Getty Images

Roster changes make Alabama and Clemson’s national title rematch a fresh affair

1 Comment

Every coach at nearly every level of football will tell you that a team can be vastly different from one season to the next no matter how many players are returning to the roster. There may be no better example of that than this year’s historic rematch in the national championship game between Alabama and Clemson.

Sure, Deshuan Watson and the Tigers appear to be mostly the same group that pilled up plenty of yards and put up 40 points on Nick Saban’s defense. And you’d be correct that many of last season’s stars for the Crimson Tide like Jonathan Allen and O.J. Howard will be back again for another go around at that prestigious golden trophy. But looking a little deeper at the depth chart for both squads reveals that these are two very different teams from last year with plenty of fresh faces around heading into this title game clash in 2017.

To start with, a number of key players will be watching at home after wrapping up their rookie year in the NFL. The Crimson Tide had seven players drafted off the 2015 team — all going in the first 75 picks — that included Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, star center Ryan Kelly and stud defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson. Others like Kenyan Drake, who had a 95 yard kick return for a touchdown back in Glendale last season, also won’t be around for Monday night’s edition. All told, there will be eight new starters for Saban’s defense compared to last year’s title game and a further six on offense.

Naturally, some of those starters this time around played quite a bit in the first meeting and have developed into impressive players after 15 games this year. There are still a few however, like quarterback Jalen Hurts and right tackle Jonah Williams, who will be entering this championship bout set to play key roles after watching last year’s game as either high schoolers or early enrollees. Both have had fantastic seasons for the Tide despite their youth and should play a key role in the outcome of this one despite this being their first action in the sport’s biggest game.

The same is true on the Clemson side, which has a number of players who will play in this setting for the first time. That includes freshman right tackle Sean Pollard on offense, plus star defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence (second on the team in sacks) and Fiesta Bowl Defensive MVP Clelin Ferrell. Receiver Deon Cain was suspended for the Tigers’ postseason run in 2015 while fellow wideout Mike Williams — perhaps the best in the country at his position entering the game — was cheering on the sideline as he recovered from a terrible neck injury.

In total, Clemson had eight starters and one backup drafted off last year’s roster that won’t be around for the upcoming rematch with Alabama. Many of their experienced backups have easily slid into the starting role and will have a big impact on Monday night though, such as linebackers Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph, corner Ryan Carter, safety Jadar Johnson and left guard Taylor Hearn.

While there will be plenty of new names among the players from last year to this one, there are a few new ones on the coaching staffs. While Clemson’s changes are mostly minor and behind the scenes when it comes to analysts, Alabama’s are far more pronounced. Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt was around the offices for title game prep after coming over from Georgia but took a back seat to Kirby Smart. He’s no stranger to the stage however, having won a ring at Florida State in 2013. The same is true for his new opposite number in Steve Sarkisian, who played a big run in USC’s dominance under Pete Carroll back in the day and takes over for offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin on short notice this week after serving as an analyst since August.

So when you sit down to watch Alabama and Clemson square off on Monday night in the national championship game, just know that while it may be a rematch with a number of familiar names like Saban and Watson and Howard, the two teams are not the same ones who dueled in the desert last January. We may get a game down in Tampa that plays out in similar fashion but both the Tide and the Tigers will enter Raymond James Stadium with a very different makeup in 2017.

Virginia Tech defends decision to put Michael Vick in Hokies Hall of Fame

Getty Images
5 Comments

Athletically, there is no question Michael Vick belongs in Virginia Tech’s athletics hall of fame. Heck, the Hokies might as well name the thing after him.

In his two seasons on campus, Vick (pictured, left) threw for 3,299 yards and 21 touchdowns — averaging 9.6 yards per attempt on 56 percent completions, in an era where anything over 50 was considered above-average — while adding an electrifying 1,299 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Vick led the Hokies to a 22-2 record, a Big East championship and appearance in the BCS national title game as a redshirt freshman in 1999, a campaign that saw him finish third in Heisman Trophy voting.

He was essentially a combination of Vince YoungJohnny Manziel and Allen Iverson, in a time when the I-formation and pocket passers still ruled college football.

But there is, of course, the non-football side of Vick’s life.

In the prime of his career — he came 26 passing yards short of a 2,500/1,000 season in 2007 — Vick’s NFL career essentially ended when he was convicted of running a dogfighting ring and served 21 months in federal prison. And all throughout that time, Virginia Tech was tangentially related to the biggest villain in sports.

Still, Virginia Tech announced earlier this month that Vick was a member of its 5-person 2017 Sports Hall of Fame class, to be inducted on Friday, Sept. 22. Vick’s inclusion generation a petition that has drawn more than 2,500 signatures protesting the decision.

“You know one of my friends volunteered to go down to his residence where all of this took place at the aftermath to help with the cleanup, if you want to put it that way,” Virginia Tech graduate and petition creator Jennifer Breeden told Collegiate Times. “It’s just kind of an embarrassment that (Virginia Tech) would want to honor someone like that.”

Arguing that Vick has paid his debt to society and shown remorse for his actions, Virginia Tech on Friday released the following statement saying that Vick will remain in the 2017 class.

Mr. Vick’s induction into the university’s sports hall of fame acknowledges his tremendous achievements as a student athlete—who some will say was the greatest in the history of the university.

We understand that there are those who do not and will never agree with this decision.

In considering Mr. Vick’s nomination to our sports hall of fame, the criminal activities in which he engaged, his subsequent conviction, and time he served for his crime were also considered.

And it was informed by the remorse he has shown since that conviction, the work he is currently engaged in to advance animal welfare issues, as well as his efforts to help our current student athletes, based on lessons he’s learned in his own life, make positive choices as they begin their adult lives.

This in no way condones the actions for which he was convicted.

The university remains dedicated to the protection of animal health and welfare and embodies great care and compassion for all living animals.

It’ll be interesting to see the reaction Vick gets at the Hokies’ Sept. 23 home game against Old Dominion.

Michigan pulls recruiting director away from former Michigan coach’s staff

Getty Images
1 Comment

Michigan is set to add Arizona recruiting czar Matt Dudek as its new director of recruiting, according to a report from FootballScoop on Saturday.

CBS Sports’s Dennis Dodd confirmed the report, adding that Michigan is expected to formally announce the move at Big Ten media days on Monday.

The irony, of course, is that Dudek will leave the staff of former Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez.

Dudek had been with Rodriguez shortly after his late 2011 hiring, first as on-campus recruiting coordinator and player personnel director before being named college football’s first general manager after the 2015 season. He helped the Wildcats win the 2014 Pac-12 South championship and was named a finalist for FootballScoop‘s Player Personnel Director of the Year award multiple times. (Disclaimer: I also write for FootballScoop.)

Prior to Arizona, Dudek worked as director of football branding and events at Rutgers and as assistant director of football operations and recruiting coordinator at Pittsburgh.

At Michigan, Dudek will join a staff that already recruits quite capably under head coach Jim Harbaugh. The Wolverines have finished eighth and fifth nationally in 247Sports‘s composite team rankings in Harbaugh’s two full cycles as Michigan’s head coach.

Dudek’s departure will be viewed by some as an anti-show of faith in Rodriguez’s tenure at Arizona. Since that 10-4, top-20 season in 2014, the Wildcats have slipped to 7-6 in 2015 and 3-9 last fall.

WATCH: Mark Richt takes annual backflip off the high dive

Getty Images
2 Comments

It’s been quite the summer for Mark Richt. His 2018 recruiting class is one of the best in the nation, he taught the nation the most efficient way to eat a sandwich, and on Friday he executed his annual high-dive backflip at a Hurricanes pool party.

(In case you haven’t seen the sandwich bit, watch it below. It’ll change your life.)

As SB Nation catalogues, Richt has made these backflips an annual thing since he was at Georgia in 2015. It was a skill he learned, he says, to impress the ladies after watching Greg Louganis (yes, that Greg Louganis) do it while they were students at Miami.

Richt and Louganis both enrolled at the University of Miami in 1978, and the future Hurricanes’ coach and his teammates would hang out at the university’s pool, where Louganis and the diving team would practice.

“We would watch him,” Richt said. “You’d go to the pool, because that’s where the girls were, right? So we’d watch the divers work out and say, that guy’s pretty good. Turns out he was the best in the world, like, ever. I had a lot of respect for him.”

Here’s this year’s effort.

Not bad for a guy pushing 60.

Nick Saban thinks skipping bowl games could lead to recruits doing same thing in high school

Getty Images
4 Comments

Grand Poobah of college football and Alabama head coach Nick Saban has had some interesting ideas about the sport over the years that conflict with the general consensus of his peers. The latest subject to fit that mold? How players like Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey skipping their bowl games could filter down to the high school level with recruits.

“Same thing will happen in high school if they make the signing day before the season,” Saban told CBS Sports. “It will take a few years, then some kid will say, ‘Hey, I’m going to Notre Dame. I’m not playing my senior year.'”

The Crimson Tide coach is referencing not only the two tailbacks skipping bowl games but also the possibility that upcoming December signing date could be moved up on the calendar. Big 12 commissioner (and chairman of the Football Oversight Committee) Bob Bowlsby said at his conference media days that the date for signing could be changed or even extended to a longer signing period as part of ongoing discussions about the recruiting process.

Talk of players signing with a college prior to their senior season in high school has not been broadly talked about by coaches or administrators but it does seem like everything is on the table when it comes to NCAA reforms in this area. It remains to be seen if any recruit will actually go as far as sitting out a full year in order to protect himself from injury in order to play in college… just as it remains questionable as to whether Fournette and McCaffrey’s decisions will develop into a broader trend at the college level.

Coaches are no fans of dramatically altering the status quo and it seems Saban is among the group who want to stem the postseason defection of players before things turn into a regular occurrence at any level of football.