Nick Saban strengthens case as college football’s greatest coach

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Put together your Mt. Rushmore of college football coaches and who would be in your top four? For years there would be some clear locks. Paul Bear Bryant would be in there. So would Woody Hayes. Knute Rockne would have his supporters and you could go with either Bobby Bowden or Joe Paterno for the fourth and final spot, or perhaps even Bo Schembechler. Over the past 25-30 years though, perhaps no college football coach has been as good as Alabama head coach Nick Saban. If it was not already, it is time to make the case Saban is not only the best coach of the BCS and playoff era, and not just the past era, but perhaps of all time.

Saban won his fifth national championship as a head coach Monday night with Alabama’s 45-40 victory over previously undefeated Clemson in the College Football Playoff National Championship Game. With five national titles to his name, Saban moves into sole possession of second place on college football’s all-time list for coaches and national titles. He trails only one man, another Alabama icon, Bryant. Bryant won six national titles as a head coach, but Saban is not interested in comparing himself to The Bear and he is far from concerned about how his legacy stands up next to Bryant’s.

Saban will hardly get credit for being an innovative coach in this day and age of football. Saban is much more comfortable sticking to basics as much as possible, which has proven to be beneficial during his run as Alabama’s head coach. Alabama had zero Heisman Trophy winners before Saban’s arrival, and now they have two. Those two also tend to go against the grain of the modern Heisman trend of awarding the top quarterbacks, as both of Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winners have been running backs (Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry). For Saban, success is built in the trenches. As a result, Alabama has put together some of the best offensive and defensive lines during his years at Alabama. Alabama is one of two schools to have multiple Rimington Trophy winners (best center) under Saban. This past season saw Alabama’s offensive line collectively be honored with the first Joe Moore Award, honoring the top offensive line in college football. Had the award existed before 2015, odds are Alabama would have picked one or two up under Saban as well. He has had 10 offensive linemen drafted since 2009 after all.

Although Saban may not be given credit for being an innovative coach, he sure as heck has proven to b a solid adaptive coach. When Auburn’s Cam Newton came out on top of Alabama in 2010 and Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel ripped through Alabama in 2012, it appeared a crack in Saban’s Alabama empire had been exposed. Mobile quarterbacks and up-tempo offense suddenly became Saban’s kryptonite, as the offensive trends in the game had finally found a weak spot in Saban’s dominant physical approach to the game. The wind had supposedly been taken out of the Alabama program. Perhaps Alabama was proving to be vulnerable against certain types of players. Saban stuck to his blueprint and built the program his way. Eventually, this proved Alabama may take a hit along the way, but it would still be built to win big in the end. The years have now gone by and opposing teams have tried to crack Alabama as much as possible, but Saban’s success in building his dynasty has led to each and every one of Saban’s recruiting classes at Alabama leaving the program with at least one national championship ring.

That is a level of sustained success that is practically unheard of in this sport. Only Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer is floating in the same waters as Saban right now. Ironically, a year removed from Meyer staking a claim as the best coach in college football today by knocking out Saban en route to a national championship of his own, Saban strikes right back by learning from what occurred in year one of the playoff system. The 2015 season saw Alabama stick to what traditionally works while also taking some chances and experimenting at times with their own up-tempo offense. An early loss to Ole Miss once again opened the door for critics to tear down Saban’s empire, and once again Saban made those critics look foolish in the end.

In the national championship game, Saban pulled out a rare trick. Tied at 21-21 in the fourth quarter after just tying Clemson, Saban called for an onside kick. It caught Clemson completely off guard and the Crimson Tide executed it to perfection. It was a rare call from Saban, who typically sticks to the basics and is not known to gamble in such a way with so much riding on the outcome. It paid off though. Alabama scored shortly after recovering the well placed onside kick and took control of a wild fourth quarter from there. It even forced the usually stoic Saban to crack a little smile on the sidelines. When that happens, you know something is cooking.

Saban is a mastermind and a master strategist. His job may be considered easy with all of the talent Alabama brings in on an annual basis, but that is because Saban makes it look so easy.It’s not. It’s really not.

It’s not. It’s really not.

College Football in Coronavirus Quarantine: On this day in CFT history

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The sports world, including college football, has essentially screeched to a halt as countries around the world battle the coronavirus pandemic. As such, there’s a dearth of college football news as spring practices have all but been canceled at every level of the sport. And there’s even some concern that the health issue could have an impact on the 2020 college football campaign.

In that vein, we thought it might be fun to go back through the CollegeFootballTalk archives that stretch back to 2009 and take a peek at what transpired in the sport on this date.

So, without further ado — ok, one further ado — here’s what happened in college football on April 10, by way of our team of CFT writers both past and present.

(P.S.: If any of our readers have ideas on posts they’d like to read during this hiatus, leave your suggestions in the comments section.  Mailbag, maybe?)

2019

THE HEADLINE: One-time Illini Jeff Thomas discusses flip back to Miami
THE SYNOPSIS: It was quite the year or so for the talented but enigmatic wide receiver.  Dismissed by then-Miami head coach Mark Richt in November of 2018.  Signed with Illinois the following month.  Reneged on that commitment and returned to Miami in January of last year.  Served a two-game suspension during the 2019 season.  Left Miami again, this time early for the NFL draft.  Besides that, though, not much going on with Thomas.

2018

THE HEADLINE: Nick Saban was calling recruits during White House visit
THE SYNOPSIS: The Process stops for no one, not even the President of the United States of America.

2016

THE HEADLINE: Navy QB Keenan Reynolds named co-winner of 2016 Sullivan Award
THE SYNOPSIS: This marked the third straight year a college football player at least partially claimed one of the most prestigious individual awards in collegiate athletics.  The first two were Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott and Penn State offensive lineman John Urschel.  Reynolds is the last football player to win the award.  A pair of quarterbacks, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, are semifinalists for this year’s honor.

2015

THE HEADLINE: TCU’s Gary Patterson says somebody will always feel screwed by college football’s postseason
THE SYNOPSIS: The head coach wasn’t wrong then.  And, as athletic directors are overwhelmingly in favor of an expanded College Football Playoff, he wouldn’t be wrong now.

2012

THE HEADLINE: Updated: Statements issued after Petrino fired from Arkansas
THE SYNOPSIS: After nearly a week-long run, the Bobby Petrino soap opera in Fayetteville officially came to an end.

2010

THE HEADLINE: Smokin’ hot Kiffin sashays into second round
THE SYNOPSIS: Lane Kiffin was part of an Esquire Magazine online contest.  A Sexiest Woman Alive contest.  The then-USC head coach took down the No. 1 seed, professional golfer Natalie Gulbis.  He then beat race car driver Danica Patrick to advance to the Sassy Sixteen.

2009

THE HEADLINE: REPORT: GRUDEN TURNED DOWN JOB WITH DUCKS*
THE SYNOPSIS: In a round of Grumors that didn’t involve Tennessee, Jon Gruden turned the offensive coordinator position at Oregon.

(*Yes, back in the day, we used to scream out our headlines at our readers in all-caps. The move to NBC a couple of months later mercifully ended that practice.)

Akron transfer offensive lineman Brandon Council commits to Auburn over Baylor, Missouri

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The future home for a former Akron football player has officially come into focus.

In mid-February, Brandon Council took the first step in leaving the Akron football team by placing his name into the NCAA transfer database. A month later, prior to the NCAA banning in-person recruiting because of the coronavirus pandemic, the offensive lineman took an official visit to Baylor. He had been scheduled to do the same with Auburn. Those plans, though, were placed on indefinite hold.

Over the weekend, Council announced that he had whittled his transfer to-do list down to three. Not surprisingly, Baylor and Auburn made the cut. Additionally, Missouri is part of the transfer trio.

LSU and USC were also reportedly in play at one point as well.

Thursday night, Council officially whittled his transfer to-do list down to one.  Auburn.

Council will be eligible to play immediately in 2020 as a graduate transfer. It’s believed that this coming season would be Council’s final season of eligibility, although the player could get a sixth season from the NCAA.

Coming out of high school in North Carolina, Council was a two-star member of Akron’s 2016 recruiting class.

After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Council started nine games at left guard in 2017. The 6-4, 325-pound lineman then started the first three games of the 2018 season at right tackle before going down with an injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the year. That injury plus the redshirt for his first season could potentially trigger a sixth season.

Coming off that injury, Council started all 12 games in 2019. Council played every position along the offensive line this past season.

Jim Harbaugh extends scholarship offer to second-grade cancer survivor

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Courtesy of the current Michigan football head coach, how about a little pick-me-up story amidst all of the coronavirus pandemic news?

Thomas Fidone is a four-star 2021 prospect out of Iowa. On the 247Sports.com composite, he’s rated as the No. 2 tight end in the country for next year’s class. Suffice to say, the 6-5, 220-pound prospect is a hot commodity on the recruiting trail.

Fidone holds offers from, among others, Alabama, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and Nebraska. And, yes, Michigan. Which is where the pick-me-up comes into play.

Because of the NCAA’s ban on in-person recruiting, Fidone this week was on a video chat with Jim Harbaugh and U-M tight ends coach Sherrone Moore. During the chat, Fidone’s second-grade cousin, Sebastiano Fidone, joined in.

According to a Facebook posting from Sebastiano’s mother, her son was asked by the coaches to flex. Sebastiano complied. And, at that point, Harbaugh offered the young man, who battled leukemia for four years until finishing up chemotherapy in February of last year, a Michigan football scholarship.

Sebastiano received his first college offer today. 😆

We were able to join cousin Thomas Fidone on a video chat with Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh and tight end coach Sherrone Moore. During the video chat, they asked Yanno to flex. He did, and Coach Harbaugh immediately offered him a scholarship. Now that he offered, he can’t send him a Michigan football t-shirt because of NCAA gifting rules 😆. He told Yanno a scholarship is better than a t-shirt in the long run anyway. He said his previous record for youngest scholarship offer was a 7th grader, so Yanno being in 2nd grade smashes that.

Yanno and Thomas got to do a little virtual workout together and it was an awesome perk of Thomas being heavily recruited, we are so thankful for Thomas and the coaches for setting it up today.

For those curious, the younger Fideone would be a member of the Class of 2030.

And, great work, Coach Harbaugh. And good luck, young man, as you continue what is hopefully a long, prosperous and fruitful life.

Second ex-Miami player in a month transfers to Colorado State

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Quietly, Colorado State football is becoming a quasi, Rocky Mountain version of The U.

Last month, defensive lineman Scott Patchan announced that he would be transferring to Colorado State after leaving the Miami football program. Exactly one month later, one of Patchan’s former teammates, Brian Polendey, announced that he too is headed to CSU.

“Excited for this next chapter,” the tight end wrote.

As Polenday would be coming into the Colorado State football program as a graduate transfer, he would be eligible to play for the Rams in 2020. Not only that, but he has another season of eligibility he can use in 2021 as well.

Coming out of high school in Texas, Polenday was a three-star 2017 signee. He was rated as the No. 21 tight end in the country.

The past three seasons, Polenday played in a combined 14 games. He saw action in six as a true freshman, then had his sophomore season end after two games because of injury. His six appearances in 2019 were highlighted in his first career start, the Walk-On’s Independence Bowl loss to Louisiana Tech.  A shutout loss, if you needed a reminder.

The 6-6, 240-pound Polenday was mainly used as a blocking specialist during his time in Miami. He finished his time with the Hurricanes with one catch for 14 yards. That lone reception came during his truncated 2018 campaign.

Colorado State will be under new leadership this fall as Steve Addazio was hired as the program’s new head football coach. Addazio replaces Mike Bobo, who was fired earlier that month.