🏈 The next era in college football

Saban's departure and the CFB impact

Hello. This is the Josh and Swain Newsletter, a quick roundup of the week’s top stories and topics involving Tennessee and the sports world.

Here’s what we have for you today:

  • Where does Alabama go from here with Nick Saban retiring?

  • Tennessee’s in line to add some MUCH needed help for 2024 and beyond

  • The highs and lows of a college basketball season hit Tennessee

  • Why college football’s offseason is crazier than we realize

SO LONG TO NICK SABAN

College football fans have been asking for years: When is Nick Saban going to retire?

The answer was often, “Well, maybe never.”

Until Wednesday came. 

The college football world was rocked when Chris Low of ESPN reported the news: Saban had just told his team he’s retiring. 

The dominant 17-year run has ended. 

✅ 7 National Titles (6 at Alabama)
✅ National titles in three different decades
✅ 16 straight 10-win seasons
✅ 109 weeks ranked No. 1 in the AP Poll
✅ 104 wins vs AP-ranked opponents
✅ 9 wins against AP No. 1-ranked teams

Saban arrived at Alabama in 2007 with crazy expectations at a place filled with crazy people (with all due respect), and he exceeded what anyone could have predicted he’d accomplish. 

Thousands of opposing fans are excited to see him leave because they know how difficult it is to win with him in the way. 

The joy from those same fans has also been met with a high level of respect. 

Everyone recognizes how incredible his accomplishments were during his coaching career. 

So how will Alabama replace Saban?

Low, who broke the news on Wednesday and interviewed Saban on Thursday, said on Josh and Swain that he believes Florida State coach Mike Norvell and Washington coach Kalen DeBoer are the two most likely candidates. 

Can you imagine the reaction from Florida State fans if Alabama were to take their coach after taking their playoff spot just a few weeks ago?

DeBoer has produced tremendous results everywhere he’s been.

But he’s never been in the SEC as a head coach.

Would DeBoer be ready for the task of replacing someone like Saban at a school with such scrutiny?

That’s something every coach will have to consider.

Other candidates popping up in conversation:

◼️ Texas coach Steve Sarkisian

He was Alabama’s offensive coordinator before leaving for Texas. But why would Sark leave Texas, which he’s built into a national title contender, for the pressure at Alabama?

◼️ Maryland coach Mike Locksley

He also served as an OC at Alabama and knows how to recruit. But does he have a real shot at the job?

◼️ Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees

Perhaps a fallback option if the search goes the wrong direction. Rees feels more like an obligatory candidate since he’s on the staff.

❌ Coaches that Low said to rule out: Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Dabo Swinney at Clemson.

Kiffin has obvious ties to Alabama — but had a not-so-positive finish to his time in Tuscaloosa.

He’s a popular name to talk about. But much more likely to coach his new-look roster in Oxford next season.

So when will Alabama hire a coach?

Perhaps before the weekend (or by the time you’ve read this post).

Getting the hire right is more important than making the hire quickly, though.
✳️ See Tennessee’s search to replace Kiffin in 2010.

There’s something else to watch as Alabama searches for a coach: the status of the Crimson Tide’s roster.

Saban’s retirement announcement opens up a 30-day window for players on the roster to transfer elsewhere.

The Crimson Tide’s roster is loaded with talent.

“Their third string is better than some Power 5 team’s starters,” an opposing team’s recruiting coordinator told On3.

And everyone — Tennessee included — will be interested to see which players from Alabama become available.

Players have to officially enter the transfer portal for schools to contact them.

But you know how things work in college football (more on that below).

What happens next at Alabama is the biggest story in college football.

Saban’s impact continues.

Check out our full conversation with Chris Low, who discussed why Saban decided to retire and what happens next at Alabama. ⬇️⬇️

TENNESSEE’S NEED FOR O-LINE HELP

We’ve Heard great things about Tennessee’s chances here

Tennessee continues its search for offensive line help for 2024 and beyond.

The main target for the Vols: offensive lineman Lance Heard.

Heard was a five-star prospect when he signed with LSU a year ago.

And Heard is expected to choose Tennessee over Oklahoma.

He would have a chance to start immediately, either at left or right tackle, and have multiple years of eligibility remaining.

Landing Heard would help in multiple ways: he’d help fill a hole in 2024 and answer questions on what Tennessee will do in 2025 (assuming he stays).

Tennessee has John Campbell Jr. returning for a seventh year (again, assuming he stays) and Campbell can play left tackle, where he started this past fall, or move to the right side if Heard plays left tackle.

Tennessee still needs help at left guard and depth will be a question until we see how other offensive linemen develop.

But landing Heard, which is the assumption at this point, should provide a boost to Tennessee’s personnel.

The Vols also added Temple cornerback transfer Jalen McMurray this week.

McMurray is the third defensive back to announce he’ll transfer to Tennessee this offseason.

The Vols have several young players who will play bigger roles in 2024.

But those young players need competition to prove they belong on the field.

McMurray (6-0, 180) played a lot the last two seasons at Temple and has two years of eligibility remaining.

The Vols will continue to look for help on the offensive line and at tight end.

And if anyone else of note becomes available — hello, Alabama players — Tennessee will take a look.

Just remember: so will everyone else in the SEC and college football.

We talked more in-depth with Austin Price about Lance Heard as well as highly-touted 2025 quarterback George MacIntyre, who appears CLOSE to making an announcement. ⬇️⬇️

SPORTS NUGGETS

🏈 The NCAA is levying heavy NIL-related penalties on Florida State, one of its collectives, and a booster.

🏈 Huge news for VFL Jerod Mayo: he’s the new head coach of the New England Patriots, replacing the legendary Bill Belichick. The Pats already had a contract in place to help with the transition.

🏈 Tennessee led the SEC in rushing yards per game in 2023. Here’s why the Vols need to improve their running game in 2024.

🏈 Brad Crawford of 247Sports is very high on Tennessee looking ahead to the 2024 season.

🏈 Who’s your pick to win the Super Bowl? Here are The Ringer’s picks ahead of the NFL’s wild card weekend.

🏀 Tennessee was far from the only-top five team to lose this week. David Cobb wrote about the chaos that’s already taken place in conference action.

🏀 Here’s a look at the latest buzz with less than a month to go until the NBA trade deadline.

⚽ Juan Soto will make $31 million playing for the NY Yankees this year. Soto is set to become a free agent after the season.

🎧 We talked to Richard Hendrix of the SEC Network about the amount of players transferring and why they need to consider long-term ramifications of their decision.

TENNESSEE’S WEIRD MISSISSIPPI WEEK

Zakai Zeigler continues his high-level play

Tennessee’s basketball team began SEC play with a statement win over Ole Miss on Saturday.

The Vols beat the Rebels, who were ranked at the time, 90-64.

Tennessee looked like a team that deserved its top-five ranking.

Jonas Aidoo and Zakai Zeigler put up double-double performances.

Jahmai Mashack was key off the bench.

And everyone in the rotation made some kind of contribution.

Then came Tennessee’s performance at Mississippi State.

Zeigler was on fire again.

And Dalton Knecht, who hadn’t been quite as hot recently, had a huge second half to finish with 28 points.

But where was everyone else?

Missing, it seemed, in Tennessee’s 77-72 loss to the Bulldogs.

Two concerns from the loss:

1️⃣ Tennessee’s big-man troubles continue

The Vols’ three non-conference losses came against teams with high-level post players.

Mississippi State caused the same problem.

Tolu Smith was too much to handle in the post and left Aidoo and Tobe Awaka in foul trouble all night.

Both Tennessee players fouled out after playing 20 minutes apiece.

Aidoo and Awaka combined to make 6-of-7 shots in the game — but neither players was available long enough to make an impact.

Tennessee won’t be able to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament without going through another talented big man.

The Vols need to improve in that area — and find more depth behind Aidoo and Awaka.

Will one of the freshman, JP Estrella or Cade Phillips, get an opportunity?

Tennessee might need to try soon.

2️⃣ The super senior no-show

Tennessee lost to Mississippi State with almost zero offensive production from Josiah-Jordan James and Santiago Vescovi.

James has been terrific this season, but he made only one of his eight shot attempts against Mississippi State and finished with three points.

Vescovi made one shot himself (he only attempted four) and finished with two points.

James and Vescovi both contributed in other ways — rebounding and defensive effort was there — but that kind of offensive disappearance won’t cut it.

Especially in a tough road game when the Vols are dealing with foul trouble from their big men.

Tennessee needed someone else to step up along with Knecht and Zeigler.

Neither super-senior doing so was a disappointment.

Some perspective

The loss to Mississippi State is one game in January.

The Bulldogs are a solid team with a top-25 ranking by KenPom; they’ll have a good chance at an NCAA Tournament bid.

And Tennessee wasn’t the only top-five team to lose this week.

◼️ No. 1 Purdue lost at Nebraska (by 16 points)
◼️ No. 2 Houston lost at Iowa State
◼️ No. 3 Kansas lost at UCF

UConn was the only top-five team to win in the first half of the week — and the Huskies had to hold on against Xavier, a team with a losing record.

So the loss that Tennessee suffered on Wednesday happens to everyone.

The college basketball season is a long one. That disclaimer applies after big wins (Ole Miss) and disappointing losses (Mississippi State).

Tennessee has another road game coming up Saturday at Georgia.

This should offer a nice bounce-back spot for Tennessee.

📍 Athens, Ga.
📅 Saturday, Jan. 13
12:00 p.m. ET
📺 ESPN2
📻 99.1 The Sports Animal/WIVK

Georgia is a solid team (ranked No. 73 by KenPom) and hasn’t lost since Nov. 19.

But the Bulldogs haven’t faced the toughest schedule and Tennessee should be hungry to avoid an 0-2 week.

If Tennessee does struggle again and lose… well, react however you feel is appropriate.

But the Vols should — always a tricky word in sports — come back home with a win this weekend.

ONE LAST BYTE OUT THE DOOR

Good luck keeping up with the world of college football

Nick Saban’s retirement announcement took over the college football world.

It provided a brief interruption (or added?) to the madness of the sport.

Transfer portal activity continues to be nearly impossible to keep up with.

Players are scheduling and canceling visits.

Schools are pursuing players while also trying to figure out who on their roster might leave.

The transfer window for players to enter the portal has closed for most schools.

But there’s still the opportunity for Alabama players to leave if they want.

And if another head coach leaves, like a candidate taking the Alabama job or Jim Harbaugh going from Michigan to the NFL, that school’s players will have an opportunity to leave, too.

This post isn’t to persuade you to like or dislike all the changes to college football, which include NIL and transfer opportunities.

But it seems clear the entire system is out of whack and no one has a current plan to fix it.

We only see part of the craziness on the outside.

You can believe there is more wild activity happening on a daily basis that doesn’t come to light.

Is this good or bad for college football?

Different people can have different opinions.

➡️ Mine: there are certain aspects to the rule changes that aren’t good for anyone.

That includes coaches, fans, AND the players.

But the excitement around college football remains at a high level.

And the madness of December and January adds to the attention on the sport.

A sport now headed to a 12-team playoff, which has more fanbases dreaming of big opportunities.

Good times or bad? You can decide.

But one thing remains constant in college football: the craziness.

SHOW SIMULCAST

Exciting news for our daily Josh and Swain show:

We started simulcasting the show on AM 640 The Sports Monster in the Tri-Cities this past Monday.

Thanks to everyone for the welcome and interaction this past week — we’re appreciative of the opportunity.

Nothing changes with our coverage on 99.1 The Sports Animal — or if you prefer to stream the show live or on demand through podcasts (links below).

We’ll continue to follow Erik Ainge and Brian Rice, who broadcast on The Sports Monster from 10-noon every day.

NEVER miss an episode of Josh and Swain. Here are a few ways to listen to the podcast:

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