Off Season News and Thoughts
By: Larry Burton
The other day, I was listening to College Sports Today show on Sirius satellite radio and heard Gene Chizik predicting how Auburn’s season will play out. While mildly shocked to hear him say that South Carolina should beat his former Tigers, I was more stunned to hear him admit that Alabama will also likely topple Auburn.
His reasoning was clear, concise and well thought out, but still, considering he’s still on the Auburn payroll, (in buyout money) it was refreshing to see that he is objective in his assessments and picks.
Bad news for Deion Belue, who was waived for the second time in 24 days. Undrafted but signed initially by Miami in a free agent contract, he was quickly waived but picked up by the Steelers for what was apparently a quick look-see and they too waived him. While injuries did slow the cornerback from Tuscumbia in his senior year at Alabama, he was apparently back at full strength for his NFL tryouts.
While other teams may still show an interest in him, this could be a serious blow for Belue’s chances to catch on to an NFL team this year.
Does the commitment of Blake Barnett, Alabama’s stud quarterback in the 2015 class clear up Alabama’s quarterback picture of the future or muddy it up? While everyone with working brain cells know that Florida State transfer Jacob Coker will be the Tide quarterback this season, no one knows if he’s a one and done season man. But if the Tide does have a great year and Coker looks like a sure high round draft pick for the NFL, then the question becomes, who’s next?
Barnett won’t be ready and that could leave Alec Morris, (a junior by then), or two sophomores to be Cooper Bateman or David Cornwell to take up the ball and start slinging.
So why does Barnett muddy the water? If either Morris, Bateman or Cornwell do well, then how long do you keep Barnett on the bench? Do you bench a junior or senior who has done OK for a guy who could do great? One thing is for sure, while the quarterback battle this year is only in the heads of the naive, the future certainly looks to have some spirited and real battles once Coker is gone.
If you listen closely, you’ll know the offensive playbook at Alabama is opening up a bit and changing. This fall you’ll see more two back sets than in the entire Nick Saban era and word has it that Kiffin is salivating over having O.J. Howard to mix into the passing game. Coker is very smart and will be told that anytime it looks like Howard is going to be covered by a corner or safety to give him a hard look and see if he can be fed the ball. It is an epic mismatch that Kiffin loves to use when he has a smart QB and a big tight end with hands like Howard.
Also in talking about two back sets, expect to see a lot more of that. And why not? With the stable of running backs at Alabama, it would be a crime to let any get rust on them. You may even see a two tight end formation with two running backs to pressure teams into thinking run while receivers leak out into the flats. That’s something Kiffin loves to do.
And while we’re talking about Kiffin, while no head coach is happy to be back as an assistant, this job seems a great fit for Kiffin at this point and especially for Alabama, who has benefited from his recruiting, even before calling his first official play. Not only has Kiffin added a little recruiting luster to the Tide (who really never needs much help in that area anyway), he has added some excitement to the team’s players and his long history of working with and developing quarterbacks could not have come at a better time for this and next year’s signal callers.
Speaking of recruiting, will Nick Saban have his 25 or so commitments for 2015 all in the bank before the kickoff of football season even begins? It was totally unthinkable in the past, that any coach could ever do that, or even want to do that, but with Saban now having 19 commitments, it is not outside the realm of possibility. It would simply be a breathtaking achievement and would leave other coaches pondering whether Saban really recruits or simply drafts the players he wants.
Interesting is the spread of those being recruited: 3 defensive backs, 4 defensive ends, 1 defensive tackle and 2 linebackers that total 10 defensive players plus the athlete Shawn Burgess-Becker, who may be a future defensive back. If so that’s 11 defensive players to just 8 offensive players: 3 offensive linemen, 1 quarterback, 1 running back, 1 tight end and 2 receivers.
It’s also interesting to note that of the 19 committed so far, 15 of them are 4 star or higher commits. Saban is really outdoing himself this year and putting a lot of distance between him and number two in recruiting. While a fan of one school may crow about landing some recruit Alabama had an interest in, the fact is that Saban is getting everything he really wants so far for the class of 2015. In fact he could/should be the first coach penalized for piling on during recruiting season.
As for what Saban is looking for to finish off this class, my best guess is that he wants at least two more offensive linemen, another running back, another tight end and maybe another receiver for offense. For defense, a nose tackle, one more defensive lineman, one more linebacker and a bruising safety would make him happy.
Pivotal early games in the SEC? Yes there are, and the ones that affect the Crimson Tide the most are: Auburn at Kansas State, LSU at Auburn, Texas A&M at South Carolina and Mississippi State at LSU. Now I’ll explain.
Should Auburn lose to Kansas State (and it’s a real possibility) then the Tigers wheels could fall off. A big win here gains them not only national respect, but a ton of momentum going forward. That’s the third game of the season.
People aren’t expecting much of LSU this season and I’m not one of them. You win with talent and LSU has a ton of it, even if a large portion of it is young talent. If the Bayou boys beat the Auburn team, they will think they are world beaters and that momentum could carry them all the way into the game with Alabama. If they lose and lose badly, the wheels could come off for the rest of the season. Likewise, a loss here would take Auburn out of talk of the SEC West and could spark a downturn.
South Carolina should be riding high in this the first game of the season with lofty expectations and they could easily overlook a Texas A&M squad who is rebuilding, but loaded with talent and really well coached. Could lightning in a bottle strike twice for the Aggies and they find another “Johnny Football”? If so, they could gain early pride and confidence and make a run in the SEC West a possibility.
Mississippi State? Really? Dan Mullen finally has a team with enough senior leadership to sneak up and bite the big boys this year. After three cupcake starts, if the Bulldogs tame the Tigers from LSU, and they always play them hard, then suddenly Mullen’s Mutts have the confidence they’ll need for the next two games against Texas A&M and Auburn, who they also play close every year.
As for Alabama, there’s an old saying that goes, you think you’ve got it all going and then you start the SEC season. The Tide’s first game in the SEC is with Florida and right now, they’re a wildcard. At this point, no one knows they’ve cured their offensive woes, but they will certainly have a defense that will test Alabama’s new quarterback. A big productive day by the Tide offense should send shivers down the spines of Alabama’s opponents down the road.
Well that’s this weeks news and thoughts. Use the comment section below for thoughts you have about points you agree or disagree with or something that you think I should have mentioned.
Larry is an award winning writer whose work has appeared in almost every college football venue. Now he primarily writes for Touchdown Alabama Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LBSportswriter