First, some bad news
"We have made an internal decision to send Tony Brown home due to a violation of team rules," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. Brown, a sophomore, finishes the season tied for the team lead with eight special teams tackles.
Kenyan Drake spent some time on the Naughty List too, and he turned out pretty well. That said, losing Alabama's best special teams gunner is hardly optimal news. We don't have any word on the genesis of the poor decision-making here, but it couldn't be the pinnacle of maturity, that's for sure.
State can pass, though. Well, the Spartans can pass when Cook is healthy...The Dantonio Way means a run-first offense no matter what, but running meant Cook would be throwing on second-and-9 or third-and-7. He was awesome on second-and-9 and third-and-7. Throwing mostly on passing downs, he produced a passer rating of 149.3 with a 7-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. On third-and-7 or longer, he was 45-for-79 for 749 yards, six touchdowns, and just one pick. Absurdly good.
Getting Sparty behind the chains is no guarantee of limiting their offensive success. When healthy, Connor Cook absolutely thrives on 3rd and long. Granted, Michigan State has not seen a defensive line this talented; but, the flipside is true as well -- Alabama has seen a few good quarterbacks this season, but not one quite this polished.
...few defenses sellout to stop the run like Michigan State's, with an excellent defensive line led by NT Malik McDowell and DE Shilique Calhoun. To beat Alabama, you need to slow down Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry and force QB Jake Coker to make plays down field. Michigan State crowds the box and dares opponents to take shots.
Alabama has the nation's best defensive line in the nation, but, when looking at only the starters, Michigan State has the second best. Derrick Henry is going to have to work for his yards tonight. If the Spartans limit him, all eyes turn to Jake Coker.
So what happens if the Spartans are the immovable object to Henry’s unstoppable force? ... "Jake Coker, I think you guys are going to see in a little bit, really is a good example of just continuing to compete," Kiffin said. "Really was benched and not started in one game. When you think about it, Jake has won every game that he started. So I think that's a critical moment for Jake, the way he responded, the way he played, and really how he won his team over. It was not by finesse. It was by playing extremely hard, taking a linebacker mentality to the position. And I think that he was not only winning over his offense at that point but winning over his defense."
Kiffin has absolute confidence that Coker can win the game if it's placed in his hands. And, after seeing some of his clutch performances against Arkansas and Tennessee, I'd give the fifth-year senior more than a puncher's chance at making plays that are the difference in this one.
Connor Cook has played in a bunch of big games, and he's won many of them. He’s very talented. If he plays like a first-rounder, I think the Spartans win. But as good as I think Cook is, and as solid as Dantonio’s track record is against Top 5 teams, I just can’t pick against Nick Saban, that D-line and Heisman-winning running back Derrick Henry.
Feldman sees a close one. I have exceptional respect for both Feldman and for what Dantonio has done. But, frankly, I just don't know where the offense is going to come from for MSU.
Saban cautioned that analyzing strategy or poring over matchups isn't the best way to win. "I think creating the right mindset is probably the most important thing," he said. "Teams that have responded to the challenge of what they want to do seem to do a little better in terms of their preparation. "Beyond that, I can't tell. Maybe somebody can tell. I can't even tell when we're going to play for 60 minutes in a game once the game starts. I don't think you ever know. You just try to keep the right mindset on your team as the game starts."
We sit at 12 hours before kickoff, and the mental state of a more focused Tide team still seems to be on the mind of Nick Saban. This excellent write-up by Cecil, which you should read, has some telling quotes from Dantonio regarding his faith in Connor Cook.
The Tide start this by dominating in-state recruiting over rival Auburn and any program that might try to come in. But Alabama only produces about 10 such players on a yearly basis, so Alabama must go out of state to fill its talent coffers, doing well in Louisiana, Georgia and Florida. Alabama also cherry picks unique national prospects and does a great job with junior college players, particularly from the Mississippi circuit along the defensive line. The most striking thing about this Alabama team is its imposing front seven, which it used to shut down Leonard Fournette without even having to load up the box often. That shows up in the recruiting rankings as well -- the Tide have 22 former four- or five-star recruits among their defensive linemen and linebackers. That's more blue-chip recruits in the front seven than opponent Michigan State has on its entire team.
From Bud's article, "78 players on scholarship are 4- or 5-star blue chippers." Yeeesh. Talent glut much?
Both Nick Saban and Mark Dantonio aren't looking to expand the four-team bracket on the eve of their Cotton Bowl semifinal. Entering the second version, there's been minimal controversy over the teams selected to play for the national title. They expressed a few concerns with the continued push to double the field. "I think when you start to throw eight teams in there, I think it's going to get a little bit even more muddled as you move forward," Dantonio said. "We have our championship game within our conference which sort of served as a way to get into this. And right now we're coming in to playing our 14th game. So it's a lot of football games."
Playoff creep, the thing that I detested and feared the most about a playoff, began almost as soon as the first field was announced. This year, there's no real argument on the field of four, but it's only a matter of time until the playoff expands -- there's just too much money at stake here.The coaches are notably not pleased, however.
The 57-year-old Steele, a veteran coach who has spent many years working in the SEC, has spent one season running the LSU defense. The Tigers, ranked No. 27 in the nation in total defense and No. 32 in yards per play, just defeated Texas Tech on Tuesday night in the Texas Bowl. With Auburn, Steele takes over a unit that ranked No. 13 in the SEC in total defense. He leaves behind an LSU group that has a ton of young talent but could lose a couple of gifted linebackers.
Another defensive saviour hired on the Plains. Yawn. Wake me up when Steele fares better than Ellis Johnson, Ted Roof, or Will Muschamp (SPOILER: He won't, and he's not nearly the recruiter of Coach Boom either.) I know way too many Auburn fans who see a slow motion cratering of the Auburn football program under Malzahn -- and, after three years of increasingly diminishing results, it's getting harder to argue with them.
Meanwhile, I'm sure our friends in Baton Rouge are actually pretty pleased with this outcome. LSU was 27th in total defense, but those were illusory raw numbers (I'll let one of y'all plug in the advanced stats in the comments.) The Tiger defense, and an offensive line that wasn't quite what we thought it was, made the difference between LSU finishing 12-1 and finishing 10-3. Next year, however, LSU is positively loaded for a title run (I know, we've heard that before.)
We all need to take this out on a lighter note. Few things have been as amusing as the Memphis Ball Bandit.
After losing to Auburn, 31-10, in the Birmingham Bowl, Memphis safety Reggis Ball reportedly ran over to the Auburn sideline and stole a football, while also giving the Auburn equipment staff the finger.
LOL. The most Memphis story ever? Yes, the most Memphis story ever. #Choose901
That's it, folks. Go forth to evil. Have a fantastic and exceptionally safe New Year's Eve. I'll see you again in 2016.