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)

Even before Kenny Chesney concert trashed it, plan was to replace Jordan-Hare turf

performs onstage during the 4th ACM Party For A Cause Festival at the Las Vegas Festival Grounds on April 3, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
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On April 23, country music star Kenny Chesney performed at Auburn’s Jordan-Hare Stadium — and it’s fair to say that he tore the place up. Chesney and various guests performed at the “Music and Miracles Festival,” one of the first concerts ever at Jordan-Hare. The goal was to raise a million dollars to fight hunger and cancer. And it was a party. More than 50,000 people were there.

“Sometimes,” Chesney said after it was over, “you feel the energy long before you hit the stage.”

With all that energy, yeah, the field took a significant beating.

Jordan-Hare

The Auburn grounds crew then announced via Twitter that they would resod the field at the end of May and get things back to normal in plenty of time for football. The story could have died there.

But, of course, stories don’t really die too quickly these days. I mean: Look at that field. First came the comments and the talk about how the flooring was kept down the whole time. Then came the backlash toward Chesney. There’s no need to explain just how holy the Jordan-Hare Stadium field is to Auburn football fans. When people saw the after photos — even though it is months until the season opener against Clemson — well let’s just say things were said.

Chesney, a big football fan who wrote the song “The Boys of Fall” about high school football in his town, was pretty troubled by the whole thing. See, Auburn had always planned on resodding the field after the concert. That was obviously the strategy after inviting Chesney to perform in the first place.

“The plan to host Kenny Chesney at Jordan-Hare Stadium always included a full field replacement following the event,” Auburn associate AD for Operation Jeremy Roberts said. “And the field cover strategy we approved took this into consideration.”

“The plan the school had in place,” concert production manager Ed Wannebo says, “had nothing to do with this concert … the sod was being torn out regardless.”

Ah well, what is it that Chesney sings in “The Boys of Fall?”

It’s knockin’ heads and talkin’ trash
It’s slingin’ mud and dirt and grass

Utah State dismisses starting guard Tyshon Mosley

Tyshon Mosley
Utah State athletics
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Expected to compete for All-Mountain West honors this season, Tyshon Mosley will instead be searching for a new college football home.

In a press release, Utah State announced that Mosley has been dismissed from the Aggies football program.  The only reason given was the standard violation of unspecified team rules.

In early August of last year, USU announced that Mosley was one of three players who had been suspended for the first two games of the 2015 season.  He returned from that suspension to start nine games at left guard.  At the end of last season, he was named honorable mention All-MWC.

After redshirting as a true freshman in 2013, Mosley started 11 of 14 games at left guard in 2014.

Abner Logan, projected starting LB, announces departure from Terps

Abner Logan
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Not long after putting spring practice 2016 to bed, Maryland’s linebacking corps has taken a significant and unexpected hit.

On Instagram over the weekend, Abner Logan announced that he has decided to transfer out of the Terrapins football program.  As Logan will be leaving the Terps as a graduate transfer, he would be eligible to play immediately in 2016 if his next destination is at the FBS level.

After tearing his ACL in August of last year, Logan missed the entire 2015 season.  He was projected as a starter at linebacker under first-year head coach D.J. Durkin.

Logan was suspended for the first six games of the 2014 season by the university for unspecified reasons.  He came back to play the final seven games of the year.

In 2013 as a redshirt freshman, he started four of the 12 games in which he played.

Mark Dantonio ‘disappointed’ watching Connor Cook’s draft free fall

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 14: Head coach Mark Dantonio and Connor Cook #18 of the Michigan State Spartans look on during the game against the Maryland Terrapins at Spartan Stadium on November 14, 2015 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan State defeated Maryland 24-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Every year a player falls unexpectedly in the draft, and this year’s poster boy, aside from Laremy Tunsil‘s gas mask bong and Confederate flag imbroglio, on that front was Connor Cook.

The former Michigan State quarterback was thought by some to have a chance at landing toward the end of the first round, with most seeing him scooped up before the end of the second round. Instead, Cook watched as 99 other players, including six fellow quarterbacks, were selected before hearing his name called by the Oakland Raiders in the fourth round.

It was a mighty tumble for a prospect whose biggest flaw, according to draftniks, was leadership — he famously wasn’t elected as a captain of the Spartans in the preseason, which some considered quite revealing, and damning, for a three-year starter at quarterback.

As hard as it was on Cook, it was just as hard on his former head coach. After watching Cook lead his Spartans to a 34-5 record as a starter the last three years, Mark Dantonio found it difficult to digest his former player’s free fall.

“I was probably living through the entire thing, as well, watched the entire draft,” Dantonio said by way of mlive.com. “I was disappointed. I think that Connor is an excellent football player. He’s done a tremendous job for us here and for his football team, and a lot of that success that we’ve had can be credited to his play and his leadership on our football team. …

“I think it did wear on him as time went on, but he tried to continue to stay above it. I remember when Kirk Cousins was drafted and he was really disappointed in the fact that he had gone in the fourth round and they had drafted a guy in the second round and the first round, and what did that do for his future.”

Speaking of Cousins, the Washington Redskins quarterback who supplanted former Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as the starter, he offered up some encouragement to his fellow Spartan.