College football watch: Nick Saban making it tough on embattled SEC coaches

Alabama Vanderbilt Football
Alabama coach Nick Saban has his team rolling.

The success of Alabama under Nick Saban is not exactly helping the job security of other head coaches in the SEC.

The top-ranked Crimson Tide have defeated their last two opponents by a count of 125-3. Starting Saturday, their next four games will be against coaches skating on increasingly thin ice: Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin, Arkansas’ Bret Bielema, Tennessee’s Butch Jones and Louisiana State’s Ed Orgeron.

Saban is 14-1 against the quartet, with his only loss coming in 2012 against Sumlin, whose quarterback that year was Johnny Manziel. Saban tried to pump up the Aggies this week, calling them “the strongest team we’ve played to this point all the way around.”

Texas A&M got off to a bad start, blowing a 44-10 lead in its season-opening loss to UCLA. But the Aggies have won four straight since then, including two in the SEC, and are feeling pretty good. Of course, that could all change if they’re not competitive against Alabama.

The next three teams are winless in the conference going into Saturday’s play. Arkansas is 2-2 overall. Tennessee was thrashed, 41-0, at home by Georgia last week while LSU suffered an embarrassing upset loss to Troy before an unhappy home crowd.

LSU’s “very positive week”

Meetings made up an important part of LSU’s week after its 24-21 stunner against Troy that broke a 49-game home winning streak against nonconference opponents. The most significant one came Monday when Orgeron met with his offensive and defensive coordinators and athletic director Joe Alleva.

As for including Alleva, who watched the Tigers get blown out by Mississippi State before they lost to Troy, Orgeron said his boss wanted to know what was going on and how the team could fix it.

“Laid out everything on the table about which direction we want to go, what’s going on, how we can fix it,” Orgeron said during an SEC coaches conference call. “It’s been a very positive week.”

There also was a players-only meeting after last week’s loss, and Orgeron met with the leaders of his offense Monday.

Happy or unhappy reunion?

Nebraska will honor its 1997 team that won the national championship (in the coaches’ poll) at halftime of Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin, hoping it’s a better scene than at its 10-year reunion.

Ten years ago, the team watched as the Cornhuskers lost by 45-14 to Oklahoma State, their most lopsided home loss since 1958. The athletic director, Steve Pederson, was fired two days later and replaced by Tom Osborne, coach of the championship team.

In 2017, Nebraska has let go of another athletic director, firing Shawn Eichorst two weeks ago. Head coach Mike Riley finds his status as questionable with the Huskers off to a 2-2 start in the Big Ten and Wisconsin and Ohio State looming as opponents.

It’s a long way from the three national championships that the Huskers won over a four-year stretch of the ’90s.

Mystery defense

If you like offense, the Big 12 is for you.

The conference features four teams in the top nine in FBS total offense, and five teams in the top 12 of points per game and in the top 20 in passing yards. It has some of the best quarterbacks in the country headed by Heisman Trophy candidates Baker Mayfield of Oklahoma and Mason Rudolph of Oklahoma State.

But yes, there is a flip side. Four teams are in the bottom fifth (below 100th place) in total defense. Kansas, which went for 564 yards in total offense in a loss to West Virginia, allowed 635 in that game.

Rare loss for Darnold

Sam Darnold led Southern California to 13 straight victories, including a Rose Bowl win over Penn State, before last weekend’s loss at Washington State. The defeat dealt a blow to both the Trojans’ national-championship hopes and Darnold’s Heisman Trophy candidacy. “It’s a terrible feeling and one that I don’t want to feel ever again,” he said in an Associated Press story. “We’re working twice as hard now to remain undefeated the rest of the season.” Darnold has nine touchdown passes and eight interceptions in five games.

Honoring Petty

The University of Florida will pay tribute to local legend Tom Petty, playing “I Won’t Back Down” at the end of the third quarter of its game against LSU. Petty, who died Monday after suffering cardiac arrest at his home, was born and raised in Gainesville and worked as a groundskeeper at the university while trying to break into the music business. “Let’s celebrate together what he meant to the world of music, and what he meant to this community,” Gators athletic director Scott Stricklin said.

Expatriate of the week

Notre Dame junior Josh Adams, who starred at Central Bucks South High School, has amassed some great rushing numbers through five games, ranking fourth in the nation with 658 yards, seventh with a 131.6-yard average, and third in yards per carry at 9.0. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound Adams rushed for 159 yards last week against Miami of Ohio, a total he’d already topped twice this season – 161 yards against Temple, and 229 against Boston College.

Games of the week

West Virginia at Texas Christian, 3:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1: With the Mountaineers averaging 48.8 points per game and the undefeated Horned Frogs right behind them at 47.8, this will be a typical Big 12 shootout. But TCU is a touchdown better statistically on defense, and that could spell the difference.

Miami at Florida State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN: Miami coach Mark Richt spent 15 years as an assistant coach with the Seminoles and returns to Tallahassee for the first time since 2001. Florida State’s first victory of 2017 came last week in the final minute, and it would love nothing better to knock off its intrastate rival.

Louisiana State at Florida, 3:30 p.m., CBS3: The seat for LSU coach Ed Orgeron got a lot hotter after last week’s stunning home loss to Troy, but the Tigers could bounce back this week against a Gators team that remains without nine players still serving suspensions for alleged credit-card fraud.

Michigan State at Michigan, 7:30 p.m., 6ABC: The Wolverines return after a week off leading the nation in defense but still not dazzling anyone on offense. The Spartans, who are 7-2 against their rivals in the last nine games, matched their 2016 win total of three by defeating Iowa last week.

Star watch

QB Jalen Hurts, Alabama, 6-2, 218, Soph., Houston

In his last two weeks running the offense, Hurts has piloted the Crimson Tide to a 125-3 advantage in lopsided wins over Vanderbilt and Mississippi. He rolled up 298 total yards on the Rebels in barely more than one half, completing 12 of 19 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns and rushing 10 times for 101 yards and one score. For the season, he has completed 64 percent of his passes for 747 yards and six touchdowns, and has rushed for 461 yards and four TDs. His 8.4 yards per carry rank seventh in FBS.

Inquirer Top 10

  1. Alabama (5-0)
  2. Clemson (5-0)
  3. Oklahoma (4-0)
  4. Penn State (5-0)
  5. Washington (5-0)
  6. Georgia (5-0)
  7. Wisconsin (4-0)
  8. Michigan (4-0)
  9. Texas Christian (4-0)
  10. Washington State (5-0)