The Blitz: Saban may be the Bear apparent

Bear Bryant is Alabama. But Nick Saban may soon be his equal. Plus, more in The Blitz.

His bronze statue shares a spot on the plaza outside Bryant-Denny Stadium with the rest of Alabama’s national title-winning coaches, the nine-foot likeness of Nick Saban putting him on equal ground with Bear Bryant, Gene Stallings, Wallace Wade and Frank Thomas.

But in the annals of Crimson Tide history, there is the Bear, and there is everybody else.

Saban may never change that sentiment in Tuscaloosa, where there’s Bryant Hall, Bryant Bridge, Bryant Drive and a high school, conference center and stadium named after the legend. A victory over Notre Dame in the BCS Championship Game, though, could create a very intriguing – and, in some parts of the Yellowhammer State, borderline blasphemous – argument: Saban may be Bryant’s equal.

No, he wouldn’t have as many career national titles, with Saban’s four trailing Bryant by two, and a 154th win still leaves him way behind Bear’s 323. But it’s the era Saban has done it in and the short amount of time he’s needed that make his case.

With a championship at LSU in 2003 and Alabama titles in the ’09, ’11 and potentially ’12 seasons, Saban would have four in his last eight years of college coaching, including three in six seasons in Tuscaloosa. Bryant, who won his first title in his fourth season with the Crimson Tide, needed eight years to get to No. 3 and it was another eight years – his 16th at Alabama – before he won a fourth.

A fourth title would also give Saban something Bryant never had: a dynasty. In the poll era, only Notre Dame in 1946-48 and Nebraska in 1994-97 have ever won three championships in a four-year period.

Then there’s the fact that Saban has reached this level of domination at a time when the SEC has won six consecutive national titles and seven of the last nine overall. By comparison, the conference had just two other schools win major national titles (Associated Press or UPI) during Bryant’s 25-year tenure with the Tide, with LSU in 1958 and Georgia in 1980.

Still, Saban is chasing a ghost, an icon whose shadow stretches across an entire state and adding another crystal football to Alabama’s trophy case won’t likely lead to anyone ditching houndstooth hats for the straw ones Saban wears at practice.

But if it is Saban who's standing on that podium on Monday night in Miami, another national title in hand, it may be time to admit that regardless of what the future holds – more titles? The NFL? – he has become something that’s largely been unthinkable when it comes to Alabama football.

Saban is the Bear apparent.

Cardinals poised for massive 2013

Charlie Strong and Louisville delivered the most stunning win of the bowl season and set the stage for something the Big East has been sorely lacking: a legitimate national title contender.

They gave the beleaguered Big East, the conference with just one team in the top 25 of the BCS standings, and whose champion Cardinals entered the Sugar Bowl as 14.5-point underdogs, a dominant victory over a Florida team that on paper looked like a complete mismatch for Louisville.

The Big East hasn’t had a team ranked in the preseason top 10 since West Virginia opened up third in ’07 and eighth in ’08. But with 16 returning starters – including a Heisman Trophy contender in Teddy Bridgewater, who carved up the nation’s fifth-ranked defense for 266 yards and two scores – the Cardinals should be in the top 10, if not top five, and a non-conference schedule that includes Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, Kentucky and FIU, should help keep them stay there.

This much is certain: For the first time in years, the Big East has a team and a player that will have our undivided attention.

Bowling Trophies (best of the bowl season so far)

Offensive BMOC: QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M

This could have easily gone to Oregon’s De’Anthony Thomas, who had 180 total yards and two touchdowns in a Fiesta Bowl win over Kansas State or Georgia’s Aaron Murray after he shredded Nebraska’s top-ranked pass D for 427 yards and five scores. But the nod goes to the Heisman Trophy winner, who set an FBS bowl record for a QB with 229 rushing yards on 17 carries as part of his 516 total yards -- a Cotton Bowl record -- and finished with four total TDs. The performance also made him the fourth player in history with 20 TDs passing and 20 rushing in a season, joining Colin Kaepernick, Cam Newton and Tim Tebow.

Defensive BMOC: DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina

This hit on Michigan's Vincent Smith and the gif that followed speak for themselves, but why not let Gamecocks defensive tackle J.T. Surratt sum it up: "It sounded like a car wreck." It was a forced fumble and recovery that changed the Outback Bowl and left little doubt who the best defensive player in college football is.

Lifetime Achievement Award: QB EJ Manuel, Florida State

Move over, Pat White. You have company. Manuel joined the former West Virginia star as the only quarterbacks in FBS history to win four bowl games, throwing for 291 yards and a touchdown and running for another score, as the Seminoles topped Northern Illinois in the Orange Bowl. No other Florida State quarterback has won more than two postseason games.

Ups and downs


For a conference that had won just one of its last 12 BCS bowl appearances and hadn’t beaten an SEC team all season, this postseason brought some much-needed change as Florida State beat Northern Illinois in the Orange and Clemson slipped past LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl on Chandler Catanzaro’s 32-yard field goal.

Down: West Virginia

Not to pile on with what was a dismal second half for the season for the Mountaineers, but a 38-14 loss to Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl gave them their sixth loss in the last eight games, one in which they tied their season-low scoring output. It also saw Geno Smith, who one NFL scout told me remains the top quarterback available in the draft, post just his second sub-200-yard game of the year with 197.

Up: Baylor

Nick Florence supplanted Heisman winner Robert Griffin III as the Bears’ single-season passing yardage leader, with his 4,309 eclipsing Griffin’s 4,293 from a year ago. But it was the 119th-ranked defense that stole the show, holding UCLA to 362 yards and 26 points in its best performance of the year to key the Holiday Bowl win.

Down: USC

The Trojans became the first preseason No. 1 team to drop six games as they suffered a 21-7 loss to Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl. Yes, they were without QB Matt Barkley but still, with weapons like Biletnikoff Award winner Marqise Lee (six receptions for 41 yards) and Robert Woods (three receptions for 33 yards), USC managed just 205 yards against a 68th-ranked pass D.

Up: Vanderbilt

In forcing five turnovers, the Commodores rolled to a 38-24 win over North Carolina State in the Music City Bowl, a victory that gave Vanderbilt nine wins – equaling the 1915 team for the most in school history – and a seven-game streak to cap the year, which is one shy of the 1948 team’s record.

Down: Wisconsin

Three straight Rose Bowls. Three straight losses. The Badgers became the third team in history to drop that game in as many years and the first since Michigan from 1976-78 as they fell 20-14 to Stanford. On a positive note, running back Montee Ball did cap his time in a Badgers uniform with the 26th 100-yard game of his career and reached the end zone to push his NCAA TD record to 83.

Telling stats

8 -- Hayden Greenbauer and Taylor Reed returned interceptions for TDs in SMU’s Hawaii Bowl win, giving the Mustangs eight for the season, which ties the NCAA record Southern Miss set last season.

79 -- Duke’s Will Monday hit a 79-yard punt in the Belk Bowl against Cincinnati, marking the third-longest punt in Blue Devils history. Unfortunately, it couldn’t help end Duke’s misery as it hasn’t won a postseason game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl.

1949 -- Northwestern’s bowl win drought is over as it beat Mississippi State 34-30 in the Gator Bowl, snapping the nation’s longest postseason losing streak, which dated back to the 1949 Rose Bowl.

They said it

"There's a lot of mixed emotions going on. The MVP doesn't mean so much when you come out a loser."

-- Washington RB Bishop Sankey, who ran for 205 yards and a score as the Huskies lost the MAACO Bowl 28-26 to No. 19 Boise State.

"I couldn't have scripted it any better than my last catch being the winning TD in a bowl game."

-- Central Michigan's Cody Wilson caught a 11-yard TD pass, finishing with 10 catches for 101 yards, as the Chippewas beat Western Kentucky 24-21 in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

"I don't know who got the Most Valuable Player, but I'll tell you who I thought the Most Valuable Player was, was their punter."

-- San Diego State's Rocky Long on Riley Stephenson, who had six of his punts inside the 20, including ones at 1-, 2- and 3-yard lines in the Cougars' 23-6 win in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Crystal Ball

BCS Championship Game: No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 2 Notre Dame

This one figures to be as old-school, smash-mouth football as it can get, with the battle in the trenches of Barrett Jones and the Tide’s offensive line vs. the Manti Te’o-led Irish defense defining the game. Simply put: if Alabama gets its running game going behind Jones & Co., the Tide will deliver the SEC its seventh straight title. But even if Notre Dame can limit Alabama’s rushing attack, it’s hard to imagine QB Everett Golson and an offense that has improved but enters this game averaging 26.7 points per game (74th in FBS) deliver against the nation’s top-rated defense.

Prediction: Alabama 31, Notre Dame 20