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Kirby Smart and Georgia aim for history in trying to beat Alabama’s Nick Saban

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The Nick Saban era at Alabama has been one known for its unprecedented success and, depending on how you look at things, occupies a place as one of the longest running dynasties the sport has seen over the years.

The Crimson Tide certainly have the numbers to back it up, going 131-20 in the 11 seasons since Saban moved to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Over that span, the school has captured five SEC championships, made the national title game five times and won four of college football’s most famous trophies.

Come Monday night in Atlanta, Saban (factoring in a title at LSU) has a chance to tie Bear Bryant as the coach with the most rings in the history of college football. In this day and age, there’s simply the Tide head coach and everybody else doing their best to follow in his footsteps. As a result, particularly in the SEC, there has been an increasing Saban-ization that has been underway since he started winning big at Alabama.

In a sense, if you can’t beat him… replicate him by bringing ‘The Process’ to your own school.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that across the sideline at the national title game this year is somebody the coach and the Tide know well in Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. Not only did the Bulldogs’ lead dawg work under Saban at LSU back in 2004, he was also with him during a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2006 and served as the defensive coordinator at Alabama for most of his run in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2015.

“Georgia had a pretty good nucleus of players there. I think they won 10 games the year he took over. Now, (Smart) has done a fantastic job of bringing those players along, getting those players to play with discipline, getting them to play together,” Saban said recently of the job his protegé has done in Athens. “They’re playing extremely well, which is a reflection on his ability and his leadership to get everybody to buy into doing things the way he wanted them done so that they could play at a very high level, and they certainly are. They have a lot of good players, and they’re all playing at a very high level, and I think that’s a compliment to the coach and the coaching staff.”

When Smart and Saban shake hands prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it will be a not so rare occurrence. In fact, the title fame will be the 12th time a former assistant of Saban has faced off against his old mentor on the gridiron. Georgia fans probably don’t want to hear this but that’s not exactly a good thing as the former assistants are a combined 0-11 against the man himself.

Yes, 0-11. Here’s the list:

Jimbo Fisher
—  2017 Alabama 24-7 over Florida State

Jim McElwain
— 2013 Alabama 31-6 over Colorado State
— 2015 Alabama 29-15 over Florida
— 2016 Alabama 54-16 over Florida

Derek Dooley
— 2010 Alabama 41-10 over Tennessee
— 2011 Alabama 37-6 over Tennessee
— 2012 Alabama 44-13 over Tennessee

Will Muschamp
— 2011 Alabama 38-10 over Florida
— 2014 Alabama 42-21 over Florida

Mark Dantonio
— 2011 Alabama 49-7 over Michigan State
— 2015 Alabama 38-0 over Michigan State (College Football Playoff)

That’s 11 losses by an average score of 43-11. Only one came within two touchdowns. It has, to say the least, been a lopsided time in Saban vs. the world in general but especially so when it comes to his former assistants.

Fisher did get the better of Saban back in 2007 (in a game that was vacated — on both sides) when he was the Florida State offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden but that’s pretty much as close as they come. That he did so as an assistant keeps the win out of that 0-11 stat but does bring up a good point as there are several coaches who have crossed paths with Saban over the years — including several in the title game on Monday.

For example, Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has actually beaten Saban three times. That happened when the former was at Purdue in 1997-99 and the latter was at Michigan State. That hasn’t been the only time the two have squared off against each other though as Chaney has never taken home a win over Saban in the SEC (0-6 calling plays at Tennessee/Arkansas).

Bulldogs defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was actually a graduate assistant under Saban with the Spartans back in the day too and was Alabama’s associate head coach when they won it all in 2015… before following Smart out the door to Athens. Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has had two stints at his alma mater in Tuscaloosa since Saban hired him from the high school ranks back in 2007, won a ring with Fisher in 2013 and spent two seasons at Georgia (coaching/recruiting several starters on the 2017 team) before taking over Smart’s role as DC.

Pruitt will eventually add to the dozen meetings in 2018 on the third Saturday in October as the new Tennessee head coach, which brings annual rivalry games with Alabama.

“I don’t think the game is about the coaches. I think it’s about the players,” Saban added this week. “And I think in most of those games if the other guy had the players that we had, they might have beat us. So it’s not about the coaches. I mean, I didn’t catch any passes. I didn’t make any tackles (in the Sugar Bowl). I didn’t do any of that. I mean, the players did it all.”

The Alabama coach has a point about players and it’s worth noting in the case of both that undefeated record and the upcoming meeting with Smart.

Looking at those 11 teams over the years, a full six failed to crack the eight-win mark and one other one was a Group of Five team. Hardly any of the group has been able to go toe-to-toe with equal talent to the Tide and one of the few exceptions (FSU in this season’s opener) that was anywhere close to comparable lost a runaway game and barely finished with seven wins on the year. This has been a lopsided set of meeting to be sure, but the assistants have been the decided underdog in every one by a pretty big margin.

That could change in this year’s All-SEC title game. According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite rankings, which tally up the amount of recruiting stars a team has, Alabama ranks No. 1 in 2017 and Georgia checks in at No. 4. The Tide has 18 five-star players and 51 four-stars manning their roster while the Bulldogs counter with 11 five-stars and 43 four-stars. For what it’s worth, the Seminoles check in fifth on the list with fewer five- and four-stars than UGA.

In short, the Georgia team that takes the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the most talented team a former Saban assistant has ever had in facing the most successful coach of all-time.

When Monday night turns into Tuesday morning and a new national champion has been crowned in Atlanta, Kirby Smart will walk across the field and shake his old boss’ hand. At that moment he’ll make history as either the first to slay Saban or simply become the latest name added to the disappointing dozen.

As five other coaches can attest to over the years, the much discussed ‘Process’ that Saban preaches never really said anything about that.

Transferring Michigan WR Maurice Ways lands at Cal

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Nearly four months after leaving Ann Arbor, Maurice Ways is set to settle in on the West Coast for the next step in his collegiate playing career.

On his Instagram account Sunday, Ways announced that he has decided to transfer to Cal.  On November 29 of last year, the wide receiver took to the same social media website to announce his transfer from the Michigan football program.

As a graduate transfer, Ways will be eligible to play for the Bears in 2018.  The upcoming season will be his final year of eligibility.

A three-star member of the Wolverines’ 2014 recruiting class, Ways was rated as the No. 8 player at any position in the state of Michigan.

In 25 career games, the former Detroit Country Day high schooler caught eight passes for 71 yards.  Ways started two of those contests, with both of those starts coming during his redshirt freshman season in 2015.

Central Michigan adds former Oregon State interim coach Cory Hall to staff

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After coaching the second half of the season for Oregon State in 2017, Cory Hall is now making his way to the MAC. Hall has officially been added to the Central Michigan coaching staff, where he will serve as the team’s secondary coach and defensive pass game coordinator.

“We brought Cory in, and he made a presentation to the defensive coaching staff,” CMU head coach John Bonamego said in a released statement. “(Defensive coordinator) Greg Colby and the rest of us were impressed with his preparation and what he had to say. “There is no doubt he is a high-energy coach, and he’s a great fit for our program.”

Hall was named the interim head coach at Oregon State midway through the 2017 season following the removal of Gary Andersen. According to The Oregonian, Hall did not interview with new Oregon State head coach Jonathan Smith to remain a part of the Beavers coaching staff in 2018.

Steven Montez throws 2 TDs, 2 INT in Colorado spring game

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Spring football practices concluded for the Colorado football program on Saturday with the playing of the annual spring game. Starting quarterback Steven Montez had his ups and downs with three total touchdowns and a pair of interceptions thrown in the scrimmage.

Montez led six and a half drives during the game, ending his day going 8-of-15 for 90 yards and two touchdown passes and two interceptions. He was also the leading rusher in the scrimmage with three carries for 43 yards. Co-offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini shrugged off the two picks by Montez after the game in a postgame interview.

“That’s going to happen, especially if we’re calling stuff that’s aggressive, it’s going to happen,” Chiaverini said. “What I like about him is he comes right back. It doesn’t bother him. Some guys get shy and won’t let it go. He comes right back in that two-minute drill and pulls the ball and runs for 60 yards. I like the fact that the kid loves to play football. That’s something you can’t teach kids. He loves to play, he loves to compete.”

Montez completed 609.5 percent of his passes in 2017 for 2,975 yards and 18 touchdowns with nine interceptions.

Colorado is coming off a 5-7 season, a year removed from playing for the Pac-12 championship in 2016. Colorado ended the 2017 season on a three-game losing streak to prevent the Buffs from being able to play in a bowl game at the end of the year.

Colorado estimates a total of about 4,500 fans attended the live scrimmage.

UCF, Lane Kiffin, Neal Brown among college football underdogs celebrating NCAA Tournament madness

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The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament has been a joy to watch over the course of the first few days. Highlighted by some significant upsets and some thrilling finishes, this year’s tournament has everybody talking, including college football coaches. This is especially true for college football’s non-power conference programs, who seem to be celebrating the upsets performed early on by schools like Marshall, Loyola-Chicago and, of course, UMBC.

UCF took to Twitter to extend congratulations to the University of Maryland Baltimore County after the 16-seed Retrievers became the first team in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s history to upset a No. 1 seed, in which UMBC throttled No. 1 Virginia by 20 after an unbelievable second-half performance that left Virginia clueless how to respond.

UMBC has been the story of the first round for the historic upset of the Cavaliers, but FAU head coach Lane Kiffin claims he picked UMBC to win the game. In fact, Kiffin showed off a bracket in which he picked UMBC to win it all. Of course, such a bracket cannot be taken too seriously, especially after closer inspection reveals Kiffin went heavy with the underdog mentality throughout his bracket. Perhaps such a bracket strategy plays into the kind of mentality Kiffin is attempting to build at FAU.

Troy coach Neal Brown also used the UMBC upset to make a case for the Group of Five representation in college football to get more of a fair shake in the sport of college football.

Brown is not the only person to have this thought, although the idea has just as many on the other side of the fence as well. The College Football Playoff is a much smaller system to determine a college football champion and expansion is a hot-button topic of conversation for a variety of reasons. The current format allows for one guaranteed spot in a major bowl game for the highest-ranked conference champion from the non-power conferences, but undefeated UCF was still left out of the College Football Playoff last season and it may be a long time before a non-power conference champion gets a shot at the playoff.

Washington State head coach Mike Leach has proposed a 64-team college football playoff, but the most likely step for expansion of the playoff system will double the field to eight teams. That would still likely leave out some top non-power conference options, but it would leave the door open just a little wider for a team like UCF last year.