Lane Kiffin will return to Alabama next season and remain the team's offensive coordinator, the Crimson Tide announced Saturday.
Kiffin had been a front-runner for the San Francisco 49ers' offensive coordinator job, sources told ESPN's Adam Schefter last Sunday.
"We're very pleased and happy that Lane is going to be staying here at the University of Alabama with us," coach Nick Saban said in a statement released on Twitter. "He's done a fabulous job and is one of the finest offensive coaches in the country. He is going to have plenty of opportunities in the future and we want to continue to help him develop as a coach so when he leaves here, he'll be in a very good situation. Our offense was extremely productive last season and we look forward to building on some of the good things we did on that side of the ball with this year's team."
Under Kiffin, first-year starting quarterback Blake Sims completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 3,487 yards and 28 touchdowns this past season. Wide receiver Amari Cooper became a Heisman Trophy finalist, catching 124 passes (an SEC single-season record) for 1,727 yards and 16 scores.
As a team, the Crimson Tide were 16th in points per game (36.9).
"I made a comment at the [Allstate] Sugar Bowl that I would be back this fall at Alabama and that is definitely the plan," Kiffin said. "This time of year, there are lots of things out there regarding other coaching opportunities, but I want to reaffirm my commitment to the University of Alabama, coach Saban, and our team.
Kiffin, the former head coach of the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and USC Trojans and current offensive coordinator at Alabama, confirmed Saturday he would be staying in college rather than returning to the NFL, via the Alabama football team's official Twitter feed.
Last week, ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Kiffin was the “front-runner” to land the gig on new Niners coach Jim Tomsula’s staff. But with Kiffin staying in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to where will the 49ers shift their focus?
Indianapolis Colts special offensive assistant Rob Chudzinski, a former head coach of the Cleveland Browns, has also been a target of the 49ers, but they, as well as the St. Louis Rams, have reportedly been denied permission to interview Chudzinski.
“I’m not going to get into specifics, but it’s ultimately my job to make sure that good people stay in this building and don't just walk right now,” Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said Friday. “So we’ll address that and do our best to keep good people here.”
Reports, though, have Chudzinski’s contract expiring next week.
The Niners have also been linked to Mike Shanahan for the offensive coordinator opening, and the two-time Super Bowl-winning coach of the Denver Broncos was the team’s play-caller the last time the 49ers won the Super Bowl, 20 years ago.
Niners quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst also could be considered an option.
Once you get past the top 5 and the top 10, things become muddied. You start comparing first halves of seasons versus second halves and the value of play during conference games against overall numbers.
Inevitably, someone deserving is going to be left out.
To help remedy the inherent shortcomings of such lists, here’s a look at who might have been worthy of the next five in:
Cody Prewitt, S, Ole Miss
A first-team coaches All-SEC selection, Prewitt was the heartbeat of the Ole Miss defense. Though he didn’t come up with nearly as many interceptions as last season, his three picks and 59 total tackles were impressive for a safety.
Josh Robinson, RB, Mississippi State
Though his numbers dipped late in the season, it’s hard to deny the way Robinson produced. The self-described “bowling ball” was the perfect compliment to quarterback Dak Prescott, bouncing between the tackles and catching passes on the outside on his way to 1,500 total yards and 12 touchdowns.
JK Scott, P, Alabama
Punters generally don’t make top-25 lists. But they don’t generally have as big of an impact on games as Scott, who led the country in yards per punt (48.0) and tied for first in the SEC in punts downed inside the red zone (30) -- albeit on 25 fewer attempts than the man he was tied with.
Dylan Thompson, QB, South Carolina
Prescott didn’t lead the league in yards passing. Neither did Blake Sims, Bo Wallace or Nick Marshall. No, it was Dylan Thompson, whose 3,564 yards passing and 30 total touchdowns were overshadowed by his team’s poor win-loss record.
Duke Williams, WR, Auburn
He missed three games, but Williams still managed to amass 730 yards and five touchdowns. But the most impressive trait that defined the former juco transfer was his ability to show up in big games, whether it was 154 yards in his debut against Arkansas, 110 yards on the road at Kansas State, or 121 yards in the Iron Bowl against Alabama.
1. Amari Cooper, WR, Alabama
He was already a star, but Cooper shot into the stratosphere during an incredible 2014, smashing the SEC's single-season receptions record with 124 catches. Cooper won the Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wide receiver -- the first Alabama player to win the award -- and was a Heisman Trophy finalist while totaling 1,727 receiving yards and 16 touchdowns. He entered the NFL draft after that standout junior season and figures to be selected early in the first round.
2. Shane Ray, DE, Missouri
Ray needed just one season as a starter to prove he has legitimate NFL star potential. Ray's blazing speed off the edge helped him emerge as one of the nation's top pass-rushers, and his 14.5 sacks and 22.5 tackles for loss only back up that notion. Ray led the SEC in both of those statistical categories en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors, and he looks like a surefire bet to become a first-round NFL draft pick in a couple of months.
3. Landon Collins, S, Alabama
Another player who made the most of his first season as a full-time starter, Collins was easily one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. He led Alabama's defense with 103 tackles and tied for the team lead with three interceptions, becoming a unanimous All-American in the process. Once Collins decided to enter the draft after his strong junior season, ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay both listed him as the top safety prospect and in the top 10 overall.
4. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State
Prescott was once thought of as the possible Heisman front-runner, but his star faded down the stretch as the Bulldogs lost three of their last four games. With the SEC's most dynamic dual-threat quarterback returning for 2015, Mississippi State's offense will once again cause opposing defensive coordinators to lose sleep. It's awfully difficult to prepare for a player like Prescott, who can not only run (986 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns in 2014) but can also be an effective passer, as his 3,449 passing yards and 27 touchdown throws prove.
5. Nick Chubb, RB, Georgia
The other names in the top five were not big surprises, but if you had told a Georgia fan before the season that Chubb -- not Todd Gurley -- would occupy this spot, they would have certainly been shocked. This was supposed to be a season when Chubb and Sony Michel learned on the job behind the nation's best running back, but Gurley's off-the-field issues (and later, injury) thrust Chubb into the spotlight. Wow, did he ever respond. Chubb registered 30-plus carries in each of his first two starts (road wins over Missouri and Arkansas) and was nearly unstoppable in the second half of the season. He rushed for at least 100 yards in all eight games after entering the starting lineup and capped an unbelievable freshman season by rushing for 266 and two scores in a bowl win against Louisville.
Expect some of that flak to return this season, as the SEC once again deals with a handful of young and relatively inexperienced quarterbacks running amok through the league. Seven of the top 14 SEC passers from 2014 won't be returning in 2015, giving some offensive coordinators extra work to do this year.
But fear not OCs and QBs, the league is still stocked with running back talent that should be able to carry some of those offenses still looking for stability at quarterback.
It sounds redundant, but 2015 really could be the "Year of the Running Back." And this group of running backs is on the younger side, but that shouldn't matter. Freshmen running backs took the league by storm last season, and unfortunately for SEC defenses, those kids are only going to get better.
The four schools that immediately come to mind are Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, and LSU. T.J. Yeldon might be gone at Alabama, but the Crimson Tide will be in very good hands with rising junior Derrick Henry taking over as the lead back. Henry and Yeldon shared the carries in 2014, with Henry leading the way with 990 rushing yards. The return of Kenyan Drake will add another dimension to Alabama's running game, but Henry is a special talent, and with Alabama breaking in a new quarterback, a restructured offensive line and a young group of receivers, Henry will have plenty of opportunities to shine.
Leading the charge of the running back revolution is rising sophomore Nick Chubb, who will be the center of attention in Georgia's offense while the Bulldogs look for a quarterback. You think that's an issue for Chubb? All he did was rank second in the SEC in rushing (1,547 yards and 14 touchdowns) after making just eight starts last season. He was thrust into the starting role after star running back Todd Gurley was suspended by the NCAA for four games and then tore his ACL in his late-season return.
That led to Chubb running over, around and through so many unfortunate defenders. In those eight starts, he never dipped below 100 rushing yards and averaged 165.4 per game. Like Gurley, Chubb just runs on another level and appears to either be from another planet or constructed in a lab hidden in the Mojave Desert. The Bulldogs bring back solid talent around Chubb, but let's face it, if new offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer isn't routinely handing the rock to Chubb, something just isn't right.
About 600 miles southwest of Chubb is his position rival for the next two years: LSU's Leonard Fournette. Another manchild who roughed up plenty of defenders this past season (so, so sorry Aggies), Fournette will have to carry the load for the Tigers in 2015, because we just don't know what to expect from the quarterback position. He needed some time to feel comfortable, but when he did, he made his opponents suffer, finishing the season with 1,034 and 10 touchdowns.
Then, there is Arkansas, which has the SEC's best running back duo in Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins. Both rushed for more than 1,000 yards last season, and with Brandon Allen still needing to find his way at quarterback, those two will be relied upon again in 2015. And why not? Coach Bret Bielema wants to pound his opponents into submission anyway, and those two have done it well for the past two seasons.
And just for the heck of it, Tennessee's Jalen Hurd will rush for 1,000 yards, even with talented quarterback Joshua Dobbs under center.
Here are some other running backs who might have to push their quarterbacks:
Kelvin Taylor/Adam Lane Jr., Florida: With new coach Jim McElwain installing yet another offense in Gainesville, the Gators have yet another quarterback battle on their hands. The good news is that Taylor and Lane have the potential to be a solid duo. Taylor rushed for 565 and six touchdowns as a backup last season, and Lane broke out in Florida's bowl game, rushing for 109 yards and touchdown.
Brandon Wilds, South Carolina: The Gamecocks lose Dylan Thompson at quarterback, and there is a bit of a battle brewing for his replacement. Wilds, who has 1,277 career rushing yards, has been very solid, and should have no trouble taking over as the starter for Mike Davis.
Ralph Webb, Vanderbilt: Another freshman standout in 2014, Webb will have to continue to be Vandy's top offensive weapon in 2015. The quarterback situation was up-and-down last season, and who knows what it will look like this year. Webb rushed for 907 yards and four touchdowns last season.
Russell Hansbrough, Missouri: But the Tigers have veteran Maty Mauk at quarterback! Well, he wasn't exactly consistent last season, and proved to be a liability at times for Mizzou's offense. Hansbrough, on the other hand, rushed for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns in a breakout year. With Marcus Murphy gone, Hansbrough should grab the majority of carries and improve on a very solid first year as a starter.
2. After losing linebackers coach Randy Shannon to Florida, Bret Bielema just plucked an accomplished coach from the Sunshine State to replace him. That man is Vernon Hargreaves II, who brings 30 years of coaching experience to Arkansas. The father of Florida standout cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III has an exhaustive coaching resume, including a national championship with the 2001 Miami Hurricanes, and should also keep that strong recruiting in south Florida that Shannon had. Like Shannon, Hargreaves' ties with the Hurricanes are strong, and he should be a good addition to Bielema's staff. Next up for Bielema? Find on offensive coordinator ...
3. For one of the SEC's most accomplished coaches in the regular season, Wednesday's announcement of a contract extension and a raise should have been considered a no-brainer. But when you haven't won the SEC championship at a school like Georgia since 2005, you can't blame fans for their uneasiness toward their head coach. Still, for all the negativity that Mark Richt has had to deal with from Georgia fans -- some of it is justified -- he's had a heck of a coaching career with the Bulldogs. His .739 winning percentage (136-48 record) ranks fourth among active FBS coaches who have coached at least 100 games in FBS conferences, and he's had nine seasons with 10 or more wins at Georgia in his 14 years in Athens. But with an extension going through 2019 and Richt now making $4 million a year, the time to win an SEC title is now. The Bulldogs are equipped with the talent to make a strong run through the SEC, and you know those same fans unhappy with the lack of championship swag in Georgia's trophy cases won't be pleased with anything less than a title run or two in 2015.
Tweet of the day
Please foliow my new tumblr, "Linemen Looking Uncomfortable On Foam Rollers" pic.twitter.com/slZmox9oVx— SPENCER HALL (@edsbs) January 21, 2015
Around the SEC
- No matter what position Nick Marshall plays in the NFL, he'll always have the Prayer in Jordan-Hare.
- More good news for Arkansas as Jerry Jones' wife donated $10.65 million to Arkansas athletics.
- Former LSU offensive tackle Le'el Collins honored his mother by playing his senior year in 2014.
- Mississippi State president Mark E. Keenum has been appointed to the College Football Playoff's board of managers, replacing former Florida president Bernie Machen as the SEC's representative on the board.
- Quarterback and defense remain the biggest questions for South Carolina in 2015.
According to Art Briles, national champion Ohio State was three votes away from not even making the inaugural College Football Playoff.
During an interview with a group of reporters Wednesday, the Baylor coach noted "a source" told him that the Bears fell short of the fourth and final playoff spot by "an 8-to-4 vote."
"We were close this year," Briles said. "We were an 8-to-4 vote getting in from the No. 4 spot. Whether that's public or not, I don't know, but it is now. Unless I'm getting bad information, and I won't give you my source."
If Briles' source is in fact correct, it would defy the playoff committee's selection protocol.
There's a reason one of Will Muschamp's final orders at Florida was to have his team attempt to run more of a spread offense with some tempo. There's a reason Texas A&M and Missouri's offenses have flourished and have a combined record of 56-23 during their first three seasons in the SEC. There's a reason the Mississippi schools have been on the rise. There's a reason Gus Malzahn has had immediate success in two short years as head coach at Auburn.
There's a reason we saw two spread-minded teams -- one incredibly tempo-driven -- with offenses ranked in the top 10 and defenses outside the top four of their own conferences reach the first College Football Playoff National Championship game.
As rugged and as defensive-minded as the SEC has been for years and years, offense is taking over college football, and the SEC -- for the most part -- is trying not to get left behind.
“Any offense is trying to find any advantage against the defense," Oregon running back Royce Freeman said during media day for the College Football Playoff National Championship Presented by AT&T. "Why wouldn’t you? If it’s tempo or if it’s different personnel, if it’s by the rules, do it.”
Times are changing in all forms of football. Offense is in and defense is ailing.
In each of the last two seasons, the SEC has had six teams finish the year allowing more than 390 yards per game. From 2008-12, only nine teams allowed more than 390 yards a game. The disintegration of defense is apparent in the SEC, and how long it lasts is unknown. Offense is having a trickle-up effect with high school teams adopting the spread more and more and ramping up the tempo. Running quarterbacks feel like more of a necessity in the sport than a luxury.
Nobody thought the spread would work in the NFL, but the read-option is there to stay (hello, Super Bowl-bound Seattle Seahawks) and even the New England Patriots have been running a version of the spread during the last few years at times.
It's a natural evolution in sports for people to try and find the next best thing. Football is no different. For a while, defenses were stagnant and offenses would shift and motion to create leverage. Now, defenses can move at and before the snap to create temporary advantages and mismatches. So offenses have answered by lining up quicker and snapping the ball faster.
It's in all forms of the sport, but Oregon coach Mark Helfrich, whose Ducks have been perfecting this thing since the Chip Kelly days, believes this offensive fad his school helped create might not be the future of football.
“It’ll cycle though. People that believe in certain things will keep it at their core," Helfrich said. "… There are also certain people who are just experimenting with it, so to speak.”
Cyclical or not, programs are realizing that the current offensive evolution -- or revolution -- is real. Most teams in the SEC implement some form of higher tempo in their offenses. Some are spreading guys out more and finding homes in the shotgun. While it goes against all old-school football mantras, it's something coaches realize is the style of the times, and it's working and it's greatly affecting defenses.
Just look at Alabama. This is a team that dominated college football with a very traditional -- and successful -- offense. But Nick Saban's defenses have struggled with the spread recently. Johnny Manziel and his high-flying Texas A&M Aggies lit up Alabama for an average of 523 yards and 35.5 points in games in 2012 and 2013. Against Auburn and that uptempo Malzahn spread the last two years, Alabama has surrendered 1,023 yards and 78 points.
Alabama went 2-2 in those four games.
Running quarterbacks, spread and tempo have been weaknesses for Saban's defenses, so he added all three to his offense this year and watched Alabama set all sorts of offensive records and average 484.5 yards per game (most during his Alabama tenure) and 36.9 points a contest.
“Three or four years ago, Nick Saban was talking about how he didn’t really like [uptempo offense], and the disadvantages to it," Oregon defensive back Juwaan Williams said. "He’s making the evolution himself.”
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer, a week removed from his third national championship victory, began some of the transformation down South by bringing his version of the spread offense from Utah to Florida in 2005. His very personnel-driven philosophy changed as the players did. That's why you saw Florida's 2008 national championship-winning offense look so different from the 2006 one.
And that's why Dan Mullen's spread at Mississippi State looks a little different from the one he helped run as the offensive coordinator at Florida. That's why Hugh Freeze's spread at Ole Miss has some philosophical differences from Mizzou's. That's why Tennessee is now spreading things out more now to go with its tempo with a more mobile quarterback in Joshua Dobbs.
“It’s not system-driven; it’s personnel-based," Meyer said of the spread.
That's why Bret Bielema isn't interested in it at Arkansas. He has his big guys plowing into everyone every chance they get, and he likes it. And that's fine, but as we continue to look around the league, more tempo and more spread is coming. Even new Florida coach Jim McElwain, who was a part of the ground-and-pound Bama philosophy during his time with Saban, would like to inject more tempo in the Gators. Steve Spurrier has even experimented with some tempo at South Carolina.
As we dive into this new playoff thing and football gets faster and faster, the SEC appears for the most part to be ready and adapting. And really, it had better be.
“It seems like every team is trying to conform to that," Ohio State offensive lineman Darryl Baldwin said. "I guess it’s more about scoring points now than playing defense now."
11. Blake Sims, QB, Alabama
One of the SEC’s feel-good stories of the year, Sims was not the favorite to win Alabama’s starting quarterback job once news broke that Jacob Coker planned to transfer from Florida State. But the fifth-year senior Sims not only claimed the job, he had an excellent season. He finished second in the nation in Total QBR (85.8) behind only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and helped the Crimson Tide win the SEC title. This week he’s at the Senior Bowl trying to grab a job in the NFL, which would have seemed very unlikely before his standout senior season.
12. Cameron Artis-Payne, RB, Auburn
He was Tre Mason’s backup when Auburn shocked the college football world by reaching the BCS title game in 2013, but Artis-Payne proved as a senior that he has plenty of game himself. He led the SEC with 1,608 rushing yards and scored 13 touchdowns, and he figures to be an early-round pick in the upcoming NFL draft after rushing for 100 yards or more nine times in 13 games in 2014.
13. Pharoh Cooper, WR, South Carolina
One of the SEC’s most entertaining players, Cooper can do it all. Take his performance against Tennessee, for example. Cooper caught 11 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns, took a direct snap and threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Wilds and also rushed for an 11-yard score. If Cooper had played defense, too, maybe South Carolina would have won the game instead of suffering an excruciating overtime loss. Nonetheless, Cooper was nothing short of outstanding as a sophomore, finishing the season with 1,136 receiving yards and giving Steve Spurrier an obvious weapon to utilize entering the 2015 season.
14. Benardrick McKinney, LB, Mississippi State
The leading tackler on Mississippi State’s “Psycho Defense,” McKinney was probably the group’s emotional leader as well. He won first-team All-SEC honors after totaling 71 tackles, eight tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries and decided to enter the NFL draft after a strong redshirt junior season. The 6-foot-5 inside linebacker is the No. 1 prospect at his position, according to ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., who said last month that McKinney is “a good bet to be a first-rounder if the draft were tomorrow.”
15. A.J. Cann, G, South Carolina
Another of Kiper’s top positional prospects, Cann heads the list among guards for the upcoming draft. It was a disappointing season for South Carolina, but Cann was again the rock on the Gamecocks’ veteran offensive line. He and his fellow linemen’s protection helped Dylan Thompson lead the league in passing, and Cann was named to several All-SEC and All-America squads after the season. Not a bad way to cap an outstanding career as a Gamecock.
CFP Firm On Dates
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