Predictions 101 — BCS championship game

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No. 1 Notre Dame vs. No. 2 Alabama
Mon., Jan. 7 – 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Miami, Fla. – Sun Life Stadium

This one certainly has the marquee value befitting college football’s Super Bowl.

Alabama (12-1) has put its name on 14 national championships, including two in the last three years. Notre Dame (12-0) is gunning to claim its 12th title, which would be its first since 1988.

If the Crimson Tide are able to become the first-ever BCS repeat national champ, you’ll have to go back more than 60 years to find a school that won three titles in a four year span, which was none other than the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1946, 1947, 1949).

It truly is a heavyweight battle and both teams appropriately qualified for this massive clash because of their excellent defensive units.

Alabama ranks first nationally in total defense and rushing defense, second in scoring defense and sixth in passing defense.

Notre Dame has a similar résumé, ranking first in scoring defense, fourth in rushing defense, sixth in total defense and 21st in pass defense.

Both teams allow less than 11 points per game (Alabama 10.7, Notre Dame 10.3). We won’t spend any time quibbling about the difference in the opposition. Games are games and wins are wins. Both units are exceptional.

It’s on offense where we find distinct separation.

In its last game, Notre Dame kicked five field goals and scored only one touchdown in a nail-biting 22-13 victory over middle-of-the-Pac USC. Yes, the same USC that was quarterbacked by Max Wittek instead of Matt Barkley. Yes, the same USC that had a pair of Kiffins leading the underachieving offense (Lane) and defense (Monte) all season.

Alabama’s last game was quite different. It wasn’t flawless football, but when the chips were down, Bama simply bowled over Georgia. The Crimson Tide ran the football 51 times against the Bulldogs, with the majority of those carries coming when Georgia fully expected the same zone running play. Nonetheless, Alabama finished with a whopping 350 yards on the ground against a unit that reportedly features nine NFL caliber defenders.

The Crimson Tide’s ability to run between the tackles with the linemen routinely getting to the second level was amazing. Irish inside linebacker Manti Te’o and his cohorts will have their hands full, getting off blocks and trying to bring down Alabama’s one-two punch of warrior running backs Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.

We respect the job that the Irish have done against the run, allowing only two rushing touchdowns this season, but we ain’t talking Wake Forest here. Alabama has scored 35 rushing touchdowns and the Tide won’t be denied.

Notre Dame will be forced to stack the box to slow the Tide’s roll on the ground, but that’s dangerous business for a suspect secondary. At any moment, Alabama freshman wideout Amari Cooper can blow the top off your defense on the outside. Just ask Georgia.

The Irish are solid and balanced on offense, but not good enough to take advantage of Alabama’s few frailties.

Teams have been able to pass against the Tide, but that’s after establishing a running game. We don’t think the Irish will be able to do that and will end up one-dimensional. If that’s the case, we have little confidence that redshirt freshman Everett Golson will be able to a do a “Johnny Football” on the Tide.

Nick Saban’s defense has the size and strength to match up well with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert and the athleticism on the outside to contain Golson.

Irish fans will contend that the Tide looked vulnerable in the SEC title game and that they would have lost if Georgia could have gotten another snap off.

This is true, but that fact actually works against the Irish. The Tide know that they didn’t play their best game against the Bulldogs. They don’t need Saban to remind them of that … but he will and there will be lots of fine tuning going on in Tuscaloosa.

The Irish beat representatives from five BCS conferences en route to 12-0, but not anybody from THE BCS conference. Until now. They’ll meet their match and then some.

Opening point spread: Alabama by 9 1/2

The pick: Alabama 24-13

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Oregon LB arrested for removing parking boot dismissed by Ducks

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In April, Fotu Leiato was arrested on a couple of charges related to the illegal removal of a parking boot from his vehicle.  A month later, we’ve learned Leiato was given the boot from his current football program for good measure.

247Sports.com was the first to report that Leiato has been dismissed by first-year Oregon head coach Mario Cristobal.  Further to the point, the linebacker’s dismissal came a day after his April arrest but the news didn’t surface until Thursday.

In the April incident, Leiato was arrested on charges of second-degree criminal mischief, second-degree theft and criminal trespassing.  That was actually his second arrest this year as he was charged with misdemeanor trespassing in January.

The combination of the two arrests led Cristobal to pull the trigger on a dismissal.

Coming to Eugene as a three-star safety, Leiato played in 37 of 38 games the past three seasons.  The Washington native earned the first start of his collegiate playing career during the 2017 season.

The senior had been in line to earn a starting job exiting spring and heading into the summer phase of the offseason.

LB Darrin Kirkland announces transfer from Tennessee

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Darren Kirkland‘s injury-plagued time on Rocky Top has come to an end.

On his personal Twitter account Thursday evening, Kirkland announced that he has decided to transfer out of first-year head coach Jeremy Pruitt‘s Tennessee football program.  The linebacker gave no specific reason for his decision to move on from the Volunteers.

“Tennessee will always hold a special place in my heart,” Kirkland wrote. “These moments have been priceless and I’m a better player and man from this experience.”

As a graduate transfer, Kirkland would be eligible to play for another FBS program in 2018.  Not only that, but he will have two seasons of eligibility remaining counting this year.

A four-star 2015 signee, Kirkland started 10 games as a true freshman and then another six in a sophomore campaign marred by a high-ankle sprain that forced him to miss four games.  In summer camp last year, he suffered a knee injury severe enough to sideline him for the entire 2017 season.

The rehab from that injury kept Kirkland from being a full participant in Pruitt’s first spring practice this year.

North Texas dropping $625,000 to install new turf that naturally includes new design

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Seth Littrell has done a great job turning around the program at North Texas but fans getting a look at the 2018 edition of his team will notice something right away that’s different when they take the field for the home opener: new turf. The Denton Record Chronicle reports that UNT is ponying up $625,245 for the latest “FieldTurf CoolPlay” turf at Apogee Stadium.

“We are excited about the turf,” Littrell said recently, according to the paper. “It was much needed. That turf has been used a lot and has gotten worn down. The new field will improve safety and will be a great resource for our kids.”

The old turf had a good run at the stadium after being installed back in 2011 but obviously the summer heat and 300+ pound bodies playing football will cause a little wear and tear. The Record Chronicle says that “North Texas” and “Mean Green” will be the end zones text while the midfield school logo will include a “dark green outline of the state of Texas.”

Completion of the project is expected to be done well in time for the first game against SMU in September. The school has released some shots of Apogee Stadium without the old turf and it certainly looks kind of wild to see a stadium sans a playing field:

Kansas State AD open to scheduling Nebraska in the future

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Conference realignment ended a bunch of big rivalries, from the major (Texas-Texas A&M) to the mundane. Former Big 8 and Big 12 rivals Kansas State and Nebraska were somewhere on the middle of that scale after playing each other in football for decades. While nobody is clamoring for the two to get together quite like they are the Longhorns and Aggies, there’s plenty who would still love to see them schedule a non-conference series given how close Lincoln and the Little Apple are to each other (135 miles across the border).

Wildcats athletic director Gene Taylor has been in the job just over a year and it seems like he’s very aware of the scheduling situation between the two schools and is open to getting something done eventually. He was asked about adding the Cornhuskers to the slate in a Q&A on the school’s website and had this to say:

“That is a school that makes a lot of sense,” said Taylor. “We are pretty well-scheduled out in football with our one Power Five opponent, but we do play them in baseball and have had conversations in men’s basketball. If the opportunity were to arise, they are someone we would certainly entertain if it made sense for us.”

KSU is fully booked on the scheduling front through 2022 but have been open to adding home-and-homes with former Big 12 opponents with Missouri on tap for 2022/23 and Colorado on 2027/28. They’ve got a Power Five opponent on the docket until 2031 so it seems like the team wouldn’t be able to get something done with Nebraska until after then. That is, to say the least, a long ways away.

Who knows, maybe they’ll be able to meet in a bowl game at some point over the next few years. The Cornhuskers and Wildcats last met in 2010 in a series that is heavily weighted to Big Red. At least Taylor is leaving the door open and leaving a chance of the two programs hooking back up on the gridiron.