Alabama, Auburn prepared for monumental Iron Bowl

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Is this the biggest Iron Bowl in the history of Alabama and Auburn football? It may be, at least in the past 40 years. A trip to Atlanta is on the line in this year’s Iron Bowl. For the first time since the SEC split in to two divisions and introduced a conference championship game, the SEC West representative will be determined solely by the outcome of the Iron Bowl, the annual match-up between Alabama and Auburn. The stakes could not be any higher, not when the winner will also have a legitimate shot at advancing to the BCS Championship in Pasadena in addition to the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta.

Something is going to have to give on the field this weekend too. Auburn has the SEC’s top rushing offense, averaging 320.27 yards per game this season. Only one time this season has Auburn been held under 200 yards on the ground (Mississippi State). The Tigers have also rushed for 37 touchdowns this season. Tre Mason leads the charge with 1,153 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns. Quarterback Nick Marshall compliments the running game with 823 yards and nine touchdowns. Auburn has had their way with opponents with their running game, but this weekend the Tigers will go up against the SEC’s best rushing defense.

Alabama’s defense has stymied opposing offenses to just 91.27 yards per game and just five times has an opponent scored a touchdown on the ground against the Crimson Tide, and no team has done so more than once in a game at all this season. Auburn has rushed for at least four touchdowns in each of their previous six games.

Alabama has been following a path to Pasadena since wrapping up a BCS championship victory over Notre Dame in Miami last season. Auburn, on the other hand, has appeared out of nowhere in the rear view mirror in the last few weeks and now is signaling to pass. Of course, Alabama’s running game has been pretty solid this year as well, averaging 211.4 yards per game and recording 25 rushing touchdowns. the sophomore duo of T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake has accounted for over 1,600 yards and 20 of those touchdowns.

The running games of both teams should take center stage in this year’s Iron Bowl, but many eyes will be on Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron. In recent weeks a number of Heisman candidates have stumbled down the stretch btu McCarron continues to be a steady player, if not impressive. Is McCarron a worthy Heisman candidate? It is a tough sell to hop entirely on that ship, but if McCarron can go in to Auburn and put together the kind of numbers he had earlier in the season against Texas A&M in leading Alabama to a win, perhaps it will be easier to believe McCarron is a legitimate candidate. There is nothing wrong with being the kind of trusty and dependable and proven winner McCarron has become, but there is still something to prove before getting firmly behind the McCarron for Heisman bandwagon that seems to have developed over the last week or so.

As mentioned before, the winner of this game will be crowned SEC East champion and move on to Atlanta next week to face Missouri or South Carolina. A Missouri win against Texas A&M will send Missouri to the conference championship game, while a loss to Johnny Manziel and the Aggies will send South Carolina back to Atlanta for the first time in three seasons. The winner will also remain in contention for a BCS championship shot. The Crimson Tide would be a lock as the top-team team in the country from the beginning of the year through now if they manage to win this weekend and again in the SEC championship game. Auburn, ranked fourth in the BCS standings, could put together a solid case for jumping over an undefeated Ohio State team. It would be quite the debate, at least.

The way things are lining up though, it may be possible both Alabama and Auburn are playing in BCS bowl games in January. That is a feat that has not happened in the BCS era.

Arkansas reportedly hiring Auburn staffer for on-field role

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One SEC West school has turned to another from the same division to fill a hole on its coaching staff.  Reportedly.

According to 247Sports.com, and citing two sources familiar with the decision, Chad Morris is expected to hire Kenny Ingram as Arkansas’ defensive line coach. Morris’ move to add a new assistant to his Razorbacks staff was triggered by John Scott‘s move to South Carolina earlier this offseason.

Ingram, who played his college football at Arkansas State, has spent the past two seasons as the Director of Player Relations at Auburn.

Prior to his time on The Plains, Ingram worked as the defensive line coach at Cincinnati from 2015-16.  From 2006-09, he was on the coaching staff at Memphis, including a turn as defensive coordinator his last season with the Tigers.

In 2012, Ingram worked with the defensive line at his alma mater ASU.

Lincoln Riley’s brother named App State running backs coach

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Garrett Riley is a bright, accomplished coach in his own right, but until he wins back-to-back Heismans with two different quarterbacks (or, at least becomes a head coach in his own right), he’s going to be known as his big brother’s little brother. With that in mind: Lincoln Riley’s brother has been announced as Appalachian State’s new running backs coach.

“I’m excited to be part such a traditionally successful program,” Riley said in a statement. “I’m humble and grateful to have the opportunity to be around this organization and work with Coach Drink and the rest of the staff that I’ve known about for several years. Look forward to continuing the great success that Appalachian State’s had, and I can’t wait to start working with the players.”

Garrett followed Lincoln to Texas Tech and East Carolina before branching out on his own at Kansas, where he joined the staff as an offensive analyst in 2016 and was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2017 and tight ends/fullbacks coach in 2018.

Appalachian State has not announced an offensive coordinator under new head coach Eli Drinkwitz — and certainly the head coach, a former offensive coordinator himself, will have tremendous sway on his favored side of the ball initially — it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Riley become the Mountaineers’ offensive coordinator in 2020 or 2021. “We’re looking to be cutting edge on offense, and we expect him to continue to push that,” Drinkwitz said Friday. “His experience coaching in North Carolina will also benefit our program.”

Report: Dan Lanning receives nod as Georgia’s next defensive coordinator

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When Mel Tucker left Georgia to be the head coach at Colorado, it was clear Kirby Smart‘s next defensive coordinator was already on his staff. It would either be Glenn Schumann or Dan Lanning, two 30-something whiz kids who split linebacker duties for the Bulldogs (Schumann inside, Lanning outside).

We got a window into Smart’s thinking during the Sugar Bowl, when Lanning was chosen to lead the defensive huddles and represent the defense in press conference setting. Georgia lost that game to Texas, but it was apparently enough for Smart to know his original hunch was correct as Seth Emerson reported Friday for The Athletic that Lanning will be Georgia’s next defensive coordinator.

While Schumann did not win the rose, he’s not going home (or, in this case, staying put) empty handed. According to Emerson, Schumann will be Georgia’s co-defensive coordinator, and both will net massive raises. After both made $325,000 in 2018, Lanning will make $750,000 in 2019 while Schumann will earn $550,000. The 2018 season was Lanning’s first at Georgia, while Schumann followed Smart over from Alabama. Lanning spent 2016-17 as the inside linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator at Memphis. The 32-year-old was a high school assistant coach in Missouri as recently as 2010.

All eight returning assistants will net raises, per Emerson, but the overall staff pool will go down after losing Tucker’s $1.5 million salary. (Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and his $950,000 salary also left for Tennessee, but previously-announced promotion James Coley will also make $950,000, a $100,000 increase from 2018.)

Coley, Lanning and Schumann aren’t the only coaches being rewarded for sticking around — in title as well as salary. Offensive line coach Sam Pittman will be Smart’s new associate head coach, running backs coach Dell McGee will be the running game coordinator and wide receivers coach Cortez Hankton will be the passing game coordinator.

Seven new assistants highlight Alabama’s 2019 coaching staff

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It’s become an annual thing at this point: Nick Saban‘s assistants, ready to see the sun again after life on Planet Saban, hop aboard the first spaceship that flies by, so Alabama simply reloads and hires essentially a new staff.

While many of the hires had trickled out over the past six weeks or so, Alabama on Friday announced Saban’s full 2019 on-field coaching staff:

Steve Sarkisian — Offensive coordinator/quarterbacks
Charles Huff — Associate head coach/running backs
Holmon Wiggins — Wide receivers
Kyle Flood — Offensive line
Jeff Banks — Tight ends/special teams coordinator

Pete Golding — Defensive coordinator/inside linebackers
Brian Baker — Associate head coach/defensive line
Charles Kelly — Associate defensive coordinator/safeties
Sal Sunseri — Outside linebackers
Karl Scott — Cornerbacks

“We are excited to be able to assemble such a talented group of coaches to develop our players both on and off the field,” Saban said. “These coaches have a great mix of energy, enthusiasm and experience that will be a tremendous asset to our program. They are all excellent teachers of the game and fantastic recruiters who bring a wealth of experience to our staff.”

Only Golding, Banks and Scott were on Alabama’s staff for the title game beat down the Tide suffered at Clemson’s hand last month.

Sarkisian, of course, called plays for Alabama’s first title game loss to Clemson before leaving to become the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, where he was scapegoated for the club’s failure to make the playoffs last season. Flood, the former Rutgers head coach, was Atlanta’s assistant offensive line coach for the past two seasons. He was also under a show-cause that did not expire until September.

Huff and Baker worked together at Mississippi State, while Sunseri was the defensive line coach at Florida and Wiggins the wideouts coach at Virginia Tech. Kelly spent 2018 as the safeties coach and special teams coordinator at Tennessee but is best remembered for his run as the defensive coordinator at Florida State.

Not among the names announced Friday: Butch Jones. The former Tennessee head coach spent 2018 as an analyst for Saban but did not get promoted to the varsity for 2019.