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)

Father of USC freshman WR is dubbed “the Lavar Ball of college football”

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The basketball world got to know LaVar Ball quite well the last few years. If there is a college football of that on the horizon, the LA Times seems to think they found him.

John Brown, the father of USC Class of 2018 wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, has drawn comparisons to LaVar Ball for a variety of reasons that include the demand and vision for excellence in professional sports for his son. St. Brown was a five-star recruit for the Trojans in the most recent recruiting cycle, according to his Rivals profile. He was also ranked as the top recruit in the state of California and the top wide receiver in the nation. That alone brings reason to expect big results for St. Brown at USC.

The genes are certainly running in the family. John Brown is a former championship body builder. St. Brown’s oldest brother is former Notre Dame wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. Osiris St. Brown, the middle son in the family, will be a redshirt freshman this fall at Stanford. With so much talent in the family, John Brown may be tapping into his inner Lavar Ball by suggesting Amon-ra could play in the NFL right now.

This is, of course, a ridiculous thought considering that even the most talented college freshman still have a long way to go to be ready to compete at the high level the NFL demands. But where Brown differs from Ball is he expects his sons to have to earn any accolades that may come their way.

“I’m going to request [USC head coach Clay Helton] put his butt at the bottom of the charts and see what he’s made of,” John said in a featured story published by the LA Times this week. “Make him fight. Sharpen the knife.”

John even goes so far to suggest Amon-ra has his eyes on making some unprecedented (and likely impossible) college football history.

“He’s serious about everything,” John says.

Ask Amon-ra what his goals are for his first year with the Trojans. With an unblinking, straight stare he will tell you, “I want to win the Heisman. All three years.”

All three years, eh? Putting aside the prediction that Brown is already predicting his son is jumping to the NFL after his junior season (an idea that is not at all far-fetched if St. Brown plays out the way recruiting experts and USC expect he will), we have to smile at the historic bar Brown is setting for his son.

Only one player has ever won the Heisman Trophy twice (Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975). It is also worth noting the last wide receiver to win the Heisman Trophy was Michigan’s Desmond Howard in 1991. Tim Brown of Notre Dame (1987) and Johnny Rodgers of Nebraska (1972) are the only other receivers to win the award since the Heisman Trophy was first presented in 1935. This may not go down in the history books alongside Beano Cook predicting two Heisman Trophy awards for former Notre Dame quarterback Ron Powlus (which never came close to happening, of course), but that does set the bar high for Amon-ra’s personal goals.

Brown may lay the foundation for athletic success for his sons, but fortunately for the college football world, he seems to be far more tolerable than LaVar Ball.

Jim Harbaugh invites Chris Webber to be honorary captain; Webber accepts

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Former Michigan basketball star Chris Webber wasted no time accepting an invitation from Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh to be an honorary captain. During a radio interview on Friday, Harbaugh extended the invite to Webber and Webber quickly accepted.

“I definitely am honored,” Webber said to Harbaugh on Friday during a segment on WTKA (as quoted and reported by The Detroit News). “As you know, and getting to speak to you over the years, I love what you’ve done with the program. Good luck, and yeah, I’m definitely going to be a part of it.”

Webber was an in-studio guest on the radio station Friday. Harbaugh reportedly called in specifically to extend the invitation to Webber during a radio marathon event. For Harbaugh, this is once again striking at an opportunity to generate some buzz for the football program, but including Webber in such a role is worth noting. Webber was required to have a 10-year separation from the University of Michigan due to his connection to a booster scandal associated with the basketball program. Webber continues to rebuild his relationship with the school and other members of Michigan’s famed Fab Five.

What game Webber will attend as an honorary captain will be decided at a later time.

Texas A&M bride trolls LSU fiancé with groom’s cake

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The tradition of the groom’s cake shaped like a football stadium is nothing new, but one bride-to-be had a little more fun with her groom’s cake planning than others we have seen through the years.

The groom’s cake for an LSU fan is a nice replica of LSU’s Tiger Stadium (for a cake, of course), but this Texas A&M bride made sure to include Aggie representation in a visiting fan’s section. But that’s not all. A closer look at the scoreboard even reveals the score to be in favor of Texas A&M, 42-28. I had to zoom the image pretty far just to confirm myself, but I was able to make out the 42 under the Texas A&M side of the scoreboard. I’ll trust ESPN’s Darren Rovell on the other half of the score.

Of course, this may be the only way the bride can get the upper hand in this football series. LSU has won seven straight meetings in the series dating back to the 2011 Cotton Bowl just before Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012. Also, the last time Texas A&M scored over 40 points on LSU was in a 45-7 victory in College Station in 1991.

I just want to know if former Les Miles got a chance to taste test the field portion of the cake.

BYU AD confident in getting home game vs. Notre Dame

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Back in 2010, BYU and Notre Dame agreed to a six-year football contract that was supposed to include a home game for BYU before 2021. With two games already played in South Bend, BYU fans are getting a little curious as to when exactly the Irish will make their trip to Provo, Utah. BYU Athletics Director Tom Holmoe said on Friday during BYU’s football media day he is confident BYU will get that anticipated home game on the schedule.

Holmoe said he continues to have “good discussions” with Notre Dame in hopes of scheduling a future home game against the Irish. As Holmoe put it, the end result for BYU should be “better than a check.” If a game can’t be agreed upon, whether it be a true home game for BYU or a potential neutral site game in an NFL stadium, then Notre Dame will have to buy out of the game. It seems as though Holmoe is determined to not have that be the reality.

The original deal signed between BYU and Notre Dame essentially lined up a pair of 2-for-1 arrangements to give Notre Dame two home games for each BYU home game (or a neutral site location in its place). The second half of the agreement has since been wiped out once Notre Dame lined up a scheduling agreement with the ACC to play five ACC opponents each season. Notre Dame also has games against USC, Stanford, and Navy that the school has preferred to keep on the schedule. With the way Notre Dame has organized its schedule, staying faithful to an agreement with BYU was seemingly not a top priority.

Notre Dame’s 2019 schedule is already booked with 12 games including matchups against Louisville, Georgia, USC, Michigan, Virginia Tech, Navy, and Stanford. The 2020 schedule for the Golden Domers is also full with matchups against Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Clemson in the mix. If Notre Dame is going to make room for a game against BYU, it won’t be happening until at least 2021, which currently has one game still to add. Notre Dame will already have one neutral site game that season, with a matchup against Wisconsin in Chicago.