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Mitch Vingle: A primer on the Crimson Tide

KENNY KEMP | Gazette Mitch Vingle- 2014

When CBS played “One Shining Moment,” it was a celebration of Connecticut’s NCAA basketball crown.

Within our state’s craggy boundaries, though, it meant the start of football season. Or, rather, the start of football waiting season.

That’s just the way it is in West Virginia. Baseball here is truly a pastime — to get us to football season.

So let’s jump right in, shall we?

And take a look at Alabama, WVU’s opening opponent.

In sum? William & Mary they ain’t.

Las Vegas oddsmakers have established Alabama as the second favorite (to Florida State) to win the upcoming season’s national championship. It’s a program that’s produced 110 All-America players (earning 129 honors) and 15 national titles, including those of 2011 and ’12. It’s been reported the school had an athletic revenue of $143 million last year, higher than that of all 30 NHL teams and 25 of 30 NBA teams. (Texas, another WVU opponent, brought in more at $165 million.)

But you know of the backdrop, the tradition. It stretches from coaches Bear Bryant to Nick Saban and the players from John Hannah and Joe Namath to Derrick Thomas and Julio Jones. You might remember that last season the Crimson Tide went 11-2, losing to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl after the stunning loss to Auburn in the SEC championship.

What you might not know is the deal with this coming season’s Alabama team.

Consider this a primer.

First, understand that Alabama has seven starters back on offense and four on defense. One not back, however, is three-year starter AJ McCarron, who won two national championships.

That West Virginia will face a first-time starter at quarterback Aug. 30 is one of the few reasons for hope in Morgantown.

Here’s the situation: Currently, Blake Sims is the Tide’s QB leader, although he’s far from the clubhouse. In the team’s most recent scrimmage he completed 16 of 23 passes (70 percent) for 227 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He’s a former four-star QB recruit, but is a 6-foot ex-running back and receiver with an imperfect throwing motion. The Tide also has Alec Morris and Cooper Bateman.

More intriguing, though, are freshman David Cornwell and incoming transfer Jake Coker from Florida State. Yes, two backups to Jameis Winston could be facing each other in Atlanta, where the Alabama-WVU game will be played. If you are unaware, Mountaineer QB Clint Trickett also transferred from FSU.

Coker, though, was a three-star kid coming out of high school. Cornwell was rated one of the top pro-style quarterbacks in the nation. He enrolled early before hurting a knee. Now, though, he’s back at practice and participating.

The other ray of hope for WVU has to do with another transition. Alabama is not only transitioning at quarterback, but also in regard to coaches. Lane Kiffin is the new offensive coordinator there, while Bo Davis and Kevin Steele are new defensive assistants.

It seems, however, Kiffin might be a nice fit for Saban’s staff. Saban likes to rely on the run in order to pass. Last year, Alabama averaged 205.6 rushing yards and 248.5 passing yards. Kiffin’s USC offense was centered on zone-blocking run plays. He used two tight ends a lot and H-backs. He found variety around base concepts, using a lot of two-back sets.

In other words, just expect tweaks. See, no one is going to walk in and completely change what Saban is putting on the field. Also, it would be folly to abandon all those four- and five-star tailbacks running behind a strong offensive line, especially with a new quarterback.

Oh, yeah, the running backs. Returning for Alabama is ex-five-star recruit T.J. Yeldon, who had a terrific freshman season and followed it up with better numbers last year, when he averaged 102.9 yards.

In the Tide’s recent scrimmage, sophomore Kenyan Drake (four stars in high school) led the way with 60 yards and a score. Tyren Jones (four stars) had 49. Derrick Henry (five stars) and Altee Tenpenney (four stars) had 40 yards each. Henry was rated the nation’s No. 1 “athlete” coming out of high school.

Here, well, insert a pause. Because there’s really little else to report that would give WVU fans hope.

On defense, the Tide did lose alpha dog linebacker C.J. Mosely, but returning is middle linebacker Trey Depriest as well some very good, if young, linebackers.

It’s truly an embarrassment of riches. This week word came out that Tide cornerback Eddie Jackson, who started four games as a true freshman last season, has a torn ACL.

That has to hurt, right?

Not really. It’s unlikely Jackson could return for the WVU game, but Alabama signed the nation’s top two cornerbacks.

Tony Brown, who was one of the nation’s top sprinters, is already in camp. Marlon Humphrey, one of the nation’s top hurdlers, will in Tuscaloosa in the fall. Both have size to go with the speed.

Get what I’m saying? Nose tackle Brandon Ivory anchors a defensive line that is young, but talented — especially since Alabama signed defensive end Da’Shawn Hand, ranked by Rivals.com as the nation’s No. 1 overall recruit. It capped Alabama’s recruiting class, which was ranked No. 1 across the board.

You get the hint.

Alabama will have a new quarterback. It will have a new offensive coordinator.

Other than that, it’s the same old Tide.

Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, mitchvingle@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.


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