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Jumbo Package: QB still up in the air, NFL Notes, and Lane Kiffin looks for vindication.

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In a perfect world, SC administrators will rue the day they left Lane Kiffin on that tarmac outside of Phoenix.

hang this one in the weight room
hang this one in the weight room
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The great X-Factor

Increased 'on-base percentage' has Blake Barnett in the mix to be Alabama's starting QB | AL.com

This had to happen for Blake Barnett to have any chance of being Alabama's starting quarterback. The former five-star recruit had to cut down on the interceptions, had to do a better job executing plays the way coaches wanted them and had to stop feeling like he needed to make a big play every time he was on the field.

He's improved in all three areas. That's why three days before the No. 1 Tide opens the season against No. 20 USC the redshirt freshman is legitimately in the mix to be Alabama's starting quarterback.

What a difference a week or two makes, huh? After being written off for an awful fall camp, Blake Barnett has rebounded to legitimately have a shot at earning the starting job.

Alabama practice report: Notes on the QBs in final viewing of USC week | AL.com

-- Barnett threw better deep balls when they were practicing a few different double-move routes. Bateman was long on a few balls and his throws had considerably more loft than Barnett's. That's consistent with previous performances from the two. -- Both quarterbacks still in the hunt for the top job threw good, tight balls to the sidelines when working on quick outs.

This one is going down to the wire, it seems. Gameplay is probably going to sort the two out, because of the below anecdote that occurred at LSU:

Nick Saban: 'I kind of liked that, even though it was hard to take in practice'

"I can’t tell you how they’re going to play in the game, especially the guys that have never played in the game," Saban said. "Cooper has played some here, which is a benefit to him. But I don’t know how these other guys are going to play in the game. Some guys go in the game and play a lot better.

Rohan Davey was a guy, I used to (put my hands over my face) in practice, because some days, he would throw the ball end over end in practice, and then he’d go throw for 400 yards in the game. I kind of liked that, even though it was hard to take sometimes in practice. But you knew the guy was always going to play well in the game, because he was that kind of competitor."

This certainly seems like he's going to let Barnett get some reps. Then again, if the offense is moving and scoring and more importantly not turning the ball over under Bateman, it may not matter how dynamic the arms behind him are.

We'll know Saturday night.

I hate this.

Why Nick Saban trusts Calvin Ridley as Alabama's punt returner | AL.com

Nick Saban likes his speed, but that's not why Ridley's debuting on special teams at 7 p.m. CT Saturday against USC in Arlington, Texas.

"I think the most important thing about punt return is putting the guy back there that has really good judgement," Saban said, "especially in this day in age when people rugby punt and the ball can be difficult to field. And he does a really good job with that. He has good judgement and experience being explosive as a returner so we're excited to see how he does in that role."

There were a few rough moments as Jones' understudy last fall. Judging punts in the air can be an adventure. "When I first got here, I wasn't too good at catching it," Ridley said. And then Cyrus, I used to see what he did to square up on the ball and stuff. And coach Saban gave me a few pointers, so I'm pretty confident."

It's exciting to think of Ridley in an open field; it's less so to think of Ridley spattered across the hash when one good targeting penalty is all that it takes to remove one of Alabama's most ferocious offensive weapons. Maybe it's still my flashbacks from the Shula regime, but I shudder at seeing one or two of Alabama's most dynamic players take unnecessary shots.

Good Gumping here

Nick Saban's speech that launched the Alabama Crimson Tide dynasty

"But I want everyone here to know," Saban says, holding his hand out to stop the applause. For this, he needs their undivided attention. His voice grows louder.

"This is not the end. This is the beginning."

Those two sentences, that sentiment, would come to mean many things to many people. For Witt, it brought a sigh of relief. For those players coming back next season, a loud wake-up call. For fans, it was everything.

A good piece on the story of Nick Saban lofting high that trophy on a cold January morning and the reassurance that he gave to fans, coaches, and to players: Time to get to work, this is only the beginning.

NFL

Jabriel Washington gets advice from Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in bid to make Los Angeles Rams | AL.com

The Los Angeles Rams waived 15 players on Tuesday to meet the NFL deadline to reduce their roster to 75. Fourteen of the players released were undrafted rookies. Jabriel Washington, an undrafted rookie from Alabama, wasn't among them. In the NFL, undrafted rookies are working without a safety net. Teams have comparatively little invested in them, and they weren't considered good enough to be drafted in the first place, so there's little second-guessing when they're let go. Washington had an even more precarious position: Instead of signing with a team immediately after the draft, he didn't catch on with the Rams until after attending their rookie minicamp in May.

Jabriel is pressing hard to make a roster. That is a sentence I never thought I'd type. The oft-used reserve played in over three dozen games for Alabama, so I suppose he's one of those role players that every team needs: you won't call his name much, but he does his job.

NFL Preseason Week 4 schedule: Kenyan Drake set for pro debut | AL.com

At least mentally, we were feeling light years better. But him not practicing as long as he has and he hasn't really been hit in a real game yet, this'll be important for him. "Obviously, I'd love to see what he can do as far as routes go and what we can do with him in the passing game. But at the same time, he showed us in the run game that he's very effective, at least in the limited snaps that we saw him in practice. I think we'd like to see if we can get him going in a little bit of both."

Drake is at 90% following a banged up rookie offseason. The Fish are looking for ways to get him in space and in those one-on-one mismatches where his speed and athleticism take over. If that sounds familiar, well...

USC down another

USC LB suspended for Alabama game reportedly being investigated for sexual assault

USC linebacker Osa Masina will not travel to Dallas for the team’s Week 1 game against Alabama after being suspended for a violation of team rules. According to Fox 13 in Salt Lake City, Masina is currently under investigation by Cottonwood Heights (Utah) Police regarding allegations of sexual assault. The allegation is from over the summer; Masina is a native of Salt Lake City.

Masina was an important backup last season, and was in the mix for the starting OLB spot this season.

Rejoice! Well, one day...

EA Sports executive: 'NCAA Football' video game will return sooner or later - CBSSports.com

According to one EA executive, the beloved, defunct video game is bound to make a comeback sooner or later. "One day, I know we'll be back," said EA's Chief Competition Officer Peter Moore in an interview with IGN.

A very nice read on CFB ceding some of its popularity because of the lack of the iconic EA franchise. How they plan on structuring payment going forward seems a nightmare though.

You knew the Lane Kiffin puff pieces were coming...

USC will be wary of a whistling Lane Kiffin against Alabama

What often gets lost in Kiffin's smirks, his cryptic and odd Twitter trolling, and the myriad takes on why he was elevated before his time as a head coach and then crashed so abruptly, is that he's pretty darn good at X's and O's and getting his offense into the end zone.

"He's one of more brilliant offensive minds in the country," Helton said. The conventional wisdom is the Kiffin, USC's head coach for 3 1/2 tumultuous seasons, is about to stick it to the Trojans on Saturday in AT&T Stadium. After all, USC athletic director Pat Haden humiliated him in 2013 with a midseason firing at Los Angeles International Airport after a 62-41 whipping by Arizona State.

"It was the lowest part of my career by far," Kiffin said during his media availability in advance of the national title game.

Kiffin apparently has a tell. If he whistles before the snap, he's going to change the play. I know who I want to play poker with.

The other side of Lane Kiffin, college football’s most controversial coach

Maybe a three-year rehab stint under Saban is the right amount of time needed for scars from previous failures to heal - and for future employers to feel more comfortable hiring him. Last fall, there were 13 head coaching vacancies in college football, but none were filled by Kiffin. "You can't write a perfect script," Monte Kiffin said. "I think the most important thing now is he's not really looking (for another job). If you just do your job - every year is an important year. I don't care if you're at the University of South Florida, it's all the same. You can't be looking for the next job."

Don't give me false hope, Monte, you bastard! I know better than to get up some false hope, and I've resigned myself to Kiffin's departure after this season. The Dreamy One was always ever on loan: Thank you, USC, for that extremely generous buyout which made him a toxic asset for these past three years.Year two into the reclamation project has netted Kiffin the best statistical season by a QB in Alabama history, two SEC championships, two Playoff appearances, a Heisman, a Biletnikoff, and a National Title.