By Stan J. Griffin: December 29, 2016

There has been much discussion, or as University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban would tend to classify it, "outside noise," regarding the legacy of the 2016 Crimson Tide squad, a No. 1-ranked powerhouse that has already rolled to a 13-0 mark, a third consecutive Southeastern Conference title and a third straight trip to the College Football Playoffs.
Some observers are wondering aloud whether this may be the best Alabama team ever, or at least the mightiest one that Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa, as UA seeks to become the first major college team ever to finish with a perfect 15-0 mark.
At the very least, many media types are suggesting that Jeremy Pruitt's Alabama defense may be the Crimson Tide's finest ever stop unit.
All of that hype and hoopla makes for fine water cooler discussion and round table debate, but there is just one small problem with all of this clutter.
The story of this Alabama team is still yet to be completed, and an upcoming one or two-game run in the playoffs will determine if this team may go down as the greatest piece in Saban's Crimson Tide dynasty, or if it will be remembered as a very good team that simply could not finish the job.
In two days we will find out if the Tide can reach the 14-victory plateau for the third time under Saban, but it will not be an easy task as Alabama will face Chris Petersen's No. 4 Washington Huskies in the New Year's Eve Chick Fil A Peach Bowl in one of the playoff semifinals.
Kickoff is set for 2 p.m. in the Georgia Dome, and the game will be televised by ESPN.
Before the Tide left Tuscaloosa for its Christmas break, Saban noted that Petersen's Pac 12 champions (12-1) are extremely well-coached, as well as being very solid in all facets of the game.
"Every time I stand up here, I try to convince everybody what a great team Washington has, and they are a very, very good football team on both sides of the ball and special teams," he said. "They're very well-coached and they've got good schemes, they've got good players, so this is going to be a real tough game for us. This is by far the best team we've played against all year long."

The Alabama Division of Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries (WFF) will host a series of Wildlife Management Area (WMA) listening sessions across the state this winter. The listening sessions will focus on the history of Alabama’s WMA system, how it is funded, habitat management efforts, future plans and ongoing research. WFF staff will also answer attendees’ questions. 

WHAT:  Life Time Fitness Vestavia Hills, outside Birmingham, is set to open its doors to the public Dec. 30 to Jan. 2 to encourage residents to kick-off 2017 with a New Year's commitment to their health. During each of the four days, Life Time will feature a variety of health and fitness experiences and activities for all ages.

ATLANTA - The Alabama Crimson Tide football team arrived in Atlanta, Ga., Monday morning to begin game-site preparations at the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. Head coach Nick Saban met with the media upon arrival at the team hotel. The Crimson Tide broke for meetings in the afternoon before traveling to the Georgia Dome for the first full practice of the week.

When the summer heat is a thing of the past, Alabama comes alive to celebrate together. Whether you want to enjoy great food, ride a train, or take your dog for a run, you can find a great event to attend in Alabama.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 18, 2016

THE SCORE: Clemson 67, Alabama 54, as the Crimson Tide falls back to the .500 mark and misses on its final opportunity to gain a signature non-conference victory for its resume with a loss to the Tigers in the Vulcan City Classic. Offensive struggles were the story of the game for Avery Johnson's team, including several sustained scoring droughts. The Tide led early 6-0, but Clemson scored seven in a row, to grab the lead, and with Alabama up narrowly 9-7, the Tigers of the Atlantic Coast Conference tallied 15 points in a row to go up 22-9.

Clemson went up by 17 at 31-14 at the 2:54 mark of the first half, and despite a closing 5-0 Alabama spurt led 31-19 at the intermission.

The Tigers kept a double-digit lead for the majority of the second half, leading 43-25 at the 13:27 mark. UA cut the Tiger lead to nine points briefly late in the contest, but never got any closer.

SITE: Legacy Arena, Birmingham, AL

RECORDS: Alabama 5-5, Clemson 8-2

KEY STARS FOR THE TIDE: Sophomore Avery Johnson Jr. had a nice effort to lead the Crimson Tide with a career-high 17 points. Sophomore Donta Hall led the Crimson Tide with seven boards. Senior Shannon Hale added eight points, but on 2 for 7 shooting.

GOOD NUMBERS: The Crimson Tide outrebounded the Tigers 37-32. Alabama went to the free throw line 25 times compared to 14 for the Tigers. The Tide converted 19 of those free throw attempts.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 16, 2016

It did not take University of Alabama head football coach Nick Saban long to find a replacement for outgoing Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin, who recently announced he would be leaving Tuscaloosa after the upcoming College Football Playoffs to take the head coaching position at Florida Atlantic University.
And it is a notable hire from within for Saban, and one that should keep the UA offense rolling without missing a beat beginning in the 2017 season.
Saban announced the hiring of Steve Sarkisian on Friday.
He will serve as Alabama's new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
“We are pleased to be able to hire an offensive coordinator with the pedigree and experience of Steve Sarkisian,” Saban said in a statement from UA. “He has a tremendous offensive mind and is someone we believe will do a great job of teaching and developing our football team on the offensive side of the ball.
"He has been a great asset to our coaching staff this season and brings a great deal of energy and enthusiasm to his job. Steve will be a phenomenal addition to our coaching staff and someone who can seamlessly transition into the job with a full understanding of how our organization works.”
Sarkisian spent the 2016 season on the Crimson Tide’s staff as an analyst. Prior to that he served as the head coach at the University of Southern California from 2014-15 and the head coach at the University of Washington from 2009-13.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 15, 2016

SCORE: Alabama 78, USC Upstate 61, as the Crimson Tide, coming off consecutive tough road losses to Texas and Oregon, gets back in the win column Thursday night and moves over the .500 mark once again.  The Crimson Tide made 9 of its first 13 shots to burst out to an 18-8 lead, but the visiting Spartans used an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 20-19 at the 8:22 mark of the first half.

The Tide, though, answered that run with a 19-6 surge and led 39-26 at the half thanks to shooting nearly 59 percent from the field. At the 17:52 mark of the second half,  Spartan senior center Michael Buchanan, a tremendous force inside for Eddie Payne's squad, picked up his fourth foul and the Tide quickly began to capitalize on his absence. A 7-2 spurt made the Tide lead 51-33, and Alabama led by as many as 23 points in the half before settling for its 17-point margin.

SITE: Coleman Coliseum, Attendance: 9,773

RECORDS: Alabama 5-4, USC Upstate 7-6

KEY STARS FOR THE TIDE: Sophomore forward Donta Hall, making his second start for the Tide, led Avery Johnson's team with 15 points on 6 of 7 shooting from the field, while adding eight boards, two assists and a block. Braxton Key and Corban Collins added 10 points each. Bola Olaniyan, who also got the start, led the Tide with 10 rebounds while Key and Dazon Ingram had five and four assists respectively. Riley Norris added nine points and four boards off the bench.

GOOD NUMBERS: Alabama shot 53.4 percent from the field (31 of 58) for the game after the torrid start. It also outrebounded the Spartans 44-33. Alabama outscored the visitors 48-20 in the paint, 17-6 off turnovers, 16-9 on second chance points, 12-0 in fast break points and 32-21 in points off the bench. The Crimson Tide had 10 players get in the scoring column against the Spartans. Alabama had 16 assists to nine for USC Upstate.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 14, 2016

Coming off tough road losses to Georgetown and Oregon respectively, Kristy Curry's University of Alabama women's basketball team and Avery Johnson's Crimson Tide men's team are looking to get back on the winning track.
And both teams are no doubt hoping that a return to the friendly confines of Coleman Coliseum Thursday will translate into big victories as they will host a morning/nighttime twinbill.
At 11:30 a.m. CT, Curry's team (7-1) will be hosting Georgia State for its annual 5th Grade Fastbreak Game. Thousands of Tuscaloosa city and county fifth graders will be attending the contest, which usually means a very loud and vocal home environment for the Crimson Tide.
Then at 7 p.m CT, Johnson's Alabama squad (4-4) will be hosting USC Upstate as it looks to get back over the .500 mark after consecutive disappointing losses away from home to the Ducks and the Texas Longhorns.
The Alabama women, for their eighth home contest of the season, will be hosting a Panther team that comes to Coleman Coliseum with a 4-4 record under seventh-year coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener.
"I'm excited tomorrow for our Fifth Grade Fastbreak Game, and it's a great opportunity to be able to support both our county and our public school system, and our team enjoys getting out to visit with them as a lead-up to tomorrow's game," said Curry during a Wednesday press conference. "We're hoping a lot of folks will take a long lunch break and come out and support us as well so it's going to be a fun day and we're excited to play a very well-coached, hard-playing team in Georgia State."
Curry said there was little mystery to what went wrong for her team in its loss to the Hoyas this past Sunday, simply not enough shots going through the basket.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 12, 2016

Photo by Stan J. Griffin

Although it has been over a week since it was officially announced that Nick Saban's No. 1 and 13-0 University of Alabama football team would be appearing in the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl to battle No. 4 Washington in a College Football Playoff semifinal contest, officials from the Peach Bowl and UA made that playoff pairing a formal agreement deal Monday.
During a press conference held in UA's Naylor Stone Media Room, Peach Bowl and Chick Fil A representatives were on hand to officially extend an invitation to the Crimson Tide for the Dec. 31 contest against Chris Petersen's Huskies.  The game is set for a 2 p.m. CT kickoff and will be televised by ESPN. The winner of that game will meet the winner of the other semifinal game between No. 2 Clemson and No. 3 Ohio State on Jan. 9 in the national championship game in Tampa.
UA Director of Athletics Bill Battle and Saban were in attendance at Monday's press conference to represent the Crimson Tide.
Saban said he looks forward to bringing his team back to Atlanta for its playoff clash against the 12-1 Huskies, the champions of the Pac 12.
"It's certainly an honor and a privilege for our team here at the University of Alabama to have the opportunity to be in the College Football Playoff, especially in a first-class venue going back to Atlanta to be a part of the Peach Bowl," he said. "Atlanta's a great host city, and we've certainly enjoyed the opportunity to go four times to the Kickoff Classic. (Chick Fil A President and CEO) Gary (Stokan) and his staff and the Peach Bowl folks do a marvelous job in terms of hosting, and we've had a great experience there in the past, and we're looking forward to having a wonderful experience in the future. Even though this is our first time playing the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl, we certainly feel very confident with the folks that are our host because we've had the experience of being in four of their Kickoff Classics, and that's been very helpful in exposing this program and helping to build this program to what it's become.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 11, 2016

THE SCORE: No. 24 Oregon 65, Alabama 56: The Crimson Tide falls despite a gritty effort against Dana Altman's Ducks on the road. Alabama trailed by 14 points in the first 20 minutes of play before it used a 7-1 run to cut the Oregon lead to 31-23 at the half. With the Tide trailing 53-46 in the second half, sophomore forward Donta Hall led Alabama on an 8-0 run that put UA up 54-53 with just over four minutes left. Oregon, however, countered that run with a game-ending 12-2 surge, and the Ducks tallied the final nine points of the contest.
The Ducks extended their home winning streak to 31 games.

SITE: Matthew Knight Arena, Eugene, Ore.

RECORDS: Alabama 4-4, Oregon 8-2

KEY STARS FOR THE TIDE: Hall led the Crimson Tide with 14 points, while also adding seven boards, two assists, a steal and a block. Ar'Mond Davis also joined Hall in double-figure scoring with 10 points.

GOOD NUMBERS: The Crimson Tide outrebounded the host Ducks 33-27. Alabama had 11 offensive boards to six for Oregon. The Tide opened the second half by making 10 of its first 17 shots (58.8 percent) to whittle the lead down, setting up the dramatic final minutes of the game.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 9, 2016

When Nick Saban's No. 1 and 13-0 University of Alabama football team squares off in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta against Chris Petersen's No. 4 and 12-1 University of Washington squad as part of the College Football Playoff semifinals on Dec. 31, it will mark a rare meeting of the two respective programs.
Although the Crimson Tide and Huskies boast two of the most tradition-rich programs in the history of major college football, Alabama and Washington have actually only clashed on the football field four times.
And bowl matchups were responsible for two of those meetings, with the last battle between the two teams occurring in the 1986 Sun Bowl.
The No. 13 Crimson Tide won that matchup against the No. 12 Huskies, and have won all four meetings between the programs.

The following is a closer look at all four contests between Alabama and Washington:

Jan. 1, 1926: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif., Alabama 20, Washington 19:
Often referred to as the "game that changed the south," but it was also the game in which the Crimson Tide collected the first of the program's 16 national championships. Former Birmingham News columnist Clyde Bolton also termed the 12th Rose Bowl game the "most important game in Southern football history."
Wallace Wade's Alabama team entered the game heavy underdogs to the mighty Huskies although it was undefeated itself.

Washington was favored by two-touchdowns, the same spread of this season's Tide-Huskie Peach Bowl contest, only with the Crimson Tide being favored this time.
Early on the Huskies lived up to that overwhelming favorite status, as Washington blanked the Crimson Tide 12-0 heading into the intermission of the game.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 8, 2016

Seven games into the 2016-2017 season, Avery Johnson's University of Alabama men's basketball team perhaps has not entered that dreaded "must win" category despite a disappointing 4-3 start.
But after it's most recent outing, a 77-68 loss at Texas on Dec. 2 where UA surrendered a 12-point halftime lead with the Longhorns outscoring it 51-30 over the final 20 minutes, it is probably safe to say that the Crimson Tide is at least at an early crossroad of the young season.
And it gets no easier this weekend, as Johnson's team must make the 2,490-mile trip to Eugene, Oregon to battle Dana Altman's No. 24 Oregon Ducks, a team which defeated the Crimson Tide in Birmingham last season 72-68 after also rallying from a 12-point halftime deficit to Alabama.
The two teams will battle Sunday at the Matthew Knight Arena, and the game is set to tipoff at 5 p.m CT. It will be televised by ESPNU.
Oregon brings a 7-2 mark into the contest, having won its last five games after a 2-2 start.
During a media session Thursday, Johnson said the Tide has responded well in practice this week, and said his team has also spent a good bit of time watching video.
"We feel we've improve in some areas, and it would be nice to see when we play against another team how much we've improved," he said. "We've had some good practices, and yesterday we basically had an all-out scrimmage of a full 40-minute game, and everybody that's in the rotation played 30-plus minutes because I was really concerned about our stamina and conditioning coming out of that Texas game. We realize that we have an uphill challenge at Oregon, and they have a pretty significant home winning streak (30 games currently) that we're very well aware of. But they came here and beat us last year, so we'll see if we can go up there and get off to a good start and have a great first half hopefully and a terrific second half and put together a complete game."
Sunday's clash against the Ducks and the Dec. 18 game against Clemson will be the Tide's last two real opportunities to gain a signature non-conference win heading into Southeastern Conference play, considering it has already suffered damaging losses to Dayton, Valparaiso and Texas.
The second-year Tide coach, however, said it is too early for his team to succumb to great distress at the current time.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 7, 2016

Although his level of success as head football coach at the University of Alabama can only be described with adjectives such as prolific or staggering, it can be argued that he did his best job at the Capstone in 2016, as he took a Crimson Tide squad that entered the season with a host of questions marks and has guided it to a season-long stay at No. 1, and a 13-0 record entering the upcoming College Football Playoffs.
Of course a major reason for Alabama's success this season has been the steady and productive play of UA freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen and junior offensive lineman Cam Robinson.
On Wednesday,  the Tide coach and that trio of Alabama standouts were recognized for their contributions to yet another special Crimson Tide season.
Saban,  Hurts,  Allen and  Robinson took home five of seven individual conference awards announced by the SEC.
Saban was voted the SEC Coach of the Year, Hurts was named Offensive Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year, Allen was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year and Robinson was honored with the Jacobs Blocking Trophy, emblematic of the SEC’s top offensive lineman.
The honors were voted on by the league's 14 head coaches, who were not allowed to vote for their own players.
Saban, who was named a finalist for the Eddie Robinson and American Football Coaches Association coach of the year awards on Monday, is in his 10th season at Alabama. This season, he has led the Crimson Tide to a 13-0 record, its 26th SEC championship and a No. 1 seed in the 2016 College Football Playoff. This is the ninth consecutive season the Tide has won 10 games under Saban and the sixth straight with 11 wins. Alabama will enter the 2016 postseason on a 25-game winning streak, the longest current streak in the nation.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 6, 2016

Entering the 2016 season, Nick Saban's University of Alabama football team was picked by most pundits to repeat as both Southeastern Conference and College Football Playoff champions, despite the fact that UA had several significant questions at several critical positions.
Those positions included quarterback, running back and various positions along the offensive line and in the secondary.
Although the Tide had a roster full of young talent and some key returnees to fill those spots, many of those players being counted on were extremely inexperienced, leaving some to speculate about whether this might be one of those rare rebuilding, or shall we say reloading seasons, for the Alabama program under Saban, the tenth-year head coach.
That almost seems light years ago now.
Of course we know that things, ultimately, turned out OK for this team, as an Alabama team that began the season with high expectations, but yet many areas of possible concern, is now being mentioned by some as perhaps the greatest Tide football team ever, or at least the best one that Saban has coached in Tuscaloosa.
That is still yet to be determined as 13-0 and top-ranked Alabama has at least one more game, and possibly two to play, beginning with the Dec. 31 Peach Bowl against Washington in Atlanta,  which is a College Football Playoff semifinal contest.
We thought it might be fun, however, just to reflect a bit on the special season that has allowed the Crimson Tide to reach this point in the season as the nation's only major undefeated team, and a team that has the opportunity to perhaps become the first one to go 15-0.

OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: There have been many contributors for a Lane Kiffin-coordinated attack that averages just over 40 points and just over 471 yards per game, including tailbacks Damien Harris, Bo Scarbrough and Joshua Jacobs and receivers ArDarius Stewart, O.J. Howard and Calvin Ridley, but no one has had more of an impact than true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts, the native of Channelview, Texas.  Showing poise and maturity beyond his years since the Tide's opening game against Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas, he has been the centerpiece of the Tide's attack, as he has thrown for 2,563 yards and 21 touchdowns and he has also carried the ball 162 times for 841 yards and another 12 scores and is well on the way to breaking numerous UA yardage records already. He has made his share of freshman mistakes, but his ability to bounce back from those gaffes with huge positive plays and quiet leadership has been stunning.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 5, 2016

A momentum-shifting goal line stand by the University of Alabama defense against the Florida Gators during Saturday's Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta was just another example of the impact that the Crimson Tide stop unit has had on the No. 1 and 13-0 UA team in 2016.
And two of the mainstays for a Tide defense coordinated by Jeremy Pruitt have been honored with prestigious national awards for their impressive and critical play this season.
Alabama senior defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is the recipient of the 2016 Bronko Nagurski Trophy, presented annually to the national collegiate defensive player of the year.
Allen received the award from the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and Charlotte Touchdown Club at the Nagurski awards banquet in Charlotte, N.C. Monday evening. He is the first Alabama player to win the award.
Teammate Reuben Foster, who won the Dick Butkus Award on Sunday, was also a finalist for the Nagurski.
Allen has been a force for a defense that leads the nation in total defense, rushing defense, scoring defense and defensive touchdowns. Allen leads the Tide in quarterback hurries (15) and shares the team lead in sacks (8.5) to go along with 13.0 tackles for loss. He has also returned a team-leading two fumble recoveries for 105 combined yards and two touchdowns. His 26.5 career sacks places him second on the Tide's all-time list behind former Crimson Tide standout and NFL Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas.
Allen and Foster were joined by defensive back Tarvarus McFadden (Florida State), linebacker/defensive back Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) and defensive tackle Christian Wilkins (Clemson) as finalists for this year's Nagurski Trophy. The award is named after the legendary Bronko Nagurski, who dominated college football at the University of Minnesota as a bruising fullback and defensive tackle from 1927-29.
This was Alabama's sixth consecutive season, and the eighth season in the last nine, with at least one finalist for the award. The previous Crimson Tide players to be named finalists include: Reggie Ragland (2015), Landon Collins (2014), C.J. Mosley (2013), Dee Milliner (2012), Mark Barron (2011), Terrence Cody (2009) and Rashad Johnson (2008).

By Stan J. Griffin: December 4, 2016

A day after the 13-0 University of Alabama football defeated the Florida Gators 54-16 in the Georgia Dome to capture the Crimson Tide's third consecutive Southeastern Conference championship, it found out officially that it is heading......back to Atlanta.
The College Football Playoff selections were announced Sunday morning, and Nick Saban's Alabama team, as expected, was tabbed as the No. 1 seed for the playoffs.
This means that Alabama will make a return trip to Atlanta for its playoff semifinal game in the Chick Fil A Peach Bowl, where it will battle Chris Petersen's No. 4 Washington Huskies Dec. 31. The game is set for a 2 p.m CT kickoff and it will be televised by ESPN.
It will be the first meeting between the Crimson Tide and Huskies since the 1986 Sun Bowl, which Alabama won 28-6 to cap a 9-3 season under Ray Perkins.
UA is 4-0 all-time against Washington.
The 12-1 Huskies captured the title of the Pac 12 Conference Friday night with a convincing 41-10 romp against the No. 8 Colorado Buffaloes. '
Petersen called the Crimson Tide "a special team and a special program," and said he has nothing but respect for what Saban's program has accomplished.
Saban said he is fully aware that his team will be battling a very talented Huskie squad.
"We haven't seen them much, but we know they have a very good team," he said. "I've seen them a few times and a little bit in the Southern Cal game and a little bit in the (Pac 12) championship game against Colorado. Outstanding players on offense and great skill players. A good quarterback (in Jake Browning) and a very good offensive line. It looks like they play tremendous defense. I don't think there's anybody that you can play at this point in the season in the playoffs that wouldn't be an outstanding football team.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 3, 2016

Entering Saturday's Southeastern Conference Football Championship Game between No. 1 Alabama and No. 15 Florida, a few of the local and national pundits wondered aloud whether the nation's top-ranked team would have the right mindset for its matchup against the Gators considering it was considered a lock for the College Football Playoffs win or lose.
And perhaps with good cause.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide team opened the game in very shaky fashion, surrendering an early lead to a Gator team that was more than a three-touchdown underdog, and struggled at times with consistency at various points in the game.
But enough big plays on offense, defense and special teams, and a relentless, wilting running attack in the second half, proved to be more than enough for a 54-16 Crimson Tide romp in front of a crowd of 74,632 at the Georgia Dome. Senior linebacker Reuben Foster was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Alabama, with its 25th consecutive victory, improved to 13-0 and likely clinched a No. 1 seed in the upcoming playoffs.  The victory also leaves the Crimson Tide only two wins away from being the first major college football team to finish 15-0.
It was Alabama’s third-consecutive conference crown, and fourth in the last five years. The Tide program now has 26 SEC titles overall.
Sophomore tailback Bo Scarbrough led an Alabama team that racked up 234 yards rushing (372 total) with 91 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Alabama’s defense, meanwhile, held the Gators to 261 total yards, including zero on the ground.
"We didn’t start the game very well offensively although we finished the game well," said Saban. "I think, if we can create balance offensively and be a little more efficient and effective to how we pass the ball relative to how we can run it, I think that would make us better. So there’s a lot of things I think we can improve on. Red zone. I thought special teams was a little better today. That was something I was a little concerned about after the Auburn game. Ball security was not good in that game. It was very good today. We won the turnover battle by three. So we had the three interceptions, and we always say that we want every drive to end in a kick, and that’s certainly what happened today."

Florida opened the game in possession of the ball, and had little difficult moving the ball through the air on the Tide, driving for a touchdown as Austin Appleby hit Antonio Callaway on a five-yard TD pass to put the Gators up 7-0. Florida converted three separate third down conversions on the march.
The Crimson Tide began its ensuing series at the Alabama 25, and the Gator defense forced Alabama to a three-and-out as UF obviously had all of the early momentum.
But on Florida’s second series, Appleby was picked off by the Tide’s Shaun Dion Hamilton, who returned the interception to the Florida 12, setting the Tide up in good shape to possibly tie the score.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 2, 2016

With Avery Johnson's University of Alabama basketball team battling Shaka Smart's Texas Longhorns at the Erwin Center Friday night, it was a matchup of young teams still searching to find an identity, as well as a big non-conference win to gain some much-needed momentum for the rest of the season.
And for a half, it appeared that the Crimson Tide was in for a big night as hot shooting carried it to a double-digit lead at the end of the first half.
But sloppy play overall and mostly cold shooting spelled doom for Alabama after the intermission as Texas rallied to gain a 77-68 home victory.
Alabama dropped to 4-3 on the season with the disappointing defeat while the Longhorns improved to 4-3.
The Crimson Tide came out scorching the nets early, hitting seven of its first 10 shots.
Four early points by freshman forward Braxton Key, including a forceful throw-down dunk, and two early 3-point bombs by senior guard Corban Collins had Alabama up 10-2, and then a slam by senior forward Jimmie Taylor allowed the Tide to stay up by eight at 12-4 at the 15:51 mark of the first half.
After the Longhorns hit a trey to cut the Alabama lead to 12-9, Collins answered with another 3-pointer to make the score 15-9, and junior forward Riley Norris hit a basket to make it 17-9.
After sophomore forward Donta Hall slammed home two points for the Tide to make the UA lead 25-16, the Longhorns scored the next six to trim that lead to 25-22 at the 7:01 mark.
But big baskets by freshman guard Dazon Ingram, junior guard Nick King (a 3-polnter) and sophomore guard Avery Johnson Jr. led a 7-2 Tide spurt that boosted the Alabama lead back to 32-22.
With just under three minutes remaining, Key hit a 3-pointer to give him seven points and put the visiting Tide up 35-24, and Alabama led 38-26 at halftime as senior forward Shannon Hale hit a trey right before the first half buzzer.
The Tide hit 48 percent of its shots in the first 20 minutes and had six treys. Collins paced UA with nine points.

By Stan J. Griffin: December 1, 2016

It appears that many supporters of the Alabama football team, as well as many media pundits from all over the nation, have already begun to focus their collective attention on the College Football Playoffs, even though Nick Saban's 12-0 and top-ranked Crimson Tide team have much at stake Saturday when it battles Jim McElwain's No. 15 Florida Gators in the Southeastern Conference Championship Game in Atlanta. This includes:
* A third straight SEC title and fourth in the last five years, and its 26th conference crown overall.
* An opportunity to remain undefeated at 13-0, as Alabama is seeking to become the first college football team to finish a perfect 15-0. It is also looking to extend its current overall winning streak to 25 games.
* A clinched spot in the playoffs as the No. 1 seed, and although some are suggesting that Alabama may remain at No. 1 or No. 2 in the playoff rankings even with a loss to the Gators, UA is looking to remain in control of its own destiny. And Saban obviously made his feelings about the subject known rather forcefully earlier this week  when he proclaimed, "It's never OK to lose a game."
Certainly the oddsmakers are not buying into the possibility of a Tide loss to the Gators at the Georgia Dome (3 p.m CT, CBS), installing Alabama as an overwhelming 24-point favorite over 8-3 Florida.
But Saban said he is expecting a formidable challenge from a Gator squad coached by his former offensive coordinator at Alabama.
"I think Coach McElwain has really done a good job in his time there and they've gotten better and better each year and certainly won games this year they needed to win so that they'd have this opportunity," he said. "They have one of the best defensive teams in the country. Very good man to man team in the back end, very dominant front seven in terms of their down guys upfront, ability to rush and play on the line of scrimmage. Offensively they've tried to create great balance with their team this year and the ability to run the ball, and they've had a couple of backs that have both contributed to that, but I think (sophomore receiver) Antonio Callaway and (junior receiver) Brandon Powell, the two receivers that they have, are certainly guys that they want to get the ball to that have the ability to make explosive plays, and when they've been able to do that they've been very effective on offense. Always very good on special teams and they have really good specialists, whether it's returners, punter, kicker, they're all very effective and very good, so it's a very challenging game for us."
As Alabama looks to knock off Florida for the conference crown for the second year in a row, with the two teams having met in the title game on eight previous occasions (both programs having won four of those eight meetings), it will be facing a Gator team that ranks dead last in the league in total offense, averaging around 352 yards per game and just over 24 points per contest.
It is also a Gator team, however, that allows only around 14 points and 291 yards per game, including only 133 yards rushing a contest and 158 yards through the air, so there is no real secret that much of the reason for Florida's success is a stop unit led by defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
"Well, they're very good, and their entire defense is very good, particularly the corners," said Saban. "They play a lot of man to man, and those guys have done a really good job of shutting people down and limiting the options that you have. They have good players at safety and they do a good job of rushing, so this is a really, really good defensive team, and we're going to have to do a great job against them."
Leading that strong defense is redshirt junior defensive back Marcell Harris, who paces the team in tackles with 57, with senior linebacker Jarrad Davis adding 56 and redshirt junior linebacker Alex Anzalone with 53.  Redshirt junior defensive lineman Caleb Brantley and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga led the Gators with 8.5 tackles for loss each and Zuniga has a team-leading five sacks.
The Florida secondary is a particularly strong area for the Gator defense, especially with junior cornerbacks Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor.  Wilson has 28 tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, a sack, three interceptions and six passes broken up. Tabor also has 28 tackles, a sack, four interceptions and five passes broken up.
Offensively, the main threats for the Gators are sophomore running back Jordan Scarlett and Calloway.
Scarlett paces the Florida ground attack as he has carried the ball 154 times for 778 yards and six touchdowns. He averages just over five yards per carry.
Calloway, the explosive threat for McElwain's team, has hauled in 43 passes for 603 yards and a pair of touchdowns, with a long catch of 78 yards. He is also a dangerous weapon as a returner, with 24 punt returns for 177 yards and three kickoff returns for 97 yards and a TD.
Powell is also a talented weapon at receiver with 34 catches for 313 yards and two TDs.
Redshirt senior quarterback Austin Appleby, making his sixth start in place of the injured Luke Del Rio, has thrown for 964 yards, along with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He has completed 60 percent of his pass attempts.  This includes a 98-yard touchdown pass to freshman receiver Tyrie Cleveland against LSU on Nov. 19 in Baton Rouge.
Redshirt sophomore placekicker Eddy Pineiro has also proved to be a very important part of the Gator point production as he has converted 18 of his 22 field goal attempts, with a long kick of 54 yards. Redshirt junior Johnny Townsend has punted 56 times for an average of 47.6 yards, with a long boot of 62 yards.
Not many people are giving the Gators much of a chance to stop the Crimson Tide juggernaut, but Florida has talented resources on both sides of the ball.
This is why it is important for Alabama to take a workmanlike approach into the Georgia Dome and start fast against McElwain's team.
Florida struggles mightily on offense on numerous occasions, but its defense is talented and consistent enough to keep the game close for four quarters, especially if Alabama is sloppy offensively and stymies itself with turnovers or poor red zone execution.
In a close game, anything can happen and the threat of weapons such as Callaway can always equate into a long pass play here and there for the Gators or even an explosive play on special teams.
If the Florida offense cannot generate any amount of success, however, on a suffocating Tide defense that has not allowed a touchdown in a month, and help out its stop unit, Alabama may be able to simply wear down the Gators late in the contest and win going away, much like it did in last year's SEC title game, topping McElwain's team 29-15.

Birmingham Post-Herald (BPH) is Birmingham, Alabama's premier community newspaper, covering the great people, places and activities of the area.

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