Wednesday, December 31, 2008

wednesday youtube just beat the hell out of you

One of the many 2008 season retrospectives I found today on the Web -- it's a little long but very cool.



And with that, have a good New Year's Eve. By the time I come to you again, I should be in New Orleans.
Holla.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

an anachronistic glimpse

Here's something I meant to put up earlier — suppose we went back to old bowl tie-ins the way they were, before the public outcry created the monster that is now the BCS?

It obviously takes some thought and speculation. Here's what I think it would look like:
Rose Bowl: Penn St. vs USC
Thoughts: This one was easy. Automatic bids to two conference champs. It gets more difficult after this.
Sugar Bowl: Florida vs. Texas
Thoughts: A great game, obviously. Florida gets the automatic bid from the SEC, and since Texas isn't a conference champ, they're basically a free agent. The Sugar is the best option for them from a geographic and profile standpoint.
Orange Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Alabama
Thoughts: I waffled on this one between the Tide and Ohio St. Ultimately, I think the Orange would take a one-loss team that was ranked number one most of the season over a two-loss team that has benefited from a weak conference and has embarrassed itself in January the last two seasons.
Fiesta Bowl: Utah vs. Boise St.
Thoughts: Again, Ohio St. is out there, but if you take them, you're basically just doing it for the name. I say the Fiesta grabs two undefeateds, so they can have an undefeated winner.

Final thought: In this scenario, you're basically guaranteeing a split national champ. If OU beats 'Bama in the Orange, and Texas beats Florida in the Sugar (two big ifs, obviously) Texas likely grabs at least one of the polls because of the head-to-head. OU and Florida would both claim shares if they won. And suppose Texas and 'Bama pull upsets — wouldn't there be an overwhelming clamor for USC to receive some votes?
It was this system that caused us so much angst and created the stir that ultimately spawned the BCS after Penn St. and Nebraska didn't play for the title in 1994 (Nebraska won both polls), and then Nebraska and Michigan didn't play for the title in '97 (they split).
Is the old system better than what we have now? I'm not sure. The old system was at least based on the unique traditions of college football. The problem with the BCS is that the gurus are attempting to answer all the questions created by the bowl system while still maintaining those unique traditions. Sorry, guys — it ain't gonna work. You either go all-in here, or you fold.
Just my opinion, obviously.

it was bound to happen ...

By now, everybody knows about what happened to Andre Smith, who's suspended for this Friday's bowl game, and likely won't ever play another game in a crimson jersey again.
A good many 'Bama fans -- via facebook and blogs -- have unfairly come down on #71, saying (among other things) that he's stupid, selfish, immature and so forth. I don't think most of these folks understand how easy it is for a college kid to become entangled with an agent, particularly during Christmas holidays when the coaching staffs can't control their athletes' every moves.
Even more galling, this one incident has been enough for most casual football fans to completely forsake everything Andre Smith contributed to the program the last three seasons. Easily the best player recruited during the tepid Mike Shula era, Smith was basically the starter at the most high-profile spot on the offensive line from the day he stepped on campus. He's been an All-American, an upstanding citizen and one of those players we as Alabama fans can be proud to have on our side.



Coach Saban and his staff must suspend him, of course, in order to protect the university and the football program from the vultures at the NCAA. But please, let's not allow that fact to obscure what the man gave to us the last three years.



Many thanks to Andre for a great three seasons. We wish you all the best.

Monday, December 29, 2008

follow-up thoughts

Couple things I left out of yesterday's post:
-- On the espn.com draft page, Andre Smith is currently ranked as the top prospect -- not at LT, but overall. Assuming he doesn't suffer some sort of horrific injury on Saturday, this should hold until the spring. Which means it's hard to believe Andre would come back to Alabama for another season when there's so much money on the table to be made (much as I love Alabama football, if he came to me and asked, I'd have to tell him to take care of himself and his family -- that's just the way it is). That means the biggest story of 2009 in Tuscaloosa will be how Alabama replaces its quarterback and the bulk of its offensive line -- Smith, Antoine Caldwell (the two most important players on the offense, by the way) and right guard Marlon Davis -- not to mention tight ends Travis McCall and Nick Walker -- will all be gone by spring practice.
This, to me, is the biggest storyline for 2009.

-- When that kid from USM broke his leg -- a video I will link to but not show, for reasons of taste -- I got sympathy pains you wouldn't believe.
(By the way, I agree with the guys on Deadspin -- you can watch that vid once, and only once. If you watch it more than once, you're pretty much a horrible person.)

-- A friend of mine who's an LSU fan and I were discussing the Tigers' quarterback prospects for '09, and how the QB position ultimately undermined them in 2008. I argued that a) the defense didn't exactly lock teams down this fall and b) Gary Crowton should be beaten vigorously about the head and shoulders for his complete unwillingness to stick to the run game even though it averaged a robust 4.4 yards per carry this season, and that's even factoring in the minus yards by the quarterback position.
Of course, poor Jarrett Lee gets the blame for most of this. Bear with me on this for a moment, because it's going to look stupid in print, but ... OK: TAKING OUT THE INTERCEPTIONS, Lee actually wasn't bad this season. Yes, that is akin to saying, "Other than the man with the gun, did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?" But it's true: Lee completed more passes than he didn't, had a passer rating over 100 most of the season and led a huge comeback at Auburn (a bigger deal at the time than it probably looks now). The interception number is eye-popping, obviously, but he's only a freshman, and let's remember that some 'Bama fans thought John Parker was beyond salvage until sometime midway through this season.
Anyway, look for LSU to have a wide-open QB race this spring, featuring Lee, Andrew Hatch and that Jefferson guy. Should be interesting.

-- We'll get back to the Sugar Bowl starting either later today, or maybe tomorrow.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow

Hope everyone's had a peaceful Christmas. Here are some scattered football-related thoughts I have from the last few days and weeks.

-- My favorite Christmas gift was my copy of the Defining Moments: Alabama DVD box set. Quite simply, if you're a 'Bama fan, it's a must-have. I love documentaries anyway, and they really went out of their way to find the important players and coaches -- not to mention rarely-seen footage and radio commentary -- to make these babies worth the watch.
(One funny note: I just finished watching the documentary related to The Kick -- apparently not available for comment: Mike Shula. I'm shocked, frankly.)

-- Auburn hired an offensive coordinator to go with the defensive coordinator they mistakenly thought was good enough to be their head coach. By the numbers, Gus Malzahn is exactly what Auburn needs: he can run the spread option and make the absolute best out of the talent he has. Which, of course, begs the necessary question: assuming he (like every other coach at just about anytime) was a free agent this time last year, why didn't Auburn pursue him instead of Tony Franklin?
(Sorry, but the Franklin thing still boggles my mind. How did Tuberville misjudge him so badly? How could he not know Franklin's offense would be pass-heavy when virtually every high school in the state runs some version of it? And on what planet did he think a strong personality like Franklin's would fit in with his offensive coaching staff?)
Anyway, Gene Chizik's staff should take some shape now that we know Malzahn is on board and Stacy Searles isn't.

-- After watching last night's Emerald Bowl, I remain perplexed as to why Cal would pass the football. I mean, ever.

-- Few things in life are as funny as listening to some Bristol announcers trying to hype up bowls and bowl performances as anything more than what they are. For example, in the Christmas-Eve Hawai'i Bowl, Jimmy Clausen (naturally) lit up the homestanding Rainbows, throwing for 400-plus yards and five scores. A memorable performance, but nothing you'd make a documentary about, right? Well, thanks to the magic of ESPN -- as well as the fact that there was really nothing else going on -- it became a Pantheon-level outing, something we'll all be telling our grandchildren about years from now. Give me a break.

-- It just occurred to me that I'm watching the Independence Bowl on ESPN, one year after watching Alabama in its second-straight Indy Bowl game. We've come a long way, baby.
(By the way, that blood-curdling scream you heard from Louisiana was the sound of Indy Bowl officials when the seasons of Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi St. all fell apart and they got stuck with Northern Illinois and Louisiana Tech. I recall seeing an Indy Bowl official in the press box at Bryant-Denny Stadium prior to the Auburn game, and wished I could've found him in the fourth quarter as things got out of hand to see if he was thinking of hanging himself. Sorry, dude.)

-- That reminds me: I'm obviously an SEC homer, but I have a feeling the SEC will do better in its bowl matchups than some people think. Alabama and Florida are correctly favored in their games, but Georgia matches up well with Michigan St., and Ole Miss will defend Texas Tech as well as any team this side of Oklahoma (not to mention the inevitable weirdness that's bound to occur with Houston Nutt involved). Then of course you have Vanderbilt -- playing a de facto home game in front of a fired-up fan base in its first bowl bid since most of us have been alive -- and LSU (Georgia Tech is scary, but it's hit-or-miss). None of these games look unwinnable.
But, we'll see.

Friday, December 26, 2008

a "Lost" Friday; Christmas ... sort of

For fans of "Lost," Christmas won't be officially complete until Jan. 21, when the show finally comes back after being off more than 6 months.
When that happens, expect this blog to go a little crazy, briefly — note-taking, analysis, possibly even live-blogging. Seriously, with no football to keep me warm, things may get outlandish.
In the meantime, here's a video of "Lost" clips, accompanied by a rather disturbing rendition of "Silent Night." I offer no explanation.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

many apologies and Merry Christmas

I've lagged in my duties the past week -- holiday activity, as well as some craziness at work, has kept me from being too active as a blogger. I can't promise anything over the next few days, so I'll leave you with my favorite verse from my favorite Christmas hymn:

For lo! the days are hastening on,
By prophets seen of old,
When with
the ever-circling years
Shall come the time foretold,
When the new
heaven and earth shall own
The Prince of Peace, their King,
And the
whole world send back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

dead horse, line 1

I'm probably the last person in the blogosphere to comment fully on Auburn's hire of Gene Chizik. But still, if you'll allow me a few thoughts that have been swirling about, I'll thank you.

-- The prevailing thought among most folks who follow football in this state is this: Bobby Lowder, along with Pat Dye and his booster cronies, made a power play to circumvent Jay Jacobs and the AU administration to bring in a guy they could control. It's fun to think about, but it's probably not true.
For one thing, Lowder isn't nearly as powerful anymore as people think: not only is he extraordinarily old, but he lost a good bit of his power after the famed 2004 Jet excursion (I absolutely will not refer to it as "JetGate"). People still think of him as the monster of the Auburn trustees, but he really is not.
The version of the story I've seen that's more likely is this: what powerful trustees there are on the board (including Lowder) had started burning up the phones late last week in an attempt to bring Will Muschamp back into the picture. But Muschamp didn't want to come back to work for Jacobs, which meant they were likely going to have to fire the AD to get the guy that would excite the fan base. And so Jacobs -- with the support of the president and probably Dye (who's also old and in failing health and has no business doing anything besides making public appearances) -- panicked a little and brought in a guy who had impressed them during his interview (it helped that Jimmy Sexton, who represents Saban, Tuberville, Fulmer, Houston Nutt and most of the rest of the SEC, was pulling the strings for Chizik).
If that sounds like dysfunction, well, that's because it is. But that seems like how it went down.

-- As for Chizik, it's hard to blame him for taking a job most in the coaching profession would jump at. And that two-year record at Iowa St. (5-19) wouldn't concern me a great deal, were I an Auburn fan.
What is cause for concern is this: at nearly every well-coached football program, there's a significant improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 -- Saban at 'Bama, Meyer at Florida, Richt at UGA, Tuberville at AU, etc, etc, etc. But Chizik's ISU team actually regressed in Year 2 in every significant statistical category, particularly on defense, which is supposed to be this cat's specialty. Further, of the best teams in the Big XII -- Oklahoma, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma St. and Missouri -- ISU played only two of them in '08 (OSU and Mizzou) and surrendered 50 points both times.
That's ... um, hard to spin.

-- I had the same question most people had when I heard the story of how Chizik came to Auburn the other day: if AU was going to make a panic hire, why not Turner Gill, someone who could energize the fan base, generate some positive press (because of his race and temperament) and possibly boost recruiting (though, as we learned with Sly Croom, recruits aren't just going to flock to a place with a black coach because he's a black coach).
Naturally, Charles Barkley was there to point out the festering racial issue. He has a point, but only in this respect: Gill's interracial marriage probably wouldn't have played particularly well in the Deep South. I love the state of Alabama and grew up in Opelika, and I do believe folks have come a long, long way in terms of race relations in a relatively short time period.
But you can't tell me the first time coach Gill and his family went to eat at Saugahatchee that it wouldn't have been an uncomfortable moment. Hey, maybe it's got nothing to do with anything. But it probably didn't help.

-- Naturally, after the outpouring of vitriol from around the Auburn fan base and the media at large, there's been a wave of opinion the other way, mostly from former players and coaches talking about how much they admire Chizik and how great he'll do there.
Here's the problem with taking the word of former players and coaches: they never criticize anyone, except "the national media." People like Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Lou Holtz and the rest of their group -- ESPN almost exclusively employs these guys as TV personalities -- are almost never willing to go after anyone in their coaching fraternity for any reason. Anyone who dares to do so is just being negative, and can't possibly understand anything about football because they've never played/coached.
And that, in a nutshell, describes why you can't ever get objective analysis from people within the fraternity, because they're almost invariably going to forsake objective analysis for the sake of personal analysis. It happened at Alabama with Mike Shula -- national analysts relentlessly made excuses for him from the time he showed up on campus until he left -- and it's happening now with Chizik.
Auburn made a lousy hire. Auburn ousted a coach with 10 years experience and a track record of success, then replaced him with someone who is appreciably worse in every respect. Anyone who says otherwise is wrong. Sorry, but that's just the way it is.

Back with some bowl-game lines later.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

wednesday youtube tastes like sugar

With Alabama preparing for a game in New Orleans, here's a quick look back at some happy moments in the Super Dome, all from the late 1970s.

First, a battle between two great head coaches: Bear Bryant and Woody Hayes.



"I don't think it's a matter of, whether Woody's the best coach, or I'm the best coach -- Woody's a great coach and has been for a long time. ... But I ain't too bad, either."
(Incidentally, this was one of those great moments in college football when the polls managed to come up with a goofy answer on the season's final weekend. Third-ranked 'Bama destroyed 9th-ranked Ohio St. that day on the same day that the first, second and fourth-ranked teams all lost ... only fifth-ranked Notre Dame jumped from 5th to 1st in the final AP poll after beating top-ranked Texas in the Cotton Bowl. Goes the story, Bryant refused to run it up on Ohio St. in the fourth quarter, when he had a chance to impress pollsters. It happens.)

The very next season, 'Bama went back to New Orleans, this time ranked second and facing top-ranked and undefeated Penn St.
The ending to this one may look a tad familiar.



Gut-checks, baby. Nothing but gut-checks.

The 1980 Sugar Bowl is a largely-forgotten game in the minds of casual 'Bama fans, which isn't entirely fair, since the '79 'Bama team was arguably the best of the Bryant era (the only team of that era to capture an undisputed national championship).
(Note: the coach of Arkansas in 1979? You guessed it: a young, infinitely less crazy Lou Holtz. Fantastic.)



From a personal standpoint, my parents attended this game as part of their honeymoon -- my mother, who had never watched an Alabama game for any reason other than Auburn might've been playing in it, saw Alabama capture a national championship within a week of being married to my dad.
That was Jan. 1, 1980. My birth date, incidentally, is Feb. 5, 1981. Coincidence? Probably, but don't spoil my fun here.

Monday, December 15, 2008

always with the negative waves, man


(Image stolen from RBR.)

Assignment for today: find someone who can think of something positive to say about Gene Chizik, Auburn head coach.

Lists of people who DON'T have anything nice to say about it:
Deadspin.
He also led the Cyclones to a robust 0-8 mark in the Big 12 this season. Oh, and he didn't play Texas, Texas Tech, or Oklahoma this year. But maybe I'm being unkind. After all, Chizik did beat Kent State and South Dakota State this year. Of course he lost 10 consecutive games after those wins. ... How do you make Dan Mullen and Lane Kiffin look like Bear Bryant? You hire Gene Chizik.
Mr. College Football.
You change coaches because you are certain that you can hire a pretty good upgrade. Gene Chizik may prove to be a significant upgrade before he is through at Auburn.
But on Dec. 15, 2008, as I look at the program at Alabama and the program at Auburn, the timing doesn’t seem very good right now to be the head coach of the Tigers. In fact, it looks pretty bad.
Dr. Saturday.
But obviously, there's big number: 5-19. On his own, Chizik is 2-14 in Big 12 games, and Iowa State actually regressed in his second year, falling to 0-8 in the conference by an average of 20 points per defeat. Defensively, ISU finished this year in the bottom ten nationally -- 110th or worse -- in total, scoring and pass efficiency defense. The Cyclones' only wins were over Kent State and South Dakota State before a ten-game losing skid. Hey, at least they beat Kent State this year -- Chizik's first game in Ames was a nine-point loss to the Golden Flashes in 2007, quickly followed by defeat at the hands of Northern Iowa and Toledo before the end of September. There were flashes of competence here and there -- a close, competitive loss to Oklahoma in '07, a 20-0 halftime lead over Kansas before another eventual loss this year -- but 24 games in, the Cyclones have made no discernible progress from that ignominious start. Realistically, Chizik was probably another losing season away from being fired. At Iowa State.
EDSBS.
Saban LOL. Every person in the entire universe thinks this is a terrible deplorable horrible idea with zero merit except for Nick Saban and Kirk Herbstreit. Herbstreit said “I know Gene Chizik,” and right after that our brain’s pablum filter shut out the rest of what he said other than to note that it was both positive and devoid of any real analytical value.
JCCW.
I've spent at least part of every hour since trying to think of one, racking my brain for a coaching hire that made you say Huh? What on earth are they thinking? the way the announcement of Gene Chizik did, and then turned out all right.
I've failed. The two candidates from last year were Bill Stewart and Mike Sherman. Fail. The last two I can think of in the SEC were Ed Orgeron and Ron Zook. Fail. Remember when Nebraska fired Frank Solich and replaced him with Bill Callahan and we all thought they were dumb? They were. Remember when you found out, earlier this decade, that Army had hired some guy who was going to bring in a crazy West Coast passing scheme, and you thought "That'll never work?" It didn't. The closest I can come to new head coaches who were greeted with something less than wild enthusiasm and then went on to success are guys like Jim Tressel, Rich Brooks, and Les Miles, but all three of them had definitively successful head coaching stints already on their resume. Our guy, as you are aware, does not.
Tons of programs have been led astray by false optimism. If you know of one who's endured a bout of false pessimism, I'd love to be reminded of it.

Friday, December 12, 2008

"Lost' Fridays: Dr. Jack Shepard=CMG

Note: It's been nearly eight full months since there was actually a new episode of "Lost" for the proprietor of this blog to obsess about. We've done our best here to maintain our obsession through that long morass, even if sometimes our weekly posts have been limited to things like pictures and lame videos uploaded by other people. Once the show actually starts back -- on Wednesday, Jan. 21 -- expect things to go a little crazy here, at least for a moment. Just try not to judge me. Anymore than you already have, I mean. OK? OK. Moving on.

While trying to find an Alabama sports comparison with this cult-like show, I came up empty. Maybe Hurley and Terrence Cody share the same body type, but I doubt sincerely that Hugo could control the middle of a line the way the Mountain can. And neither Ben nor Locke nor Jack have the steely-eyed stare of Nick Saban, or the goofy hair of Johnny P. Wilson.

Then, as I was thinking about basketball season -- and how Alabama is ultimately headed for another one of the ultimately-disappointing rollercoaster rides that have become the hallmark of the Mark Gottfried Era, it occurred to me the similarities between Dr. Jack Shepard and head coach Mark Gottfried.

Both were thrust into impossible situations. In Gottfried's case, he took over an Alabama basketball program that had fallen on hard times: David Hobbs, his predecessor, had bankrupted the program from a recruiting standpoint, and there were some NCAA sanctions that briefly extended the probation window (allowing for UA to be slapped with "repeat offender" status in 2001 when new violations came to light on the football side of things). Gottfried's first team in 1999 featured the talents of Montgomery's Brian Williams and four guys out of the stands (including TWO white guys in the starting 5!).
But compared with Jack's situation, maybe Alabama basketball, 1999, wasn't so bad -- at least Gottfried, a 'Bama alum, actually got to choose his destiny (one of the central themes of the show, right?). Jack flew to Australia to pick up his dead father, crash-landed in the midst of the Pacific and woke up in the midst of 72 survivors (counting the dog) with utterly no direction. Against his will, he became the vocal leader of the group, official when he gave his famous "Live Together, Die Alone" speech that would become the theme of the show.

Both men helped effect change quickly. Gottfried's team actually won the SEC's regular-season championship in 2002, and briefly ascended to number-one in the nation the following winter.
(Am I going to use this as an excuse to embed the famous video of Antoine Pettway vs. Florida? Of course I am.)



Jack's leadership helped bring order to the survivors' camp on the Island. With Jack leading the way, the survivors started exploring, hunting, even building a raft to go in search of help. By the end of Season 1, you could clearly see everything coming together, with the surgeon running the show.

Ultimately, when adversity hit, neither could handle it with any semblance of a plan. When Gottfried's season started falling apart in 2003, it was because they had no set offense and couldn't catch a break. Even when the team briefly caught fire in the NCAAs in '04, it had less to do with the coaching and more to do with a blazing-hot shooting streak.
Jack never really was able to formulate a master plan, either. His only thought process -- "get us off this Island" -- was haphazard and reckless, and that ultimately led to a giant explosion, the rest of the survivors leaving and this painful flash-forward.




Neither guy inspires a great deal of confidence that they'll be able to correct the problem. Jack's got to lead the Oceanic 6 -- plus, I'm guessing, Ben, Desmond, Walt and John Locke's corpse -- back to the Island, somehow, and given his relative lack of a plan, I'm not holding out much hope that's going to turn out well.
As for Gottfried, early-season results aren't encouraging -- the team is still talented and athletic, still sleep-walks through large portions of every game, still relies too heavily on the abilities of a senior point guard with bad knees.
Time will tell, obviously, for both. But if this ends with Jack wearing a terrible blood-red coat on national TV, or Gottfried wandering around with a beard and popping pain-killers ... well, just remember you heard it here first.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

wednesday youtube is homemade

A little something new for video this week -- this is a vid my wife Stacey shot this one from the field in the final moments of this year's Auburn game.


video

I think it turned out pretty well. I think. But we'll see.

Edit: It appears to be working fine. Thanks to Kurt Branch -- the proprietor of WarBlogle -- for his help.

wlh

Monday, December 8, 2008

bowling for links

In case you missed it, the complete bowl schedule was announced yesterday — the Tide drew a berth in the Sugar Bowl, its first since Jan 1, 1993 (yeah ... we're showing it).



Now that I have your attention, here are a few links for the day.
— How Alabama and Utah stack up, according to Pete Holiday.
— Sugar Bowl officials aren't exactly thrilled with the prospect of another non-BCS school in their big game, says Rapaport.
— Dr. Saturday reports that gamblers love Florida thus far.
One thing about gambling on bowl games: it's dumb to gamble on college football anyway, but bowl games are especially unpredictable, if only because you never know how teams will respond on a neutral field after such a long layoff (as Alabama proved on that glorious day in Louisiana 15 years ago). Every coach has a different method of preparing for a bowl game, and none of them are perfect.
— The Sports Economist tackles the South's monopoly on football success, and why it's likely not everlasting.
— Of course, not everybody's planning for a bowl: as you may have heard, some SEC teams are scouring the Earth searching for football coaches. The JCCW has reviewed all the serious candidates for the Auburn job thus far, and is probably the best source for those interested in that sort of thing (like, say, Nick Saban). I won't tell you who Jerry digs as the favorite for Auburn's position, but I will say that it's probably not who you think.

Finally, just for fun, here's what the first round of the NCAA Tournament would look like using the 16-team playoff idea we advanced here a few weeks ago, using the final BCS standings.
(Top team is the home team.)

(16) BYU at (1) Oklahoma
(9) Boise St. at (8) Penn St.
(13) Oklahoma St. at (4) Alabama
(12) Cincinnati at (5) USC
(15) Georgia at (2) Florida
(10) Ohio St. at (7) Texas Tech
(14) Ga. Tech at (3) Texas
(11) TCU at (6) Utah
Feel free to talk amongst yourselves.

wlh

thoughts, in the aftermath

Needless to say, there's been much reaction from around the blogosphere since Alabama's difficult loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game. It's ranged from the pained to the matter-of-fact to the bitter. Yesterday, fans at church questioned the wisdom of some coaching decisions, complained about the quarterback play and, of course, bitched about officiating.
(Note: I have no way to prove this, but I heard from multiple people that some Auburn students actually went out and rolled Toomer's Corner Saturday night. If that's true, that's the single most pathetic I've ever heard related to this rivalry. I mean, ever. But hey, I hope they enjoy watching next year's SEC Championship Game on TV as much as they enjoyed this year's.)

I'll reiterate what I wrote Saturday night: no matter what happened in Atlanta, this team deserves nothing but our praise and thanks. Considering even the most enthusiastic among us anticipated 8-4 or 9-3, to face the prospect of finishing 13-1 -- and I'm not counting the Sugar Bowl as an automatic win, but indulge me -- and finishing the season ranked in the top-5, with only 9 scholarship seniors and the SEC's best recruiters poised to reel in (likely) more and more great classes ... it's hard to think of any negatives right now (and that's coming from the ultimate in negativity).
The two most poignant symbols of this squad are John Parker Wilson and Rashad Johnson, neither of whom likely have any future as football players beyond Jan. 2. JPW has been cursed, analyzed and raked over the coals as much as any Alabama football player in my lifetime -- I've wondered repeatedly if he was the guy to quarterback a championship football team, particularly after last season's State game, when he gave us The Single Worst College Football Play I've Ever Seen. He's worked with three different offensive coordinators -- and one of those was the Shula/Rader combo. And with all that, he gave us the season of his life in 2008: excellent when he needed to be excellent; made defenses pay when they overloaded against the run; now he'll leave as the most prolific quarterback in Alabama history.
Johnson's story, of course, has been told over and over. A former walk-on, he basically willed himself onto the field by being smarter and tougher than everybody else. Even this offseason, Rashad gave Alabama fans a headache by his involvement in a barroom scuffle on The Strip. His contributions, for the most part, aren't immediately obvious to people who don't watch copious amounts of football. But watch a tape of Alabama's defense sometime. Before every snap, you'll see 49 all over the field. He basically positioned Donta Hightower himself on a number of snaps, and often gave instructions to Rolando McClain before sprinting back to his own position. And would we have won at LSU this season without Rashad Johnson? I say no.
Another way to discern Rashad's contribution: Nick Saban, whose personality is pretty much geared around the nuts and bolts of football. Rashad Johnson was practically ordained to play for a guy like Nick Saban. He does everything Saban wants out of his free safety. That should tell you something.
So those two guys deserve to have their names at Denny Chimes, deserve to be able to take their grandkids to Tuscaloosa years from now, deserve to look up at the pregame hologram (or whatever they'll be bombarding us with by then) and say, "that was my team."

A few other thoughts from Atlanta:
-- Clearly, the biggest story coming out of Atlanta was Florida's ability (finally) to win a game where everything didn't go their way on every play. Some of this has to do with the system -- option offenses aren't built to come from behind -- and some of it had to do with a group geared around athletes who often get frustrated when they can't break big plays each time they touch the ball. The game preview I never wrote included the following thought:
Florida's system is designed to get defenses out of position and put pressure on them to make open-field tackles. On the other hand, Alabama's strengths defensively are a) never being out of position; b) making open-field tackles. My guess is that Saban's gameplan will start with a simple premise: make them beat us.
Well, that was the plan. And Florida did beat us: a number of throws from Tebow were made under heavy pressure and into smothering coverage. Alabama didn't gave away much -- the Gators had to earn every inch. They did, and that's why they're SEC Champs.
-- It's really, really hard to watch Florida play on television without secretly hoping Tim Tebow chokes on a gobstopper. But he proved himself worth of everything on Saturday: with his best weapon watching from the sidelines, with an opponent absolutely refusing to back down, the Filipino Circumciser kept coming and coming and coming, kept making plays and never shied away once. Is it irritating to hear Gary Danielson's voice saying his name over and over again? Yes, but it's irritating to hear Gary Danielson say anything.
-- Speaking of Tebow, what 'Bama fans have seen in 2008 from Julio Jones, in my opinion, is reminiscent of what Tebow gave Florida in 2006: in other words, as good as he's been this year, we're only scratching the surface. What must that feel like, to have 8 catch a football in front of you and know that you have to be the one to tackle him in the open field? What on earth will he look like next season after an offseason on a collegiate weight program? Is there a more engaging rivalry to watch next year than the one between Julio and AJ Green?
-- Another underrated freshman who's only going to get better: Mark Ingram. Lord, doesn't this thing look great in the long term?
-- Do you think Saban puts up a poster of Timmy T waving the flag at The Dome this offseason? I say yes.

I'll try to be back later with some links. But it's a Monday, so ... no promises.
Roll Tide.

wlh

Saturday, December 6, 2008

thank you

A more detailed, objective analysis of today's SEC Championship Game will follow sometime later -- what ensues below is gushing, unabashed homerism. You have been warned.

To the members and associates of the Alabama Crimson Tide Football Team, 2008:

Thank you.
I know sounds a little strange coming mere hours after a disappointing loss to Florida in the SEC Championship Game. You're hurting right now, the way competitors are supposed to when they give their all and come up short. You're thinking of all the things you could've done differently, bounces that didn't go your way, inches that -- as Al Pacino says in Any Given Sunday -- make up the difference between winning and losing. I've been there. I get that.
And it's in that vein I come to you now saying thank you. Thank you, on behalf of Alabama fans like me who have suffered through 10 years' worth of embarrassment, scandal and grief.
You may not know this, but with a few exceptions, the last decade as an Alabama fan really hasn't been very much fun. We've endured losing campaigns, two separate off-the-field scandals involving head coaches and general taunts from fans of our rivals. We've been told we live in the past. We've been told we have unreasonable expectations. We've been told our program is history.
With all that in mind, thank you. Thank you for what you did this season. Thank you for defying expectations at every turn, for never letting down when you had every right to, for doing everything with class and dignity. Thank you for taking back the state, taking back the West, taking back the headlines.
Those of us who know a little football know this roster isn't the most talented roster in the nation, nor even the most talented roster in the SEC. That's why we've all loved watching you this season. You have been everything we love about a football team: gritty, hard-working, disciplined. We have simply loved watching this team play football this season.
As fans, we believe the program turned a corner this season. There's no reason to think we're going anywhere anytime soon -- Alabama football is now back for good, and likely should continue getting better (with a man as driven as your head coach running the show).
But when they write the book about this new era of football, your names will all come first. Every team after this one will have to compare itself to you. No loss to anyone can take that from you. You've earned every accolade you will receive from here on out.
And so, thank you. We love you guys.
This, finally, is Alabama football.

Friday, December 5, 2008

a "Lost" Friday: falling down on the job

I know, I know -- I'm late with my requisite "Lost" post for this week. And it's sort of lame, too -- my post this week is a photo sent to me by Kurt of WarBlogle.com.

Still, it was cool enough that I'm sharing it with you. I give the Season 5 cast, posed.



Hopefully I'll have something on tomorrow's big game coming soon.

wlh

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Thursday lines (you know ... actual football)

One thing you can say in favor of Auburn and Tommy Tuberville: they have impeccable timing. Remember 2000, when Auburn was preparing to play Florida in Atlanta and Alabama stole the headlines for a few days by hiring Dennis Franchione? Yeah ... consider it payback.
In any case, I've said most of what I needed to say about that subject. For the best Tuberville-related commentary on the Web, read the JCCW, the Gold Mine and Jay Tate. Seriously, they're the best.

But, to business -- here are lines for this weekend's games, coming to us as always from NCAAFlines.com.
(N0te: Unfortunately, we do not have any lines for this weekend's Super 6 games, some of which will likely be of better quality and more fun to watch than many of these conference championships. The Leeds-Cordova game should be particularly good. And that starts today at 3.)

Thursday
Louisville (+10.5) at Rutgers
Friday

MAC Championship at Ford Field
Buffalo (+15.5) vs. Ball St.
Saturday
Pittsburgh (+3) at UConn
Navy (-11) at Army
USC (-33) at UCLA
Arkansas St. (+11) at Troy
South Florida (+7.5) at West Virginia
Arizona St. (+10.5) at Arizona
Conference USA Championship in Some Damn Place
East Carolina (+13) vs. Tulsa
Big XII Championship at Arrowhead Stadium
Missouri (+17.5) vs. Oklahoma
SEC Championship at the Georgia Dome
Alabama (+10) vs. Florida
(Note: I'm slightly surprised this line hasn't moved much this week. Not that I didn't expect Florida to be favored, but when it opened at 10.5, it seemed a little high and I anticipated it would move down. Apparently the gambling community doesn't agree.)

wlh

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

talking Tuberville

By now, everyone who cares about college football has learned of the fate of Tommy Tuberville, either fired or resigned, depending on your source.

Like most of these situations, more will be learned in the coming days, as various "sources" reveal bits and pieces of information. Here are a few scattered thoughts of mine, based on my own limited knowledge.

-- The Car Wash (and others) have speculated that Tubs' ouster is ultimately the result of his refusal to dump some (or all) of his coaching staff. If this is true, then it's a complete departure from the Tommy Tuberville most Auburn fans knew; that guy was never above dumping a high-ranking assistant to save his own hide, no matter his personal history (see Mazzone, Noel).
-- Auburn's administration comes off looking like absolute clowns through the whole mess, particularly with the stories now trickling out about AU assistant coaches learning about their fates while sitting in the homes of recruits.
(Note: I particularly enjoyed the remark from the assistant's wife who still found time to label Nick Saban a cheater for some reason. You stay classy, Mrs. Assistant.)
-- The national press, predictably, has leapt to Tuberville's defense, particularly the ESPN Radio guys (bear in mind, these were the same people who jumped all over Alabama for firing Mike Shula and hiring Nick Saban and are now singing Alabama's and Saban's praise on a daily basis). The problem with ESPN -- as it always is -- is twofold: a) ESPN is a national organization with very little info from the front lines, so they're basically providing the "drive-by" version of what's going on; b) ESPN's pundits are almost entirely either former coaches or players, people whose judgment is ultimately compromised by their empathy toward people involved with the games they play (not to mention whatever personal relationships might exist between the analysts and the subjects of the story). Fortunately for Auburn, there's Plaxico Burress to keep ESPN distracted. For the most part.
-- I have found it interesting that no one has mentioned that Auburn was in almost this exact scenario with Tuberville at this time five years ago. After the Teagles went to Georgia and got crushed -- UGA lost only to LSU (twice) and Florida that year -- Auburn fans had just about decided they'd had enough: a national-championship contender had sunk to a disappointing 6-5, and Tubs' smugness was wearing thin.
And then a curious set of circumstances worked themselves out.
  • Tuberville's Auburn team outlasted 4-win Alabama at Jordan-Hare, and the good feelings created by beating 'Bama (no matter how bad they were) softened the hearts of many Auburn folks out there.
  • Auburn officials embarked on the now-fateful jet excursion to Kentucky, odd for its timing and their poor job in keeping it out of the public eye. Naturally, Auburn fans -- who more than any other fan base regard themselves as somehow above that sort of behavior -- went ballistic, suddenly surging in support of the coach they were ready to behead three weeks prior.
-- Speaking of that incident, I don't believe Tuberville ever really had a great amount of loyalty towards Auburn University as an institution. I think he probably liked it there, enjoyed his job and to that extent, was very loyal. But I don't think he ever "bled" orange and blue, whatever the hell that means. He certainly wasn't above allowing his name to be floated in rumors at various other programs (Miami, Arkansas, Texas A&M) whenever it could benefit him financially.
-- The question, obviously, is who Auburn goes after next. Nothing I can say about that isn't already being said. One thing Mal Moore proved nearly two years ago at this time, however: you hire the right guy, everyone will eventually forget about how badly you bungled the firing of the previous guy.
I will say that my brother and I are prepared to step up to the plate, so long as we can bring our mom on board as an offensive consultant (every play would end with the instruction: "And make sure you throw it to somebody in a BLUE SHIRT!"). Our dad is also on board if needed.
-- Nick Saban -- who shares an agent and a friendship with Tuberville -- naturally had something to say about the situation in today's presser.
There have been several coaches that have been let go in our league that have a pretty good body of work behind them. They’ve been really good coaches. They’ve been really good for the game. They’ve been good for a lot of players and they’ve had very very good programs. I’ve talked about Philip. I’ve never really ever talked about Sly [Slyvester Croom]. And Tommy… I mean…
Those guys are really good coaches. They’ve done a good job for a long time. They’ve got a tremendous body of work. I really question some of the judgement relative to how it is for our game. That people who have had those kinds of relationships, and have done that kind of job and have affected so many people in a positive way, and have had a reasonable amount of success relative to the circumstances. [That they] would not be given any more respect and consideration than what these guys have been… So, I guess we’re 5-7 away from the same thing…
Suffice to say, Saban doesn't think much of Auburn at the moment, either.

wlh

wednesday youtube is ready to roll ...

... Tide.

First, a quick review of how we got here in 2008.



Also, for those who don't know, here's a brief refresher on the history between the two schools, and this game: Alabama and Florida met in the SEC Championship Game in 1992, '93, '94, '96 and '99. Florida leads that portion of the series 3-2.

Some quick highlights of 'Bama's wins.
First, the '92 game -- no one attacked the Alabama defense better than the Gators did that day, and only Antonio Langham saved the game from a tie (or possible overtime, which didn't exist in 1992).



Second, the '99 game -- the two teams met for the second time that season, and people like me anticipated a loss. People like me were wrong.



Of course, the two teams didn't only meet in the championship game -- two of Alabama's more memorable victories in recent memory came against highly-ranked Florida teams.

The first came in 1999, the win that staved off Mike DuBose's death impending death sentence. In true DuBose fashion, the game was won in the weirdest way possible.



Speaking of people named Mike, the biggest win of Mike Shula's career came in 2005 ... against Urban Meyer and Florida.



Honestly, it upsets me a little to watch that clip, and only because of what happened to Tyrone Prothro later that afternoon (if you don't know, consider yourself lucky).
For the record, Florida recorded regular-season victories over Alabama in 1990, '91, '98 and 2006. No doubt Florida was the superior program through the 1990s.
I'll try to have some analysis of this year's version later on this week.

wlh

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

a brief thought on the SEC Championship Game ...

Recently, I found myself thinking about the SEC Championship Game -- not this year's matchup itself, so much as the history of the event and whether it's actually a good thing for the conference.

For those who don't know, the SECCG started in 1992, the first year the conference split into two divisions with 12 teams (Arkansas and South Carolina). It was the first of its kind in major-conference football, the brainchild of Roy Kramer (who'd picked up the idea from some smaller-tier conferences at lower levels).
Strangely, the game was not always played in Atlanta -- the first two actually took place at Legion Field -- yes, that Legion Field -- in Birmingham.

It probably belongs in Atlanta -- playing in the Georgia Dome, a special venue that doesn't serve as any other university's home field, makes it a different kind of game and gives it a special feel. Fans enjoy going to it, and players and coaches recognize the importance of the stage.
"The Dome. That's why we get up in the morning. That's why we shave. That's why we brush our teeth. That's why we hug our kids: to get to that Dome."
Obviously, Urban Meyer's more than a little nuts about the whole thing. On the surface, the concept of the game seems like little more than a money-making scheme: after all -- as my wife said the other day -- why should Alabama now be forced to play for a conference title it has spent the last three months winning on the field, putting its national-title aspirations on the line at the same time?

On balance, though, a brief look at the history of the game reveals that it's done more good than harm to national contenders from the conference. Teams that won the SEC Championship Game went on to win the national title in 1992 ('Bama), '96 (Florida), '98 (Tennessee), '03 (LSU), '06 (Florida again) and '07 (LSU again). In the case of '96 Florida, '06 Florida and '07 LSU, they might not have received the invitation to play on the nation's biggest stage, had not the SECCG existed at the time.
Actually, only twice has the conference title game stolen away someone's national hopes. The first instance was 1994, when an undefeated (and relatively unimpressive) Alabama team went down by a point to Danny Wuerffel and Florida, 24-23, in the first of the games played in Atlanta. Without the title game, the Tide would have played Florida St. or Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl, and possibly claimed a share of the title with a win there (Penn St., having joined the Big 10 that year, was locked into the Rose Bowl -- Nebraska wound up winning both shares of the crown). The other year was 2001, when Phil Fulmer's UT squad was all set to go to the Rose Bowl and play Miami, only to get tripped up by Nick Saban -- that man again -- and LSU in Atlanta. The Hurricanes instead dispatched an overmatched Nebraska team for the crown.

The other factor that makes the championship game unique is that it lends a certain credibility to the season that might not have existed otherwise. Don't forget that the conference schedule didn't include the entire conference early in the 1990s, much like the Big 10 schedule is set up now. How could '92 Alabama have been universally respected without playing and beating the conference's second-best team?
The same holds true this season. The SEC in 2008 has largely been a disappointment. Georgia, LSU, Tennessee, Mississippi St. and Auburn all fell well short of expectations -- suddenly this Alabama team's '08 schedule doesn't look as daunting as it did in preseason. Florida remains as a powerhouse, the juggernaut with the offense no one can stop and speed and athleticism that is impressive to watch, no matter your level of hatred for them. For Alabama to earn credibility as the nation's true number-one team, the Tide simply must play and defeat the conference's second-best team.

And that's why it's OK that there's one more mountain to climb. If we can scale it, we'll have earned that spot.

wlh