Dynasty fading? Alabama installed as underdog for first time in 73 games


There’s been a lot of talk around college football lately wondering whether or not Nick Saban‘s Alabama dynasty is finally over. And while it’s too early to declare a verdict one way or another, it’s undeniable that the Crimson Tide armor Saban’s charges have worn into battle over the past eight seasons is beginning to show some rust.

First, consider Alabama is just 2-5 against Top 15 opponents since Auburn’s Kick Six in November 2013. You may not have known that stat, but the sharps in Vegas do. And on Sunday they installed No. 8 Georgia, not No. 13 Alabama, as early favorites as the Tide visit Athens on Saturday.

That ends an unprecedented streak of 72 straight games that Alabama was installed as a betting favorite. Alabama hasn’t stepped on the field as an underdog since the 2009 SEC Championship, a game the Tide won, 32-13.

Again, considering the gravity of what we’re saying here. Just because Alabama isn’t an initial favorite on the road against the eighth-ranked team in college football doesn’t mean they’re suddenly Texas. There are, what, five teams that wouldn’t enter a trip between the hedges as underdogs in college football – and possibly less than that.

The Tide is still better than 90 percent of its peers, and may very well work itself back into the national championship picture in late November for the seventh time in the last eight years.

But it’s clear the days of Alabama simply strapping up intimidating their ways to victory over good teams are over. And the folks in Vegas are banking that the public knows it.

Minnesota gives Fleck 1-year extension, plus raise

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MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota football coach P.J. Fleck had his contract extended Wednesday by an additional year with a $1 million raise in annual salary, after the latest round of big spending by Big Ten rivals.

The new seven-year deal will run through the 2029 season, the university announced without releasing terms. Fleck will now make $6 million per year, a person with knowledge of the contract confirmed. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the deal had not yet been finalized.

Last week, Nebraska hired Matt Rhule and Wisconsin hired Luke Fickell to put them in the top tier of head coach compensation in the conference. In terms of average annual value, the 42-year-old Fleck is eighth in the Big Ten behind Michigan State’s Mel Tucker, Ohio State’s Ryan Day, Rhule, Fickell, Penn State’s James Franklin, Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz. All seven of those coaches make $7 million or more per season.

The Gophers (8-4) play Syracuse in the Pinstripe Bowl on Dec. 29. They’re 3-0 in bowl games under Fleck, who was hired away from Western Michigan in 2017.

Minnesota tied for second place in the Big Ten West Division this year, behind Purdue. Fleck is 43-27 overall with the Gophers, including 26-26 in conference play. They’re 0-6 against Iowa and 3-3 against Wisconsin, their primary rivals.

Fleck’s winning percentage is third-best in program history among coaches with 45 games or more, behind Henry Williams (1900-21) and Bernie Bierman (1932-41).

“What P.J. and his staff have done in a short amount of time is remarkable,” athletic director Mark Coyle said in a statement distributed by the university. “He has recruited and developed some of the best student-athletes to ever play at Minnesota and his team continues to excel academically, athletically and socially.”

This is the fifth time in six years on the job that Fleck’s deal has been adjusted to keep up with the competition, as power conference coach contracts these days rarely have less than five years on them at any time. Minnesota extended his deal a year ago, too.

In that iteration of his contract, the termination fees Fleck would owe Minnesota if he were to hop to another program were bumped way up. Those numbers landed at $7 million in 2023, $5 million in 2024, $4 million in 2025 and $3 million in 2026. Details about those figures in the new deal were not immediately available.

Virginia players granted extra year of eligibility

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — The NCAA has granted an extra year of eligibility to Virginia players whose eligibility has expired in the aftermath of the slaying of three members of the team, the school confirmed.

Lavel Davis Jr., D’Sean Perry and Devin Chandler were killed last month as they returned to campus from a field trip to see a play in Washington, D.C. A former player at the school, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., is facing three counts of second-degree murder and other charges in the shooting. A fourth player, Mike Hollins, and student Marlee Morgan were injured in the shooting.

Virginia canceled its final two games of the season after the shooting, and the team and university community memorialized the victims in a nearly two-hour service on campus. Team members also traveled to each of the three funerals held for their teammates.