CFT preseason No. 1: Alabama


2010 record: 10-3, 5-3 (4th SEC West)

2010 bowl: 49-7 win over Michigan State in the Capital One Bowl

2010 final AP/coaches’ ranking: 10th/11th

Coach: Nick Saban, fifth year; 38-11 overall, 22-7 conference

Offensive coordinator: Jim McElwain, fourth year

2010 offensive rankings: 18th, scoring offense (35.7 ppg); 22nd, total offense (444.1 ypg); 29th, rushing offense (182.9 ypg); 27th, passing offense (261.2 ypg)

Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart, fourth year

2010 defensive rankings: third, scoring defense (13.5 ppg); fifth, total defense (286.4 ypg); 10th, rushing defense (110.2 ypg); 13th, passing defense (176.2 ypg)

Returning offensive starters: 6

Returning defensive starters: 9

Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (grass; 101,821)

Last league title: 2009

2011 schedule: [view]

2011 roster: [view]

2010 statistics: [view]

Snapshot:  You could make a compelling case for any one of about eight teams being No. 1 — the Tide, Florida State, Stanford, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Oregon, Boise State and LSU — and would not elicit a peep of an argument from me.  Eight teams though?  Yes, it’s that wide open this season.

And, like with every other teams in that octet, the Tide has its share of question marks and/or holes heading into the 2011 season.  First and foremost, they’ll have to find some way to replace the steady on-field production and exceptional leadership of their starting quarterback the past couple of years, Greg McElroy.  Will A.J. McCarron be the answer to that question, and, if not, will Phillip Sims be capable of sliding in?  There’s also the not-so-little matter of replacing running back Mark Ingram and wide receiver Julio Jones, although those losses are mitigated by the presence of Trent Richardson at the former position — given the events of the offseason, though, depth will be a concern — and two very capable receivers in Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze.  Unlike other parts of the offense, the line on that side of the ball is a quality known, with four starters returning from one of the best units in the country in 2010.

And then there’s the defense.  The Tide will return an astounding nine starters from a unit last year that finished in the top five in both total and scoring defense.  Suffice to say, defense will be a strength, the strength of the Tide in 2011 and will play a vital role in getting the program back to championship-caliber form.

Honestly, and knowing full well this comparison will irk some/most of the SEC fans in the audience, this edition of the Crimson Tide reminds one a lot of the 2002 version of the Ohio State Buckeyes, primarily because both squads possessed/should possess stifling, shutdown defenses — OSU was second in scoring defense that year — and singular talents in the backfield — Maurice Clarett rushed for more than 1,200 yards, nearly double the next best total.  The biggest unknown, at least for now, is whether the Tide possesses a Craig Krenzel-type game manager — one who also possesses the ability to pull out a clutch, season-saving play when called upon — at the quarterback position.  If they can find that, they could find themselves nine years later doing exactly what the Buckeyes did at the end of the 2002 season: hoisting the championship crystal high above their winning heads.

Make-or-break game: Nov. 5 vs. LSU

With all due respect to Mississippi State and, more to the point, Arkansas, the SEC West, and thus a path to the BcS title game, will likely run through one of these two schools.  The fact that the game will be played in Tuscaloosa will be a big advantage for the Tide; the fact that they’re also the better team — or should be the better team — will be the biggest advantage, and will propel ‘Bama to another appearance in the SEC title game and a likely shot at a second crystal trophy in three years.

Heisman hopeful: Richardson

With the departure of Ingram, as well as some other offseason attrition at the position, Richardson will be counted on to carry the majority of the workload in the running game.  With the departure of McElroy, as well as the utter uncertainty as to a replacement, Richardson will especially be called up to shine early in the season as whichever starter at QB gains his football sea legs.  As the primary backup to Ingram each of the past two seasons, the junior has rushed for 1,451 yards and 14 touchdowns.  Given the circumstances in Tuscaloosa, Richardson could/should easily surpass those career totals this season, which would put him firmly inside the Heisman discussion.

Postseason projection: BcS championship game

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Stanford adds linebackers coach with NFL experience

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Stanford added a new coach to the program on Monday with the hiring of Eric Sanders. Sanders was named Stanford’s assistant coach for inside linebackers.

Sanders comes to Stanford following a season with the NFL’s New York Jets. Prior to his brief stint with the Jets, Sanders was a defensive assistant for three seasons with the Cleveland Browns. Sanders has also coached with the Oakland Raiders.

This is a return to Stanford for Sanders. Sanders coached with the program in 2015 as a defensive assistant.

“Eric was with us for our 2015 Rose Bowl Championship season and he was so smart, energetic and detailed that I knew someday we’d bring him back,” Stanford head coach David Shaw said in a released statement. “Eric has great comprehensive knowledge having worked with the defensive line, linebackers and defensive backs throughout his career, and he’s spent the last three years with Gregg Williams who is one of the best defensive minds in the NFL.”

Sanders has also held college coaching jobs with his alma mater, UC Davis, and Utah State in addition to Stanford.

Wisconsin TE Luke Benzschawel medically retires after fourth knee surgery

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Wisconsin redshirt senior tight end Luke Benzschawel is calling it a career. The senior announced he is medically retiring from the sport of football following his fourth knee surgery.

I consider myself fortunate to have been part of the Wisconsin football program for the past four years. I have not been as fortunate when it comes to my health,” Benzschawel said in a statement shared on his Twitter account on Monday. “However, after undergoing a fourth procedure on my knee, and despite giving everything I have to get back on the field, my doctors and I have decided that the time has come for me to step away from the game.

Benzschawel played in 15 games during his injury-plagued college career with the Badgers. Benzschawel is the younger brother of former Wisconsin offensive lineman Beau Benzschawel. Benzschawel injured his knee during fall camp last August and did not see the playing field during the 2019 season as a result.

Alabama strength coach Scott Cochran leaving Tide for new on-field coaching role at Georgia

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One of Alabama’s most recognized sideline personalities appears to be heading to another SEC program. Alabama strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, a man whose identity has become as well known as any strength coach can possibly be over the last few years, is reportedly heading to Georgia to take on a brand new role.

There have been many reasons for Alabama’s overall success with Nick Saban as the head coach. Having Cochran on his staff has certainly been one of the key reasons because he has been recognized as one of the nation’s top strength and conditioning coach (he’s won the award for top strength coach twice). And it may not be much of a coincidence that Cochran has been one of the only assistants on the staff for each of Saban’s national championship seasons between Alabama and LSU. His voice and energy seen on the field in warmups and on the sidelines has become a draw for television cameras in more recent years and he has been one of the leaders in the movement to recognize more strength and conditioning coaches during gamedays.

It should come as little surprise Cochran would be an attractive option for Georgia head coach Kirby Smart, a former Alabama defensive coordinator who worked alongside Cochran in Tuscaloosa. What role Cochran will be taking on remains to be confirmed, however, as reports say he will not be Georgia’s strength and conditioning coach. That role is currently held by Scott Sinclair in Athens.

No matter what role Cochran takes at Georgia, and how that ultimately pans out for the Bulldogs, this is a notable loss for Saban and Alabama. Granted, Alabama should be able to find a more-than-qualified strength and conditioning coach to take over the very lucrative (and high-paying) job, so it’s not like this will turn Alabama football into a doormat (much to the dismay of Alabama haters around the SEC and beyond).

UPDATE (6:38 p.m. ET): Alabama head coach Nick Saban has issued a statement regarding the departure of his longtime strength coach:

Ole Miss QB John Rhys Plumlee, RB Jerrion Early also starting for Rebels’ baseball team

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John Rhys Plumlee and Jerrion Early were two of the best athletes on Ole Miss’s football team in 2019. The pair, both true freshmen, led the club in rushing; Plumlee rushed for 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns while also throwing for 910 yards and four touchdowns, and Early ran for 722 yards and six scores on nearly seven yards per carry.

But it’s actually an understatement to limit the backfield mates’ athletic ability to just the football team. They’re two of the best athletes at the school, period.

The Rebels’ baseball team, ranked No. 13 in the country by Baseball America, is off to a 6-1 start with both Plumlee and Early contributing.

Early, a 31st round selection by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Jackson Prep in Walnut Grove, Miss., has appeared in five games with three starts at center field. He’s 1-of-8 with four walks, three runs scored and three stolen bases in as many attempts.

Plumlee has appeared in four games to date, starting Saturday’s win over Xavier in left field. He’s struggled at the plate thus far, going 0-for-7 with five strikeouts, though he has scored one run and stole a base in his only attempt.

The Hattiesburg native is not only juggling college classes while playing two sports, but he’s also in the midst of a quarterback battle with fellow rising sophomore Matt Corral while learning a new offense under new head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Both players are giving it a go on the diamond, but their new head coach has made it clear where their bread is buttered.

“We want that to be (Plumlee’s) first priority, because if you’re going to be in something, I just think you go with it, and whatever time he has left he’ll come to us,” Kiffin told OM Spirit.

“I talked about it with baseball…let’s see how it goes,. They’re (Plumlee and Ealy) all in right now on baseball, and then let’ see. If they’re having a significant role, they’ll stay in there. If they’re not, then they’ll probably come back and do more football,” said Kiffin.