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Jumbo Package: Monday, 21 December 2015

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Your daily dose of Crimson Tide news and notes.

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Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

With ten days left until the Cotton Bowl tilt against the Michigan State Spartans, the Alabama basketball team takes center stage today.

Tide basketball team puts win streak on line Monday against Oregon - Dothan Eagle: University Of Alabama Sports

The game, the Crimson Tide’s first in Birmingham since a victory over Oklahoma State in 2011, should be entertaining. Oregon’s Dillon Brooks leads five Ducks who average in double figures with 15.9 points per game. He is second on the team with 6.8 rebounds per game, behind Chris Boucher, who averages 12.0 points and grabs 9.1 boards. Boucher has four double-doubles in his last five games. "Dillon Brooks, he’s strong, he’s physical, he rebounds," Johnson said. "They are a well put-together team. You can tell they were strategic in how they put this team together. They know what they are doing."

Shannon Hale out at least 1 more game; 4 things to watch during Alabama-Oregon |

Forward Shannon Hale will miss his second straight game due to "medical reasons."

"Hopefully we'll have him back for our next game," coach Avery Johnson said, "and hopefully I'll have a little bit more of an update for you guys on him when we come back." Hale is second on the Tide with an average of 12.9 points per game.

SEC Turns to Football’s Deep Pockets to Help Shallower Basketball League - The New York Times

Avery Johnson, Alabama’s new basketball coach, lapsed into the local dialect last month while answering a question about who would start at point guard in the season opener the next week.

"It’s been a pretty strong competition," he said. "But there’s no quarterback controversy."

In the land of the Crimson Tide, football touches everything. But Johnson, 50, who played 16 seasons in the N.B.A. and coached for parts of seven more with the Dallas Mavericks and the Nets, is not daunted by that fact; rather, he intends to use it to improve his team’s popularity and fortune. "We’re going to leverage the success of football," Johnson said in an interview in his recently renovated office.

Coach Avery Johnson's squad has a difficult tilt with a solid Oregon Ducks team that has a great chance to go dancing in March, even more challenging since the Tide will be without arguably its best overall player for the second straight game. Fortunately, Retin Obasohan has been a revelation. Win or lose, this game will serve as something of a litmus test for the early progress of the team. We will, of course, have game coverage for you.

Alabama football:

ESPN College Football Playoff assignments released |

Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic (No. 3 Michigan State vs. No. 2 Alabama, 8 p.m. ET, ESPN) Broadcasters: Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, Heather Cox Radio: Brad Sham (play-by-play), Danny Kanell (analyst), Ian Fitzsimmons (reporter) Studio: Adnan Virk, Joe Tessitore (hosts), Kirk Herbstreit, Mack Brown, Mark May, Danny Kanell, Tim Tebow (analysts) Team reporters: Kaylee Hartung (Alabama), Tom Rinaldi (Michigan State)

Emphasis mine. Adjust your audio preferences accordingly.

Alabama practice report: A few notes as Alabama continues Michigan State installation |

This was the second day in game plan installation involving scout-team jerseys. With the running backs, Ronnie Clark played Gerald Holmes, Derrick Gore played leading rusher LJ Scott, Ronnie Clark played second-leading rusher Gerald Holmes, and Lawrence Erekosima played Delton Williams.

It's never easy to be a beat writer tasked with following Saban's program, but this year access has been especially limited. There is very little information coming out of Tuscaloosa right now.

Tide refused to let Ole Miss loss define its season |

"I think everybody realized that our backs were against the wall," senior starting quarterback Jake Coker said.

"We only had one option – to win. Otherwise, it was something other than a championship, and that’s not what we wanted." Coker didn’t start that game, and admittedly he wasn’t happy. But he didn’t want to be a distraction to the team. Coker is 12-0 in games he’s started this season.

Thankfully it doesn't matter now, but one has to wonder if Saban and Kiffin wish they had done things differently. It wasn't just about starting Cooper Bateman, it was about jockeying the team between two different offensive identities.

In Alabama, Bear's legacy still looms large, but Nick Saban closing in

I entered the Paul W. Bryant Museum, a 16,800 square-foot facility that is basically a shrine for 'Bama football. It is dominated by Bryant, the mythical coach who retired in 1982 with 323 victories, then the record for a college football coach.

But Saban's presence is growing. In the gift store, you can buy a replica of Bryant's trademark black and white "houndstooth" hat for $26.50. Right next to it, you can buy a Saban straw hat for $35.99.

You can buy a Crimson banner with a quote from Bryant: "I Ain't Never Been Nothing But A Winner."

That's right next to one with a quote from Saban: "What I would like for every football team to do that we play is to sit there and say, 'I hate playing against those guys.' "

We are so spoiled, y'all.

Tide receivers come through in the clutch - Dothan Eagle: University Of Alabama Sports

Ridley caught a bomb between two defenders that set up the Tide on Florida’s 3-yard line. ArDarius Stewart made a big play in the corner of the end zone on a 32-yard touchdown pass. Slot receiver Richard Mullaney snatched a bullet that Coker threaded between three Gators for the final score.

"Those balls looked a lot better than they were. I can’t say enough about those guys," Coker said. "The guys out there, they bust their butt as hard as they can. I can’t imagine not doing the same for them." Coker particularly praised Stewart, who also caught a 34-yard pass on an improvised play in the Auburn game. Stewart, a sophomore from Fultondale, was targeted for big plays earlier this season but couldn’t finish them.

"ArDarius, this guy, he inspires me," Coker said. "We threw to him deep a couple times. Sometimes it wouldn’t work out and it wasn’t his fault. A lot of times it was me. Robert gets hurt and Calvin comes in and he catches a couple deep balls.

Jake has grown into an outstanding leader on this team. In the words of Coach Bryant:

"If anything goes bad, I did it. If anything goes semi-good, we did it. If anything goes really good, then you did it. That's all it takes to get people to win football games for you."

Jake seems to get it. Glad to have him leading the offense.

Behind enemy lines:

'Old man' Joel Heath says Michigan State not satisfied entering Alabama game |

"The week has been really intense in terms of practice and preparing for Alabama,' Heath said. "But we have this feeling that everything is going to be all right. I think toward the end of last year, we gelled, and we realized this is the D-line we had hoped for." Heath began his conversion from defensive end to defensive tackle in 2013, gradually adding weight and sharpening his technique to operate effectively between the tackles.

Michigan State cornerback Arjen Colquhoun brings confidence to Alabama matchup |

"I feel like they do some things we can exploit and take advantage of," the 6-foot-1, 202-pounder from Windsor, Ontario, said at MSUs Cotton Bowl media day Wednesday. "I'm aware of Alabama football, it's a tremendous program and I'd say over the last 10 years they've ran college football. "But they're beatable. I think we have a great opportunity in this game, and I hope we can take control."

Lawrence Thomas: Michigan State-Alabama 'a fistfight, smash-mouth battle' |

Thomas said it's a matchup the Michigan State defensive line looks forward to in the same way they were geared up for then-unbeaten Ohio State on Nov. 21 in Columbus. "They (Alabama) are pretty much similar, in that Ohio State tried to come in and run the ball, and I'm pretty sure they'll run the football," Thomas said. "It will be a fistfight, smash-mouth battle up front in the trenches. "We were excited (Henry) won the Heisman. We watched it. He's a great running back."

Michigan State's defense is one of the more experienced units in the country and will present a huge challenge for the Tide offense. Derrick Henry deserved every bit of the praise that he has received over the past couple of weeks, but it will likely serve as fuel for a tough defensive line.

National News:

Robert Nkemdiche suspended for Sugar Bowl following arrest

"While I wish I could have finished this journey with my team, I am grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this program, and I am ready to begin the next phase of my life," Nkemdiche said in a statement. "I have learned a valuable lesson in the last week, and I look forward to showing NFL personnel that this is not representative of my true character. I want to thank my coaches, my teammates and Rebel Nation for their support these past three years, and I look forward to making them proud for years to come."

Get real, Bob. You left for the NFL two months ago.

Grading the hires on college football's coaching carousel

Georgia — Kirby Smart

If being a former Nick Saban assistant was an automatic path to head coaching success, Derek Dooley would still be at Tennessee and Will Muschamp would still be at Florida. Smart, who turns 40 next week, waited patiently for a head coaching gig and landed the opportunity of a lifetime at his alma mater. Maybe it will work out. But it's a big roll of the dice for Georgia, especially when it fired a successful coach in Richt and didn't even conduct a legitimate search, honing in on Smart from the get-go.

Kirby is going into a tough situation in Athens. The fan base was clearly split on Mark Richt, and quite a few feel that they downgraded. If he doesn't have some immediate success, there will be significant scrutiny. Good luck to him.

AJ McCarron ends NFL victory drought of Alabama quarterbacks |

McCarron completed 15-of-21 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown without an interception. The former St. Paul's star threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Tyler Kroft in the second quarter as Cincinnati took a 21-0 lead.

"Alabama quarterback ain't won a NFL game since last week, Pawwl."

Congrats to AJ on a solid performance filling in for Andy Dalton. Watching him play was reminiscent of his role in Tuscaloosa: limit risks, avoid the big negative plays, and distribute the ball.

That should do you for today. Have a great Christmas week, everyone.

Roll Tide.