Two steps forward, one step back. That has been the Alabama basketball team in the past two weeks. Two weeks ago, it defeated Arkansas and Mississippi State, and last week, the Crimson Tide surged from No. 37 to No. 25 in the NCAA's official Ratings Percentage Index (RPI). Then Alabama struggled to defeat Auburn and lost at Mississippi State in the regular-season finale. This week, the Tide fell to No. 32 in the RPI.
The perception of the SEC as a second-tier league has had a direct impact on its NCAA tournament selections in recent years. Last season, Alabama won the West Division and had a 21-11 overall record following a loss to Kentucky in the SEC Tournament, 12-4 in the league's regular season. The Crimson Tide's resume, however, wasn't enough to earn an NCAA selection as the SEC was left with five teams in the field. In order to generate more discussion about SEC teams in the NCAA field, the conference changed its setup after last season. It eliminated the two-division format that had been in place since the 1992 expansion that brought South Carolina and Arkansas to the table, leaving a singular 12-team league.
The Crimson Tide brings back not only starters Damion Square and Jesse Williams at the end positions, but primary backups Ed Stinson and Quinton Dial as well. That foursome delivered most all of UA's statistical production at the end spots last year, with Square leading the way with 32 tackles and seven tackles for loss. Even though Alabama has a veteran group here, spring drills still represent a chance to improve. Keep in mind, Williams is still learning the game as an Australian native who hasn't played much football, Stinson has spent only one season as a lineman after moving from linebacker, and Dial is still just one year removed from the junior college ranks.
TJ Yeldon, RB, Alabama: Rivals' No. 12 overall player sent shockwaves throughout the Southeast when he switched his commitment from Auburn to Alabama in December. He probably won't be the Tide's starter in the fall -- that honor will likely go to Eddie Lacy, who backed up Trent Richardson last season -- but Alabama's 2011 Mr. Football will no doubt see plenty of time in Nick Saban's standard backfield by committee.
Alabama is still considered the school to beat for Nkemdiche. "Alabama is, I mean … Alabama. I feel like they are a winning program. If I picked Alabama, there would be no ‘cons’ about me going there. There are nothing but ‘pros’ about Alabama."
In the first two games of the Easton Alabama Invite alone, Alabama committed four errors, some of which Murphy described as silly. All in all, errors are part of the game and are unavoidable in softball, and right now, they aren’t hurting the team. After all, the Tide has outscored its opponents by a combined 141-34 thus far. But the error problem has paved the way for a few close calls. In the SEC/ACC/Big XII Challenge, by far the toughest stretch of games Alabama has endured yet, they Tide had to get three runs in the top of the seventh inning to beat then-No. 20 Georgia Tech 12-9 after committing two errors in that game. The Tide’s other nail-biter in that tournament, a 3-1 thriller with then-No. 15 Oklahoma State, could have been more one-sided had the Tide not committed an error. When the competition gets better as Alabama begins Southeastern Conference play in three days, the teams it will be facing are simply too good to lose when the other team commits errors like Alabama does.
However, Upshaw would not be the selection that would ultimately step in and replace Ray Lewis, as Courtney is an outside linebacker while his teammate, Hightower is an inside linebacker. If the Ravens allow Jarret Johnson to go to another team through free agency, they would probably do so without knowing they had a chance at drafting his replacement and would either seek a cheaper option through free agency or move one of their reserves into that starting position.
In this year's draft, there is no better run-stopping linebacker between the tackle than Hightower. He's stout at the point of attacks and a great tackler. Wraps his arms, lowers his shoulder and drives through the ballcarrier. Has the foot quickness to break down in space and take down speedy running backs. NFL-ready strength in run defense. Has good leg drive to push linemen backward.
A LSU soccer player will get her chance on Tuesday to see if she has what it takes to be in the school's acclaimed football program. The LSU Tigers wrapped up their first weekend of spring football on Sunday. However, things will get heated up as former LSU soccer player Mo Isom will get her big tryout. Isom -- who is six feet tall -- worked out with the football team in September, practicing kickoffs and field goals. Though she is a senior, she would have one year of eligibility should she land a spot on the football roster.