Happy Monday, everyone. The day after the Super Bowl is always a bit somber as football has officially left for seven long months. Fortunately we have an improving basketball team to turn attention to, and spring practice will be here before you know it. In any event, here are a few links for you today:
Alabama will start to defend its national championship against USC at AT&T Stadium in the Cowboys Classic. It will be the first time since 1978 that the Tide and Trojans have faced one another during the regular season. The Trojans edged the Tide 24-14 but both teams later split the national title. Alabama holds a 5-2 series lead, but there is no doubt these are two of the top programs in college football history. Alabama and USC have combined for 27 national championships and eight Heisman Trophy winners. The other big storyline will feature Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin facing his former team and alma mater. It's sure to be the biggest game of the week.
You all know the story: resigning USC AD Pat Haden fired Lane "a good 20 yards off the tarmac" at the Phoenix airport following a loss to Arizona State. Think he might have a little bit of revenge on his mind as he faces his former employer? Also, if Blake Barnett is the guy at QB, the SoCal native will undoubtedly relish the opportunity to show out against the Trojans. Let the countdown begin...
Of the three former Alabama players to appear on a Super Bowl 50 roster, only one, wide receiver Kevin Norwood, played under Nick Saban. Norwood, a fourth–round pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014, has appeared in just one game this season for Carolina. Panthers safety Roman Harper has recorded 73 tackles in the regular season, his most since 2012, and Broncos offensive guard Evan Mathis will suit up against the team that drafted him.
The Tide had the third-most players in the game yesterday. Kevin Norwood is earning a reputation as a good luck charm, appearing in the last three.
The Panthers acquitted themselves well after the game. The rookie wide receiver Devin Funchess took question after question. "It was playoff ball, man, they exploded off the ball," he said. "It hurts." And their big defensive end, Charles Johnson, spoke of not having "the energy we usually have." "We didn’t execute like we usually do," he added. Over in the corner of the interview room, the top-paid player on the team, the marquee man, was not showing leadership.
Not only did Newton not pounce on the loose football -- one that Broncos safety T.J. Ward ultimately recovered at the Panthers' 9-yard line -- but he also jumped back after a couple Broncos defenders dove toward it. It was a decision that his head coach, Ron Rivera, explained by saying Newton "was trying to find a way to get the ball and keep it alive." A more jaded perspective was that Newton froze at the worst possible moment. That decision will make Newton an easier target for the people who have denounced his behavior all year. They'll point to all the celebratory antics that became his trademarks -- the dabbing, the dancing, the fake jump shots after touchdowns -- and use them as proof of what they see as a superficial nature.
Newton is deservedly taking a beating in the press this morning, first for pulling up when he had a great opportunity to recover his own fumble late in the game that led to the clinching score, then for melting down with a hissy fit in the end zone on a perfectly legal hit, then for walking out on his post-game press conference. As the first writer mentions, Russell Wilson threw what had to be a gut-wrenching interception in the end zone that clinched the game for New England last year and still managed to acquit himself well after the game, and some of Newton's teammates somehow pulled themselves together to give post-game interviews. This shows what many have said about Newton all along: in his mind, this wasn't a Panthers loss, it was a Cam loss. The man is one of the more narcissistic individuals on the planet.
In addition to Cam exposing his true colors to the sports world, Alabama fans also got to enjoy watching Peyton Manning stink up the joint, albeit in a winning effort. Eli was particularly thrilled for his older brother:
In general, it was a sloppy game that was dominated by the Broncos' pass rushers.
Beat writer John Talty gave his assessment of Alabama's 2016 offensive recruiting class (spoiler: he likes it)...
Elite 2017 CB William Poole III, from Atlanta, says that Alabama "would be like a second home" for him...
Newly hired DB coach Derrick Ansley is known for his recruiting chops...
Ladies' hoops came up just short against Auburn.
That's about it for today. Have a great week everyone.