Saturdays in Athens
T’was The Night Before Christmas
24th December 2021
Twas the night before Christmas when all through the South Eastern Conference not a creature was stirring not even a Saban, a Smart, a Kiffin, a Leach…
Yes, we’ve got to that part of the season – the most wonderful time of the year – yes folks its Bowl Season!
But before we actually get to Bowl games there’s more covid chaos and player transfers to contend with before we actually get to the games!
Here are this weeks headlines…Let’s get started y’all!
Cotton Bowl : Alabama Crimson Tide
This week teams returned to practice as they started preparation for the Bowl games in earnest.
With Alabama back at Mal Moore Athletic facility and preparing for their move to Dallas on Boxing Day, Nick Saban held his first press conference in anticipation of the Cotton Bowl.
With the news coming out of Georgia that they had been impacted by a covid outbreak within the team, it took no time for Nick Saban to be asked about the team’s Covid protocols.
“We’re also being very conscious with our players about taking care of themselves, social distancing, all those types of things, so that we can kind of manage our way through some of the flu that’s going around. Not just COVID but stomach viruses and things like that.
But so far the players have done a pretty good job of doing that. We’ll finish this week with Tuesday and Wednesday practices, and then the players will be off for three days. We’re going to Dallas on the 26th. We’ll practice out there on the 26th and kind of have a normal week of practice”.
Last season, in the midst of the Pandemic, Alabama let their student athletes go home for Christmas. It raised eyebrows at the time but ultimately paid off for the Crimson Tide. Saban spoke about this years preparations,
“We let our players go home for the break last year and we educate the families. We give them a care package with everything they need to say safe, and we have implemented all the protocols here since we’ve been back that we had last year in terms of wearing masks to meetings, washing hands, social distancing in meetings”.
“And we are encouraging the players to do that when they leave here. So we’re really putting the protocols in place that we used a year ago, which was helpful to us.
Am I’m concerned? I’m always concerned when there’s an issue out there, and we want to do the best we can to help our players be concerned about the issue and respect it so that they have the best opportunity to stay safe.
We’ve done a good job of vaccinating our players. We’ve also done a good job of giving our players booster shots, which most of them, I think we have like over 90 percent of the players have gotten booster shots. So they’ve really kind of bought into trying to do everything they can to stay safe. But there’s no guarantee so we want to use every protocol we can to help them stay safe.”
However, not everything is under control in Tuscaloosa with the news that Offensive co-ordinator, Bill O’Brien and Offensive line coach Doug Marrone had tested positive for the virus. Timings seem to be in Alabama’s favour with both expected to return to practice ahead of the semi final against Cincinnati.
As you will read throughout the rest of this column, Covid continues to rear its ugly head across football, so I don’t believe this is the last we hear of this between now and January 10.
Orange Bowl : Georgia Bulldogs
Kirby Smart met with the press early in the week, prior to the news that JT Daniels and George Pickens had tested positive for the virus.
Without this to distract from the Semi-finals – which it almost certainly will – much of the discussion early in the week was around facing Michigan in the Orange bowl.
No surprise then that Kirby was asked about Aidan Hutchinson,
“I don’t think we’ve faced anybody like him. He’s different. He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s powerful.
You don’t measure a man just by his measurement, his forty time and his testing, which he has really good. You measure him by how he strikes and the physicality, toughness and want to he has.
It’s an incredible opportunity for our offense to go against the likes of their defense, but it’s also going to take a lot of hard work and toughness to persevere through the game, and match that entire intensity through the game.”
On facing Jim Harbaugh, Smart had this to say about the Michigan Head Coach,
“As far as I remember, I don’t think I’ve ever gone against Jim. In terms of crossing paths, he was in the NFL for a while and at Stanford. I don’t think that we crossed paths in terms of the game, but I have a lot of respect for the way that his teams play”.
Kirby Smart talked about the physicality of the Wolverines,
“They are physical. They like to bludgeon. You can tell they have some form of contact every day in terms of “we’re going to run the ball- we are going to run it right here and we don’t care if you know”. We are going to move you. I have an appreciation for that physicality.
He’s put together a really, really talented, good roster. Their special teams… these guys are far and away the best team we’ve played this year in special teams. They have starters all over it. They are very aggressive.”
This is the most intriguing of the two semi-finals and with the possibility of Daniels and Pickens missing out, makes this a must watch game.
Transfer portal news!
SEC HQ, Birmingham, AL
In last week’s column I talked about the explosive goings on in the SEC with Bo Nix and Spencer Rattler moving out of and into the conference, respectively.
Transfers this week have been less headline making but no less beneficial to the teams that looked to take advantage of bringing experienced players on to their rosters.
Lest we forget Nick Saban’s now famous quote about the impact that the transfer portal would have on the college game, it is Nick Saban who is leading the way by showing what can be achieved by recruiting via the portal. Case in point is Alabama reaping huge rewards this year from the explosive play of Jameson Williams.
This week Saban swooped to boost his running back room by securing Jahmyr Gibbs who will transfer in to Tuscaloosa from Georgia Tech.
Gibbs who has run for 1,206 yards in two seasons for the Yellow Jackets is the obvious replacement for Brian Robinson Jr who will leave Alabama at the end of the season.
This was not the only transfer portal news in the SEC this week, with Florida tying up quarterback Jack Miller who transferred from Ohio State.
This is encouraging news for Gator fans given that Emory Jones had declared his intent to transfer after the Gasparilla Bowl.
And while we’re on the subject of Quarterback’s, there was news that LSU’s Myles Brennan was entering the portal. But in classic panto fashion – it is the season after all – “oh no he wasn’t”. No sooner had Max Johnson had left LSU to sign with Texas A&M, Brennan announced that he was staying at LSU.
Brennan talked about his reasons for staying. speaking to Saturday Down South, Brennan said,
“The biggest thing I was looking for was having an opportunity with one year left to be able to go out on the field, play a full season, be the guy, help my team win as many games as possible, but ultimately showcase my talent, my abilities to be able to play at the next level.
Because that’s obviously my main goal and that’s what I want to do.”
Christmas Covid Chaos
SEC HQ, Birmingham, AL
This week Covid returned to the SEC with the news that Georgia Quarterback JT Daniels had tested positive with Covid 19. Hot on the heels was even more worrying news for UGA fans that wide receiver George Pickens had also tested positive with the virus.
There is still some time for Daniels and Pickens to recover and be able to meet the protocols which would allow them to participate in the Orange Bowl.
But, there is no doubt that this news will severely impact Georgia Head Coach, Kirby Smart’s preparations.
However, Texas A&M Head Coach, Jimbo Fisher has not been so fortunate. By mid this week, TexAgs.com reported that the Aggies had been severely impacted by an outbreak of the virus and had paused their preparations for the Gator Bowl.
It was no great surprise that quickly after this news breaking that Texas A&M confirmed that they would not be able to participate in the Bowl scheduled for Friday 31st.
With a little over seven days until the game, the Gator Bowl committee are now frantically looking for a replacement to play against Wake Forest in Jacksonville. Rutgers seems favourite to replace TAMU, but logistically time is on no-ones side.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER
A GLASWEGIAN LIVING IN LONDON, GEORGE IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL FAN WHO FOLLOWS THE ALABAMA CRIMSON TIDE. HE PROVIDES CFB CONTENT FOR THE TOUCHDOWN AND IS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.