Nick Saban

CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama


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

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.

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.

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)

Beavers dealing with injury issues in their backfield

Oregon State running back Ryan Nall, right, looks back at California cornerback Darius Allensworth, left, during an 80-yard touchdown run in the second half of an NCAA college football game in Corvallis, Ore., on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Timothy J. Gonzalez)
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It’s looking more and more likely that Oregon State will be at less than full strength in their backfield when they line up against No. 5 Washington Saturday evening.

Leading rusher Ryan Nall aggravated a foot injury in last Saturday’s loss after just one carry and is officially listed as doubtful for the game against the Huskies. Nall did not practice Thursday and was still wearing a boot to protect the injured foot.

Additionally, Nall’s backup, Artavis Pierce, is dealing with a stinger and did not participate in the portion of practice open to the media, The Oregonian reported.

Nall currently leads the Beavers with 464 yards and six rushing touchdowns. He’s also third on the team with 13 receptions.

Pierce is second behind Nall with 262 yards.

If neither Nall nor Pierce are available, the bulk of the running game load would be shouldered by Tim Cook. The senior has carried the ball nine times this season for 22 yards.

TE Trey Dunkelberger set to transfer from Syracuse

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 08: The Syracuse Orange mascot with the cheerleaders during a game against the USC Trojans at MetLife Stadium on September 8, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
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Trey Dunkelberger changed positions earlier this year during spring practice. Seven months or so later, he’s changing programs.

The website JUCO Football Frenzy reported Wednesday that Dunkelberger had decided to transfer from Syracuse. The tight end “confirmed” the move in the form of retweeting the site’s original tweet.

The Syracuse Post-Standard subsequently confirmed the initial report via a text from the player himself, although the football program has yet to address the player’s status with the team moving forward.

Dunkelberger will be leaving the Orange as a graduate transfer, meaning he could move on to another FBS program and be eligible to play immediately in 2017. Next season will be his final year of eligibility.

After playing in one game last season, Dunkelberger has not seen the field yet on 2016. He moved from tight end to defensive end during spring practice, then back to tight end in summer camp.

Boise State survives five turnovers to beat rival BYU and remain undefeated

BOISE, ID - OCTOBER 20: Defensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi #90 of the Brigham Young Cougars gets a piece of a field goal attempt during first half action against the Boise State Broncos on October 20, 2016 at Albertsons Stadium in Boise, Idaho. (Photo by Loren Orr/Getty Images)
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Boise State did just about everything they could to give the game away. BYU did their best to take it too.

In the end the Broncos survived a whopping five turnovers and blocked a last second field goal to escape with a 28-27 win over their regional rivals.

Tailback Jeremy McNichols scored on the third play of the game on his way to a 140 yard, one touchdown night on the ground to go along with an impressive 109 yards and a touchdown through the air. Wideout Thomas Sperbeck had 109 yards and a score as well and became the school’s all-time leading receiver while doing so.

Quarterback Brett Rypien put up some big numbers with 442 yards passing and three touchdowns but did throw two pick-sixes as part of a wild second quarter that kept BYU in the game.

That stretch also included a potentially disastrous fake punt from the Cougars own end zone on 4th-and-19. The attempt was stuffed at the goal line but the defense held Boise State to a field goal attempt that was eventually shanked to cause no harm on the scoreboard.

BYU was without the services of tailback Jamaal Williams, who became the school’s all-time leading rusher last week against Mississippi State but was held out with an ankle injury he aggravated during warmups. In his place, Squally Canada ran for 88 yards on 21 carries.

Quarterback Taysom Hill had a rough night passing (21-of-42 for just 187 yards) but nearly rallied his team for a game-winning score with under two minutes left.

The win keeps Boise State undefeated and in the driver’s seat for the lucrative Group of Five bid to a major bowl game at the end of the season. While a loss would not have completely derailed their chances at making to the New Year’s Six, it would have made things interesting given the number of other candidates for the spot.

After a turnover-filled outing and nearly blowing a second half lead for the second week in a row, you can bet that the Broncos will look to regroup over the coming days and get back on track ahead of their trip to Wyoming.

Pac-12 fines, reprimands Washington State coach Mike Leach for comments about Arizona State

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 27: Washington State Cougars head coach Mike Leach protests a call during the first half of a football game against the Washington Huskies at Husky Stadium on November 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
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The Pac-12 has reprimanded and fined Washington State coach Mike Leach a whopping $10,000 for his comments this week about Arizona State stealing signs.

“Conference rules prohibit Pac-12 member institutions from disparaging each other and discrediting other institutions,” commissioner Larry Scott said in a statement. “Information or accusations relative to rule violations must be handled by institutions filing those concerns with the Conference office through a formal process, and institutions must refrain from discussing those concerns publicly.”

Leach accused the Sun Devils and head coach Todd Graham of stealing signs last season and brought the subject up again at his Monday press conference ahead of the Cougars trip to Tempe this weekend.

“We’ll have to keep an eye on it. That’s certainly the reputation. And I think they have a certain amount of technology and expertise on the subject which if they ever go to a different conference or something I’d certainly like them to share it with us,” Leach said. “You’ve got to keep an eye on it because they’ll steal signs and they’re pretty clever about it. And it’s like breaking the enigma code with them… I think they ought to do a full on investigation to see how they’re doing it and make sure it’s within the rules.”

The Pac-12 noted that it is not against NCAA rules to observe an opponent’s signals but a school cannot use any audio or video equipment to record them.

Graham defended his program earlier in the week from the accusations and denied that they used any equipment to record signals.

This isn’t the first time this subject has come up so you can bet that the pre-game talk — and post-game handshake — between the two head coaches might be a little chilly on Saturday given all the words flying back-and-forth between the two.