CFT Preseason Top 25: No. 3 Alabama

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2013 record: 11-2 overall, 7-1 in SEC (T-1st in SEC West)
2013 postseason: Sugar Bowl vs. Oklahoma (45-31 loss)
2013 final AP/coaches’ ranking: No. 7/No. 8
Head coach: Nick Saban (165-57 overall; 78-16 in seven years at Alabama)
Offensive coordinator: Lane Kiffin (first season)
2013 offensive rankings: 25th rushing offense (205.6 ypg); 49th passing offense (248.5 ypg); 33rd total offense (454.1 ypg); 17th scoring offense (38.2 ppg)
Returning offensive starters: Eight
Defensive coordinator: Kirby Smart (seventh season)
2013 defensive rankings: 7th rushing defense (106.2 ypg); 11th passing defense (180.3 ypg); 5th total defense (286.5 ypg); fourth scoring defense (13.9 ppg)
Returning defensive starters: Four
Location: Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Stadium: Bryant-Denny Stadium (101,821; Grass)
Last conference title: 2012

THE GOOD
Replacing a three-year starter at quarterback?  Pffft, no problem for a Tide squad that boasts two Top-Five SEC running backs in T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry… and the SEC’s best wide receiver-tight end combination in Amari Cooper and O.J. Howard… and at least three returning starters along the offensive line… and a defense that, despite the return of  just four starters, is littered with four- and five-star recruits throughout the depth chart and will, again, be one of the most stout in the conference… and, hands-down, the best coach in college football in Nick Saban.  In other words, and as they have been for the past few years, the Tide will enter a season as one of the handful of favorites to end the year No. 1.

THE BAD
I wouldn’t necessarily call this “bad,” but still.  Yes, Saban reloads his defense with four- and five-star talent, but the Tide still must replace a whopping seven starters from last year’s Top-10 squad on that side of the ball.  Not only that, three of those starters, all along the defensive line, have had their issues throughout the offseason and on into camp: two with suspensions, one with injury.  There are also experience issues in the secondary, with three starters needing replaced.  Fortunately for what will be a youthful Tide defense, their first three opponents (West Virginia, FAU, Southern Miss) won a total of 11 games last season, with all three finishing 78th or worse in scoring offense nationally.  In other words, the defense will have plenty of time to sort themselves out and gel before facing their first real test in Tuscaloosa against… four-win Florida, which finished T-112th in scoring.  The first real test against a team with more than a Pop Warner offense comes, after a bye, against Ole Miss Oct. 4.  Plenty of time, but still some concern over the inexperience.

THE UNKNOWN
We may have pffft’d replacing AJ McCarron, but it’s easily the biggest unknown heading into the 2014 season.  With less than week left before the start of the regular season, Saban, first-year offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin and the rest of the staff have not yet, at least publicly, settled on Jacob Coker, the Florida State transfer viewed as the presumptive front-runner, or Blake Sims, McCarron’s backup last season, as the starting quarterback.  Most believe that Coker will ultimately prevail, but there’s a possibility the Tide could go a game or two — or three of four — giving each an opportunity to grab the bull by the horns.  Saban said earlier this year that “consistency in performance” would be the key in settling on a starter; throughout the first three weeks or so of summer camp, neither Coker nor Sims has shown the type of consistency Saban has craved during his time in Tuscaloosa.  Back in July, Saban downplayed the Tide’s chances at a College Football Playoff title because of the inexperience at the position — Coker has attempted 41 passes in his career, Sims 39.  Saban’s downplaying comes with an asterisk, however, as the last two times he had a first-time full-time starter at the position — AJ McCarron in 2011, Greg McElroy in 2009 — the Tide won a BCS title.

MAKE-OR-BREAK GAME: Nov. 29 vs. Auburn
It took less than a half a second to work my way through the Tide’s 12 games and settle on this one.  Certainly, the Nov. 8 road trip will be rife with implications both conference-wise and nationally, but this one… this one’s easily the “It” game for both sides this year.  The annual Iron Bowl grudge/hate match would get consideration year-in and year-out regardless of the most recent one played.  After last year?  This one comes in head, shoulders and half a torso above the other 11 games for the Tide.  Of course, the “last year” I referenced was the most memorable play of the 2013 season, “The Kick-Six” at Jordan-Hare that stunned the Tide and propelled the Tigers into the SEC championship game and, ultimately, the BCS title game.  While the coach and his team would never express it publicly, revenge will certainly be on their collective minds as the Tigers make their trek to Tuscaloosa in late November.  This year’s version may not match the drama of last year’s, but it’s still compelling, must-see TV — and could very well determine which team comes out of the SEC West and claims that division’s spot in the SEC championship game, with a spot in the College Football Playoff (likely) riding on all of it.

HEISMAN HOPEFUL: running back T.J. Yeldon
After rushing for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, this bruising back has it all: speed, power, change of direction and surprisingly soft hands (20-183) for a man his size.  He is everything Nick Saban wants in a running back.  What he doesn’t have?  Sole ownership of the Tide’s running game load, the kind of ownership that would allow him to put up eye-catching numbers, because of the presence of Derrick Henry.  The reality is Henry is too good of a back and too much of a weapon to not utilize, which means Yeldon could still be one of the most Heisman-worthy players in the country and not have the stats to show it.  Such is life on Saban’s Five-Star Island.

(Click HERE for the CFT 2014 Preseason Preview Repository)

Oklahoma State OT Arlington Hambright announces transfer to Colorado

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Former Oklahoma State offensive tackle Arlington Hambright is ready for his final season of college football. He’ll play it at Colorado, Hambright announced via Twitter.

“I give all glory and praise to God, without him I would be nothing but I will be spending my last year in Boulder, Colorado playing in the Pac-12 under some GREAT coaches and for [an] amazing University,” Hambright announced, via Twitter. “Now let’s get to work!”

Reports of Hambright potentially transferring from Oklahoma State surfaced earlier this month as the player transfer fun has continued to run wild this offseason. While no specific reason for his reason for transferring has been made public, he will certainly be looking to close out his college football career on a high note. An ankle injury brought an early end to Hambright’s 2018 season after starting the first five games of the season. He did return for the Liberty Bowl against Missouri, but Hambright will look to get in a full season as a potential starter in the Pac-12 this fall.

E.J. Price, Kentucky OL with starting experience, leaves Wildcats

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Coming off one of the most successful seasons in recent memory in Lexington, Kentucky now has a hole to plug on the offensive line. Starting offensive tackle E.J. Price has reportedly left the football program. According to a report from Kentucky Sports Radio, Price will pursue other opportunities and a university spokesperson confirmed he is no longer with the program.

Price transferred to Kentucky from USC in 2017, but it was about a year ago Price suggested he was ready to leave Kentucky too. However, Price stuck with the Wildcats in 2018. He started 11 of 13 games for Kentucky as the Wildcats turned in a 10-win season capped with a victory in the Capital One Bowl against Penn State. It was Kentucky’s first 10-win season since 1977 and their first bowl victory since the 2008 season.

What’s next for Price remains to be seen. He will be required to sit out the 2019 season if he transfers to another FBS program unless he applies for a waiver and receives approval to be eligible in the fall.

As for Kentucky, the spring will open with a starting job up for grabs on the offensive line, although the return of Landon Young from a season-ending injury a year ago should help solidify the efforts up front.

Virginia Tech promotes ex-Hokie Justin Hamilton to safeties coach

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Virginia Tech has promoted director of player development Justin Hamilton to safeties coach, the program announced Monday.

“Justin has more than proven his mettle to our staff over the past year and has earned this opportunity to take the next step in his football career,” head Hokie Justin Fuente said in a statement. “We know how invested Justin is in the continued success of our program. He’s a bright and talented coach who has built a solid rapport with our players and football staff. Coach Foster and I are both excited to expand his responsibilities with our team.”

A former Hokie player himself, Hamilton spent the bulk of this decade coaching at smaller programs in the Commonwealth. He was UVA-Wise’s defensive coordinator from 2011-13 and coached linebackers at VMI from 2014-17.

Hamilton fills a void created by the departure of current safeties coach Tyrone Nix. Virginia Tech officially said goodbye to him on Monday by announcing his departure for Ole Miss, though Ole Miss has yet to say anything as of press time.

Derrick Nix is on staff as Ole Miss’ running backs coach.

Southern Miss reportedly hiring offensive coordinator away from Arkansas State

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Southern Miss reportedly has its offensive coordinator, and the hire is more notable for who it’s not than who it is.

After the fiasco that was Art Brilesinterview and interview postscript, Golden Eagles head coach Jay Hopson has decided to go with the decidedly uncontroversial choice of Arkansas State offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner, according to FootballScoop. (Full disclosure: I also write for FootballScoop.)

Faulkner spent the past three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, and prior to that spent four in a similar role at Middle Tennessee. Faulkner’s first stint as an offensive coordinator came in 2010 at Murray State, where his Racers offense became the first in FCS history to post a 500-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher and a 200-yard receiver in the same game.

Faulkner takes over for Shannon Dawson, who was let go and subsequently became the tight ends coach at Houston.

Southern Miss finished No. 109 nationally in yards per play and No. 90 in scoring; the Golden Eagles went 6-5 but did not garner a bowl bid last season. Arkansas State, meanwhile, was No. 31 in yards per play and No. 55 in scoring.