Wednesday, January 6, 2010

scattered thoughts on Championship Eve

If you didn't get your wife anything for Mark Ingram Day, there's probably still time. I suggest a nice No. 22 Alabama jersey, possibly with fishnet hose. But enough of my own fantasy. There's a championship to win.

• Quite honestly, I have almost no feel for this game Thursday, the 14th game on the schedule (which probably explains why you've seen very few blog posts about it). In addition to the long layoff — by the time we kick off tomorrow, it will have been exactly a month since the SEC Championship Game — there's just not a whole lot I know about this Texas team. They played a lousy schedule (as this game-by-game recap will attest) and were decidedly underwhelming in the national spotlight. Arguably, their two "best" wins all season were back-to-back road thumpings of Missouri and Oklahoma State (combined record: 17-9). In fact, after their razor-thin win over Nebraska for the Big XII crown, Jerry at War Blog Eagle ranked them fourth, then said the following:
I hate this Texas team. Hate. Fraudiest bunch of frauds that ever frauded.

The strength of this Longhorn team should be its offense, with a Heisman finalist (Colt McCoy) and his favorite receiver returning (Jordan Shipley). But they've been mostly "meh" all year — only twice all year have they faced defenses as good as what Alabama has, against Oklahoma and Nebraska (in the Big 12 title game), and they struggled to reach double digits in both games (against OU, specifically, they needed 5 turnovers to survive).
That's left things to the defense, which is frankly spectacular. Only once all season have they looked vulnerable — in a Thanksgiving Day tussle with Texas A&M (McCoy had to be brilliant for a 49-39 win). With a month to prepare, they should be just as rock-solid as Alabama's unit.

• It's the month's worth of preparation, for me, that makes things so difficult to read. Last night I watched Iowa — yes, the same Iowa team that was lucky to even have a winning record, based on its stats from the regular season — take apart Georgia Tech's offense, the same one that tore through the regular season on its way to a conference championship. Is Iowa that much better than Georgia Tech? Is there that much disparity between the ACC and the Big 10? Were they playing, as Chris Myers stupidly suggested, with the pride of the Midwest in their hearts and minds?
It's ... possible. I guess. But the more likely explanation is this: what makes Georgia Tech so difficult to figure out during the regular season — that quirky flexbone attack (erroneously dubbed "spread option" during last night's telecast) — is somewhat negated in a postseason setting, if only because defenses have all that time to prepare. The better defenses — and yes, Iowa is one of them — can take away that option with sufficient preparation (in a similar setting, LSU dominated Tech at last year's Peach Bowl).
Neither of these teams — Alabama and Texas — is as quirky or unconventional as Georgia Tech. The point is that you just never really know what you're getting from a team that's been off for this long. Remember the '93 Sugar Bowl (sure you do)? The key to that game: Bill Oliver & Co., with a month to prepare, installed a variety of different defensive looks (most notably a "press" look, something Miami hadn't seen all season, that led to this).

So, what will we see tomorrow night? Will Mack Brown come out in the wishbone? Will Jim McElwain employ Terrence Cody as a pass catcher? Will Marcel Dareus play like the Smoke Monster from "Lost" and destroy everything in his path? Will Colt McCoy look him in the eye and scare him away, Locke-style? You just never know.

• One of the overriding themes of this postseason, so far: the relative lack of dominance by the SEC. Currently our conference is 5-4, and even some of those wins — Arkansas' escape vs. East Carolina, Georgia's rope-a-dope vs. A&M, Ole Miss' snoozer over Oklahoma State (seriously, I fell asleep during that one) — weren't exactly signature moments. Also, that mark includes an atrocious, atrocious performance by South Carolina in the Pizza Bowl. That was embarrassing.
(Note: My favorite moment of the bowl season so far, though, was Clemson players & fans chanting "A-C-C!" in the waning moments of the Tigers' win at the Music City. Anytime the runner-up in your conference can secure an 8-point win in a lousy bowl game over another league's 9th-best team, you should totally plant a flag.)
That said, I can't shake the feeling that this Texas team would be fourth or fifth in the SEC. They're like a well-coached version of LSU.

• One more big intangible danger, something Nick Saban spoke to earlier this week: the possibility that Alabama has will lull itself into believing it's already made it. Maybe I'm a little put off by the fact that so many people received DVDs of the SEC Championship Game as a Christmas present (yeah, I was one of them). Or about the pronouncement that Alabama has already taken over as the SEC's dominant program. Or the recent revelation that Alabama will likely be ranked No. 1 in next year's poll.
All of it makes my cynical/pessimistic side kick in, makes me feel like Nick Saban. A season ago, the team spent a month accepting pats on the back and congratulatory wishes from fans who were excited to be relevant again ... then went out and got kicked in the teeth by Utah. It's not one of my fonder memories.

• That said, as I've said repeatedly, anybody who knows anything about this sport should know enough to drink in the moment. It barely even feels real.
Think for a moment about where we were just three short years ago. The program had just broken the bank to hire Nick Saban. We were all jumping to his defense (for fleeing Miami) and to the university's defense (for shelling out so much cash) while simultaneously dreaming of what a football team with a real coach looks like. We were a program with potential to be great, even if it seemed far in the future.
In less than three years, we have a chance to touch the top of the mountain, light cigars and pour champagne. It's a special moment.

I'll try to have something up for gameday tomorrow. I'm not promising anything, though.
Roll Tide.

1 comment:

UmcMatt said...

I'm scared about this game. I was in New Orleans last year and I hear a lot of the same talk that I heard leading up to that game. I can only hope that the players are smarter than the fan base.