Teams may be the same for Alabama-Clemson IV but the names — and preparation — are a lot different in 2019

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — There have been variations over the years or in different parts of the country but most folks are familiar with the old adage of once is a fluke, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend. 

If that’s the case though, what exactly might that make Monday’s national title game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Clemson? It’s not just the programs’ third meeting in the final game of the season the past four years but also their fourth consecutive postseason meeting.

In short, the same… yet different.

“I think this sort of has become a little bit like someone you play in your league because we have played several years in a row now,” Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said Saturday. “I’m sure they know a little more about us, we know a little more about them. I think that players still look at each game as a new challenge, and certainly I think that’s going to be important, because they’re a really good team that you’re playing against, which is what you should expect in a game like this.”

Saban understands each game being a unique challenge more than most involved. It’s not just new faces as players graduate or depart for the NFL, it’s quite a bit of staff turnover as well. This may be Alabama’s fourth meeting with Clemson but the Crimson Tide have done so with a different offensive coordinator/play-caller each time. 

Lane Kiffin in 2016 gave way to a brief turn by Steve Sarkisian in 2017. Brian Daboll was one-and-done in 2018 and turned things over to Mike Locksley this season, who will also be leaving after the game to take over as head coach at Maryland. 

While the turnover isn’t quite as significant on the defensive side, it’s still there. Though this is firmly Saban’s defense, the team will have gone from Kirby Smart to Jeremy Pruitt to the combination of Tosh Lupoi and Pete Golding — to say nothing of all the other assistants who have shuffled in and out of Tuscaloosa. 

“We do know what to expect but they have new coaches every year,” said receiver Hunter Renfrow, a hero in the 2017 title game and one 30 Tigers players who will have played in all four editions. “They can prepare for us a little better because we have continuity in our staff. I can go look at notes and it’s new guys but the same elite level.”

No kidding. 

Daron Payne played a huge role in last year’s Sugar Bowl in holding down Clemson’s offense. This year he’s simply been replaced in the lineup by Quinnen Williams, a unanimous All-American who won the Outland Trophy and will likely follow Payne as a top 15 draft pick in the spring. Minkah Fitzpatrick starred in the secondary during the first three meetings and has given way to the stellar play of Deionte Thompson, going from top star recruit to another without missing a step. 

“I would say they just have a bigger stable of running backs. It’s the running backs and it’s the wide receivers, man,” Clemson defensive end Clelin Ferrell said of the biggest difference on offense he’s noticed in Alabama over the years. “(Damien Harris) and Bo (Scarborough) last year got most of the carries but now they have three running backs that could go anywhere in the country and start and have a great career. The receiving core, it’s ridiculous to see the type of receivers they have and the tight ends, too. I really feel like they are a very complete offense. They can affect you in any level of their offense.”

Calvin Ridley was Bama’s big-play threat in the passing game before going on to become a first-round pick last spring but the team has actually gotten better in the passing game, including developing Biletnikoff Award winner Jerry Jeudy this season and a host of others. Five Tide wideouts have over 600 yards and at least six touchdowns receiving coming into the title game and six different players have scored rushing. 

Then there’s the difference-maker at quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa, who was in high school during the first two meetings and sat on the bench for Round 3 in the Sugar Bowl. The Heisman Trophy runner-up has helped the Tide’s offense shatter several school records and is No. 2 in a number of statistical categories nationally behind the team, Oklahoma, they just beat in the Orange Bowl. The sophomore already has an incredible track record in the national title game and is looking for that to continue against Clemson.

“We’re very familiar with Alabama, same bat channel, different bat day, I guess,” remarked Dabo Swinney. “You just turn the page, whatever year. They’re great on defense. You can pick little things here or there. They’re built in the trenches. The biggest difference for them this year is just the explosiveness on offense. This is by far the best version of them we’ve seen offensively. I mean, it’s unbelievable.

“And we’re a lot alike, dynamic quarterbacks, explosive skill, explosive run game, built through the run game in the play action and those type of things.”

The head coach is spot on with that assessment. 

Tailback Travis Etienne has been phenomenal in helping take the Tigers ground game to the next level and is playing behind a veteran offensive line that has done a great job opening holes you could drive a truck through. While Renfrow is a mainstay at receiver, the Deon Cain’s and Ray-Ray McCloud’s of recent years have been replaced (and then some) by explosive playmakers like Amari Rodgers, Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross. 

It’s also the deepest group Clemson has taken to the championship game, adding a top recruiting class full of several five-stars to a roster that returned 61 players with experience coming into 2018. 

“I don’t think we were intimated by them (in the first meeting), we were more intimated by the moment,” added Renfrow. “It was new to everyone and we were all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, kinda nervous. Now, we know what to expect, what it takes.”

They also have their own difference maker under center in Trevor Lawrence, a freshman who is no longer a freshman and inserted into the starting lineup in September specifically to make the big throws on this stage. He sliced up a stout Notre Dame secondary in the Cotton Bowl and is just the second player ever to top 300 yards and three touchdowns in a College Football Playoff game (the other being some fella named Deshaun Watson). 

So while some may roll their eyes and claim fatigue in seeing Alabama and Clemson jerseys trot out onto the field for a fourth time, this year’s go-around is very much has a different flavor even if there’s plenty of similarities to past editions. 

Perhaps the lone thing that everybody agrees on coming into the 2019 National Championship Game is that both 14-0 squads are truly the best of the best and a fitting conclusion to a season where two elite teams rose above the rest. 

“Everybody says that they’re tired of watching us play. But year in, year out we proved that we’re the best two teams, and we play tough,” said Alabama’s Harris. “We take care of our business in the regular season. That’s why we keep meeting here.”

And so it will be — again — in Santa Clara with an undefeated season and the national championship on the line.

Spring football games schedule: Complete dates, times, TV options

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College football spring games? Certainly. Ready to watch? Probably (thanks to this spring football games schedule).

With the 2019 season fading into the rearview mirror, our attention has now turned to the 2020 campaign that, for now, seems far out on the horizon.  One of the first big steps in getting to next season, of course, is spring practice.  In most cases, those 15 spring practice sessions will culminate in some semblance of a spring game.

Below is a list of those college football spring games, complete with dates, times (Eastern) and, when appropriate, the television station on which they will be broadcast,

As of the initial posting, not all of the college football spring games and their dates have been released.  Some details, including times, are still to be determined as well.

This post will be updated as necessary throughout the next two months.

(Writer’s note: If any schools or fans of schools notice we’re missing already-available information, please shoot me the particulars at John.Taylor AT nbcuni.com)

March games

MARCH 5

Coastal Carolina, (other details to be determined)

MARCH 19

Arkansas State, 7:00 p.m.

MARCH 21

Charlotte, (other details to be determined)
San Diego State, 2:00 p.m.

MARCH 28

Western Michigan, (other details to be determined)
Tulane, 11:00 a.m.
San Jose State, 5:00 p.m.
Arizona State, 10:30 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Arizona)

April games

APRIL 3

Rice, (other details to be determined)
Buffalo, 3:00 p.m.
FIU, 6:30 p.m.
Georgia Southern, 7:30 p.m.
Georgia State, 7:30 p.m.
Vanderbilt, 8:00 p.m.

APRIL 4

Temple, (other details to be determined)
Troy, (other details to be determined)
Minnesota, noon
North Carolina State, 12:30 p.m.
Tulsa, 12:30 p.m.
South Carolina, 1:00 p.m. (SEC Network+)
UAB, 1:00 p.m.
Purdue, 2:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Clemson, 2:30 p.m.
UCF, 2:30 p.m.
Wake Forest, 3:00 p.m.
Louisiana-Monroe, 7:00 p.m.
Arizona, 8:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Arizona)

APRIL 9

Louisiana, (other details to be determined)

APRIL 10

Georgia Tech, (other details to be determined)
Cincinnati, 6:00
Texas Tech, 7:00 p.m.

APRIL 11

Cal, (other details to be determined)
Pitt, (ACC Network) (time to be determined)
Kentucky, noon (SEC Network+)
Ohio State, noon (Big Ten Network)
Mississippi State, 12:30 p.m.
Kent State, 1:00 p.m.
Utah, 1:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Mountain)
Auburn, 2:00 p.m.
Missouri, 2:00 p.m.
Eastern Michigan, 3:00 p.m.
USC, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Los Angeles)
Stanford, 4:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Bay Area)
Boise State, 5:30 p.m.

APRIL 17

Army, (other details to be determined)
Memphis, (other details to be determined)
Indiana, 7:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)

APRIL 18

Ball State, (other details to be determined)
Baylor, (other details to be determined)
Florida, (other details to be determined)
Florida Atlantic, (other details to be determined)
Georgia, (other details to be determined)
Kansas, (other details to be determined)
Louisiana Tech, (other details to be determined)
LSU, (other details to be determined)
Oklahoma, (other details to be determined)
Texas A&M, (other details to be determined)
UCLA, (other details to be determined)
USF, (other details to be determined)
UTSA, (other details to be determined)
Akron, noon
Bowling Green, noon
Michigan, noon
SMU, noon
Notre Dame, 12:30 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
West Virginia, 1:00 p.m.
Miami of Ohio, 1:30 p.m.
Penn State, 1:30 p.m. (FS1)
Alabama, 2:00 p.m.
Middle Tennessee State, 2:00 p.m.
Nebraska, 2:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
North Carolina, 3:00 p.m. (ACC Network)
Old Dominion, 3:00 p.m.
Oregon State, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Oregon)
Western Kentucky, 3:00 pm.
Virginia Tech, 3:30 p.m.
Michigan State, 4 p.m.
Tennessee, 4:00 p.m.
Florida State, 5:00 p.m.
Oregon, 5:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Oregon)
Ole Miss, 7:30 p.m.

APRIL 25

Arkansas, (other details to be determined)
Nevada, (other details to be determined)
Texas, (other details to be determined)
UMass, (other details to be determined)
Southern Miss, 1:00 p.m.
Marshall, 2:00 p.m.
Colorado, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Mountain)
Washington State, 3:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Washington)
Rutgers, 4:00 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Washington, 6:00 p.m. (Pac-12 Network/Washington)

Minnesota hires ex-Michigan State DBs coach Paul Haynes as CBs coach

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In filling a hole on his Minnesota football coaching staff, P.J. Fleck turned to an assistant with recent Big Ten experience.  And head-coaching experience on top of that for good measure.

The Minnesota football program announced Monday the hiring of Paul Haynes.  Specifically, Haynes will serve as the Golden Gophers’ cornerbacks coach.

Haynes will replace Rod Chance, who left the Minnesota football program earlier this month to take the job as cornerbacks coach at Oregon.

The past two seasons, Haynes was the defensive backs coach at Michigan State in his second stint with the B1G school.  For the five years prior to that, the 51-year-old Ohio native was the head coach at Kent State.

In those five seasons, the Golden Flashes compiled a record of 14-45 overall and 9-30 in MAC play.  In November of 2017, Haynes was officially relieved of his duties.

In 2012, Haynes was the defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach at Arkansas.  From 2005-11, Haynes was on the staff at Ohio State.  After serving as defensive backs coach his first six seasons, Haynes was the Buckeyes’ co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach in 2011.

Haynes’ first stint at MSU came in 2003-04 as defensive backs coach.  The year prior to that, he served in the same job at Louisville.

New Year’s Day, Minnesota football capped off a historic season with an Outback Bowl upset of Auburn.  The 11 wins were the program’s most since they won 13 in 1904.  Minnesota’s only other seasons with 10 or more wins came in 1900, 1903, 1905 and 2003.

The hiring of Haynes completes a reshuffling of Fleck’s coaching staff.

Mel Tucker adds two more assistants to first Michigan State coaching staff

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Less than two weeks after his hiring, Mel Tucker‘s first Michigan State football coaching staff is nearly complete.

Monday, MSU confirmed that Tucker has added Ross Els and William Peaglerc to his Spartans staff.  Els will serve as special teams coordinator, Peagler as running backs coach.

Tucker is very familiar with both of his new hires.

Els was the inside linebackers coach at Colorado for the past three seasons.  During Tucker’s Boulder one-and-done, the 30-year coaching veteran added special teams coordinator to his linebacking duties.

In 2016, the 54-year-old Els was the defensive coordinator and safeties coach at Purdue.  He also spent time on FBS staffs at:

  • Nebraska, linebackers coach/special teams coordinator/recruiting coordinator (2012-14)
  • Nebraska, linebackers coach (2011)
  • Ohio, assistant head coach/linebackers coach/special teams coordinator (2010)
  • Ohio, linebackers coach/special teams coordinator (2007-09)
  • Ohio, linebackers coach (2005-06)
  • New Mexico State, defensive coordinator/linebackers coach (2003-04)
  • New Mexico State, safeties/special teams coach (2001-02)

“Ross has been a Power 5 defensive coordinator and does an excellent job with special teams,” the new Michigan State football head coach said in a statement. “His attention to detail is outstanding and he’s a great teacher. He also develops great relationships with his players, which makes him a great recruiter as well. His experience will definitely help our staff.”

The 34-year-old Peagler, meanwhile, was the director of quality control for the offense last season at Colorado for Tucker last year.  The Clemson graduate has never been an on-field assistant at the collegiate level.

At Power Five programs, Peagler has served as a quality control assistant for offense at Minnesota (2016) and a graduate assistant at Georgia (2017).

“William has an excellent understanding of offensive concepts,” a statement on Peagler from the Michigan State football coach began. “He really gets it. He also has experience working with (offensive coordinator) Jay Johnson, and has been at some high-level programs, including Clemson and Georgia. He’s a multi-talented coach and I think he is a rising star.”

With the hirings of Peagler and Els, Tucker has officially added nine of his 10 on-field assistants.

The weekend before last, it was confirmed that Ron Burton and Mike Tressel would be retained.  Shortly thereafter, Chris Kapilovic officially followed Tucker to MSU from Colorado.  Last Wednesday, former first-team All-Big Ten wide receiver Courtney Hawkins returned to East Lansing to coach the same position he played for the Spartans.  A day laterJay Johnson was confirmed as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach and Harlon Barnett was brought back as defensive backs coach.  A day after that, Tucker pried Ted Gilmore away from Wisconsin to serve as MSU’s tight ends coach.

Nick Saban issues statement as Georgia confirms hiring of Alabama’s strength coach as special teams coordinator

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Kirby Smart‘s poaching of one of Nick Saban‘s longtime Alabama Crimson Tide lieutenants is officially official.

Earlier Monday, reports surfaced that had Scott Cochran leaving as Alabama’s strength & conditioning coach for an on-field job at Georgia.   A short time later, Nick Saban issued a statement confirming that Cochran had left the program after a baker’s dozen seasons.

“We appreciate Scott’s contribution to our organization over the last 13 years,” the Alabama Crimson Tide head football coach stated. “We can’t thank him enough for his service and dedication to our program, and his commitment to our players. He is taking his career in a new direction, and we wish Scott, Cissy and the kids the best. As we do with every position that opens here, we will go out and hire the best person to lead our strength and conditioning program and help our players maximize the resources available in our new sports science facility.”

Shortly thereafter, Georgia also confirmed that Smart has tapped the Alabama Crimson Tide assistant as its special teams coordinator.

As noted in UGA’s release, Cochran was on Saban’s staff for all six of his national titles, as he served as an assistant strength coach at LSU in 2003. Smart and Cochran both began their Alabama Crimson Tide careers in 2007 and spent nine years together before Smart left to take his current position in Athens.

“Ask anyone who’s been around him, Scott’s passion and energy is contagious,” said the coach in a statement. “Special Teams Coordinator is a great fit as he’ll be working with all position groups. His knowledge and experience elevates our entire program, and we’re excited to welcome the Cochran family to Athens.”

This will mark Cochran’s first-ever on-field job at any level of the sport.  Cochran, incidentally, graduated from LSU.