SI’s preseason Top 25 is designed to set the expectation for the title chase ahead, and so it may surprise some to see reigning champ Alabama outside of the top spot in favor of 2016 champ Clemson. What’s changed since New Year’s Day, when the Crimson Tide cruised to a 24–7 win in the teams’ third consecutive College Football Playoff meeting, this time in the Sugar Bowl semifinal? On defense, the Tigers returned en masse to fulfill their promise, putting off first-round money in the NFL draft to be a part of a special season. On offense, their skill players are no longer so new to the spotlight, and their quarterback situation, while no less settled in early August than the one in Tuscaloosa, has a sky-high ceiling that should allow the rest of the unit to flourish.
Thank goodness someone is finally casting a little bit of doubt on the Tide. Lessen the rat poison a little.
In any case, I still just don’t see all the love for Clemson this year. They’re the same team as the one we blew out at the end of last season, with a little less talent on offense.
“Now, if I were to handicap it myself, I would say Tua would probably have the inside track just given how he played against one of the best defenses in college football last year,” said McElroy, who led Alabama to the 2009 national championship. “But I also know that Jalen did a great job in providing the team exactly what it was they needed in the (13) games leading up to that championship game.
”I don’t think it’s as clear-cut as everyone else seems to think it is but I still think that Tua would have the inside track.”
The QB controversy is about as low-hanging a fruit there is for the media outlets right now. NCAA’s home site is now getting in on the action too, but it is at least a pretty decent article. They got some quotes from McElroy, Mike Locksley, Tagovailoa, and Hurts.
Less sensational but more substantive is an early perspective the defensive reload is not a rebuild. Junior cornerback, Shyheim Carter was the defensive star of Saturday’s open practice. His strong performance continued on Monday. Going into fall camp, Carter was known to be important to the 2018 defense. His contribution was expected to be at Star in the nickel set.
Unless it is a short-term experiment, Carter now looks like a starting cornerback. On multiple occasions, Nick Saban had praised Shyheim’s leadership. Saban does not do casual praise, particularly about leadership. In contrast, neither Saban or Tosh Lupoi are yet to praise Mack Wilson’s leadership. It is said Mack will assume a play-calling role and he is being developed as a leader. There is no praise yet for Wilson being a leader.
I’ll have an in-depth article up later on the cornerback situation.
In any case, Shyheim has been the star of the show this spring. I’ve been singing his praises since he was a high school senior, so it’s good to see him finally at the top of the depth chart.
“We do have a very versatile defense where we do have concepts within the 3-4 defense, as well as 4-3 concepts,” defensive coordinator Tosh Lupoi said. “I think the great thing about that versatility is a lot of individuals that play outside backer may have the ability to play inside. Just like we’ve done from Reggie Ragland to Rashaan Evans and others in the past where inside backers can also play outside.
“Having the versatility within the system at least allows us to be able to move some guys around as opposed to maybe some other defenses where you’re kind of at the position you play and a little bit, for lack of a better term, stuck at your position. We’re able to move guys around and tie in concepts that make sense, where I think we can be in the position to get our best personnel out there.”
Some interesting quotes about the flexibility of the Tide’s defensive scheme from Lupoi here. It’s also mentioned that both Chris Allen and Christian Miller have been playing a little inside linebacker. Miller is a veteran with the experience and versatility to be a similar player to Rashaan Evans. Allen, on the other hand, was recruited as more of a defensive end/hybrid linebacker kind of role. If he makes a move to inside linebacker, he’ll be an absolute monster in the middle, in the mold of Donta Hightower.
Teammate Damien Harris laughed when told of Miller’s view of camp and where it pinged on his fun meter.
”Typical Christian response,” the senior running back said.
His answer to whether camp was fun evolved as it went on.
”No,” Harris said abruptly. “I mean. There are two different ways to look at it. Actual being out there for practice and it’s 120 degrees on the field, no, that’s not fun. But being able to be out here with these guys and just the excitement level to be back out there on the field and actually play real football again, it’s an exciting time for us. And we’re looking forward to the rest of camp.”
Speaking of Christian Miller, he seems to be one of those crazy practice-aholics. He’s kind of been a forgotten man over the years as he transitioned from a back-up to a starter who was injured in the first game of his first starting season.
Former offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin once joked that in his time at Alabama, he couldn’t learn everyone’s name. When Dabo Swinney went to Clemson, he made no bones about building out his staff. “Saban changed the game,” he said. And two years ago, when Tom Herman took over at Texas, he boasted of getting “an army together.”
The proliferation, though, has been starkest in recruiting, an art form based on instinct and eye that Saban has codified into a business based on science and manpower. He’s built a supplemental recruiting operation separate from coaching in which staffers focus exclusively on watching film and evaluating prospects against predefined characteristics for each position -- a receiver’s height, an offensive lineman’s reach, a pass rusher’s flexibility. That operation is the muscle behind Alabama’s 10 straight top-three finishes in ESPN’s recruiting class rankings since 2008 and the inspiration for copycats nationwide.
”I don’t think 10 years ago there were personnel departments,” former Nebraska coach Mike Riley says. “I don’t know specifically when Nick started it like he did, but since that time it’s grown tremendously.”
ESPN put together a fun article about just how awesome Nick Saban has been and how he’s changed the course of college football. Everything from staff sizes to freshman media restrictions are parts of the legacy of innovation that Saban has created at Alabama.
The same predicament arises every summer. With a new season approaching, college football must once again ask: How do we beat Alabama?
The Crimson Tide dynasty has now stretched nearly a decade with five national championships and counting.
In the Southeastern Conference, where rivals face this juggernaut on a regular basis, no less than four schools have cherry-picked coaches who used to work for Nick Saban.
But if you’re looking for quick answers, don’t ask Jeremy Pruitt, who jumped from Tuscaloosa to Tennessee in the offseason. When asked if his former boss offered him parting wisdom, Pruitt said: “You think coach Saban is going to give me any advice?”
Here the L.A. Times put together a good piece with a bunch of quotes from former Saban assistants about how good he is at running a program and how they’ve learned from him. And also just how unbeatable he really is.
You wanted a Gump Day, so I gave it to you.