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)

South Carolina DB Ali Groves takes medical hardship, will remain on scholarship

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The injury-plagued career of a member of South Carolina’s secondary has officially come to an end.

USC officials confirmed to The State that Ali Groves will not return to the Gamecocks football team. The defensive back has taken a medical hardship waiver, making him ineligible to suit up again for the Gamecocks.

The Georgia native will, though, remain on scholarship. He’s expected to graduate later this year with a degree in business administration.

A three-star member of USC’s 2013 recruiting class, Groves was rated as the No. 47 safety in the country. Groves sustained a right shoulder injury his true freshman season, with the injury lingering over the next couple of seasons as well.

This past spring, Groves, who didn’t play a down for the Gamecocks, was moved from cornerback to safety. Twice in his career, Groves was named to the SEC Fall Academic Honor Roll.

Four-star 2017 QB Kellen Mond, an ex-Baylor commit, verbals to A&M

COLLEGE STATION, TX - OCTOBER 31: Texas A&M Aggies mascot Reveille runs onto the field before a NCAA football game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Kyle Field on October 31, 2015 in College Station, Texas. (Photo by Eric Christian Smith/Getty Images)
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Baylor’s recruiting loss will turn into another football program’s gain.  Again.

On his Twitter account Monday, 2017 quarterback prospect Kellen Mond announced that he has decided to verbally commit to play his college football at Texas A&M.  Mond had been considered the crown jewel of Baylor’s 2017 recruiting class after committing to the Bears in the summer of 2015, but opted to decommit less than a week after Art Briles was dismissed as BU’s head football coach.

Shortly after decommitting from Baylor, Mond announced a new Top 3: Auburn, Ohio State and A&M.  Those schools were listed in his order of preference at that moment, although the Aggies were, obviously, able to make up ground on the other two.

Mond visited College Station earlier this month, and, coupled with the Buckeyes landing a verbal from five-star quarterback Tate Martell — a former A&M commit, incidentally — had seemingly pared his choices down to the Tigers and Aggies.  According to his tweeted announcement, A&M’s “tradition of excellence,” along with the coaching staff, led him to his latest commitment.

Mond, a Texas native who is playing his senior season at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., is rated as a four-star prospect on 247Sports.com‘s composite board. That recruiting website rates him as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the country and the No. 103 player overall.

Pitt joins trend of stadium-wide beer sales for football games

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Ohio State announced earlier this month that it would be offering cold beers to all of-age fans during football games this fall in The ‘Shoe.  A couple of weeks later, a fellow FBS member to the east has followed suit.

As part of its press release on new fan initiatives for the 2016 season, Pittsburgh announced that beer will be sold stadium-wide throughout Heinz Field this upcoming football season.  Prior to this season, alcohol sales were only permitted to those ticket holders in the club and suite sections of the stadium.

The first opportunity for fans to take advantage of the new policy is the home opener against Villanova Sept. 3.  The ACC opener Oct. 8 against Georgia Tech.

From the press release:

The expansion of this amenity will coincide with the implementation of appropriate safety measures for Pitt game days, ensuring the continuation of a fan and family friendly environment for all. (Such measures are already in place for Steelers home games. Aramark, Heinz Field’s official food and beverage concessionaire, provides comprehensive staff training in the sale of alcohol.) A portion of the funds from beer sales proceeds will be dedicated to drug and alcohol education programs for the overall student body through Pitt’s Division of Student Affairs.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there are now nine Power Five members with a similar beer policy for football games.  One of the nine is West Virginia, with the Post-Gazette writing that athletic director Scott Barnes cited data from WVU “suggesting that beer sales in the stadium could actually cut down on alcohol-related incidents.”

Houston’s Howard Wilson granted medical hardship waiver

Howard Wilson
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Not surprisingly, one member of Houston’s secondary will get back the time he lost last season.

According to a press release from the Houston sports information department, Howard Wilson has been granted a medical hardship waiver for the 2015 season. Wilson sustained a season-ending torn ACL in the third game of 2015, making the decision to grant the waiver a no-brainer.

The waiver will extend Wilson’s eligibility clock through the 2018 season, and makes him a redshirt sophomore for the upcoming season.

As a true freshman in 2014, Wilson played in all 13 games, starting one of those contests. He had three interceptions that season.

Prior to his injury, he started the first three games of last season. He’s projected to start at one of the corner spots for the Cougars entering summer camp.