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Jumbo Package: Monday, 28 December 2015

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It's game week!

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

Plenty of Cotton Bowl coverage for you this morning as the Tide prepares for its Thursday night game. On that front, I guess we have to stop making fun of the ACC now. In any event, let's get to it:

'Everybody on the team knew' player leadership wasn't right before Ohio State game | AL.com

"Everybody on the team knew the leadership wasn't the right way but some guys can't say (anything) about it," Ragland said. "Now, I can say something because I'm a leader. If I feel like I don't like something, I'm going to say it. If we need to do this, I'm going to say it. "The guys on the team know we need to do it the right way because the right way gets it done and the wrong way doesn't."

This is an interesting comment from Reggie Ragland, who obviously doesn't mention any names. It seems as if he is trying to lead the charge in correcting it.

Why Kenyan Drake returned so quickly from broken arm | AL.com

"It was a bad break because it was a complete break but that was the best scenario because the bone I broke was the smaller bone," Drake said. "So the bigger bone was able to keep the structure of my arm. If it would have been both bones, then I would have just been out. But the smaller bone just healed faster and they were able to put the screws in and obviously just made it stronger than it ever was."

Seeing the play live, that is almost unbelievable.

'What did I just get myself into?' Alabama transfer solved early anxiety with steady season | AL.com

That moment hit Mullaney not long after arriving in Tuscaloosa.

"Coming here with just two bags and not even a place to live, I didn't know what to expect," the Thousand Oaks, Calif., product said. "It was like the first week, I called my parents and was like 'What did I just get myself into?' It was a lot."

That apprehension faded fast as Mullaney became a key veteran presence in a youthful passing game with a first-year starting quarterback.

"Slotty Pippen" may have had some second thoughts early, but we are happy to have him.

Michigan State has been creative in prepping for Alabama star running back Derrick Henry | AL.com

"How do you prepare them to tackle Derrick Henry? It's hard to simulate," Tressel said of Henry, the Heisman Trophy winner who leads the nation with 1,986 rushing yards and 23 rushing touchdowns. "We're trying to figure out who's our scout team tailback almost on a daily basis. We've had almost three weeks to prepare, and it's like, well, why don't we try Matt Sokol, a tight end? Why don't we try Kenny Willekes, who's a linebacker? ... We have big backs, but not that big of backs, so we've used a variety of different people.

After smothering Ezekiel Elliott, can Michigan State bottle up Derrick Henry? - Chicago Tribune

Think again. Henry, Alabama's workhorse running back, is a brute at 6-foot-3 and 242 pounds. He has three inches and 22 pounds on Michigan State's No. 2 tackler, linebacker Darien Harris, whom he'll face in the Cotton Bowl semifinal on Thursday. "He's able to do everything," Harris said, "break out in the open field, stiff-arm, pass protect, catch out of the backfield. You definitely can't hit him up high. (Defenders) bounce off." Alabama quarterback Jake Coker put it like this: "He's the biggest dude out there and runs faster than everyone else. The guy's a freak."

Michigan State defense approaches Alabama game with 'bloodbath mentality' | MLive.com

"That's what we pride ourselves on is playing fast, physical and violent at all times in every game, not just because it's Derrick Henry," MSU secondary coach and co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said. "But if you're going to pound a back up there, or if you're a team that runs your quarterback a lot, we expect them to get a lot of hits on him and guys flying in there, and he should feel it after the game."

Based on everything you read, Michigan State is focusing a lion's share of its defensive prep time on stopping Derrick Henry. Anyone else have visions of Calvin Ridley, ArDarius Stewart, and Richard Mullaney running wild and free against a pedestrian secondary? I don't see how they can afford to stack the box.

College Sports: Nichols: CFP semifinal matchup vs. Alabama gives Michigan State another chance to gauge how far their program has come | SportsDay

A victory over Alabama, which ranks first with a 60-7 mark (89.5 percent) over the last five seasons, would put Michigan State in the national championship game. "It should help us a lot," coach Mark Dantonio said. "We have been on a big stage. This program has grown since 2007. We have had to do things and have a process to it. And so we've gone through the various stages of that process: Winning at home, winning away, winning bowl games. Now you have an opportunity to play on an even bigger stage."

Alabama, Michigan State fans flock to Cotton Bowl | The Star-Telegram

Surprisingly, with No. 3 Michigan State facing No. 2 Alabama in one College Football Playoff semifinal at the Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic in Arlington, Dyer said he’s not seeing the same passion for tickets. It probably doesn’t help that the Spartans were in last season’s Cotton Bowl at AT&T Stadium, which was played on Jan. 1, 2015. While the Spartans rallied to beat Baylor in that game, many fans are holding off coming back this week and hoping for a Michigan State victory and a chance to attend the College Football National Championship in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan 11.

This is definitely a "litmus test" game for the Michigan State Spartans, and based on the second article it seems that their fans are treating it as such. There may be a decidedly Crimson feel around the stadium this week.

All Jake Coker does is win as Alabama's anti-diva QB | AL.com

First, Coker got mad. Saban planted the seed with him two days before the game that he might not start and delivered the official word an hour before kickoff.

"I can't tell you I was happy about it," Coker said. "I was pretty angry. But it was one of those things where I didn't want to be a distraction to the team or anything like that. They knew I had to be unhappy about it, but I definitely didn't act like it or complain about it or anything like that." Kiffin agreed that Coker didn't complain, "but you could see it in his body language. Which is great. I said that to him, too. I said, 'We don't expect you to agree with this decision. If you agree with it, you're not competitive. I expect you to go prove it wrong.' "He did exactly that."

This is the same quote we've read a couple of times, but the first time I've seen it mentioned that the seed was planted a couple of days in advance. There is again nothing mentioned about any sort of illness. I'm starting to think that was all a Twitter rumor. In any event, Jake has done nothing but win as the headline intimates.

How Alabama's 2011 beating of Michigan State set wheels in motion for high-stakes rematch | AL.com

"So now here we are in the College Football Playoff. We've got exactly the opportunity that we've worked so hard for since last February, and we're going to see if we measure up. Alabama has certainly had a football team that's been in that situation before, so they know what to expect. We're sort of new on the scene in that type of thing."

Alabama certainly has a decided advantage in terms of experience in this one.

Lane Kiffin trolls Ohio State while previewing Michigan State-Alabama | FOX Sports


"Obviously, Elliott, Ohio State, they did a great job against him," Kiffin said. "Hopefully we give the ball to Derrick more than they did."

He then added he was "just kidding."

"That was a joke. It's okay to laugh. It's early in the morning. But we are going to have our hands full because they do play very tough, very physical up front, and really get after you."

Lane being Lane.

Alabama football: Kiffin wants to return as Tide's offensive coordinator in 2016 - The Anniston Star: Sports

Speaking with reporters on Sunday, Lane Kiffin said "I’d love to be back there" when asked if he sees himself at Alabama next year.

"We’ll have a new set of challenges with the third year of a new quarterback," Kiffin said. "A lot of great players. We’ll replace a Heisman Trophy winner (Derrick Henry) just like we did a Biletnikoff winner (Amari Cooper) the year before. We’ll have some great returning players to work with. I’d be really excited about that."

Kiffin is going to be back next season. He also basically declared Derrick Henry for the draft, but I doubt anyone was holding out any delusions there.

Lane Kiffin, Alabama offensive players break down Michigan State defense | MLive.com

"They're not going to give you free plays, they're not going to make mistakes, and you're going to have to schematically beat them or physically find a way to beat them," Kiffin said Sunday morning, "because they aren't just going to screw up and all the sudden rush the wrong gap, or blitz the wrong guy. They're just too well coached." It has been well-documented that Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio and co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett were mentored by Alabama head coach Nick Saban. Saban served as the Spartans' head coach

The Tide should be able to physically beat the Spartans at most positions. It may take a while, but it should happen.

Alabama, Michigan State players thankful to avoid tornado

"We weren't sure where they were," Alabama running back Kenyan Drake said of the tornadoes, "but that didn't stop the escort from driving us around everywhere. We were more concerned about them because they were out in the elements a lot more than us. They were on bikes and everything riding in the rain. We got to where we needed to go safely, so we were appreciative of that. "You just pray for the safety of everybody else around the city during this time."

Crazy December weather as a huge tornado killed at least 11 in the Dallas area yesterday. Thankfully neither team was caught up in it.

Saban respected but Dantonio revered in East Lansing | College Football

"Had I never had that opportunity to go to Michigan State, I wouldn't be sitting here right now. He's a defensive back guy. I'm a defensive back guy. So I learned a tremendous amount of football in that time," Dantonio said. "I had the opportunity to work with a guy who had been in the NFL and had a, obviously, a lot of success as a coordinator in the NFL. So my knowledge in the secondary grew greatly in those five years. I appreciate everything that he's done for me in that vein."

This is a game between two coaches who have a genuine respect for one another and who mirror one another in coaching style.

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

Roll Tide.