Alabama Crimson Tide: Sal Sunseri

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Nick Saban will be in the awkward position of having to watch a football game rather than coach one on Jan. 6 in Pasadena, Calif. His Alabama Crimson Tide won't play for the VIZIO BCS National Championship, and instead will be forced to watch Florida State and Auburn do battle on center stage.

[+] EnlargeJimbo Fisher
AP Photo/Nell RedmondFormer Nick Saban assistant Jimbo Fisher and former Saban recruit Jameis Winston are proof of the power of "The Process."
But don't weep for Saban and the Tide. Because whatever happens, Alabama benefits.

Should Auburn win, Saban can continue selling recruits on the SEC being the most dominant conference in college football. "Come play in the league with eight straight national titles," his pitch might go. "Come compete in a rivalry game with championship implications," he might say.

But if Florida State wins, Saban can sell something much simpler. "See Jimbo Fisher coaching out there? He was my offensive coordinator at LSU," he could say. "See Jeremy Pruitt leading the Noles defense? I took him from a high school assistant coach to an SEC defensive coordinator," he could flaunt. "Defensive ends coach Sal Sunseri? Offensive line coach Rick Trickett? Wide receivers coach Lawrence Dawsey? Yeah, those were all my guys at one point, too," he could add for good measure.

Saban's process of building and running a football program -- simply dubbed, "The Process" -- has caught hold at a number of programs around the country, but maybe none more so than at Florida State. The similarities between the two schools are staggering: both work out of a 3-4 base defense, both use mainly pro-style sets on offense, both have built through the trenches and both recruit like gangbusters. Even their focus and implementation of off-field physical and mental conditioning are similar as both have employed the services of sports 'mindset' expert Trevor Moawad and both try to stay on the cutting edge with programs like Catapult Sports.

"Jimbo has done a fantastic job," Saban said of his former assistant in late November. "I always thought Jimbo was one of the best coaches we've ever had to work with on any of our staffs. He did a fantastic job for us. I think he has done a fantastic job.

"If you look at the whole body of work and the way they beat people, they are arguably the best country right now. And they weren't when he went there. They made a significant improvement. He has done a very good job of recruiting and developing the players they do have in the program. They've played really, really well and improved each year he has been there."

Though the Noles may have the flashier quarterback and the higher profile today, Saban shouldn't let you -- or the nation's top recruits -- forget what got them there. Since Fisher took over, the two staffs and the two rosters have been heavily intertwined. Jameis Winston, who won the Heisman Trophy this year, signed with Florida State over Alabama in 2012. Amari Cooper, who was a Freshman All-American a season ago, signed with Alabama over Florida State in the same year. The list of prospects whose decisions have come down to the Tide and the Noles are too many to count.

It ultimately took three seasons of coaching, recruiting and staffing for Saban to reach his first championship game with Alabama. For Fisher, it took four seasons to get Florida State to the promised land.

Whichever team wins on Jan. 6, The Process, Saban and Alabama come out looking good.

Game preview: Alabama at Tennessee

October, 19, 2012
10/19/12
8:30
AM ET
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There's something about the Third Saturday in October, Alabama versus Tennessee, crimson and orange on a fall night.

It's not a rivalry by geography, nor is it one that dates back to the school's inception. But the rivalry between Alabama and Tennessee is no less intense. In fact, to UA linebacker Trey DePriest, it might be the most intense game the Tide play all season.

"Being a second-year player, it's kind of grown on me now," he said. "Last year, I didn't know. I thought it was always Alabama-Auburn. I didn't really know about the Tennessee game. But a lot of the older fans take this game real seriously. It's bigger than Alabama-Auburn to them."

To Cyrus Kouandjio, the game represents something different. The sophomore left tackle will come full circle Saturday, marking a year since he tore his ACL at home against Tennessee. The road back wasn't as easy as he thought it would be.

"When I got hurt was almost exactly a year ago; it was tough," Kouandjio said. "To rehab every day -- I didn't know it was going to be as hard, actually. When you get hurt, it's not a joke, because it's tough to get back. I'm still kind of hurting a little bit. But I'm just ready to go out there and play, you know? I'm actually pretty excited. It's been a year, and this is the same team that I tore my ACL against.

"I'm ready to go out there and have fun."

With a trip to Neyland Stadium to look forward to all week, Kouandjio said he has noticed a change not just in himself, but the team as a whole.

(Read full post)

SEC post-spring power rankings

May, 18, 2012
5/18/12
11:30
AM ET
We're putting spring behind us and looking toward the fall with our post-spring power rankings:

1. LSU: The Tigers had one of the best springs around. Things were quiet off the field, and the offense rallied behind quarterback Zach Mettenberger. Coach Les Miles was very impressed with Mettenberger's play and maturity, and expects LSU's offense to be more balanced with him under center. LSU can still use four or five running backs as well. Defensively, the Tigers are stacked once again, especially up front with two potential first-rounders in ends Sam Montgomery and Barkevious Mingo. Questions surround the inexperienced linebackers, but Kevin Minter had a tremendous spring in the middle. On paper, LSU is equipped with the talent to make another title run, and gets Alabama at home this year.

2. Alabama: The defending national champs saw a lot of "new" faces on defense this spring, but coach Nick Saban left happy with where his players were -- but not satisfied. There is still work to be done, especially in the secondary, where the Tide must replace three starters. Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw are gone at linebacker, but the coaches were impressed with how Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Adrian Hubbard played this spring. Some think Hubbard, a redshirt sophomore, could be Bama's top pass-rusher. Offensively, quarterback AJ McCarron is back, more mature and surrounded by a very veteran line. He has a group of younger receivers to throw to, but has at least four quality running backs. Alabama's road to repeating is tougher, with games at Arkansas and LSU.

3. South Carolina: A healthy Marcus Lattimore (knee) makes South Carolina an even better contender for the SEC East crown. His status is uncertain, but the pieces around him are pretty impressive. Quarterback Connor Shaw had an impressive spring, and looks ready to be the passer coach Steve Spurrier wants him to be. The defense is once again stacked, especially up front with ends Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor. There are questions in the secondary, with two new, young starters in Victor Hampton (cornerback) and Brison Williams (safety), and senior Akeem Auguste coming back after missing all of last season with a foot injury. Still, Spurrier is chirping about his SEC counterparts, so you know he thinks he's got a good team this year.

(Read full post)

SEC recruiting scorecard

April, 18, 2012
4/18/12
3:06
PM ET
Now that the initial ESPN 150 is out, it's time to take a look at how each SEC team is doing in the world of recruiting as the spring comes to an end.

Florida leads the SEC with seven 150 members, while Alabama and Georgia have six each. Auburn was one of two teams to have two top-10 150 members in its class.

Yes, it's very, very early, but recruiting is something that never seems to lose its popularity.

Here's a look at each SEC team's class thus far:

ALABAMA

2013 verbal commitments: 11

Spotlight: Linebacker Reuben Foster of Auburn, Ala., is not only the top linebacker prospect out there but he's the No. 2-rated player in the country, according to ESPN recruiting services. Alabama is rarely short of talent at the linebacker position and from all accounts, Foster won't have a problem fitting in. He registered 185 total tackles, including 144 solo tackles, 34 tackles for loss and 18 sacks as a junior

ESPN 150 members: 6 (2. ILB Reuben Foster of Auburn, Ala.; TE-H of O.J. Howard of Prattville, Ala.; RB Altee Tenpenny of North Little Rock, Ark.; RB Tyren Jones of Marietta, Ga.; OG Andy Dodd of Lindale, Ga.; ATH ArDarius Stewart of Birmingham, Ala.

(Read full post)

Tennessee coach Derek Dooley is looking to fill three vacancies on his coaching staff, and is scheduled to talk with Alabama assistant head coach and linebackers coach Sal Sunseri on Wednesday about the Vols’ defensive coordinator’s job.

It may be difficult for Dooley to pry Sunseri away from Alabama, especially with Sunseri’s son, Vinnie, heading into his sophomore season at Alabama and expected to play an even larger role at linebacker next season for the Crimson Tide.

Also, Sunseri would be a prime candidate for the Alabama defensive coordinator’s job when Kirby Smart leaves. It’s a given that Smart is going to get a head coaching job, probably sooner rather than later. He’s simply waiting for the right opportunity to come along.

Either way, Sunseri is an excellent coach and a very good recruiter, too. It makes sense Dooley would target him.

TCU's Dick Bumpas, Michigan State's Pat Narduzzi and Navy’s Buddy Green are three others Dooley has targeted for the defensive coordinator job, while San Diego Chargers assistant coach Rich Bisaccia is Dooley’s top choice as special teams coordinator.

The Vols also have a linebackers job to fill on defense, and there have been some rumblings that they could have another job open up on offense. Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand is in play at Notre Dame to join Brian Kelly’s staff.

Dooley has already hired Jay Graham away from South Carolina to be the Vols’ running backs coach.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Drive Through: SEC Preview
In the spirit of the MTV Video Music Awards and the Emmys, Cary Chow and Heather Dinich hand out some preseason awards of their own for the SEC.
VIDEO PLAYLIST video

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 8/28
Saturday, 8/30
Sunday, 8/31