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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.

Chip Kelly and UCLA land ex-Washington QB K.J. Carta-Samuels

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K.J. Carta-Samuels may have left Washington, but he’s not leaving the Pac-12.

Carta-Samuels brother, Austyn, revealed on his own personal Twitter account that K.J. will be transferring to UCLA. “Chip Kelly, you just got yourself a QB,” the recruiting coordinator at Missouri wrote.

The younger Carta-Samuels brother subsequently told CBSSports.com that Kelly is “a huge reason why” he chose to move on to the Bruins.

In early December, Carta-Samuels announced that he would be leaving Chris Petersen‘s Washington football program.

Carta-Samuels will be joining Kelly’s squad as a graduate transfer, which means he’ll be one of the players fighting for the right to replace three-year-starting quarterback Josh Rosen. Earlier this month, Rosen did the somewhat expected and left early for the NFL draft.

A four-star member of UW’s 2014 recruiting class, Carta-Samuels was rated as the No. 12 pro-style quarterback in the country and the No. 24 player at any position in the state of California. Budda Baker, a second-round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, was the only signee in the Huskies’ class that year rated higher than Carta-Samuels.

Carta-Samuels played in 25 games over the past three seasons. He ended the Huskies portion of his collegiate playing career with 310 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in completing 27-of-47 passes.

Bryce Love returning to Stanford for senior season

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This is certainly a surprising, if not extremely significant development.

Given his talent level and the position he plays, it’s been long thought that Bryce Love would be leaving Stanford early and declaring for the April draft.  Instead, Love’s father confirmed to the San Francisco Chronicle in a text early Tuesday morning that his son will be returning to the Cardinal for his senior season.

The Chronicle wrote that “[t]he junior tailback didn’t make his decision until the last possible minute Monday night, the deadline for entering the NFL draft.”

Despite battling through an ankle injury that lingered throughout the latter portion of the 2017 season, Love was second in the country in rushing with 2,118 yards and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns with 19.  He finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting behind winner Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma.

With this decision, Love will very likely enter the 2018 season as the favorite to claim this year’s Heisman.

Report: Hugh Freeze visited Alabama’s football building Monday

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It wouldn’t take long to call the roll of head coaches who could get away with hiring Hugh Freeze at the moment, and Nick Saban is certainly at or near the top of that list. Based on word coming out of Tuscaloosa, a Saban-Freeze marriage could very well be on the horizon to test that theory.

According to the Tuscaloosa News, the disgraced former Ole Miss head coach was a visitor at Alabama’s football building on Monday. While the News didn’t detail the nature of the visit, FootballScoop.com writes that “Freeze was in the building today at Alabama to discuss the open offensive coordinator job.” Another national writer, however, downplayed the possibility of Freeze joining Saban’s staff.

Per the News, Saban has always held a healthy respect for Freeze given how much success, relatively speaking, the Rebels’ offense had going up against the Crimson Tide’s defense.

Saban is searching for a fourth offensive coordinator in less than 14 months after Brian Daboll left the team Sunday after one season to take the same job with the Buffalo Bills. Given Freeze’s credentials, he’d certainly warrant serious consideration to fill the opening; based on his exit from Oxford, he could be a tough sell in a lot of places.

Freeze “resigned” from Ole Miss after it was discovered he was using a school-issued cell phone to hook up with escort services on multiple occasions. Additionally, there were the Rebels’ NCAA issues while Freeze was in charge that left the coach with a team-game suspension to serve; that suspension would not have to be served if Freeze is a coordinator or position coach.

It was reported earlier this month that Les Miles was involved in Arizona’s search for a head coach and had an interest in bringing Freeze along as his coordinator if he landed the job. Not long after, after criticism came pouring in over the potential move, the earlier reports were walked back because of the stigma that still follows Freeze.

Ex-Nebraska WR Keyshawn Johnson Jr. reportedly lands at Arizona

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It appears Keyshawn Johnson Jr. will continue his collegiate playing career a little bit further west than where it began.

On the same day that Kevin Sumlin was hired as the head coach at Arizona, Nate Clouse of Rivals.com reported that Johnson will be enrolling at UA this week and play for the Wildcats. The son of former USC great Keyshawn Johnson will be eligible to play immediately for Sumlin in 2018.

In late June of last year, Johnson was cited for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.  Not long after, the wide receiver decided to take a leave of absence, with his famous father stating that his son needed some time to “mature” and would not play for the Cornhuskers in 2017.

At the time, the plan was for the junior Johnson to return to Lincoln and play his college football for Mike Riley.  With his father’s college offensive coordinator dismissed at the end of the regular season, Johnson took to Twitter in mid-December to announce that he wouldn’t be returning to the Cornhuskers.

Johnson was a four-star member of the Cornhuskers’ 2017 recruiting class who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice, but never played a down for NU. Before signing with Nebraska, he held offers from, among others, Alabama, Clemson, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State and USC.