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Two football dilemmas: Bama’s quarterbacks and Auburn’s schedule

By Brad Bradford

Quotations from Paul William “Bear” Bryant adorn the walls of the only restaurant in Leighton, Alabama. Same with man-caves in Scratch Ankle and corporate board rooms in Hoover.

His most famous quote is: “I ain’t never been nothing but a winner.” While poor mouthing his team’s chances against VPI or Mississippi Southern, he often referred to “injury luck” and “schedule luck.”

In 2017, Auburn and Alabama experienced both kinds of luck.

Auburn’s Gus Malzahn did an exceptional job of recovering from earlier losses against Clemson and LSU to defeat both playoff teams in Georgia and Alabama in a two-week stretch to win the SEC West. Unfortunately, a rested Georgia team beat a five-win Georgia Tech team (that just lost to Duke by 23 points) on the same day that the Tigers had to come from behind to beat Bama (schedule luck). Running back Kerryon Johnson was injured (injury luck) and Auburn was never in the SEC championship game.

They then played a good undefeated and motivated Central Florida team in the same Atlanta stadium in the Peach Bowl to give them their fourth loss of the season.

The Tide’s lead man, Nick Saban, did the BEST coaching job of his career. Injuries to the linebacking crew were almost a joke. Any other team that did not have Bama’s depth and five-star athletes would have lost at least three games.

The Crimson Tide had some late “schedule luck” when Ohio State lost to Iowa by 31 points; No. 5 Wisconsin lost to Ohio State; then Auburn was dominated by Georgia in the SEC championship.

The committee had no choice but to put one-loss Bama in the playoff at No. 4, facing Clemson in New Orleans. Schedule luck put them closer to campus in the Sugar Bowl. The rest is history.

Best jobs in the SEC

After last year, athletic directors made head coach changes in six of the 14 schools: Arkansas, Florida, LSU (kept interim for now), Mississippi State (moved to Florida), Ole Miss (kept interim), Tennessee, and Texas A&M. There are only three head coaches in the SEC (Saban, Malzahn and Stoops) who have been at their school for at least five years.

In Power 5 schools, only 35 percent have the same coach after five years. Changes now happen quickly. Loyalty has gone out the window.

Five factors determine the appeal for a particular job opening:

1. Recruiting base

2. Facilities

3. Tradition/fan/administration support

4. Quality of local high school football

5. Scheduling

Using these factors, the top jobs, in order: 1. Alabama. 2. Georgia. 3. LSU. 4. Texas A&M. 5. Florida. 6. Auburn. 7. Tennessee. 8. South Carolina. 9. Ole Miss. 10. Mississippi State. 11. Missouri. 12. Arkansas. 13. Kentucky. 14. Vanderbilt.

Dumb NCAA rule change

If a college hires a high school coach in any capacity, that college is prohibited from recruiting that high school for two years. Twenty-one percent of college head coaches coached at the high school level. Urban Meyer, Tommy Tuberville, Gus Malzahn, David Cutcliffe, Chad Morris, Chip Kelly, Jeremy Pruitt and Bill Clark were all high school coaches at one time.

The rule was meant to prevent “package deals,” such as hiring a top quarterback’s high school coach to get him to come to your school. In Alabama, Josh Niblett at Hoover, Steve Mask at St. Paul’s and Terry Curtis at UMS Wright would make excellent college coaches, but no program is going to quit recruiting those schools for two years.

Smart NCAA rule change

Starting this fall, a player can play in four games and still keep his redshirt for that year. If a player is going to quit or transfer, it is usually in the first year while he is being redshirted.

He can now play because of injuries, blowouts or needed depth in four games and still have four years of eligibility. For once, the NCAA got it right. (Don’t forget: Jalen Hurts still has a redshirt year. If he loses the starting QB job, this rule could help him and the Crimson Tide.)

Alabama prediction

Every school in the country would love to have the Tide’s quarterback problem: Jalen Hurts, who has a 26-2 record and two national championship appearances, or Tua Tagovailoa who led Bama in a second half comeback against Georgia to win the National Championship.

This year’s offense will be the most complete in years (four offensive linemen return, four deep at running back, three freshmen wide receivers who can fly). The defense will be led by Mack Wilson’s four interceptions, Raekwon Davis at defensive line and five-star athlete and linebacker Dylan Moses.

Regular season record: 12-0. Possible losses: Mississippi State and Auburn, but both are at home.

Auburn prediction

Jarrett Stidham at quarterback lived up to his expectations last year. He will only get better. The problem is rebuilding an offensive line. The idea that Auburn is a pass-happy, gadget offense is a misconception. They are a power running team.

Malzahn does a super job finding mismatches and putting the defense on their heels. As long as Kevin Steele is running the defense, the Tigers will be in all the games. Their two-deep front seven is as good as anyone in the conference.

Derrick Brown at defensive tackle will be a first-round pick. Leading tackler Deshaun Davis returns at linebacker and senior Dontavius Russell will command double teams at nose guard.

Regular season record: 9-3. Possible losses: Washington, Mississippi State, LSU, Georgia and Alabama.

Iron Bowl, playoff predictions

Last year was the first time in Nick Saban’s Bama career that Auburn dominated and won 26-14. That was in Jordan-Hare Stadium. This year, the Tigers must visit Bryant-Denny in Tuscaloosa after playing in Athens against Georgia. Alabama 31-Auburn 7.

SEC West: 1. Alabama. 2. Mississippi State. 3. Auburn. 4. Texas A&M. 5. LSU. 6. Arkansas. 7. Ole Miss. (Sleeper: Mississippi State)

SEC East: 1. Georgia. 2. South Carolina. 3. Florida. 4. Missouri. 5. Tennessee 6. Kentucky 7. Vanderbilt (Sleeper: Missouri)

Playoff possibilities: Alabama, Georgia; Clemson, Miami; Ohio State, Wisconsin; Oklahoma and Washington. Auburn is a long shot due to their schedule. (They play three of these eight teams listed, all on the road.)

Orange Bowl playoff game: Clemson beats Ohio State.

Cotton Bowl playoff game: Alabama beats Miami.

National Championship Game

For the fourth time in four years, Alabama will face Clemson in a playoff game. Bama leads this series 2-1. This is what college football is all about.

In 1972, Jim Croce released a song: “You Don’t Mess Around With Jim.” The lyrics just changed: You don’t tug on Superman’s cape … You don’t spit in the wind … You don’t pull the mask off that ole Lone Ranger … and you don’t bet against the Tide. Alabama 28-Clemson 14.

Brad Bradford is a former football staff member at Alabama and Louisville. He is married to former Auburn cheerleader Susan Moseley Swink. Brad can be reached at Brad@coachbradfinancial.com.