, the meeting in two years could be intriguing given Brohm’s high-scoring offense going up against TCU’s Gary Patterson’s renown defensive schemes. At this point though, it’s probably not even worth the effort to pencil in either of the two for that meeting in 2029, which is one of the more unique scheduling dates on the college football calendar.