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)

Ex-Oregon Duck QB landing at Towson

Quarterback Morgan Mahalak hands off to running back Lane Roseberry during the University of Oregon opening day of college football spring practice at the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex in Eugene, Ore. Tuesday, March 31, 2015. (AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Brian Davies)
AP Photo/The Register-Guard, Brian Davies
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Former Oregon quarterback Morgan Mahalak is heading to the FCS for a chance to compete for a starting job. Mahalak will join the Towson Tigers of the Colonial Athletic Association, where he will be eligible to play immediately starting this fall.

“We are happy that we have secured a commitment from such a talented young quarterback,” said Towson head coach Rob Ambrose in a released statement.  “Morgan brings a tremendous amount of potential and secures great competition at the quarterback position.”

Mahalak was released from his scholarship at Oregon in January, at his request. The former four-star recruit should be a nice addition for the Towson program. Mahalak had a tough time finding playing time in Eugene during his two seasons with the Ducks while Marcus Mariota was winning a Heisman Trophy and Vernon Adams was transferring to take the starting job for Oregon. Mahalak served on Orgeon’s scout team last season. With Oregon once again going the FCS transfer QB route this season with Dakota Prukop, it appeared unlikely Mahalak was going to get a chance once again.

Illinois adds Central Michigan to future schedule

Kent State running back Myles Washington (26) loses his helmet after being tackled by Illinois defensive back Chris James (12), defensive back Dillan Cazley (25) and defensive back Cedric Doxy (26) during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, in Champaign, Ill. Illinois won the game 52-3. (AP Photo/ Stephen Haas)
AP Photo/ Stephen Haas
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For those planning ahead, Illinois has added a future game against Central Michigan to the 2022 football schedule. The Illini will reportedly host the Chippewas on September 24, 2022 in a one-game scheduling agreement. Illinois will pay Central Michigan $1.5 million for the game. The two schools have never faced each other on the football field, so this could very well end up being the first meeting barring any potential postseason matchups.

Big Ten teams are required to schedule at least one power conference opponent each year as part of its non-conference scheduling commitment. Central Michigan does not satisfy that commitment, but the Illini are already covered that season with a home game against Virginia. Illinois is scheduled to host Virginia from the ACC on September 10, 2022 in the second of a two-year home-and-home series. Virginia will host Illinois on September 11, 2021. Illinois has its power conference non-scheduling commitment fulfilled from 2021 through 2026, but will have to do some schedule tweaking if it is to satisfy the commitment before 2021. The Big Ten also already granted exemption status for some games due to schedules being booked years in advance. Illinois has their non-conference slate booked for 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2020 and has just one vacancy to fill in 2019.

Central Michigan has also added a future series against FAU. FAU will host Central Michigan on September 21, 2019 and Central Michigan will serve as host to the Owls on September 18, 2021.

Helmet sticker to the always schedule-aware FBSchedules.com.

Chad Morris building SMU with Texas recruits

SMU head coach Chad Morris, center, takes field with his team for warm ups before an NCAA college football game against Baylor, Friday, Sept. 4, 2015, in Dallas. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
AP Photo/LM Otero
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The rebuilding of SMU is a project that is no easy task. As Chad Morris gets ready for his second season on the job, he continues to do what he can to build a foundation based on Texas recruits. For the second straight season, SMU assembled a recruiting class consisting of only Texas recruits.

I’m extremely proud of that,” Morris said last week, per The Dallas Morning News. “You’ll hear a lot of talk about us being Texas tough.

“The toughest thing was trying to create the momentum that we had a year ago, especially coming off a season that wasn’t up to our standards. The majority of our kids were committed to us before the season ever started.

SMU is the only FBS program to land a recruiting class consisting of just players from the state of Texas over the past two recruiting classes. The state of Texas has always been a large and competitive recruiting state, and SMU is certainly facing some stiff competition left and right between traditional heavyweights like Texas and Texas A&M, emerging powers in Baylor and TCU and rising conference rival Houston in addition to other programs from the Big 12 and SEC and beyond making visits into the Lone Star state.

If restoring pride in the SMU program is going to succeed, installing a strong Texas connection is a smart way to go for Morris and the Mustangs.

“It was important for us to do that, to build that continuity, build that relationship with these guys,” Morris said. “The majority of them had big-time offers, so we were battling all the way up to the final hour.”

Tennessee artist pays tribute to Peyton Manning after Super Bowl win

Denver Broncos’ Peyton Manning (18) celebrates after the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game Sunday, Feb. 7, 2016, in Santa Clara, Calif. The Broncos beat the Panthers 24-10.  (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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It has become a Tennessee tradition to see The Rock painted before or after big games during the football season, but this week the noteworthy spot on Tennessee’s campus is simply paying tribute to Vol for life and two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback Peyton Manning.

The artist who takes the time to paint The Rock is Payton Marie Miller, and she has become quite the sensation around campus with her artistic twist on Tennessee’s campus. Coming from a family with a strong rooting interest in the Vols, it is no coincidence her name is Payton.

“My dad is a huge Tennessee fan and one day my mom just randomly asked him if he liked the name Payton,” Miller explained in a profile story by Rocky Top Insider last year. “I think it was right after THE Peyton had just finished up at Tennessee and my dad jumped all over it.”

Here is what she did to The Rock for Senior Day last season…

Here are some of the other images of The Rock from last season…