Top Alabama running back Damien Harris has said that he will return to Tuscaloosa for his final year of eligibility, stemming a ‘tide’ of players leaving for the NFL Draft.

Harris posted seasons of 1,000 yards in 2016 and 2017, and odds-on are that he will post another one in 2018 – although you can expect freshman sensation Najee Harris to take some of the load as well.

Running back teammate Bo Scarbourgh – who ironically could have been the top player in his position at just about anywhere in the land had it not been for Nick Saban’s policy of keeping his backfield fresh in terms of touches – has declared for the NFL Draft. ‘Big Bo’ battled injuries throughout his career with the Tide, and it may well make him a third-round pick come NFL Draft time.

Also declaring will be top wide receiver Calvin Ridley, who caught the game-tying touchdown pass in the National Championship Game, as well as defensive tackle D’Ron Payne, who was famous for his two plays against Clemson in the semi-final.

Having been thoroughly prepared for that next step,” Ridley said, “I am truly ready.” 

Meanwhile in Baton Rouge, top running back Derrius Guice has declared for the NFL Draft. A lot of SEC West teams will be glad to see the back of Guice, who ran for 1,251 yards and 11 TDs in his junior year.

 

 

Suck it, Ohio State. Suck it, Clemson. Suck it, Oklahoma. The SEC’s got two teams playing in the National Championship game.

That’s right – in Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium fans all over America will tune into Monday to a game they most feared: An all-SEC Natty featuring Alabama and – to less an extent – Georgia.

Listen to the pundits, and they are hoping and praying that it won’t be boring. They hope it won’t be a 9-6 slugfest. They pray that Brian Daboll or Jim Chaney will come up with some offensive invention to stop that happening. They are hoping for end-zone celebrations and while craziness. They had a lot of that in two previous National Championships – and are praying for that to happen again.

The sad thing is is: It probably won’t happen.

Both Alabama and Georgia having amazing athletes. Nick Chubb and Sony Michel are the best running back duo in College Football – although Damien Harris, Bo Scarborough, Najee Harris are also great too. Alabama also has a quarterback in Jalen Hurts who can run the damned ball, too.

Alabama fans might be slightly worried about putting the game on Hurts. Although Hurts is one of the best scramblers in the game, and he led the team down the field against Mississippi State that was – retrospectively – a season-saver, he’s actually got worse in terms of completion-percentage terms from 2017 to 2016. His fumble against Clemson was only bailed out by the usual immense Alabama defensive performance (kept Clemson to 3 points). Now, it’s not that we think Jalen Hurts is a terrible quarterback by any means  – he could cause Georgia hell-on-earth with his legs, but he’s not a great thrower.

On the other side, Georgia’s Jake Fromm has been a sensation. He’s got a cool head, and by reports by students at Georgia we know, he’s a pretty humble, unassuming guy – a diametric opposite to Jacob Eason, who walked around Athens thinking he was God. Fromm has played like a leader all season long. But then again, he hasn’t faced a pass rush like Alabama’s. Has he? Oh wait, he did. In Jordan-Hare against Auburn….and had he had his worst game stats-wise for the Dawgs that day. Sure, he was better in the rematch, but this is a fresher, nastier defense than he’s faced for a while. If Georgia goes down by 14, Smart’s going to have to put the game onto Fromm’s back…..and we’re not hugely confident if he will be able to take it.

We might have outlined this, but both teams feature absolute beasts on the defensive side of the ball. Georgia has Roquan Smith, the Butkus Award winner who’s a beast.Georgia’s Lorenzo Carter – who blocked the kick in overtime in the Rose Bowl – is an immensely-talented tackler, and so’s David ‘Humble Yourself’ Bellamy and Jordan Ledbetter. If Bellamy gets run over by Scarborough, he’ll be humbled. The Georgia players HAVE to make tackles, or it’ll be a long day.

As for Alabama, they’ve got God in the backfield in Minkah Fitzpatrick who – like Smith – is amazing. Although there’s a story going around about Fitzpatrick’s bruised kidney, which the best corner in college football/future NFL Top 5 pick dismissed as a non-story, it shouldn’t stop Fitzpatrick. Georgia’s Dominik Sanders will try and be Fitzpatrick in the Georgia secondary. We think he’ll try and play man-to-man with Calvin Ridley (good luck!). Oh, and Rashaan Evans is a freak, and Alabama has all the depth in the world to stop Georgia if there are injuries, which sadly is a sure bet in what will be a hard-hitting bet like this.

Co-ordinators wise, Jeremy Pruitt is a genius. Mel Tucker ain’t bad either (look at his defensive adjustments against Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma in the second half of the Rose Bowl). Both of them will be the busiest guys of the night – especially if they are getting their ears chewed out by Smart and Saban!

Offensive line was, it’s hard to differentiate between the two. Talk to a Georgia fan who was practically suicidal after some of the efforts of the offensive line last season, they aren’t altogether happy with this one. If you think about, Georgia has had 2 games where they have been truly tested on the offensive line, and it’s 1-1. UGA comes into the decider facing a nasty defense that could get to Fromm faster than a Daytona racecar. For Alabama, Hurts has only been sacked all season long, and you don’t see opposition defensive players in the backfield very much. There’s a good reason for that. There’s some good news for Georgia in that 6-4, 324lb Bama guard Lester Cotton won’t be playing in Atlanta after getting injured against Clemson. Cotton started all 13 games for the Tide, but we expect Nick Saban to make the changes.

So what’s going to happen?

This, ladies and gentlemen, is going to be a war. Alabama’s a 3.5 point favourite in Vegas, and to a lot of people, that looks about right. We think Alabama wins by 7 in a game that’s close, if not really exciting. Unless you like defense. Then this will be porn

Despite Alabama’s success, where’s Calvin Ridley?

In March we said that star Alabama WR Calvin Ridley was ripe for a rebound from a disappointing 2016. Well, it doesn’t seem this is the case.

Well, this season things are even worse for him. Over the last four weeks Ridley has been thrown to a grand total of 20 times, averaging just five receptions per game at an average of 13.1 yards per reception (262 yards). While that isn’t bad – his 13.1 yards per reception is much better than his averages in his first and second years – if this goes on, he’ll only be thrown to a grand total of 60 times, which will be well below his freshman and sophomore averages.

Also, Ridley’s on course to NOT get to 1,000 yards receiving for the second straight  year (on course for 786 yards), as Nick Saban and OC George Daboll opt to run the ball down people’s guts (and use Jalen Hurts) rather than let Hurts throw and let Ridley into the game.

The problem for Ridley is that Alabama’s offensive line is so good that all the team needs to do is feed running backs to Damien Harris or  Bo Scarborough, run designed plays for Hurts, and the team eats up the yards. Ridley doesn’t get a look-in.

Now, it’s four games in and Ridley’s still Alabama’s top receiver by some margin, and he may well stand out when Georgia plays tougher opponents than they have done in weeks 2-4 (Fresno State, Colorado State, Vanderbilt), but right now, Ridley must be thinking to himself after seeing how other offenses are lighting it up all over the country: How can I look like a future NFL star if I’m not looking like anything in 2017?

Nick Saban’s unlikely to care about Ridley’s NFL future (despite using the NFL as a pitch to all recruits on coming in), because he’s focussed on winning a National Championship. And we entirely get it. But if the numbers don’t stack up, Ridley won’t be looking like a first or second round draft pick – despite being one of the best receivers in college football.

WILL THIS IMPACT HIS NFL FUTURE?

Here’s the good news: Alabama alum Julio Jones only had one year where he had 1,000 yards or more receiving at Alabama. If you don’t believe me, look it up. This was mostly due to Alabama’s sick-nasty rushing attack. Amari Cooper had two years (his freshman and junior) of over 1,000 yards.

The bad news: The difference between Jones, Cooper and Ridley is the fact that Jones and Cooper had competent if not incredible passing quarterbacks, while Ridley has Hurts, who is a far better runner than he is a passer.

SO WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?

It seems likely that Calvin Ridley will leave for the NFL after his junior year. He might leave with a lower amount of yards than Jones and Cooper, and therefore end up a third or fourth-round pick. And come away as one of the best NFL signings of 2018.

 

 

Alabama’s Calvin Ridley: A rebound after 2016?

We know one thing about Alabama’s depth chart: It’s going to be deep. Real. Freaking. Deep.

Everywhere on an offensive line will be players who can catch a ball, run it quicker in pads than most people without a ball, helmet and pads on, and they will weigh about the 250-300lb mark. Running backs will be lightning bolts. Tight ends will be wide receivers.

2016 was meant to be a breakout year for Calvin Ridley – particularly after a freshman year when he had 89 receptions, 1,045 yards and 7 TDs, averaging a tidy 11.7 yards per reception. That was good for 33rd in the Nation, and not bad at all for a freshman start.

For 2015, we thought that this would be another monster year for Ridley. Sure, his quarterback, Jalen Hurts, was new, but the fall in stats was staggering. Ridley went from ‘trusted receiver’ to ‘not particularly trusted receiver’, falling to the 94th receiver overall in NCAA rankings in terms of receiving yards, with ‘just’ 769. His receptions fell to 72, and his average yards per reception dropped to 10.7. The only thing that stayed the same was touchdowns (7).

He also had five attempts as a rusher in 2016, and even scored a touchdown. He had one in 2015.

BIG FACTOR?

For 2015, Ridley was a factor in almost all of his games, getting thrown to at least 6 times in the last four games of the season, and grabbing two touchdowns in the play-off win over Michigan State. While he wasn’t a big factor in the National Championship Game, he put defensive co-ordinators at Clemson off enough that they seemed to forget about OJ Howard as the big tight end had the game of his life as the Crimson Tide battled their way to a National Championship.

In 2016, Ridley had no touchdowns in his last 4 games and was thrown to an average of a smidgeon under 4 times a game (Bearing in mind that he averaged over 6 yards per reception, you could argue that if Lane Kiffin/Steve Sarkasian/Nick Saban had used him more, he would have had even more of an effect on the game).

THIS SEASON

This year, it’ll be interesting to see how new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll uses Ridley. Ridley’s got an immensely smooth running action, can blow the doors off defensive backs, and bearing in mind his 6-1, 188lb frame, he’ll probably go to the pros after this year and continue a line of very good NFL receivers. Oh, and you would be surprised to see him in the backfield either, if Daboll’s looking to spice things up!

And what we do know is this: If Ridley’s used like he was in 2015, the SEC defenses in 2017 are going to be very worried indeed!

 

Who’s going to win Alabama vs Washington?

I sorted of jumped around in my seat when I saw that Vegas had narrowed the prediction of Alabama’s margin-of-victory to under two touchdowns before their College Football Play-Off game with Washington in Atlanta.

There are no doubts that Washington’s a good side. Their sole loss of the season – to a USC side that probably would be playing in its place if the Trojans had had any early season form (they were good for about a quarter against Alabama on Opening Saturday!) – wasn’t great, but otherwise, Chris Petersen’s side was effective.

All the odds stack up in Alabama’s favour. It’s defense – Nick Saban’s pride and joy – is the best in the country. Washington will give you a chance, but their secondary feasts on stupid decisions by quarterbacks. They had 19 interceptions in the regular (plus Pac-12 Championship Game) season. Alabama’s defense is downright FREAKY – its linebackers and secondary players seem to average a touchdown and a Pick-6 EVERY SINGLE GAME.

On  the offensive side, Alabama’s offensive line is – as we know – incredible, and everyone from Bo Scarborough – who’s going to battle it out for a Heisman in 2017 to Calvin Ridley to OJ Howard are frigteningly good. Washington has playmaker John Ross who can destoy a mistake-making secondary, but wouldn’t Nick Saban have focused on ways for him NOT TO GET THE BALL?

The question will be, then: Who is the quarterback to avoid those problems. Jake Browning, if we’re honest, hasn’t really been the same since he was torched against USC for two interceptions and safety, while Jalen Hurts has been convincing all season. Of course, there have been moments that he’s given up the odd stupid INT, but with the offensive line as it is, I sincerely doubt that Washington’s going to get the pressure.

PREDICTION: Alabama by 21 and the only reason why it’s that close is that Saban shows respect for Petersen.

And Ohio State vs Clemson is going to be a battle royale between two great teams. If it was on coaches alone, we’d take Urban Meyer every time, but Clemson  has a better quarterback, more talented receivers, and an attacking defense and more’s the case, has got a team that’s been there before. The problem with Clemson is that Dabo Swinney can see his team take a big lead, and then becomes far more conservative, which in fact ended up hurting him in the National Championship and several games this season. It would be wise of him not to do that against the Buckeyes.

PREDICTION: Clemson by 5 in AN INSTANT CLASSIC.

National Championship Game Preview: Will Alabama beat Clemson?

The final day of the college football season is always the most miserable one: Because it’s all ending until September. Sure, we at the SEC Football Blog will be writing copy on recruiting, spring games, ranking coach hires, watching as Will Muschamp goes from hero to zero to hero again after one Spring Game, Nick Saban grumbling his way through the summer, and trying to work out new ways of drinking bourbon all day during Saturdays and still writing comprehensive tweets, but it’s not the same. College Football 2015 is over.

The good news for SEC fans is that Alabama’s in the National Championship Game, and they are playing Clemson. Alabama’s favoured by seven points by Vegas.

It’s OK to be excited at the thought of the kids with Bama bangs yelling “Rammer Jammer!” in exultant victory – or even “SEC! SEC!” as they declare who the best conference is – even if the 9-2 bowl record doesn’t show that. We’ve been kicking ass and taking names this bowl season, and we want Clemson’s.

QUARTERBACK

A lot of people are talking up Deshaun Watson, who was one of the most electrifying quarterbacks in 2015 and was definitely good value in the Heisman Trophy race. He’s better than Alabama’s Jacob Coker. I know that Coker had a great game against Michigan State, but Watson can kill you with both arm and legs. Coker’s a better runner than he’s given credit for, but anyone saying that he’s up there with Watson on the front needs his head seeing to. EDGE: Clemson

RUNNING BACK

Alabama has Derrick Henry. Clemson doesn’t. EDGE (A big one): Alabama.

WIDE RECEIVER

We love Calvin Ridley, who posted up two touchdowns in the semi-final shellacking of Michigan State. But Artavis Scott (Clemson) can cause headaches for secondaries, Charone Peake and Jordan Leggett. Deon Cain would have caused even more headaches, but the idiot failed a drug test.

EDGE: SPLIT 

DEFENSE

No-one runs on Alabama. Many have tried this season, and they have all failed. AShawn Robinson, Reggie Ragland & Co are collective badasses. But give Clemson a little bit of credit – they pretty much shut down a nasty Oklahoma offense and early on in the year quietened Dalvin Cook, who’s very special. Clemson’s star DE Shaq Lawson is praying to be healthy on Saturday, and although Clemson’s pretty deep, it’s going to hurt if Lawson’s hurt.

EDGE: ALABAMA

 

OVERALL PREDICTION: Rammer Jammer. Alabama 28, Clemson 17