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LSU Officials: No Change In Game Plans Yet

LSU has announced on its official website that there is “no change in the status” of Saturday’s game between North Texas and the Tigers in Baton Rouge.  “LSU officials are monitoring Hurricane Isaac and will assess the impact of the storm after it has passed through Baton Rouge.”

Sadly, according to Weather.com, Isaac is bringing more rain than Katrina and that could really test the rebuilt levee systems in and around New Orleans.  The storm has basically decided to stall and sit for a while as it moves inland.  Heavy rain is expected in Baton Rouge today and tomorrow with winds as high as 55 mph.  By Friday, the chance of rain drops to 60% with scattered thunderstorms.  By gameday, the forecast calls for a 40% chance of scattered thunderstorms.

The bigger issue, of course, is the damage that might be done in Baton Rouge as the storm passes through.

All our best to those of you going through this.  Be safe.

 

UPDATE — LSU cancelled practice today.

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Isaac Takes Aim On Louisiana, Game Decisions Coming And A Stormy Weekend Of SEC Football

Hurricane Isaac — expected to be a Category 2 storm with winds of about 100 mph — should make landfall in Louisiana late tonight or early tomorrow morning.  The storm is tracking toward New Orleans at the moment and is set to arrive on the seventh anniversary of Katrina.

Hurricane warnings have have stretched across a 280-mile swath from Morgan City, Louisiana to the Alabama/Florida state line.  Torrential rain brings the potential for flooding across the Deep South and that will likely test the rebuilt levee system in New Orleans.  In addition to the rain, wind damage and storm surges are also major threats to all those areas in Isaac’s path.  Power outages over huge areas are also likely.

Across the Gulf Coast of Florida to Alabama to Mississippi and to Louisiana, tropical storm warnings and mandatory evacuations have been announced, where hurricane warnings haven’t sounded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While the safety of people across the South is obviously the most pressing concern, click below for a look at the SEC’s game-by-game forecasts and the latest on possible postponements for Texas A&M and LSU.

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Would Alabama Have Even Made A Playoff Last Year?

Alabama won the BCS Championship Game in January.  The fact that the Tide won said title in a rematch over LSU helped stir up so much ill will toward the SEC’s success that we’ll soon arrive in a new playoff age.

But would Bama have even made a playoff last year?

Oh, I know, it’s hard to imagine the Crimson Tide not making the field.  They were ranked #2 in the BCS formula and had been many folks’ preseason favorite to win it all.  They didn’t have a bad loss on their schedule, unlike #3 Oklahoma State (to Iowa State, a 6-7 team) and #4 Stanford (53-30 losers to Oregon).  They also had but one loss, unlike #5 Oregon (which lost 40-27 to LSU and 38-35 to Southern Cal).

Plus, Tide fans, yes… they’re BAMA! 

It’s hard to imagine the #2 team in the human polls not being chosen to play in a playoff.  But the human polls sure don’t mean much to the NCAA Tournament selection committee.  How many times have we seen a team’s seed fall far, far away from where its rating in the polls suggests it will fall?  The polls in college basketball literally mean nothing.  Who’s to say that won’t be the case in football, too?

This is a playoff that was created as a means of leveling the playing field and ending SEC dominance. So before we go any further, take off your SEC beanie and put on the cap of a fan from some other league.  Don’t dismiss what we’re about to say simply because you believe — as I do — that the SEC plays superior footbal.  Many folks outside the South don’t hear that, don’t believe that, and don’t accept that.

So try to think like an anti-SEC person for the next few paragraphs.

Right now we know that a selection committee will be formed to decide who “the best four teams” really are.  Your vote and the AP’s vote won’t count.  Neither will computers.  Long a backer of the SEC’s strength, computers are now out the window.  And if you’re thinking the committee will still use some form of computer formula behind closed doors, you might not want to read the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So how will the field be chosen if human polls and computer formulas aren’t used?  According to the playoff-creators as a whole, the new selection committee will focus on a number of criteria.  From the press release earlier this week:

 

“Among the factors the committee will value are win-loss record, strength of schedule, head-to-head results, and whether a team is a conference champion.”

 

Hmmm.  Admittedly, we don’t know what other factors the committee will consider in their deliberations.  So let’s just look at those factors that were specifically mentioned and see how they relate to the argument for Alabama’s playoff inclusion in 2011:

 

Win-loss record — That 11-1 record would have been awfully good for Alabama’s case last year.

Strength of schedule — Not so much.  Penn State turned out not to be the foe they had traditionally been.  Remaining nonconference games against cupcakes Kent State, North Texas and Georgia Southern wouldn’t have helped much, either.  Toss in SEC games against Ole Miss (2-10), Vanderbilt (6-7), Florida (7-6) and Mississippi State (7-6) and you’ve got some issues.

Head-to-head results — Alabama lost to LSU on its homefield.  In fact, the Tide couldn’t even manage a touchdown in that game.  Game of the Century?  Most Americans yawned at the defensive slugfest.  (A slugfest I found riveting and tense, by the way.)

Whether a team is a conference champion — Whoops.  Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany recently said he wouldn’t hold a team that didn’t win it’s own division with much regard.  That’s Bama, people.  And not only did the Red Elephants not win their conference, they didn’t even win their own division.

 

To paraphrase Henry Fonda from “12 Angry Men,” “Isn’t it possible” that the people on a selection committee might choose to exclude an SEC non-division-winner… that lacked a good nonconference win… and lost head-to-head in its battle for #1… on its own home field?

Hell, yes, it’s possible.  Likely?  Probably not.  But definitely possible.  Especially considering the “let’s spread it around” feel and anti-SEC rancor that it took to push this playoff into being in the first place.

Now, before anyone puts Spike 80DF in the trees in my yard, I believe Alabama was the top team in the country last year.  I think they did deserve to be in the title game.  I believe recent NFL drafts have shown that the best athletes play in the SEC.  I also consider the fact that that only SEC team to ever lose a BCS Championship Game lost it to another SEC school.  So I’d have had Bama in the playoffs.

But a committee — depending on who would have been on it and how they would have weighed the factors above and what biases they might have brought into their meeting room — might have seen things very differently.  Think Delany or someone like him would have included a team he didn’t hold in high regard?

In all likelihood, teams ranked #3 and #4 in the human polls will be in more jeopardy of being jumped by lower-ranked conference champions than a squad ranked second.  There would be screams from the populace if a team ranked #2 in the polls were excluded from a playoff.

Trouble is, it took 143 years of screaming from the populace to get us to a playoff.  Would a selection committee really worry about a few months worth of hate mail from fans or a few days worth of barbs from Kirk Herbstreit on ESPN?  The NCAA basketball selection committee doesn’t seem to care what Jay Bilas, Dick Vitale, you or I say about the choices each and every March.

So simply assuming that last year’s national title-winner would have even made a playoff field requires a leap of faith.  And I don’t have a lot of faith in building an objective selection committee in what’s currently an staunchly anti-SEC world.

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LSU To Introduce Jones As New Hoops Coach Today

Last Tuesday, we broke down for you exactly how we expected LSU’s coaching search to go:


1.  AD Joe Alleva would chase a few big names to please the fanbase.

2.  Then he would most likely wind up hiring someone the complete opposite of Trent Johnson — a man who failed to connect with Tiger fans and never could build strong relationships with Louisiana high school coaches or recruits.


We ended that story by saying that North Texas’ Johnny Jones — an ex-LSU player with strong ties to the state — “would seem to have the edge on that front.”

For those who missed it over the past week, LSU’s Alleva reportedly had some type of contact with “name” coaches like VCU’s Shaka Smart, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, and Pittsburgh’s Jamie Dixon among others.

But today at 2pm ET, it will indeed be Jones who’ll be officially introduced as LSU’s new hoops coach.  Hired over the weekend, Jones’ resume at North Texas is causing concerns for some while others are thrilled that someone from “inside the family” has been tabbed for the job.  In their view — and you can count ex-Tiger coach Dale Brown among them — Jones enters Baton Rouge with a knowledge of the job and a knowledge of what he must do to be successful in that job.

Jones has already been busy contacting some of Louisiana’s top prospects as well as some players Johnson was recruiting before he hit the road for TCU.  Jones is also in the process of filling out his coaching staff which could include another former Tiger, Randy Livingston.

Brown — the SEC’s second all-time winningest coach behind Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp — gave Jones his seal of approval over the weekend in a written release:


“I compliment Joe Alleva for making a thorough search with his staff — without hiring an expensive search firm — to find the very best basketball coach for LSU, Louisiana, and all the LSU fans scattered around the world.  We all got much more than just a basketball coach.  We got a person of integrity, humor, superb work ethic, strong will, a unifier, a disciplinarian and a bright and pleasant gentleman… Hold onto your seats.  This will be an exciting ride.”


One wonders if Brown’s first draft also referred to Jones as being a butcher, a baker, and a candlestick-maker.

In 12 seasons as a head coach — an interim year at Memphis in 1999-2000 was followed by 11 years at North Texas — Jones took two squads to the NCAA Tournament, won 20-games five times (all in the last six years), and compiled an overall record of 205-162.  While the record won’t floor anyone, it should be noted that he built North Texas up over the course of his stay there.

Still, it’s clear Jones’ hiring has more to do with connections to the past and an understanding of the job and the Louisiana people than it does his record.  And those ties and connections are exactly why we thought last week that he’d have an edge on the competition for LSU’s job.

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LSU A.D. Meets With Jones, Others… Not Dixon

According to The New Orleans Times-Picayune, LSU’s basketball coaching search is picking up steam.  Athletic director Joe Alleva — the paper claimed yesterday afternoon — has already spoken with North Texas coach and former Tiger Johnny Jones (pictured at left), with New Mexico State coach Reggie Theus, with Harvard coach Tommy Amaker.

The paper initially reported that Pitt’s Jamie Dixon had also met with Alleva.  But that claim prompted Pittsburgh officials to deny that the Panthers coach had met with LSU’s AD in Atlanta yesterday.  Dixon was in fact in his office on the Pitt campus.

The article at The Times-Picayune’s website now states that “a previous report on Nola.com that Alleva met with University of Pittsburgh Coach Jamie Dixon was inaccurate.”

Stuff happens.  Sources aren’t always 100% accurate.  We’re not picking on the paper, just trying to spread the word that LSU did not meet with Pitt’s Dixon.

In fact, Alleva himself told The Baton Rouge Advoctate that he did not meet with Pitt’s coach.  But he did admit to speaking with Jones:


“Everyone at North Texas knows he is a candidate.  We got permission to talk with him and have done everything through the proper channels.  He was a great candidate and a great interview.”


Alleva also said of Harvard’s Amaker: “Tommy is a friend.  We talked three times, and he’s not interested in the job.  He’s happy where he’s at.”

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Big Name Or Assistant? Expect Johnson’s Tenure To Impact LSU’s Next Choice

Having covered every football and basketball coaching search in the SEC over the past 4 years — and there’s been a whooooole lot of them — we’ve got a pretty good guess as to how LSU’s search for a new basketball coach will go.

First, LSU will reach out to a big name or two, just to satisfy the fanbase.  That’s the usual first step, though some schools — notably Mississippi State with its recent search — bypass that move altogether if they don’t have big enough money to toss around at proven coaches.  LSU has cash.  So we expect a big name or two to be attached to the job in some way: Shaka Smart of VCU (like Tubby Smith and Jon Gruden, his name comes up when there’s any vacancy anywhere), Baylor’s Scott Drew (hit with some negative NCAA news about his program just yesterday), and Jamie Dixon of Pittsburgh.  Dixon was contacted by Tennessee last year, for example, before the school fell back to Cuonzo Martin.  Ironically, Dixon is a TCU alum and his decision to turn down his alma mater opened up that job for Trent Johnson.

Second, most schools usually go 100 miles per hour in the opposite direction their last coach had the program traveling.  Got an introvert (Billy Gillispie)?  Hire an extrovert (John Calipari).  Got a defensive guy (Sylvester Croom)?  Hire an offensive guy (Dan Mullen).  Got a guy who can’t connect with the fan base?  Hire someone who’s got built-in connections.

Read that last line again.  And now know that one of the knocks on Johnson during his tenure at LSU was his inability to fit in with Tiger Nation.  Announcing the opening at his school yesterday, LSU AD Joe Alleva said he would hire someone “who will energize our fanbase.”

There are plenty of people with Louisiana connections — Drew and his brother Bryce (Valparaiso’s head coach) are the sons of former Dale Brown assistant Homer Drew.  Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Tim Floyd (UTEP) both coached at the University of New Orleans.

And then there’s Johnny Jones of North Texas.  The former Tiger is already getting some support from his ex-coach — Brown — who happens to be the second-winningest SEC hoops coach all-time.  That’s not a bad reference to have on the ol’ resume.  Brown’s quote:


“This is completely Joe Alleva’s decision, but I read Joe’s description of the coach he is looking for, and he described Johnny Jones perfectly…

That’s Johnny.  Now you might say I’m just being a proud daddy, and I am.  But Johnny can do this job.  Johnny grew up in Louisiana.  He knows Louisiana.  He knows LSU.  He knows the SEC.  He can coach.  He can recruit.  This is a unique place.  He knows the culture.  He would have an immediate impact with the high school coaches.  They will love him.  He fits all the criteria.  And he has charm — real charm.  There’s nothing fake about him.”


Regarding said resume, Jones has been at North Texas for 11 seasons.  He has just one Sun Belt title but he’s reached the 20-win plateau five times and he’s led the school to two NCAA Tournaments.  The bigger plus — his ties to LSU as a player and as an assistant — make him the obvious fallback hire for the Tigers.

His resume doesn’t scream national titles, but he’d be the type of upbeat, homegrown hire a fanbase will rally around.  Even his predecessor admitted that over the weekend.  Johnson — who was introduced at TCU yesterday — told Tiger Rag Magazine:


“There’s only one person who can come in and get it done, and that’s Johnny Jones.”


As for the search itself, Alleva has not ruled out hiring a search firm — Parker Executive Search in Atlanta just perked up — to aid in the process.  But associate athletic director Herb Vincent said yesterday that Alleva is “going to lean on his basketball contacts at least for now… He’s the search committee.”

“Thursday I started making phone calls,” Alleva told The Baton Rouge Advocate.  “I’ve been on the phone the last three days, talking to people I know, getting names, checking references.  I feel pretty good about where we are in the process.”

Alleva arrived on the Bayou in 2008 after serving as Duke’s AD for a decade.  So if Alleva’s relying on his basketball contacts, expect Duke assistant coach Chris Collins to get some strong consideration.  Collins has never been a head coach, but he’s been an assistant for Mike Krzyzewski since ’08 and he’s the son of longtime NBA coach and analyst Doug Collins.  He’s also considered the Blue Devils’ top recruiter (though how hard is it to recruit to Duke?).

Jeff Capel — another Blue Devil assistant who did well as a head coach at VCU, not so well at Oklahoma — might also get the Coach K seal of approval.

There’s a lengthy list of candidates being kicked around by various media outlets today.  In addition to the many coaches already named above, Virginia’s Tony Bennett, Kermit Davis Jr. of MTSU, Morehead State’s Donnie Tyndall (a former Tiger assistant), former college and NBA coach Reggie Theus, Wichita State’s Gregg Marshall (who despite Southern roots has never landed an SEC gig for some reason), Steve Alford of New Mexico, Kentucky assistant Orlando Antigua, and even Memphis’ Josh Pastner have gotten some pub.

But we keep coming back to past SEC search patterns and to Alleva’s own words:


“Hopefully in a week or so we’ll have a new coach… I’m not going to limit myself, but one of the things I’ve learned in four years I’ve been here is that we need to get the right fit for LSU, particularly in basketball.  We need a guy who can unify all of our constituencies, and still of course have integrity and recruit well and do the things you’re supposed to do.”


Every search is different, sure, but most fall into that aforementioned pattern.  Aim high first… and we think that will mean a phone call to Scott Drew at Baylor to gauge his interest and his salary demands.  Then get someone who’s the opposite of the last guy.  Drew would excite the fanbase, something Johnson could not do.  But Jones has LSU ties, could rally fans with his personality, and could connect with Louisiana high school coaches, too — again, something Johnson could not do.

We could be way, way off base here, but we expect Drew to be the big name if Alleva’s ready to pony up the cash, if he’s okay with Drew’s recent NCAA scrape, and if Drew believes he can do as well in a 14-team SEC as he can in a 10-team Big 12.  That last one’s a big if.

If LSU doesn’t go the big name route, we think Collins from Duke — thanks to Alleva’s ties to that program — and Jones will be the most likely fallback candidates.  At that point, it could come down to who would be the best fit.  And Jones would seem to have the edge on that front.

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SEC Headlines 9/17/2011 Part Two

Navy at South Carolina

1. Despite averaging more than 50 points a game, the Gamecocks have questions on offense.

2. Expect a “hyper crowd” at Williams-Brice Stadium.

Louisville at Kentucky

3. How the Cats and Cards matchup.

4. Both teams really need a win tonight.

5. Fans aren’t exactly fired up.  Nearly 2,000 tickets available as of Friday night.

North Texas at Alabama

6. Expect a Mike Tyson-style knockout tonight.

7. No word Friday on Duron Carter’s status.

Troy at Arkansas

8. Arkansas has beaten Missouri State and New Mexico by a combined score of 103-to-1o.  ”Troy is certainly a step up in speed, and competition and athleticism,” Arkansas Coach Bobby Petrino said.

9. 125-46.  Combined score of Arkansas-Troy games in 2002, 2007, and 2009.

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SEC Headlines – 9/16/11 Part Two

1.  Emory Blake has emerged as Auburn’s top deep threat.

2.  Here are five things to watch for during AU’s battle with Clemson tomorrow.

3.  North Texas coach Dan McCarney — who was an assistant at Florida the last three seasons — says Alabama looks like a BCS title-contender again.

4.  Crimson Tide defensive end Jesse Williams has come along way from Australia to Arizona to Alabama.

5.  Jake Bequette and Jarius Wright will miss Arkansas’ game with Troy tomorrow…

6.  But that shouldn’t prevent a Razorback blowout.

7.  How good is LSU?  Dan Mullen says the Tigers are “the best team in the nation.”  (Think Bama players will file that away for later?)

8.  Les Miles believes the intensity of his defense made the difference last night.

9.  LSU was so good that Mullen ran up the white flag in the fourth quarter.

10.  Injuries along the offensive line proved fatal for MSU.

11.  SEC commissioner Mike Slive loved the enthusiasm around Starkville last night.  (But I wonder what he thought about all those cowbells being rung during play last night.)

12.  Vanderbilt’s defense will be a challenge for Ole Miss’ offense.

13.  The guys in the Rebel secondary have nearly matched last season’s interception total… through two games.

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SEC Game Projections For Saturday 9/17/11

Below is a full rundown of this weekend’s SEC action, including television information (all times Eastern), the latest odds from Las Vegas, and our own predictions, prognostications and projections.  Have at it…

 

Auburn at Clemson

12:00pm on ABC

Why It Matters:  The nation’s longest win streak (17 games in a row) is on the line in this one.  And while the outcome will have no bearing on the SEC race, a win at Clemson would only further lift the confidence level of Gene Chizik’s young team.

What Vegas Says:  Clemson by 3.5 (opened at -3)

What We Say:  On paper, Clemson should probably be the pick.  After all, Utah State and Mississippi State have shown that Auburn’s defense can be run over and run through.  But it’s one thing to put up more yards than Auburn… it’s something else entirely to put up more points.

Prediction:  Auburn 34, Clemson 31

 

Ole Miss at Vanderbilt

12:00pm on SEC Network

Why It Matters:  Wouldyabelieve Vandy has won four of its last six against the Rebels?  Or that Ole Miss has lost 16 of its last 18 Southeastern Conference openers?  Well just as he couldn’t afford another loss to an FCS squad last week, Houston Nutt can’t afford his second loss in two seasons to Vandy.

What Vegas Says:  Ole Miss by 2.5 (opened at -2)

What We Say:  If Vanderbilt gets past Mississippi, we’ll go all-in with James Franklin’s club.  As it stands, we’ll go with the school that’s signed Top 20 recruiting classes in each of the last three years.  UM should have more talent than Vandy.  Shouldn’t it?

Prediction:  Ole Miss 28, Vanderbilt 20

 

Coastal Carolina at Georgia

1:00pm on PPV

Why It Matters:  Because if Mark Richt somehow loses this one, he’ll be run out of Athens on a rail… Homer Stokes-style.

What Vegas Says:  No Line, FCS Opponent

What We Say:  Georgia gets a much needed blowout win, but we do they come through it unscathed?  UGA sure can’t afford any more injuries.

Prediction:  Georgia 44, Coastal Carolina 10

 

Tennessee at Florida

3:30pm on CBS

Why It Matters:  Old friends Derek Dooley and Will Muschamp are trying to prove to pollsters and recruits that it’s back to normal at two of the SEC’s traditional powers.  Both teams have looked good so far.  But both are stepping way up in competition on Saturday.

What Vegas Says:  Florida by 9.5 (opened at -10)

What We Say:  UT has the passing attack to challenge Florida’s secondary.  But the Vols have given up 4.9 yards per rush attempt to Montana and Cincinnati.  That doesn’t bode well going against a run-first Gator team that’s averaged right at 250 yards per contest (even if it came against FAU and UAB).  As long as John Brantley avoids major mistakes, UF should run to victory.

Prediction:  Florida 34, Tennessee 24

 

Navy at South Carolina

6:00pm on ESPN2

Why It Matters:  Carolina hasn’t looked great so far — just ask Steve Spurrier – but the Gamecocks are still undefeated and still in the Top 10.  As nutty as it sounds, BCS hopes are still alive in Columbia.

What Vegas Says:  South Carolina by 17 (opened at -16.5)

What We Say:  Navy’s triple-option is not what a team with tackling woes wants to see rolling into town.  Carolina should be able to put up points on offense and avoid a repeat of its famous upset loss to the Midshipmen in 1984.  But they’ll get a scare.  SEC teams just aren’t used to seeing a well-executed triple-option game.

Prediction:  South Carolina 37, Navy 30

 

Louisville at Kentucky

7:00pm on ESPNU

Why It Matters:  We can probably repeat this line all season — Because Joker Phillips needs to start winning over the UK fanbase.

What Vegas Says:  Kentucky by 6 (opened at -7.5)

What We Say:  Kentucky has looked pretty rough in wins over Western Kentucky and Central Michigan.  But better to be 2-0 with two ugly wins than 1-1 with a loss to Florida International… which is what’s on Louisville’s resume.  Look for Morgan Newton and Josh Clemons to get the Cats’ run game going.

Prediction:  Kentucky 21, Louisville 17

 

North Texas at Alabama

7:30pm on FSN

Why It Matters:  I got nothing.  This will be a rout and everyone knows it.  Why even play this game?

What Vegas Says:  Alabama by 47 (opened at -43.5)

What We Say:  At least Nick Saban will be able to get Phillip Sims some mop-up duty.

Prediction:  Alabama 50, North Texas 3

 

Troy at Arkansas

7:30pm on CSS

Why It Matters:  Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson will be back in the lineup after taking a blow to the head last week.  Two other Hog starters were injured last week, too.  So we’ll go the injury route on this one — The game matters because Arkansas doesn’t want any more injuries against outmanned opponents.

What Vegas Says:  Arkansas by 23 (opened at -26.5)

What We Say:  Troy has given SEC teams trouble in the past.  But Bobby Petrino’s just got too many weapons.  The Trojans won’t be able to keep pace tomorrow.

Prediction:  Arkansas 41, Troy 17

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Saban Wants His Backups To Be The Best

This weekend, #2 Alabama will host North Texas.  Obviously, you can expect a whole lotta backups to get into the game before the final gun sounds.

During his press conference yesterday, Nick Saban was asked about the attitude he wants to see from his reserves:


“We don’t want anybody out there just being enough.  We want you to be the best you can be.  That’s the goal of the program, that should be the goal of the player, and that’s what we want every player to do.”


North Texas will be Bama’s final tune-up before jumping into SEC play against Arkansas the following week.

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