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)

North Carolina responds to third Notice of Allegations in lingering academic scandal

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For the third time in as many years, North Carolina is responding to a Notice of Allegations connected to a decade-long academic scandal.

“We are prepared and look forward to presenting our case to the Committee on Infractions,” said chancellor Carol L. Folt in a statement. “Bringing closure to this process will be an important step for our University. The expansive reforms and initiatives now in place at Carolina reflect the academic values of a community that I am proud to lead.”

“We sent the NCAA a full and detailed response,” athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “Our reply to each allegation is based on the NCAA’s constitution and member-adopted bylaws. We expect the Committee on Infractions to consistently apply those bylaws as the case moves forward.”

For the complete response, click HERE.

The university had a deadline of May 16 to submit their response to this latest NOA, which they met.  The delay in releasing the response publicly was caused by the school stating that they needed to perform “a review to protect privacy rights” of those individuals mentioned in the response.

In June of 2014, the NCAA informed UNC “that it would reopen its original 2011 examination of the past academic irregularities.” The first NOA was sent to the university in 2015, with UNC accused of lack of institutional control as to student-athletes in multiple sports, including football, receiving preferential access to the controversial African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) courses dating all the way back to 2002.  In April of 2016, UNC received an amended NOA that replaced “lack of institutional control” with “failure to monitor.”

Below are the allegations the NCAA has made in the five violations The Associations has charged UNC with:

  1. African and Afro-American Studies student services manager Deborah Crowder and department professor/chair Julius Nyang’oro committed extra benefit and ethical conduct violations from 2002-11 by overseeing anomalous courses in the department and giving athletics personnel authority to impact aspects of the courses for student-athletes. School personnel committed extra benefits violation by leveraging the relationship with Crowder and Nyang’oro to provide special arrangements to student-athletes.
  2. Academic counselor Jan Boxill provided extra benefits by way of impermissible academic assistance and special arrangements to women’s basketball players from 2003-2010.
  3. Crowder violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  4. Nyang’oro violated the NCAA principles of ethical conduct by failing to cooperate with the NCAA enforcement staff’s requests.
  5. Allegation No. 1 and No. 2 show school’s failure to exercise institutional control and failure to monitor the conduct and administration of athletics programs.

In its most recent response, the university claims that the AFAM courses was “were available to all students in the same manner” and that “[n]o special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation.” “Student-athletes made up 29.4 percent of the enrollments in the Courses,” the university added, a number that is less than the nearly 50-percent figure the NCAA came up with.

Essentially, UNC’s argument is that, because the issue of AFAM courses is an academic one, “the University denies that there were NCAA violations.”

The Raleigh News & Observer writes that “[t]he NCAA’s enforcement staff will have an opportunity to review and address issues UNC raises over the next 60 days, with the case then expected to proceed to an infractions committee hearing in August.” A decision from the NCAA would come two months or so after the conclusion of the hearing, which would be right in the middle of the football season.

South Carolina QB, on Clemson’s 56-7 win: ‘everyone knew they were not that much better than us’

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On its way to its first national championship in three decades, Clemson laid waste to South Carolina, routing their in-state rivals in a 56-7 woodshedding that included a 35-0 halftime lead.  The Tigers outgained the Gamecocks 622-218, while they had a 41-14 advantage in first downs as well.

The 49-point difference served as the largest margin of victory in a rivalry that was first played in 1896 and has been played more than 110 times since.  Not only that, it was the largest margin of defeat for an SEC team at the hands of an ACC school.

By any measure, it was an utter and complete beatdown.  Unless you’re Jake Bentley.

In that game, Bentley, a true freshman quarterback, completed 7-of-17 passes for 41 yards, zero touchdowns and an interception.  That translates into a not-so-robust pass efficiency rating of 49.7.

During an interview with FOX Carolina Wednesday, however, Bentley indicated it was more of what USC didn’t do than what their rivals did that cost them the game.

“We just didn’t play well that week,” Bentley said, by way of TigerNet.com. “That’s our big quote going into this year. We felt we got outworked so never again. So our big thing is never again we will be outworked. Never again will be outcompeted in a game like that.

“It all stems from that game because at the end of the game everyone knew that they were not that much better than us or better than us at all. It really just lit a fire in everybody since that week. Everyone has worked harder and wanted it more.”

Again, 56-7 screams that the team with 56 points is significantly better than the one with 49 fewer, but your mileage may vary.  Regardless, it’s safe to assume the bolded, italicized portion of that quote will find its way onto some Death Valley bulletin boards ahead of this year’s edition of the rivalry game.

Fans can legally pack concealed heat at Georgia football tailgates

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Guns and SEC football are back in the news yet again this offseason.  And this one has the ACC riding shotgun as well.

In late March, the state of Arkansas legislature passed a law (House Bill 1249) that would allow concealed-carry handguns on publicly-owned property, which would’ve include college sporting events.  A day later, and after realizing, amidst considerable controversy, the potential for alcohol-fueled fans attending an SEC football game armed, the state’s senate voted to amend the law to exclude college sporting events.

Fast-forward to this month, and the state of Georgia legislature has passed a law (House Bill 280) that would allow the carrying of concealed handguns on college campuses, with exceptions that include on-campus stadiums, arenas, gymnasiums and the like hosting intercollegiate sporting events.  That bill is scheduled to become law in the state July 1.

In clarifying the language of the law, the university confirmed in an extensive press release Wednesday that individuals with valid weapons licenses will be permitted to conceal-carry outside of college football stadiums.  In other words, licensed individuals would be permitted to carry concealed weapons outside of Sanford Stadium as well as Bobby Dodd Stadium as part of the game-day tailgating experience.

Only handguns are allowed under this law, and only when concealed.  Long guns, obviously, are not permitted under any circumstance.

“I understand that many of you have strong feelings about this bill,” UGA Chancellor Steve Wrigley began his letter to the university community. “Yet, whether you opposed or supported the legislation, it will soon be state law, and I respectfully ask everyone to exercise patience, understanding and respect as we implement it.

“We all share the same goal of ensuring a safe campus environment. We should work together to implement the law as written and thoughtfully address any complications that may arise.”

SEC commissioner Greg Sankey released a statement amidst the Arkansas gun-law controversy that may or may not have had an impact on that state’s legislature tweaking of the bill. It bears watching whether the commish follows a similar public tack when it comes to this piece of legislation.

The Georgia Bulldogs will open their 2017 season at home against Appalachian State Sept. 2, while Georgia Tech’s home opener is Sept. 9 against Jacksonville State.

Illinois boots three players charged with home invasion and robbery

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Illinois head coach Lovie Smith has dismissed three players charged with home invasion and robbery. Offensive linemen Darta Lee and Howard Watkins and tight end Zarrian Holcombe have all been dismissed from the program, according to a statement.

Lee and Holcombe were previously suspended by Smith for violations of team rules. Watkins had also been indefinitely suspended following the initial allegations. All three players claimed the incident that led to the charges was nothing more than an innocent prank, but the authorities and Smith didn’t seem willing to buy that claim.

Each player faces a mandatory prison sentence of 4-15 years on each count against them if found guilty.