- Brandon Marcello of AL.com wonders if a Nick Marshall suspension would actually hurt Auburn this fall.
- When I was little, people said my batting stance and swing made me look exactly like Frank Thomas when I stepped into the batter's box. Too bad my body never grew like Thomas' did. The super athlete that he was, Thomas actually played some football at Auburn, but he'll be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.
- Alabama players are saying that freshmen cornerbacks Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey "want to be somebody great" for the Crimson Tide.
- So big, bad Nick Saban was once afraid of ... Santa Claus. He also said "Roll Tide" and took a selfie with Colin Cowherd during a "Cage Confessional" -- so my mind is officially blown.
- LSU freshman running back Leonard Fournette became the first high schooler to win the Corbett Award for amateurs. The award is given to Louisiana's most outstanding male amateur athlete for the past year.
- LSU freshman defensive tackle Trey Lealaimatafao has been released from the hospital and will begin rehab after he punched through a window Monday.
- Despite losing Connor Shaw, Jadeveon Clowney and Bruce Ellington, South Carolina could still have a better year in 2014.
- As Tennessee looks to completely rebuild its defensive line, expect freshmen to factor into the mix up front.
- Kentucky defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree says he's ready for a "freak" season in 2014.
- Another talented group is expected at Florida's annual "Friday Night Lights" camp.
- Pat Dooley of The Gainesville Sun writes that we still aren't sure if new Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will have full reign over the Gators' offense.
- Mississippi State adds three-star athlete Mark McLaurin to its 2015 recruiting class.
- Seth Emerson of The Macon Telegram has a preseason primer for Georgia's offensive line.
- Why was Bob Stoops gigging Texas A&M and his old pal Kevin Sumlin earlier this week?
Nick Saban is the most feared man in college football recruiting, but what does the legendary Alabama Crimson Tide football coach fear?
Well, as a kid, it was none other than Santa Claus.
In the latest edition of Cage Confessionals on "Colin's New Football Show," Saban admits his childhood fear of Santa, takes a selfie with the host and wears a Luigi hat. Yes, a Luigi hat. You have to see it to believe it.
2013 overall record: 12-2
2013 SEC record: 7-1, first in the Western Division
Record all time against Alabama: 35-42-1
Last meeting: Won 34-28 in 2013
Offense: 8; Defense: 7; Kicker/punter: 0
QB Nick Marshall, RB Corey Grant, WR Sammie Coates, OL Reese Dismukes, DL Gabe Wright, DB Jonathon Mincy
RB Tre Mason, OL Greg Robinson, DB Chris Davis, DL Dee Ford
2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Tre Mason (1,816 yards)
Passing: Nick Marshall* (1,976, 14 TD, 6 INT)
Receiving: Sammie Coates* (902 yards)
Tackles: Cassanova McKinzy* (75)
Sacks: Dee Ford (10.5)
Interceptions: Robenson Therezie (4)
What they're saying:
“Up until last Friday, Nick [Marshall] has been a model student, teammate, and citizen. Nick made a mistake and he'll have to deal with the consequences. I'm not ready to say what those consequences are at this time, but he will deal with it. I know he's regretful and he feels very bad about it,” said Auburn coach Gus Malzahn.
Three things to watch:
1. Marshall isn’t the only story: Lost in the aftermath of Nick Marshall’s arrest and absence from SEC media days was the fact that his ordeal wasn’t the biggest news to come out of Hoover, Alabama, last week. Instead, it was Gus Malzahn telling reporters that defensive end Carl Lawson had ACL surgery and is working to come back "toward the end of this year." Lawson is a huge loss. With a so-so secondary, the pass rush was going to be vital for Auburn. Losing Dee Ford hurt, but Lawson was a worthy replacement. Now it’s up to LaDarius Owens and Elijah Daniel. If those two can’t get to the quarterback, the back end of the defense could be exposed.
2. But Marshall’s improvement is key: Marshall took off like a rocket last season, improving his passing numbers each week. But for Auburn’s offense to take the next step and become more balanced, he’ll have to take his game to the next level, specifically his work in the pocket. There’s no doubt Marshall can run the football and execute the read option. The real question is what happens when all the running lanes are clogged and he has to go through his second, third or fourth read in the passing game. Can he sit in the pocket and diagnose a defense? Can he improve his accuracy and get the ball to the open receiver? His Hail Mary pass against Georgia was spectacular, but it was a mistake throwing to Ricardo Louis. He was triple-covered while Sammie Coates was wide open in the middle of the field. Sure, it worked out, but is it really better to be lucky than good? For Marshall to be great, he’ll need to make better decisions in 2014.
3. A tougher road: Auburn didn’t breeze through the regular season to reach the SEC Championship Game last season. Going on the road at LSU and Texas A&M was a lot to handle. But if you think 2013 was hard, wait for what’s ahead. If you’re comparing Auburn’s schedule to Alabama’s (and of course you are), there’s really no comparison. Where Alabama has a flaky nonconference slate (West Virginia, Florida Atlantic, Southern Miss, Western Carolina) and a pair of so-so crossover games (Florida, Tennessee), Auburn has a much tougher road to hoe with a Georgia and South Carolina from the East and a primetime matchup at Kansas State in mid-September. If the Iron Bowl is going to be another battle of top-5 teams, it’s going to be much more difficult for Auburn to reach the game unscathed than it is for Alabama.
Now let’s get back to football and Thursday’s lunch links.
- College football is a little over a month away, and West Virginia is “certainly going to bring it” against Alabama in the season opener.
- Arkansas coach Bret Bielema has made it clear that the Razorbacks will not stray from their core beliefs and their championship goals will “never waver.”
- Freshman running back Racean Thomas is in position to help Auburn, expand role.
- Gators quarterback preview: Jeff Driskel is the guy for Florida, but how good can he be and who will back him up?
- After leading the SEC with 133 tackles a year ago, Georgia linebacker Ramik Wilson is back for more.
- LSU’s Tiger Stadium is adding to its wow factor with the south end zone expansion, which should be complete next month.
- The race is on to stop and imitate Auburn as SEC coaches try and crack Gus Malzan’s code.
- With Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles both gone up front, expect South Carolina to dial up a 3-4 defense often in 2014.
- Vanderbilt is having to rebuild its secondary after losing four starters and picking up a new defensive scheme.
BRISTOL, Conn. -- Bob Stoops responded to Alabama coach Nick Saban's comments about the Sugar Bowl being a "consolation game" as quickly and decisively as the Sooners did in last season's 45-31 upset of the Tide.
"They didn't look like it was a consolation game on that first drive when they scored a touchdown and everyone thought they were going to rout us," the Oklahoma coach said. "I've been in plenty of those [non-national title games]. We've played in a bunch of national championship games, right? ... That's a good one.
"So that means I've got a built-in excuse the next time we don't play for a national championship?"
Stoops was in Bristol Wednesday for a round of interviews.
On Tuesday, Saban, who was in Bristol, talked about the challenge of getting his team to play Oklahoma as to "try to play in a consolation game."
Stoops also discussed critics that suggest the Big 12 should add a conference title game. The Big 12 is the only Power 5 conference that doesn't have a league championship game.
"Think about it: mathematically we play everybody, they [the SEC] don't play everybody," Stoops said. "For instance Texas A&M. They play eight conference games.
"They have Lamar, Rice, SMU and Louisiana Monroe. Boy those are all a bunch of toughies, right? We have nine conference games. So if [Texas A&M] was fortunate enough to be in the SEC championship game, they would play nine conference games at the end of the day and they have all those four 'toughies' to go with it.
You, me and everyone in between has former Florida State backup Jacob Coker taking the starting job in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but Saban isn't going to make it that easy. What Saban doesn't want is an overly confident quarterback walking into his program and screwing things up, so Saban's language makes sense.
Still, we're all pretty sure that Coker will leave fall practice ahead of Blake Sims and those youngsters who duked it out during spring practice.
While we might have it all figured out for the Crimson Tide, competition will take place next month to see who starts the opener against West Virginia on Aug. 30. And that's not the only QB battle that we'll be diving into in the coming weeks. Other teams are trying to sort things out under center heading into fall camp:
Patrick Towles vs. Drew Barker vs. Reese Phillips vs. Maxwell Smith: Coming out of spring, Towles, a redshirt sophomore, had a slight lead over everyone. He's an impressive athlete and has matured considerably since his arrival on campus. Phillips and Barker have yet to take snaps with the Wildcats in a real game, but that won't stop the coaches from throwing them in on Day 1 of the season. Barker arrived with a ton of hype and is clearly the future of the position. Smith, the quarterback with the most experience on the roster, is finally throwing again after undergoing extensive shoulder surgery before the spring. If he's healthy, he'll compete, but it looks like this really is a three-horse race right now. Advantage: Towles
Anthony Jennings vs. Brandon Harris: Jennings ended last season with mixed reviews after replacing an injured Zach Mettenberger. And his spring got even tougher with the emergence of Harris, a true freshman. Both are incredibly inexperienced, but have that dual-threat quality that will help either this fall, as they try to run this offense. Harris really impressed his coaches and teammates this spring, and many think he might have a slight advantage. Coach Les Miles raved about him at SEC media days and praised his throwing ability, something Jennings has to work more on going forward. Advantage: Harris
Justin Worley vs. Josh Dobbs vs. Nathan Peterman: Worley is the old soul around the football complex. The senior had an up-and-down 2013 season that included thumb surgery, but left spring with a bit more confidence. Dobbs has the athleticism and upside to be a stud, but he has to get more comfortable in the pocket and mature as a passer. Peterman had limited reps this spring, causing some to think he would transfer, but he'll compete this fall for the starting job. Honestly, it's a murky situation at quarterback, but a complete overhaul of the offensive line might make it tough for any quarterback to succeed in 2014. Advantage: Worley
Kenny Hill vs. Kyle Allen: Hill's arrest during the spring perked a lot of ears in the Allen camp, but this race is far from over. While Hill is still looking to regain trust, he has more experience than Allen, a true freshman, and knows the Aggies' offense better to this point. Both are athletic guys, but you'll see a little more running out of Hill. Allen has the potential to be a star with his throwing ability and awareness in the pocket, and might be little more polished than Hill in that category. Sumlin isn't the kind of coach who wants to shuffle his quarterbacks, a la Steve Spurrier, but he won't be afraid to play both guys this fall if he has to. Advantage: Push
Patton Robinette vs. Johnny McCrary vs. Stephen Rivers vs. Wade Freebeck: During the spring, we thought this was going to come down to Robinette and McCrary. Robinette has the only game experience on the roster at quarterback, but McCrary is a big, physical player who can make plays with his arm and legs. He might be the most athletic of the bunch and is viewed as an exciting up-and-comer. But when Rivers transferred from LSU, things changed. He only has one year to compete, and his coaches are raving about him. Coach Derek Mason also likes that he's gotten bigger since his arrival. As for Freebeck, Mason calls him "phenomenal" and is intrigued by his size. He's grown two inches (6-foot-5 now) and is up to 217 pounds. Advantage: Push
So which schools scored with recruits for the best food, top facilities, greatest campus atmosphere and coolest uniforms?
HOOVER, Ala. -- For better or worse, Nick Saban has a reputation. And after four decades of coaching, it's not likely to change.
He's gruff. He's demanding. He's hard-nosed, unrelenting and oftentimes furious.
He is, according to a survey conducted by ESPN, the most-intimidating coach in college football. Of the 58 recruits who responded to a survey, 22 selected Saban as the most intimidating coach they've spoken with. The next-highest on the list was Urban Meyer, who was selected only seven times.
What's maybe more telling: Among the 66 recruits who answered the question, "Of all the head coaches you've spoken with, who was the easiest to talk with?" none said Saban.
Amari Cooper gets it. He was once a highly sought-after recruit from South Florida, a Miami Hurricanes fan with no particular ties to the SEC or Alabama. He looked at Saban from afar and didn't know what to think of him. He'd heard secondhand stories and assumed that the man he'd meet in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, would live up to his unflattering reputation.
Then one day the promising young receiver went to camp at Alabama and made a name for himself. It was hot, Cooper recalled, but he was doing everything he could to show the coaching staff what he was capable of.
"[Saban] saw me run a route against a DB in one-on-ones and he looked to be surprised," he said. "He came up to me and shook my hand, started smiling and after that I went up to his office and talked to him and he offered me a scholarship."
Cooper accepted. Now he's a junior All-SEC receiver for the Crimson Tide. Now he understands the perception of Saban and how it doesn't quite match reality.
To continue reading this article you must be an Insider
In the meantime, be sure to read Monday’s lunch links to get your SEC fix.
- The SEC West has won the last five conference titles, and AL.com’s Kevin Scarbinsky says that’s not going to change this year.
- Five years after taking part in his one and only SEC media days, Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin was back in the conversation at this year’s event.
- Despite finishing 3-9 a year ago, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is sticking to his plan in his second year with the Razorbacks.
- Five questions with Jeff Driskel: The Florida quarterback talks about new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, the expectations for 2014 and more.
- Georgia picked up a pair of high-profile 2016 commitments this weekend, including the nation’s top-ranked pocket passer.
- As the spotlight shines brighter on Leonard Fournette, the LSU freshman keeps working.
- Mississippi State landed seven commitments at its Big Dawg Camp on Friday and it also left a lasting impression on several other top recruits.
- A new NCAA rule is allowing coaches to spend more time with players this summer, but that hasn’t changed South Carolina’s approach.
- With Jordan Matthews and Jonathan Krause both gone, Vanderbilt’s wide receiver competition is wide open.
You can follow me on Twitter here.
To the notes.
Michael from Anniston, Alabama, writes: You credit the CF playoff for the Bama-USC match-up? Hogwash. Bama has been scheduling such opening games ever since Nick Saban became head coach.
Ted Miller: You make a fair point. Unlike a lot of SEC teams, Alabama (and LSU) have not been cowards with their nonconference scheduling.
While the Alabama Crimson Tide's matchup with West Virginia to open the 2014 season hardly scintillates, the Mountaineers are a "name" opponent. And the Tide's list of nonconference foes since Saban took over is impressive: Virginia Tech (2013 and 2009), Michigan (2012), Penn State (2010-11), Clemson (2008) and Florida State (2007).
That's a strong list, no doubt. But USC is different. Trust me.
Of that group, only one team finished with fewer than four defeats -- 10-3 Virginia Tech in 2009, which finished ranked 10th. Despite five defeats, Michigan finished ranked 24th in 2012, and the Wolverines are the only other team on that list that finished the season ranked. Three of those seven teams finished with six losses.
You need to know that, just as in everything else in big-time FBS football, there's strategy involved in scheduling, and that includes nonconference games. There's scouting. There's projecting forward. There's seeking out a "name" foe that seems manageable.
What do I mean? Well, remember in Rocky III when Rocky gets worked up over Clubber Lang ruining the ceremony dedicating a statue of himself in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. But of course you do. Afterwards, Mickey tries to explain to Rocky that he shouldn't schedule USC/Clubber Lang. He should continue to schedule Virginia Tech. Rocky really wants to fight USC/Clubber Lang, though.
Mickey: No, he ain't just another fighter! This guy is a wrecking machine! And he's hungry! Hell, you ain't been hungry since you won that belt.
Rocky Balboa: What are you talkin' about? I had ten title defenses.
Mickey: That was easy.
Rocky Balboa: What you mean, "easy"?
Mickey: They was hand-picked!
Rocky Balboa: Setups?
Mickey: Nah, they wasn't setups. They was good fighters, but they wasn't killers like this guy. He'll knock you to tomorrow, Rock!
Now, we're not saying the USC Trojans are going to knock Alabama into tomorrow in 2016. In fact, I'd guess the Trojans are likely to be underdogs on a neutral field. But I'd also project that the Trojans will start and finish the 2016 season with a national ranking closer to No. 10 than No. 25. This is not a hand-picked game for the Crimson Tide. Or for USC, for that matter.
My prediction for the game? Pain.
Michael from Moscow writes: Dear Ted, on behalf of the American expat community in Moscow i wanted to thank you for the terrific insight into a game we left behind when we moved to the ice fields of Russia. With the exception of a few games (kick-off often at 4am local time here), we rely on the internet for information about CF. Finally, my observation and question: it seems that every day i check ESPN another player is: 1) transferring to another school; 2) has been dismissed for a crime or disciplinary infraction or 3) has been declared academically ineligible. Is it me, or is this an evolving epidemic?
Ted Miller: You are addressing two different issues.
First, discipline and academic problems. As for news stories about that, I hear you. It does seem like almost a daily issue somewhere, but I don't think it's an epidemic. My feeling is the number of these sorts of incidents and problems has been pretty consistent over the 17 or so years I've covered college football.
You have 5,440 scholarship football players, plus or minus, on Big Five conference teams. With that many male 18-to-23-year-olds, you're going to have guys getting into trouble. I'd bet the "trouble" rate for football players isn't much higher than the trouble rate for the average 18-to-23-year-old males nationwide, whether that's about discipline or poor academics.
Should we be outraged by bad behavior, particularly violence? Absolutely. But my perception of college football players is more positive than negative. For every Dorial Green-Beckham, you have a handful of Marcus Mariotas or an Obum Gwachams -- see here on the latter.
As for transfers, I support that: If a guy wants to leave, he should be able to. While you could score a valid point about finishing what you started and redoubling the competitive effort, such talk often sounds better as a coaching cliche than as practical advice for a young man with dreams of playing time and, perhaps, a shot at the NFL.
There are plenty of stories about transfers making good. And there are plenty of stories about guys sticking around -- like Arizona State quarterback Mike Bercovici. I don't think there is anything wrong with transferring. When Alabama opens against West Virginia, both starting quarterbacks will be Florida State transfers who didn't want to sit behind Jameis Winston. That seems like a perfectly reasonable decision to me, one that is obviously paying off.
Bill from Denver writes: Ted... which PAC-12 power is most susceptible to a CU upset? (It's going to happen this year!)
Ted Miller: If I were to guess two Pac-12 games when the Colorado Buffaloes could pull a surprising upset, I'd go with a pair of home dates in the first half of the season: Sept. 13 versus the Arizona State Sun Devils and Oct. 4 versus the Oregon State Beavers.
The Sun Devils are going to be tough to stop on offense, but their defense might still be finding its footing in Week 3. As for the Beavers visit, you start with the not unreasonable projection that the Buffs could be 4-1 at that point and feeling pretty confident. Further, Oregon State will be coming off what is sure to be a challenging road date at USC. This game has the classic "overlook" feel to it.
Am I picking Colorado to beat either team? Not at this point. But I wouldn't be shocked if they got an upset in one or the other.
Asa from Eugene writes: Ted, I need a good read. You have great taste in books, so what am I reading next?
Ted Miller: I just finished "Fourth of July Creek" from Smith Henderson. It's not particularly uplifting, but the writing is consistently engaging. Henderson is a major young talent. And he's a Portland guy. I might stalk him when I'm next up there.
If you like BIG BOOKS! I'd recommend Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch." Not exactly an obscure novel, seeing it won the Pulizter, but it's emersion fiction in a Dickens vein from one of our finest writers.
Both are dark, but both also allow readers to distill a message on why we, despite everything, choose to endure, which I appreciated.
And, as always, I recommend that everyone read everything from Daniel Woodrell. He's just so... good.
Blake from Phoenix writes: As I was stopped at a red light on my way to work this morning, I looked at the car next to me and I could have sworn that it was non other that Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller. While being next to Mr. Miller would seem exiting enough, what put it over the top was seeing that he was driving a little red convertible, likely from the late 90s. Alas as I stared more at the man driving I realized that it wasn't Mr. Miller. However, I was left pondering for the rest of my drive to work, what type of car would the Pac-12 Blogger drive? Whatever it is, I hope it's as good as a little red convertible.
Ted Miller: While I certainly appreciate red convertibles, I don't need one.
Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama's AJ McCarron were among the five finalists last season, with the award eventually going to Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston.
This year's list of SEC watch list members include multiple players from Alabama and Georgia. Here's the full SEC list:
DB Landon Collins, Alabama
WR Amari Cooper, Alabama
RB Mike Davis, South Carolina
RB Todd Gurley, Georgia
DB Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida
QB Nick Marshall, Auburn
DB Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss
LB Ramik Wilson, Georgia
RB T.J. Yeldon, Alabama
Stoops Talks Sugar Bowl Win
6:00 PM ET Texas A&M South Carolina 8:00 PM ET Boise State Ole Miss 9:15 PM ET Temple Vanderbilt
12:00 PM ET Tennessee-Martin Kentucky 3:30 PM ET West Virginia Alabama 3:30 PM ET South Dakota State Missouri 4:00 PM ET Arkansas Auburn 5:30 PM ET Clemson Georgia 7:00 PM ET Idaho Florida 7:30 PM ET Southern Miss Mississippi State 9:00 PM ET Wisconsin LSU