From Comcast SportsNet TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) -- The LSU and Alabama showdown promises to be a throwback of old-school football. Both the top-ranked and barely tested Tigers and No. 2 and mostly unchallenged Alabama are built on power runs and run-stuffing defenses in a time when spread offenses are en vogue and huddles are optional. "If you want to see 1970s smashmouth,," Alabama tight end Michael Williams said, "then this is what you want to see right here." Yes, Saturday night's game will have a retro feel to it. The vintage philosophies make this one reminiscent of an old Oklahoma-Nebraska or Alabama-Penn State clash. And like those teams, this year's edition of the Tide and Tigers -- both 8-0 with five Southeastern Conference wins -- have racked up double-digit victories But neither Alabama's Nick Saban nor LSU's Les Miles is bringing the wishbone back in fashion. Hitting, and hitting hard, well, that is certainly allowed. Even mandatory. "It's a type of game that ... you don't necessarily see too often nowadays," LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert said. "It is a little more old-school, so I think that'll be something fun to watch for the fans." LSU's Jarrett Lee -- supplemented by the more mobile Jordan Jefferson -- and Alabama sophomore AJ McCarron have been the league's most efficient quarterbacks for the top two scoring offenses. However, Alabama ranks 66th nationally in passing offense, LSU 99th. The Tigers, who have won on five of their last seven visits to Bryant-Denny. do have a significant deep threat in receiver Rueben Randle. The Tide counters with more of a catch-and-run type in speedy Marquis Maze. What fans will see: -- A test of wills. Compact, powerful backs Trent Richardson of Alabama and LSU's Spencer Ware will be running between the tackles into defensive fronts that typically yield little ground. -- Playmakers on defense. An all-star defender making big tackles, forcing a timely turnover or just laying a resounding hit on some unsuspecting player. On Alabama, the likely candidates include linebackers Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower, and All-America safety Mark Barron. For LSU, it might be ball-stripping Tyrann Mathieu, fellow cornerback Morris Claiborne or pass rushers Barkevious Mingo or Sam Montgomery. -- Coaching eruptions. It might come from the ultra-intense, scowling Saban or Miles with his penchant for making seemingly odd gambles pay off. With both teams coming off open dates, the hype around the game has been frenzied. Alabama's Williams has heard plenty from friends and family. "Of course, 1 vs. 2, game of the century and all that type of stuff," he said. "You've got to put out the mental clutter." Which isn't to say Williams isn't embracing the hype, even while some teammates downplayed it with that "just another game" spiel. "This is what you come to Alabama for," the tight end said. "Great opportunity for some players. I know the atmosphere will be crazy. This is what you want to play in. It will be one for the ages." It puts the spotlight on a community that was devastated by a deadly tornado in April but has received a regular Saturday pick-me-up from the Tide this fall. "Every time we have a major event here, I think it makes people feel more and more normal about the way things are going," Saban said. This certainly qualifies as major. If the game lives up to its billing and ends up close, the loser's national championship aspirations might not be totally diminished. The loser could have an outside shot at January rematch in New Orleans that really is for the title. Miles isn't thinking about that though, he's content for now to relish a brisk fall Saturday night when temperatures are expected to dip into the 40s. He's practically poetic about it. "How wonderful it is in college football that you have two quality teams that represent two great institutions that will take their best effort to the field to decide something that is difficult, clean and pure as a contest," Miles said. "How wonderful it is for the region to be able to look and enjoy the time of celebration of hard work and team values. "The school wins, the team wins and the state wins. It is a beautiful time. " And fans will have a menu of stars to enjoy. There's a Heisman Trophy candidate in Richardson, who has scored 18 touchdowns on a team that has yielded a third of that total. Mathieu drew early Heisman buzz, too. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder with an uncanny knack for big plays has forced an LSU career record nine fumbles in just under two seasons. Cornerback bookends Claiborne and Alabama's Maze are also two of the SEC's most dangerous kick returners. With that kind of talent on the field, Saban predicts the game will likely come down to turnovers or special teams. Neither team makes back-breaking mistakes, but LSU hardly makes any -- period. The Tigers didn't commit a turnover in October and have forced 18 this season; they have scored touchdowns on half of the resulting drives. "Their turnover ratio is off the charts, in terms of their defense and their ball-hawking style of play," Saban said. "They have lots of guys on defense who can make plays." Then again so does Alabama. LSU's Hebert said it's harder for a team to impose its will on such a physical opponent. "That's a kind of style where if you can't physically match up you're going to find it very hard to be successful," he said. "And that's what's so special about this next game is that both teams physically match up against each other very well."
Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era.
It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.
“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”
Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.
Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly.
“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”
From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too.
“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”
Rebuilds are full of surprises.
Fans can pencil in any names they want into their 2020 lineups, but there’s almost no one who’s going to have a 100-percent success rate when it comes to predicting exactly what the next contending White Sox team will look like.
Reynaldo Lopez carried plenty of hype when he was acquired from the Washington Nationals in the Adam Eaton deal prior following the 2016 season. He had a high prospect ranking before he was called up last summer. He hasn’t materialized out of nowhere.
But with names like Lucas Giolito, Michael Kopech, Alec Hansen, Carlos Rodon and others to compete with for one of those coveted rotation spots of the future, was anyone going to use the term “ace” to describe Lopez?
Well, in this rebuilding season’s most pleasant surprise for the White Sox and their fans, that’s exactly what Lopez has been. He’s been hands down the team’s best starting pitcher, and he’s making the case that he shouldn’t be considered an ancillary piece in this rebuilding process but a featured one.
He might not be getting the attention that others are. But he’s doing the most with his opportunity of being at the big league level right now. In the end, as long as you’re getting batters out, who cares how much attention you get?
“It’s not about what people say or what they are talking about,” Lopez said through a translator. “It’s about the confidence I have in myself, and I have plenty of confidence in myself. For me, I’m the best. I’m not saying the other guys are not. I’m just saying that’s the confidence I have. When I’m on the mound, I’m the best and I don’t care about the rest.”
Sunday marked the best start of Lopez’s young career, so said the pitcher himself. He was terrific in shutting down the visiting Texas Rangers, holding them to just two hits over eight scoreless innings.
It was one heck of a bounce-back performance considering what happened last time out, when he was roughed up for six runs in just two innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The difference? His attitude, his focus, his intensity, his conviction.
“I just changed my attitude in the game,” Lopez said. “I was more positive today than I was in my last outing and that was one of my biggest differences.”
“I do think he came out a little bit more focused, to be honest,” manager Rick Renteria said. “The intensity level was a little higher today. I think he threw the first couple pitches 97, 98 miles an hour, where his last outing they were at 93, 94. There wasn’t a whole lot of commitment or conviction to his pitches (against the Pirates). I think, as we talked after the last outing, (pitching coach Don Cooper) spoke to him a little about making sure he brought that intensity that he has the ability to do, to bring it from Pitch 1 and he did today.”
Renteria liked it all, and he saw something different in his pitcher when he went out to talk to him with two outs in the eighth. Lopez issued a two-out walk, and Renteria considered lifting Lopez from the game.
Lopez made sure his manager wouldn’t pull the plug on this outing.
“I hid the baseball in my glove because I didn’t want to leave the game,” Lopez said. “I asked me, ‘How are you? Are you good?’ And I told him, ‘Yes, I’m good.’ Then he asked me again, ‘Do you think you are able to get him out?’ And I said yes, ‘This is my game, and I’m going to finish it.’”
What did Lopez do with his extra life? He finished it all right, blowing Shin-Soo Choo away with a 96-mile-an-hour fastball. Then he showed as much emotion as he’s ever shown on a major league field. He earned that celebration.
“When you see your manager come out and you’ve already gone through most of your game in terms of what you might think you have in number of pitches available to you, and you reiterate that you want to finish a particular batter because you want to get out of that inning, and you do it, it's an accomplishment,” Renteria said. “It's a big accomplishment. For him, pretty good hitter. He battled him and he was able to get out of that inning and complete a very, very strong eight-inning outing.”
It’s the kind of exclamation point on a dominant afternoon that could stir some big plans in White Sox fans always dreaming of the future. What Lopez has done this season has been a strong case for a spot in that future rotation and a spot at the front of it, at that. Following Sunday’s gem, Lopez owns a 2.98 ERA with at least six strikeouts in four of his nine starts.
There’s a lot of development and a lot of time left before the White Sox contention window opens. But Lopez pitching like this offers a glimpse into the crystal ball, a look at what could be for an organization that’s acquired so much talent over the last two years.
You might not have seen it coming like this, but the future arriving in the form of Lopez is a sign that brighter days are ahead on the South Side.