Alabama

The Fifth Quarter: Week 1 Rewind

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As is the case each and every season, each and every week, any omission below is not on purpose, it’s merely intentional.

WACK-12
The Pac-12 came into the 2015 season looking to challenge the SEC for conference football supremacy.  While that may end up still being the case, it was a rough Week 1 in myriad regards for the Left Coast league, particularly its northern division.

First and foremost, No. 21 Stanford went into Evanston as heavy favorites only to be upended and upset by Northwestern.  And it wasn’t just that one of the preseason favorites in the North was beaten, it was that they were roughed up by the Wildcats and seemed to play timid on both sides of the ball.  More embarrassingly, a couple of hours later Washington State lost to FCS Portland State, which came into the game a 30-point underdog.

The South contributed to the first-week malaise as No. 15 Arizona State, viewed by some as a darkhorse playoff candidate (sheepishly raises hand), capped off the night with a 20-point loss to unranked Texas A&M.  At least that, though, was a loss to a Power Five school, and one from the stacked SEC West no less, in what was essentially a home game for the Aggies.

Add in Washington’s loss to Boise State — no shame in that — and Colorado’s loss to Hawaii Thursday night — a whole hell of a lot of shame in that — and it turned into a horrific lost weekend for the conference.  That said, remember how many were writing the Big Ten off a year ago at this time?  Yeah, it wouldn’t be wise to repeat that history.

WEAK 1?
If you thought that the Week 1 schedule, especially Saturday, was especially lacking when it came to compelling on-paper matchups, you’re not alone.  In fact, the raw data is sitting right along side you.

Opening weekend, and including the two still remaining, there were/are 87 games involving FBS teams.  Of that, 11 pitted Power Five vs. Power Five (for this exercise, I’m considering BYU a P5); another 47 — more than half — featured FBS teams playing an FCS team.  There were 22 Power Five teams that opened their season against an FCS team, with the ACC far and away leading the cupcake way with seven.  The Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 had four apiece, while the pastry alley that is the late-season SEC lagged behind with three.

There were also 23 games played between Power Five and Group of Five teams.  The SEC accounted for eight of those games, while the Big 12, Big Ten and Pac-12 saw four each.  The FCS-heavy ACC had three such games.

It wasn’t just the Power Fives feeding on the FCS, though, as 25 Group of Five teams opened against the former Div. 1-AA.  The remaining six games saw Group of Five squads squaring off against each other.

While most of the FBS feasted on their FCS cupcakes, a handful choked on them.  Two that lost to FCS teams were Power Five members in the aforementioned Wazzu and Kansas (South Dakota State, more on that below) and two were Group of Five teams in Army (Fordham) and Wyoming (North Dakota).

BAD BLOOD CHEAP SHOT?
Vernon Adams transferred from Eastern Washington to Oregon earlier this offseason and ultimately earned the Ducks’ starting quarterback job.  As luck would have it, Adams’ current and former teams squared off in the season opener in Autzen Saturday night, and there was one interesting development in UO’s 61-42 win.

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Derrick Henry’s hat trick pushes Tide to impressive win over Badgers

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It was Jake Coker‘s solid play under center that helped push No. 3 Alabama to a halftime lead on No. 20 Wisconsin.  It was the punishing running of Derrick Henry — and a revitalized unit on the other side of the ball — that sealed the win.

In the only Week 1 game pitting ranked teams against one another, the Tide was able to pull away with a solid and convincing 35-17 win over the preseason Big Ten West favorite Badgers.  Henry rushed for 147 yards — on just 13 carries — and scored three touchdowns, two of which came in the second half to help the Tide run out to an 18-point third-quarter lead.

As good as Henry was in chewing up yards on the ground, the Tide’s run defense was equally adept at spitting out Badger running backs after little or no gain.

The last time prior to tonight ‘Bama took the field, they were gashed for 281 rushing yards by Ohio State in the College Football Playoff semifinal.  Going up against one of the top rushing teams in the country this century, the Tide gave up just 40 yards on 21 carries.  Corey Clement, expected to be the bell-cow replacement for Melvin Gordon, was limited to 16 yards and, adding insult to literal injury, left the contest with a groin issue.

Just as important as Henry’s running and the Tide’s run defense were to the win, the Tide’s long-term hopes this season were buoyed by Coker’s performance.

The fact that Coker, making his first career start, didn’t seem smaller than the stage on which the hyped game was played should bode well for the Tide’s playoff aspirations.  In three quarters of work, Coker completed 15-of-21 passes for 213 yards and a touchdown in the quintessential game-manager performance.

The Tide’s win also capped a fairly decent day for the conference.

Coker solid as Tide takes TD lead on Badgers at the half

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So far so good for Alabama’s first-time quarterback starter.  Still, we still very much have us a football game.

Revealed publicly as the starter shortly before kickoff, Jake Coker looked as if he’d assumed the position for many years prior in helping to push Alabama to a 14-7 halftime lead.  Coker completed 10-of-13 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown, a 17-yarder to Robert Foster in the second quarter that gave the Tide their lead back.

Head coach Nick Saban had indicated leading into the game that two quarterbacks, Coker and Cooper Bateman, would see action; thus far, and likely because of how well Coker has played and how in rhythm he is, Bateman hasn’t seen the field.

Of course, Coker had some help in the form of a running game that accounted for 87 non-sack yards.  Not surprisingly, Derrick Henry led the way with 75 yards — on eight carries — and a 37-yard touchdown run that accounted for UA’s first score of the day.

Perhaps surprisingly, Coker’s counterpart, Joel Stave, was quite effective in his own right as well.  Stave, who suffered through a crisis of confidence last season, completed 14-of-16 passes for 149 yards against a very good Tide secondary.  He accounted for the Badgers’ lone touchdown, a six-yarder to Alex Erickson to temporarily tie the score at 7-all.

UW had the chance to go into the locker room down 14-10 but couldn’t capitalize on a shanked 20-yard punt by UA’s JK Scott with less than 10 seconds left.  With the ball at the Tide 39-yard line, Stave completed a 23-yard pass to Erickson to set up a 34-yard field goal attempt with four seconds left. Rafael Gaglianone, though, clanked it off the upright to keep the deficit at seven.

The Badgers, one of the top rushing teams in college football over the past several years, could manage just 22 on 13 carries against a very stout Tide front seven.

Wisconsin will get the ball on offense to start the second half.

Coker gets start for ‘Bama vs. Wisky, but two QBs will play

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At least for the moment, Alabama has a starting quarterback.

Shortly before Alabama’s game with Wisconsin kicked off, Nick Saban confirmed that Florida State transfer Jake Coker will get the start under center in the neutral-field non-conference matchup with Wisconsin.  Coker had been involved in a spring practice- and summer camp-long battle with, among others, Cooper Bateman and Alec Morris.

In the same pregame interview, the Tide head coach revealed that Bateman will also play, intimating that the quarterback competition is still an ongoing battle between the two.

After losing the quarterback competition to Jameis Winston in 2013, Coker transferred from the Seminoles following that season.  He spent the 2014 season as Blake Sims‘ primary backup after losing out in a competition with the senior.

Bateman, a four-star 2013 signee, served as the Tide’s primary holder on extra points and field goals after redshirting as a true freshman.

CFT 2015 Preseason Preview: SEC Predictions

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As the 2015 season draws near, we peek into our crystal ball and guess project how each of the five major conferences will play out. Today, we will be examining the home of the defending national champion, the Big Ten. 

And while we’re at it, check out some of our other Power Five conference predictions HERE (ACC), HERE (Big 12) and HERE (Big Ten) as the CFT team continues to take its month-long glimpse of the upcoming season.

SEC EAST

1. Georgia (10-3; beat Louisville in Belk Bowl)
There is one certainty when it comes to the East: UGA will not finish lower than third, a low-water benchmark for each of Mark Richt‘s 14 seasons in Athens that has included five division titles — none since 2012, though.  They return the most talent of any team in the division, although the fact that they opted for Grayson Lambert as the starting quarterback has me second-guessing my prediction.  It’s been a decade since UGA’s last SEC championship, and if they’re going to get back to that level they’ll have to do so with a schedule that includes both Alabama and Auburn as well as a road trip to Tennessee.  Still, anything less than an East title and a spot in the SEC championship game would be decidedly disappointing — and would lead to yet another offseason of “is it time to go in another direction?” speculation.

2. Tennessee (7-6; beat Iowa in Taxslayer Bowl)
Am I a year early with this lofty projection?  Possibly, especially given the team right below them.  Still, there’s no denying that Butch Jones has stuffed his talent cupboard after the barren years under his predecessor, Derek Dooley.  The Vols closed out last year on a positive note, going 4-1 down the stretch — the lone loss coming by eight to Mizzou — capping it off with an impressive 45-28 win over the Hawkeyes in the bowl game.  That final flourish coincided with Josh Dobbs‘ ascension as the starting quarterback.  With the scintillating playmaker poised to build off his first season at this level, the Vols could very well challenge both UGA and Mizzou for East supremacy.

3. Missouri (11-3; beat Minnesota in Citrus Bowl)
“Here we go again, denigrating the two-time defending East champion Tigers.” — the two Mizzou fans who frequent this site, probably.  And, actually, that’s an understandable reaction, given how the Tigers have been the class of the division the past two seasons.  They’re also one of the few teams in the conference that returns its starting quarterback.  Still, there are concerns along the defensive line — they return just five starters on that side of the ball, period — and their schedule doesn’t do them very many favors as they play at Georgia and Arkansas as well as play host to Mississippi State.  It wouldn’t shock me, though, if Mizzou made it three straight titles.  In fact, the only thing that would shock the system is if they finish outside the top three in the division.

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