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Kirby Smart and Georgia aim for history in trying to beat Alabama’s Nick Saban

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The Nick Saban era at Alabama has been one known for its unprecedented success and, depending on how you look at things, occupies a place as one of the longest running dynasties the sport has seen over the years.

The Crimson Tide certainly have the numbers to back it up, going 131-20 in the 11 seasons since Saban moved to Tuscaloosa in 2007. Over that span, the school has captured five SEC championships, made the national title game five times and won four of college football’s most famous trophies.

Come Monday night in Atlanta, Saban (factoring in a title at LSU) has a chance to tie Bear Bryant as the coach with the most rings in the history of college football. In this day and age, there’s simply the Tide head coach and everybody else doing their best to follow in his footsteps. As a result, particularly in the SEC, there has been an increasing Saban-ization that has been underway since he started winning big at Alabama.

In a sense, if you can’t beat him… replicate him by bringing ‘The Process’ to your own school.

Perhaps it’s fitting then that across the sideline at the national title game this year is somebody the coach and the Tide know well in Georgia head coach Kirby Smart. Not only did the Bulldogs’ lead dawg work under Saban at LSU back in 2004, he was also with him during a brief stint with the Miami Dolphins in 2006 and served as the defensive coordinator at Alabama for most of his run in Tuscaloosa from 2007-2015.

“Georgia had a pretty good nucleus of players there. I think they won 10 games the year he took over. Now, (Smart) has done a fantastic job of bringing those players along, getting those players to play with discipline, getting them to play together,” Saban said recently of the job his protegé has done in Athens. “They’re playing extremely well, which is a reflection on his ability and his leadership to get everybody to buy into doing things the way he wanted them done so that they could play at a very high level, and they certainly are. They have a lot of good players, and they’re all playing at a very high level, and I think that’s a compliment to the coach and the coaching staff.”

When Smart and Saban shake hands prior to the College Football Playoff National Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, it will be a not so rare occurrence. In fact, the title fame will be the 12th time a former assistant of Saban has faced off against his old mentor on the gridiron. Georgia fans probably don’t want to hear this but that’s not exactly a good thing as the former assistants are a combined 0-11 against the man himself.

Yes, 0-11. Here’s the list:

Jimbo Fisher
—  2017 Alabama 24-7 over Florida State

Jim McElwain
— 2013 Alabama 31-6 over Colorado State
— 2015 Alabama 29-15 over Florida
— 2016 Alabama 54-16 over Florida

Derek Dooley
— 2010 Alabama 41-10 over Tennessee
— 2011 Alabama 37-6 over Tennessee
— 2012 Alabama 44-13 over Tennessee

Will Muschamp
— 2011 Alabama 38-10 over Florida
— 2014 Alabama 42-21 over Florida

Mark Dantonio
— 2011 Alabama 49-7 over Michigan State
— 2015 Alabama 38-0 over Michigan State (College Football Playoff)

That’s 11 losses by an average score of 43-11. Only one came within two touchdowns. It has, to say the least, been a lopsided time in Saban vs. the world in general but especially so when it comes to his former assistants.

Fisher did get the better of Saban back in 2007 (in a game that was vacated — on both sides) when he was the Florida State offensive coordinator under Bobby Bowden but that’s pretty much as close as they come. That he did so as an assistant keeps the win out of that 0-11 stat but does bring up a good point as there are several coaches who have crossed paths with Saban over the years — including several in the title game on Monday.

For example, Georgia offensive coordinator Jim Chaney has actually beaten Saban three times. That happened when the former was at Purdue in 1997-99 and the latter was at Michigan State. That hasn’t been the only time the two have squared off against each other though as Chaney has never taken home a win over Saban in the SEC (0-6 calling plays at Tennessee/Arkansas).

Bulldogs defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was actually a graduate assistant under Saban with the Spartans back in the day too and was Alabama’s associate head coach when they won it all in 2015… before following Smart out the door to Athens. Tide defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt has had two stints at his alma mater in Tuscaloosa since Saban hired him from the high school ranks back in 2007, won a ring with Fisher in 2013 and spent two seasons at Georgia (coaching/recruiting several starters on the 2017 team) before taking over Smart’s role as DC.

Pruitt will eventually add to the dozen meetings in 2018 on the third Saturday in October as the new Tennessee head coach, which brings annual rivalry games with Alabama.

“I don’t think the game is about the coaches. I think it’s about the players,” Saban added this week. “And I think in most of those games if the other guy had the players that we had, they might have beat us. So it’s not about the coaches. I mean, I didn’t catch any passes. I didn’t make any tackles (in the Sugar Bowl). I didn’t do any of that. I mean, the players did it all.”

The Alabama coach has a point about players and it’s worth noting in the case of both that undefeated record and the upcoming meeting with Smart.

Looking at those 11 teams over the years, a full six failed to crack the eight-win mark and one other one was a Group of Five team. Hardly any of the group has been able to go toe-to-toe with equal talent to the Tide and one of the few exceptions (FSU in this season’s opener) that was anywhere close to comparable lost a runaway game and barely finished with seven wins on the year. This has been a lopsided set of meeting to be sure, but the assistants have been the decided underdog in every one by a pretty big margin.

That could change in this year’s All-SEC title game. According to the 247Sports Team Talent Composite rankings, which tally up the amount of recruiting stars a team has, Alabama ranks No. 1 in 2017 and Georgia checks in at No. 4. The Tide has 18 five-star players and 51 four-stars manning their roster while the Bulldogs counter with 11 five-stars and 43 four-stars. For what it’s worth, the Seminoles check in fifth on the list with fewer five- and four-stars than UGA.

In short, the Georgia team that takes the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium will be the most talented team a former Saban assistant has ever had in facing the most successful coach of all-time.

When Monday night turns into Tuesday morning and a new national champion has been crowned in Atlanta, Kirby Smart will walk across the field and shake his old boss’ hand. At that moment he’ll make history as either the first to slay Saban or simply become the latest name added to the disappointing dozen.

As five other coaches can attest to over the years, the much discussed ‘Process’ that Saban preaches never really said anything about that.

FCS team suspends head coach amid probe into ‘alleged violations of university policy’

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We don’t normally do much with the FCS level of football here at CFT; when we do, though, it normally doesn’t trend toward the positive.

Such is the case in this instance, with Stephen F. Austin announcing Monday night that head coach Clint Conque has been suspended.  In its statement, the university wrote that the suspension is “pending an investigation into alleged violations of university policy.”

The alleged violations weren’t detailed.

“The investigation is expected to take several weeks,” the school’s statement read, in part. “No comments will be made by the university until the investigation is complete.”

The Magnolia Reporter wrote that “Conque’s suspension comes two weeks after SFA appointed Ryan Ivey as the new director of Athletics – a position he is set to officially assume on July 1.”

Conque has been the head coach at SFA the past four seasons.  In that span, he went 21-25 overall and 17-18 in Southland Conference play.  Since going 8-5 and qualifying for the FCS playoffs his first season, the football program has gone 4-7, 5-5, 4-7 the last three years.

Prior to that, Conque was the head coach at Central Arkansas from 2000-13, with the last seven of those years spent in the Southland Conference.  During his time with the Bears, he went 105-59.

In a statement released by that university in July of 2010, prior to the start of his 11th season with that FCS team, Conque admitted to what he described as “an inappropriate relationship” that stemmed from “some poor personal decisions.”

During a period of time in my life I made some poor personal decisions. I had an inappropriate relationship in the past that I regret and these mistakes and missteps have hurt the ones that I love the most. While we have been dealing with these issues privately, I regret that we must now deal with this in a public manner.

“I take sole and complete responsibility for my actions as my family and I continue the process of healing and rebuilding. I want to once again sincerely apologize first to my family, also to the university community, the administration, the university’s athletic staff, and to our football staff and team. I will emerge from this a better man, husband, father and coach. I appreciate the support that I have received from the Board of Trustees, President (Allen) Meadors, (Athletic Director) Dr. (Brad) Teague, and the university during this extremely difficult time.

“I would genuinely appreciate everyone extending Angele and my three sons the privacy and compassion needed to move forward in our personal lives. I look forward to the 2010 football season and the beginning of fall practice.

Conque remained on as the head coach at Central Arkansas for four more seasons, going 32-16 in that post-admission span and qualifying for the FCS playoffs twice for good measure.

Notre Dame football to have all-new radio team in 2018

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When it comes to Notre Dame’s radio booth on football gamedays, it’ll apparently be out with the old and in with the new.

Earlier this offseason, it was announced that JMI Sports had taken over as Notre Dame’s multimedia partner.  As part of that partnership, JMI Sports would have control over, among other entities, the football program’s national radio broadcasts.

Since 2006, there’s been a two-man radio booth consisting of play-by-play voice Don Criqui and color analyst Allen Pinkett.  Come the 2018 football season, the latter confirmed, there will be a complete makeover of the Fighting Irish’s radio broadcasts.

“Their plan is they want someone more local — like ‘live in South Bend’ local — because they want to do some packages during the week, and they wanted somebody who was there,” Pinkett told the South Bend Tribune. “So it was a good run. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to do it since 2001, but this thing comes to an end, so I just wish whoever’s going to do it next the best of luck.”

The “whoever” Pinkett mentioned is still in question as the radio replacements have yet to be announced.

The 54-year-old Pinkett was a star running back at Notre Dame in the eighties, twice earning All-American honors.  He was the first Fighting Irish player to ever rush for 1,000-plus yards in three straight seasons.

The 78-year-old Criqui is a Notre Dame graduate as well.  Prior to this 2006-17 stint, he was also the play-by-play voice of the Fighting Irish from 1974-76.

Lincoln Riley will (barely) make more than his starting QB in 2018

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One running joke that’s made numerous laps around the college football world this month has officially run its course.

After being taken ninth overall by the Oakland Athletics in the June Major League Baseball draft, Kyler Murray reached an agreement on a contract with the stick-and-ball club that will not only allow him to play football for Oklahoma in 2018, but will pay him a signing bonus of nearly $4.7 million for good measure.  As Lincoln Riley was paid $3.1 million in 2017, there was a very real possibility that the Sooners’ starting quarterback would earn more in 2018 than OU’s head football coach.

Tuesday, however, that particular plotline was put to bed as the university’s Board of Regents confirmed a long-expected revised contract for Riley.  The coach’s 2018 salary?  $4.8 million (plus bonuses).

Take that, Kyler Murray.

The new salary figure would’ve made Riley the third-highest paid head coach in the Big 12 last season, behind only Texas’ Tom Herman ($5.5 million) and TCU’s Gary Patterson ($5.1 million).  His actual salary last year was seventh in the conference.

In his first season at the helm for the Sooners, the 34-year-old Riley guided OU to a 12-2 record, a Big 12 championship and a berth in the College Football Playoff. In addition to a raise coming off that wildly successful year, Riley also had his contract extended through January of 2023.

New Mexico LB Rayshawn Boyce arrested, suspended after May incident with ex-girlfriend

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Not surprisingly at this point in the offseason, it’s once again time to push the “Days Without An Arrest” ticker back to double zeroes.

The latest to trigger a reset is New Mexico’s Rayshawn Boyce, with KOB-TV in Albuquerque reporting that the linebacker was arrested over the weekend on multiple charges stemming from an incident involving an ex-girlfriend last month. Specifically, Boyce has been charged with one count each of aggravated battery, battery of a household member, criminal damage to private property and negligent use of a deadly weapon.

From the television station’s report:

According to a criminal complaint, he attacked a man inside his ex-girlfriend’s home back in May and then hit his ex-girlfriend in the face. Boyce then left the house and fired shots at her vehicle.

Police interviewed Boyce, who admitted to being at the home but says he never went inside. He claims he fought the man outside of his ex-girlfriend’s apartment.

As a result of the incident, Boyce has been indefinitely suspended from the Lobos football by head coach Bob Davie, who’s had his own off-field issues this offseason.

“I want to emphasize that we have standards and expectations of conduct for all UNM student-athletes that include civility and mutual respect,” UNM athletic director Eddie Nunez said in a statement. “We cannot, and will not, accept anything less.”

After transferring in from a California junior college, Boyce played in eight games for the Lobos this past season. He was credited with 1.5 tackles for loss and one sack.