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Jumbo Package: Tide begins practicing for its national title showdown with the ‘Dawgs

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And, we begin our extensive coverage of the game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Sugar Bowl - CFP Semifinal - Alabama v Clemson
GOAT
Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Degenerate gambler and win cool stuff alert: Public money has come in on the ‘Dawgs, dropping the line by a full point to -3.5 for the Tide. Most expected to see that later this week, but I don’t think anyone anticipate the flood of early action dropping the total by two full points, to o/u 45: People see a defensive struggle between Obi Wan and his Padawan.

I still think this game goes over that: Alabama may get an extra score or two over its semifinal output, but Georgia’s offense is more stable than Clemson’s, and it will hit pay dirt a few times. Still, I get ahead of ourselves. We’ll have a score prediction thread on game day. And, like the one we did this past week, you share the post on a social media platform of your preference copying @Wilson_Football, and you’ll be entered to win an Alabama-embossed official 2018 CFP game ball from Wilson Athletic. Free stuff rocks.

We’ve heard Coach Saban’s side of the story: This isn’t about him vs. Kirby, nothing personal, etc. Kirby is a bit glibber than CNS, and he largely echoed those thoughts, but he added an interesting sidebar about the nature of the coaching profession, and its alleged cutthroat nature, that’s worth reading:

The cutthroat part is more for media attention,” Smart said. “Maybe you feel that way in recruiting or you feel that way to beat somebody. Yeah, you want to win the game for your players and your program, but I mean, it’s not personal for me and their staff. I have a lot of friends on their staff. I respect their staff. It’s not really cutthroat to me. The competitive nature is to go win, but outside of that, they’re good people.

It’s still weird hearing Kirby say “their” in relation to our program, one that bore his imprimatur for a decade, isn’t it? Fortunately, the way he went out — poaching staff, backdooring players, literally stealing the “effort, toughness, discipline” glove poster, and a whole host of other negatives he’s known for — makes it much easier to hate him for a week. Delenda est, Kirby. Delenda Est.

Coach Avery Johnson is looking for consistency from a talented team that has dropped winnable games it has no business losing. Safe to say, CAJ’s not getting that consistency. A lot of the problem seems to be finding chemistry, particularly on the defensive end:

Johnson said Riley Norris’ season-ending hip surgery - scheduled for Friday - makes Key and freshman Herbert Jones’ presences even more valuable as he searches for a consistent rotation.

”It’s getting Herb Jones more minutes and Braxton getting in better game shape,” Johnson said. “Those are two of our better defenders, so I don’t know if it’s going to take three games or five games or however long, but hopefully we’ll start having some great chemistry on the floor.”

Far be it from me to suggest an injury may help this team, but, yeah, it really might. Braxton is better fit than Riley Norris for what this offense does well. He’s a better rebounder, a better defender, runs the floor better, and has more offensive upside. Now that the Tide knows Braxton is going to have to get the lion’s share of the work, the ‘Bama rotation can maybe, finally cohere.

Auburn has already knew it was losing Braden Smith and Kerryon Johnson on offense. Yesterday, it was announced that the Tiger’s two best individual defenders, Carlton Davis and Jeff Holland, will be taking their talent to the NFL. Auburn was already looking at a rebuild next season: that hill just got a bit steeper for the $6 million-a-year head coach of the Tigers.

A lot of stories are walking back the “Alabama not belonging in the playoffs” talking points (hot takes that frankly were not particularly merited in the first place.) This one from Zac Al-Khateeb at TSN is particularly good:

This was the Alabama we’ve grown used to seeing during Nick Saban’s tenure: angry, suffocating and relentless...This is what happens when Alabama gets healthy. This is what happens when Alabama has five weeks to prepare. This is what happens when Alabama plays with a chip on its shoulder.

It showed.

There were three injuries of note this past week.

  • Josh Jacobs reinjured his hamstring the day before the Clemson game and was limited accordingly -- that injury has lingered all season, as we feared it might: Like turf toe and groin pulls, hamstrings are season-long irritants. Jacobs was expected to do so much for this offense; we’ve still not seen the full extent of the scheme Daboll wants to run simply because Jacobs has had such erratic availability, and that elephant in the room — the passing game.
  • Anfernee Jennings, who had the game of his career, had successful knee surgery and will miss the CFP Final. That you knew. Three players were seen rotating snaps with the Ones yesterday vying to replace him.
  • The final, other critical injury was big right guard Lester Cotton, who’s had a quietly excellent year run-blocking. Viewing sessions were fairly limited at the Moore complex yesterday, but Cotton was not practicing with the first team:

-- Lester Cotton, who injured his knee Tuesday in the Crimson Tide’s victory over Clemson in the semifinal round, was not spotted. JC Hassenauer -- the senior who replaced Cotton, played 13 snaps against Clemson and previously started two games in place of left guard Ross Pierschbacher -- was inserted at right guard and was working with the first-team unit.

Travis Reier’s post-practice observations are in handy video form here.

Good coverage here: why it’s so frustrating to coach against Nick Saban. And,Coach Ray Goff breaks down the Georgia Bulldogs in his scouting report.

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ESPN, as we shall do today, has also begun its previews of the game on Monday.

No. 4 ‘Bama gymnastics takes to Ann Arbor on Friday for its season opener. Coach Dana Duckworth was recently given a raise and an extension after three seasons of diminishing returns by the Tide, where Alabama has fallen behind several conference rivals. This would be an excellent way to get back to form. It won’t be easy by any stretch: Michigan is ranked No. 7 in the nation and is on their home floor.

With UCF embarrassing itself this week, sportswriters that have actually covered championship football compiled a Top-20 list of the modern-era teams that were excellent but never won a title. Yes, 2014 Alabama is on there (probably not an all-time great IYAM. 2013 Alabama is the one that haunts me.) And, clocking it at No. 3 is the 2016 Alabama team, a unit that vied for best-ever most of the season. It’s good to keep things like this in mind: Clemson was just a stepping stone to the larger prize of redemption for a roster that was mostly around to experience that gut-wrenching final drive. I personally would have had No. 1 and No. 2 reversed, but that’s not a hill I’m going to die on or anything.

What could have been: Nick Saban had this team one drive — one second — away from winning another national title. That team would have been on the list of greatest all-time teams. Clemson, however, had other ideas. Deshaun Watson put on a masterful performance in the final minutes of a 35-31 victory. Would this game have played out differently had Kiffin stayed on for the championship game?

And, to answer their question? Yes, it would have. And, yes it would have been different with Eddie Jackson. And, yes, it would have been different without the one no-call. And, yes, it would have been different without a brutal personal foul on the final drive. That’s the problem though: In a game that came down to a final play you can pinpoint any one of them as the game-changer. We can torture ourselves for the rest of our lives over any or all of those plays or the coaching staff turnover or in-game personnel decisions for which we have no control...what-ifs are the worst.

As promised, the “assistants never beat Saban, can Kirby do it?” stories are starting to roll in.

Yesterday, the Alabama staff named its seven players of the Semifinal game. It’s good to see one name on here especially: Tony Brown. Crazy Tony had a really good day in coverage, and he was a monster as a punt return gunner too. Clemson had six opportunities and was not able to field any of them.

LSU is hemorrhaging cash. Better money than coordinators, Ed Orgeron supposes. After announcing that it is parting ways with OC Matt Canada, yesterday two campuses exploded with news that A&M was prepared to pay DC Dave Aranda $3m a year to take over the hot mess in College Station. Ultimately, Aranda chose to stick around Baton Rouge — fleecing the cash-strapped school to the tune of $10m over 4 years. Yikes.

Lastly, some interesting news: After his being passed over the previous two job cycles, the sudden departure of Arizona’s Rich Rodriguez opens the door for Les Miles. He wants the job, and it looks like Arizona wants him right back. HUZZAH! Miles is a national treasure, and don’t tell me it wouldn’t be fun to play a Les Miles ‘Cats team in the Rose Bowl, right? I can’t wait till he repeatedly pokes humorless David Shaw. If nothing else, this would be a great place to cool his heels for a bit and show he’s still an elite coach while he awaits the firing/departure of Michigan uber-bust Jim Harbaugh.

Okay, that was a lot. I’m tired now. We have more for you in a bit. There’s plenty to talk about here, so get to it.