Georgia star Roquan Smith declares for NFL

Georgia star linebacker Roquan Smith has declared for the NFL.

Unlike other SEC stars like Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and LSU’s Derrius Guice and Arden Key, Smith’s decision took until the deadline day for him to make up his mind.

Smith said: “I’ve had discussions with coaches and family and a lot of thought and prayer….The decision to leave is not easy but I know it is the right one.”

Smith won the Butkus Award last season for the Dawgs, who won the SEC Championship and came within overtime of winning the National Championship.

He will definitely be a first-round pick.

Smith recorded 137 tackles, 6-1/2 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries. He was also a mainstay in the Rose Bowl win over Oklahoma, when at times he buried the Sooners’ attack in the second half all by himself.

Kirby Smart said about Smith: “The accolades he has received are a testimony to his ability as a player,” Smart said. “But he has also demonstrated on and off the field the qualities of a great leader who has commanded the respect of all his teammates as well as our coaching and support staffs. As the head coach, it’s been a privilege to see him develop as a student-athlete and inspirational leader who has made immeasurable contributions to our team and to the program we are building.

Every year, it seems that Alabama’s looking for a big-time co-ordinator to go and work under Nick Saban.

But this year, it’s both of them.

After DC Jeremy Pruitt took the Tennessee job in November (but stayed all the way through the National Championship win), the Buffalo Bills announced Sunday that Crimson Tide OC Brian Daboll had been appointed to the same job in New York state.

While finding a good OC and DC shouldn’t be a problem for Saban – he’s managed to find competent people at both positions throughout his time in Tuscaloosa, it’s probably not good for recruiting – something that Nick Saban seems to crave more than winning Championships.

Some of the things that Saban can sell potential candidates are these:

  1. Depth: Alabama is deep at almost every position. A new star has been discovered at quarterback in Tua Tagovaiola, but he’ll have to battle a still-dependable Jalen Hurts. The offensive line and running back is seasoned. The wide receivers turn out prodigy after prodigy. On the defense, although Minkah Fitzpatrick is gone, things are fine.
  2. Pay: Not many people pay co-ordinators as well as Alabama. Brian Daboll was paid $1.2 million per year, while Pruitt was paid $4.2 million in 2017 before he left for Knoxville. That’s better than most coordinators. In other words, if you win for him, Saban will make sure you’re well-rewarded.
  3. Job Mobility: If you’re successful at Alabama, teams from the NFL and from colleges will come at you thick and fast to offer head coaching positions or NFL positions of similar titles. Saban’s not stupid: He knows that OCs and DCs of his will know that they aren’t going to be ‘coaches in waiting’, so they’ll get offers from other schools after one or two years, so he can definitely tell them that success with the Crimson Tide job will make them a strong candidate elsewhere. And if it doesn’t work out ‘elsewhere’, then that’s on them.
  4. Facilities: Alabama’s facilities for their players are the best in the land. So no OC and DC can complain they aren’t getting enough.
  5. Saban himself: You’ll probably hate working for him at the time, but there won’t be a guy that will teach you more about getting finite details right. If you’re prepared to learn, come to Alabama.

The sad thing for any OC and DC is the pressure. There’s the pressure to win National Championships immediately. There’s the pressure to get everything right all the time from Saban. There are time demands – Nick Saban owns your behind. Oh, and then there’s the Alabama fans, who are – in a new dimension of football fan – downright crazy.

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

Home run hire: Jimbo Fisher is Texas A&M’s new head coach

After a week of speculation, the Texas A&M Aggies have their home run hire: Jimbo Fisher.

Former Florida State head coach Fisher came to a 10-year, $75 million agreement with the Aggies on Friday, in a deal that has Aggies fans abuzz with excitement.

Fisher will earn $7.5m per year at College Station, making him the SEC’s second-best paid head coach. Alabama’s Nick Saban is the best-paid.

Texas A&M fired Kevin Sumlin on Saturday despite Sumlin posting one of the best records the school has ever seen.

Fisher brings with him an excellent recruiting reputation, as well as a National Championship that he won while being the head coach in Tallahassee. Fisher will walk into Texas – one of the best recruiting territories in the country. Now, Agggies fans can expect A&M to beat SEC and Big XII rivals to coveted recruits in the Lone Star State – something that Sumlin was able to do at the start of his career but increasingly worsened.

Sumlin’s 2017 recruiting class was ranked 13th in the nation but only 6th in the SEC. Florida State’s was ranking 6th and No.1 in the ACC. It would not surprise anyone if Fisher took some of the 2018 class over to College Station from FSU – particularly as now Florida State is coachless, and that the Seminoles had to schedule a game against Louisiana-Monroe this Saturday to guarantee bowl eligibility.

Fisher’s job will not be easy. Texas A&M never beat LSU, only beat Alabama once, and had a losing record against Auburn under Sumlin. He will be expected to turn those around, as well as Sumlin’s awful recent home record (the Aggies haven’t won a SEC West home game since October 2015).

We think he will.

 

 

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.

 

 

Nick Saban signs extension but raises questions

Nick Saban has signed a contract extension this year that will pay him $11.1 million in 2017 as part of an eight-year deal that will pay the coach a total of $65 million – and that’s before bonuses that could pay him another $700,000 per year until 2024.

Also seeing their salaries bumped are new AD Greg Byrne (who only took the job in June), as well as his assistants, led by co-defensive co-ordinator Tosh Lupoi, who will earn $950,000, while new offensive co-ordinator Brian Dobell has re-signed until January 2020 in a $1.2 million salary deal.

Record

Saban’s record at Alabama is stunning – 119-19 over the last 10 years, with four of those years leading the Crimson Tide to a National Championship.

During his tenure at Alabama Saban has not been immune from the loss of co-ordinators, who have gone on to varying successes. Former OC Jim McElwain is the head coach of Florida, former DC Kirby Smart is the head coach of Georgia and most recently, OC Lane Kiffin in the head coach of Florida Atlantic University, while offensive line coach and recruiter supreme Mario Cristobal is now the co-offensive co-ordinator at Oregon.

The deal is great for Saban, his family, for Alabama fans still worrying he might leave for Texas, and of course, his agent Jimmy Sexton, who should be pocketing a tidy amount for the negotiation.

Alabama and other schools

In the time that Saban has been in charge of Alabama, the school has made more than $100m from football – which is absolutely stunning. And football’s success and the subsequent financial income has meant good news for the other non-revenue-making sports ‘on the Alabama roster’, which are being kept afloat by the thousands of fans buying tickets, shirts, hats and probably pets called ‘Crimson’ just for bathing in the light of the pigskin.

Oh, and rival schools – whether they like to say it or not – probably love Saban’s success, because every time the Crimson Tide come to town there is more fanfare than a Royal Wedding in Britain, leading to higher TV exposure. The SEC certainly loves Alabama’s success – Saban’s made the conference look better. ESPN and CBS have enjoyed the Crimson Tide for viewing figure purposes, and those charming people on the secondary market who concentrate on Tuscaloosa games are probably driving Mercs.

But what about the students?

The biggest annoyance we have with a deal like this for Saban is that Alabama players over the years of Saban’s multi-million dollar success have been paid exactly $0. Of course, there are stipends (and we suspect under-the-table ‘players’ donations’ given by boosters (it being the SEC), but that’s nothing if you consider what Alabama has made in terms of sports revenue.

Of course, the likes of Paul Finebaum and many Alabama fans will argue that Saban’s contract is worth it, and we’d agree – if you are thinking about the price paid by the university itself. There are a ton of players who have profited from Saban’s teaching, too. Especially the 22 first round picks who played for Saban in Tuscaloosa (65 in total have gone pro).

But there are a ton of players who have played for Saban and have come out with exactly nothing, while their coach has reaped the financial rewards.

I’m sorry, but that doesn’t seem right.

 

Should Alabama fans be pleased with their new OC?

What a few months it’s been for the Alabama Crimson Tide.

After coasting (most of the way) during the regular season, the Crimson Tide destroy Florida to win the SEC Championship. Then offensive coordinator/genius Lane Kiffin leaves for the bright lights of a head coaching job at Florida Atlantic University. The Crimson Tide win their Play-Off semi-final against Washington convincingly to set up a monster clash with Clemson, who had hammered Ohio State 31-0 in its own semi-final. Lane Kiffin is told not to come to the National Championship Game. Steve Sarkasian is given the OC job for the National Championship Game. Clemson beats Alabama in the last second. Steve Sarkasian gets the OC job. Steve Sarkasian bolts for the Super Bowl-blowing Atlanta Falcons to be OC there, much to the annoyance to Bama Nation.

Nick Saban seemed to ignore all of that and still dominate the 2017 National Signing Day. We heard stories of kids that were offered scholarships by Alabama, but didn’t receive actual letters from the school, so went elsewhere. Such is the power of what’s happening down in Tuscaloosa.

Anyway, back to the offensive coordinator. There were rumors that he would join forces with offensive guru Chip Kelly, who did genius things at Oregon but not in the NFL. Instead, Saban went to his old friend Bill Belichick, and asked: “Who have you got on your coaching staff I can have?” So Belichick said to current tight ends coach Brian Daboll that he might want to go and have an interview down in the Southland. Daboll did, and now he’s the new offensive coordinator for the most demanding college football coach in the history of mankind (and that’s probably an understatement).

Daboll’s had 17 seasons in the NFL, which is fantastic longevity, and should be an excellent recruiting tool for Saban. Now he can bring someone to the party who can say to NFL players: “I know what NFL scouts are looking for! I spent 17 years in the NFL! If you come play for me, I can get you to the next level!”

For us, we can’t wait to see Daboll getting yelling at on the sideline.

 

Steve Sarkasian leaves Alabama for Falcons

Steve Sarkasian has left Alabama to be the new offensive coordinator at the Atlanta Falcons.

Sarkasian, who only took charge of Nick Saban’s offense just before the National Championship loss to Clemson, took over the Falcons role just after former OC Kyle Shanahan left to be the new head coach of the San Francisco 49ers.

According to SB Nation, ‘the relationship between Saban and Sarkisian deteriorated amid disagreements in ‘system philosophy.’

It’s not unusual that Nick Saban should fall out with his offensive coordinators. His fall-outs with Lane Kiffin during his time at Bama are stuff of YouTube legend. What seems strange that Saban – who talks often about giving people ‘second chances’, didn’t seem too upset with Sarkasian’s decision to go to Atlanta.

‘We appreciate all Coach Sarkisian did for our program during his time here,’ Saban said. ‘He is an outstanding coach, and we wish him the best in his new role as Atlanta’s offensive coordinator. As always, when we have an opening on our staff, we will use it as an opportunity to go out and hire the best coach available.’

What’s interesting is that last month Mike Locksley was named co-offensive coordinator. He was an offensive analyst for Alabama and before that worked at Maryland.

Alabama fansite BamaHammer is already saying that Locksley’s going to be the new OC. ‘Book it’, the site says.

It seems to us that whoever the new OC at Alabama is is that they are going to have to obedient to Saban. Saban doesn’t like anyone who disagrees with him.

This could be interesting.

If Locksley doesn’t get the job, names of recently fired Oregon coaches like Chip Kelly and Mark Helfrich have had their names thrown around.

Suddenly, this is the most intriguing battle of the offseason – particularly with the weapons that Alabama is bringing in from National Signing Day to help the new OC (and Saban) out.

Why can’t Lane Kiffin get a head coaching job?

This year the rumors were hotter than ever that Lane Kiffin would get a prized coaching job. And even hotter that they would be in Houston, following Tom Herman’s decision to go to Texas to be the new head coach.

It looked a slam-dunk. The good people at USA Today reported so. And then suddenly, there was a U-Turn in the Houston ranks, who instead decided on former UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite to be the head coach.

The school’s logic? Houston’s board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta (great name, by the way sir) called into a radio station and said: ‘”Lane Kiffin did not show me anything that Major Applewhite did not show me. Sure, he’s been a head coach, and he’s been an OK head coach. But I can tell you this: It was not a safe hire.”

OK, so what did he mean by safe hire?

Was the term ‘safe hire’ about really being an ‘OK head coach’?  At Tennessee he moved the Vols from a 5-7 record to a 7-6 record, but his mouthing-off about Alabama and Florida didn’t help him when lost to them. And there seemed to be a bunch of hope. So when he left for SC, Kiffin was actually better than most people believe at USC – particularly after the postseason bans and loss of scholarship players in the 2010 season that dropped his would-be 85 scholarship players to just 71….and he came with an 8-5 record. The next season – with another bowl ban – USC had a 10-2 record. In 2012, he showed a lot of self-confidence — even voting the Trojans to No.1 in a preseason poll….and finished with an 8-5 record. In 2013, the most famous move for him was being fired at LAX after starting the season with a 4-7 record. And as an offensive coordinator at Alabama, he’s seen nothing but success, helping Nick Saban to a National Championship in 2015 (and probably in 2016, since the Crimson Tide looks unstoppable under his offensive tutelage) and back-to-back-to-back SEC Championships. Oh, and there’s been a Heisman Trophy thrown in there for Derrick Henry, too. But there is this fact: In two out of three of his head coaching jobs, Kiffin has been fired. And both of them have been unceremonious. Houston probably couldn’t face a controversy like that again.

….But he’s proved to be excellent offensive coordinator… As an offensive coordinator at Alabama, he’s seen nothing but success, helping Nick Saban to a National Championship in 2015 (and probably in 2016, since the Crimson Tide looks unstoppable under his offensive tutelage) and back-to-back-to-back SEC Championships. Oh, and there’s been a Heisman Trophy thrown in there for Derrick Henry, too.

Was the term ‘safe hire’ about loyalty? The University of Houston probably looked at Kiffin’s one-stop ‘drop’ of Tennessee (and the way he did it) and thought to themselves: ‘As soon as ‘bigger job’ comes up, he’ll walk. And we don’t want to be seen as a ‘feeder school’ to big-time programs.

But remember this… Kiffin was fired at the Oakland Raiders. And he was fired at the Trojans. He didn’t leave them.

Was the term ‘safe hire’ about his mouth and actions? OK, so here’s the problem that Houston probably thought about Lane Kiffin. While every time you’ve seen Kiffin on the sidelines next to Nick Saban, Saban’s been the one giving out the abuse (Kiffin’s taken it…much to my admiration, if I’m honest). But that hasn’t always been the case. He was called a ‘flat-out liar’ by Oakland’s ownership in 2008 because the rumors were floating about his considering college football roles…and then he denied it. That probably didn’t score any points with the Houston guys. Then, there was his arrival in Tennessee, when not only did he say in an overly-confident arrival that he would beat Florida and Alabama (he didn’t), but a few weeks after said that Urban Meyer – then the Florida coach – of cheating and NCAA violations. That probably didn’t go down well. Then he was rude about other SEC competitors.

Was the term ‘safe hire’ about his actions? And speaking of actions, there have been a bunch of accusations  – that we won’t print – about Lane Kiffin’s off-the-field behavior that certain boards of regents might be unhappy with. But then again, Major Applewhite didn’t exactly do himself any favors in that department, either.

So how will it play out? We don’t know. Kiffin’s obviously an offensive genius but he’s got the hirers really, really worried about his mouth, his history with ownership, leadership, and SEC and NCAA administrators when a head coach. Nick Saban has openly supported Lane Kiffin finding a head coaching job, and has said that he’s ‘ready again’ to take the job. That’s an excellent reference if you ask us. Florida Atlantic are said to be going for Kiffin, but the talks have stalled. How does this blog think things will go? Kiffin will stay for another year as OC of Alabama. And God Help Us All. 

Alabama: The next RB star will be….?

Derrick Henry’s gone, Kenyan Drake’s gone, and T.J. Yeldon’s but a distant and beautiful memory for Alabama fans. The future for the next hero in Tuscaloosa is almost certain to be one or more of these things (not necessarily in this order):

  1. A Heisman + 2-3,000 yard season
  2. NFL riches
  3. A National Championship
  4. A SEC West title + Championship
  5. Worship from Alabama fans because you beat Auburn and LSU

In a bar last night I was shown a video of would-be replacement sophomore Bo Scarborough weave through multiple Michigan State defenders in the CFB Play-Off semi-final win, and it put a smile on my face to think of yet another exciting running back coming out of Tuscaloosa (via Florida).

Scarbough has been called the rising star of Alabama football, the big future, and the way people are drooling over him as a physical freak and a future Zeus, he may well be. The 6-2, 230lb dreadlocked flurry of speed is going to exhaust SEC West defenses, and I fully expect him to destroy USC’s defensive line when he plays them in JerryWorld on Opening Day. The stats have been strong in opening scrimmages, if you believe what they release in Saban Country (remember, they aren’t going to release anything remotely crappy, are they?)

And if his academics are good enough, could we possibly be talking about a possible trip to New York in 2016? It’s very possible. What’s also possible – and probable – is that Scarborough doesn’t yet have the experience to leave in 2017 for NFL riches. He played 4 games last season and put up 104 yards at an average of just over 5 yards a carry – but most of them was against mighty Charleston Southern (he went for 68).

The other guy will be Damien Harris, who is also in his second year but had a great Spring Game for the Tide. Harris is 3 inches shorter than Scarborough at 5-11 and less muscly at 215lb, and he had a great Spring Game where he had 114 yards rushing on 20 carries. Harris played second fiddle to Henry last year and still played in 12 games, had 46 carries and 157 yards. Harris’ biggest games were against mighty MTSU and THAT Charleston Southern defense, while he was basically ignored in the other games.

And there’s always B.J. Emmons, who’s a four-star freshman listed as the second best running back in the country.

Whatever happens, Alabama fans shouldn’t fear too much is going to fade away despite the departure of Henry and Drake. Plus, it looks like the country’s best offensive linesman is not going to jail after all in Cam Robinson. And knowing the forgiving nature of Tuscaloosa, Robinson won’t miss the first game of the season….

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