Wiedmer: ESPN predicts Nick Saban's Tide will keep rolling on

Wiedmer: ESPN predicts Nick Saban's Tide will keep rolling on

June 19th, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Alabama coach Nick Saban talks with media during Pro Day at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Proving that no one seems content to live in the precious present these days, ESPN released something called its College Football Future Power Rankings on Tuesday.

Then again, when you've got Southeastern Conference coaches offering scholarships to seventh-graders -- Kentucky's Mark Stoops, come on down -- it's tough to blame the cable giant for predicting which teams have the best chances to win national championships the next three seasons.

Unfortunately for the rest of the sport, the name at the top of that list looked painfully familiar: two-time defending national champion Alabama.

Said ESPN's Tom Luginbill in discussing one reason for the Crimson Tide's lofty perch: "Everybody's heard the 'all-in' slogan when talking about college football programs, but when Alabama uses the phrase 'all-in,' they're not just talking about the football program; they're talking about the university as a whole. Whether you're the track coach or the assistant professor in the sociology wing, everybody there understands that when football drives the bus, everybody wins."

Having delivered three of the last four national championships, the Tide's vehicle of choice looks more like a stretch limo than a bus these days.

And just to prove the rich get richer, Bama boss Nick Saban just got a commitment from 6-foot-5, 235-pound quarterback David Cornwell, who is ranked the No. 1 pocket passer in this year's high school senior class by the 247Sports website. Assuming he follows through with his verbal, Cornwell will be the highest rated QB Saban has inked with the Tide.

The slightest sliver of good news for Tennessee football fans regarding Cornwell: In a Birmingham News article earlier this week, Cornwell said of his decision, "Alabama was always on top for me even though I felt pretty good about Virginia Tech, and to a lesser extent Tennessee."

For no longer than new UT coach Butch Jones has been on the job, just to be that deeply in the mix for a prospect such as Cornwell speaks volumes about this Big Orange staff's recruiting potential.

Not that ESPN's Future Power poll showered the Vols with any love for the foreseeable future.

Despite a total of seven SEC schools chosen in the Top 25, UT failed to crack the board. LSU was ranked third behind Ohio State's second, followed by Florida at No. 4, Texas A&M at No. 8, Georgia at No. 9, South Carolina at No. 15 and Auburn at No. 23.

The rest of the Top 10 had Michigan fifth, Notre Dame sixth, Florida State seventh and Stanford at No. 10.

But perhaps the biggest reason the Tide will earn a preseason No. 1 ranking in many of this year's polls is the quarterback who already has earned two national championship rings: AJ McCarron.

McCarron has spent most of the offseason fielding questions about his relationship with model Katherine Webb, Miss Alabama USA for 2012, and the girl whom 74-year-old ESPN announcer Brent Musburger basically drooled over throughout the Tide's BCS title victory over Notre Dame in January.

A story last week that Maxim model Margaret Wood spent the night at McCarron's home while Webb was in Los Angeles has sparked rumors of trouble in paradise -- no word yet of what Musburger thinks of Wood -- but as of today McCarron and Webb are still a couple and Tide fans apparently are concerned that the relationship could distract their QB from three-peating.

In fact, during Saban's appearance at the Athens (Tenn.) Chamber of Commerce fundraiser last week, a Bama backer actually asked the coach that very question, to which he replied, "I'd like to put you in that situation and see what you'd do."

Saban then spoke of McCarron's true freshman season in 2009, when he eventually redshirted. Cornwell would do well to listen.

"He was really our second best quarterback that fall," the coach said. "But we have a scrimmage and we decide to play him with the third team, just to see how he'll react.

"Well, he was awful. And I knew he'd come running up to my office as soon as he could to find out why we'd played him with the third team instead of the second, which is exactly what he did."

Saban listened intently, apparently grinning on the inside, then told his rookie, "We were just evaluating you on leadership and you failed dramatically. So now you'll play on the scout team for six weeks."

Three years later, he is the only quarterback in BCS history (1998 forward) to win back-to-back titles.

But McCarron could well be in an NFL camp a year from now, which might conceivably open the door for Cornwell, who already is planning to encourage at least a few more blue chippers to follow him to Tuscaloosa.

"There are a lot of guys on the edge of committing to Alabama right now," Cornwell told the Birmingham paper. "All they might need is a little extra push. It's looking like this is going to be another No. 1 recruiting class for Alabama."

It's looking like ESPN's Future Power poll is going to look the same five years down the road as it does three years out today.

Email Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com