Texas has chance for big turnaround against No. 1 Alabama

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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AUSTIN, Texas – Texas coach Steve Sarkisian doesn’t recall watching the last time Alabama and Texas met on the field, and most of the Longhorns were too young to remember much of anything about that game.

But to a man, they pretty much all know this about the Crimson Tide’s 37-21 victory to win the 2009 season national championship: That’s the game where “Colt got hurt.”

Three words describe the early injury to standout quarterback Colt McCoy and the ripple effect it had through more than a decade of “What ifs…” within a Texas program that floundered while Alabama established perhaps the greatest dynasty in college football history.

Top-ranked Alabama (1-0) and Texas (1-0) meet for the first time since that January 2010 matchup on Saturday. Beat the heavily favored Crimson Tide and Texas could take a huge step in what Longhorns fans hope is a rebuild back into a championship contender.

“Ultimately, this is about us,” said Sarkisian, who was the offensive coordinator at Alabama when the Tide won the 2020 national championship.

“Teams can sometimes be enamored with an opponent,” he said. “We need to be enamored with us.”

It’s easy to be in awe of Alabama, even at a big brand program like Texas.

The Crimson Tide have last season’s Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Bryce Young, last season’s Bronco Nagurski Award winner in linebacker Will Anderson, and more than a decade of crushing opponents under coach Nick Saban.

That 2010 win over Texas was the first of Saban’s six national titles at Alabama. Texas hasn’t won even a Big 12 title in that stretch and has fired three head coaches since that game.

Texas has a freshman quarterback in Quinn Ewers, two freshmen starting on the offensive line, and a defense that ranked No. 100 nationally last season. Beat Alabama with a talented but young lineup like this one, and Texas could really take off.

Saban expects to play a Texas team that at least thinks it’s ready to take flight.

“When you’re playing on the road, you gotta overcome their emotion, their intensity – the crowd – all kinds of challenges,” Saban said.

It won’t be long before this game is a more regular matchup. Texas is set to join the Southeastern Conference in 2025.

“It’s one game,” Sarkisian said. “I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is this is going to be the game that is going to define our program.

“It might,” Sarkisian said. “It might not.”

ON THE EDGE

Kelvin Banks was one of Sarkisian’s most critical recruits after the 5-7 finish in 2021 and the freshman left tackle hasn’t disappointed. He’s already in the starting lineup. But there’s no time to grow into the role. Banks’ job will be to protect freshman quarterback Quinn Ewers’ blind side from Alabama edge rush linebacker Will Anderson, one of the most dominant players in college. Anderson had 17 1/2 sacks last season.

HEISMAN HUNT

The game features one Heisman Trophy winner in Alabama quarterback Bryce Young and another player who wants to be in the conversation: Texas pre-season All-American running back Bijan Robinson. The fluid and deceptively fast Robinson ran for 1,127 yards last season before a dislocated elbow forced him to miss most of the last three games. But he’ll be running behind a line that starts two freshmen.

Robinson totaled 111 yards and scored twice in Texas’ season-opening win over Louisiana-Monroe.

“Bijan’s a great running back. Everybody knows that, everybody sees that. He’s quick, elusive, finds holes that not an average back can find,” Alabama linebacker Henry To'oto'o said.

TEXAS GAME PLAN

Sarkisian was quite honest this week when he said the game plan for Alabama was done “about three months ago.” And this game is exactly why he would hire someone like former TCU head coach and defensive wizard Gary Patterson as a Longhorns special assistant last spring. There’s no doubt Patterson has been zeroed in on this matchup with Young and the Alabama offense.

RUSHING TIDE

Saban’s description of the Tide’s running game against Utah State was simple: “Inconsistent.”

Alabama averaged a robust 8.2 yards on 32 carries in beating Utah State, but it was skewed by big plays. Young had a 63-yarder and Jahmyr Gibbs added a 58-yarder. Take away the 23-yarder and 20-yarder by freshman Jamarion Miller in the fourth quarter and Alabama gained a more modest 114 yards on 28 carries (a 4.1-yard average).

TIDE TURNS

Texas has two former Alabama players who could make a difference Saturday. Running back Keilan Robinson is the third-team tailback but has proven to be a standout on special teams. He had a punt block last year and last week returned a blocked punt for a touchdown. Wide receiver Agiye Hall returns from suspension this week and could be a big-play target for Ewers.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.