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Jumbo Package: Gump Day

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Your latest Crimson Tide news and notes.

NCAA Football: SEC Championship-Alabama at Florida Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Gump Day, everyone. The basketball team smoked Ole Miss last night, which is a great sign entering conference play. Of course, there is a little football game coming up Friday that Alabama fans are preoccupied with at the moment. Yesterday was media day for the game, and Mac Jones was asked about Chris Owens replacing Landon Dickerson, by far the biggest concern for Tide fans.

If you have to lose a player like Landon, it is fortunate to have someone with Owens’ experience to fill in.

Najee Harris flashed his personality when asked about his TD celebration tributes to Megan Rapinoe, and his answer elicited a response from the US women’s national soccer team star.

That’s pretty cool.

ESPN has a nice piece on Najee’s development.

Locksley said the NFL has influenced the college game in terms of throwing more to tight ends and running backs. The matchup of a running back on a linebacker is one coordinators love to exploit, and it’s one Harris excels at.

“You’ve seen Najee develop himself from being just a runner to being a guy that now understands leverage and running routes and setting up the routes and finishing the catch,” he said. “I’ve been really impressed with how he’s matured in that phase of the game.”

On top of all that, Harris has turned into someone Saban said is “very good in pass protection.” It’s something the future Hall of Fame head coach said goes unnoticed.

Harris is a great example of someone who improved his stock by returning to school. It will be a surprise if he isn’t the first running back off the board in April.

Notre Dame is getting the kinds of questions nobody wants to get.

Does Notre Dame have something to prove at 3 p.m. CT Friday after a series of high-stakes flops?

“No. No, I mean, we’re knocking on the door every year playing really good teams and great opponents,” Kelly said Monday. “And there’s elite football teams. I don’t know why this narrative continues to pop up when we’re always in the games.”

It’s because your team has taken thorough ass kickings in three straight postseason games, Brian. To their credit, Notre Dame is not backing down from the challenge.

“I think DeVonta Smith is a really good player, but I mean he showed throughout the year he’s one of the best receivers in the country,” Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton said of the receiver named AP national player of the year Tuesday. “But I think we have a good game plan to hopefully contain him and show what we are made of on defense as well. I think we have a good group of players on defense that match up well with them.”

And on the balance Najee Harris brings with the ground game? Hamilton called Harris “a freak” with speed that shouldn’t pair with his size.

“But,” he said, “I think we have people on defense that can stop that and will stop that on Friday.”

This is what you’d expect, and hope, a competitor would say. The defense has been a team strength this season.

Slowing the Crimson Tide down is the chief challenge for any opponent, as Alabama ranks No. 5 nationally in total offense at 543.9 yards per game, but Notre Dame is uniquely equipped to handle the task because it already stymied one of the four teams ranked ahead of Alabama in average yards per game this season. The Fighting Irish limited high-powered North Carolina to just 298 total yards in a 31-17 victory over the Tar Heels on Nov. 27. Much like Alabama, North Carolina boasts a multi-faceted attack that uses the passing game and running game.

This was a strong performance for the Irish defense, without a doubt. unfortunately they’ve also allowed 74 points in two games combined against Clemson and 31 to Boston College over the past five games of the season. The problem for Notre Dame in these postseason games has always been recruiting, and this one is no different.

Of the four playoff teams this season, Alabama has signed the most ESPN 300 recruits from 2016 to 2020 with 92. Ohio State is next with 73, followed by Clemson (60) and Notre Dame (47).

The Crimson Tide have actually signed more top-100 recruits in that time span — 49 — than Notre Dame has ESPN 300 recruits. Diving further into those numbers, Alabama signed 31 top-50 recruits, nine ranked as five-stars.

When you have half the blue chips of your opponent, there is bound to be an exploitable matchup or three, and Alabama has the right offensive mind to find them.

Speaking of recruiting, Kirby Smart took us down memory lane.

“That’s a great question,” Smart said. “I usually wouldn’t normally answer that, but I’m not going to be politically correct and say who I think is the best player, and everyone will know why I think he’s the best player,” Smart said. “Because of what he did to Georgia, DeVonta Smith. This is a young man that I had in camp when he was in the eighth and ninth grade, and I was at Alabama. He weighed like 125. He was so small and he was so talented.

“One time he was actually committed to Georgia, not many people remember that. Decommitted to Georgia, ends up going to Alabama, won the national championship on the last play of the game against us and then played a phenomenal game against us this year.”

There may be a lot of people outside Tuscaloosa who don’t remember that, but we remember it, Kirbs. Oh, and what in the world would be politically incorrect about saying that DeVonta is your Heisman pick? I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means.

Grec McElroy got the ‘Rona and will miss the game.

Kirk Herbstreit tested positive as well, and he says that he is doing fine.

Last, Pete Thamel has some solutions to “fixing” college football, but only one is really needed.

There is nothing stopping Florida, Florida State, Miami, Texas, USC and Oregon from getting back to their peak. Other programs such as Texas A&M, Auburn, Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, UCLA, Virginia Tech or even Tennessee certainly have the potential to get to the national level.

A playoff is always going to be dominated by the biggest, richest conferences. It would be a bit more interesting if it was at least different teams from the same conferences.

This is correct. If more parity is what you seek, then tell some of the other schools to do a better job.

That’s about it for now. Have a great day.

Roll Tide.