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)

Eyewitnesses say officers assaulted Notre Dame CB Devin Butler

PALO ALTO, CA - NOVEMBER 28:  Trenton Irwin #2 of the Stanford Cardinal is tackled by Max Redfield #10 and Devin Butler #12 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Stanford Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Palo Alto, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Eyewitness testimony of Devin Butler‘s girlfriend and the fiancee of Fighting Irish wide receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., say the Notre Dame cornerback was a victim of police brutality during his weekend arrest.

South Bend police say Butler assaulted an officer, punching and slamming him to the ground, which necessitated the use of a stun gun to subdue him. From the AP:

South Bend police spokesman Lt. Joe Galea said that after officers broke up a fight inside the bar they saw two women fighting outside when Butler allegedly shoved one of the women. Butler was agitated and when officers told him to back away he allegedly pushed the officers and then attacked one of them.

The affidavit says Butler tackled an officer to the ground, punched him several times in the side and stomach and pulled off his duty belt.

“He shouted profanities at the officers and started swinging his fist,” Galea said of Butler.

But the eyewitnesses paint a picture diametrically opposed to the account of South Bend police. Butler’s girlfriend Haleigh Bailey told the South Bend Tribune:

“I was there that entire night. Reports say that everyone left the scene but I was still there and saw everything officers did to Devin.

“He was abused, and wrongly arrested. He never tackled an officer and he never intentionally hurt anyone. He had no reason to be tazed because he was never resisting arrest, and he was already on the ground complying when they tazed him.”

Butler has been charged with resisting law enforcement and battery of a police officer — both of which are felonies. He pleaded not guilty.

Police were originally called to the Linebacker bar early Saturday morning after a call reporting fights between patrons and bar security. Bar personnel said the fight was subdued by the time police arrived, but officers intervened in a fight between two women outside the bar. That’s when, police say, Butler shoved one of the women involved. Officers tried to detain Butler, but he resisted and ultimately assaulted the officers. Officer Aaron Knepper was evaluated for minor injuries to his back, arm, elbow and wrist at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital, but was later released.

“That 100 percent did not happen,” Selina Bell, Hunter’s fiancee, told the paper. “Devin didn’t even have the capability to pick someone up if he wanted to. He just got off of crutches the day before.”

Butler underwent surgery in June for a fractured foot, a aggravation of an injury he originally suffered in the Irish’s Fiesta Bowl loss in January.

Added Bailey, in a message to the Tribune:“Reports say that Devin did all of these aggressive things but in reality, he was grabbed by the police from behind and never told who was grabbing him or why they were grabbing him. Devin felt he was doing the right thing but out of nowhere was arrested for simply stopping an argument. He felt he had no reason to be detained… Devin has been in a boot/cast and on crutches recovering for the past 8 weeks. He is in no condition to be lifting weights, working out, or doing any ‘tackling.’ I have not seen him run let alone walk on two feet since the day before his surgery in June. I can assure you he did NOT tackle a police officer but police officers tackled HIM.”

Knepper was found guilty of unconstitutional behavior earlier this month for unlawfully entering a home and mistakenly using a Taser on a 17-year-old boy earlier this month. He was reprimanded in August of 2012 for forcing a 7-Eleven clerk to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon and eat 10 crackers in less than a minute, and in March of 2014 a 55-year-old South Bend resident and his 76-year-old mother accused Knepper of excessive force resulting from a traffic stop in which they were accused of resisting arrest and battering a police officer.

Alabama claims top spot in preseason FWAA-NFF Super 16 poll

TUSCALOOSA, AL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Amari Cooper #9 of the Alabama Crimson Tide celebrates scoring a touchdown against Southern Miss Golden Eagles with Cam Robinson #74 of the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Make it a trifecta for the defending champions.

Just like the AP and Coaches’ polls, Alabama will enter the season as the No. 1 ranked team in the Super 16 poll, a joint venture between the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. (Full disclosure: both myself and CFT‘s Kevin McGuire are voters. I had Florida State at No. 1; Kevin chose LSU.)

The Super 16 poll mirrored both major polls as well by placing Clemson at No. 2, Oklahoma at No. 3 and Florida State at No. 4. The Super 16 mirrored the AP by selecting LSU over Ohio State to round out the top five.

The full poll:

  1. Alabama — 657 total points (26 first-place votes)
  2. Clemson — 628 (9)
  3. Oklahoma — 543
  4. Florida State — 542 (4)
  5. LSU — 510 (3)
  6. Ohio State — 468
  7. Michigan — 404 (1)
  8. Stanford — 343
  9. Tennessee — 330
  10. Notre Dame — 305
  11. TCU — 172
  12. Ole Miss — 171
  13. Michigan State — 168
  14. Houston — 160
  15. Washington — 111
  16. UCLA — 73

Iowa, Georgia, Oklahoma State and Oregon rounded out the leaders among the Also Receiving Votes crowd.

Oregon unveils Marcus Mariota Sports Performance Center

SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 05: Marcus Mariota #8 of the Oregon Ducks scrambles in the first half against the Arizona Wildcats during the PAC-12 Championships at Levi's Stadium on December 5, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
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Oregon gave a lot to Marcus Mariota. But in the end, it’ll be the 2014 Heisman Trophy winner that will give more to his alma mater.

In addition to the aforementioned stiffarm trophy, the Tennessee Titans quarterback will serve as the namesake of the facility that Oregon has turned into its latest state-of-the-art toy. The 30,000-square foot renovation, funded by Phil Knight, is complete with all the bells and whistles that focuses on making Duck athletes the healthiest in college sports.

“The goal of this project was to create one space where we could utilize the most state-of-the-art technology to improve student-athlete wellness and emphasize our commitment to the health and safety of our student-athletes,” said Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens in a statement. “Thanks to the incredible generosity of Phil and Penny Knight, we now have a world-class facility that is going to take the student-athlete experience at the University of Oregon to a level not previously seen anywhere on the collegiate level.”

And, yes, it comes with plenty of Nike branding, complete with a new equipment room that boasts 2.5 miles of shelving on 19-foot ceilings.

“Our hope was to recreate a Niketown-like atmosphere, with bright lighting and a lot of energy to showcase all of the unique features of our uniforms and other equipment,” director of equipment operations Aaron Wasson said.

Oregon representatives took fact-finding trips to NASA and Australia to research facilities which, in my favorite anecdote, includes the ability to complete up to 500 loads of laundry at once.

SEC announces coaches’ all-conference teams

ATLANTA, GA - DECEMBER 5: Wide receiver Calvin Ridley #3 of the Alabama Crimson Tide carries the ball against defensive back Quincy Wilson #6 of the Florida Gators in the first quarter during the SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome on December 5, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)
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The SEC announced its coaches’ All-SEC selections on Thursday and, as you can imagine, these teams would be near impossible to beat on a field. Obviously, they’re stacked with the best players from college football’s most competitive conference. But they’d be extra-impossible to beat because the offense would take the field with 12 players on each side of the ball.

Some leagues name 15 or more players to their all-league teams, though, so the SEC isn’t the worst offender on the block. But, still, come on.

Anyway, here’s the first team:

First Team Offense
QB – Chad Kelly, Ole Miss
RB – Leonard Fournette, LSU
RB – Nick Chubb, Georgia
WR – Calvin Ridley, Alabama
WR – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
TE – O.J. Howard, Alabama
C – Ethan Pocic, LSU
OL – Cam Robinson, Alabama
OL – Dan Skipper, Arkansas
OL – Greg Pyke, Georgia
OL – Alex Kozan, Auburn
AP – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

First Team Defense
DL – Myles Garrett, Texas A&M
DL – Jonathan Allen, Alabama
DL – Derek Barnett, Tennessee
DL – Carl Lawson, Auburn
LB – Reuben Foster, Alabama
LB – Kendell Beckwith, LSU
LB – Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Tennessee
LB – Jarrad Davis, Florida
DB – Eddie Jackson, Alabama
DB – Jalen Tabor, Florida
DB – Cameron Sutton, Tennessee
DB – Tre’Davious White, LSU

Specialists
PK – Daniel Carlson, Auburn
P – J.K. Scott, Alabama
RS – Christian Kirk, Texas A&M
RS – Evan Berry, Tennessee

The coaches’ selections speak to the power imbalance in the conference; 20 of the 28 first-team slots (71 percent) went to West Division players. Of the eight East players chosen, half hail from Tennessee. Alabama comprised a quarter of the team with seven selections, followed by LSU and Texas A&M matching Tennessee’s four — although A&M’s selections were really just Myles Garrett plus Christian Kirk in three separate positions.

The SEC’s season begins a week from tonight when Tennessee hosts Appalachian State (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network) and South Carolina visits Vanderbilt (8 p.m. ET, ESPN).