Urban Meyer is the offensive guru, a master motivator with a reputation for his relationships with players. Nick Saban is the defensive genius, a notedly strong disciplinarian with an incredible attention to detail.
The lines between them may actually blur at times, with Saban also beloved by his players and Meyer not one to let his organization fall out of order. And the truth is, other than that split between offense and defense, the two might actually be more like-minded than they’re given credit for, a point that was driven home again when they took up yet another issue in lockstep to try to change college football for the better.
“I know we both committed our entirely livelihood to college football and believe in players,” Meyer said. “The players are the most important part of this whole institution of college football.
“So we've had many, many conversations about how to make sure we keep the game or do the best we can to make sure the game stays what it is.”
That previously put agents on campus and the possibility of providing stipends for players in the cross-hairs of arguably the two most famous coaches in America, and now they’re pushing for some help for families ahead of a historic meeting between Alabama and Ohio State in the semifinal of the inaugural College Football Playoff.
With expensive price tags on flights and hotels around the Allstate Sugar Bowl and the possibility of an additional game looming with a victory, families have expressed their concerns both in letters and on social media that they can’t afford to see their sons play in the most important games of their lives. Ohio State was able to offer $800 in reimbursements through the student-assistance fund, but that isn’t likely to come close to covering even one trip on relatively short notice, and Saban and Meyer are once again raising their voices to draw attention to an issue that might otherwise be overlooked.
“I just hope that because it's a first that we do the best job that we possibly can for all teams involved, all players involved, all families involved, assessing how we do this so that we can make it better for the families in the future,” Saban said. “I think that when I say make it better, I think for the travel that's involved with all the families, that maybe we should do something for the family so that they have an opportunity to get to the game so that they can see the players play.
“I think that would be something great, and I think that's something that all the coaches up here really, really support.”
Sitting right next to him at the news conference last week in Orlando, Saban already had an ally who had strongly come out in favor of assisting the extended football family, with Meyer pointing to the huge amounts of money the playoff format is expected to bring in for conferences and universities.
Figuring out exactly how to slice up the pie and make sure moms and dads are in the building moving forward surely won’t be an issue that is resolved in time for the first playoff. But just like they did back in the SEC, a pair of powerful rivals are at least making it a topic of conversation to potentially influence some change down the line.
“That was my first thought,” Meyer said. “I want to see how our families are going to be able to afford two bowl games if we’re fortunate enough to keep going. Universities and conferences are making a lot of money off the TV deals, how are we going to treat the families of the players? I still haven’t heard much about it, but I’m going to keep pushing it because I want to know.
“I’m not sure what the answer is. ... They had a room where all those people sat and selected [the teams], I wonder if they have another room where people decide on how we make sure we treat the players the right way. You talk about stress over the holidays? Watch what happens here over the next month. I’ve spoken to some of my colleagues about it.”
The conversation between long-time rivals was surely a short one this time. Once again, Saban and Meyer were already on the same page.
A couple of obvious first-team selections were Alabama wide receiver Amari Cooper, who was only the nation's best receiver, Alabama safety Landon Collins and Ole Miss cornerback Senquez Golson. Mississippi State linebacker Benardrick McKinney and Missouri defensive end Shane Ray made the second team.
All good there.
But as you scan all three teams, you won't see Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott. No, the one-time Heisman Trophy front-runner, who set all kinds of Mississippi State records and helped lead the Bulldogs to their first 10-win season since 1999, didn't make it. Instead, Oregon Heisman winner Marcus Mariota, TCU's Trevone Boykin and Ohio State's J.T. Barrett made the cut.
Clearly, all three are worthy of All-America status, but so is Prescott after breaking 10 Mississippi State single-season records in 2014, including total offense (3,935), total offense per game (327.9) and touchdowns responsible for (37).
Four players for only three spots ...
Hey, there's always next season.
Here are the 15 SEC AP All-Americans:
WR: Amari Cooper, Jr., Alabama
C: Reese Dismukes, Sr., Auburn
CB: Senquez Golson, Sr., Ole Miss
S: Landon Collins, Jr., Alabama
OT: La'el Collins, Sr., LSU
OG: Arie Kouandjio, Sr., Alabama
OG: A.J. Cann, Sr., South Carolina
DE: Shane Ray, Jr., Missouri
DT: Robert Nkemdiche, So., Ole Miss
LB: Benardrick McKinney, Jr., Mississippi State
CB: Vernon Hargreaves III, So., Florida
S: Cody Prewitt, Sr., Ole Miss
P: JK Scott, Fr., Alabama
OT: Cedric Ogbuehi, Sr., Texas A&M
OG: Ben Beckwith, Sr., Mississippi State
Want to watch a literal implosion? You can, thanks to Texas A&M. On Sunday morning, the west side of Kyle Field will be imploded as the school continues its $450 million redevelopment of the Aggies' football stadium, which is scheduled for completion prior to next season. At 8 a.m. central time on Sunday, the massive 10-story structure will be brought to the ground so that the rebuild of that side can soon begin. A local television station and Texas A&M's athletics site will live stream the implosion and fans will to be allowed to view it in-person from just outside Reed Arena, the Aggies' basketball home.
There was plenty of speculation about Will Muschamp going to South Carolina before he eventually settled on Auburn, which can be understandably unsettling if you're a South Carolina defensive coach, considering Steve Spurrier hasn't made any changes in that regard. The Gamecocks' defensive coaches say they've tuned out the noise. "I don’t ride the rollercoaster," South Carolina’s secondary coach Grady Brown said. "That’s the business," defensive line coach Deke Adams said. It's natural for there to be speculation after the Gamecocks finished 13th in the SEC in yards per game allowed (433.6) and 12th in scoring (31.2 points per game allowed). For what it's worth, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward did not speak with reporters after Tuesday's practice.
Around the SEC
- Missouri junior defensive end Shane Ray hasn't decided yet whether he'll enter the NFL draft, according to his mother.
- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen said he and athletic director Scott Stricklin hope to have a contract extension done soon and that he's not looking for another job.
- Should he stay or go? Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams is weighing whether to enter the NFL draft.
- Auburn offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee said he's not looking for head coaching jobs but acknowledged it is part of the deal when you have success.
- Tennessee receiver Jason Croom will miss the TaxSlayer Bowl because a knee injury.
Saban: "Some little 10-year old boy came up to me after A-Day and asked if we had a quarterback other than Blake Sims."— Cecil Hurt (@CecilHurt) December 17, 2014
Aguayo is the first kicker to be a two-time All-American since Ohio State's Mike Nugent, though Nugent did not make the first team in consecutive seasons like the Seminoles' star.
The second-seeded Ducks will play third-seeded Florida State on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual.
There are many moments that define a season, but this is the first year plays defined a playoff.
It wasn't just Baylor's nonconference schedule that doomed the Bears' playoff hopes; it was the loss at West Virginia that knocked them out of the top four. It wasn't only the performance by Ohio State third-string quarterback Cardale Jones in the Big Ten title game that punched the ticket for the Buckeyes; it was the win against Michigan State that put them in position to get there.
Here's a look at how the top four spots were won -- or lost -- in a historic season for the sport.
The opponents: Arkansas and Mississippi State.
The moments: The first came in the fourth quarter at unranked Arkansas, when Landon Collins intercepted Brandon Allen on third-and-10 to seal the 14-13 win. The second moment wasn't a single play -- it was a 15-play drive in the fourth quarter against then-No. 1 Mississippi State. Alabama was clinging to a 19-13 lead when that 76-yard touchdown drive ate 6:07 off the clock and added a 25-13 cushion with T.J. Yeldon's 7-yard touchdown run. Blake Sims converted all three third downs himself (one pass, two rushes). It was Alabama's first win over a No. 1-ranked team in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The outcome: The win at Arkansas was critical not only for the SEC West standings, but from an emotional standpoint, as well. The Tide had to rebound from the previous week's loss at Ole Miss. The upset of Mississippi State put Alabama in the selection committee's rankings for the first time -- a spot the Tide would never relinquish.
Two true freshmen – Texas A&M’s Myles Garrett and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett – earned second-team All-SEC honors from the league’s coaches and media, and several others enjoyed productive debut seasons in arguably the nation’s toughest conference.
Garrett set an SEC record for freshmen with 11 sacks this season, but Barnett might have been not just the conference’s best freshman defensive lineman -- he might have been the SEC’s best defensive lineman, period.
Barnett is the only freshman to rank among the national top 30 in tackles for loss (he’s third) and Ole Miss freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes is the only freshman in the national top 50 in forced fumbles (he’s tied for 29th with three). Garrett (tied for sixth with 11), Barnett (tied for 16th with 10) and Haynes (tied for 43rd with 7.5) are three of the only four freshmen to rank in the national top 50 in sacks.
Haynes did not post the ridiculous numbers that Garrett and Barnett did, but he was the best pass-rusher on a powerful Ole Miss defense. He led the Rebels in sacks, quarterback hurries (eight), and forced fumbles and is tied for the team lead with a host of teammates with one fumble recovery.
Those three were the headliners, but they are not the only freshman pass rushers who appear destined for SEC stardom. Here are three more freshmen who could strike fear into quarterbacks’ hearts next season:
OLB Lorenzo Carter, Georgia: Arguably the biggest recruit in Georgia’s 2014 class, Carter didn’t start for the first time until Game 9 against Kentucky. But he made the most of that opportunity wotj nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss against the Wildcats. The Freshman All-SEC honoree started the last four games and figures to become a major impact player in 2015.
OLB Rashaan Evans, Alabama: Earning playing time as a freshman on Alabama’s talented front seven is difficult, but Evans contributed as a role player. He made 15 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack thanks to impressive speed and a high motor. Once he gets an opportunity to play more, he’s going to be a regular visitor into opponents’ backfields.
DE Da'Shawn Hand, Alabama: The SEC’s coaches saw enough from Hand in limited action to name him to their Freshman All-SEC team. One of the nation’s most coveted recruits in 2014, Hand recorded just seven tackles, two sacks and two tackles for loss as a reserve on Alabama’s deep defensive line. Rest assured, his time is coming.
Jake Locker, No. 53 in 2006 class
Locker picked Washington over Oregon State out of Ferndale (Wash.) in a recruitment that wasn’t close due to staying close to home and having a number of friends that attended the University of Washington. Locker also had a strong relationship with then Huskies head coach Tyrone Willingham.
After a redshirt year in 2006, Locker took over as the starting quarterback for the Huskies in 2007, completing 155 of 328 passes for 2,062 yards and 14 touchdowns against 15 interceptions. He also had 987 yards rushing earning Pac-10 Freshman of the Year and honorable mention All-Pac-10 honors.
The 2008 season was one to forget for the dual-threat signal caller. He completed 50 of 93 passes for 512 yards and a TD in four games before a thumb injury against Stanford ended his season.
Locker began to realize his potential in 2009 as a redshirt junior. He hit on 230 of 395 passes for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, and added 387 rushing yards picking up a second honorable mention All-Pac-10 honor following the season.
As a fifth year senior, Locker threw for 2,265 yards and 17 touchdowns, and rushed for 385 yards in 12 games earning a third honorable mention All-Pac-10 award.
Locker left Washington as the school's second all-time passing and quarterback rushing leader with 7,639 passing and 1,939 rushing yards.
Locker was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans, where he is currently the backup.
Honorable mention: Jeoffrey Pagan, No. 53 in 2011 class, and Demarcus Robinson, No. 53 in 2013 class. Pagan signed with Alabama out of Asheville High (N.C.) and went on to appear in 32 games in three seasons with 12 starts. After 61 career tackles and 3.5 sacks for the Crimson Tide, Pagan chose to forgo his final year of eligibility in Tuscaloosa. Pagan was selected in the sixth round, No. 177 overall, in the 2014 NFL Draft by the Houston Texans. Robinson was a back-and-forth recruitment between Clemson and Florida before deciding on the Gators. After an underwhelming freshman season in 2013, the Peach State native became one of the top receivers in the SEC in 2014 hauling in 47 passes for 774 yards earning All-SEC honors.
Best win: Though the game would wind up looking close with a final score of 25-20, which team would win never really felt in doubt. Instead, Alabama imposed its will on Mississippi State from the get-go and controlled the contest throughout. The then-No. 1 ranked Bulldogs couldn't do much of anything offensively. Their ground game, led by bowling ball running back Josh Robinson and Heisman Trophy contender QB Dak Prescott, had nowhere to go. And on the other side of the ball, the defense had no answer for QB Blake Sims, who led a 15-play drive that Saban would later call one of the best in school history.
Worst loss: The first half belonged to Alabama, but after intermission Ole Miss came on strong. Bo Wallace began knifing through the Tide defense, starting with a four-play, 66-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. And to make matters worse for Alabama, Sims and the offense went off the rails, starting with a drive that ended in a missed field goal. From then on, Alabama went field goal, punt, punt and interception. Ole Miss won and carried the goalposts out of the stadium to celebrate.
Player of the year: Only five receivers have ever earned a trip to New York City for the Heisman Trophy ceremony. Amari Cooper, who led the country in receptions and receiving yards, earned his spot as the sixth. The junior was everything to Alabama's offense this season as he accounted for more than half of Sims' 26 touchdown passes. Whatever the coverage, Cooper found a way to beat it, whether it was yards after the catch against the zone or long bombs over the top against man-to-man.
Breakout player: With all due respect to the superb improvement from cornerback Cyrus Jones, there is no bigger surprise this season than Sims. The former running back/receiver wasn't even supposed to be Alabama's quarterback. That job was supposed to belong to Jake Coker, remember? But Sims beat the Florida State transfer out of fall camp and never relinquished his spot. The redshirt senior made the most of his one opportunity, breaking AJ McCarron's record for passing yards in a single season while also ranking second nationally in Adjusted QBR, trailing only Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota.
Play of the year: Alabama's hopes of reaching the playoff might have gone up in flames if not for Landon Collins' game-saving interception in the fourth quarter against Arkansas. If he misjudges the ball and allows Jonathan Williams to come down with it, there would have been no one on the back end of the defense to prevent a touchdown.
2015 outlook: Prepare for the entire offense to change. Say goodbye to Sims and Cooper. Say so long to T.J. Yeldon, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White. Even offensive linemen Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd are moving on. Offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin worked wonders with that group this season, but he's in for an even bigger challenge in 2015. He'll have to find out one and for all whether Coker can quarterback the Tide. He'll also have to find more weapons at receiver, whether that's Chris Black or Robert Foster. The good news is there's plenty of talent to draw from as Saban and his staff have hauled in the No. 1-ranked recruiting class in each of the past three years.
Saban vs. Meyer
11:00 AM ET Nevada Louisiana-Lafayette 2:20 PM ET Utah State UTEP 3:30 PM ET 22 Utah Colorado State 5:45 PM ET Western Michigan Air Force 9:15 PM ET South Alabama Bowling Green
6:00 PM ET Marshall Northern Illinois 9:30 PM ET Navy San Diego State
12:00 PM ET Central Michigan Western Kentucky 8:00 PM ET Fresno State Rice
1:00 PM ET Illinois Louisiana Tech 4:30 PM ET Rutgers North Carolina 8:00 PM ET North Carolina State UCF
1:00 PM ET Cincinnati Virginia Tech 2:00 PM ET 15 Arizona State Duke 3:30 PM ET Miami (FL) South Carolina 4:30 PM ET Boston College Penn State 8:00 PM ET Nebraska 24 USC
2:00 PM ET Texas A&M West Virginia 5:30 PM ET Oklahoma 17 Clemson 9:00 PM ET Arkansas Texas
3:00 PM ET Notre Dame 23 LSU 6:30 PM ET 13 Georgia 21 Louisville 10:00 PM ET Maryland Stanford
12:30 PM ET 9 Ole Miss 6 TCU 4:00 PM ET 20 Boise State 10 Arizona 8:00 PM ET 7 Mississippi State 12 Georgia Tech
12:00 PM ET 19 Auburn 18 Wisconsin 12:30 PM ET 8 Michigan State 5 Baylor 1:00 PM ET 16 Missouri 25 Minnesota 5:00 PM ET 2 Oregon 3 Florida State 8:30 PM ET 1 Alabama 4 Ohio State
12:00 PM ET Houston Pittsburgh 3:20 PM ET Iowa Tennessee 6:45 PM ET 11 Kansas State 14 UCLA 10:15 PM ET Washington Oklahoma State